World’s Finest

Baseball’s history is highlighted by its heroes.

Lou Gehrig revealed unimaginable courage in his “Luckiest Man” speech as he faced the debilitating, horrific, and fatal disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis that took his life nearly two years later.

Ted Williams sacrificed prime playing years to fly combat missions in World War II and the Korean War.

Jackie Robinson pioneered civil rights by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in the major leagues during the 20th century.

Superheroes, as well, occupy a rung on baseball’s ladder of history.

In its nascent years, the DC Comics title World’s Finest featured Superman, Batman, and Robin playing baseball on two comic book covers.  Issue #3 (Fall 1941) depicts Batman batting, Robin catching, and Superman umpiring.  Issue #15 (Fall 1944) shows Superman sliding into home plate while Batman tries to tag him.  Robin scratches his head, looking perplexed as to whether Superman is safe at home.  It’s an illogical scenario, given Superman’s superhuman speed.

In the Foreword to Batman: The World’s Finest Comics, Archives, Volume 1, R.C. Harvey points out that the early World’s Finest covers featuring Batman, Superman,  and Robin concurred with the the uncertainty surrounding America’s involvement in World War II.  “Over the next several years, this trio engaged in a variety of activities on the covers together, playing sports at first and then, after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, patriotically engaging in scrap paper drives or raising vegetables for victory,” states Harvey, who also notes a baseline attitude on the covers.

“They all look like they are having fun,” opines Harvey.  “And that brings us to the most significant difference separating these stories from those of more recent decades: back then, superheroicism was infected with an exhilarating spirit of adventure.  One did deeds of derring-do because it was exciting, and one went into battle against the Forces of Evil charged up with an invigorating zest for the Good Fight.”

When DC graced its early World’s Finest comic book covers with patriotic scenes involving Superman, Batman, and Robin, it aimed to boost morale among younger readers in an uncertain time.  The two baseball-themed covers of World’s Finest provided an additional attraction.  At the time, baseball dominated the recreation of Americans.  For example, President Roosevelt suggested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that baseball continue for the country’s morale during World War II.

In a letter dated January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.  There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

During a period fraught with peril, fear, and uncertainty, the World’s Finest superheroes reinforced the power of baseball to inspire.  And vice versa.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 15, 2014.

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