West Point enthusiast, researcher, and writer Jim Sweeney just made me aware of a July 19 New York Times article by Michael Beschloss titled “The Pro Who Shadowed Eisenhower’s Career.” In this article, Beschloss mused, “One can imagine what modern opposition researchers could have done with this information during the 1952 campaign, had they followed the maxim of attacking your adversary’s strengths.” I think he mulls over the wrong question because, in the immediately preceding paragraph, Beschloss discusses how the issue was made public years earlier. Shortly after V-E Day, Ike explained to an Associated Press reporter that, as a poor boy fresh out of high school, he would have taken “any job that offered me more money” and that he “wasn’t a very good center fielder.” A better question would be “How would voters have reacted to hearing about his youthful indiscretion?”
Beschloss later refers to David Eisenhower’s 1910 book about his grandfather in which the younger Eisenhower revealed that Ike had played under the name of Wilson in the 1909 Central Kansas League. In Baseball’s Most Wanted II, Floyd Conner provided a little more detail: “Eisenhower displayed his baseball ability when he batted .355 for Junction City of the Class D Central Kansas League.” So, Ike and Jim Thorpe started their professional baseball careers in similar circumstances. Both were poor, needed the money (which wasn’t much), and played on bush league teams but in different parts of the country. The difference was that Eisenhower was sophisticated enough to play under an assumed name.
Politics in America have never been a kind and gentle business. If the Democrats thought hammering Ike over participating in college sports after having played for money would have benefitted them, they surely would have used it. Surely someone, possibly the reporter, would have remembered the AP disclosure. However, the sympathetic public response to Jim Thorpe’s professionalism probably persuaded them that attacking Eisenhower this way could easily backfire and eliminate what little chance they had of defeating this war hero.