Eddie Grant Began with the Tribe, Ended in the Argonne
Vince Guerrieri | On 26, May 2015
He grew up Boston. He was memorialized in New York City – and much later, in San Francisco.
But Eddie Grant began his baseball career – in a strange way – with Cleveland before becoming the answer to a tragic trivia question.
Edward Leslie Grant was born May 21, 1883, in Franklin, Massachusetts. After his graduation from high school, he went to Harvard. After the school year ended in 1905, he started playing semi-professional baseball. When the Cleveland Naps came to Boston that August to play the Red Sox, they were beset by injuries, and promptly signed Grant, who made his pro debut and major league debut on Aug. 4, 1905. He went 3-for-4 with a run batted in while playing second base. The next day, he struck out four times, and when the Naps left Boston, they released Grant.
Grant continued his studies at Harvard – giving him the nickname he would carry throughout his playing career, “Harvard Eddie” – and enrolled in law school after he got his bachelor’s degree. He returned to the majors with the Phillies in 1907, and the following year, he was an everyday player for Philadelphia.
After the 1910 season, he was dealt to Cincinnati. He spent two seasons with Cincinnati before being sold during the 1913 season to the New York Giants. He spent three years at the Polo Grounds – the last as a player-coach for John McGraw – before ending his career with 990 games played and a .249 career average.
Grant was admitted to the Massachusetts bar during the 1908-09 offseason and had a law practice in Boston during the offseason. When the United States entered World War I, Grant was quick to enlist, and found himself in France with the American Expeditionary Force.
It was the fall of 1918, and U.S. and European leaders were at the bargaining table trying to hammer out an agreement. Meanwhile, Grant was captain in the 77th Division of the 307th Regiment, in the last great offensive of the war in the Argonne Forest. During what came to be known as the Meuse-Argonne offensive, all of Grant’s superior officers had been killed in action. On Oct. 5 – little more than a month before the armistice took effect ending the war – Grant was leading a company on a search for the Lost Battalion, a group of nine companies in the 77th that had advanced and got cut off without reinforcements. The Lost Battalion was commanded by Charles Whittlesey – a friend of Grant’s from college and Army training.
Grant’s company started to take shelling from the Germans on Oct. 5, 1918. A shell hit, killing Grant’s lieutenant. Grant ordered his men to the ground; he remained standing. Another shell fell, and Grant was killed by the shrapnel – the first Major League Baseball player killed in combat in World War I. An officer took Grant’s map case from his pocket and found it shredded by shrapnel – in the exact position on the map where Grant had died. “When that shell burst and killed that boy, America lost one of the finest types of manhood I have ever known,” Whittlesey said later. The rest of the 77th caught up to the Lost Battalion two days after Eddie Grant died.
Between games of a doubleheader on Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) 1921, a monument was erected to Eddie Grant in straightaway centerfield at the Polo Grounds. The monument lasted as long as the Polo Grounds did – and can be seen in some photos of Willie Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.
In 1957, the Giants and Dodgers left New York City, the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the Giants from Harlem to San Francisco. At the last game at the Polo Grounds, souvenir hunters had their way with the stadium, and the Grant memorial disappeared.
While the Dodgers saw their fortunes change in Los Angeles – they won a total of one World Series in their entire history in Brooklyn, and three in just their first eight years on the West Coast – the Giants went through a postseason dry spell, and even were on the verge at one point of relocating again, to Florida.
The original plaque was found in a New Jersey home in 1999. The home had previously been occupied by a former New York City police officer who served in the 32nd Precinct, which included the Coogan’s Bluff area, home to the Polo Grounds.
The Giants were offered the plaque, and received offers for a replacement plaque. They turned them all down, including one in 2001 from the Great War Society. In 2002, the Giants made it to the World Series for the first time since 1989, and were eight outs away from a World Title before Anaheim came back to win it in seven games.
Finally, in 2006, the Giants put an Eddie Grant plaque up at AT&T Park. Since then, they’ve been a model franchise, with two World Series wins. Was the lack of recognition for Eddie Grant a curse? Or just an unfortunate coincidence?