Fair or not, athletics are often compared to war. The grind and the camaraderie between teammates and fellow soldiers often bear a striking resemblance. Over the years, when war breaks out, there are always a few men willing to trade their baseball bats and football helmets for a gun and a canteen. The list is long and narrow. One of those men is Eddie Grant. Though he never amounted to much in the major leagues, he was willing to lay aside his promising law career to defend his country. His reward? Highways and baseball fields were named in his honor while his corpse lay in the Argonne Forest.
Born on May 5, 1883 in Franklin, Massachusetts, Eddie Grant quickly took on the personality of his hometown. A quiet, unassuming child, he wanted more for his life and began a dalliance with the game of baseball. He was never much of student, not while he was in high school or in prep school at Dean Academy, not even when he enrolled at Harvard in 1902.
He was a C-student throughout, but he never lost his desire to be a ball player and make something of his life. His hometown was small and unassuming with its only claim to fame being that it had the country's first public library (Franklin Public Library). He yearned to live Franklin's town motto, derived from a quote by its namesake Benjamin Franklin, "Industry Need Not Wish".
It was in that quote that Eddie Grant found his purpose in life. While he was not naturally gifted at anything, he still had a work ethic and sought to be the best that he could be. After graduating from Harvard in 1905, he continued his education while he began his baseball career, eventually earning his law degree in 1909 and opening up his own practice in Boston soon after.
The Major Leagues
While Eddie Grant was displaying his work ethic in the classroom in Cambridge, he was honing his skills as the Crimson's third baseman. However, it was short-lived. While he played well as a freshman and even found time to lead the freshman basketball team in points, he was ruled ineligible his sophomore year for playing in an International League game. There were minor leagues all over the East Coast in those days and Eddie Grant had no trouble finding another team to join, the pull of the game being ever stronger.
By 1905, he was given an opportunity when the Cleveland Naps (now Nationals) called him up as an emergency replacement for the team's star Nap Lajoie who had gone down with a leg infection. Though he didn't do much in his limited role, Eddie Grant realized that he could make it at the sport's highest level and sought to cement his status as an everyday contributor.
Two years later, all the hard work paid off when he got a call from the Phillies. He spent much of that first year battling Ernie Countney for third base, but by 1908 the job was his to lose. In the next couple of years, he would see his batting average rise from .244 in 1908 to .269 the next year. He never had a big swing, ending his career with five homers and topping out with two in 1912.
Along the way, he made stops in cities such as Philadelphia (1908-1910), Cincinnati (1911-1913) and the New York Giants (1913-1915), before retiring after the 1915 season. He had every intention of becoming a full-time lawyer, having operated a law office in Boston during the offseasons, but things took an interesting turn across the Atlantic Ocean.
When Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in the summer of 1914, Eddie Grant paid little attention. After all, he was a ball player, making a living while playing a child's game, with a law office waiting for him in the offseason. But deep down, he knew that if duty called, he would drop whatever he was doing and serve his country. Things escalated pretty quickly after that and by April 1917 America had entered World War I. Numerous athletes enlisted, many much more famous than Eddie Grant, but he was the first ball player to enlist.
Soon, he found himself serving months of training as an officer in Plattsburg, New York. By the time he finished training, he was a captain of the 307th Infantry Regiment. After a brief training period at Camp Upton on Long Island, his unit was sent to France.
His men saw some scattered fighting when they first entered the country, but they knew nothing of the horror that they would encounter when they were assigned to the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the last great American drive of the war. It was early October 1918, the leaves were changing colors and a chill was beginning to invade the air. As Grant's troops traveled the heavily wooded area, climbed around the deep ravines and dodged the marshes, they had to constantly keep their heads on a swivel as the enemy could be around any corner.
By the third day, October 5, Eddie Grant had begun to sink into the despair of utter exhaustion. That morning, his men noted how he slumped over a nearby stump with a coffee in hand, lacking the strength to lift the bitter nectar to his lips. But despite his exhaustion, he managed to lift himself up when it was time to go and was soon leading the pack to their next point.
The attack came swiftly and casualties soon mounted. As Major Jay, the battalion chief, was being taken to safety to address his wounds, he began to order Grant to lead the men. After all, he was the highest-ranking official left. Major Jay had barely begun to speak when a shell exploded nearby, wounding several lieutenants. As Eddie Grant began to wave his arms for any available stretchers, he was directly hit with a shell, obliterating him instantly.
At the tender age of 35, Eddie Grant was dead. He was buried mere feet from where he was killed, but sometime later his remains were transferred to the Romagne Cemetery. Three years later, on Memorial Day 1921, a plaque was dedicated in his honor at the Polo Grounds. To this day, a highway in the Bronx, the baseball field at Dean College and two American Legion Fields bear his name. He died a hero.