Friday, July 3, 2015

Baseball Players Camouflaged as Camoufleurs

Fred J. Hoertz, two dazzle-painted ships (1918)
Above Fred J. Hoertz, "One of Our Largest Colliers Coaling a Warship," published as the cover of Scientific American Vol CXIX No 14, October 5, 1918.


At first, it may seem that camouflage has little if anything to do with baseball. In earlier posts, we've shared a couple of the moments when the two have overlapped.

But here's another one: In 1918, during World War I, the US War Department established a military service policy that became known as the "work or fight rule." It required that able-bodied, "draft-eligible" men must either be employed in work that was "essential" or risk being drafted. It was also decided that working as a baseball player was "non-essential."

So what does this have to do with camouflage? It seems that a scheme was developed by which certain baseball players (who played in a baseball league that was sponsored by various shipyards) would show up for work at harbors as ship camouflage painters, which was of course indisputably "essential." This was reported in an article with the headline BILL LAI IS CALLED TO WORK OR FIGHT in the Chester Times (Chester PA), July 9, 1918, p. 10. Here's an excerpt—

…State Senator Calvin Page, of Portsmouth NH [reported] that the ball nines [apparently, an alternate term at the time for baseball players] at the Portsmouth Navy Yard and the Shattuck ship-building plant in Maine were composed of college men who were down on the payroll as "painters." According to Senator Page these "painters" carried two pails of paint a day to workmen, and spent the rest of the time at baseball.

"I shall look into the ball nines situation at Hog Island and other plants in Delaware County," said [Emergency Fleet Corporation Vice-President Howard] Coonley, "and if I discover that there are any 'camouflage ship workers' on the ball nines such as Senator Page describes, they will have to go."