TOWER GROVE -- In 1944, St. Louis and its ballpark hosted the unlikely World Series pitting the St. Louis Browns against the regal St. Louis Cardinals. The "Streetcar Series" happened a few months after Anne Frank's family was arrested in Amsterdam and not too long after the Liberation of Paris.
In December of that year a massive offensive that became known as "The Battle of the Bulge" began, and a password was needed for U.S. forces to identify each other while moving through Europe. Baseball offered one -- it was a question-and-answer code that all Americans would know and it was nuanced enough because not just "St. Louis" would do.
Q: Who won the World Series?
A: St. Louis Cardinals.
I wonder if sports -- particularly baseball -- are still used in this manner, or if these baseball passwords are too binary for our higher-tech global community. Not too difficult to Google up the '44 World Series from your handheld or translate "Dem Bums" into Dodgers and click a few times on Baseball-Reference.com to find out their "third sacker".
So "St. Louis Cardinals" is the answer to the last week's PCQ, which ran in the mailbag, like this:
PCQ: The PostCards Question
Stealing this shamelessly from a trivia night I attended over the weekend: During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, what baseball-inspired password did U.S. soldiers use to identify themselves to allies? A hint: The battle went from December 1944 to January 1945.
And, the answers came, leading off one of the PCQ elite ...
DAVE MITCHELL, Waterloo, Iowa: Wow--is this a great question--let's try this--in 1944 both St Louis teams played in the World Series--perhaps the way the troops identified themselves as Americans was reference to the Cardinals winning the series.
HARVEY WATSON, San Diego (50th season as a Cardinals fan): As I recall from watching a movie about the battle, soldiers were asked questions to verify if they were Americans (the Germans used an elite corps of American-educated infiltrators to disrupt us). The questions were: 1) Who played in the World Series? (Cardinals and Browns) and 2) Who won? (Cardinals).
DARIN SORRELL: Since a German or Italian soldier may possibly look like his German-American or Italian-American GI distant relative and possibly speak English as well, GIs would ask, "Who won the World Series last year?" The answer of course, was the Cardinals over their Sportsman's park-mates, the Browns, 4 games to 2.
LES GREER: I know that the previous year's World Series winners were used as identity passwords. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 1944, so I'm gonna take a shot and guess that.
Larry R., of Maryville, Tenn., wrote a fascinating letter that showed some of the other passcodes used during the war. Many, of course, were baseball-related. "What is a Texas Leaguer?" was one. Another had to do with asking who the "second sacker" is for "The Bums." Larry also provided the entire script to a classic Saturday Night Live sketch called "World War II GI Quiz". It includes the following exchange:
*Sarge*: What's a Texas Leaguer?
*2nd German*: A base hit in baseball that falls between ze infield und
*1st German*: [leans in, helpfully] Usually a zingle.
*2nd German*: Zo named for a minor league in Texas.
There was also this interesting story sent in by Ross Willimann of Colorado Springs, who apparently Google'd the subject to find it:
From Neal Morrow's story: "As we neared the Battle of the Bulge everyone had to pull guard duty. One night three of us were challenged to give the password by fellow American soldiers. Sometime earlier, a few Germans had broken through the lines and were wearing MP uniforms. The password that night was 'baseball'. We would say 'base' and they would reply 'ball'. One white soldier asked for the word. We gave it and then we asked if we looked like Germans. He looked at us and said 'no' but he wasn't quite convinced until we asked if he knew how to jitterbug. That was the magic word."
Every week during the regular season, a PostCards Question will appear at the bottom of The Post-Dispatch's baseball writer Derrick Goold's mailbag blog called PostCards, a spin-off of Bird Land. To submit answers to the PCQ write firstname.lastname@example.org. With all answers please include your name and hometown.
PostCards will run online exclusively at StlToday.com.