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1941 - THE GREATEST YEAR IN SPORTS by Mike Vaccaro


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History Book Club

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In June 1941, millions of German soldiers poured into Russia during Operation Barbarossa, establishing the bloodiest war front in history, and war raged from England to North Africa. In the east, as Japan's ambassador insisted that his nation had no designs on America, Japanese military planners were discussing a U.S. naval port called Pearl Harbor. And only a few weeks previous the American freighter Robin Moor was sunk by a German U-boat, pulling the Sleeping Giant perilously closer to war.

But the United States was officially neutral, and Americans could still afford to think of other things. Yankees fans tensed up every time Joe Dimaggio took the plate, wondering if this would be the day his hitting streak ended, and Red Sox fans passionately cheered on Ted Williams in his effort to break a .400 batting average. Those who preferred boxing to baseball watched history unfold, as Billy Conn surrendered his Light-Heavyweight title to challenge the great Heavyweight Joe Louis. (Only a few weeks before, the German boxer Max Shmeling, who met Louis in two fights that made headlines worldwide, was seriously injured in North Africa fighting for the Wehrmacht.) Fans of horse racing, one of the most popular sports in America at the time, watched in awe as thoroughbred Whirlaway finished first at Belmont, winning the Triple Crown.

The year 1941 would end in disaster for the United States, but until the attack on Pearl Harbor Americans enjoyed one of the most exciting years in sports history. That glorious summer of sports was the last hurrah, and everyone knew it. The United States was going to war, and it would be happening sooner than later. “You read the sports section a lot,” Phil Rizzuto once said, “because you were afraid of what you'd see in the other parts of the paper.” Americans craved distraction, and the athletes delivered.

Using his keen insight into sports and sports fans, Mike Vaccaro, lead sports columnist for the New York Post, brilliantly connects these four thrilling sporting events with the war that was thundering across Europe, forming a unique picture of the average American's experience in the months before World War II—one of the most trying and extraordinary periods of American history.

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