DEVENS — In 1942, baseball reigned supreme. The sport was so important to the country at the start of World War II, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote what came to be called the greenlight letter.
On Jan. 15, a month after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, he wrote to baseball commissioner and former federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in Chicago.
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going… Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”
The leagues played, and not just against professional teams.
The Red Sox, including greats Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky, traveled to Fort Devens in June 1942.
The team that would finish the season in second place in the American League trounced the Fort Devens Recruit Reception Center Team 11-5. The audience was 12,000 strong.
The Fort Devens Museum will relive that game, in miniature, during a hot-stove double-header starting at 10 a.m. on Feb. 20.
Hot-stove baseball predates fantasy league football by more than a century. The term “hot stove league” refers to fans sitting around a hot stove and talking baseball. Baseball historian Lee Allen even wrote a book in 1995 titled “The Hot Stove League: Raking the Embers of Baseball’s Golden Age.”
The museum, with the help of two craftsman, plan some action for the rematch. This year, the Fort Devens team may have a better chance of winning.
A small-scale reproduction of Fenway Park, made by Leo Gallant of Gardner, will provide the playing field. Peter Landry, from Marblehead, painted the miniature players.
Play will advance based on rules involving a deck of cards and some dice.
The Fort Devens Museum is located at 94 Jackson Road, Devens, on the third floor and is wheelchair accessible. This program is free but donations are appreciated.
The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the double-header on Feb. 20. All ages are welcome to attend.
For more information please call 978-772-1286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In case of inclement weather, the snow date is Saturday Feb. 27.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.
Heroes on many fields
The 1942 season was a temporary stopping point for the big-league careers of Williams and Pesky. BaseballInWartime.com provides an overview of their military careers.
Williams enlisted in the Navy in May 1942. After the 1942 season, he studied to become a naval aviator and received his pilot’s wings as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1944.
During his time in the service he played charity games and for base teams. He returned to the Red Sox in 1946.
In 1952, Williams was recalled to active duty in the Korean War where he often flew as wingman for a future astronaut and senator, John Glenn.
Williams’s athleticism served him well.
According to the website, Glenn said, “Once, he was on fire and had to belly land the plane back in. He slid it in on the belly. It came up the runway about 1,500 feet before he was able to jump out and run off the wingtip.”
Pesky became an ensign in the Navy and played ball in Chapel Hill, Atlanta and Honolulu in the Naval District league. Like Williams, he returned to the Red Sox after three years in the military.
Big changes were ahead for professional baseball after the war. In April 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play major league baseball.