From Hurling on the Hill to Landing on the Moon
Posted by VetCollector
“A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.” – Ansel Adams
Many people enjoy viewing old photographs, taking time to admire the composition and subject in order to get a sense of the moment or to attempt to envision what the photographer was seeing and sensing at that moment. A segment of photo viewers pays close attention to the details in an image such as the clothing worn by the subjects, the surrounding environment such as buildings and clues that might indicate the time at which the shutter was released. The vintage baseball photos in our collection are not only enjoyed (“looked at”) but also “looked into.”
The mission to add to the ever-increasing Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph library is one that is not taken lightly. When we spot a potentially desirable image, we consider several aspects including its military baseball subject matter, the composition and exposure, the vintage photograph classification and the feasibility of purchase as part of our due diligence. Often, we overlook one of more of the criteria in order to react quickly to the availability of the photograph and acquire it before it is snatched up by another collector. In the absence of pre-acquisition research, we commence our efforts once we have the opportunity to digitize the image and examine the details in search of clues.
Our collection contains a fair percentage of images that have captured stars of the game during their years in service during World War II; however, far more faces preserved in the emulsion are wholly unknown to us. One of our most recent arrivals depicted a pitcher wearing the flannels of the Army Air Forces Navigation School (AAFNS) Hondo. He was in middle of his of his throwing motion on the sidelines and near a bench of spectators. Until we researched our Birdie Tebbetts (George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian) and Enos Slaughter (The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter) articles, Hondo was an unfamiliar name. Purchasing the image of the AAFNS Hondo player was an easy decision.
With players such as the aforementioned Tebbetts and Slaughter or Red Ruffing (see: Red Ruffing, an Airman’s Ace), who were stellar, even Hall of Fame-caliber players, the task of researching and documenting service and baseball careers doesn’t pose too many challenges and seldom do we reveal significant discoveries in their lives. However, with other ballplayers encapsulated in our artifacts, we sometimes do uncover quite profound details about their lives before, during or after the war.
Wartime service baseball team rosters were often endowed with former professional and semi-professional players along with men who were added because they possessed baseball skills or were athletically gifted when they played as youths. In researching post-war lives of pro and semi-pro ballplayers, it is not uncommon to discover that a large percentage of them resumed their baseball careers. However, it is uncommon to find a professional ballplayer who opted to pursue a career in the military as 37-year-old Larry French did following his 14 major league seasons. From 1943 to 1969, the former Pirates, Cubs and Dodgers pitcher, who appeared in seven World Series games in 1935, 1938 and 1941, served in the United States Navy during three wars and retired with the rank of captain. As we researched our Hondo pitcher, we discovered a different pathway was chosen and yet a very impactful contribution was made to the nation and to the armed forces.
When the undated AAFNS Hondo image arrived, we were able to examine the back side of the vintage press photo where a handwritten inscription seemed to read “Maity Enañto.” Turning to Baseball Reference, we could not find anything that resembled either of the inscribed names. A search of newspaper articles from the war years related to Hondo’s baseball team was an immediate success. Marty Errante, a pitcher on the 1943 Hondo Navigators roster, was a match. We consulted Baseball Reference again and confirmed that we had our man.
Some could argue that the level of play was not comparable to the major leagues or even the high minors but such a suggestion is either myopic or without substantiation. While the wartime service team competition environment might have been relaxed in some regions, in most that we have researched the level of play was on a par with pre-war professionalism. While pitching in the Army Air Forces, Errante faced many major and higher-class minor leaguers including Del Wilber, Dave Coble and Enos Slaughter.
Mario P. Errante (also listed as Mario F. Errante) was born in 1918 to Italian immigrants Ascenzio and Rosa Errante. Ascenzio, a home construction contractor, arrived to the United States in 1903 and his wife in 1907. Ascenzio was naturalized in 1917 as the United States was entering the Great War. Growing up just three miles from Ebbets Field, Marty developed a passion for baseball as he watched the Dodgers play and later excelled in the game. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, which he attended with two other ballplayers, Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Tommy Holmes and pitcher Jim Prendergast, who made 10 appearances for the Braves in 1948. Errante signed a minor league contract in 1938 and was assigned to the class “D” Bi-State League’s Bassett Furnituremakers (in Bassett, Virginia) along with Wes Livengood and Benny Zientara, both of whom would serve in the military and play service baseball.
From 1938 to 1942, Marty played for Bassett, Welch (class “D” Mountain State League), Muskogee and Topeka (the latter two were class “C” Western Association teams) and amassed a 37-24* won/lost record with an earned run average of 4.54 in 105 games and 464 innings. Marty was a lower-level minor league workhorse pitcher. His .118 batting average was less than stellar but he managed to keep himself on the roster with his arm. It was not until Errante was pitching for the Army Air Forces that the game came together for him.
Mario Felice Errante registered for Selective Service on October 16, 1940, but didn’t receive his draft notice until the spring of 1942. Errante reported for induction on March 24, 1942; however, his entry into active service was delayed for a few months, allowing him to continue playing with the Topeka Owls until Uncle Sam needed him. That met with manager Hack Wilson’s approval. Errante’s pitching was one of the contributing factors that pushed the Owls to the front of the Western Association by early June, when he was ordered to report to Hondo Army Air Field.
|Corp.||Marty Errante||P||Topeka (WA)|
|2nd Lt.||Franklyn Faske||P||Milford (ESHL)|
|Clinton Hartung||P||Minneapolis (AA)|
|Floyd Stickney||3B||Decatur (IIIL)|
After completing basic and athletic instructor training, Errante was tapped to pitch for the Navigators, the Hondo Air Base team, and quickly asserted himself against the San Antonio-area competition in the 1943 season. “Showing top form of the season, Hondo ace pitcher Marty Errante allowed eight scattered hits and enjoyed excellent backing from teammates in the field,” the Hondo Anvil Herald published on June 4, 1943. “(Jimmy) Wilson was on the receiving end of Errante’s efforts on the mound” as the pitcher held the Kelly Field defense workers club to just a single tally in a June 3, 1943 game. Made up predominantly of former amateur players, the Hondo Navigators held their own in a talent-rich league that included Enos Slaughter’s San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawks and Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ Randolph Field Ramblers, clubs that featured an abundance of former minor league players and a few major leaguers.
As the 1943 season progressed, Errante’s pitching was responsible for Hondo’s success, with victories over the Bergstrom Air Base, the Stinson Field Pioneers and the Brooks Field Ganders. Hondo was trailing only Randolph Field for the league lead in the first two months of the season.
Errante’s success as the leading Hondo pitcher and one of the dominant hurlers in the San Antonio Service League made him an easy addition to a regional all-star team that faced Birdie Tebbetts’ Waco Army Flying School Wolves in front of a capacity crowd of more than 5,000 at Tech Field.
|Name||Position||Pre-war Experience||San Antonio Svc Team|
|Matt Batts||C||Canton (MATL)||Randolph Field|
|Arthur “Art” Bertelli||1B||Civilian War Worker|
|Manuel Cortinas||OF||Monterrey (MEX)||Civilian War Worker|
|Charlie Engle||Asst. Mgr||Lubbock (WTNM)||Civilian War Worker|
|Harold Epps||UIF||Houston (TL)||Civilian War Worker|
|Bibb Falk||Mgr||Indians||Randolph Field|
|Dave “Boo” Ferriss||P||Red Sox||Randolph Field|
|Tom Finger||P||Lafayette (EVAN)||Randolph Field|
|Homer Gibson||P||San Antonio (TL)||Stinson Army Air Field|
|Hank Guerra||C||Monterrey (MEX)||Civilian War Worker|
|Clinton Hartung||P||Minneapolis (AA)||Hondo Navigation School|
|Eddie Kazak||2B||Houston (TL)||Brooks Field|
|Karl Kott||Asst. Mgr||Lafayette (EVAN)||Brooks Field|
|Paul Lehner||OF||Andalusia||Cadet Center|
|Frank Madura||2B||Elmira (EL)||Hondo Navigation School|
|Dick Midkiff||P||Baltimore (IL)||Brooks Field|
|Jim Morris||1B||Abilene/Borger (WTNM)||Randolph Field|
|Rube Naranjo||OF||Midland (WTNM)||Randolph Field|
|Walter Nothe||P||Reading (ISLG)||Randolph Field|
|Rocky Rocomontes||P||Civilian War Worker|
|Paul Scheske||OF||Cadet Center|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||OF||Cardinals||Cadet Center|
|Jim Underwood||P||Kelly Field|
|Del Wilber||3B||Columbus (SALL)||Cadet Center|
In San Antonio on August 9. Aside from former major leaguer Tebbetts, the Wolves roster included Walter “Hoot” Evers (Tigers), Bruce Campbell (Tigers/Senators), Buster Mills (Indians), Sid Hudson (Senators) and nine former minor leaguers. The San Antonio Service League All-Stars handled the Wolves with ease, tallying seven runs. The All-Stars pitchers kept Waco from plating a single run in a one-hit shutout, with Tebbetts’ single off Randolph Air Base’s Dave “Boo” Ferriss in the eighth inning being the only safety. Homer Gibson pitched with perfection in the first three innings, Errante followed suit without allowing a hit in the fourth and fifth. “After walking two,” Errante wrote of his most interesting wartime experiences, he “struck out Birdie Tebbetts, Hoot Evers and Sid Hudson.” Ferriss relieved Errante and pitched the remaining three innings.
In late August, the Hondo club’s pitching staff was bolstered with the addition of another Brooklyn arm as Franklyn Faske, formerly of the class “D” Milford Giants (Eastern Shore League) joined the third place Hondo nine. “Comet officials have high hopes for the two Brooklyn boys to lead them to the San Antonio Service League pennant,” the Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle reported on August 18, 1943. “Corporal Marty Errante, a Brooklyn pitcher who played sandlot and high school baseball with Lieutenant Faske, is Hondo Field’s star pitcher.” With just a few games remaining, Hondo was unable to overtake the Randolph club in the league standings who finished with a league-leading record of 43-14.
|Corp.||Marty Errante||P||Topeka (WA)|
|2nd Lt.||Franklyn Faske||P||Milford (ESHL)|
|Clinton Hartung||P||Minneapolis (AA)|
|Lt.||Bernie Rundell||Ath. Dir.|
Marty Errante remained at Hondo Field and pitched again for the Comets in the 1944 season. Errante was transferred from Hondo Army Air Field to Randolph Field during the winter months, which worked in Ramblers manager Bibb Falk’s favor as his best pitcher, “Boo” Ferriss, was discharged ahead of the 1945 season due to a severe asthma condition. From the very start of the season, Errante’s mound presence was felt as the Ramblers moved out in front of the league. With wins over the University of Texas and San Marcos Army Air Field, Marty’s pitching was pushing the Ramblers ahead as they won seven of their first nine games. By mid-June, Errante was in top form with eight wins and no losses. In 69 innings, he had surrendered only 16 runs, placing him at the top of the pitching staff. After one more victory, a 19-1 rout of the Fort Worth Army Air Field Fliers on June 13, Errante was shipped to Fresno in preparation for his deployment to the Pacific.
|Tex Aulds||C||Tucson (AZTX)|
|Matt Batts||C||Canton (MATL)|
|Corp.||Marty Errante||P||Topeka (WA)|
|Irvin Fortune||C||Leaksville (Bi-State)|
|Bill La France||P|
|Rube Naranjo||OF/SS||Midland (WTNM)|
|Walter Nothe||P||Reading (ISLG)|
|Stan Novak||C||Bassett (BIST)|
|Clarence Pfeil||OF||Scranton (EL)|
With his arrival at the Army Air Forces’ Camp Pinedale, Errante was swiftly added to the pitching staff of the Interceptors, who were dead last in the San Joaquin Valley League (SJVL), trailing Hammer Field, Lemoore Army Air Field and Roma. Errante did not miss a beat and picked up where he left off with his nine-game win-streak. In his first three games against the Roma Vintners (an 8-1 win) and Lemoore (6-4 and 7-1 victories), Marty struck out 30 batters and allowed only six walks. Days later, his Pinedale win-streak was four (13 for the season including with Randolph) and he was averaging more than 10 strikeouts per game.
The Pinedale Interceptors trailed the league-leading Hammer Field squad by a half-game on August 25, heading into a matchup with Lemoore. Pinedale’s manager, Leo Jones, seeking to line up his rotation to insure Errante was rested to face Hammer in what would probably be the deciding game for the league championship, went with his number two pitcher, Steve Colosky, in an elimination game against the last place Lemoore nine with his ace in reserve. The Interceptors removed any concerns Jones may have had with an 18-1 thrashing of Lemoore that was called after seven innings were in the books. Having pulled into a tie with Hammer, the two teams were set to face off the following night to determine the SJVL and the 4th Air Force District Championships.
|Tex Aulds||C||Tucson (AZTX)|
|Steven Colosky||P||Columbus (SALL)|
|Hal “Ab” Davis||1B|
|Corp.||Marty Errante||P||Topeka (WA)|
|Art Gagliardi||RF||El Paso (AZTX)|
|Elbert “Al” Young||SS|
In the championship game, Pinedale took the early lead, tallying three runs and giving Errante an instant cushion as he frustrated the Hammer batters. The Interceptors added two more runs in the third as Errante was having his way with the opposing lineup. He allowed nine Hammer hits throughout the game, but they were mostly ineffective as only one run scored. Errante secured his fifth consecutive Pinedale win as he struck out 12.
With the regular season over, Pinedale was scheduled to play the best of the SJVL in an All-Stars contest on September 3. Steve Colosky took the mound for the first four frames and kept the All-Stars’ bats silent. Marty Errante entered in the fifth inning, and though he fell victim to three Pinedale defensive errors and a few opportunistic All-Star hits, he had his way with the All-Stars in the 14-2 triumph. Marty allowed all five of the All-Stars’ hits while the Pinedale bats continued their torrent of hitting as they tallied 16 on their opponent’s pitching.
Holding the 4th Army Air Force San Joaquin Valley district championship, the Camp Pinedale Interceptors travelled to Spokane, Washington to face the Geiger Field Aviation Engineer nine who were the champions within their region. Six days after the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Marty Errante played in one of the best games of his career against the Geiger team on September 8, 1945. Aside from pitching a three-hit, 13-strikeout shutout, the pitcher stroked a grand slam in the sixth inning, accounting for four of his team’s six runs, and secured the 4th Army Air Force’s Northern Section championship. The win over Geiger was Errante’s seventh consecutive victory for Pinedale and the 16th for his undefeated 1945 season.
With the preponderance of the Army’s major leaguers and star minor leaguers serving and playing in Hawaii and the Western Pacific Theater, Errante’s successful season could be the product of playing in a less competitive field than was seen in service leagues across the Western states in the previous years of the war. Nevertheless, Errante worked tirelessly on the Fresno base to remain strong by taking starts with a local Fresno-area industrial league team. During one of those non-Interceptor games in late September, Errante suffered a shoulder injury that kept him from throwing for several days as the Air Force scheduled the most important championship series of the season for the Interceptors.
Jess Dobernic, a standout Pacific Coast League pitcher who saw action with the Los Angeles Angels in 1941 and ’42, was the ace of the 2nd Air Force champion Kirtman Field 29ers. He was the first real test for the Camp Pinedale Interceptors’ hitters. Dobernic, who also served as his team’s manager, led the 29ers to a 32-9 record in the Albuquerque, New Mexico region. The Kirtman nine were in town to face the Interceptors at Fresno State College’s ballpark on September 25 for the start of the best of three series. Hot off their 2nd Air Force championship series with the Sioux Falls Marauders in which Dobernic pitched in 23 of the 27 innings, the 29ers sent their “Iron Man” former Angel to face Pinedale on their home turf. The series would decide the U.S Army Air Forces national champions for 1945.
Despite Errante’s nagging shoulder injury, Pinedale manager Leo Jones started his undefeated ace against the visiting 2nd Air Force champs. For the first six innings, the Marauders had their way with Errante as he surrendered 15 hits and nine runs. Nothing in his pitching arsenal worked. Errante’s struggles started with the game tied in the top of the fourth inning as four Marauders scored. Another run in the fifth put the visitors ahead 6-1. Jones left Errante in for the sixth and he gave up three more runs.
The damage was done as Jones lifted the starter and inserted Colosky, who allowed five more Kirtland hits and two more runs crossed the plate in his three innings of work. Dobernic retired 10 Interceptor batters on strikes while issuing eight free passes and surrendering just five safeties. Pinedale’s lone run came by way of a solo round tripper by catcher Tex Aulds in the bottom of the first that gave the Interceptors a momentary lead. The loss was a setback for Errante, who hoped to rebound for the next game in the series.
Traveling to Kirtland Field in Albuquerque for the Sunday game on the last day of September, the Pinedale Interceptors were hoping to extend the series to a third and deciding game. However, with Dobernic returning to the mound, the second game played out much like the first with Kirtland taking the series and the Air Forces national championship with a 7-2 victory over the Pinedale Interceptors.
With the Air Forces season over, the Pinedale club returned to Fresno for an exhibition game against the Roma Vintners, their 1945 SJVL rivals. Fresh from his major league season, hometown hero and Brooklyn Dodger rookie pitcher Vic Lombardi joined the club following the end of his major league all-star barnstorming tour. Scheduled for October 7, the game was indefinitely postponed due to the threat of thunderstorms over Fresno. The anticipated matchup between the Brooklyn native and the Brooklyn Dodger never materialized.
On January 26, 1946, Marty Errante’s application for reinstatement as an active professional ballplayer was granted following his discharge from the USAAF. Errante returned to San Antonio and to his wife Doris, whom he married while assigned to Randolph Field. Perhaps cashing in on his wartime success, Errante was signed by the Dallas Rebels (class “AA” of the Texas League). In his first game, it was immediately apparent to team owners that Errante was not ready as he surrendered three hits and an equal number of walks. He left the game with four earned runs and an ERA of 36.00, though he did manage to strike out one opposing batter. Errante was sold to Montgomery of the class “B” Southeastern League and finished the season with a respectable 8-11 record and a 2.88 ERA.
For the next five years, Errante played in the Texas minor and Mexican winter leagues before hanging up his flannels and spikes at the age of 33. Errante packed up his young family and returned to New York with a career change in store. He landed a job with Republic Aviation in nearby Farmington, New York on Long Island, affording him the opportunity to attend college after hours.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962
After 15 seasons of hurling a nine-inch sphere through 66 feet and six inches of the Earth’s gravity while employing trajectory calculations, release points and rotational direction to guide its path and landing point, Marty Errante brought his experience, education and knowledge to bear in Kennedy’s call to reach beyond the planet. Errante joined Grumman’s engineering and design team and its mission to create a lunar landing craft for NASA’s Project Apollo.
According to his daughter-in-law, Dr. Jane Williams, Errante worked with “first generation astronauts” in the development of the lunar module. She told the San Antonio News Express in 2016 that Marty “always said he was proud that his fingerprints went to the moon.” In the 1970s, after the Apollo program was discontinued, Errante worked on one of the longest-running Naval aircraft programs, Grumman’s A-6 Intruder carrier-based attack aircraft.
After retiring from Grumman in 1978, Errante moved back to where his service to his country first took flight and where he met his wife of 40 years – San Antonio.
By researching this photograph, we were able to see so much more of this man than his uniform, his pitching windup and his misspelled name on the reverse.
*1941 stats are incomplete. The Manhattan Mercury (Manhattan, Kansas) lists Errante as a 13-game winner for the 1941 season but provides no data for any other pitching statistic.
About VetCollectorI have been blogging about Militaria since 2010 when I was hired to write for the A&E/History Channel-funded Collectors Quest (CQ) site. It was strange for me to have been asked as I was not, by any means, an expert on militaria nor had I ever written on a recurring basis beyond my scholastic newspaper experience (many MANY decades ago). After nearly two years, CQ was shut down and I discovered that I was enjoying the work and I had learned a lot about my subject matter over that period of time. I served for a decade in the U.S. Navy and descend from a long line of veterans who helped to forge this nation from its infancy all the way through all of the major conflicts to present day and have done so in every branch of the armed forces (except the USMC). I began to take an interest in militaria when I inherited uniforms, uniform items, decorations from my relatives. I also inherited some militaria of the vanquished of WWII that my relatives brought home, furthering my interest. Before my love of militaria, I was interested in baseball history. Beyond vintage baseball cards (early 1970s and back) and some assorted game-used items and autographs, I had a nominal collecting focus until I connected my militaria collecting with baseball. Since then, I have been selectively growing in each area and these two blogs are the result, Chevrons and Diamonds (https://chevronsanddiamonds.wordpress.com/) The Veterans Collection (https://veteranscollection.org/)
Posted on May 1, 2021, in Ephemera and Other Items, Vintage Baseball Photos and tagged Apollo Lunar Module, Army Air Force Baseball Team, Ebbets Field, Grumman, Hondo Army Air Forces Navigation School, Kirtman Field New Mexico, Randolph Field, U.S. Army Air Forces WWII, US Army Air Force. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
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