Monthly Archives: December 2020
In the weeks that followed December 7, 1941, the nation began a massive effort to build up troop and equipment levels to effectively take the fight to the declared enemies in the global war. The considerable influx of manpower into the various branches, combined with the considerable losses suffered at Pearl Harbor, underscored the enormity of the present and subsequent needs that would be faced by families of actively -serving naval personnel.
The overwhelming percentage of naval personnel killed at Pearl Harbor was enlisted and the United States Government Life Insurance program (USGLI), established in 1919, provided a nominal amount for their beneficiaries.. The Navy Relief Society addressed a myriad of needs beyond the reach of the insurance payout for families by stepping in and filling the gap.
Commencing with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Greenlight Letter,” a response to a letter from Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, major league baseball’s commissioner, regarding the future state of the game during World War II, baseball experienced a monumental shift in manpower and objectives. With professional ballplayers heading into the armed forces, leaders within the Navy Relief Society recognized the coming needs and the opportunity to make a greater impact. On March 30, 1942, it introduced its new director of the national special events committee fund-raising campaign. Stanton Griffis, a World War I Army captain who served on the General Staff during the war, was chairman of the executive committee of Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was already involved in early war bond drives, starting in January. After the sudden, February 12 death of his wife, Dorothea, following a brief illness during a winter stay in Tucson, Arizona, Griffis propelled his efforts and attention into his role with the Navy Relief Society.
Formally incorporated by prominent society folks in 1904 in Washington D.C., the Navy Relief Society’s stated purpose was, “to afford relief to the widows and orphans of deceased officers, sailors and Marines of the United States Navy.” What set Navy Relief apart from previous endeavors was that the Society was formed with enlisted sailors in mind. Until the early twentieth century, enlisted personnel were managed under the Navy’s Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair, established in 1862, while officers were managed under the Bureau of Navigation. Enlisted personnel throughout the Navy’s existence until the 1920s were considered as mere equipment while officers were the backbone of the Navy and highly regarded in long-term planning and daily operations.. The Navy Relief Society’s move to recognize the needs of enlisted personnel along with officers was a ground breaking step, as stated in the organization’s incorporating mission statement. “It is also its purpose to aid in obtaining pensions for those entitled to them; to obtain employment for those deserving it, and to solicit and create scholarships and supervise educational opportunities for orphan children.”
“Sports leaders are giving wholesale support to Navy Relief fund-raising activities, it was announced today by Stanton Griffis, who heads the special events division of the Navy Relief Society’s $5,000,000 campaign. “Virtually every sport is represented in the drive,” Griffis said.” – The Casper Tribune-Herald, April 16, 1943
Navy Relief fund-raising games were commonplace in major and minor league parks during World War II. Whether the games were exhibition events involving service teams or regular season contests, the Relief games were highly successful in their fund-raising objectives. Stanton Griffis quickly established himself in his role. In a May 15 New York Daily News piece covering Griffis’ work, he was touted for his planning and organizing prowess, “The biggest promoter and supervisor of sports events in the country today is a chunky, hard-punching, ball of fire named Stanton Griffis, chairman of the special events committee of the Navy Relief Society’s fund-raising campaign,” the Daily News article described his efforts. “Among the sport programs planned by Griffis are Navy Relief baseball games in every minor league park in the country, all-star games, professional football games, and a comprehensive setup that will have practically every “name” boxer, footballer and baseballer performing in a mammoth drive that is expected to net close to $2,000,000 for the wives, widows, mothers and children of our Navy heroes.”
Recognizing the fund-raising campaign’s need for those who had a greater stake in the program as well as people who possessed name recognition and could shine an even brighter spotlight on the effort, Griffis enlisted assistance from the biggest name under the Navy’s sports banner: the “Fighting Marine” himself, Commander Gene Tunney. “The Navy thinks so highly of Mr. Griffis’ work that Commander Tunney has been temporarily assigned to the new sports program,” the New York Daily News described. “Gene has his famous physical education program flourishing now with 3,000 hand-selected specialists on the job from coast-to-coast hardening our Navy personnel. Griffis is a great admirer of the Tunney thoroughness technique.”
In collecting service game ephemera such as ticket stubs, programs, scorebooks and scorecards, one will assuredly encounter a piece that was used for a Navy Relief fund-raising event. The Chevrons and Diamonds ephemera collection features a few Navy Relief scorecards from exhibition baseball games that were played for the direct benefit of the charity, such as this piece from the July 15, 1942 game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets); however, the opportunity to acquire one from a major league regular season game had yet to arise for us.
One of the earliest Navy Relief fund-raiser games took place on May 8, 1942 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, with the Dodgers playing host to their crosstown National League rivals, the Giants. Brooklyn, the reigning champions of the National League, held a 1.5-game lead in the league over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The visiting Giants were already 5.5 games behind, sitting in fifth place after 22 games in the new season. When the game was played, it was one of 16 scheduled events to raise money benefiting the service relief organizations. The game at Ebbets was arranged by Brooklyn’s former team president, Leland “Larry” MacPhail, who had resigned his position at the end of September, 1941 and returned to the Army after an absence of more than 20 years, following his service during the Great War.
The pregame festivities set the tone for subsequent charity games with pageantry and pomp and circumstance on the field, with 450 recent graduates from the Naval Academy along with 500 enlisted sailors from the Navy’s receiving ship unit and officers from the recently commissioned Dixie-class destroyer tender, USS Prairie (AD-15), all in attendance. Commander Tunney addressed the crowd with gratitude directed towards those in attendance, along with the players and the Giants and Dodgers organizations, as every person in the ballpark required a ticket to gain access, including players, umpires, security, concessionaires, ground crew and press. Even the active duty personnel required tickets to enter the park, though their tickets were paid for through donations from the ball clubs or other contributors (including 1,000 tickets purchased by a contractor in Trinidad). Though the ballpark’s seating capacity in 1942 was 35,000, 42,822 tickets were sold for the game.
The game netted Navy Relief more than $60,000, which included $1,000 from the scorecard vendor, the Davis Brothers. When one of those scorecards was listed for sale in an online auction, we didn’t hesitate to make a reasonable offer to acquire the piece as it aligned well with the overall direction of our collection of baseball militaria ephemera.
Seated in the stands along with countless active duty personnel was Army Air Forces pilot, Joel Williams, who meticulously kept score of his baseball heroes on that Friday afternoon, taking in major league baseball’s first ever twilight game ( the first pitch was at 4:50 pm) in its history. No stranger to Ebbets Field, Williams attended games as a youth and saw some of the “daffy” Dodgers of old, despite his family not being able to afford the price of tickets. “As a kid, they had no money, so he used to sweep the stands at Ebbets Field for free bleacher seats,” Michael Williams wrote. Joel Williams’ duties saw him patrolling the Eastern Seaboard, scouting for approaching enemy units during the war. “He flew guard planes on the East Coast and did not serve overseas,” his son wrote. Williams joined hundreds of fellow uniformed comrades at the game on this day, no doubt as a guest of the Dodgers (or Giants), which purchased many of the troops’ tickets for the game.
Williams remained a true blue Dodgers fan and suffered the indignation of seeing his beloved “Bums” follow the Giants to the opposite coast. “Dad tried to be a Mets fan but was never completely satisfied with that,” Michael stated. “And the Yankees were from the Bronx and that was not for a Brooklyn boy.” Joel Williams never ceased his love for the old Brooklyn Dodgers. After reaching an amicable agreement and a few days of shipping, the scorecard arrived safely.
On the field, the game was exciting as the Giants got ahead of Brooklyn’s Whit Wyatt, 2-0, with a single and a run scored by Johnny Mize (driven in by Buster Maynard) in the top of the second inning and single and run scored by Giants pitcher Cliff Melton to lead off the top of the third (driven in on a sacrifice fly by Mel Ott).
Dodger bats came to life in the bottom of the third with singles by Wyatt, Billy Herman and Arky Vaughn (Wyatt was tagged out stretching for third base). Pete Reiser singled to load the bases, followed by a two-RBI double by Johnny Rizzo leaving Reiser at third. Joe Medwick reached on an error which also scored Reiser and Rizzo. Melton was relieved by Bill McGee, who coaxed Dolph Camilli into a comebacker, igniting a double play to end the Dodger feast and the third inning.
Wyatt’s pitching wasn’t as much of a story as was his bat. The Brooklyn starter followed Pee Wee Reese’s lead-off fly-out with another single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Herman singled and another Giants miscue plated Wyatt as Herman arrived at second. Vaughn flew out but Reiser singled to score Herman, putting the Dodgers up, 6-2, after four innings of play.
Wyatt struggled in the top half of the fifth inning after striking out the leadoff batter, pitcher McGee. A single by Dick Bartell, two free passes to Billy Jurges and Mize and a hit batsman (Willard Marshall) plated Bartell and cut the Dodgers’ lead in half, leaving the score in Brooklyn’s favor, 6-3.
May 8, 1942 Giants Line up:
|Dick Bartell 3B||Navy||1943|
|Billy Jurges SS|
|Mel Ott RF|
|Johnny Mize 1B||Navy||1943|
|Willard Marshall LF-CF||USMC||1943|
|Harry Danning C||USAAF||1943|
|Buster Maynard CF||Army||1943|
|Babe Barna PH-LF|
|Mickey Witek 2B||USCG||1944|
|Cliff Melton P|
|Bill McGee P|
|Babe Young PH||USCG||1943|
|Ace Adams P|
May 8, 1942 Dodgers Line up:
|Billy Herman 2B||Navy||1944|
|Arky Vaughan 3B|
|Pete Reiser CF||Army||1943|
|Johnny Rizzo RF||Navy||1943|
|Joe Medwick LF|
|Dolph Camilli 1B|
|Mickey Owen C||Navy||1945|
|Pee Wee Reese SS||Navy||1942|
|Whit Wyatt P|
|Bob Chipman P|
|Hugh Casey P||Navy||1943|
The Giants drove Wyatt from the hill in the top of the seventh after he struck out the leadoff batter, Bartell, and walked Jurges and Ott, bringing the tying run in power-hitting Mize to the batter’s box. Brooklyn’s Bob Chipman faced the challenge by walking Mize and loading the bases. Facing Willard Marshall with the sacks full, Chipman failed to deliver as the left fielder singled to score Jurges and Ott, though Mize was tagged out in his attempt to reach third base. Durocher had seen enough of Chipman and replaced him with Hugh Casey with two out, two runs in and Marshall at first. Casey coaxed Giants catcher Harry Danning into a long flyout to right field to preserve the one-run lead.
In the bottom half of the frame, Dodgers first sacker Camilli led off the inning by taking Bill McGee deep and putting Brooklyn up by two, driving in what would end up being the deciding run of the game. In the top of the 8th, Mickey Witek singled with one out. Babe Young pinch-hit for McGee, reaching on an error by second baseman Herman (his second of the game), allowing Witek to reach third.. Dick Bartell plated Witek with a 5-3 fielder’s choice. Jurges grounded out to Reese to end the inning. Hugh Casey allowed two hits to Mize and Danning in the top of the ninth but kept the Giants from scoring and preserved Wyatt’s first victory of the season.
For the 1941 National League champions, the 1942 season was shaping up to be a repeat performance and predictions for a Dodgers return to the World Series seemed to be coming to fruition until the St. Louis Cardinals overtook Brooklyn. With just fourteen games remaining in the season, the Dodgers were unable to retake first place and finished the season behind St. Louis by two games. Before the start of the 1943 season, the Dodgers lost Reese, Casey and Rizzo to the Navy and Reiser left for service in the Army. From the Giants, Bartell (Navy), Maynard (Army), Mize (Navy), Marshall (USMC) Danning (Army Air Forces) and Young (Coast Guard) were all in the service by spring training.
The game scorecard is two-color (red and blue), printed on thin cardstock and features 14 internal pages. Each interior page is predominated by advertisements for products and local businesses. The ads are positioned on either side of a one-inch band across the pages’ mid-sections that provides scoring instructions, the 1942 season schedule, divided into home and away games, and Brooklyn Dodgers historical details and records. New to baseball scorecards, located on page 12 are instructions and regulations in the event of an enemy air raid taking place during the game as well as the call for citizens to purchase “Defense Bonds.”
Of the 24 men who played in this first major league service relief game, thirteen served in the armed forces during the war, with several of them participating in other fund-raising games while playing for service teams.This further enhances the desirability of this scorecard as a baseball militaria piece. Considering all of the historic aspects of the game, this is one of the more special pieces of ephemera in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.
Halfway through the 1930s, amid the Great Depression that gripped the United States with record unemployment and increased poverty, hopelessness was a common concept for Americans. Though Wall Street was already feeling the Depression’s birthing pains in previous months, Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929) marked the day that the financial system fell into near collapse. Months later, the Midwestern and Southern Great Plains states, known as “America’s breadbasket,” were struck by a drought that would grip the region throughout the 1930s. While unemployment and soup lines grew, America’s Game entered its golden era.
In 1927, baseball attracted fans in droves as Babe Ruth anchored the New York Yankees’ famous “Murderers’ Row,” which included Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri, as the team clubbed their way to a 110-win season and the World Championship. The Yankees’ place in history was cemented by five championships in the thirties and saw the end of the career of the most popular player in the game’s history as Ruth announced his retirement on June 2, 1935. For many Americans, the Yankees, if not the game itself, provided a measure of hope during dark times. With talent, dedication, hard work and timing, a poor kid from the sandlots could find himself on a semi-professional or minor league squad, working his way toward the major leagues.
In 1936, Joe DiMaggio, one of three baseball-playing sons of a hardworking Italian immigrant fisherman, found himself in negotiations for a major league contract to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He was being secretly assisted by one of the game’s greatest ballplayers, Ty Cobb. In San Diego, a young and impoverished 17-year-old kid, Theodore Samuel Williams, with the help of his single mother, negotiated a contract to play for the Pacific Coast League’s Padres on his way to achieving his goal of becoming the greatest hitter in the game. The game provided a way out of poverty for players, no matter if they made it to the major leagues.
Baseball was also symbolic, if not analogous especially during a time when people were faced with employment and economic challenges such as during the Depression. A batter could fail seven times out of ten attempts and still be considered great as he continued to strive for perfection. While revered by many Americans, the Yankees represented Goliath as they claimed five of the ten championships in the 1930s. The other five victors were teams with significantly smaller budgets, with four of them playing in smaller markets, giving hope that the underdog still had a fighting chance.
As the thirties came to a close and the 1940s dawned, the winds of war were blowing in Europe and the Far East as the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan began invading neighboring nations in search of territory and natural resources. The United States and baseball were in transition. The Selective Service Act of 1940 was signed by President Roosevelt to begin rebuilding the nation’s defensive capability both in manpower and equipment. The professional ranks began seeing ballplayers departing to fulfill their service obligation. The major leagues saw their first player, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy report to his draft board on March 8, 1942 for induction.
Leading up to the war, baseball truly was America’s pastime. While the major and high minor leagues were attracting substantial audiences, even during the waning years of the Great Depression, fans were also following baseball closer to their homes with amateur and semi-professional baseball leagues. Many players who took the field for these teams spent their entire baseball careers at these levels despite having the talent to advance through the professional ranks in the minor leagues. For their own reasons they chose not to sign pro contracts. In researching wartime service baseball teams, many of the players rounding out rosters dotted with former major and minor leaguers are men who before the war were semi-pro stars. One such man was Joe Batcha of Jeddo, Pennsylvania.
Catching for a highly competitive team in his hometown, the Jeddo Athletic Association’s Stars, Batcha followed in his father’s footsteps with the team. Following a one-month stint with the Hazleton Red Sox, he withdrew as the team faced financial difficulties before signing on with Jeddo, according to an article in the April 14, 1941 News Leader (Staunton, Virginia). In the late 1930s, Batcha established himself as both an outstanding defensive catcher and as a feared batsman, averaging .401 from 1937-1940 which got the attention of the Class “C” Virginia League’s Staunton Presidents as he signed on along with three of his former Jeddo teammates.
As with Hugh Mulcahy at the major league level, the peacetime selective service requirements impacted players at the semi-professional level. In April of 1941, the Jeddo Stars honored their first draftees, George “Goose” Rollins and Arthur Wilkinson, with a farewell party. One month following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Batcha set down his “tools of ignorance” and enlisted in the U.S. Army at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.
Following his basic training, Batcha was assigned to the 145th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division, where he served as an infantryman, machine gunner and, according to his obituary, an M1 mortarman. As Commander Joseph Rochefort’s Station Hypo code-breakers were confirming the target of a Japanese assault at Midway, transports and escorts carrying the 37th Infantry Division sailed on May 26 from San Francisco bound for the Fiji Islands, where they would spend the next several months preparing to take on the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. Joe Batcha sent a letter home in the fall of 1942 to inform his parents of his Fiji location. It was published in the local newspaper, The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) on Monday, November 23, 1942. The Solomons campaign was launched in early August, 1942 with Operation Watchtower and the First Marine Division’s landing on Guadalcanal. Enemy forces put up strong resistance on land, in the air and on the seas surrounding the islands as the heavy fighting lasted into early 1943.
As detailed in another letter to his parents, Batcha’s unit trained in both the Fiji Islands and New Zealand. The former Jeddo Stars catcher included souvenirs of his time in both locations. Following the lengthy and arduous training period, the 145th did not get into the fight until late spring with the launch of Admiral Halsey’s New Georgia campaign, called Operation Toenails. Batcha’s unit engaged forces. According to the October 14, 1943 edition of The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) Batcha was in the thick of the fighting. “Joey Batcha saw heavy action in recent fighting in the SW Pacific, according to word received by his parents,” the article stated. “The popular backstop was in the first wave of infantrymen to go ashore at Rendova Island at the start of the new offensive early in July. His unit quickly wiped out the few Jap outposts on this island, but they had tougher going when they moved across the channel to reduce the Munda airport on New Georgia Island.”
During the fighting, as forces from the 145th assaulted the Munda airport, Batcha ran into a familiar face from home, John Billy. Billy stated that the two connected under hails of enemy fire on multiple occasions during the battle yet for obvious reasons, the two could not catch up on news from the home front.
After New Georgia and Rendova were secured, Batcha’s unit was dispatched to Bougainville following Admiral Aaron Merrill’s and Admiral Arleigh Burke’s naval battle and the 3rd Marine Division landing at Empress Augusta Bay in early November. Just ahead of spring, the 145th Infantry Regiment, occupying the high ground on the island, became the center of the defense against a Japanese attack that included an uphill saber charge against the entrenched Americans. Batcha’s unit fought for five continuous days against the enemy onslaught, with reinforcement from the second battalion of the 148th Infantry Regiment after two days. The Americans virtually destroyed the second and third battalions of the Japanese 23rd Infantry and the 13th Infantry. For the next several months, Batcha exchanged his weapons for a glove and bat as he played in the unit’s baseball league while participating in a rigorous amphibious training cycle. For the time being, baseball served as a respite from his daily duties.
Joe Batcha’s popularity among baseball fans in the Hazleton, White Haven and Freeland region of Pennsylvania kept his name in the hometown newspaper throughout his service in the South Pacific. Following President Roosevelt’s executive order, the newly established Combat Infantryman Badge was authorized to be awarded to troops who met the criteria: be an infantryman satisfactorily performing infantry duties; be assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat and actively participate in such ground combat. On April 4, 1944, The Plain Speaker of Hazleton announced, “Corporal Joseph Batcha, of Jeddo, has been presented with the Army’s newest award for infantrymen, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, for exemplary conduct in combat.” The Plain Speaker piece spotlighted Batcha’s service with the 37th Division up to that point. “Since starting his tour of overseas service on May 26, 1942, he has been stationed in New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella and Empress Augusta Bay and is a veteran of the New Georgia campaign.”
By July of 1944, Corporal Batcha was establishing himself as a star among the men of the 37th Infantry Division. His offensive prowess was the subject of a hometown newspaper article in the Wednesday, July 19 edition of The Plain Speaker. “Cpl. Batcha, former Jeddo Stars catcher now with the 37th Infantry on Bougainville, still packs a ‘punch at the plate’ according to a new story received today from the division headquarters in the Southwest Pacific. In a recent baseball game on the island, Batcha’s double to left scoring two mates climaxed a fifth inning rally which gave Col. Whitcomb’s ‘Barracudas’ a 7-4 victory over Col. Frederick’s Blues.” Similar to many other military unit teams, Batcha’s Barracudas roster was stocked with former semi-professional ballplayers from across the country.
According to the article, apart from combat, Batcha saw plenty of diamond action in 1943, “Despite all the battling that he has done against the Japs, Batcha has been quite fortunate enough to get in his baseball. Last year he led his team in batting,” having spent more than two years in the South Pacific in combat, “as a machine-gunner (sic) with the 37th Infantry Division.”
That fall, Batcha and the 37th’s Barracudas (led by Colonel Cecil B. Whitcomb) were vying for a championship as they moved into a tie for first place in one of the Southwest Pacific leagues. Backstop Joe Batcha tallied two runs on a pair of solo home runs in a contest with the 37th Division Engineers. His second homerun pushed the Barracudas ahead on their way to a blow-out victory. His battery mate, pitcher Private G. Thomas Dilday*, formerly of the Shamrocks (a semi-pro club in Petersburg, Virginia) held the Engineers to three runs, assuring the Barracudas of a berth in the 37th Division League playoffs for the island’s championship. Those that secured a playoff spot included teams from Artillery, Engineers, Medical and Infantrymen, the rosters of which also included former professional baseball players. Unfortunately, research has not led to the outcome of the 37th Division tournament. As the baseball diamonds fell silent in the following weeks, the men of the 37th began preparations to depart Bougainville as General Douglas MacArthur’s 1942 promise was soon to be fulfilled.
Batcha and the men of the 145th Infantry Regiment landed as part of 37th Division and the rest of the Sixth Army at Lingayen Gulf on the Philippine island of Luzon on January 9, 1945. The objective for the 37th was the capital city, Manila. The Japanese resistance on Luzon was representative of what the Marines saw on Tarawa, with the fierce counter attacks. Enemy forces had become entrenched since the island nation fell in the spring of 1942. By the end of January, the 145th advanced to Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg. On January 31, the American flag was raised at the fort, the Americans having suffered 350 casualties in the three days of fighting. As the Americans advanced towards Manila, the Japanese troops not actively engaged in the fighting stepped up their atrocities on the American and European prisoners that were captured when the nation fell in 1942. The Allied soldiers had been unable to evacuate along with Filipino women and children. A month-long campaign of terror, which commenced on February 3, saw as many as 500,000 people terrorized and slaughtered at the end of Japanese bayonets. Girls aged 12-14 were selected and imprisoned at the Bayview Hotel (the designated “rape center”) in Manila and were submitted to round-the-clock brutalities by a constant stream of officers and soldiers. Afterwards, the girls were subjected to horrifying mutilations (such as slicing off their breasts and being doused with gasoline and set alight while mocked). Such scenes took place at schools, convents, hospitals and churches. Liberation came with a horrifying cost as the men of the 37th advanced on the city and the fortifications and artillery emplacements in the surrounding mountains overlooking the area.
Manila Retaken (1945 Film):
Advancing units of the 37th and 145th were met with heavy resistance by the retreating Japanese. Armored units of the 37th engaged heavily entrenched enemy troops at Rizal Memorial Stadium with American tanks pummeling machine gun and mortar positions in the stands of the ballpark. By the end of March, the city of Manila was in ruins as mop-up efforts came to a close after the March 4 fall of the Japanese-held historic walled city of Intramuros.
Battle of the Ballpark Film (1945):
Rizal Memorial Stadium was a ballpark that had played host to a contingent of American baseball all-stars in December of 1934. Lou Gehrig christened the (then) new ballpark as he crushed the first home run hit there during a December Far Eastern Championship game featuring the All-Americans, fresh from their tour of Japan. Babe Ruth followed suit and drove out the second bomb at the park. With 5,000 permanent grandstand seats, the game with the All-Americans saw 10,000 additional spectators seated down the respective left and right field foul lines. Rivaling those in the largest major league ballparks, the center field scoreboard was one of the largest of its kind. After the Americans wrested the city of Manila from its repressive occupiers, leaders took stock of the destruction of the ballpark, noting that the stands were riddled with holes from ordinance, machine gun fire and mortars. The diamond was chewed up from tank tracks. The grandstand seating had been entirely removed during the Japanese occupation, leaving the concrete risers exposed and damaged.
In a matter of weeks, Rizal Memorial Stadium underwent a dramatic transformation as the GIs and local citizens worked diligently to bring baseball back to the diamond. The monumental tasks of clearing booby-traps and more than 800 landmines, removing the enemy dead, filling bomb craters and tank tracks in the field and clearing debris took weeks while the men reformed their unit teams and prepared to reintroduce baseball to the once venerable venue.
“The crack of willow against horsehide is being heard again in the heart of Manila.” wrote Russ Newland in his April 18 article, US Soldiers Play in Rizal Stadium, which appeared in the Rocky Mount Telegram. “American soldiers have brought baseball back to Rizal Stadium. Garrison troops are playing regular games before thousands of fans in what once was Manila’s most elaborate sports establishment.” Combat-worn troops had a sense of home as they watched games from the naked, battle-damaged, concrete grandstand tiers. Despite the absence of hot dog or beer vendors in the stands and the lack of flannel baseball uniforms worn on the field, the games were welcomed as if the men were seated at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for just a few hours. “The dugouts are black from flame throwers and chipped from shells,” Newland wrote. “Outfields are foreshortened by crumbled walls and Japanese bunkers. The former turf is now dirt, carefully rolled by the doughboys.”
Monuments to the legendary 1934 All-American game still existed as stated by Newland, “One sign notes the late Lou Gehrig hit the first and sixth homers near the right field foul line. Earl Averill knocked the third and fifth into right center.” The correspondent continued, “The home run records of Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx were erased by the war. The mark of the Japanese is still there, too – the occasional stench of dead entombed deep within the concrete stadium.” Newland concluded, “But baseball lives again in the Philippines.”
Led by Master Sergeant Hugh Mulcahy, the hard work of repairing the ballpark paid off as the “Horsehide Inaugural” was held at the beginning of May with games featuring major and minor leaguers, all veterans of the retaking of Manila. The field was dedicated to Colonel Rinaldo Coe, Eighth Army Headquarters Commandant, who was killed in action on February 3 in the Nasugbu region, 90 kilometers southwest of Manila.
The Horsehide Inaugural featured several teams playing before more than 6,000 troops seated on the concrete grandstand tiers. On hand for the first pitch was comedian Joe E. Brown, who spent the entire war entertaining troops and hosting fundraiser exhibition games to supply them with baseball and recreation equipment (see: A Passion for the Troops: Joe E. Brown’s All Pacific Recreation Fund and Service All-Stars Raising Funds on the Diamond for their Comrades in the Trenches). He was honored to participate. Rather than a ceremonial toss to a catcher, Brown faced an honorary batter in the 8th Army’s commanding officer, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, who struck out laughing. Receiving Brown’s pitches was Eighth Army chief of staff, Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers. The opening game featured the Eighth Army Chicks, who handily downed a team from the Signal Corps by a score of 11-4. Leading from the bench, Hugh Mulcahy had been sidelined following an injury to his back that was strained as he “worked so hard getting the diamond ready,” reported by war correspondent, Richard C. Bergholz, in the wire story, Joe E. Brown Is Starter as Leyte Ball Season On, carried by the Pomona Press on May 4, 1945. The game saw former St. Louis Cardinal and Chicks outfielder Erv Dusak score two of the 11 runs with his 2-4 plate performance. Dusak’s teammate, former Louisville Colonels first baseman George Byam, was not outmatched. He had a 4-5 day at the plate, scoring four runs.
Perhaps one of the most notable Associated Press images captured during the initial games played at Rizal Stadium in the early spring of 1945 shows former Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs first baseman, Sergeant Eddie Waitkus, bedecked in a t-shirt, fatigue trousers and boots, at bat in Rizal Stadium. Waitkus, a combat veteran attached to the 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment (E.B. & S.R.), 4th Engineer Special Brigade, fought at Bougainville and participated in the amphibious assault at Morotai before fighting on Luzon at Lingayen. He earned four campaign stars for his Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal and his Combat Infantryman Badge. After the fighting in Manila, Eddie was tapped for diamond duties with the 544th E.B. and S.R. squad at Rizal Stadium. In a letter written on the back of a program/scorecard, now housed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, Sergeant Waitkus touched on a few details surrounding the game as well as his encounter with former Philadelphia Philly Morrie Arnovich, who spent the first few years of the war as a player-manager of the Fort Lewis Warriors (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move).
Here’s the game I spoke of. We got beat, but I got 3 for four and had a good day. Ran into Morrie Arnovich here. If we don’t move out, we’re playing his team soon. It’s supposed to have been the first game played here since the Japs came about three years ago.
It was swell to play again, and we’ll have plenty of baseball for a while at least.
The guy that pitched against us was a left hander Cincinnati had at Syracuse. Pretty good boy. 544th E.B. and S.R. vs. 145th INFANTRY 37th DIV.”
– Handwritten note from Eddie Waitkus. Source: National Baseball Hall of Fame
The press photo of Waitkus captured game action as the 544th faced Corporal Joe Batcha’s 145th squad. Due to his unit’s operational pace, Waitkus had little time for baseball. However, following the retaking of Manila, he was finally able to play. Batcha’s team proved to be too much for Waitkus despite his 1-3 batting performance.
Regarding the game, our research trail went cold and left us without a box score, players for either team or game details. In reaching out to Claudette Scrafford, Manuscript Archivist at the Hall of Fame, we were hopeful to obtain a scan of the interior of the scorecard in search of further information. Disappointment set in when Ms. Scrafford informed us that the reverse side was blank. It seems that the scorecard internals were not donated along with the cover and handwritten letter. Despite the roadblock that we encountered regarding the game at Rizal, Batcha’s trail extended well-beyond the war. Just weeks after the Japanese surrender, Batcha was sent back to the U.S. mainland, arriving from the Philippines on October 3. He was sent to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, where he was discharged on October 19. After more than three years of service, much of it in heavy combat, Batcha picked up where he left off with the Jeddo Stars.
The Jeddo Stars’ teams of 1947 and 1948 were, according to a retrospective of the team in the July 7, 2013 Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA), “could rival class D, C and B minor league teams,” wrote Sam Matta. “When the Stars took to the field, as many as 5,000 fans came to watch.” It was the dominant team in the Anthracite League and built a 32-game winning streak from 1946 into 1948. During the war, with most of the Stars’ players away serving in the armed forces, the Jeddo team faced a two-game home and away series against the 1945 Sampson Naval Training Station team that featured major leaguers such as Mickey Owen, Tony Ravish, Tony Lupien, Jim Konstanty and Clem Dreiseward. Sampson handily won both games.
Prompted by the acquisition of a seemingly insignificant photo with a very faint caption slug on the reverse, we were inspired to identify the one player, the batter, listed only by his last name (“Batcha”) and incorrectly associated, as we learned, with baseball in Los Angeles. Shining a light on the average GI who served in combat with distinction during World War II and who established himself on the diamond for his unit and comrades is one of the greatest aspects of what we do with Chevrons and Diamonds. For every star of the major leagues who served, there were countless average Joes who served on the field of battle. A handful of them found themselves playing the game alongside their pre-war baseball heroes.
*Private First Class Graham Thomas Dilday, Sr, was killed in action on April 12, 1945 near Baguio during the Luzon Campaign. In details provided by his son, Tom Dilday, Jr., PFC Dilday was serving as the lead scout for 3rd Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion, 145th Regiment during an assault on enemy positions on Mt. Pacawagan. While moving forward on the mountain, Dilday was struck in his chest by fire from a Japanese machine gun nest. According to Dilday’s son, his father, “though mortally wounded, managed to throw several grenades toward the enemy and succeeded in eliminating the machine gun nest.” wrote Dilday, Jr. “By the time his platoon reached him he had died with his hand still clutching a grenade.”
At an Army Day observance on April 7 1946 at Camp Lee, Virginia, PFC G. Thomas Dilday, Sr. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for his actions on Mt. Pacawagan. Brigadier General George A. Horkan pinned the Silver Star Medal on the soldier’s three-year-old son.
“Private Dilday, while in the process of moving forward to locate an enemy position on Mt. Pacawagan, was seriously wounded by a burst of enemy fire. Despite a badly bleeding chest wound he edged within 10 yards of the Japanese bunker. Mustering his quickly diminishing strength, Private Dilday threw two hand grenades at the enemy emplacement, one of which successfully neutralized the bunker. Seven enemy dead were later counted.
Private Dilday’s display of extreme courage at the cost of his life reduced a strong obstacle to the advance of his platoon and the company.”