Category Archives: Scorecards
Note: This is second of a multi-part story. See Part 1: Al Brancato: A Homegrown Athletic Infielder
As Brancato settled into his Boston surroundings, the Philadelphia Athletics were firmly settled into the American League cellar, dropping nearly 100 games as they finished with a 55-99 won-lost record. Continued labor woes befell the Athletics with a considerable number of their players serving in the armed forces and with the war progressing slowly on all fronts, it was clear that all clubs would be losing still more players in the coming months.
As the oft-borrowed line from Alexander Pope states, “Hope springs eternal” for the coming baseball season once Valentine’s Day arrives and players report to their respective training camps. With travel restrictions in place, the A’s, like all the northern major league clubs, were forced to train in their local region in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. On March 28, two weeks before opening day of the 1943 season, SK2/c Brancato paid a visit to the A’s spring camp. “Brancato, on leave for only a few hours from his duties as a second class storekeeper on a cruiser, rushed to Wilmington to see his old mates,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stan Baumgartner wrote of the former A’s shortstop’s visit, “and Connie Mack immediately put him in the game.” Brancato was inserted into an intra-squad game pitting the Athletics starters against the “Yannigans,” a squad of the club’s backup players.
The rusty shortstop was added to the Yannigans roster and his impact was immediate, despite an 18-month hiatus from the game. From his familiar shortstop position, Brancato was back in the saddle turning a double-play. “Gosh, it felt great to get out, feel a bat between my hands and stop a few hot ones” Brancato told Baumgartner after the game. In his two at bats, Brancato rolled out to second base and hit into a double play. “I hope they never stop baseball,” Brancato said, commenting on the potential cessation of the game during the war, “We all want it. We want to read about it.” With three months before his ship was set to enter active fleet service, Brancato reflected upon the unknown future, “As soon as we can finish up this little business, which I guess I will be in up to my ears in a few months, I want to come back and pick up where I left off.” Understanding the considerable boost to troop morale the game provided troops, Brancato concluded, “I hope the men at home keep the ball flying.”
With the June 30, 1943 commissioning of the USS Boston, Brancato was officially transferred from the Receiving Station, Boston to the ship. The Boston crew took notice of their ex-ballplayer-turned-storekeeper, “The sporting world has given to the USS Boston a real big leaguer in the person of Al Brancato, SK,” the ship’s newspaper, The Bean Pot, reported with considerable optimism. “Playing 3rd and SS with the As (sic) for three seasons, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame when he enlisted in the Navy, 1942.” Noting Al’s vice-free living, the July 17, 1943 Bull Pen article stated, “Al’s total abstinence knocks for a loop the crack-pot notion of some people that all the sailors ‘rush in where angels fear to tread,’” while emphasizing Brancato’s avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.
For the next several months, the new cruiser and her crew were put through numerous exercises and evaluations during sea trials in preparation for wartime fleet duties. Every system and component from the propulsion plant, maneuvering equipment, guns, and detection systems along with her crew’s proficiency in operations were evaluated to determine corrective actions that were needed. Once the ship’s sea trials and post-shakedown maintenance were completed, USS Boston set out for the Pacific by way of the Panama Canal. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1943, the ship reported for duty.
Honolulu, a hotbed of both military and civilian baseball for decades, saw an influx of former major and minor leaguers serving in the armed forces. They were assigned to area military installations and added to their respective baseball teams. The 1943 champions of the Hawaii League, the Hawaiian Defense League and the Army-Navy Series, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins consisted largely of former professionals, featuring former major leaguers Jimmy Gleeson, outfielder, Cincinnati Reds; Rankin Johnson, pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics; and Walt Masterson, pitcher, Washington Senators. Al Brancato was ashore at Waikiki Beach on liberty soon after his ship docked at Pearl Harbor. “I ran into Walt Masterson and Jimmy Gleeson at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. They were attached to the submarine base. It was they who told me about the Navy baseball setup on the island.” No doubt with some assistance from Masterson and the local Navy brass, Brancato’s days aboard the Boston were numbered. “I was able to get transferred from the Boston to the sub base where I worked in the spare parts department of the ship’s store.” On January 14, 1944, SK2/c Brancato was transferred from the USS Boston to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base (Base 128).
As the Honolulu League’s playoffs, the Cronin Championship Series (named to honor Red Sox manager, Joe Cronin who was the opening day featured guest), were winding down by early April, 1944, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were preparing for their upcoming Central Pacific Area Service League (CPASL) season, holding practices as the roster was assembled under Masterson, who had taken over the reins as manager. With many returning veterans, the former Senators pitcher added former Yankee Ken “Ziggy” Sears and Joe Grace from the Browns. Masterson also added three Philadelphia Athletics: pitcher Bob Harris, Al Brancato, and Bruce Konopka, who had played with Al on the Yannigans team in March, 1943.
1944 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” Roster
|Arnie “Red” Anderson||P||Chattanooga (SOUA)|
|Norman Gene “Pee Wee” Atkinson||C||Semi-Pro|
|Howard Bass||P||Riverside (CALL)|
|Earl J. Brady||2B/3B|
|Neil Clifford||C||St. Paul (AA)|
|Gordon Evans||2B/LF||Charleston (MATL)|
|Andy F. Felonk||OF|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||OF/1B||Browns|
|Robert A. “Bob” Harris||P||Athletics|
|Frank Hecklinger||1B||New Bern (COPL)|
|George (Nig) Henry||P|
|John “Hubie” Jeandron||2B/3B||Port Arthur (EVAN)|
|A. Rankin Johnson||P||Athletics|
|N. J. “Herb” Madigan||P||Amateur|
|Bob “Lee” McCorkle||C||Valdosta (GAFL)|
|Fred Merhoff||OF||Springfield College (MA)|
|Andy J. Meyers||Amateur|
|Maurice “Mo” Mozzali||LF/1B/CF||Semi-Pro|
|Romie (“Roman”?) Okarski||3B||Appleton (WISL)|
|Norm S. Roose||P||Amateur|
|Ken “Ziggy” Sears||C/1B||Yankees|
|Oscar Sessions||P||U.S. Navy|
|Phil S. Simione||SS/OF||U.S. Navy|
|Frank T. (“Floyd”?) Snider||RF||Dothan (GAFL)|
|Eddie Stutz||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Clovis “Bob” White||2B||Elizabethton (APPY)|
Oahu continued to see an influx of Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel who possessed resumes with professional, semipro and collegiate experience. The Navy disseminated their talent among the many installations on the island as well as to other island bases. Army leadership, eager to turn the tables on the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s 1943 championship, began to amass their incoming talent predominantly on the Hickam Field-based Seventh Army Air Force team and would continue to stack their roster throughout the early weeks of the season.
Anticipating the 1944 CPA Service and Hawaii League seasons, the two Oahu papers carried details of the noteworthy baseball talent Future Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Mize headlined a group of major leaguers who had arrived since the end of the 1943 baseball season. Eager to showcase the baseball players and to capitalize on their talent for the war effort, administrators planned an exhibition tilt pitting the Major League All-Stars against the local stars for the end of April. In order to prepare the All-Stars for the event, the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Dolphins hosted the big leaguers for an April 19 contest on their home diamond, Weaver Field.
April 19, 1944 Major League All-Stars Line-up:
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C||White Sox|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||CF||Browns|
|Bill “Dutch” Holland||P||Pittsfield (CAML)|
Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins April 19, 1944 Lineup:
|Neil Clifford||C||St. Paul (AA)|
|Frank Hecklinger||1B||New Bern (COPL)|
|Clovis “Bob” White||2B||Elizabethton (APPY)|
|John “Hubie” Jeandron||3B||Port Arthur (EVAN)|
|Frank T. (“Floyd”?) Snider||RF||Dothan (GAFL)|
|Maurice “Mo” Mozzali||LF||Semi-Pro|
|Oscar Sessions||P||U.S. Navy|
|N. J. “Herb” Madigan||P||Amateur|
The big leaguers got the best of the Dolphins behind the bat of Johnny Mize, who led with a home run, double, and two singles in the 9-3 victory. The Navy managed three hits with Al Brancato accounting for an eighth inning round-tripper.
Chickamauga Park at the Schofield Barracks played host to another all-star competition that saw the Navy face off against the Army before 18,000 GIs. The Navy hit parade was led by second baseman Johnny Lucadello and former Indians pitcher Tom Ferrick, playing in right field, as both went three-for-five at the plate. In the top of the first with Navy runners at every station, third baseman Al Brancato wiped the bases clean as he drove in three runs with a timely base hit, putting the Navy on top. The former Athletics shortstop was two-for-three on offense. Ahead of the May 7 regular season start of the Hawaii Baseball League and May 17 commencement of the CPA Service League and with just three April 1944 exhibition games under his belt, it appeared that Brancato was beginning to establish himself as a formidable offensive force in the Hawaiian tropics.
Ten days after the game at Weaver Field, the Major League All-Star squad, which this time included Pee Wee Reese, Al Brancato and Eddie Pellagrini as starting position players, faced the Honolulu League All-Stars for a game that benefited War Bond sales. The April 29 War Bond Game was played at Honolulu Stadium.
CPA Service League
- Aiea Naval Hospital “Hilltoppers”
- Aiea Naval Receiving Station/Barracks “Maroons”
- Kaneohe Naval Air Station “Klippers”
- Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
- Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
- Wheeler Army Air Field “Wingmen”
- *Schofield Barracks “Redlanders”
- *South Sector “Commandos”
*Played only in the second half of the season.
- Navy/ Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
- Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
Based upon their 1943 success and a bolstered 1944 roster, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were the early-season favorites to repeat as champions in their respective leagues. However, out of the gate, the Sub Base opened with a loss in the CPASL but claimed a 3-0 victory over the Braves in the Hawaii League. On May 25, the Dolphins’ Bob Harris pitched a two-hit, 4-0 shutout over Wheeler Field as Brancato went two-for three with an RBI and a run-scored. By the end of May, the Dolphins were in third place behind Kaneohe (4-0) and Aiea Hospital (3-1) in the CPASL with one win and two losses.
To start June, the Dolphins were 1-3 in the CPA Service League but were out in front in the Hawaii League’s standings at 6-1. Al Brancato was hitting for power and leading the Hawaii League with a .400 slugging percentage as his team was likewise leading in team batting with a .267 average. Brancato’s .400 batting average had him second in the Hawaii League’s standings behind the Braves shortstop Ernest “Sparky” Neves.
As the Dolphins’ CPA woes continued with mounting losses parking the Subs firmly at the bottom of the standings, the situation was made bleaker as Joe DiMaggio, Ferris Fain, Dario Lodigiani, and a host of other former major leaguers arrived on the island on June 3 and were promptly assigned to the 7th AAF squad. However, on June 5 as DiMaggio and company made their debut at Honolulu Stadium in front of 21,000 attendees against the seemingly hapless Dolphins in a Hawaii League matchup, the Sub Base prevailed 6-2, despite the “Yankee Clipper’s” ninth-inning, 435-foot bomb over the venue’s left field wall. Navy bats accounted for 8-hits with Mozzali, Snider and Brancato each garnering two. Brancato, playing at short, recorded two putouts and four assists in support of Bob Harris’ mound duties. Stroking a single and a double, Brancato also accounted for the game’s only stolen base and tallied a run.
7th Army Air Force Fliers:
|John Andre||P||Honolulu League|
|Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P||Kansas City (AA)|
|James Ashworth||C||Helena (CSTL)|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||3B||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Alfonso “Al” Ceriello||IF||Semi-Pro|
|Carl DeRose||P||Amsterdam (CAML)|
|Bob Dillinger||3B||Toledo (AA)|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Edward Funk||P||Federalsburg (ESHL)|
|Joseph “Joe” Gedzius||SS||Spokane (WINT)|
|Hal Hairston||P||Homestead Grays|
|James Hill||C||Pensacola, FL|
|Walter “Wally” Judnich||CF/1B||Browns|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS/1B||Tyler (ETXL)|
|Don Lang||1B||Kansas City (AA)|
|Will Leonard||C||Oakland (PCL)|
|Al Lien||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Dario Lodigiani||2B/3B||White Sox|
|Myron “Mike” McCormick||OF/3B||Reds|
|Gerald “Jerry” Priddy||2B||Senators|
|Charles “Red” Ruffing||P||Yankees|
|Frank “Pep” Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Bill Schmidt||P||Sacramento Solons (PCL)|
|Don Schmidt||Seton Hall College|
|Charlie Silvera||C||Wellsville (PONY)|
By the middle of June, it was apparent that the Sub Base was deeply submerged beneath an insurmountable deficit in the CPA Service League with Pee Wee Reese’s Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers seated at the top with the 7th AAF a game behind. Meanwhile, the Dolphins held a 2.5 game advantage over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League with an 11-2 record.
The Hawaiian sun and beaches had an incredibly positive effect on Al Brancato’s bat. By June 20, the Philadelphian’s batting average not only climbed to the top of Hawaii League standings but also was nearly 10 points over .400 as he helped to push his league-leading team’s .271 average higher. With 44 at-bats, Brancato was leading the league in hits and runs scored. Brancato’s 23 total bases were also second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 24.
The CPA League wound down the first half of the season with the Aiea Naval Hospital and the 7th AAF tied for first. Aiea defeated the 7th to claim the first-half crown, which guaranteed the squad a berth in the late summer championships. While the CPA League enjoyed a break, the Hawaii League continued play, heading into the Independence Day holiday. On July 2, a rematch between the Sub Base and 7th AAF took place at Honolulu Stadium in front of the venue’s largest crowd on record. The fans were treated to a pitching duel that saw the Army’s Eddie Funk match Eddie Stutz inning-for-inning through 11 scoreless innings. The Navy’s Stutz allowed a single to Jerry Priddy of the 7th AAF in the top of the first. Stutz allowed one additional baserunner via a walk through eleven innings. The Seventh’s Funk surrendered safeties in the bottom half of the first (2), second (1), eighth (1), and tenth (1) innings. Stutz’s tank running on empty in the bottom of the 12th led to the 7thAAF bats to capitalize, touching him for a walk and four hits to break the scoreless tie and take a 4-0 lead. The Navy bats were shut down by Funk in the bottom of the 12th to ice the 4-0 victory, shaving the Dolphins’ Hawaii League lead to 1.5 games. Brancato was 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base in the loss.
Mid-July saw the 3-3 Dolphins sitting in the middle of the pack in the CPA Service League but they were maintaining their 1-1/2 game lead over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League standings with a record of 15-4. Two weeks after falling to the 7th AAF, the Navy looked to avenge their 4-0 loss but faced an uphill battle. As if seeing a refreshed Joe DiMaggio was not enough of a challenge, the 7th was further bolstered with the arrival of the Yankee Clipper’s former teammate, Joe Gordon. Twenty-six thousand spectators witnessed the Navy’s shellacking at the hand of the Fliers. While Gordon and DiMaggio batted a combined 2-for-8 from the middle of the order, it was the bottom of the Seventh’s lineup that raked Navy pitching for the lion’s share of offense. First baseman Ferris Fain was 2-3 with two runs scored, a double and a home run. Will Leonard and pitcher Al Lien were both 2-4. Of the 8 runs scored, Dario Lodigiani matched Fain’s tallies while Mike McCormick, DiMaggio, Priddy and Leonard accounted for the balance with one run each. For the Navy, Brancato was 1-3 with a walk, accounting for a fourth of the Sub Base’s hit total in the 8-1 loss.
In a July 23 Hawaii circuit matchup against the Tigers, Brancato set the league mark with 11 assists in a nine-inning game. Brancato also had one putout and committed one error.
Trailing the 7th AAF by one game in the Hawaii League, the Sub Base nine was still very much in the race as July came to a close. In the CPA league standings, it was a three-way race between the Aiea Hilltoppers, the 7th AAF and the Kaneohe Klippers, with the Dolphins trailing the lead pack by three games. Following an offensive slump with a zero-for-15 hitless streak, Brancato slipped to second in the Hawaii League’s batting race with a .366 average behind Jerry Priddy’s .390. Brancato still held on to the top spots in hits (30), runs scored (21), total bases (37), and walks (22) and was fourth in RBI.
With the three-way race atop the CPA Service League standings between Aiea Naval Hospital (10-4), 7th AAF (10-4) and NAS Kaneohe (10-5), the Pearl Harbor Sub Base was jockeying for position behind the leaders as they defeated the Aiea Navy Barracks on August 4. Brancato, Joe Grace and Mo Mozzali led the Dolphins’ offensive output. Brancato opened the Sub Base’s scoring with a solo home run in the fourth inning. In the eighth, with Mozzali on base, Neil Clifford singled Mo home for the second tally. Trailing 5-2 in the ninth, Mozzali stroked a four-bagger with Merhoff on base to pull the Dolphins within a run. Joe Grace followed with a solo shot to tie the game. Gordon Evans singled and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Neil Clifford singled and plated Evans for the go-ahead score. The Sub Base victory closed their gap in the standings to 2.5 games.
Over in the Hawaii League, the 7th AAF extended their 17-game win streak after defeating the Braves, 5-2 on August 4. The Sub Base squad kept pace but were 2.5 games off the lead.
Halfway through August as the seasons were inching towards the close, the Dolphins were chipping away at their deficits in both leagues’ standings. In the CPA, they were two games out of second place while in the Hawaii loop, they trailed the 7th by one in the win column. As of August 18, in the CPA league, Brancato’s offensive production had him situated in the ninth position with an average of .268 while his Hawaii League numbers kept him atop the heap at .373, with 33 hits in 98 at-bats. While Joe DiMaggio (16-for-38, .421) and Bob Dillinger (16-for-65, .382) carried better averages, they had significantly fewer appearances at the plate.
With 110 or more at-bats, Brancato’s .295 average placed him 6th in the CPA batting title race with five days remaining in August. In 34 CPA service league games, he had 36 hits in 132 at bats and 50 total bases. With Pee Wee Reese voted in at shortstop, Brancato’s fantastic glove and bat work made him fan-favorite selection at third base on the Navy All-Star team. The Pearl Harbor nine continued to win in the CPA circuit but as powerful as the Dolphins were down the stretch, it was a two-horse race between the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the 7th AAF. The Subs trailed the 7th by 4.5 games and were 1.5 games behind the Aiea Hospital nine by August 27.
The 7th AAF secured the second-half CPA Service League crown by defeating the Aiea Hilltoppers, 3-2, on August 30. With a record of 21 wins and five losses and two remaining games to be played in the league’s season, the Fliers secured the opportunity to face the Hilltoppers in the three-game CPA Service League championship series.
In a meaningless CPA league game, the Sub Base Dolphins hosted the 7th AAF at Weaver Field and were blanked on the pitching of Don Schmidt. Flier bats accounted for all the offense as the Subs dropped their final game in the loop, 7-0. Finishing in third place behind the 22-5 first-place Seventh Army Air Force (22-5) and Aiea Naval Hospital (19-8), the Sub Base nine concluded the season with a respectable 16-11 record. Brancato’s batting production tailed off in the final week of the season as he finished out of the top ten at .274.
The Sub Base club closed out the Hawaii League regular season with a 9-5 loss at the hands of the 7th Army Air Force. The Fliers claimed their 28th consecutive circuit win while clinching the championship. The Dolphins fell victim to four Flier home runs at the hands of Ferris Fain, Walt Judnich, Joe Gordon and Don Lang, Brancato and Grace were each one-for-three and accounted for two runs apiece. The Navy finished the season in second place with a 27-9 record behind the Seventh’s won-loss record of 31-4. Both teams qualified for the League’s championship playoffs known as the Cartwright Series (named to recognize longtime Hawaii resident and baseball pioneer, Alexander Cartwright), along with the Braves and Hawaiis, respectively the number three and four Hawaii League finishers.
After leading all Hawaii League batters throughout the season, Al Brancato’s reduced offensive production opened the door for others to surpass him in the batting average rankings in the first week of September. At the season’s end, Brancato (.339) was firmly in third place behind the 7th’s Bob Dillinger (.400) and Joe Grace (.372) while topping the league in hits (43), runs (32), and walks (35). He finished tied with Joe Gordon and John Jeandron for the lead in doubles (11). Al Brancato was an easy pick at shortstop for the Hawaii League season-end All-Star honors.
After winning their first game in the Cartwright Series, defeating the Braves 5-4, the Navy nine dropped their next game to the Hawaiis, 4-1.  The Series finale fittingly pitted two top teams, the Fliers and Dolphins, against each other. However the Navy looked to gain an advantage by adding the newly arrived Phil Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio to the lineup. The 7th AAF jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the third before the Navy began to claw their way back into the game. Scoring a run in the fourth and fifth innings, the Navy trailed 6-4 after seven innings. The Fliers went up by three, tallying another run in the top of the eighth which the Navy matched in the bottom half of the frame. Pitching a complete game, the Navy’s Walt Masterson held the Fliers scoreless in the top of the ninth. However, the opposing pitcher, Al Lien, did the same to close out the 7-5 victory and secure the Cartwright flag. Of the 11 Navy hits and five runs, Phil Rizzuto’s four-for-five at the plate and two runs scored added considerable pop to the offense. Ken “Ziggy” Sears accounted for two of the Navy’s tallies with a pair of solo home runs. In the three games, Brancato was two-for-fourteen combined.
Despite Al Brancato’s end of season slump, he feasted on outstanding pitching from a mix of major, minor, and semi-professional-experienced hurlers. He continued to refine his defensive skills and to live up to Connie Mack’s (then recent) claim, stating that Brancato had one of the greatest throwing arms in baseball. In a July Hawaii League tilt against the Wanderers, Brancato’s strength caught sportswriter Carl Machado’s attention. “Al Brancato showed his shotgun arm after muffing Iwa Mamiya’s grounder, retrieving the ball to make the play at first in time.”
The stacked 7th Army Air Force squad dominated in both the CPA Service and Hawaii Leagues with three future Hall of Fame players anchoring the offensive juggernaut. While the faces of the Army’s senior leaders were alight with smiles, the Navy had plans of their own for the next few weeks. Though the monsoon season would arrive in November, the Navy was planning to “reign” on the Army’s parade.
Stay tuned for part 3.
 Pope, Alexander, “An Essay on Man,” 1734.
 Baumgartner, Stan, “A’s Regulars Trounce Yannigans, 4-2,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 1943: p22.
 “Sportlight,” The Bean Pot/USS Boston shipboard newspaper, July 17, 1943: p2.
 “Boston VI (CA-69),” Naval History and Heritage Command – https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/boston-vi.html, Accessed July 22, 2022.
 Crissey, Harrington E., Jr., Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-Fs – Vol. 2: The American League, 1982: p100.
 U.S. Navy Muster Sheet, USS Boston, January 19, 1944, Ancestry.com.
 Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p60.
 “Big League Stars Defeat Navy, 9 To 3,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 20, 1944: p8.
 Vandergrift, K.S. Capt., “Major League Stars Blank Army Team 9-0,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 1 1944: p8.
 Fowler (“Chief”), “Sub Base Wins on Harris 2-hitter,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 26, 1944: p12.
 Fowler (“Chief”), “Aiea Hospital Plays Wheeler,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 30, 1944: p11.
 “Hawaii League Notes,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, June 4, 1944; p14.
 Kim, Bill, “Joe DiMaggio Thrills Record Baseball Mob,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 5, 1944: p8-9.
 Fowler, Chas., Masterson Pitches Sub Base to Victory,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 16, 1942: p12-13.
 “Brancato Pacing Hawaii League Batters with Average of .409,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 20, 1944: p10-11.
 Kim, Bill, “7th AAF Triumphs in 12 Innings,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 3, 1944: p10-11.
 “CPA League standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 18, 1944: p8.
 “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 16, 1944: p16.
 Machado, Carl, “Fliers Now Leading In Hawaii League,“ Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 17, 1944: p8.
 “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 1, 1944: p9.
 “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 30, 1944: p18.
 “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.
 “Jerry Priddy Paces Hawaii Loop Batters,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 4, 1944: p6.
 Fowler, Chas (“Chief”), “K-Bay Edges Hilltoppers, 3-2 In 10 Innings,” Sub Base Wins 6-5,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 5, 1944: p6.
 “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 6, 1944: p18.
 “Baseball Standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 14, 1944: p8.
 “Leading Batters,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, August 19, 1944; p9.
 “Diamond Dust,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 28, 144: p8.
 Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF Captures CPA 2nd Half Title with 3-2 Win Over Aiea,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 30, 1944: p10.
 Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF and Hilltoppers Score Wins,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 2, 1944: p8.
 “Ferris Fain is Bat Champ,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 4, 1944: p8.
 Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p8.
 “Bob Dillinger Cops ’44 Batting Crown,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 14, 1944: p8.
 “Sub Base Bows to Hawaiis, 4-1,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 14, 1944: p10.
 “Judnich Clouts Two Homers as Fliers Cop Cartwright Title,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 18, 1944: p8.
 “Shadows,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 7, 1944: p8.
 Machado, Carl, “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.
In the weeks following the September 2, 1945, signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, the armed forces commenced the drawdown of forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) as combat troops transitioned into an occupation force. Baseball remained an activity as part of the morale-boosting functions for the troops stationed throughout the Western Pacific. Participating in the countless leagues were former professional baseball players serving among the troops in all branches of the armed forces.
Despite a large percentage of former major and minor leaguers having been returned to the United States for discharge, several did not yet qualify for separation and continued serving overseas. Baseball remained a central activity among troops in tropical climates including the Marianas and Guam. As Manila continued to address reconstruction and recovery from the heavy fighting in the city that had taken place throughout February, baseball was once again played at Rizal Stadium starting in April following extensive repair efforts.
“American soldiers have brought baseball back to the ruins of Rizal Stadium. Garrison troops are playing regular games before thousands of fans in what was once Manila’s most elaborate sports establishment,” Associate Press war correspondent Russell Brines wrote. “There are no uniforms, no hot dogs, but the playing is enthusiastic. It crowds the shell-ripped stands regularly with soldiers, sailors and Filipino citizens.”
Brines, a recently liberated prisoner of war, had been taken prisoner in early 1942 and held in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp until he was freed following General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines and the ensuing victory over Japanese forces occupying the city. The battle that raged in the city from February 3 to March 3 was fierce. Facing 35,000 American troops and 3,000 Filipino guerrillas, the enemy suffered tremendous losses but not without murdering Filipino civilians and allied prisoners.
The Rizal sports complex, consisting of both football and baseball stadiums, was the scene of heavy fighting. “The current battle in South Manila roared around the vicinity of Harrison Park after First Division cavalrymen seized the ground and grandstands of Rizal Stadium, where the enemy had set up heavy defenses, and the buildings of La Salle College.” The battle within the ballpark resulted in extensive damage to the facility. “Rizal Stadium was a Japanese entrenchment during the bitter fight for Manila and the marks of war are still on it. Mortar holes yawn between the feet of the spectators, sitting on concrete tiers, because benches are stripped away. The sun peaks through the roof of the stands perforated by machine gun bullets.” Wherever one looked, the damage from the wartime occupation and battle was extensive. “The dugouts are black from flame throwers and chipped by shells. Outfields are foreshortened by crumbled walls and Japanese bunkers.” Once the city was wrested from the enemy occupiers, work led by former Philadelphia Philly pitcher Hugh Mulcahy commenced to prepare the facility for baseball once more.
By the end of April, the facility was repaired enough to host baseball for the first time since 1941. “The former turf diamond is now dirt, carefully rolled by the doughboys.” Regardless of the preparation, the ballpark was still in need of considerable work as baseball play commenced, “the occasional stench of dead entombed deep within the concrete stadium. But baseball lives again in the Philippines.”
Indeed, baseball was alive again within the battered confines of Rizal with the inaugural tilt between the 145th Infantry Barracudas and the 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment, led by former Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Eddie Waitkus.
With more than 6,000 GIs filling the stands, the “Horsehide Inaugural” also included a game between the Eighth Army Base Force and the Signal Corps. Former Cardinals outfielder, Erv Dusak drove in two runs on two hits in the 11-4 victory for the Eighth. Despite Dusak’s plate performance, he was outpaced by former Louisville Colonels first baseman George Byam’s four-for-five batting performance. In addition, Byam tallied four of his squad’s 11 runs.
On the other side of the globe, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Private Kirby Higbe, a member of the 342nd Infantry Regiment of the 86th Infantry Division, had just crossed the Isar and reached the Mittel Isar Canal by the end of the April before moving on to Salzburg. By the end of May, the entire division was headed back to the States to resume preparations for service in the Pacific Theater. From late winter through May, the 86th Division, previously preparing for the Pacific, had been in Europe as a back-up division and ended up participating in the Allied push into the German homeland. “We cleaned out the Ruhr Pocket, then cut southeast,” said Higbe. “We went through Berchtesgaden and were in Austria when the war ended. From February 1 right up to the finish, we were fighting without a letup. The day was rare when we were not under fire.”
Once the combat-decorated Dodgers pitcher returned home, he was looking forward to decompressing for a month, “I’m going to rest,” Higbe told the Columbia (South Carolina) Record. Following his return to the states, PFC Higbe visited with the Dodgers while on furlough before he was reassigned to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma in preparation for assignment in the Pacific.
Higbe was assigned to occupation duties on Luzon in the Philippines with the Base-30 command in Manila and was tasked with building a baseball team to compete against other unit ball clubs for the purpose of boosting troop morale. Pulling together a roster that included former minor leaguers, semiprofessionals and collegiate athletes, Higbe’s Manila Dodgers were a tough squad to beat. By the end of November, the Manila Dodgers secured a championship, defeating a Navy team that featured Dom DiMaggio and Benny McCoy. Writing to his hometown newspaper, Sergeant George Goodall told of the Base 30 ball club’s exploits, “The Manila Dodgers, managed by Kirby Higbe, Brooklyn pitcher, are champions of the Far East, having beaten the Navy in a five-game series.”
|Vernon Bickford||P||Welch (MTNS)|
|Hal “Zig” Emery||2B||(Property of Phillies)|
|Joe Garagiola||C||Columbus (AA)|
|Joe Ginsberg||C||Jamestown (PONY)|
|Jim Hearn||P||Columbus (SALL)|
|Joe Janet||3B||Tulsa (TL)|
|Kent “Lefty” Peterson||P||Reds|
|Minor Scott||3B||Chattanooga (SOUA)|
|Gerry Staley||P||Boise (PION)|
|John Stowe||LF||Knoxville/Mobile (SOUA)|
While Higbe certainly drew attention due to his successful 1941 campaign with Brooklyn, leading the National League with 22 victories and helping to propel his club to the World Series, Goodall wrote of Manila’s young catcher. “Best of all [the Manila Dodgers], a 19-year-old catcher, Joe Garagiola, who will be with the Cardinals in ’46. In my opinion, Garagiola has everything. He is and excellent receiver, has a good arm, is fast and a guy who will hit any pitching.”
Eight players on the Manila roster had pre-war minor league experience. Pitcher Vernon Bickford pitched in the Mountain State League from 1939 to 1942 before entering the Army and would post a 66-57 major league record with the Braves and Orioles in the years following WWII. Joe Ginsburg, a 17-year-old catcher for the PONY League’s Jamestown Falcons, spent the 1944 season learning the ropes with teammate Nellie Fox before being drafted into the Army in September. Like Bickford, Ginsburg developed into a solid major leaguer with the Tigers, Indians, Athletics, Orioles, White Sox, and Red Sox before finishing with the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Jim Hearn and Gerry Staley also parlayed their minor league and wartime baseball experience into success in the big leagues. Hearn posted a 109-89 13-year career record with a 3.81 ERA and two World Series games while Staley had a decade-and-a-half career with the Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, White Sox, Athletics and Tigers and amassed a 134-111 won-loss record with a 3.70 ERA and four World Series appearances. John Stowe, Minor Scott, and Joe Janet were career minor leaguers.
Filling in the roster gaps were a Louisiana State University alumnus, center fielder Wally Borden; a Philadelphia Phillies prospect, second baseman Hal “Zig” Emery and a soldier with no professional or collegiate experience, right fielder Johnny Newman.
The Base-30 squad featured former Boston Braves pitcher and outfielder Frank “Hank” LaManna and pitcher Max Macon along with Reds pitcher Kent Peterson, Cardinals catching prospect Joe Garagiola and future Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn.
As the Manila Dodgers dominated service baseball in the Philippines, the United Services Organization (USO) was coordinating with team owners and officials in the National League, putting the finishing touches on arraignments to dispatch a contingent of 12 players from seven of league’s eight clubs to tour selected Pacific Theater bases for exhibition games. Assembled in Washington, DC, the team, led by Dodgers coach Charley Dressen, boarded a B-29 bomber en route to Honolulu on December 13.
|Player||Position||National League Club|
Of the twelve selected National Leaguers on the roster, six were Brooklyn Dodgers including coach Charley Dressen. Catcher Mike Sandlock was the only Dodger position player who, with just 80 games in 1945, was a starter before being added to the USO tour. Ralph Branca, a 19-year-old in his second season with the club, was 5-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts. Tom Seats appeared in 31 games of which he started 18 and posted a 10-7 record and a 4.36 ERA in his second and final major league season. Clyde King saw action in 31 games as a 21-year-old relief pitcher as the Dodgers finished third in their 1945 campaign.
Third baseman Whitey Kurowski was the regular Cardinals third baseman with some pop in his bat, hitting .323 with 21 home runs and a .521 slugging percentage. Kurowski’s “Red Bird” teammate, pitcher Red Barrett, was 21-9 and a 2.72 ERA in 1945 and the Cardinal’s number one starter. The Cincinnati Reds also provided the USO squad with two players: starters Al Lakeman, catcher; and eight-time All-Star first baseman Frank McCormick. The New York Giants supplied 1944 All-Star pitcher Bill Voiselle and the Braves backup catcher Mike Ulisney.
The National Leaguers arrived in Honolulu on December 18 and were scheduled for five contests against area All-Stars before departing for the Western Pacific. Just hours after stepping off the aircraft onto Hawaiian soil, the National League stars faced a Navy All-Star squad that included Ken Keltner, Sal Recca, and Stan Musial. With a disappointing, nominal-sized crowd in attendance, the Navy clobbered the major leaguers. Facing the Army’s “Olympics” the following day, the National Leaguers bounced back from their loss to the Navy with a 10-5 win over former Hollywood Stars pitcher, Ed Erautt.
USO National League Games on Oahu
- Wednesday, December 19: versus Navy at Furlong Field. Navy defeated the NL stars, 5-3. Attendance: 5,000.
- Thursday, December 20: versus Army Olympics at Schofield Barracks. The National League defeated the Army, 10-5. Attendance: 3,500.
- Friday, December 21: The National League defeated the Army Olympics at Hickam Field, 9-1.
- Saturday, December 22: The Army Olympics defeated the National League at Furlong Field, 5-3.
- Sunday, December 23: Navy defeated the National League at Furlong Field. Attendance: 10,000.
Likely suffering from travel fatigue during their Oahu series, which may have been a contributor to their 2-3 performance, the USO’s NL Stars club departed Hawaii, licking their wounds, bound for the Western Pacific. With stops in the Marshall Islands and Guam, the NL Stars faced local service clubs. On Saturday, December 29 on Kwajalein, the USO men defeated a service team, 4-2, as Voiselle surrendered nine hits while striking out 11. On Guam, the team faced an Army Air Force team at Harmon Field on Sunday, December 30, with Red Barrett on the mound. Barrett was less than sharp in his 7-2 victory, allowing 12 hits and striking out 4. The rigorous travel schedule took the NL Stars to the Philippines for a faceoff against Kirby Higbe’s red-hot Manila club, which had recently claimed the Philippine Olympics championship by defeating the Leyte Base-K team.
With repairs to the Rizal baseball stadium continuing throughout 1945, the battle damage was becoming less visible. The grandstand roof was undergoing restoration while rudimentary bleacher seating was installed onto the concrete risers. The once pristine outfield grass remained a sandlot-like dirt surface into 1946, when the USO’s National League Stars arrived.
Scheduled for a three-game series at Rizal, officials anticipated crowds between 25,000 and 30,000 for each contest. Whitey Kurowski took over at the NL helm as Dressen was hospitalized in Manila with bronchitis, leaving the team in capable hands.
On New Year’s Day, Bill Voiselle squared off against Kirby Higbe in a classic New York vs Brooklyn-style rivalry tilt. The two hurlers kept the game close into the late innings. With the score knotted at four runs apiece, National Leaguer Frank McCormick crushed a solo shot off Higbe, his second of the game, for the go-ahead-run in front of 25,000 GIs. Despite fanning 11 NL batters, Higbe took the loss, having surrendered five runs on eight hits.
After a day off, the series resumed on Thursday, January 3, with Jim Hearn taking the mound for Manila. Whitey Kurowski sent Brooklyn pitcher Tom Seats to the hill for the National Leaguers. The score was tied after nine when Kurowski replaced Seats with another Brooklynite hurler, Clyde King. King continued to keep Manila batters from reaching pay dirt as he mirrored Hearn, who continued through the 14th frame. With a runner aboard, Hal “Zig” Emery singled, allowing the game winning run to score in the 2-1 victory for the Army squad. McCormick was once again the big bat of the game, reaching four times with a single, two doubles and a triple, thus falling a four-bagger short of the cycle.
Friday evening, January 4, the third game in the series saw Manila’s Early Wynn face Tom Seats. With 30,000 in attendance, the Army’s Dodgers clung to a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning, when the National Leaguers touched Wynn for a game-tying run. The Manila Dodgers failed to score in the bottom of the frame as Higbe sent the future Cooperstown enshrinee out for the 10th frame. Despite holding the USO squad to a single tally, Wynn was anything but sharp as he had already been touched for 17 hits in the first nine innings. The NL batters touched Wynn for four runs to pull ahead, 7-3, while closing out the game without allowing another Manila score. Red Barrett and Frank McCormick accounted for two doubles and two singles each in the melee.
After the game with the Manila Dodgers, the National Leaguers boarded their aircraft to begin their return to the United States. Following a stopover in Guam, the team’s aircraft experienced an engine casualty, forcing an emergency return to the airfield after having been airborne for three hours. On January 22, the NL Stars arrived back in the States, having traveled 18,000 miles and having entertained more than 225,000 GIs in the Pacific Theater.
- A Combat and Baseball Story Uncovered: Discovery From a Lone Name on a Photo
- Southern Region Service Baseball Dominated by Former Pros: Mulcahy and Gee
- Following the Horrors of Battle in the Pacific, Baseball was a Welcomed Respite
 American Soldiers Bring Baseball Back to Manila, The Bee, Danville, Virginia, April 18, 1945.
 Nips Plans Upset by M’Arthur, by Lee Van Atta, International News Service, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, February 16, 1945.
 American Soldiers Bring Baseball Back to Manila, The Bee, Danville, Virginia, April 18, 1945.
 A Combat and Baseball Story Uncovered: Discovery From a Lone Name on a Photo, Chevrons and Diamonds, December 22, 2020.
 6000 GI’s Watch First Baseball Game on Leyte, Tampa Tribune, May 5, 1945.
 A Complete Report From Kirby Higbe, Tommy Holmes, The Brooklyn Eagle, June 29, 1945.
 Diamond Dust, New York Daily News, June 28, 1945.
 The Morning Call (Patterson, NJ), July 9, 1945.
 Sports Forum, Sgt. George Goodall, The Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat, November 27, 1945.
 Kirby Higbe Hurls Manila into Finals, The Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, December 28, 1945.
 Dressen’s Squad Won 17 and Lost Only Five Games on Tour, Gus Steiger, The Sporting News, January 31, 1946.
 All-Stars Beat Army, The Pittsburgh Press, January 2, 1946.
 Touring Ball Players Lose to Manila Team, Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press, January 4, 1946.
 Soldier’s personal correspondence, Unknown, January 5, 1946.
 National Stars Win in 10th, 7-3, The Des Moines Register, January 5, 1946.
 Dressen’s Squad Won 17 and Lost Only Five Games on Tour, Gus Steiger, The Sporting News, January 31, 1946.
During World War II, Oahu was the epicenter for baseball in the Hawaiian Islands. While a handful of former professional baseball players were present on the island in the months following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, more began to arrive in the spring of 1943. One of them was Chief Athletic Specialist Walter Masterson, who had previously pitched major league ball for the Washington Senators. By 1944, Oahu was a hotbed of talent, with dozens of former major leaguers and players who were previously in the high minors filling rosters of Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces teams throughout the island. While some of the military installations on outlying islands also fielded teams with professional-caliber talent, the level of play was not at the same level as was seen on Oahu.
Despite the lack of major leaguers, the 10-team AAA League on the big island of Hawaii commenced play on Sunday, April 30, to considerable fanfare from combined crowds or more than 3,000 spectators at Truck and Hoolulu Parks. Aside from the civilian Hawaiis, the balance of the league largely consisted of service clubs from the Army, Marines and Navy.
Big Island Baseball
In the last half of April, 1944, the big island’s premier diamond circuit, the AAA Baseball League, announced the participating teams and their managers.
- Sea Bees – Lt. K. G. MacLeod
- Air Corps Natives – Lt. John Gordon (first half only)
- Templeers – Pfc. M. Brustad
- Rens – Sgt. John Hand (combined with Powderbugs 4 games into the season)
- Powderbugs – Sgt. Major White (combined with Rens 4 games into the season)
- Renords – (combined Powderbugs/Rens team)
- Scrap Irons – Capt. Carl Merrill
- Hawaiis – Sonny Henderson
- Banyon Marines – Louis Sillars
- Navy Flyers – Chief Bill Fowler
- Navy “Little Varsity” – Chief Daugherty
- Tank Busters – Georgie Jordan (second half, only)
Of the ten clubs in the league, only one roster lacked active duty military personnel on its roster. The Hawaiis, like their same-name counterparts in Oahu’s Honolulu League, consisted of local baseball stars and were perennial league contenders. In addition to their high level of talent, the Hawaiis held an edge over the league due to the years of developing cohesiveness, stemming from maintaining roster consistency. While the Hawaiis’ advantage made them an obvious pre-season favorite, another well-stocked team, the Navy Flyers, would contest the prognosticators. Drawing from naval units based at the Naval Air Station (NAS), the Flyers assembled their club with players with prior sandlot, high school, collegiate, semipro, and professional baseball experience.
The Flyers of Naval Air Station Hilo assembled a formidable roster of athletes, including one former minor leaguer, Bob Cummins, a centerfielder who split the 1943 season between the Class “D” Kingsport Cherokees (Appalachian League) and the Roanoke Red Sox of the Class “B” Piedmont League. A few months after the end of the baseball season, Oakland, California native Cummins enlisted on December 27, 1943, and after his boot camp training was stationed on the island of Hawaii. The Flyers’ manager, Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, took note of Seaman first class Cummins’ baseball credentials and tapped him for duty both in the outfield and on the mound.
Chief Fowler had an eye for talent as he constructed the Flyers’ roster, drawing from NAS Hilo commands. A former Bethesda, Maryland area high school three-sport star and University of Maryland basketball and baseball player, Leon Vannais was another catch for the Flyers. He played semipro baseball in 1941 in Hackensack, New Jersey, for the O’Shea’s Glenwoods as a first baseman, outfielder, and pitcher. In the days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Vannais joined the Navy, entering the naval aviation cadet program. Ensign Vannais earned his wings in October, 1942, and completed advanced training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1943 ahead of his assignment to Hilo. Vannais, an aircraft carrier-qualified torpedo dive bomber pilot, was assigned to the Naval Air Station, though his days on land were likely short due to the fleet’s demand for his expertise.
San Leandro, California native Francis Guisto was working as a shipfitter, building Liberty ships at the Richmond Shipyard, Richmond, California. A graduate of Manteca Union High School’s class of 1940, Guisto was one of 50 attendees at a major league tryout camp held in Marysville, California in late July, 1941. The camp was led by C. F. “Al” Chapman, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds organization. During a July 27 exhibition game between the camp squad and the local semipro Orinda Reds, Guisto accounted for the campers’ lone score in the 3-1 loss with a line shot to left centerfield, driving in a base runner. Guisto had another tryout at the end of September, but unfortunately he was not one of the three players, all pitchers, signed to minor league contracts. Guisto entered the Navy in early 1943 and following completion of boot camp, he boarded the USS Republic (AP-33) on July 21, bound for Pearl Harbor. The future Flyers first baseman was transferred to Hilo soon after arriving on Oahu. He was added to the Navy Flyers’ basketball roster as a forward and was touted by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald as a ringer would “give opponents a real headache” (Navy Cagers Look Strong, by Jim Moore, November 29, 1943).
Hilo’s 1944 Baseball Season
Pre-season prognostications pointed toward an end-of-season showdown between the two well-stocked clubs: Hilo’s civilian club, the Hawaiis, and the Naval Air Station Hilo club, the Navy Flyers. By the end of the season’s first half of play, the civilian club held a one-game advantage over the Flyers heading into the break. At the AAA League’s mid-season break, five of the Flyers, first baseman Francis Guisto, pitcher George Babich and second baseman Gunnar Hagstrom, were selected as league All-Stars.
At a mere 145 pounds, the diminutive second baseman, Ensign Gunnar Hagstrom, stared down some of baseball’s giant hitters in pair of games on July 3 and 5, 1944, at Truck Park in Hilo. Arguably the game’s greatest hitter of the 1940s, the “Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, was three years removed from his 56-game hitting streak when he stood in the batter’s box against Hagstrom and his Defenders, a squad of the island’s AAA League All-Stars. While many of Hagstrom’s teammates may have been intimidated by the visiting juggernaut 7th Army Air Force team, sharing the diamond with such talent was nothing new to him.
Hagstrom’s Navy Flyers club finished the season’s first half of play one game behind the Hawaiis. Though Leon “Lefty” Vannais would have been a shoo-in selection for the AAA All-Stars, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s sports columnist, Jimmie Page, reported on June 19 that the Navy Flyers had lost him, their best pitcher. Though his departure to the fleet left a hole in the NAS Hilo’s pitching rotation, Page wrote on July 8, “the Navy Flyers should have about the same kind of club.”
The two-game series with the 7th AAF was scheduled by AAA League officials in early June to coincide with the mid-season break.
|All-Star Player||Position||Hometown||AAA Club|
|Carl Allen||UIF||Denver, CO||Templeers|
|George Michael Babich||P||Bayonne, NJ||Navy Flyers|
|John Berutich||OF||San Francisco, CA||Navy Little Varsity|
|Harry Brooks||OF||St. Louis, MO||Marines|
|Tom Cancelli||SS||Patterson, NJ||Scrap Irons|
|Wardell Clyburn||UIF||Englewood, NJ||Renords|
|James Corbett||C||N. Tonawanda, NY||Navy Flyers|
|Bill Fowler||Mgr.||Yakima, WA||Navy Flyers|
|John Fox||OF||Marian, IN||Sea Bees|
|Francis Guisto||1B||Stockton, CA||Navy Flyers|
|Gunnar Hagstrom||2B||Pittsfield, Mass.||Navy Flyers|
|Frank Kendall||P||Canby, OR||Sea Bees|
|Sam Mamula||3B||Martins Ferry, OH||Marines|
|Martin Moharsky||P||Kingston, PA||Marines|
|Tom Peacock||OF||Fort Worth, TX||Navy Flyers|
|Bob Peterson||UIF||Denver, CO||Sea Bees|
|Roe Sarsuelo||P||Territory of Hawaii||Hawaiis|
|Edward Schnelling||C||St. Louis, MO||Templeers|
|Julius Siegel||OF||Detroit, MI||Templeers|
The Defenders roster, led by Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, featured the league’s best pitcher (in the absence of the departed Vannais) in Babich, who, in addition to Hagstrom and Guisto, was accompanied by fellow Flyers Tom Peacock (OF) and Jim Corbett (P) on the All-Star roster.
The 7th AAF swept the series with a 5-2 victory in the first game and a 5-0 shutout in the second. The Defenders’ pitching and defense held the great DiMaggio hitless until game two, when he hit a sizzling shot down the left foul line past Hagstrom, who was then stationed at the hot corner. In seven total at-bats, DiMaggio reached base on a single, an error and a walk and scored a run. Facing Frank Saul, former Seton Hall standout, Hagstrom was hitless in four appearances in the first game. Starting at third base in game two, Hagstrom was blanked twice by pitcher Bill Schmidt before he was lifted in favor of the Marines’ Sam Mamula. The 7th AAF’s pitchers had their way with their hosts, stymieing batters and limiting them to just nine hits in 18 innings.
Cloudbuster Gunnar Hagstrom
Though he had never set foot on a professional baseball diamond, the DiMaggio name on an opponent’s roster was not an unfamiliar sight for Gunnar Hagstrom. The year before, while attending Navy Pre-Flight training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Naval Aviation Cadet Hagstrom had played for the school’s “Cloudbusters,” joining forces with former major leaguers Joe Coleman, Johnny Pesky, Buddy Gremp, Buddy Hassett, Johnny Sain, and Ted Williams on one of the most dominant service teams of World War II, a team which had a 30-9 won-lost record for 1943. Born on January 10, 1920, in Enviken, Sweden, and having immigrated to the U.S. in 1923, Pittsfield (Massachusetts) High School’s Gunnar Hagstrom, class of 1938, lettered in football, basketball and baseball, and captained the school’s cage and diamond squads. He took his athleticism to Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he lettered again in basketball and baseball and served as the captain of the latter team, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1942. Hagstrom returned home and was signed to the semi-pro Mohawk Beverage club of Shire City Twilight League, playing throughout the summer. Hagstrom volunteered for the Navy V-5 Naval Aviation program and was sworn in on August 1. A month later, on September 1, Hagstrom departed Pittsfield to commence his training.
Following his July 6, 1943, completion of the 11-week Navy Pre-Flight course at Chapel Hill, Hagstrom was assigned to primary flight training at Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois. Upon graduation, Ensign Hagstrom was assigned to Carrier Aircraft Servicing Unit (CASU) Thirty-One at Hilo, Hawaii and added to the unit’s baseball team ahead of the 1944 AAA Baseball League’s season opener.
Fordham’s Captain Babich
Born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, George Michael Babich was four-letter high school athlete before heading to Brooklyn to attend college and play on Fordham’s football, basketball, and baseball teams. Starting center for the Fordham University basketball team, George Babich was a powerhouse in the Rams’ starting five and served as the team’s captain. With seven games remaining in the regular season, Babich graduated on January 21, 1943, and entered the U.S. Navy. In addition to his caging duties, Babich saw action on Fordham’s gridiron from 1940-1943 and was the starting left end. On November 28, 1942, the University of North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight Cloudbusters football team visited the Polo Grounds to face the Fordham Rams. Though he did not factor in the 6-0 victory over the aviation cadets, Babich was the starting left end for Fordham, which relied heavily on a ground game. With just two completed passes for 72 total yards, the Rams’ only score occurred in the opening quarter. Babich also played in Fordham’s 1942 New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl victory over the University of Missouri. Following several days of heavy rains, the saturated Tulane Stadium field surface stripped Fordham of their dominant passing game that relied heavily upon Babich at left end, resulting in a sloppy ground game and a 2-0 Rams victory. Babich was ranked fifth in the AP Features’ Poll in all-round college athlete voting (Paul Governali Best in East – News-Pilot San Pedro, March 9, 1943)
Babich’s skills were refined on a Rams diamond club that also produced several pro ballplayers, including Steve Filipowicz, Al Litwa, George Cheverko, and John Szajna. Six weeks after graduating from Fordham, Chief Babich enlisted into the U.S. Navy on March 9, 1943, and arrived on the big island of Hawaii in the spring of 1944 after completing basic training and the Gene Tunney Athletic Specialist School.
Second Half Flyers
Kicking off the second half of the AAA season, a double feature was scheduled for Sunday, July 9, at Hoolulu Park with the early game, a harbinger of the season outcome, featuring the Hawaiis hosting the Navy Flyers.
George Babich struggled early in the game, allowing four Hawaii runs on three hits in the top of the first inning, but settled down when he returned to the mound in the second inning after his teammates cut the lead in half. The Hawaiis’ Roe Sarsuelo traded goose eggs with Babich for the next six innings, transforming what started off looking to be a high-scoring affair into a pitchers’ duel. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Flyer bats broke through when shortstop John Kennedy dropped a bloop single to drive in the tying run.
The Hawaiis failed to counter the Flyers in the top of the ninth as Babich’s dominance continued. In the bottom of the ninth, first sacker Francis Guisto, who was 2-4 heading to the plate, crushed a two-run bomb and sealed the 6-4 victory for the Flyers.
The nightcap game saw the Navy “Little Varsity” capitalizing on eight Renords miscues. The “Little Varsity” batters tallied three runs in the second inning and another one in the eighth. None of the Navy’s three hits scored runs as all four of their tallies were unearned. The Renord batters plated their two runs against Navy’s Johnny Mize, who went the distance. Mize’s bat also accounted for one of the three Navy hits in the 4-2 victory.
|CSp (A)||4||George Michael Babich||P||Fordham University|
|LTjg||Anso Belardinelli||RF/P||Norwalk, CT|
|1||Robert Cummins||CF||Roanoke (PIED)|
|Melvin Fletcher||Asst. Equip. Mgr.|
|CSp (A)||Bill Fowler||Mgr.||Yakima, WA|
|S1/c||12||Francis Guisto||1B||Stockton, CA|
|Ens.||8||Gunnar Hagstrom||2B||Pittsfield, MA|
|2||Harper M. “Bud” Heitmeyer||LF||Oakland, CA|
|Art “Fats” Johnson||Equip Mgr.|
|9||John Kennedy||SS||Pellston, PA|
|7||Thomas Truman Peacock||LF|
|Joe Sirgo||OF||Canton, OH|
|17||Tom “Tommy” Sutton||3B/OF|
|13||James “Jimmie” Tiger||3B/UT/OF|
|Ens.||Leon “Lefty” Vannais||P||Hackensack, NJ|
An Invaluable Game Program
A recent acquisition of a rare eight-page program from the July 9 pair of games provides a wealth of research data with the rosters of all four teams, AAA League staff and officials, rosters with scorecards, two weekend schedules, and the AAA League ground rules. Though the grids are unscored, the printed rosters of the four clubs are a truly invaluable record. The overall condition of the program is quite good despite having been folded. The binding staples are still strong and the paper has not oxidized or degraded. The cover, printed on heavy orange paper stock, has faded only slightly over the course of nearly eight decades but the monochrome black ink is still very dark and crisp. The paper of the inner pages is lightweight and very typical of wartime service game programs and has yellowed with age. Despite the lack of major league names within the lineups, this scorecard is a highly prized piece within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection due to its scarcity (view a downloadable copy of the entire program)
Flying High to the Finish
The second half of AAA League play saw the Flyers and Hawaiis battling for the top spot in the standings. With an August 4 victory over Little Varsity, the Flyers opened a two-game margin over the civilian club. By September 2, the Flyers held a half-game lead over the Hawaiis as the season was drawing to a close. With a game remaining for each club to play, both the Flyers and Hawaiis suffered losses, keeping the ½-game lead intact and securing the second half victory for the Navy squad.
The AAA League championship pit the winners of each half of the season for a scheduled best of three series between the Hawaiis and Flyers. The opening game saw Babich hurl all nine innings in a 7-5 victory on September 15. The second game, planned for September 17, was rained out, forcing the first of several rescheduling actions. Knotted at two runs apiece in the 11th Inning, the umpire called the September 20 game due to darkness. Babich pitched brilliantly for all eleven innings. Another rainout pushed the September 20 game resumption ahead to the 24th.
With the series in the balance, league officials made the decision to start fresh, effectively nullifying the tied game. Babich once again took the mound for the Flyers and he held his opponents to two runs on seven hits as the Navy tallied nine on 12 hits in the rout, locking up the AAA championship in two games.
In the weeks following the end of the 1944 AAA League season, major league ballplayers returned to the big island to showcase the premier talent that resided on Oahu. In what was essentially a continuation of the Servicemen’s World Series, the star players serving in the Army and Navy competed against each other at Hoolulu Park for the 10th game of the Series. With a 7-2 record heading into the game, the Navy played to a 6-6 tie.
Weeks after his teammates locked up the league title, former star pitcher Lefty Vannais was in the thick of the fight across the Pacific. Vannais, a TBF Avenger pilot, participated in the October 24 Battle of Leyte Gulf, scoring a hit on “what was then believed to be the [Yamato-Class battleship] Musashi,” wrote Philip S. Heisler, Musashi Sinking Revives Plane-Battleship Tiff, The Baltimore Sun, January 28, 1945. “All of the returning pilots agreed that the Musashi was hit repeatedly but continued on her course,” the article continued. “The attack continued throughout the morning and afternoon,” and the mighty ship’s deck was awash by 4 p.m… After the war, the Silver Star and Air Medal-decorated pilot returned to New Jersey.
The 9-2 championship-winning game was Babich’s last in Hawaii as the chief athletic specialist was transferred stateside. Discharged from the Navy on March 15, 1946, Babich returned home to Bayonne, accepting the athletic director position at St. Peter’s College in August. George Babich resumed his athletic career, playing for the North Plainfield Saracens of the New Jersey Football League. He also signed with the Jersey City Atoms for the 1946-48 seasons and saw time with the American Basketball League’s Brooklyn Gothams in 1948 and 1949. In keeping with his three-sport pre-war prowess, Babich also played part of 1948 with the St. Louis Browns’ Port Chester Clippers and part of 1949 with the Stamford Pioneers, both of the Class B Colonial League.
Bob Cummins, the lone Flyer with pre-war professional ballplaying experience, resumed his career in the Boston Red Sox organization, where he had previously spent the 1942 season and part of 1943 in the minor leagues. The Willows, California native was assigned to the Class “C” San Jose Red Sox of the California League, spending the 1947 and 1948 seasons with that club. In 1949, Cummins was released and subsequently signed in mid-April with the El Paso Texans of the Arizona-Texas League. He was released and added to the inactive list in September, having appeared in just 72 games. In March 1950, Cummins returned to California and signed with the Class “D” Marysville Peaches of the Far West League. After a full season with the Peaches, Cummins hung up his spikes for good to work the next 34 years for Pacific Bell, raise a family and coach youth baseball.
After winning the AAA League championship, the Flyers roster was broken up. First baseman Frank Guisto joined Gunnar Hagstrom on the CASU Airdales squad for the 1945 season. Under manager Pat Colgan, a former Boston catching prospect from the Eastern League’s Scranton Red Sox, the Airdales posted a 35-5 won-lost record and captured the AAA League crown. With the Japanese surrender, Guisto was discharged and returned home with a very bright baseball future looming ahead. With contract opportunities with the Sox of Boston and Chicago, he opted to stay closer to home and instead played ball with local semipro clubs, including the Stockton Ports, Senior Pro Stockton Braves, and other organizations. He lent his experience to area youth by coaching Little League and led one of his teams to the World Series in Pennsylvania.
With two AAA League titles under his belt and a discharge from the Navy, former naval aviator LTjg Gunnar Hagstrom returned to Pittsfield and began a career with New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, where he spent his entire post-Navy career until retirement.
Without much fanfare or media coverage beyond the big island’s shores, the small wartime community of Hilo supported and enjoyed baseball that was an equivalent of that of pre-war high minor leagues. The Navy’s diamond dominance in the Hawaiian Islands was furthered by the Naval Air Station Flyers’ title season in 1944.
After hanging up his cleats with his 1941 release from the Chicago Cubs and his Cooperstown destination cemented, the Gashouse Gang pitching legend, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean traded his position on the mound for one behind the radio microphone.
By 1947, as the Browns’ play-by-play man, ‘Ol Diz was vocalizing his discontent with the pitching of the St. Louis pitchers’ performance during game broadcasts. Sports Illustrated’s Ted O’Leary noted in his September 28, 1964 piece, Short Noisy Return of Dizzy, that his oral frustrations such as, “What’s the matter with that guy? Why don’t he throw that fast one? Dawg gone, I don’t know what this game’s acomin’ to. I swear I could beat nine out of 10 of the guys that call themselves pitchers nowadays,” drew the ire of Browns hurlers’ wives. O’Leary wrote, “They were not too keen on going to the ball park to witness the humiliation of their husbands. Most of the pitchers’ wives began calling both [Browns Owner Bill] DeWitt and Dean on the phone. ‘If that big lug thinks he can do any better than my husband, why doesn’t he get out there and try?’ one wife asked DeWitt.”
St. Louis was firmly entrenched in its familiar low position in the American League standings, inspiring discontented fans to stay at home, leaving Sportsman’s Park with an abundance of empty seats for late season games. Bill DeWitt saw an opportunity to create a little bit of fan interest and perhaps to satisfy the Browns’ wives by calling Dean’s bluff. DeWitt signed Dizzy to a $1 contract on September 17, giving the pitcher a little more than a week to get into shape. As if seeing the beloved Cardinals pitcher wearing a rival Cubs uniform from 1938-41 was not bad enough, fans of the National League St. Louis club saw the 37-year-old suit up for the Browns to face the visiting Chicago White Sox on September 28 for the last game of the season. Dean pitched the first four innings and surrendered three hits and a walk before he was pulled in favor of reliever Glen Moulder, who gave up five runs on five hits and four walks to lose the game.
Sitting and watching in the visitor’s dugout, White Sox second-year manager Ted Lyons may have been recalling that moment he saw Dean first don the Browns’ colors just a few years earlier. Despite what the record books reflect, Dizzy’s four shutout inning performance for the Browns in 1947 was not the first time he suited up for the perennial American League second-division dwellers.
More than two weeks following Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets’ 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs, Davenport, Iowa’s Quad-City Times announced on June 25, 1943 that an exhibition game would be played at Davenport’s Municipal Stadium (known today as Modern Woodmen Park), home of the independent league Maroons. Arranged by the Quad-City Athletic Club, the contest was set to bring major league baseball back to the small ballpark situated above the levy on the bank of the Mississippi River, with a big league club facing off against a service team from the Windy City of Chicago. “We had a chance to book several service clubs in here for that night,” club president Jack Lagomarcino told the Quad-City Times. “But when we heard that Teddy Lyons was pitching for the Marines in Chicago, that was all we wanted to know.” Lagomarcino continued, “We got in touch with him and his officers, and they agreed to the game.” Anticipating drawing a large crowd, the ballpark was expanded by 1,500 to accommodate 8,000 fans for what was being billed as “Ted Lyons Night” on July 13.
Theodore Amar Lyons, a stalwart pitcher for 20 seasons with the White Sox, enlisted into the Marine Corps on November 1, 1942. The future Hall of Fame enshrinee applied for the Marine Corps Officers Training program on October 12 and ten days later divested his financial interest in his south side Chicago bowling alley business in preparation for departure. The 41-year-old told reporters that he hoped to pitch every day for the Marines rather than his once-weekly rotation with the Chicago club, according to the October 22 edition of The Times of Streator, Illinois.
Lyons trained at Quantico, Virginia, completing his training and being commissioned as a second lieutenant. While undergoing his Marine Corps instruction, he joined former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Ike Pearson on the Quantico nine.
After detaching from his training school commands, Lyons was assigned duty at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Marine Aviation Detachment at the Navy Pier in Chicago, where he assumed duties as the athletics officer in charge of combat conditioning and physical training. By early June, Lyons was with the Navy Pier Aero-Macs baseball team, whose roster was an aggregation of Navy and Marine Corps players. On June 2, the Aero-Macs faced the East Chicago Sox, a semipro club, and Lyons was added to the lineup for duties on the mound. Unfortunately, the results of the game are unknown. With the Navy Pier command’s primary role as a training center, the baseball team roster was in constant flux. By the end of June, the positions were filled entirely with Marines.
Taking the reins of the Navy Pier Marines team, Lt. Lyons prepared the players to face their scheduled opponent, the St. Louis Browns. Unlike Cochrane’s major and minor league star-studded Bluejackets roster, Lyons’ 21 “leatherneck” players were true amateurs, pulled together from four separate Marine Corps training squadrons. Staff Sergeant James G. Hallet, the shortstop, served as the detachment’s acting first sergeant. For weeks leading up to the game, the team prepared to face seasoned professionals. Aside from perfecting their defense and base running acumen, Lyons had to prepare the men to face major league pitching, which the former White Sox ace provided healthy doses of in practice. However, the Marines were in for quite a surprise when the Browns announced their starting pitcher four days ahead of the game.
“Dizzy is not signing a contract, and by no means is it to be construed that he is joining the Browns except to face his old friend, Ted Lyons,” manager Sewell told reporters. “Dean is not returning to organized baseball except for the one night,” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) reported on Friday, July 9. In 1943, Dean was reportedly earning $10,000 to broadcast both Browns and Cardinals games in St. Louis and was two years removed from pitching for the Cubs. “You bet your boots I’ll pitch for the Browns next Tuesday night,” Dean stated. “Ted Lyons made the crack once that he could beat me in my best days. I’ll show him in Davenport that my best days are not over. I guarantee you that I will strike out that old man once,” the former Cardinals great boasted.
Newspapers touted the event for several days leading up to the day of the game. Despite all the press and the expanded seating, slightly more than half of the seats were filled. Both veteran pitchers were slated to hurl the first three frames.
Navy Pier Marines:
|Pvt.||Grover C. Boldt||2B|
|Corp.||Somes J. Dagle||LF|
|S.Sgt.||James G. Hallet||SS|
|Corp.||James L. Coldiron||CF|
|Pvt.||Charles F. Wallraff||C|
|Pvt.||Lee F. Houser||3B|
|Sgt.||Frank L. Klein||RF|
|Capt.||Theodore “Ted” Lyons||P/Mgr.|
|Corp.||Samuel E. House||P|
Before the game started, the two teams engaged in field events that included 100-yard dash races, a long-distance throwing competition and throwing for accuracy. It was all business when the Browns took the field for the top of the first inning and Dizzy strode to the mound. For several weeks, Dean had worked on strength training and other conditioning, ensuring that his arm was in peak form. Marine second baseman Boldt and left fielder Dagle were retired for the first two outs but SSGT Hallet doubled off Dean. He was gunned down by right fielder Al Zarilla as he attempted to stretch the safety to a triple. Lyons retired the side in the bottom of the frame, with both teams coming up empty. The Browns struck first in the bottom of the second inning following Zarilla’s single. Marines catcher Wallraff muffed a pitch, allowing Zarilla to reach second on the passed ball while a throwing error by shortstop Hallet moved the runner to third. Joe Schultz singled to drive Zarilla home. The Marines countered in the top of the third, with successive hits by Callewaert and Dagle evening the score, 1-1. Dean’s night was done, his having surrendered five hits and striking out one. Archie McKain took over for Dean to pitch the middle three innings.
In the bottom of the third frame the knotted score did not last as the Browns moved ahead by a run, only to have the Marines tie the game in the top of the fourth as McKain allowed the final leatherneck score. Lyons finished the bottom of the fourth with the game tied at two runs apiece. The former White Sox pitcher allowed two runs while striking out three Browns.
Corporal Samuel E. House hurled the last five frames but allowed the Browns to tally four runs. He struck out nine Browns, walking three. The Browns secured the 6-2 win, aided by Fritz Ostermueller’s brilliant pitching. Ostermueller struck out seven of the nine Marines he faced during innings 7, 8 and 9. In the weeks following the game and with the completion of their aviation training, most of the Marine players were detached and transferred to their wartime assignments. By August, Lt. Lyons was assigned to duty at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, California.
This copy of the game’s scorecard is a recent arrival to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, donated by a baseball historian, colleague and friend. From the front cover to the back, the program consists of 12 pages, with the majority of the content being dedicated to advertising support. In addition to the team scoring grid pages, separate pages include the team rosters (view the complete scorecard).
With just 4,500 fans at the game, our scorecard is certainly a scarce piece. With only the first few frames of each team’s grids scored, it appears that the original owner was in attendance solely for the spectacle of the two pitching greats squaring off. The lineups on our scorecard differ from the actual game record due to the last-minute changes submitted by each team’s manager after the pieces were printed.
Navy Pier Marines reserve players:
|Pfc.||John J. Adamcik|
|Sgt.||John A. Bercich|
|Pfc.||Charles J. Misko|
|Pfc.||Elmer W. Mory|
|Pfc.||Robert E. Rudewick|
|Sgt.||Dallas R. Stahr|
|Pvt.||Everett R. Sumpter|
The booklet-sized, 9-inch by 6-inch piece is in excellent condition with very minor wear showing on the pages. The staples, though rusting slightly, are solid and the pages are held firmly in place. The real treasure in this piece lies within the roster of Lyons’ team, which has enabled us to shed light upon an aggregation of regular Marines who, while serving their country, stood in the batter’s box against one the game’s pitching legends.
In researching the Marines players in pursuit of professional baseball experience, only Private Everett Sumpter, shown on our scorecard as “Simpter,” played organized ball, He didn’t play until 1947, when he was with the Lamesa Lobos of the class C West Texas-New Mexico League. Following his duty as the non-commissioned officer in charge of drill and instruction as part of Headquarters Squadron, Marine Aviation Detachment, Sergeant Dallas R. Stahr was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross medal in the Pacific Theater. The balance of the squad, while not as highly decorated as Sergeant Stahl, served throughout the war, with a few continuing to retirement from the Marine Corps.
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.
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- 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