Jack Cavanaugh, former sportswriter, looks back at the year baseball competed with the war

Before hundreds of major leaguers went off to war, they enjoyed one final season in the sun.

Big league baseball would seem to have been a hard sell in 1942. World War II was not going well for the United States in the Pacific and not much better in Europe. Moreover, the country was in drastically short supply of ships, planes, submarines, torpedoes, and other war materials, and Uncle Sam needed men, millions of them, including those from twenty-one through thirty-five years of age who had been ordered to register for the draft, the age range of most big league baseball players.

But after a “green light” from President Roosevelt, major league baseball played on in 1942 as it would throughout the war. It turned out to be an extraordinary season, too, spiced by a brash, young, and swift St. Louis Cardinal team that stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series. The 1942 season would be overshadowed by war, though, with many people wondering whether it was really all right for four hundred seemingly healthy and athletic men to play a child’s game and earn far more money than the thousands of young Americans whose lives were at risk as they fought the Germans and Japanese abroad.

In Season of ’42, veteran sportswriter Jack Cavanaugh takes a look at this historic baseball season, how it was shaped and affected by the war and what, ultimately, it meant to America.

Jack Cavanaugh is a veteran sportswriter whose work has appeared most notably on the sports pages of The New York Times, for which he has covered hundreds of assignments. He is the author of Giants Among Men (2008) and Tunney (2006), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in biography. In addition, Cavanaugh has been a frequent contributor to Sports Illustrated and has written for Reader’s Digest, Tennis and Golf magazines as well as other national publications. Cavanaugh is currently a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and lives with his wife, Marge, in Wilton, Connecticut.

We caught up with Cavanaugh, who said he wrote the book because of his longtime fascination with the year 1942, which he sees as “probably the most crucial year of the war for the U.S. and its allies.”
Cavanaugh: “There were major battles that year — Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, the first U.S. bombing of Tokyo;  rationing on the American home front because of shortages of gasoline, rubber, coffee, sugar, etc; air raid drills; 400 American ships sunk off the East Coast by German submarines, etc.
My other four books dealt primarily with sports while this one deals with both sports and World War Two.
My hope is that readers will be surprised to know how bad things were going for the U.S. militarily in the Pacific, in Europe, in North Africa and right off the East Coast, and how unprepared the U.S. was for war, despite strong indications that the country would soon be drawn into the war.
I plan to continue writing and teaching. Not sure what my next book project will be. After writing four books in less than six years, maybe I’ll take a brief break.”
The book, he says, took a “tremendous amount of research for this book, since I was researching baseball and the war on a day to day basis in 1942. Fortunately, I had already interviewed quite a few of the prominent baseball players and some others quoted in the book in the past, and that helped immeasurably.”
He’ll be signing books at RJ Julia’s Bookstore in Madison at 6:30 p.m. on June 6; at the New Canaan Library at 7 p.m. June 12.
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