About the Book
When the United States officially entered World War I in 1917, it was woefully underprepared for chemical warfare, in which the British, French, and Germans had been engaged since 1915. In response, the U.S. Army created an entirely new branch: the Chemical Warfare Service. The army turned to trained chemists and engineers to lead the charge—and called on an array of others, including baseball players, to fill out the ranks.
The Gas and Flame Men is the first full account of Major League ballplayers who served in the Chemical Warfare Service during World War I. Four players, two club executives, and a manager served in the small and hastily formed branch, six of them as gas officers. Remarkably, five of the seven—Christy Mathewson, Branch Rickey, Ty Cobb, George Sisler, and Eppa “Jeptha” Rixey—are now enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. The son of a sixth Hall of Famer, player and manager Ned Hanlon, was a young officer killed in action in France with the First Gas Regiment. Prominent chemical soldiers also included veteran Major League catcher and future manager George “Gabby” Street and Boston Braves president and former Harvard football coach Percy D. Haughton.
The Gas and Flame Men explores how these famous baseball men, along with an eclectic mix of polo players, collegiate baseball and football stars, professors, architects, and prominent social figures all came together in the Chemical Warfare Service. Jim Leeke examines their service and its long-term effects on their physical and mental health—and on Major League Baseball and the world of sports. The Gas and Flame Men also addresses historical inaccuracies and misperceptions surrounding Christy Mathewson’s early death from tuberculosis in 1925, long attributed to wartime gas exposure.
Jim Leeke is a former news journalist, a retired copywriter and creative director, and a U.S. Navy veteran. He is the author of several books, including The Turtle and the Dreamboat (Potomac Books, 2022), The Best Team Over There: The Untold Story of Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Great War (Nebraska, 2021), and From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball during the Great War (Nebraska, 2017).
“Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Eppa Rixey, and Branch Rickey—all members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Gas and Flame Men during the Great War. Jim Leeke knows the connection between baseball and the war better than anybody. He’ll keep you turning pages as he tells their stories, and more.”—Jan Finkel, 2012 recipient of SABR’s Bob Davids Award
“Jim Leeke scores again with The Gas and Flame Men, delivering a fascinating account of America’s World War I response to German chemical warfare and the important part a group of Major League Baseball stars and other key sports figures played in it.”—Rick Huhn, author of The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession
“To steal a baseball term, The Gas and Flame Men is an out-of-the-park grand slam. No one knows more than Jim Leeke about the intersection of America’s national pastime and the Great War. A wonderful story you won’t want to put down.”—Mitchell Yockelson, author of Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I