Dwight D. Eisenhower lied in a signed pledge in order to play football as a West Point student. Had the false assertion been discovered, the Allied Forces would have had a different commander, and the Cold War would have been fought on the U.S. side by a …Adlai Stevenson, if not Herman Goering. Ike never mentioned his ethical and very uncharacteristic breach of military conduct in his memoirs, but the incident seems to have haunted him all his life.
President Eisenhower played the outfield for Class D Junction City, a professional minor league team, in 1911. Ike used a false name—“Wilson”— to maintain eligibility for collegiate athletics. He was 20 years old and hit .355, but he wasn’t aiming for the big leagues. “I wanted to go to college that fall and we didn’t have much money,” General Eisenhower told the Associated Press in 1945. “I took any job that offered me more money, because I needed money.”
When Eisenhower joined the Army’s football program at West Point, he had to sign a form saying he was never compensated for playing a professional sport. The assumption is that Ike signed, but the document has never been found. Had his lie been discovered whgile he was at West Point, he would have been kicked out of the Academy. Had the falsely signed document surfaced while he was President, it would have been a serious embarrassment for both Ike and the military.
My guess is that it was “lost.”
Eisenhower mentioned the pro baseball excursion several times. While visiting the NY Giants and the Boston Braves at the Polo Grounds in June of 1945, he confided in Giants manager Mel Ott and Braves manager Bob Coleman. Ott asked the general if he had played professional baseball. “The general admitted he had done so, under the assumed name of Wilson,” the New York Times reported.
He called it ‘the one secret of my life,’ ” the Times wrote. The book My Three Years with Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher also included a first-person account of hearing Eisenhower discuss a brief and incognito minor league baseball career.
After leaving the White House, Eisenhower refused to discuss his secret life as a professional baseball player and the honor breach that must have followed. In 1961, Ike sent a memo (on file at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas) to his staff, directing them to avoid answering questions about this chapter of his life because “it gets too complicated.”
Now there’s a rationalization!
And that’s how moral luck made the difference between Dwight D. Eisenhower being remembered as a man who saved the world from Adolf Hitler and navigated the U.S. through the early years of the Cold War, and forgotten as a failed West Point cadet.
Young Ike was wrong. He lied and cheated, and we should all be grateful that nobody found out until he had a chance to show he was better than that.
A lot better.
Facts and Graphics: The Sporting News