Monthly Archives: August 2020
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 Marino’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 Marino 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.