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On This Date in Sports January 15 1942: Play Ball

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia

Major League Baseball gets the green light to play ball from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was five weeks after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and the nation was at war. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and the American and National Leagues owners debated whether or not to have a season in 1942. Landis sent a letter to the President asking for his input. Roosevelt responded, saying baseball should continue and that it provided an important recreational asset to the nation and the workers who were helping the war effort. 

On the morning of December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the United States was attacked by Japan. After two years of trying to avoid the conflict, the country was at war. The NFL ended its final week of the regular season, with the Chicago Bears winning a second consecutive NFL Championship two weeks later. The role of sports going forward became hotly contested as men were volunteering and getting drafted for the fight. In contrast, others stayed home and went to work in factories to produce weapons for the fighting as the U.S. was forced to fight on two fronts, in the Pacific against Japan and in Europe against Nazi Germany. 

The NHL had been dealing with World War II for two years. Canada had been at war for two years with their relationship with Great Britain. The league decided to continue playing, even though several star players were selected to serve and had to put their careers on hold. Whether to play or not was a debate. A debate that would be renewed after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Ultimately the NHL followed suit with baseball and continued to play after a 1942 league meeting. 

Baseball was at the height of its popularity in 1941. They had a season that featured Joe DiMaggio's historic 56-game hitting streak, and Ted Williams became the last player to hit over .400. With the specter of war, many felt that the sport should go on hiatus for the nation to focus on the war effort. Naturally, many players were either drafted or volunteered to join the war effort. In 1918, the season was shortened due to World War I. With an even larger effort underway, the question of the availability of players and resources became real when playing a season. It was decided that Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis would put the fate of the sport in the hands of the President, as he wrote a letter to FDR, asking for his input. The response was sent out on January 15, 1942, not only giving baseball the green light to play but saying it was vital for the nation's interest that baseball continues to play. 

The letter made the decision for baseball and would set a precedent as the NFL went on without interruption in 1942. However, they would reduce the schedule to ten games.