On Memorial Day, commemorating the first death in Major League Baseball
Eddie Grant, a Harvard Law School graduate and third former baseball player for the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Giants, was the first major league baseball player to be killed in World War I.
In all, seven other major players lost their lives in the Great War. They are Lieutenant Tom Burr, Plane Crash; Lt. Harry Chapman, Illness; Lt. Larry Chappelle, Influenza; soldier. Harry Glenn, pneumonia. M. Newton Halliday, Bleeding. corporal. Ralph Sherman, drowned, and winner of the Purple Heart Award, Sgt. Robert “Boone” Troy, shot.
Affectionately known among his peers as “Harvard Eddy,” Grant made his majors debut in 1905 after graduating from Harvard, where he starred in baseball and was the basketball team’s top scorer. Grant eventually played 990 games as a player during 1915.
The average hitter in the dead ball era, neither stunning nor noxious, Grant’s career average was .249 with five home runs. Grant’s best season in the big league came in 1909 when he hit 0.269 when Philadelphia was leading and finished second in the National League with 170 strokes. Opposition players considered him an above-average player and particularly skilled at handling rabbits. At the 1913 World Championships that the Giants lost to Philadelphia Athletics, 4-1, Grant saw limited activity. He ran a discus and scored in Game 2, and in Game 4, he hit a foul ball that flew out of Player A’s catch easily.
On April 6, 1917, two years after his baseball career ended at the age of 33 and Grant had barely begun practicing law, Grant joined the U.S. Army, the first major league player to sign up. In a letter to a friend, Grant proudly wrote: “I have decided from the beginning that I would be in this war if it came to us…I believe there is no greater duty than I owe to being an American citizen.”
Tom Simon, writing for the American Baseball Research Association, recounts the fateful demise of Grant in his defense of America against the advance of the Germans. On October 2, 1918, Grant’s 307th Regiment launched an assault on the French Argonne Forest, a rugged, wooded area with dense bushes, deep valleys, and swamps. Grant’s top officers were soon killed, and Eddie took command. By the morning of the third day, October 5, Grant was exhausted. He had not slept since the beginning of the attack, and his fellow officers noticed that he was sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to raise the cup.
One Grant, a former Polo Grounds policeman, recalled: “Eddie was tired of the dogs but got down on top of his clothes without worrying more than if he walked back to his old spot on third base after his team had finished their turn at bat. He staggered from Weakness when he first started, but soon he was walking briskly with his head held high.”
As the Germans pressed forward, Grant yelled at his men for cover while he remained standing, waving his arms to call for stretchers. Grant’s brave efforts to save his fellow soldiers cost him his life. “When that shell went off and killed that boy,” said Major Charles Wheatley, Grant’s friend who commanded the 77th Division in the battle that historians call “The Lost Regiment.” When the battle was over, Grant’s fellow soldiers, realizing their commander’s death, heard them say, “The best man in the entire regiment is gone.”
Grant is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, France, along with more than 14,000 American soldiers. World War I historian Mike Hanlon led tours of the war’s battlefields and cemetery where he spoke about the recipients of the Purple Heart Scholarship.
Then-MLB commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis wanted to add Grant to the Hall of Fame for his service in the country. Although Landis’ brilliant idea was rejected, Grant had a highway in the Bronx named after him, and a ball arena in his hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts.
The Giants, Grant’s last major league team, placed a bronze plaque in his honor on the central field fence of the polo fields on Memorial Day 1921. The plaque identified Grant as a “soldier-researcher-athlete,” undoubtedly the order in which Eddie was like them listed.
Joe Guzzardi is a member of the American Baseball Research Association and the Online Baseball Writers Association. Call him at email@example.com.