Discover the secret Minor League career of a young Dwight Eisenhower
It wasn't much of a career, all told: one summer spent with the Junction City Soldiers of the Class D Central Kansas League back in 1911. According to Baseball-Reference, the outfielder -- known only by the name "Wilson" -- hit .355 over just 31 at-bats. There were no Major League aspirations -- the third of six brothers growing up in Abilene, Kan., Wilson was headed to college that fall and simply needed the extra cash.
It's just one of countless curious footnotes in baseball's history book. Except this one very nearly altered the course of American history: "Wilson" was the alias of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his three months in the Minors almost derailed his career.
Before his distinguished military service and his two terms as president, a young Eisenhower wanted to become a baseball player -- "a real professional like Honus Wagner." Eisenhower was a center fielder, and a good one at that, starring for Abilene High School alongside his older brother Edgar. When Eisenhower graduated, though, he put his Major League dream aside, working at a creamery to help pay for Edgar's education at the University of Michigan -- with the understanding that Edgar would later return the favor.
As it turned out, that wouldn't be necessary: The next year, Eisenhower won a merit appointment to the United States Military Academy. With West Point on the horizon and in need of some extra cash, he signed with Junction City for the summer.
There was just one problem: Ike wanted to play both football and baseball at Army, and the NCAA's rules regarding amateurism prohibited playing sports for money. Eisenhower's solution? Play under an assumed name.
Eisenhower's athletic career at West Point wouldn't last long. He didn't make the varsity baseball team, and he badly hurt his knee shortly after joining the football team. That misfortune might have been for the best, though: Army football players were required to sign a form testifying that they had never played sports for money, and given the Military Academy's strict honor code, his secret Minor League stint could conceivably have led to his expulsion.
This didn't stop Eisenhower from occasionally letting that information slip, though. On June 19, 1945, just six weeks after V-E Day, the then-supreme commander was the star of what The New York Times labeled "the largest and most enthusiastic" parade in the city's history -- a parade that ended at the Polo Grounds, where Eisenhower was to take in a Giants game with New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Before first pitch, Giants manager Mel Ott asked Eisenhower if the rumors of his professional baseball career were true. Eisenhower replied, within earshot of reporters, that they were, and that he had played under the pseudonym Wilson. A few days later, he elaborated to the Associated Press that he "wanted to go to college in the fall and we didn't have much money."
The president eventually came to view his time in Junction City with some anxiety, refusing to comment on it toward the end of his life -- perhaps, as a 1992 Chicago Tribune article speculated, because he was "embarrassed, or nervous about how it would affect his legacy." In 1961, he even sent out a memo asking employees to avoid discussing the matter, a document that's still on file today at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
But even then, Eisenhower couldn't help a sense of pride. In 1948, he took in a Dodgers game at Ebbets Field with Arthur Patterson, then Brooklyn's publicity chief. Patterson asked Eisenhower whether he'd played in the Minors, saying that he had heard that two Wilsons had played in the 1911 Central Kansas League.
"Which one was Wilson," Patterson asked, "and which one was Ike?"
"I was the Wilson who could hit," Eisenhower replied, "but that's between you and me."