That Time a Guy Playing a Handful of Baseball Games Nearly Changed American History Forever


U.S. Presidents and sports have always been
connected. Gerald Ford played football as a University
of Michigan undergrad. George H.W. Bush played in the first two College
World Series. George W. Bush was part owner of the Texas
Rangers’ baseball franchise. Barack Obama frequently played pickup basketball
games with his staff (who were no doubt all terrified of accidentally hurting the then
Commander-in-Chief during the games.) Ronald Reagan even portrayed “The Gipper”
in the football movie Knute Rockne, All American during his acting days. But only one U.S. President was ever a professional
athlete, albeit for a very brief time. Evidence points to Dwight D. Eisenhower having
played semi-pro minor league baseball in 1911 in Junction City, Kansas. Although for much of his life, this was something
he chose to keep secret. Had he not in the first few years after he
did this, it would have changed the course of American history. In 1911, baseball was really coming into its
own in America. Stars like Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson,
Joe (not yet “Shoeless”) Jackson, and Ty Cobb, all future Hall of Famers, dominated
major league baseball. The introduction of a livelier ball jump started
offenses. Frank Schulte had 21 home runs for the Chicago
Cubs in 1911, the first time anyone had hit over twenty home runs individually in a season. Schulte and Cobb won the first Most Valuable
Player Awards, receiving cars from Chalmers Automobiles as a reward from the sponsor. Attendance at baseball games rose across the
country. Baseball had been popular since the late 19th
century, but now professional teams began to pop up in every state, every city, every
town in the country. This included the state of Kansas and Junction
City. The period between 1909-1913 was “Kansas’
golden age in the professional game,” according to the Kansas State Historical Society. By 1910, twenty five cities and towns in Kansas
had at least semi-pro teams playing organized ball. This included bigger Kansas cities like Wichita
and Topeka with Class A minor league baseball teams (equivalent to Triple and Double A teams
today). It also included smaller towns with Class
D semi-pro teams (equivalent to the lowest level of the minor leagues today), like Abilene,
Clay Center, Ellsworth, and Junction City. Junction City, called so because it was where
the Wisconsin Valley Railroad intersected the Wisconsin Central tracks, actually wasn’t
even its own village until June of 1911. Annexing itself from the nearby town of Carson,
they held elections for officers in the village hall on the sixth of June. Twenty-three voters went to the polls that
day and elected Jacob Skibba president of the village of Junction City. Despite not actually governing itself until
1911, Junction City had a baseball team in the Central Kansas League beginning in 1909. For the first two years of their existence,
the Junction City Soldiers weren’t particularly good, never finishing higher than fifth in
the league. As the 1911 season approached, the Soldiers,
and all of the teams in the Central Kansas League, began to recruit new, young players. Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison,
Texas on October 14, 1890. Two years later, the Eisenhower clan made
the 400 mile trip north and moved to Abilene, Kansas, a place the General and President
for the rest of his life considered his hometown. He was an active kid and, by his own admission,
strove towards “excellence in sports, particularly baseball and football. I could not imagine an existence in which
I was not playing one or both.” When he was boy, he fell and hurt his knee,
to the point where doctors considered amputation. In his autobiography At Ease: Stories I Tell
To Friends, he recounted what he told his brother, Ed, when he heard the possible news,
“When Ed got home, I called him and made him promise to make sure that under no circumstance
would they amputate my leg. “I’d rather be dead than crippled, and not
be able to play ball.”” Needless to say, years later when the Central
Kansas League came calling, Eisenhower couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The Eisenhower family didn’t have a lot
of money, so both he and his brother, Edgar, had to take jobs to support themselves through
school. They struck a deal not unlike the one later
portrayed by the characters George and Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (incidentally,
Jimmy Stewart, who played George Bailey, in real life also became a General in the U.S.
military). The Eisenhower brothers agreed that while
one of them went to school, the other would work to pay for it. The next year, they switched. According to a 1969 Time Magazine article,
Dwight worked at a creamery in 1909 as part of this deal. While there is no actual written documentation
at the time, there is significant evidence that in 1911, at the age of 21, he found a
new job twenty five miles east of Abilene with the Junction City Soldiers semi-pro baseball
team. The primary evidence comes from several 1945
New York Times and Associated Press articles, written following Eisenhower’s return from
the war. After arriving home, one of the first things
the now-decorated General did was attend a baseball game between the New York Giants
and Boston Braves. In one of the articles, the Times quotes Mel
Ott, then-manager of the Giants and future Baseball Hall of Famer, that the “general
admitted that he done so (played pro ball), under the assumed name of Wilson.” In a separate story from the same game, the
Times reported on a “brief, informal chat” with the two managers (Ott and Braves’ manager
Bob Coleman) and the General. This chat included an admission from the General
himself that playing baseball professionally was the “one secret of my life.” He went on to explain that he played in the
Kansas league. When asked what position he played, Eisenhower
joked, “That’s my secret.” There was, in fact, a “Wilson” who played
centerfield for the 1911 Junction City Soldiers, at least according to the baseball archive
Baseball Reference. This “Wilson” didn’t play very much,
only appearing in nine games with 31 at-bats. He did have eleven hits though, good for a
.355 batting average, and was perfect in the field with eleven chances and eleven putouts,
for whatever that’s worth. Later that month, in an interview with the
Associated Press in his hometown of Abilene, Eisenhower went further,
“I was a center fielder. I went into baseball deliberately to make
money, and with no idea to make it a career. I wanted to go to college that fall, and we
didn’t have much money. I took any job that offered me more money,
because I needed money. But I wasn’t a very good center fielder,
and didn’t do too well at that.” In 1911 (possibly during the baseball season),
Eisenhower was accepted into the prestigious West Point, readying himself to be in the
Army and for his illustrious future ahead. When he arrived, he immediately tried out
for the JV football and baseball teams. He made both. A baseball teammate of his was Omar Bradley,
who also went on to become a famed World War II General. It was actually Eisenhower’s football career
that was a lot more promising. He became a star running back on the varsity
team his sophomore year. The New York Times called him, “one of the
most promising backs in Eastern football.” Later that year, he injured his knee, derailing
his football career. He didn’t make the varsity baseball team
at West Point. Eisenhower would later say, “not making
the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe
my greatest.” So how would any of this have changed American
history? I mean, he played in a few semi-professional
baseball games. Big deal. Here’s the thing. In order for one to participate in college
athletics, one must be an amateur athlete, as in someone who has never made money playing
sports. Playing semi-professional baseball, no matter
if it was for love of the game or financial reasons, should have disqualified Eisenhower
from making the football team. Yet, he told no one of his semi-pro past. Again, so what? He’d just get kicked off the team if they
found out, right? Not quite. The Cadet’s Honor Code states “”A cadet
will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” While the Code didn’t get formally written
until 1922 (with the impetus from then-Superintendent of the Academy Douglas MacArthur), it was
still very much applied and honored. Today, Cadets have to sign such a pledge. It is not known if in 1911 West Point required
an actual signature as well. Either way, an “officer’s word was his
bond” and deliberate violation of this was a serious offense in the eyes of the school. If Dwight D. Eisenhower had been discovered
to have lied about his lack of amateur status, he would have been not only kicked off the
team, but kicked out of the Academy. History would have never had the great General
Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is generally considered
one of the top ten U.S. Presidents to date. By 1945, Eisenhower (or at least someone close
to him) realized that thanks to his little lie, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for
him to talk about his semi-pro career, especially if he had political aspirations. In fact, within the collected presidential
papers at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, KS in “A Guide to the Historical
Holdings of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library – Sports and Recreation,” there is this:
“DDE-Personals [memo by Schulz, 8-3-61, re DDE playing semi-pro baseball]
DDE did play professional baseball one season to make money, he did make one trip under
assumed name (did not say whether Wilson or not). But, he says, not to answer this because ‘it
gets too complicated.’” If he had been found out while still in school,
he would been kicked out and the world would have likely never known the name Dwight D.
Eisenhower. Then again, this may have suited Eisenhower
just fine. Later in life, he told the press this story,
“A friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer
afternoon on a river bank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him 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.” Bonus Facts:
• Eisenhower’s football career was actually cut short in a game against legend Jim Thorpe,
who himself was just returning from his triumphant 1912 Olympics. With the future President’s team losing
27 to 6, Eisenhower was tackled at a bad angle and his knee buckled. He had to be carried off. Later that year, he hurt the same knee again
in a horse riding accident. Eisenhower never played football again. • On the website of the Eisenhower President
Library, buried in the biographical section, it actually speaks of Eisenhower potentially
playing professional baseball in 1913 as well, stating, “He returned to Abilene for the
summer following his sophomore or ‘Yearling’ term at West Point in 1913, when he may or
may have not played semi-professional baseball.” By 1913, it wouldn’t have mattered all that
much. His football career was done due to the knee
injury and baseball wasn’t in the cards for him at West Point. He wasn’t playing amateur sports any longer,
so his eligibility wouldn’t have been compromised by taking a summer job playing baseball, and
he wouldn’t have had to lie about it.

100 thoughts on “That Time a Guy Playing a Handful of Baseball Games Nearly Changed American History Forever

  1. Being born and raised in Kansas and knowing of all of the towns that you spoke of it makes this one of my favorite videos ever. We love Eisenhower and we love our sports, thanks Simon!

  2. Wow……..Eisenhower was keen to keep his time in professional sports a secret because it might jeopardize attending West Point? And continued to keep it a secret because it might hang like a shadow over his impeccable record as a Republican president?His worries are from the age of innocence. It is considered an honorable thing to work to attend college even if the job is in sports.
    So being from a bygone age when honor meant something to be a public servant, he is probably turning over in his grave considering the scandalous secrets and lies of the present Republican president!!!

  3. blah blah blah Simone's inability to speak english names ( Watch " Airplane" for the Gipper). Nice to see that College athletes can get paid now because of a California law. The NCAA said " None of Our teams will play in California, uh oh No We came up with the same rule somehow. We're not Greedy. " Their going to lose millions boo woo.

  4. I think they confused Junction City, WI with Junction City, KS. I don't think Kansas had two railroads with Wisconsin in the name.

  5. I don't know, for a guy who's supposedly all about about knowledge, Simon seems woefully lacking in cultural literacy. Win one for the Jipper. 🙄

  6. I mean, if you want to be real about it, it would have changed British history forever, too. Youd be making this video in German instead of English

  7. Say what??? K-nute who?? Try to spend 10 seconds and look up how to pronounce names. Jesus Christ. I swear I am going to un-suscribe to this channel due to lack of research and stupidities…

    Seriously, you are nothing but a tele-prompter reader and knows nothing. Just keep promoting those video games and the clothing companies.

  8. I think you mispronounce the names in order to get people to leave comments…………………..you are either one shrewd motherfucker OR you don't do your research and are a TOTAL MORON!
    I certainly hope it is the former and not the latter to else I would have to "Yoon Soob Skreebe" "Or unsubscribe……….. Whichever comes first I suppose………or is it feerst?

  9. Joe Jackson was shoeless from the start. He is a local hero and deserves a Today I Found Out video.. it's a damn interesting story, and he has been misrepresented in history.. he took no money and had a statistically awesome World Series but due to illiteracy and being a "Rube" he was hung out to dry… #ShoelessJoeHOF!!!!

  10. When I saw the thumbnail, I was anticipating a video on Rougned Odor. Was disappointed. I would've watched Odor punching Bautista in the face for 10 minutes & 41 seconds.

  11. "Ronald Reagan even portrayed the Gipper in the football movie 'Knute Rockne All American.'"

    Gipper isn't pronounced with a J sound. Knute Rockne is pronounced NEWT rok-NEE.

  12. Considering EVERY President since FDR should have, and be, imprisoned as war criminals, I'm not surprised his military career began with a fraud.

  13. Can’t wait for the first president who was a pro mma or boxer previously. How hilarious would it be for every time he spoke, a clip played of him getting tkfo

  14. You can't play ball if your dead, but I know for a fact, from personal experience, you CAN play baseball as a "cripple".

  15. Some (not really) necessary corrections:
    – Ronald Reagan played the (HARD G) Gipper in "Knute Rockne (pronounced rock knee), All-American".
    – Joe Jackson was banned from Major League baseball because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. So, despite his immense talent, he's not in the HOF and never will be.

  16. I about 1920 Ty Cobb came to Georgia and played in several exhibition games. For money if course. One of my grandfather's achievements in life was that he struck out Ty Cobb – twice. He had to finish raising his four sisters so he never tried out for professional baseball.

    But after he finished raising those girls (both his parents had died) he went to college, got his Ph.D, and became a Methodist minister.

    That's my baseball story.

  17. Not having a go at you Simon but Knute Rockne is pronounced NEWT ROCK-KNEE. Hard one, that. It's like knife. I always hated silent letters (if it's silent, why the hell is it there?!?).

  18. So how come Trumps little hands can't throw a ball?
    Maybe those bone spurs stopped him joining the army… but promoted his golfing career?
    Incidentally Trump has insulted Obama over playing golf… and yet now Trump has played a lot more, now he wants to move to Miami lmfao

  19. Not only did you mispronounce "Gipper" as others have posted, you also mispronounced "Knute Rockne". The "K" is silent and "Rockne" is pronounced "Rocknee".

  20. While many will claim that you mispronounced Knute in Knute Rockne, the fact is, you are correct….for the most part. Far too many, in fact, probably 95% believe it's pronounced, "Newt". The man's name was actually pronounced, "Kuh-newt", just as you said. The problem is, that when said correctly, the "K" almost disappears if you aren't listening intently. However, it is there and it is said.

  21. Shoeless Joe Jackson is not a Hall of Famer. The Baseball Hall of Fame excludes any player who is on the ineligible list. Because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal (where the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series), Jackson, along with seven other players, were permanently banned from baseball. 100 years later, Jackson (who was probably innocent), is still banned, and still not eligible for election to the Hall of Fame.

  22. Interesting but I'm still waiting for the "Today I Found Out: Why Simon Whistler Can't Pronounce Names", "Bonus Fact: He Can't Whistle Either."

  23. After today I will not mention the way Simon pronounces things. As an American we can't expect everyone in the world say things the way we do. Hell, I have gotten use to the way people with British or Australian accents pronounces "H's" and "Z's" 😆😆😆😆

  24. There are worse secrets to reveal than, "I used to play professional baseball," and it's nice to think that was his most sordid secret.

  25. since he was a GOPer – the DEMs are probably planning retro-impeachment hearings over lying about his semi-pro disqualification – all the while cheering the restoration of Jim Thorpe's gold metals which he lost cuz he had played semi-pro before winning olympic gold

  26. SIMON, if you are not a complete and utter Trump (a synonym for moron, yet slightly more stupid), PLEASE do a modicum of research and LOOK UP HOW TO PRONOUNCE UNFAMILIAR WORDS & NAMES! When you get only 30 seconds into a video and hit a trifecta, it's the worst you can possibly do!

  27. Good lord man. Did you even TRY to find the right pronunciations??? If you’re going to have a channel that seeks to teach & inform, you should start by getting the easy part right. Why should anyone trust that you have your facts right when you can’t get anyone’s name right? It really makes you look clueless and undermines any credibility you might have.

  28. I don’t know the rules that applied when Eisenhower was in college, but today NCAA rules make it clear amateur status is sport specific. Eisenhower did not play intercollegiate baseball, so his participation in football would not have violated that rule. A number of pro baseball players have had no problems later being on a college football team. A recent example is Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray who signed for $5 million in the Oakland A’s organization but after that played on the Sooners football team.

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