Category Archives: Baseballs
Legends of the Western Pacific: An “Ink-less” WWII Autographed Treasure
Team autographed baseballs, especially those signed by wartime service players, are invaluable treasures to add to a collection of baseball militaria. Our collection includes several balls with signatures penned by teams including the 1943 and 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, the 1945 Hickam Bombers, and even a wartime armed forces softball signed by Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Billy Herman. Most of these examples showcase dark and crisp pen strokes that are legible and easy to identify. A recent addition to our collection is one that is decidedly unique due to what we suspect to be detrimental environmental exposure.
Devoid of all manufacturers’ markings and absent signs to properly date the ball, coupled with its condition, we faced no competition in pursuit of the item as it was listed. The auction listing’s photographs provided several perspectives showing many familiar names; however, nearly every autograph was seemingly inverted in its appearance. It was difficult to ascertain what happened to the ball, but it was quite obvious that some sort of decay had impacted each of the signatures encircling the horsehide.
Due to the condition, the listing had a reasonably low price. Understanding that the risk was commensurate with our offer, the acquisition seemed to be worth the price if only to get the opportunity to examine the autographed baseball more closely. Recognizing most of the visible signatures in the photos, there was a good chance that this ball was signed in the weeks before the Japanese surrender.
More than 500 ballplayers with major league experience served in the armed forces during World War II and nearly ten times that number of minor leaguers handed in their flannels to join the rank and file of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard during the national emergency. By the summer of 1945, the Japanese forces were pushed back towards the homeland and off the islands they held in the previous years. The Army and Navy had significant bases of operations established on Guam, Saipan and Tinian and were using these locations to bring the fight to the enemy’s homeland. To boost troop morale, many of the game’s biggest names were serving and playing baseball on the islands. The Navy’s Pacific Tour in the spring sent teams representing the Third and Fifth Fleets from island to island, playing before massive crowds of airman, soldiers, Marines, and sailors. At the conclusion of the Navy’s baseball tour, the players were dispersed to commands throughout the Marianas.
Following the Navy’s lead, the Army assembled three teams representing the major Army Air Forces commands – the 313th, 58th and 73rd bombardment wings of the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands, headquartered on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. The rosters of the three squads were filled with men who, prior to their entry into the Army, were stars of the game in the major and minor leagues. They were led by managers Lew Riggs (313th “Flyers), George “Birdie” Tebbetts (58th “Wingmen) and Colonel “Buster” Mills (73rd “Bombers”).
Our odd, autographed baseball arrived and upon closer examination, it was clear that some sort of reaction between the ink in the signatures and the horsehide resulted in a weakening of the surface and subsequent erosion, which in turn resulted in ghost indentations of the original autographs. In some areas, faded ink remained intact but overall, the autographs had the appearance of impressions. Regardless of the deterioration, the autographs were still legible and we were able to identify all but one of the 23 names encircling the ball.
Of the 50-plus players distributed among the three U.S. Army Air Forces ball teams, Joe Gordon and Enos Slaughter were future Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinees while several more were All-Stars. Unlike today’s inherent wall of separation between players and fans, the armed forces ballplayers made efforts to be among their comrades, working alongside them, dining with them and even sleeping in the same quarters with them. They were readily available for GIs seeking autographs. It is common to find signed programs, scorecards, photos, bats and baseballs among GIs’ medals, uniforms, and other wartime artifacts. While not as valuable as a World Series team-signed baseball or a major league game program autographed by a legend, service team-signed artifacts provide a unique prospective on baseball and World War II history.
The principal islands of the Marianas were home to the 20th Air Force’s long-range bombers that conducted incessant air strikes on the Japanese homeland. Countless Boeing B-29 Super Fortresses sortied from the islands to Japanese military targets some 1,500 miles away, encountering flak and enemy fighter resistance and suffering losses or returning to their bases with heavy damage and wounded or killed crewmen. The operational pace and the casualties exacted a heavy toll on the morale of airmen and ground support personnel. Watching their heroes playing a baseball game during downtime gave the men respite from the horrors and losses of continuous combat and support operations.
As stated earlier, the United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific (USASTAF), based on Guam, 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.
313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”
|Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P||Kansas City (AA)|
|Corp.||Froilan “Nanny” Fernandez||SS||Braves|
|Stan Goletz||P||White Sox|
|Johnny “Swede” Jensen||LF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Walter “Wally” Judnich||RF||Browns|
|Al Olsen||P||San Diego (PCL)|
|Lewis S. Riggs||3B/Mgr.||Dodgers|
58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”
|Bob “Bobby” Adams||2B||Syracuse (IL)|
|Al “Chubby” Dean||P||Indians|
|Edwin “Ed” Kowalski||P||Appleton (WISL)|
|Don Lang||OF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Arthur “Art” Lilly||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|T/Sgt.||Enos “Country” Slaughter||OF||Cardinals|
|Capt.||George “Birdie” Tebbetts||C/Mgr.||Tigers|
73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers”
|Bob Dillinger||3B||Toledo (AA)|
|S/Sgt.||Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Tex Hughson||P||Red Sox|
|Frank Kahn||P||Dodgers prospect|
|Ralph Lamson||IF||Milwaukee (AA)|
|Al Lein||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Sgt.||Dario Lodigiani||IF||White Sox|
|John “Johnny” Mazur||C||Texarkana (EXTL)|
|Myron “Mike” McCormick||OF||Reds|
|Colonel “Buster” Mills||OF/Mgr.||Indians|
|Bill Schmidt||P||Sacramento (PCL)|
|Charlie Silvera||C||Wellsville (PONY)|
|Taft Wright||OF||White Sox|
The USAAF Marianas baseball competition was held in a three-team round-robin fashion with the tournament commencing on July 27, 1945. Birdie Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen took on Buster Mills’ 73rd Bombers. The 1944 Hawaiian League batting champ from the 7th AAF team, Ferris Fain, secured the win for Tebbetts’ Bombers by hitting a game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. As the tournament progressed throughout August and into September, the operational pace of the B-29 missions over Japan with the low-level bombing runs continued. It was not uncommon for a game to be played while the aircraft were away on a mission. The ball game offered a few hours of relief from the tension and stress as the men on the ground awaited the return of squadron aircraft during the 15+-hour missions, hoping that all planes would return safely. Hours after the final out of a game, as the very heavy bombers were returning, ground personnel would count the number of aircraft and hope that those that did make it back had safely landed despite any damage sustained. The landings were anything but guaranteed as some B-29s overshot runways and ditched into the sea, crashed, or burst into flames on the Guam, Saipan, and Tinian airstrips.
The three teams played 27 games with their total cumulative spectators numbering more than 180,000. There were plenty of opportunities for GIs serving on the islands to obtain autographs. With 24 signatures from players on the 58th (9), 73rd (4) and 313th (9) Wings, it is apparent that the GI was working diligently to get the ball covered with ink from as many of the 50 players as possible.
Of the two future Cooperstown enshrinees, Joe Gordon and Enos Slaughter, the latter’s name graces our ball, joined by his former Cardinals teammate, pitcher Howie Pollet. Unfortunately, both of their autographs, like most of the others on the ball, have oddly deteriorated. Regardless of the condition, the signatures are still recognizable and the ball is decidedly a conversation piece. To prevent continued decay, the ball is stored away from the environmental elements that likely contributed to the demise of the signatures.
It is not difficult to imagine the USAAF ballplayers encircled by GI autograph seekers after a game. Following a long day of performing bomber engine maintenance and refueling and rearming aircraft or the emotionally draining task of cleaning blood from wounded or killed airmen, the simple pleasure of obtaining signatures from star baseball players at a game helped to take the men’s minds off the hardships of their jobs. Considering the arduous duty conditions in the Marianas and despite the degradation of the autographs, this ball is a welcome addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.
Photo Bombers: Paired Hickam Team Photo and Signed Ball
After the final out was made in the 11th game of the 1944 Serviceman’s World Series on the Island of Kauai, the landscape of service baseball in Hawaii was drastically reformed for 1945 with respect to the spring and summer teams and leagues. When the season ended ahead of the Serviceman’s World Series, the Army’s 7th AAF team was standing alone atop the mountain of Hawaii Baseball by finishing first in the Central Pacific Area (CPA) League standings, sweeping the Hawaii League’s Cartwright Series and claiming the CPA League’s championship in a best-of-three series by sweeping the Aiea Naval Hospital club.
Following the holiday season, baseball on Oahu was set to recommence without the previous season’s champion. The powerhouse 7th Army Air Force squad, loaded with major league stars, including Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing, three Yankees and future members of the Hall of Fame, was dissolved. While Ruffing and DiMaggio were back in the States, the remainder of the team was distributed among other area Army teams.
The 1945 Hickam Field “Bombers” roster, when viewed as a cumulative total over the course of the season, appears as a sizeable aggregation of players. Numbering nearly 65 players in total, the roster was actually in flux with each passing month. The team that finished the season was quite different from the group that began play in the Honolulu League in January. During the middle months of their campaign, an influx of former major leaguers from Army airfield teams on the mainland resulted in the displacement of several players to other league teams. By August, many of the Bombers were starring on civilian rosters in Hawaii due to rule changes restricting service teams from playing in civilian leagues. Despite the season’s impacts due to military leadership decisions, the Hickam squad lived up to pre-season expectations.
Introduced to the public by the Honolulu Advertiser on January 28, the Hickam Bombers squad was built around a core of players from the 1944 7th AAF squad, including standouts Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals), Dario Lodigiani (Chicago White Sox) and Eddie Funk (Federalsburg). Outfielder and pitcher Izzy Smith, a star semipro player hailing from Sacramento who was wrested from his centerfield position by Joe DiMaggio in June, 1944 and subsequently transferred to the Wheeler nine, was joined by James Hill (catcher), John Andres (outfield) and John Bialowarczuk (second base), thus rounding out the 7th AAF contingent. Former Detroit Tigers rookie Shortstop Billy Hitchcock arrived from Greenville Army Air Base to play third, with Martin “Luau” Pigg taking turns in the outfield with George Sprys.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Batboy|
|John Andre||OF||Honolulu League|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||2B||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Bill Dillon||Eqp Mgr|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Eddie Funk||P||Federalsburg (ESHL)|
|Dario Lodigiani||SS/Coach||White Sox|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Melvin “Luau” Pigg||2B||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
The 10-team league included service teams from Tripler General Hospital, Hawaiian Air Depot, Wheeler Airfield, Fort Shafter, and Bellows Field along with an Army Engineer nine and the Eagles, an all-colored ball club. Two area civilian clubs, Kaimuki and Waikiki, were also league participants. Hickam was off to a fast start from the outset of Honolulu League competition with Eddie Funk’s pitching setting the pace in his first appearance of the season for the Bombers. On February 1 against Tripler, the former Federalsburg Athletic turned in a masterpiece by striking out 15 Tripler men on his way to a two-walk no-hitter at home. Six days later against the Kaimukis, Funk surrendered seven hits while fanning 11 in the 13-3 victory. Fain led the Bomber attack by scoring two tallies and driving in four.
By the end of March 25, Hickam was firmly in second place in the Honolulu League standings. Wheeler was out in front with a won-lost record of 19-2 with the Bombers three games behind at 16-5. Fort Shafter (15-5) and Bellows Field (14-7) rounded out the top four clubs. Eddie Funk was carrying an eight-game win streak and Ferris Fain’s .448 batting average was good enough for second place in the league behind the .485 of Kaimuki’s Muramoto. Fain led all batters with 23 RBIs.
While the Honolulu League’s season was underway, the 15-team Central Pacific Base Command (CPBC) All-Army League competition commenced on April 1. Bellows, Wheeler, and Hickam were the premier clubs in the CPBC league and played games between contests in the Honolulu League.
As the Honolulu League season was winding to a close, Hickam trailed Wheeler by three games with three left to play heading into a matchup between the two teams on April 3. Wheeler needed only to beat Hickam to secure the championship. With only 3,500 on hand at Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen sent Carl DeRose to the mound to quell the Bomber bats; however, it was not to be. DeRose was assaulted by Hickam batters as he surrendered 10 hits and seven runs. His troubles with control made his outing even more troublesome as he issued six free passes. Hickam’s 7-3 advantage did not rest entirely on DeRose’s shoulders when he was pulled after 5-2/3 innings. His defense committed five errors along the way.
Despite plating eight runs in the game, Hickam stranded 16 base runners. Bomber starter Don Schmidt helped himself at the plate with two hits, driving in two runs while scoring one. Trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Wingmen staged a comeback attempt, exiting the game after getting three runs, with the Bombers’ Salveson entering in relief to close out the game. With the 8-6 victory, the Bombers pulled to within two games. The Bombers’ hopes were dashed as Wheeler closed out the season the following day with an easy 4-3 victory over Waikiki, giving the league title to the Wingmen.
The culmination of the three-month season resulted in the Hickam squad coming together as a well-oiled club. Manager Dario Lodigiani’s use of talent in the right situation resulted in a highly competitive Bombers team. Two of his players garnered post-season awards. Billy Hitchcock, who arrived on the island after the season started and missed several early games, claimed prizes of war bonds and fruit bowls for leading the league in runs scored (34) and tying teammate Ferris Fain in RBIs (29). In addition to his shared RBI champion award, Fain also claimed the prize for doubles (10). Eddie Funk, Fain, Lodigiani and Hitchcock were named Honolulu League All-Stars.
The lion’s share of hardware and accolades went to the Wheeler Wingmen along with the league pennant, much to the disappointment of Hickam brass as the Honolulu League championship playoffs, known as the Cronin Series, were set to commence on Wednesday, April 11. The teams that qualified for the Series in addition to Wheeler and Hickam were the Bellows Flyers, Fort Shafter Commandos and Honolulu League All-Stars.
On the opening day of the round-robin play, the Honolulu Advertiser wrote, “Manager Mike McCormick’s Wingmen, who won the Honolulu league pennant with 23 wins against three defeats, will be pressed hard for the Cronin Series championship,” in the article Wingmen, Shafter Open Cronin Series Tonite at Hon. Stadium. In the run up to the close of the regular season, the Bombers were playing their best as they fought to the end. “The most improved team in the circuit during the final stages of league play was Hickam, and Manager Dario Lodigiani’s Bombers are favored in many quarters to beat the other teams to the wire in this series,” the piece said. Despite having pitchers Rugger Ardizoia, who won 12 consecutive games to close out the season, and Carl DeRose, the Wingmen were lacking in starters to carry them to the title.
The Honolulu Advertiser’s predictions appeared to be accurate in the opening game of the series as Shafter dismantled Ardizoia with five hits and three runs in the first three frames on the way to a 5-1 win over the pennant-winning Wingmen. Hours later, news of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reached the islands, which compelled organizers to postpone the upcoming weekend games until the following weekdays out of respect for the President.
After the first week of play, Shafter was out in front with a won-lost record of 2-0. Hickam’s 2-1 record, after their series-opening loss to Bellows, placed them a half game behind. Wheeler also fell behind, dropping two games and winning just one. On April 20, fifteen Army baseball stars landed on Oahu. George “Birdie” Tebbetts, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Howie Pollett, George Gill, Stan Rojek, Roy Pitter and John Jensen were among the newly arrived contingent. They reported for duty with Hickam. Unfortunately for several of the seasoned Bomber players, the roster additions translated to reassignments to other teams. Among the transfers, two of the team’s stars, Paolo “Paul” Pancotto (C) and Isadore “Izzy” Smith (OF) were sent to the civilian Wanderers club of the Hawaii League along with Joe Sciurba (2B), Melvin “Luau” Pigg (OF) and James Hill (C).
|John “Johnny” Beazley||P||Cardinals|
|Johnny “Swede” Jensen||LF/CF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||CF/LF||Cardinals|
|Geroge “Birdie” Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
As the second week progressed, Hickam pulled into a 5-1 tie with Shafter with the Wingmen behind at 3-3. The Bombers were experiencing a shot in the arm from the new stars. In a Tuesday, April 24 game against Fort Shafter, Enos Slaughter drilled a solo shot deep into the Honolulu stands to put Hickam ahead 2-0. Eddie Funk hurled all nine innings and survived to secure a 2-1 victory.
On April 29, Hickam and Wheeler found their roles reversed from the April 3, do-or-die game between the two clubs. The two teams faced off with the Bombers in the driver’s seat, needing to defeat the Wingmen to secure the series championship. In front of 10,000 fans at the wooden Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen shelled Bomber pitchers Funk, Don Schmidt, and Bill Salveson for 14 hits while Ardizoia and Albert Olen held Hickam to eight safeties. Hickam was unable to quiet the bats of Wheeler first baseman Chuck Stevens, who crushed a home run to deep right field and singled, and catcher Charlie Silvera, who had three singles and two RBIs. Hickam’s power hitters – Slaughter, Fain, Hitchcock and Lodigiani – were a combined three-for-16 with two runs. Bomber right fielder George Sprys’ three-for-four and two runs scored led Hickam in the 7-4 loss.
On May 1, an order from the Army’s Pacific Base Command ruled that Army personnel could no longer participate in athletic events deemed unessential to war activities. In addition, Army teams were disallowed from participating in civilian professional leagues against all civilian clubs. The Army’s ruling forced the Honolulu League officials to coordinate with AAF-POA baseball officer Lt. Tom Winsett and Shafter Commandos business manager Vernon Holt to address the situation. With the cancellation of all remaining Cronin Series games, the decision was made to determine the series winner. Due to the standings as of April 30, with Hickam (6-2) leading Ft. Shafter by a half-game (5-2) coupled with the April 30 Bellows-Shafter game being called after three innings, a ruling was needed. With only three innings in the books, the Bellows-Ft. Shafter game could not be considered complete, and the Army’s decree precluded the game from being finished on May 1. The panel was forced to determine that Fort Shafter, with a six-run lead, would not have beaten Bellows, thus leaving Hickam alone at the top of the Cronin Series standings. Hickam was declared the champion.
With the Honolulu League and Cronin Series in the rearview mirror, there was no looking back. Hickam Army Air Field’s base commander, Colonel Malcolm S. Lawton, transferred the Bombers’ reins from manager Sergeant Lodigiani’s hands to those of Captain Birdie Tebbetts. “The 30-year-old receiver is a pepperbox behind the plate, keeping up a continuous line of chatter throughout the game,” the Honolulu Advertiser’s Al Sarles wrote of Tebbetts. Touting Birdie’s five big league seasons behind the plate with the Tigers and his time at the helm of the Waco Army Flying School’s club since 1942, Sarles penned “Tebbetts has a wealth of major league experience to bring to the managerial post,” in Ex-Tiger Catcher Succeeds Lodigiani (May 4, 1945).
The Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler Field clubs found a workable solution to continue competing in the civilian Hawaii League as several players from the three clubs were distributed among the civilian teams to augment rosters that suffered their own losses due to military inductions. With military players on the rosters of the Tigers, Hawaiis, Braves, Athletics and Wanderers, the league could continue.
Hawaii League competition opened for Hickam on May 2 with Tebbetts at the helm. Adding to his already stocked stable of pitchers, the ace of the 1942 World Series, former St. Louis Cardinals hurler Johnny Beazley, was added to the roster. The Hickams were a formidable club and decimated the “civilian teams.” In a May 21 match against the Wanderers, Bomber batters racked up 13 hits as they crushed the team that featured a handful of former Hickam players. Outfielder Enos Slaughter toed the rubber in the ninth inning for his second pitching outing of the season, though he was wild, walking one batter, plunking another and allowing two tallies as no Wanderer batter could touch his offerings. Perhaps showing his opponents a bit of mercy, Tebbetts pulled Lodigiani in favor of team mascot Joe “Moe” Ambrosio at second base in the seventh. Ambrosio went hitless in his lone at-bat.
By June 4, Hickam was in a three-way tie atop the Hawaii League with the other two USAAF teams at the end of the season’s first half. Once again, an Army ruling altered the course of service team play in Hawaiian civilian leagues. It forced Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler to withdraw from the league. As June was drawing to a close, the Hickam squad suffered a bomb blast of their own as most of the team’s stars were pulled for duty in the Western Pacific. Dario Lodigiani, Stan Rojek, Birdie Tebbetts, Howie Pollett, Ferris Fain, John Jensen, Billy Hitchcock, George Gill, Roy Pitter, and John Mazur were all pulled from the roster. The departed Hickam players joined a contingent of USAAF former major and minor leaguers to form a three-team league in the Marianas which played dozens of games on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan through August to entertain the troops.
Hickam continued to compete against service teams throughout the summer despite their withdrawal from the CPBC League after the conclusion of the first round of play on May 20. “In 14 consecutive contests, the Bombers have scored 100 runs, or better than seven per game,” Al Sarles wrote in his Hickam Sports Shorts column in the August 9 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser. “They have collected 144 hits for an average of better than 10 per game.” New manager Johnny Bialowarczuk had his team playing incredible baseball regardless of being outside league competition. “Hickam’s opponents have only been able to collect 45 runs in 14 contests,” Sarles wrote. Salveson and Schmidt had become a solid tandem of starting pitchers. As of August 9, Salveson had won three straight complete games while surrendering just six runs on 22 hits. He had walked five batters during the stretch but fanned 24.
By mid-September, the Bombers’ dominance was noteworthy, though they were not infallible. Wimpy Quinn’s Fleet Marines faced Hickam in a best-of-five series that came down to the final game. Quinn’s and Hal Hirschon’s bats were the bane of Bomber pitching as FMF downed Hickam in a 3-0 series- clinching game on September 15. With barely enough time to lick their wounds, the Bombers played host to former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams’s Marine Fliers the next day. Hickam bats laid waste to the Fliers’ pitching and opened a 10-run lead after the first few innings. Bill Salveson held a comfortable, 10-2 lead when the Fliers’ bats began to chip away at the deficit. The Marines tagged Bomber pitching for 14 hits in the last three innings and tallied three runs in each of the final frames before Saul stemmed the flow and Hickam walked away with a 13-11 victory.
When we acquired a team-signed ball with 26 autographs featuring Enos Slaughter, Birdie Tebbetts, Ferris Fain, and Dario Lodigiani in 2020, the seller listed it as originating from the USAAF Marianas games. However, analysis of the ball’s signatures and comparison with the three Marianas Rosters (58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers,” and 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”), our research led to investigating Hawaii service team rosters. With the exception of three names, all the players were members of the Hickam Bombers.
Once it was established that our signed ball was from the Hickam team, the fruitless pursuit of additional artifacts ensued. One of our colleagues, a noted St. Louis Cardinals historian, reached out that year and shared with us (in a social media chat) a team photo that he had in his possession that showed the Bombers posed on their home field. The photo, formerly in the possession of Enos Slaughter, was given to our colleague by his family following the passing of the Cardinal legend. Last month, we executed a trade to bring the Hickam photo into the fold after two years of infrequent discussions.
After further analysis of the 1945 Hickam roster, the identities of the players in the photo and the signatures present on the ball, it is apparent that both were captured during the first half of the Hawaii League season, between May 2 and late June. To some, it may seem inconsequential to locate two significant pieces from the same brief span of time in the context of Hickam’s 1945 season and the personnel churn the team experienced throughout the year.
After the stars were dispatched to the Marianas, the Hickam team, dubbed “Medium Bombers” by the Honolulu Advertiser on July 20, continued to be an impressive squad. With the departure of both Lodigiani and Tebbetts, second baseman Johnny “Murphy” Bialowarczuk was named as the Bomber manager on June 28 despite the questions surrounding the continuation of service team play.
Aside from the major leaguers who signed our ball, including two-time American League batting champion Ferris Fain, four-time All-Star catcher Birdie Tebbetts, and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, there are a few signatures from Hickam Bomber players that stand out.
Seton Hall basketball star Frank Saul, who left school after his freshman year to enter the service, joined the Bombers as a pitcher following the conclusion of the Hawaii basketball season in late April. “Pep” Saul remained with the baseball team through September and would return to college in 1946, when he became the school’s first career 1,000-point scorer before joining the National Basketball Association. During his professional career, he won four NBA titles with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and the Minneapolis Lakers (now in Los Angeles). Saul was inducted into Seton Hall’s hall of fame in 1973.
Baseball connects people in ways that are often overlooked. Saul’s Hickam teammate, pitcher Don Schmidt, was also a Seton Hall alum, with their college careers overlapping. It is unknown whether the two Pirates encountered each other on campus or if they met for the first time on the Hickam roster. In 1944, Schmidt was a member of the 7th AAF juggernaut that included three future members of the Hall of Fame, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing. His pitching was good enough to get him named to the Army All-Star team by Tom Winsett. Schmidt pitched two complete games in the Serviceman’s World Series but both resulted in losses (Game 3, 4-3 and Game 6, 6-4). He made relief appearances in Games 1 and 10. In 1949 Schmidt wrote that his ambition in baseball was to “win in the majors” but his career never took him higher than class AAA with Milwaukee of the American Association. Schmidt played seven minor league seasons from 1946 to 1953 before hanging up his spikes.
The University of Tulsa’s first team All-American quarterback, Glenn Dobbs, led his team to a perfect 10-0 1942 season that culminated in a Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech on January 1, 1943. Dobbs joined Hickam on May 9 and remained with the club through the summer as the starting second baseman. After his discharge, Dobbs played football professionally with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dons in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946 to1949 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League (CFL) from 1951 to 1954. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1946 and was a CFL All-Star in 1951. Dobbs was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. He returned to coach his alma mater from 1961 to 1968, leading the team to two first-place finishes and two Bluebonnet Bowl appearances (see: Glenn Dobbs Statue Unveiled At Tulsa University).
During a stint with an unknown professional baseball club, Carteret, New Jersey’s John P. Bialowarczuk wrote that his most interesting experience was hitting a home run off former Washington Senators pitcher Walt Masterson. The 1939 American Legion ball player had stints with the Perth Amboy club of the Metropolitan Semi-Pro league between 1940 to 1942 before joining the Army Air Force. Serving with the 7th Army Air Force in Hawaii for three years, Bialowarczuk shared the diamond with Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Pee Wee Reese, Schoolboy Rowe, and Hugh Casey. Manager Tom Winsett took notice of his talent and added him to the Army All-Stars for the Serviceman’s World Series in the fall of 1944.
The non-Hickam Bombers who signed our ball include former Cincinnati outfielder Mike McCormick, who carried a .288 batting average and a .302 on-base percentage in 14 World Series games with the Reds, Boston Braves and Brooklyn; and Walt Judnich, formerly with the Browns. One name we are still researching is “Bill Mosser.” Though we have found a corresponding minor leaguer who served in the armed forces from February, 1944 to May, 1946, we have yet to confirm or rule him out as the player who signed our ball.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Bat Boy|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||IF||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Leonard Burton||P||Houston (TL)|
|Richard “Dick” Cattabiani||LF|
|Don “Pee Wee” Dwyer|
|Ray Edwards||Biz Mgr.|
|John Geilen||Ath. Dir.|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmyer||2B||St. Joseph (MICH)|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|Joseph “Joe” Sciruba||2B||Lynchburg (VIRL)|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
As we continue to identify each player in the team photo, we are more than pleased to unite these two incredible artifacts within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Articles:
- Service World Series, 1944 – Hawaiian Islands
- The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter
- George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian
- Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers
- The Navy’s Little Colonel: Chief Athletic Specialist Harold “Pee Wee” Reese
- Red Ruffing, an Airman’s Ace
- More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian
A Sinking News Story: World Series Hero Gene Bearden, a Sub-Chaser and the Loss of the USS Helena
On October 4, 1948, in a single game, winner-take-all playoff for the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, 26-year-old rookie left-handed starting pitcher Gene Bearden was about to pitch the game of his life for the Cleveland Indians against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. For three seasons, the World War II Navy veteran had ascended through the minor leagues to reach the ultimate stage, carrying a 19-7 won-lost record into the make-or-break game. Bearden was part of a starting rotation that included 19-game-winner Bob Feller and 20-game winner Bob Lemon, both of whom would be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Bearden went the distance against the Sox, surrendering three runs (one earned) on five hits while striking out six and walking five. Bearden also worked Boston pitcher Denny Galehouse for a lead-off walk to open the third inning and a lead-off single in the seventh off Ellis Kinder. He also reached base on a Ted Williams error, resulting in a run scored by Cleveland catcher Jim Hegan. Bearden’s 8-3 victory was largely due to the Indians’ big bats, resulting in three home runs by Lou Boudreau (2) and Ken Keltner.
“He wears a platinum plate in his head and right knee as the result of wounds he received in the sinking of the USS Helena,” the Associate Press (AP) reported following Gene Bearden’s October 4, 1948, pennant-clinching complete game victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. In a story that appeared in the October 5, 1948, Miami Herald and across the United States, the story of Bearden’s harrowing WWII experience was headline news. The headline read, “Bearden Didn’t Know What a Hero He Was” as the AP focused on his complete game, 8-3 win. The 6-3, 198-pound lefthander was asked if he knew that he had only allowed two hits over the final seven innings. “No, I didn’t,” Bearden replied. “I didn’t even know what inning it was.”
Circulating in other newspapers, the Associated Press story told of Bearden’s long road to recovery following the sinking. In the October 12 edition of the Tucson Daily Citizen, the AP reported that Bearden spent two years recovering and rehabilitating from severe injuries sustained during the impact and explosions from Japanese torpedoes striking the ship during the Battle of Kula Gulf in the early morning hours of July 6. “He still carries aluminum plates in his head and left knee,” The Daily Citizen reported.
Henry Eugene Bearden was born on September 5, 1920, in Lexa, Arkansas, and grew up in Tennessee. His baseball education came by way of sandlot baseball until he attended Technical High School in Memphis, graduating in 1938. After spending 1946 in the Pacific Coast League playing for Casey Stengel’s Oakland Oaks where he posted a 15-4 record, Bearden’s contract was sold to the Cleveland Indians, where he began the 1947 season. After his 1/3 inning with the Indians on May 10, surrendering three runs on two hits and one walk, he was sent back to Oakland for further seasoning. He finished the year with Oakland, where he posted another outstanding 16-7 record. His best season in professional baseball came in his first full major league season when he won twenty games for the Indians while losing seven with an outstanding 2.43 earned run average. His won-lost record did not reflect that he had a control problem as he walked more batters than he struck out (106-80). But it was in the post-season where Bearden’s performance against the Braves in the 1948 World Series was best. In the third game, he went the distance, striking out four Brave batters and surrendering just five hits. His control was laser sharp when he allowed one hit and walked just one man in closing out the sixth game in relief of Bob Lemon. Gene Bearden was one of a cast of heroes of the Series.
Bearden’s road to his October, 1948 triumph was lengthy. The 26-year-old rookie began his professional career in 1940 in the Philadelphia Phillies organization when he was just 19. At the class “D” level, Bearden posted an 18-10 record in his first season and a 17-7 record in 1941 with the Miami Beach Flamingos. His third season was split between Augusta and Savannah of the Class “B” Southern Atlantic League but he was limited in his appearances due to injuries. He posted a 4-4 record in just 13 games. Within weeks of the close of the 1942 season, Bearden reported to Navy Recruiting Station St. Louis, Missouri, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 13.
Familiar with Bearden due to his 1940 and 1941 seasons pitching for the Miami Beach Flamingos, the Miami Herald reported on April 14, 1943, that Fireman Second Class, Gene Bearden had commenced a three-month, lighter-than-air ground crew training program at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey. Upon completion of the program, Bearden could expect to be assigned to a Navy blimp squadron.
The catalyst for our interest in Gene Bearden was the acquisition of a team-signed baseball that was attributed to the 1953-54 Seattle Rainiers. Admittedly, before conducting the research on each of the signers, Bearden was nominally known to us. Learning about his experience aboard the USS Helena during her final battle was eye-opening and led us to investigate the pitcher’s wartime Navy service in greater detail.
As we delved into available information documenting the 1948 World Series hero’s service, we turned first to Bearden’s biography on Gary Bedingfield’s site, Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice. His timeline lacked specific dates, “Bearden entered service with the Navy in 1942. He was at Great Lakes NTS and attended machinist school prior to being assigned to the engine room of the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50).” However, the account of his injuries was described as follows: “As the crew abandoned ship, Bearden fell from a ladder onto the deck and was knocked unconscious.” Bedingfield’s account continued, “Bearden’s right kneecap was crushed beyond repair, the ligaments in his leg were badly twisted and his skull had been fractured. An aluminum cap and screw were placed in his leg and another plate in his head,” which seemed to be in line with the theme of the 1948 newspaper accounts. The Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice bio concluded by saying of Bearden’s naval service, “He remained in the hospital until receiving a medical discharge in early 1945.”
Turning to his biography on the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) site, author Ralph Berger’s account of Bearden’s experience on July 6, 1943, included greater detail. “Machinist’s Mate Gene Bearden was one of the survivors. His head had been badly smashed open, and one of his knees was a mass of wounded flesh. Drifting in a life raft, he was picked up by one of the destroyers.” Berger’s account echoed what was mentioned in Bedingfield’s profile regarding the pitcher’s injuries, “For the next two years he was in the hospital, where a silver plate was inserted into his skull to fill up the part that had been gashed out.” Berger included an element to the story not previously noted in newspaper accounts or on the Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice site, “and a metal hinge was inserted into his damaged knee. Baseball at this point seemed out of the question for Bearden. His war injuries would plague him the balance of his life.”
Searching for newspaper accounts of Bearden’s story yielded nothing regarding the USS Helena sinking, the wounds Bearden sustained or his long road to recovery. The Miami News reported on January 28, 1945 in a single sentence that Bearden received a medical discharge from the Navy. Throughout all the dozens of personal accounts from surviving USS Helena crew members published in the months following the sinking, not a single mention of the star minor league pitcher’s story could be located.
Turning to other research sources, we pursued official records, including such records as the BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) file, Navy muster sheets, draft card, burial information or anything that could corroborate the details of the narrative about Gene Bearden.
According to Bearden’s draft card, he registered for the Selective Service System on February 15, 1942, with his local draft board in Memphis, Tennessee. Bearden listed his off-season employer, Atlantic C. L. of Waycross, Georgia rather than mention his previous baseball club. Bearden listed his date of birth, September 5, 1921 (one year later than his published year of birth) and rather than Lexa, Arkansas, he listed a different city in the state, Helena. His height and weight were listed as 6-feet, 3-1/2-inches and 194 pounds. His BIRLS record, created soon after his passing, listed his birth year as 1920 with the day and month matching his draft card information. The BIRLS record shows Bearden’s dates of Navy service as October 13, 1942, through January 4, 1945.
With the basic details confirmed, we sought muster sheets and reports of personnel from the USS Helena. In searching through the USS Helena’s extensive list of Navy vessel muster sheets on both Fold3 and Ancestry.com, we were unable to locate any mention of Bearden aboard the ship prior to the July 6, 1943 Battle of Kula Gulf. Recognizing that the digitizing process of wartime muster sheets has yet to be complete, we turned to the official reports submitted by the commanding officer of USS Helena, Captain Charles P. Cecil, to the Chief of Naval Operations accounting for the survivors, wounded in action (WIA), killed in action (KIA), and missing in action (MIA) in the weeks following the loss of the ship. Available in multiple locations, the complete lists have been transcribed for the USS Helena Association’s site and do not list Bearden among the survivors or wounded.
Rather than confirming the Helena story, the facts pointed us in a different direction as we began to question the genesis of the survival narrative. Returning to Fold3, we commenced a wider search and found Bearden listed among the commissioning crew of a Navy submarine chaser, the USS SC-1330, beginning May 29, 1943, as Fireman 2/c Henry (Hodge) Eugene Bearden, service number 669 71 81. The May 29 muster sheet listed Bearden’s date and place of enlistment as October 13, 1942, at Navy Recruiting Station St. Louis, Missouri. Since the SC-1330 was built by the Simms Brothers in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and placed into commission on May 29, 1943, the muster sheet shows that the crew was received aboard the ship from Navy Receiving Station, Boston.
Four additional muster sheets report Fireman 2/c Bearden serving aboard the ship until the final one submitted on October 8, 1943, when he was transferred to U.S. Navy Section Base, Mayport, Florida. Further researching the SC-1330, we discovered that Bearden’s ship was involved in a severe collision with a Coast Guard cutter during the time that he served aboard. In an official report following the incident, the following was published:
USS SC-1330 collided with the USCGC 83421, an 83′ Coast Guard Cutter, at 11:36 PM on June 29, 1943, in a position approximately seven miles north of Great Isaac Light, while both vessels were part of the escort of the SS Jean Brillant en route from Miami, Florida to Nassau, British West Indies. As a result of the collision the CG-83421 had two water-tight compartments at the stern carried away but remained afloat due to the remaining water-tight compartments, though its water-tight integrity was impaired. The crew was accordingly taken off and the vessel taken in tow by SC-1330. After being towed for about 2 hours, the CG-83421 began to sink in deep water, forcing the sub chaser’s crew to cut the towline. There was no loss of life nor serious injury to personnel. USCG- 83421’s commanding officer, ENS Lawrence E. Gallagher, was exonerated of charges resulting from the accident.
Fortunately, there was no loss of life in the accident but quite possibly there were substantial non-life-threatening injuries to the crews of both ships, including to Bearden.
Fireman 2/c Bearden’s transfer from the submarine chaser in early October further confounds the accounts published years later as the pitcher was added to the Mayport, Florida Navy Section Base Bluejackets baseball team for the 1944 season. Reported by the Associated Press and repeated via their wire service in the fall of 1948, Bearden spent the remainder of 1943 and all of 1944 hospitalized and recovering from life-threatening injuries sustained during the USS Helena’s loss. However, a U.S. Navy official photograph from 1944 showing Bearden with the baseball team adds further contradiction to the popular narrative. Unlike many service baseball teams, Bearden’s Mayport Bluejackets received extraordinarily little media coverage, making the researching of the team a considerable challenge. With an absence of box scores or detailed game summaries, we have yet to source material that provides more than scant game descriptions, let alone documenting Bearden in actual games for the Navy Section Base.
The image, a copied photo provided to us by wartime Navy baseball historian Harrington E. Crissey, Jr., not only shows Bearden among the players in uniform, but also affixed to the back of the photo is the caption slug that includes the names of the men shown in the image. Using the player list as a basis for a roster, subsequent searches for press coverage for the Mayport Bluejackets yielded a handful of additional 1944 newspaper articles for a few of the listed players, but nothing for Bearden.
When service members are discharged during wartime, it is usually the result of a few possible scenarios that include disciplinary action, medical disability or age (once the end of the war was no longer in question), as was the situation for Red Ruffing and Hank Greenberg. Bearden’s discharge occurred as the Battle of The Bulge was entering its second month in Europe and as several offensive campaigns were ongoing in the Pacific. The war still had no end in sight on January 4, when Bearden was separated from the Navy, according to the press, for medical disability.
On May 5, 122 days (about 4 months) after his disability discharge from the Navy, Gene Bearden pitched a 2-0 complete game shutout victory for his Binghamton Triplets (class “A” Eastern League) over league rivals, the Utica Blue Sox. Bearden would go on to win eight consecutive games on his way to a 15-5 won-lost record with a 2.41 earned run average, while batting .274 with a .425 slugging percentage and three home runs and being fifth on the team’s RBI leader board with 32. When he was not pitching, Bearden stood sentinel in the outfield for 23 games and managed a .954 fielding percentage. Whatever Bearden’s disability was from his war service, it had no impact upon his baseball abilities in 1945.
From 1945 until October of 1948 when Bearden’s incredible season catapulted him into the national pastime’s spotlight on its greatest stage, there are no mentions of his wartime ordeal in any newspaper accounts. He parlayed his excellent season with Binghamton into a jump to the highest level in the minor leagues with the Newark Bears of the International League when his contract was purchased at the end of Binghamton’s season. While out west with Oakland, when he demonstrated that he was one of the Pacific Coast League’s best moundsmen and thus garnered considerable press coverage, no stories were written about his ordeal on the Helena.
Searching through countless iterations of the 1948 Associated Press story, there are no direct quotes attributed to Bearden in any account of the events of July 6, 1943, that we were able to uncover. So far, we have no insights into the genesis of Bearden’s USS Helena story, his life-threatening injuries or the lengthy rehabilitation period.
In our research, we have found many instances of the press publishing inaccurate accounts or details surrounding combat events in wartime newspaper coverage. Perhaps to be the first with a breaking story, certain aspects of actual occurrences have been altered or inflated perhaps in an effort to infuse an element of headline-grabbing attention. One of our theories is that Bearden could have recounted to the press his account of the sub chaser’s collision with the Coast Guard cutter in 1943 only to have a reporter confuse aspects of the story with his hometown (Helena, Arkansas) to arrive at the USS Helena as the ship he served aboard during WWII.
To make the pitcher’s war record even more confusing, on October 9, 1969, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith retold Bearden’s wartime story in his column titled, “Kind of Ridiculous, Really,” describing Bearden as, “a rangy lefthander with a metal plate in his head and another in his knee, souvenirs of his Navy service in World War II when he went down with a torpedoed destroyer.” Milton Richman, a sports columnist for United Press International wrote in his May 2, 1976 piece, Bearden Keeps Soft Manners, describing the 1948 World Series hero’s life nearly 30 years later, “He’s general manager for Plaza Auto Sales in West Helena, Arkansas, but unless some customer starts talking baseball, he never brings it up, first.” Richman continued, “Another thing he never talks about is how an aluminum plate had to be put in his skull after his ship, the USS Quincy, was hit off Guadalcanal during World War II.” In articles written in two different decades, the details of Bearden’s wartime episode were altered by each writer. Did Gene Bearden relay the story differently to each reporter or are these examples of sloppy or lazy journalism?
As the Cleveland Indians made their return to the World Series for the first time since 1948 in 1997, then rookie pitcher Jared Wright’s performance (8-3 record with a 4.38 ERA) following his June call-up, along with his American League Division Series-clinching outing, prompted comparisons to Bearden’s outstanding 1948 achievements. Boston Globe staff writer Gordon Edes recalled how the Navy veteran pitched against the Red Sox on one day’s rest in a single-game playoff as the Indians and Boston were tied for the American League crown. “It was remarkable he (Bearden) had a career at all,” Edes wrote. “He served in the Navy and wound up with an aluminum plate in his head and screws in his knee after his ship, the USS Helena, was sunk in the South Pacific.” The narrative came full circle, with the 1948 version being carried forward to his more recently published biographical summaries.
Our discovery of Bearden’s World War II narrative discrepancy was uncovered amid researching a recent addition to our collection: a 1953-1954 Seattle Rainiers team autographed baseball. As our investigation of each signature progressed, Bearden’s published account became problematic compelling more in-depth research. Exercising caution to avoid undue accusations or to disparage a veteran who is incapable of defending his honor, our pursuit of the truth was born out of a hunger for verifiable facts. Our method of cross-referencing documentation from trusted sources rather than relying solely upon newspaper stories led us to uncovering the truth that contradicted a May 1943 heroic account about minor league pitcher and Navy veteran Donald Lynn Patrick.
Henry Eugene Bearden
Born: September 5, 1920, in Lexa, Arkansas
Died: March 18, 2004, in Alexander City, Alabama
The Social Security Administration lists Bearden’s place of birth as the rural area of Lexa, Arkansas, while his Selective Service card indicates he was born 13 miles away in the town of Helena, Arkansas. That is a minor discrepancy. The 1930 Federal Census shows the Bearden family residing in the farming community of Spring Creek Township. His father, listed as John H. Bearden, son of Hiram Hodges Bearden and Sarah J. (Yow), was working as a brakeman for the railroad. Ten-year-old Gene was listed as “Henry H. (Bearden).” It is not clear why the initial “H” was used by the enumerator rather than “E” for Eugene. By the time of the 1940 Census, the Bearden family was relocated to Memphis. Nineteen-year-old Gene was listed as “Henry E.” and his father as “Henry.”
Bearden’s BIRLS data confirm his birth date and social security number with what is published by the Social Security Administration. They provide his both his date of entry into the Navy (October 13, 1942) and discharge (January 4, 1945) along with his date of death (March 18, 2004) and interment at Sunset Memorial Park in Walnut Corner, Arkansas, The Veterans Affairs (VA) Veteran Gravesite Locator confirms Bearden’s birth and death dates and includes his rate and rating; Motor Machinist’s Mate 3/c (MoMM3).
All five of the official U.S. Navy muster sheets submitted by the USS SC-1330 are cross-referenced with other data sources, confirming Bearden’s date of entry into the Navy (October 13, 1942) and list his service number as 669 71 81. Bearden’s rating is listed as Fireman second class (F2c), indicating that he worked in the engineering branch of the Navy and would have been assigned to the propulsion equipment spaces of his ship. In his MoMM3 rating as listed by the VA, Bearden progressed in his shipboard training as a mechanic assigned to maintain his ship’s twin 880bhp General Motors 8-268A diesel engines. The anomaly in the muster sheets is that each entry strangely lists Bearden’s name as “BEARDEN, Henry Hodge Eugene.” There are no other officially documented sources that mention this name; however, the pitcher’s paternal grandfather’s middle name is listed as Hodges.
A simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request would easily address the disparity between Bearden’s media-reported naval history and his actual service. However, a March 2020 government- ordered closure to the National Personnel Records Center has placed an indefinite hold on the processing of FOIA requests as well as closing the doors to the public. Prior to the forced shutdown, such requests were backed up to 24 months. Experts speculate that if the order were lifted today, the backlog would be nearly eight years. With no end in sight to the shutdown, the backlog of requests continues to grow.
When interviewing the veteran is an impossibility, turning to the surviving family members is the best option for seeking confirmation or clarification that cannot otherwise be sourced. Gene Bearden passed away in 2004 and his wife followed 18 months later. Bearden’s only surviving child, Gene B. Borowski, was left nothing from her father’s wartime service that would be helpful in corroborating our research. As is quite common among veterans, their family members are often left in the dark about their individual experiences during the war. “My dad never talked about his war service,” Ms. Borowski told us. Gene Bearden did not leave behind anything from his time serving in the Navy; not even a Notice of Separation (NAVPERS-553), awards and decorations or photographs.
In October 2004 as the Boston Red Sox sent Tim Wakefield to the mound in Game 1 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, it marked the first time that a knuckleball-pitcher was starting a World Series game since 1948’s Game 3, when Bearden beat the Braves with his fluttery pitches. The comparisons of World Series performances do not extend beyond the type of pitch as Bearden did not allow a run to score in his complete game. Though the Red Sox won their game (and swept the Series), Wakefield struggled to control his floating pitches in windy conditions, allowing the Cardinals to work back from a 7-2 deficit and pull within two runs before he was spelled by the bullpen in the fourth inning.
Like so many wartime ballplayers, Gene Bearden served his country both as a sailor and a ballplayer and performed the duties that were asked of him. He sailed into harm’s way aboard a submarine chaser in some of the most hazardous waters, providing screening protection of cargo and transport shipping in the Caribbean Sea.
Update: One of our readers sourced a few newspaper clippings obtained through a service that we do not have access to. These articles provided us with details that answered many questions regarding Bearden’s wartime service. See: Sea Stories and Tales of Survival: 1948 World Series Hero Gene Bearden’s Knuckling Narrative