Monthly Archives: March 2021

Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory

World Series celebrations fade, player-movement talk warms up, igniting what is known as the “Hot Stove League.” Speculation spawns suppositions and rumors about trades and salary space for teams looking to bolster rosters that were previously poised to cross the threshold into the post season.

The winter is also the time of the year when baseball fans await the announcement of the Hall of Fame voting for the enshrinement of that year’s new class. As with the heated talks in the Hot Stove League, fans can become incensed regarding the Hall worthiness of election-eligible players. Questions are always asked, discussion arise about the validity of  enshrinements of some of the players whose plaques hang in the museum’s gallery. There are several players who are targets of those seeking to somehow level the field of enshrinees with calls for removal. A simple internet search will provide the banter and fodder created by armchair Hall of Fame voters.

Hall of Famer Charles “Red” Ruffing has given armchair critics pause. Power-hitting Hall of Fame enshrinee Jimmie Foxx said of Red, “That Ruffing is a wonder. Always in there winning that important game for you.” Prompted by a recent vintage photograph acquisition, we took inventory of our photograph library to find our collection of images depicting Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee hurler Charles “Red” Ruffing during his wartime service in the armed forces. The most recent arrival featured Ruffing in his USAAF away uniform, posed near bleachers filled with uniformed service personnel. It bore an autograph and inscription from the Hall of Fame pitcher. Until we began to focus on baseball militaria, Ruffing was not a player that we had given much thought to in terms of his career or his service during World War II. However, we amassed an interesting group of photos and our research of other players’ service careers continued to intersect with Ruffing and initiated much due research into Red’s war years.

In the years following his trade to the Yankees, Red Ruffing made a name with his pitching and hitting consistency, rubbing elbows with celebrities like Jimmy “Cinderella Man” Braddock. “September 12, 1938, New York, New York: Ruffing, Braddock and Pearson as they signed autographs for Katherine Werz, pretty program girl at the Cotton Club. She seems to say, ‘what is the rush for?'” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Making 624 pitching appearances in 22 seasons, Ruffing started 538 (335 complete) games and complied a 273-225 record with a career ERA of 3.80.  A glance at his career stats could lead some to the conclusion that his pitching was not Hall-worthy but to judge him solely by his record is a disservice to the man and to the game. The first seven seasons of Red’s career were spent with the Boston Red Sox during perhaps the worst period in the team’s history. Reeling from the 1919 sale of Ruth and the subsequent departures of the team’s most talented players through trades and sales four years before Ruffing’s arrival, the Red Sox were awful for his entire 1924-1930 tenure. The Sox’ best year in that span was Ruffing’s first, during which he made eight appearances with two starts (both were no-decisions); however, the Sox finished tied for last (effectively seventh place) with the White Sox.  One can assert that his was a story of two careers as success for Ruffing was immediate following his sale to the Yankees. After he twice led the American League in losses in 1928 and ’29, the Red Sox owner sold Ruffing to the Yankees after the pitcher racked up three consecutive losses to start the 1930 season. Pitching in 34 games (of which he started 25), Ruffing finished 1930 with the best record of his career to date at 15-8. A pitcher’s record is not only a reflection of his performance but also that of the defense that surrounds him on the diamond, and Ruffing was the beneficiary of stellar players on those Yankee teams.

Red Ruffing’s pitching style compared with that of his Yankees teammate, Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez.

Not only did Ruffing’s regular season performance improve when he donned Yankee pinstripes but he also contributed to seven American League pennants (1932, 1936-39, 1941-42) with the Yankees and six World Series championships (losing only to the Cardinals in 1942). Ruffing compiled a 7-2 record (going the distance in eight) with a combined ERA of 2.63 in the 10 games he pitched in.

Rather than exploring Ruffing’s playing statistics, we are going to focus on three glaring spots within his 22-season-record when he was not accumulating wins for the Yankees.

With the United States raising troops to serve and fight during WWII through voluntary enlistment and the draft, ballplayers were putting their playing careers on ice as they traded flannels for armed forces uniforms. At the age of 37, being married with children and missing four toes from his left foot (lost in a mining accident at the age of 13), it would not have been outside the realm of normalcy for Ruffing to be classified as 4-F.

The original caption reads: “Charles “Red” Ruffing, Yankee right hander, will be on hand for mound duty when the World Series opens. The 200 pound six-footer was born in Granville, Illinois, and is a resident of Long Beach, California.” 1942 press photo (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

After losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series to Johnny Beazley and the St. Louis Cardinals, Ruffing returned to his home in Long Beach, California and went to work for the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, makers of the A-31 Vengeance bomber. That should have rendered him classified as II-B (deferred in war production) by the Selective Service board.  The thought of being eligible to serve let alone drafted into the military might not have come to Ruffing’s mind but local Draft Board 276  called him in for his induction physical on December 29, 1942. Rather than lament the situation, Ruffing looked ahead to his service, stating to a reporter, “I’m all set to go.” Seven days after an Army doctor examined the pitcher and determined that his six remaining toes were enough to qualify him for service as an athletic instructor, helping keep troops agile and fit for duty, he reported for training on January 5, 1943.

“Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board. He was placed in 1-B class and goes in for non-combatant duty.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Ruffing’s entry into the Army Air Forces was an opportunity for the Army to promote service and to use the pitcher’s experience to tell the story of military life. On his first day in basic training, Ruffing relayed a rather comical and very humbling experience as reported in the Wednesday, January 13, 1943 edition of the Oakland Tribune, “A sergeant said to me, ‘Ruffing, I understand that you can pitch.’ “‘That’s right’, I answered, and the sergeant said, ‘Okay, buddy, see how fast you can pitch this tent!'” The future Hall of Fame enshrinee had been transformed overnight into “Private Ruffing.”

After a few weeks in training, Ruffing was assigned to the Air Transport Command (ATC), Ferrying Division, at Long Beach that is known today as Long Beach Airport. In addition to his physical fitness instruction duties, the pitcher was already tapped for ball playing duties with the command’s team. The January 21, 1943 Pasadena Post reported that Ruffing would play in the outfield and first base until his pitching arm was in shape for mound outings later in the season. The 1942 Air Transport nine had been limited to Sunday games; however, with the influx of professional ballplayers, the Army leadership saw opportunities for bringing attention to many financial needs for soldiers.

By late February, Ruffing’s name was drawing attention from Southern California baseball fans. Former Los Angeles Angels slugging left fielder and Cubs utility man, Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff, was handed the reins of a Major League All-Star club that faced off against a minor league All-Star nine in support of the Southern California Baseball Association’s medical fund (providing financial aid for area semi-professional baseball players in need of medical services). Novikoff’s roster included Vince DiMaggio (Pirates), Tuck Stainback (Yankees), Max West (Braves), Gerry Priddy (Senators) Nanny Fernandez (Braves), Steve Mesner (Reds), Vern Stephens (Browns) and Peanuts Lowrey (Cubs). At the ready for mound duties were pitchers Johnny Lindell (Yankees), Dick Conger (Phillies) and Red Embree (Indians). The only two named to the roster who were serving on active armed forces duty were Red Ruffing and a former Cub middle infielder, Navy Coxswain Bob Sturgeon.  For the 4,000 fans in attendance at Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Park (known today as Jackie Robinson Stadium, located near the Rose Bowl), the minor league All-Stars made a great showing when the game was finally played on Sunday, February 29, after having been delayed one week due to several days of rain. Led by Angels skipper Bill Sweeney, the minor leaguers kept the game close until the eighth inning when the tide turned in their favor and they won the contest, 4-2.

After more than a month of playing exhibition and all-star games, Ruffing made his mound debut against the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base squad, pitching two scoreless innings despite surrendering hits to the Navy’s Bob Lemon, Diamond Cecil and Wayne Collins. Leading an All-Service line-up that included some recent service arrivals such as Tom Lloyd (Harrisburg Senators), Jack Graham (Montreal Royals), Eddie Bockman (Norfolk Tars), Nanny Fernandez (Braves) and Chuck Stevens (Browns), Ruffing gave way to Wayne Collins, who finished the game as the team upset the favored Navy squad. Ruffing was moved into right field to bring his bat to bear (Ruffing is still ranked fourth on Major League Baseball’s list of home runs by pitchers with 34). Heading into the top of the ninth trailing Los Alamitos, Bob Dillinger led off the inning with a double that was repeated by Fernandez’s run-scoring two-bagger. Ruffing pushed Fernandez to third on an infield out. Ed Nulty’s RBI single tied the game at three runs apiece.  In the top of the tenth, the All-Stars pushed ahead with a Tom Lloyd leadoff single, followed by Eddie Bockman’s triple off the centerfield fence.  Despite going 1-4 at the plate, Ruffing’s first pitching start was a brief yet solid outing.

On Sunday, April 11, 1943, a reconstituted Service All-Star team appeared before a capacity crowd at Gilmore Field to take on the hometown Hollywood Stars. A newcomer to the All-Stars was Ruffing’s former Yankees teammate, Private Joseph DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper,” who was assigned to the Army Air Forces’ Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB). The two ex-Yanks led the charge against the “Twinks” as Joltin’ Joe was 3-5 at the plate and drove in two of the team’s five runs. With a few weeks of pitching under his belt, Ruffing was getting dialed in as he turned in three perfect innings to start the game. Eddie Bockman set the tone for the All-Stars by driving one of the Hollywood pitcher’s opening offerings over the left field wall to lead off the contest as Ruffing’s servicemen claimed a 5-2 victory.

NamePositionFormer Team
Woody BellOFSan Antonio (TXL)
Harry DanningCFGiants
Froilan “Nanny” FernandezSSBraves
Johnny “Swede” JensenRFSan Diego (PCL)
Hub KittlePOakland (PCL)
Art Lilly2BHollywood (PCL)
Walter Loos3BColumbia (SALL)
Chas.  MowrerLFSemi-pro
Ed NultyLFMontreal (IL)
Al “Ollie” OlsenPSan Diego (PCL)
Roy PitterPNewark (AA)
Red RuffingPYankees
Chuck Stevens1BBrowns
Willie WerbowskiPSemi-pro
Max WestCFBraves
Ike WiseLFSemi-pro
1943 Long Beach ATC’s Sixth Ferrying Group team. This roster encompasses the entire season though not every player listed was present for the entire year.

As the season got underway for the Sixth Ferrying Group nine, Ruffing and the men faced off against varying competition as they squared against the University of Southern California (USC), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Pacific Coast League teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres and Hollywood Stars. The Sixth’s squad developed as spring progressed. Aside from Ruffing, who assumed team manager duties, Chuck Stevens and Nanny Fernandez, the Ferry Group team had added former Coast League names such as “Swede” Jensen and “Ollie” Olsen (both from the Padres), Hub Kittle (Oaks) and Art Lilly (Stars). Filling out the roster were major leaguers such as Max West (Braves) and Harry “The Horse” Danning (Giants).

Ruffing’s squad ascended to the top of the service league standings as the Ferry Group dispatched the likes of Fort MacArthur’s Battery “F” and their young ace pitcher, Corporal Charles “Bud” Doleshal, an amateur fireballer who, because of his wartime pitching success, found himself on the Yankees’ radar. On May 16, Ruffing faced the 174th Infantry Buffaloes (San Fernando), who touched him for a dozen base hits. Also in the league were the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees, Santa Ana Army Air Base, Los Alamitos Naval Air Base, Camp San Luis Obispo Blues, San Bernardino Air Depot, the Paramount (film studio) Cubs, Vultee Aircraft and Rosabell Plumbers (the latter three were civilian industrial teams).  From the outset of the 6th Ferry Group’s season play, they dominated the competition with a roster filled with former major and minor leaguers such as Max West, Nanny Fernandez, Ed Nulty, Harry Danning and Chuck Stevens.

Ruffing knew how to wangle newly inducted ballplayers and facilitate transfers to the Long Beach Air Base.  According to Hub Kittle’s Society For American Baseball Research biography (by Ken Ross), Red, like a few of his baseball counterparts, truly built his team with a little bit of string-pulling. When Oakland Oaks pitcher Hub Kittle received his draft notice and was on his way to Los Angeles to report for induction, he was approached by the Sixth’s astute manager. “Kittle, I hear you are going into the army next week. Well, I’m Red Ruffing, and I manage the Sixth Ferry Command in Long Beach. I’d like to have you come and pitch for us. When you get to Fort MacArthur, you give me your serial number and I’ll put in a request for you.” Ruffing’s former Yankee teammate, Joe DiMaggio, who was seeking to bolster his Santa Ana squad, also reached out to Kittle. Due to the lack of available billets for athletic trainers, the Yankee Clipper advised Kittle to go to the musician’s union as a cymbal player in hopes he could be assigned to the base’s band. Ultimately, Ruffing got his pitcher as Kittle was forced to choose between the two commands, opting for the Sixth. Rather than serving as an athletic specialist, Kittle was assigned to the base gym, serving as a masseur for fighter pilots. 

On May 23, the season-long competition between the Army and Navy (the Sixth Ferrying Group and the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base)  continued as the teams played to raise funds in support of the Kiwanis Club’s Service Fund. Ten days later, Joe DiMaggio’s SAAAB club played host to Ruffing’s Ferry Group as the Yankee Clipper hit in his twelfth consecutive game. Santa Ana prevailed 5-3 as Ruffing coughed up the tying run with a bases-loaded free pass issued to Leo Prim in the fifth inning after having pitched around DiMaggio. Ruffing took the loss as he surrendered two more runs later in the game.

Despite the fuel rationing and restrictions placed upon travel that was deemed unnecessary, the Sixth arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a scheduled two-game series against the Kirtland Field squad. In the Sunday (June 6) game, Ruffing controlled the Kirtland men from the mound with a seemingly easy 7-2 victory. The following day, Red’s bat helped to break the game open in the top of the tenth inning. What had been an even brawl that left the score knotted at 11 runs apiece saw the Ferrying Group take control with Ruffing’s lead-off double that sparked a seven-run inning and sealed the 18-11 victory.

The following week, victories were gained against the San Diego Marines (6-5), Los Alamitos (6-1) and the San Bernardino All-Stars at the Perris Hill ballpark. The San Bernardino squad was a combined military and civilian squad drawn from the San Bernardino Army Air Depot club and the civilian firefighters’ team, also from the San Bernardino Air Depot.

The competition was diverse and predominantly spread throughout Southern California. Aside from their league opponents, the Sixth seemingly met all challengers on the diamond including the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees. In mid-July, Ruffing and several other active-duty ballplayers were handpicked to take on the Pacific Coast League’s club in San Francisco at Seals Stadium as part of a double-header. The opening game saw the Seals hosting the Hollywood Stars with the nightcap featuring an Army-Navy All-Star team taking on a combined roster of the Oakland Oaks and the Seals, with the game’s proceeds being used to purchase athletic equipment for servicemen.  Joining Ruffing from the Sixth Ferrying Group were Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens and Max West along with Walt Judnich, Rugger Ardizoia, Dario Lodigiani, Joe Marty, Ray Lamanno, Cookie Lavagetto, Cal Dorsett, Joe Hatten, and Charlie Gehringer. The Army-Navy squad dominated the Oaks-Seals squad, 14-3. With Ruffing managing, the pitching duties were left to Dorsett, Hatten and Ardizoia.  Nearly $4 million was raised in the event.

Great major league pitchers surpass significant milestones throughout their career. Those who achieved immortal status with Cooperstown enshrinement have surpassed high water marks in statistical categories such as victories, complete games, strikeouts, earned run average or an accumulation of dominating seasons. Ruffing led the league in strikeouts once (190 in 1932), once in wins (21 in 1938) and twice in strikeouts per nine innings (6.6 in 1932 and 5.2 in 1934).  He never pitched a major league no-hitter. However, while facing his old teammate, Joe DiMaggio, as the Santa Ana Army Air Base visited Long Beach, 38-year-old Private Ruffing tossed a nine-strikeout, 2-0 gem and was nearly perfect, with just one baserunner having reached on an error. Following the win, Ruffing commented to the Long Beach Press-Telegram (August 1, 1943) that he was “in shape for the first time this season.”

At the end of July, the Sixth Ferrying Group was outperforming all comers with outstanding pitching. Ruffing, with 18 starts under his belt, posted a 9-4 record. Starters Willie Werbowski and Max West were holding their own with records of 12-11 and 10-8, respectively. However, it was the offense that truly made a difference for the win column with a .369 team average and four batters hitting .400 or better. Max West led the pack by hitting .490, followed by Harry Danning (.448), Hub Kittle (.429) and Al Olsen (.400).  True to his professional career hitting, Ruffing in 95 plate appearances was in the middle of the pack with a “mere” .365 average. Stalwart first baseman Chuck Stevens, with 165 at-bats, made 20 more trips to the dish than West, who trailed him with 145.

The Sixth had a busy schedule in early August with five games in an eight-day period against Naval Training Station San Diego, Victorville Army Air Base, Ontario Air Base, 174th Infantry Regiment and Camp Santa Anita Army Ordnance. The bats remained hot for the Sixth as Nanny Fernandez extended his consecutive game-hitting streak to 37 in a 7-2 win over Victorville. In the July 8 Santa Anita Game, Ruffing pitched five innings (Kittle finished) in a lopsided, 24-2 contest as Nanny Fernandez’ streak extended to 40 consecutive games. On August 12, Ruffing’s men trounced the Kearny Mesa Marine Corps Aviation Base, 14-5, led by Werbowski’s 9-hit complete game (his 14th win) and Fernandez’ 3-5 offensive performance that extended his streak to 43 games. Against the Fullerton All-Stars on August 15, Fernandez went hitless, capping his streak at 44 games.

Harry M. Land (right) of the 174th Infantry Regiment Buffaloes with Ruffing at Long Beach (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 The Ferrying Group played one final game in San Pedro against the Coast Guard Repair Yard squad on August 19, downing the “Coasties” 3-2.

The Sixth were seemingly picking up steam as the season moved through the dog days of summer. On August 21, Ruffing and five of the Ferrying Group’s roster joined forces with the biggest names from the professional ranks who were serving in the Southern California region for one of the biggest fundraising events of the year.  The brainchild of actor-comedian Joe E. Brown, the All-Pacific Recreational Fund game featured the Service All-Stars against a combined roster of Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Despite the Service All-Stars current disposition, the Pasadena Post labeled the team a “Million Dollar Ball Club” due to the single greatest gathering of stars west of the Mississippi River. Aside from three future Hall of Fame enshrines (Ruffing, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Lyons), the team included major leaguers Johnny Pesky, Mike McCormick, Dario Lodigiani, Walter Judnich and Joe Marty.

All Pacific Recreation Fund All-Stars game, 1943 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

California Eagle columnist J. Cullen Fentress noted (in the August 19, 1943 issue) the absence of one of the region’s best serviceman pitchers, Joe Fillmore. The former Baltimore Elite Giants pitcher had dominated opposing batters including those of U.C.L.A and U.S.C. “The game on Saturday is for the benefit of fighting men – men who are fighting for what FDR has interpreted as the Four Freedoms,” Fentress wrote, “and yet a hurler, generally regarded as one of the best performing on service nines, finds that because of his race, he will not get the chance to do his bit for the common fight.”

“Democracy in the rest of the world. What about here at home?” Fentress wrote.

The largest daytime baseball crowd in Los Angeles’ history turned out for a spectacular event that raised $20,196 to purchase athletic equipment for Pacific Theater service personnel. In a game that saw a total of 47 players participate, the fans did not leave disappointed as the Service All-Stars put on quite a show. The Angels-Stars were overwhelmed from the start. The Service Stars were led by DiMaggio’s flawless hitting demonstration as he was 4-4 with two home runs and scored three of the team’s eight tallies. He also walked once, proving to be an impossible out. Ruffing pitched the opening four frames, striking out seven, allowing only two hits, one of them a Rip Russell home run in the bottom of the second inning, and issuing only one free pass. Service All-Stars with multiple hits included Joe Marty and Chuck Stevens (with a three-bagger and a single). Hollywood’s leading batter was the venerable Babe Herman. The longtime, solid-hitting Dodger first baseman and outfielder, who found himself back in the Coast League with Hollywood as a youthful 40-year old, took Ruffing’s relief, Rugger Ardizoia, deep for a home run.

Red Ruffing is prominently featured on this page of the 1943 All Pacific Recreation Fund program (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Without missing a beat, following the All-Star game’s festivities, the Sixth Ferrying Group went straight to work the next day as pitcher Hub Kittle held the San Pedro Coast Guardsmen aground with eight innings of no-hit baseball and notched a 5-1 victory on Sunday, August 22.  Seven  days later, Ruffing’s men visited Santa Ana and faced the Air Base team once more. Ruffing shut out the SAAAB nine, 2-0, and limited DiMaggio to a lone double in the seventh inning. Ruffing struck out seven and allowed four hits as the Ferrying Group captured their 48th win of the season in front of 3,000 fans.

At the close of August, six of the Ferrying Group’s batters were carrying lofty batting averages. Max West led the pack as he carried a .482 season average. Harry Danning was 47 points off West’s pace with .435 and Fernandez followed with .411. Ruffing, just below the .400-mark, was holding fast with .393 with Ed Nulty (360) and Chuck Stevens (.325) rounding out the list of sluggers.

After 24 consecutive wins, the Sixth suffered a loss at the hands of the 11th Naval District squad, 1-0.  Boasting a 52-10 record, the Ferry Group continued on. With a game deadlocked at 3-3 in the 9th inning at Pomona, the Ferrying Group’s bats sparked an 8-run rally once the 13th Army Hospital’s starter, Frank Angeloni, was forced to leave the game with a finger blister on his pitching hand.  On September 16, Long Beach area fans saw a matchup of future Hall of Fame pitchers as the Sixth Ferrying Group hosted the Camp Pendleton Marines. Outlasting Marine starter Ted Lyons (formerly of the Chicago White Sox), who departed in the fourth inning, Ruffing tossed six innings of three-hit shutout baseball and left with a 5-0 lead, but his team lost the game, 8-5. Werbowski in relief surrendered seven hits while his normally sure-handed defense coughed up three errors, resulting in eight-run seventh inning

Following their 8-5 loss, Ruffing’s men faced Camp Pendleton for their sixth game of the season, trailing in the season series 3-2. In a 10-inning pitching duel that saw Lyons pitch against Ruffing’s squad once more, the Lakewood Stadium crowd watched as both teams were held to just four hits. Lyons departed after five innings with the score tied, 1-1, while Hub Kittle went the distance, holding the Marine batters to a single run. The Sixth scored the winning run off Camp Pendleton’s Howard, who had been effective since taking over for Lyons. Thus, the Ferrying Group evened the series at three games apiece.

This “Still a Yank” illustration (by Jack Sword) emphasizes that though Ruffing’s uniform changed, he is a “Yank” as he pitches for his country rather than for just New York (image source: Edmonton Journal, February 13, 1943).

As the Yankees experienced a momentary stumble and gave a sliver of hope to the Washington Senators, who were chipping away at New York’s lead in the American League pennant race, sportswriters in southern California were watching Ruffing at what appeared to be his career best. Taking note of the Yanks’ need for pitching to finish the season and for the upcoming World Series, journalists rubbed a little salt in the Yankees’ open wound as they spotlighted Ruffing’s absence from their roster. As the Bronx Bombers prepared to host the Detroit Tigers and face a red-hot Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Ruffing was instructing the Los Alamitos batters on the finer points of pitching as he fanned 18 of the Navy batters on his way to a 7-4 victory. Four days later, Ruffing pitched a one-hit, 10-0 shutout and smashed a home run against the Camp Roberts Rangers.

On the eve of the Fall Classic, his Yankees teammates voted to split their World Series winnings to include Ruffing and six other New York teammates serving in uniform despite their spending the entire 1943 season in the armed forces, according to a story in the Pasadena Post (September 28, 1943). Red, along with DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Buddy Hassett, Tom Henrich, George Selkirk and Norman Branch each were due to receive $500 as the pot was to be shared among 47 players, clubhouse and gate attendants and the Yankees bat boy.

Visiting Fullerton on October 3, the Sixth Ferrying Group baffled the All-Star batters as Ruffing coaxed 10 strikeouts in a 10-1 road victory. The following day saw the visiting San Bernardino AAF team defeat the Sixth, 4-2, as Ed Chandler outlasted Werbowski.

A year removed from losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series, Red Ruffing was on the eve of pitching in another game which would decide a championship. His former team, along with the 1942 World Series champions, were returning to the Fall Classic to face each other once again.  Both the Yankee and Cardinal rosters were decidedly altered by wartime departures of key players and yet had handily risen to the top of their respective leagues.

As the Cardinals hosted the Yankees for game four, trailing in the Series, two games to one, Ruffing was preparing for his early afternoon contest to decide the California Service Championship at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars. Ruffing, promoted from the rank of private to corporal just two days ahead of the championship game, was set for the seventh and deciding game against the Camp Pendleton Marines. The Pasadena Post’s Rube Samuelson wrote about the pitching matchup of Ruffing versus Lyons in his October 10, 1943 Draw Up a Chair column, “No other active pitcher approached them in total wins.” Samuelson reflected upon Ted Lyons’ 20 major league seasons with the White Sox and his 259 career wins as compared to Ruffing’s 18 seasons and 258 victories. At 42 and 38 years old (respectively) neither pitcher would overpower a World Series team but both should easily dominate the caliber of players within the service team ranks. In the six previous matchups between Camp Pendleton and the Sixth Ferrying Group, neither pitcher truly dominated his opponent, which meant that the championship was truly up for grabs.

The 4-1 score and the outcome doesn’t accurately depict what happened during the game. Ruffing’s bat played a bigger role than did his pitching, which was not nearly as effective as that of Lt. Lyons.  Ted limited the Sixth’s batters to six hits while Ruffing surrendered nearly double (11).  Red crushed a long single in the second inning that plated two. As Ruffing was touched for hits, Max West preserved the score with solid defense in center field, with an accurate throw from deep in the outfield to cut down a run at the plate after a Pendleton Marine had tagged third base on a deep fly ball. In his recap of the game, Samuelson, in his October 13 column, commented on Lyons’ physical conditioning, regardless of the game’s outcome. “Looking at the two of them (the starting pitchers), it was Ruffing who looked to be 43 years old and Lyons 26.” The two pitchers were going in opposite directions with regards to their fitness. While Ruffing had put on weight since leaving the Yankees, Lyons had shed 14 pounds of his 1942 season playing weight, owing to the intense physical training of Lieutenant Colonel Dick Hanely’s combat conditioning program at Camp Pendleton.

For the Sixth, the baseball season continued with an exhibition game at Recreation Park as they faced the Long Beach All-Stars, led by Washington Senators’ pitcher Louis “Bobo” Newsom. Walter Olsen of Santa Barbara (CALL) along with George Caster (Athletics and Browns pitcher), Red Kress (former Browns, Senators, Tigers and White Sox infielder) and Jack Salveson (Cleveland Indians) joined Newsom on the All-Star roster.

Games that followed included another match-up against Camp Pendleton (a 9-6 victory) on October 19 for their 64th win of the season and an exhibition game on the 24th against the San Bernardino All-Stars, an easy 19-7 win. On Halloween, the Sixth faced Fullerton, notching a 5-2 win with Ruffing pitching five shutout innings.

With no signs of ceasing play, the Sixth Ferrying Group continued their exhibition season into November. On Sunday, November 4, the Sixth faced the newly formed U.S. Naval Drydock team that included George Caster, Win Ballou (San Francisco Seal pitcher) and Cecil Garriott. Breaking the Sixth’s string of wins, the Drydock Nine used the pitching of Caster and Ballou to limit the Ferrying Group to six hits and two runs while tagging Pitter and Werbowski for four runs on 12 hits. Closing out the month, the Sixth dropped another contest, this time to the San Bernardino Army Air Force nine on November 28 to end the season.

1943 was a significant year of change for the United States as the tide had turned in the Pacific with the enemy forces on the defensive since the decimation of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway in June along with the push to dislodge the Japanese from the Solomon Islands. Axis forces were defeated in North Africa and Italy surrendered to the Allies; however, the war on the European Continent was only beginning. After ringing in the New Year, the Southern California service diamonds would spring back to life, months ahead of professional baseball’s training camps, and Ruffing would pick up where he left off in November.

Stay tuned for part two in this series.

Resources:

All of the photos published in this article are the part of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and may not be used without written permission.

Visual Traces of a Wartime Service Career

The year 2020 was one of considerable growth for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection as many artifacts with historical significance were sourced and added. While we apply very specific guidelines that ensure that each piece has a direct military correlation, not every piece that found its way into our archives last year adhered to our stringent criteria.

When we discovered an online listing that featured a team-signed Reach (Spalding) Official American League baseball, intrigue set in as many of the autographs were from ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II. Due diligence soon confirmed that the ball, listed as a Washington Senators team baseball, was as advertised.

In our quest to secure vintage photos of service baseball, wartime or otherwise, we find that some players received better coverage than others, resulting in more market-available photographs. With the (then) recent arrival of a beautiful press photo depicting Boston Red Sox pitcher Mickey Harris with his parents and his wartime flannel jersey, inspiration led me to see if any other artifacts related to the player were available.  Searches in online auctions yielded nothing more than a handful of autograph cuts, early 1950s baseball cards (issued by Bowman, Leaf and Topps) and photographs from his professional career (vintage and reproduction). However, on a popular social media platform, the Washington Senators baseball surfaced as a recommendation, obviously due to the Mickey Harris-related search we had been performing.

Mickey Harris was traded to the Washington Senators in June of 1949 along with Sam Mele in exchange for Walt Masterson. This panel shows autographs from:
Al Evans (C)
Sherry Robertson (IF)
Mark Christman (3B)
Mickey Harris (P)
Sam Mele (OF)
Jake Early (C)
Gil Coan (OF)
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Upon opening the link, we discovered that the ball was not only signed by Harris but also by a number of players who, just a few years before placing their autographs on the ball, were serving domestically and around the world in the armed forces. The manufacturer’s stamping with the official league marks indicated that the ball was made for use during the 1948-49 seasons.  Mickey Harris was traded by Boston (along with Sam Mele) to the Senators following his third loss of the 1949 season on June 7.  The presence of Enrique Gonzalez’ signature narrowed the date range of the signing between August 9 and September 25.

Harris’ career was all downhill following the 1946 season when he was part of a decent pitching staff that was headlined by Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ 25-6 record. Tex Hughson, another 20-game winner on the ’46 club, led the team in earned run average, leaving  Harris’ 17-9 record and 3.64 ERA overshadowed. He was clearly one of the reasons for the Red Sox’ ascension to the 1946 World Series and despite his losses in games 2 (3-0) and 6 (4-1), he pitched well. Harris was not the only pitcher to suffer from a lack of run support in the Series, which was shocking, considering the Sox’ top ranking in average, runs, hits on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Red Sox batters ranked second for home runs, fourth for triples and led the American League in doubles. Their Series opponent, the Saint Louis Cardinals, were similar in their offensive statistical categories. The difference was a combination of Cardinal pitching holding Boston at bay combined with the Red Sox’ lackluster defense (10 total errors to St. Louis’ four).

Following the ’46 season, Harris’ pitching was in decline as he struggled with injuries and more than likely his confidence, which led to his trade to Washington. At the end of Harris’ 1941 campaign, his career situation was much different. Mickey was in his first full season on an above average second-place team that saw the last season in which a player hit for an average of .400 or better. The young Red Sox team had a bright future ahead of it until Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a global war. Coming off an 8-14, 3.25 ERA season, Harris found himself answering his draft board’s call and was inducted on October 14, 1941, just 17 days after pitching Boston to a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.  Following in-processing at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris was assigned to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, for additional training.

In a published letter (The Boston Globe, January 30, 1942: Pitching for the Balboa Nine, by Harold Kaese) that Harris wrote to Joe Cronin, his former manager in Boston, Harris detailed his pitching exploits as he played for his Army command’s team.  Pitching for the 83rd Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) at Fort Kobbe in the Panama Canal Zone, Harris described his team’s lack of talent. “The current club I play with hasn’t any hitting power and no defense whatsoever,” Harris decried. In his first game, he dropped a 1-0 decision that was followed with a 4-2 loss in which the team’s third baseman allowed the go-ahead run to score.  Perhaps he was attempting to downplay the two losses in his communication to Cronin, hoping to restart his Red Sox career with the club after the war ended. Harris continued, “I was hoping I would be sent down here, if any place, so I could try to stay in shape.” While not playing baseball for his command’s team. Harris worked as a mail clerk at headquarters. “I sort all incoming and outgoing mail,” he wrote to Cronin.

“March 2, 1942: Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox hurler now assigned to an anti-aircraft jungle outpost defending the Panama Canal is hard at work lining up the game of war while his former buddies warm up for another baseball season at Sarasota, Florida. Mickey and his new buddy, Austin Hawkhurst (left) of New York City, study a rifle, including the art of making it shine.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Duty in the Canal Zone was not relaxed despite how Harris described it in his letter to Cronin. The canal was of vital strategic importance, providing expedited transits of shipping between the two major oceans. American military personnel stationed in the region peaked at 65,000, with civilian support staff numbering in the tens of thousands. it was clear to Harris that his duties, including playing baseball to boost morale, were important. Both the Germans and Japanese developed plans to destroy or seize control of the canal, though neither nation’s forces made any attempt to carry them out.

Harris worked on his control and attempted to develop his change-up pitch. “I throw quite a few changes,” he told Cronin, “and I get them over.”  Harris was committed to being prepared to return to the big league club. “I will keep working on things that need correcting and will profit by mistakes I make while playing down here,” Harris continued, “so that I won’t let it happen to me when I am back playing with the Sox again.”

March 2, 1942 – Panama Canal Zone: Private Mickey Harris awaits the signal to pen fire at his anti-aircraft battery assignment in the Panama Canal Zone. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Every pitcher has ambitions for wins, inducing batters to make outs in high stress situations as they employ their skills and experience to dominate opponents’ offenses. However, not allowing a single batter to reach base in a game is in another realm of accomplishments that so few pitchers allow themselves to dream about. Harris took his outing to such a level as he not only retired all 27 batters he faced on April 12, 1942 but used only 67 pitches to achieve the feat. Facing an all-star roster from the Canal Zone league in the first game of the Isthmus “Little World Series”, Private Harris commented on the opposition. “It was a good team of pros, with (Leo) Eastham and (Otto) Huber, who played for Hartford, on it, but I would have beaten any team with the stuff I had that day.” More than 2,000 spectators, including several hundred servicemen, watched as Harris struck out five and even made a spectacular defensive play on a slow roller to preserve the perfecto. It was not until later in the game that Harris was clued into what he was doing on the mound. “I didn’t realize I was pitching a no-reach game until the seventh inning, when a morale officer started to speak to me and the manager put his finger to his lips,” Harris told the Boston Globe. “Then I figured it out. Well, I just poured it to ’em the rest of the way. I struck out a pinch hitter on three pitched balls.” Harris’ club won the game, 9-0.

In the Canal Zone’s winter league play, Harris finished with a win-loss record of 11-4. In addition to his perfect game, Mickey fanned 17 in a contest and tossed two one-hit games. Aside from his correspondence with his Red Sox manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former Detroit Tigers catcher and manager who was leading the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets club, was taking notice of Harris’ success on the Army club in Panama. Cochrane was charged with assembling a roster of ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces to take on the winner of the 1942 major league baseball All-Star game. With a significant push to raise funds in support of the Army and Navy Relief organizations, the game was scheduled for July 7 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

“June 26, 1942, New York: Mickey Harris, Red Sox pitcher now serving with the Coast Artillery in Panama, arrives at his home in New York on 3-day furlough and his mother, with his father helping, arranges to fit the uniform he will wear at Cleveland on July 7, when he pitches for a service team in an all-star game.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Cochrane’s Service All-Star roster featured a nucleus of 10 Great Lakes NTS Bluejacket players that were augmented by three from Norfolk NTS and seven Army ballplayers. Seeking to bolster his pitching staff, Cochrane pulled the strings to have Private Mickey Harris recalled from Panama to join Bob Feller, Johnny Rigney and John Grodzicki. As part of his travel from the Panamanian Isthmus, Harris was granted 30-days of leave in conjunction with the event and the practices leading up to the game.

One of the first photos of Harris that we acquired was captured at one of the Service All-Stars’ practices on July 3 at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.  Harris is pictured with 12 All-Star teammates. The image was acquired with a large group of military baseball images that centered on Sam Chapman’s career in the Navy.

July 3, 1942 – Service All-Stars at the Great Lakes Training Station – Here are stars whose names appear on the roster pf the Service All-Stars at Great Lakes Training Station. Left to right: Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia-infielder; Morrie Arnovich, N.Y. Giants-outfielder; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox-pitcher; John Sturm, Yankees-infielder; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals-Pitcher; Cecil Travis, Washington-outfielder; Ken Silvestri, Yankees-catcher; Pat Mullin, Detroit-outfielder; Lieutenant George Earnshaw, coach; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit-pitcher; Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh-catcher; Bob Feller, Cleveland-pitcher; Sam Chapman, Athletics-infielder.

The talented American League roster tallied three runs in the top of the first and never looked back as they secured the right to travel to Cleveland on the evening of July 6 to face Cochrane’s squad of service ballplayers.  Harris told a Boston Globe reporter, “I’m in good shape and I hope that I get to pitch in a part of the All-Star game. When Mickey told me I would be on the squad he said he couldn’t promise me that I would get into the game, but I don’t guess they would bring me all the way up from Panama for nothing.”

Harris was correct. Cochrane started Bob Feller, who struggled with control out of the gate. Feller, who could not retire a batter in the second inning, left the game after having surrendered three runs on four hits and walking five. Trailing 3-0, Cochrane sent Harris to spell Johnny Rigney in the seventh and was immediately tagged by Yankee Phil Rizzuto for a double. Rizzuto followed his hit by stealing third. Harris coaxed Senators’ right fielder Stan Spence to tap a slow roller back to the pitcher for an easy play. But then his former Red Sox teammate, Ted Williams, powered a deep fly to left center, resulting in an RBI triple. With a run in and one out, Harris induced a Joe DiMaggio pop fly for the second out, but Browns’ first baseman George McQuinn stroked a two-out triple to right center that scored Williams. Harris finished the seventh by retiring another former Red Sox teammate, second baseman Bobby Doerr. Aside from the American League, the winners of the game were the Army and Navy Relief organizations, which split the $75,000 pot raised in the game.

The 1942 Service All-Stars in posed in their service uniforms, left to right are:
Front: Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates; Don Padgett, Brooklyn Dodgers; Ernest Andres, Louisville Colonels; Herman Fishman; Frank Pytlak, Boston Red Sox; Fred Shaffer, Louisville Colonels; Russell Meers, Milwaukee Brewers.
Center: LCDR J. Russell Cook, Athletic Office – Great Lakes; Don Dunker; O.V. Mulkey; Cecil Travis, Washington Senators; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit Tigers; Sam Chapman, Philadelphia Athletics; Bob Feller, Clevaland Indians; George Earnshaw; Mickey Cochrane; Hank Gowdy, Cincinnati Reds (coach); Joe Grace, St. Louis Browns; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox; John Rigney, Chicago White Sox.
Back: Ken Silvestri, New York Yankees; Pat Mullin, Detroit Tigers; Chester Hadjuk, Chicago White Sox; Johnny Sturm, New York Yankees; Sam Harshany, Toldeo Mud Hens; Johnny Lacadello, St. Louis Browns; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals; Benny McCoy, Philadelphia Athletics; Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia Phillies, Morris Arnovich, New York Giants. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Despite originally being slated to return to Panama (by way of Texas) on July 14, the September 4, 1942 edition of The Berkshire Eagle reported that Harris had been reassigned. “Private Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, flew from his Army station in the Panama Canal Zone to join the service all-star squad that met the AL All-Stars in Cleveland on July 7 but didn’t return to that assignment. He is now stationed at Pine Camp, NY, where he pitches for the camp team, which has won 23 games in a Tri-State service league.” Though further research has not yet confirmed his reassignment, it was temporary.

Once again pitching in the Canal Zone winter league, Harris’ Balboa Brewers struggled out of the gate, dropping eight of their first 10 games. The ship was righted with the arrival of former Holy Cross pitcher Al Jarlett as the cub posted a seven-game win streak. The Brewers, facing the Cuban All-Stars, were bolstered with a 1942 World Series hero, Terry Moore, (2-4 in the game) as Balboa captured a 6-1 victory on September 12. A month later, Moore was present in St. Louis to see the Yankees defeat his Cardinals in the 1943 World Series as Harris continued with his Panama assignment.

Harris spent nearly four years in the Army, serving almost the entire time in Panama. In the 1945 Pacific Championship, Harris struck out twenty Canal Zone All-Star batters in leading Balboa to a 1-0 victory on July 21. On the opposing roster was his former Brewers teammate, Private Terry Moore, whom Harris had previously never fanned. However, three of Harris’ strikeouts came at the expense of Moore as the season wound to a close.

With the surrender of Japan in the Pacific, Harris wrote home that he was hopeful of being able to join the Red Sox during their final series of the 1945 season, four games against New York at Yankee Stadium; however, he didn’t leave the Panamanian isthmus until October.

Our most recent Mickey Harris photo discovery shows Mickey Harris in his Balboa Brewers uniform warming up in May 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As he wrote to Cronin in 1942, Harris dedicated himself to maturing and perfecting his pitching, making Joe Cronin’s 1946 spring training decision to keep him easy.  Harris opened the season winning eight decisions before losing his first game on May 26 to the Yankees.  In his two World Series losses to the Cardinals, Harris failed to strike out his former Canal Zone league teammate and later opponent, Terry Moore, until the bottom of the first inning in Game Six.

Our most recent Harris addition shows the Balboa Brewer in mid-windup as he appears to be warming up prior to entering a game in May, 1945. It can be a challenge to source a single image of a professional ballplayer during his wartime service let alone five.  It is rather unique to be able to visually chronicle Harris’ four years in the Army.

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