Category Archives: Vintage Baseball Photos
While baseball history is a central aspect of our on-going project (uncovering and sharing the history of baseball within the armed forces), it is in the dovetailing with the history of the armed forces that is of the utmost importance in our work. When we acquire historical pieces, the research efforts can be rather lengthy or stalled depending upon the availability of resources and the information that can be extracted from a piece. Often, our projects are stalled and subsequently relegated to the back-burner to keep warm as we await a key piece of information to unblock our efforts.
Acquiring the vintage photo of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team was certainly a cause celebration in how the door was opened for a truly rewarding research project that culminated in last week’s story (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move). Diving into the team’s coach, former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants’ outfielder, Morrie Arnovich along with shining a spotlight on the team’s early integration in 1942 (five years ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson and six years before the armed forces were desegregated) with ace hurler Ford Smith (1942) and middle infielder, George Handy, was certainly a lot of information to consume. In focusing on the aforementioned three men, we left little room to talk about the other men who played on the ground-breaking squad. The 1943 image of the Warriors was not our first Fort Lewis baseball photograph.
For nearly a decade, our searches for baseball-related artifacts from our local region have been unproductive. Regardless of the search terms we used or the areas in which we focused our efforts, the results were the same. When breakthroughs have occurred in previous expeditions, what would surface seemed to meet a consistent standard. Whether the artifacts were equipment, uniform or photography-related, the item would generally be something impressive (at least to us). Admittedly, the first Pacific Northwest-centric baseball item we were able to locate, if taken at face-value, would underwhelm nearly any collector.
The otherwise innocuous, and apparently staged photograph showed an older man, a coach perhaps, hanging a flannel jersey with bearing the number “8” on the back, on a bar inside the locker. Wearing Army dress uniform trousers, a sleeveless tee shirt and a ball cap., the older gentleman is holding a fielder’s love in his opposite hand. On the photo’s reverse, a brown-paper caption slug is affixed. Rather than a photo of a posed team or one that spotlights a former professional ballplayer (now serving), this image is one of an aged warrior hanging up his flannels for the last time.
“Retiring Army Athlete: LTCOL Ronald D. Johnson Retiring – October 2, 1943: FORT LEWIS, WASH. – Completing a colorful 34-year career as U.S. Army Officer and active participant in Army athletics, Col. Ronald D. Johnson, executive officer, Fort Lewis, Washington, and star moundsman on the Fort’s ball club, now turns in his baseball uniform and cleats. War Department retires Col. Johnson under edict retiring officers up to colonels of statutory age limit.”
A 59-year-old Colonel who was still pitching for a service baseball team? Who was this man and why was he being retired in the middle of an active war that was, at that time, still very much in question with nearly 250-days before D-Day? It was decided that there was enough interest in the subject, especially since this man was serving and playing baseball for the Fort Lewis team up until the moment that the photograph was captured.
Like we typically do with the arrival of vintage photographs, the image is scanned to obtain a workable digital copy that is then edited for exposure correction, surface repair and any enhancement that is needed to reveal the details of the subject. After completing the work on this photo and saving it to our cloud library, we moved onto preparations for a public showing of our artifacts (see: Always Prepared: Landing a WWII U.S. Coast Guard Baseball Uniform). Largely forgotten and entirely un-researched, the image of Colonel Johnson didn’t return to the forefront of our research until the arrival of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo.
As we began our research project for the ‘43 Warriors, one of the first players that was recognizable besides the team’s manager, Private Morrie Arnovich, was Colonel Ronald D. Johnson.
Ronald DeVore Johnson was born and raised on the banks of the Willamette River, south of Portland in Oregon City, Oregon on November 1, 1883. His father, W. Cary Johnson, an attorney who was born in Ohio while his mother, Josephine Johnson (nee DeVore) originated in Illinois, were married in 1868 in Multnomah, Oregon. Ronald was the youngest of five children and an athlete as a youth, playing football and baseball from an early age. Ronald Played for the Portland Academy (starting in 1901) and for the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club before taking his skills to Stanford University for a semester (where he also played baseball) before accepting his 1905 appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
From 1905 through 1909, Ronald D. Johnson excelled at West Point. He was the starting quarterback for the Cadets for three seasons (1906-08) as well as the starting catcher (he also pitched). In 1908, Johnson established himself as an end and earn recognition among college football’s nine best in the position among the 1908 Walter Camp All Americans.
In 1909, Johnson switched to the fullback position blocking and carrying the ball, moving to the backfield on the West Point gridiron. One of Johnson’s gridiron teammates (and fellow ‘09 classmates) was George Smith Patton, a stellar athlete in his own right (see: Military Veterans Aiming for Gold: Collecting Olympics Militaria). On the diamond, Johnson set aside the tools of ignorance anchoring a spot in the outfield of the Cadet baseball team. With his athletic prominence, Johnson earned honors as a “Wearer of the ‘A’” in 1907, ‘08 and ‘09, lettering in football and baseball. He was graduated on June 11, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry.
Following his commissioning, Johnson was stationed in various locations including Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston (he played football for the Fort Sam Houston team) in Texas as well as the Presidio and the Disciplinary Barracks (Alcatraz Island) in California as war broke out in Europe. During his first assignment with the Third Cavalry Regiment, he was married to the former Mabelle F. Osborn (of Colorado) in 1909 (they had two children, Frances, born April 13, 1913 and Ronald D., Jr. born February 24, 1915).
In 1917, First Lieutenant Johnson transferred to field artillery and was promoted to the rank of captain as the United States entered World War I. Serving as part of the American Expeditionary Force in France, with the 18th Field Artillery (seeing action at The Second Battle of the Marne, Vesle and the Argonne, Johnson’s wartime promotions were rapid as he was advanced to the rank of major and again (temporarily) to lieutenant colonel. During his WWI service, Johnson was decorated with the Silver Star medal (his accompanying citation has not yet been uncovered).
After the war, Johnson returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, in January of 1920. Months prior to Johnson’s arrival, the Army Department invested in the construction of athletic facilities to improve the morale of the soldier-prisoners who were incarcerated (numbering well over 1,500 during WWI). With Lt. Col. Johnson’s love for sports, it can be safely assumed that he had a hand in baseball activities on “The Rock.” After his brief tour at Alcatraz, Johnson was honorably discharged but rejoined the army with the rank of major and was assigned to the 16th Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, where he would make his home for many years.
During the 1920s, Johnson and his wife, Mabelle divorced. The Army officer was not alone for long as he married Camille Justvig Branham and was reassigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Johnson’s new marriage increased the size of his family as Camille had a son and a daughter from her previous marriage and they added another son and daughter of their own to the mix Not too long after his tour at Fort Sill, Lt. Colonel Johnson retired from the Army with nearly 25 years of service, on February 24, 1934, relocating back to Washington State to their home on the shores of Steilacoom Lake in the Interlaken neighborhood.
As Europe was once again gripped with war, leadership within the U.S. War Department was making what preparations they could as they were attempting to rebuild the depleted ranks and equipment while being handcuffed by the Neutrality Acts. With President Roosevelt’s signature on the Selective Service Act of 1940, the ranks began to swell in the late fall of that year. What the armed forces was greatly lacking was experienced officers. Though he had been retired for more than seven years, Lt. Colonel Ronald D. Johnson was recalled to active duty on March 5, 1941.
In 1943, Ronald D. Johnson, now a colonel, was assigned to Fort Lewis as the executive officer, the base’s second in command behind Colonel Ralph Rigby Glass, a veteran of the 1904-05 Philippine Insurrection and World War I. Throughout his army career, Johnson was an active athlete playing football since the days of his youth. When former New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies leftfielder, Private Morrie Arnovich was tapped to manage the Fort Lewis baseball team in 1943 for his second season at the base, the major leaguer added Colonel Johnson to his pitching staff having lost hist two 1942-season pitching aces, Ford Smith and Cy Greenlaw after they were both transferred.
Was Johnson added to the team out of respect for his position on the base? Did the colonel use his position to force Private Arnovich to open a roster spot? The questions are certainly fair to ask and unfortunately, the people who could have responded to them have long since passed away. Turning to the available research resources, the answer to this inquiry began to emerge.
The Fort Lewis Warriors were a highly competitive baseball team that faced teams with rosters that were similarly stocked with former major and minor league talent intermixed among former semi-professionals, collegiate and scholastic stars. The Lewis Warriors’ season schedule included playing within multiple leagues such as the Northwest Service League (consisting of regional military teams) and an area semi-pro league. Arnovich’s men also faced challenges from Pacific Coast League clubs such as the local Seattle Rainiers on several occasions and the league’s visitors including the San Diego Padres, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks and Portland Beavers. Manager Morrie Arnovich’s 1942 squad fell just shy of taking all of their championship crowns and he built a team in ‘43 to ensure victory.
As Colonel Johnson’s forced retirement was announced in the fall of 1943, his story was carried in newspapers across the United States spotlighting the 59-year-old’s career in the Army and as an athlete. Not only did the story tell of his early exploits on the gridiron and diamond, it spotlighted his final season performance. As the Warriors vied for their titles, Johnson was racking up victories as a starting pitcher. Facing tough competition, Johnson who was nearing his 60th birthday, strung together 12-consecutive victories. The great Satchel Paige made his final appearance in 1966 with the Peninsula Grays (class “A,” Carolina League) when he was 59 years old, pitching two innings of a no-decision game and surrendering two runs on five hits. When Paige was 51 in the 1958 season (the last in which he was an effective pitcher), he made 28 starts for a 10-10 record and an incredible 2.95 ERA with the Miami Marlins (class “AAA” International League), but he was still eight years younger than Johnson. Two of Johnson’s 1943 victories garnered the attention of the press including his August 11, 13-5 victory over the Army Air Forces team at Paine Field (he also drove in two runs, collecting two base hits and scoring two runs). On September 27, Johnson faced an Army Quartermaster baseball club, the “Mighty D” securing an 8-4 victory, his final of his career. Twenty-seven days later, Colonel Johnson was a civilian.
Though our research cannot account for Colonel Johnson’s baseball career in the years between his 1934 retirement and 1941 recall to active duty, it is safe to assume, based upon his performance during the 1943 season that he maintained his baseball acumen and abilities actively on the diamond. In the years following his retirement from the Army, Johnson and his wife Camille relocated to the Washington D.C. area, settling in Falls Church, Virginia. Eighteen years after his last pitch for the Fort Lewis Warriors, Colonel Ronald DeVore Johnson passed away in 1961 at the age of 78.
Aside from his athletic legacy, Colonel Johnson demonstrated a life of service to his children. His adopted son Walter Johnson graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy and served a career in the United States Coast Guard serving in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring at the rank of Commander. Colonel Johnson’s grandson, Charles Edward Brown, Jr., graduated from West Point in 1965 and was killed in a combat-related accident on November 2, 1966, the day after what would have been his grandfather’s 83rd birthday. 1st Lt. Brown’s father, was Colonel Charles Edward Brown, Sr., a highly decorated combat veteran who served in the 6th Armored Division. Colonel Brown was married to Johnson’s adopted daughter, Lorraine Johnson. Colonel Johnson’s oldest son, Ronald DeVore Johnson, Jr., was a journalist working as a reporter for the Shanghai Evening Post and the Philadelphia Bulletin before moving back to his hometown where he served as the political editor of the San Francisco Examiner and for the American Broadcasting Company’s news department.
While researching Colonel Johnson and seeking consultation from a colleague, our discussion surrounding Johnson’s career progression, more specifically, the appearance of a slow ascension through the ranks following his World War I service suggested that his forte was not as a combat arms officer (like his aforementioned 1909 classmate) . However, with 33 years of combined active duty service, it is apparent that Colonel Johnson had much to offer the Army, even as an administrator. His physical fitness and athletic abilities clearly sustained him in his career and indicating that he was an outstanding baseball player.
In a time of great trial faced by all of the nations of the globe, there was considerable uncertainty and doubt as to whether freedom and democracy would survive the tyrannical shroud that was surrounding and pulling tight. Europe, North Africa, the Far East and South Pacific were under siege and embroiled in genocidal mania of madmen leading up to December 7, 1941. Though the American public was being reminded of the events around the globe in the months leading up the Pearl Harbor attack, the nation was operating with the mindset of business as usual.
Challenges to the Validity of Records
Within the major league baseball sphere, players, press and fans were gripped by the offensive records being broken by two young outfielders playing for New York and Boston; Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, respectively. Throughout two first-half months of the 1941 season, all eyes were on “Joltin” Joe DiMaggio as he progressed through American League pitching, extending his hitting streak game-by-game until it concluded on July 17th when he grounded a pitch from Cleveland’s Jim Bagby Jr. into a an eighth-inning double-play (the Yankees won, 4-3). Once “The Streak” concluded, the eyes of baseball stared at Ted Williams who was in the midst of an incredible season at the plate on his way to establishing the final single-season batting-average above the .400 mark (at .406).
Many arguments are contained within the discussion of the 56-game streak attempting to discredit it or perhaps relegate it to the realm of the asterisk as was applied to Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record in 1961 (he had 162 games while Ruth, the previous record-holder had only 144 games to reach the superseded record of 60) due to DiMaggio’s not hitting against the best pitchers in the game (he saw only American League hurlers). Others gravitate to one of the more challenging debates regarding baseball’s more upsetting pasts.
Joe DiMaggio once stated that the best pitcher he ever faced (though not in a major league game) was the great Satchel Paige. Due to the owners’ unwritten Jim Crow rules banning black players from the major and minor leagues, black baseball players such as Paige, flourished within the Negro National League that was established in 1920 at the direction of Rube Foster (though organized black baseball had existed off and on since the mid-1880s). With the absolute exclusion of some of the game’s greatest players, the argument against the merits of DiMaggio’s streak cannot be dismissed.
As the United States began gearing up for its newly declared war on the Axis powers, the sad reality of segregation and Jim Crow laws still plagued the nation yet few considered it an injustice. As baseball’s color barrier would be breached until 1947, first by Jackie Robinson (with the Dodgers) and later that season by Larry Doby (with the Cleveland Indians), the U.S. Armed Forces would not see an integration order until an executive order was signed by President Truman in the summer of 1948. It is a sad irony that both Robinson and Doby enlisted to serve and to fight and potentially die for their nation and yet they were not afforded the same freedoms as white troops.
Cleveland Indians’ pitching ace, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller is credited as the first major leaguer to enlist following the Pearl Harbor attack (on December 9, 1941) and yet, it seems that the first negro-league player to enlist is unknown. Perhaps the first was Leroy Bridges a veteran of the Black and Tan club from 1938-1941 who left baseball and ultimately pursued a career in the Army having served at Fort Bragg and in the Pacific Theater? Further research is clearly required to give credit where it is due.
Nearly two years ago, we published an article about the color barrier that existed within the military game during World War II (see: Breaking the Color Barrier in the Ranks and on the Diamond) and how the game was used to pierce the segregation wall. Without question, the segregation rules applied in all facets of the armed forces though there are several examples of integrated baseball teams in the offshore theaters. One of our earliest pieces of evidence of the color barrier’s breakage is within the Hawaiian Territory service leagues in 1944.
The rivalry between the Army and Navy that exists at present and is on full display with each annual Army/Navy service academy football game also existed within the service baseball leagues domestically and in the war theaters. With the Navy dispersing talented former professional ballplayers throughout their base team rosters (at that time, dominated by regular sailors) in the Hawaiian Islands, the level of competition overshadowed the Army teams prompting several generals to be more competitive. In 1944, major and top minor league talent was assembled from domestic Army teams with the nucleus of the highly successful McClellan Field (California) team was combined with a handful of Army players in the islands from the previous season along with Joe DiMaggio (pulled from the Santa Ana Air Base team) to form Hickam Field’s 7th Army Air Force squad. The 7th AAF team dominated the field and easily secured all of the Island’s league championships, sending the Navy to defeat.
As plans were drawn for the 1944 Service World Series, the Navy outdid the Army and gathered some of the best major leaguers who happened to be serving in Navy uniforms, dispersed around the world. Army leadership assembled their squad from players in the islands – the bulk of their squad came from the 7th AAF team – and added one player whose presence on the roster was in violation of existing segregation rules. Right-handed, pitcher, Hal Hairston was added to the Army roster having been a 1944-season pitching force for several Hawaiian League teams including the Athletics (a city league squad) and two Air Forces units; Wheeler Field and the 7th AAF. At present, there are no details surrounding the decision to add Hairston to any of the Army rosters (including that of the Service World Series).
In his very detailed and well-sourced baseball player profile for Sam Nahem, scholar Peter Dreier wrote, “A few African Americans played on racially integrated military teams in the South Pacific,” his piece prominently states, referring, no doubt to Hal Hairston, “but not in other military installations.” Dreier concluded. One of the most significant aspects of Nahem’s baseball career and life as an activist was the ballplayer’s sense of justice. Serving in the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II, “Subway Sam” assembled a post-VE Day team, the Oise All-Stars, which fought their way through a competitive field of teams that were made up of former major and minor leaguers. Perhaps Nahem was motivated by his altruism and quest for justice, Sam’s squad was rich in talent that included Willard Brown and Leon Day (two Negro Leaguers who would wind up enshrined in Cooperstown) defeating the best Army teams in Europe. Perhaps Nahem was equally motivated by his drive to win as he was at upsetting the racial status quo?
With the Armed Forces color barriers being perforated in the Pacific and Europe, it wouldn’t be until after President Truman’s 1948 desegregation order when the armed forces and, consequently service athletic teams, would finally be unified. That was the last word on the subject until we secured a fantastic piece of evidence that countered what previous evidence and Dreier’s Sam Nahem biography seemed to indicate. Through our process of curating vintage military baseball photography, we located a photo that depicted not only a wartime domestic Army base team but one that is local to us. The one area that we have been unable to source photographs was of those teams that played in our own backyard. As exciting as the discovery was, the make-up of the team proved to be an important discovery both in U.S. Military and baseball history.
The photo, clearly marked with the base, the team name and the date; “Fort Lewis Warriors, 1943 Champions” along with the (mostly legible) hand inscribed names of the personnel shown, prominently featured two African American ball players lined up with their teammates, proudly wearing their Warriors flannels. The photo of the 15 men flanked by two officers includes two African American players though only one of the men’s inscribed names was discernible (most of the players have been subsequently identified).
Since the spring of 1942, the Fort Lewis Warriors had been managed by a six-year veteran major league outfielder who last played for the 1941 New York Giants. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Superior, 150 miles north of Minneapolis in a small city named for the large lake, Superior, Wisconsin, Morris “Morrie” Arnovich was the son of hard-working orthodox Jewish parents. By 1935, Arnovich’s baseball prowess in the class “D” Northern League with the Superior Blues captured the attention of major league scouts from the Philadelphia Phillies resulting in a contract and promotion to the club’s class “A” Hazelton (Pennsylvania) Mountaineers of the New York – Pennsylvania League. In the mid-1930s, Jewish major leaguers were still relatively few in numbers and anti-Semitism made life for these players a considerable challenge.
The Pioneer from Superior
Only a decade and-a-half had elapsed since the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal with Abe Attel and Arnold Rothstein, two well-known members of the organized crime underworld, at the epicenter. The backlash against Jewish Americans was continual for the ensuing as the glowing embers of anti-Semitism were being fanned by baseball players, fans and even the media as a result of the dark cloud surrounding the 1919 World Series. Arnovich, no doubt, saw first-hand the glares and heard the grumblings and outright discriminatory epithets sent in his direction. Hank Greenberg, the most notable Jewish ballplayer of that era, faced a torrent of hatred and bigotry in virtually every ballpark that he played in. Michael Beschloss wrote of Greenberg’s experiences in, Hank Greenberg’s Triumph Over Hate Speech (NY Times, July 25, 2014) though it did not compare to what black Americans faced, “Greenberg had to know that there was always the lurking danger that one of those fevered anti-Semites in the stands might someday turn to violence against him.” No doubt that Arnovich had to contend with the same concerns during his time in the game.
In the 1941-42 off-season, Morrie Arnovich’s contract was sold to the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association and on February 17, reported for his induction physical despite his previous deferment due to a minor physical disability. Almost three months to the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Morrie Arnovich was inducted into the U.S. Army at the rank of private despite having a year of college and several seasons of professional baseball under his belt. Upon completion of basic training at Fort Sheridan (just 10 miles south of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station), Private Arnovich was assigned to Fort Lewis, a massive 87,000-acre based cut into land covered in tall Douglas Fir forests and glacial-cut prairie near Tacoma, Washington. Upon his late-March arrival, Arnovich was named manager of the base’s baseball team.
Fort Lewis’ Secret
The addition of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo to the Chevrons and Diamonds library generated significant excitement as it demonstrated that not only was there an example of an integrated service baseball team preceding those in the Pacific and European Theaters but also that it was within the Continental United States. The fact that this took place in our own backyard gave us a sense of pride knowing that the integrated Fort Lewis Warriors not solely competing against other service teams but they also faced professional minor league squads as well (Tacoma, Victoria, Spokane from the Western International League and Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Hollywood from the Pacific Coast League) which, no doubt help to pave a pathway for black players to the major leagues.
1943 Fort Lewis Warriors:
|Lt.||Bill Beard||C||Seattle Rainiers|
|Joe Brizer||OF||Northern League|
|SGT||Charles “Chuck” Cronin|
|Eddie Erautt||P||Hollywood Stars|
|“Pee Wee” Handy||NY Blank Yankees/Harlem Giants|
|Jack Knott||P||As, White Sox, Browns|
|Bob Kubicek||C||Cincinnati Org.|
|Sig Langsam||P||Kingsport (APPY)|
|Hal Lee||OF||Texas League|
|John Mauer||SS||III League|
|Oscar “Red” Miller||P||San Francisco/Seattle|
|SGT||Wynn Joseph Pinterell||IF||Lincoln (Neb. State League|
|Herm Reich||1B||WIL/Portland (PCL)|
In performing due diligence, we reached out to Gary Bedingfield (baseballinwartime.com) to share our findings and the photo. Gary’s reply was simple and seemingly nonchalant as he attached an image of the 1943 Salt Lake Army Air Base “Wings” team featuring three black players. Our revelation of integrated service team baseball in the continental U.S. was a fact that he was well aware of. Due to the limited legibility of the hand-inscriptions on each of the men in our photo, we pressed onward in our research in an attempt to positively identify each of the men.
Aside from the very obvious names and faces such as major leaguers Arnovich and Eddie Erautt, a few minor league names were distinguishable such as Herm Reich, Hal Lee, Joe Brizer and Steve Sakas. Of the two black team members names, only the name of the man seated in the front row was fully discernible; “Pee Wee” Handy. Of the remaining names that were legible, “Col. Johnson” and Bill Brown stood out but required research to determine their prewar status. The undetermined names that remained were going to require a greater effort in order to fully identify each of the men shown in the photo.
Searching through archives of newspapers and the Sporting News from 1943 yielded fantastic results in terms of uncovering significant games from the Warriors’ season and the level of competition was significant. Bringing to bear online baseball almanacs helped to nail down a roster of players that were not shown in our 1943 photograph (perhaps due to the personnel turnover of players being reassigned or deployed to combat theaters). To date, we have compiled a roster of 21 players from box scores, game recaps and articles that either provide great detail or at least mention the names of Warriors during the season and yet, three of the men (wearing their flannels) remain unidentified (and the partially-discernible names don’t match those found in our research) which raises the total to 23. In addition, there are two officers (again, with nearly illegible inscribed names) who can’t be aligned to what we have sourced. As with many of our photo-identity projects, time and perseverance will deliver success in this endeavor
Our 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors photo shows “Pee Wee Handy” and the player (“McGale”) in the back row (far right), both in their tam flannels among a team of Caucasian men. Though there is some mention of Handy’s pre-war Negro League play in newspaper archives, his documented career commences after the war with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Handy was not the most challenging person we have researched, however there were multiple challenges that left us to make both informed decisions and best estimations in our attempt to document his baseball and army pathway. We sourced several documents and news articles that, without a visual reference, lacked definitive proof. The first step (and perhaps what amounted to the catapult into the right direction) was Handy’s page on the Negro Leagues Database (Seamheads.com) which included an image (taken from a newspaper article) that clearly matched the man in the Warriors photo and he was wearing a Memphis Red Sox ball cap. That Seamheads.com site provided data that cross-referenced what was listed for Handy on Baseball Reference as well as additional detail. We were on our way for further sleuthing.
George William Handy Jr. (also listed as George Junior Handy) was born on December 5, 1924 in Wilson County, North Carolina. Soon after his 17th (or 22nd or 14th, depending on the source) birthday, Handy registered for the Selective Service (on December 28, 1942). On June 13, 1942, George William Handy enlisted into the U.S. Army. According to the William J. Weiss baseball questionnaire (completed by the player), Handy, perhaps stretching the truth, listed his birth date as December 26, 1927 however precisely detailing his dates of Army service (June 13, 1942 – January 1, 1946). On the same questionnaire, Handy listed his previous professional baseball experience with the Knoxville Giants and Kansas Stars (most likely, the St. Louis Stars).
The documentation also provides conflicting details surrounding his place of birth (either North Carolina or Tennessee) and yet there is (almost) no doubt that all of the research points to the same man and yet there were far more aligning data points that allowed us to correlate the information.
After his wartime service, George Handy was signed to and played two seasons with the Memphis Red Sox in 1947 and ’48. With the color barrier in the major leagues finally broken with Jackie Robinson’s ascension from the Montreal Royals to the Brooklyn Dodgers and his major league debut on April 15, 1947, other major league clubs began to follow suit. Handy made his professional debut with the Bridgeport Bees (Class “B” Colonial League) on April 8, 1949 (the league’s first black player) and elevating his level of play to the upper echelons of the league’s batting categories (batting average, slugging percentage, home-runs), attracting the attention of major league scouts.
As the Colonial League’s season wound to a close, Handy’s contract was purchased by the National League Boston Braves on September 27, seemingly Boston’s first move to integrate the Braves. Three days after Boston singed Handy, the club purchased another former Negro Leaguer, Sam Jethroe from the Dodgers organization. Both Handy and Jethroe were at the Braves’ spring training camp in February of 1950. Jethroe, having spent 1948-49 with Montreal, was seasoned and ready for a call up to the big leagues in 1950 and would go on to secure the National League Rookie of the Year award. Meanwhile, Handy continued in the minor leagues until 1955, his last season in organized ball with Winston-Salem (class “B” Carolina League) when he was released on July 31.
Though he never attained his goal of playing in the major leagues, Handy was a pioneer in the Army and in organized baseball. Before the great Satchel Paige was signed and brought up to the Cleveland Indian’s roster, he tapped George Handy to play on his barnstorming squad where he hit .326 and crushed 23 homeruns in just 60 games. Beside Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige serving as his manager on the barnstorming squad, Handy played for Jimmie Foxx (at Bridgeport), Pepper Martin (Miami Beach) and Ken Silvestri (Winston-Salem). Throughout his career, he played alongside several major leaguers including Dan Bankhead, Ed Erautt and Arnovich. To my surprise, Handy was not the first black baseball player at Fort Lewis.
Assembling the Fort Lewis Warriors
With our attempt to properly document the Fort Lewis Warriors baseball team, our research had to encompass the entirety of the War, especially considering his arrival at the base in late-March, 1942 and his immediate assignment to take the helm of the base’ team. Along with our attempts to fully-document the Warriors, one of our objectives was to determine who may have played a role in assigning players and building the roster and who had the final decision-making authority. As we waded through the information regarding the team, it became apparent that we were far away from answers to our questions. Instead, we have to make our best determination and hope that such an answer will surface in the future.
With our attempt to properly document the Fort Lewis Warriors baseball team, our research had to encompass the entirety of the War, especially considering his arrival at the base in late-March, 1942 and his immediate assignment to take the helm of the base’ team. Along with our attempts to fully-document the Warriors, one of our objectives was to determine who may have played a role in assigning players and building the roster and who had the final decision-making authority. As we waded through the information regarding the team, it became apparent that we were far away from answers to our questions. Instead, we have to make our best determination and hope that such an answer will surface in the future.
Baseball competition existed at Fort Lewis prior to Arnovich’s arrival however, rather than the existence of a top-level base team such as the Warriors, the tenant commands fielded their own unit-based teams (such as the squad from Company “L” of the 161st Infantry or the 41st Division All-Star, both of which played their way into championship tournaments in 1941), competing within regional semi-professional leagues. We have concluded that the appointed manager, Private Morris Arnovich was charged with assembling the Warriors from the ranks of soldiers assigned to the base.
For the 1942 season between the months of March and July, little documentation exists regarding the Warriors on-field performance. On June 6, 1942, Fort Lewis’ new stadium was dedicated and christened soon after with a three-run Arnovich homerun against the Western International League team, the Tacoma Tigers. By late July, news of Arnovich’s squad’s success is considerable as the team was dominant in both the regional semi-pro and budding service baseball leagues. For a few weeks spanning from late June until early July, Arnovich was pulled from Fort Lewis by Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane to serve on the 1942 Service All-Star team (which faced the 1942 American League All-Stars at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium) on July 7th and were on the losing end of the fund-raiser event, 5-0.
A Second Discovery: Ford Smith
Aside from the success of Arnovich’s 1943 campaign and the diverse team make-up with Handy and McGale on the roster, we were even more astounded to find that 1943 was built upon a desegregated foundation that was laid in 1942 at Fort Lewis. Aside from the well-stocked roster of former minor leaguers (many of whom were stars of the local Western International League), Arnovich’s pitching rotation included a tall, young and untested right-handed pitcher who previously occupied roster spots on the Chicago American Giants (1939), Indianapolis Crawfords (1940, the team’s only season) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1941). John Ford Smith was used sparingly with the Monarchs but shared the roster with greats such as Satchel Paige, Willard Brown (a key player on Sam Nahem’s Oise All-Stars in Germany in 1945) and Hilton Smith (all Cooperstown enshrinees).
1942 Fort Lewis Warriors:
|Lt.||Bill Beard||C||Seattle /Spokane|
|Lt.||Val M. Kirk||Athletic Officer|
|SGT||Ruben Litzenburger||C||Amateur (Portland)|
|SGT||Wynn Joseph Pinterell||IF||Lincoln (Nebraska State League|
|PFC||Billy Scheske||IF||Fon Du Lac|
|PFC||Billy Sewell||WSC (WSU)|
|SSGT||Ford Smith||P||KC Monarchs|
|CORP||Don Wymer||P||Cal League|
As was the case for George Handy, Ford Smith broke down barriers when he became the New York Giants first pitcher signed from the Negro Leagues. Signed on January 28, 1949 together with former Newark Eagles outfielder and first baseman (and future Hall of Famer), Monte Irvin (who served in the Army’s all-black 1313th General Services Engineer Regiment in the European Theater during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge), Smith was assigned to the New Jersey Giants for the 1950 season
Fort Lewis hosted the Portland Beavers on 20 July 1942, a day after taking on the Seattle City League leading squad from Universal Printing. The Printers were a force to be reckoned with having taken down the Naval Air Station Sand Point Fliers. In the tune-up against Universal, Fort Lewis’ bats tallied 18 hits against three different pitchers racking up 11 runs in the second inning.
The Warriors team attracted a lot of attention drawing more than 4,500 in a game against the Tacoma Tigers at their ballpark. The Warriors defeated the Tigers 5-1 in the 14-inning contest. In the August 9, 1942 Spokesman Review, Ford Smith was billed as Fort Lewis’ star hurler,” mentioned with other stars such as Arnovich, Herm Reich, Billy Sewell and Cy Greenlaw.
On Sunday, August 30, the Warriors traveled to Oregon to face the Portland Air Base All-Stars to in a Bat and Ball Fund benefit game at George E. Waters Park. In the Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon), the game was in high demand as there was an “incessant demand by fans to see the famous colored pitcher, Smith, in action.” The Portland fans were disappointed as Smith pitched a four-hit shutout on the previous day as he faced an Oregon state all-star team. In the August 30 game, Arnovich assuaged the fans with a ninth inning home run in the 2-0 victory over the Portland Air Base nine.
By September 12, the Warriors’ record was 30-6 heading into a decisive three-game championship series against Edo Vanni’s Naval Air Station Pasco’s “Fliers” at Ferris Field in Spokane having lost the first game in Tacoma, 11-8. Arnovich made the decision to start Cy Greenlaw over Ford Smith (perhaps saving his ace for the third game) in game two of the Northwest Service League championship series. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Greenlaw lost his effectiveness in the third inning and the offense was stymied by Pasco. Vanni’s Fliers captured the series and the league championship with an 8-0 shutout.
Fort Lewis’ All-Around Athletes
With the conclusion of the 1942 baseball season, changes were afoot for the Warriors. Arnovich took a bad fall sending his throwing arm through a window resulting in serious lacerations. The damage was so severe that his professional baseball career was in question awaiting the outcome of his recover. During baseball off-season, several of the ballplayers were tapped to play for the Fort Lewis basketball team including Bill Diehl, Paul Dugan and Herm Reich with Morrie Arnovich taking the reins. Arnovich guided the Fort Lewis Warriors to the top of the Northwest Service Basketball taking on service, college and industrial league teams. The Warriors matched up against the Harlem Globetrotters on three separate occasions with at least two wins (the results of the third game are yet to be uncovered). Ahead of the 1943 season, Arnovich lost his top starting pitchers as Cy Greenlaw was reassigned and Ford Smith entered an officer training program on his way to earning his commission. With the loss of several players in addition to the two aces of his pitching staff, Arnovich pulled together another competitive roster.
For two years, Private Morrie Arnovich fielded two baseball clubs that dominated the competition and secured championships while attracting large crowds. Arnovich’s clubs energized baseball fans of the Pacific Northwest who, no doubt, understood that history was being made with the integrated team club from Fort Lewis, Washington. It is unknown what Morrie Arnovich’s motivations were but his decision to field an integrated team underscored what having the best players, regardless of their ancestral heritage, provides the best opportunity to win. Perhaps it was this example that the future commissioner of major league baseball witnessed during a January 1943 visit to Fort Lewis. Kentucky Senator, A. B. “Happy” Chandler, while visiting Fort Lewis’s Commanding Officer, Colonel Ralph R. Glass, requested a meeting with the former Phillies and Giants outfielder, describing Arnovich as, “One of my favorite ballplayers.” Not only did Chandler take the opportunity to enjoy the company of a major leaguer but, no doubt, Arnovich shared the success of his club and the make-up of the team and praising the talents of his players such as Ford Smith.
Following the 1943 season, Arnovich was reassigned for duties overseas, landing in the South Pacific, serving as an Army postal clerk in New Guinea where he connected with Hugh Mulcahy and Ken Silvestri. In 1945, his assignment took him to the Philippines where he was with the Army Replacement Depot and played baseball in Manila. Lacking in the points to rotate home following Japan’s surrender, Tech Arnovich remained in the Philippines until returning to the U.S. for discharge in December. With nearly four years of Army service, Morrie Arnovich was discharged as a Technician fifth grade, better known as a “Tech Corporal” (T/5).
Resuming Careers After the War
After the war both Handy and Smith both continued their baseball careers back in the Negro Leagues. Even before the war’s end, changes were afoot in major league baseball with Kansas City Monarchs infielder and former Army officer, Jack Roosevelt Robinson met with Dodgers President Branch Rickey met to discuss the torrent of anger and hatred the first black major leaguer would surely face. The outcome of that August 28, 1945 meeting was an agreement between Robinson and the Dodgers setting in motion the integration of what, until that moment, was known as “white” baseball. At the time of the October 23, 1945 signing of Robinson to a contract with the Montreal Royals (for the 1946 season), most of the United States’ wartime overseas forces were awaiting their return trip home for discharge including Morrie Arnovich who was in the Philippines.
Ford Smith returned to the Monarchs for the 1946 season and launched into the best years of his baseball career. George Handy resumed his career with the Memphis Red Sox in 1947. As both players’ careers were on upward trajectories, Arnovich’s baseball career was heading in a different direction. Instead of resuming where he left off, Morrie Arnovich played in his only and final major league game on April 21, 1946 as his Giants were hosted by Brooklyn. Arnovich’s last game saw him start and finish the game with the same batting average as he managed three infield groundouts for his three plate appearances. Arnovich spent the rest of ’46 with the Jersey City Giants (class “AA” International League).
Morrie Arnovich continued to participate with history-making integration of baseball his club faced Robinson’s Montreal Royals early in the 1946 season. As Jersey City faced the Royals on May 2, 1946, Arnovich had quite an offensive showing as he went 2 for 6 with a homerun, two runs scored and three RBI. Meanwhile, Jackie Robinson was 1-3 in the 12-inning, 9-9 tie as the game called due to darkness. The following day, May 3, 1946, Arnovich was 1-2 with an RBI in the top of the fourth which was the final tally for the Giants. Though he was listed as injured and did not start the game, Robinson batted in the pinch-hit in the seventh inning for the pitcher but was hitless as Jersey City secured the victory, 4-3 over the hometown team.
When Robinson was called up to the Dodgers for the 1947 season, breaking the game’s long-standing exclusionary barrier, Arnovich could have taken pride knowing that his efforts at Fort Lewis during 1943 and ’43 played a foundational role in righting a wrong in the game that he loved.
After the 1990s decade of overproduction, excesses in options and over-saturation of the sports card cardboard marketplace caused a mass exodus of collectors from one of the oldest collecting hobbies. The sports card business in the 1990s represented all that was bad within the hobby despite the aspects that made it fun, still existing yet getting lost in the noise. Corrupted by money and the pursuit of fast riches, the hobby turned from the sheer joy of chasing down and trading for cards that would complete a set, to one of financial investment and price guides. Instead of discussing stats and favorite players, hobbyists began watching prices for inserts and specialty cards rising to three and even four digits based upon speculation that an 18-year-old draft pick would rise to the stardom of the game’s best and brightest.
Disillusioned by the greed of the hobbyists and card shops, not to mention the card manufacturers themselves, one can point fingers to a number of causes leading to the degradation of baseball card collecting. However, a common theme emerges from a large portion of collectors: over-saturation of the market which was spurred into action by the fervor surrounding the mercurial rise of a superstar player and the launch of a new generation of baseball cards that featured high gloss, crisp colors and graphics that awakened a stagnant industry.
The inaugural issuance of the once giant Upper Deck company was the 1989 baseball set that featured a rookie baseball player that was catching the attention of sportswriters and fans alike as he drew incredible interest due to his play while ascending through the minor leagues. The Seattle Mariners’ rookie prospect, Ken Griffey, Jr. adorned the front of 1989 Upper Deck Baseball, card #1 and created a stir like no other before or since.
“More than 1 million Griffey cards were printed. In Upper Deck’s original mailing to dealers, the company said it would sell 65,000 cases of card packs. With 20 boxes in a case, 520 cards in a box, and 700 different cards in the set, there would be about 965,000 of each card produced for the boxes. Combine that number with the amount of Griffeys in the untold number of “factory sets,” and you’d have your production run.
Given the number of Griffey cards in circulation, there have long been rumors of an illicit reason for the card’s ubiquity. Upper Deck, the legend goes, knew that printing the cards was just like printing money. As such, there was a sheet the company could run with 100 Griffey cards on it, instead of the standard sheet that had just one Griffey in the top corner along with 99 pictures of other players.” – Junior Mint: The enduring popularity (and ubiquity) of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Card | By Darren Rovell
The 1989 Upper Deck #1 still garners the interest (though the card must be highly graded by an independent authentication and grading company, sealed into a plastic slab and labeled with the grade along with a unique identifier) and can generate sales transactions in the high three and sometimes four-digit ranges. As the 1990s wound down, there was a significant glut in the marketplace with the arrival of countless card manufacturers and the proliferation of products as businesses made a full-court-press for every consumer dollar. A Netflix film, Jack of All Trades, captured the reality of this dark era of card-collecting and the impacts still being felt by collectors (see: ‘Jack of All Trades’ on Netflix: A Baseball Card Documentary That Doubles as a Personal Father/Son Story).
While card collecting as a whole took a significant hit in interest levels in reaction to what happened prior to the turn of the new century and those cards manufactured during the 1990s were largely relegated to junk-status, cardboard manufactured prior to the 1970s remained stable in terms of perceived value (among collectors), attracting a new audience.
Baseball militaria collectors have few options available in terms of enhancing their collections with baseball cards. Two manufacturers, Tri-Star Obak (2011) and Panini (2012 and 2015) made military-themed cards as set inserts in the last few years that feature players who served during World War II, however they are of relatively limited production numbers. In 1959, Fleer produced a special, 80-card set to commemorate the end of Ted Williams’ career (1939-1960). As part of the Williams set, Fleer produced 11 cards that recognized the ‘Splendid Splinter’s’ World War II and Korean War service (see: A Set to Honor Teddy Ballgame’s Military Service) however, they only scratch the surface in any attempt to satisfy the collectors’ desire for military-related cardboard. Apart from building “veteran” themed groups from vintage card sets featuring cards from players who served, the option for cards recognizing baseball during the war are virtually non-existent, or so was the perception.
One of the card manufacturers of the 1970s and ’80s that was a bit of a dark horse among the big names (Topps Fleer and later, Donruss) laid the groundwork in addressing collectors’ desires for new treatments of vintage cards. The company’s founder, Michael Aronstein was ahead of his time with sets that turned younger generations’ attention to the game’s golden era, beginning with the reproduction of the 1936 Goudy cards in the 200-card 1972 TCMA 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Reprints set (see: Heritage before Heritage and Beautiful purple cards). Some speculate that TCMA’s popularity is what influenced makers such as Topps towards their re-issue and re-printing movement of the 1990s.
During TCMA’s 15-year-run, the company largely produced cards that paid homage to the game’s heyday directing attention to teams and stars from the 1920s through the 1950s. Some of the card sets that were produced centered on specific teams such as the 1927 Yankees (released in 1979), 1914 “Miracle” Braves and the 1959 Dodgers (both released in 1980). TCMA ventured into the minor leagues with sets such as the Rochester Red Wings and Wichita Aeros (1980) and into sets centered on the game’s greats with “Hitters,” “Pitchers” and “Sluggers” (1982). Unlike what is commonly seen within the sets produced by the major sports card companies, checklist inserts and set production data are not readily available.
As we continue in our quest to locate and secure photography associated with the military game, over the last 10 years, we have encountered a smattering of images listed (in online auctions) as photos or real photo postcards (RPPC) that were clearly printed (half-toned and containing labels on the image faces). “Photographs” of this type tend to be clippings from books or periodicals and are always absent the characteristics (such as good resolution, exposure or clarity that are hallmarks of photos printed from negatives) of type-1 images.
As we search and scour online sales and auctions for vintage military baseball photography, an occasional listing of a candid image (above) showing Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer and Merrill May in their Navy baseball flannels in front of a tropical vegetation backdrop. The image appears to have postcard dimensions and, due to it being a half-tone printed item, the exposure appears to be of a low and “muddy” contrast that is typical of such material. While the subject of the photograph would capture our attention, we would routinely dismiss the items. Having only seen the front of the postcard-like photo, there was no reason to suspect that the image should have captured our attention.
In recent months, another listing of the Reese-Vander Meer-May photo appeared in a search however, this time, there were a few additional similarly themed postcard photographs included as part of a group. A closer examination of the additional auction listing images raised our eyebrows as we noted details printed on the backs of each card. The addition of the other cards drew attention to the presence of numerals on the face of each card along with the names of the players shown. Of the handful of cards, one of them truly stood out. On the front featured two men in their service uniforms – Phil Rizzuto (formerly of the New York Yankees) wearing his Navy service dress blues and Terry Moore (formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals) in his U.S. Army dress uniform – at the fifth and deciding game of the 1943 World Series at Sportsman’s Park. On the reverse of the card is what appears to be the introduction of an essay that was penned by Harrington Crissey, LT, USNR, entitled “Athletes Away.” Printed in smaller type in the lower right-hand corner of the card, “T.C.M.A” and a 1975 copyright date. We immediately acquired the few pieces that were listed and subsequently reached out to Mr. Crissey with an inquiry.
In the year since I became acquainted with Mr. Crissey, we have collaborated on considerable research of wartime military baseball – predominantly focused upon his area of expertise, the game played by professional ball players who served (and played) in the U.S. Navy – we discussed his three books, Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s: Volume 1: The National League (published 1981), Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s, Vol. 2: The American League (1982) and Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II (1984) along with his extensive research, interviews and correspondence with the players and his incredible library of photographs, documents and personal items (obtained from the men who played and served). Despite all our conversations and correspondence, there was no mention of the cards until I shared my “discovery.”
Without pause, Mr. Crissey explained how the set came into existence, mentioning how he came into contact with the founder of TCMA cards, “Mike Aronstein was a young man about my age who had collected a very large number of glossy photos of players and was selling them at reasonable (for those days) prices, “ Crissey wrote in an email. “I bought many of them from him both at card shows and later at his apartment in New York City,” Mr. Crissey continued. Crissey explained that the 18-card set was the result of a collaboration with Aronstein with photos from their respective vintage image collections.
The “Athletes Away” TCMA 18-card set shines a spotlight upon baseball during World War II, specifically Navy baseball with seven of the cards depicting the players either in their service team flannels or in their navy service uniforms. “The photos of players in major league uniforms plus the one of Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore were from the Aronstein collection,” Crissey wrote. Aside from card #1 (showing the aforementioned Rizzuto/Moore photograph from Aronstein’s collection). Card number 2-6 and #12 were all made from Crissey’s photo collection. Most of the photos supplied by Crissey were given to him directly by former St. Louis Browns outfielder, Glenn “Red” McQuillen, one of the players featured on six of the TCMA cards, giving the set a more personal historical connection. The remainder of the set features photos of players who served in the Navy but are shown in their major league uniforms before they entered the service.
TCMA Athletes Away Set List:
- Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore
- Action at Gab Gab, Guam
- Navy players warm the bench
- Merrill May, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer
- Navy players in working uniforms, Guam
- At Great Lakes with Manager Cochrane
- Del Ennis – Phillies
- Mace Brown – Pirates
- Reese, Gordon, Dickey – 1941 World Series
- Glenn McQuillen – Browns
- Mike Budnick – Giants
- Navy Pacific Tour Teams
- “Skeets” Dickey – White Sox
- Connie Ryan – Bees
- Hal White – Tigers
- Mickey Cochrane – Tigers
- Barney McCoskey – Tigers
- Ben Huffman – Browns
As the dialogue between us continued, Mr. Crissey inquired as to the cards that I was missing from the Athletes Away set. A few days after our conversation, a package arrived with the pieces that brought my set to completion. Mr. Crissey was unaware of the production size of the Athletes Away set nor was he familiar with the manner in which the cards were distributed to TCMA customers. If the present very limited availability is an indication, it appears that production was limited.
Aronstein, an avid collector of vintage photographs, ventured into other areas including the minor leagues before transitioning to his fully-licensed (through the MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and NFL) photographic reproduction business, selling frame-able, autograph-ready retail sports photographic prints. We attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to Mr. Aronstein for input.
In the waning days of July, 1945, the baseball competition on two islands of the Northern Marianas was heating up. Teams on Saipan and Tinian had been in the Western Pacific for a short time as part of the Army’s plan to provide the men, who were bringing the fight to the Japanese home islands, relief from the heavily-taxing operational pace. With the caliber of both players and on-field play drew significant crowds despite the presence of some of the game’s best players actively serving as airmen beyond the foul lines.
Former Red Sox pitcher, Cecil “Tex” Hughson stationed on Saipan after a few seasons playing for the Waco Army Flying School Wolves team, wrote an August 2, 1945 letter to Joe Cronin, his Boston manager, providing and update as to the baseball activities, “We were divided into three teams.” Hughson wrote,” and the other two teams are on Tinian now, but one is to go to Guam as soon as they have accommodations for them there.” Joining Hughson on the Saipan squad was Sid Hudson (Senators), Mike McCormick (Reds) Taft Wright and Dario Lodigiani (both of the White Sox), recently shipped from Hawaii. The three teams that largely consisted of major leaguers were the 58th Bombing Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombing Wing “Bombers” and 313th Bombing Wing “Flyers.”
The 58th Wing’s roster featured several major leaguers (including two future Cooperstown enshrinees) augmented by a handful of minor leaguers and at least one service member without professional baseball experience. The 58th’s manager, Captain George R. “Birdie” Tebbets who also served as the team’s catcher, spent the 1943 and 1944 seasons in the same capacity with the Waco Army Flying School (at Rich Field Army Air Base) where he led that team to a record of 88-16 competing largely against service and semi-professional ballclubs. In that span of time, the WAFS Wolves captured both the Texas State Semi-Pro and Houston Service League championships in consecutive seasons.
Aside from playing baseball, these men could be found working as ground crew, maintainers, armorers or in other support capacities including instructing and leading in physical fitness training. Flights of B-29 heavy bombers would depart for General Curtis LeMay’s low-altitude bombing missions on enemy targets on the Japanese home islands, often returning with heavy damage and crew casualties sustained by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and fighters. All too often, the damage (to some aircraft) was so severe that attempted landings produced deadly results with fiery runway crashes or ditching in the waters near shore. The men on the ground, including former major and minor league ballplayers now serving and playing on these rosters, rushed to the scenes to extinguish fires and extract the wounded and dead. In the hours following these duties, the games would go on to divert attention from the carnage in order to help flight crews to maintain readiness in order to continue with subsequent missions, despite the losses. Life on the Northern Marianas was dangerous business.
Tibbets and Tebbetts; the careers of two men with similar-sounding names, followed vastly different paths, intersected on a tiny island in the western Pacific roughly 1,500 miles south of Tokyo. Though confirmation has not been found, it is possible, if not unreasonable to consider that the two U.S. Army Air Forces officers met in the summer of 1945 on the either of the two inhabited Northern Marianas group. Paul Tibbets, a fixture on the islands since his B-29 squadron arrived on Tinian in late May of 1945, was part of the command structure and, if he was a baseball fan as most American young men were, would have taken an interest in the arrival of the some of the game’s biggest stars who were serving in the Army Air Forces.
On August 17, 1942, Captain Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr., recently named as the commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron of the 97th Bombardment Group (flying the B-17D “Flying Fortress”) climbed into the left seat of the heavy bomber Butcher Shop as he prepared to lead the first American daylight heavy bomber mission, a shallow-penetration raid against a marshaling yard in the German Occupied town of Rouen, France, the first of his 25 combat missions while flying as part of the famous Eighth Air Force.
Five days later, on August 22, 1942, 29-year-old George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts reported for training in the United States Army Air Forces. The philosophy major and 1934 graduate of Providence College was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces as he began training at Rich Field in Waco, Texas. By spring of 1943, Tebbets, nicknamed “Birdie” as a child by an aunt who thought his (then) distinctive voice resembled the sound of chirping birds, assumed the management of the air base’s baseball team, the Waco Army Flying School “Wolves.” Lt. Tebbetts, drawing from new cadets and airmen, assembled a squad that consisted of former professional ballplayers who were either assigned to the Rich Field base or were aviation cadets, training in the base’s flight school. During an early-May break between games, Tebbetts and a fellow Air Forces lieutenant took an Army plane from Waco to Lambert Field (St. Louis) to take in the St. Louis Browns game against the visiting Boston Red Sox. Lt. Tebbetts met with Boston manager Joe Cronin on the field and briefly enjoyed the feel of the game by catching during the Red Sox batting practice session before the start of the game.
1943 Waco Army Flying School Wolves
|Cpl.||Bob Birchfield||1B||Opelousas/Port Arthur|
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P|
|Pvt.||John “Nippy” Stewart||SS||New Iberia|
|2nd Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
Heading into May, Tebbetts’ Waco team was on a roll winning six straight game, demonstrating their formidability among the area service and semi-professional baseball leagues. During the six-game streak, the Waco Wolves prey included the Blackland Army Air Field Flying School, an Austin semi-pro squad as well as college teams from Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Tebbetts’ Wolves dropped a three-game weekend series, splitting the Sunday, May 23rd double-header in front of a crowd of 5,000 with the Naval Air Technical Training Center “Skyjackets,” Norman, Oklahoma. The Skyjackets took the Saturday evening’s 10-inning duel 4-3. Waco defeated Norman in the early Sunday game 5-2 followed by the Naval Air team’s 4-3 victory to secure the series win. Tebbetts’ Wolves would return the favor in spades just a short time later, taking three from the Skyjackets to take the season series lead, four games to two.
The WAFS Wolves played their way into and won the Houston Post tournament as they defeated the Bayton Oilers on July 19 in the finals. The victory propelled the Wolves into the Texas Semi-Pro Championship Series in Waco, Texas which they secured. In early August, Waco’s bats were silenced and their pitching was overpowered by the Texas Service League All-Stars, 7-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 5,000 at Tech Field in San Antonio. The All-Stars pitcher, David “Boo” Ferriss yielded a hit to Tebbetts but was otherwise dominant over the Waco batters for the final three-innings. The All-Stars’ Enos Slaugter led his team to victor knocking a pair of hits and putting on a defensive clinic in the field.
Second Lieutenant Tebbetts played in 65 of Waco’s games, catching for a mixture of major and minor league pitchers. Birdie’s ace of the staff, Sid Hudson, was 17-1 for the WAFS team. Hudson, not respecting of Army ranks on the diamond, would often shake off his catching manager’s signs. “This monkey gave me the most beautiful double-cross the other day that I have ever seen.” He regaled to the Sporting News, “I signaled for a curve ball and he threw a helluva fastball that hit me between the eyes so hard it knocked me down!”
On September 5, while facing Fort Worth Army Airfield, Nick Popovich pitched a four-hit, 5-1 performance to secure their ninth consecutive and 49th victory of the season. Closing out the 1943 season, Tebbett’s Waco Wolves secured the Houston Post (service league) and area semi-pro championships for the 1943 season. With his first year serving the Army Air Forces, George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts was promoted to First Lieutenant.
1944 Waco Army Flying School Wolves
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P||Stockton|
|1st Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
In the Waco Army Flying School’s 1944 baseball season, the Wolves picked up where they left off in 1943. By July, the Wolves were streaking through their competition, winning their 11th of 12 games as pitcher Herb Nordquist stymied the South Coast All-Stars in a 4-0 shutout. Three of Waco’s four runs were knocked in by “Hoot” Evers as he stroked two singles and a double. Evers accounted for the fourth run, scoring from first on a Gil Turner single. Prior to the game start of the game, Birdie Tebbetts sustained a broken toe while warming up a Waco pitcher. This injury kept him sidelined for both Waco and his regular Army duties (which kept him from deploying overseas). The Wolves suffered another blow to their roster as Lt. Buster Mills was transferred to serve as a physical training officer at Aloe Army Airfield in Victoria, Texas following his tenth-inning walk-off homerun against the Karlen Brothers team (in Dallas, Texas) on June 30th which at that time, was the Wolves’ fourteenth consecutive win.
Though they continued to win, Tebbetts’ club suffered yet another loss as his pitching ace, Corporal Sid Hudson, former Washington Senator, was suffering severe soreness to his pitching arm. When reports (that Hudson would never pitch again) reached his owner, Clark Griffith the news was unsettling considering that when the war was over, his staff anchor (40-47, 4.13 ERA, 276 Ks) would not be returning. However, Hudson would deny the injury’s severity mentioned in the early-July-1944 report stating that his arm “never felt better,” despite his considerable reduction in innings pitched for the Wolves (limited to a total of 24 by the end of July).
The hits to the Wolves’ roster were apparent as Waco lost its fourth consecutive in the last week of July at the hands of the Fort Worth Army Air Field nine, 4-0. In the ninth inning, the Wolves left the bases loaded as Fort Worth’s Lefty Fries set down Gil Turner and Hoot Evers to secure the last two outs in relief of Andy Minshew. On July 30th, Sid Hudson made a triumphant return to Waco’s lineup in the Texas Semi-Pro tournament finals, securing the win over the 12th Armored Division when he went the distance, striking out 12 in the 1-0 victory.
For the August 20-September 4, 1944 Houston Post semi-pro tournament, the competition was stacking up in order to put for the best chance to take down the Waco Wolves and the Orange Boosters squad was assembled for that purpose. The Boosters were constructed of teams from the Orange Levingston Shipyards and Orange Consolidated Shipyards squads and augmented with players borrowed from Houston-area Army camp clubs. The Boosters were managed by Steve Mancuso (older brother of Gus and Frank) and featured pitcher Kirby Higbe (Camp Livingston, Louisiana), George Gill (Lake Charles, Louisiana Army Air Base), Wally Hebert, Les Fleming, Dixie Parsons and Steve Carter. The Orange Boosters’ attempts were for naught as the Waco club dispatched them on their way to the tournament’s title game against Fort Worth Army Airfield. Tebbett’s nine required all nine innings to secure their second consecutive championship overcoming a 6-5 deficit in the final frame with a two-run rally.
On August 20, the Waco squad rolled into San Antonio to face the Baytown Oilers but the much anticipated pitching match-up that would have seen Tex Hughson against Sid Hudson however heavy rains thwarted the contest until August 24. Hughson was ready to go for the Oilers but Tebbetts sent in Walter LaFranconi rather than his ace and his decision proved to be correct. While Waco roughed up Tex for 13 safeties, LaFranconi pitched a three-hit gem, securing the 6-1 victory.
Despite dropping a tournament 3-2 game to Camp Hulen (who took third place in the contest behind second place Baytown) in ten innings, the Wolves locked up their second consecutive Houston Post semi-professional title by defeating two of the area’s best pitchers in Baytown’s Hughson and Howie Pollet of Camp Hulen. Lt. “Buster” Mills locked up the tournament’s outstanding player award due to his strong defense and sure-hitting.
After the close of the 1944 season, the Waco squad saw the first of its post-championship departures as Nick Popovich was reassigned to Enid Army Flying School in Enid, Oklahoma. More changes were made to the roster ahead of Waco’s 1945 including the addition of Vernon Gilchrist from the Canal Zone team, and the loss of Corporal Bob Stone, whose play in the Houston Post semi-pro tournament earned him all-tournament honors in both 1943 and ’44. Ahead of Waco’s spring training, Tebbetts earned his second Army promotion donning his captain’s bars in late January, 1945 as he coached the base’s basketball team (former Detroit Tigers’ outfielder “Hoot” Evers starred on the team) to a league-leading 17-1 record.
As Captain Tebbetts and the Wolves were gearing up and training for the 1945 baseball season, the Waco squad was hit hard with their most detrimental roster changes since 1943. With a record of 22-1, pitching ace Sid Hudson received word that he was being transferred for overseas duty. Tebbetts wouldn’t have to concern himself with Hudson’s departure as the Wolves manager and part-time catcher departed with Hudson in mid-March.
Tebbetts’ tenure as the Waco manager was an unbridled success as he led the team to an 88-16 record with championships in both the Texas state semi-pro and Houston Post tournaments in back-to-back seasons.
Birdie arrived in Honolulu and was assigned to Hickam Field, assuming command of the “Bombers” baseball club, competing against other service teams on Oahu. At his disposal were former major leaguer pitchers such as Howie Pollet and Johnny Beazley who he was very familiar while managing against their respective clubs in the previous seasons. Third Baseman Bob Dillinger, a sure-hitting infielder in the Browns’ farm system carried a .305 average in his 1942 season at Toledo, his last professional assignment before joining the Army. Tebbetts’ Bombers roster was bolstered by the 1944 batting champ (of the Hawaii Leagues), former San Francisco Seals first baseman Ferris Fain.
Early in the Hawaiian season, nearly 1,000 local area youths ranging in ages 8-18 were the beneficiaries of Army Special Services fund-raising efforts (with much of the financial resources coming from Service Team games throughout the war years) that resulted in a large-scale baseball clinic that was led by Birdie Tebbetts. Birdie captured the attention of the future stars stating, “One purpose we are here is to show you what you need to become a ball player.” Birdie solicited help from other former professionals such as Billy Hitchcock, Stan Rojek, Dario Lodigiani, Johnny Sturm, Max West, Walter Judnich, Tex Hughson, Chubby Dean, Enos “Country” Slaughter along with members of his Hickam squad, Howie Pollet, Bob Dillinger and Ferris Fain.
In early July, Tebbetts was named to manage the American League All-Stars team consisting of Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The National League service all-stars squad, led by Billy Herman featured Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojack, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mick McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe. In just a few short weeks, the leadership of the USAAF, on the heels of the Navy’s successful morale-boosting baseball tour of the Pacific, assembled 48 former professional ballplayers and deployed them to the Marianas in an effort to provide the massive build-up of troops pouring onto the islands (as part of the massive strategic air bases being constructed) with a morale-boosting outlet.
Upon arrival to Tinian, the group of 48 players was divided into three teams that were aligned with the subordinate commands that were part of Twentieth Air Force under the United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific (USASTAF). The men were divided into three teams, each of which was assigned to a parent 20th Air Force Bombardment Wing. The 313th “Flyers” squad (part of the XXI Bomber Command), led by Lew Riggs, was based on Tinian’s North Field. Grouped beneath the XX Bomber Command (at Saipan’s Isley Field) were the 73rd Wing “Bombers” captained by Buster Mills and Birdie Tebbetts’ 58th “Wingmen” who were based at Tinian’s West Field.
1945 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”
|Art Lilly||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Bobby Adams||2B||Syracuse (IL)|
|Don Lang||OF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Ed Kowalski||P||Appleton (WISL)|
The USASTAF based on Saipan and Tinian consisted of the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands with three bombardment wings the 58th and 73rd (in the 20th) and the 313th (in the 21st). Each wing was comprised of multiple bombardment groups (40th, 444th, 462nd and 468th in the 58th; the 497th, 498th, 499th and 500th in the 73rd; 6th, 9th, 504th, 505th, 509th and 383rd in the 313th) with roughly four bombardment squadrons in each group. For these two bomber commands, there were approximately 30,000 men, not to mention the additional Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel also stationed on the islands. Each of the baseball teams represented more than 10,000 Air Forces personnel when they took the field.
“The extent of sports participation by servicemen in the Marianas is indicated by figures for one island which could appear almost fantastic.
Captain J.S. McEntee, manager of “Sporting News,” weekly mimeographed paper published at the base, reports that the island has 65 baseball diamonds, 125 softball diamonds, 42 boxing arenas, 75 lighted basketball courts, 20 tennis courts, 3oo horseshoe pitching courts and 12 major size swimming beaches. For each of the baseball and softball diamonds are lighted. There are ten island baseball leagues.” – The Sporting News, June 28, 1945
The USAAF Marianas baseball competition was held in a three-team round-robin fashion with the tournament commencing on July 27, 1945 with Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen taking on Buster Mills’ 73rd. The 1944 Hawaiian League batting champ from the 7th AAF team, Ferris Fain secured the win for Tebbetts’ former Waco Wolves teammate’s new club, the 73rd Bombers by driving in the game-winning solo-homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning.
73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers”
As the tournament continued, the operational pace of the B-29 missions over Japan with the low-level bombing runs continued. It wasn’t uncommon for a game to be played while the aircraft were away on a mission. The ballgame offered a few hours of relief from the tension and stress as the men on the ground awaited the return of squadron aircraft during their 15+hour missions, hopeful of all planes returning safely. However, hours after the final out of a game as the very heavy bombers were returning, ground personnel would count the number of plane and hope that those that did make it back could safely land, despite any damage received by enemy fighter aircraft or ground-fire. The landings were anything but guaranteed as some B-29s sustained damage that caused them to overshoot runways (ditching into the sea), crash, or erupt into flames due to damaged, smoldering engines.
For the ballplayers, their duties didn’t solely consist of playing games. Some of the men, such as Max West, served as ground crews facing dangerous and troubling situations when the aircraft returned from missions. “I saw some horrific crashes … and we on the ground crew would have to go in and, in all honesty, mop up the human carnage,“ stated West*. “One time I went in to help, we pulled out this pilot. I do not remember his name,” west continued, “but he had just flown all of us to Saipan for a ball game a few days before. We pulled him out and got him on a stretcher. He was burned pretty badly, and all I saw were his eyes. They were so white and he looked right at me, his lips kind of smiled and he just died. His face just went blank.”
The games on the islands were always competitive and the players went all out to win the games for their fans. Regardless of where the team played, the excitement and reception given to the players by the troops watching, made it like, “Playing before,” according to 73rd Wing “Bomber” infielder Stan Rojek, “80,000 in Yankee Stadium. We gave everything we had.” Rojek, speaking Cy Kritzer, reporter for The Sporting News, “There was no loafing or protecting yourself. Not before those crowds,” Rojek stated in a December 6, 1945 article.
Tex Hughson, commenting about the ballplayers’ activities and duties in the Marianas, wrote (in his August 2, 1945 letter to Cronin), “They plan to have a Navy team on each of the three islands and to start what will be termed the Marianas League,” stated the former Red Sox pitcher. Tex continued, “We have been busy building our own tents to live in and our own park to play in. The ball park certainly is no beauty, but will answer the purpose. Of course, there is no grass and the seats for ‘customers’ are made exclusively of bomb crates, of which we have plenty here.” As the games continued throughout the Northern Marianas, so did efforts to bring about an end to the nearly four-year-long and horrific war with Japan.
On August 5, 1945, USAAF Colonel Paul Tibbets christened his Boeing B-29 ship “Enola Gay” (after his mother). Just hours later, on August 6, at 02:45, the Enola Gay’s wheels left the Tinian Tarmac as Colonel Paul Tibbets began to turn the ship towards Japan. Colonel Tibbets could have fielded a baseball team with the 12 men manning the high-altitude heavy bomber on its mission to deliver the first atomic weapon to be used on an enemy target (Hiroshima, Japan). As Colonel Tibbets guided the flight of seven aircraft north towards Japan, one can imagine that thoughts of baseball were far from the minds of the crewmen. When the Enola Gay touched down on Tinian, General Car Spaatz presented Colonel Tibbets with the Army’s second highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. Three days later, the Enola Gay joined the second atomic bombing mission as six B-29s departed Tinian northward to the Japanese islands. On this September 9 mission led by the B-29 named “Bockscar,” Nagasaki became the second target (the city of Kokura was the primary target of the mission but was obscured by smoke and clouds necessitating a shift to the secondary target city), but this time, Colonel Tibbets remained behind, having participated in the final planning while on the island of Guam.
Six days after Nagasaki was bombed, on August 15, the unconditional surrender of Japan was announced by Emperor Hirohito bring the war to a close, however the USAAF games continued in the Marianas, the Bonin Islands (Iwo Jima) and Micronesia (Guam), boosting morale of the troops in the Western Pacific. The formal Instrument of Surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The armed forces’ mission transitioned from combat operations to occupation and assisting in the region’s stabilization and the commencement of reconstruction. However the attention of most, if not all of the troops turned to going home to their families, jobs and peace.
Taking breaks from the Marianas league’s round-robin tournament play between the 58th, 73rd and 313th clubs, the teams took the games “on the road” to Iwo Jima as summer was giving way to autumn with a series starting on Thursday, September 20. Captain Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen had struggled in the Marianas (Buster Mills’ 73rd edged out Riggs’ 313th) however redeemed themselves on Iwo by dominating their opponents, despite some defensive miscues by Birdie.
73rd Bombardment Wing “Flyers”
|Stan Goletz||P||White Sox|
|Rugger Ardizoia||P||Kansas City|
|Al Olsen||P||San Diego|
|Johnny Jensen||LF||San Diego|
More than 180,000 witnessed the 27 games that were presented by the USASTAF on the four Western Pacific Islands (Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Guam). The airmen, along with members of the other branches of the armed forces, witnessed competitive baseball played by some of the best from the major and minor leagues with the games in the Western Pacific. Within a few weeks of the Japanese surrender, Tebbetts and most the members of the 58th, 73rd and 313th teams were returned to the continental U.S.
Birdie Tebbetts returned to the major leagues, signing a new contract (in late February 1946) with his old team (though he wasn’t fully released from the Army until March 28), the Detroit Tigers. Tebbetts’ playing time with the Tigers was limited to just 87 games in the 1946 season as he struggled at the plate. The following year, the Tigers management, seeking to turn their fortunes with a fresh, veteran face behind the plate, sent Birdie Tebbetts to Boston on May 21, 1947 in exchange for catcher Hal Wagner who played in the 1946 World Series. The change was good for Tebbetts as turned things around for the remainder of the ‘47 season, continuing into two consecutive All-Star seasons for the Red Sox in 1948 and ‘49.
After his playing career ended, Tebbetts’ drew upon his wartime management success when he accepted Cleveland’s offer to manage their Class AA Indianapolis Indians in 1953. His winning record in the American Association coupled with his management of the Indians youth as well as those on loan from Cincinnati (who didn’t have a AA minor league affiliate) helped to pave the way to managing in the major leagues with the Redlegs. Tebbetts managed in the big leagues for more than 10 seasons with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Cleveland from 1954 through 1966 and spent 1967 piloting the Marion (Virginia) Mets of the Appalachian League. Birdie continued working in baseball as a major league scout through 1992 having spent nearly 60 years in the game.
Colonel Paul Tibbets’ career continued to flourish after the war as he attained the rank of brigadier general, commanded the 6th Air Division (at MacDill Air Force Base). General Tibbets served as the deputy director for both operations and the National Military Command System on the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring from the Air Force. in 1966. Tibbets continued to be honored for his role in ushering in the end of the war.
Author’s Note: The mission of Chevrons and Diamonds of using artifacts to bring the personal stories of the game and the people who played it while serving in the armed forces is one that we don’t take lightly. The impetus of writing this story of Tebbetts centered on a handful of vintage Type-1 photographs that captured the catcher during his time in the Army Air Forces that were obtained from the estate of Tebbetts’ 58th Wingman first baseman teammate, Chuck Stevens who played on the St. Louis Browns club in 1941, ‘46 and ‘48. Stevens had an 18-year professional career, mostly in the minor leagues but spent some of his best years serving and playing baseball in the U.S. Army Air Forces (1943-45) and will be the subject of an upcoming article. The other Tebbetts photos include a Type-1 press photo from his one of his two seasons managing and playing for the Waco Army Flying School team and an autographed photo from his years with the Red Sox.
All of the B-29-related photos are part of our vintage image collection and originated from an unnamed U.S. Army Air Forces veteran’s photo-scrapbook. Based upon the the photographs and other ephemera present within the album, it appears that the veteran was assigned to the 873rd Bomb Squadron, 49th Bombardment Wing in the 73rd Bombardment Wing on Saipan.
Admittedly, when we consider wartime baseball, images of ballgames being played in far-away locations in combat theaters within reach of the war front, if not on domestic training bases. The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph archive is replete with a diverse array of images capturing the game within the major war theaters (Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific) along with countless military bases, camps, forts and training facilities. Our continual mission to preserve, digitize and restore the photographs within this extensive library (along with curating additional images) is a considerable undertaking requiring an immeasurable amount of time and effort. As with many of our activities, this particular process often involves research which leads to fantastic discoveries.
There are occasions that we pursue a vintage photo (or group) without performing due diligence to fully comprehend the discernible subject matter. Depending upon the size of the image or how it is being presented for sale, the level of detail that is visible can be quite limited prior to an in-hand examination. Even after the image or images arrive, our workload may preclude anything more than an initial content and condition assessment prior to placing into appropriate storage and in our queue for preservation and digitization.
One such group of photographs that we acquired some time ago depicted a team of men wearing flannels with a beautiful script “U.S. Army” in athletic felt applied to the jersey fronts. The photos all seemed to have been captured in an old-time civilian ballpark surrounded by fencing (complete with large painted advertisement signage) and grandstands constructed in wood. Having been tucked away in archival storage, these were finally retrieved for the digitizing and restoration process. With the prints suffering from various typical maladies seen on images more than three-quarters of a century old such as exposure challenges, creases, tears, scratches and emulsion deterioration, the volume of effort that was required was substantive.
The 19 vintage photographs in this U.S. Army group were predominantly sized in the 4”x 5” range with the focus, composition and exposure consistently representative of what is seen from professional photographers, though a few were overexposed. The reverse of each photo is stamped with the Official U.S. Army Air Forces mark indicating the source and releasing (to the media) authority. As each photograph was scanned, the details present within the images became quite discernible yielding more information and subsequent questions that directed my research pathways. Once a few of the photos were scanned, we discovered that what we originally assessed to be the Hale America “HEALTH” patch was actually a shield insignia with letters spelling out “YANKS.” In addition to the uniform patch, the advertisements clearly indicated that the venue where the photos were captured was in Alberta, Canada.
Following the path of least resistance, we reached out (with a sampling of our photos) to our colleagues who are specifically interested in preserving baseball history in Western Canada. Within a few hours of posting our photos to the group on social media, a response came from Jay-Dell Mah who has extensively researched the history of the game in that region. Jay-Dell’s site, Western Canada Baseball, encapsulates years of extensive research findings, photographs and ephemera along with the history of leagues, teams and personnel. Mah referred me to the 1940s section of his site, pointing me to the Edmonton, Alberta content.
In the past few years, our collection was introduced to wartime baseball that was played on Canadian soil. In researching for our article, “Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down, we learned about the game as it was played by U. S. service personnel on bases and within the communities throughout Labrador. Without expending any effort, we were safe to assume that the same could be said for the Canadian West Coast as U.S. service personnel would have been stationed there fulfilling a similar strategic purpose. However, these photos appeared to be captured in the Canadian interior province of Alberta which seemed to be of little strategic significance to warrant positioning U.S. military personnel and resources. But the region did have considerable importance to the war effort as it was part of the North American “breadbasket” playing a central role in sustaining citizens and the allied forces with food.
“…a force of U.S. personnel, both military and civilian, poured into northwest Canada to build the logistical facilities needed to support the defense of that quarter of the continent. United States military strength in northwest Canada in late 1942 exceeded 15,000, and in the next year, when some of the troops had been replaced by civilian workers, U.S. civilians alone exceeded that figure. On 1 June 1943 the total strength of the American personnel in northwest Canada was over 33,000. In some instances, the United States was able to utilize existing air-base and other facilities, expanded by either or both countries to meet wartime requirements. Other projects were carved out of the virgin wilderness, in some cases in areas never before surveyed. It was here in western Canada that the joint U.S.-Canadian war effort left its biggest and most lasting imprint.” – U.S. Army in WWII Special Studies: Military Relations between the U.S. & Canada
Baseball had been a part of the Canadian fabric with its roots being sent down on a parallel timeline with that of the game south of the border. United States service personnel located in Alberta fielded teams that integrated into the surrounding civilian leagues. In 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces team based in Edmonton known as the “Yanks,” participated in the local city league, capturing the championship. In the 2006 historical narrative about the province, Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed (edited by Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell and Catherine Cavanaugh) a caption reads, “With thousands of American military personnel in Alberta, their presence was felt everywhere. This U.S. Army baseball team won the title in the 1943 Edmonton baseball league.”
The 1943 Yanks roster consisted of officers and enlisted from the U.S. Army air base and were led by Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Captain Frank Wrigglesworth who aside from managing the team also saw actions at second base in 14 games. Not only did the Yanks capture the pennant of the Edmonton City League, but they were also the champions of Alberta Province. Unlike domestic teams such as the Great Lakes or Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the McClellan Field Flyers or the 6th Ferrying Group, the 1943 U.S. Army Air Forces Yanks lacked top-tier major league talent and instead, featured players who were merely serving as most of America’s young men were. In the absence future Cooperstown enshrines, the Yanks made due with their roster that included two players who entered the armed forces from the minor leagues; pitcher Wayne Adams (Decatur Commodores) and Walter Misosky (Crookston Pirates), a left-handed-pitcher who also spent time in the outfield. After the war, outfielder Manuel Dorsky and shortstop Harley Miller parlayed their Yanks experience into minor league careers.
|1943 U.S. Army Air Force “Yanks”|
|SGT||Wayne Adams||P||Decatur, IL||6||13||0||2||0.154|
|CAPT||Harry Baldwin||3B/SS||Brooklyn, NY||17||58||11||21||0.362|
|SGT||Bennie Cuellar||OF||San Antonio, TX||3||4||1||2||0.500|
|SGT||Robert Christian||Trainer||Cincinnati, OH|
|CORP||Manuel Dorsky||OF||Birmingham, AL||9||27||3||9||0.333|
|CORP||Bill Dunn||OF||Chattanooga, TN||12||37||7||10||0.270|
|PFC||Gino Galenti||OF/LHP||San Francisco, CA||10||31||4||3||0.097|
|SSGT||Albert Goodrich||C||Detroit, MI||10||32||4||9||0.281|
|PFC||Johnny Gray||P/OF||St. Louis, MO||15||37||5||10||0.270|
|SSGT||John Gullekson||1B||Virginia, MN||18||70||7||19||0.271|
|SSGT||Cloide J. Hensley||OF||Madison, KS||8||16||1||3||0.188|
|SSGT||Frank Hindelong||C||Brooklyn, NY||2||5||1||1||0.200|
|CORP||Jerry/Gerry Johnson||OF/LHP||Springfield, IL||5||11||2||2||0.182|
|LT||Andrew Konopka||OF||Milwaukee, WS||10||25||2||2||0.120|
|PFC||Anthony “Tony” Lollo||C||Brooklyn, NY||7||27||2||5||0.185|
|CORP||Harley Miller||SS||Keokuk, IA||18||63||12||8||0.127|
|PFC||Walter Misosky||LHP/OF||Georgetown, PA||16||56||4||10||0.179|
|Corp||Walter Nelson||P||Sciotoville, OH|
|SGT||Charles F. “Skip” Phillips||2B/3B||Keokuk, IA||13||38||7||10||0.263|
|CORP||Pat Priest||P||Jersey City, NJ||4||6||1||0||0.000|
|CAPT||Frank Wrigglesworth||2B/Coach||Eau Claire, WS||14||45||12||8||0.178|
(stats sourced from Western Canada Baseball)
With the exception of one photo, none of the images bear any marks that identify the players. One image has what appears to be the signature of first baseman John Gullekson though the mark could simply be the player’s name applied to the photograph. Using the 1943 Alberta Photo Gallery page on Mah’s Western Canada Baseball site (that identifies Wayne Adams, Andrew Konopka, Harley Miller and Walter Misosky), we were able to identify one more of the players in the group of photos.
The photos in this group show that the Yanks played some, if not all of their home games at Renfrew Park. Renfrew Park opened in 1935 and would later be renamed John Ducey Park and eventually serve as the home to the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers until it was torn down in 1995, giving way to Edmonton Ballpark (Telus Field/ReMAX Field) that was constructed on the same site. With the distinctive roof structure covering the grandstand, the Renfrew is unmistakable in the Yanks photos.
Only time and further research will allow us to identify most, if not all of the men in this group of photographs. In the interim, it is our hope that enthusiasts, baseball historians or the Yanks family members will enjoy a peek into U.S. and Canadian wartime baseball history.