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.
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.
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
|Cpl.||Bob Birchfield||1B||Opelousas/Port Arthur|
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P|
|Pvt.||John “Nippy” Stewart||SS||New Iberia|
|2nd Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
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.
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 Slaugter led his team to victor 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
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P||Stockton|
|1st Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
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.
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”
|Art Lilly||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Bobby Adams||2B||Syracuse (IL)|
|Don Lang||OF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Ed Kowalski||P||Appleton (WISL)|
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”
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.
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.
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.
73rd Bombardment Wing “Flyers”
|Stan Goletz||P||White Sox|
|Rugger Ardizoia||P||Kansas City|
|Al Olsen||P||San Diego|
|Johnny Jensen||LF||San Diego|
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 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.
Admittedly, when we consider wartime baseball, images of ballgames being played in far-away locations in combat theaters within reach of the war front, if not on domestic training bases. The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph archive is replete with a diverse array of images capturing the game within the major war theaters (Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific) along with countless military bases, camps, forts and training facilities. Our continual mission to preserve, digitize and restore the photographs within this extensive library (along with curating additional images) is a considerable undertaking requiring an immeasurable amount of time and effort. As with many of our activities, this particular process often involves research which leads to fantastic discoveries.
There are occasions that we pursue a vintage photo (or group) without performing due diligence to fully comprehend the discernible subject matter. Depending upon the size of the image or how it is being presented for sale, the level of detail that is visible can be quite limited prior to an in-hand examination. Even after the image or images arrive, our workload may preclude anything more than an initial content and condition assessment prior to placing into appropriate storage and in our queue for preservation and digitization.
One such group of photographs that we acquired some time ago depicted a team of men wearing flannels with a beautiful script “U.S. Army” in athletic felt applied to the jersey fronts. The photos all seemed to have been captured in an old-time civilian ballpark surrounded by fencing (complete with large painted advertisement signage) and grandstands constructed in wood. Having been tucked away in archival storage, these were finally retrieved for the digitizing and restoration process. With the prints suffering from various typical maladies seen on images more than three-quarters of a century old such as exposure challenges, creases, tears, scratches and emulsion deterioration, the volume of effort that was required was substantive.
The 19 vintage photographs in this U.S. Army group were predominantly sized in the 4”x 5” range with the focus, composition and exposure consistently representative of what is seen from professional photographers, though a few were overexposed. The reverse of each photo is stamped with the Official U.S. Army Air Forces mark indicating the source and releasing (to the media) authority. As each photograph was scanned, the details present within the images became quite discernible yielding more information and subsequent questions that directed my research pathways. Once a few of the photos were scanned, we discovered that what we originally assessed to be the Hale America “HEALTH” patch was actually a shield insignia with letters spelling out “YANKS.” In addition to the uniform patch, the advertisements clearly indicated that the venue where the photos were captured was in Alberta, Canada.
Following the path of least resistance, we reached out (with a sampling of our photos) to our colleagues who are specifically interested in preserving baseball history in Western Canada. Within a few hours of posting our photos to the group on social media, a response came from Jay-Dell Mah who has extensively researched the history of the game in that region. Jay-Dell’s site, Western Canada Baseball, encapsulates years of extensive research findings, photographs and ephemera along with the history of leagues, teams and personnel. Mah referred me to the 1940s section of his site, pointing me to the Edmonton, Alberta content.
In the past few years, our collection was introduced to wartime baseball that was played on Canadian soil. In researching for our article, “Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down, we learned about the game as it was played by U. S. service personnel on bases and within the communities throughout Labrador. Without expending any effort, we were safe to assume that the same could be said for the Canadian West Coast as U.S. service personnel would have been stationed there fulfilling a similar strategic purpose. However, these photos appeared to be captured in the Canadian interior province of Alberta which seemed to be of little strategic significance to warrant positioning U.S. military personnel and resources. But the region did have considerable importance to the war effort as it was part of the North American “breadbasket” playing a central role in sustaining citizens and the allied forces with food.
“…a force of U.S. personnel, both military and civilian, poured into northwest Canada to build the logistical facilities needed to support the defense of that quarter of the continent. United States military strength in northwest Canada in late 1942 exceeded 15,000, and in the next year, when some of the troops had been replaced by civilian workers, U.S. civilians alone exceeded that figure. On 1 June 1943 the total strength of the American personnel in northwest Canada was over 33,000. In some instances, the United States was able to utilize existing air-base and other facilities, expanded by either or both countries to meet wartime requirements. Other projects were carved out of the virgin wilderness, in some cases in areas never before surveyed. It was here in western Canada that the joint U.S.-Canadian war effort left its biggest and most lasting imprint.” – U.S. Army in WWII Special Studies: Military Relations between the U.S. & Canada
Baseball had been a part of the Canadian fabric with its roots being sent down on a parallel timeline with that of the game south of the border. United States service personnel located in Alberta fielded teams that integrated into the surrounding civilian leagues. In 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces team based in Edmonton known as the “Yanks,” participated in the local city league, capturing the championship. In the 2006 historical narrative about the province, Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed (edited by Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell and Catherine Cavanaugh) a caption reads, “With thousands of American military personnel in Alberta, their presence was felt everywhere. This U.S. Army baseball team won the title in the 1943 Edmonton baseball league.”
The 1943 Yanks roster consisted of officers and enlisted from the U.S. Army air base and were led by Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Captain Frank Wrigglesworth who aside from managing the team also saw actions at second base in 14 games. Not only did the Yanks capture the pennant of the Edmonton City League, but they were also the champions of Alberta Province. Unlike domestic teams such as the Great Lakes or Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the McClellan Field Flyers or the 6th Ferrying Group, the 1943 U.S. Army Air Forces Yanks lacked top-tier major league talent and instead, featured players who were merely serving as most of America’s young men were. In the absence future Cooperstown enshrines, the Yanks made due with their roster that included two players who entered the armed forces from the minor leagues; pitcher Wayne Adams (Decatur Commodores) and Walter Misosky (Crookston Pirates), a left-handed-pitcher who also spent time in the outfield. After the war, outfielder Manuel Dorsky and shortstop Harley Miller parlayed their Yanks experience into minor league careers.
|1943 U.S. Army Air Force “Yanks”|
|SGT||Wayne Adams||P||Decatur, IL||6||13||0||2||0.154|
|CAPT||Harry Baldwin||3B/SS||Brooklyn, NY||17||58||11||21||0.362|
|SGT||Bennie Cuellar||OF||San Antonio, TX||3||4||1||2||0.500|
|SGT||Robert Christian||Trainer||Cincinnati, OH|
|CORP||Manuel Dorsky||OF||Birmingham, AL||9||27||3||9||0.333|
|CORP||Bill Dunn||OF||Chattanooga, TN||12||37||7||10||0.270|
|PFC||Gino Galenti||OF/LHP||San Francisco, CA||10||31||4||3||0.097|
|SSGT||Albert Goodrich||C||Detroit, MI||10||32||4||9||0.281|
|PFC||Johnny Gray||P/OF||St. Louis, MO||15||37||5||10||0.270|
|SSGT||John Gullekson||1B||Virginia, MN||18||70||7||19||0.271|
|SSGT||Cloide J. Hensley||OF||Madison, KS||8||16||1||3||0.188|
|SSGT||Frank Hindelong||C||Brooklyn, NY||2||5||1||1||0.200|
|CORP||Jerry/Gerry Johnson||OF/LHP||Springfield, IL||5||11||2||2||0.182|
|LT||Andrew Konopka||OF||Milwaukee, WS||10||25||2||2||0.120|
|PFC||Anthony “Tony” Lollo||C||Brooklyn, NY||7||27||2||5||0.185|
|CORP||Harley Miller||SS||Keokuk, IA||18||63||12||8||0.127|
|PFC||Walter Misosky||LHP/OF||Georgetown, PA||16||56||4||10||0.179|
|Corp||Walter Nelson||P||Sciotoville, OH|
|SGT||Charles F. “Skip” Phillips||2B/3B||Keokuk, IA||13||38||7||10||0.263|
|CORP||Pat Priest||P||Jersey City, NJ||4||6||1||0||0.000|
|CAPT||Frank Wrigglesworth||2B/Coach||Eau Claire, WS||14||45||12||8||0.178|
(stats sourced from Western Canada Baseball)
With the exception of one photo, none of the images bear any marks that identify the players. One image has what appears to be the signature of first baseman John Gullekson though the mark could simply be the player’s name applied to the photograph. Using the 1943 Alberta Photo Gallery page on Mah’s Western Canada Baseball site (that identifies Wayne Adams, Andrew Konopka, Harley Miller and Walter Misosky), we were able to identify one more of the players in the group of photos.
The photos in this group show that the Yanks played some, if not all of their home games at Renfrew Park. Renfrew Park opened in 1935 and would later be renamed John Ducey Park and eventually serve as the home to the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers until it was torn down in 1995, giving way to Edmonton Ballpark (Telus Field/ReMAX Field) that was constructed on the same site. With the distinctive roof structure covering the grandstand, the Renfrew is unmistakable in the Yanks photos.
Only time and further research will allow us to identify most, if not all of the men in this group of photographs. In the interim, it is our hope that enthusiasts, baseball historians or the Yanks family members will enjoy a peek into U.S. and Canadian wartime baseball history.
When one spends a significant portion of time neck-deep in researching the game of baseball dating back to more than three quarters of a century, the changes that have been instituted during that window of time are glaringly apparent. Beyond the scope of the visual differences and the rule changes, disparity within the differing eras’ players; their demeanor, approachability, financial compensation and lifestyles serve to demonstrate how the present-day game merely hints at what was seen in baseball of the golden-era between 1930-1945.
If you’ve attended a major league (or even a high minor league) game, everything between the foul lines is near perfection for the players. The grass is richly lush, emerald green and groomed into aesthetically-pleasing crisscrossed mowed grids or patterns, often incorporating logos and messages showing the many hours of planning and execution by the highly skilled (and well-compensated) groundskeepers. Not a grain of dirt is out of place on the base paths, the mound or the warning track. The foul lines and batters’ boxes are perfectly drawn chalk. Of the 30 current major league ballparks, all but three facilities were built as or function as baseball-only venues (Oakland’s Coliseum, Toronto’s Rogers Center and Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field were all constructed as multi-sport arenas) providing fans with an “intimate” baseball experience (as much as can be expected for 35,000 to 56,000 fans at one time can enjoy).
Nearly anyone who wore a military uniform understands from experience that one can adapt to surroundings making even the most environmentally unfriendly situation seem a little bit like home. In the absence of a suitable place to sleep, a GI can get shuteye in almost any location or situation whether being drenched in a tropical rain squall or on the hot steel deck surrounding a shipboard gun mount, soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen have little difficulty making do. Coming off the front lines and taking time out for respite and a breather from the monotony and intensity of wartime service presents troops with opportunity for recreation. Up until the conflicts faced by the post-Vietnam War service members, baseball was the truly the “American Pastime” which meant that a ball and glove (if not a bat) wasn’t too far out of a GI’s reach.
Longtime followers of Chevrons and Diamonds are familiar with some of the vintage military baseball photographs within our image archive and have seen quite a few of them published here. As the library grows in size and scope, we observe content trends that quickly develop into topic themes that subsequently percolate, coalescing into an article. While seeking a photo for a then upcoming article, we found that our library had several induction-related photographs that helped to share the experiences of several ballplayers as they entered the armed forces during World War II (see: Baseball Inductions: Transitioning from Diamonds to the Ranks). With last week’s story regarding Cubs’ catcher, Marv Felderman (see: A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats), our search for photographs (to enhance the article) revealed another theme within the photographs.
During this author’s time serving on active duty in the Navy on a guided missile cruiser, I played on several of the ship’s sports teams throughout the years (football and softball) with our games occurring while we were in our home port. While on deployment, such activities were otherwise non-existent until one of our officers had an idea for volleyball on the ship’s helicopter flight deck. Volleyball played in a gym or on a sport court requires little planning aside from ensuring the presence of a proper net and ball. However, aboard a pitching and rolling ship with a 54’ x 40’ “court” covered in skin-shredding non-skid and bounded by heavy-framed, stainless steel safety nets, the game poses many challenges and risks (including losing the ball over the side of the ship). In between operational activities, volleyball was played as we adapted to the environment and overcame some of the risks.
“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” Leonardo da Vinci
Perception (Merriam Webster):
- 3a: awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation color perception
- b: physical sensation interpreted in the light of experience
The ability to apply knowledge through experience – examining surroundings and envisioning what could be implemented in that environment. The officer aboard my ship stood on the flight deck and perceived a volleyball court. Envisioning a baseball diamond (or ate least components of one) aboard a ship requires deeper perception, especially aboard an inter-war period battleship.
One of the vintage photos within our library was very reminiscent of that shipboard volleyball. Captured in the early 1930s aboard the battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43), the image demonstrates the level of competition and how serious it was taken by personnel aboard ship (see: Despite the Auction Loss, Victory is Found in the Discovery) as indicated by the elaborate batting cage constructed on the ship’s starboard side, beneath the trained number-3 turret. Unlike a land-based military team, the men aboard ship need to find creative ways to work on the fundamentals of the game and the men of the Tennessee improvised and adapted to address their need.
Making reality of perception requires a lot of hands and ingenuity when laying out a complete baseball field, especially one that is a short distance away from active combat operations.
In another photo (that is part of a larger group of snapshots from a veteran’s WWII photo album), a game is being played in a jungle clearing nestled among palm trees and tropical vegetation. The men playing in the game were members of the 20th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Sykes’ Regulars” which was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division) that were in the midst of nearly 220 days of continuous combat (see: Following the Horrors of Battle in the Pacific, Baseball was a Welcomed Respite). The men of the 20th were afforded a break from the fighting and opted for a baseball game played on a makeshift diamond complete with an improvised backstop.
One of the photos that stands out among the images displaying the game in unconventional venues is the 1953 image of the game being played on a sheet of Alaskan ice near St. Lawrence Island. Though the image within our collection is a black and white Associated Press Wirephoto, the original photograph was captured in color and is housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
It was not uncommon for soldiers to have a glove and ball tucked away in their rucksack or folded up and stuffed into a pocket, affording the game a measure of portability as the men fought and marched their way, capturing and holding enemy territory. Pulling out gloves and a ball to simply have a catch with a was a reminder of home and helped to break apart the mental and emotional strains. In a World War I photo in our collection, two doughboys of the 354th Infantry Regiment toss a ball on tracks adjacent to an 89th Division Hospital Train spelling the men from the seeing the carnage of broken bodies, just a few feet away.
One of the earliest additions to our vintage photo archive is an image of U.S. Army Air Forces personnel playing baseball nearly underneath a heavy bomber. In between bombing missions, crewmen of an Australian-based B-17 Flying Fortress relax with a game as support personnel service the engine the number three engine. Reminiscent of their days playing sandlot baseball, these airmen adapted to their surroundings for an impromptu game. Though American miners imported the game to the continent down-under nearly a century earlier, U.S. service personnel stationed throughout Australia revived the locals’ interest in the game during the war.
Each photo that we selected for this article serves as an example of how baseball is interwoven into the history the armed forces and American culture. With stories of enemy combatants still being actively engaged while U.S. troops (who have recently come off the front lines for a rest period) naturally take up the game for a few moments of normalcy, these photos illustrate how it was done without the palatial and cavernous stadiums that house the highest levels of today’s game.
Whether ball fields were drawn out among the bombed-out rubble of former German-occupied towns, carved into the coral and volcanic sand of Western Pacific Islands, imagined among the fencing and livestock of a Normandy farm or in a North African soccer stadium, servicemen combined the skills of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability in order to perceive suitable places to play baseball.
Our mission to capture and preserve military baseball artifacts has directed the pursuit of materials in the form of printed matter that provides documentation of specific leagues, teams and even games that were played that included at least one service team. Ephemera such as game programs, scorebooks an scorecards provides incredible details such as roster configurations and player data (age, hometown, previous professional teams, etc.) which serves to provide researchers with invaluable historical data. With the Chevrons and Diamonds Library of Military Baseball Scorecards, Score-books and Game Programs, not only are we showcasing these historical treasures but also providing our collector colleagues and other researchers with a searchable online resource.
Our library predominantly consists of artifacts that we have curated for our own collection however, when we find pieces that we ultimately fail to secure, we strive to capture the images and data contained within each piece that slips through our hands. The current count of scorecards, programs and scorebooks displayed within our archive has been stalled at 20 pieces (15 of which are part of the Chevrons and Diamonds collection) for nearly a year. However, that tally does not reflect the actual number of pieces that have been acquired in the last 12 months. The reason for the lack of attention afforded to our online archive is merely a matter of prioritization of our research and writing projects in conjunction with priorities outside of the realm of baseball militaria.
Our online archive attracts a fair amount of readership traffic proving that this undertaking provides a measure of benefit for our intended audiences. Aside from measuring visitor statistical data pertaining to this online archive of ephemera treasures, we have received feedback from colleagues that have eagerly provided us with scans and images of pieces within their own collections to add to the list in order to enhance the library. In the past few years since we provided this reader-submission functionality, we have received a few additions to our library. Sadly, not everything that was sent to us has yet been added to the library.
Ephemera collectors tend to be a bit of a rarity within the larger arena baseball memorabilia. Rarer still are those collectors who seek out historical paper from military or service games. When a colleague reached out to us regarding his collection of scorecards, programs and scorebooks from games featuring the wartime Great Lakes Naval Training Station ball teams, we were thrilled, to say the least, with the prospect of adding his incredible collection to our online resource.
One could assert that of the service teams that played ball during World War II, two of the best (if not THE best) teams were from the Navy’s largest recruit training stations. On the Atlantic coast, the Norfolk (Virginia) Naval Training Station Bluejackets team was the product of Captain Henry McClure and Chief Bosun Gary Bodie and in the Midwest, another Bluejackets team based at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (located north of Chicago, Illinois on the western shores of Lake Michigan) was managed by former Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers great, Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane. During Cochrane’s leadership of the Great Lakes team from 1942 through 1944, the team amassed a combined record of 163 wins against 26 losses (and one tie) against competition ranging from major and minor league clubs, other service teams and industrial teams. Cochrane would reach out to ballplayers (who had not yet been drafted or enlisted for wartime service) and recruit them to join the Navy with the notion that they would play baseball for his team for the season.
Chuck Ailsworth, a collector from Michigan, offered to provide Chevrons and Diamonds with scans of his collection of seven Great Lakes Naval Training Station scorecards (three from the 1942 season, one from 1943 and three from 1944) along with his assortment of (George Brace/George Burke) photographs of various team personalities and were delighted to accept. In discussing Mr. Ailsworth’s interest with the Great Lakes baseball club, he explained that is inspiration stems from his father’s Korean War-era service, predominantly spent at the home of Mickey Cochrane’s Bluejackets, a few years removed from the end of WWII. Mr. Ailsworth explained, “Great Lakes during Korea was not the same as during WWII,” he wrote. “But I still learned a bit about the team from my dad and then learned on my own that they may have been the best team in baseball during most of the war.” Remarking about the dominance of Cochrane’s teams during the war, Chuck stated, “That always fascinated me, the idea that a bunch of GIs could beat the best MLB had to offer.” However, history shows that Cochrane’s teams’ rosters were populated by seasoned ballplayers from the highest levels of the professional game.
- July 2, 1942 Great Lakes vs Chanute Field at Comiskey Field
- August 14, 1942 Great Lakes vs Coffeyville Ban Johnson Refiners
- August 16, 1942 Great Lakes vs Beloit Booster AC
- June 24, 1944 Great Lakes vs the Western Michigan All-Stars, Grand Rapids, MI
- August 4, 1944 Great Lakes vs Coca-Cola Bottling of Springfield, OH
- 1944 Great Lakes vs UAW Local 72, Kenosha, WI
For researchers who focus on details such as roster make-up, having multiple scorecards from a season provides greater insight into player movement on and off the list of players throughout the year. While many sources cite a fixed roster of names, these scorecards show that what was previously established for the Great Lakes teams under Cochrane overlook names that the manager fielded throughout those seasons.
1942 Great Lakes Bluejackets (season roster):
|22||O. V. Mulkey||Coach|
|Myron “Mush” Esler||Trainer|
|E. A. Thompson||Pub. Rel.|
1943 Great Lakes Bluejackets (season roster):
|25||George “Skeets” Dickey||C|
1944 Great Lakes Bluejackets (season roster):
|31||Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe||P|
|8||Gene “Junior” Thompson||P|
|Luke Walton||Admin. Off.|
|Carl Meyer||Yeo. 2/c|
Mr. Ailsworth augmented his scorecard submission by providing his own descriptions as well as contextual historical data (including game outcomes) surrounding each game. Rounding out Ailsworth’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station collection are his original George Brace images (scans of original medium format negative transparencies) of Bluejackets players.
Without a doubt, these seven scorecards are truly invaluable as they provide both an identification resource (for collectors seeking their own Great Lakes scorecards) and an historical record not easily obtained through box scores or newspaper clippings.
Note: Chevrons and Diamonds extends our sincere gratitude to Chuck Ailsworth for making this portion of his collection available to us and to our readers. Mr. Ailsworth provided the scans of each scorecard page along with fantastic descriptions and game results. In addition, Mr. Ailsworth provided his library of original George Burke/George Brace negatives to Chevrons and Diamonds
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).
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).
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
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:
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.
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
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:
|Irvin “Red” Meairs||SS|
|Steve “Red” Tramback||CF|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.