Though Day wasn’t reprimanded for his actions, Jackie Robinson would be court-martialed soon after D-Day for similar defiance of whites. (Robinson had declined to move to the back of a military bus when ordered.) What’s striking about the games in Nuremberg is how little comment there was about the presence of the Negro Leagues stars. If the throng on hand knew what was coming just over the horizon, they might have paid more attention. They were witnessing an out-of-town preview of baseball’s new frontier, a year and a half before Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers debut.
The German World Series started inauspiciously for “Home Run” Brown and his teammates. Ewell Blackwell dominated in Game 1, collecting nine strikeouts in an easy 9–2 win. OISE made it easy for them, committing seven errors. But Leon Day evened matters the next afternoon, Labor Day back in the States. A holiday vibe infused the shirt-sleeved crowd, which again numbered close to 50,000. The man the New York Times misidentified as “Leo Day” hurled a four-hitter, all scratch singles, winning 2–1 to even the Series.
The teams traveled to Riems, France, for the next two games, which they split, setting up a decisive Game 5 at Soldier’s Field, as the Stadion had been renamed.
Once again, it seemed like everyone in the country with an American uniform and a pass turned out to watch. They would witness a dandy affair. Stars and Stripes raved, “The game was so close all the way through that it kept the crowd of over 50,000 on its feet cheering wildly and rewarding unfavorable decisions with sounds as wild as any ever to emerge from Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.”
Blackwell started once more for the Red Circlers and was throwing darts again, though he also committed two errors in a sloppy game “replete with miscues and thrills,” according to the New York Times. The 71st led 1–0 in the seventh inning when Day, who was sent in to pinch-run, stole second and third and came home on a short fly ball to tie the game. This was the sort of hard-charging ball that was on display every day in the Negro Leagues, soon to be brought to the majors by the likes of Robinson, Larry Doby, and Willie Mays.
In the eighth inning, it was Brown’s turn. With a man on first he clubbed a double to the deepest reaches of Soldier’s Field. Harry Walker ran it down and relayed the ball in, but the runner beat the throw after a dramatic dash that had the crowd roaring.
Trailing 2-1, on the verge of being the victims of a monumental upset, Walker then came to the plate hoping to start a rally and avoid a humiliating loss. Though he received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and several commendations for his wartime service as a recon scout, he wouldn’t be a hero on this day. He flied out, and moments later, Day, Brown, and the OISE All-Stars were celebrating, having won the series three games to two.
Back in France, the winners were feted by Brigadier Gen. Charles Thrasher. There was a parade, and a banquet complete with steaks and champagne. Day and Brown, who would not be allowed to eat with their teammates in many major-league towns, celebrated alongside their fellow soldiers.
Meanwhile, Harry Walker stewed. He was more upset at losing than he thought he would be. The Hat vowed that back home, if he got another crack at a big game, he would come through.
Indeed, a little more than a year later, on Oct. 15, 1946, the Cardinals’ Walker came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 7 of the World Series against the Red Sox. The score was tied 3–3. With two out and Enos Slaughter at first, Walker poked a hit into left-center field. Slaughter, shocking everyone, tore around the bases and came all the way home, helped by a slight hesitation on the relay throw by Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky. The Cardinals went on to win the game and the World Series 4-3, capturing the first post-war championship.
Slaughter’s Mad Dash and Pesky’s double clutch would go down in baseball lore, one of the most famous and dramatic moments in hardball history. The ETO World Series, by contrast, has been mostly forgotten. But there was Harry Walker, smack dab in the middle of both.
This piece has been adapted from Robert Weintraub’s book The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball's Golden Age, which is out today. You can view the book trailer here.
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