Of the many competitions held at the 1919 Inter Allied Games, baseball holds a fascinating position. Given the location and time period of the event, baseball was especially relevant to the United States and its post World War I foreign policy. As one of the nation’s most popular sports, Americans took great pride in the competition and we were eager to pass along their adoration for the unique game.
As World War I came to a close, many American soldiers were forced to prolong their time in Europe, and waited, sometimes months, to return home. Sports provided not only physical activity for the troops overseas, but also a method to demonstrate certain proud American traditions to Europeans. In result, the majority of the 1919 United States Inter Allied team was composed of soldiers. The Inter Allied Games therefore had become a prime opportunity to establish American dominance in the world of sport, and baseball was an arena where Americans could control and dominate.
The notion that the intervention of the United States had led to the Allies victory in the Great War was still on American’s minds as the Inter Allied Games began. American soldiers were eager to prove they were not only better at battle, but also in sports, another masculine hobby a man, or team of men, could use to assert authority. In Americans’ minds, and President Woodrow Wilson’s, the Games gave the United States a platform to establish itself as the Paris Peace Conference unraveled, and “global domination” was key. Wilson had been known to create relationships between baseball and American patriotism, in order to heighten the country’s national pride. In 1916, he had assigned the “Star Spangled Banner” as the nation’s National Anthem. The song was to be a rally cry as America headed into World War I. Wilson sensed a chance to use winning at sports in order to gain power among other world powers at a time of conflict resolution. Not surprisingly, the United States baseball team would go onto to win first place in France. The outcome was made easier by the fact that only two teams, America and Canada, ended up competing and the United States made easy work of their neighbors to the north.
Whether or not the nation and President Woodrow Wilson gained any sort of advantage due to the country’s efforts at the Inter Allied Games is uncertain. Within the context of baseball, the games provided a bright spot within one of baseball’s darkest years. Just months after the games ended, baseball’s most infamous scandal would occur, when the Chicago White Sox would throw the 1919 World Series. The image above depicts a US player looking towards an umpire, awaiting a close call at third base. The makeshift ball field and stadium can be observed in the background, with fans, mainly French citizens and other soldiers, scattered throughout the bleachers. To many Americans, baseball has served, throughout history, as a patriotic, national bonding experience. Baseball at the Inter Allied Games, as well as throughout World War One and its aftermath, gave America a moment to act as missionaries, and advertise our national pastime.
Robert Elias. The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad. The New Press, 2010.
Wanda Ellen Wakefield. Playing to Win: Sports and the American Military, 1898-1945. State University of New York, 2010.