Researching local service team baseball history is a task that has been put off for years with the justification that it should be relatively easy to draw upon area sources and institutions in such an effort. With much of our research work being focused upon baseball in wartime combat theaters such as Europe and the Pacific along with the more well-known domestic service teams, our local area has been an afterthought, save for a few pieces researched and published in recent months
- Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move
- Colonel R. D. Johnson: On the Mound and In Command at 59
- A Wartime Baseball Photograph Leads to Incredible Baseball and Combat Discoveries
As our research continues for several projects surrounding a handful of artifacts, we continue to make new discoveries. The discovery of one treasure seems to lead to others.
While researching our piece detailing Lefty Chambers, Tony Saso and Bill Brenner, another player’s name was continually surfacing. After several occasions of viewing the name Bobby Hornig, we were prompted to perform a cursory check on the player’s profile (on Baseball Reference), which revealed that he was a local product and played for regional ball clubs. Shortly after the publication of the Chambers, Saso and Brenner article, Hornig’s name surfaced again during a vintage photo search. This time there was a face to go with his name. Without much thought, we made arrangements to acquire the photo of Bobby Hornig, thinking that the player was captured during his time as pro ball player. It wasn’t until the photo arrived that we saw the service team details in the image. Other than the snippets we had discovered, we had no knowledge of who Hornig was as a man or as a baseball player.
In the Seattle Times’ May 19, 2003 article, “Bob Hornig, local baseball-outfield star, dies at 87,” reporter Emily Heffter described Hornig as an All-City baseball star while attending Seattle’s Queen Anne High School. The Tacoma, Washington-born Hornig graduated in 1935, turning down a college scholarship to remain close to his (then) girlfriend, Ruth Totten. Prior to his 21st birthday, Hornig signed his first professional baseball contract with the class “B” Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League (WIL) in March of 1937, playing with the club for manager Hollis “Sloppy” Thurston until June of that season when he was released. The speedy, hard-hitting outfielder was promptly signed by the cross-state rival Spokane Hawks, where he starred in the outfield and was among the league’s top hitters. Heffter’s piece regarding Hornig mentioned some of the newspaper accolades during his time with the Hawks, calling him the “speedburner with lots of class.”
Fascinated by the glowing review of Hornig’s play in the minor leagues, questions began to arise as to why he never progressed during his brief career (1937-1941) that was played entirely in the WIL. With several articles published during his career documenting his batting and fielding as being among the league’s best, Hornig seemed to be primed to move upwards in the game, if not to the major leagues, then at least to the upper minor leagues. Injuries have always been a part of the game and Hornig suffered what appears to be more than a normal number of them, though they didn’t seem to slow him down once he was back on the diamond. Instead of a series of injuries, another trend appeared to emerge in his professional career that, at least on the surface, contributed to the abrupt end of it.
Almost from the beginning of his tenure with Spokane in 1937, Hornig gave his manager cause to discipline him. Having signed with the team on June 16, just a week later manager Bernie DeViveiros suspended Hornig for going AWOL when the youngster left the team to spend time with his parents in Seattle. Following reinstatement, Hornig was on track and among the top hitters in the league and by late August, he was batting .297 (in 90 games with 392 plate appearances).
On September 13, 1937, the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks visited Spokane for their last game of the season. The roster of the Yankee affiliate was filled with past and future major leaguers along with stars of the Coast League such as Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Pinky May, Hal Haid and Billy Raimondi. On the mound for the Hawks was Leo Fitter. whose spotty career spanned 13 seasons (1926-1938) but who had only six professional years to his credit. Fitter was opposed by 21-year-old Nick Radunich, who was just getting his career started. Hornig got the offense started in the bottom of the first inning, reaching base on an error and then using his speed to score from first on single by Joe Abreu, putting the Hawks on top by a run. In the third, Oakland plated three runs, putting the Hawks down by two. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Hornig knocked a double off Radunich and was driven in on a single by Frank Volpi. The Oaks won the game, 3-2, but Hornig accounted for all of the Hawks’ runs while facing a much more experienced and talented team. Despite the way his season commenced with Spokane in 1937, his showing against the league was punctuated by his performance against the Oaks at the close of it.
The 1938 season should have been a year of moving upward for Hornig and apparently he saw his 1937 success as grounds for an increase in salary with Spokane. Rather than signing his contract after the new year began, he returned it without a signature and demanded higher compensation. His contract holdout lasted into April but he did report to camp with acceptable contract terms. Hornig’s season did not start well. He struggled at the plate and saw some defensive woes that included a May 10 three-error game. On June 6, he suffered a broken bone in his ankle that sidelined him through the end of August. Along with being out of the line-up due to an injury, Hornig was again suspended by DeViveiros for an undisclosed infraction. Just as the 1938 season was winding down, Hornig returned to the lineup on August 31, though too late to help Spokane climb in the standings.
Troubles continued to follow Bobby Hornig in 1939. At spring training in Anaheim, California, progressed, Hornig was experiencing difficulties with the ankle that he had injured in June of the previous season. His speed in the outfield and on the base paths escaped him and manager DeViveiros ordered him to take it easy , sending him back to Spokane for rest. During an April pre-season game against Washington State College, Hornig injured one of his big toes. Despite his physical challenges, Hornig’s bat returned to form and he found his .290 batting average ranked fourth on the Spokane roster behind Dwight Aden (.386), Theodore Clawitter (.333) and Levi McCormack (.304). Hornig was also leading the WIL in sacrifices (14) and was ranked third with stolen bases (21) by the last week of July.
In June, Hornig married his high school sweetheart, Ruth H. Totten, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. According to the 2003 Seattle Times article, Hornig’s future bride resided across the street from a ball field in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Ruth would walk her dog through the park “trying to get noticed” by the boys (including Hornig) playing baseball. Bobby did notice her and they dated throughout high school.
In her article, Times reporter Emily Heffter quotes Hornig’s widow, Ruth, as she commented about her husband’s baseball career. “He could have made it in the ‘big leagues,’” Ruth Hornig said, but “romance interfered with him, I think.” Perhaps his romantic life was behind some of his challenges in baseball. Just a few weeks after his wedding, Hornig was again suspended by Spokane and removed from the team’s roster entirely. In need of consistency, new manager Eddie Leishman (DeViveiros was fired on July 3 due to developing friction with the team’s business manager), recently promoted from the class “C” Twin Falls Cowboys (Pioneer League), called up 37-year-old former major league veteran Wes “Two Gun” Schulmerich, who was previously playing for him at Twin Falls. According to articles in the Spokane Spokesman Review between July 27-29, Hornig was refusing his assignment and faced being declared ineligible to play professional baseball that season. Three days after suspending Hornig, Spokane owner Bill Ulrich delivered an ultimatum, directing the outfielder to report to Twin Falls in seven days. Ulrich guaranteed the player’s salary at Twin Falls, stating that despite the Pioneer League rules limiting pay, he would provide Hornig with a bonus to make up the difference. Ulrich also offered Hornig a chance to work his way back to the Hawks’ roster. Hornig was instead hoping to obtain his release from the club in an attempt to sign with another Western International League team and did not comply with the reassignment.
Out of baseball since late July, 1939, and without a 1940 season contract, Hornig remained the property of the Spokane Hawks due to baseball’s Reserve Clause and in mid-February sought a return to the game. He sent a letter to the club requesting reinstatement. Hornig’s exit from the game seemingly burned bridges with the team’s field manager, Leishman, who criticized the fallen outfielder as being more interested in his paycheck than the game itself. Such a trait was directly at odds with Leishman’s managerial style. On March 23, Spokane began shopping Hornig following the player’s month-long contract holdout. The outfielder dispatched a letter to the club requesting a salary increase or his release, despite being reinstated by Spokane in February at his request. Branded a “problem child” by the Spokane Chronicle, the Hawks unsuccessfully shopped Hornig to other Western International League clubs, prompting Hornig to apply for voluntary retirement. In Hornig’s letter to the club he stated that he was considering giving up baseball in favor of a job in Seattle that would provide a better income than he was getting playing the game. His 1940 season was finished before it ever got started and at this point, his baseball career appeared to have ended.
Despite his injuries and disciplinary challenges, the 24-year-old outfielder still had a lot of baseball left in him. Ahead of the 1941 season’s spring training, Hornig again sent a mid-February letter to the Spokane Hawks team and to Judge William G. Branham, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, seeking reinstatement. Spokane was required to tender a professional baseball contract following reinstatement but they had no plans beyond evaluating Hornig’s viability for the 1941 season. With the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 affecting baseball clubs at all levels, the Hawks, like all other clubs, were in need of players. The Hawks’ management determined that if Hornig was not a good fit for Spokane, he could have value to other Western International League clubs. Instead of accepting the terms of his contract, Hornig infuriated team management with another holdout. Spokane eventually found a taker in the league and dealt Hornig to the Salem (Oregon) Senators. Having appeared in only four games for Salem since his trade, Hornig was granted his outright release. His professional baseball career was over.
The Pacific Coast League featured talent drawn from the sandlots, high schools, colleges and semi-professional teams within the neighborhoods surrounding each franchise. With the popularity of the hometown Seattle Rainiers (a founding club of the league) and the game itself, it is no wonder that the region incubated some of the best talent, such as Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Charley Schanz, Mike Budnick, Don White, Levi McCormack and Edo Vanni all of whom saw time in the Coast League. Lower minor leagues such as the Western International and Pioneer leagues farmed talent almost exclusively from their own backyards. During his time as a professional, Hornig played alongside or against some of these men. After December 7, 1941, baseball changed and Hornig’s baseball fortunes were about to change.
After being released by Salem, Hornig went to work operating a printing press for Tacoma-based Pioneer, Inc. and supported his wife. Hornig was working not too far from where his baseball career began with the Tacoma Tigers. His post-season occupation in 1941 became his post-baseball occupation. With the U.S. drawn into the war with Japan and Germany, there was no doubt that Hornig would be called to duty at some point, having registered for the draft in October of 1940. Rather than making another attempt at a baseball career, Hornig instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 18, 1942, as a Seaman 1/c in the V-6 program (Naval Reserve) and was assigned to Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point.
It was known that former major league great and manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane, was known for reaching out to his fellow major leaguers to recruit them for wartime naval service and the potential to play for his team. Perhaps this happened in Seattle as former Rainier star Edo Vanni was designated as the manager or the Naval Air Station (NAS) Seattle “Flyers” baseball team in early 1942. Vanni enlisted on February 11, 1942, as a seaman first class and was attached to the U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base command at Naval Air Station Seattle (located at Sand Point). In a similar fashion to Mickey Cochrane at Great Lakes, Vanni began building a baseball team of former professionals who enlisted in the local Puget Sound region. With players from the Pacific Coast League (Hollywood, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle), Western International League (Lewiston, Spokane, and Tacoma) and from Augusta, Mobile, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Tucson, Tulsa and Winston-Salem, a former professional baseball player filled all but one NAS Seattle Flyer roster spot. One of Vanni’s Flyer outfielders was “Chief” Levi McCormack, his former teammate with the 1938 Seattle Rainiers. McCormack had also been in the Spokane Hawks’ outfield with Hornig, and thus he might have been a factor in Hornig landing a roster spot. Two years his junior, Vanni most likely remembered Hornig from their time together at Queen Anne High School.
1942 Naval Air Station Seattle/Pasco Flyers:
|Dan “Danny” Amaral||OF||Portland (PCL)|
|Steve Ananicz||C||Sherbrooke (QUPL)|
|Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson||P||Spokane (WIL)|
|Edson “Ed” Bahr||P||Augusta (SALL)|
|S1/c||Francis J. Bellows||SS||Spokane (WIL)|
|Johnny Bittner||P||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Lindsay Brown||SS||Portland (PCL)|
|Mel Cole||2B, C||Tacoma (WIL)|
|Danny Escobar||1B/OF||Portland (PCL)|
|Fred Gay||P||Hollywood (PCL)|
|S1/c||Bobby “Bob” Hornig||OF||Spokane (WIL)|
|Paul Irvin||LHP||Portland (PCL)|
|Bob Kahle||3B||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Henry Martinez||3B/2B||Portland (PCL)|
|S1/c||“Chief” Levi McCormack||OF/P||Spokane (WIL)|
|Elmer “Ole” Olsen||OF||Bakersfield (CALL)|
|Ens.||Kenneth Peters||Coach/2B||Mobile (SL)|
|Stan Riedle||C||Lewiston (WIL)|
|Rube Sandstrom||P||Tacoma (WIL)|
|Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone||OF||Winston-Salem (PIED)|
|Joe Spadafore||1B||Tacoma (WIL)|
|Harvey Storey||OF||Tulsa (TL)|
|S1/c||Edo Vanni||Mgr/ OF/P||Seattle (PCL)|
|Don White||OF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Al Wright||2B||Portland (PCL)|
With the 1942 season well underway for the Northwest Region, NAS Seattle began to emerge as the league leader. The Flyers dominated the competition by breaking out with a 25-game win streak. It cemented them for the post-season by placing them out in front as the team to beat. Not only did the Flyers face service teams such as Coast Guard Repair Yard Seattle, Fort Lewis Warriors and McChord Bombers, they matched up against professional clubs such as the Tacoma Tigers and Spokane Chiefs (WIL) and the San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers (PCL). On Sunday, July 12, the Flyers’ 25-game win streak was halted when they were downed 7-6 by the hometown Seattle Rainiers, who were on their way to securing their third consecutive Pacific Coast League crown. No doubt seeking to outperform his former team, NAS Seattle Flyers’ manager Edo Vanni, a member of the Rainiers championship clubs in 1940 and ’41, was managing from the visitor’s dugout. Vanni was joined by “Chief” Levi McCormack, who began his professional career with the Seattle club in 1936 when they were still named “Indians.” McCormack’s moniker, which today would seem to be derogatory, was truly fitting considering the former Washington State Cougar player was actually Nez Perce Indian royalty:
“You ball fans have become accustomed to calling Levi, “Chief” McCormick,” said Abel Grant, uncle of the ball star, yesterday. “While you are referring to him with that title, you fans don’t know how true the appellation is. Levi is my nephew, a son of my sister. His father is a direct descendant of Chief Timothy of the Nez Perces, one of the best friends of the early white settlers. On his mother’s side he is a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, in fact Levi is a member of the fourth generation descended from the old chief. He goes to the Coast league with our best wishes.” – Lewiston Morning Tribune, Monday, July 20, 1936
The Flyers were in control of the 1942 season with pitching and offense. Through July, the Flyers team batting average was .406, led by outfielder Edo Vanni (.516) first baseman Danny Escobar (.482), second baseman Mel Cole (.470), catcher Steve Ananicz (.435), outfielders Bobby Hornig (.425) Levi McCormack (.425), shortstop Francis Bellows (.410), and third baseman Don White (.406).
In early August, the Navy packed up and relocated the entire Naval Air Station Seattle Flyers squad 220 miles southeast to the small town of Pasco, Washington, to be based at the newly commissioned Naval Air Station situated at the Pasco Airport (known today as the Tri-Cities Airport). The move and added travel distance to away games on the west side of the Cascades didn’t diminish their abilities. Later that month, the Seattle Rainiers hosted the Flyers for a fund-raising exhibition game to outfit the sailors with athletic equipment at their new station.
At the end of the 1942 season, two teams were standing at the top of the Northwest Service League and vying for the title. In the best of three series scheduled to be played at Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle (if necessary), the NAS Pasco Flyers were set to face the Warriors of Fort Lewis, led by former major leaguer, Morrie Arnovich. Game one turned out to be an offensive showdown with a game-winning home run by McCormack to cap the 11-8 victory. The second game turned out to be the decider as Vanni started John Bittner, who pitched a nine-inning, 7-hit shutout against the Warriors. All but two of the 10 Flyers batters managed hits against Fort Lewis’ former Vancouver Capilanos (WIL) pitcher and Tacoma native, Cy Greenlaw. Bobby Hornig spelled starting right fielder Don White in the eighth inning, copped a base hit and made a spectacular running catch in the top of the ninth to rob Arnovich of his third hit of the game. With the 8-0 win, the Flyers claimed the first Northwest Service League championship.
With the NAS Pasco Flyers’ roster relatively unchanged, there was no reason to expect anything different from the 1942 season to 1943. The addition of local pitching product and veteran of the Spokane Indians (WIL) and Seattle Rainiers, Mike Budnick, helped the Flyers to resume their dominance from the previous season. “Pasco’s club is generally rated as one of the toughest service aggregations in the west,” the Spokane Spokesman Review published June 24, 1943, “and has been dumping some of the best teams available this year including the San Diego Padres (PCL). On June 6, the Flyers downed the Ephrata Army Air Base team, 21-2. The “fleet-footed” Bobby Hornig was the subject of a Spokane Chronicle feature touting his return to the area’s Ferris Field as the Flyers visited to take on the Army’s Geiger Field Indians. He was clearly a favorite of the local fans.
1943 Naval Air Station Pasco Flyers:
|Dan “Danny” Amaral||OF||Portland (PCL)|
|Steve Ananicz||C||Sherbrooke (QUPL)|
|Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson||P||Spokane (WIL)|
|Edson “Ed” Bahr||P||Augusta (SALL)|
|Johnny Bittner||P||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Lindsay Brown||SS||Portland (PCL)|
|Mike Budnick||P||Seattle (PCL)|
|Mel Cole||2B, C||Tacoma (WIL)|
|Danny Escobar||OF||Portland (PCL)|
|Fred Gay||P||Hollywood (PCL)|
|S1/c||Bobby “Bob” Hornig||CF||Spokane (WIL)|
|Bob Kahle||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Matry Martinez||2B||Spokane (WIL)|
|“Chief” Levi McCormack||OF||Spokane (WIL)|
|Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone||RF||Winston-Salem (PIED)|
|Harvey Storey||SS||Tulsa (TL)|
|Edo Vanni||OF/MGR||Seattle (PCL)|
Pasco was unmatched in the A.W.O.L. league as the Flyers dispatched the competition with relative ease. On June 30, former Hollywood Stars pitcher Fred Gay pitched as the club administered a 12-2 drubbing of an Army All-Star team in Walla Walla. For Independence Day, Pasco faced a hand-picked squad of the region’s top Army ball players, led by former Browns, White Sox and Athletics pitcher, Camp Adair’s Sergeant Jack Knott (up from the Corvallis, Oregon Army base), at the Seattle Rainiers’ home field, Sick’s Stadium, dropping them 3-1. Pasco posed fierce competition to professional clubs.
The Pasco Flyers were steamrolling the competition in their league and in the region. By July 9, the team had a two-season combined record of 62-7. The war was still progressing and the needs of the Navy intervened, ending the Pasco Flyer’s 1943 campaign. The order was immediate and the players were reassigned to various naval units to prepare for sea service duties and to vacate base facilities as NAS Pasco was being transformed into a naval station predominantly for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service).
Many of the Pasco Flyers saw overseas duty. “Hunk” Anderson saw action in the Philippines. Chief Levi McCormack served in the South Pacific. Manager Edo Vanni was sent to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where he played centerfield for another “Flyers” team (along with his former Pasco pitcher, Johnny Bittner) before completing his Navy career playing for the Hellcats of the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee. After a stint with the Bainbridge Naval Training Station Commodores baseball team, Mike Budnick found his way to Hawaii and was tagged by Bill Dickey to join the 1945 Western Pacific baseball tour, playing with such stars as Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, Barney McCosky, Elbie Fletcher, Joe Grace, Johnny Vander Meer, Virgil Trucks, Al Brancato and Mickey Vernon.
According to Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter’s article, Bobby Hornig was reassigned to the South Pacific and served “as a picket-boat commander from 1941-1945.” With the reporter’s dates being inaccurate, the potential exists for other inaccuracies surrounding Hornig’s post -NAS Pasco duty assignment. Unfortunately, research sources could not be located to pinpoint Hornig’s service from July of 1943 until the end of the war.
Following the Japanese surrender and VJ-Day, troops began to return to the States to be separated from the service. With all of the adaptations, adjustments and roster moves that occurred within the major and minor leagues, the returning ballplayers had some guarantees for earning their positions back but were faced with new challenges in resuming their baseball careers. For men like Hornig who had already retired well before the United States’ entry into the war, there were no guarantees. Hornig returned home with baseball behind him. His professional baseball career was behind him as he pursued a worthwhile career with Pacific Bell instead.
However, in 1946 baseball turned tragic for some of Hornig’s former NAS Pasco teammates and for his former professional club, the Spokane Indians. In the worst accident in professional baseball history, eight members of the Spokane team were killed, including the team’s manager, Mel Cole (who played second base and caught for the NAS Pasco Flyers), when their team bus was sideswiped by an oncoming sedan four miles west of Snoqualmie Pass summit. The bus rolled 350 feet down the mountainside, ejecting many of the men before resting on a large rock outcropping, where the vehicle caught fire. Five of the eight players perished at the scene. Hornig’s Spokane and Navy teammate, “Chief” Levi McCormack, was injured but survived.
On the heels of the acquisition of a lifetime, a uniform group that formerly belonged to a USS Phoenix (CL-46) veteran, it is hard to imagine that there are other jerseys that could draw our attention. Granted, there is a bit of a comedown once such a treasure is added to our collection. It does not diminish our interest in seeking out other service team artifacts, however.
When a colleague turned our attention to an auction listing for a vintage flannel jersey that he was considering for a project, its design was instantly recognizable as it was consistent with wartime Navy ship baseball team uniforms. Details such as the color, font and size of the athletic felt lettering and how they are arched across the chest of the jersey align precisely to what we have seen on other ship team jerseys. From the cut of the torso, the set-in sleeves and the thin navy blue soutache that encircles the collar and adorns the button-placket (and sleeve cuffs) to the cat-eye buttons and the sun collar, this jersey is reminiscent of many other wartime U.S. Navy baseball uniform tops used for warship teams.
In performing some due diligence for my colleague, we were not at all certain that the jersey was one of a Navy ship baseball team. A cursory search of the name on the jersey’s front returned scant results. Ranked third in the search results behind a nine-year-old oil and gas industry company and a Gulf Coast of Louisiana barrier island was the U.S. Navy warship bearing the name on the jersey.
T I M B A L I E R (French: timpanist; timpani player; kettledrummer)
The ship, USS Timbalier (AVP-54), was a Barnegat-class seaplane tender that was named for Timbalier Bay, which lies to the north of Timbalier Island and is partially enclosed by its north shore. Timbalier Island (which is uninhabited), considered one of Louisiana’s barrier islands, is located 75 miles west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The seaplane tender was authorized by Congress in the months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. AVP-54’s keel was laid on November 9, 1942 at the Lake Washington Shipyard (near present-day Kirkland, Washington) on the eastern shore of the large lake. Construction proceeded slowly at the small shipyard, prompting Navy leaders to transfer the unfinished vessel to Puget Sound Navy Yard (known today as Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington) in early 1944. Sixteen months later, the vessel, still incomplete, was moved back to the Lake Washington Shipyard facilities and would not be completed until the spring of the following year, eight months after the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
Most of the Navy ship jerseys that we have seen in vintage photographs, other collections or listed for sale), aside from featuring the ship’s name spelled out in athletic felt lettering across the chest, also include “U.S.S.,” indicating the vessel as the Navy’s “United States Ship”. This Timbalier jersey lacks the designation. One may ask, “In the absence of the specific designation, what then indicates this jersey as originating from the USS Timbalier?”
Directly obtaining an artifact from the person who used or wore it is the most ironclad provenance that one can receive. In the absence of such proof, analysis and research is required to either rule out or validate the authenticity of an item. There are several aspects of the Timbalier jersey that we analyzed that helped us arrive at our assessment that this jersey was from the ship.
- Dating the design of the jersey
- Button style
- Athletic felt lettering and numerals
- Analysis of the manufacturer’s tag or label
The cut of the body of the jersey is aligned with others from the early-to-mid 1940s with such features as nine-1/2-inch long, set-in sleeves and a tall sun-collar. The gray wool is heavy and substantive. The five buttons are of the larger, convex cat eye variety that were common on many wartime service team baseball jerseys. The navy blue athletic felt lettering and numerals are applied with a straight stitch.
Given these design factors alone, the jersey falls into line with the 1945-46 timeline and certainly conforms to the date when the ship was commissioned. The information on the manufacturer’s tag, “Northrop Sports Shop Inc., Norfolk, Virginia”), in our opinion solidifies the assessment that the jersey is from the USS Timbalier. After the ship was placed into commission, she began her shakedown as she made her way south from Washington State. Following stops in California, the Timbalier headed for the East Coast, where her homeport assignment was located, by way of the Panama Canal. USS Timbalier spent three months at New York Naval Shipyard (formerly known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard) for her post-shakedown maintenance before transiting to her home port at Norfolk.
Since the ship most likely had her Norfolk, Virginia, home port assignment prior to her commissioning date, it is a safe assessment that the ship’s athletic equipment was sourced through the Norfolk Navy supply system. Furthermore, the lack of the “U.S.S.” lettering is possibly due to acquisition and initial use predating the ship’s date of commissioning (when she became a United States Ship).
Another aspect of research that must be considered is that the jersey could have been used by a collegiate, scholastic or even a semi-professional team, which prompted a considerable effort to find any possibilities. Conducting numerous searches through several research resources, we were unable to locate even a remote possibility of an alternative baseball team.
Upon withdrawing our newly acquired USS Timbalier jersey from its shipping packaging, it became readily apparent that it required cleaning. The gray wool flannel was discolored to a brown tone with heavy streaks of soiling. The sun collar had even darker brown staining from body oils and sweat due to contact with skin at the player’s neck. The odor that was emanating from the jersey was an overpowering musty smell combined with old tobacco fetor.
Following the same cleaning procedure that we employed for our heavily-soiled USS Phoenix jersey, we immediately submersed the USS Timbalier jersey into the proper mixture of warm water and delicate-textile cleaning solution. Almost as soon as the jersey entered the liquid, the dirt began to release from the fibers, causing the soapy-water to discolor and grow cloudy. After nearly four hours of soaking and gentle agitation, the water was so discolored that our plans needed to be modified. Rather than letting the jersey soak overnight in the filthy solution, the decision was made to pour out the dirty water, rinse and wash a second time.
After being overnight in the solution and getting a thorough rinsing, the jersey was significantly improved, as was discernible by both the visual and olfactory senses. The flannel was laid out flat on towels beneath a ceiling fan to dry to a slight dampness before moving outdoors for final air-drying.
With the drying complete, the USS Timbalier flannel is now ready for display among our other baseball and military artifacts. With four Navy baseball jersey additions in the same number of months, we are astounded by the flood of these items to the collector market.
Perhaps the majority of Chevrons and Diamonds’ attention, in terms of baseball militaria artifacts, has been centered on equipment, uniforms and original vintage photography. Occasionally we commit time to ephemera in the form of scorecards, programs and scorebooks but since such pieces are scarce and quite difficult to locate, articles dedicated to such pieces are less frequently covered. Obscure baseball- related militaria artifacts truly draw our attention.
With years invested into researching military history, including wartime art used for advertisements, recruiting posters, propaganda and trench art, we keep our eyes open for unique artifacts in these veins. As one can imagine, such an item would stand out when it arrived on the market. A few weeks ago, one appeared and immediately caught our attention. Before exploring this particular piece, it is important to apply context rather than to simply view artifacts strictly through a contemporary lens.
In order to provide context, one must step away from modern-day, emotionally charged and politically fueled fervor. It is important to understand that applying context is not a way to excuse or diminish actions or ideals that today are seen much differently as society analyzes and learns from history.
- To give racial character to
- A theory that race determines human traits and capacities
- A belief that some races are superior to others:
also: a discrimination based on such belief
It is a word that is bandied about and, at present, haphazardly and quite dangerously applied toward subjects, topics, thoughts, people or persons, ideas and ideals or anything that stands in the way of a political movement or ideology. Rather than listen to differing perspectives, the word (in its various forms), is injected into situations in order to stifle voices and to avoid listening to others’ perspectives. The words racist and racism have become the dogma of political social propaganda, a weapon in the “social justice” war.
In warfare, the battle for the minds of one’s own citizens and troops is just as important as the battles for those of their enemies.. Leaders employ tactics such as gross mischaracterization of opponents through propaganda in order to dehumanize the enemy. Spreading fear amongst a populace can have the desired recruiting effect and embolden troops to conduct themselves in manners that are less than humane on the battlefield. If one were to read a social justice-based textbook or attend an educational lecture, it is highly unlikely that the material would present a holistic perspective; that all nations and warring entities employed the same tactic of dehumanizing the enemy. It is far too easy to point all fingers at the United States as the sole responsible participant in this activity during World War II when the facts do not bear this concept out.
During WWII, all of the Axis nations, led by Germany, Japan and Italy and including Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, et al, employed ministries of propaganda that were tasked to dehumanize the British, French and Americans as well as specific ethnicities and religious groups residing within the enemy nations that they occupied. Humanity can be anything but humane, especially during a time of war.
Taking a singular viewpoint regarding propaganda is one-sided and is even more dangerous when such actions are employed to disparage a generation, class or race of people. The present-day tactic of painting the United States as the lone aggressor in World War II and of being systematically racist is terribly short-sighted and ignores all of the progress that was taking place. It is very convenient and considerably sloppy (in terms of historical research) to point fingers at the atrocious Executive Order 9066 and the internment of American citizens of Japanese ethnicity while ignoring the same action that imprisoned American citizens of German and Italian origin.
Context is perhaps the most important tool that researchers and historians require when looking back through time and beholding artifacts from a different era. It is also the most challenging aspect to acquire when viewing historical items such as generations-old propaganda, newspapers or even personal correspondence. Setting aside preconceptions and engineered fears and biases opens the door to education and can bring about a true sense of understanding and empathy for people in a specific period.
What does any of this have to do with baseball?
When a piece of folk art was recently listed at auction, our attention was focused upon the naval and baseball historical aspects of the piece. The item, a standard (originally blank) letter-sized envelope, was festooned with hand-drawn art with themes of baseball and romance. The addressee, Marino J. Consoli, was at that time serving on active duty in the Navy and in training at the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Physical Instructor School (also known as the “Tunney School” due to the program’s founder, former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney). Consoli’s name sounded vaguely familiar, which prompted us to review our compiled wartime service team rosters to determine if he played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets or any other command during WWII.
The first and most obvious places to start researching Mr. Consoli were within the baseball and naval service spheres. The only player to surface in the results of a search on Baseball Reference was Joe Consoli, whose full name was listed as Marino Joseph Consoli. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1919 and died on January 10, 1989 in Baltimore, Maryland. A quick search of Navy muster sheets revealed that there are some challenges with Consoli’s name. Further digging into documents such as Draft Card, Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form, Baseball Bureau Questionnaire and the 1920 and 1940 census uncovered several inconsistencies surrounding Consoli’s name and birthdate.
According to Consoli’s WWII draft card, his full name was “Marino Joseph Consoli” and his date of birth was July 17, 1919, in Stony Creek Mill, Pennsylvania. His closest relative listed was Mrs. Victoria Consoli, his mother. His occupation was listed as “ball player.” Using this single source, it seemed clear that the two sources pointed to the same man. However, the next few pieces of data began to blur the matter.
We located Consoli’s Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form that listed his birth date as July 7, 1918, a year and ten days earlier than what was shown on his draft card. This could be a simple typo committed by the Pennsylvania state clerk as the birth location matched on both documents. Also listed on the form were Consoli’s dates of naval service (enlisted January 31, 1943, Reading, Pennsylvania, and discharged January 18, 1946, Naval Separation Center, Jacksonville, Florida) along with some of the duty assignment details (including Headquarters Squadron, Fleet Air Wing Four (operating out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska), Mar 1, 1944 – Oct 31, 1945). Also notable was the veteran’s service number (808 96 41).
Turning to the only two U.S. Navy muster sheets we could locate, we discovered more correlating information along with new confusion. During February and March of 1944, “Marion” Joseph Consoli, Specialist “A” 1/c, service number 808 96 41 was in transit aboard the Lapwing class minesweeper, USS Avocet (AVP-4) from “an Alaskan port” but was not necessarily part of the ship’s crew. We can surmise that the yeoman merely transposed letters in Marino’s first name as the service number and his rating (Specialist “A” is the designation for the athletic specialist rating) but we are fairly certain that the man listed on the USS Avocet’s muster sheets is the same Marino Joseph Consoli.
Our investigation into Marino J. Consoli’s wartime service took a turn when we reviewed the Baseball Bureau Questionnaire, completed by him on May 7, 1946. There were several pieces of conflicting information, starting with his stated name of Orlando Joseph “Joe” Consoli and his date of birth, August 21, 1922. With such disparity from the other sources, these two facts cannot be dismissed as mere typographical or alphanumeric transposition errors. Facts that correlated this man to Marion included the location of birth (Stony Creek Mill, PA) and that he served in the Navy during WWII. Armed with new doubts, we began exploring additional documents.
Turning to the 1920 and 1940 census (we could not locate a 1930 record), we located Consoli’s family in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His parents were listed as Angelo (a steel mill worker) and Victoria (both born in Italy). In 1920 (enumerated in February), Angelo was 30 years of age and his young bride of 17 was the mother of a baby boy, Marino, who was 19 months old, which would seemingly place his birth in July of 1918. In the 1940 census, Angelo and his wife Victoria now had three additional children including two daughters and a second son, Orlando (age 18). Was Marino’s younger brother, Orlando, a ballplayer in addition to Marino or was there something else going on?
Within a few minutes of researching Orlando Consoli, we easily ruled him out as being our man. Orlando Angelo Consoli was born on August 20, 1920 (his mother was pregnant at the time of the 1920 census enumeration). His draft card listed his pre-war employment with the Atlantic Refining Company of Reading, Pennsylvania. Orlando enlisted into the Navy on September 21, 1942 and was assigned duty in the Panama Canal Zone (on the Pacific side) as a defender of the resource. He was hospitalized in early 1944 and was discharged from active duty on March 28 of that year. According to his 1972 obituary, he never played professional baseball, leaving us to question why Marion adopted his brother’s name and date of birth (one day later) for the Baseball Bureau questionnaire.
In addition to ruling out Marion’s younger brother, other information listed on the Baseball Bureau form confirmed that “Orlando Joseph” was truly Marino Joseph. Consoli completed the section, “What would you consider your most interesting or unusual experience while in the service?” He wrote, “Amphibious operations on Attu, Aleutian Islands; not seeing a woman or ‘even a tree’ for 23 successive months,” which tied him to the USS Avocet’s muster sheets. Consoli also disclosed that he was assigned to Fleet Air Wing Four (a seaplane squadron based in the Aleutian Islands) but was a chief boatswain’s mate (rather than an athletic specialist), which was probably more of a change in duties than his rating.
All of the research we uncovered regarding Marion Joseph “Joe” Consoli confirmed that the envelope once belonged to him. We made the decision to acquire the artifact as we discovered that Consoli was not only an 11-year veteran minor league third baseman and manager but also had an extensive career as a major league scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Joe Consoli began scouting in 1954 following his tenure with the class “C” Blackwell Broncos (Oklahoma) of the Western Association. During his career with Pittsburgh, Consoli’s scouting and player signings resulted in more than 125 of them reaching the major leagues including John Smiley (2-time all-star), Stan Belinda, Mike Bielecki, Tim Drummond, Al Oliver (7-time all-star, as well as the 1982 NL batting champion while with Montreal) and Bob Robertson.
Growing up in the Stony Creek Mills suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania, Consoli’s family resided on Taft Avenue, just a few doors down the street from Michael and Minnie Furillo’s family. The Furillo’s youngest son, Carl, would follow his friend Joe Consoli, a few years his senior, into professional baseball with greater on-field success with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Years after Consoli’s 1989 passing, his extensive baseball archives (including scouting reports, journals correspondence and other documents) began to surface on the baseball collectibles market. Part of that collection may have included the envelope that was addressed and sent to him in 1943 from an Army nurse named Grosskopf, most likely assigned to the Army Hospital at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, 22 miles northwest of Harrisburg. While the artwork embellishment on the cover was certainly interesting, the hand-drawn illustration on the envelope’s reverse was an example of the national sentiments directed towards the enemy nation that drew the U.S. into World War II – the Empire of Japan.
Aside from the baseball and naval history associated with Consoli and the envelope, the propagandized art on the back of the envelope sent by Ms. Grosskopf truly stood out as a reminder of the tenuous situation facing the nation and the citizens who were serving at that time. Daily casualty reports dominated the newspapers as neighborhoods learned of the deaths of their former high school classmates or their neighbors’ sons. Also gracing the newspapers were reports of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in places such as Nanking, China and the Bataan Peninsula. Contextualizing these facts can lead to understanding why the illustration on the back of the envelope may have been added.
For us, adding this particular piece of history provides us with perspective not typically seen in baseball equipment, uniforms or vintage photographs. Seeing a visual example of the personal, wartime sentiment from 1943 provides insight that is no longer prevalent among our society. Preserving a piece of history that once belonged to a career baseball man who saw action against the enemy in the Aleutian Islands is an honor.
Locating and acquiring a forgotten photograph that captured a moment in a star baseball player’s wartime service career is quite rewarding. Viewing a moment such as the player’s induction, basic training, or serving in a far-off land (in a combat theater) gives a glimpse into the contrast between his (then) current situation and his previous life of stardom on the baseball diamond. However, discovering photographs (and other treasures) of ballplayers who were dedicated to giving their all on the field of battle leaves us in awe of such men.
In searching for a vintage photo to accompany a future Chevrons and Diamonds article (unaware if anything existed), an unrelated gem surfaced that caught our attention for several reasons. The subject of the photo was three uniformed U.S. Army Air Forces personnel standing in front of a baseball scoreboard, partially obscuring it. One of the men in the photo was a former minor league pitcher (Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League and Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League) who went on to enjoy a six-season major league career (with the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals) after the war. Written on the back of the image was an inscription in that player’s hand that identified all three men along with what appeared to be a personal note addressed to one of them. In addition to these attractive elements, everything about the image (the players and the ballfield) pertained to our local region. Lastly, the photo was autographed by one of the men, adding even further interest.
Preferring to research as many details surrounding our artifacts as is possible, we embarked on a mission to fully document the photo once it was in our possession. An examination of the photograph’s elements supplied an excellent foundation to build upon. The (future) major leaguer was easily identifiable: Cliff “Lefty” Chambers is signed across the player shown at the left of the image. Beneath the signature is inscribed in the same handwriting, “Your buddy.”
The reverse of the photo holds a gold mine of information. First, the players on the photo are identified, though the handwriting for the third name was not discernible, leaving it as an unknown pending research. The next section of information is a note that was written by Cliff “Lefty” Chambers to his friend, Bill Brenner.
“I miss those rides in the B-T at Geiger. Hell, I never have any excitement anymore. I am doing O.K. Had 40 strikeouts for two games. One against Geiger and one against Farragut. Haven’t lost any yet. Will write, Lefty.”
Chambers’ note to Brenner mentions the loss of excitement. By the late summer of 1945, many bases had experienced a reduction in training activity with the war in Europe having ended a few months earlier. Still to be determined was the outcome of the war with Imperial Japan. Chambers’ mention of missing rides in the “B-T” could be a reference to the bombing trainers at Geiger Field, which was a training facility under the 2nd Air Force Command for B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber pilots and flight crews.
By June of 1942, Clifford Day “Lefty” Chambers, born in Portland, Oregon but raised in Bellingham, Washington) was just a few credits shy of graduating from Washington State College where he was a star pitcher and outfielder for the Cougars’ legendary coach, Buck Bailey. (His accomplishments earned Chambers selection to the Washington State University Athletics Hall of Fame.) when he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs and was assigned to the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. After seasoning with the Class “A1” Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League, Chambers was added to the Angels’ roster where he finished the 1943 season. In early March of 1943, Lefty Chambers submitted his 1943 season contract to the Angels ahead of reporting to spring training.
Prior to the start of the regular season, Chambers enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces, undergoing basic and athletic instructor training at Kearns Army Air Field in Kearns, Utah. Upon completion of his training, Chambers was transferred to Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington, located 75 miles north of his college alma mater. He quickly found himself added to the Fort George Wright Bombers baseball team, competing in the Army Workers Organized League (A.W.O.L.), which consisted of a combination of military service teams and civilian clubs. The A.W.O.L included service teams from Geiger Army Air Field (present-day Spokane International Airport) and the Spokane Army Air Depot (SPADCA) near Galena in Spokane County (now the site of Fairchild Air Force Base).
Chambers’ impact on the George Wright Bombers team was immediate as the former Angel and Washington State Cougar pitcher’s skills elevated him to the status of a man among boys. In addition to Lefty’s mound dominance, he also led the league in hitting despite the presence of other former major and minor leaguers on his team and in the league. Through 20 games, Chambers batted .344, driving in 20 runs with six doubles and two home runs. With eight pitching starts, Lefty Chambers had a 7-0 record with a 1.36 ERA, notching a 20-strikeout performance for one of his victories as well as tossing two 2-hit complete games. His success against the AWOL teams continued throughout 1943 and into the following seasons. Geiger Field secured the league championship by a margin of one game over George Wright, with Chambers finishing second in the batting title (behind Spokane Air Depot outfielder Short, who had a .433 average) with a .344 average. Chambers led the league in pitching with a 12-2 record and an E.R.A. of 1.26.
Chambers, designated as an athletic trainer, served his entire USAAF wartime career at Fort George Wright, kept the base’s troops in shape and played baseball for the Bombers for all three years he was in the service. Lefty’s excellent batting continued in 1944 as he led the league again with a mammoth .485 average to Short’s .462. During the 1945 season, his dual role (outfield and pitching) was reduced to solely delivering the ball to the plate. In his reduced capacity, Chambers still managed to bat .378 during his rotational starts and his pinch-hitting duties.
While Fort George Wright’s principal purpose was to provide B-17 bomber training to airmen, it was also home to a convalescence hospital for wounded airmen who returned to the U.S. from field hospitals in overseas combat theaters. Athletics played a vital role in rehabilitating recovering wounded to return to duty or to lead productive, post-war lives.
Anthony “Tony” Saso, a California native, was born in Los Angeles to Italian Immigrants. At the time of the 1930 Census, the Saso Family was living in San Jose where Tony would spend his youth. Tony’s father, Frank, earned his living in the region’s rich agricultural industry before establishing his own fruit wholesale business. In addition to playing football, basketball and competing in track and field, Tony honed his diamond skills in his youth including playing from 1939 to 1941 in American Legion baseball. After graduating from high school, Tony Saso was living in Santa Clara and attending San Jose State College but enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces on January 22, 1943, at the age of 19.
Following his training as an aerial gunner, Airman Saso was shipped to England and served with an 8th Air Force bombing squadron, completing 31 combat missions in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). With more than 12,000 bombers lost during the air war in the ETO, the odds of an aircrew reaching the 25-mission-milestone (some crews would be eligible to be transferred back to the U.S. if they reached that number) were unfavorable. Of the 125,000 personnel who flew missions over Europe, more than 57,000 were killed as the enemy’s anti-aircraft flak and fighter interception were quite deadly. Saso wrote in 1946 that his “greatest experience” during World War II was during a “mission over Berlin with (the) plane in bad shape due to (anti-aircraft) flak and (enemy) fighters, but we made it back to England safely.”
In January of 1944, Saso developed inner ear and sinus ailments that reduced his availability to fly missions. By late 1944, Technical Sergeant Saso had been transferred to Fort George Wright from England to the convalescence facility, though not due to trauma-related injuries (reported as “Disease; InjuryType2: Not a traumatism”).
Having recuperated enough by the spring of 1945, Saso found his way onto the Fort George Wright Bombers’ roster as the starting third baseman. Sergeant Saso batted for power as he delivered the long ball against opponents such as the University of Idaho Vandals and also for average as he led the AWOL League with a .361 average. As the 1945 season drew to a close, the USAAF medically discharged Saso due to lingering ailments. Tony Saso attempted to have a career in organized baseball in the following year, appearing in 21 games with the Ogden Reds (March-July) and the Pocatello Cardinals (July) of the class “C” Pioneer League before being given his release. Not ready to hang up his spikes, Tony Saso gave the game another attempt in 1947, signing contracts with the El Paso Texans of the class “C” Arizona-Texas League (April 8-March 10) and the Odessa Oilers of the class “D” Longhorn League (May 20 – June 12), but he didn’t see game action before his release.
On July 25, 1945, the man at the center of the above photograph, flanked by “Lefty’ Chambers (on the left) and Tony Saso (to the right), is Captain Bill Brenner. Just days after being discharged from the USAAF, he signed a contract with his pre-war team, the Los Angeles Angels, as he began putting the war behind him. A veteran of 47 B-17 Flying Fortress missions over Europe, “Bull” Brenner was more than ready to get back to the game after his mid-June discharge from active duty service. Like Tony Saso’s reassignment, Brenner was transferred from the 8th Air Force in England to Fort George Wright towards the end of 1944. No doubt, the presence of a former player from the Los Angeles Angels organization caught the attention of the Fort George Wright Bombers’ manager (and pitcher), Cliff “Lefty” Chambers, who added him to the roster for the upcoming 1945 season.
Bill Brenner was born and raised in Tumwater, Washington (the home of the regional brewery of Olympia Beer) and graduated in 1938 from Olympia High School where he excelled in football and baseball. Following two seasons (1938-39) at the University of Oregon, Brenner was signed to a minor league contract with the Bellingham Chinooks (Class “B,” Western International League) until his contract was purchased by the Hollywood Stars (Pacific Coast League) in September, though he didn’t play for that class “AA” club. In 1940, Brenner’s contract was sold to the Tacoma Tigers, back to the league he left after the previous season. Again, his contract was purchased by a PCL club, this time in Los Angeles after the season concluded. For 1941, Brenner spent most of the season with the Vancouver Capilanos for his third stint in the class “B” league before he was recalled by the Angels that August.
Ten days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Congress’ subsequent Declaration of War, William W. “Bull” Brenner enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces on December 17, 1941, one of a handful of professional ballplayers to answer his nation’s call. After more than a year as an aviation cadet, Second Lieutenant Brenner received his bars and his pilot’s wings at Pampa Army Air Field near Pampa, Texas in the Panhandle. Pampa was the USAAF’s site for heavy multi-engine aircraft training, predominantly B-17 Flying Fortresses.
Brenner was transferred to England and assigned to the 8th Air Force. Demonstrating leadership and courage under fire, Brenner and his crew would be designated squadron group leader for 29 of his 47 missions over occupied enemy territory. On four separate missions, Brenner’s plane was so irreparably damaged from flak and enemy fire that it was no longer repairable once he was able to return to base. By the end of his tour with the 8th Air Force, Brenner had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States Armed Forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight”) with two Oak Leaf clusters (for each subsequent award) and the Air Medal (awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight) with three clusters.
Due to the points that he amassed while flying for the 8th Air Force, Brenner was discharged nearly three months before the Japanese capitulated in September. Saso, having served on 31 bombing missions, no doubt accumulated enough points to be discharged similar to Brenner, but the disabilities he incurred led to his separation. Chambers, having been a physical instructor with a domestic duty assignment, was not discharged until after Thanksgiving of 1945.
Though our photo of Chambers, Brenner and Saso is undated, it was very clearly taken some time in the early spring of 1945 ahead of the start of Fort George Wright’s baseball season. The three men would play together for most of the season until Brenner’s June discharge. In the weeks following Brenner’s signing with the Angels, Chambers would pitch masterfully, striking out 40 batters over the course of two pitching starts. No doubt, the Army Signal Corps-produced photo was sent by Chambers to his (now) former catcher who was catching for the Angels. The former George Wright battery mates would reunite again briefly in the 1946 season before Brenner was sold once again to the Vancouver club. As Chambers made it to the show with the Cubs, he would have a modest six-season career in the major leagues, continuing on with the Pirates and Cardinals before finishing his professional tenure with the San Diego Padres of the Coast League in 1954. Brenner remained in baseball, serving as a player and manager in the minor leagues until 1958, when he transitioned to front office roles into the 1970s.
Both Brenner and Chambers remained close to their roots in the Pacific Northwest while Saso returned to the San Jose area and settled.
In researching the three men, it appeared that Chambers remained in contact with his friend Brenner until Bill passed away in 1979. We discovered a piece of baseball memorabilia listed at auction that demonstrated Chambers’ remembrance of his friend. It seemed that Lefty Chambers, with a trembling hand, signed a postcard copy of this (our) photo and noted on the reverse the recipient Brenner’s wartime combat accomplishments along with his achievements in baseball as both a player and executive. Lefty honored his friend’s memory and honored his service to our country.
In addition to the note that Chambers wrote to Brenner on the reverse of our photo, he appeared to address the piece (perhaps as a note for what to apply to the envelope) to “Mr. Bill Brenner, care of Los Angeles Baseball Club, Los Angeles, California.” Unfortunately, there is no provenance accompanying the piece to confirm whether Brenner ever received the image from Chambers. Towards the bottom of the reverse, the photo is stamped by the base where it was produced, “Official U.S. Army Photo, Pro-Base Photo Lab, AAFCH, Fort George Wright, Washington.”
Preserving the history of such men who, during the war, experienced the unfathomable horrors of combat (seeing the aircraft of squadron mates destroyed in mid-air over enemy territory or their own crew members shredded by enemy fire) but shared the bond of baseball. Brenner’s and Saso’s combined 78 combat missions and their experiences are unfathomable and with their passing are long-since forgotten. The discovery of a simple, innocuous photo of three men standing before a scoreboard afforded us with the motivation to investigate, research and preserve the history of such men.
Connecting Joe Cronin, the American Red Cross and Sampson Naval Training Center: Vintage Baseball Ephemera
Finishing the season with a record of 93 wins and 59 losses would be a respectable performance for a major league club. However, finishing nine games behind the American League Champion New York Yankees (who lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to one) was still not acceptable for a team that featured one of the most loaded rosters in the major leagues with a team that was built around the best hitter in the game in Ted Williams.
1942 was the best for manager Joseph Edward Cronin since arriving in Boston as a 28-year-old veteran shortstop who managed his former team, the Washington Senators, to a World Series appearance in his first season at the helm in 1933 (losing the World Series to the New York Giants, four games to one). Now 35 years old, Cronin was nearing the end of his playing career. His number of games at that position had been greatly reduced (to just one) with the arrival of the young shortstop, Johnny Pesky. The season was a rapidly changing one.
The United States had been at war for ten months and though Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis received the greenlight letter from President Franklin Roosevelt for baseball to proceed a month after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the game was severely impacted by the needs of the nation. With three Red Sox men Roy Partee, Andy Gilbert and Mickey Harris) already on active duty prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the player exodus to serve in the war effort started as a trickle and was developing into a steady flow as the 1942 season progressed. Cronin’s Red Sox had already lost four players from its roster by mid-season (Al Flair, Earl Johnson, Frankie Pytlak and Eddie Pellagrini) and Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Pesky had committed to begin serving in the Navy when the season concluded.
Joe Cronin’s strong sense of obligation to his nation compelled him to serve as many other ballplayers were foregoing their lucrative professional baseball contracts to in order to serve in the war effort. Volunteering for the United States Army Air Forces as he sought to earn his aviator’s wings, Cronin, who turned 36 years old in October, 1942, exceeded the maximum age and was disqualified. Prior to applying for service in the USAAF, he had volunteered at a Boston-area aircraft observation post, serving as an enemy aircraft spotter. Cronin was offered a commission to serve as an officer but declined the option as felt he lacked the qualifications.
Prior to his attempts to enlist, Cronin received a telegram from the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. during the 1942 World Series seeking his assistance with the organization’s overseas morale efforts. He discussed his desire to serve with his wife, Mildred, and with the Red Sox team owner, Tom Yawkey, prior to accepting the call to help. “In these times,” Joe Cronin told the Boston Globe, “you want to pitch in and do what you can. Besides, I was flattered by their interest in me.” Yawkey gave the Red Sox manager his blessing. “Joe was wondering if there would be any baseball next season and wanted to take this Red Cross job,” Yawkey relayed to a Boston Globe reporter, “So I said, ‘All right, fine, go ahead. Do anything you want to, Joe.’ He (Cronin) said he’d be back if baseball goes on.”
The risk of Cronin remaining overseas in the performance of his Red Cross duties during the 1943 baseball season was not something that concerned his boss. “We’ll be all right,” Yawkey stated. “We’ll just get another manager in that case. But I think Joe will be back.” As the war dragged on and the ranks of professional baseball players continued to contract, there were considerable doubts as to the continuation of the professional game in 1943. Joe Cronin’s departure marked the first instance of a major league manager serving in the war effort. By early December, major league baseball owners confirmed the game’s continuation for the next season.
As his morale work with the Red Cross began, Cronin was sent to Bermuda, where he introduced British troops to the game. In November, he was dispatched to Chicago, where coincidentally the major league baseball winter meetings were being held. Cronin was able to attend with Red Sox general manager, Eddie Collins, in conjunction with his work. Following the holiday season, Cronin departed the West Coast for the Hawaiian Islands, arriving on January 7, 1943 for service in support of military personnel. For the next three weeks, Cronin’s schedule included more than 100 appearances as assigned by the Red Cross’ Hawaiian Department Special Service Office. For several weeks, the Red Sox manager spoke with servicemen and support personnel while visiting Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard bases on Oahu, Kauai and the “Big Island.” Cronin participated in the season-opening ceremonies of the baseball season at Honolulu Stadium, appearing before the start of the game between the Army Signal Corps and the Rainbows. Cronin, wearing his Red Cross service uniform, offered at a few pre-game pitches, resulting in an infield single.
Back stateside in time to arrive at the Red Sox camp for the start of spring training, Cronin spoke to reporters about his time with the troops in Hawaii. “(Cronin) practically gets tears in his eyes when he talks about what great guys those soldiers and sailors of ours are,” wrote Sports columnist Bill Cunningham in the March 18, 1943 Honolulu Advertiser. Before opening day of the 1943 season, Cronin’s Red Sox lost two more men to the armed forces as his roster was drastically different from the 93-win team the previous year. Bobby Doerr and Tex Hughson still managed to garner enough All Star votes to play in the 1943 Mid-Summer Classic, though the team finished in an abysmal seventh place and with 30 fewer wins.
After 1943, Joe Cronin’s teams for the next two seasons continued to hover at or a few games below .500, which can be viewed as an accomplishment considering the Red Sox roster consisted of those who were very young, well past their prime or were just not physically eligible for service in the armed forces. Considering Cronin’s status both as a rejected Air Forces flying officer and as a Red Cross volunteer, finding ways to contribute to the war effort and to support those in uniform was made simpler with baseball.
From 1943 through the end of the war, the Red Sox, like other major and minor league teams, scheduled and played games against military service teams both in the surrounding New England area and in the vicinities of their opponents. For the Red Sox, the games had meaning only in that they provided local area troops the opportunity to see actively serving (former) professional ballplayers hosting a major league club and raised funds (from ticket sales, concessions and advertising) to support relief efforts and for recreational equipment for the troops.
Apart from the scant news articles or the occasional press photograph that may still exist from these games, surviving artifacts are terribly scarce if they exist at all. Paper goods such as scorecards or programs that were produced for service team games, whether one of the participating organizations was a major or minor league team, could range in production quality from multi-color printing on high quality card stock to typed pages that were duplicated via mimeograph printing on basic sheet paper. The delineation between the types of programs and scorecards typically depends upon the venue hosting the game. For the minor league and major league parks, one can expect to find the more richly produced pieces.
A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues approached us regarding one of our recent photo acquisitions (a game-action photograph of the ETO (European Theater of Operations) World Series being played at Soldiers Field at Nuremberg Stadium. The photo that we acquired had yet to be researched but our excitement at landing a veteran-inscribed item prompted us to share it with a few colleagues. One of them proposed a trade that proved to be too difficult to pass by.
The ETO World Series photograph was securely packaged and sent (tracking number provided to our trade partner) as we awaited the arrival of the return item. Our expectations and the anticipation of the piece of history were justifiable upon unpacking the delicate 76-year-old bi-folded sheet of paper.
On their return to Fenway following a 7-win, 14-game Midwestern road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, the 1944 Red Sox made a slight detour to the Western shores of Upstate New York’s Seneca Lake, nearly equidistant between Rochester and Syracuse, at the Sampson Naval Training Station. On the previous day, the Red Sox had split a double-header with the Tigers before boarding their train to Sampson.
The Monday afternoon game was slated for a 1400 (2 p.m.) start and would feature two rosters that, one might have suggested, were evenly matched, if not weighted in favor of the Navy men. The Sampson squad was led by Lieutenant Leino Corgnati, a 34-year-old former minor league middle infielder whose last professional game was played with the Class “D” Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Raiders of the Western League a decade previously. Corgnati’s club featured a mix of former major and minor leaguers with a sprinkling of highly-skilled Navy men (perhaps with high school, college or semi-professional baseball experience). Leading the Sampson men were pitchers Hal White (Detroit Tigers), Walt Dyche (Jersey City) and Jim Davis (Newark Bears). The position players included Don Manno (Boston Braves, Hartford Bees), Tom Carey (Boston Red Sox), Del Ennis (Trenton Packers), “Packy” Rogers (Portland Beavers), Ray Manarel (Norfolk Tars) and Jack Phillips (Newark Bears). Cronin’s Red Sox roster, though a patchwork of players, was led by Skeeter Newsome. Jim Tabor, George Metkovich, Lou Finney, Pete Fox, 38-year-old “Indian” Bob Johnson and future Hall of Famer, Bob Doerr.
1944 Sampson Roster – June 5 vs Boston (bold indicates major league service):
|LT||1||Leino B. Corgnati||Coach|
|S2/c||19||James C. “Jim” Davis||P||Newark|
|AS||14||Walter Dyche||P||Jersey City (IL)|
|SM2/c||8||Delmer “Del” Ennis||LF/CF|
|S2/c||16||Robert “Bill” Kalbaugh||SS||Durham|
|CSp||25||William “Bill” Mock||P||Wilkes-Barre (EL)|
|CSp||17||Anthony “Tony” Ravish||C||Columbus (SALL)|
|S2/c||15||Packy Rogers||3B/LF||Portland (PCL)|
|S2/c||23||John Szajna||3B||Sunbury (ISLG)|
|S2/c||18||Johnny Vander Meer||P||Cincinnati|
While Cronin’s Red Sox were hovering just under a .500 winning percentage (with a record of 21-23), Corgnati’s Sampson Training Station club was a solid 8-0, averaging 11.1 runs per game. Eleven of the Navy batters were carrying averages of .333 or better (three were batting over .500) heading into their game against the Red Sox. The Cronin crew were the first real test for the Sampson team, which until this game had yet to face a major league club. Heading into the Sox game, the Sampson club had defeated Baltimore, Syracuse and Rochester of the International League, Hartford, Albany, Elmira and Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League and the Navy Trainers team (consisting of V-1, V-7 and V-12 program students) from Colgate University. For Cronin and his Red Sox, the game was a morale-boosting exhibition at the end of a long road trip. For the Sampsonites, the match-up was a chance to prove that their undefeated record was not a fluke and to give their fans a great show. Due to the Navy’s ban on non-essential travel, the Sampson team’s eight prior wins were all secured on the Naval Training Station’s Ingram Field.
Manager Corgnati’s starting pitcher, still working himself into playing shape following his late March induction into the Navy, was being limited to pitching the first few innings of his starts. With much fanfare surrounding his arrival to Sampson, former Cincinnati Reds star hurler Johnny “Double No-hit” Vander Meer was slated to open the game against the Red Sox. In the top of the first inning, Vander Meer struggled with his control as he surrendered two free passes and three base hits to Boston, which pushed three of the base-runners across the plate. Sampson hitters were unfazed by the instant three-run deficit as they began to claw their way back into the game, getting a run right back from Boston’s starting pitcher, Vic Johnson. Vander Meer sorted out his control issues from the opening frame and proceeded to tally up scoreless innings until his relief in the seventh. The outing was Vander Meer’s longest of the young season. Meanwhile, Sampson hitters continued to feast on Boston’s pitching, scoring four runs in the second, two in the third and another in the fifth, pushing ahead of the Red Sox, 8-3. In the bottom of the sixth, Boston fell apart, surrendering 11 runs through via a bevy of hits and fielding errors.
With the game seemingly well in hand after Sampson plated another run, Corgnati relieved Vander Meer with Hal White , who was quickly touched for four runs, leaving the score an embarrassing 20-7 drubbing of Cronin’s weary Red Sox. Needing time to board a Boston-bound train, the game was cut short after the top of the eighth inning and soon afterwards, Cronin and his team were rolling eastbound.
More than three quarters of a century later, after removing the yellowed and delicately brittle bi-folded sheet of paper (enclosed in an archival rigid sleeve), the type-written details across the cover reflected the June 5, 1944 game featuring the visiting Boston Red Sox at the Sampson Naval Training Station’s Ingram Field. Carefully retrieving the piece from its protective holder, the damage and decay became more appreciable in a corner and a small section from the bottom of the Boston roster page. On the back cover, the paper remnant from the scrapbook in which the program was previously mounted was still glued to and concealed the upper third of the page.
In addition to the invaluable roster of Sampson players, the artifact’s value is bolstered by the lone autograph found prominently emblazoned across the front cover, carefully applied by the visiting team’s manager, future Hall of Famer, Joe Cronin.
The addition of the Sampson and Red Sox item to our increasing library of service game ephemera provides a boost to one of the more significant Chevrons and Diamonds project undertakings. Though the Sampson roster merely reflects the team’s configuration as it stood on June 5, 1944 and would change with the arrivals and departures of personnel throughout the season, the information provided greater detail than was previously discoverable in box scores contained within archived newspapers.
Having Joe Cronin’s signature is the icing on the cake.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the game is when it took place. Presumably after 120 minutes of game time, it was near (or past) four-o-clock in the afternoon. Three thousand, four hundred miles east of Sampson, the men of the 101st Airborne Division were boarding their Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft as they were preparing for the largest airborne and amphibious assault in history of warfare, providing a stark contrast in events. That next morning, newspapers and radio broadcasts would be covering the events of D-Day at Normandy. Joe Cronin and his Red Sox had the day off.