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A major league baseball player died in battle 100 years ago

By Jim Caple
via the Washington Post newspaper web site

Eddie GrantEddie Grant in his New York Giants uniform“The Germans won’t be able to win a game from us,’’ he wrote to his sister Florence in 1918, according to Smithsonian magazine. “We would knock old Hindenburg out of the box in the first inning.’’

Eddie Grant, in fact, had appeared in the World Series, with the 1913 New York Giants. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer. And after his playing career ended, at age 33, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, leading to his most lasting distinction: He was shot while leading an effort to rescue surrounded units of the 77th Division in the Argonne Forest in northeastern France on Oct. 5, 1918, becoming the first major leaguer killed in action in World War I.

Maj. Charles Wittlesey, Grant’s friend who led the 77th Division known from the battle as “the Lost Battalion,” said of Grant: “When that shell burst and killed that boy, America lost one of the finest types of manhood I have ever known.’’

Grant first appeared in the majors in 1905 after graduating from Harvard, where he played baseball and basketball. He would play 990 games as an infielder through 1915, with Cleveland, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and the Giants. He wasn’t a great hitter —- his career average was .249 with just five home runs —- but he was regarded as a decent fielder at third base.

He also lived up to his nickname, “Harvard Eddie,’’ by earning a law degree from the university in 1909. And after retiring from baseball, he became a practicing lawyer. Less than two years later, the United States entered World War I and Grant enlisted. “I believe there is no greater duty than I owe for being that which I am — an American citizen,’’ he wrote to a friend.

Grant was killed 100 years ago Friday, at age 35, while leading the H Company of the 307th Infantry against German forces. He was one of eight major leaguers who were killed or died while serving for the U.S. military during World War I, and one of more than 50,000 Americans killed in combat during the war. According to various reports, he was badly weakened by bronchitis during the battle but refused to leave the front lines. When the Germans started attacking his troops, Grant shouted at his men to get down on the ground, while remaining on his feet to call for stretchers.

Read the entire article on the Washington Post web site.

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