No. 1260



While there may be some argument from fans of other sports because of large television viewing audiences, I believe baseball is America’s favorite pastime. This is because baseball is the sport that generations have grown up playing. From the Industrial Revolution to the Cold War to our present day, baseball has survived countless economic endeavors and national hardships. To say it very simply, baseball has survived the test of time. One of the reasons this is true is because of American Legion Baseball, which began in 1925 in the most unlikely of places, the state of South Dakota.
To have a better understanding of this, let’s define “American Legion.” The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness and community service. They are organized by having Posts all across the nation. American Legion Baseball was first proposed at the American Legion South Dakota Convention in June 1925. The state commander invited a close friend to speak. The speaker was Major John Griffin, who also happened to be the collegiate commissioner of the Western Conference, which is now the Big Ten.
Instead of the traditional patriotic speech, Griffin spoke about the role athletics can play in the development of youth. He said the American Legion could well consider the advisability of assisting in the training of young Americans through our athletic games. Athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others. The South Dakota convention agreed and passed a resolution urging the American Legion to create an organized summer baseball league. The resolution later passed at the American Legion national convention, and American Legion Baseball was born.
In 1926, American Legion Posts in 15 states began to make Griffin’s vision a reality. They organized and sponsored teams, drafted schedules, and conducted tournaments. Post season tournaments at the state, sectional and regional levels culminated with a national championship. Few changes have been made since that original setup. Sixty-four teams play at eight regional sites, with eight teams going to the World Series. The winning team receives a trip to the Major League Baseball World Series and a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The first World Series was held in Philadelphia in 1926, with Yonkers, N.Y., beating Pocatello, Idaho. Today, more than 3,500 teams come from all 50 states and Canada. The purpose is to give players an opportunity to develop their skills, personal fitness, leadership qualities, and to have fun. And here is the real reason why American Legion Baseball has survived and still thrives today: They developed a partnership with Major League Baseball and provide prospects for major league teams.
More than half of current major leaguers played American Legion Baseball. The list of former big-name Major League players is so very impressive: names like Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and so many more.
For society today, one of the benefits for the rest of us is that young men playing on a great American Legion Baseball team are not likely to get into trouble. Over the years this program has kept thousands of 13- to 19-year-old youngsters off the streets and developing leadership qualities. A special thanks to Gen. Ron Chastain for sharing this information with me.
(Editor’s Note: JIM DAVIDSON is an author, public speaker, syndicated columnist and founder of the Bookcase for Every Child project. Since its inception in 1995, Jim’s column has been self-syndicated to over 375 newspapers in 35 states, making it one of the most successful in the history of American journalism.)