The USS Arizona’s Baseball Team
April 13, 2016
Life on the USS Arizona was not quite all work and no play. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, she was known as the mightiest ship on the sea. Crew members routinely cleaned the ship and performed maintenance checks and repairs on its gun and other artillery. They also participated in a number of exercises to prepare them for war in the Pacific.
Crewmen on the USS Arizona worked hard, but they had their own share of fun and excitement. Baseball was one of the crew’s favorite pastimes. When there was free time, the team would get together and play on the deck.
Learn more about the USS Arizona’s baseball team and how the crew played.
History of Navy Baseball
Long before World War II, baseball was a favorite pastime among naval crewmen. It kept their spirits up and gave them an opportunity to unwind and do a little light exercise in between duties.
The U.S. Navy’s history of baseball goes back all the way to the Civil War. By the 1880s, most ships had their own teams and leagues. By World War I, baseball became part of training. It was often used to promote a team-like mindset among crew members, and it taught them to think more like a team and less like an individual.
Baseball aboard the ships also spread the popularity of the sport around the world. When the ships were docked in countries such as Japan, Haiti, Brazil, Cuba, and China, the crewmen often played onshore, and they taught the locals how to play.
When crewmen had free time, they were allowed to play baseball and practice on the ship. Though the ship was not nearly as big as Yankee Stadium, it was large enough for the Arizona’s baseball team to practice and play a few scrimmage games with each other.
Of course, playing baseball on the ship did come with a few limitations. Crew members had to make sure they didn’t hit or throw the ball off the deck and into the water. Though this would be considered a home run, it would also leave the team without a ball to practice with. If the ball went overboard, the crew members would need to buy another one the next time they were on shore leave.
On other occasions, the USS Arizona’s baseball team could leave the ship and play onshore, providing an opportunity to play on a full-size baseball diamond.
It’s hard to know exactly how well the USS Arizona’s baseball team did against other teams, or how often they had the opportunity to play other teams. As the team traveled with the ship, they were rarely docked in the same place for very long. They still needed to participate in drills and exercises, and they needed to keep up with cleaning and maintenance work around the ship.
On February 19, 1935, The Stanford Daily reported on a match between the USS Arizona and the Stanford varsity baseball team.
“With Bones Hamilton stealing home with the winning run,” reporter Johnny Miles wrote, “the Stanford varsity baseball team defeated the U.S.S. Arizona nine by a score of 5-4 yesterday afternoon on the sunken diamond. Coach Harry Wolters was glad to see the Stanford infield settle down, with but five errors being made against 12 in the game last Saturday.”
Of course, in 1935 the world was not yet at war, although many at the time thought it was inevitable. Baseball and other leisure activities helped the sailors keep their minds at ease as they contemplated going to war.
If you were a crew member on the USS Arizona, what would you want to do to pass the time?