A passion for history and baseball inspired former Amity student and former Woodbridge resident Josh Drazen to coauthor a book about how America’s favorite past time survived during World War II. The 350-page book, The Nats and the Grays, released this week, recounts the seldom-told story about how a friendship between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the former Washington Nationals’ owner Clark Griffith may have been the saving grace for the popular sport. The book, which focuses on the Washington, DC area in the early 1940s, chronicles the political atmosphere at the time and how World War II impacted the area’s two baseball teams – the Nationals of the American League and the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues. “The relationship between the owner of the Washington Nationals and the Roosevelt administration played a huge role in why baseball continued. In fact, Roosevelt penned what became known as the ‘green light letter’ which stated that baseball should and would continue because the American people needed it during the war effort,” Drazen said.
The book was the brainchild of journalist David E. Hubler who had interviewed more than a dozen former National players in the 1990s with plans to one day write a fictional novel loosely based on the Nats players during WWII, then decided to write the book as historical non-fiction. When he approached long-time family friend Drazen about the opportunity to be a co-author, Drazen didn’t hesitate. “It was in my wheel house since baseball and history have always been interests of mine,” Drazen said. “I’d taken a lot of history classes at Amity and majored in history at UPenn and both my grandfathers had served – one was stationed in the South Pacific and the other drove a tank in the Battle of the Bulge – and it was an opportunity to get published.”
For Drazen, 41 a journalist, attorney and former advertising copywriter, it was also a chance to combine his professional expertise as a researcher and writer. He scoured public and Congressional records, history books, military websites and more to compile facts for the book. What he enjoyed most was finding and learning about obscure facts and anecdotes – like the letter Hubler found in a manuscript gallery that detailed Harry Truman’s reaction the moment he learned he was president when FDR died. “I even found an obituary for former Nationals’ player, Buddy Lewis, who served as a pilot in the war that stated his cargo plane was named “Old Fox” – Clark Griffith’s nickname,” Drazen said. “I found a lot of stuff about players who served and were injured – some couldn’t play when they came home and some could. One player was able to pitch with a prosthetic leg and was later the subject of a bidding war between the Yankees and the Nationals, won by the Nats.” Baseball adapted each season to the changes and challenges presented by the war on the home front – the GI bill, military draft, the internment of Japanese Americans, rationing and other wartime regulations. The book also recounts the Negro Leagues’ struggle for recognition, solvency and integration. “There’s a lot of moving parts in the book that are told in a way that’s reader friendly,” Drazen said. “We include actual interviews with the players, and highlight their personalities and relationships with Griffith and each other. I think the book will appeal to historians, baseball fans and anybody that likes a good story.”
Drazen was excited to see the final cover of the book and its listing on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble and expects to be even more thrilled to see the big book in print for the first time. “It was definitely a team effort, I don’t think either of us could have done it alone,” Drazen said of his work with Hubler. He already has plans for his next project – a modern day geopolitical thriller that involves Venezuela, Iran and the United States.
By Laura Fantarella – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent