Dutch Raffeis: the “Flying Dutchman” of U.S. Navy Service-Team Baseball
Baseball researchers face many hurdles and challenges in their pursuits of deeper and greater knowledge of professional baseball players. In the past 150 years of Major League Baseball, nearly 20,000 people have donned a uniform and signed to a roster (according to researcher and author, Jeremy Frank in 2016) and the members of the Society of American Baseball Researchers have an ongoing project to author biographies for every one of these players (see the Baseball Biography Project at SABR.org). Specifically stated (on the SABR site), the endeavor is an “effort to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.” The lion’s share of the completed biographies encompasses the names that even the most passively interested fans will easily recognize and the volume of accessible research for these players is considerable, affording researchers with, in many cases, the ability to be selective in documenting facts. Researching lesser-known players is a far greater challenge.
In a July 10, 1962 Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News article spotlighting the batting prowess of the (then) leading hitter (of the Naval AIr Station Quonset “Airbees”), Norman Teague who was (then) leading the Sunset League’s hitters with a .531 average, a reference was made to another utterly dominant batter from the league, 35 years earlier. “Teague is by no means the first lead-off hitter to punish Sunset League pitching. One of the best was Raffeis, ‘the Flying Dutchman’ of the champion 1927 Torpedo-Hospital club” the article stated. In describing this star of the Newport league player, the “militant ‘Dutch’ Raffeis, a shortstop, batted .460, scored 33 runs and stole 24 bases in 16 games. The Torpedo-Hospital combination lost only one game that season.” Of the two ball players mentioned, one name stands out among service team baseball history.
Inscribed among the signatures on a 1943 baseball, several of whom were signed by major league ballplayers (including Walt Masterson and Arne “Red” Anderson), is a very-legible autograph from Dutch Raffeis. Though a concerted and lengthy effort ensued in the process of researching the names on this baseball, the team it wasn’t until several months later that we were able to determine which team these men played for and positively identify each player. Armed with the Dutch’s first name following an assist from fellow military baseball historian, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, a wealth of research surrounding Raffeis, his naval career and baseball prowess was unlocked. Henry Raffeis’ life would otherwise be insignificant in the sphere of baseball history and probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of any SABR researcher, statistician or author, but he nevertheless had an impact upon the game as well as the U.S. Navy.
Who is “Dutch” Raffeis and why should anyone care? Henry A. Raffeis was born (on November 14, 1897) five-and-a-half months before Commodore George Dewey’s nine-ship flotilla engaged and defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo’s 13-ship fleet (on May 1, 1898) in Manilla Bay. Depending upon which census record one reviews, Dutch was the son of immigrants: his father originates from Austria (1910) or France (1920, 1930) while his mother hails from Holland (1910), Vienna (1920) or France (1930) making him a first-generation American. In possession of only a seventh-grade education, Henry Raffeis enlisted into the Navy at the age of 17 on January 22, 1915 as war raged in Europe and just 100-days before the RMS Lusitania was blasted by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on May 1 of that year.
Apprentice seaman Raffeis has only a few months of naval experience when he found himself playing baseball at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, though details are considerably ambiguous. However, his level of baseball play must have been quite notable and reminiscent of one of the stars of the era, Honus Wagner (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman” due to his German Heritage and prowess on the diamond) whose Hall of Fame career was waning. By 1920, Dutch was assigned to the U.S. Submarine Base Los Angeles (at San Pedro), the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast where he played at the hot corner (third base) for installation’s league championship team. Raffeis was rated as a gunner’s mate (torpedo) which all but guaranteed his service in the Navy’s silent service. During the 1920s, Raffeis was assigned to submarine bases (in addition to San Pedro and the aforementioned Quonset Point) at Coco Solo (Panama Canal Zone) and Pearl Harbor where he helped his teams secure championships (Coco Solo – 1925, Honolulu City League – 1926, the Battle Fleet Championships 1927-28).
“The Torpedo Station, battled-scarred veteran of 16 campaigns, has won the most titles, four, although it had to share the laurels with the Richmonds in its first conquering season of 1922. But the ‘Torps’ won in convincing style the following year when their battlefront was manned by such doughty players as Eddie Harrington, B.J. Smith, Stubbs, Witherspoon, Brewster, Holly and Hart. They won 32 out of 40 games in two seasons.
Combined with the Naval Hospital, the Station captured the bunting going away in 1927, harpooning 15 victories against only one defeat. Jarvos, Chief Horace Davis, Charley Mitchell, “Dutch” Raffeis, and Templeton were some of the figures who engineered that steamrolling junket. In 1935, a fence-denting, courageous Station array, managed by Charley Mitchell bagged the tars’ fourth pennant, despite a porous defense.” – Brief History of the (Sunset) League
Though details are a bit scarcer for Raffeis during the decade of the 1930s, there are still some great discoveries regarding both his navy career and his baseball exploits. In April of 1930, Raffeis, now a chief petty officer (torpedoman), arrived in San Francisco having detached from the submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone but where he subsequently served is unknown until his name appears on the May 29, 1933 Honolulu Star Bulletin’s sports page. A box score from the paper details a game between the Navy and a local city league team comprised of men of Chinese ancestry. In the 12-6 win for the Gobs, Dutch was still a force at the dish at the ripe “old” age of 36 as he batted 4-for-6 with two doubles and scoring two of the team’s 12 runs.
Navy (vs Chinese): May 29, 1933: Line-up/Box score:
Following a year-long assignment on the Big Island (at Hilo), Raffeis was again transferred back to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, rejoining the team. Leading the already strong team of players, LT. Frank (Max) Leslie, who at the time, was serving with VP-4F, flying patrol aircraft (note: at the Naval Academy, Leslie played for the midshipmen baseball squad under team manager, Chief Bender in 1926). LT Leslie would later lead the dive bombers of VB-3 in their highly successful attack on the Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway.
No further data is available detailing Henry Raffeis’ service or his activities on the diamond for the remainder of the decade though his active duty naval career concluded, having spent at least 20 years in uniform. By April of 1940, Raffeis was working as the superintendent of traffic for a Honolulu, Hawaii taxicab company. Dutch was a resident of the Terada Hotel (on Westervelt Street) that was owned and operated by Jukichi and Sen Terada who also lived on site with their two daughters (Kinue and Doris).
In the summer of 1940, 46-year-old Raffeis was recalled from his inactive reserve status (on August 10, 1940) and assigned to the Porpoise-Class submarine, USS Pompano (SS-181) for the next six months (note: Pompano’s first combat patrol commenced 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and she would be lost with all hands in September of 1943).
Seemingly picking up where his Navy baseball career left off, Raffeis reported to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base (from the Pompano) on February 9, 1942 and re-joined the team that he spent many years manning the Dolphins’ infield and taking on duties as an assistant head coach, backing up Lieutenant O. D. “Doc” Yarborough. After the conclusion of the 1942 season, Doc Yarborough was reassigned to the mainland leaving Dutch Raffeis to assume the helm of the team for 1943.
Under the “Flying Dutchman’s” helm, the Navy team competed heavily in the Hawaii League and faced stiff competition from city teams that were well-stocked with talent (the “Athletics” team featured former minor league pitcher, Eddie Funk who would be part of the 1944 7th AAF juggernaut team that dominated the Islands, winning the championship) . By July of the 1942 season, Dutch’s boys were already eliminated from contention. As the armed forces were expanding with the influx of young men, Raffeis was beginning to see an influx of talent into the area commands and so, he began to bolster his team, however it was not in time to salvage the season.
With the 1943 season in full swing for the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, Raffeis continued to see professional ballplayers-turned-sailors arrive as he continued to bolster his team’s roster with baseball talent and experience. By late Spring, Dutch saw the arrival of Jimmy Gleeson, Walt Masterson and Ray Volpi following their brief tenure with the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets earlier in the season. Winning the 1943 season championship would be the “Flying Dutchman’s” swansong as management of the team was taken over by former Senators pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Walt Masterson.
With the service team rosters in Hawaii being flooded with formerly professional level baseball talent, it is remarkable to see positions still maintained by career sailors such as Raffeis or Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) who was included by the Navy for the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series).
Following the 1943 Sub Base Pearl Harbor Championship, Army brass on Oahu cherry-picked top baseball talent from domestic air bases and transferred them to Hawaii, forming a veritable all-star team under the command of the Seventh Air Force (7th AAF) led by Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Mike McCormack, Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Ferris Fain. The 7th AAF won the Hawaii League championship going away while the stalwart Navy ballplayer, coach and manager, Raffeis slipped behind the scenes for the 1944 season. Forty-seven-year-old Henry Raffeis was transferred to sea to finish out his naval career, serving aboard the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) for his last few months of service. A few months shy of his 48th birthday, Henry “Dutch” Raffaies was transferred from the USS Holland back to the continental United States. He was released from active duty on June 11, 1945, 35 days after German surrendered to the Allied forces.
Between June 11, 1945 and sometime in 1968 no records are available regarding Raffeis’ post-Navy life nor are there any indications of what he may have done as a Navy retiree. In 1968, California voter registration shows the 71-year-old’s home address to be in San Diego, a “Navy town,” in a neighborhood populated by an abundance of World War II veterans. Less than three years later, Henry “Dutch” Raffeis passed away at Frente Cooperativa Las Cabanas, San Rafael de Santa Ana, Costa Rica on December 10, 1971 and was laid to rest in that city’s Central Cemetery.
Posted on November 21, 2019, in Individual/Personal History, Interwar Period, Players and Personalities, Vintage Baseball Photos, WWII and tagged "Henry Raffeis", 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, Al Brancato, Dutch Raffeis, Jimmy Gleeson, Max Leslie, Mo Mozzalli, Oscar Sessions, Red Anderson, Walter Masterson. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.