About a month ago I talked with Big League Chew co-creator Rob Nelson, and he mentioned that Wrigley had recently given away about 150,000 leftover packs of the gum to U.S. military personnel.
That, along with reading a book about the Depression, led me to look up some Depression and World War II charity games put on either by major league baseball or by its players.
One example is two spring training benefits for the Finnish Relief Fund, which was established in 1940 to provide civilian aid to the Finns, who’d been invaded by the Soviet Union a few months earlier. The fund was headed by former President Herbert Hoover. I describe the games here for two reasons: one, to recall that the Soviets, before being invaded by Nazi Germany, were aggressors in World War II, namely by invading both Finland and Poland; two, to highlight the charitable intentions of pro baseball 70 years ago. It’s an effort that’s worth remembering.
So: the first game, played on March 10, 1940, in Los Angeles, featured major league stars vs. Pacific Coast League stars. Luke Appling, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, and Claude Passeau were four key MLB players; the PCL stars included Jigger Statz and Tony Freitas. Here’s a bit of the game account from the New York Times, and an abbreviated box score:
The game was just one example of a host of U.S. athletic benefits for the Finnish fund in early 1940: Paavo Nurmi, the great distance runner, was Finnish, and he put on quite a few running events, as did several boxers and tennis players.
Seven days later, on March 17, 1940, teams of A.L. and N.L. stars put on another Finnish Relief Fund charity game, this time in Tampa, during spring training. The New York Times noted that it was the first all-star game ever staged in the South. It drew 13,180 fans, apparently the largest to date for a baseball game in the grapefruit belt, as it was already being called, and raised over $22,000. The game was mostly a New York affair: seven Yankees started for the A.L. squad, supplemented by Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx, and five Giants played in the game for the N.L. squad.
Al Lopez, a Tampa native, got plenty of cheers from the crowd, especially with his a lead-off single in the ninth to eventually produce the winning N.L. run on a single by Pete Coscarart of the Dodgers: a 2-1 N.L. victory. Bob Feller took the loss, in what was probably his first official effort in World War Two. The game was also Hank Greenberg’s “first important bow as an outfielder,” as the Times said: Greenberg would play all of 1940 in left field, and commit 15 errors.