Category Archives: My Collection

The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter

An interesting personality from the Golden Age of the game, Enos Bradsher Slaughter, better known as “Country,” despite his zeal and energy in how he played the game, is forever linked to a controversial August 20, 1947 spiking incident that occurred during Jackie Robinson’s breakout year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Country” Slaughter, a North Carolina farm boy, played the game with vigor and had a reputation for playing the game as though it could be his last. He seemingly never held back on any play on the field, including running full speed to first base during a routine infield out. Regardless of his on-field play and the sportswriters’ arguments surrounding his encounter with Robinson, our research uncovered other interesting and potentially controversial aspects of the Hall of Fame Cardinal rightfielder’s wartime service.

Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, Enos Slaughter was a gracious and very popular participant during autograph signing sessions at collectors’ card shows. Slaughter’s signed items are quite plentiful and readily available within the collector market. For many years after his August, 2002 passing, prices for Slaughter’s signature were relatively stable. In the last half-decade, collector demand has driven prices of his autograph upward, elevating values of other Slaughter memorabilia as a result. Until the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection received a group of personal photographs from the estate of former St. Louis Browns first baseman and WWII USAAF veteran Chuck Stevens that featured several major leaguers who were serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, including Enos Slaughter, we had not paid significant attention to the former Cardinal player and his wartime service.

The arrival of Stevens’ photos provided us with a unique perspective into World War II Army Air Forces baseball that has not been seen publicly, specifically a glimpse of the USAAF’s August 1945 Marianas tournament. By the time of his participation with George “Birdie” Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” Slaughter had been serving for nearly three years in the Army Air Forces. He had departed just days after helping the Cardinals capture the World Series crown from the Yankees in early October, 1942.

On a day in which a combined sortie of British and U.S. 8th Air Force heavy bombers conducted a raid on Nazi-held Rotterdam, Netherlands, Enos Slaughter’s Cardinals, in the midst of chipping away Brooklyn’s 4.5-game lead in the National League, were about to close out a four-game series with the Dodgers at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis after having taken the first three games. Slaughter, who had been notified of his impending September selective service call-up, paid a visit to a St. Louis Army recruiter’s office to volunteer as an aviation cadet with the condition that he would report at the conclusion of the 1942 season. More than 18,600 fans were on hand for the early Thursday afternoon (August 27, 1942) start that saw Brooklyn’s Curt Davis take the mound against Max Lanier. The heart of the Cardinals’ lineup accounted for the bulk of St. Louis’ offense, including “Country’s” one-for-four performance, driving in Jimmy Brown for their only run of the game. Perhaps the news of Slaughter’s enlistment gave the Cardinal batsmen a dose of reality concerning the war’s impact on the game, or it was simply Brooklyn’s day in their 4-1 win.

As the Yankees faced stiff competition from the Cardinals during the Fall Classic in early October, Marines on Guadalcanal were in the midst of a series of engagements with Japanese forces along the Matanikau River. The Cardinals dispatched the Yankees in five games, with the deciding game being played at Yankee Stadium on October 5. Two days later, Slaughter, who had hit .263 with a home run, scored three runs and drove in two runs in the Series, awaited his call to report for duty.

Enos Slaughter would not report for aviation cadet training until March 13, 1943, following his marriage to the former Josephine Begonia of Chicago, Illinois in February. Slaughter’s arrival in San Antonio was met with nominal fanfare and was carried in the nation’s newspapers. “I’ve never done much flying, except on a few trips to All-Star games,” the Red Bird outfielder told the St. Louis Star in mid-March, “but I know I am going to like flying. They tell me the studies are hard, but I am going to do the best job I can – and hope I make it, for I’d like to be in there flying, along with young Captain Billy Southworth (the son of his Cardinals manager).” Enos reported to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (SAACC) carrying 10 extra pounds. “I am sure that the Army will see that gets trimmed off,” the Raleigh News and Observer reported on March 28, “If this war stretches out so long I’ll be too old to get back in uniform, I will feel that I have done something for baseball in preserving it so other mill hands, farm boys, coal miners or fellow from any other walk of life may know the thrill of stepping up to the plate in a World Series,” Slaughter said.

In researching Slaughter’s military service, we found that the issue of the former outfielder’s color blindness is often reported and discussed regarding the reason for the his disqualification from Army flight training. While most biography readers would accept Enos’ condition and subsequent change in his military service as a simple fact, it raised concerns about factual reporting either at that time or in subsequent commentaries. Perhaps decades of elapsed time diminished the details, along with any measure of exception taken with the facts. It wasn’t until we discovered a Friday, April 9, 1943 column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Down the Middle” by Dick Williamson) that our concerns were validated.

When Slaughter was accepted into the Army’s flight training program at the time of his enlistment on August 27, 1942, he most certainly would have been subjected to a physical examination by an Army medical officer to ensure that he was fit for Army duty and that he met the basic health requirements to be accepted as an aviation cadet. If that did not happen in August of 1942, surely it had to have taken place when he reported for duty on March 13, 1943. How could Slaughter’s color blindness have gone undiscovered until he was in flight training? The question was one that we couldn’t get past.

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch piece, Williamson wrote that Slaughter had been “grounded” at the San Antonio Army Air Force Preflight School (Group IV). The piece reminded readers that “in August last year, Slaughter was being called by his Roxboro, North Carolina draft board for immediate induction. But meanwhile he applied for aviation cadet training and took a screening mental and physical examination in St. Louis.” Columnist Williamson wrote, “At this [August, 1942] test, Slaughter was found to be color blind, a defect that ordinarily eliminates an aviation cadet applicant.” The three-paragraph article seemed to prove that our instincts were correct.

Questions surrounding Slaughter’s enlistment lingered. If he failed to qualify for aviation cadet training, how was he permitted to proceed with the program and stave off his immediate induction? The second paragraph in the Times-Dispatch posed a more specific question along with a supposition. “For some reason, the St. Louis examining board waived Slaughter’s color blindness and accepted him as a future aviation cadet (could it have been because the Cards were in a neck-and-neck race with the Dodgers for the pennant?).” In calling attention to the St. Louis draft board’s decision, the article also illuminated another important fact; the actions of Slaughter and his St. Louis board helped the ballplayer avoid his hometown board (in Roxboro, North Carolina) and their potentially less-than baseball-friendly posture. Whatever arrangement was made between the draft board and Slaughter, the end result was that Enos was allowed to continue playing baseball through the end of the 1942 season and then await his call-up to aviation training.

Unfortunately, Enos Slaughter is not alive today to provide context or to dispute the details published by Dick Williamson. Providing a measure of perspective, in the countless newspaper articles that we found that discussed Slaughter’s color blindness disqualification, Williamson’s piece is the only one to mention the alleged waiver. A modicum of doubt arises in the last paragraph of Williamson’s segment about Slaughter. “Slaughter knew he was color blind and realized all the time he would be eliminated from further cadet training,” Williamson wrote.“When he did take the exam and was found color blind he was given “GDO” (Ground Duty Only).” Williamson qualified his statement: “This information comes to me from a serviceman who talked with Slaughter at the San Antonio school before the baseball star underwent the tough physical exam there.” While hearsay doesn’t typically hold up in the legal realm, the information provided by Williamson’s unnamed source should be considered only with a few grains of salt.

According to Slaughter’s Baseball Hall of Fame profile, the former Cardinal was offered the opportunity to train as a bombardier when his color blindness “discovery” resulted in his dismissal from flight training. “I said if I couldn’t be the one flying the plane, I’d just as soon not be flying. So I became physical education instructor in charge of about 200 troops,” Slaughter told Frederick Turner, author of When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946. Slaughter remained at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center and was assigned to the 509th Base Headquarters Squadron. The Cardinals slugger was also tapped by the manager, 2nd Lt. Del Wilber ( a former Cardinals minor leaguer), to play on the base’s ball club and compete against local Texas service and semi-professional teams.

“Five former professional baseball players are included on the starting lineup of the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. Pictured with Lieutenant Colonel Chester Hill, special service officer, they are (from left) Dave Coble, catcher, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox; Fred Scheske, outfielder, Little Rock, Southern Association; Bill Smith, pitcher, New York Giants and Jersey City Giants; Del Wilber, infielder, St. Louis Cardinals and Columbus, Ohio, and Enos “Country” Slaughter, outfielder and batting star of the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals.” – June 7, 1943 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the 1943 San Antonio Service League’s 63-game season underway, Slaughter was on an offensive tear. By the end of May, he was hitting .535 as he faced opponents such as the Randolph Field “Ramblers” (including David “Boo” Ferriss, Bibb Falk and a handful of minor leaguers), the “War Workers,” the Brooks Field “Ganders” and teams from Camp Normoyle Ordnance Depot, Stinson Army Air Field, Kelly Field and Hondo Navigation School.

In mid-June, Slaughter was granted a furlough to participate in the 1942 World Series champion’s ring ceremonies in St. Louis. Joined on the field at Sportsman’s Park to collect their rings were fellow service members Frank Crespi and Johnny Beazley. Terry Moore, serving in the Army Air Forces and stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, was represented at the ceremony by his mother. Immediately following the festivities in St. Louis, Slaughter was flown back to San Antonio in time for his service team’s game against Brooks Field.

The accompanying original caption reads, “Enos Slaughter, clutch hitter with San Antonio Air Cadet Center of Service Men’s League – San Antonio, Texas. Ex-Card star in slump, but drives in runs in the clutch…will also hit in clutch when he goes after Japs, Wops and Hitler’s HEELS.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

In early July, the SAACC team participated in the annual Houston semipro baseball, 14-team tournament that included squads from several Houston-area military bases. The tournament favorite was the Waco Army Flying School, piloted by former Detroit Tigers backstop George “Birdie” Tebbetts. The club included former major leaguers Sid Hudson, “Hoot” Evers, “Buster” Mills and Bruce Campbell. The Waco squad dominated the tournament as the SAACC Warhawks failed to secure a spot in the finals. Waco defeated the Bayton Oilers to claim the tournament victory. In August, Private Slaughter was promoted to Private First Class.

1943 San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawks:

Player Position
Dave Coble C
Steve Colosky P
Ed Cooper
Jim Cox
John Ducos
Don Finfrock 2B
Dave Garland
Siegel Grove
Tex Hendrix Bat boy
Chester Hill Spc. Svcs. Officer
Eddie Houser
Leo Johnson
Woody Johnson P
Marty Lackowitz Trainer
Frank O’Neil
Dave Pluss RF
Fred Scheske OF
Enos “Country” Slaughter OF
Bill Smith P
Del Wilber IF/Mgr

Always on the hunt for baseball militaria, we were quite surprised when we sourced two vintage photos, from two different sellers, of the San Antonio Army Aviation Cadet Center team featuring Enos Slaughter in his team flannels. Both type-1 images originated from the SAACC public relations office and were so stamped on the backs. These photos appeared to be taken around the same time (June, 1943). The first SAACC Warhawk photo showed a group of players flanking an Army Air Forces officer (Lt. Col. Chester Hill, the Special Services Officer) and called attention to the group of men as being former professional baseball players. The second photo from Slaughter’s 1943 season showed him posed while holding his bat. In addition to capturing Slaughter during his time in San Antonio, both photos provided fantastic details of the SAACC uniform.

As the 1943 season progressed, one of the most significant war bond fundraising events was taking shape. Raising funds in support of the war effort was an effort that involved all Americans. Not only were citizens called upon to ration resources (food, clothing and fuel), but recycling was an all-hands effort that some folks suggest has not yet been replicated despite modern-day municipal and commercial programs. Investing in the future of the nation involved financial investment in the purchase of bonds (very similar to contemporary U.S. Treasury savings bonds) that provided the purchaser with a return on his/her investment when the bond reached maturity. The August 26, 1943 War Bond Jubilee was a significant effort. Its goal was to sell millions of dollars of war bonds that people would purchase at an event held at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Aside from the more than two hours of musical and comedic performances from orchestras, dance bands and radio, stage and film stars (such as Cab Calloway, Ethel Merman, James Cagney and Milton Berle), the main attraction was a game that pitted stars from the three New York major league clubs (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) against the U.S. Army’s New Cumberland (Pennsylvania) Reception team, which was augmented with service all-stars that included (future Hall of Fame enshrinees in bold) Captains Hank Greenberg (1B) and Sid Hudson (P), Lieutenants Johnny Beazley (P), Billy Hitchcock (SS) and Birdie Tebbetts (C) and Private First Class Enos Slaughter (RF). Also filling out the Cumberland roster were Elmer Valo (RF), Ducky Detweiler (1B), Danny Murtaugh (2B), Hal Marnie (2B), Pat Mullin (CF), Bill Peterman (C), Lynn Myers (SS), Bobby Rhawn (3B), Chuck Harig (LF) and Shargey (PH).

Before the All-Star game, fans were treated to perhaps the most memorable old-timers game in the history of baseball, dubbed the “Tableau of Yesterday.” Present at the game (three of which are noted in bold) were 12 living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the 1936 inaugural induction class. The exhibition showcased Babe Ruth‘s last-ever at bat, when he faced off against 55-year-old Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson, for a batting display, with the other legends fielding their traditional positions and Bill Klem calling balls and strikes.

“With Ruth (48 years old) at bat, George Sisler (50) was at first base, Eddie Collins (59) at second, bow-legged Honus Wagner (69) at short, Tris Speaker (55) in centerfield and Connie Mack (83) waving a scoreboard. Their ranks were filled out by other famous players of a bygone era – Roger Bresnahan (64) catching, Frank Frisch (44) at third base, Duffy Lewis (53) in left field and Jack “Red” Murray (59) in right.” – Associated Press, Friday August 27, 1943

Walter Johnson took the mound one final time to pitch to Babe Ruth in the August 26, 1943 War Bond Game at the Polo Grounds. The 58-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher would succumb to a brain tumor on December 10, 1946, just 40 months later (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The event raised more than 800 million dollars (in purchased War Bonds) and the nearly 40,000 fans were treated to Babe Ruth’s last ever home run blast. “It didn’t matter that in fielding some of the Babe’s ‘practice shots’ Murray fell down, Speaker was practically decapitated and Collins was all but carried into right field by a line drive,” wrote the Associated Press’ Sid Feder. “The folks had a look at ‘em, and the Babe finally parked one. That was the icing on the cake.”

Never mind that there was still a ballgame to be played following the old timers’ exhibition. Filling out the New York All-Stars’ roster were: Dick Bartell and Frankie Crosetti at short, Billy Jurges, Joe Gordon, Billy Herman and Mickey Witek at second base, Billy Johnson at third, Arky Vaughan, Charlie Keller, and Joe “Ducky” Medwick in left field, Buster Maynard and Augie Galan in center, Dixie Walker and Paul Waner in right, Nick Etten and Galan at first and Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey and Mickey Owen behind the plate. Manager Casey Stengel‘s pitching staff consisted of Curt Davis, Van Lingle Mungo, Ace Adams, Spud Chandler, Carl Hubbell, Tiny Bonham, Tommy Byrne and Ed Head (the nine future Hall of Fame enshrines shown in bold).

Though billed as the featured event, the game between the All-Stars and the Army team was overshadowed despite the star power on both rosters. The Camp Cumberland squad, managed by Captain Hank Gowdy, eked out 14 hits against the New York stars; however, they managed to plate only two runners. The Cumberland pitchers limited the Stars to nine hits, but the Gotham batsmen tallied five runs to claim the victory. Private Slaughter batted 1-for-3 and scored one of the Cumberland runs in the loss. The fans and the nation were the real winners in this hallmark event because of the money raised for the war effort and the historically entertaining day. In retrospect, those in attendance witnessed an unprecedented Hall of Fame event, with 21 members participating in the game and seven being part of the festivities but not playing.

Returning to San Antonio following the War Bond game, Enos Slaughter, promoted to the rank of sergeant, was “apologetic” for hitting just .498 (in 75 games) in his first season with the SAACC Warhawks. The team secured the Texas Army League championship. As Sgt. Slaughter continued his work at the air base leading physical fitness instruction, he was part of the U.S. Army Air Forces training film, Survival of the Fittest.

Slaughter’s enlistment controversy resurfaced a year after he reported for duty with a brief two-paragraph article (published on Thursday, March 2, 1944) discussing the details surrounding his induction and subsequent exit from the aviation cadet program. “He (Slaughter) washed out,” Stan Anderson of the Logan, Utah paper Student Life wrote, “because he answered a psychologist’s question as to why he joined the Air Corps with a remark to the effect that getting into the Air Corps Reserve was his only means of staving off the Army long enough to play in that year’s World Series.” Anderson’s piece continued, “Very candid boy, apparently. But poor attitude, the offended Army Air Corps representative decided at once.”

In 1944 Slaughter’s San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawk club again claimed both the best record in the Texas service league’s 55 –game jaunt and the championship in the season-ending playoffs. Sergeant Slaughter slipped from his 1943 batting average, dropping to a miniscule .414 and finishing behind Randolph Field’s David “Boo” Ferriss’ .417. Enos captured the league crown for hits (82), doubles (22), total bases (153) and runs (64) and tied his manager, Del Wilber, for the league lead in home runs (13). Slaughter was no slouch on the base paths as he swiped 16 and finished tied for second.

As his former teammates were preparing for the first game of the all-St. Louis World Series between the Cardinals and the Browns, Sgt. Slaughter was not only in town but joined the “Redbirds” on the field during pre-game warm-ups. Slaughter’s presence must have aided the Cardinals as they set down the Browns to claim the championship in six games.

By February of 1945, U.S. forces were pushing the Imperial Japanese forces from their island strongholds in the Western Pacific. On February 16, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific on Iwo Jima commenced with a pre-invasion shore bombardment from the naval forces. Three days later, Marines began landing on the black, volcanic, sandy shores of the island. Fighting would last until nearly the end of the following month. Despite the victory in wresting control of the island from the Japanese, U.S. forces suffered extensive casualties, numbering more than 26,000, 6,821 of them killed.

As was happening with Birdie Tebbetts’ Waco squad, Army brass detached two key players from the Cadet Center team months before the start of the 1945 season. Sgt. Enos Slaughter and Private Howie Pollet were granted a furlough as they transferred to Kearns Army Air Field near Salt Lake City, Utah. Joining Slaughter and Pollet at Kearns were Tex Hughson, Sid Hudson, Clarence “Hooks” Iott, “Chubby” Dean, George Gill, Sam West, Johnny Sturm, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens, Taft Wright and Bobby Adams. They all awaited further transfer.

Staff Sergeant Bruce Bohle wrote his employer, the St. Louis Star and Times, to tell them of his encounter with the ballplayers soon after their arrival at Kearns. “Imagine my surprise on entering the dining hall,” Bohle opened his letter, “to find the dishwashing chores handled by two former members of the Cardinals. They were Enos Slaughter and Howard Pollet.” Bohle continued, “These ball players rate ace-high with the boys at Kearns. They receive the same training and handle the same duties as all of us,” Bohle commented, “Slaughter and Pollet were in fine form while working with the dishwashing brigade. That’ll give you a laugh!”

As reported in the (Thursday, March 8) Salt Lake Telegram, the gathering of players was “a manager’s dream,” wrote the unnamed author. “That’s the AAF overseas replacement depot, Kearns, these days.” The article boasted Kearns as having a “who’s on first and what’s the pitcher’s name” situation at the air base with the drawback being that the players wouldn’t be playing nor would they be around when baseball season opened.

All of the Kearns Air Base assemblage of ballplayers (except for Lott and West) were soon transferred to Oahu and distributed among Bellows Field, Wheeler Field and Hickam Field, with each assigned to the corresponding baseball teams. Slaughter, Pollet and Rojek ended up with the Hickam Air Field “Bombers” at Pearl Harbor.

The Monday, April 23 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter at Hickam Field along with Howie Pollet and Captain Birdie Tebbetts, “to perform military duties with the army air forces.” The Star-Bulletin continued, “Seven major and minor league ball players in all have come in to date, including three pitchers, two outfielders, two infielders and a catcher,” calling the additions to the Hickam baseball team, a “septuple shot in the arm.” Joining the trio were John Jensen (San Diego Padres), Roy Pitter (Yankees) and George Gill (Tigers and Browns). With the Honolulu League season underway since late January, Hickam had already seen the additions of Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) and Dario Lodigiani (White Sox), both of whom had played for the 7th AAF team in 1944 in Hawaii, and Bill Hitchcock (Tigers), who had played on the McClellan Field (Sacramento) team.

1945 Hickam Field Bombers:

Rank Player Position Former Team (Pre-War)
John J.”Moe” Ambrosia Bat Boy/2B Unknown
John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk 3B/P/MGR Semi-Pro
Leonard Burton P Tallahassee (GAFL)
Glenn Dobbs Tulsa U./Chicago Cardinals (NFL)
S/Sgt. Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco (PCL)
Eddie Funk P San Diego (PCL)
Cpl. George Gill P Browns/Tigers
Capt. Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Cpl. Johnny Jensen LF/CF San Diego (PCL)
George Colonel “Kearnie” Kohlmyer 2B Tyler (EXTL)
Sgt. Dario Lodigiani 2B White Sox
Johnny Mazur C Semi-Pro
Roy Pitter P NYY Property
Pfc. Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Sgt. Stan Rojek SS Dodgers
Bill Salveson P Semi-Pro
Frank Saul P Semi-Pro
Don Schmidt P Semi-Pro
Sgt. Enos “Country” Slaughter CF/LF Cardinals
George Sprys RF Appleton (WISL)
Tom Tatum RF Dodgers
Capt. George “Birdie” Tebbetts C Tigers

Slaughter’s impact on the Hickam “Bombers” squad was immediate as he batted in the clean-up spot. During an April 24 matchup against the Fort Shafter Commanders in front of 4,000 at Honolulu Stadium in the Cronin Series, Slaughter walked and scored in the fourth inning and stroked a home run in the seventh to put Hickam ahead, 2-1. Enos used his defensive prowess to rob Earl Kuper of extra bases as he made a brilliant play on a 350-foot line drive in the fifth inning. In his second game, he plated three with a home run to beat the Honolulu All-Stars (a civilian team) in the Cronin Series.

Baseball wasn’t the only game for Slaughter at Hickam. The slugger was joined by Tebbetts, Frank Saul, George Gill and Roy Pitter to play in the CPBC softball tournament as part of the Hickam Bombers squad. They took down the AP&SC team, 7-1, on May 2 for their fifth win in the brackets.

The baseball season continued for the Hickam squad as they continued to rack up wins, defeating the Maui All-Stars and Maui Marines. They held each team scoreless while Slaughter drove seven runs (combined) and was awarded a $50 war bond for the most RBIs in the H.C. & S. Co. Athletic Association Series held at New Baldwin Field on the island of Maui.

By May 17, Hickam remained unbeaten in league play and Slaughter continued his offensive and defensive onslaught. The bats of Hickam’s Rojek, Fain, Jensen, Hitchcock, Tebbetts and Kearny Kohlmyer combined with Enos Slaughter’s output earned them the nickname, “Murderous Row” by the Honolulu Advertiser.

Slaughter was tapped by his Hickam manager Birdie Tebbetts, along with 11 other former professional players, to participate in a baseball clinic held for more than 1,000 youths at Honolulu Stadium. It was the first of its kind in Honolulu. The players taught the kids skills for batting, pitching, sliding, base stealing and pickoff plays.

As the season progressed, Hickam faced off against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins on May 25 in what was a pure offensive showdown. One would think that after being staked to a 12-0 lead after the third inning, the game was well in hand for the Bombers, especially after tallying nine runs in the second inning alone. Tebbetts lifted himself and Slaughter, who had suffered an injury, a strained hamstring, while running hard to first base in the second inning. with the large lead, but the Dolphins proceeded to work their way back against the impending rout. Ken Sears’ two home runs in addition to round-trippers by “Schoolboy” Rowe, John Jeandron, Charlie Gilbert, Bob McCorkle and Don Meyers drew the Dolphins to within a run but they ultimately fell short, 18-17.

With Slaughter’s injury and faltering pitching, Hickam suffered their first loss of the season to the Wingmen of Wheeler Air Base, 7-2, on May 26. Hickam’s offense came roaring back to life against the Honolulu Tigers in an 11-4 attack with Kohlmyer subbing for Slaughter in right field.

As May turned to June, the Hickam Bombers remained atop the Hawaii League standings in a three-way tie for first place with the teams from Wheeler Field and Bellows Field, each with a single loss. On June 9th, the Bombers received their second loss of the season at the hands of the Aiea Naval Hospital at Ceres Field, home of the “Hilltoppers.” Led by Sal Recca (a double and three singles) and Johnny Berardino (a triple and a double), the Hilltoppers’ bats got to Gill, who surrendered five runs. The Bombers were without the services of Slaughter, Tom Tatum and Dario Lodigiani.

In early June, the former Yankee catcher, Navy Lieutenant Bill Dickey, drafted plans to hold an All-Star game at Furlong Field on June 24 that would resemble the mid-summer classic between the stars of the National and American leagues. This game would feature players stationed throughout Hawaii and assembled in league teams, regardless of their current branches of service.

The American Leaguers were set to be managed by Birdie Tebbetts and feature Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The roster of the Nationals was to include Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lou Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mike McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe, with Billy Herman managing.

Earlier this year, we located a 1940s Wilson Official League baseball that was covered with signatures from former major and minor-league ballplayers. Each player appeared to sign the ball using the same pen and included the year (“1945”) inscribed beneath one of the autographs. Included with the baseball was a PSA/DNA certificate of authenticity, validating the signatures as genuine. Due to the names of the players who signed the ball, we determined that the group of men were part of the 1945 Hickam Bombers (see: Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers). Perhaps the most prominent of the signatures is that of Enos Slaughter.

1945 Hickam Bombers ball: Ferris Fain, Enos Slaughter, Kernie Kohlmeyer, Steve Tomko, John J. “Moe” Ambrosia, Bill Mosser, Birdie Tebbetts (source: Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On June 16, LT. Col Edgar B. Stansbury, chief of AAFPOA Special Services, announced that the Army Air Forces would play their last baseball game in Hawaii on the following day, bringing about an end to the season and the planned All Star game. According to the June 17, 1945 Honolulu Advertiser, there was no reason provided by the colonel who “asserted it would be impossible to hold a major league All-Star Game” due to the mandate. The Navy leadership made a similar announcement regarding their players. Slaughter and the rest of the pro ballplayers appeared in their final Hickam Bombers game that afternoon as they took on the Bellows Field Flyers, claiming their final win, 2-0, on a Dario Lodigiani two-run single in the ninth inning.

Hickam attempted to rebuild the team, refilling the positions vacated by the former professionals with Air Forces personnel in order to salvage their season, with the first game scheduled for June 29. Meanwhile, Slaughter prepared for what lay ahead. On June 25, the Associated Press published an article (Big Name Athletes Move to Outlying Islands) by reporter Murlin Spencer. “Baseball stars who have made Oahu one of the greatest islands for baseball fans are moving to outlying islands so that GIs on the outer fringes can see them, too.” Slaughter was listed among many stars that were departing.

On July 9, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter and the contingent of USAAF players on the island of Guam. The piece mentioned that decisions had yet to be made regarding how the men would be divided into teams. AAFPOA athletic officer Captain Billy Hitchcock, who was in charge of the contingent of players, spoke of issues surrounding the condition of the ball fields and facilities available to use for games. He also named the managers for the three teams that the group would be divided into. “Birdie Tebbetts of the Hickam Bombers, Buster Mills of the Bellows Flyers and Mike McCormick of the Wheeler Wingmen,” Hitchcock said, “probably will be managing these teams.”

58th Bombardment Wing Wingmen:

Player Position Former
Bob “Bobby” Adams 2B Syracuse (IL)
Al “Chubby” Dean P Indians
Tom Gabrielli C Pirates
George Gill P Tigers/Browns
Joe Gordon SS Yankees
Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Edwin “Ed” Kowalski P Appleton (WISL)
Al Lang LF Reds
Don Lang OF Kansas City (AA)
Pete Layden OF collegiate player
Arthur “Art” Lilly IF Hollywood (PCL)
Joe Marty OF Phillies
Roy Pitter P Yankees
Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Enos “Country” Slaughter OF Cardinals
Chuck Stevens 1B Browns
Johnny Sturm 1B Yankees
George “Birdie” Tebbetts C/Mgr Tigers
Vic Wertz CF Tigers

Hitchcock formed the teams (under the command of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces or USASTAF) and created a round-robin format of competition to provide an entertaining tournament that would be played on Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. The team assignments seemed to correspond with the roster configurations previously seen in Hawaii with Wheeler, Bellows and Hickam; but there were some exceptions. Tebbetts’ roster appeared to have been given a slight advantage by landing two outstanding hitters in Slaughter and former Yankee infielder Joe Gordon (both of whom would end up enshrined in Cooperstown). The tournament commenced with the inaugural game between Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and Buster Mills’ 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers” on July 27.

Sunday, July 29: The 58th Wingmen’s first game on the island of Tinian. The Wingmen’s 1st baseman Chuck Stevens is at bat (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

This well-weathered scorecard from the USASTAF (United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific) game played by Major League Baseball Stars has seen better days (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The USASTAF tournament games were not the only baseball competition that the men faced. In some instances, the players would see action with pick-up games that would often include highly-skilled regular GIs filling in some of the roster positions. Staff Sergeant Ed Ruder, a war correspondent stationed in the Marianas, wrote of a pickup game that featured several former Cardinals and Browns players. His piece, “Cardinal and Brown Players Hold St. Louis Day in Pacific,” spotlighted a game between Army and Marine Corps clubs, each augmented by former players from the two St. Louis teams. The Marines squad featured Bill Barnes, Vernal “Nippy” Jones, and Ray Yochim of the Cardinals and Harry Hatch, former Browns farmhand. The Army team included (from the 58th Wingmen) former Cardinals Slaughter, Pollet and former Browns Gill and Kearny Kohlmyer. Also representing the St. Louis area was batboy John. J. “Moe” Ambrosia, formerly of the Hickam Bombers. The Marines got the better of the Army that day on the back of Yochim’s pitching as he outdueled Pollet, 7-6.

Looking down the right field line towards the outfield, this photo from Chuck Steven’s personal collection shows the visitors’ dugout and the massive crowds that ringed the diamond to watch the men play, August 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Slaughter’s .351 batting average was among the leaders in the USASTAF tournament, trailing Stan Rojek (.358), Bill Leonard (.355) and Johnny Jensen (.353) when the competition wound to a close. In total, 27 games were played just within the USASTAF round robin league before more than 180,000 GI fans.

This photo from former St. Louis Browns 1st baseman, Chuck Stevens’ collection was inscribed on the reverse, “Isn’t this a great picture? It was taken here in the tent – that’s George Gill and Tom Gabrielli in the back – Enos Slaughter and Ed Kowalski with me – it was taken kinda early in the morning so that so that might have something to do with the way we look. Sad bunch of sacks – Great bunch of Soldiers.” This was captured during the August-September USASTAF Marianas baseball tournament (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Sergeant Slaughter’s overseas service came to an abrupt close when he, along with Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilan Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Sam Rojek and Sid Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Sid Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean arrived in Long Beach, California as they disembarked from the USS Cecil (APA-96).

Days later, controversy surrounding Slaughter brewed once again when the news reached troops still stationed overseas and awaiting their orders to return home. “It now seems that the function of some big name baseball, football and other athletic stars is, perhaps unwittingly,” a Stars and Stripes editorial conveyed, “to help lower the morale of overseas servicemen.” Letters to the paper from GIs caused a dustup over the accelerated return and subsequent discharges for the baseball players, and Slaughter’s name was one of ten specifically called out.

Sgt. Slaughter transferred from Camp Anza (Riverside, California) to Fort Sheridan, Illinois and was granted a 58-day furlough following his arrival; but he was ordered to report to San Antonio on January 1, 1946. “I am hoping to get out in time for spring training,” Slaughter told W. Vernon Tietjen of the St. Louis Star and Times, “but I don’t know. Latest is that you need 55 points, and I am still in the 40s.” Nearly four weeks later, on January 25, Slaughter was discharged from the Army Air Forces 24 days before reporting to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Cardinals’ spring training.

Despite the questions and controversy surrounding Slaughter’s entrance into the air cadet program and his color blindness disqualification, his positive impact and morale boosting while playing baseball for his comrades in arms was felt for more than two years. The artifacts in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection that reflect Sergeant Enos Slaughter’s service were fantastic additions over the last few years and will always be treasured. We are delighted to share them with our audiences.

See also:

Remembering Pearl Harbor and the Game

A conversation with an American adult in the age range of 18-35 regarding history would be very eye-opening for any World War II living veteran and possibly alarming. Imagine being a veteran who met the enemy on the field of battle in places such as France or Belgium let alone Morocco, Algeria, Leyte or the Aleutians and discovering that the person you are conversing with has absolutely no knowledge that the battles in which you fought either have no meaning or are completely unheard of. It is a difficult concept for people in my generation (born two decades after the end of World War II) that there are Americans who have graduated from high school and university and are detached from their nation’s history.

As a nation, we have allowed ourselves to forget. the Day of Infamy. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Regan

Arguably the most tragic American event in the Twentieth Century is the one that catapulted the United States into the Second World War and its memory is slipping away from the consciousness of her citizens. With more than 78 years elapsed since the Day of Infamy, the handful of survivors remaining alive at present are rather few as are nearing their tenth decade of life. They still remember that fateful day. Ninety-seven-year-old Seaman First Class, Donald Stratton, the only USS Arizona survivor to publish a memoir (All the Gallant Men, November 22, 2016), passed away just a few months ago on February 16 leaving just two men, Lou Conter and Ken Potts, as the last living survivors from the battleship.

Whether it was the first of several visits to the USS Arizona Memorial or the most recent one, standing above the hulk of the ship that was at the epicenter of the start of World War II (for the United States) is incredibly emotional to consider the violence that engulfed the harbor and very somber realization that one is immediately above the final resting place for the 1,177 men who perished that day. Looking down into the water to see the rusting twisted steel covered in sediment and marine growth as bunker fuel oil slowly seeps to the water’s surface, one can imagine the enemy planes flying in low for torpedo runs or looking into the skies to see high-altitude bombers overhead releasing their deadly destruction. Picturing men being blown over the sides of exploding ships or jumping into the inferno of burning oil atop the water’s surface amid the cacophony of machine gun fire and screams of burning and wounded men, isn’t difficult to envision from the decks of the memorial structure.

“Remember Pearl Harbor” and the sneak attack has been a fading klaxon call for Americans over the last few decades with a brief reminder when the United States was surprise attacked again on September 11, 2001.

A visitor to the USS Arizona Memorial will be initially introduced to Pearl Harbor’s history in the shore-side visitors center which includes a fantastic film about the attack. The center is filled with artifacts (many of which belonged to individual crew members) from inside the ship allowing visitors to see a more personal side of the carnage.

For many collectors of antiques and military artifacts (militaria), items from a veteran or pieces that are attributable to December 7, 1941 are highly sought after. Photo albums, medals or uniform items obtained from a veteran who was present on that day provide historians and militaria collectors with a tangible connection to this considerably pivotal moment in history. No doubt, there are dome concerns regarding the ethics and morals surrounding a private citizen possessing an unrelated veteran’s medals which is a topic of separate discussion (see: The Merits of Heart Collecting). Those visits to Pearl Harbor both as an inquisitive historian and as an active duty Navy veteran left this author inspired and on a perpetual quest to secure a Pearl Harbor-connected artifact for our collection.

The attack on Pearl Harbor along with several key military installations throughout the Island of Oahu would seem to provide an ample field of artifacts from which to source over the course of a decade.

With 100 ships present (and thousands of service men and women) around the harbor that day, it would seem to make sense that an artifact of note would surface in that time. Sadly, the timing never seemed to work and if it did, the bidding-competition was far to fierce and would drive cost (to acquire) the item out of the range of possibility as was the case for the pre-war USS Arizona enlisted man’s flat hat, including the ship-named Talley (see: A Piece of the Day of Infamy or Simply a Connection to an Historic Ship?).

One Saturday morning in early May, I awoke to find a private message from a colleague (a fellow Red Sox fan) who has an extensive and incredible baseball memorabilia collection. The tone of the message was an excited urgency from my friend who told me about a baseball jersey that, rather than pursue it himself, remarked that he thought of me immediately. It seemed that one of his local colleagues came across the jersey in the course of his business and texted his baseball-collector friend with the details and a few photos. What was relayed to me certainly held my interest and I wasted no time in responding.

Armed with a phone number, I reached out to the man with the jersey, who then mentioned that he obtained the the artifact along with a few Navy uniforms. The man was contracted by by the surviving family of a recently deceased elderly WWII Navy veteran to remove what remained of the decendent’s personal effects from his home. Over the course of carrying out his cleanup tasks, the man discovered the aforementioned jersey and service uniforms left behind to be disposed of (either through sale or other means). Understanding the historical nature of the pieces, he retained them and reached out to our mutual colleague. Our conversation was brief as the man described the items and mentioned that he would send the photos of the jersey and take (and send to me) additional pictures of the veteran’s dress uniforms when it was convenient to do so.

Even though the jersey was described to me, I was quite moved to see the photos of the heavy wool flannel with the lettering spelling out, “U S S P H O E N I X” arched across the chest. Internal questions as to the age of the jersey and the validity of the verbal story regarding the veteran’s connection to the ship swirled around in the sea of excitement surrounding the possibility that we were on the verge of acquiring artifacts from a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Over the next few weeks, conversation regarding the arrangements ensued as research was performed on the veteran to validate the information regarding the uniforms and jersey. Not only did we verify the details within the veteran’s obituary, but also the service details before making the final decision to acquire the group.

Due to mismatching schedules, it took some coordination to make the appropriate arrangements to bring the Phoenix jersey home (along with the veteran’s sets of dress blues and his flat hat (see: An Old Bluejacket Tradition Long Gone: Tar Hats to Flat Hats). After nearly a month since we initially spoke and a lot of nervousness during the shipping transit, the package arrived safely. The anticipation to open the package required restraint (to avoid damaging the contents with the knife) as the box was very securely sealed.

The very first garment withdrawn from the packaging was the road gray jersey that was somewhat dingy and clearly aged (and in need of cleaning). A thorough inspection and assessment of the baseball shirt showed that there were no personal markings, names or other inscriptions and that the overall condition was excellent (save for a lone moth-nip). All of the stitching seemed to be quite strong with no signs of separation or failing threads. Each of the athletic felt letters show no signs of decay or moth damage (they are commonly a target of insects). The condition of the lone numeral on the back matched the front lettering. The Wilson manufacturer’s tag matched the period of the veteran’s naval career showing that the jersey dates from as early as 1942.

Obviously wrinkled and in need of cleaning, the debate ensues as to whether we should dry clean, hand-wash or leave it alone (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

The armpits are vented beneath the raglan-style sleeves. Two thin lines of navy soutache encircle the sleeve cuffs (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

As each successive garment was withdrawn from the package, it became apparent that there were more Navy dress uniforms in the box than was expected. Each jumper top bore the sailor’s rating badges and service stripe (“hash mark”) indicating that the veteran served for at least four years. A fourth uniform in the package differed from the first three. Instead of the fire controlman rating badge on the left sleeve, this one and the rating badge of a first-class electrician’s mate (EM1/c). The garment tag bore the same last name as the other three but with differing initials for the first and last name. A cursory research check showed that this uniform was issued to the veteran’s older brother who also served during WWII (though he enlisted nearly two-and-a-half years later).

Vincent Gunderson from his junior year in high school (image source: Ancestry.com).

Laying out the entire group, I considered all that this sailor, Fire Controlman Second Class Vincent Gunderson witnessed and experienced during his naval career. According to our research, Gunderson was born in Wisconsin in the year 1922. In July 1940, the 18-year-old Gunderson left his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin (this small city, less than 23,000 residents in 1940, is the home of seven Medal of Honor recipients) and traveled 90 miles to the east to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Upon graduation from boot camp, Apprentice Seaman Gunderson reported on board the 2-year-old Brooklyn-Class light cruiser, USS Phoenix (CL-46) on October 5, 1940.

Though we were unsuccessful in locating artifacts or articles that would lend insight as to the ship’s baseball team roster configuration, we were able to find a few news stories about the squad. In the spring of 1941, the USS Phoenix nine embarked upon the season of play within the Oahu National League. On March 31, the ship’s “Phoo- Birds” team faced the Primos in a 10-inning 5-4 loss. A few days later, the Phoenix battery of Joe Simone and Hal Crider went up against the Richmond Ramblers, dropping the game, handing them a 3-1 loss. Simone pitched a two-hitter as offensive support came from six Phoenix hits (two each by Sandman and Carpenter’s Mate 3/c Bill Lindsey).

USS Phoenix shows off her wartime camouflage scheme (U.S. Navy photo).

The USS Phoenix was a state-of-the-art light cruiser (“light” indicates that the main battery or principal gun bores were less than eight inches) assigned to the Pacific Fleet’s Cruiser Division Nine under the direction of Admiral H. Fairfax Leary. Of the division’s five cruisers, the USS Helena (CL-50), USS St. Louis (CL-49) and the flagship, USS Honolulu (CL-48) were at anchor in Pearl Harbor along with the Phoenix. USS Boise (CL-47) was off the Philippine Island of Cebu having completed convoy escorting duties.

Almost two and a half hours after the attack began, USS Phoenix got underway, heading for the sea as she slides past the the black smoke plumes emanating from USS West Virginia (left) and USS Arizona at the right (U.S. Navy photo).

“Phoenix saw planes proceeding to Ford Island at 0755. She got underway at 1010, temporarily returned to its moorage as ordered, but eventually joined other cruisers at sea. The ship fired eighty rounds of 5-inch between 0900 and 0915 on planes dive-bombing Ford Island and the battleships.” – “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal” by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN (Retired)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, just before 0800, the lead Japanese aircraft of the first attacking wave appeared over Pearl Harbor, men working topside on the USS Phoenix spotted them. Laying at anchor a half-mile to the north of Battleship Row (just off the shoreline of Aiea’s McGrew Point), the men of the Phoenix had a front row seat to the carnage that was unleashed upon the Navy’s capital warships. With bomb and torpedo explosions amid enemy aircraft machine gun strafing, USS Phoenix’s commanding officer, Captain Herman E. Fischer, commenced with getting his ship underway in order to clear the harbor as well as prepare to repel an enemy landing. Ordered to return to moorage, Captain Fischer followed the order as the gunners battled the attacking aircraft.

Vince Gunderson recently promoted to fire controlman 3/c was most likely operating the directors for the guns in order to target the aircraft. Though he was trained during peacetime conditions, he was now learning his job in ways that he never previously imagined. From that day on, the Phoenix was continually operational and often at the tip of the spear.

During the battle of Surigao Strait, the closes that Phoenix came to any real danger was when two American torpedoes passed close astern (they were inadvertently launched by one of the sinking DESRON 24 destroyers. Later, while screening USS Nashville (CL-43), a kamikaze struck the Nashville while just missing the Phoenix. The Phoenix continued to skirt damage elsewhere. En route to Lingayen, Phoenix warded off multiple kamikaze attacks and was bracketed by four enemy torpedoes (two passing astern and two raced ahead of the bow). Her avoidance was becoming noteworthy as she again dodged shore-based artillery fire that straddled the ship near Corregidor and Balikpapan. Her reputation for evading enemy targeting was continually building among the fleet and back home. The moniker, “Lucky Phoenix” was becoming commonly used when discussing the ship’s exploits.

April 22, 1944, USS Boise and USS Phoenix (on the horizon, to the right of the island) fire on enemy positions at Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. At another part of the island, major leaguers Don Padgett and Phil Rizzuto were serving in support of the removal of Japanese forces (U.S. Navy photo).

In every campaign, operation and battle, Gunderson was there manning the targeting directors for the ship’s guns, ensuring that every round fired would find its mark. When the ship came off the line for refit and resupply, at times the crew may have come ashore for recreation. Though we have yet to uncover any documentation regarding specifics for the men of the Phoenix, narratives from shipboard-serving players such as Seaman First Class Duke Snider and Chief Gunner’s Mate Bob Feller include periodic instances of R & R on American-held Pacific Islands where highly competitive baseball games were played (often with significant bets and bragging rights on the line). It is a safe assumption to consider that Gunderson saw game-action in similar fashion. Following the Phoenix’s support of the retaking of Bataan and Corregidor during the latter half of February 1945, Gunderson was detached from the ship (on March 24) to proceed to advanced fire control school in Washington D.C. for training. He made his way back to the states riding first the USS Boise and the carrier, USS Wasp (CV-18); the latter was returning for repairs following damage sustained in the Ryūkyūs campaign. Gunderson arrived at Puget Sound Navy Yard (Bremerton, Washington) on April 13, 1945 for further transport to the nation’s capital.

In need of proper laundering and pressing, Fire Controlman 2/c Gunderson’s dress and undress blue uniforms were included with his baseball jersey (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

For Fire Controlman 2/c Gunderson, the war was effectively over in terms of combat operations. He completed his training and returned to the Phoenix (nearly six months later) on November 2. However, following Gunderson’s departure, the Phoenix continued operations in support of removing enemy strongholds in the Philippines for the next few months.

During break from action in early May, the Phoenix lay at anchor in Subic Bay affording the crew some much needed rest. While attending a baseball game on May 10, one Phoenix’s crew members, 24-year-old Radio Technician 2/c Aaron Abramson suffered a fatal head injury when he was struck by a baseball. On May 11, the crew mustered for funeral services to honor their fallen shipmate. RT2/c Abramson of Brooklyn, New York, left behind his wife of nearly four years, Shirley.

Phoenix continued supporting operations surrounding the Philippines until she was directed to the waters surrounding Indonesia and Borneo to support landing operations in June. By early July, Phoenix was back in Philippine waters. In need of overhaul the Phoenix was directed to proceed to San Pedro, California reaching home by late August (the atomic bombs were dropped during her transit). After a short visit in port, the ship was ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard (by way of the Panama Canal). Prior to transiting the canal, Phoenix anchored at Acapulco for a port visit during September 1-2. During her visit, Japanese officials signed the instrument of surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

The war was over. Gunderson was still attending school as the Phoenix was on her way to the East Coast. Rather than undergoing an overhaul in Philadelphia, the ship received minimal upkeep. When Gunderson returned to the ship from school, he found the Phoenix transitioning to a modified decommissioned status as crew were being discharged and sent home. Gunderson remained aboard the ship until she was officially decommissioned on July 3, 1946. Two days later, on July 5, Fire Controlman Gunderson was discharged from the Navy.

Gunderson’s decorations earned during his service. We are determining if we should proceed with building out his ribbons to restore his dress uniform, fully. Top Row: Navy Good Conduct Medal Middle: American Defense, American Campaign, Asiatic-Pacific medals Bottom: WWII Victory, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Philippine Liberation medals

After a long life, 97-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor Vincent Gunderson passed away on the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Saturday, December 7, 2019.

Acquiring the Gunderson group provides us with the opportunity to share with our readers as well as our local in-person audiences who can see the artifacts during our public showings. With the addition of the Gunderson Navy uniforms, our militaria collection is wonderfully enhanced affording us the ability share a Pearl Harbor veteran’s story. As to our collection of service baseball uniforms, Gunderson’s USS Phoenix jersey is truly a centerpiece in telling the story of the intertwining histories of baseball and the armed forces.

USAAF Wartime Baseball in Western Canada

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.

U.S. Army Air Force Yanks Players (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

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.

Warming up in third base territory, the sleeve patch is fully visible on this Yanks player (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

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.

A Yanks batter takes a cut in front of a capacity crowd at Edmonton’s Renfrew Park (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

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.

The 1943 U.S. Army Air Force Yanks posed in the Edmonton Snow (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A7253).

1943 U.S. Army Air Force “Yanks”
Rank Player Position Hometown G AB R H Avg
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
Wayne Benjamin OF 1 14 0 0 0.000
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
Henry Duval OF 2 5 1 1 0.200
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.

 

A Bit of Perspective: Imagining Diamonds

When one spends a significant portion of time neck-deep in researching the game of baseball dating back to more than three quarters of a century, the changes that have been instituted during that window of time are glaringly apparent. Beyond the scope of the visual differences and the rule changes, disparity within the differing eras’ players; their demeanor, approachability, financial compensation and lifestyles serve to demonstrate how the present-day game merely hints at what was seen in baseball of the golden-era between 1930-1945.

If you’ve attended a major league (or even a high minor league) game, everything between the foul lines is near perfection for the players. The grass is richly lush, emerald green and groomed into aesthetically-pleasing crisscrossed mowed grids or patterns, often incorporating logos and messages showing the many hours of planning and execution by the highly skilled (and well-compensated) groundskeepers. Not a grain of dirt is out of place on the base paths, the mound or the warning track. The foul lines and batters’ boxes are perfectly drawn chalk.  Of the 30 current major league ballparks, all but three facilities were built as or function as baseball-only venues (Oakland’s Coliseum, Toronto’s Rogers Center and Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field were all constructed as multi-sport arenas) providing fans with an “intimate” baseball experience (as much as can be expected for 35,000 to 56,000 fans at one time can enjoy).

Nearly anyone who wore a military uniform understands from experience that one can adapt to surroundings making even the most environmentally unfriendly situation seem a little bit like home. In the absence of a suitable place to sleep, a GI can get shuteye in almost any location or situation whether being drenched in a tropical rain squall or on the hot steel deck surrounding a shipboard gun mount, soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen have little difficulty making do.  Coming off the front lines and taking time out for respite and a breather from the monotony and intensity of wartime service presents troops with opportunity for recreation. Up until the conflicts faced by the post-Vietnam War service members, baseball was the truly the “American Pastime” which meant that a ball and glove (if not a bat) wasn’t too far out of a GI’s reach.

Longtime followers of Chevrons and Diamonds are familiar with some of the vintage military baseball photographs within our image archive and have seen quite a few of them published here. As the library grows in size and scope, we observe content trends that quickly develop into topic themes that subsequently percolate, coalescing into an article. While seeking a photo for a then upcoming article, we found that our library had several induction-related photographs that helped to share the experiences of several ballplayers as they entered the armed forces during World War II (see: Baseball Inductions: Transitioning from Diamonds to the Ranks). With last week’s story regarding Cubs’ catcher, Marv Felderman (see: A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats), our search for photographs (to enhance the article) revealed another theme within the photographs.

This flightdeck could be an unforgiving surface for sports but it served us well as an improvised at-sea volleyball court (U.S. Navy Image).

Showing the flight deck dimensions and the area (colored) that served as our volleyball court.

During this author’s time serving on active duty in the Navy on a guided missile cruiser, I played on several of the ship’s sports teams throughout the years (football and softball) with our games occurring while we were in our home port. While on deployment, such activities were otherwise non-existent until one of our officers had an idea for volleyball on the ship’s helicopter flight deck. Volleyball played in a gym or on a sport court requires little planning aside from ensuring the presence of a proper net and ball. However, aboard a pitching and rolling ship with a 54’ x 40’ “court” covered in skin-shredding non-skid and bounded by heavy-framed, stainless steel safety nets, the game poses many challenges and risks (including losing the ball over the side of the ship). In between operational activities, volleyball was played as we adapted to the environment and overcame some of the risks.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” Leonardo da Vinci

Perception (Merriam Webster):

  • 3a: awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation color perception
  • b: physical sensation interpreted in the light of experience

The ability to apply knowledge through experience – examining surroundings and envisioning what could be implemented in that environment. The officer aboard my ship stood on the flight deck and perceived a volleyball court. Envisioning a baseball diamond (or ate least components of one) aboard a ship requires deeper perception, especially aboard an inter-war period battleship.

A USS Tennessee batter takes his cuts on pitches inside of a makeshift batting cage on the battleship’s starboard side, beneath turret #3, which is trained to starboard (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Showing the BB-43 batting cage with the batter, pitcher and another sailor ready to shag the batted balls (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the vintage photos within our library was very reminiscent of that shipboard volleyball. Captured in the early 1930s aboard the battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43), the image demonstrates the level of competition and how serious it was taken by personnel aboard ship (see: Despite the Auction Loss, Victory is Found in the Discovery) as indicated by the elaborate batting cage constructed on the ship’s starboard side, beneath the trained number-3 turret. Unlike a land-based military team, the men aboard ship need to find creative ways to work on the fundamentals of the game and the men of the Tennessee improvised and adapted to address their need.

Making reality of perception requires a lot of hands and ingenuity when laying out a complete baseball field, especially one that is a short distance away from active combat operations.

A diamond created in a jungle clearing is used by the men of the 20th Infantry Regiment (Sykes Regulars). Note the bamboo and fronds backstop (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In another photo (that is part of a larger group of snapshots from a veteran’s WWII photo album), a game is being played in a jungle clearing nestled among palm trees and tropical vegetation. The men playing in the game were members of the 20th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Sykes’ Regulars” which was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division) that were in the midst of nearly 220 days of continuous combat (see: Following the Horrors of Battle in the Pacific, Baseball was a Welcomed Respite). The men of the 20th were afforded a break from the fighting and opted for a baseball game played on a makeshift diamond complete with an improvised backstop.

“Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Northwind play softball in shore – fast ice in the Behring Strait area off Alaska during the winter’s 47-day expedition attempting to reach Nome, Alaska. This ballpark is on an unnamed bay off St. Lawrence Island. During the expedition the Northwind and the U.S. Navy icebreaker Burton Island visited Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Campbell, a tiny Eskimo village on the northeast tip of St. Lawrence Island.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the photos that stands out among the images displaying the game in unconventional venues is the 1953 image of the game being played on a sheet of Alaskan ice near St. Lawrence Island. Though the image within our collection is a black and white Associated Press Wirephoto, the original photograph was captured in color and is housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It was not uncommon for soldiers to have a glove and ball tucked away in their rucksack or folded up and stuffed into a pocket, affording the game a measure of portability as the men fought and marched their way, capturing and holding enemy territory. Pulling out gloves and a ball to simply have a catch with a was a reminder of home and helped to break apart the mental and emotional strains. In a World War I photo in our collection, two doughboys of the 354th Infantry Regiment toss a ball on tracks adjacent to an 89th Division Hospital Train spelling the men from the seeing the carnage of broken bodies, just a few feet away.

Original snapshot photo of American soldiers of the 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division playing catch alongside a hospital train in France in 1918 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the earliest additions to our vintage photo archive is an image of U.S. Army Air Forces personnel playing baseball nearly underneath a heavy bomber. In between bombing missions, crewmen of an Australian-based B-17 Flying Fortress relax with a game as support personnel service the engine the number three engine. Reminiscent of their days playing sandlot baseball, these airmen adapted to their surroundings for an impromptu game. Though American miners imported the game to the continent down-under nearly a century earlier, U.S. service personnel stationed throughout Australia revived the locals’ interest in the game during the war.

Each photo that we selected for this article serves as an example of how baseball is interwoven into the history the armed forces and American culture. With stories of enemy combatants still being actively engaged while U.S. troops (who have recently come off the front lines for a rest period) naturally take up the game for a few moments of normalcy, these photos illustrate how it was done without the palatial and cavernous stadiums that house the highest levels of today’s game.

“April 8, 1944 – Tarawa: A baseball game is played on the fighter air strip on Tarawa, bitterly fought for Gilbert Islands Atoll, by American servicemen stationed there. The base was captured from the Japanese early this year.”
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Whether ball fields were drawn out among the bombed-out rubble of former German-occupied towns, carved into the coral and volcanic sand of Western Pacific Islands, imagined among the fencing and livestock of a Normandy farm or in a North African soccer stadium, servicemen combined the skills of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability in order to perceive suitable places to play baseball.

 

Dominating Their League (and our Collection): The 1944 Norfolk NTS Bluejackets

In the sphere of baseball memorabilia collecting, there are certain artifacts that conjure deeply emotional responses when they are beheld. The jersey or uniform worn by one of the game’s greats, the glove used by a legend during a pivotal World Series game, or the bat that hit the game-winning home-run in a contest in which the score was knotted in a tie; these treasures seem to engender jaw-drops and sheer awe by folks when their eyes fall upon the items.  In no other sport is the history of autographs more ingrained and deep-rooted than it is within baseball’s storied past. One of the most-telling indications of the value placed upon signatures from the people who played the game lies with the monetary-worth associated with specific items, such as autographed baseballs.

There are many examples of the considerably-high appraisal values associated with such treasures. To underscore the consistent high-prices, this 2017 Antiques Roadshow segment demonstrates the sort of financial interest the most-desired signatures can generate. Certainly inheriting a treasure such as a team-signed 1927 Yankees baseball is a windfall in terms of monetary value but for those who enjoy such treasures for their historical significance, it is invaluable.

The Chevrons and Diamonds collection features a handful of military service team-signed baseballs from World War II and into the 1950s. Starting with our first, a sphere that was autographed by the 1956 “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group based in Germany, we slowly began to source, acquire and receive treasures that brought a personal connection to service teams from more than a half-century ago. When we shined a spotlight upon the “Rammers” ball, life was breathed into the artifact as the descendant of one of the signers, a man who turned down the potential for a professional career within the Chicago Cubs organization, saw his grandfather’s autograph in the (story’s accompanying) photos of the ball (see: Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why) which fueled a family’s renewed interest in the veteran’s service and his love of baseball.  After being gifted with another signed piece, the 1949-dated ball from the “Stags” of the 25th Infantry Division, the significance of the everyday veteran who also played baseball during their time in uniform was further cemented in seeing infantrymen’s names encircling the ball.

To baseball fans and collectors of baseball memorabilia, these two signed pieces are understandably insignificant and rather undesirable due the lack of recognizable names inscribed on either ball. However, to Chevrons and Diamonds, such treasures underscore the game’s long-standing connection to the armed forces. Owning a baseball that was signed by professional ballplayers that made notable or significant contributions to the game gives a sense of connection to the game’s history.

While acquiring a ball signed by the 1927 Yankees is certainly the pinnacle of baseball autograph collecting, for those who focus on baseball militaria, a piece such as our 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” team ball (signed by four major and six minor leaguers), can elicit a greater sense of connection to the professional side of the game.

When we first acquired the P.H. Submarine Base signed ball, we lacked the research resources necessary to properly identify the signatures or associate them to a specific team. In the months that followed, every autograph was subsequently identified and correlated to a matching name on a scorecard or roster, narrowing the ball down to the 1943 team that dominated three separate leagues (securing the championships) in the Hawaiian Islands during that season. The success of the ’43 “Dolphins” prompted Army leadership to respond in kind by building a championship caliber team of their own for the 1944 season.  The result of that response was the assemblage of the Seventh Army Air Force squad whose roster was populated almost entirely by major leaguers and top-level minor leaguers that in turn, dominated the 1944 season, relegating the Pearl Harbor Sub Base “Dolphins” to a distant second place.

We are always on the lookout for similarly significant autographed baseballs and in the course of nearly 20 months, we have seen a few significant signed balls from noteworthy wartime service games and teams but were entirely unsuccessful in securing them for our collection. In the past few weeks, the situation changed when a colleague shared some photos of a signed baseball (purportedly from the 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets”) that he acquired and was seeking assistance in identifying the signatures that were present. After reviewing a few of the names that were easily discernible, we matched them against the rosters from the 1942, 1943 and 1945 teams (obtained from supporting documentation in the form of scorecards, newspaper clippings and books), I was able to confirm the baseball came from the 1944 team.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets.

I asked the colleague how he determined the baseball bore signatures from the ’43 Norfolk Bluejackets and he responded that the information came from “the person I got it [the ball] from. He got a [different] ball from the last game of the 1943 [season] Red Sox vs White Sox [series] and [had it] signed by the White Sox,” our colleague continued,” and later got the navy players [to sign the Norfolk ball] the same year as he remembered.”  Understanding how some timing details can grow foggy as the decades pass, we didn’t press for more information. Our colleague closed the conversation, writing, “He (the veteran) also was in the navy.  Each of these guys played for navy and specifically 1943.” Sharing some of our research that validated the actual iteration of the Norfolk team, our colleague responded that the ball was available, messaging that the ball, “needs to go to a place where it can be appreciated for its history and am glad you found it.”

Beneath the Reach logo stamp is Tommy Byrne’s lone signature.

Indeed, we were glad to have found this baseball. Once we had it in hand, a closer examination of the autographs showed that the ball contained inscriptions from nine major leaguers and three minor league players. Twelve players from the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets” roster of 20 signed the period-correct William Harridge Reach Official American League baseball (used by the American League from 1943-1947).

1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Roster (names present on the ball are in bold):

Player Position 1944 Stats
Sig Broskie C, PH 0.368
Jack Conway SS 0.280
Jeff Cross 3B 0.314
Bill Deininger C 0.319
Hooks Devaurs CF 0.288
Benny Huffman C, LF 0.329
Clyde McCullough C 0.390
Red McQuillen RF 0.367
George Meyer INF 0.224
Mel Preibisch LF 0.321
Eddie Robinson** 1B 0.282
Hank Schenz 2B 0.369
Tommy Byrne LHP 16-6
Herb Chmiel** LHP 4-1
Frank Marino RHP 15-3
Russ Meers LHP 17-5
Tom Nisbet RHP 0-1
Johnny Rigney RHP 22-4
Jack Robinson RHP 9-2

Bluejackets Staff:

Gary Bodie Manager
Mush Esler** Trainer
Chuck  Reinecker Batboy

As the season was getting started, the press had concerns as to the capabilities of the new faces on the roster and how the manager, Gary Bodie will address the seemingly gaping holes left by the departed stars of the 1943 season.

Gone are many members of last year’s championship club, but true to Navy tradition, a winning club is in the offing at the NNTS.

Coach Bodie won’t have some of the stars of the brilliant infield at his command this year. They’re scattered about the four corners of the earth. When the umps called, “Play Ball” in the first game of the season, Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, Second Baseman Benny McCoy, Third Baseman Jim Carlin, and Pitchers Tom Earley, Freddie Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Hank Feimster and Maxie Wilson were conspicuously missing. So were Vinnie Smith and Dom DiMaggio – all transferred to other bases. 

But veteran Bodie has come up with another rip-snortin‘ combination that promises to be a whirlwind in Navy competition this year. The swashbuckling Bluejackets will eagerly watch the work of big Eddie Robinson, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, one of last year’s mainstays. Jeff Cross, a St. Louis farm hand at Houston, will be back at third. 

Bodie plans to use Jack Conway at Phil Rizzuto’s post, while George Meyer, ex-Texas League veteran, is slated to see service at second base, and will have as his understudy, Henry Schenz, former Portsmouth Cub infielder. 

Hailing from Sheboygan in the Wisconsin League is Bill Deininger, second-string catcher on the 1943, who will bear the brunt of the catching duties this year. Benny Huffman, formerly with the St. Louis Browns, will divide the receiving chores with Deininger. 

Bodie has a battery of six hurlers to choose from – three righthanders and a trio of southpaws. The lefties are Tommy (Yankees) Byrnes, Russ (Cubs) Meers and Herb (Tulsa) Chmiel, while the righthanders include Johnny (White Sox) Rigney, Frank (Tulsa) Marino and Jack (Binghamton) Robinson.” – Sporting News, April 27, 1944

Out of the gate, the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station dominated their competition.

Seven thousand sailors and officers overflowed the naval base stadium, Easter Sunday, April 9, to watch Gary Bodie’s NTS team open the season with a 12-2 decision over the Portsmouth Cubs, defending Piedmont League champions. 

After Capt. H. A. McClure, commanding officer of the NST, start things rolling by throwing out the first ball, the Bluejackets pounded three Portsmouth pitchers for 16 hits, including a homer by Bennie Huffman, formerly of the St. Louis Browns. 

The Piedmont Leaguers collected eight hits off Russ Meers (Chicago Cubs) and Frank Marino (Tulsa), and a two-base smash by Rayon Couto, veteran Cuban catcher, was one of the longest blows of the game. 

Eddie Robinson (Baltimore), of the NTS, and Francisco Campos, 19-year-old Cuban Cub, set the pace in the hitting with three safeties apiece.” – Sporting News, April 13, 1944

The 1944 Norfolk team, though not as competitive in their league and exhibition play the 1942 Bluejackets, still managed to notch 83 wins against 22 losses (and two ties), pulling them ahead of the noteworthy 1943 Norfolk squad.  Mirroring the previous season’s opening series against a major league opponent (against the Washington Senators), the Norfolk team faced St. Louis, that season’s eventual American League Champions, defeating them by a 6-3 margin as browns closed out their spring training season. Norfolk NTS closed out their 1944 year by playing host to the Senators, dominating Washington by a score of 9-4.

The Norfolk Naval Training Station team swept two games from the Quantico Marines, August 19-20, winning the first 11-5, and the second, 16-4. Johnny Rigney yielded only four hits for his nineteenth victory of the season in the second tilt. The win was the seventy-third for NTS, topping the 72-mark compiled by the strong Bluejacket club of last year.” – Sporting News, August 31, 1944

In the 1942 and 1943 campaigns, the Bluejackets closed out their seasons with a seven-game championship, facing off with their cross-base rivals, the Naval Air Station “Fliers.” However, on September 7, 1944, Norfolk NTS commanding officer, Captain H. A. McClure announced that the “Little World’s Series” had been cancelled, marking the end of the of the season

1944 Bluejackets team leaders:

  • Batting average – Hank Schenz – .369
  • Home runs – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 11
  • RBI’s – Eddie Robinson – 99
  • Doubles – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 26
  • Hits – Red McQuillen – 160
  • Triples – Red McQuillen – 11
  • Runs – Jeff Cross – 109
  • Stolen bases – Jeff Cross – 50
  • Winning Percentage – Johnny Rigney – .850%
  • Wins – Johnny Rigney – 22

Even the club trainer, Myron John “Mush” Esler, had professional experience serving as the trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers (American Association) for 1938.*

In terms of the collectible aspects of the Norfolk NTS autographed baseball, consideration aside from the significance of the team and the autographs present on the ball, must be given to the condition of the ink of the signatures and ball itself. With regards to the heavily faded condition of the ink and the manufacturer’s markings, it is apparent that the baseball has received a considerable amount of ultra-violet exposure over the past seven decades.  The nearly pristine white appearance of the hide covering and stitching are demonstrate both an absence of shellac and exposure to human oils and soiling from handling.

Showing signatures from Eddie Robinson, Jeff Cross, Benny Huffman, Jack Conway and Henry “Hank” Schenz.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets didn’t have the “star-power” that was present on the ‘43 squad but the results of Bosun’ Bodie’s formulaic mixture of talented and highly capable former major and minor leaguers mirrored what was seen in previous seasons. Although our team-signed baseball lacks the entire roster, the presence of autographs from the Bluejackets’ stars makes this treasure a home run acquisition.

**Notes:

  • Of the signatures present on this ball, first baseman Eddie Robinson who had just eight major league games (with nine plate appearances) to his credit before entering the U.S. Navy following the 1942 season, is currently the oldest living major league baseball player having surpassed his 99th year on December 15, 2019.  After three years of Navy service, Robinson spent 12 more seasons in the majors with the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators,, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Yankees, Kansas City Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles. Robinson played in 10 World Series games (six with the 1948 Indians and four with the 1955 Yankees) and proved to be a substantial contributor with his bat. In 23 total at-bats, Eddie has a .348 batting average and a .423 on-base percentage.
  • Without evidence to the contrary, one other of the 1944 Norfolk Bluejackets whose autograph graces our ball’s surface is left-handed pitcher, Herbert Chmiel who turned 98-years-old on September 22, 2019. Chmiel’s five professional baseball seasons (1941-42, 1946-48) were spent with seven minor league clubs that straddled his three years in a Navy uniform (1942-1945). Herb Chmiel’s last season as a pro-ball player saw him with the 1948 Los Angeles Angels (Pacific Coast League) where he saw action as a relief pitcher with 14 innings in six appearances.
  • “Mush Esler served as a trainer for the University of Toledo from 1939-1940 and in the same capacity for the Cleveland Rams (National Football League) for 1941. Chief Athletic Specialist Mush served in the Navy from March 1942 through December 1945. After the war, Mush served as the trainer for the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals before spending the remaining years of his life as the Chicago White Sox trainer from 1951 until his premature death in 1955 at the age of 44.

 

 

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