Thousands of Marinette and Menominee baseball players are graduates of the American Legion baseball program. The Marinette Legion program was organized in the mid-1940s under Bob Haase. The Menominee program was launched in the late 1940s by Richard “Red” Lacousiere.

Players from the two programs went on to play college baseball. Several of them were signed to minor league contracts. One — Marinette’s Jim Magnusen — made it to the major leagues.

Although a cadre of players advanced to the college or professional ranks, scores of others continued playing the game in local leagues or in leagues outside the M&M area. Many of them served as assistants to Haase and Lacousiere, or simply continued the tradition by coaching in various youth programs.

American Legion baseball has been around for 94 years. It began in 1925 following an inspiring speech by former Army Major John L. Griffith who served as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. Griffith addressed the American Legion Department at South Dakota’s summer convention in Milbank.

“There is nothing in our national life which stresses certain qualities that are expressed in athletics,” Griffith told his convention audience. He stressed the matter of citizenship training brought out in athletics. American Legion baseball was born from Griffith’s speech. His idea quickly spread to the national stage.

The Legion’s Americanism Commission proposed organizing a Junior All-American Baseball League to spread “citizenship through sportsmanship” at its seventh national convention in Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha is a hotbed for baseball and the home of the College World Series.

Today, American Legion teams are located in all 50 states and Canada. There are now 81 former American Legion players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The latest inductions were Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay in this year’s class.

One of the most famous of them all was Bobby Feller of Iowa, known as the “Heater from Van Meter.” The pitching sensation started playing baseball on his family farm and by age 12 was good enough to play American Legion baseball. He reached the major leagues at age 17 before graduating high school. Two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed Dec. 7, 1941, Feller enlisted in the Navy. He was the first major league to join the war effort. Be doing so, he gave up four seasons of baseball in the prime of his career. Feller was the first former American Legion player to be inducted in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Another famous graduate of the program was slugger Ted Williams who is the only Hall of Fame who served in two wars — World War II and Korean War. He spent five years of his life as a fighter pilot and served in combat.

The history of the American Legion baseball program is filled with inspiring stories like those of Feller and Williams. Thousands of others learned the skills of citizenship besides participating in the game of baseball.

Kudos to the American Legion for keeping youth baseball alive for nearly a century and for providing a talent pool of solid citizens that have actively served America’s communities for generations.