Friday, January 27, 2017

New Deal Baseball and Softball

Above: "Baseball at Night," an oil painting by Morris Kantor (1896-1974), created while he was in the Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A night baseball game in Perris Hill Ballpark, San Bernardino, California, ca. 1935-1943. The ballpark was one of many built by the WPA. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "The playground programs in California operated by WPA Recreational Leadership offer activities such as this impromptu baseball game for interested adults." I've frequently wondered why, for the most part, we give up sports when we leave high school or college. I guess it's so ingrained in us that we have to join the 9-5 (or 9-9) rat race that we just leave all the fun behind. But perhaps our devotion to Corporate America is part of the reason we're so stressed, fat, and plagued with health problems, like Type II Diabetes. Maybe we should revive the WPA's recreational programs for adults. Pharmaceutical companies would lobby hard against it of course, since they're banking on our illness and lack of physical fitness, but I bet it would be quite beneficial for the nation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "Softball, under WPA Recreation leadership, is a part of the Recreation program at the Waukesha Industrial School [Wisconsin]." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A game of stickball in the streets is fun, but it could be hazardous to people's windows too. One foul ball and that car's windshield is done for. And, when you're playing on asphalt, sliding into third base is probably a tad painful. So, New Deal work-relief programs built and improved thousands of baseball fields across the country for kids (and adults) to have safe places to play in. For example, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration constructed 619 baseball fields and improved 627 others (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A., April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, p. 89). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "WPA-constructed athletic field adjoining rear of school grounds of Flomaton High School [Alabama]. This field contains five acres with 500 feet of enclosing wooden fence and 100 square yards of grass planted by WPA. Sponsored by Escambia County Board of Education. Approximate cost $3,263." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: CCC boys had plenty of opportunities to participate in intramural sports. Here, we see a CCC playoff game at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, 1940 (the stadium was demolished in the 1960s). How amazing it must have been for these youth--who had just months or years earlier hitched rides on freight trains across the country, looking for (non-existent) work--to suddenly be working in the nation's parks & forests; receiving medical care; receiving training & education; and playing sports. Some cold-hearted people might label this "wasteful spending" by "big government." But considering that many CCC boys subsequently helped us win World War II, and considering that we're still hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, and camping in hundreds of their parks & forests today, I'd say that we got the better end of the deal. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A National Youth Administration (NYA) softball team in Phoenix, Arizona, 1936. Like the CCC boys, NYA youth had many opportunities for recreation. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: The New Deal also created many opportunities for women and girls to play sports (see my previous blog post). In this newspaper article, from the June 15th, 1939 edition of the Arizona Republic, we read about a WPA-sponsored girls softball league. This image is from a larger scan, and is used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: WPA workers (and perhaps also workers in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration) built Lamar Porter Field (Little Rock, Arkansas), one of many New Deal-built sports facilities. Hall of Fame third-baseman Brooks Robinson played in this ball park when he was a kid. Robinson won the American League MVP award in 1964, and captivated the nation during the 1970 World Series, where he led the Baltimore Orioles over the Cincinnati Reds by batting .429 (including 2 home runs, 2 doubles, and 6 runs batted in) and making several acrobatic plays at third base. How many other great sports players learned their trade on New Deal tennis courts, golf courses, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and football fields? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A night softball game at Lamar Porter Field, July 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this WPA photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "San Bernardino - California - Perris Hill Baseball Park [built by WPA] - practice game - Pirates vs. Cubs." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Franklin D. Roosevelt throwing out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators baseball game," April 24, 1934. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

"You know how heartily I believe in the adequate provision of opportunities for recreation and how through the years I have cared for the work of the National Recreation Association. I rejoice in the growing public interest in this subject as evidenced by the fine facilities now being provided by the Government - Federal, state and local - for the enjoyment of the people."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, September 26, 1935, Letter on Recreational Facilities

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