Kenneth Hess – Infielder/Outfielder
Note: his is player biography is part of our feature, The 29th Infantry Division’s Blues and Grays: the men behind one of the Army’s best World War II baseball teams by Drew Sullins, Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army
All photos courtesy of Deborah Hess Sharkey.
While Ken Hess, from the borough of Queens in New York City never played professional ball, although he was a very accomplished baseball and football player at Syracuse University before entering the Army. Playing for the Orangemen, Hess was both a first baseman and outfielder with an outstanding bat and long ball ability. Numerous newspaper accounts from Syracuse’s 1941 baseball season talk about Hess hitting impressive home runs to include a walk-off to lead the Orange to a come from behind victory over Fordham on May 8, 1941.
Even before Hess arrived at Syracuse, he was known as an outstanding scholar-athlete from Stuyvesant High School in New York City where he earned All-State honors. In 1937, he was selected by a local legendary high school baseball coach, Jack Liddy of New Jersey’s Plainfield High School, to play on Liddy’s Cardinal All-Stars, a traveling team of local high school talent that played exhibition games against college and minor league teams in the region.
When it came time for military service, Hess’ work at Syracuse studying business management and finance made him a natural for the U.S. Army’s Finance School, which during World War II was established at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. While at Wake Forest, Hess trained as an Army finance clerk, and with his spare time, he was quite possibly the best athlete in the Finance School. As verified by newspaper accounts in the Raleigh News and Observer and Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, Hess excelled at quarterbacking the Finance School’s football team, playing guard on the basketball squad and, of course, as a power hitting first baseman on the baseball team.
Hess was in the Finance School at the same time Hall of Famer Ted Williams reported to Navy Pre-Flight training in North Carolina and played ball for the famous Navy “Cloudbuster” Nine team, but it does not appear that the two had the opportunity to play against each other. Hess and his Finance School team did, however, get to play a minor league team from Rocky Mount in a war bond fundraiser that had on loan to its team two of Williams’ “Cloudbuster” Nine big league teammates. In a double header on August 3, 1943, Hess played against Williams’ Boston teammate shortstop Johnny Pesky, a legendary Red Sox player in his own right, and pitcher Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves and later the New York Yankees. The Finance Team split the twin bill and Hess went 1 for 8 on the day.
Hess was at some point transferred into the 29th Division and he does not appear in the division’s morning reports that the author had access to. In interviewing Hess’s daughter, it appears during his service in Europe, he was a paymaster specialist who traveled while armed, and with other armed guards, making monthly payroll in cash to units sometimes right at the front. It was a job that exposed him to danger on more than one occasion and helped him to earn a Bronze Star. Once Hess made it into the division, it did not take long for him to matriculate to the baseball team. It was from Hess’ personal photo collection that the only known action shot of the team exists. The photo shows Hess, in his own words, “Pulling a double,” during a game at Ike Stadium in Bremen, Germany against the 1st Infantry Division’s team. After the war, Hess returned to his wife Dorothy and began a successful business career joining Pan American Airways where he worked for 37 years. He stayed connected to baseball by volunteering his time for many years with the Whitestone youth baseball league in Queens. He and Dorothy had two daughters, Pamela and Deborah. When Ken Hess passed away on October 28, 2016, he and Dorothy had been married for 74 years. He also left behind his two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Continue to Robert Lansinger – Pitcher/Outfield