Category Archives: Individual/Personal History

Southern Region Service Baseball Dominated by Former Pros: Mulcahy and Gee

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.

This photo was part of a pair from Fort Oglethorpe that we acquired a few years ago. With two remaining to be identified, Fort Oglethorpe manager and outfielder, Staff Sergeant Joe Gee posed in his flannels on the right (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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.

At the time this photo arrived, the identity of this player was unknown. However, with the acquisition of a third related photograph, we were able to identify this man. Former minor leaguer and now Staff Sergeant Joe Gee is posed near bleachers, quite possibly on post at Fort Oglethorpe (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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.

The photo that led to identifying Joe Gee in our other Fort Oglethorpe baseball photos was a great addition to our library. The caption slug on the reverse reads:
“August 27, 1943: Hugh Mulcahy (right), former pitcher with the Phillies, now a sergeant in the Army, calls the turn with Joe Gee (left), formerly with the Cincinnati Reds, now a staff sergeant in the Army. Tossing the coin is 1st Lt. Marvin E. Holmes, Special Services Officer of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The scene, “Somewhere in Tennessee,” just before the game between the Second Army team, managed by Mulcahy, and the Ft. Oglethorpe team, managed by Gee. Gee won the toss and the game….Gee Whiz…!” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

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”

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Rank Name Position Former
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. George Blackmore OF
Cpl. Les Burge 1B Montreal (IL)
Cpl. Greyson “Goat” Davis OF Greenville (APPY)
Pvt. Lynn Dowdy C
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.
Pvt. Willard Johns UT
Sgt. Gene Lambert P Phillies
S/Sgt. Early Maxwell Promotion Mgr.
Pvt. Jimmy “lefty” McClure P Memphis (SOUA)
Sgt. Hugh Mulcahy* P Phillies
Sgt. Carvel “Bama” Rowell* 2B Braves
Capt. Cliff Smith Advisor
Tatum LF
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)

Rank Name Position Former
Bernardi P
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)
Pvt. Lee Grissom P Dodgers
Al Kozar 2B Scranton (EL)
Johnny Lang 3B Browns
Jim Levy SS
Pfc. William “Billy” Long 3B Lancaster (ISLG)
Sgt. Hugh Mulcahy P Phillies
Jack Ridings SS Portsmouth (PIED)
Lou Roede CF Chattanooga (SOUA)
Cpl. Kenneth J. “Ken” Silvestri C Yankees
Sofia SS
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.

 

A Combat and Baseball Story Uncovered: Discovery From a Lone Name on a Photo

Halfway through the 1930s, amid the Great Depression that gripped the United States with record unemployment and increased poverty, hopelessness was a common concept for Americans. Though Wall Street was already feeling the Depression’s birthing pains in previous months, Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929) marked the day that the financial system fell into near collapse. Months later, the Midwestern and Southern Great Plains states, known as “America’s breadbasket,” were struck by a drought that would grip the region throughout the 1930s. While unemployment and soup lines grew, America’s Game entered its golden era.

In 1927, baseball attracted fans in droves as Babe Ruth anchored the New York Yankees’ famous “Murderers’ Row,” which included Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri, as the team clubbed their way to a 110-win season and the World Championship. The Yankees’ place in history was cemented by five championships in the thirties and saw the end of the career of the most popular player in the game’s history as Ruth announced his retirement on June 2, 1935. For many Americans, the Yankees, if not the game itself, provided a measure of hope during dark times. With talent, dedication, hard work and timing, a poor kid from the sandlots could find himself on a semi-professional or minor league squad, working his way toward the major leagues.

In 1936, Joe DiMaggio, one of three baseball-playing sons of a hardworking Italian immigrant fisherman, found himself in negotiations for a major league contract to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He was being secretly assisted by one of the game’s greatest ballplayers, Ty Cobb. In San Diego, a young and impoverished 17-year-old kid, Theodore Samuel Williams, with the help of his single mother, negotiated a contract to play for the Pacific Coast League’s Padres on his way to achieving his goal of becoming the greatest hitter in the game. The game provided a way out of poverty for players, no matter if they made it to the major leagues.

Baseball was also symbolic, if not analogous especially during a time when people were faced with employment and economic challenges such as during the Depression. A batter could fail seven times out of ten attempts and still be considered great as he continued to strive for perfection. While revered by many Americans, the Yankees represented Goliath as they claimed five of the ten championships in the 1930s. The other five victors were teams with significantly smaller budgets, with four of them playing in smaller markets, giving hope that the underdog still had a fighting chance.

As the thirties came to a close and the 1940s dawned, the winds of war were blowing in Europe and the Far East as the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan began invading neighboring nations in search of territory and natural resources.  The United States and baseball were in transition. The Selective Service Act of 1940 was signed by President Roosevelt to begin rebuilding the nation’s defensive capability both in manpower and equipment. The professional ranks began seeing ballplayers departing to fulfill their service obligation. The major leagues saw their first player, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy report to his draft board on March 8, 1942 for induction.

Leading up to the war, baseball truly was America’s pastime. While the major and high minor leagues were attracting substantial audiences, even during the waning years of the Great Depression, fans were also following baseball closer to their homes with amateur and semi-professional baseball leagues. Many players who took the field for these teams spent their entire baseball careers at these levels despite having the talent to advance through the professional ranks in the minor leagues. For their own reasons they chose not to sign pro contracts. In researching wartime service baseball teams, many of the players rounding out rosters dotted with former major and minor leaguers are men who before the war were semi-pro stars. One such man was Joe Batcha of Jeddo, Pennsylvania.

Catching for a highly competitive team in his hometown, the Jeddo Athletic Association’s Stars, Batcha followed in his father’s footsteps with the team. Following a one-month stint with the Hazleton Red Sox, he withdrew as the team faced financial difficulties before signing on with Jeddo, according to an article in the April 14, 1941 News Leader (Staunton, Virginia). In the late 1930s, Batcha established himself as both an outstanding defensive catcher and as a feared batsman, averaging .401 from 1937-1940 which got the attention of the Class “C” Virginia League’s Staunton Presidents as he signed on along with three of his former Jeddo teammates.

As with Hugh Mulcahy at the major league level, the peacetime selective service requirements impacted players at the semi-professional level. In April of 1941, the Jeddo Stars honored their first draftees, George “Goose” Rollins and Arthur Wilkinson, with a farewell party. One month following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Batcha set down his “tools of ignorance” and enlisted in the U.S. Army at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

Following his basic training, Batcha was assigned to the 145th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division, where he served as an infantryman, machine gunner and, according to his obituary, an M1 mortarman.  As Commander Joseph Rochefort’s Station Hypo code-breakers were confirming the target of a Japanese assault at Midway, transports and escorts carrying the 37th Infantry Division sailed on May 26 from San Francisco bound for the Fiji Islands, where they would spend the next several months preparing to take on the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. Joe Batcha sent a letter home in the fall of 1942 to inform his parents of his Fiji location. It was published in the local newspaper, The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) on Monday, November 23, 1942. The Solomons campaign was launched in early August, 1942 with Operation Watchtower and the First Marine Division’s landing on Guadalcanal. Enemy forces put up strong resistance on land, in the air and on the seas surrounding the islands as the heavy fighting lasted into early 1943.

As detailed in another letter to his parents, Batcha’s unit trained in both the Fiji Islands and New Zealand. The former Jeddo Stars catcher included souvenirs of his time in both locations.  Following the lengthy and arduous training period, the 145th did not get into the fight until late spring with the launch of Admiral Halsey’s New Georgia campaign, called Operation Toenails. Batcha’s unit engaged forces. According to the October 14, 1943 edition of The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) Batcha was in the thick of the fighting. “Joey Batcha saw heavy action in recent fighting in the SW Pacific, according to word received by his parents,” the article stated.  “The popular backstop was in the first wave of infantrymen to go ashore at Rendova Island at the start of the new offensive early in July. His unit quickly wiped out the few Jap outposts on this island, but they had tougher going when they moved across the channel to reduce the Munda airport on New Georgia Island.”

During the fighting, as forces from the 145th assaulted the Munda airport, Batcha ran into a familiar face from home, John Billy. Billy stated that the two connected under hails of enemy fire on multiple occasions during the battle yet for obvious reasons, the two could not catch up on news from the home front.

After New Georgia and Rendova were secured, Batcha’s unit was dispatched to Bougainville following Admiral Aaron Merrill’s and Admiral Arleigh Burke’s naval battle and the 3rd Marine Division landing at Empress Augusta Bay in early November. Just ahead of spring, the 145th Infantry Regiment, occupying the high ground on the island, became the center of the defense against a Japanese attack that included an uphill saber charge against the entrenched Americans. Batcha’s unit fought for five continuous days against the enemy onslaught, with reinforcement from the second battalion of the 148th Infantry Regiment after two days. The Americans virtually destroyed the second and third battalions of the Japanese 23rd Infantry and the 13th Infantry. For the next several months, Batcha exchanged his weapons for a glove and bat as he played in the unit’s baseball league while participating in a rigorous amphibious training cycle. For the time being, baseball served as a respite from his daily duties.

Joe Batcha’s popularity among baseball fans in the Hazleton, White Haven and Freeland region of Pennsylvania kept his name in the hometown newspaper throughout his service in the South Pacific.  Following President Roosevelt’s executive order, the newly established Combat Infantryman Badge was authorized to be awarded to troops who met the criteria: be an infantryman satisfactorily performing infantry duties; be assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat and actively participate in such ground combat. On April 4, 1944, The Plain Speaker of Hazleton announced, “Corporal Joseph Batcha, of Jeddo, has been presented with the Army’s newest award for infantrymen, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, for exemplary conduct in combat.” The Plain Speaker piece spotlighted Batcha’s service with the 37th Division up to that point. “Since starting his tour of overseas service on May 26, 1942, he has been stationed in New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella and Empress Augusta Bay and is a veteran of the New Georgia campaign.”

Baseball on Bougainville, July 1944. This photo of a game involving the XOV Corps Headquarters team illustrates the conditions that Batcha and the 145th’s Barracudas faced. The 37th Division was one of two principle units of the XIV Corps during the Bougainville campaign (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

By July of 1944, Corporal Batcha was establishing himself as a star among the men of the 37th Infantry Division. His offensive prowess was the subject of a hometown newspaper article in the Wednesday, July 19 edition of The Plain Speaker. “Cpl. Batcha, former Jeddo Stars catcher now with the 37th Infantry on Bougainville, still packs a ‘punch at the plate’ according to a new story received today from the division headquarters in the Southwest Pacific. In a recent baseball game on the island, Batcha’s double to left scoring two mates climaxed a fifth inning rally which gave Col. Whitcomb’s ‘Barracudas’ a 7-4 victory over Col. Frederick’s Blues.” Similar to many other military unit teams, Batcha’s Barracudas roster was stocked with former semi-professional ballplayers from across the country.

According to the article, apart from combat, Batcha saw plenty of diamond action in 1943, “Despite all the battling that he has done against the Japs, Batcha has been quite fortunate enough to get in his baseball. Last year he led his team in batting,” having spent more than two years in the South Pacific in combat, “as a machine-gunner (sic) with the 37th Infantry Division.”

That fall, Batcha and the 37th’s Barracudas (led by Colonel Cecil B. Whitcomb) were vying for a championship as they moved into a tie for first place in one of the Southwest Pacific leagues. Backstop Joe Batcha tallied two runs on a pair of solo home runs in a contest with the 37th Division Engineers. His second homerun pushed the Barracudas ahead on their way to a blow-out victory. His battery mate, pitcher Private G. Thomas Dilday*, formerly of the Shamrocks (a semi-pro club in Petersburg, Virginia) held the Engineers to three runs, assuring the Barracudas of a berth in the 37th Division League playoffs for the island’s championship. Those that secured a playoff spot included teams from Artillery, Engineers, Medical and Infantrymen, the rosters of which also included former professional baseball players. Unfortunately, research has not led to the outcome of the 37th Division tournament. As the baseball diamonds fell silent in the following weeks, the men of the 37th began preparations to depart Bougainville as General Douglas MacArthur’s 1942 promise was soon to be fulfilled.

Batcha and the men of the 145th Infantry Regiment landed as part of 37th Division and the rest of the Sixth Army at Lingayen Gulf on the Philippine island of Luzon on January 9, 1945.  The objective for the 37th was the capital city, Manila.  The Japanese resistance on Luzon was representative of what the Marines saw on Tarawa, with the fierce counter attacks. Enemy forces had become entrenched since the island nation fell in the spring of 1942. By the end of January, the 145th advanced to Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg. On January 31, the American flag was raised at the fort, the Americans having suffered 350 casualties in the three days of fighting. As the Americans advanced towards Manila, the Japanese troops not actively engaged in the fighting stepped up their atrocities on the American and European prisoners that were captured when the nation fell in 1942. The Allied soldiers had been unable to evacuate along with Filipino women and children. A month-long campaign of terror, which commenced on February 3, saw as many as 500,000 people terrorized and slaughtered at the end of Japanese bayonets. Girls aged 12-14 were selected and imprisoned at the Bayview Hotel (the designated “rape center”) in Manila and were submitted to round-the-clock brutalities by a constant stream of officers and soldiers. Afterwards, the girls were subjected to horrifying mutilations (such as slicing off their breasts and being doused with gasoline and set alight while mocked). Such scenes took place at schools, convents, hospitals and churches. Liberation came with a horrifying cost as the men of the 37th advanced on the city and the fortifications and artillery emplacements in the surrounding mountains overlooking the area.

Manila Retaken (1945 Film):

Advancing units of the 37th and 145th were met with heavy resistance by the retreating Japanese. Armored units of the 37th engaged heavily entrenched enemy troops at Rizal Memorial Stadium with American tanks pummeling machine gun and mortar positions in the stands of the ballpark. By the end of March, the city of Manila was in ruins as mop-up efforts came to a close after the March 4 fall of the Japanese-held historic walled city of Intramuros.

Battle of the Ballpark Film (1945):

Rizal Memorial Stadium was a ballpark that had played host to a contingent of American baseball all-stars in December of 1934. Lou Gehrig christened the (then) new ballpark as he crushed the first home run hit there during a December Far Eastern Championship game featuring the All-Americans, fresh from their tour of Japan. Babe Ruth followed suit and drove out the second bomb at the park. With 5,000 permanent grandstand seats, the game with the All-Americans saw 10,000 additional spectators seated down the respective left and right field foul lines. Rivaling those in the largest major league ballparks, the center field scoreboard was one of the largest of its kind. After the Americans wrested the city of Manila from its repressive occupiers, leaders took stock of the destruction of the ballpark, noting that the stands were riddled with holes from ordinance, machine gun fire and mortars. The diamond was chewed up from tank tracks. The grandstand seating had been entirely removed during the Japanese occupation, leaving the concrete risers exposed and damaged.

This snapshot of Rizal Stadium (ca. 1945-46) shows the home plate entrance of the ballpark with a Jeep parked in front (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In a matter of weeks, Rizal Memorial Stadium underwent a dramatic transformation as the GIs and local citizens worked diligently to bring baseball back to the diamond. The monumental tasks of clearing booby-traps and more than 800 landmines, removing the enemy dead, filling bomb craters and tank tracks in the field and clearing debris took weeks while the men reformed their unit teams and prepared to reintroduce baseball to the once venerable venue.

A soldier captured game action at Rizal Stadium from behind the screen. Though poorly exposed, this photo shows the large centerfield scoreboard that survived the battle at the ballpark (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

“The crack of willow against horsehide is being heard again in the heart of Manila.” wrote Russ Newland in his April 18 article, US Soldiers Play in Rizal Stadium, which appeared in the Rocky Mount Telegram. “American soldiers have brought baseball back to Rizal Stadium. Garrison troops are playing regular games before thousands of fans in what once was Manila’s most elaborate sports establishment.” Combat-worn troops had a sense of home as they watched games from the naked, battle-damaged, concrete grandstand tiers. Despite the absence of hot dog or beer vendors in the stands and the lack of flannel baseball uniforms worn on the field, the games were welcomed as if the men were seated at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for just a few hours. “The dugouts are black from flame throwers and chipped from shells,” Newland wrote. “Outfields are foreshortened by crumbled walls and Japanese bunkers. The former turf is now dirt, carefully rolled by the doughboys.”

Surviving the Japanese occupation and the 1945 battle at the stadium, the marker still remains to commemorate the ballpark’s first home run hit by Lou Gehrig (Press Photo).

Monuments to the legendary 1934 All-American game still existed as stated by Newland, “One sign notes the late Lou Gehrig hit the first and sixth homers near the right field foul line. Earl Averill knocked the third and fifth into right center.” The correspondent continued, “The home run records of Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx were erased by the war. The mark of the Japanese is still there, too – the occasional stench of dead entombed deep within the concrete stadium.” Newland concluded, “But baseball lives again in the Philippines.”

Led by Master Sergeant Hugh Mulcahy, the hard work of repairing the ballpark paid off as the “Horsehide Inaugural” was held at the beginning of May with games featuring major and minor leaguers, all veterans of the retaking of Manila. The field was dedicated to Colonel Rinaldo Coe, Eighth Army Headquarters Commandant, who was killed in action on February 3 in the Nasugbu region, 90 kilometers southwest of Manila.

Packed with servicemen, the grandstand at Rizal has had some rudimentary repairs to accommodate seating with slightly improved comfort. This photo was captured later in 1945 or early 1946 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The Horsehide Inaugural featured several teams playing before more than 6,000 troops seated on the concrete grandstand tiers. On hand for the first pitch was comedian Joe E. Brown, who spent the entire war entertaining troops and hosting fundraiser exhibition games to supply them with baseball and recreation equipment (see: A Passion for the Troops: Joe E. Brown’s All Pacific Recreation Fund and Service All-Stars Raising Funds on the Diamond for their Comrades in the Trenches). He was honored to participate. Rather than a ceremonial toss to a catcher, Brown faced an honorary batter in the 8th Army’s commanding officer, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, who struck out laughing. Receiving Brown’s pitches was Eighth Army chief of staff, Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers. The opening game featured the Eighth Army Chicks, who handily downed a team from the Signal Corps by a score of 11-4. Leading from the bench, Hugh Mulcahy had been sidelined following an injury to his back that was strained as he “worked so hard getting the diamond ready,” reported by war correspondent, Richard C. Bergholz, in the wire story, Joe E. Brown Is Starter as Leyte Ball Season On, carried by the Pomona Press on May 4, 1945. The game saw former St. Louis Cardinal and Chicks outfielder Erv Dusak score two of the 11 runs with his 2-4 plate performance. Dusak’s teammate, former Louisville Colonels first baseman George Byam, was not outmatched. He had a 4-5 day at the plate, scoring four runs.

A clipping from the May 1, 1945 New York Daily News, Shows Eddie Waitkus dressed in a t-shirt, fatigue trousers and combat boots at bat in the battered Rizal Stadium in Manila. Notes the pockmark-damage in the concrete along the first base grandstand face.

Perhaps one of the most notable Associated Press images captured during the initial games played at Rizal Stadium in the early spring of 1945 shows former Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs first baseman, Sergeant Eddie Waitkus, bedecked in a t-shirt, fatigue trousers and boots, at bat in Rizal Stadium. Waitkus, a combat veteran attached to the 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment (E.B. & S.R.), 4th Engineer Special Brigade, fought at Bougainville and participated in the amphibious assault at Morotai before fighting on Luzon at Lingayen. He earned four campaign stars for his Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal and his Combat Infantryman Badge. After the fighting in Manila, Eddie was tapped for diamond duties with the 544th E.B. and S.R. squad at Rizal Stadium. In a letter written on the back of a program/scorecard, now housed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, Sergeant Waitkus touched on a few details surrounding the game as well as his encounter with former Philadelphia Philly Morrie Arnovich, who spent the first few years of the war as a player-manager of the Fort Lewis Warriors (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move).

“Dear Jim,

Here’s the game I spoke of. We got beat, but I got 3 for four and had a good day. Ran into Morrie Arnovich here. If we don’t move out, we’re playing his team soon. It’s supposed to have been the first game played here since the Japs came about three years ago.

It was swell to play again, and we’ll have plenty of baseball for a while at least.

Eddie

The guy that pitched against us was a left hander Cincinnati had at Syracuse. Pretty good boy. 544th E.B. and S.R. vs. 145th INFANTRY 37th DIV.”

Handwritten note from Eddie Waitkus. Source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

The press photo of Waitkus captured game action as the 544th faced Corporal Joe Batcha’s 145th squad. Due to his unit’s operational pace, Waitkus had little time for baseball. However, following the retaking of Manila, he was finally able to play. Batcha’s team proved to be too much for Waitkus despite his 1-3 batting performance.

In the shadow of the heavily-damaged grandstand of Rizal Stadium, former Jeddo Stars slugging catcher, Sergeant Joe Batcha swings at a pitch for the 145th Infantry Barracudas as they face Eddie Waitkus’ 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment. The caption slug on the reverse reads, “April 1, 1945 – Manila, Philippines: Having captured the ballpark (Rizal Stadium) during battle for Manila, troops of the 37th Division put on first game of organized baseball since re-capture of the city. Catcher Batcha, former Los Angeles diamond star, now with the 145th Infantry of the 37th Division, connects with a fast one. The 544th Engineers opposed the 145th in the game which featured many former ball stars now in service.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Regarding the game, our research trail went cold and left us without a box score, players for either team or game details. In reaching out to Claudette Scrafford, Manuscript Archivist at the Hall of Fame, we were hopeful to obtain a scan of the interior of the scorecard in search of further information. Disappointment set in when Ms. Scrafford informed us that the reverse side was blank. It seems that the scorecard internals were not donated along with the cover and handwritten letter. Despite the roadblock that we encountered regarding the game at Rizal, Batcha’s trail extended well-beyond the war. Just weeks after the Japanese surrender, Batcha was sent back to the U.S. mainland, arriving from the Philippines on October 3. He was sent to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, where he was discharged on October 19. After more than three years of service, much of it in heavy combat, Batcha picked up where he left off with the Jeddo Stars.

The Jeddo Stars’ teams of 1947 and 1948 were, according to a retrospective of the team in the July 7, 2013 Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA), “could rival class D, C and B minor league teams,” wrote Sam Matta. “When the Stars took to the field, as many as 5,000 fans came to watch.” It was the dominant team in the Anthracite League and built a 32-game winning streak from 1946 into 1948. During the war, with most of the Stars’ players away serving in the armed forces, the Jeddo team faced a two-game home and away series against the 1945 Sampson Naval Training Station team that featured major leaguers such as Mickey Owen, Tony Ravish, Tony Lupien, Jim Konstanty and Clem Dreiseward. Sampson handily won both games.

Prompted by the acquisition of a seemingly insignificant photo with a very faint caption slug on the reverse, we were inspired  to identify the one player, the batter, listed only by his last name (“Batcha”) and incorrectly associated, as we learned, with baseball in Los Angeles. Shining a light on the average GI who served in combat with distinction during World War II and who established himself on the diamond for his unit and comrades is one of the greatest aspects of what we do with Chevrons and Diamonds.  For every star of the major leagues who served, there were countless average Joes who served on the field of battle. A handful of them found themselves playing the game alongside their pre-war baseball heroes.

 

*Private First Class Graham Thomas Dilday, Sr, was killed in action on April 12, 1945 near Baguio during the Luzon Campaign. In details provided by his son, Tom Dilday, Jr., PFC Dilday was serving as the lead scout for 3rd Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion, 145th Regiment during an assault on enemy positions on Mt. Pacawagan. While moving forward on the mountain, Dilday was struck in his chest by fire from a Japanese machine gun nest. According to Dilday’s son, his father, “though mortally wounded, managed to throw several grenades toward the enemy and succeeded in eliminating the machine gun nest.” wrote Dilday, Jr. “By the time his platoon reached him he had died with his hand still clutching a grenade.”

At an Army Day observance on April 7 1946 at Camp Lee, Virginia, PFC G. Thomas Dilday, Sr. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for his actions on Mt. Pacawagan. Brigadier General George A. Horkan pinned the Silver Star Medal on the soldier’s three-year-old son.

“Private Dilday, while in the process of moving forward to locate an enemy position on Mt. Pacawagan, was seriously wounded by a burst of enemy fire. Despite a badly bleeding chest wound he edged within 10 yards of the Japanese bunker. Mustering his quickly diminishing strength, Private Dilday threw two hand grenades at the enemy emplacement, one of which successfully neutralized the bunker. Seven enemy dead were later counted.

Private Dilday’s display of extreme courage at the cost of his life reduced a strong obstacle to the advance of his platoon and the company.”

His Best Baseball Seasons While Serving: Bobby Hornig’s Unrealized Potential as a Pro

Researching local service team baseball history is a task that has been put off for years with the justification that it should be relatively easy to draw upon area sources and institutions in such an effort.  With much of our research work being focused upon baseball in wartime combat theaters such as Europe and the Pacific along with the more well-known domestic service teams, our local area has been an afterthought, save for a few pieces researched and published in recent months

As our research continues for several projects surrounding a handful of artifacts, we continue to make new discoveries. The discovery of one treasure seems to lead to others.

While researching our piece detailing Lefty Chambers, Tony Saso and Bill Brenner, another player’s name was continually surfacing. After several occasions of viewing the name Bobby Hornig, we were prompted to perform a cursory check on the player’s profile (on Baseball Reference), which revealed that he was a local product and played for regional ball clubs. Shortly after the publication of the Chambers, Saso and Brenner article, Hornig’s name surfaced again during a vintage photo search. This time there was a face to go with his name. Without much thought, we made arrangements to acquire the photo of Bobby Hornig, thinking that the player was captured during his time as pro ball player. It wasn’t until the photo arrived that we saw the service team details in the image.  Other than the snippets we had discovered, we had no knowledge of who Hornig was as a man or as a baseball player.

Bobby Hornig, formerly of the Tacoma Tigers, Spokane Hawks/Indians and Salem Senators of the Western International League, August 3, 1942 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the Seattle Times’ May 19, 2003 article, “Bob Hornig, local baseball-outfield star, dies at 87,” reporter Emily Heffter described Hornig as an All-City baseball star while attending Seattle’s Queen Anne High School. The Tacoma, Washington-born Hornig graduated in 1935, turning down a college scholarship to remain close to his (then) girlfriend, Ruth Totten.  Prior to his 21st birthday, Hornig signed his first professional baseball contract with the class “B” Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League (WIL) in March of 1937, playing with the club for manager Hollis “Sloppy” Thurston until June of that season when he was released. The speedy, hard-hitting outfielder was promptly signed by the cross-state rival Spokane Hawks, where he starred in the outfield and was among the league’s top hitters. Heffter’s piece regarding Hornig mentioned some of the newspaper accolades during his time with the Hawks, calling him the “speedburner with lots of class.”

Fascinated by the glowing review of Hornig’s play in the minor leagues, questions began to arise as to why he never progressed during his brief career (1937-1941) that was played entirely in the WIL. With several articles published during his career documenting his batting and fielding as being among the league’s best, Hornig seemed to be primed to move upwards in the game, if not to the major leagues, then at least to the upper minor leagues. Injuries have always been a part of the game and Hornig suffered what appears to be more than a normal number of them, though they didn’t seem to slow him down once he was back on the diamond. Instead of a series of injuries, another trend appeared to emerge in his professional career that, at least on the surface, contributed to the abrupt end of it.

Almost from the beginning of his tenure with Spokane in 1937, Hornig gave his manager cause to discipline him. Having signed with the team on June 16, just a week later manager Bernie DeViveiros suspended Hornig for going AWOL when the youngster left the team to spend time with his parents in Seattle. Following reinstatement, Hornig was on track and among the top hitters in the league and by late August, he was batting .297 (in 90 games with 392 plate appearances).

Bobby Hornig was spotlighted in the June 26, 1943 edition of the Spokane Chronicle (clipping, Newspapers.com)

On September 13, 1937, the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks visited Spokane for their last game of the season. The roster of the Yankee affiliate was filled with past and future major leaguers along with stars of the Coast League such as Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Pinky May, Hal Haid and Billy Raimondi. On the mound for the Hawks was Leo Fitter. whose spotty career spanned 13 seasons (1926-1938) but who had only six professional years to his credit. Fitter was opposed by 21-year-old Nick Radunich, who was just getting his career started. Hornig got the offense started in the bottom of the first inning, reaching base on an error and then using his speed to score from first on single by Joe Abreu, putting the Hawks on top by a run. In the third, Oakland plated three runs, putting the Hawks down by two. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Hornig knocked a double off Radunich and was driven in on a single by Frank Volpi. The Oaks won the game, 3-2, but Hornig accounted for all of the Hawks’ runs while facing a much more experienced and talented team. Despite the way his season commenced with Spokane in 1937, his showing against the league was punctuated by his performance against the Oaks at the close of it.

The 1938 season should have been a year of moving upward for Hornig and apparently he saw his 1937 success as grounds for an increase in salary with Spokane. Rather than signing his contract after the new year began, he returned it without a signature and demanded higher compensation. His contract holdout lasted into April but he did report to camp with acceptable contract terms. Hornig’s season did not start well. He struggled at the plate and saw some defensive woes that included a May 10 three-error game. On June 6, he suffered a broken bone in his ankle that sidelined him through the end of August. Along with being out of the line-up due to an injury, Hornig was again suspended by DeViveiros for an undisclosed infraction. Just as the 1938 season was winding down, Hornig returned to the lineup on August 31, though too late to help Spokane climb in the standings.

Troubles continued to follow Bobby Hornig in 1939. At spring training in Anaheim, California, progressed, Hornig was experiencing difficulties with the ankle that he had injured in June of the previous season. His speed in the outfield and on the base paths escaped him and manager DeViveiros ordered him to take it easy , sending him back to Spokane for rest. During an April pre-season game against Washington State College, Hornig injured one of his big toes. Despite his physical challenges, Hornig’s bat returned to form and he found his .290 batting average ranked fourth on the Spokane roster behind Dwight Aden (.386), Theodore Clawitter (.333) and Levi McCormack (.304). Hornig was also leading the WIL in sacrifices (14) and was ranked third with stolen bases (21) by the last week of July.

In June, Hornig married his high school sweetheart, Ruth H. Totten, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. According to the 2003 Seattle Times article, Hornig’s future bride resided across the street from a ball field in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.  Ruth would walk her dog through the park “trying to get noticed” by the boys (including Hornig) playing baseball. Bobby did notice her and they dated throughout high school.

In her article, Times reporter Emily Heffter quotes Hornig’s widow, Ruth, as she commented about her husband’s baseball career. “He could have made it in the ‘big leagues,’” Ruth Hornig said, but “romance interfered with him, I think.” Perhaps his romantic life was behind some of his challenges in baseball. Just a few weeks after his wedding, Hornig was again suspended by Spokane and removed from the team’s roster entirely. In need of consistency, new manager Eddie Leishman (DeViveiros was fired on July 3 due to developing friction with the team’s business manager), recently promoted from the class “C” Twin Falls Cowboys (Pioneer League), called up 37-year-old former major league veteran Wes “Two Gun” Schulmerich, who was previously playing for him at Twin Falls. According to articles in the Spokane Spokesman Review between July 27-29, Hornig was refusing his assignment and faced being declared ineligible to play professional baseball that season. Three days after suspending Hornig, Spokane owner Bill Ulrich delivered an ultimatum, directing the outfielder to report to Twin Falls in seven days. Ulrich guaranteed the player’s salary at Twin Falls, stating that despite the Pioneer League rules limiting pay, he would provide Hornig with a bonus to make up the difference. Ulrich also offered Hornig a chance to work his way back to the Hawks’ roster. Hornig was instead hoping to obtain his release from the club in an attempt to sign with another Western International League team and did not comply with the reassignment.

Out of baseball since late July, 1939, and without a 1940 season contract, Hornig remained the property of the Spokane Hawks due to baseball’s Reserve Clause and in mid-February sought a return to the game. He sent a letter to the club requesting reinstatement. Hornig’s exit from the game seemingly burned bridges with the team’s field manager, Leishman, who criticized the fallen outfielder as being more interested in his paycheck than the game itself. Such a trait was directly at odds with Leishman’s managerial style. On March 23, Spokane began shopping Hornig following the player’s month-long contract holdout.  The outfielder dispatched a letter to the club requesting a salary increase or his release, despite being reinstated by Spokane in February at his request. Branded a “problem child” by the Spokane Chronicle, the Hawks unsuccessfully shopped Hornig to other Western International League clubs, prompting Hornig to apply for voluntary retirement.  In Hornig’s letter to the club he stated that he was considering giving up baseball in favor of a job in Seattle that would provide a better income than he was getting playing the game. His 1940 season was finished before it ever got started and at this point, his baseball career appeared to have ended.

Despite his injuries and disciplinary challenges, the 24-year-old outfielder still had a lot of baseball left in him. Ahead of the 1941 season’s spring training, Hornig again sent a mid-February letter to the Spokane Hawks team and to Judge William G. Branham, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, seeking reinstatement. Spokane was required to tender a professional baseball contract following reinstatement but they had no plans beyond evaluating Hornig’s viability for the 1941 season. With the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 affecting baseball clubs at all levels, the Hawks, like all other clubs, were in need of players. The Hawks’ management determined that if Hornig was not a good fit for Spokane, he could have value to other Western International League clubs. Instead of accepting the terms of his contract, Hornig infuriated team management with another holdout. Spokane eventually found a taker in the league and dealt Hornig to the Salem (Oregon) Senators. Having appeared in only four games for Salem since his trade, Hornig was granted his outright release.  His professional baseball career was over.

The Pacific Coast League featured talent drawn from the sandlots, high schools, colleges and semi-professional teams within the neighborhoods surrounding each franchise. With the popularity of the hometown Seattle Rainiers (a founding club of the league) and the game itself, it is no wonder that the region incubated some of the best talent, such as Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Charley Schanz, Mike Budnick, Don White, Levi McCormack and Edo Vanni all of whom saw time in the Coast League. Lower minor leagues such as the Western International and Pioneer leagues farmed talent almost exclusively from their own backyards. During his time as a professional, Hornig played alongside or against some of these men. After December 7, 1941, baseball changed and Hornig’s baseball fortunes were about to change.

After being released by Salem, Hornig went to work operating a printing press for Tacoma-based Pioneer, Inc. and supported his wife. Hornig was working not too far from where his baseball career began with the Tacoma Tigers. His post-season occupation in 1941 became his post-baseball occupation. With the U.S. drawn into the war with Japan and Germany, there was no doubt that Hornig would be called to duty at some point, having registered for the draft in October of 1940. Rather than making another attempt at a baseball career, Hornig instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 18, 1942, as a Seaman 1/c in the V-6 program (Naval Reserve) and was assigned to Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point.

In addition to NAS Seattle/Pasco’s Edo Vanni, the 1941 Seattle Rainiers squad had several players who served during the War. Shown are (front row, left to right): Al Niemic, Ned Stickle, Edo Vanni, Jo-Jo White, Bill Skiff (manger), Taylor, Lynn King, Dick Barrett, Spence Harris. Middle row: Richards (trainer), Charles Fallon, Hal Turpin, George Farrell, Earl Averill, Les Scarsella, Ed Cole, Lloyd Brown, Bill Matheson. Back row: Paul Gregory, Boze Berger, Costello, Dewey Soriano, Bill Lawrence, Les Webber, Bob Collins, Ira Scribner, Syl Johnson. Seated:  Jimmy Arcorace, bat boy (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

It was known that former major league great and manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane, was known for reaching out to his fellow major leaguers to recruit them for wartime naval service and the potential to play for his team. Perhaps this happened in Seattle as former Rainier star Edo Vanni was designated as the manager or the Naval Air Station (NAS) Seattle “Flyers” baseball team in early 1942. Vanni enlisted on February 11, 1942, as a seaman first class and was attached to the U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base command at Naval Air Station Seattle (located at Sand Point). In a similar fashion to Mickey Cochrane at Great Lakes, Vanni began building a baseball team of former professionals who enlisted in the local Puget Sound region. With players from the Pacific Coast League (Hollywood, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle), Western International League (Lewiston, Spokane, and Tacoma) and from Augusta, Mobile, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Tucson, Tulsa and Winston-Salem, a former professional baseball player filled all but one NAS Seattle Flyer roster spot. One of Vanni’s Flyer outfielders was “Chief” Levi McCormack, his former teammate with the 1938 Seattle Rainiers. McCormack had also been in the Spokane Hawks’ outfield with Hornig, and thus he might have   been a factor in Hornig landing a roster spot. Two years his junior, Vanni most likely remembered Hornig from their time together at Queen Anne High School.

1942 Naval Air Station Seattle/Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Bob Alf (NWL)
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
S1/c Francis J. Bellows SS Spokane (WIL)
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar 1B/OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig OF Spokane (WIL)
Paul Irvin LHP Portland (PCL)
Bob Kahle 3B Hollywood (PCL)
Henry Martinez 3B/2B Portland (PCL)
S1/c “Chief” Levi McCormack OF/P Spokane (WIL)
Elmer “Ole” Olsen OF Bakersfield (CALL)
Ens. Kenneth Peters Coach/2B Mobile (SL)
Stan Riedle C Lewiston (WIL)
Barney Saffle Semi-Pro
Rube Sandstrom P Tacoma (WIL)
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone OF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Joe Spadafore 1B Tacoma (WIL)
Harvey Storey OF Tulsa (TL)
S1/c Edo Vanni Mgr/ OF/P Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF San Francisco (PCL)
Al Wright 2B Portland (PCL)

With the 1942 season well underway for the Northwest Region, NAS Seattle began to emerge as the league leader. The Flyers dominated the competition by breaking out with a 25-game win streak. It cemented them for the post-season by placing them out in front as the team to beat.  Not only did the Flyers face service teams such as Coast Guard Repair Yard Seattle, Fort Lewis Warriors and McChord Bombers, they matched up against professional clubs such as the Tacoma Tigers and Spokane Chiefs (WIL) and the San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers (PCL). On Sunday, July 12, the Flyers’ 25-game win streak was halted when they were downed 7-6 by the hometown Seattle Rainiers, who were on their way to securing their third consecutive Pacific Coast League crown. No doubt seeking to outperform his former team, NAS Seattle Flyers’ manager Edo Vanni, a member of the Rainiers championship clubs in 1940 and ’41, was managing from the visitor’s dugout. Vanni was joined by “Chief” Levi McCormack, who began his professional career with the Seattle club in 1936 when they were still named “Indians.” McCormack’s moniker, which today would seem to be derogatory, was truly fitting considering the former Washington State Cougar player was actually Nez Perce Indian royalty:

You ball fans have become accustomed to calling Levi, “Chief” McCormick,” said Abel Grant, uncle of the ball star, yesterday. “While you are referring to him with that title, you fans don’t know how true the appellation is. Levi is my nephew, a son of my sister. His father is a direct descendant of Chief Timothy of the Nez Perces, one of the best friends of the early white settlers. On his mother’s side he is a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, in fact Levi is a member of the fourth generation descended from the old chief. He goes to the Coast league with our best wishes.” – Lewiston Morning Tribune, Monday, July 20, 1936

The Flyers were in control of the 1942 season with pitching and offense.  Through July, the Flyers team batting average was .406, led by outfielder Edo Vanni (.516) first baseman Danny Escobar (.482), second baseman Mel Cole (.470), catcher Steve Ananicz (.435), outfielders Bobby Hornig (.425) Levi McCormack (.425), shortstop Francis Bellows (.410), and third baseman Don White (.406).

In early August, the Navy packed up and relocated the entire Naval Air Station Seattle Flyers squad 220 miles southeast to the small town of Pasco, Washington, to be based at the newly commissioned Naval Air Station situated at the Pasco Airport (known today as the Tri-Cities Airport). The move and added travel distance to away games on the west side of the Cascades didn’t diminish their abilities. Later that month, the Seattle Rainiers hosted the Flyers for a fund-raising exhibition game to outfit the sailors with athletic equipment at their new station.

At the end of the 1942 season, two teams were standing at the top of the Northwest Service League and vying for the title. In the best of three series scheduled to be played at Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle (if necessary), the NAS Pasco Flyers were set to face the Warriors of Fort Lewis, led by former major leaguer, Morrie Arnovich.  Game one turned out to be an offensive showdown with a game-winning home run by McCormack to cap the 11-8 victory. The second game turned out to be the decider as Vanni started John Bittner, who pitched a nine-inning, 7-hit shutout against the Warriors. All but two of the 10 Flyers batters managed hits against Fort Lewis’ former Vancouver Capilanos (WIL) pitcher and Tacoma native, Cy Greenlaw. Bobby Hornig spelled starting right fielder Don White in the eighth inning, copped a base hit and made a spectacular running catch in the top of the ninth to rob Arnovich of his third hit of the game. With the 8-0 win, the Flyers claimed the first Northwest Service League championship.

With the NAS Pasco Flyers’ roster relatively unchanged, there was no reason to expect anything different from the 1942 season to 1943. The addition of local pitching product and veteran of the Spokane Indians (WIL) and Seattle Rainiers, Mike Budnick, helped the Flyers to resume their dominance from the previous season. “Pasco’s club is generally rated as one of the toughest service aggregations in the west,” the Spokane Spokesman Review published June 24, 1943, “and has been dumping some of the best teams available this year including the San Diego Padres (PCL). On June 6, the Flyers downed the Ephrata Army Air Base team, 21-2. The “fleet-footed” Bobby Hornig was the subject of a Spokane Chronicle feature touting his return to the area’s Ferris Field as the Flyers visited to take on the Army’s Geiger Field Indians. He was clearly a favorite of the local fans.

1943 Naval Air Station Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
 Baker RF
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mike Budnick P Seattle (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
Marv Harshman 1B PLU
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig CF Spokane (WIL)
Bob Kahle IF Hollywood (PCL)
Matry Martinez 2B Spokane (WIL)
“Chief” Levi McCormack OF Spokane (WIL)
 Pesky P
Ens. Ken Peters OIC Cardinals
 Peters 2B
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone RF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Harvey Storey SS Tulsa (TL)
Edo Vanni OF/MGR Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF/3B WIL/PCL

Pasco was unmatched in the A.W.O.L. league as the Flyers dispatched the competition with relative ease. On June 30, former Hollywood Stars pitcher Fred Gay pitched as the club administered a 12-2 drubbing of an Army All-Star team in Walla Walla. For Independence Day, Pasco faced a hand-picked squad of the region’s top Army ball players, led by former Browns, White Sox and Athletics pitcher, Camp Adair’s Sergeant Jack Knott (up from the Corvallis, Oregon Army base), at the Seattle Rainiers’ home field, Sick’s Stadium, dropping them 3-1. Pasco posed fierce competition to professional clubs.

The Pasco Flyers were steamrolling the competition in their league and in the region. By July 9, the team had a two-season combined record of 62-7. The war was still progressing and the needs of the Navy intervened, ending the Pasco Flyer’s 1943 campaign. The order was immediate and the players were reassigned to various naval units to prepare for sea service duties and to vacate base facilities as NAS Pasco was being transformed into a naval station predominantly for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service).

Many of the Pasco Flyers saw overseas duty. “Hunk” Anderson saw action in the Philippines. Chief Levi McCormack served in the South Pacific. Manager Edo Vanni was sent to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where he played centerfield for another “Flyers” team (along with his former Pasco pitcher, Johnny Bittner) before completing his Navy career playing for the Hellcats of the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  After a stint with the Bainbridge Naval Training Station Commodores   baseball team,  Mike Budnick found his way to Hawaii and was tagged by Bill Dickey to join the 1945 Western Pacific baseball tour, playing with such stars as Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, Barney McCosky, Elbie Fletcher, Joe Grace, Johnny Vander Meer, Virgil Trucks, Al Brancato and Mickey Vernon.

According to Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter’s article, Bobby Hornig was reassigned to the South Pacific and served “as a picket-boat commander from 1941-1945.” With the reporter’s dates being inaccurate, the potential exists for other inaccuracies surrounding Hornig’s post -NAS Pasco duty assignment. Unfortunately, research sources could not be located to pinpoint Hornig’s service from July of 1943 until the end of the war.

Following the Japanese surrender and VJ-Day, troops began to return to the States to be separated from the service. With all of the adaptations, adjustments and roster moves that occurred within the major and minor leagues, the returning ballplayers had some guarantees for earning their positions back but were faced with new challenges in resuming their baseball careers. For men like Hornig who had already retired well before the United States’ entry into the war, there were no guarantees. Hornig returned home with baseball behind him. His professional baseball career was behind him as he pursued a worthwhile career with Pacific Bell instead.

However, in 1946 baseball turned tragic for some of Hornig’s former NAS Pasco teammates and for his former professional club, the Spokane Indians. In the worst accident in professional baseball history, eight members of the Spokane team were killed, including the team’s manager, Mel Cole (who played second base and caught for the NAS Pasco Flyers), when their team bus was sideswiped by an oncoming sedan four miles west of Snoqualmie Pass summit. The bus rolled 350 feet down the mountainside, ejecting many of the men before resting on a large rock outcropping, where the vehicle caught fire. Five of the eight players perished at the scene. Hornig’s Spokane and Navy teammate, “Chief” Levi McCormack, was injured but survived.

 

See: Wayback Machine: Baseball Hero Pride of Nez Perce

George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian

In the waning days of July, 1945, the baseball competition on two islands of the Northern Marianas was heating up. Teams on Saipan and Tinian had been in the Western Pacific for a short time as part of the Army’s plan to provide the men, who were bringing the fight to the Japanese home islands, relief from the heavily-taxing operational pace.  With the caliber of both players and on-field play drew significant crowds despite the presence of some of the game’s best players actively serving as airmen beyond the foul lines.

Sunday, July 29, 1945 – Tinian Island. Former St. Louis Browns’s first baseman, Chuck Stevens, now playing for the 58th Bombardment Wing’s “Wingmen” is at bat. Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

Former Red Sox pitcher, Cecil “Tex” Hughson stationed on Saipan after a few seasons playing for the Waco Army Flying School Wolves team,  wrote an August 2, 1945 letter to Joe Cronin, his Boston manager, providing and update as to the baseball activities, “We were divided into three teams.” Hughson wrote,” and the other two teams are on Tinian now, but one is to go to Guam as soon as they have accommodations for them there.” Joining Hughson on the Saipan squad was Sid Hudson (Senators), Mike McCormick (Reds) Taft Wright and Dario Lodigiani (both of the White Sox), recently shipped from Hawaii. The three teams that largely consisted of major leaguers were the 58th Bombing Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombing Wing “Bombers” and 313th Bombing Wing “Flyers.”

The 58th Wing’s roster featured several major leaguers (including two future Cooperstown enshrinees) augmented by a handful of minor leaguers and at least one service member without professional baseball experience. The 58th’s manager, Captain George R. “Birdie” Tebbets who also served as the team’s catcher, spent the 1943 and 1944 seasons in the same capacity with the Waco Army Flying School (at Rich Field Army Air Base) where he led that team to a record of 88-16 competing largely against service and semi-professional ballclubs. In that span of time, the WAFS Wolves captured both the Texas State Semi-Pro and Houston Service League championships in consecutive seasons.

A flight of B-29 heavy bombers from the 73rd Bombing Wing (500th Bomb Group/881st Bomb Squadron) on a mission over Japan. The aircraft in the center of this photo was named, “Sna pe Fort” (pronounced “snappy fort”). Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

Aside from playing baseball, these men could be found working as ground crew, maintainers, armorers or in other support capacities including instructing and leading in physical fitness training.  Flights of B-29 heavy bombers would depart for General Curtis LeMay’s low-altitude bombing missions on enemy targets on the Japanese home islands, often returning with heavy damage and crew casualties sustained by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and fighters. All too often, the damage (to some aircraft) was so severe that attempted landings produced deadly results with fiery runway crashes or ditching in the waters near shore.  The men on the ground, including former major and minor league ballplayers now serving and playing on these rosters, rushed to the scenes to extinguish fires and extract the wounded and dead. In the hours following these duties, the games would go on to divert attention from the carnage in order to help flight crews to maintain readiness in order to continue with subsequent missions, despite the losses. Life on the Northern Marianas was dangerous business.

Tibbets and Tebbetts; the careers of two men with similar-sounding names, followed vastly different paths, intersected on a tiny island in the western Pacific roughly 1,500 miles south of Tokyo. Though confirmation has not been found, it is possible, if not unreasonable to consider that the two U.S. Army Air Forces officers met in the summer of 1945 on the either of the two inhabited Northern Marianas group.  Paul Tibbets, a fixture on the islands since his B-29 squadron arrived on Tinian in late May of 1945, was part of the command structure and, if he was a baseball fan as most American young men were, would have taken an interest in the arrival of the some of the game’s biggest stars who were serving in the Army Air Forces.

On August 17, 1942, Captain Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr., recently named as the commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron of the 97th Bombardment Group (flying the B-17D “Flying Fortress”) climbed into the left seat of the heavy bomber Butcher Shop as he prepared to lead the first American daylight heavy bomber mission, a shallow-penetration raid against a marshaling yard in the German Occupied town of Rouen, France, the first of his 25 combat missions while flying as part of the famous Eighth Air Force.

Five days later, on August 22, 1942, 29-year-old George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts reported for training in the United States Army Air Forces. The philosophy major and 1934 graduate of Providence College was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces as he began training at Rich Field in Waco, Texas. By spring of 1943, Tebbets, nicknamed “Birdie” as a child by an aunt who thought his (then) distinctive voice resembled the sound of chirping birds, assumed the management of the air base’s baseball team, the Waco Army Flying School “Wolves.” Lt. Tebbetts, drawing from new cadets and airmen, assembled a squad that consisted of former professional ballplayers who were either assigned to the Rich Field base or were aviation cadets, training in the base’s flight school.  During an early-May break between games, Tebbetts and a fellow Air Forces lieutenant took an Army plane from Waco to Lambert Field (St. Louis) to take in the St. Louis Browns game against the visiting Boston Red Sox. Lt. Tebbetts met with Boston manager Joe Cronin on the field and briefly enjoyed the feel of the game by catching during the Red Sox batting practice session before the start of the game.

1943 Waco Army Flying School Wolves

Rank Player Pos Former
Sgt. Jake Berger SS Utica
Cpl. Bob Birchfield 1B Opelousas/Port Arthur
Cpl. Bruce Campbell RF Tigers/Senators
Leroy Conrad
Ernest Dougherty
Pfc. Jack English OF Semi-Pro
Cpl. Walter “Hoot” Evers CF Tigers
Cpl. Sid Hudson P Senators
Pfc. Alfred Kasparek P Semi-Pro
Pvt. Michael Mandjack P Carthage
2nd Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills LF Indians
Ernie “Lefty” Nelson P
Pvt. Herb Nordquist P Toledo
Pvt. Mike Popovich C Amateur
Pvt. Nick Popovich P Waterloo
Bob Sherman
Sgt. Lester Stephens P Texarkana
Pvt. John “Nippy” Stewart SS New Iberia
Pvt. Bob Stone 3B Semi-Pro
2nd Lt. Birdie Tebbetts C Tigers
Cpl. Gilbert Turner OF Pensacola

Heading into May, Tebbetts’ Waco team was on a roll winning six straight game, demonstrating their formidability among the area service and semi-professional baseball leagues. During the six-game streak, the Waco Wolves prey included the Blackland Army Air Field Flying School, an Austin semi-pro squad as well as college teams from Texas A&M and the University of Texas.  Tebbetts’ Wolves dropped a three-game weekend series, splitting the Sunday, May 23rd double-header in front of a crowd of 5,000 with the Naval Air Technical Training Center “Skyjackets,” Norman, Oklahoma. The Skyjackets took the Saturday evening’s 10-inning duel 4-3. Waco defeated Norman in the early Sunday game 5-2 followed by the Naval Air team’s 4-3 victory to secure the series win. Tebbetts’ Wolves would return the favor in spades just a short time later, taking three from the Skyjackets to take the season series lead, four games to two.

Birdie Tebbetts flanked by two of his Waco Army Flying School teammates, Colonel “Buster” Mills (left) and Sid Hudson (right). Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.

The WAFS Wolves played their way into and won the Houston Post tournament as they defeated the Bayton Oilers on July 19 in the finals. The victory propelled the Wolves into the Texas Semi-Pro Championship Series in Waco, Texas which they secured.  In early August, Waco’s bats were silenced and their pitching was overpowered by the Texas Service League All-Stars, 7-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 5,000 at Tech Field in San Antonio. The All-Stars pitcher, David “Boo” Ferriss yielded a hit to Tebbetts but was otherwise dominant over the Waco batters for the final three-innings. The All-Stars’ Enos Slaughter led his team to victory, knocking a pair of hits and putting on a defensive clinic in the field.

Second Lieutenant Tebbetts played in 65 of Waco’s games, catching for a mixture of major and minor league pitchers. Birdie’s ace of the staff, Sid Hudson, was 17-1 for the WAFS team.  Hudson, not respecting of Army ranks on the diamond, would often shake off his catching manager’s signs. “This monkey gave me the most beautiful double-cross the other day that I have ever seen.” He regaled to the Sporting News, “I signaled for a curve ball and he threw a helluva fastball that hit me between the eyes so hard it knocked me down!”

On September 5, while facing Fort Worth Army Airfield, Nick Popovich pitched a four-hit, 5-1 performance to secure their ninth consecutive and 49th victory of the season. Closing out the 1943 season, Tebbett’s Waco Wolves secured the Houston Post (service league) and area semi-pro championships for the 1943 season. With his first year serving the Army Air Forces, George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts was promoted to First Lieutenant.

1944 Waco Army Flying School Wolves

Rank Player Pos Former
Red Barkley SS Dodgers
Red Barteson
Lou Batterson 3B
Ernest Dougherty
Pfc. Jack English OF Semi-Pro
Cpl. Walter “Hoot” Evers CF Tigers
Cpl. Sid Hudson P Senators
Pfc. Alfred Kasparek P Semi-Pro
Walter Lanfranconi Cubs
Pvt. Michael Mandjack P Carthage
L.D. Meyer
2nd Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills LF Indians
Ernie “Lefty” Nelson P Stockton
Pvt. Herb Nordquist P Toledo
Pat Padgett 2B
Pat Patterson 2B
Pvt. Mike  Popovich C Amateur
Pvt. Nick Popovich P Waterloo
Frank Schneider P
Sgt. Lester Stephens P Texarkana
Pvt. Bob Stone 3B Semi-Pro
1st Lt. Birdie Tebbetts C Tigers
Cpl. Gilbert Turner OF Pensacola
Lou Wannamacher IF

In the Waco Army Flying School’s 1944 baseball season, the Wolves picked up where they left off in 1943. By July, the Wolves were streaking through their competition, winning their 11th of 12 games as pitcher Herb Nordquist stymied the South Coast All-Stars in a 4-0 shutout. Three of Waco’s four runs were knocked in by “Hoot” Evers as he stroked two singles and a double. Evers accounted for the fourth run, scoring from first on a Gil Turner single. Prior to the game start of the game, Birdie Tebbetts sustained a broken toe while warming up a Waco pitcher. This injury kept him sidelined for both Waco and his regular Army duties (which kept him from deploying overseas). The Wolves suffered another blow to their roster as Lt. Buster Mills was transferred to serve as a physical training officer at Aloe Army Airfield in Victoria, Texas following his tenth-inning walk-off homerun against the Karlen Brothers team (in Dallas, Texas) on June 30th which at that time, was the Wolves’ fourteenth consecutive win.

Though they continued to win, Tebbetts’ club suffered yet another loss as his pitching ace, Corporal Sid Hudson, former Washington Senator, was suffering severe soreness to his pitching arm. When reports (that Hudson would never pitch again) reached his owner, Clark Griffith the news was unsettling considering that when the war was over, his staff anchor (40-47, 4.13 ERA, 276 Ks) would not be returning. However, Hudson would deny the injury’s severity mentioned in the early-July-1944 report stating that his arm “never felt better,” despite his considerable reduction in innings pitched for the Wolves (limited to a total of 24 by the end of July).

The hits to the Wolves’ roster were apparent as Waco lost its fourth consecutive in the last week of July at the hands of the Fort Worth Army Air Field nine, 4-0. In the ninth inning, the Wolves left the bases loaded as Fort Worth’s Lefty Fries set down Gil Turner and Hoot Evers to secure the last two outs in relief of Andy Minshew. On July 30th, Sid Hudson made a triumphant return to Waco’s lineup in the Texas Semi-Pro tournament finals, securing the win over the 12th Armored Division when he went the distance, striking out 12 in the 1-0 victory.

For the August 20-September 4, 1944 Houston Post semi-pro tournament, the competition was stacking up in order to put for the best chance to take down the Waco Wolves and the Orange Boosters squad was assembled for that purpose. The Boosters were constructed of teams from the Orange Levingston Shipyards and Orange Consolidated Shipyards squads and augmented with players borrowed from Houston-area Army camp clubs. The Boosters were managed by Steve Mancuso (older brother of Gus and Frank) and featured pitcher Kirby Higbe (Camp Livingston, Louisiana), George Gill (Lake Charles, Louisiana Army Air Base), Wally Hebert, Les Fleming, Dixie Parsons and Steve Carter. The Orange Boosters’ attempts were for naught as the Waco club dispatched them on their way to the tournament’s title game against Fort Worth Army Airfield. Tebbett’s nine required all nine innings to secure their second consecutive championship overcoming a 6-5 deficit in the final frame with a two-run rally.

On August 20, the Waco squad rolled into San Antonio to face the Baytown Oilers but the much anticipated pitching match-up that would have seen Tex Hughson against Sid Hudson however heavy rains thwarted the contest until August 24. Hughson was ready to go for the Oilers but Tebbetts sent in Walter LaFranconi rather than his ace and his decision proved to be correct. While Waco roughed up Tex for 13 safeties, LaFranconi pitched a three-hit gem, securing the 6-1 victory.

Despite dropping a tournament 3-2 game to Camp Hulen (who took third place in the contest behind second place Baytown) in ten innings, the Wolves locked up their second consecutive Houston Post semi-professional title by defeating two of the area’s best pitchers in Baytown’s Hughson and Howie Pollet of Camp Hulen. Lt. “Buster” Mills locked up the tournament’s outstanding player award due to his strong defense and sure-hitting.

After the close of the 1944 season, the Waco squad saw the first of its post-championship departures as Nick Popovich was reassigned to Enid Army Flying School in Enid, Oklahoma. More changes were made to the roster ahead of Waco’s 1945 including the addition of Vernon Gilchrist from the Canal Zone team, and the loss of Corporal Bob Stone, whose play in the Houston Post semi-pro tournament earned him all-tournament honors in both 1943 and ’44. Ahead of Waco’s spring training, Tebbetts earned his second Army promotion donning his captain’s bars in late January, 1945 as he coached the base’s basketball team (former Detroit Tigers’ outfielder “Hoot” Evers starred on the team) to a league-leading 17-1 record.

As Captain Tebbetts and the Wolves were gearing up and training for the 1945 baseball season, the Waco squad was hit hard with their most detrimental roster changes since 1943. With a record of 22-1, pitching ace Sid Hudson received word that he was being transferred for overseas duty. Tebbetts wouldn’t have to concern himself with Hudson’s departure as the Wolves manager and part-time catcher departed with Hudson in mid-March.

Tebbetts’ tenure as the Waco manager was an unbridled success as he led the team to an 88-16 record with championships in both the Texas state semi-pro and Houston Post tournaments in back-to-back seasons.

Birdie arrived in Honolulu and was assigned to Hickam Field, assuming command of the “Bombers” baseball club, competing against other service teams on Oahu. At his disposal were former major leaguer pitchers such as Howie Pollet and Johnny Beazley who he was very familiar while managing against their respective clubs in the previous seasons. Third Baseman Bob Dillinger, a sure-hitting infielder in the Browns’ farm system carried a .305 average in his 1942 season at Toledo, his last professional assignment before joining the Army. Tebbetts’ Bombers roster was bolstered by the 1944 batting champ (of the Hawaii Leagues), former San Francisco Seals first baseman Ferris Fain.

Early in the Hawaiian season, nearly 1,000 local area youths ranging in ages 8-18 were the beneficiaries of Army Special Services fund-raising efforts (with much of the financial resources coming from Service Team games throughout the war years) that resulted in a large-scale baseball clinic that was led by Birdie Tebbetts. Birdie captured the attention of the future stars stating, “One purpose we are here is to show you what you need to become a ball player.” Birdie solicited help from other former professionals such as Billy Hitchcock, Stan Rojek, Dario Lodigiani, Johnny Sturm, Max West, Walter Judnich, Tex Hughson, Chubby Dean, Enos “Country” Slaughter along with members of his Hickam squad, Howie Pollet, Bob Dillinger and Ferris Fain.

In early July, Tebbetts was named to manage the American League All-Stars team consisting of Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The National League service all-stars squad, led by Billy Herman featured Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojack, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mick McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe. In just a few short weeks, the leadership of the USAAF, on the heels of the Navy’s successful morale-boosting baseball tour of the Pacific, assembled 48 former professional ballplayers and deployed them to the Marianas in an effort to provide the massive build-up of troops pouring onto the islands (as part of the massive strategic air bases being constructed) with a morale-boosting outlet.

Saipan, 1945: the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” pose before a game.
Back row (left to right): Hitchcock (Maj. Billy), Gill (George), Tebbetts (Birdie), Wertz (Vic), Lilly (Art), Kowalski (Ed), Marty (Joe), Layden (Pete)
Front row: Lang (Don), Slaughter (Enos), Stevens (Chuck), Pollet (Howie), Pitter (Roy), Burton, Gordon (Joe). Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

Upon arrival to Tinian, the group of 48 players was divided into three teams that were aligned with the subordinate commands that were part of Twentieth Air Force under the United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific (USASTAF). The men were divided into three teams, each of which was assigned to a parent 20th Air Force Bombardment Wing. The 313th “Flyers” squad (part of the XXI Bomber Command), led by Lew Riggs, was based on Tinian’s North Field. Grouped beneath the XX Bomber Command (at Saipan’s Isley Field) were the 73rd Wing “Bombers” captained by Buster Mills and Birdie Tebbetts’ 58th “Wingmen” who were based at Tinian’s West Field.

1945 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”

Player Position Former Club
Art Lilly IF Hollywood (PCL)
Bobby Adams 2B Syracuse (IL)
Chuck Stevens 1B Browns
Don Lang OF Kansas City (AA)
Enos Slaughter OF Cardinals
Joe Gordon SS Yankees
Birdie Tebbetts C/Mgr Tigers
Joe Marty OF Phillies
Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Chubby Dean P Indians
George Gill P Tigers/Browns
Ed Kowalski P Appleton (WISL)
Pete Layden OF None
Johnny Sturm 1B Yankees
Al Lang LF Reds
Tom Gabrielli C Pirates
Roy Pitter P Yankees
Vic Wertz CF Tigers

The USASTAF based on Saipan and Tinian consisted of the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands with three bombardment wings the 58th and 73rd (in the 20th) and the 313th (in the 21st). Each wing was comprised of multiple bombardment groups (40th, 444th, 462nd and 468th in the 58th; the 497th, 498th, 499th and 500th in the 73rd; 6th, 9th, 504th, 505th, 509th and 383rd in the 313th) with roughly four bombardment squadrons in each group. For these two bomber commands, there were approximately 30,000 men, not to mention the additional Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel also stationed on the islands.  Each of the baseball teams represented more than 10,000 Air Forces personnel when they took the field.

The extent of sports participation by servicemen in the Marianas is indicated by figures for one island which could appear almost fantastic. 

Captain J.S. McEntee, manager of “Sporting News,” weekly mimeographed paper published at the base, reports that the island has 65 baseball diamonds, 125 softball diamonds, 42 boxing arenas, 75 lighted basketball courts, 20 tennis courts, 3oo horseshoe pitching courts and 12 major size swimming beaches. For each of the baseball and softball diamonds are lighted. There are ten island baseball leagues.” – The Sporting News, June 28, 1945

The USAAF Marianas baseball competition was held in a three-team round-robin fashion with the tournament commencing on July 27, 1945 with Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen taking on Buster Mills’ 73rd. The 1944 Hawaiian League batting champ from the 7th AAF team, Ferris Fain secured the win for Tebbetts’ former Waco Wolves teammate’s new club, the 73rd Bombers by driving in the game-winning solo-homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning.

73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers”

Player Position
Stan Rojek SS
Ferris Fain 1B
Bob Dillinger 3B
Taft Wright OF
Mike McCormick OF
Buster Mills OF/Mgr
Charlie Silvera C
Dario Lodigiani IF
Tex Hughson P
Sid Hudson P
Frank Kahn P
Bill Schmidt P
Al Lein P
Johnny Mazur C
Bill Dudley Utility
Ralph Lamson IF

As the tournament continued, the operational pace of the B-29 missions over Japan with the low-level bombing runs continued. It wasn’t uncommon for a game to be played while the aircraft were away on a mission. The ballgame offered a few hours of relief from the tension and stress as the men on the ground awaited the return of squadron aircraft during their 15+hour missions, hopeful of all planes returning safely. However, hours after the final out of a game as the very heavy bombers were returning, ground personnel would count the number of plane and hope that those that did make it back could safely land, despite any damage received by enemy fighter aircraft or ground-fire. The landings were anything but guaranteed as some B-29s sustained damage that caused them to overshoot runways (ditching into the sea), crash, or erupt into flames due to damaged, smoldering engines.

For the ballplayers, their duties didn’t solely consist of playing games. Some of the men, such as Max West, served as ground crews facing dangerous and troubling situations when the aircraft returned from missions. “I saw some horrific crashes … and we on the ground crew would have to go in and, in all honesty, mop up the human carnage,“ stated West*. “One time I went in to help, we pulled out this pilot. I do not remember his name,” west continued, “but he had just flown all of us to Saipan for a ball game a few days before. We pulled him out and got him on a stretcher. He was burned pretty badly, and all I saw were his eyes. They were so white and he looked right at me, his lips kind of smiled and he just died. His face just went blank.”

The games on the islands were always competitive and the players went all out to win the games for their fans. Regardless of where the team played, the excitement and reception given to the players by the troops watching, made it like, “Playing before,” according to 73rd Wing “Bomber” infielder Stan Rojek, “80,000 in Yankee Stadium. We gave everything we had.” Rojek, speaking Cy Kritzer, reporter for The Sporting News, “There was no loafing or protecting yourself. Not before those crowds,” Rojek stated in a December 6, 1945 article.

When they arrived on Tinian and Saipain, the ball players had to set up their quarters much like these tents that served as the 873rd Squadron’s mess area on Saipan. Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

Tex Hughson, commenting about the ballplayers’ activities and duties in the Marianas, wrote (in his August 2, 1945 letter to Cronin), “They plan to have a Navy team on each of the three islands and to start what will be termed the Marianas League,” stated the former Red Sox pitcher. Tex continued, “We have been busy building our own tents to live in and our own park to play in. The ball park certainly is no beauty, but will answer the purpose. Of course, there is no grass and the seats for ‘customers’ are made exclusively of bomb crates, of which we have plenty here.” As the games continued throughout the Northern Marianas, so did efforts to bring about an end to the nearly four-year-long and horrific  war with Japan.

On August 5, 1945, USAAF Colonel Paul Tibbets christened his Boeing B-29 ship “Enola Gay” (after his mother). Just hours later, on August 6, at 02:45, the Enola Gay’s wheels left the Tinian Tarmac as Colonel Paul Tibbets began to turn the ship towards Japan. Colonel Tibbets could have fielded a baseball team with the 12 men manning the high-altitude heavy bomber on its mission to deliver the first atomic weapon to be used on an enemy target (Hiroshima, Japan).  As Colonel Tibbets guided the flight of seven aircraft north towards Japan, one can imagine that thoughts of baseball were far from the minds of the crewmen. When the Enola Gay touched down on Tinian, General Car Spaatz presented Colonel Tibbets with the Army’s second highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. Three days later, the Enola Gay joined the second atomic bombing mission as six B-29s departed Tinian northward to the Japanese islands. On this September 9 mission led by the B-29 named “Bockscar,” Nagasaki became the second target (the city of Kokura was the primary target of the mission but was obscured by smoke and clouds necessitating a shift to the secondary target city), but this time, Colonel Tibbets remained behind, having participated in the final planning while on the island of Guam.

This program from the USASTAF baseball tour was apparently used for the games as they were played on Guam. The teams are incorrectly listed as the “Flyers” and “Wingmen” but the rosters show the teams as the 58th Wingmen (with Tebbetts managing) and the 73rd “Bombers” with Buster Mills managing (see the full program).

Six days after Nagasaki was bombed, on August 15, the unconditional surrender of Japan was announced by Emperor Hirohito bring the war to a close, however the USAAF games continued in the Marianas, the Bonin Islands (Iwo Jima) and Micronesia (Guam), boosting morale of the troops in the Western Pacific. The formal Instrument of Surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The armed forces’ mission transitioned from combat operations to occupation and assisting in the region’s stabilization and the commencement of reconstruction. However the attention of most, if not all of the troops turned to going home to their families, jobs and peace.

Taking breaks from the Marianas league’s round-robin tournament play between the 58th, 73rd and 313th clubs, the teams took the games “on the road” to Iwo Jima as summer was giving way to autumn with a series starting on Thursday, September 20. Captain Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen had struggled in the Marianas (Buster Mills’ 73rd edged out Riggs’ 313th) however redeemed themselves on Iwo by dominating their opponents, despite some defensive miscues by Birdie.

313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”

Player Position Former Club
Max West CF Braves
Johnny  Sturm 1B Yankees
Nanny Fernandez SS Braves
Walter Judnich RF Browns
Stan Goletz P White Sox
Bob Adams 2B Syracuse
Bill Leonard CF
Bull Storie CF
Rugger Ardizoia P Kansas City
Carl DeRose P Amsterdam
Al Olsen P San Diego
Don Looser P
Lew Riggs 3B/Mgr Dodgers
Johnny Jensen LF San Diego
Eddie Chandler P Pocatello

More than 180,000 witnessed the 27 games that were presented by the USASTAF on the four Western Pacific Islands (Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Guam). The airmen, along with members of the other branches of the armed forces, witnessed competitive baseball played by some of the best from the major and minor leagues with the games in the Western Pacific.  Within a few weeks of the Japanese surrender, Tebbetts and most the members of the 58th, 73rd and 313th teams were returned to the continental U.S.

Birdie was with the Red Sox from 1947 through 1950 and an All-Star in 1948 and ’49. This photo was autographed for an unknown ballplayer. Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.

Birdie Tebbetts returned to the major leagues, signing a new contract (in late February 1946) with his old team (though he wasn’t fully released from the Army until March 28), the Detroit Tigers. Tebbetts’ playing time with the Tigers was limited to just 87 games in the 1946 season as he struggled at the plate. The following year, the Tigers management, seeking to turn their fortunes with a fresh, veteran face behind the plate, sent Birdie Tebbetts to Boston on May 21, 1947 in exchange for catcher Hal Wagner who played in the 1946 World Series. The change was good for Tebbetts as turned things around for the remainder of the ‘47 season, continuing into two consecutive All-Star seasons for the Red Sox in 1948 and ‘49.

After his playing career ended, Tebbetts’ drew upon his wartime management success when he accepted Cleveland’s offer to manage their Class AA Indianapolis Indians in 1953. His winning record in the American Association coupled with his management of the Indians youth as well as those on loan from Cincinnati (who didn’t have a AA minor league affiliate) helped to pave the way to managing in the major leagues with the Redlegs. Tebbetts managed in the big leagues for more than 10 seasons with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Cleveland from 1954 through 1966 and spent 1967 piloting the Marion (Virginia) Mets of the Appalachian League. Birdie continued working in baseball as a major league scout through 1992 having spent nearly 60 years in the game.

Colonel Paul Tibbets’ career continued to flourish after the war as he attained the rank of brigadier general, commanded the 6th Air Division (at MacDill Air Force Base). General Tibbets served as the deputy director for both operations and the National Military Command System on the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring from the Air Force. in 1966. Tibbets continued to be honored for his role in ushering in the end of the war.

Author’s Note:  The mission of Chevrons and Diamonds of using artifacts to bring the personal stories of the game and the people who played it while serving in the armed forces is one that we don’t take lightly. The impetus of writing this story of Tebbetts centered on a handful of vintage Type-1 photographs that captured the catcher during his time in the Army Air Forces that were obtained from  the estate of Tebbetts’ 58th Wingman first baseman teammate, Chuck Stevens who played on the St. Louis Browns club in 1941, ‘46 and ‘48. Stevens had an 18-year professional career, mostly in the minor leagues but spent some of his best years serving and playing baseball in the U.S. Army Air Forces (1943-45) and will be the subject of an upcoming article. The other Tebbetts photos include a Type-1 press photo from his one of his two seasons managing and playing for the Waco Army Flying School team and an autographed photo from his years with the Red Sox.

All of the B-29-related photos are part of our vintage image collection and originated from an unnamed U.S. Army Air Forces veteran’s photo-scrapbook. Based upon the the photographs and other ephemera present within the album, it appears that the veteran was assigned to the 873rd Bomb Squadron, 49th Bombardment Wing in the 73rd Bombardment Wing on Saipan.

*Max West Player Profile – Baseball in Wartime

A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats

With considerable debate among baseball fans and baseball film aficionados as to where the film, Field of Dreams is ranked, the movie is still a favorite of ours. One of the central characters depicted in the story (and portrayed by actor Burt Lancaster) is the real-life baseball player Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham. According to the film, Graham made a humble defensive appearance in the bottom of the eighth inning on the last game of the season, never getting a chance to swing the bat. Since that film (one could argue that it began with the film’s inspiration, W. P. Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe), many similar “Moonlight” Graham-esque comparative stories have been told.

“To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases — stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish…” – “Moonlight Graham (played by Burt Lancaster in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams)

The story told about Graham in the film (a deviation from what actually happened with Archibald Graham under the guise of “dramatic license”) leads to the main characters, Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann (played by Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, respectively), giving him a chance to have the opportunity to bat. During World War II, service team baseball, many unknowns, such as Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) were afforded opportunities to play with and against major league talent. 

The Chevrons and Diamonds project has shed light upon several ballplayers that, in terms of mainstream baseball fans, were essentially unknown. Admittedly, until this venture into the realm of baseball militaria collecting launched, many of these players were unknown to this author.  With the arrival of our second military scorecard into our collection (from the seventh game of the 1944 Army versus Navy All Stars championship series), the pursuit of knowledge surrounding the players on the roster motivated me to not only learn what I could about them, but also to keep my eyes open for related artifacts.

With the “star power” present on that 1944 Army versus Navy scorecard with names such as Dom DiMaggio, Hugh Casey, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer and Charlie Silvera, among the players were enshrined among the game’s greatest in Cooperstown.  Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Bill Dickey, Pee Wee Reese and Joe DiMaggio (all from major league teams in New York City) stand out among the 64 players comprising the two teams. My eyes were drawn to the names that I did not recognize. Who were these All-Star players who were serving and playing baseball alongside the game’s greatest of that era?

Over the course of the past decade, the “unknown” players on those rosters are becoming household names. Documenting the progression of these ballplayers from the time they were inducted through to their release from service is a tedious undertaking but the end result is quite illuminating with certain discoveries such as the intersecting of service team careers of players.

Though it was just a fictitious story that was brought to life with a script, actors, props and cameras, the Field of Dreams movie was centered on a cornfield-turned-baseball-diamond in a cornfield on an Iowa farm. The set, a diamond carved out of a cornfield, has been preserved as an attraction for fans of the film and draws people from around the world to the tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa (Note: on August 13, 2020, the farm will play host to a regular season home game for the Chicago White Sox against the Visiting Yankees).  On December 20, 1916 in a small town just 47 miles east of Dyersville, Marvin Wilfred Felderman was born to Conrad “Coonie,” a farmer and his wife Sarah Felderman. Marvin was the youngest of his two sisters and brother.  Felderman was a scholastic athlete in high school where he played basketball as a forward, he achieved all-conference (Blackhawk Conference) honors. Felderman was a pitcher and catcher and helped his high school team reach the Iowa state tournament in two separate seasons. Marvin earned all-state honors as a catcher. Felderman also participated on his school’s track and field team before graduating in 1935. In addition to scholastic baseball, Marvin Felderman also played in the American Legion and for the Bellevue Merchants (semi-pro).

In 1936, Felderman’s professional baseball career commenced with the Elks of the Nebraska State League (class “D”) transitioning quite easily to the minor leagues as he batted .304 with a .427 slugging percentage. In 1937-38, Felderman helped his Duluth Dukes (Duluth, Minnesota, class “D,” Northern League) take the league championship. While in Minnesota, Felderman attended the All-Star Baseball and Umpire School, along with Dukes teammate, first baseman Lyle Thompson. Catching for Nashville of the Class A1 Southern Association, Marvin Felderman helped the Volunteers capture the pennant in both 1940 and ’41. Vols teammates who would be familiar to him in the coming years, Russ Meers would join forces with Marvin in 1945 and he would face Boots Poffenberger (in the South Pacific).

The 1940 Southern Association Champion Nashville Volunteers. Marv Felderman is in the back row, second from the left. In the front row are Russ Meers (2nd from the right) and Boots Poffenberger (immediate to Meers’ left). Future naval aviator Johnny Sain is in the back row, fourth from the left (source: The Sporting News, October 2, 1940)

In conjunction with President Roosevelt’s signing of the peacetime Selective Service Act on September 16, 1940, Marvin Felderman receive his draft card 30 days later along with every other eligible young man, as his baseball career soldiered onward. Marv’s play caught the attention of the Chicago Cubs who purchased his contract from Nashville on August 1st of that season.

Felderman’s career was progressing though his ascent through the minor leagues was steady. He fought injuries to his throwing shoulder and hand and was often sidelined for prolonged periods of time. Following spring training, Felderman broke camp having earned a spot on the Cubs roster. Manager Jimmy Williams carried three catchers heading into opening day with Felderman joining veteran Clyde McCullough and Chico Hernandez.

On April 19, the fifth game of the 1942 season was tied going into the 14th inning at Wrigley Field. Chico Hernandez led off the bottom of the 14thinning, pinch hitting for pitcher Claude Passeau with an infield single to Cincinnati’s third baseman, Chuck Aleno. Marv Felderman was sent in to pinch run for Hernandez making his first major league appearance. After Stan Hack bunted Felderman to second base leaving the tying run in scoring position, centerfielder Phil Cavarretta drove a fly-out deep to centerfield. Felderman was caught off base when Harry Craft threw the ball in to second for the double play, handing the 2-1 win to the Reds. Without a doubt, this was not the way Felderman wanted to inaugurate his major league career. Perhaps his base running faux pas was a point of contention for Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson as Felderman wouldn’t get another chance until the end of the season.

Felderman spent the bulk of the 1942 season on assignment to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the class “AA” International League as a part-time catcher. Though his average for the season was a shade below .220 for his 53 games (133 plate appearances) north of the border, he was part of the late-season call-up to the big-league club, making his return to the Cubs.

’Caught with their catchers down,’ to twist around an old saying, is the situation in which the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves as the mad scramble continues for playoff positions in the International League. Eddie Fernandes and Merwin (sic) Felderman have been laboring under one handicap after another. Fernandes got off to a bad start when he jumped into a Toronto uniform, minus the necessary spring training, and his harm has been kinky.

Felderman has struggled along with a sore arm and a shoulder condition that also hampered his throwing. His shoulder was so bad at times that he couldn’t take a free swing when batting. Topping all this, Felderman split a finger during the third game of the all-out-for-second-place series with the Jersey City Giants.” – August 6, 1942, The Sporting News

Trailing the National League-leading St. Louis Cardinals by 35 games, manager Wilson spent the last few games of the season giving the organization’s youth big league experience, inserting them into the line-up where he could. Marvin Felderman was back up with the big-league club with the hopes that he could showcase his abilities for the future with the Cubs.

Marvin’s second big league game was far better than his first. As the starting catcher, he would play the entire game catching for starting pitcher Hank Wyse who would go the distance in the 8-0 victory in Philadelphia on September 17.  In Felderman’s first plate appearance of the scoreless top of the second inning with one out, Marv stroked a long fly out to the left fielder off Phillies’ starting pitcher, Andy Lapihuska. With the Cubs ahead 4-0 with two outs in the top third, Felderman was walked by Lapihuska in his second appearance. In the top of the sixth inning, Lapihuska caught Felderman looking for a leadoff strikeout.  With the Cubs batters chasing Lapihuska, Felderman faced a new Phils pitcher, Hilly Flitcraft with two gone in the seventh inning. Marv would finally break through with his bat, stroking his first major league safety; a single with Chicago already ahead 6-0. In his last at-bat of the game, Felderman wiffed on a Boom-Boom Beck pitch for the second out of the ninth inning.

On September 22 for the second game of a day-night double-header, starting catcher, 34-year-old Jimmie “Double-X” Foxx (who was claimed off the waiver wire from the Red Sox on June 1) was lifted with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning having gone 0-2 against the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer with Cincinnati leading 2-0. Johnny “Double-No-Hit” Vander Meer struck out the young rookie catcher to end the sixth. Felderman caught the remainder of the game returning to the plate for his final at-bat of the day, leading off the bottom of the ninth against Vander Meer once again. Vander Meer had a repeat performance against the young rookie as he tallied his 11th and final strikeout of the game. Felderman was 0-2 with two strikeouts. One of Felderman’s bright moments happened on the bottom of the eighth inning after three consecutive singles and a walk (one run scored), Frankie Kelleher was caught attempting to steal home after Felderman attempted to pick-off Lonnie Frey who had a large lead at second base.

Felderman would not see action in the last two games, another day-night double-header against the Cardinals in St. Louis on September 27.  His three major league appearances in the 1942 season were all that he would have for the rest of his professional career: six at-bats, four strikeouts, one walk and one base hit. Felderman made it to the big leagues twice and had only a few chances to play, however Marv’s opportunity was significantly greater than what Moonlight Graham had with Giants manager, John McGraw in 1905. Felderman’s career took a different turn that placed him onto the field with scores of major leaguers for the next three years.

Only two brief months following the season’s end, Marvin Felderman enlisted into the U.S. Navy on November 30, 1942. Choosing to avoid being drafted into the army, his naval entrance was presumably the result of being recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane.

At the end of March, LCDR Cochrane held open tryouts drawing candidates from new recruits in training at the naval training station with more than 80 candidates reporting to the diamonds, including 21 pitchers.  Cochrane was attempting to build upon his success during the 1942 season but was faced with replacing the bulk of the Bluejackets’ stars, including Johnny Rigney, Johnny Lucadello, Benny McCoy, Frankie Pytlak, Ernie Andres and Chester Hajduk who departed for further assignments. The 1943 season would prove to be a continuation of high caliber competition from most of the American Association, industrial league and independent teams aside from their normal circuit of service league play. Cochrane’s 1943 Bluejackets dominated the competition for the second straight year hammering out win-loss-tie record of 52-10-2 (including wins over a handful of major league teams).

September 13, 1943: Great Lakes, IL – The Bluejackets baseball tea, from Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois, pauses with the station’s athletic officer, Lieutenant Commander J. Russell Cook, and examines the cross roads sign in front of the outgoing unit barracks before leaving for the coast. Left to right, Jack Hallett (Pittsburgh), Marvin Felderman (Cubs), a partially-obscured Tom Ferrick (Cleveland), Don Dunker (Indiana University), John Rigney (White Sox), Warren Robinson (Rochester), Fred Shaffer (Louisville), LCDR Cook, Tom Madden (Newport News), Carl Fiore (Scranton) and Earl Bolyard (Dallas).
Property of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

With the 1943 baseball season complete, Marvin Felderman departed Great Lakes bound for Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland for training in the “Tunney” Athletic Specialist Program. Station officials and the local baseball enthusiasts were excited for the 1944 baseball season and the prospects of having major league talent to don their team’s flannels. The Navy had other plans for the services of Felderman, Jonny Mize, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadello who completed their training by the end of 1943.

The Bainbridge Naval Training Station’s potentially great 1944 team received a heavy jolt today with the announcement that ten former major league players would be moved from the reservation this week. Nine were due to leave tomorrow, while Johnny Mize, former St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants first baseman, was to be held over until the end of the week in order to finish work in the physical instructor’s school.

Those leaving tomorrow include Tom Ferrick, formerly of the Cleveland Indians;  Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadellow, of the St. Louis Browns; Barney McCoskey, of the Detroit Tigers; Vern Olsen and Marvin Felderman of the Chicago Cubs; George Dickey, of the Chicago White Sox; Jack Hallet, of the Cleveland Indians, and Eddie Pelligrini of the Boston Red Sox. 

All are being transferred to undisclosed ports.” – The News, Frederick, MD, January 4, 1944

From Bainbridge NTS, Felderman headed west, arriving in San Francisco, presumably after visiting home. His stay in the Bay Area was brief as he awaited transport to the South Pacific while temporarily quartered aboard the USS Despatch (IX-2) (the Despatch was the converted protected cruiser, USS Boston that was converted into a receiving ship). Departing San Francisco, Felderman arrived in Honolulu on February 27, 1944 after an 11-day sea voyage from the mainland. His first (brief) command assignment was with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard where he served for just a few short weeks.  From the End of March through the middle of May, Felderman was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Receiving Barracks and saw action for the team.

Seeing major league-level competition on a consistent basis, Felderman’s offensive performance with the 1944 was subpar at best. By the end of July, he was batting .190 through 17 games. In 63 at-bats, he had only managed 12 hits, a double and two home runs. Marv only plated seven runs by the midway point of the season. However, Felderman acquitted himself enough on the diamond to be pulled onto a few all-star teams including suiting up for the “Major League All-Stars” when they faced off against the “Navy” on April 19 at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s Weaver Field. Felderman reprised his role again as an All-Star when the team defeated the Army All-Stars at Schofield Barracks’ home field, Chickamauga Park.  In the waning weeks of April, Marv was tapped for a second All-Star Game representing the 14th Naval District Major Leaguers however, research has yet to determine the opponent and outcome of that game.  Felderman was tagged once more to catch for the Major League All-Stars as they faced off against the Honolulu League Stars in a War Bond Drive game on April 29.

“Approximately 25,000 rabid fans, mostly servicemen stationed in this area, witnessed two games in Honolulu and a nearby military camp recently. Through the courtesy of Navy authorities, these fans were treated with the appearance of many former big-league stars, who are now on active service with the Navy in the Hawaiian Islands. 

It was a big day at the Honolulu Stadium, the site of the initial exhibition tilt, when the Major League All-Stars, representing the Navy, scored a 4-2 victory over the Honolulu League club in 12 innings. Such former Big Time players as Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers; Joe Grace (Browns); Barney McCosky (Tigers); Johnny Mize (Giants), Al Brancato (Athletics); Johnny Lucadello (Browns); John Winsett (Dodgers); George “Skeets” Dickey (White Sox); Vern Olsen (Cubs); Tom Ferrick (Indians); Hugh Casey (Dodgers); Bob Harris (Athletics) and Walt Masterson (Senators), did their chores for the major leaguers. 

Giant Fans over here were delighted with Mize, who formerly belted them around the Polo Grounds. In the game against the Honolulu club, Johnny sent a tremendous drive up against the 425-foot wall in center field. Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers collected three hits in one game. In the other fracas, the ex-Dodger star played a terrific game. 

Walt Masterson, Jack Hallet, Vern Olsen and Tom Ferrick worked for the majors in the 4-2 victory. The following day, the club played another game for the benefit of military personnel at an Army camp and scored an impressive 9-0 triumph with Hugh Casey, Walt Masterson, Bob Harris and Anderson taking turns on the mound. The quartette allowed eight hits.” – Iriwn J. Thomas, T/5, Sporting News. April 29, 1944

A publicity photo of Marv Felderman from the 1944 season.
Property of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

On May 13, Felderman arrived at Kaneohe Naval Air Station and was quickly added to the Klippers’ roster, re-connecting with his fellow 1943 Great Lakes teammate, Johnny Mize on Wes Schulmerich’s team. The Klippers had an additional major leaguer with pitching experience, Kaneohe’s ace former-Brooklyn Dodger Hugh Casey.  With Mize sidelined by an injury, the 1944 season was a struggle for Felderman’s club without the presence of offensive power.

The tough All-Service League gets underway Tuesday (5/16) with Aiea meeting Wheeler Field at 4:30. The six teams entered (7th AAF, Aiea, Kaneohe, Wheeler, Aiea Hospital, Sub Base) are ready and it looks like a horse race. 

The Navy teams have made last minute changes in their rosters and watch out Army. Kaneohe has some up with Marv Felderman, the catching they have been yelling for, and they now look like the class of the league. Aiea Hospital has a new battery, ‘Skeets’ Dickey and Verne Olsen.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944

1944 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:

Player Position
 Alexander 2B
 Arkeketa 3B
John Berry CF
Hugh Casey P
Bing Devine 2B
Marv Felderman C
Tom Ferrick P
Frank Hargrove RF
 Hite
 Mlaker SS
 Martinez LF
Irvin Meairs SS
Johnny Mize 1B
 Numerich P
Wes Schulmerich Mgr
John  Skeber 1B
 Wittig

Felderman, established himself as a defensive backstop who could handle pitchers during games with considerable effectiveness. As the second half of the 1944 Central Pacific Service League’s season was underway, Felderman was hitting consistently though he wasn’t tearing the cover off the baseball. In the second game of the season against the Schofield Barracks Redlanders, Marv managed pitchers Numerich and Casey to a 6-1 win while also playing a role in the win with his bat.”

The Klippers defeated the Redlanders 6-1. Southpaw Numerich faced Schofield’s Ed Loverich. After the fourth, the score was 2-1.  In the bottom of the 8th with one out, Alexander doubled, Mize followed with a 2-run shot over centerfield to push Kaneohe further ahead, 4-1. With another out, (John) Skeber drove a deep solo shot. Then Mlaker singled and was advanced by a Felderman hit. Hugh Casey (who relived Numerich in seventh) drove the run across for the final tally.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944

Though it was still early in the season, Felderman’s performance with the Klippers was demonstrating his value to the success of the club. Disaster struck on May 17 in a game against the 7th Army Air Force team in a match that had ex-Dodger pitcher, Hugh Casey holding his own against the airmen. In the seventh inning, Felderman suffered a serious injury necessitating him being rushed to the hospital following a beaning from the opposition pitching. Felderman was out of the line-up for quite some time as he required a few weeks to heal and recover from the injury.

Kaneohe was off to a fantastic start of the season and was leading the CPA Service League as May came to a close, but it wouldn’t last. In the first week of June, the 7th AAF’s fortunes changed with the arrival of a large contingent of major league talent (including Mike McCormick Walter Judnich and Dario Lodigiani)  led by the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. In addition to losing Felderman for a few weeks, Kaneohe lost their slugger, Johnny Mize to injury limiting him to less than 70 at-bats (16 fewer than Felderman’s 85). Marv’s final batting average was a paltry .224.

During the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series, pictured left to right are: Ken Sears, Joe Rose, Phil Rizzuto and Marv Felderman (photo courtesy of Mark Southerland).

After a season-long domination by the 7th Army Air Force squad, a team of stockpiled major and minor league talent that was the product of the Army’s response to the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team (and other Hawaii-area Navy service teams’) predominate success, Navy leadership gathered together their stars  from the Pacific Theater into an All-Star team to take on the Army for the 1944 Army versus Navy service world series. The talented catcher with one hit in six major league at-bats found himself on a roster that had a log-jam of catchers, including the team’s manager, New York Yankees’ future hall of fame backstop, Bill Dickey who was managing the team.

  • Marv Felderman, Chicago Cubs
  • Vince Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Ken Sears, New York Yankees
  • Norman Atkinson, Semi-Pro
  • George Dickey, Chicago White Sox

Standings for the various 1944 Season – Hawaiian Leagues. Felderman’s Kaneohe Klippers fifth in the CPA Service League (source: Honolulu Advertiser, September 3, 1944).

While the box scores are scant in providing play-by-play details, for the 8th game of the series, Felderman did get into the eighth game (the series had been decided with the Navy’s fourth consecutive win to open the seven-game contest) with the Navy leading the Army, six games to one, spelling Vinnie Smith after a few innings in what would be Jack Hallet’s 11-0, three-hit shutout of the Army.  With the considerable attendance (averaging more than 15,000 servicemen per game), leadership made the decision to extend the series to seven games (despite the Navy’s win in four straight) followed by four additional bringing the series to a close after the 11th game on October 15.  Five days later, on October 20, Felderman returned to NAS Kaneohe from his temporary duty assignment. Aside from the championship plaque and other accolades, Felderman returned to his primary duty station with a promotion to chief petty officer.

With the year-round favorable weather conditions in the South Pacific (aside from the frequent-yet-brief cooling rains), baseball can be played without ceasing, independent of the regular season league schedules. For the first two weeks in December, Felderman was temporarily assigned to the Aiea Receiving Barracks (December 2-14, 1944), no doubt, for participation in another, as of yet, undiscovered baseball tournament.

Chief Athletic Specialist Felderman remained with Kaneohe for the 1945 season as the bulk of the major league talent (stationed in Hawaii in 1944) from both branches was sent to the Western Pacific to provide relief by playing baseball for the combat-weary troops fighting in the Marianas and Micronesia. With the new season, the Kaneohe club was loaded with new faces leaving the sports writers at the Honolulu Star Bulletin less than thrilled for the Klipper’s outlook with the headline, “Kaneohe Bay weak spots in lineup.” Attempting to infuse a little bit of hope, the Bulletin’s sports editor wrote, “New manager Joe Gonzales (LTjg) will be pitching.  Former USC pitcher who, at one point had 21 straight victories for the Trojans.”  Felderman was spotlighted by the piece for the value his experience brought to the club.

Marv Felderman, a major leaguer several times, and a brilliant minor league catcher, will handled the backstopping with aplomb and decorum. Felderman won’t set the league on fire with his hitting, but he’s in there to handle the pitchers, prevent the base paths from becoming a runway. Summing up, this club won’t make many mistakes. You will have to beat them, as they won’t beat themselves.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 2, 1945

1945 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:

Player Position
John Berry 1B
Jack Conway
Bob Cullins UTILITY
Marv Felderman C
Joe Gonzales MGR/P
Ralph Gosnell C
Bruz Hamner P
Frank Hargrove LF
Irvin “Red”  Meairs SS
Russ Meers P
Pete Pavlick 2B
Sherry Robertson 3B
Gabriel Sady C
Pete Savage P
Phil Seewald P
Joe Skeber 1B
Steve “Red” Tramback CF
Bob Usher RF
Hank Weiss P

By the last week of May, the Klippers nine were proving the naysayers wrong by taking over first place in the 14th Naval District League. In a game against Naval Air Station Honolulu, the Klipper’s Gonzalez defeated Honolulu’s Max Wilson in a 3-2 pitching duel before a crowd of 8,500 fans at Furlong Field on the Hickam air base. Felderman followed a John Berry solo homerun and a Bob Usher base-on-balls with a triple, tying the game.

Marvin Felderman (front row, far right) with his 1945 Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers (image source: Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

As the 1945 14th Naval District League season progressed, Kaneohe ran into stiff competition for first place as the Dolphins of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base ran neck-and-neck in keeping pace.

Furlong Field, battle ground of many brilliant sports events of the past months, will be the scene of another outstanding attraction on Sunday (6/24) afternoon at 3 when the Kaneohe Klippers and Sub Base Dolphins trade swats with the championship of the first half of the 14th Naval District at stake.

Both clubs are 13 and 5 and will play before an anticipated crowd of 25,000 servicemen and civilians.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 23, 1945

Felderman was finally having a notable season in 1945 and was a key role-player in Kaneohe’s success as he found himself in the Honolulu sportswriters’’ spotlight.

A lot of fans in the 14th Naval District Baseball League are wondering how the Kaneohe Klippers keep right on winning. The Kilppers have no “name” stars in action day after day, yet they tied for the first half crown and are sure to be a threat all during the second half. One of the important cogs in the Klipper machine is Marv Felderman, the number one and only catcher who has seen action in league play. Felderman has never tasted the success of many of the stars in the league have, but he is a steady hustling player who goes all out every game. 

An Iowan by birth, Marv has been around and has several major league trials and is sure to get more when the war ends. He batted at a .320 clip during the first half of the season and his 24 hits were good enough to send 22 runs over the plate, being tied for runner up honors to Ken Sears in that department. Felderman is only one cog, of course, as the Kilppers function as a unit and not as group of individuals, but his play has been one of the bright spots of the entire circuit.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, July 21, 1945

Through five innings of a July 28 contest with the Marine Flyers, Kaneohe was trailing 2-0 when in the Klipper’s sixth, the sent 11 men to the plate (scoring seven) led by Felderman’s offensive outburst. In the 11-2 victory, Marvin tallied two doubles and a single against Marines pitcher Sid Gautreaux .

Through the August “dog days” stretch of the 1945 season, injuries once again plagued the Klippers as they plummeted in the standings following a protracted losing streak. At the close, of the 14th Naval District League play, NAS Kaneohe was in sixth place with an 11-13 record behind Aiea Barracks (19-9), Aiea Hospital (16-9), Sub Base (16-10), Barber’s Point (16-11), Fleet Marines (15-12) and NAS Honolulu (15-12). Base 8 Hospital (11-15), Ship Repair Unit (8-19) and Marine Fliers (6-21) rounded out the standings with 10 days remaining.

Aiea Barracks sealed their league title and the Klipper took time out to include their fans with festivities surrounding their last game of the season as they hosted the Honolulu Crossroaders. After securing a 7-3 victory, the two teams held several skills contests (such as distance throwing, a home run derby and speed competition on the base paths) to entertain the fans.

Klipper Day was held for 12,500 fans at Klipper Diamond to honor the Kaneohe Klippers on Sunday, September 16 for the last game of the season. Marv Felderman of the Chicago Cubs said during an interview on the field, “This reminds me of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.”  The game between the Honolulu Crossroaders and Klippers was a 7-3 victory by Kaneohe. John Berry drove a ball over the left field fence in the fourth followed by one by manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales.” Honolulu Advertiser, September 8, 1945

Soon after the final game in Kaneohe, Felderman returned stateside and was discharged from the Navy on October 9, 1945. Aside from his discharge papers, service decorations, naval training and playing experience, Felderman returned home with a relationship that he would cherish for the rest of his life. During his time in the Hawaiian Islands, Marv met Yeoman First Class Katherine (Kay) Elizabeth Holloway and the two were married before the end of 1945.

During his 1947 stint with the Los Angeles Angels, Felderman took a hard-thrown ball on his nose when Las Scarcella attempted to score from third base (source: Winona-Republican-Herald, April 23, 1947).

The flood of ball players with war service returning to professional baseball was substantial and the competition for roster spots was fierce. No longer property of the Cubs following his naval service, 30-year-old Felderman signed with the reigning 1945 American Association champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Limited to just 70 games, Marvin again dealt with injuries and it was becoming apparent to scouts and the big-league clubs that his best years were likely behind him.  In his first three post-war professional baseball seasons, Felderman was limited to just 178 games with four teams. In 1949, Felderman was hanging onto his career, playing semi-professional ball in the Michigan-Indiana League with the Benton Harbor (Michigan) Buds.

Before winding down his professional career, Felderman appeared in 12 minor league games; one game with the Texas League’s Fort Worth Cats and 11 with Fresno of the “C”-level California League. At age 35, Felderman’s playing career was done.

(source: eBay Image).

Memorabilia associated with or connected to Marv Felderman’s career is rather limited due to the brevity of his professional career. There were no signature gloves or professional model bats bearing his name or branded autograph made by glove or bat manufacturers due to Felderman’s three game major league career (803 professional games in total spanning 11 seasons).  As we have discussed many times on Chevrons and Diamonds, player-specific artifacts from service teams are scarce and are seldom available. However, not too long ago, a Felderman artifact surfaced that was connected with his Navy baseball career in the Hawaiian Islands.

(source: eBay Image).

Judging by the existence of this card (along with two others that were sold), passes were provided by the management of the Hawaiian Baseball League to allow players on service teams to have access to attend games as spectators (rather than on-field participants). Bearing Felderman’s name on the front, what makes the pass even more special is that the reverse features the player’s autograph. The previous owner of Felderman’s pass also had the autographed 1944-season pass provided to Ferris Fain of the 7th AAF squad along with Chubby Dean’s from the 1945 season which would seem to indicate that these were obtained by someone who was close to service team baseball in the Hawaiian Islands during the war.

Moonlight Graham played baseball for eight professional seasons in the minor leagues on the eastern seaboard as his professional ball-playing career came to a conclusion (similar to the way that Felderman’s wound down, decades later). It is doubtful that any baseball artifacts exist that can be attributed to Moonlight Graham however there is a measure of satisfaction in acquiring the Felderman piece as I ponder the similar career trajectories of the two men.

Author’s Note: When embarking upon a story that surrounds an artifact, the objective is always to uncover the personal histories that were either previously forgotten, unknown or were merely segments of another context. Researching this relatively unknown ballplayer has been a bit of an adventure spanning a few weeks where each discovery seemingly spawned additional paths to investigate. Attempts were made to control the expanding research which may lead to future articles as those avenues are pursued or interconnected while researching other players.

 

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