Category Archives: Individual/Personal History
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.
The Dodgers were and still are my all-time favorite baseball team if not of all professional sports. With the Red Sox being a close second to the “Blue Crew,” I experienced a bit of a dream (and nightmare) World Series in 2018 where it was a difficulty for me choose the team that I wanted to win the most between the two clubs as they faced each other in the championship. In 1991 when I made made my first trip to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was astounded to artifacts from my favorite teams including items from men who played in the first World Series meeting (in 1916) between my two favorite teams. That visit to the Hall of Fame also stirred within me a desire to pursue other facets (besides sports cards) of the collecting hobby, namely autographs.
After visiting the Hall of Fame Museum, I walked around the small village and patronized a small shop that seemed more like an extension of the museum than a store as it was filled with antique baseball memorabilia ranging from autographed baseballs, photographs, bats and other artifacts dating from the 1920s through the 1950s and up to (then) present day. Clearly this business’ clientele was more well-heeled than an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy as I could scarcely afford to make a purchase of a baseball artifact. Motivated by the overwhelming inventory of autographed memorabilia, one piece in the store did manage to catch and hold my attention, hatching an idea for me to pursue an area of collecting that I never previously gave much thought. Without any sort of hesitation, I purchased a copy of The Sport Americana Series Baseball Address List by R. J. Smalling and started to make a list of players from the “golden era” of the game that I would target for signatures.
My visit to Cooperstown left a lasting impact on me that punched a few holes in my Dodger-blue colored glasses, leaving me with a significant reduction in my hatred for the Giants. I was able to see beyond the rivalry and recognize the contributions of the players from the game rather than to be limited by the myopia influenced by my passion for a team. This transformation translated into an activity that included writing to veteran players (Hall of Famers, included) and requesting their autographs on various piece that I would send to them. One such player was a big first baseman from Demorest, Georgia (where he was born and raised and returned to after his baseball career ended) who spent his entire career crushing Dodgers (and all other National League) pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants carrying a .324 batting average, an on base percentage of .409 while slugging .588 with and OPS of .997 and almost 300 home runs in ten seasons. His prowess against Brooklyn didn’t cease when he left the National League and donned the pinstripes of the Yankees. Mize faced the Dodgers in 10 World Series games making 23 plate appearances and batted .400 with a .600 slugging percentage and an OBP of .478 and was approaching the end of his career. It goes without mentioning that (as a Dodgers fan) I shouldn’t care for Johnny Mize or his signature.
Mize’s career was one that caught my attention both at the Hall of Fame and as I scoured my copy of the massive Baseball Almanac book (which I still have). What stood out to me among his impressive statistics was the absence of playing time (and stats) from 1943 through 1945. Admittedly, I didn’t know that Mize left his player salary and the life of sport for the uncertainty of life itself in order to don the uniform of the United States Navy. But that is what Mize did in March of 1943 following being notified of a change of status from 3-A (registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents) to 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) – at the time, Mize was the sole provider to one of his aunts however by 1943, the draft boards underwent a change in the way hardships were viewed, especially since fathers (sole providers for their families) were being drafted.
The Giants first baseman was purported to have a blood coagulation issue that precluded him from Army service. Reported by the Sporting News, March 18, 1943, Giants manager, Mel Ott mentioned that “he had heard something about John being listed clinically as a bleeder, “meaning that Mize suffered from a form of hemophilia. Cleared for military service, Johnny Mize’s eligibility was transferred from the Army and he opted to join the Navy. While undergoing basic training, Mize was picked up by the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. By the end of May, 1943, Johnny Mize was appearing in the Bluejackets’ lineup as they competed against regional ball clubs and service teams. Mize remained at Great Lakes and on Cochrane’s Bluejackets roster until being transferred to Naval Training Center Bainbridge (Maryland). While he was playing for the Bainbridge squad, Mize fell ill requiring a break from physical exertion resulting in significant weight-gain during his convalescence. When he returned to duty, Mize was transferred to the West Coast.
In February of 1944, Athletic Specialist 2nd Class Mize departed San Francisco Bay aboard the fleet minelayer, USS Terror (CM-5) and by late Spring, Mize was suiting up for the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers under manager Lieutenant Wes Schulmerich, previously of the Navy Pre-Flight Training program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see: Navy Pre-Flight Round-up: The Growth of the Cloudbusters Collection Takes Flight). Though Mize’s impact would be felt, he battled injury for a fair portion of the 1944 season which led to his omission, along with that of the 7th Army Air Force’s Joe DiMaggio, from the Central Pacific All-Stars team due to reduced playing time. Both Mize and DiMaggio joined their respective branch’s All Stars team for the Army-Navy World Series held throughout the Hawaiian Island from September 22 to October 15, 1944 (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific and Game 7 – Navy vs Army All-Stars Championship Series, October 1, 1944).
In his first two seasons of service team baseball (with the Bluejackets of Great Lakes and the Klippers), Mize didn’t slack off with his offensive production. In 1944 Mize was limited in his plate appearances at NAS Kaneohe due to a lingering injury.*
In early 1945, LT. Bill Dickey tabbed Mize for duty in the Western Pacific participating with other professional ball players (serving in the Navy) in a goodwill and morale-boosting tour. Servicemen on at Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea and Peleliu would be able to enjoy games being played between teams from the “Third” and “Fifth” Fleets (see: 1945 3rd Fleet vs 5th Fleet – Pacific Tour). With the main thrust of the Pacific offensive being fought in places such as Iwo Jima, Mize and his teammates found themselves on islands that still had an enemy presence. It was not uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of a ball field.
Within a few weeks following the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, Mize was making his way back to the United States mainland and would be discharged from active duty in time to make an appearance as a spectator at the 1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. It was noted by several reporters, ball players and coaches that Mize had dropped a significant amount of weight and appeared to be in top physical condition. Questioned about his health, Mize recounted his 1945 season of playing baseball five days a week for several months leading up to his separation from the Navy. Mize settled back into the routine of baseball with the Giants for the 1946 season, resuming his Hall of Fame career with a productive season despite his production drop from his 1942 season. In 1947, Mize led the National League in runs scored (137), runs batted in (138) and home runs (51), tying Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner. Despite Mize’s offensive prowess, his Giants finished in third place behind St. Louis and 13 games behind the National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.
While seated at my desk during a night shift at my last Navy duty station, I finished the letter that I wrote to the retired 80-year-old Hall of Famer, folded it and inserted the self-addressed and stamped envelope along with a few items for Mize to sign. I had no thoughts to the mortality of the immortal greats of the game until a few weeks later I learned that Johnny Mize had passed away and soon after, the envelope that I sent arrived in my mailbox was marked, “return to sender.”
Twenty five years later, I discovered a photo of Mize that, despite several flaws, caught my interest. The image was overexposed (either when the photo was captured or when it was printed in the darkroom) and has a discoloration blemish that is the result of improper darkroom chemical baths (the “stopbath” wasn’t fully removed in the rinse) leaving a residue that resulted in a dark patch on the surface of the print. The photo was captured by George Burke and might have been a cast-off print. Regardless of the condition, Mize, a prolific autograph signer, placed his mark on this vintage photo. It only took me a quarter of a century to finish what I set out to obtain.
About the Johnny Mize artifacts
In addition to the signed photo, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection has gained other Johnny Mize-related artifacts that include multiple WWII scorecards from games that he played while serving in the U.S. Navy. Also, we acquired three photos of Mize during his time in the Navy starting off with him being fitted for his service uniform (undress blues), a navy-veteran’s snapshot of the slugger in Hawaii in 1944 (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and an official Navy publicity photo that came from the estate of Philadelphia Athletics and WWII Navy infielder, Al Brancato. Two other photographs shown here (copies of the originals) were provided to Chevrons and Diamonds from our collecting colleague, Mark Southerland who obtained the original vintage prints (many of which are signed) as part of a substantial group of photographs from the Bill Dickey estate. Lastly, the photograph of the Navy team posed in front of the B-29 is a Navy Department publicity print.
*Mize’s Navy playing stats compiled and provided by Mr. Harrington “Kit” Crissey