Naval War College holds baseball game of the century

U.S. Naval War College students, faculty and staff come together to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of a World War I-era baseball league formed by Adm. William S. Sims in an effort to bring American baseball to Europe.
NEWPORT, R.I. (Sept. 29, 2017) U.S. Naval War College students, faculty and staff come together to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of a World War I-era baseball league formed by Adm. William S. Sims in an effort to bring American baseball to Europe. (Photo courtesy of Bo Wriston) Photo courtesy of Bo Wriston
NEWPORT, R.I. (Sept. 29, 2017) U.S. Naval War College students, faculty and staff come together to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of a World War I-era baseball league formed by Adm. William S. Sims in an effort to bring American baseball to Europe. (Photo courtesy of Bo Wriston) Photo courtesy of Bo Wriston

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NEWPORT, R.I. – U.S. Naval War College (NWC) held an Army vs. Navy baseball game at Cardines Field in Newport Friday, re-creating a similar contest from 100 years earlier.

Players wore historic uniforms created specifically for the event which was played under rules from 1917. Players were current NWC students.

Navy won by a score of 13-7 in front of nearly 900 attendees.

The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by Dr. Nat Sims, the grandson of the organizer of the 1917 match Adm. William Sims, former president of NWC and who also served role of Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe in England where the original game was played.

“This idea to have this game started with some of us here at the college who wanted to bring attention to this bit of history that is sometimes overlooked,” said Dave Kohnen, professor history at NWC and director of John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research at the school. “And to have some fun.”

Cardines Field crew also donated their time, energy and resources to the event. The field was freshly mowed and striped, staff members sold refreshments, and a large American flag was hanging in the outfield.

Prior to the game, the City of Newport rededicated the field in honor Bernardo Cardines, a Newport resident who was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in World War I. Cardines was born near Monte Casino, Italy and was not an American citizen when he joined the U.S. Armed Forces.

“This is a wonderful night in which we celebrate the rededication of this field,” said NWC President Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, “and remember Bernardo Cardines who died serving the United States in World War I and gave the last great measure of devotion to this great nation.”

Distinguished visitors at the game included Harley; Dawn Euer, Rhode Island state senator; John D. Monahan, commissioner, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission; Shirley Ripa, president, Sons of Italy in America, Newport; Bill Siano, department commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Rhode Island; Sims; and Henry Winthrop, mayor, Newport.

American Game

The game celebrated a historical series of games held during World War I to ease relations with host countries. When American service members began arriving in the United Kingdom during World War I, locals were uneasy, according to Kohnen. Many Americans had Irish or German last names. Both nations had conflicts with the U.K. Ireland had recently rebelled against Britain and Germany was currently at war with them.

Also, the British viewed the same Irish sailors as potential infiltrators for the Irish Republican Army, Kohnen said.

“These baseball games were a way for Sims to stress that the Americans are not Irish nor German, but simply American," Kohnen said. "He was demonstrating the unique American identity.”

History lessons

As the United State mobilized for the war, men in the service often organized leisure activities including baseball teams and leagues.

Newport fielded a team representing 2nd Naval District. Players included professionals from the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees -- including Mike McNally, Casey Stengel, and Herb Pennock. Stengel and Pennock were later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt helped organize the squad which played at Basin Park in Newport (now Cardines Field) and dominated the YMCA and Knights of Columbus baseball leagues during the summer of 1917.

Meanwhile in Europe, Adm. Sims issued orders for Navy warships to establish baseball teams to play Army teams on the western front in Europe to rally Anglo-American collaboration.

Army played Navy in several baseball games on the western front. But Sims became embarrassed as Army kept winning. Some of the best players from Newport were re-assigned to the London Flagship headquarters in 1918.

The newly fortified Navy baseball team played in the Anglo-American Baseball League series on the western front during the spring of 1918. Games symbolically culminated on July 4, 1918.

On that day, King George V threw the first pitch after speaking about the greatness of George Washington and the renewed transatlantic spirit of unity between the British Empire and United States.

George V and Sims watched the game played in a packed soccer stadium in London.

Navy dominated that final game of the series and each player received a gold watch with an inscription to mark their victory. The team was also given and a signed baseball from King George V.

Later this year, that baseball will be on display in the Naval War College Museum as part of the World War I exhibition, which opens Dec. 7 on the centenary of the arrival of U.S. Navy battleships in European waters.

NWC is a one-year resident program that graduates about 600 resident students and about 1,000 distance learning students each year. Its primary mission is to educate and develop future leaders. Additional missions include: helping to define the future Navy and its roles and missions, supporting combat readiness, strengthening global maritime partnerships, promoting ethics and leadership throughout the force, contributing knowledge to shape effective decisions through our John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research, providing expertise and advice to the international legal community through the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law. Students earn Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) credit and either a diploma or a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies or Defense and Strategic Studies. Established in 1884, U.S. Naval War College is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. More than 50,000 students have graduated since its first class of nine students in 1885 and about 300 of today’s active duty admirals, generals and senior executive service leaders are alumni.

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Daniel L. Kuester
10/03/2017

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