Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day Eddie Grant

It is days like this why I love blogging. I had so much fun and learned so much while researching this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it. If you are interested, I strongly suggest you read this 2004 Smithsonian Magazine article for a fantastic account of Eddie Grant and the ultimate sacrifice he made.

Two hundred twenty-seven major leagues baseball players served in the Unites States armed forced during World War I, five of them died in the service of our country.

The first to be killed was former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Eddie Grant. In 1909 he played in all 154 games and led the National League in plate appearances (700) and at bats (631). That season he collected seven hits in a row in a double-header against two future Hall of Famers, Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard. A lifetime .254 hitter, Grant retired after 10 seasons in baseball following the 1915 season. His last season he served as the captain of the New York Giants.

Eddie Grant was different than most professional ballplayers, he was a Harvard educated lawyer. In a time when most early century professional ballplayers were bone-sawed illiterates... Eddie Grant’s academic pedigree was his defining characteristic. Following his retirement from the game, he launched a successful law practice.

When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, he became the first current or former major leaguer to volunteer, even though he was eligible for an age based waiver (he was 33). He was commissioned a Captain in Company H, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division (known as the Statue of Liberty Division) after four months of officer training.

Arriving in France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, the Statue of Liberty Division saw some combat before being assigned to the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the final great American drive of the war. On October 2, 1918, the 307th Regiment launched an attack in the Argonne Forest, a rugged, heavily wooded area with thick underbrush, deep ravines, and marshes. His battalion was on a mission to rescue the "Lost Battalion" trapped behind German lines.

By the morning of the third day (October 5) Eddie Grant was exhausted. He hadn't slept since the beginning of the offensive, and some fellow officers noticed him sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to lift the cup. One of his troops, a former policeman at the Polo Grounds, recalled: "Eddie was dog-tired but he stepped off at the head of his outfit with no more concern than if he were walking to his old place at third base after his side had finished its turn at the bat. He staggered from weakness when he first started off, but pretty soon he was marching briskly with his head up."

Later that day the 307th was moving forward when Commanding Office Major Jay was injured, as he was carried past on a litter, Jay (another Harvard man) ordered Captain Grant, the highest-ranking officer left in the battalion, to assume command. The CO had hardly finished speaking when a shell came through the trees, wounding two of Grant's lieutenants. Eddie was waving his hands and calling out for more stretchers when a second incoming shell struck him. It was a direct hit. He died instantly. Grant was buried in the Argonne Forest, only a few yards from where he fell. The Lost Battalion was rescued three days later.

Eddie Grant's remains were later moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France... along with 14,245 other Americans.

In 1921, back in New York City in center-field at the old Polo Grounds, there was a monument dedicated to Eddie Grant. Each season, typically between games of the Memorial Day doubleheader, the Giants would hold a solemn wreath-laying ceremony the monument.

Last week UNIWATCH featured a wondrously colorized version of Willie Mays famous 'over the shoulder catch' of Vic Wertz’s deep drive at the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series. Look to the left of Mays and you can see the Eddie Grant memorial sitting out in center field 30+ years after it was first dedicated.

In the chaos following the final game played at the Polo Grounds on September 29, 1957, souvenir hunters mobbed the field. The New York Times reported three teenagers were witnessed prying the bronze plaque off the monument. Rumors that the police ultimately recovered the plaque were never verified. The stolen plaque remained missing and a mystery for over forty years.

In late July 1999, the Eddie Grant Memorial plaque was discovered in the attic of a home in New Jersey. The new owners had discovered the 100 pound plaque wrapped in a blanket and hidden under a trap door in the attic. Records show the house was previously owned by a former NYC Police officer. Before moving to New Jersey, Gaetano Bucca had retired from the NYPD in January 1958. Records show he served in the city's 32nd precinct. The 32nd is the jurisdiction encompassing the Coogan's Bluff/Polo Grounds area. He died in 1974.

The Giants last won the World Series in 1954. The club captured NL pennants in 1962 and 1989, but despite having great players and teams... they never won another championship after Eddie Grant's plaque was stolen.

In 2001 (after the original plaque had been recovered) the Great War Society and the Western Front Association approached the new San Francisco Giants ownership with an offer to replace the old plaque honoring Eddie Grant at their shiny-new ballpark along the waterfront in San Francisco. For some reason, the Giants declined the offer. The following season (2002) the Giants, had a 5 run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 6 and were on the cusp of finally winning a world championship. They blew that lead and and lost the World Series in seven games to the Angels. The next year (2003) they were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Florida Marlins, when Jose Cruz Jr. dropped a fly ball in the 11th inning in the pivotal game 3.

In 2006, likely anxious to reverse the Eddie Grant curse, the club finally erected a replica plaque near the Lefty O’Doul entrance gate at what is now called AT&T Park. On November 1, 2010 the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers, won the first World Series championship for the franchise since the memorial was stolen.

Far from the Game and the cheering of old,
Across in the Argonne will tell you the story,
Where each one may read on its rain-battered mould,
A final box score that is written in glory,
A final box score of a Player who gave,
The flag that he fought for, his ghost—and his grave.
~ Grantland Rice


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