The Worst Years In American Baseball

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World War II was raging and as America's resources were being diverted overseas, baseball's greatest assets   were no exception. Celebrated sluggers like  Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg  were just a few of the hundreds of major leaguers who traded their team jerseys for military uniforms.

The effect on the sport was profound as talent-sapped teams filled their rosters with military rejects, quasi-professionals and hopeful amateurs.  In June of 1944, the Cincinnati Reds briefly filled the mound with a 15-year old  ninth grader, Joe Nuxhall, whose left handed fast balls were good enough in a player-depleted year. 

The following season, the St. Louis Browns even signed into contract a one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray,  who scooped balls into the air and then dropped his mitt to catch and throw with remarkable speed.  

Travel restrictions also forced clubs to stay regional for spring training and do with frost on the field, or seek enclosures like aircraft hangars and horse barns for their practice.  For a time, material rations even took the natural rubber out of baseballs and turned them into duds.  Not surprisingly, the profession suffered as the game diminished and fans dropped off in droves. 

But America's favorite pastime returned with a vengeance following the end of the war in 1945.  The game caliber was back, combining with the post-war euphoria for a new and exciting era in American baseball. 

By 1947, the color barrier would also be broken with Jackie Robinson becoming the first black player to join the Majors.  That year, nearly 20 million fans went out to the ballparks to see their favorite teams, double the attendance of prewar levels.

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