JOE GUZZARDI: On Memorial Day, Remembering Major League Baseball’s First World War I Fatality | Hartsville Messenger

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Eddie Grant, a Harvard Law School graduate and former third baseman who played for the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants, was the first Major League Baseball player to die. in the First World War.

In all, seven other Major League players lost their lives in the Great War. They are Lieutenant Tom Burr, plane crash; Lieutenant Harry Chapman, illness; Lt. Larry Chappell, flu; private Harry Glenn, pneumonia; chap. Newton Halliday, hemorrhages; Cpl. Ralph Sherman, drowned Purple Heart winner, Sgt. Robert “Bun” Troy, shot.

Affectionately known to his teammates as “Harvard Eddie,” Grant made his major league debut in 1905 after graduating from Harvard, where he starred in baseball and was the leading scorer on the basketball team. Grant would eventually play 990 games as an infielder through 1915.

He was an average hitter from the dead-ball era, neither spectacular nor detrimental. Grant’s career average was .249 with five home runs. Grant’s best major league season came in 1909 when he batted .269 as the leadoff hitter for Philadelphia and finished second in the National League with 170 hits. He was considered by opposition players to be an above-average fielder and particularly adept at handling bunts. In the 1913 World Series that the Giants lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, 4-1, Grant saw limited action. He pinch-ran and scored in Game 2, and in Game 4, he hit a pinch ball foul that the A’s catcher easily caught.

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On April 6, 1917, two years after his baseball career ended at age 33, and with his law practice just beginning, Grant enlisted in the U.S. Army, the first player in the Major Leagues to sign up. In a letter to a friend, Grant proudly wrote: “I had made up my mind from the start to be in this war in case it came to us… I believe there is no greater duty than what I owe for being what I am: an American citizen. ”

Tom Simon, writing for the Society for American Baseball Research, recounts Grant’s fateful demise in his defense of America against advancing Germans. On October 2, 1918, Grant’s 307th Regiment launched an attack into the French Argonne Forest, a rugged, wooded area with thick undergrowth, deep ravines, and swamps. Soon Grant’s superior officers were killed and Eddie took command. On the morning of the third day, October 5, Grant was exhausted. He hadn’t slept since the start of the offensive, and his fellow officers noticed him sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to pick it up.

One of Grant’s troop members, a former Polo Grounds policeman, recalled: “Eddie was tired as a dog, but he walked out at the head of his team with no more concern than if he were walking back to his old spot at third base.” after his side had finished. his turn at bat. He was reeling from weakness when he started, but pretty soon he was marching briskly with his head held high.”

As the Germans advanced, Grant yelled for his men to seek cover as he stood, waving his arms for stretchers. Grant’s valiant effort to save his fellow soldiers cost him his life. Major Charles Wittlesey, a friend of Grant’s who led the 77th Division in the battle historians call “the lost battalion,” said, “When that shell blew up and killed that little boy, America lost one of the best kinds of manhood I have ever known.” When the battle was over, Grant’s fellow soldiers, realizing that his leader was dead, were heard to say, “The best man in the whole regiment is gone.”

Grant is buried in France’s Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery along with more than 14,000 American soldiers. World War I historian Mike Hanlon has led tours of the war’s battlefields and cemetery where he talks about Purple Heart winner Grant.

Then-MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wanted Grant inducted into the Hall of Fame for his service to the country. Although Landis’ excellent idea was rejected, Grant had a Bronx highway named after him and a ball court in his hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts.

The Giants, Grant’s last major league team, placed a bronze plaque in his honor on the center field fence of the Polo Grounds on Memorial Day in 1921. The plaque identified Grant as “Soldier – Scholar – Athlete” , certainly in the order that Eddie would do it. like the ones listed.

Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers’ Association. Contact him at [email protected]

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