Category Archives: Ephemera and Other Items
By the summer of 1942, the transformation of professional baseball was well underway. Starting with a trickle of personnel hanging up their flannels and spikes to volunteer for wartime service in the armed forces in December, 1941, the exodus of players from major and minor league baseball picked up a head of steam through the Selective Service draft and volunteer enlistments.
“Immediately after Pearl Harbor, baseball executives began devising scenarios in which the professional game could contribute to the war, even as some were questioning the need for the game’s very existence,” author Steven R. Bullock wrote in his 2004 book, Playing for Their Nation: Baseball and the American Military during World War II.
Thirty-nine days after the December 7, 1941 Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was prompted to dispatch a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the 1942 season:
January 14 1942
Dear Mr. President:
The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate. Of course my inquiry does not relate at all to individual members of this organization whose status in this emergency is fixed by law operating upon all citizens.
Health and strength to you – and whatever else it takes to do this job.
With great respect,
Very truly yours
Kenesaw M. LandisJanuary 14, 1942 Letter from Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis to FDR
Those interested in baseball history know very well President Roosevelt’s famous “green light letter” response. The President detailed the importance of the game – 300 teams employing 5-6,000 players being a recreational outlet to 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens during the tough times the nation was facing. Despite his call for the continuance of the game for the sake of the citizens, the President did not levy any measure of exclusion of players from wartime service, “As to the players themselves, I know you agree with me that individual players who are of active military or naval age should go, without question, into the services. Even if the actual quality of the teams is lowered by the greater use of older players, this will not dampen the popularity of the sport. Of course, if any individual has some particular aptitude in a trade or profession, he ought to serve the Government. That, however, is a matter which I know you can handle with complete justice.”
By the spring of 1942, with players such as Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, Sam Chapman, Hugh Mulcahy, Fred Hutchinson, Morrie Arnovich, Cecil Travis and Mickey Harris already serving in the armed forces, baseball owners sought out means to support the war effort by elevating the national morale. St. Louis Cardinals executive Branch Rickey, according to Steven R. Bullock, “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.” As baseball was deeply ingrained into the fabric of American life, it was more than just a sport or a pastime to the people, players and owners. Bullock continued, “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.”
Major League Baseball as a whole did operate at a loss during the war. Not only did clubs fail to cover costs due to reduced ticket sales, but each club donated money, equipment and other resources. With baseball’s players now serving, the issues and concerns of the troops were brought to the forefront. The Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent losses suffered by the armed forces early in the war illuminated the need to provide financial support to the surviving spouses of troops who lost their lives in service. Beginning with the May 8, 1942 Giants versus Dodgers game at Ebbets Field, Major League Baseball began a wartime campaign to raise funds to address the needs of troops and their families, with monies collected directly supporting Army and Navy Relief organizations, recreational equipment for troops and War Bond drives. Not only did baseball play regular season games to raise funds but professional teams played countless exhibitions against service teams throughout the war in support of troops and their families.
Perhaps the most notable fund-raising exhibition game was the one that was played early in the war at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, home of the American League’s Indians franchise. The game was slated to feature the winner of the Major League All-Star game playing host to an assemblage of players serving in the armed forces on the last of the three-day All-Star break, July 7, 1942. The Brooklyn Dodgers were originally slated to host the July 6 mid-summer classic at 35,000-seat Ebbets Field. With more than 50,000 seats available at the neighboring New York Giants’ ballpark, the Polo Grounds, Dodgers president Larry McPhail shifted the game. Inclement weather negated the move as thousands of fans did not attend the game. The National League All-Stars, headlined by Arky Vaughn, Johnny Mize, Mel Ott and Johnny Vander Meer, were favored over the American League led by Lou Boudreau, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Spud Chandler.
|National League||Pos||Batting Order||American League||Pos|
|Jimmy Brown||2B||1||Lou Boudreau||SS|
|Arky Vaughan||3B||2||Tommy Henrich||RF|
|Pete Reiser||CF||3||Ted Williams||LF|
|Johnny Mize||1B||4||Joe DiMaggio||CF|
|Mel Ott||RF||5||Rudy York||1B|
|Joe Medwick||LF||6||Joe Gordon||2B|
|Walker Cooper||C||7||Ken Keltner||3B|
|Eddie Miller||SS||8||Birdie Tebbetts||C|
|Mort Cooper||P||9||Spud Chandler||P|
|Leo Durocher||Mgr||Joe McCarthy||Mgr|
|Frank McCormick||Rsrv||George McQuinn||Rsrv|
|Billy Herman||Rsrv||Bobby Doerr||Rsrv|
|Bob Elliott||Rsrv||Bill Dickey||Rsrv|
|Ernie Lombardi||Rsrv||Buddy Rosar||Rsrv|
|Mickey Owen||Rsrv||Hal Wagner||Rsrv|
|Danny Litwhiler||Rsrv||Stan Spence||Rsrv|
|Willard Marshall||Rsrv||Dom DiMaggio||Rsrv|
|Terry Moore||Rsrv||Bob Johnson||Rsrv|
|Enos Slaughter||Rsrv||Phil Rizzuto||Rsrv|
|Pee Wee Reese||Rsrv||Jim Bagby||Rsrv|
|Paul Derringer||Rsrv||Al Benton||Rsrv|
|Carl Hubbell||Rsrv||Tiny Bonham||Rsrv|
|Cliff Melton||Rsrv||Sid Hudson||Rsrv|
|Claude Passeau||Rsrv||Tex Hughson||Rsrv|
|Ray Starr||Rsrv||Hal Newhouser||Rsrv|
|Johnny Vander Meer||Rsrv||Red Ruffing||Rsrv|
|Bucky Walters||Rsrv||Eddie Smith||Rsrv|
Despite the heavy lumber on both rosters, the game was a pitching duel with the American League hurlers Chandler and Al Benton holding the Nationals to six hits and a run, a leadoff home run by catcher Mickey Owen in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the infield playing at normal depth, Owen had tried to catch the defense flat-footed with a bunt attempt that rolled foul. With a planned citywide blackout fast approaching, fans shouted at the Dodgers catcher to hurry back to the plate, to which he responded by trotting back to the dish from first base.
All the American League’s tallies came in the top of the first at the expense of starting pitcher Mort Cooper. Lou Boudreau led off the game with a home run. Tommy Henrich followed with a double to right field. Ted Williams hit a fly ball to Joe Medwick in left field and Joe DiMaggio grounded out to Arky Vaughn at third. With Henrich sitting at third base, Rudy York drove a ball over the right field wall for the second and third runs in the 3-1 victory. The game ended at 9:28 p.m. and the victorious American League squad was whisked away to board a train for Cleveland.
|Pat Mullin||CF||1||Army||New Cumberland Army Reception Center|
|Benny McCoy||2B||2||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Don Padgett||LF||3||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Cecil Travis||SS||4||Army||Camp Wheeler|
|Joe Grace||RF||5||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Johnny Sturm||1B||6||Army||Jefferson Barracks|
|Ernie Andres||3B||7||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Vinnie Smith||C||8||Navy||Norfolk Naval Training Station|
|Bob Feller||P||9||Navy||Norfolk Naval Training Station|
|Morrie Arnovich||LF||Rsrv||Army||Fort Lewis|
|Frank Baumholtz||OF||Rsrv||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Sam Chapman||RF||Rsrv||Navy||Norfolk Naval Training Station|
|Johnny Grodzicki||P||Rsrv||Army||Fort Knox|
|Chet Hajduk||2B||Rsrv||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Mickey Harris||P||Rsrv||Army||83rd Coast Artillery/Fort Kobbe|
|Fred Hutchinson||P||Rsrv||Navy||Norfolk Naval Training Station|
|Johnny Lucadello||SS||Rsrv||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Emmett “Heinie” Mueller||2B||Rsrv||Army||Jefferson Barracks|
|Frankie Pytlak||C||Rsrv||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Johnny Rigney||P||Rsrv||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|Ken Silvestri||C||Rsrv||Army||Fort Custer|
|Mickey Cochrane||Mgr||Navy||Great Lakes Naval Training Station|
|George Earnshaw||Coach||Navy||Jacksonville Naval Air Station|
|Hank Gowdy||Coach||Army||Fort Benning|
As the Major League All-Star festivities were taking place in New York, Navy Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane was leading practices for his new assemblage of Army and Navy ballplayers. By Saturday, July 4, Cochrane had assembled a squad of 16 players that included 14 with previous major league experience. “I won’t be able to pick any sort of starting lineup for the Cleveland game until we know whom we are playing,” the current Great Lakes Naval Training Station (GLNTS) Bluejackets manager told the Associated Press. “The major leaguers may beat us Tuesday night, but we’ll put up a helluva argument over the outcome,” LT Cochrane stated, following a Great Lakes 5-0 victory over the Fort Custer Reception Center (Battle Creek, Michigan) team at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium. Both service teams used players that would be among the Service All-Stars for the July 7 game. The Great Lakes squad saw Norfolk Naval Training Station’s (NTS) Fred Hutchinson start the game, with George Earnshaw completing the shutout. Mickey Harris, who had arrived fresh from the Panama Canal Zone, started on the mound for Fort Custer, with Ken Silvestri serving as his battery mate. With nearly 7,000 paid attendees, $10,000 was raised in support of service athletic funds.
The following day, the enhanced Great Lakes squad defeated an All-Star squad from the Flint, Michigan Amateur Baseball Federation in Flint. The Bluejackets featured Norfolk NTS outfielder Sam Chapman, the New Cumberland Army Reception Center’s Pat Mullin and Camp Wheeler’s Cecil Travis, who accounted for most the GLNTS firepower in the 8-2 victory.
After traveling from Detroit to Cleveland, the Service All-Stars held a workout at Municipal Stadium on July 6 as the American and National League squads squared off in New York. Newspapers were predicting as many as 75,000 spectators for the highly anticipated 9:00 p.m. game. Speaking to reporters a few days before his probable start against the eventual winner of the Major League All-Star game, Bob Feller was candid with his self-assessment. After spending the entire spring pitching for the Norfolk Naval Training Station club, Feller speculated that consistently facing inferior batters led to a dulling of his skills. “You throw to a lot of ham-and-eggers in some of these exhibition games,” he told Blosser. “You can’t keep an edge that way.” Cleveland Fans Cheer Bullet Bob Feller Even in Defeat; Fireballer Wasn’t Sharp for Battle – July 8, 1942
The Chevrons and Diamonds collection holds numerous scorecards and programs from service and fund-raising exhibition games from 1942 into 1946. With so many artifacts continuing to surface, we have been able to assemble a broad range that encompasses significant games in all war theaters as well as domestic games. One piece that was on our wish list was the program from the July 7, 1942 Service All-Star game in Cleveland. Over the holiday season, we were able to source and acquire a beautiful example in near-mint condition.
Sixteen pages cover-to-cover and printed on cardstock, the entire program (view a full PDF version), save for the scorecard inserted at the center, is the same as was used by the Cleveland Indians for their 1942 season home games. The internal pages are printed in blue monochrome with the covers being both blue and red, two-color printing. In addition to the scorecard with printed lineups and rosters, the program also includes two pages that spotlight the Service All-Stars.
Pre-game festivities included service marching bands and parading ranks of Army and Navy uniformed personnel. The “Clown Prince of Baseball,” Al Schacht, entertained fans while the Service All-Star starting pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Bob Feller, warmed up. Soon, Schacht began humorously mimicking Feller and the two began playing off each other for the crowd’s amusement. When the game finally got underway, the home team, the American League All-Stars, took the field with Jim Bagby, Jr. on the mound.
Bagby’s first pitch resulted in an easy infield ground ball from the leadoff hitter, Detroit Tigers outfielder Pat Mullin, for the first out of the inning. Second baseman and former Tiger and Athletic Benny McCoy watched four Bagby pitches pass by to earn a free pass. Left fielder Don Padgett strode to the plate and drove one of Bagby’s offerings to deep right center, splitting Tommy Henrich and Joe DiMaggio and dropping for a single. McCoy, with a slight lead off first, waited to see the ball drop before tagging and sprinting to second base. With two runners on base and just one out, former Senator star Cecil Travis worked another four-pitch walk from Bagby.
With the bases loaded, former St. Louis Browns outfielder Joe Grace stood on the right side of the plate. Having hit .309 with St. Louis in 426 plate appearances in 1941, Grace was a rising star in the American League before entering the Navy. Grace walked nearly twice as much as he struck out, showing that he was decidedly a threat at the plate. Bagby’s first two pitches were off the plate, placing the count decidedly in Grace’s favor and prompting the AL manager, Joe McCarthy, to get Red Ruffing up and warming in the bullpen. Bagby seemed to rebound against the Navy hitter as he pitched the count full before Grace watched strike three land in AL All-Star catcher Buddy Rosar’s mitt. American League umpire Ernie Stewart made the call.
Now with two outs and the bases still jammed, Johnny Sturm represented the Service All-Stars’ last hope to score. After fouling off the first pitch, the former Yankee grounded to Ken Keltner at third. Keltner easily tagged the bag to retire the side.
In the bottom of the inning the hometown crowd cheered the match-up of Indians teammates Lou Boudreau and Bob Feller. “Rapid Robert” coaxed the Cleveland shortstop to hit a routine fly ball to Mullin in shallow center field. As easy as the first out came to Feller, the rest of the inning didn’t go his way. Tommy Henrich drove a 1-2 count pitch back to the box, deflecting off Feller’s foot and allowing the Yankees right fielder to safely reach first. With one on and one out, Ted Williams came to the plate to face Feller. Williams worked Feller to a full count before coaxing a walk.
Centerfielder Joe DiMaggio faced Feller with a runner in scoring position and drove a pitch up the middle into center field, allowing Henrich to score and Williams to reach third. Rudy York stood at the plate with runners at the corners and one out and drove a ball to Joe Grace in right center. Williams tagged and crossed the plate to tally the American League’s second run. Feller coaxed Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr to foul out to third base and at least temporarily stop the scoring.
In the bottom of the second, Cleveland’s Ken Keltner legged out a triple to lead off the inning. Catcher Buddy Rosar followed Keltner with a single just out of reach of third baseman Ernie Andres, scoring Keltner. This led manager Mickey Cochrane to walk to the mound to hook his starting pitcher in favor of Johnny Rigney, a former Chicago White Sox hurler, who proceeded to shut down the American League stars. Rigney kept the AL score at three until he was spelled by Mickey Harris in the bottom of the seventh. Harris was dogged by a leadoff double by Phil Rizzuto, who then swiped third base. Williams, a recipient of three free passes in earlier innings, pounded a triple, scoring Rizzuto from third. Harris got DiMaggio to pop out to Travis at third base before George McQuinn tripled, driving in the fifth and final tally for the Americans as Williams crossed the plate. American League pitching held the servicemen to six hits in the 5-0 shutout.
The Service All-Stars had a total of six safeties, with singles by Padgett, Travis, and Sturm and two by Ernie Andres. Cecil Travis had the only extra-base hit, a double.
“We lost in the first inning,” Mickey Cochrane told Associated Press reporter Charles Dunkley after the game. “We had the bases loaded and a single would have changed the whole story. We just muffed a big opportunity. That’s all. You don’t get a chance to beat a team like those American Leaguers every day in the week. Poor Feller didn’t have a thing. I’ve never seen him get belted like that. It proves that he wasn’t there – his duties in the navy robbed him of his timing, his control,” Cochrane concluded. – The Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa), July 8, 1942.
“I just couldn’t seem to get loosened up,” Feller told Ray Blosser of the Associated Press after the game.
When the game’s program-scorecard became available and we were able to secure a deal, it was a boon for our collection, which also includes photographs related to the game. The piece was a target of our search for more than a decade and the only drawback is that our example is unscored.
See Related Chevrons and Diamonds stories:
- Morrie Arnovich – Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move
- Sam Chapman – A Lifetime Collection of Images: Star Baseball Player, Sam Chapman, the Tiburon Terror and Wartime Naval Aviator Part 1 | Part 2
- Mickey Harris – Visual Traces of a Wartime Service Career
- Hugh Mulcahy – Visual Traces of a Wartime Service Career
- Mickey Owen – Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt
With multiple projects presently underway, research is a constant undertaking with constant discoveries being made as leads are thoroughly chased to exhaustion. Byproducts of conducting detailed research are the constant discoveries and the ensuing, ever-branching, investigative threads. In the midst of researching one Navy veteran’s baseball background, the discovery of another ballplaying sailor led to an exhaustive effort to uncover and document his story. However, since Chevrons and Diamonds’ biographical narratives are always centered upon an artifact associated with the player or players, we were in need of a tangible piece of history to wrap this story around.
Major league baseball players who served during the two World Wars are well documented, as are those with armed forces service during subsequent conflicts. Our research reveals that ballplayers with military service that took place within the 20-year span between 1919 and 1939, the era commonly referred to as the interwar period, are largely undocumented. The player we inadvertently discovered not only served during the early 1930s but also played baseball while serving.
Ephemera such as scorecards, programs and ticket stubs have always factored significantly in the curation of our collection. In 2018, our unsuccessful bid to land a program from an exhibition game played between the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Indians and the Minutemen of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) left us with bitter disappointment. However, the research we conducted regarding the game uncovered a wealth of information (see: Despite the Auction Loss, Victory is Found in the Discovery). During the 1930’s, the USS Lexington’s baseball team developed into a perennial champion in various naval leagues, beginning in 1933. The absence of the 1932 program meant that this was a story still in need of an artifact.
Poring over newspaper stories from the early 1930s in search of one player, another name began to stand out among dozens of articles covering the USS Lexington’s rise to prominence. Each successive article added details to a story that was nearly unbelievable. In the Oxford Dictionary, the term “phenom” is defined as “a person who is outstandingly talented or admired, especially an up-and-comer,” which would have been appropriately applied to the inadvertently discovered baseball player.
Howard Robinson “Lefty” Mills was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, on May 12, 1910, and was educated up through his second year at Dedham High School, leaving early out of financial necessity. Mills never played sports as a youth. While his friends around the neighborhood were active in football, basketball and baseball, Mills sought means to earn money, working as an errand boy and caddying at the nearby Norfolk County Golf Club. Mills had no interest in sports. In a September 15, 1938, article by nationally syndicated columnist Dick Farrington (Lefty Mills, Ex-Gob Who Sails Fast Ones for Browns, Never Took Part in Game ‘Till He Was 21 Years Old), Mills’ path to pitching stardom was detailed. Inspired by recruiting posters and the call to “See the World,” Howard entered the Navy in 1928 in Boston before his 18th birthday, requiring his father’s consent.
While attending initial training at Newport Naval Station in Rhode Island, Mills learned about the Navy’s rapid expansion of aviation and the associated specialized roles that needed to be filled by enlisted personnel. Seizing upon the opportunity, Apprentice Seaman Mills requested aviation mechanic schooling and was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he spent the next four months. After completion of his schooling, Mills was assigned to Naval Air Station North Island (Coronado Island, San Diego, California), where he spent the remainder of his four-year enlistment.
In 1931, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3/c Mills’ next assignment was aboard the USS Lexington. After returning to San Pedro from a cruise to the Hawaiian Islands, Mills took notice of the special privileges afforded the ship’s baseball team players, such as being excused from the work routine and extra days ashore for team practices and games. “I got to feeling like a sap seeing those fellows getting some time off and me sticking to the ship,” Mills relayed to Dick Farrington. Mills, with no experience in sports, let alone baseball, played loose with the truth in the hope of sharing in the added benefits bestowed upon the baseball team. “So, one day I got up enough courage to tell the fellows that I could play ball and wanted a chance,” Mills shared.
Clearly Mills was naturally gifted with athletic and persuasive abilities. Following a tryout with the team, the left-handed aviation mechanic was soon working out with the USS Lexington’s Minutemen as he developed his baseball acumen. The team’s manager, Lieutenant Joe Rucker, was in the process of transforming the men into a cohesive and competitive unit to contend in their battleship division after years of futility. Rucker worked Mills into the lineup, initially putting him at first base, a natural position for a lefty. When he was not playing, Mills continued to learn the ropes as a pitcher. In need of extra pitching, manager Rucker called upon Mills to fill in from the mound, giving the lefty the chance he needed. Mills “came through in great style” according to Farrington.
By 1932, Gunner’s Mate Chief “Pop” Fenton was at the Lexington Minutemen’s helm and helped to further develop Mills into a pitcher. The growth of the team into a competitive force coincided with Mill’s hurling expertise surpassing the abilities of the competition. Despite Lefty’s occasional wildness, he dominated opponents, often stacking up strikeouts in double digits when he took to the mound. The 1932 match-up against the Seattle Indians listed Mills as one of five Lexington pitchers.
In 1933, Howard Mills became the talk of Southern California papers from the San Pedro News-Pilot to the Los Angeles Times. His prowess on the pitching mound was considerable, as he was devastating for opposing batters. Several box and line scores recounted strikeout totals often in double digits. It was not until we came across the July 13, 1933, San Pedro News-Pilot article by Bynner Martin, Lefty to Make Bow Next Year, that we learned that it was just a matter of time before the Lexington’s dominant left-handed pitcher, Howard Mills, was destined for the major leagues.
Mills recorded 14 wins for the 1933 Minutemen without taking a loss. He not only pitched his team into a division title game, but he also closed out the ninth inning against the San Pedro Navy All-Stars in left field, plying his defensive skills in the late innings. While chasing down a line drive to make an out, Mills strained his side, which cast doubt upon his availability to pitch in the three-game battle force championship series against the USS Wright (AV-1). Fenton was chastised in the area newspapers following Mills’ injury but the lefthander silenced the dissent when he toed the rubber in the opening game, pitching a 14-1 no-hitter and striking out 21 Wright batsmen. With a few days’ rest, Fenton ran Mills out to pitch the second game with the hopes of riding the pitcher’s success to a championship. Lefty Mills prevailed yet again as he held Wright to a pair of runs as the Lexington claimed the title, 7-2.
The 1933 season opened the door of opportunity and recognition for Mills. With professional scouts from the major leagues and the Pacific Coast League attending his games and making note of his talent, the future was decidedly bright. Scouts from the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees were jockeying for position to sign the pitcher. U.S. Navy Magazine conducted a poll for the “most popular athlete,” to which readers overwhelmingly elected Mills as the winner. In early January, 1934, actor-comedian and baseball fan Joe E. Brown presented Howard Mills with a trophy and keys to a new Ford coupe. Likely unaware of what the future held for him at that time, Mills was almost dumbfounded at the idea of receiving a car at that point in his Navy career. “What was I going to do with a motor car when I just had signed up for two more years in the Navy?” a question Mills later posed to writer Henry P. Edwards for a January 1, 1939 American League Service Bureau press release.
Ahead of the 1934 season, Mills was pressed by the Browns’ West Coast scout, Willis Butler, to make a commitment to the team. With four months left on his current enlistment, the head of the Browns’ scouting department, Ray Cahill, went to work on Mills’ behalf, working with Missouri congressman John J. Cochran in an attempt to secure an early release for the pitcher to report to spring training. With the Browns’ training camp well underway, the Navy relented and granted Mills his release from active duty on March 1, shaving one month off his two-year term.
Due to his date of release from the Navy and his lengthy cross-country trip from California, Mills was a late arrival to the Browns’ camp in Miami, Florida. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby was eager to get a good look at his new Navy southpaw recruit but anticipated that Mills would require seasoning in the minors. The pace of a major league training camp was undoubtedly much more rigorous and intense than he had experienced with the USS Lexington workouts and practices in his first three baseball seasons. Not only was he a rookie in camp but he was not versed in understanding his limitations and how to work into the tempo and rhythm of a professional program. Unfortunately for Mills, he suffered an ankle injury that further reduced his time in spring training. Once he recovered, he resumed his professional career with the Browns’ class “A” minor league club in the Texas League, the San Antonio Missions.
Mills was only with San Antonio for a few weeks before he was summoned to St. Louis in the middle of May. In his nearly eight weeks with the club, Lefty Mills made four appearances as a relief pitcher. In his first game on June 10, the rookie was shaky after entering the game in Cleveland with the Indians leading 4-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. The first three batters Mills faced – Odell Hale, Hal Trosky and Frankie Pytlak – reached base with a double followed by two singles before he got his first out. With one out and a run in, Willie Kamm singled to shortstop Ollie Bejma, who made an errant throw to first, scoring Pytlak from second. Mills worked out of the jam, stranding the two runners, but ended the game with an 18.00 ERA after allowing two runs in the inning. The Indians won, 6-1.
Lefty loosened up for his next two appearances. Pitching in Fenway Park in Boston, Mills hurled the last two innings of a June 18 game, holding the Red Sox to a single while striking out one and walking two. Days later in Washington, Lefty pitched the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing a single and walking one. Both games were losses for the Browns. At home against Detroit, Mills entered the July 1 game in the fifth inning with a 10-0 deficit after starter Bobo Newsom and reliever Dick Coffman were utterly ineffective. Mills stopped the bleeding in the fifth inning and held the eventual pennant winners scoreless through the eighth. By the ninth, the Tigers got to Mills, touching him for two runs. The game was a rout but Mills allowed two runs on four hits with a strikeout. The potent Tigers lineup with Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane would have shaken any young pitcher, but Mills held his own despite issuing eight free passes in the game.
In his four 1934 appearances, Mills posted an ERA of 4.15 in 8-2/3 innings, walking 11 and only fanning two. By almost any measure, his record warranted him being sent down to the minors for further development; however, the Browns pitching staff featured three starting pitchers with double-digit losing records. The four starting pitchers had ERAs of 4.01, 4.22, 4.35 and 4.53, each striking out fewer than they walked on a team that finished in sixth place with a won-loss-tie record of 67-85-2.
Mills pitched a five-hit shutout on July 25 against Fort Worth following his release by the Browns. Rogers Hornsby cited Lefty’s need for more experience. In the nightcap of a doubleheader that was limited to just seven innings, Mills struck out nine Cats batters. Lefty closed the year out with the Missions, posting a 3-3 record and a 4.95 ERA in 15 games. “Rajah” Hornsby’s decision seemed to be the correct one. A little more than a month after the season ended, Mills married the former Dana E. Rhodes on November 4, 1935.
The big left-hander spent the entire 1935 season in class “AA” with St. Paul of the American Association and the entire 1936 season back in class “A” with San Antonio. His record with the Missions showed marked improvement, as his 2.52 ERA and 12-6 record demonstrated that he was acclimating to the rigors of professional baseball. Mills spent the 1937 season again with San Antonio, where his 14-10 record and 3.10 ERA earned him a late-season call-up to St. Louis after pitching the Missions to a 2-1 victory over Oklahoma City and a 2-1 series lead in the Texas League playoffs on September 17.
With Browns manager Hornsby’s firing after 78 games, St. Louis had tabbed Jim Bottomley to lead the hapless club. The ex-Navy lefthander started two meaningless games against teams that were eliminated from post-season play. He faced Detroit on September 29, going the distance and allowing six runs on eight hits while matching his strikeouts and walks at seven. He came away with his first major league win despite spotting the Tigers two runs in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. Mills lasted 3-2/3 innings against the White Sox in the last game of the season on October 3, as he was touched for seven runs on eight hits. He again aligned his strikeouts and walks (three apiece) before being relieved. Mills was tagged with the 8-7 loss.
Since leaving the Navy, Mills had drawn upon his naval training and experience and found employment in the booming Southern California aviation industry during each offseason. His early interest in this field and his decision to pursue it as his Navy vocation proved to be profitable for him. In addition to his regular work, Mills was naturally tabbed to play baseball for his employer, North American Aviation, that in 1937 fielded a team that included professional ballplayers Jack Gartland, Chet Clemons, Joe Fox, Charles “Chuck” Winsell (Los Angeles Angels) and Don Curtis.
In 1938, the Mills that Browns scouts had seen five seasons previously in Southern California arrived. Making the team out of spring training, Mills earned a spot in the starting rotation, joining Bobo Newsom, Oral Hildebrand and part-time relievers Jim Walkup and Russ Van Atta. Technically a rookie, Mills pitched his best season in his brief major league career, posting a 10-12 record and a 5.31 ERA. He started 27 of his 30 games with 15 of them complete. Two of Mills’ best pitching performances were against the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees at home. On June 18, Mills held the visiting Yankees to four hits in his only shutout of the year. Frankie Crosetti, who stroked a double and Jake Powell, who went three for four with a double, accounted for the four Yankees safeties. Future Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig and Joe Gordon were hitless, with the latter two accounting for four of Mills’ eight fanned batters. In the game, Mills managed a hit off future Hall of Fame pitcher “Lefty” Gomez while the lone Browns run was scored by Harlond Clift, who was driven in by Beau Bell.
On September 19, Mills notched a six-hit gem against the visiting Yankees and matched his strikeout performance of June 18 with eight. Mills helped himself in the flood of scoring as he reached home twice after getting on base on a Joe Glenn passed ball strikeout and working walks from Wes Farrell and Ivy Andrews. Mills’ ninth win of the season was a 13-1 blowout over the “Bronx Bombers.” The win marked his second triumph over the champions for the season.
With Gabby Street at the helm, the Browns did not see improvement, though Mills seemed to prosper. The year would end up being the best in his major league career.
With high hopes for Mills heading into the 1939 season and a new Browns ownership and field manager, he was projected by some sportswriters to be St, Louis’ featured starting pitcher, unseating Bobo Newsom. Despite a 1.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Mills’ 116 free passes showed that he was still dogged by control issues. Mills, along with Newsom, began the season as an unsigned holdout. Mills arrived on March 10 to begin contract negotiations that lasted into the late hours of March 12 and resulted in an increased salary that was “an important increase over his salary of last year,” stated owner Bill DeWitt. “One reason why the Browns were so anxious to sign Howard Mills last month,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on April 9, “was the realization that the southpaw is a first-class mechanic, which profession he could take up exclusively if his contract terms in baseball didn’t suit him.” Rookie manager Fred Haney was eager to get Mills and Newsom into camp and working on what was hoped to be a promising season.
Unfortunately for both Mills and the Browns, 1939 and 1940 marked a decline in his effectiveness. Hoping to find the pitcher’s niche, Haney used Mills as both a starter and reliever with poor results regardless of the role Lefty was placed in. Mills’ inconsistency worsened as he walked more than he struck out and his ERA increased to 6.55. For 1939, Mills started 14 games, completed four and posted a 4-11 record. Mills plunked eight batters, matching his 1938 total, but this time he led the league. His trend continued downhill in 1940. Failing to win a game while dropping six, Lefty’s ERA was a whopping 7.78. He appeared in 26 games for Haney but pitched nearly 1/3 fewer innings than in his previous year and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was .35. It was obvious that Haney was running on empty when it came to options for the mound and the Browns kept Mills on the roster through the season’s end. After pitching 1/3 of an inning at Yankee Stadium on August 29 in which he walked two, surrendered a single and allowed three runs to score, Mills’ season was effectively over. Mills never pitched in a regular season major league game again.
In late January 1941, Mills was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers. After signing his Dodgers contract on February 11, Lefty reported to spring training in Havana, Cuba. “They’re after my arm,” joked Mills to Daily News (New York) reporters. Unfortunately for the ex-Browns pitcher, he was unable to convince team president Larry McPhail and manager Leo Durocher that his previous two seasons were a fluke. He was ineffective in his spring appearances and was abused by Knoxville Smokies’ batters in an April 1 exhibition contest in Tallahassee, Florida, as the team was making its way north for the start of the season. For the Brooklyn “B” squad game, he allowed five runs in five innings to the class “A-1” Southern Association club, including a two-run bomb by infielder Glen Stewart.
Mills was shipped back to St. Louis on April 14 and was subsequently assigned to Toledo on May 5. After refusing to report to the minor league club, Mills submitted his notice of voluntary retirement and went home to Southern California, presumably returning to his work in the aviation industry. On the baseball front, Mills joined former University of California at Los Angeles football, track and baseball star Jackie Robinson on the Atascadero National Youth Administration (NYA) team. Robinson, a recent graduate, was serving as the NYA athletic director and anchored the team that included former professionals Jess Hill, Cal Barnes and Bud Dawson. Mills was featured on the team in mid to late July.
Undoubtedly, Howard Mills continued working in aviation throughout 1941 as the winds of war were blowing in Europe and the Pacific. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, his aviation mechanic role became vital to the war effort. Now 31 years of age and having registered for Selective Service in October of 1940, Mills was unlikely to be drafted for war service. However, in 1943, Howard Mills enlisted for service in the Army and was assigned to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Conflicting newspaper articles show Mills as receiving signal training and serving as a member of the fort’s military police. At the time, the post did not have a baseball team but speculation in the press was that one would be formed in the spring of 1943 with Mills and another Army trainee, Don Richmond, being foundational players on the roster. While Richmond played on the 15th Signal Training Regiment team, Mills did not. Unfortunately, records have yet to surface to indicate where Sergeant Mills spent the balance of his war service.
Following his discharge in January, 1946, Howard Mills attempted to restart his major league career and requested reinstatement to baseball. He reported to the Browns’ camp after signing a contract and being added to the club’s 25-man roster ahead of spring training in nearby Anaheim, California. Despite demonstrating some flashes of his 1938 form, Mills failed to impress manager Luke Sewell and did not survive the final rounds of roster cuts. Lefty Mills was once again assigned to San Antonio in April and on May 11 was released without appearing in a game. Lefty Mills, now 36 years old, was out of professional baseball for good.
Our search for an artifact to accompany Mills’ story came to an end upon discovering that we already possessed a treasure that we had obtained from another Browns player who served during World War II, Chuck Stevens. The artifact, a 1946 St. Louis Browns spring training roster sheet and guide, includes 52 players, many of whom served during WWII. Among the pitchers listed, Mills is shown as coming to the club after having been voluntarily retired rather than showing that he served in the Army.
With its year-round summer weather, Southern California baseball was an incubator for baseball talent that fed the local schools and minor leagues in the early years of the twentieth century. Rivaling the National and American Leagues in attendance, the Pacific Coast League, with teams located in San Diego, Los Angeles and Hollywood, drew from area sandlots, high schools and colleges. Southern California also featured robust and highly competitive semi-professional baseball leagues that like the minor leagues featured both rising talent and aging veteran professionals. One of the most notable teams in the Southern California semipro leagues was the Rosabell Plumbers team that was founded in 1936.
In 1920, entrepreneur Charles Pedrotti opened his plumbing business in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, less than a mile south of Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers franchise would call home in 1962. Connecting his enterprise to its location on 836 Rosabell Street, Pedrotti named his shop Rosabell Plumbing Company. Combining his success in business with his passion for the game, Charley Pedrotti established his Rosabell Plumbers semipro club in 1936 and fielded a competitive roster of players year after year. Early on, Pedrotti himself played for the club.
Pedrotti was able to continue drawing top-tier talent to his roster after the war, especially once the major and minor league seasons finished and local area players returned home for the offseason. Seeking to augment their income and to maintain baseball skills, Rosabell and many other area semipro rosters were greatly improved for winter league competition when the likes of Max West, Ed and Hank Sauer, and Steve Mesner returned home in 1946. The Rosabell Plumbers, in addition to playing in a highly competitive semipro league, faced off against barnstorming teams that included Negro League stars along with exhibition contests with professional ball clubs. The Plumbers were the West Coast equivalent to the famed Brooklyn Bushwicks.
Pedrotti’s club was highly competitive and he was able to draw notable major leaguers such as Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff and Vince DiMaggio, who were working in essential war production jobs in the off-season during World War II. With wartime fuel rationing and blackout rules for ballpark lighting in effect from 1942 to 1944, league play was reduced and the championship games were cancelled.
By the fall of 1946, the Rosabell Plumbers were in front of the league as they were drawing close to securing the Southern California AAA League championship. Standing in their way of the crown was the Rawak Candy team, managed by Washington Senators star second baseman Jerry Priddy. The Plumbers were fresh from their 3-1 victory over Clayton Manufacturing as Rosabell’s star pitcher, Howard Mills, held his opponents to just three hits. Mills pitched for Rosabell throughout the season, keeping the Plumbers out in front of the league since joining the club in the spring. The Rawak Candy roster, in addition to Priddy, featured a Boston Red Sox prospect, first baseman Ralph Atkins, Yankees pitcher Al Lyons, Columbus Red Birds catcher Eddie Malone and Browns infielder Bob Dillinger. Rosabell’s pitcher Red Adams silenced Rawak’s bats with a four-hit shutout and slugged a home run to preserve the Plumbers’ undefeated streak while claiming their sixth league crown.
By January, 1947, Rosabell was moving on without Mills because he had a nagging arm injury that had plagued him since the previous December. At the age of 36, Mills’ fifteen years in baseball came to a quiet end. What began as a means to get out of work developed into a career; however, the career that introduced him to the game would provide for him throughout his life. Howard Mills worked for Air Research-Aviation in the aircraft modification industry for 27 years. He passed away on September 23, 1982 following a two-year battle with lymphocytic lymphoma. He was 72.
Nearly eight decades later, historians and researchers are still discovering artifacts from World War II that are providing details or insights into events, regardless of how well documented they may be. The Service World Series, played in the Hawaiian Islands in the fall of 1944, pitted two teams of former major and minor leaguers from the Army and Navy against each other and featured arguably the best aggregation of baseball talent in the world that year.
Known also as the Servicemen’s World Series or the Army All-Stars versus Navy All-Stars Championship Series, the Service World Series was scheduled as a best-of-seven games matchup for the bragging rights of the best baseball team of the armed forces. Following a competitive season of service baseball in Hawaii in the spring and summer of 1944 that saw a neck-and-neck race between the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the Flyers of the 7th Army Air Force (7th AAF). rumors abounded that Admiral Chester Nimitz wanted to exact some revenge in response to the Army stacking the 7th AAF’s roster and wresting the Central Pacific League crown from the Navy’s front-running Aiea squad.
Drawing personnel predominantly from the McClellan Field (Sacramento) Commanders team that included former major leaguers Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Jerry Priddy and Mike McCormick along with minor leaguers Ferris Fain, Charlie Silvera, Rugger Ardizoia and Al Lien and later adding New York Yankee stars Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Red Ruffing, the 7th AAF team was a powerhouse both on paper and the diamond. After capturing the league title, the Army brass simply added players from other area Army base teams to form their World Series squad.
As the 7th AAF faced Aiea in a three-game championship series, the Navy hoisted players in from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, and from teams throughout the Hawaiian Islands, effectively stacking the deck in their favor in both quality and quantity. The Navy squad featured future Hall of Fame enshrinees Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto along with a bounty of 1940’s major league stars such as Dom DiMaggio, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer, Schoolboy Rowe, Barney McCosky and Hugh Casey. They would lead the Navy’s attack on the Army. Ahead of the start of the series, the Army suffered the loss of two key players from the 7th with Joe DiMaggio battling in the summer months and Red Ruffing suffering an injury at the end of the regular season. DiMaggio and Ruffing were sent to the mainland before the first game, further handicapped them against the team being assembled by the Navy.
The Army failed to answer the Navy’s attack and dropped the series in four games to the Navy, being outscored 27-10 in the sweep. The real winners of the series were the uniformed personnel who had tickets to see the games. With 56,500 filling the small venues over the course of the four games, the Army and Navy leadership agreed to extend the series through the scheduled seven games. The Navy claimed games five and six before the Army finally captured a win in the final game. With more than 100,500 fans, the series was a resounding success despite the outcome of the games.
The 1944 Army/Navy All-Star Championship Series in Hawaii
|Friday, September 22, 1944||Game 1||5-0 (Navy)||Furlong Field||20,000|
|Saturday, September 23, 1944||Game 2||8-2 (Navy)||Hickam Field||12,000|
|Monday, September 25, 1944||Game 3||4-3 (Navy)||Redlander Field||14,500|
|Wednesday, September 27, 1944||Game 4||10-5 (Navy)||NAS Kaneohe||10,000|
|Thursday, September 28, 1944||Game 5||12-2 (Navy)||Furlong Field||16,000|
|Saturday, September 30, 1944||Game 6||6-4 (Navy)||Hickam Field||12,000|
|Sunday, October 1, 1944||Game 7||5-3 (Army)||Furlong Field||16,000|
Following the close of the series, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto were sent back to Australia as the balance of the Navy squad, sans Pee Wee Reese, joined the Army team for subsequent games to be played for troops stationed on the islands of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai. The island tour series, though often considered to be an extension of the Service World Series, was scheduled in early August, 1944. In this second series (or extension of the Service World Series), the Army squad found their stride, winning one and tying another while the Navy picked up two more victories and secured an 8-2-1 record.
- October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0)
- October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5)
- October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)
- October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5)
Several photographs of the Series games were captured by press and fans alike, with original surviving type-1 examples trickling onto the collector market. Nearly 80 years after the games were played, collectors actively seek ephemera in the form of scorecards and ticket stubs and some pieces occasionally surface from WWII veterans’ estates or their heirs.
Most of the scorecards are simple, bi-folded, single sheet pages mimeograph-printed on basic lightweight paper. Not more than simple roster lists and scoring grids, the known cards are anything but aesthetically pleasing, being completely devoid of artwork, photographs and the typical graphic design elements seen on contemporary major or minor league offerings. The most common of the scorecards to surface on the market are those used for the games hosted at Furlong Field. They feature large block lettering on the front cover, full team rosters on the back and a two-page spread of scoring grids inside the gatefold.
Obtaining scorecards from each game of a major league baseball World Series from the 1940’s would be a daunting task for collectors due to the limited number of surviving examples. However, collectors have an advantage as each scorecard produced for those games is well documented, which is in stark contrast to the Service World Series. At present, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is in possession of cards from games four, five and seven and we have seen cards from game one. Regarding cards from the remaining games, we were virtually blind to their designs. With a recent acquisition, the number of remaining unknown scorecards has decreased.
A recent discovery led to an acquisition of the scorecard from the sixth Series game played on Saturday, September 30 at Hickam Field. With 12,000 in attendance, fans saw a game that was tied through eight innings as the Army was holding their own. A first-inning RBI by Ferris Fain, a two-run home run by Joe Gordon and an RBI triple by Mike McCormick tallied four runs and tied the Navy by the bottom of the seventh inning. However, the Navy won on an RBI by pitcher Tom Ferrick, who drove in “Schoolboy” Rowe for the go ahead run, followed by a Rizzuto bunt that scored Pee Wee Reese in the top of the eighth inning. The Army failed to answer in their two remaining frames, leaving the Navy victorious in their sixth consecutive game. The scorecard is scored with the correct 6-4 final tally, but the service member may not have had a good vantage point or was not paying close attention to the game as total hits do not align with the newspaper account. Also out of alignment are the innings and scoring sequence. In addition to the final score, the card also reflects the correct error totals for each team.
This scorecard is mimeograph-printed onto an odd-sized, 9×13-inch, single sheet of lightweight paper with the hand-drawn artwork, basic scoring grid and typed Army roster on the front of the sheet and the Navy’s roster typed on the reverse. This example has some of the typical condition issues that similar pieces exhibit such as creasing, dog-eared corners and brittle areas near the fold lines. The paper has oxidized to a light tan color and the printing shows fading. For the two games hosted at Hickam Field, the Army called the games, “The Little World Series.”
In comparing the scoring against the other games in the series, there is little doubt that our newly acquired scorecard was used for the sixth game despite the insignificant discrepancies. The printed dates on the card (September 23 and 30) combined with the Army roster taking precedence make it clear that this card was used for both games that were hosted at Hickam Field.
With the addition of this Game Six card, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection now features scorecards from games four, five, six and seven. With this most recent acquisition we can also confirm the design of the scorecard from game two, leaving the design of the card from game three played at the Schofield Barracks’ Redlander Field as the remaining unknown.
When unusual items arrive on the market for sale, they are often overlooked by collectors. Perhaps they are dismissed as being too far outside of what is considered collectible. The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is replete with artifacts that traditionally fall outside of the interests of baseball memorabilia and militaria collectors.
When a two-item group from a former major league catcher turned World War II naval officer was listed in an online auction, it was clear that the items would be a great fit for our collection, however out of the norm the group was. The beautifully oxidized 8×10 formal portrait of Navy Lieutenant Billy Sullivan, Jr. wearing his dress khaki uniform aligned well with similar photos in our collection, including those of Lieutenant Junior Grade John A. “Buddy” Hassett, U.S.N.R. and Ensign Charles Keller, U.S. Maritime Service. The normalcy of the photograph was offset by the unusual nature of the accompanying piece that provided insight into Sullivan’s naval service.
Sullivan, one of major league baseball’s earliest second-generation players, began his professional career with the Chicago White Sox in 1931, fresh from the University of Notre Dame. He made his debut on June 9 against the Senators in Washington. Facing Washington’s General Crowder, Sullivan went 0-4 and finally got his first hit, a two-out single to center field in the top of the ninth inning with Chicago trailing, 9-3. Sullivan was a natural first baseman and played the position in his youth and in college. When he signed with the White Sox, Lu Blue was the starting first-sacker, leaving Sullivan to learn the ropes at other positions. He saw most of his game action at third base.
A few weeks after his debut, Sullivan encountered one of the game’s greats during pre-game workouts and learned about the special bond between major leaguers.
“I was just a kid out of school and I had my (first baseman’s) glove that I bought in a sporting goods store in South Bend (Indiana) near Notre Dame and we were taking infield practice in the White Sox’s park,” Sullivan recounted to historian Eugene C. Murdock in a 1980 taped interview. “We were playing the Athletics and Jimmie Foxx was the first baseman for the Athletics. He was standing there in the coach’s box, waiting to take his place as soon as we finished our infield practice.”
Stepping away from the field, Sullivan describes the encounter as he follows the (then) common practice of players leaving their gloves on the field.
“As I threw my glove down, he (Foxx) picked it up, and he had his own glove under his arm. He put my glove on and he was a big mass of muscles. It looked like a motorman’s glove and that’s what he called it, and he said, ‘Hey kid, come here.’”
“And I said, ‘Yes?’”
“And he said, ‘This is not the kind of glove we use up here.’ He said, ‘This is too small.’”
“And I said, ‘That’s the only kind of glove I could find in the sporting goods store in South Bend.’ And he said, ‘Well, we use lots of bigger gloves.’ And he said, ‘This is the kind of glove you should use,’ and he handed me his. He said, ‘Try that on.’ And it was a great big wonderful glove.”
And I said, ‘Well, that’s some glove. I’ll remember that.’ And then I went on in to change my shirt and that’s enough of THAT day.”
“And the next day I came out there and here’s Jimmie Foxx again and I’m out there going with my little glove and he said, ‘Hey kid, come here.’
“And he handed me a perfectly great big glove just like his, all broken in and everything and says, ‘Keep it. That’s the kind of glove we use up here.’”
“That shows you the camaraderie and kinship among ballplayers. Even though they compete bitterly, there still is an intrinsic loyalty to each other.”
Sullivan played one game at first base during his 1931 rookie season. The following year, more than half of his games were played at first base with the balance split between third base, the outfield and behind the plate. Sullivan’s playing time dwindled in 1933 along with his batting average and he was sent down to Milwaukee for the entire 1934 season. He elevated his batting average to .343 to be among the team’s leading hitters. With Cincinnati in 1935, Sullivan saw most of his limited playing time at first base and was traded to Cleveland in the offseason.
Indians’ manager Steve O’Neill had a talented infield roster and began to develop Sullivan as a regular catcher, having him share backstop duties with Frankie Pytlak. Despite batting .351 in 1936, Sullivan saw less time behind the plate as Pytlak started the bulk of the games in ‘37. Relegated to a pinch-hitting role, he still managed a .286 average but was traded to St. Louis ahead of the 1938 season. With the Browns, Sullivan was once again primarily appearing behind the plate, starting in 88 games. His batting average fell to .277 despite appearing in 111 games that year. Sullivan spent two seasons in St. Louis and two seasons in Detroit before being purchased by Brooklyn in a $17,500 cash deal on March 14, 1942. Dodgers owner Larry McPhail made the deal to have Sullivan back up the starting catcher, Mickey Owen, and provide a left-handed batting option.
When Sullivan arrived at the Dodgers’ spring camp, the U.S. had been at war for 3-1/2 months. The most notable major leaguer to enlist following the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was the game’s best pitcher, Cleveland Indians ace Bob Feller. Many players followed suit, joining subsequent to Feller, but baseball was still largely unaffected by players departing for the service.
Sullivan, like all draft-aged men, registered for the peacetime Selective Service on October 16, 1940, with his local draft board in Sarasota, Florida. By early 1942, he had a sense that he would soon be called.
“I felt I was going to be drafted and I wanted to volunteer,” Sullivan told Eugene Murdock in his 1980 interview. “When I was with Brooklyn in ’42, we trained in Daytona Beach and we played an exhibition game in Jacksonville, and they had the big naval station up there. Gosh, you’re out there playing and you’d get these catcalls from the fellas that are in the service,” he recalled. “‘Hey, what’s the matter with you? You healthy? You got flat feet?’ And I thought, ‘Boy, I’ve got to get in this thing or do something better than I am doing.’”
As the Dodgers defended their 1941 pennant by leading the National League from the start of the 1942 season, Sullivan was used sparingly as Owen’s back-up and saw action in just 43 games. By September 13, the St. Louis Cardinals overtook the Dodgers and finished the season with a two-game lead. Brooklyn finished the year with a 104-50 record and dominated every other opponent in the league but had a 9-13 won-loss record against the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. Sullivan’s last game behind the plate was against the Phillies. Billy batted 1-4 and drove in the Dodgers’ final run of the 4-2 victory. His last appearance in a game for the Dodgers saw Sullivan pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot as he led off the bottom of the ninth inning with his team trailing the Giants, 8-7, on September 22. He reached base safely. Stan Rojek was sent in to pinch-run for him and scored the game-tying run. The Dodgers won the game in the bottom of the 12th inning on a lead-off Dolph Camilli home run. Sullivan made the decision to serve rather than continue waiting for the draft board’s call.
With 11 seasons in professional baseball, “I applied for voluntary retirement, which I did,” he told Murdock. Sullivan stepped away from the game in March of 1943 but he didn’t enter the service, spending the balance of the year working as a government building contractor in Florida. William Joseph Sullivan, Jr. was commissioned on April 5, 1944, and appointed to the rank of Lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy.
A large contingent of professional ballplayers were pulled onto service teams upon entry into the armed forces. All of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) fielded teams from coast to coast as well as in the combat theaters. Rather than to don Navy flannels or be sent to combat theaters, Sullivan remained stateside, perpetually training. “I did practically nothing for the Navy. I was a star student. They sent me to every school they had,” Sullivan said in 1980. “I even went to Harvard.” Perhaps in preparation for sea duty, Sullivan’s training included the Naval Armed Guard Service. “I went up there and trained my own gunnery crew for Armed Guard. You have your own Naval gun crew but on a merchant ship,” Sullivan recalled. “I trained my gun crew and everything.” Downplaying his Navy service, Sullivan commented, “I just got shipped around to Miami and to the sub-chaser school and one thing or another. But I never did anything notable, not at all.”
Researching veterans can be a challenging task in the absence of service records and seldom do baseball researchers get the opportunity to go through such vital history to tell a war veteran’s story. If a service record is available, it seldom includes the veteran’s medical record. For a combat veteran, especially one who received wounds during his service, medical documentation provides cross-reference points that underscore personal decorations that were awarded. With Sullivan’s domestic service, such a record would otherwise seem to be a nominal artifact.
The artifact that accompanied Sullivan’s portrait is his U.S. Navy Health Record. In addition to his basic intake physical and his physician’s observations, the record documents Sullivan’s inoculations and dental history, Billy Sullivan’s health record provides a timeline of service and duty assignments.
- Naval Training Station, Hollywood, Florida 6/28/1944 – 8/24/1944
- Naval Training Center, Gulfport, Mississippi 9/1/1944 – 11/16/1944
- Armed Guard Center, Brooklyn, New York 12/5/1944 – 12/13/1944
- NTS Disp. Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Massachusetts 3/1/1945 – 6/29/1945
- U.S. Naval Training Center, Miami, Florida 12/21/1944 – 2/25/1945
- Headquarters 7th Naval District, Miami, Florida 7/16/1945 – 1/15/1946
- U.S. Naval Air Station Banana River/Jacksonville, Florida 12/3/-1946 – 12/17/1946
- U.S. Naval Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida 12/21/1945 – 1/3/1946
On January 15, 1946, Lieutenant Sullivan was released from active duty but continued serving in the Navy as a reservist with medical evaluations through June 1949.
Though Sullivan never mentioned playing baseball while serving and few records document him taking the field while he served, he did make an appearance with the Commodores baseball team of the Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland in May, 1945 (1945 Brooklyn Dodgers vs Bainbridge Commodores scorecard). While he was attending training at Harvard University from March 1 through June 29, Sullivan was listed as a catcher for the Commodores during their games on Monday, May 7, when they hosted his former team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and again on Tuesday, May 8, when the Chicago Cubs were scheduled.
While details of the game are minimal and feature only a line score and a brief narrative, the pitching matchups were somewhat intriguing as the Dodgers sent Tom Seats to the mound. The newswires repeated the synopsis of the game and line score omitting Bainbridge’s pitcher while listing both Sullivan and former Philadelphia Phillies catcher Bennie Culp behind the dish.
The Dodgers opened the scoring, plating a run in the first inning off the Commodores pitching but were held scoreless through the next seven innings. The Commodores rallied behind former New Orleans Pelican Dick Sisler’s 3-4 offensive performance with a three-run output in the bottom of the sixth. Bainbridge scored again in the seventh, taking a 4-1 lead until Brooklyn scored their second run in the top of the eighth. Sullivan’s exhibition performance was at a level better than pitching batting practice as he held Dodger batters to six hits. It was enough to secure the win for the sailors in a tight contest.
Sullivan applied for and was granted reinstatement to the major leagues in April 4, 1947. Still under contract with Brooklyn, the Dodgers granted his unconditional release on April 19. Sullivan was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, making his postwar debut behind the plate on June 1 against the Braves. Sullivan appeared in just 12 games, starting in eight, and was limited to catching six complete games. Although he caught his last major league game on June 15, Sullivan saw action throughout the season as a pinch hitter, making 61 plate appearances and batting .255. Hanging up his chest protector, shin guards and mask for good after the 1947 season, Sullivan returned to his first post-major league career, working as a construction contractor building homes around Sarasota, Florida.
Despite the absence of direct provenance, it is a safe conclusion that both the photo and health record originated in Billy Sullivan, Jr.’s personal collection. When the opportunity arose to get an autograph from Sullivan, who passed away in 1994, we acquired a signed note card bearing his signature. Together, the three pieces make an aesthetically interesting collection.
Note: This is the conclusion of our three-part Pee Wee Reese series. See part one: Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy and part two: A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital
The winter months of 1944-45 provided some of the fiercest fighting of the war for American troops in both the European and Pacific combat theaters. The late October battle of Leyte Gulf paved the way for the coming invasion of the Philippines as General Douglas MacArthur was set to deliver on his promise to the Filipino people and to the Americans taken captive by the Japanese. Early January saw that promise fulfilled as the nearly eight-month campaign to wrest the Japanese occupiers from the islands commenced. As the 1944 calendar flipped to 1945, the Battle of the Bulge in Europe was into its third week, with heavy casualties from the enemy that were exacerbated by the harshest winter in decades.
On the home front, both the Army and Navy were dealing with a public relations mess following the Army’s early release of a prominent professional athlete. “The discharge of a well-known professional football player for physical disability,” Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, was quoted in Chattanooga Daily Times (February 28, 1945) sports columnist Wirt Gammon’s Just Between Us Fans column, “followed immediately by successful participation by that individual in professional games, is obviously subjected to widespread [public] disapproval.” Speculation among sportswriters was that the unnamed professional athlete who was released from service was the 1942 Heisman Trophy winner and former University of Georgia halfback Frank Sinkwich, who was medically discharged due to pes planus or “flat feet.”
Following the Army and Navy’s very public Service World Series baseball spectacle in Hawaii that was covered in every newspaper from coast to coast, public perspective may have become less than favorable as casualties continued to mount and citizens were growing fatigued from strict rationing. Athletes may have appeared to them to not be lacking in necessities.
The Hawaiian Islands were nearly overrun with professional ballplayers serving in uniform, with more players arriving throughout the fall and winter months. Talk of assembling teams and taking a multi-team contingent of all-star caliber players on tour to the Western Pacific to entertain troops started ramping up and rumors began to circulate among the athletes. It wasn’t long before the scuttlebutt, a Navy term for gossip, became reality. According to author Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. in his 1984 book Athletes Away, there was a (then) unverified rumor that he was made aware of years later. “The players heard a story to the effect that when former pro tennis player Bobby Riggs had gotten on the short wave radio one night in Pearl to announce the [baseball] tour to the servicemen in the area, “ Crissey wrote, “the broadcast happened to be picked up on Guam, where Admiral Nimitz, as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, had recently moved his headquarters.” According to the story, Nimitz was unaware of the planned tour and was less than thrilled with Riggs’ radio broadcast. “That’s O.K.,” he supposedly said. “Send those athletes out here, and when they get through with their tour, we’ll put them to work with picks and shovels.”
Multiple stories cycled among the players regarding the genesis of the Pacific tour. In an undated letter written by Pee Wee Reese many years later, he responded to a memorabilia collector’s inquiry surrounding a game-used bat that had been autographed and inscribed with details of the Pacific tour. The collector asked of Reese, “How did so many well-known players come together on a little island in the Pacific?” On Louisville Slugger letterhead, Reese responded, “They got too many in Honolulu and Admiral Nimitz decided to get rid of a few. They selected two teams (baseball) – two fighters – Georgie Abrams and Fred Apostoli – tennis player Bobby Riggs. We more or less just barnstormed all through the Pacific.”
|Mace Brown||P||Red Sox|
|Mike Budnick||LF||Seattle (PCL)|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||RF||Browns|
|Merrill “Pinky” May||3B||Phillies|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||SS||Dodgers|
|Johnny Rigney||P||White Sox|
|Cornelius “Connie” Ryan||3B||Braves|
|Jim Trexler||P||Indianapolis (AA)|
The 28 men chosen for the tour played a warm-up game in early February that saw the Navy face off against a roster of Army stars. The Navy rotated their players through the order, ensuring that each one saw action. Virgil Trucks started the game and Hal White finished it. Pee Wee played the entire game at short. Despite dropping the contest, the outcome was less of a concern as the Navy wanted to get the players tuned up. The Army fielded a squad that resembled the 1944 Service World Series team and they defeated the Navy, 4-2. Days later, with the 28 players divided into two rosters for a split squad contest, the Third Fleet faced the Fifth Fleet for one last tune-up before heading to the Western Pacific. Pee Wee’s Third Fleet nine blanked their opponents, 2-0.
|Albert (Al) Brancato||SS||Athletics|
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C||White Sox|
|Del Ennis||LF||Trenton (ISLG)|
|Benny Huffman||LF||San Antonio (TL)|
|Frank Marino||P||Tulsa (TL)|
|Glenn “Red” McQuillen||CF||Browns|
|Johnny Vander Meer||P||Reds|
From Hawaii, the two twin-engine U.S. Marine Corps C-46 Curtiss Commandos flew southwest to tiny Johnston Atoll, which served as a seaplane and patrol base during the war. The island was far too small to provide enough space for a baseball diamond amid the 6,000-foot runway, buildings and fuel and freshwater storage, which meant that the personnel stationed there were not able to witness a game. After refueling, the two aircraft departed for the Marshall Islands, where the Third and Fifth Fleet teams provided entertainment to the contingent of Seabees and other personnel stationed there who were suffering from boredom. “You get so you repeat conversations. Jokes get so old they creak,” Constructionman 3/c Joseph C. Ashlock wrote in a letter to his parents. With the arrival of the Navy ballplayers, there was excitement. “There were several major league baseball players, including Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer and Barney McCosky,” wrote the young CB in his letter, published in the March 15, 1945 edition of the Spokane Chronicle. “I might have lived a lifetime in the States and never seen half of these fellows,” Ashlock continued. “But here we were together on a backyard island in the Pacific,” he concluded.
In addition to three days of baseball, the men on the island with Ashlock were treated to a three-round exhibition bout between Fred Apostoli and Georgie Abrams as well as to “lightning-fast” table tennis matches featuring Bobby Riggs against former teen national ping pong champion Buddy Blattner.
From island to island, the teams followed similar entertainment agendas for troops on the tiny atolls of Majuro, Kwajalein and Roi in the Marshall Islands and to Anguar in the western Caroline Islands. Though it had only been a few months since the cessation of the 73-day battle at “Bloody” Peleliu, the tour made stops on that island along with Ulithi in the Carolines. Unlike games in the major league palaces, those played on the islands were intimate. The men of the Third and Fifth Fleet teams were sailors who happened to be ballplayers. Unlike the massive barrier that sets contemporary ballplayers in a protective bubble on a towering pedestal, the men on the tours were immersed in the crowds of servicemen, joining them in the chow halls and around the bases after the scheduled events. Signing autographs was normal and one can imagine that countless signatures were captured by sailors to be sent home to family and friends.
Petty Officer 1/c H. K. Emmons and his brother-in-law, William H. Bowes, sent home a game program that was autographed by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer, according to Walt Hanson’s Sportsfolio column in the March 15, 1945 edition of the Long Branch, New Jersey’s Daily Record.
The Third and Fifth Fleet teams entertained thousands of troops throughout the Mariana islands including Tinian, Saipan and Guam, from which the B-29 Superfortresses conducted raids on the Japanese homeland. Seabees stationed on each location carved out ballfields in the coral for the teams to play on. With the majority of the athletes being graduates of the athletic Instructor schools that were the brainchild of the “fighting Marine,” Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight champion boxer-turned Navy Commander joined the men on a few of the tour stops, raving about his players. “About the hottest player right now is Johnny Mize, the old Giant,” the boxer stated. “I dare say he would lift any second division big league team at least two notches in the standings. He is hitting home runs which travel about a mile and never get much higher off the ground than a trolley wire,” Tunney professed. Without fail, Tunney shined a spotlight on the former Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, “I hasten to add, too, that Pee Wee Reese is at the very top of his form,” said the still very fit 47-year-old pugilist. “He scampers like a rabbit, has lost none of his bounce and still covers a world of ground.” Dan Parker relayed this quote in his March 29, 1945 column in the Camden, New Jersey Courier Post, from a report submitted by Bob Sylvester, who was embedded with the players on the tour.
The ballplayers were loose and playing well together despite the demanding schedule. As is normal for most GIs stationed in far-off locations, spontaneity combined with a lack of foresight of consequences can lead to rather humorous if not dangerous situations. While riding between Saipan and Tinian in a landing craft, returning from a ballgame, “Elbie Fletcher, smoking a cigar, offered to jump overboard for $25,” reported Bob Sylvester. “It was quickly raised. In he (Fletcher) went, after first giving the coxswain $5 to come back and pick him up. As the coxswain came alongside,” Sylvester continued, “Pee Wee Reese, who had contributed some of the $25, leaned over the side and tried to keep Elbie’s head under water by poking at him with an old mop.” Sylvester concluded the tale, “Fletcher was immediately hauled aboard with the (soggy) cigar butt still in his kisser.”
Though the Americans held control over the islands and hostilities had effectively ended, not all of the Japanese soldiers were neutralized when the ballplayers were present. Sylvester reported that some of the enemy combatants, themselves baseball fans and keen on American major leaguers, were keeping a watchful eye on the American activities and would sneak up close enough to watch the ball games.
“After a few more exhibitions as a group, the troupe will be broken up and its members assigned to various Mariana Islands for athletic drills and to supervise rehabilitation training in the hospitals,” reported the Kenosha News on March 27, 1945 in Sports Stars Go Overseas to Play for Service Men.
Nearly two dozen games were played on the tour and true to Nimitz’ word, rather than being sent back to the U.S. or Hawaii, the men were put to work. In the aforementioned Reese letter, Pee Wee said, “When we finished, they broke us up (and) sent us everywhere. I ended up on Guam. I guess you could say we were suppose (sic) to entertain the troops. They seemed to enjoy it.”
With as many as 10,000 troops surrounding makeshift ballfields, the stars not only put on highly competitive exhibitions but also took the time to interact with sailors, marines and soldiers before and after the games. “I saw Pee Wee Reese, Vander Meer and others on an island out here recently,” OAM 1/c David P. Charles wrote in his letter to the Greenville (South Carolina) News, published on May 15, 1945. “The ballpark is a little rough but it serves the purpose.” GIs wrote letters to many hometown newspapers, relaying details about the tours or encounters with players as thousands of them were positively impacted by the players’ presence.
At the end of the tour, Chief Athletic Specialist Reese was sent to Guam, where he was quickly put to work by former Notre Dame tailback and 1943 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lt. Angelo Bertelli as a physical fitness instructor and a coach of the Third Marine Division’s All-Star baseball team. The Paducah (Kentucky) Sun-Democrat reported on May 16, 1945 that Pee was ineligible to play on the Marine All-Star team.
In early May, the Third Marine All-Stars held a “spring” training of sorts in 100-degree temperatures on the island, with Bertelli having been assigned there following fierce fighting on Iwo Jima. Down more than 20 pounds from his playing weight at Notre Dame, Bertelli was not only leading the team with Pee Wee as an assistant but he was also playing in the field. Ineligible to play alongside Lt. Bertelli, who was playing third base, Pee Wee was itching for some game action. “I had hoped I’d be able to get into a lineup now and then,” the Dodgers infielder lamented to Marine combat correspondent Sgt. Bill Ross (published in the May 24 edition of the New York Daily News). “I’ve played just occasionally in the past year and I’d like to get into the game with a fast bunch of boys like this Third Division outfit,” Reese remarked.
Though he relayed no details of the game, Marine 1st Lt. C. E. Williamson sent a note that was published in the May 24, 1945 Nevada State Journal regarding the somewhat incomplete line-ups for a game between the Third Marine Division All-Star team and a Navy All-Star team. In this game, rather than being posted at his normal third base coaching position, Chief Petty Officer Pee Wee Reese opposed the Third Marine team from the shortstop spot in a line-up that included Connie Ryan, RF; Red McQuillen, CF; Del Ennis, 3B; Johnny Vander Meer, 1B-P; Virgil Trucks, LF-P; George Dickey, C; Tom Ferrick, P; and Hal White, UT.
One of Reese and Bertelli’s Third Marine team members, Pfc. Stanley Bazan, a former catcher in the St. Louis Browns organization, was wounded in combat on Iwo Jima while serving as a machine gunner in the 21st Marine Regiment. An enemy round penetrated his right shoulder and after two months of healing, his coaches were skeptical of his ability to play behind the plate. The East Chicago native found approval from Reese after demonstrating his prowess both behind and at the plate. “The Browns have a good prospect in Bazan,” Reese was quoted in The Times of Munster, Indiana. “He handles a pitcher well, has a strong, accurate arm and hits all sorts of pitching.” Bazan was under contract with the Toledo Mud Hens in 1943 when he enlisted into the Marines. Rather than returning to professional baseball and despite Reese’s assessment, Bazan signed with the semi-pro “Autos” of the Michigan State League in 1946.
|Stanley Bazan||C||Pensacola (SEAL)|
|Edmond J. “Ed” Beaumier||P||Trois-Rivieres (CAML)|
|Angelo Bertelli||MGR||Notre Dame University|
|Gene Bledsoe||1B||Mississipi State U.|
|Ray Congdon||OF||Sudbury (ISLG)|
|Harold “Hal” Connors||SS||Roanoke (PIED)|
|Andy Gibson||3B||Allentown (ISLG)|
|Ted Patterson||SS||Southern Association|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||MGR||Dodgers|
|Robert J. Schang||CF||Monroe (CSTL)|
Bazan’s teammate, Corporal Edmund J. Beaumier of Maine, a veteran of campaigns at both Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and a former left-handed pitcher in the Indians organization, was wounded in action on Guadalcanal, taking a hit to his pitching arm. Fully recovered from his wound, the 23-year-old Beaumier was striking out the competition with relative ease. Beaumier returned to his professional career after the war, making it as high as class “A” in the minor leagues in 1949, when he stepped away from the game.
The ballfields on Guam were rudimentary, with simplistic features such as backstops and dirt or coral playing surfaces. Venues such as Gab Gab and Geiger Fields were quite literally carved into the landscape by Seabees using heavy equipment. In the high temperatures and humidity, the sunlight would heat the ground which, in turn, reflected the heat upwards to make play fairly miserable. When Pee Wee Reese wrote home about the conditions, his wife, Dorothy, dispatched a rather heavy care package that took a mere three months to reach her sailor husband on Guam. Inside the box, Pee Wee found 20 pounds of Kentucky blue grass seed. “Pee Wee planted it immediately,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported on July 25, 1945. “He waters it daily and has it protected with several ‘Keep off the grass’ signs.”
While baseball was being played on the island, the 20th Air Force was pressing the fight on the Japanese home islands with incessant daytime bombing missions originating from Guam, Saipan and Tinian. For several months, the 20th also dropped more than 63 million leaflets warning the citizens of Japan of the continued raids. With many of the population pouring out of the cities that were potential targets, one of the objectives of the leaflet campaign, Japanese officials ordered the arrest of citizens in possession of the documents. On the morning of August 6, Colonel Paul Tibbetts guided his B-29, Enola Gay, airborne from Tinian. A few hours later, the first bomb, “Little Boy,” was released over Hiroshima. Three days later, the second bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped over Nagasaki from the bomb bay of Bock’s Car, another 20th Air Force B-29, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney. Following the second bombing, the Emperor announced the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 15 and eighteen days later the formal instrument was signed aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
With the end of hostilities, the operations on Guam changed from supporting bombing missions to dropping supplies to the POW camps spread throughout Japan and Japanese-held territories. With the continued operations and with players yet to begin rotating home, baseball continued in the Pacific. Back in Brooklyn, there was already talk of Reese’s job being up for grabs in ‘46 as the Dodgers had players such as Stan Rojek, Bob Ramazzotti, Tommy Brown and Eddie Basinski, whom some speculated could contend for his position. In addition to the prospects in the pipeline, Brooklyn had infielders including young Alex Campanis, Gene Mauch and Boyd Bartley in the service besides Reese. Still serving and coaching the Third Marines on Guam, Pee Wee was far removed from the personnel happenings and rumors in Brooklyn.
Having previously been declared ineligible to play for the Third Marine Division All-Stars, Pee Wee Reese was turned loose to suit up for the team that he had been coaching since the end of the Third and Fifth Fleet Pacific Tour. In his September 27, 1945 Globe-Gazette (Mason City, Iowa) Spotlight Sports column, Roger Rosenblum reported that Reese’s impact on the team was immediate. Not only was Reese the team’s leading hitter, he was “chiefly responsible for the 26 triumphs in 30 games the Stars have registered,” wrote Rosenblum. “Pee Wee is hitting above the .400 mark.”
In the office of the Brooklyn Dodgers, club President Branch Rickey hosted a WWII veteran and former Army officer, Jack Roosevelt Robinson. A 26-year-old infielder who played the 1945 season with the Kansas City Monarchs, Robinson publicly signed a minor league contract that was previously negotiated in August. With the Monarchs, Robinson had appeared in 33 games at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese’s natural position, and one at first base. The Dodgers were taking a significant step forward that was about to change the face of minor and major league baseball as well as the Dodgers’ future roster and Reese had yet to learn of what awaited him.
With his duties on Guam completed, Reese, along with Tom Ferrick and other service members, boarded the Bayfield Class attack transport ship, USS Cecil (APA-96), bound for the U.S. mainland. With more than 1200 sailors, Seabees and Marines aboard, there were many idle-handed passengers and one of the ship’s officers took notice. As was customary at the time, finding busy work for the passengers was put upon the two athletic specialist chief petty officers, Ferrick and Reese. They were told to round up men for a working party, which neither of them desired to do. Reese, instructed to round up men as Ferrick was told to wait by a hatch, ditched and hid from the officer. Ferrick soon followed, later explaining to the officer (who discovered him missing) that he had gone to investigate what became of Reese. The two ballplayers had no desire to make enemies among the men, who simply wanted to return home and put the war behind them.
In Roger Kahn’s August 19, 1992 Los Angeles Times article (He Didn’t Speculate in Color), the author detailed a conversation during the homeward bound transit that Reese had with a petty officer. Reese was informed of what was happening in Brooklyn and came to terms quickly with the notion that Branch Rickey was building a team to emerge from a survival-mode operation and truly contend as the club did in 1941 and ’42. He accepted the situation for what it was and attempted to step into Robinson’s shoes in order to see the situation from the newcomer’s perspective. “I don’t know this Robinson,” Reese told himself, “but I can imagine how he feels. I mean if they said to me, ‘Reese, you have to go over and play in the colored guys’ league,’ how would I feel? Scared. The only white. But I’m a good shortstop and that’s what I’d want ‘em to see. Not my color. Just that I can play the game.”
After the Cecil docked in a California port in early November, Reese disembarked and was back on U.S. soil for the first time in nearly two years. By November 13, Pee Wee was discharged and home with his wife and daughter. In a widely circulated newspaper photo, Reese is seen sitting at his wife’s bureau, still wearing his dress blue uniform and exchanging his chief petty officer’s cap for a familiar royal blue ball cap as his wife Dorothy can’t contain her joyful approval.
Reese returned to the Dodgers’ camp for the first time in three years while not too far away, Jackie Robinson was drawing the attention of the press as he arrived at spring training for the Dodgers’ class “AA” club, the Montreal Royals. Following a championship season in Montreal, Robinson was promoted to Brooklyn and would make his debut at first base with Pee Wee playing nearby at shortstop. In a season that culminated with the Dodgers returning to the World Series for the first time since 1941, Pee Wee Reese’s naval service during World War II was behind him as he built upon his Hall of Fame career. It would take winning four more National League pennants before he and the Dodgers captured the franchise’s first world championship in 1955. Reese would make one last trip to the World Series the following season and then make the move with the team to Los Angeles and play in just 59 games in his final season in 1958.
After 16 major league seasons and three years spent in the Navy, the majority of voting sportswriters did not consider Reese as a lock for the Hall of Fame and the election results during Pee Wee’s eligibility run demonstrated that. Needing to be named on 75-percent or more ballots, Pee Wee Reese’s best showing was in 1976, his second to last year on the ballot, when he received 47.9 percent.
Pee Wee Reese was elected to the Hall of Fame by his peers in the Veterans Committee and inducted in 1984.
Author’s Note: We wish to extend our gratitude to Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. who, in addition to providing several photographs from his personal collection has been invaluable for his friendship and many conversations and the mountains of research he provided for this series and many others.