My apologies for the delay in getting a new player up. I have been busy finishing up projects and wrapping up the premier issue of "Number 21" in order to prepare for a 4 week trip to visit my family back in Jersey City for the holiday. It has been a year since I have been back there and this will be the longest time I have spent in Jersey since I left in 1988. I've always had a love-hate relationship with the place of my birth, but this year I am really looking forward to being there again. Living in California I have come to miss the feel of winter, the way the air smells before the snow comes and the stunning, brittle silence even in the city the morning after a big snowfall. Anyway, without further delay, here is card 59 of the Infinite baseball Card Set...
Fresh from winning the war in Europe, commander of all Allied Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, landed in New York Harbor, the first stop on a whirlwind victory tour of the States. A life-long baseball fan, the first thing he did was take in a New York Giants game at the Polo Grounds. While meeting the players in the locker room after the game, the General told the awed players and beat reporters that at one time, he too was a baseball player and had played in the minor leagues in Kansas. This wasn't the first time Ike had let slip his brief stint playing the National Pastime professionally. During the war he often talked about baseball and that in the summer before he went to West Point he played centerfield in Kansas under the pseudonym "Wilson". Indeed, a very often used quote from Eisenhower illustrates his love of the game: "When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of the summer afternoon on a river bank, we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he'd like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish."
That one of our Presidents had a passion for and even played the game is not a big deal in itself, however the fact that Ike did it before he was a Cadet at West Point is a sticky point. He tried out for the baseball team but did not make it, saying later "Not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest." While not destined to be a college baseball player, Eisenhower was the star running back and linebacker of the West Point football team, even tackling Jim Thorpe in a game. That is where the problem lies. If Eisenhower did play minor league baseball back before West Point, he would have been ineligible to play college sports at West Point. Jim Thorpe, who Eisenhower famously tackled in a 1912 game, ran afoul of the same amateur rule when he forfeited his Olympic gold medals because of playing semi-pro baseball for money early in his career. If it was true that he played baseball for money, Eisenhower played sports at The Academy under false and dishonest pretenses.
At the time Ike was at West Point, the idea of college players earning an extra paycheck playing under a false name was nothing new. The Hall Of Fame features quite a few players who did just the same thing Eisenhower did in order to preserve their amateur status. Colleges and universities looked the other way back then, happy to field a winning team. But with Eisenhower, the situation was much more complicated.
West Point prides itself on its rigid "Cadet Honor Code". This beautifully simple ethics guideline is as follows: "A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." That's it. Although not formally adapted until the 1922, West Point had always held their cadets to that standard since it opened its doors in 1802. To have played college athletics would have put Ike in severe violation of The Code. If he had been caught as a Cadet, there is the possibility of his dismissal from the Corps of Cadets.
Years later when elected President in 1952, the press, eager to find any human interest story on the new Commander-in-Chief, seized on his collegiate football record and started asking questions about his baseball past. It had been common knowledge that Ike played baseball and the Kansas story was even quoted in the New York Times after the meeting with the Giants players in 1945. In 1952 baseball was still America's Game and their new war-hero President played the game for real. What a feature story this would be, kids would eat it up. But writers asking the President's staff for further information on his baseball career were met with silence. Eisenhower realized the ethical bind that fateful summer in 1911 had put him and ordered his staff to ignore any inquires into the subject. After meeting the wall of silence, newspapers found other things to write about and the story faded away.
So did Dwight Eisenhower really play baseball professionally? In 1911 Ike was 20 years-old and living in Abilene, Kansas. A former star outfielder for his high school baseball team, he was now a low-level engineer at a dairy plant and trying to gain acceptance to the Naval Academy or West Point. From his biography we know he was very short of money back then and desperate to pursue a higher education and get out of Kansas. A check of the records shows that in 1911 the Class D Central Kansas League had a team in nearby Junction City. The team was nicknamed the "Soldiers" after the massive Fort Riley Army base that lie right outside town. Box scores indeed show a "Wilson, c.f." played for Junction City for that summer only. Eisenhower was quoted by numerous sources as claiming to have used the name "Wilson" during his one baseball season. "Wilson" played in 9 games for the Soldiers and batted .355 in 31 at bats. Having committed no errors, his fielding percentage is a perfect 1.000. Because no first name, age or any information for that matter exists of "Wilson", we will never know for sure if this was Eisenhower. But the evidence is pretty good that it was.
Does this tarnish Ike's reputation and paint him as a liar? No, I don't really think so. In 1911, Eisenhower was just a young fellow trying to make a buck and better himself. He may have bent the truth a little. Whether or not his violation of The Code would have earned him a dismissal from The Academy will never be known. Perhaps it would have been overlooked much like most other colleges around the country at the time. What ever the truth may be, we do know that Dwight David Eisenhower, first as a General and then as President, devoted his life to the service of this country and for that, he will be remembered with great admiration. And to me, that he played minor league ball makes him an all the more cooler President.