Camp Chaffee Flannel: Arkansas Tanker Training Base a WWII Haven of Army Baseball
Researching wartime baseball can be a succession of twists, turns, roadblocks and dead ends as one travels down each road. One clue can remove a barrier or expose an alternate avenue to explore and lead to a highly rewarding breakthrough. In some instances, the objective that sets one onto the path of exploration becomes secondary or tertiary to the buried treasures that are discovered.
Quite typically, we acquire military baseball artifacts that require research to determine various historical aspects. Analyzing attributes that can then be compared with known artifacts, including those within our collection, affords us the ability to arrive at educated approximations or precise determinations. Military baseball uniforms can pose considerable challenges in pinpointing basic aspects such as the year they were manufactured. A task that is exceedingly more difficult is attributing an unnamed piece lacking provenance to a specific player.
In early March, 2022, we took a gamble on acquiring a flannel jersey lettered with “CAMP CHAFFEE” and listed at auction. Based upon several aspects discernible in the photographs of the listing, it was clear that the jersey dated from 1943-44. In addition to the athletic felt lettering on the chest, a large pair of numerals, “13,” was stitched across the back of the jersey in corresponding material. With high confidence that the jersey was used by an Army team from the World War II training base, we completed the purchase, deciding to trust in our research capabilities to connect the jersey to a team and players.
Named to honor the man who is considered the U.S. Army’s “Father of The Armored Force,” Major General Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr., Camp Chaffee was constructed in 1941 in western Arkansas. By March, 1942, Camp Chaffee was fully operational as a training base for the 6th, 14th, and 16th Armored Divisions. As the war progressed, Camp Chaffee expanded in both size and training operations, bringing engineer, artillery, and infantry units to the installation. Perhaps the most notable baseball athlete, the Boston Braves pitching prospect and future inductee into the Hall of Fame, Warren Spahn, trained at Camp Chaffee and played baseball while stationed there in 1943 and 1944.
As athletics played a significant role in the physical readiness and conditioning of troops, unit cohesion and morale also greatly benefited from competition among the commands by way of their sports teams. In the spring and summer, military installations could host their own graduated baseball leagues with classifications similar to what was seen in the minor leagues. Some units had the benefit of large pools of talent in assembling teams with experience that could rival clubs in the American Association and the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. Each of the various units stationed at Camp Chaffee fielded teams, including the 59th Field Artillery, 16th Armored Division, 47th and 62nd Armored Regiments and the 1850th Service Unit that featured Zeb “Red” Eaton, Ed “Truck” Kearse and Warren Spahn. In addition to local league play, the service teams competed against regional semi-pro, minor league and even college squads. In an August 5, 1943, game that pitted the 1859th against a team representing the KFPW radio station, Warren Spahn pitched a 15-0 no-hitter, striking out 17 opposing batters. Two defensive errors in the game allowed KFPW baserunners, thus preventing the Braves hurler from perfection.
Once the Camp Chaffee artifact arrived and was removed from its shipping container, it was immediately obvious that the jersey was heavily soiled and likely had been laundered by a commercial dry cleaner. Upon thorough inspection, the condition of the jersey was far better than was discernible in the auction listing photographs. All the garment’s seams showed no signs of separation, and the threads were tight. All the stitching securing the lettering, numerals and soutache was in the same condition with no signs of decay. Aside from a missing fifth button from the bottom of the placket, the musty odor and dirt-laden wool fibers were the only issues, and both were correctible.
With the jersey cleaned and prepared for display, research surrounding Camp Chaffee continued and we were able to identify a handful of players across multiple rosters from unit teams at the base. Former Sacramento Solon outfielder Averett Thompson and pitcher Elwood “Dinty” Moore of Salem (class “B” Western International League) played for the 47th Armored Regiment team while Jim Sheehan, a catching prospect in the New York Giants organization, served as a player-manager for the 59th Field Artillery. It was highly unlikely that any of these teams or players donned a Camp Chaffee-specific uniform in favor of a unit-corresponding flannel. Several newspaper articles and game summaries that we were able to uncover detailed games at or against Camp Chaffee unit teams for the 1943 season. No sources were found that referenced any Camp Chaffee base team.
The 1944 season at Chaffee saw competition from the 16th Armored Division (featuring former Pirates outfielder, Maurice Van Robays), 18th Armored Infantry Battalion, 736th Tank Battalion (Dinty Moore), and the 276th Engineers with Warren Spahn. This season also so the emergence of the Camp Chaffee base nine, led by their team captain, former Johnstown Johnnies first baseman Judson F. “Jay” Kirke, Jr.
1944 Camp Chaffee Baseball Team
|Pfc.||Judson F. “Jay” Kirke||1B/Capt.||Johnstown (PASA)|
Jay Kirke, a second-generation professional baseball player, was born on August 27, 1912, in Fleischmanns, New York as his father, Judson Fabian Kirke, was in his second major league season with the Boston Braves. A ten-year minor leaguer, Kirke entered the Army on January 4, 1944, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. By April, Kirke was tearing the hide off the ball with the Fort McPherson, Georgia ball team before transferring to Camp Chaffee.
As the 1944 season was getting underway, the Army activated and reconstituted the 174th Infantry Regiment, a historically New York National Guard unit, and assigned them to Camp Chaffee for training in anticipation of overseas deployment. Former Los Angeles Angels catcher Private First Class Harry M. Land started the year with the 174th at Camp White, located 16 miles north of Medford, Oregon and played for the regiment’s “Buffaloes.” By June, the 174th was at Camp Chaffee and began to dominate the competition. Captain Harry Lindsey, special services officer for the 174th dispatched a letter to the citizens of Buffalo, New York, the former home of the regiment when it was part of the state’s National Guard, requesting assistance in procuring new uniforms. Answering Lindsey’s request, John C. Stiglmeier, general manager of the Buffalo Bisons of the class “AA” International League, responded, “We can’t do too much for the soldiers and sailors these days and in particular for the Buffalo regiment.” Stiglmeier’s response, according to the Buffalo Evening News, “was immediate as well as enthusiastic,” as 15 uniforms were dispatched to the 174th at Camp Chaffee.
|John J. Botek|
|Frank Del Papa|
|Ed “Jake” Jacobs||P||House of David|
|Harry M. Land||C||Los Angeles (PCL)|
|Henry W. Mankowski|
|Wilburn C. Timmons||SS/P||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Raymond H. Trendle|
|Maurice Van Robays||OF/P||Pirates|
As the Camp Chaffee nine struggled to keep up, the 174th Buffaloes juggernaut motored on. By mid-summer, former Pirates outfielder Maurice Van Robays was added to the Buff’s roster and was, in addition to playing right field, trying his hand on the mound. By the end of the year, Van Robays, who took on the role of team manager, amassed a pitching record of nine wins and four losses, helping the Buffaloes to a 61-39 record.
In the months following the end of the 1944 baseball season, many of the units at Camp Chaffee were deployed to the European Theater and players including Kirke, Spahn, Kearse and Van Robays headed overseas.
In the final year of the war, baseball continued at Camp Chaffee and the base team fielded an entirely new roster of players. For the new season, the Chaffees competed as a service team in a semi-professional league as well as in their service league. In addition to military opponents, the team squared off against regional semi-pro industrial league teams and minor league clubs, including the Little Rock Travelers. The 1945 Chaffee team included multiple former professional players, including pitcher Witt “Lefty” Guise, who saw action in two September 1940 games for the Cincinnati Reds and was on the team’s roster for their World Series championship that season. Jim McLeod, an infielder with 15 years of pre-war professional experience, spent 1930 and 1932-33 in the major leagues with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Camp Chaffee nine dominated the competition throughout the 1945 season. After winning the Arkansas State semi-pro championship in Pine Bluff on July 30, Chaffee was invited to the national tournament in Wichita, Kansas.
|Sgt.||Kennon Black||P||Lake Charles (EVAN)|
|T/4||Charles Coleman||3B||Dover (ESHL)|
|Sgt.||Witt “Lefty” Guise||P||Birmingham (SOUA)|
|Sgt.||Soule James McLeod||SS||Baltimore (IL)|
|S/Sgt.||Russell Lowell Needham||P||Albany (EL)|
Many eyes in the baseball world were present and focused upon the National Baseball Congress’ Semi-Professional Tournament in Wichita, Kansas starting on August 10, 1945. In addition to a select few civilian industrial teams from Kansas, the 32-team field of competition consisted entirely of Army and Army Air Force teams from around the country. All the clubs participating were dominant in their regions and Camp Chaffee, after securing the Arkansas state semi-pro championship on July 29, received an automatic entry into the national tournament.
For the three-day event, more than 25,000 tickets were sold. Thirteen major league scouts were also in attendance, including Carl Hubbell (New York Giants); Jack Ryan (St. Louis Cardinals); Joe Cambria (Washington Senators); Carl Hagel and Joe Becker (New York Yankees); Tom Greenwade and Bert Wells (Brooklyn Dodgers); Bill Hinchman (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Bobby Mattick; to look over the talent-rich teams.
|Biggs Field||El Paso||TX|
|Camp Chaffee||Fort Smith||AR|
|Camp Kilmer||Piscataway Township||NJ|
|Columbia Army Air Field||Comets||Columbia||SC|
|Enid Army Flying School||Enidairs||Enid||OK|
|Gowen Field Army Air Field||Boise||ID|
|Great Falls Army Air Field||Great Falls||MT|
|Herington Army Air Field||Herington||KS|
|Lincoln Army Air Field||Wings||Lincoln||NB|
|Lockbourne Army Air Field||Lockbourne||OH|
|Orlando Army Air Field||Orlando||FL|
|Sherman Field||Ft. Leavenworth||KS|
|Sioux Falls Army Air Field||Marauders||Sioux Falls||SD|
|Suffolk County Army Air Field||Westhampton||NY|
|Waco Army Air Field||Flyers||Waco||TX|
|West/Pacific Coast ATC||Wings||CA|
For their tournament opener, the men of Camp Chaffee faced the “Marauders” of Sioux Falls Army Air Field, South Dakota. Moundsman “Lefty” Guise started on the hill for Chaffee, pitching five innings of scoreless ball. The Marauders drew first blood in the bottom of the sixth, plating two runs. Their lead was short lived as the Chaffee men countered with a Courtney single and Martinez reaching on an error. Guise helped to ameliorate his sixth inning stumble by sacrificing the two baserunners into scoring position and setting his team up for a rally. Beavers sent a two-out double off the right field wall, plating Courtney and Martinez, but was gunned down attempting to stretch it to a triple.
The wheels began to fall off the cart for Guise as Sioux Falls loaded the bases in the next inning. Guise worked out of the one-out jam, getting Marauders batters Morton and Monty Basgall out. In the eighth inning, Guise was in trouble again, giving up an infield hit and a pair of walks and leaving the bases loaded for reliever Russell Needham, who stranded the Marauders by striking out second baseman Basgall. Sioux Falls pitcher Herb Norquist went the distance, surrendering two runs on four hits but the real story of the game was his 16 strikeouts as Chaffee finished the top of the ninth without scoring. With the game tied, left fielder Edward Gittens reached on an error to get things started. After being sacrificed to second, shortstop Robert Henny stroked a convincing single off Needham, allowing Gittens to score the winning run. With one loss in the double-elimination tournament, Camp Chaffee needed to keep winning to continue.
The timing for Mississippi’s Key Field’s arrival at Wichita could not have been any worse as the team’s roster was hampered by illnesses and injuries as they faced off against Camp Chaffee. Sergeant Kennon Black, starting on the mound for Chaffee, took advantage of the diminished Key Fielders as he handcuffed his opponents at the plate. allowing just two hits. Meanwhile, seven of nine Camp Chaffee batters got hits off the Key Field pitcher, Smith. Camp Chaffee tallied four runs on eight hits. Shortstop McLeod was the game’s sole multi-hit batter in the 4-0 shutout on August 13.
Following in Black’s footsteps, Russell Needham pitched a 2-hitter of his own as Chaffee eliminated El Paso, Texas’ Biggs Field with a 4-0 blanking. Catcher William Glenn led the offense with two hits in three at-bats. Coleman, Pittman and McLeod each drove in runs as first baseman Martinez, who was one-for-three, tallied three of Chaffee’s four scores.
The tables were turned as former Cincinnati Reds pitcher “Lefty” Guise was met by the unfriendly bats of Ohio’s Lockbourne Field on Sunday, August 19. Guise was ineffective as he surrendered six runs on nine hits in his five and two-thirds innings for Chaffee. “Lefty” was lifted in favor of Russell Needham, but the damage was done. Lockbourne’s Wanke went the distance against Chaffee, holding them to two runs on as many hits in the 7-2 shellacking.
Eliminated from the tournament, Camp Chaffee’s season was effectively over except for a handful of exhibition games against local service and industrial league ballclubs. In a September 24 game against Fort Benning, Guise pitched a no-hitter for his 16th win of the season, having lost only two games.
Ahead of Japan’s unconditional surrender on September 2, the armed forces, already discharging servicemen from the war service following Germany’s capitulation in May, ramped up the process. Camp Chaffee’s Guise was set to be separated days after tossing his no-hitter.
With the rapid downsizing of the armed forces, much of the wartime equipment, weapons and uniforms were no longer needed and were divested as surplus materials from the War Department’s inventory. It is unknown if our Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired through this program or if it was taken home by one of the team members.
With nearly a year elapsing since the Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired, we have been unsuccessful in locating a single photo of the team or any players wearing this jersey. Similarly, our research has failed to uncover scorecards or rosters to reveal the players’ number assignments, let alone who specifically wore number 13. Despite the detailed history surrounding Camp Chaffee’s wartime baseball teams, we were forced to weigh our findings against the opportunity to acquire a full wartime service team baseball uniform that included the jersey, trousers and stockings that were named to a ballplayer who was a combat veteran: Lawrence Milton “Lefty” Powell. After several days of careful consideration, we decided to take a previously unthinkable action and trade the Camp Chaffee flannel in exchange for the 18th Field Artillery uniform. This exchange marked the first and hopefully the last time that we let go of such a highly valued artifact.
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Army Uniforms and Jerseys
 Patterson, Michael Robert, “Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. – Major General, United States Army, (https://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/achafjr.htm)” Arlington National Cemetery, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 Bedingfield, Gary, “Warren Spahn (https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/spahn_warren.htm)” Baseball in Wartime, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 “Razorback Nine Plays Soldier Team at Fort Smith,” Northwest Arkansas Times, May 8, 1943: p6.
 “No-Hit Pitcher Whiffs 17 Batters,” The Shreveport Journal, August 6, 1943: p14.
 “Van Robays Set to Go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 2, 1944: p8.
 “Tank Unit Has Crack Battery,” The Lawton Constitution (Lawton, Oklahoma), May 1, 1944: p3.
 “Swigart Bests Spahn 6-1 in Champ Battle,” The Gruber Guidon (Camp Gruber, Oklahoma), August 11, 1944: p3.
 “Atlas Electrics Play Soldiers at T.L. Park Today,” Tulsa Daily World, June 25, 1944: p25.
 “Three-Day Pass Goes to GI Member Who Can Smash C.O.’s Window,” The Birmingham News, April 19, 1944: p17.
 “Rainbow Downs Chaffee Nine,” The Gruber Guidon, August 11, 1944: p1.
 “Van Robays Now a Pitcher,” The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania), December 2, 1944: p3.
 Doyle, Charles J., “Van Robays Set to go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, December 1, 1944: p27.
 “Camp Chafee Wins,” Wichita Evening Eagle, July 30, 1945: p6.
 “Many Fast Army Clubs Are Ready for U.S. Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 4, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee Wins,” Wichita Eagle, July 30, 1945: P6.
 “25,000 Will See Games in 3 Days,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 8, 1945: p6.
 “Marauders of S. Dakota Win Thriller 3 to 2,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 12, 1945: p14.
 “Key Fielders Go Out Without Run in National Meet,” The Wichita Eagle, August 14, 1945: p7.
 “Camp Biggs is Out,” The Wichita Eagle, August 16, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee is Out of Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 20, 1945: p2.
 “Guise, Former Baron, Hurls No-Hitter; Expects Discharge,” The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL) September 25, 1945: p17.
Posted on February 1, 2023, in Players and Personalities, Uniforms, WWII and tagged 18th Field Artillery, 71st Infantry Division Baseball, 71st Red Circlers, Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox, Military Baseball, Pacific Coast League, Vintage Military Baseball Uniforms, Western International League, World War II Baseball, WWII Baseball. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
As always, this was a well-researched, interesting article. Keep up the good work.