Playing for Victory: War Bond Baseball in Hawaii
Three quarters of a century after Japanese officials signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, animosity towards ballplayers who were tasked with playing baseball in addition to their daily military duties remains, despite being two generations removed. Through ignorance, bitterness or a combination of the two, there is a failure to recognize the importance of the game for the morale of the civilian population and troops and also for the direct support of the drive toward victory.
In an online discussion contrasting the service of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, one baseball fan lauded Williams for “never playing baseball” during the war as a response to another fan’s appreciation for the Yankee Clipper’s wartime service. “Joltin’ Joe missed the 1943 Yankees championship season because of it [wartime service in the Army],” the DiMaggio fan contended.
“Because of what?” the Williams fan questioned. “You call that being in the service? He was a pampered ass! Williams lost nearly five years actually serving [and] defending this country!”
Arguments such as these do not typically hold our attention, but this one underscored the lack of knowledge of the reason baseball held considerable importance within the armed forces, both at home and in overseas combat theaters. Aside from the morale boosting benefits, baseball was pivotal in supporting the cause and the fight for victory.
Amid the United States’ Great Depression, the treasury secretary under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. established the United States Savings Bond Program to encourage citizens to save as well as invest in their country. On March 1, 1935, the treasury department began selling the first U.S. savings bonds, known as the Series A. By the late 1930s, with the threat of war looming in Europe and the Far East, the need for defense spending increased and the bond program transitioned into the Defense Savings Program.
The average annual American household income when the Savings Bond Program was introduced was roughly $1600. By 1940, with declining wages amid the depression and increased defense spending, American households averaged less than $1400 per year. Spending $18.75 on a $25 savings bond was a substantial commitment of financial resources. In 2022-values, a $25 bond cost an individual $362 of his or her $27,020 earnings.
On May 1, 1941, the treasury department began selling its latest product in support of defense financing with the E Series, which, like the earlier series, was targeted toward individuals. “The E Series Bond was closely patterned after its predecessors, the Series A through D. It was priced at 75 percent of face value and returned 2.9-percent interest, compounded semiannually, if held to a 10-year maturity. There were five denominations to start: $25, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Two large investor denominations, the $5,000 and $10,000, were added later, as was a “memorial” denomination: the $200, for President Roosevelt (1945).” Following the Pearl Harbor attack, savings bonds quickly became known as war bonds.
Building a military to a wartime level in the first year of World War II cost billions. New ships, aircraft, tanks, uniforms, ammunition, and manpower required a significant financial investment by citizens and a portion of the funds were acquired through the war bond program. “From May 1, 1941, through December 1945, the War Finance Division and its predecessors were responsible for the sale of nearly $186 billion worth of government securities. Of this, more than $54 billion was in the form of war savings bonds. E Bonds alone accounting for $33.7 billion.” By the war’s end, individual citizen investments in war bonds funded a substantial part of the bill and baseball played a key role in promoting the program.
Professional baseball organizations recognized that they bore multiple responsibilities in the effort to win the war. In addition to providing citizens with an outlet for inexpensive entertainment and morale boasting, some leaders within the game understood the importance the game had in supplying tangible support. Author Steven Bullock wrote, “Famed baseball executive Branch Rickey expressed the opinion that baseball had an obligation to do everything within its power to bolster the Allied cause, even operating at a break-even level if necessary.” The interwoven histories of baseball and the armed forces extended well before the American Civil War as did the game’s status within the culture of the United States. “Baseball, he [Rickey] reasoned, was so deeply embedded in the American way of life that the two were inseparable. For Rickey, professional baseball’s fate paralleled the fate of the nation as a whole and thus the national pastime should not hesitate to drain its resources to support the war effort,” Bullock surmised.
The game did extend itself into the war effort as many of the lower minor leagues suspended operations (some folded) because of manpower shortages due to players entering the armed forces or participating in vital defense industry jobs. Men who would have played ball at the lower minor league levels found themselves as mere teenagers at the highest levels of the game in the absence of the veteran talent. Suspended leagues and teams offered their uniforms and equipment to the armed forces to provide recreation equipment in combat theaters and domestic bases.
On May 8, 1942, major league baseball initiated its commitment to financially support the war effort with a fund-raising game in support of Army and Navy relief organizations. It was a Giants versus Dodgers game at Ebbets Field (see: Diamond Score: Major League Baseball’s First Service Relief Game). Additional armed forces relief games were played that season, including a game at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium that pitted the American League All-Stars against an aggregation of professional ballplayers serving in the armed forces (see: Historic Game Program Discovery: July 7, 1942 Service All-Stars). However, it was not until May 24, 1943, when major league baseball made headlines in support of war bonds.
Before a crowd of nearly 30,000, the Washington Senators hosted an event that culminated in an exhibition game against the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. Those in attendance made pledges for or directly purchased war bonds to the tune of $2,000,000. Norfolk manager Boatswain Gary Bodie fielded a lineup that included Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Benny McCoy, Eddie Robinson, Don Padgett, Jim Carlin, Jack Conway, “Hooks” DeVaurs, Vinnie Smith and former Red Sox hurler Charlie Wagner on the mound. Norfolk defeated Washington, 4-3, with DiMaggio leading the offense by scoring two of the Bluejackets’ four runs and Wagner holding the Senators scoreless until the ninth inning. Before the game, fans were treated to entertainment from Al Schacht, Bing Crosby and Babe Ruth. Underscoring the purpose of the event was the slogan “every fan a patriot.” The game was the brainchild of Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. With $2,125,375 raised, the event was a resounding success.
By the spring of 1944, exhibition games with service teams in support of raising funds were normative. The previous year saw the peak in terms of single-event fund amounts and many of the star players who had served domestically were now serving in the Territory of Hawaii. With Honolulu League play nearing its end, promoters in Hawaii announced a war bond game to be played at Honolulu Stadium at the end of April, featuring major league stars against an all-star roster of Honolulu League players. Rather than selling tickets directly to the public, tickets would be given to those who purchased war bonds of a $25 denomination for general admission seating and a $50 denomination for reserved seating. Without any announcements of rosters or which players would comprise the two teams, demand for tickets was immediate.  Hawaii baseball fans were fully aware of which major leaguers were already present in Hawaii, but rumors swirled as to the players who would soon be serving in the islands, such as former Brooklyn Dodgers stars Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese, who had recently been detached from the Norfolk Naval Air Station (see: A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital).
The buildup of excitement for the game was continual throughout the month as the Honolulu League’s championship playoffs, the Cronin Series, were underway. The Cronin Series had commenced on March 5 as the Aiea Naval Barracks faced off against the civilian semi-pro Waikiki club. Just days before the start of the Series, Aiea received a much-needed boost with the arrival of former major leaguers Barney McCosky and Johnny Lucadello, who had played previously with the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets. The Aiea club had finished the Honolulu League regular season play in second place, a game behind the Pearl Harbor Marines in the standings. Construction at Honolulu Stadium expanded spectator capacity from just under 20,000 to 25,000 seats. The new configuration accommodated 20,000 general admission and 5,000 reserved seats.
When the USS Ascella (AK-137) arrived at Pearl Harbor, baseball in Hawaii was further enriched as CSP(A) Pee Wee Reese, CSP(A) Hugh Casey, SP(A)2/c Sal Recca, CSP(A) Eddie Shokes and SP(A)2/c Eddie Wodzicki disembarked on April 9.
On April 11, the first day that tickets were available, more than $100,000 in bond sales were reported, with considerable focus on the reserved seating. Promoters anticipated selling out the event. Doing so would result in the biggest crowd in the history of the game in the islands.
Serving as precursor to the war bond game, a game between a Navy ballclub (players from the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”) and Major League All-Stars was scheduled by Navy officials on April 19 at Weaver Field (at the sub base). The Major League All-Stars’ roster featured several former pro ballplayers who had been on Oahu Island since late 1943; however, Hugh Casey started the game just days after arriving. Pee Wee Reese was ailing from a minor foot injury and thus unavailable for the game. The All-Stars defeated the Navy, 9-3.
|Sp(A) 1/c||George “Skeets” Dickey||C|
|Sp(A) 2/c||Johnny Mize||1B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Barney McCosky||CF|
|CSp (A)||Johnny Lucadello||SS|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Marvin Felderman||3B|
|1St Lt.||Tom Winsett||LF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Joe Grace||3B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Vern Olsen||RF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Hugh Casey||P|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Tom Ferrick||P|
|Bill “Dutch” Holland||P|
While the Navy squad was engaged with the Major League All-Stars, it was announced that all 5,000 reserved seats for the war bond game were sold out while plenty of general admission tickets were still available with ten days remaining. On April 23, the Aiea Naval Barracks team clinched the Honolulu League championship with a 3-0 Cronin Series victory over the Hawaiian Air Department club. They dominated the field, posting a 17-1 record and outmatching the Pearl Harbor Marines, who finished second with a 14-4 record. Aiea’s pitcher Joe Wells secured his 8th consecutive win.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS||Tyler (ETXL)||7th AAF|
|Edward Puchleitner||CF||Grand Forks (NORL)||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Sam Mele||1B||NYU||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Bob Usher||LF||Birmingham (SOUA)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joseph “Joe” Gedzius||2B||Spokane (WINT)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|(Albert Francis?) Joe Duarte||3B||Pearl Harbor Civilians|
|Frank Roberts||C||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joe Wells||P||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
Aiea’s manager, Wilfred “Rhiney” Rhinelander, was named by league officials to take the helm of the Honolulu League All-Stars. He announced Joe Wells and catcher Frank Roberts as his starting battery on April 25. The following day, the major league lineup was announced, with Hugh Casey towing the rubber as the starting pitcher.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||SS||Dodgers||Aiea Hospital Hilltoppers|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||OF||Browns||Pearl Harbor Submarine Base|
|Barney McCosky||CF||Tigers||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Johnny Mize||1B||Giants||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Johnny Lucadello||IF||Browns||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Tom Winsett||OF||Dodgers||7th AAF|
|Eddie Pellagrini||SS||Louisville (AA)||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Marvin Felderman||C||Cubs||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Hugh Casey||P||Dodgers||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
In addition to the war bond sales for game admission, officials planned for an additional fundraiser during the pre-game festivities inside the ballpark. According to an article in the 4/27 Honolulu Advertiser, “Autographed bats and balls of the major league stars who will participate in the war bond game Saturday against the Honolulu League all-stars will be auctioned before the tilt gets underway at 2:30 PM. The fray starts at 3 PM. Mickey Kane, veteran auctioneer, will be in charge.” Rather than following incremental dollar amounts, bidding was set in terms of war bond pledges as part of the 5th War Loan Drive (held between June 5 and July 8).
At $18.75 per ticket, the cost to purchase a $25 war bond amounted to 38 percent of an Army or Marine Corps private’s or a Navy apprentice seaman’s monthly salary, making the game cost-prohibitive. During the Cronin Series, spectators paid $0.55 for bleacher or grandstand general admission seats and $0.75 for grandstand reserved seating, showing 3,300 and 4,900 percent increases in ticket prices for the war bond game. Adjusted for inflation by today’s standards, general admission was equivalent to a $302.25 outlay, though it was an investment rather than money spent. Recognizing the morale-boosting impact of the game, some local businessmen sought to make it available to servicemen who were recovering from war wounds in local military hospitals.
“Large war bond buyers are making it possible for convalescent servicemen to attend the major leaguers – local all-stars baseball game Saturday at Honolulu Stadium, the committee in charge revealed today. Leo Leavitt, boxing promoter, led off by buying $5000 in bonds and turning over 200 general admission tickets for distribution among service men in hospitals.” No record was found and the total number of tickets donated to convalescing GIs remains unknown.
The wooden Honolulu Stadium, nicknamed the “Termite Palace” due to its continual attack by the wood-consuming insects, opened in 1926 and played host to various sporting events, including baseball. In 1934, baseball’s overseas barnstorming squad, featuring Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, played during a stopover en route to Japan. It was during this tour that Red Sox backup catcher Moe Berg famously carried his concealed Bell & Howell movie camera to the roof of Saint Luke’s Hospital in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo, capturing footage of area buildings that was allegedly used eight years later in preparation of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-launched air raid. Speculation swirled that the power-hitting first baseman for the major league squad, Johnny Mize, formerly with the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, would accomplish what Babe Ruth could not do in ’34.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on April 27 that “baseball fans are speculating on the possibility of Johnny Mize accomplishing what has never been done before – hitting a ball over the right field bleachers of the Honolulu Stadium.” League president Earle K. Vida told reporters that Mize “sized up the stadium and said he believed he could knock one over the right field bleachers.” While the distance from home plate to the bottom of the right field bleachers was only 315 feet, “Theodore “Pump” Searle, stadium manager, estimates it would take another 150 feet to get the ball over. Even the mighty Babe Ruth was unable to do this when he played here,” the Star-Bulletin piece stated.
The day before the game, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported brisk sales for general admission seats as fans were ensuring that they would witness history and be part of the anticipated baseball spectacle. With the early afternoon game time set, the Honolulu Star-Tribune posted the pre-game schedule of events, with batting practice for the home team All-Stars at 1:00 followed by the major leaguers at 1:40. Infield warm-ups ran for 20 minutes, commencing at 2:15 to allow 25 minutes for the auction ahead of the game.
Unlike the April 19 game with the Navy nine, the major league squad had their hands full against the Honolulu League All-Stars. The “locals” pitching staff held their own, inning after inning. Wells held the big leaguers hitless for the first three frames but began to struggle in the top of the fourth. Former Philadelphia Athletics and USS Boston sailor Al Brancato earned a free pass with Johnny Lucadello following suit with another walk. Tom Winsett drove the ball deep for a long-distance out, allowing Brancato and Lucadello to advance. Marv Felderman’s deep fly ball plated Brancato for the first run of the game.
In the home half of the sixth inning, Holland, who had relieved Wells on the mound, led off with a fly-out. Saviori drove a screaming ground ball deep in the hole at second, forcing a normally sure-handed Pee Wee Reese to bobble it, and he reached safely. Frank Powell, spelling starting shortstop Kohlmeyer, singled to right field and advanced the runner to third. Jaab followed with a slow roller to Lucadello, who could not field the ball before Saviori scored to tie the game. 
The score remained locked at one run apiece. In the top of the 12th, Joe Grace led off with a single to center. Barney McCosky followed, advancing Grace to second on a fielder’s choice. Len Kasparovitch walked Johnny Mize. Brancato stepped to the plate and laced a rocket to centerfield. Jaab, who had taken over for starter Puchleitner, misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll past. The bases would have been cleared had it not been for fan interference as the ball rolled up to the standing room only crowd beyond the centerfield rope barrier. What would have been an inside-the-park homerun was ruled a ground-rule double as a spectator picked up the live ball. Grace crossed the plate and his run was counted, breaking the 1-1 tie. The major leaguers had runners in scoring position with Mize at third and Brancato at second with one out. Lucadello singled to right, allowing Mize to tally the third run of the game for the major leaguers as Brancato moved 90 feet away from pay dirt. Executing a double steal attempt as Lucadello broke for second, Al Brancato raced for home and scored the third run of the inning.
Trailing 4-1, the All-Stars were not willing to acquiesce to the major leaguers. Starter Hugh Casey had pitched through the first five innings. Jack Hallett had pitched in the sixth and seventh innings (allowing one run), followed by Vern Olsen in the eighth. Tom Ferrick had pitched the next three frames as the bullpen kept the home team from pay dirt. In to close out the game, Walt Masterson toed the rubber for the major leaguers and looked like he was about to close the door after he fanned Garbe. However, Gino Marionetti had other ideas as he drove a ball between Winsett and McCosky and wound up standing on second. Masterson struck out Charles Simmons for the second out of the inning. Backup catcher Ray Fletcher crushed a triple that scored Marionetti and cut the major league lead to two runs. Masterson then got the final out and preserved the 4-2 victory.
Pee Wee Reese led the major league squad with three of his team’s 13 base hits while Al Brancato accounted for 50 percent of the runs. McCosky, Mize, Lucadello and Winsett had two hits each and Brancato and Grace had one. Mize was unsuccessful in clearing the right field stands but did hit a double. The major leaguers swiped five bags as Brancato and Lucadello each stole a pair and McCosky accounted for one. Despite his lone hit, Al Brancato was clearly the player of the game, adding an RBI to his offensive total.
While all 5,000 reserved seats were sold, nearly 5,000 general admission seats were empty; however, the goal of raising $1,000,000 was far exceeded. The pregame auction raised more than $650,000, with the Hawaii Territorial Employees’ Retirement System committing $400,000 in their winning bids for autographed memorabilia. In total, $1,180,000 in war bonds was raised for the event.
With the Hawaii League days away from commencing season play, many of the major leaguers joined the Navy’s 14th Naval District All-Stars for a matchup at Schofield Barracks’ Chickamauga Park the following day. Except for Tom Winsett, who played for the Army nine, the entire roster of major league players was joined by a handful of Pearl Harbor Sub Base sailors as the Navy blanked their counterparts, 9-0. Brancato was once again the offensive star, tallying three of the Navy’s runs and driving in another three in a 2-3 performance at the plate in front of 18,000 servicemen. Unlike the previous day’s game, this contest was played for an audience that consisted entirely of service personnel and served as a morale boost.
 A History of the United States Savings Bonds Program, U.S. Savings Bonds Division, Department of the Treasury, 1991.
 Bullock, Steven R. 2004. Playing for their nation: baseball and the American military during World War II. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
 Whittlesey, Merrill W., War Bond Game Glitters Before $2,000,000 Gate, The Sporting News, June 3, 1943: 2.
 Keen Interest in War Bond Game Apr. 29, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 1, 1944: 8
 Watson, Don, Speaking of Sports Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 12, 1944
 A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital, ChevronsandDiamonds.org, July 24, 2021
 Reserve Seats Are Sold Out, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 19, 1944
 Auction at Bond Game, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 27, 1944: 12
 Convalescent Service Men Will Attend Saturday Baseball Game, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 27, 1944: 10
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 18
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 14th Naval District All-Stars who Blanked Army 9-0, The Honolulu Advertiser, May 7, 1944: 14
Posted on April 12, 2022, in Ephemera and Other Items, Programs, Score Books, Vintage Baseball Photos, WWII and tagged Hawaii War Bond Game, Honolulu League, Honolulu Stadium, Military Baseball, Navy Baseball, World War II Baseball, WWII Baseball, WWII Service Teams. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.