American Legion Baseball
American Legion Baseball is a national institution, having thrived through a world war, several national tragedies, and times of great prosperity as well as great despair.
The league still stands behind the traditional values upon which it was founded in 1925. American Legion Baseball has taught hundreds of thousands of young Americans the importance of sportsmanship, good health and active citizenship. The program is also a promoter of equality, making teammates out of young athletes regardless of their income levels or social standings. American Legion Baseball has been, and continues to be, a stepping stone to manhood for millions of young men who have gone on to serve their country or community, raise families or play the sport at the highest level.
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The year 2000 marked the 75th Anniversary of American Legion Baseball competition. The tremendous increase in the number of teenagers interested in supervised recreation provided by this program is a continuing challenge to American Legionnaires everywhere to improve and expand their efforts, just as those have have come before them have done. Those past efforts and contributions are chronicled below.
“In this city on July 17, 1925, by action of the South Dakota Department of The American Legion, the nationwide organization of Legion Junior Baseball was first proposed as a program of service to the youth of America.”
The above words are inscribed on a marble monument in the community of Milbank, South Dakota, as a reminder of the beginning of this fine Americanism program. The program’s years of existence can be explained best by a portion of that inscription: “A program of service to the youth of America.” Since its beginning, over one million young men have played Legion Baseball.
American Legion Baseball became a National program by convention action in 1925, and the first National Tournament was held in 1926. Only 16 states were represented in this first year of national operation. In 1927, National competition was prevented because of insufficient funds due to the national convention being held in Paris; however, state competition was strong. In 1928, Mr. Dan Sowers, the Director of the National Americanism Commission, appeared before the Executive Council of Baseball in Chicago, which agreed to underwrite the national program up to $50,000. With the exception of two years, the Major Leagues have continually supported American Legion Baseball. They continue to make a significant financial contribution each year.
During the 1929 season, every state ENTERED teams into competition. The National Broadcasting Company originated its nationwide broadcast of the finals. Nineteen thirty-one marked the first appearance in championship play of a player who was later to become a big-league great. Kirby Higbe hurled a complete game for Columbia, South Carolina, and lost the final game in the 14th inning, 1-0. Ten years later, he was the National League’s top pitcher.
In 1938, the finals were broadcast to more than 3,000 radio stations, bringing the series to every section of the country. Major League umpires were used for the first time that year. Nineteen-forty and 194l marked the years that American Legion Baseball became an established national institution for American youth. During the war years, the program was restricted but continued its service to our nation’s youngsters. The post-war years saw the continued growth of the program and the nation’s realization of the importance of this type of activity for boys of all age groups.
In 1949, the selection of an American Legion Player of the Year was originated. This was arranged through the cooperation of Mr. Robert Quinn, Director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Nineteen fifty marked the first year any player ever won the Hillerich and Bradsby Batting Championship trophy two consecutive years. J. W. Porter, Oakland catcher, accomplished this with a .55l average in l949 and a .488 average in l950.
The sixties saw the program grow stronger under the leadership of George W. Rulon, Program Coordinator for American Legion Baseball, who held that post from 1961 until 1987. Upon his retirement, The American Legion Player of the Year Award was renamed the George W. Rulon Player of the Year in honor of the late Program Coordinator.
The seventies saw three more national awards established by the National Americanism Commission. The Dr. Irvin L. (Click) Cowger RBI award, Rawlings Big Stick Award, and the Bob Feller pitching awards were established based on players’ statistics in Regional and World Series Tournaments.
In 1982, the National Americanism Commission adopted the eight-site, eight team, double elimination Regional Tournament format. Sixty-four of the best teams in the country begin National competition at the Regional.
The Quaker Oats Company, makers of Gatorade, in 1986, presented The American Legion with $10,000.00 in scholarship moneys. Since then, ninety American Legion Players have been awarded the Gatorade Regional Player of the Year award and have received over $150,000 in scholarship funds, thanks to The Quaker Oats Company.
In 1998, The American Legion established a national baseball scholarship. A $1,000 scholarship is awarded to each participating Department. A total of $51,000 is awarded annually to 51 outstanding American Legion Baseball players. Recipients are selected by each Department Baseball Committee based upon leadership, character, scholarship and financial need. Players are nominated by local Legion Post. Scholarship applications are distributed to each team. Players nominated must be sponsored by an local American Legion Post, and must be a graduated Senior or in their final year of high school. Three letters of recommendation are required from Team Manager, American Legion Post Commander and community or school leader. Players must secure application from local team manager. Applications must be mail to Department Headquarters Office by July 15.
The American Legion, America’s largest veteran’s organization, sponsors this annual baseball competition. Nearly $1,000,000 is spent on transportation, meals and lodging for the 1,400 players who compete each year in the eight Regional and National Championship tournaments. Tournament game fees and sponsorship by Major League Baseball offset part of this cost. Nearly $600,000 in expenses is paid from The American Legion Life Insurance Fund, which underwrites this and other Youth Activities programs of The American Legion.
In 2000, nearly $17 million was raised by local Legion Posts to sponsor the 5,500 registered American Legion Baseball teams and other athletic teams in their communities. The purpose continues to be in 2000 the same as was in 1925, “An investment in America’s Youth.” The history of American Legion Baseball has proven that America’s youth receive on the baseball diamond a thorough understanding of the true value of sportsmanship, leadership and individual character building.