Category Archives: Individual/Personal History
During World War II, more than 500 major leaguers and more than 3,000 minor leaguers exchanged their professional flannels to wear the uniform of their nation and to help rid the world of tyrannical dictatorships in Europe and the Pacific. Whether through volunteering or being drafted, these men followed orders and did what was asked of them whether serving in combat, in support or through physical fitness instruction and baseball.
Throughout the war, countless games were played by teams with rosters that contained former professional, semi-professional, collegiate and star high school ballplayers. In some instances, rosters included men whose service careers were well underway in the years and months leading up to the war. Before World War II, baseball was integral across all branches of service with competition for league trophies and bragging rights between units and branches.
Since the beginning of the century, the service academies of the Army and Navy have fought each other on the diamond with the same level of competition that is displayed on the gridiron each fall. From the outset, both West Point and Annapolis have employed former major leaguers as consultants and as head coaches in hopes of gaining a competitive edge over their opponents each year, especially when the two face each other to close out the baseball season.
After finishing his second season at second base with the Boston Red Sox in 1935, Max Bishop was hired as a player-manager for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. A groin muscle injury left him hobbled and unable to play, prompting the frugal team owner to fire him early in the season. After a few months away from the game, Bishop was signed by the International League’s Baltimore Orioles on August 19. In his last professional playing season, Max Bishop appeared in just 24 games. Bishop spent his first full season away from his familiar position at second base serving as a scout. On January 4, 1938, the Eastern Shore League’s Pocomoke City (Maryland) Red Sox owner Arthur H. Ehlers announced the signing of Bishop to manage the club for the season; however, he was seeking to fill the position a month later following Bishop’s departure to manage the Naval Academy nine with a more lucrative contract in hand.
The offseason is often a game of musical chairs for professional baseball team owners and college athletic directors. The Naval Academy was left with a need to fill three vacancies when Marty Karow, head baseball coach and assistant on both the football and basketball clubs, jumped ship and headed for newly incorporated College Station, Texas where he assumed the same roles with Texas A&M. In the 1939 edition of the Naval Academy’s Lucky Bag, commentary regarding the head coaching situation touched upon the bleakness of the 1938 seasonal outlook at that point. “On the eve of the season, the Navy’s hopes suffered a very serious relapse.” The assessment of Karow’s impact on the Midshipmen nine was that he was “one of the best baseball coaches ever seen at the Naval Academy.” However, all was not lost. The signing of the former world champion second basema
Max Bishop solidified his return to Maryland when he assumed command of the Naval Academy nine, commencing a 24-year run that left him with a 306-143 record and quickly assuaging the fears of the Midshipmen and alumni. The Lucky Bag’s commentary focused on the experience. “Capitalizing on his big league experience, Max was very evidently able to impart to his charges some of that fight and ability so necessary to be a successful ball club.” The team responded quickly to his guidance and instruction as they rapidly adapted to Bishop’s training regimen and baseball philosophy. “The wealth of material which Max found here had been thoroughly indoctrinated in baseball lore and was seemingly only waiting for the spark to set them off toward a really successful baseball season.”
By mid-March of his first season, Bishop built his team from the 1937 underclassman ranks, announcing the starters for the team’s opening tilt against the University of Vermont in a planned 18-game season. All games were played at home with the exception of the season opener and a two-game road trip to the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and Duke University on successive days in early May. Due to an abnormally wet spring, two of Annapolis’ games were rained out, leaving Bishop scrambling to book replacement games.
Heading into the final game of the season, the Midshipmen had amassed a 9-5 record against strong competition that included facing an undefeated Georgetown Hoyas team with a pitcher, Mike Petrosky, who was not only the best pitcher on the roster but at the time was one of the best athletes in Hoya history. The Midshipmen needed only an inning to take down Petrosky as they ran up all four of their runs in the bottom of the first inning. Navy’s pitching ace, Jerry Bruckel, held Georgetown hitless through the first three innings. Both pitchers went the distance as Navy captured the 4-3 victory and were ready to host their fiercest challenger of the year.
|3||James “Jim” Adair||C|
|4||Edward Lee Anderson||C|
|5||Jerome John “Diz” Bruckel||P|
|15||Richard Ellsworth Cady||2B|
|Charles Moore Cassel, Jr.|
|11||R. E. Clements|
|8||Lemuel Doty Cooke||3B|
|Robert Joseph Duryea|
|16||Joseph Cundiff “Jo-Jo” Eliot||P|
|28||William T. “Bill” Ingram||LF|
|2||James Jobe “Jig Jig” Madison||P|
|18||Ralph Carlton Mann||CF|
|1||Walter A. McGuinness||2B|
|14||Richard M. “Dick” Niles||P|
|20||S. R. Noll||RF|
|17||Lucien Cletus “Pete” Powell||RF|
|12||O. F. “Fred” Salvia||RF|
|Alvin F. Sbisa||3B|
|7||Charles “Charley” Stump||SS|
|9||Howard Austin Thompson||SS|
|6||Daniel James Wallace, Jr.||P|
|19||Robert R. “Bob” Wooding||1B|
The West Point Cadets’ seasonal record consisted of streaks. The opening of the 1938 baseball campaign saw West Point drop their first three games before claiming four straight wins. Duke University, four days after beating Navy in a close 2-1 contest, pounded the Army, 12-3. Another four-game win streak kept the Cadets from digging a hole and placed them in a prime position, with an 8-4 record, to take down Navy at Annapolis.
|Milton Bernard Adams|
|1||Wallace Leo Clement|
|8||Richard Daniel Curtin||3B|
|25||Thomas Walker Davis III||P|
|John William Dobson|
|16||R. B. “Jim” Durbin||2B|
|22||Charles Gillies “Charley” Esau||1B|
|7||A. W. Ginder||SS|
|John Robert Jannarone||SS|
|Carter Burdeau Johnson|
|18||Samuel Goodhue Kail||C|
|14||Robert J. “Bob” Kasper||RF|
|20||William M. “Bill” Kasper||C|
|21||A. J. Knight|
|M. J. Krisman|
|4||E. H. “Ed” Lahti||LF|
|15||Andrew A. “Diz” Lipscomb||P|
|W. P. Litton|
|23||Frederick Charles Lough||P|
|24||D. Y. Nanney||P|
|Daniel Andrew Nolan|
|Thaddeus M. Nosek|
|6||Donald Ward Saunders||SS|
|30||Harry Ami Stella||IF|
|13||A. J. “Al” Weinnig||CF|
In the thirty meetings between West Point and Annapolis dating back to 1901, Army held an 18-12 advantage heading into the game. Despite trailing Army by six wins in the series, Navy’s cumulative offensive output was only down by 11 runs (182-171). The most dominant stretch in the Army-Navy series occurred from 1909 to 1916 when Army dominated Navy for eight consecutive games. When the series resumed in 1919 following the end of the Great War, Navy trailed Army, 12 games to three. From 1919 on, Navy had controlled the rivalry, winning nine games and dropping six. Seeking to close the gap further, the Midshipmen were hungry for another win.
Heading into the game against Army, Jerry Bruckel was experiencing his best pitching season at Annapolis; however, the Cadets had faced dominant opposing pitchers all season long and were undaunted. In the top of the first frame, West Point’s second baseman Jim Durbin singled off Bruckel with a drive to left field. Bruckel, with too much focus on the next batter, forgot about Durbin and he swiped second base. Al Weinnig kept the pressure on with a deep fly to left, allowing Durbin to tag and advance to third base. With one out, Bob Kasper singled to right field and drove in the first run of the game. Bruckel, unfazed by the one-run deficit, got the next two batters, Ed Lahti and Charley Esau, out, leaving Kasper stranded at first. The Army men were licking their chops, having struck first and inflicted damage upon Jerry “Diz” Bruckel.
The Navy had no offensive answer to the Army and were held scoreless by Army’s starting pitcher Tom Davis for the first two innings. Bruckel hit his stride in the second inning and set down the Cadets in order. In the bottom of the third, with two outs, Navy’s Howie Thompson borrowed a page from Durbin’s first inning script, singling and then stealing second. Walt McGuinness kept the story moving forward with a deep single to centerfield allowing Thompson to tie the game.
In the bottom of the fourth, Navy’s Lucien “Pete” Powell reached second on a deep line drive to center field but moved to third when Army shortstop Don Saunders bobbled the throw from centerfielder Al Weinnig. Saunders rushed his throw to first on Bob Wooding’s drive for his second consecutive error, allowing Powell to score and leaving Navy’s first baseman standing on the bag at first.
In the bottom of the fifth, Navy capitalized on another Thompson hit, an error by Army catcher Bill Kasper and single by Lem Cooke, pushing Annapolis further ahead with the score 3-1. Bruckel continued to stymie West Point as he set down the Cadets in order from the second inning through the sixth.
In the top of the seventh, Army tried to get things going with a double by Bob Kasper but Bruckel quelled any thoughts of a West Point rally, leaving the runner stranded at second. After Walt French lifted his starter, Davis, relief pitcher Andrew Lipscomb promptly struck out Bruckel. French went to his bullpen once more, sending Fred Lough to the hill. With one out, Howie Thompson sparked the Navy offense with another single (he finished the game with three) and stole second again. McGuinness failed to reach base, leaving Lem Cooke to keep the Navy on the offensive with a one-out single to left. Army’s Ed Lahti bobbled the throw, allowing Thompson to score and Cooke to reach second on the error. Bill Ingram surprised the Army defense by beating out a play at first following his bunt as Cooke advanced to third. Cooke and Ingram both scored on Navy centerfielder Ralph Mann’s single past Army’s shortstop. Wooding kept the offense rolling with a single to center and advanced on Jamie Adair’s deep drive to center. Bruckel bunted but the inning ended at the plate as Mann was tagged out attempting to score.
Bruckel went the distance without allowing another Army baserunner and ended the 6-1 game, allowing just five total hits. Davis struck out six Navy batters and walked two compared to Bruckel, who had a pair each of strikeouts and walks. West Point’s shoddy defense didn’t help as the Midshipmen played with perfection in the field. Navy batters capitalized on six Cadet errors while amassing 10 hits and three stolen bases. With the final out of the game, 1938 came to a close for both teams as the upperclassmen were commissioned in their respective branches and commenced their service careers.
To baseball fans the names of the players on each roster are anonymous. None of the men shown on our 1938 Army versus Navy scorecard were listed on a professional roster nor did they take the field in a professional game. Once they hung up their cleats and returned their flannels to their teams’ respective equipment managers, baseball became a pastime or an outlet of recreation. If any of them saw the inside of the halls of Cooperstown, they needed a ticket to do so.
When the scorecard and a pair of tickets from this game were listed for sale online there was no cause for contemplation as we leaped at the opportunity to add these pieces to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection. Once in hand, we scanned the pieces and placed them into archival storage. Knowing that researching the names on the roster would be time consuming, we began nibbling away as we attempted to place first names with the listed surnames. Fortunately, the annuals from each service academy are easily accessible online. With page counts numbering well above 600, the digital files can prove to be cumbersome to scroll through onscreen. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and indexing make searching through the large volumes somewhat easy but the technology is rather clunky and slow due to the size of each publication.
Once the majority of each roster was identified and the names of players not listed on the scorecard were captured, we began researching the seasonal opponents and records for both teams before embarking on the task of researching the individual players. Our traditional research is often spent poring through newspaper clippings, Ancestry and Baseball Reference in order to fully capture the career and life of a ballplayer. However, our research of the 1938 Army-Navy baseball game scorecard began to reveal something entirely different from our norm.
The very first player on the Navy roster that we investigated was First Lieutenant Ralph Mann, USMC (USNA ’39), who while serving with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines on Corregidor, was captured and subsequently killed by the Japanese at Prisoner of War Camp #1 – Cabanatuan in Nueva Province on Luzon in the Philippines on September 2, 1942. Lt. Mann was just 26 years old. After processing that detail for a moment, we considered that there was the inevitability of a combat loss with the war starting three years after the game. Left fielder Lem Cooke was next on our list. Cooke pursued aviation, earning his wings as a fighter pilot. During the war, Lemuel Doty Cooke flew combat missions with the Jolly Rogers of VF-17, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Commander Cooke was killed in 1950 when his plane crashed. Daniel Wallace, Jr. served as a fighter pilot, flying with the “Grim Reapers” of VF-10 aboard the USS Enterprise (CV6) and later with the “Tomcatters” of VF-31, and was executive officer of VF-14, the “Tophatters” (USS Wasp CV-18) until he was killed during night fighter operations. Wallace was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.
A handful of the Navy players were present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, including Bob Wooding (aboard the USS Tennessee BB-43) and Walter McGuiness (USS Sampson DD-394). Howie Thompson served aboard the USS Scabbardfish (SS-397), earning a Silver Star medal as the boat’s approach officer. The ’38 Navy baseball team saw three more men serving aboard submarines during WWII: Robert Duryea on the USS Barracuda (SS-163), USS Seal (SS-183) and USS Plunger (SS-179); James “Jig-Jig” Madison aboard the USS Balao (SS-285); and Alvin Sbisa, who was missing when his boat USS Grampus (SS-207) was lost on March 5, 1943 in the Blackett Strait.
At least five men attained the rank of captain – Edward Anderson, Joseph Cudiff, Walter McGuinness, Lucien Powell and Charles Cassel, Jr. – while Jaime Adair and Bob Wooding both finished their naval careers as rear admirals.
The valorous achievements of these former midshipmen were nothing short of incredible. Edward Lee Anderson flew with Bombing Six from the deck of the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Midway and received the Navy Cross for his actions. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 and 1945. Charles Cassell, while commanding the USS Satterlee (DD-626), risked his crew and his ship under heavy enemy fire during the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Though we have not been able to confirm any connections, it appears that Navy right fielder Lucien “Pete” Powell was serving aboard the USS Alabama (BB-60) in 1943 as the senior air officer at the same time that future Hall of Fame pitcher and Chief Gunner’s Mate Bob Feller was aboard.
Researching the service careers of the Navy players shed considerable light upon the individual contributions of each man, achievements that would leave any person awestruck. Inspired by our findings, we pressed onward with our research of the West Point men.
Of the 18 men listed on the scorecard and seated in the opposing dugout, we were able to uncover greater detail for seven. However, we found that there were ten additional players not listed on the 1938 scorecard who were on the team during that season. We uncovered the service histories for seventeen of the 28 West Point cadets and were astonished by what we uncovered.
Four of the men who appeared in the game attained the rank of a general before retiring – Major General Richard Curtin and Brigadier Generals Wallace Clement, Frederick Lough and Donald Saunders. In addition, teammates Milton Adams (major general), John Dobson (brigadier general), and John Jannarone (brigadier general) all attained senior officer ranks. There was no shortage of valor displayed by the West Point baseball alumni, with fourteen of the men awarded Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses and Bronze Stars (with combat “V” devices).
Despite not seeing any action against Navy in 1938, one utility player and underclassman, (then) Major Wallace Clement (’40) displayed heroism in April, 1945 while serving with the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion in the Sasso region of northern Italy and was awarded the Army’s second highest decoration (behind the Medal of Honor) for his action on the battlefield. Major Clement was also taken prisoner and held by the enemy following his actions on that day. Twenty years later, Brigadier General Clement once again displayed gallantry on a Vietnam battlefield and was subsequently awarded the Silver Star Medal. Clement’s career decorations also include the Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit (with two oak leaf clusters) and the Prisoner of War Medal.
Starting pitcher Tom Davis (’39) was assigned to Battery “F” of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment of the Philippine Scouts when the Japanese attacked in December of 1941. Davis graduated from Vanderbilt University Magna Cum Laude before receiving his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1935. Davis was commissioned into the Coast Artillery Corps in 1939 and was assigned to the 62nd CAC (anti-aircraft) at Fort Totten on Long Island, New York before volunteering for overseas duty in the Philippines. By May of 1941, with the Japanese enshrouding the Far East in militaristic totalitarian control, Davis sent his wife and young daughter back to the U.S. and seven months later he was appointed commander of Battery Geary on Corregidor after the Japanese began their attacks on the Philippine Islands. When the forces at Corregidor capitulated on May 6, 1942, Davis was taken prisoner by the enemy and subjected to torturous treatment. After initial imprisonment on Luzon at Cabanatuan, Davis was transported aboard a “hell ship” to the Japanese mainland and remained at the Sendai Camp #8 (Akita Prefecture), working as Japan’s slave labor by mining and smelting copper for the Fujita-Gumi Construction Company until the camp personnel were rescued on September 11, 1945. Davis served a full career before retiring as a colonel.
Irrespective of his error in the game, starting left fielder Ed Lahti’s service was nothing short of incredible. With a nickname of “Slugger,” one may instinctively assume that it was in reference to his diamond prowess. However, in reviewing Lahti’s Army career it is readily apparent that the man was hard-hitting on the battlefield. During World War II, Colonel Lahti served with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment as part of the 11th Airborne Division in the Philippines and was awarded a Silver Star Medal for his battlefield gallantry.
Like the Navy squad, the 1938 West Point roster suffered some losses. Underclassman Captain Carter Johnson (’40) was assigned to an anti-tank company with the 26th Infantry Regiment in the 1st Infantry Division in Tunisia. He was killed as enemy artillery struck him directly, also taking one of his lieutenants, shortly after meeting with his commander, former President Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Quentin Roosevelt.
Army back-up catcher Sam Kail (’39), spelling starting backstop Bob Kasper, entered the 1938 game with the hope of sparking an offensive rally that never materialized. A career intelligence officer, Kail served on the War Department’s intelligence section (G2) staff from 1942-1944 and was assigned to the 13th Airborne Division as the Assistant G2 before taking the G2 position as well as G3 (in charge of plans and operations for the division). During the Korean War, Colonel Kail was the executive officer of the Seventh Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division. Kail led the Second Battalion during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the fierce winter fighting between November 27 and December 13, 1950 and received the Silver Star Medal for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in connection with military operations against the enemy. Kail worked with the CIA during his later years and was stationed at the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba in 1959 as the communists were plotting. William Alexander Morgan, an American citizen and one of communist fascist dictator Fidel Castro’s murderous lieutenants, falsely accused Kail (to a Chicago Tribune reporter) of warning the revolutionaries about the Cuban government’s knowledge of their plots. Kail also received the Legion of Merit (with an oak leaf cluster).
Starting shortstop Don Saunders was commissioned shortly after the 1938 Army-Navy baseball game and attended flying school at Randolph Field near San Antonio. He advanced to four-engine flight training and soon qualified on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. By the spring of 1943, Saunders was in command of the 333rd Bomb Group as they darted for England. He was detached to return to Texas, where he assumed command of the XXI Flying Group. By March of 1944, Saunders, in command of the 847th Bombing Squadron, 498th Bombardment Group of the 73rd Bomb Wing, departed the United States for the Western Pacific, flying missions over Japan from Saipan. Saunders earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (with two oak leaf clusters) while with the 847th. Brigadier General Saunders was one of 15 airmen killed in a 1958 crash of a KC-135 tanker near Westover Air Force Base shortly after takeoff when the plane struck power lines.
Shortly after this game was played, the world was dramatically altered and the innocence of a baseball game played in the spring of 1938 became a footnote for these men. One wonders if they even thought back to the two hours spent on Lawrence Field at the Naval Academy. The lives of the players listed on this scorecard were greatly impacted and some were devastatingly altered by the war.
Our scorecard is part of a group that includes two tickets from the game. The photograph was acquired separately from the scorecard group. It shows Samuel Kail, Tom Davis and their coach, Walter French, and was taken the following year as the West Point baseball team was beginning its spring training. Preserving this scorecard is crucial despite its being a small piece of sports history. The significance of each of the players’ lives and how they served their nation has great importance and yet they are all bound together by a few hours on a Saturday afternoon at Lawrence Field in Annapolis.
For most of our lives, we have been surrounded by people who were our neighbors, letter carriers, doctors, dentists, nurses or even grandparents or parents. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives. We encountered them every day and were entirely oblivious to the extraordinary lives they lived decades before. They didn’t dwell upon the things of the past as they sought only to pursue careers and raise families and leave their world better than it was when it was handed down to them.
“The Greatest Generation” is a term that has fallen out of favor in the last decade. Often overused to describe the men and women who were born following the Great War and spent their adolescence immersed in the Great Depression, the term spoke to their experiences that were brought to bear following the end of the Second World War when the United States saw its largest economic (and generational) boom. Most Americans didn’t recognize these aging men’s and women’s resilience, determination, patriotism and service to their communities and families as anything outside of normalcy until the last decade of the twentieth century, when they began entering their eighth decade and their rate of passing started to rapidly increase.
The kind-hearted, soft-spoken, gray-bearded gentleman was a favorite teacher among the students, year after year. He taught eighth-grade science at your junior high school and his style was anything but boring as he walked you through the basics in chemistry, light waves, refraction and reflectivity among many elementary principles. In ninth grade, many of the scientific elements that he previously introduced you to were foundational in the course that he taught in which his artistic passion was transferred to you through the world of photography.
It was in ninth grade during that photography class that you noticed something different. As you worked through an assignment with your classmates, the gray-bearded man sat at his desk that was positioned at the head of the classroom and adjacent to the counter that contained the Bunsen burners and petri dishes. Upon his desk was a deformed metallic object, heavily oxidized with dirt caked into the recesses of the twists of what appeared to be aluminum. The shared curiosity among your classmates wasn’t enough to stir anyone to action; so you decided to approach the teacher, gesturing toward the object as you posed your simple question, unprepared for the emotion-filled story that he was about to bestow upon you.
In a matter of moments, you were transported from simple childhood ignorance to the 8th Air Force and B-17 Flying Fortresses on bombing missions over Third Reich targets, with a tale of bailing out over enemy-occupied territory after sustaining heavy enemy fire. The tears welling up in your teacher’s eyes provided a painfully obvious sense of loss as he described himself and one other crewmen as the only survivors from that flight as the others were too badly wounded and incapable of bailing out before the aircraft crashed. He told you that the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft as he kept it at altitude long enough for the two survivors to make a safe exit. That harrowing story of survival decades earlier transitioned to the present day as your teacher shared with you his summer vacation of traveling to Europe and visiting the newly discovered crash site of his Flying Fortress. The remains of the crew who had been unable to escape the crash were among the wreckage when the site was discovered. Of course they had been removed before he visited. The piece that sat upon the teacher’s desk served as a reminder of the sacrifices made so that he could live his life in peace and share the stories of what made his generation truly great.
Seventy miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan, lies a small city on the shores of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River empties into the lake. Port Huron lies on the western bank of the river opposite Sarnia, Ontario. The two cities are connected by the Bluewater Bridge on Interstate 94. Three miles southwest of the bridge on 24th and Court Streets lies Port Huron High School, which today looks nothing like it did in January of 1943 when Jack Dobratz, a multi-sport star athlete, graduated.
Born to Charles G. and Minnie C. Dobratz, Jack was the third of five children and the third son born to first generation German-American parents. Jack was a stellar athlete in football, basketball and baseball, earning 10 letters with the Port Huron High School Reds, the first student to do so in twelve years. His departure from the school in the middle of winter left a gaping hole in two of the school’s sports rosters. The starting center for the basketball team graduated in the middle of the season and weeks later was wearing a different uniform.
Seeking Jack’s inspiration for participation in athletics, one need look no further than his father Charles, who clearly had a passion for sports. His August 6, 1951 Port Huron Times Herald obituary said that Charles’ love of sports was widely known. “Mr. Dobratz’ interest in every type of sporting event was carried over to the athletes who participated in them.” Charles left his imprint on the following generations with his involvement in Port Huron’s sports community. “Youngsters particularly, beginning to play softball, basketball and baseball, received invaluable counsel and encouragement from him.” The elder Dobratz was a member of the Port Huron Old Timers Association, whose members included notable baseball men such as Fred Lamlein, Frank Secory and Bill Watkins. Charles Dobratz also served as an umpire in industrial, city and church basketball leagues, no doubt influencing his son Jack.
There were no doubts about Jack’s post-graduation destination as he registered for the wartime draft on June 30, 1942, leading him to enlist in the U.S. Army on February 16, 1943. At that time in the Pacific theater, the ground offensive on Guadalcanal was pushing the Japanese off the island. With the Axis stranglehold across Europe, Operation Torch, the Allied offensive in French North Africa against German and Vichy units, was in its third month as the planning was well underway for what would be known as Operation Overlord – the Normandy Invasion. Camp Wheeler served as an infantry replacement center and Dobratz was trained for future assignment to replace a combat casualty as the need arose.
Once his training was completed at Camp Wheeler, the six-foot-three, 182-pound private pitched for his unit’s baseball team before he was transferred to England in July, 1943. His athletic abilities were apparent to his unit upon his arrival overseas and he found himself continuing his mound duties on foreign soil through for the remainder of 1943 and into the following year.
Private First Class Dobratz reported to the 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division on July 18, 1944 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion. He was promptly appointed to the rank of sergeant. His arrival at the 115th was as a replacement. The regiment was in need of personnel, having sustained 3,700 casualties in the The Battle of Saint-Lo. Sergeant Dobratz’ military occupation specialty was 729 Pioneer (construction and engineering); so he was more than likely assigned to the support platoon.
The 115th Infantry Regiment saw action in the August-September battle for Brest during which Dobratz spent three days hospitalized for a non-battle injury. On September 30, the regiment crossed into Germany during the Rhineland Campaign, which saw the 115th along the Roer River. Due to the region’s heaviest rainfalls in more than three decades combined with heavy enemy resistance, the men of the 115th got bogged down in the very harsh conditions. The troops lacked personal foul weather gear to protect them from the wet conditions, resulting in an increase in non-battle casualties (NBC) for issues such as trench foot. In early December, Sgt. Dobratz came off the line and reported to the hospital for an NBC that ultimately saw him dropped from the 115th Infantry’s muster rolls. By February 10, 1945 he had been released and reported back to his unit. Two weeks later, the 29th Division launched their offensive on February 23, attacking the enemy across the Roer River towards their objective, the German town of Jülich, which fell on the first day of the assault. The Division pressed onward toward the Rhine, linking up with the British 21st Army Group, led my General Montgomery. Having seized München-Gladbach, just 32 kilometers west of Dusseldorf and the Rhine River, the 29th was relieved on March 1 for a much needed period of rest and recuperation as well as resupply and refit.
The 29th Division’s Central European Campaign continued for several more weeks of mopping up pockets of German resistance, leading up to the May 2 surrender of Third Reich forces. The 115th Infantry Regiment began transitioning from combat to occupation duties. In the weeks that followed, idle troops across the European Theater began to form baseball leagues with more than 100,000 participants. Dobratz was an obvious choice for the 29th Division’s team as the search for the most talented players netted a mix of former professionals, semi-pros and star high school players in order to field a highly competitive roster.
The 29th Division’s Blue and Grays worked their way through the season and captured the Seventh Army Championship (details of the games and opponents have yet to surface) and gained entrance into the ETO (European Theater of Operations) World Series semifinal games against the 71st Infantry Division Red Circlers. The Red Circlers were well rested following their early August five-game series in which they captured the Third Army championship by defeating the 76th Infantry Division’s Onaways. Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ewell Blackwell had tossed a 7-0 no-hitter in the second game and 5-0 two-hitter in the fifth and deciding game.
40,000 GIs and WACS witnessed the 71st Division defeat the 29th at Nuremberg Stadium on August 26, 1945. “This was baseball’s biggest spectacle to date as pennants of all major league teams flew from the rim of the stadium and Red Cross vendors climbed up and down, peddling beer, soft drinks and peanuts. Two thousand cases of beer, mostly American brands, were sold during the day as shirt-sleeved soldiers reveled.” (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, August 29, 1945.)
The 71st carried their momentum forward as they faced the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry. Ewell Blackwell’s pitching was dominant in the first game as he captured the 2-1 win. Bill Ayers, victorious pitcher from the 12-innnng, 2-1 Game Three in the Third Army Championships, followed Blackwell with a two-hit, 3-1 win that put the 29th on their heels for the make-or-break Game Three. Ken Heintzelman, former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher, entered the game with the score knotted at 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning and held the 29th hitless. In the bottom of the frame, Heintzelman’s bat ignited a three-run rally that broke the game open. In the top of the ninth, the ex-Pirate set the side down in order to seal the three-game sweep of the Blue and Grays. Dobratz and his teammates were eliminated from the series, falling three wins short of the ETO World Series and being forced to settle for the Seventh Army Crown. The 29th Infantry Division members were presented with engraved German-made medals that commemorated the Seventh Army title at Mannheim, Germany in August of 1945.
After acquiring the medal awarded to his teammate, Earl Ghelf, a year earlier (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), we were keenly aware of the significance of the piece when a second medal appeared in an online auction listing. The engraving on the medal’s reverse was an identical match to our medal, prompting us to place a bid and hope for the best. When the auction closed, we were astounded at the minimal competition as our bid closed the deal. Upon its arrival, we were already challenged in researching the inscribed name as our attempts continued to reveal nothing. “J. DEBRATZ” was an absolute mystery and we were resigned to waiting and hoping for a research breakthrough.
Days after publishing our article regarding “Debratz’s” medal (Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division), we were contacted by a board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History who was an actively serving U.S. Army colonel. Col. Drew Sullins, along with historian Joseph Balkoski, author of several 29th Infantry Division books (see below), had been researching the 29th Division’s 1945 Blue and Gray baseball team and had uncovered significant details. Sullins researched the Division’s archive within the museum on our behalf for “DeBratz” among the morning reports. He soon discovered that the name as it appeared on our medal was misspelled, “Those Army clerks weren’t always perfect.” Colonel Sullins said. The colonel’s research yielded significant details, opening the doors for us to pursue other directions into Jack Dobratz’ military life.
“Jack Dobratz is having a good time ‘abroad’ in spite of being in the service of his country,” the September 23, 1945 Port Huron Times Herald read. “He does some pitching on a team that lists former major league players like Whitey Moore, former Cincinnati pitcher, and Jack Calloway [Don Kolloway] of the Chicago White Sox.” The article made mention of the team’s championship. “The 29th claims the Seventh Army baseball title, winning it on a field built by German labor.” Uncertain about his return home, Dobratz made plans for the winter athletic season in Germany, as he “sent for his basketball togs,” the article concluded.
By early December, Dobratz was back home in Port Huron and resumed his athletic competitiveness. He signed onto semi-professional basketball teams, first with the Mueller Brass club followed by Chrysler, and dominated his teams’ offensive statistical categories. By the spring, Dobratz was back in flannels, pitching for the Marine City semi-pro club and leading the team into the Blue Water District League finals.
During his World War II service, Sergeant Jack Dobratz was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, two Bronze Star medals, the Army Presidential Unit Citation ribbon and the Army Good Conduct, Europe-Africa-Middle East (EAME) Campaign (with three bronze star devices), American Campaign and World War II Victory medals.
Nearly two years after returning from Germany, Jack Dobratz married Ruth (Jensen) Smith, who was widowed when her husband’s C-109 Liberator Express was lost on December 16, 1944 in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. First Lieutenant Walter J. Smith was serving as the converted B-24’s navigator at the time of the aircraft’s loss.
The Dobratz couple later moved to Kalamazoo, where Jack worked as a floral designer until he passed away at age sixty-six on September 29, 1989. Almost three years later, his wife joined him in death. The couple had no children. Throughout the 44 years following his return from Europe, how many people who encountered Sgt. Dobratz had any concept of his actions during the war? Did he ever speak of the horrors of battle or did he fondly recollect his four months on the diamond with the 29th Division Blue and Grays? Perhaps our medal with Dobratz’ misspelled name served as a pleasant reminder of the months following V-E Day while the rest of his war artifacts were pushed aside, never to be seen again. While we are grateful for the opportunity to preserve Sgt. Dobratz’ 1945 Seventh Army Championship medal, we are left wondering what became of his service decorations.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Stories:
- Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division
- European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)
- Third Army – Baseball Championship Series
29th Infantry Division History (by Joseph Balkoski)
- From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August-September 1944
- From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944
- Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy
- Last Roll Call, The: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious, 1945
The year 2020 was one of considerable growth for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection as many artifacts with historical significance were sourced and added. While we apply very specific guidelines that ensure that each piece has a direct military correlation, not every piece that found its way into our archives last year adhered to our stringent criteria.
When we discovered an online listing that featured a team-signed Reach (Spalding) Official American League baseball, intrigue set in as many of the autographs were from ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II. Due diligence soon confirmed that the ball, listed as a Washington Senators team baseball, was as advertised.
In our quest to secure vintage photos of service baseball, wartime or otherwise, we find that some players received better coverage than others, resulting in more market-available photographs. With the (then) recent arrival of a beautiful press photo depicting Boston Red Sox pitcher Mickey Harris with his parents and his wartime flannel jersey, inspiration led me to see if any other artifacts related to the player were available. Searches in online auctions yielded nothing more than a handful of autograph cuts, early 1950s baseball cards (issued by Bowman, Leaf and Topps) and photographs from his professional career (vintage and reproduction). However, on a popular social media platform, the Washington Senators baseball surfaced as a recommendation, obviously due to the Mickey Harris-related search we had been performing.
Upon opening the link, we discovered that the ball was not only signed by Harris but also by a number of players who, just a few years before placing their autographs on the ball, were serving domestically and around the world in the armed forces. The manufacturer’s stamping with the official league marks indicated that the ball was made for use during the 1948-49 seasons. Mickey Harris was traded by Boston (along with Sam Mele) to the Senators following his third loss of the 1949 season on June 7. The presence of Enrique Gonzalez’ signature narrowed the date range of the signing between August 9 and September 25.
Harris’ career was all downhill following the 1946 season when he was part of a decent pitching staff that was headlined by Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ 25-6 record. Tex Hughson, another 20-game winner on the ’46 club, led the team in earned run average, leaving Harris’ 17-9 record and 3.64 ERA overshadowed. He was clearly one of the reasons for the Red Sox’ ascension to the 1946 World Series and despite his losses in games 2 (3-0) and 6 (4-1), he pitched well. Harris was not the only pitcher to suffer from a lack of run support in the Series, which was shocking, considering the Sox’ top ranking in average, runs, hits on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Red Sox batters ranked second for home runs, fourth for triples and led the American League in doubles. Their Series opponent, the Saint Louis Cardinals, were similar in their offensive statistical categories. The difference was a combination of Cardinal pitching holding Boston at bay combined with the Red Sox’ lackluster defense (10 total errors to St. Louis’ four).
Following the ’46 season, Harris’ pitching was in decline as he struggled with injuries and more than likely his confidence, which led to his trade to Washington. At the end of Harris’ 1941 campaign, his career situation was much different. Mickey was in his first full season on an above average second-place team that saw the last season in which a player hit for an average of .400 or better. The young Red Sox team had a bright future ahead of it until Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a global war. Coming off an 8-14, 3.25 ERA season, Harris found himself answering his draft board’s call and was inducted on October 14, 1941, just 17 days after pitching Boston to a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. Following in-processing at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris was assigned to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, for additional training.
In a published letter (The Boston Globe, January 30, 1942: Pitching for the Balboa Nine, by Harold Kaese) that Harris wrote to Joe Cronin, his former manager in Boston, Harris detailed his pitching exploits as he played for his Army command’s team. Pitching for the 83rd Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) at Fort Kobbe in the Panama Canal Zone, Harris described his team’s lack of talent. “The current club I play with hasn’t any hitting power and no defense whatsoever,” Harris decried. In his first game, he dropped a 1-0 decision that was followed with a 4-2 loss in which the team’s third baseman allowed the go-ahead run to score. Perhaps he was attempting to downplay the two losses in his communication to Cronin, hoping to restart his Red Sox career with the club after the war ended. Harris continued, “I was hoping I would be sent down here, if any place, so I could try to stay in shape.” While not playing baseball for his command’s team. Harris worked as a mail clerk at headquarters. “I sort all incoming and outgoing mail,” he wrote to Cronin.
Duty in the Canal Zone was not relaxed despite how Harris described it in his letter to Cronin. The canal was of vital strategic importance, providing expedited transits of shipping between the two major oceans. American military personnel stationed in the region peaked at 65,000, with civilian support staff numbering in the tens of thousands. it was clear to Harris that his duties, including playing baseball to boost morale, were important. Both the Germans and Japanese developed plans to destroy or seize control of the canal, though neither nation’s forces made any attempt to carry them out.
Harris worked on his control and attempted to develop his change-up pitch. “I throw quite a few changes,” he told Cronin, “and I get them over.” Harris was committed to being prepared to return to the big league club. “I will keep working on things that need correcting and will profit by mistakes I make while playing down here,” Harris continued, “so that I won’t let it happen to me when I am back playing with the Sox again.”
Every pitcher has ambitions for wins, inducing batters to make outs in high stress situations as they employ their skills and experience to dominate opponents’ offenses. However, not allowing a single batter to reach base in a game is in another realm of accomplishments that so few pitchers allow themselves to dream about. Harris took his outing to such a level as he not only retired all 27 batters he faced on April 12, 1942 but used only 67 pitches to achieve the feat. Facing an all-star roster from the Canal Zone league in the first game of the Isthmus “Little World Series”, Private Harris commented on the opposition. “It was a good team of pros, with (Leo) Eastham and (Otto) Huber, who played for Hartford, on it, but I would have beaten any team with the stuff I had that day.” More than 2,000 spectators, including several hundred servicemen, watched as Harris struck out five and even made a spectacular defensive play on a slow roller to preserve the perfecto. It was not until later in the game that Harris was clued into what he was doing on the mound. “I didn’t realize I was pitching a no-reach game until the seventh inning, when a morale officer started to speak to me and the manager put his finger to his lips,” Harris told the Boston Globe. “Then I figured it out. Well, I just poured it to ’em the rest of the way. I struck out a pinch hitter on three pitched balls.” Harris’ club won the game, 9-0.
In the Canal Zone’s winter league play, Harris finished with a win-loss record of 11-4. In addition to his perfect game, Mickey fanned 17 in a contest and tossed two one-hit games. Aside from his correspondence with his Red Sox manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former Detroit Tigers catcher and manager who was leading the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets club, was taking notice of Harris’ success on the Army club in Panama. Cochrane was charged with assembling a roster of ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces to take on the winner of the 1942 major league baseball All-Star game. With a significant push to raise funds in support of the Army and Navy Relief organizations, the game was scheduled for July 7 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.
Cochrane’s Service All-Star roster featured a nucleus of 10 Great Lakes NTS Bluejacket players that were augmented by three from Norfolk NTS and seven Army ballplayers. Seeking to bolster his pitching staff, Cochrane pulled the strings to have Private Mickey Harris recalled from Panama to join Bob Feller, Johnny Rigney and John Grodzicki. As part of his travel from the Panamanian Isthmus, Harris was granted 30-days of leave in conjunction with the event and the practices leading up to the game.
One of the first photos of Harris that we acquired was captured at one of the Service All-Stars’ practices on July 3 at Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Harris is pictured with 12 All-Star teammates. The image was acquired with a large group of military baseball images that centered on Sam Chapman’s career in the Navy.
The talented American League roster tallied three runs in the top of the first and never looked back as they secured the right to travel to Cleveland on the evening of July 6 to face Cochrane’s squad of service ballplayers. Harris told a Boston Globe reporter, “I’m in good shape and I hope that I get to pitch in a part of the All-Star game. When Mickey told me I would be on the squad he said he couldn’t promise me that I would get into the game, but I don’t guess they would bring me all the way up from Panama for nothing.”
Harris was correct. Cochrane started Bob Feller, who struggled with control out of the gate. Feller, who could not retire a batter in the second inning, left the game after having surrendered three runs on four hits and walking five. Trailing 3-0, Cochrane sent Harris to spell Johnny Rigney in the seventh and was immediately tagged by Yankee Phil Rizzuto for a double. Rizzuto followed his hit by stealing third. Harris coaxed Senators’ right fielder Stan Spence to tap a slow roller back to the pitcher for an easy play. But then his former Red Sox teammate, Ted Williams, powered a deep fly to left center, resulting in an RBI triple. With a run in and one out, Harris induced a Joe DiMaggio pop fly for the second out, but Browns’ first baseman George McQuinn stroked a two-out triple to right center that scored Williams. Harris finished the seventh by retiring another former Red Sox teammate, second baseman Bobby Doerr. Aside from the American League, the winners of the game were the Army and Navy Relief organizations, which split the $75,000 pot raised in the game.
Despite originally being slated to return to Panama (by way of Texas) on July 14, the September 4, 1942 edition of The Berkshire Eagle reported that Harris had been reassigned. “Private Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, flew from his Army station in the Panama Canal Zone to join the service all-star squad that met the AL All-Stars in Cleveland on July 7 but didn’t return to that assignment. He is now stationed at Pine Camp, NY, where he pitches for the camp team, which has won 23 games in a Tri-State service league.” Though further research has not yet confirmed his reassignment, it was temporary.
Once again pitching in the Canal Zone winter league, Harris’ Balboa Brewers struggled out of the gate, dropping eight of their first 10 games. The ship was righted with the arrival of former Holy Cross pitcher Al Jarlett as the cub posted a seven-game win streak. The Brewers, facing the Cuban All-Stars, were bolstered with a 1942 World Series hero, Terry Moore, (2-4 in the game) as Balboa captured a 6-1 victory on September 12. A month later, Moore was present in St. Louis to see the Yankees defeat his Cardinals in the 1943 World Series as Harris continued with his Panama assignment.
Harris spent nearly four years in the Army, serving almost the entire time in Panama. In the 1945 Pacific Championship, Harris struck out twenty Canal Zone All-Star batters in leading Balboa to a 1-0 victory on July 21. On the opposing roster was his former Brewers teammate, Private Terry Moore, whom Harris had previously never fanned. However, three of Harris’ strikeouts came at the expense of Moore as the season wound to a close.
With the surrender of Japan in the Pacific, Harris wrote home that he was hopeful of being able to join the Red Sox during their final series of the 1945 season, four games against New York at Yankee Stadium; however, he didn’t leave the Panamanian isthmus until October.
As he wrote to Cronin in 1942, Harris dedicated himself to maturing and perfecting his pitching, making Joe Cronin’s 1946 spring training decision to keep him easy. Harris opened the season winning eight decisions before losing his first game on May 26 to the Yankees. In his two World Series losses to the Cardinals, Harris failed to strike out his former Canal Zone league teammate and later opponent, Terry Moore, until the bottom of the first inning in Game Six.
Our most recent Harris addition shows the Balboa Brewer in mid-windup as he appears to be warming up prior to entering a game in May, 1945. It can be a challenge to source a single image of a professional ballplayer during his wartime service let alone five. It is rather unique to be able to visually chronicle Harris’ four years in the Army.
The Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) was passed in 1988 under Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci. The resulting commission was just getting the ball rolling as it recommended the closure of five U.S. Air Force bases that were deemed to no longer be of strategic importance or were fiscally unnecessary. Veterans who have served in the last three decades since those initial base closures have become quite familiar with the BRAC acronym. In total, the Carlucci Commission eliminated 49 Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard bases in that same year. From 1992 to 2005, an additional 151 bases were deactivated, though some were consolidated into multi-service branch joint bases, bringing the total of eliminated bases to 200 in 13 years.
Base closures are not unique to the last 30 years. The armed forces have always analyzed the need for maintaining domestic installations as well as bases in U.S. territories and on foreign soil, with many of them being shut down over the last century. In the first few years following the end of World War II, the U.S. saw an incredible reduction of active bases, many of which had been established during the early years of the war to meet the massive demand for personnel training facilities. However, the end of the war, combined with the armed forces’ changing strategies and national defense needs, demonstrated that many of the domestic bases needed to be closed.
Many of the once prominent and noteworthy service installations used during World War II, such as Rich Field (Waco, Texas), Sampson Naval Training Station (Seneca, New York) and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, remain in the minds of military and even baseball historians. Through our own baseball research, we are unearthing articles, game recaps and box scores that document star-studded and highly competitive service teams from bases whose names and locations have long since been forgotten by the average person.. It seems that each acquisition landing in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection carries with it a story that is waiting to be uncovered, one which often reveals previously hidden history about veterans, battles, military bases and especially baseball.
In early 2019, a pair of vintage photographs was listed for sale. In each of the two photos was the same unidentified player. He posed solo next to a stand of wooden bleacher seats in one shot and stood with two other men (a teammate and an Army officer who were also unidentified) in the other. Emblazoned across the front of both players’ baseball jerseys were the letters O G L E T H O R P E in two-color athletic felt. Their flannels sported ornate soutache, applied on the button placket, surrounding the collar and extending downward from the collar to the sleeve. The photos bore no markings regarding identities, dates or location details.
Despite an absence of due diligence in researching the images, we moved forward in securing them for our collection with a commitment to identify the team and, with a measure of hope, the identities of the men in the photos.
Subsequent to their safe arrival, we conducted a preliminary and somewhat fruitless internet search. Unfortunately, our effort revealed scant details about the base, with merely a single baseball reference regarding a former Washington Senator baseball player, Hillis Layne, who was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Forces at Georgia’s (former) Fort Oglethorpe. The photos were scanned (including digital editing) and added to the Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph archive for preservation. Deterred by the minuscule search results, we tabled further research attempts.
A few days ago and nearly two years later, we acquired another photo that prompted us to revisit Fort Oglethorpe baseball once again. This “new” type-1 vintage press photo featured two players in flannels standing on opposite sides of an army officer who was conducting a coin toss. The player on the left is shown wearing the same Oglethorpe uniform as seen in our previous photos and is standing opposite the other player, whose uniform lettering reads, “2nd A R M Y.” Attached to the back of the photo is a printed caption slug that identifies all three men, one of whom (the 2nd Army player) was former Philadelphia Phillies righthanded pitcher Hugh Mulcahy.
Over the last few years, the Chevrons and Diamonds photo collection of vintage military baseball photographs has grown considerably. Because our collection has had relatively few images from service teams in southern states, our attention in this region has been nominal. With the acquisition of the third Fort Oglethorpe image and the details it provided us, we turned our research attention to this previously overlooked area of the nation and what we found was a wealth of baseball and military history.
The team from Fort Oglethorpe, named “All-Stars,” was dominant in its region, posting a record of 40 wins and just 10 losses during its 1943 campaign. Staff Sergeant Joseph Gee (pronounced “Jee”), after being named the team’s manager, assembled a talented squad that consisted largely of former professional players. Gee had served as the starting left fielder in 1942. The demands of an Army charged with fighting a war had decimated the Oglethorpe roster as more than 75 percent of the team members had been transferred before the 1943 campaign, including the 1942 manager, Master Sergeant Cliff Smith.
Like the men he sought out for the Fort Oglethorpe All Stars roster, Gee was himself a former professional ballplayer and an all-around athlete. Though Baseball Reference lists only his 1935 season with the Union City Greyhounds in the Class “D” Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League, he also spent time that season with the Wilmington Pirates (Class “B” Piedmont League) and the Monessen Reds (Class “D” Pennsylvania State Association). In 1936, Gee was with Paducah Red Birds (Class “D” Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League), Cordele Reds (Class “D” Georgia-Florida League) and back to Paducah before his professional career came to an end. When it came to assembling his 1943 team, Gee knew how to assess talent.
Joseph Morris Gee was born on June 7, 1908 in Nashville, Tennessee, to Bessie Louise (nee’ Stull) Gee and her husband Morris Gee. Morris supported his young family as a railroad fireman, stoking steam locomotive boilers. He worked his way up to becoming a locomotive engineer. By 1920, the Gee family had grown with the additions of younger siblings (his sister Minnie Sue and brother Cameron) and was living in Memphis. Eleven-year-old Joe was beginning to play football, basketball and baseball. By 1931, Gee was a 23-year-old, first-year student at the University of the South (now known as “Sewanee: The University of the South”), where he played on the freshman football team, played basketball and ran track. By 1932, Gee was the star halfback of the varsity football team. In his junior football campaign at the university, Gee suffered an injury during an 18-0 loss to the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Two weeks later, he saw action but again he was lifted due to subsequent injuries. After college, Gee was signed as an outfielder by Union City at the age of 27 but would be out of professional baseball for good before his 28th birthday. With professional sports behind him, he began working in a steadier occupation for the John A. Denies Sons Company as a building materials salesman in Memphis.
As with other men who were fulfilling their Selective Service obligation, 33-year-old Gee was five years over the draft’s upper age limit due to a 1941 revision in the law that capped the peacetime draft age at 28 years of age. Gee was ten months into his 12 months of required service when the Army began separations of the over-aged men on December 5. Joe Gee, having served at Fort Oglethorpe since reporting there for his induction on February 4, was a civilian once again. However, as with other American men, Gee was no doubt stunned to learn that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 and just 46 days later, the divorced, 33-year-old Army veteran enlisted on January 21, 1942, returning to Fort Oglethorpe.
As the armed forces ranks began to swell with the massive influx of volunteers and selectees from all walks of American life, including professional baseball, service team rosters began to be populated with considerably more baseball expertise. Competition in Fort Oglethorpe’s region ranged from marginal to keen, depending upon where the former major and minor leaguers were distributed. Fresh from its 1942 season in which the All-Stars’ roster featured just four former pro ballplayers, new manager Staff Sergeant Joe Gee saw the arrival of 13 former minor leaguers and Frank Grigonis of the Detroit Lions (NFL) to the team for the 1943 campaign.
1943 Fort Oglethorpe “All-Stars”
|Cpl.||John Barger||P||Fulton (KITL)|
|Lt.||John “Johnny” Beazley*||P||Cardinals|
|Pvt.||Tommy Bergdoll||SS||Salisbury (NCSL)|
|Col.||Lucien S.S. Berry||Commanding|
|Cpl.||Les Burge||1B||Montreal (IL)|
|Cpl.||Greyson “Goat” Davis||OF||Greenville (APPY)|
|Cpl.||Lou Fitzgerald||3B||Americus (GAFL)|
|Pvt.||Del Friar||C||Savannah (SALL)|
|S/Sgt.||Joe Gee||Mgr./OF||Union City (KITL)|
|Pvt.||Frank Grigonis||C||Detroit Lions (NFL)|
|Pvt.||Charlie Heffner||2B/OF||Kingsport (APPY)|
|Lt.||Marvin C. Holmes||Spec. Svc. Off.|
|S/Sgt.||Early Maxwell||Promotion Mgr.|
|Pvt.||Jimmy “lefty” McClure||P||Memphis (SOUA)|
|Sgt.||Carvel “Bama” Rowell*||2B||Braves|
|Pvt.||Ned Thaxton||P||Jacksonville (SALL)|
|Cpl.||Claude Trivett||OF||Kingsport (APPY)|
|Cpl.||Pat Vescova||OF||Union City (KITL)|
*Made limited Appearances on Oglethorpe’s roster for exhibition/all-star games
Two of Oglethorpe’s biggest diamond threats in 1943 came from the Atlanta Naval Air Station nine and the Memphis, Tennessee-based 2nd Army squad, led by Hugh Mulcahy.
Hugh Mulcahy spent parts of the 1935 and 1936 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by four full campaigns from 1937 to 1940. In his pre-military-service years with the Phils, Mulcahy never posted a winning record and led the National League twice with twenty or more losses. He was a workhorse hurler for a team that was baseball’s worst in the 1937-1940 four-year-span. Even the American League’s cellar-dwelling St. Louis Browns’ 205-403 (.337 winning percentage) record was not as bad as that of the Phillies, who posted a record of 202-406 (.332). Mulcahy’s individual season records nearly mirrored those of his team. Hugh’s moniker, “Losing Pitcher” (bestowed upon him by Philadelphia sportswriters for the frequency that “LP” appeared beside his name in box scores), taken at face value, seemed justified. However, it can be argued that he suffered due to the consistently poor-performing team he played for, more than from his performance on the mound. Mulcahy appeared in 176 games in that four-year stretch, starting 128 and completing 59 with a whopping 988.2 innings pitched. Mulcahy twice led the league in earned runs and batters hit-by-pitch and in his lone All-Star season in 1940, he led the league in surrendered hits (283). Playing for the hapless Philadelphia Phillies certainly didn’t help his career. Mulcahy’s pitching performance since becoming a full-time major leaguer was less than stellar but he was showing his potential to be successful in the majors
On September 27, 1940, Hugh Mulcahy pitched his final start of the season at the Polo Grounds against the second-division New York Giants. Mulcahy pitched a gem with a four-hit shutout while his opponent, future Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell, surrendered six runs on 11 hits. Mulcahy held the Giants’ three All-Star batters hitless – leftfielder Jo-Jo Moore (0-3), third baseman Mel Ott (0-2 with two walks) and catcher Harry Danning (0-4) – while smashing a single (one of the 11 Phillies hits surrendered by Hubbell) in the third inning. On October 16, nineteen days after his last appearance on the mound, Mulcahy registered for the United States’ first peacetime selective service at local draft board No. 112 at Newton Center, Massachusetts.
1943 Second Army (Memphis, TN)
|George Byam||RF||Louisville (AA)|
|Carmen “Coots” Castle||LF||Birmingham|
|Cpl.||Ervin “Erv” Dusak||OF||Cardinals|
|Cpl.||Al Flair||1B||Red Sox|
|Jack Griffore||P||Columbus (AA)|
|Al Kozar||2B||Scranton (EL)|
|Pfc.||William “Billy” Long||3B||Lancaster (ISLG)|
|Jack Ridings||SS||Portsmouth (PIED)|
|Lou Roede||CF||Chattanooga (SOUA)|
|Cpl.||Kenneth J. “Ken” Silvestri||C||Yankees|
|Floyd Yount||C||Toronto (IL)|
Set to report to spring training at Miami Beach, Florida for the Phillies’ 1941 season, Mulcahy’s request to delay entry into the armed forces (citing being a partial financial provider for his parents) was denied and instead he was sworn in to the Army on March 8, becoming the first major league player to be drafted into the armed forces under President Roosevelt’s Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. Upon entry into the Army, Mulcahy was stationed at Camp Edwards, which was 50 miles northwest of his home in Newton Center, Massachusetts. He played baseball in addition to his training assignments and normal duties.
Unlike Hank Greenberg, who entered the Army on May 7 under the Selective Service Act and was subsequently discharged on December 5 (due to the aforementioned revision of Selective Service putting the age limit at 28), Mulcahy’s service end date (March 1942) became indefinite, apparently at his own doing. The pitcher was eligible to apply for a discharge but refused. According to an article in the January 29, 1942 edition of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma), Mulcahy chose to continue his one-year obligation, stating that he wanted to “see it through.”
During our research, we noted a few contemporary sources stating that Mulcahy was separated and re-entered the service following the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; however, no records could be found to substantiate these claims. Instead, documentation, including his Veterans Administration Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) file and newspaper reports regarding Mulcahy’s service, specifically point to his service being unbroken. “Although others, notably the Phillies’ Hugh Mulcahy, who lost a year in service and has little chance to get out now that war is on,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Cy Peterman in his December 10, 1941, Strictly Sports column, “preceded Bob (Feller) into uniform, he (Feller) will lead the latest contingent into service.”
After Pearl Harbor, Private First Class Mulcahy, classified as a first class machine gunner, was assigned to duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and added to the post’s baseball team. With the mass influx of volunteers entering the service requiring training, all branches of the armed forces were rapidly transforming from peacetime to wartime operations. Private industry began to transition to war production and President Roosevelt dispatched the “Green Light Letter” to major league baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, giving baseball the go-ahead to play the game. Service teams re-formed in the spring of 1942 with a mission of fundraising in addition to morale and recreation for the troops.
Throughout the spring of 1942, Mulcahy pitched in several fundraising games. In May, he was invited to Shibe Park to throw out the first pitch. Playing host to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies required every person in attendance to pay to gain entry. All players, umpires, vendors, law enforcement officers and attendants paid to enter the ballpark, though Mulcahy’s former teammates covered the cost of his ticket. The game was somewhat of an historic event as it marked the first twilight game in major league history with a 5:00 p.m. start time. Just four days later, with Bob Feller starting for the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets at Fenway Park, Mulcahy took the mound for the Fort Devens team in an Army vs. Navy clash. The Navy was routed, 5-0, as Mulcahy, Joe Kwasniewski and Mike Nash pitched a combined 2-hit shutout. Feller and the Navy got revenge against Mulcahy in an abbreviated game on June 14 at the Polo Grounds that was part of the All-Sports Carnival that raised over $800 million in war bonds. Feller, pitching for Quonset Point Naval Air Station, blanked Mulcahy’s Army squad, 4-0, in a five-inning contest. One of Mulcahy’s former Philadelphia teammates, Jim Carlin, accounted for three of the Navy’s runs with a home run off Hugh with two Navy men on base.
In late spring, LT Mickey Cochrane, manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, was assembling a service all-star team consisting of former major leaguers now serving in the armed forces. It would take on the winner of Major League Baseball’s mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game. Mulcahy was tapped by Cochrane but his ineligibility was announced due to his appointment to the Air Force Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach, Florida. Mulcahy reported to the school on July 6 and was joined by Hank Greenberg and George “Leon” Whittock, former Temple University star quarterback.
With the departure of Master Sergeant Cliff Smith, manager and first baseman for the Fort Oglethorpe All-Stars who guided his team to a 38-4 record in 1942, leftfielder Staff Sergeant Joe Gee was named to fill the void and guide the team for the 1943 season. Picking up where M/SGT Smith left off, Gee guided his team to a 14-5 record by mid-June despite the increased level of competition from surrounding service teams whose rosters were being augmented by the influx of former professional ball players. In addition to facing base teams from Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, the Oglethorpe nine saw exhibition action against surrounding minor league teams, including the Chattanooga Lookouts.
In early February, Sgt. Mulcahy was transferred from the officer training program in Miami to Fort Bragg in North Carolina where he, in addition to his normal Army duties, authored a sports column for the base newspaper. By mid-March, Mulcahy was serving at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, where he headed the 26th Division’s recreation program. In this capacity, he organized and formed a six-team service league with three teams at Fort Jackson, two Columbia area bases and one at Shaw Field in Sumter. Mulcahy took on pitching and managerial duties for the 26th Infantry team.
By the middle of June, Mulcahy had pitched in his last games for Fort Jackson. On the 15th, he made his final mound appearance at Shaw Field as he led his time to an 8-7 victory over the 334th Bomb Group “Bombers.” Mulcahy was transferred to the Second Army in Memphis. Mulcahy’s new club was set to compete in the Midsouth Service Baseball Championship Tournament. Two of the more challenging competitors in the tournament were the Fourth Ferrying Group, headed by former Giant hurler Hal Schumacher, and the Naval Air Technical Training Center squad, managed by former Detroit Tigers infielder Johnny Lipon. In the finals, Lipon’s naval team took down the Second Army, 3-0, handing Mulcahy a rare loss.
On July 31, Oglethorpe faced Camp Campbell’s 20th Armored Division in a regional semi-professional Tennessee-Kentucky District championship matchup. It came out on top with a ninth-inning tie-breaking run, scored by Frank Grigonis with two outs. The Oglethorpe All-Stars sealed their 25th victory in 32 games with Sgt. Gene Lambert on the mound against the 20th. Lambert held them to just two runs through the eighth inning, when he was spelled by Jimmy “Lefty” McClure, who pitched a scoreless bottom half of the ninth to close the game. With the win, Oglethorpe secured a birth in the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress in Wichita, Kansas, though the team opted to play a charity game against Naval Air Station Atlanta.
By August, both Gee’s and Mulcahy’s teams were out in front of their respective regions’ leagues. Fort Oglethorpe clinched the Tennessee-Kentucky service baseball championship and accepted a challenge from Mulcahy’s Second Army for a three-game series spread throughout the month. On August 7, the first game was hosted at Nashville’s Old Hickory diamond. Though the 2nd Army squad led by Mulcahy was stacked with six former major leaguers and a handful of minor leaguers, they were held at bay by the Oglethorpe nine, with Jimmy McClure starting for the All-Stars. McClure limited Mulcahy’s men to just seven hits scattered throughout the game, though former Cardinal outfielder, Erv Dusak, took McClure deep for the 2nd Army’s only run. With the score tied at one apiece in the sixth inning, Charley Heffner drove in Les Burge from second base. Though Heffner was the only Oglethorpe batsman to hit safely more than once, Burge drove in two of the three runs scored in the game.
Accepting reinforcement for an August 12 fundraising game against Naval Air Station Atlanta, the Fort Oglethorpe All-Stars roster was augmented with the temporary addition of Carvel “Bama” Rowell, whose most recent professional experience was with the Braves in Boston. “Bama,” on loan from Camp Siebert, had been a thorn in the side of Gee’s club as Siebert was responsible for three of Oglethorpe’s seven losses that season. Also joining Gee’s team was former St. Louis Cardinal and 1942 World Series star pitcher Johnny Beazley. Beazley was serving in the USAAF and playing for the Berry Air Field nine but was brought on board in the impromptu Army versus Navy fundraising game to benefit the Army Emergency Relief fund.
Chattanooga’s Engel Stadium was packed with more than 6,500 in attendance. With 3,500 uniformed personnel and 3,000 civilians present, the game was a success as local fans who braved the inclement weather received a taste of big league baseball and an exciting game. Beazley was on the mound against the Navy’s Joe Lazenby. After Lazenby surrendered three first-inning runs plus two more in the second to Oglethorpe, Larry Miller took over for him and held the Army to seven hits and one run. Beazley struck out 10 Navy batters while giving up five runs on 10 hits and four walks.
The Oglethorpe offense had a two-run Claude Trivett blast over the right field fence in the bottom of the second, sending Joe Lazenby to the showers. In the fourth inning, with the Army ahead, 5-2, Buddy Bates knocked a 3-1 Beazley pitch to left field, driving in two runs. The former Card only allowed two more hits for the remainder of the game, though the Navy would score an unearned run as one of the two hits plated a baserunner who reached on a walk and was moved into scoring position on an error. Private Charlie Heffner, formerly of the Kingsport Cherokees (Class “D” Appalachian League) led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a single. A wild pitch by Miller allowed him to reach second base, followed by a fielder’s choice that pushed him to third. Carvel “Bama” Rowell drove Heffner home with a base hit to left field. The score remained 6-5 through the end of the game, with Oglethorpe finishing on top.
Days after his team defeated Mulcahy’s 2nd Army squad, manager Staff Sergeant Gee, who was also serving as the non-commissioned officer athletic director at Fort Oglethorpe, was transferred to an engineer unit at Camp Sutton, North Carolina. Initially, centerfielder Corporal Claude Trivett was the planned successor to Gee at the helm of the Oglethorpe nine; however, team captain Corporal Les Burge took over. Corporal Lon Fitzgerald, the team’s third baseman, was elevated to the role of the Oglethorpe captain as announced by Lt. Marvin Holmes, Special Services Officer at the post.
On September 14, Oglethorpe faced off against the 2nd Army once more for the Southern Army championship. Seeking to settle the season series as well as to claim the title, manager Hugh Mulcahy slated himself to start on the mound against Oglethorpe. The game had major league billing as the ex-Philly was pitching against the 1942 World Series hero, Johnny Beazley. The two teams were dominant in the South with comparable records: Oglethorpe posted 40 wins against 10 losses but Mulcahy’s 2nd Army boasted a record of 44-5. The two squads had faced each other twice during the season with each claiming a win. The third game would decide which team would claim the title.
Wirt Gammon of the Chattanooga Daily Times claimed the championship game was, “One of the finest ball games ever played in this section of the country,” in his September 15, 1943 article. Spectators, including more than 1,000 civilians in Fort Oglethorpe’s home park, were treated to an epic pitching duel between Oglethorpe’s Beazley and Mulcahy of the 2nd Army, with both pitchers going the distance. The Fort Oglethorpe hurler pitched a six-hit gem, allowing only one extra base hit to Ken Silvestri. while Long, Kozar, Flair and Byam all managed singles against Beazley’s stingy pitching. In addition, two free passes were issued to the 2nd Army. However, it was Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy who bested the World Series champ by tossing a three-hit shutout, propelling the 2nd Army to the title. It was Silvestri, with just 17 major league games under his belt for the 1941 Yankees, whose bat delivered the game-winning blow, an inside-the-park home run in the top of the seventh inning. A great defensive play by centerfielder Lou Roede robbed Oglethorpe’s Tatum of a home run in the fifth inning. Aside from the pre-game billing that the outcome would decide the Southern Service Championship, an unofficial title, three more games were scheduled between to two clubs, making an eventual six-game series the way to determine the championship. On September 29, the fifth game was played at Memphis’s Old Hickory Park, with the 2nd Army prevailing, 6-0, as Mulcahy pitched another shutout.
In the sixth and final game of the series, played in Memphis on October 3, Mulcahy secured an 8-4 win, defeating Beazley, who surrendered 12 hits, including a three-run homer to his former Cardinal teammate, Erv Dusak. Though Mulcahy won, his 11-hit, four-run performance demonstrated the toll that the heavy pitching load was taking on his arm.
Following the championship loss to the 2nd Army, the Oglethorpe men had one game remaining on their schedule. It was against Camp Campbell’s 20th Armored Division. Whether reeling from their loss to the 2nd Army or showing wear from their grueling season, Oglethorpe took an 8-2 pounding in a road game at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. With an equally impressive record to their credit, the 20th secured their 39th win of the season in their last game against the northern Georgia fort’s nine.
The Army career paths of the two men, Fort Oglethorpe’s Joe Gee and the 2nd Army’s Hugh Mulcahy, diverged towards the end of the 1943 season. Mulcahy pitched for and managed the 2nd Army squad in Memphis for most of the 1944 season until he deployed to the South Pacific as part of the 8th Army Headquarters staff. Sailing from San Francisco on August 14 aboard the USS General John Pope (AP-110) and taking with him a hand-selected group of players (some from the 2nd Army club) to serve and play for the troops in and around New Guinea as part of the 8th Army. Mulcahy would land on the Philippines as part of the invasion forces to fulfill General MacArthur’s promise to remove enemy occupation forces from the islands. Mulcahy led the charge to repair Manila’s Rizal Stadium and return baseball to its diamond in the spring of 1945. Gee was discharged from the Army on September 23, 1945. Unfortunately, details regarding his life after the war are minimal. By 1960, Gee and his wife Nell were listed in the Memphis city directory. Joe was an assistant vice president in sales with the John A. Denies Sons Company, for whom he worked before the war. Gee passed away in 1985, just a few weeks shy of his 77th birthday.
Having accumulated enough points from service tenure and time overseas, Mulcahy returned to the U.S. by the end of July and was discharged on August 5, the day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Two days after Nagasaki was bombed, Mulcahy rejoined the Phillies on August 11 and made his first pitching appearance against the Boston Braves on August 26. Mulcahy lasted six innings and despite yielding just one earned run, a home run to Vince DiMaggio in the second inning, the Phillies’ shoddy defense in the form of three errors (including one of Mulcahy’s own) allowed three unearned Braves runs to taint his return. Mulcahy’s major league career was finished after two appearances with the Pirates in 1947, leaving him to spend the next four seasons in the minor leagues. Baseball fans in Memphis saw the return of the 2nd Army’s pitching hero for the 1948 and ’49 campaigns as he compiled a 28-18 record with the Chicks (Class “AA” of the American Association). His playing career behind him, Mulcahy had a lengthy player development, coaching and managing career and saw his way back to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox as a pitching coach. Mulcahy lived the remainder of his life in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, passing away in 2001.
Fort Oglethorpe was deactivated in 1946 and subsequently sold in January, 1948. Less specific is the location of the Second Army facility that served as the post for Mulcahy’s team. In 1941, a local high school served as a short-term location before the Second Army HQ took over virtually every square inch of Cumberland University until sometime in 1943.
As has occurred many times for us in the past, an addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds photograph collection opens the door and sends us on a research expedition, only for us to discover multiple gems of baseball history which will no doubt lead to future articles in the weeks to come.