Friday, March 16, 2012

Camouflage and Baseball

American baseball in France, 1917

Recently we ran across this 1917 press photograph of a baseball game in wartime France. In the background, among the onlookers, are two military officers, and it occurs to us that these are probably American ballplayers, either US Army infantry, or professional ballplayers, brought in by the French army to teach its soldiers how to play.

In support of that, at the end of World War I, a section called "Baseball in France" was published in John B. Foster, ed., Spaulding's Official Baseball Guide (NY: American Sports Publications, 1919), which claims that French military officers were greatly impressed by the "perfect athletic training" of American soldiers, and concluded "that much of the excellence in running, in throwing, in quick action, in rapid achievement and alert judgment, came from years of training in baseball." The French brass "decided to adopt baseball instruction among their recruits," with the result that Johnny Evers (a star second baseman for the Boston Braves until 1917, and then with the Philadelphia Phillies) was brought over to Paris to teach the game to French recruits. After only ten days of instruction, the benefits were already evident and the generals were persuaded that "skill in throwing hand grenades would be much increased by regular training in baseball."

Coincident with this was the baseball contribution made by the artists who were attached to the American Camouflage Corps. It was their wartime duty, according to this source, "to disguise everything pertaining to rolling stock, airplanes, automobiles, and even themselves, under the cover of mystic cubic designs of all colors," and when they turned to baseball, they showed up "in baseball suits camouflaged like the uniforms of camouflaged troops. The result has been disastrous for both catchers and batsmen, to say nothing of fielders and basemen; and the matches between these men have created an immense amount of amusement and curiosity."