Category Archives: Individual/Personal History
More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian
Steaming westbound, a Navy troop ship, bound for the Hawaiian Islands engorged with stores, munitions and fighting men that will resupply and augment forces engaged in the island-hopping campaign in the push towards the Japanese Homeland. Among the embarked troops was a collection of men, mostly assembled from U.S. Army Air Forces air bases in the western United States, nearly two-dozen fellow servicemen whose pre-war occupations drew considerable interest from the others aboard the ship; among this group were two childhood sandlot friends.
One of the most picturesque areas on the United States’ West Coast, the San Francisco Bay area has been an incubator, producing incredible baseball talent on sandlots of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. In a 400 square-mile area (including the large San Francisco Bay), four significant ball players plied their wares on sandlots in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Soma, Excelsior and Cow Hollow Districts in San Francisco while two more churned up the base paths surrounding Oakland. Legendary Bay Area names such as Lazzeri, Heilmann, Cronin, Gomez and Lombardi are all synonymous with greatness with bronze plaques (bearing their likenesses) prominently displayed at Cooperstown. These six players alone firmly place the Bay Area on baseball’s map but the list of notable baseball names from the region is as expansive as the geography, itself. However, the list of outstanding ballplayers from this region is considerable beyond those inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The North Beach District was settled by Italian immigrants following the devastating 1906 and was an incubator for some of baseball’s “royal” families such as Crosetti, Lucchesi and DiMaggio. Sicilian immigrants, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio saw three of their sons pursue baseball from an early age. Rather than take to the sea to gather fish with their father, Vince, Joe and Dominic chased their dreams on the diamond. Fellow Italian, Dario Lodigiani grew up (on nearby Telegraph Hill) with the DiMaggio brothers though he was closer in age to Dominic, his childhood relationship was close with Joe. Joe and Dario were junior high school teammates continuing on at Lowell High School until Joe departed to pursue his professional career with the San Francisco Seals. Dario transferred to Galileo High School, continuing his scholastic baseball career before stepping up semi-pro ball with the Golden Gate Valley league.
Like many of his fellow Bay Area players, Lodigiani signed with one of the local Pacific Coast League franchises, the cross-bay Oakland Oaks (who, at that time, were affiliated with the major league’s New York Yankees), in 1935. After three seasons with the Oaks carrying a .306 average, Dario caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics owner, Connie Mack who traded five players and cash to the Oaks to acquire the young infielder.
“We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass- over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s–t, or nothing—he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.” – Dario Lodigiani (source: Ed Attanasio, ThisGreatGame.com)
Lodigiani played for the Athletics for part of the 1938 season (splitting time between Philadelphia and the Eastern League Williamsport Grays) and the entire 1939 campaign. In 1940, Dario effectively spent the entire season in the minors, appearing in 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays of the International League before a September call-up which resulted in a lone, hitless plate appearance (lead-off pinch hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning with the A’s trailing 5-2 to the Washington Senators on September 22nd). Following the acquisition of Detroit Tiger’s young, solid-hitting second baseman Benny McCoy, Dario Lodigiani became expendable and was shipped that December to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 34-year-old veteran pitcher, Jack Knott.
Though he only saw action for the White Sox in 87 games, Lodigani was the anchor at third base (splitting time at the hot corner with Bob Kennedy who saw action in 71 games) joining future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling in the Chicago infield, however his .239 batting average for 1941 left him vulnerable. In 1942, Kennedy’s hotter bat and better glove relegated Lodigiani to a utility role for his final major league season, before departing for the War.
A few years ago, we acquired a pair of photos that spotlighted two of the Chicago White Sox pitchers who were shown while on active duty during World War II. In one image, future Hall of Famer, 42-year-old Ted Lyons is wearing his Marines flannels near Navy Pier in Chicago, not long after enlisting. The other photo depicted Johnny Rigney sporting his Navy service dress blues as he was presented with a watch by Ted Lyons and White Sox teammates during a return visit to Comiskey Field. Among those present was Dario Lodigiani. With only 275 games played in six major league seasons in his career, Dario’s name didn’t capture the attention that his 1942 White Sox teammates Luke Appling and Ted Lyons did. In researching other notable ballplayers-turned-servicemen, Lodigiani’s name kept appearing in service game newspaper summaries and our collection’s vintage scorecards.
Seeing Lodigiani’s smiling profile among his fellow White Sox teammates in the 1942 photograph reminded me of another more famous photo that spotlighted his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio posed with random servicemen (in their green, HBT combat uniforms) aboard a troop ship. Not initially recognizing the other faces that accompanied the “Yankee Clipper” and “Lodi,” it soon became apparent that the three other GIs were also former baseball players (Sergeant Walter Judnich, St. Louis Browns; Corporal Mike McCormick, Cincinnati Reds; and Private First Class Gerald Priddy of the Washington Senators) and were all part of the dominant Central California Serviceman’s League team based at McClellan Field in Sacramento. The photo of the five ballplayers aboard ship has been on our watch list for years with hopes that another copy of the popular news photo is de-accessioned from a newspaper archive.
Following his 1942 White Sox campaign, Lodigiani was called to serve, joining the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 19, 1943 for the war’s duration (plus six months) from his hometown of San Francisco. Following basic and other training, Corporal Lodigiani reported to McClellan Field along with former St. Louis Browns outfielder (and fellow San Franciscan) Walter Judnich on March 4th. While assigned to the McClellan Field training command air base, Lodigiani was added to the base team and became an immediate a force with both his glove and bat.
“Batting .313 and .288 respectively, while in the American League, last season, Pfc. Walt Judnich of the St. Louis Browns and Pfc. Dario Lodigiani of the Chicago White Sox are just two more dogfaces on KP at the Air Service Command headquarters base, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California. Both are star players on the Commander team, but their diamond activity is secondary to techical and military training they receive while preparing to help keep the Army Air Forces planes aloft in different war zones. And cleaning up the dishes, as well as the bases, is part of the chores assigned them while getting ready for the bigger game.” – The Sporting News, July 7, 1943
Dario’s impact was immediate and positive for the McClellan Field Commanders as the team left their competition in their slipstream and by mid-August, he was selected as an All-Star to play in the All Pacific Recreation Fund game that was held at Gilmore Field. As part of the Service All-Stars, “Lodi” was reunited as teammates with his boyhood friend, Joe DiMaggio (who was assigned to the Santa Ana Air Base team). Reconnecting with DiMaggio to pummel the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels was just a hint of what was to come. At the end of the 1943 service league season, the McClellan Field squad faced off against a selected group of major league “all-stars” in Sacramento:
“Sacramento, California: The climax of the season fo Sacramento fans comes Sunday, October 17, when a team of major league all-stars plays the McClellan Field Commanders at Cardinal Field. Fresh from the World’s Series, Ernie Bonham of the Yankees will be the starting pitcher, to be relieved, with or without necessity, by Milo Candini of Washington and Manuel Salvo of the Braves.
The all-star line-up of major league players who live in this area, also will include such headline performers as Dick Bartell and Ernie Lombardi of the Giants, Eddie Lake of the Red Sox, Eddie Joost of the Braves, Augie Galan of the Dodgers, Stan Hack of the Cubs, Jim Tobin of the Braves.
The Commanders are dotted with stars themselves. On the Army team are such names as Walter Judnich of the Browns, Dario Lodigiani of the White Sox, Mike McCormick of the Reds, Ferris Fain and Al Lien of the Seals, Carl DeRose and Rugger Ardizoia of the Yankees’ Kansas City farm and Bill Schmidt of Sacramento.” – The Sporting News, October 14, 1943
McClellan Field Commanders Roster:
|Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P|
For the 1944 season, the McClellan Field Commanders picked up where they left off from the previous season as they settled into a rhythm of tallying wins against their competition. Perhaps to their Central California Servicemen’s League opponents’ collective relief, an order was issued by Major General Withers A. Burress, commanding general of the 100th Infantry Division who recognized that the Army’s ballplayers would better serve in the war effort if they were with combat units (or at least that was how the order to relocate the likes of DiMaggio, “Red” Ruffing and others to the Hawaiian Islands. What actually precipitated the order was the level of competition from the Navy and Marine Corp teams in the Hawaiian baseball leagues was too stiff for the Army and the brass wanted to teach the sea-going branch a lesson.
“Although in the Army now, Lieutenant Colonel Leland “Lee” Stanford MacPhail is still ordering ball players around. It was MacPhail who went to General Marshall with the idea of transferring professional players from station compliments to combat divisions.
Lt. Col. MacPhail made the suggestion for three reasons. The erstwhile fiery guide, “the Gowanus,” realized it wouldn’t hurt the morale of combat units to have real live ball player attached to them. He grew tired of permanent reception and replacement center clubs beating teams representing combat regiments, considered it unfair. With 150 major league players on camp teams, he considered the practice in effect bad for organized baseball.” – “The Press Box,” Charles S. Kerg May 3, 1944 Delta Democrat Times
The orders to dismantle the McClellan team came in April of 1944 that pulled the core talent and sent them to Seattle to await further transport. Joining the former McClellan players in Seattle, Santa Ana’s star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio caught up with the men at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington where he suited up for a game with the local base troops in the Evergreen State on the eve of sailing for the South Pacific.
During the transit from Seattle to Pearl Harbor, the pitching and rolling of the transport ship left the airmen ballplayers laid up with seasickness for several days. Despite exhaustion and being weakened from the inability to eat properly, the newly constituted Seventh Army Air Forces (7th AAF) baseball team, based at Hickam Field, was scheduled for two exhibitions games against a Navy team at Honolulu Stadium in those first few days of early June. In the first game, DiMaggio crush his first of two memorable home runs (one in each game) that landed outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet. The second DiMaggio long-ball was a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). For Dario and the rest of the 7th AAF team, DiMaggio’s home runs were sign of the impending dominance they would experience in the Hawaiian Islands.
7th Army Air Force Roster:
|John Andre||P||Honolulu League|
|Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P||Kansas City|
|Joe DiMaggio||CF/1B||New York Yankees|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|Joe Gedzius||SS||Oklahoma City|
|Hal Hairston||P||Homestead Grays|
|James Hill||Pensacola, FL|
|Wally Judnich||CF/1B||St. Louis Browns|
|Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS/1B||Tyler, TX|
|Will Leonard||C||Oakland, CA|
|Al Lien||P||San Francisco Seals|
|Dario Lodigiani||2B/3B||Chicago White Sox|
|Mike McCormack||OF/#B||Cincinnati Reds|
|Charles “Red” Ruffing||P||New York Yankees|
|Frank “Pep” Saul||P||Semi-Pro|
|Bill Schmidt||P||Sacramento, CA|
|Don Smith||Seton Hall College|
|Tom Winsett||(manager)||Brooklyn Dodgers|
For the rest of the Central Pacific League, the season was already underway as the 7th was just getting started with dispatching the competition. On July 20th, the 7th AAF took down the Schofield Barracks Redlanders by a score of 8-4 with DiMaggio being absent with illness since July 9 (he returned to the roster briefly after the 23rd) leaving Dario and the rest of the team to take down the competition. By the middle of August, Lodigiani’s squad was steamrolling the competition despite DiMaggio’s spotty appearances in the lineup. Fellow Bay Area native, first baseman Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) was among the league’s tops in hitting, helping the team to several multi-game win streaks. On August 17th, the Seventh secured their 16th consecutive win.
With the league championship under their belts, several of the 7th AAF’s roster were picked for the Army vs Navy All Stars Championship (I.e. Service World Series) that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Having been embarrassed by the AAF team, the Navy pulled all the stops and gathered their best players from around the Pacific Theater as well as the U.S. mainland. The Army pulled their all-stars from among the teams spread throughout Hawaii. Despite their efforts, the Army’s All Stars were beaten by the Navy in four straight games in the best of seven. Having already lost, Army and Navy brass decided to play the entire seven games in order to give the troops quartered in the Islands an opportunity to see a game for a morale boost (the series was further extended to 11 games in total).
Lodigiani’s league and All-Star play got him tapped to join the 1945 Army Air Forces tours of the South Pacific which included Micronesia and the Marianas. With games played between the two touring squads (the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and the 73rd Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) or the local base teams (often augmented by players from the tour squads), the USAAF played in front of crowds of fatigued flight crews and wounded GIs to lift their spirits.
58th Wingmen Roster (1945 USAAF South Pacific Tour):
|Ed Chandler||Cpl||P||Pacific Coast League|
|“Chubby” Dean||Pfc||P||Cleveland Indians|
|Bob Dillinger||Pfc||IF||American Association|
|Ferris Fain||S/Sgt||IF||Pacific Coast League|
|George Gill||Cpl||P||Detroit Tigers|
|“Tex” Hughson||Pfc||P||Boston Red Sox|
|“Chet” Kehn||Pfc||P||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Al Lien||Cpl||P||Pacific Coast League|
|Art Lilly||Cpl||IF||Pacific Coast League|
|Dario Lodgiani||Sgt||IF||Chicago White Sox|
|Johnny Mazur||Cpl||C||Piedmont League|
|“Mike” McCormick||Cpl||OF||Cincinnati Reds|
|Buster Mills||1st Lt||OF/Mgr||Cleveland Indians|
|Lew Riggs||Cpl||IF||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Stan Rojek||Sgt||IF||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|“Big Bill” Schmidt||Sgt||P||Pacific Coast League|
|Charlie Silvera||Cpl||C||American Association|
|Burl Storie||S/Sgt||C||Texas League|
|Johnny Sturm||Sgt||IF||New York Yankees|
|Max West||Cpl||OF||Boston Braves|
|Taft Wright||Sgt||OF||Chicago White Sox|
With the war ended officially on September 2 (when the Japanese high command signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri), GIs were now seeking to return home and get back to their lives. Those GIs with the required 85 points were eligible to be sent home (as soon as transport was available) ahead of those who lacked the minimum.
The “Advanced Service Rating Score” point system was intended to provide equity in the demobilization of troops from war service. GIs received one point for each month of military service and one additional point was given for each month of overseas service. Each battle star or decoration earned a soldier 5 points. In addition, troops were awarded 12 points per dependent child (up to a maximum of three children). Dario Lodigiani, like most of the ballplayers who did not see combat service, lacked the minimum demobilization points. Despite their low points total, 37 baseball players were returned to the States for either discharge or reassignment, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on November 15 aboard the attack transport ship USS Cecil (APA-96), stirring up considerable controversy among other GIs. Among the 37 were: 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, Froilian 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, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rojek and Sidney Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Cecil Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean. Lodigiani was discharged from the Army immediately upon arrival while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were stuck overseas.
Technical Sergeant Loren H. Penfield (one of several troops to did so) wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes calling attention to the issue of the players being moved to the head of the demobilization line, “Up until now these men have been rated in the same category as ourselves,” Penfield wrote. “However, it appears that they must have been classified along with the “Trippi “deal,” the technical sergeant referenced similar incident that saw the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, Charlie Trippi, sent back early (from the military) to rejoin the Bulldogs squad, five games into the 1945 NCAA football season. Penfield closed his letter, “Can we be returned to the States for assignment without the required points for discharge?” Despite the brewing controversy for Lodigiani and the other 37 players, the heat was minimal and dissipated as the steady stream of GIs were returned from overseas and discharged.
Lodigiani spent his first peacetime holiday season in four years on U.S. soil as his thoughts were of the coming 1946 season. Seven days after returning to U.S. soil, Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving like none other. President Truman’s 1945 Thanksgiving Proclamation encapsulated the impact of the previous four years along with the challenges that were ahead.
“We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.
Triumph over the enemy has not dispelled every difficulty. Many vital and far-reaching decisions await us as we strive for a just and enduring peace. We will not fail if we preserve, in our own land and throughout the world, that same devotion to the essential freedoms and rights of mankind which sustained us throughout the war and brought us final victory.” – President Harry S. Truman, November 12, 1945
Returning to normalcy and the game couldn’t come fast enough for the returning veteran ball players and journeymen like Dario Lodigiani faced many challenges resuming their careers.
Despite landing a roster spot with the White Sox, Dario saw limited time (just 44 games) in what would be his last season in the major league. Dario Lodigiani returned “home” to the Oakland Oaks for the 1947, ‘48 and part of the 1949 seasons before moving across the bay to the San Francisco Seals to play through the 1951 season. From 1952-54, Lodi wound his playing career in the low minors (Class A and C) before hung up his spikes.
Wartime service team baseball service was all but forgotten in the following years but veterans such as Lodigiani could have easily pointed his finger at his war service as a reason his major league career was adversely impacted and cut short as it did for so many of his colleagues. However, Dario never left the game, serving as a minor league manager, a coach and scout (for his beloved White Sox) until his death in 2008 in Napa, California, just 50 miles from his childhood home.
Two simple photos in our collection inspired extensive research into an otherwise unknown ballplayer. Dario Lodigiani’s 70+ years in organized baseball had an extensive impact upon the game. His service in the Army Air Forces afforded him opportunities to play alongside and against some of the the best in the game as well as the with and against his childhood friends (Joe and Dom DiMaggio).
Baseball researchers face many hurdles and challenges in their pursuits of deeper and greater knowledge of professional baseball players. In the past 150 years of Major League Baseball, nearly 20,000 people have donned a uniform and signed to a roster (according to researcher and author, Jeremy Frank in 2016) and the members of the Society of American Baseball Researchers have an ongoing project to author biographies for every one of these players (see the Baseball Biography Project at SABR.org). Specifically stated (on the SABR site), the endeavor is an “effort to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.” The lion’s share of the completed biographies encompasses the names that even the most passively interested fans will easily recognize and the volume of accessible research for these players is considerable, affording researchers with, in many cases, the ability to be selective in documenting facts. Researching lesser-known players is a far greater challenge.
In a July 10, 1962 Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News article spotlighting the batting prowess of the (then) leading hitter (of the Naval AIr Station Quonset “Airbees”), Norman Teague who was (then) leading the Sunset League’s hitters with a .531 average, a reference was made to another utterly dominant batter from the league, 35 years earlier. “Teague is by no means the first lead-off hitter to punish Sunset League pitching. One of the best was Raffeis, ‘the Flying Dutchman’ of the champion 1927 Torpedo-Hospital club” the article stated. In describing this star of the Newport league player, the “militant ‘Dutch’ Raffeis, a shortstop, batted .460, scored 33 runs and stole 24 bases in 16 games. The Torpedo-Hospital combination lost only one game that season.” Of the two ball players mentioned, one name stands out among service team baseball history.
Inscribed among the signatures on a 1943 baseball, several of whom were signed by major league ballplayers (including Walt Masterson and Arne “Red” Anderson), is a very-legible autograph from Dutch Raffeis. Though a concerted and lengthy effort ensued in the process of researching the names on this baseball, the team it wasn’t until several months later that we were able to determine which team these men played for and positively identify each player. Armed with the Dutch’s first name following an assist from fellow military baseball historian, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, a wealth of research surrounding Raffeis, his naval career and baseball prowess was unlocked. Henry Raffeis’ life would otherwise be insignificant in the sphere of baseball history and probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of any SABR researcher, statistician or author, but he nevertheless had an impact upon the game as well as the U.S. Navy.
Who is “Dutch” Raffeis and why should anyone care? Henry A. Raffeis was born (on November 14, 1897) five-and-a-half months before Commodore George Dewey’s nine-ship flotilla engaged and defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo’s 13-ship fleet (on May 1, 1898) in Manilla Bay. Depending upon which census record one reviews, Dutch was the son of immigrants: his father originates from Austria (1910) or France (1920, 1930) while his mother hails from Holland (1910), Vienna (1920) or France (1930) making him a first-generation American. In possession of only a seventh-grade education, Henry Raffeis enlisted into the Navy at the age of 17 on January 22, 1915 as war raged in Europe and just 100-days before the RMS Lusitania was blasted by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on May 1 of that year.
Apprentice seaman Raffeis has only a few months of naval experience when he found himself playing baseball at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, though details are considerably ambiguous. However, his level of baseball play must have been quite notable and reminiscent of one of the stars of the era, Honus Wagner (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman” due to his German Heritage and prowess on the diamond) whose Hall of Fame career was waning. By 1920, Dutch was assigned to the U.S. Submarine Base Los Angeles (at San Pedro), the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast where he played at the hot corner (third base) for installation’s league championship team. Raffeis was rated as a gunner’s mate (torpedo) which all but guaranteed his service in the Navy’s silent service. During the 1920s, Raffeis was assigned to submarine bases (in addition to San Pedro and the aforementioned Quonset Point) at Coco Solo (Panama Canal Zone) and Pearl Harbor where he helped his teams secure championships (Coco Solo – 1925, Honolulu City League – 1926, the Battle Fleet Championships 1927-28).
“The Torpedo Station, battled-scarred veteran of 16 campaigns, has won the most titles, four, although it had to share the laurels with the Richmonds in its first conquering season of 1922. But the ‘Torps’ won in convincing style the following year when their battlefront was manned by such doughty players as Eddie Harrington, B.J. Smith, Stubbs, Witherspoon, Brewster, Holly and Hart. They won 32 out of 40 games in two seasons.
Combined with the Naval Hospital, the Station captured the bunting going away in 1927, harpooning 15 victories against only one defeat. Jarvos, Chief Horace Davis, Charley Mitchell, “Dutch” Raffeis, and Templeton were some of the figures who engineered that steamrolling junket. In 1935, a fence-denting, courageous Station array, managed by Charley Mitchell bagged the tars’ fourth pennant, despite a porous defense.” – Brief History of the (Sunset) League
Though details are a bit scarcer for Raffeis during the decade of the 1930s, there are still some great discoveries regarding both his navy career and his baseball exploits. In April of 1930, Raffeis, now a chief petty officer (torpedoman), arrived in San Francisco having detached from the submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone but where he subsequently served is unknown until his name appears on the May 29, 1933 Honolulu Star Bulletin’s sports page. A box score from the paper details a game between the Navy and a local city league team comprised of men of Chinese ancestry. In the 12-6 win for the Gobs, Dutch was still a force at the dish at the ripe “old” age of 36 as he batted 4-for-6 with two doubles and scoring two of the team’s 12 runs.
Navy (vs Chinese): May 29, 1933: Line-up/Box score:
Following a year-long assignment on the Big Island (at Hilo), Raffeis was again transferred back to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, rejoining the team. Leading the already strong team of players, LT. Frank (Max) Leslie, who at the time, was serving with VP-4F, flying patrol aircraft (note: at the Naval Academy, Leslie played for the midshipmen baseball squad under team manager, Chief Bender in 1926). LT Leslie would later lead the dive bombers of VB-3 in their highly successful attack on the Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway.
No further data is available detailing Henry Raffeis’ service or his activities on the diamond for the remainder of the decade though his active duty naval career concluded, having spent at least 20 years in uniform. By April of 1940, Raffeis was working as the superintendent of traffic for a Honolulu, Hawaii taxicab company. Dutch was a resident of the Terada Hotel (on Westervelt Street) that was owned and operated by Jukichi and Sen Terada who also lived on site with their two daughters (Kinue and Doris).
In the summer of 1940, 46-year-old Raffeis was recalled from his inactive reserve status (on August 10, 1940) and assigned to the Porpoise-Class submarine, USS Pompano (SS-181) for the next six months (note: Pompano’s first combat patrol commenced 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and she would be lost with all hands in September of 1943).
Seemingly picking up where his Navy baseball career left off, Raffeis reported to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base (from the Pompano) on February 9, 1942 and re-joined the team that he spent many years manning the Dolphins’ infield and taking on duties as an assistant head coach, backing up Lieutenant O. D. “Doc” Yarborough. After the conclusion of the 1942 season, Doc Yarborough was reassigned to the mainland leaving Dutch Raffeis to assume the helm of the team for 1943.
Under the “Flying Dutchman’s” helm, the Navy team competed heavily in the Hawaii League and faced stiff competition from city teams that were well-stocked with talent (the “Athletics” team featured former minor league pitcher, Eddie Funk who would be part of the 1944 7th AAF juggernaut team that dominated the Islands, winning the championship) . By July of the 1942 season, Dutch’s boys were already eliminated from contention. As the armed forces were expanding with the influx of young men, Raffeis was beginning to see an influx of talent into the area commands and so, he began to bolster his team, however it was not in time to salvage the season.
With the 1943 season in full swing for the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, Raffeis continued to see professional ballplayers-turned-sailors arrive as he continued to bolster his team’s roster with baseball talent and experience. By late Spring, Dutch saw the arrival of Jimmy Gleeson, Walt Masterson and Ray Volpi following their brief tenure with the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets earlier in the season. Winning the 1943 season championship would be the “Flying Dutchman’s” swansong as management of the team was taken over by former Senators pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Walt Masterson.
With the service team rosters in Hawaii being flooded with formerly professional level baseball talent, it is remarkable to see positions still maintained by career sailors such as Raffeis or Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) who was included by the Navy for the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series).
Following the 1943 Sub Base Pearl Harbor Championship, Army brass on Oahu cherry-picked top baseball talent from domestic air bases and transferred them to Hawaii, forming a veritable all-star team under the command of the Seventh Air Force (7th AAF) led by Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Mike McCormack, Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Ferris Fain. The 7th AAF won the Hawaii League championship going away while the stalwart Navy ballplayer, coach and manager, Raffeis slipped behind the scenes for the 1944 season. Forty-seven-year-old Henry Raffeis was transferred to sea to finish out his naval career, serving aboard the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) for his last few months of service. A few months shy of his 48th birthday, Henry “Dutch” Raffaies was transferred from the USS Holland back to the continental United States. He was released from active duty on June 11, 1945, 35 days after German surrendered to the Allied forces.
Between June 11, 1945 and sometime in 1968 no records are available regarding Raffeis’ post-Navy life nor are there any indications of what he may have done as a Navy retiree. In 1968, California voter registration shows the 71-year-old’s home address to be in San Diego, a “Navy town,” in a neighborhood populated by an abundance of World War II veterans. Less than three years later, Henry “Dutch” Raffeis passed away at Frente Cooperativa Las Cabanas, San Rafael de Santa Ana, Costa Rica on December 10, 1971 and was laid to rest in that city’s Central Cemetery.
When I first saw the photograph, I was struck by what was visible in the image. The stadium’s grandstands appeared to be a modern concrete facility with an unorthodox seating configuration. The absence of a true baseball park layout that also lacked traditional dugouts and caused me to take a closer look. In viewing the image (along with the corresponding caption and clipping) what I discovered quite surprisingly, was that the photo provided a rare glimpse of a rather noteworthy service team baseball game that was the culmination of one man’s monumental organizational efforts.
There have been countless pioneers in the game of baseball throughout its existence though most are relatively unknown in American culture. Apart from cultural icons who forged through some of the most arduous and challenging of circumstances like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, Americans (who are not ardent fans of the game) might offer stone-faced empty stares if asked to name another pioneer of the game. Curt Flood might come to mind for those who understand the business side of baseball regarding the Reserve Clause and Free Agency. Perhaps one might mention Bill Veeck and his trend-bucking game-promotion wizardry throughout his tenure as an executive and team owner (and who was threatening to break the color barrier by buying the ailing Phillies and field an entire roster of former Negro League players)?
One of the earliest World War II ground offensives that the United States armed forces participated in was launched in early November of 1942 with an amphibious assault onto the shores of Northern Africa with the goal of unseating the entrenched Axis troops that had occupied the region since the previous year. The invasion was a large-scale operation that included Allied naval and ground forces from Great Britain (including Australia and Canada), Free France, the Netherlands and the United States. Following the initial push of Operation Torch (November 8-16), the Axis powers put up a strong and costly defense that finally succumbed to the Allies in the Spring of 1943. Included among the American troops that were killed (totaling 526) during the campaign, baseball lost four of its own; Simeon A. “Alex” Box, Joe C. Byrd, Jr., Andrew D. Curlee, Jr. and John C. Eggleton. Baseball saw one of its minor leaguers, Lt. Bobby Byrne Jr., son of former major leaguer (Cardinals, Pirates, Phillies and White Sox) Bobby Byrne, Sr., downed multiple German Messerschmitt fighters as he provided air cover for allied bombers over North Africa. Wounded during the engagements, the younger Bryne was later conferred the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross medals. Lt. Byrne attained “Ace” status as a U.S. Army Air Forces fighter pilot during WWII and was credited for downing six enemy aircraft.
I first learned about baseball pioneer, Henry John “Zeke” Bonura in a piece authored by Gary Bedingfield that was published in the fantastic book, When Baseball Went to War (edited by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin) detailing the establishment of a baseball league in North Africa following the Allied victory over the vanquished Germans, Italians and Vichy French in May of 1943. Maintaining troops’ fitness and agility while distracting them from the monotonicity of being an occupying force. Bonura was granted permission to establish fields of play along with organizing more than 1,000 players into six leagues that featured 150 GI teams.
Aside from his organizational skills, the former major league (White Sox, Senators, Giants and Cubs) first baseman (1932-1940) was adept at pressing the flesh from afar, getting the word back to his contacts in in the States regarding the need for equipment and uniforms. With vital resources pouring into supplying and equipping the armed forces for fighting, baseball (and other sporting equipment) was non-essential and was unsupported by tax-payers or war bond-purchasers’ funds.
In his piece, Henry “Zeke” Bonura His Contributions To Wartime Baseball, S. Derby Gislair spotlighted Bonura’s abilities to do what it takes to achieve his goal of bringing the game to the region, “By his resourcefulness, enthusiasm and leadership,” Gislair wrote, “(Bonura) was able to overcome many shortages in needed assistance and construction materials, and he established twenty baseball fields in the area through the use of volunteer assistants and salvaged materials.” The need for equipment was ever-present and “Zeke” tapped on all of his contacts for assistance. “I hear from him and others now in the service, frequently,” stated (in June of 1943) Henry Morrow of the makers of the Louisville Slugger bats, Hillerich & Bradsby (H&B). “Not long ago, I received a letter from Zeke, who is in North Africa. He wanted six bats in his model. The weight limit of packages sent overseas is five pounds. So, I appealed to the Red Cross, and the package of six bats – weighing about 15 pounds – is on the way to Africa,” Morrow concluded. Bonura wrote to his H&B contact, “I am somewhere between the French and the Arabs.”
As the 1943 season progressed throughout the summer of ‘43, Bonura received a visit from the Clown Prince of Baseball, major league pitcher-turned-comedic-entertainer Al Schact. Schact spent his time entertaining troops in North Africa (presumably as he had done around the professional game leading up to WWII at baseball games) and met with Zeke while gaining a better understanding of the need for recreation equipment for the troops. Seizing on the opportunity to help, Schact returned to the states with a motivation to lend a hand having brought back to the states, a captured Nazi helmet from North Africa, which was sold to a Wall Street firm during an auction (Branch Rickey served as the auctioneer), for $150,000 for the bat and ball fund.
Zeke Bonura’s skills of promotion were brought to bear as he promoted the (then) upcoming North African World Series non-stop, using his notoriety to obtain coverage for the games on the Armed Forces Radio Network.
The September, 1943 playoffs narrowed the expansive field to two finalists – the Casablanca Yankees and the Algiers Streetwalkers – met in what became known as the North African World Series. GIs throughout the Mediterranean region were able to tune in via the Armed Forces Radio Network to listen to the play-by-play broadcast of each game.
Playing before stands filled with 4,000 GIs, French and British troops along with local Algerians, the Casablanca Yankees, a team of Army combat medics took the field against the Streetwalkers’ roster that consisted of U.S. Army military policemen (MPs). Taking the mound for the Yankees, former Cleveland Indians southpaw prospect Sergeant Vernon Kohler pitched a 9-0 shutout in the first game. First baseman (and manager), Lieutenant Walt Singer, former left end for the 1935-36 New York Football Giants, provided punch at the plate as he was the Yankees’ most powerful hitter. Singer collected five total hits which included a homerun (in a three-run, bottom of the ninth inning) which proved to be the knockout punch against the Streetwalkers in the deciding 7-6, game-two victory in the best of three series. In the absence of a trophy or championship rings, the victorious Casablanca Yankees were, instead each presented with baseballs signed by the commanding general, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The North African baseball leagues would continue under the leadership and guidance of Bonura into 1944 despite the exodus of large numbers of servicemen as the battle to liberate Europe from the tyrannical reign of the Third Riech progressed through Italy, France and on towards Germany. The discovery of this lone image from the first game of that 1943 championship series was quite satisfying, despite the significant restoration work required (due to the wartime photo editor’s markings and extensive aging) to make the photograph presentable, here.
To most collectors of American militaria, vintage medals and decorations are easily recognizable with distinctive patterns stamped into each face as well as the ribbons that they are suspended from. In our militaria collection, we have focused on people (family members), a handful of U.S. Navy warships and other places that my relatives and ancestors served. In terms of collecting, medals and decorations are of tertiary importance, though I have acquired several pieces that otherwise captured my interest.
In 2017, a group of photos, game programs (basketball), correspondence and a medal were listed in an online auction. All of the items originated from a veteran who served in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II with the 69th Infantry Division and played baseball for the unit’s team on his way to pitching in the ETO World Series in 1945 for the 29th Infantry Division team, the Blue and the Grays. After winning the 7th Army Championship, a semi-final elimination tournament, the 29th team faced (and was defeated by) the Red Circlers of the 71st Division.
Focusing primarily upon the photographs, European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) also addressed the historic and rare imagery in the group (the Earl Ghelf Collection) – how Mr. Ghelf photo-documented the baseball park that was constructed on the grounds of Soldiers Field (formerly known as Nuremberg Stadium). What was not covered in the article was the medal that was central to the group; a German-made piece with a diminutive red and white ribbon with engraving on the reverse. The obverse features a relief bust of an athletically-built man with the words “Dem Sieger” (which translates to, “The Winner”) above the figure’s right shoulder. The engraving on the reverse reads:
7th Army Baseball Champions
E. R. Ghelf
It is apparent that the 7th Army leadership locally sourced the medal and had it engraved and presented to Mr. Ghelf. It was assumed that the entire 29th Division Blue and Greys team was presented with the same personalized medal to commemorate their victory en route to the ETO Championship series. Not having seen another copy previously, the assumption about the entire team receiving them was untested and unproven…Until today.
Some of the best finds that arrive to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection come by way of accidental discovery. When I was researching a ball player in an attempt to find any correlation or connection to military service, an unintentional Google image search yielded a photo of a familiar medal – one that featured the same obverse design as the Ghelf medal (above) along with the same ribbon and suspension.
Recognizing that the image was from an online auction listing, I clicked on the image, opening a current auction listing for another engraved copy of the 7th Army Championship medal. The engraving on the reverse is exactly the same as my copy (save for the name):
7th Army Baseball Champions
|29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945|
|Nicholas “Lefty” Andrews||P|
|Earl Ghelf||P/INF||Post-war Minor Leaguer|
|Don Kolloway||2B||Pre and Post-war Major Leaguer|
|Whitey Moore||P||Pre-war Major Leaguer|
|Erwin Prasse||LF/MGR||Pre-war minors and 2nd Team All-American Iowa Hawkeyes End|
|Bill Seal||Pre and Post-war Minor Leaguer|
Without any hesitating, a sniped bid was set ahead of the due diligence in researching the name. The only instance of a roster for the 7th Army (29th Infantry Division) Championship team is located on Baseball in Wartime.com and a quick check revealed no player with that name. Searching through other sources yielded similar results. Who was J. Debratz? Was his name misspelled on the medal? Was he a coach or a manager? The decision was made to proceed despite the auction with the hope that should our bid prove successful, in time, the research could pan out.
Upon auction close, our bid was the only one and the Debratz medal arrived a few days later (a few days before publishing this article). One of the most rewarding aspects of collecting named pieces such as this medal is the satisfaction that follows a research or discovery breakthrough. For the present-time, this medal will be displayed along with the Ghelf copy.