Baseball in World War I
Doughboys on leave play outside a YMCA recreation hut during World War I. Military officials strongly encouraged organized baseball at army camps and naval stations before the troops went overseas as a way to help them stay in shape, develop a "fighting instinct," and perhaps most important, prevent them from contracting venereal diseases--a danger if they had too much free time.
On disembarking in Saint-Nazaire, France, servicemen could play ball on 77 newly set up diamonds. American Expeditionary Force (AEF) teams representing engineering, medical, transport and other units played some 200 games daily throughout France and the quality of play could be quite high given the heralded Major Leaguers and professional athletes (including Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Hank Gowdy, Branch Rickey and Ty Cobb) in the service. Americans tried to teach their French allies the game but most efforts came to naught.