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Threads of Lefty: From Ace Farmhand to the GI World Series, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part I

Lawrence Milton “Lefty” Powell’s progression from high school ballplayer through the California State semi-professional league, into the minor leagues and onto the roster of the Boston Red Sox was not an easy road to the big leagues. The left-handed pitcher’s mastery of multiple pitches drew the attention of professional scouts, sportswriters and legends of the game and also prompted comparisons to pitching stars of the time, including such greats as New York Giants future Hall of Fame hurler Carl Hubbell. However, the road to the major league pitching mound is littered with broken dreams of countless thousands of such future talents whose arms suffered irreparable damage sustained from overwork and pitching through pain.

1941
Larry Powell’s baseball career did not end with his 1941 spring training stint with the Boston Red Sox; however, it was impacted by an extended break due to the call of his country during the brewing national and international crisis. Following the enactment of the United States’ first peacetime draft in September, 1940, young men were required to register for the draft the following month and await the call from their local draft board.

Private Larry Powell with the Camp Roberts All-Stars baseball team, August 1942 (Santa Cruz Sentinel-Sun, Aug 2,1942).

Back home in Reedley, California following a tumultuous season with the class “AA” San Francisco Seals, Larry Powell registered with local draft board 124 on October 16. On block 10, Powell listed his employer as the Boston Red Sox as he was under contract with the major league club despite playing the entire 1940 season with the Seals. Physical attributes noted on the back of his draft card indicated the pitcher was 5-feet, 10-1/2 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. He was of “ruddy” complexion with brown hair and hazel eyes. Listed on the “other obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification” block was, “disfigured left thumb.” [1]

Eight months after registering, Powell received his notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army on July 9, 1941, in Sacramento, California.[2] By late July, Powell found himself back in baseball flannels weeks after shedding his San Diego Padres togs. He was playing for the Camp Roberts team, the organizers of which began openly pursuing competitors from other service teams and area semi-pro clubs.[3] In the following weeks, the Roberts club faced off against regional service nines, including Bakersfield Air Base, Camp San Luis Obispo, and the Camp Roberts Hospital team.[4] Area newspapers touted the former star pitcher as the Camp Roberts club’s headliner. On August 24, the Roberts club traveled north to San Francisco to face the Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio at the old sandlot, Funston Field.[5][6]

Larry Powell’s entry into the armed forces through the selective service was not unique as others answered their draft boards’ calls to duty. Even in the major league ranks, some notable names were called into uniform, including Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh Mulcahy, the first big leaguer to be drafted, and Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg. The trickle of ballplayers into the armed forces changed after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7. Hank Greenberg, who had been discharged just two days before, immediately joined the Army Air Forces. Cleveland Indians hurler Bob Feller volunteered for service, enlisting in the Navy on December 9. In the following weeks and months, many players from the major and minor leagues began pouring into the armed forces.

1942
At the time of his entry into the Army, Larry Powell was still the property of the Boston Red Sox despite having been sent down to the minor leagues after failing to meet the club’s expectations. In late January, Boston General Manager Eddie Collins lamented the roster vacancies left by the departure of Powell, Mickey Harris, Al Flair and Earl Johnson to the service. “It hurts our chances but we’re still proud to lose them that way,” the Hall of Famer stated.[7] Joining Powell at Camp Roberts was his fellow West Coast native, Earl Johnson, who enlisted on January 5, 1942, and was added to the post ball team. The 1942 Roberts men boasted such a wide-ranging roster of minor league talent that the club was dubbed the Camp Roberts “All-Stars.” As the Coast League was wrapping up spring training in Southern California, the Seattle Rainiers traveled to Camp Roberts to face the All-Stars. Private Earl Johnson got the start against the Coast Leaguers; however, the results were unfavorable for the soldiers. Roberts’ pitching surrendered six runs on 14 hits to the Seattle batters, who touched both Johnson and Powell. The All-Stars were stymied by a succession of Rainiers hurlers, Bill Bevens, Al Libke and Henry Bushman, who limited the Army batters to two runs on six hits.[8]

1942 Camp Roberts All-Stars:

PlayerPositionFormer
Harold “Hal” Eckhardt2BTucson (AZTX)
Carlo “Carl” Forni2B/SSWenatchee (WINT)
Benite J. GuintiniCFSalt Lake City (PION)
Earl JohnsonPRed Sox
Morris “Morry” JonesOF/1BColumbus (AA)
 JoursLF
Art ManginiRFLos Angeles (PCL)
Otto MeyersMgr./CFWaterloo (IIIL)
Ralph “Hal” Mountain1BMeridian (SEAL)
Hal O’BanionCTwin Falls (PION)
Danny Phillips2BTyler (EXTL)
Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPSan Diego (PCL)
Darryl Reynolds3BSt. Mary’s College
William Scull1BSemi-Pro
Melvin WasleyOFPocatello (PION)


The Johnson-Powell hurling duo was victimized in early April when the Roberts club travelled to Fresno to face the Hammer Field Bombers. For Powell, it was a homecoming of sorts as the game was played at Fresno State College Park[9] before 3,000 fans, who no doubt included family and friends. Unfortunately, for Powell, former San Francisco Seal Harry Goorabian led the Bombers to a 7-4 victory, driving two home runs out of the park.[10] Unfazed, the Camp Roberts All-Stars soldiered on, closing out the month of April with a 4-2 won-lost record.[11]

Private Larry “Lefty” Powell sits with his former manager, Lefty O’Doul in the dugout at Seals Stadium (Courtesy of Zak Ford).

On May 24, Camp Roberts traveled to Salinas to face the “Rodeo Buffet” town baseball team. Again, the Red Sox pitching “connection” of Johnson and Powell shared mound duties and were touched by the Rodeo club for a combined 13 hits. Buffet hurler Fred Lacy stated that he was unimpressed by the star-studded roster of former pro ballplayers in the opposing dugout and he set down the first Roberts batters in order.[12] Buffet batters took a first-inning lead after touching Johnson for a leadoff walk and two singles. It did not take long for Lacy’s lack of respect for Camp Roberts to turn to awe as the Army hit him for three runs on three hits, including a triple by Earl Johnson. The Army poured gasoline onto the fire as the game progressed and carved a groove around the base paths by scoring 30 runs. Larry Powell gave up three runs on four hits while batting a perfect two-for-two at the plate and scoring two runs. When the dust settled, Camp Roberts departed Salinas after feasting on the Buffet.[13]

Visiting Lemoore Army Air Field for a pair of weekend games on June 27-28, the Camp Roberts nine took both contests by a combined score of 30-2. Art Mangini’s 18-1 victory paved the way for Powell as he captured the 12-1 victory on the following day.[14]

1943
After the 1942 season ended and Powell spent some of the holidays with family, the pitcher was sent to Camp Claiborne outside of Alexandria, Louisiana in early January.[15] With a letter of recommendation from San Francisco Seals team owner Charlie Graham, Private Powell, the non-commissioned officer in charge of a communications platoon, was anticipating an appointment to officer candidate school while at Claiborne in code training.[16]  

By early May, Powell had been assigned to Lemoore Army Air Field, suiting up for the “Mechs” nine as they played in the San Joaquin Valley Baseball League. Lemoore Field joined Camp Pinedale, 4th Air Force Replacement Depot, Hanford All-Stars, and Fresno’s Nick Kikkert’s club in the league.

1943 Lemoore Army Air Field “Mechs”

RankPlayerPositionFormer
Sgt.Ned SheehanIF/OF/coachBoise (PION)
Corp.Bill BurtonPSemi-pro
LtTom CareyMgr.*Dodgers
Jim ChambersP
Corp.“Big Jake” JacobsenMgr.
Pvt.Dick LinnellPNorfolk (PIED)
 PeytonC
Pvt.Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPLouisville (AA)
Sgt.Tony PrecinoSS
 StribicC
Sgt.Bob WolfPSemi-pro

Throughout the spring and deep into the summer, Powell was manager and former Brooklyn Dodgers’ batting practice pitcher Tom Carey’s go-to starting pitcher[17] as Lemoore was firmly entrenched in third place in the league’s standings. Powell’s time with Lemoore ended in July with his transfer to Fort Sill, Oklahoma when he was assigned to the 689th Artillery Battalion “Fabins” of the 18th Field Artillery. Powell was added to the 18th Field Artillery’s squad despite the season nearing its end. The dominant baseball team in the region, the Norman Naval Air Station  “Skyjackets,” stocked with Al Benton, Bennie Warren, Johnny Rizzo, and Charlie Gelbert, had their way with all comers throughout the season on their way to claiming the league title. When Powell arrived, the 18th had an undefeated streak that surpassed 20 games. In his first game for the Fort Sill-based nine, Powell pitched a 13-0 no-hitter as the 18th claimed their 22nd consecutive win.[18] Facing the Norman Navy Nine on August 4, the Navy handed the Army their first loss, pounding Powell for 11 runs on 11 hits. Lefty Powell walked five and struck out a pair of Norman batters.[19] Following the end of the season, the 18th faced the Fort Sill Field Artillery School’s (FAS) Negro detachment club. The September 19 contest saw Powell entering the game in the top of the ninth with the FAS nine leading 7-6. Powell held the opponents scoreless, allowing the 18th to rally in the bottom of the frame, plating two runs to win the game, 8-7. With the war progressing in Europe, the 689th Artillery Battalion began preparing to enter the fight.

Seventeen days after defeating the Field Artillery School team, Powell packed his gear as the 689th departed Fort Sill by train for California. Four days later, the train arrived in the California desert near Camp Iron Mountain, where General George Patton’s 3rd Armored Division called home before deploying to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). [20] The men of the 689th commenced an intensive training and hardening program with two weeks of maneuvers in November leading up to Army Ground Force (AGF) testing. In December, the artillery battalion commenced firing tests that culminated on Christmas Eve with the unit being declared fit for battle.[21]

1944
Following training, Powell, now holding the rank of staff sergeant, spent 10 days on furlough over the holidays with his family back home in Reedley.[22] For Powell and the rest of the 689th, baseball was now only a topic of GI conversation. Instead of preparing for spring training, Powell was once again on a train with his unit, bound for Camp Polk, Louisiana to await orders. The only question that remained among the men was “Where will we fight?”[23]

More than two weeks after the commencement of the Normandy Invasion, the 689th departed Camp Polk by rail on June 16. With stops in Texarkana, Chattanooga and New Haven, the battalion arrived 10 days later on June 26 at Camp Miles Standish near Taunton, Massachusetts to prepare for departure to the ETO. For four days the battalion was organized and loaded aboard ships for their Atlantic crossing. Departing on July 1, the 689th was embarked aboard the USS Wakefield (AP-21), a former luxury ocean liner of the United States Lines named SS Manhattan, converted and commissioned into Navy service as a troop transport. Upon arrival in Liverpool, the battalion disembarked and were taken by rail to the newly constructed Camp Cwrt-y-gollen, five miles west of Abergavenny, Wales, where the Fabins were attached to the 12th Corps under the Third Army.

While in Wales, the 689th trained for combat operations and made all preparations for entering combat operations. From the docks of Southampton, the Fabins sailed for Northern France and made their landing on the beachhead at Utah Beach, Normandy on August 24 and connected with the XX Corps Artillery. The Fabins worked their way across France through St. Mars, Cloves, Navours, Herme, Mont Morte, Constantine, Puisileaux, Juoy, Ville, Fleville, Mancieulles, Trieux and Fontoy through September 12 and were predominantly assigned to the 195th Field Artillery Group in support of the 5th Infantry Division and 7th Armored Division as well as the 90th Infantry Division.

Now assigned to the 5th Artillery Group under the 5th Infantry Division as the Rhineland campaign began, the Fabins were now supporting the Allied forces’ push towards Germany. As the month of September wound to a close, the 689th crossed into Luxembourg and established a firing base at Welfrange. During a period of downtime, the men were able to listen to some of the 1944 World Series games through a small radio set as the St. Louis Browns faced off against their National League counterparts, the St. Louis Cardinals.[24]

For the first few weeks of October, the 689th was attached the 40th Field Artillery group as they joined the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 3rd Cavalry Group, constituting Task Force Polk. By November, the battalion had crossed back into France, maneuvering along the Luxemburg border and supporting various operations. On December 3, while assigned to the 10th Armored Division, the battalion entered Germany, advancing to Wehingen. By mid-December, the 698th was hampered by a serious bout of influenza sweeping through the battalion. A substantial portion of unit personnel were transferred to infantry units as German forces mounted a counteroffensive and broke through allied lines. The enemy offensive was later dubbed “The Battle of the Bulge.” With diminished ranks and a perilously low stocks of ammunition, the 689th was pulled back to a position across the French border near the town of Kirsch-lès-Sierck, where they remained through the end of January.

1945
By March, the Fabins were largely assigned to the 193rd Field Artillery Group and continued supporting the 10th Armored Division for most of the month. In April, the 689th supported the 6th Armored Division for the first half of the month as they crossed over the Elbe River. The last vestiges of the Third Reich were being mopped up as the Allies pushed for Berlin as April ended. The 689th arrived in Eggstetten, Austria on May 3 across the Inn River from Hitler’s birthplace, the town of Branau. After the 689th commenced some missions, orders came from the command to cease all firing, with speculation and rumors flying among the men that the end might be near. On May 8, the proclamation was read to the troops that Germany had surrendered, bringing about the end of the war in Europe.

Though the battalion was only in the fight for eight months, the three batteries of the 689th sent nearly 50,000 artillery rounds onto enemy targets.

  • 316 – Guns neutralized or destroyed
  • 52 – Tanks destroyed or disabled
  • 21 – Pillboxes knocked out
  • 51 – Troop concentrations broken up
  • 55 – Vehicles knocked out
  • 24 – Enemy counter attacks broken up
  • 17 – Enemy command posts knocked out
  • 3 – Enemy command posts destroyed
  • 1 – Railway station destroyed
  • 4 – Bridges destroyed
  • 3 – Barges destroyed
  • 4 – Mine fields blown up
  • 2 – Enemy mess halls destroyed
  • 2 – Enemy ammunition dumps blown up
  • 1 – Machine gun knocked out

For their combat service from the summer of 1944 through May, 1945, the Fabins men were authorized to wear four “battle star” devices on their European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for the following campaigns:

  • Northern France – July 25, 1944 – September 1944[25]
  • Rhineland – September 15, 1944 – March 21, 1945[26]
  • Ardennes – December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945[27]
  • Central Europe – March 22, 1945 – May 11, 1945[28]

For the men of the 689th Artillery Battalion the surrender meant that they would be on the move to Freising, Germany, located near Munich, to serve as guards at a displaced persons camp where the Germans had incarcerated 60,000 Russians, French, Italians and others. Transforming from a combat artillery unit into an occupation battalion was “a pain in the neck,” and the men were glad when they were sent to the Bavarian town of Bayrischzell to guard hospitals and to patrol the German-Austrian border.[29]

Post-VE-Day Baseball
Following the German surrender, US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and his staff devised a fair system in determining prioritization for sending troops home. The resulting system tallied points for each GI based upon five distinct factors. If the soldier, airman, sailor or Marine accrued 85 or more points, he was eligible to be sent home for discharge.[30]

Points were awarded according to the following formula:

  • One point for each month of service in the Army
  • One additional point for each month of service overseas
  • Five points for each campaign
  • Five points for a medal for merit or valor (Silver Star for example)
  • Five points for a Purple Heart (awarded to all soldiers who were wounded in action)
  • Twelve points for each dependent child up to three dependent children

With the majority of the men having accrued the required 85 points by July 5, the officers and men of the 689th were homeward bound just two months after VE-Day. However, there were some men who remained in country despite their eligibility status. Staff Sergeant Larry Powell was one of those men who continued with occupation duties and was tapped to pitch once again for the 18th Field Artillery’s squad as the European continent saw more than 100,000 GIs forming teams in hundreds of leagues.

By early August, league winners were advancing into regional playoffs that would culminate in division and army championships. When teams were eliminated, rosters of the losing squads would be raided for the best players to better the chances of the raiding victors on their march toward the GI World Series. Such was the case for the 1st Infantry Division after defeating the Maurice Van Robays-managed 16th Armored Division team, though circumstances dictated a much more drastic action.

The entire 1st Division’s roster had acquired the points necessary for return to the states, but the victorious team stopped continuing their goal of reaching the GI World Series. With the entire 16th Armored roster’s players being under the points threshold, a team swap was enacted moments after the final out of the 6-5 “Big Red One” victory. Upon the realization that each team would be required to exchange their respective units’ shoulder insignia, the men refused to acquiesce to the order. “I’ll always be a 1st Division man,” one of the players asserted, “no matter where the hell they send me.” Similarly, the men of the 16th Armored Division refused the change. “We didn’t do so badly in this war, either,” declared Van Robays.[31]

Late August, 1945, Nuremberg Stadium for the U.S. Army Ground Forces Championship Series, the 29th Division is on defense. The first base coach on the far right is wearing the uniform of the Third Army champions (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Staff Sergeant Larry Powell was added to the 71st Division Red Circlers’ roster ahead of the Third Army Championship series, scheduled for August 7-9. Defeating the 76th Division in a best of five series, the 71st continued to add to their roster from the ranks of their vanquished foes. Former New York Giants pitcher Ken Trinkle was taken from the 76th, joining Powell, Harry “the Hat” Walker, Ken Heintzelman, Maurice Van Robays, and Johnny Wyrostek as reinforcements for the Red Circlers.

71st Infantry Division Red Circlers

Rank#PlayerPositionFormerFormer Unit Team
20Bill AyersPAtlanta (SOUA)65th Infantry Division
14Charlie Bamberger3BLondon (PONY) 
5Ewell BlackwellPReds 
19Alpha BrazlePCardinals65th Infantry Division
9Herb BremerCLittle Rock (SOUA) 
Ben Capp 
Capt.22Joe CostaMgr.5th Infantry Division
6Ettore GiammarcoOFFort Smith (WA) 
Jim GladdCFort Smith (WA)33rd Field Artillery
3Jack HaleyP 
18Ken HeintzelmanPPirates65th Infantry Division
D. Louis KauzlarichLubbock (WTNM) 
22Russ KernSS 
1Garland LawingLFBirmingham (SOUA) 
15Earl LindamoodOFWilmington (ISLG) 
17Anselm “Anse” Moore3BBeaumont (TL) 
Andy Moroff 
11Marshall NesmithRF 
8Walter OlsonPSanta Barbara (CALL) 
SSGT21Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPLouisville (AA)18th Field Artillery
13Bob RamazzottiSSDurham (PIED) 
10Rudy  RundusPAllentown (ISLG) 
23Walter SmithC 
24 TauzlarichC 
7Milton  Ticco1BUniversity of Kentucky 
Maurice Van RobaysOF/PPirates16th Armored/1st Division
  Ken TrinklePGiants76th Infantry Division
Harry “The Hat” WalkerOFCardinals65th Infantry Division
16Johnny WyrostekCFPirates 
12Benny Zientera2BIndianapolis (AA) 
Roster from July through September 1945.

The Southern Germany Championship, pitting the Third Army Champions, the 71st Division, against the champs of the Seventh Army, the 29th Division’s Blues and Grays, was a best-of-five series played at Nuremburg Stadium from August 21-26. The 29th Division proved to be no match for the Red Circlers as they were swept in three straight games, including a 3-1 no-hitter by the 71st Division’s Bill Ayers in the second game. Nearly 6,000 miles away, news of the 71st Division’s ascension to the GI World Series reached a small farming community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. “Larry Powell is pitching ball for the 71st Division,” The Reedley Exponent reported, “They are playing for the championship of Europe.”[32]

After the 71st was defeated by the Sam Nahem-led Oise All-Stars in the GI World Series, Larry Powell was ready to return home. Arriving at Camp Kilmer on November 26, Powell spent one day at the New Jersey base before boarding a train bound for California. Eight days after his arrival on U.S. soil, Lawrence Milton Powell was discharged from the U.S. Army as a 1st Sergeant at Camp Beal, 50 miles north of Sacramento, on December 5, 1945. With $263.12 in mustering-out pay, Larry Powell was left with a 240-mile trek to Reedley.[33]

In January 1946, Powell, provided details of his wartime service. “Support of the 94th Division and 5th Ranger Battalion in their breakthrough of the Siegfried Switch Line,” as well as being “attached to the 6th Armored Division in their push from the Rhine River to the Mulde River at Chemnitz.” (Ancestry.com)

With the war behind him and having missed 4.5 years of his professional baseball career, “Lefty” Powell made his return to the diamond in the spring of 1946. Powell signed his contract with the Red Sox and reported to Sarasota, Florida for training camp. As if he picked up where he left off with Boston during spring training in 1941, Powell showed signs of brilliance on the mound in between his struggles with control. In his 1946 debut exhibition appearance against St. Louis, Powell entered the game in relief, holding the Cardinals hitless for the final three innings and notching a 1-0 victory as Eddie Pellagrini doubled in the winning run in the ninth.[34] Despite an April 6 2-1 loss to the Reds, Cronin kept the 30-year-old rookie on the roster to start the season.

Finishing out April, the 11-3 Red Sox held a two-game lead over the Yankees. Though still with the Red Sox, Powell was withheld from taking the mound in any of Boston’s games for the opening month of the season. On April 30, the Red Sox parted ways with Powell, giving him his unconditional release[35], but he was signed by the crosstown Braves on the following day.[36] Boston Braves manager Billy Southworth expressed enthusiasm in acquiring Powell (along with Si Johnson and Emerson Roser) and hoped that the change of scenery would be beneficial. Powell indicated that he had been dealing with a sore arm for a few weeks, which may have been the cause of his exclusion from pitching for the Red Sox. “If I just harness my control, I’m going to win,” Powell told the Boston Globe.[37]

Unfortunately for Powell, his stay with the Boston Braves was short-lived as he was given his release on May 8, having spent just a week with the club without making any game appearances. With three chances at baseball’s highest level, Powell’s major league quest was over.[38]

Despite his major league setback, Powell was not done with baseball and signed once again with the Seals. After making a handful of appearances, manager Lefty O’Doul sent Powell down to the Salt Lake City Bees of the class “C” Pioneer League. At the end of August, O’Doul recalled the left-hander as the Seals closed in on securing the Pacific Coast League crown and finishing the year with one of the best season records in league history.

From 1947 to 1954, Powell pitched in the minor leagues, largely on the west coast, never rising above class “A.” Larry Powell’s two best post-war seasons were in the Western International League with the Yakima Bears in 1949 and 1950. Powell posted won-lost records of 16-7 and 13-9 with ERAs of 3.42 and 4.63, respectively. After a brief 1954 season with the Visalia Cubs, 39-year-old Powell left the professional game for good.

Larry Powell spent his post-baseball years following in his father’s footsteps, farming. He served on the board of directors for the Central California Association of Farmers, Associated Farmers of America and Fresno County Farm Bureau.[39] In recognition of his contributions to the game, Larry Powell was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972.[40]

With four of his 14 professional season in the Western International League, Lefty Powell participated in League reunions years later. Left to right in this undated photo are: Alden Wilkie, Harvey Storey, Herm Reich, Joe Kralovich, Jack Colbern and Powell (Courtesy of Marc Blau collection).

After thoroughly researching the player, the veteran, and the uniform, we decided to move forward in negotiations to bring 1st Sergeant Larry Powell’s 18th Field Artillery uniform into the fold of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection. Upon its arrival we conducted a thorough examination of the garments as we assessed the condition of the base wool flannel material, stitching, lettering, and embroidery. We checked for markings in each piece along with comparisons to other Lowe and Campbell wartime baseball uniforms to confirm the age. Of the issues noted, the most pressing concern lay with the back numerals as the fabric had separated from the stitching that affixed them to the base wool flannel. In the near future, we will be forced to address this issue to prevent further degradation and complete separation.

First Sergeant Larry “Lefty” Powell’s World War II baseball uniform from his time playing for the 18th Field Artillery Battalion (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

One interesting nuance with the jersey surrounds the buttons. Of the six on the placket, only the bottom-most is original to the piece. It is quite possible that the repairs were made by Powell or on his behalf during the war, which necessitates leaving the replacements intact.

First Sergeant Lawrence M. “Lefty” Powell’s wartime baseball flannel will be exhibited publicly in the coming years and will be showcased to baseball fans in one of the cities where he played during his professional career.

See more:


[1] Selective Service Registration Card, Ancestry.com (accessed November 20, 2022).

[2] Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938-1946, National Archives AAD (accessed November 20, 2022).

[3] “Camp Roberts Seeks Games; Larry Powell Ace of Staff,” The San Francisco Examiner, July 25, 1941: p23.

[4] “Powell to Pitch for Army Squad,” The Bakersfield Californian, August 2, 1941: p10.

[5] Funston Field (https://goodoldsandlotdays.com/medley/memories-of-the-game/182-funston-field-in-san-francisco-s-marina-district), Good Old Sandlot Days (accessed November 20, 2022).

[6] “Camp Roberts Plays in S.F.,” The San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1941: p19.

[7] “Ted Williams Not To Attend Big Dinner,” Durham Morning Herald (Durham, NC) January 28, 1942: p8.

[8] “Training Briefs,” Salinas Morning Post (Salinas, CA) March 21, 1942: p7

[9] “Camp Roberts Nine is Due in Fresno Today,” The Fresno Bee The Republican, April 4, 1942: p8.

[10] “In Between Briefs,” Stockton Daily Evening Record (Stockton, CA) April 22, 1942: p14

[11] “Army Team: Camp Roberts to Clash With Gardners Sunday,” The Bakersfield Californian, April 25, 1942: p12.

[12] Oliver, Ted, “Rodeo Buffet Beaten, 30-5 By Strong Army Outfit at Spreckles,” Salinas Morning Post, May 26, 1942: p9

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Camp Roberts Beats Air Base Nine Twice,” The Californian (Salinas, CA), June 29, 1942: p7.

[15] “Larry Powell to Camp Claiborne,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA) January 7, 1943: p3

[16] Borba, Harry, “Side Lines,” The San Francisco Examiner, March 5, 1943: p23.

[17] Lemoore Army, All-Stars to Tangle Sunday,” Hanford Morning Journal (Hanford, CA), March 28, 1943: p7.

[18] “Powell Hurls No-Hitter for 18th Field Artillery,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL), August 22, 1943: p13.

[19] “Jackets Spoil 18th’s Record,” The Daily Oklahoman, August 5, 1943: p16.

[20] “’Logchips On The Way’ – History of the 689th Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theater of Operations,” U.S. Army, 1948: p13.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Powell Home on Leave,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA) January 13, 19443: p4

[23] ’Logchips On The Way’ – History of the 689th Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theater of Operations,” U.S. Army, 1948: p13.

[24] Ibid: p31.

[25] Authorized by General Orders No. 103, dated November 13, 1945

[26] Authorized by General Orders No. 118, dated December 12, 1945

[27] Authorized by General Orders No. 114, dated December 7, 1945

[28] Authorized by General Orders No. 116, dated December 11, 1945

[29] Ibid: p32-57.

[30] “The Points Were All That Mattered: The US Army’s Demobilization After World War II, (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/points-system-us-armys-demobilization)” The National WWII Museum, New Orleans (accessed December 1, 2022)

[31] Weston, Joe, “1st Div. Nine 5-4 Winner in Strange Germany Test,” Southern France Stars and Stripes, July 13, 1945: p7.

[32] “Larry Powell is Pitching for the 71st Division,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA), August 30, 1945: p3.

[33] Final Pay Voucher, National Archives and Records Administration (accessed November 23, 2022)

[34] “Powell Holds Redbirds Hitless,” The San Francisco Examiner, March 13, 1946: p22.

[35] “Marty, Powell Draw Releases,” The San Francisco Examiner, May 1, 1946: p21.

[36] “Braves Sign Powell,” Oakland Tribune, May 2, 1946: p23

[37] “Braves Bits,” The Boston Globe, May 5, 1946: p34

[38] “Braves Announce Powell’s Release,” The San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1946: p19.

[39] Larry Powell Obituary, The Fresno Bee, May 28, 2009

[40] “Inductees for 1972 (https://www.fresnoahof.org/year-list.php?y=1972),” Fresno Athletics Hall of Fame (accessed December 1, 2022)

Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard

Taking stock of the past three months’ worth of Chevrons and Diamonds articles, it is easy to discern a few emerging content trends that reflect the types of artifacts that are continually being added to our collection. In that span of time, three separate Chevrons and Diamonds articles have documented some of our recent acquisitions of noteworthy scorecards or programs originating from rather historic service team games that were played during World War II. Just as most parents can’t choose a favorite among their own children, none of the scorecards, programs or scorebooks within our collection receives such prized status, though there are some genuine stand-outs among the pack.

Collecting historic baseball military ephemera is far more rewarding than similar pieces from the professional game (or, at least that is our admittedly biased opinion). In terms of scarcity or rarity of items, those that were distributed at a major league game are of the most common by comparison to items distributed at a wartime service league or exhibition game. During the 1940s major league ballparks had seating capacities that ranged from the mid-30,000s in the smaller markets to 57,000 for the crown jewel of the big leagues, Yankee Stadium. One would have to assume that scorecards and programs printed for each game numbered in the range 30-50% of the capacity for each game, if not more. By WWII, teams employed the practice of limiting printing runs to a handful of editions throughout the season (changing only the actual scoresheets and specific rosters pages inside the booklets to reflect the current visitors and lineups). Despite these production factors, the sheer numbers of those individual-game scorecards that were printed increase the odds of having more surviving pieces to collect. In contrast, the pieces printed for a military game would number in the hundreds at best, resulting in far fewer surviving examples.

Survivability of military baseball ephemera (just as with those from the professional game) can vary dependent upon a few factors such as paper quality, modes of transporting the pieces home or just general handling (folding or being stuffed into a pocket). There is a notable difference in the quality of paper used by professional teams and the very rudimentary medium used to produce the service team pieces, especially for those printed in the overseas theaters. Due to these factors, the surviving military items are far outnumbered by their wartime major and minor league counterparts. Locating and acquiring a military scorecard, scorebook or program in excellent or better condition is next to impossible solely based on the the aforementioned factors.

Scarcity due to production, handling, transportation and storage are only part of the story to consider. Recognizing that as the last of the World War II veterans are passing, their heirs are often saddled with determining the disposition of the accumulation more than 70 years since their family member returned from the war. To the untrained eye, a piece of military baseball ephemera might appear to be nothing more than smelly old paper falling victim to a quick purge during a home clean-out and subsequently ending up in the trash. Those pieces that escape all of these situations and make their way into collections (such as ours) or to a museum are exceedingly scarce.

For the select few collectors of baseball militaria, items from notable games don’t typically slip past our watchful eyes undetected very often which is not to suggest that it never happens. However, when it does occur, the sheer joy of being the one to land such a piece with minimal (or without) competition from other collectors means that the acquisition costs are minimized. What determines the notability of a service team game and subsequently impacts the rarity (and collector-value) of military baseball scorecards?

The cover of the Third Army Baseball Championship series games score card. The 71st ID Defeated the 76th ID in five games that were played in early August, 1945.

During World War II, many significant service team games (or series) were played and were well-documented in the press by sportswriters (for domestic games) and war correspondents (for overseas games). Contests such as the 1943 exhibition game played between a combined team of Yankees and Indians (coached by Babe Ruth) versus the Navy Pre-Flight (UNC Chapel Hill) “Cloudbusters” or the 1944 Army versus Navy Championship series in the Hawaiian Islands have garnered significant attention both at the time of the games and, more recently, over the last decade. Scorecards from these games tend to surface on occasion though not nearly as much as their major league counterparts.

In more than a decade of researching, collecting and observing the baseball militaria market, we have been diligent in documenting and tracking artifacts (such as scorecards) that are listed for sale (or at auction) along with monitoring the corresponding pricing trends. During that period of observation, we have seen only three examples (two of which we acqired) of the scorecard (shown at right) originating from the 1945 Third Army Championship series played in Nuremberg, Germany. The August 11-13, 1945 (originally scheduled from August 7-9) series amounted to a preliminary play-off round in the run up to the overall championship of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and pitted the “Onaways” of the 76th Infantry Division against the “Red Circlers” of the 71st Infantry Division (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Third Army – Baseball Championship Series). Led by the dominant pitching performance of former Cincinnati Reds phenom Ewell Blackwell, the Red Circlers eliminated the Onaways in five games.

The pitcher (possibly Earl Ghelf) starts his windup in one of their US Army Ground Forces Championship Series Games against the 7ist Inf. Red Circlers.

Next up for the Third Army Champion-71st Infantry Division “Red Circlers” was the US Army Ground Forces Championship Series against the 7th Army Champion “Blue and Grays” of the 29th Infantry Division. This best of five games-series was played in both Nuremberg and Manheim, Germany with the ‘Circlers’ starting pitchers Ewell Blackwell and Bill Ayres dominating the opposing batters. The 71st swept the 29th in three straight to advance to the ETO World Series. While we have yet to uncover a scorecard or program, a significant group of photographs and other associated documents (along with a 7th Army Championship medal) originating from one of the 29th’s pitchers, former minor league pitcher, Earl Ghelf surfaced in early 2018 (see: Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division and European Theater Baseball: the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg for more details) which we were able to secure.

Baseball in Occupied Europe
In the weeks following the collapse and unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, U.S. Army leadership was successful in assembling one of the largest known baseball leagues featuring more than 200,000 soldiers and airmen filling rosters of bases and units stationed throughout the occupied European Theater. The autumn-1945 GI World Series was the culmination of the season-long competition throughout the continent with teams that consisted of regular soldiers playing alongside former minor and major leaguers, all of whom fought and served in the war in theater. By season’s end, some of the teams who made it to the lower level championships (such as the Seventh and Third Army series) had morphed, absorbing the top talent from their vanquished opponents within their leagues (for example, former Chicago White Sox infielder-turned-combat-medic Don Kolloway served in the 69th Infantry during the war and played for unit’s team before being tapped to join the 29th’s team after being defeated in the 7th Army Championships) as their commanders attempted to improve the odds of winning the championship for their unit.

Having eliminated the 76th ID’s Onaways and Blue and Grays of the 29th ID, the Red Circlers found themselves facing off against the The Advance Section, Communications Zone (ADSEC/COMZ) All-Stars based at Oise, France. This formidable opponent was led by a non-commissioned officer (who was a former major league pitcher), was unconventional with their roster. Named the Oise All-Stars, this group fought their way into the semi-final series that pitted them against the 66th Infantry Division and the 71st Infantry Division; three teams fighting for the two spots in the ETO World Series. This semi-final was a double-elimination contest of three games; the first of which was played on August 30 (71st Infantry Division versus Oise All-Stars) and a double-header on September 1 (71st Infantry Division versus 66th Infantry Division and Oise All-Stars versus 66th infantry Division). The 66th division was eliminated after sustaining losses to the 71st and Oise leaving the victors to advance to the GI World Series.

According to Gary Bedingfield, a military baseball historian and founder of Baseball In Wartime, there are a few questions surrounding the name of the Oise team. Bedingfield wrote in his Baseball in Wartime Newsletter Vol 7 No 39 September/October 2015, “Reims became the site of the U.S. Army’s redeployment camps, all of which were named after American cities. There were 18 of these “tented cities” scattered throughout the Reims area. This area was designated the Oise (pronounced “waz”) Intermediate Section by the U.S. Army, named after the local river and the Oise département, a French administrative division that covered much of the area.”

This scorecard was used when the GI World Series shifted for the September 6-7, 1945 games were played at Athletic Field in Reims, France (the Oise All-Stars “home field” for the series). This is the only other known example of a scorecard from the 1945 GI World Series.

The OISE All Stars baseball team was assembled by former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Sergeant Sam Nahem and featured a roster populated predominantly with former semi-pro, collegiate and minor leaguers. Only one Oise player, other than Nahem, played at the major league level. Going against unwritten rules (both in professional baseball and in the armed forces), Nahem insisted on adding two former Negro Leaguers to his roster. Willard Brown and Leon Day, undoubtedly ruffling some feathers in the Army establishment. Aside from the unique composition of Nahem’s roster, the team’s name has been the source of confusion. As Bedingfield wrote, “A strange myth has appeared over the years – that I, myself, have used at one time or another – that Oise stood for Overseas Invasion Service Expedition. I can find absolutely no evidence to support this and maintain that the Oise All-Stars were named for the Oise Intermediate Section. Other Sections in France included the Loire Base Section and the Seine Base Section, home of the formidable Seine Base Clowns, a ball team operated by Pacific Coast Leaguer pitcher Chuck Eisenmann.”

The GI World Series was a five-game affair with games one, two and five being played in Soldiers Field at Nuremberg Stadium and the “road” games (three and four) being played at the (long-ago demolished) Headquarters Command (HQ) Athletic Field in Reims. Nahem’s Oise All-Stars were evenly matched with the “Red Circlers” of the 71st which resulted in a great series for the fans to witness.

  • Game 1 (September 2, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise All-Stars 2 – 71st Infantry Division 9
  • Game 2 (September 3, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise 2 – 71st ID 1
  • Game 3 (September 6, 1945 | HQ Command Athletic Field): 71st ID 1 – Oise 2
  • Game 4 (September 7, 1945 | HQ Command Athletic Field): 71st ID 5 – Oise 0
  • Game 5 (September 8, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise 2 – 71st ID 1

The specifics of each game and the men who filled the rosters are laid out in great detail in Bedingfield’s September/October 2015 newsletter.

Until just a few months ago, the only scorecard that we have seen is one that was used for the two games played at the Oise All-Stars home field, Headquarters Command Athletic Field in Reims. Unfortunately, no copies of this piece have surfaced to the collector market in more than a decade of our searching. The piece (shown above) bears similarities to the hand-illustrated piece used at the 1945 Navy World Series in Hawaii. Regardless of any and all searching and maintaining watchful eyes on the market, nothing from the GI World Series has become available; not even the HQ Command Athletic Field scorecard.

A few months ago, one of our online auction searches that seldom produces results that are worthy of deeper investigation, finally listed an item that caught our attention. A strange title that read, “WWII GI  Scorebook Nurnberg Field USFET W1945 Unused Baseball,” with an accompanying-yet-tiny image (that was barely discernible) was enough to prevent me from performing my routine action of deleting the results. Upon opening the link and viewing the photos of the item, we were still unsure of what was listed. Very clearly, the piece shown was a service team baseball scorecard that was printed on the typical low-grade paper that was commonly employed for this purpose in all wartime theaters but the printed information wasn’t registering as we inspected each associated image. For some reason (perhaps due the lack of documented examples), the most obvious information printed across the cover didn’t immediately stand out. The interior pages featured blank scoresheets that were devoid of commonly seen team rosters or game line-ups which offered no further clues. Returning to view the lead image in the auction listing, something finally clicked and the reality surrounding this piece suddenly materialized. For the first time in more than ten years, a scorecard from the GI World Series had finally come to market.

How could anyone not notices the substantial lettering that seemingly broadcast that this scorecard was from the 1945 GI World Series?

With only two days remaining until the auction’s close, there was a lone bid which was incredibly low for such an important piece of baseball history.The seller’s starting price was merely $7.00. Not knowing the experience level of the bidder that I was hoping to wrest the scorecard away from left me wondering if his maximum price was in the sphere of reality as to the value of the scorecard. Noting the other bidder had a feedback count of less than two hundred, we coupled that with the behavior of early bidding (perhaps one of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced bidders) and decided that we would prepare a sniped bid and hope that it was enough to supplant the competition. Anxiously awaiting the auction’s close and the bad news that we were going to miss out on this piece due to its rarity and collector value, the congratulatory email regarding our bid arrived along with the invoice for payment. Our surprise at winning the auction was immediately surpassed by the sale price: $10.50 which was just $3.50 above the listed price and, $0.50 greater than the competing bid (maximum)! The seller listed the shipping price as $4.06 which was a bit lower than what we typically encounter with these items but it wasn’t so low to cause any sort of concern…until it actually became a concern.

This scorecard was most likely printed ahead of the teams being decided (by playoffs). The date as indicated by the “2” is printed in a silver-ink leading to the idea that the dates were applied as needed .

Note: In prefacing the next sequence of events, please understand that this article was not written admonish or to chastise the seller. Sharing details regarding all aspects of the transaction is done so with the hope that our readers consider what transpired as they engage in their own selling activities (we have omitted the seller’s name and altered the listing title to preserve their anonymity). 

After more than two weeks since submitting payment for the scorecard, the seller still hadn’t updated the listing with any shipping details (it was still marked as not being shipped) and was completely silent with regards to communication, an inquiry was dispatched through the auction provider’s messaging system. The brief response from the seller, “No tracking number. Mailed with a stamp which is why I gave you a partial refund,” was a little strange since I hadn’t asked for anything more than a status and a tracking number. The partial refund from the seller was $0.50 causing further confusion for us.

The beauty of this Nuremberg GI World Series scorecard lies with both covers as the interior is lacking team information. At least one can learn to score a game with this piece.

What amounts to a sponsors’ page, the GI World Series program’s back cover features adverts from AFN-Munich and the Southern Germany Stars and Stripes.

A few days following the seller’s strange message and partial refund, the letter carrier delivered the package containing the scorecard with $0.45 postage due. True to his message, the seller did exactly as was stated; the piece was stuffed into a thin and appropriately-sized paper envelope with a $0.55 Forever stamp affixed. There was no padding, backing boards or anything to protect the piece from moisture damage, inadvertent folding or from harm inflicted by postal sorting machinery which left this priceless artifact almost entirely exposed. Without purchasing postal insurance, there was no tracking. The envelope did receive damage (possibly from the sorting equipment) that tore and creased the envelope. Concern for the scorecard itself was put to rest once it was determined that the piece suffered only curling without being creased. In desiring to pass along the information regarding the arrival of the package, the condition and the additional postage that was paid to receive the envelope, we reached out to the seller. Rather than to address the concerns, the seller responded, “I will give you a full refund instead of the partial refund already provided,” closing out this intriguing saga (which included a fantastic result).

Our intention was to merely point out the issue and hope that subsequent shipments are better protected and postage is properly funded rather than to receive a refund. In the end, we received this incredible artifact without cost. Perhaps we should consider this a gift? Moving on, we were able to press the curl out of the scorecard and add it to the growing collection of baseball militaria paper.

The significance of the GI World Series scorecard (from the Nuremberg-hosted games) lies within the covers. The artwork and the two-color (red and blue) printing (the silver date appears to be applied subsequent to the initial printing) makes for stunning visual imagery on the front cover. The back was printed in three-color (adding black to the mix) and includes an advertisement for the Armed Forces Network (AFN) for radio coverage of the games. Beneath the AFN ad is a colorful advert for the Stars and Stripes newspaper (Southern Germany Edition).

One aspect of the scorecard and the GI World Series games was that it was hosted (at Nuremberg) by USFET (U.S. Forces, European Theater) which was known, during wartime combat operations, as ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations, United States Army). It makes sense that the GI World Series would be hosted at Nuremberg Stadium by the overall theater command, however prior to discovering this scorecard, this aspect was not known.

Located on the lower left edge of the program is the information detailing the date and the Army unit that produced the piece.

Confirmation of our assessment regarding the the game date being applied during a secondary printing is located at the bottom edge of the back cover. The date, 30 / Aug. 45, indicates that the scorecard was being printed as the first game of the semi-finals was being played.  The date on the cover, September 2, 1945 also indicates that this scorecard was printed for Game One of the GI World Series.

The Chevrons and Diamonds trend has continued with yet another article detailing a service team scorecard however, with the acquisition of this incredible find, we are certain that our readers will be just as fascinated by the discovery if this historic piece. In shining a spotlight upon scorecards that were previously undocumented, we are perhaps effectively increasing our competition for the still-needed HQ Command Athletic Field piece. However with the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of e the Nuremberg piece, we aren’t too concerned about our chances.

Resources:

 

 

Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division

To most collectors of American militaria, vintage medals and decorations are easily recognizable with distinctive patterns stamped into each face as well as the ribbons that they are suspended from.  In our militaria collection, we have focused on people (family members), a handful of U.S. Navy warships and other places that my relatives and ancestors served. In terms of collecting, medals and decorations are of tertiary importance, though I have acquired several pieces that otherwise captured my interest.

The ribbon is tied into a bow affixed to the suspension ring; a match to the Debratz copy.

In 2017, a group of photos, game programs (basketball), correspondence and a medal were listed in an online auction. All of the items originated from a veteran who served in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II with the 69th Infantry Division and played baseball for the unit’s team on his way to pitching in the ETO World Series in 1945 for the 29th Infantry Division team, the Blue and the Grays. After winning the 7th Army Championship, a semi-final elimination tournament, the 29th team faced (and was defeated by) the Red Circlers of the 71st Division.

The reverse of E.R. Ghelf’s medal shows the basic brooch pin as it is stitched to the backside of the ribbon-bow.

Focusing primarily upon the photographs, European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) also addressed the historic and rare imagery in the group (the Earl Ghelf Collection) – how Mr. Ghelf photo-documented the baseball park that was constructed on the grounds of Soldiers Field (formerly known as Nuremberg Stadium). What was not covered in the article was the medal that was central to the group; a German-made piece with a diminutive red and white ribbon with engraving on the reverse. The obverse features a relief bust of an athletically-built man with the words “Dem Sieger” (which translates to, “The Winner”) above the figure’s right shoulder. The engraving on the reverse reads:

7th Army Baseball Champions
E. R. Ghelf
Mannheim Stadium
Germany

It is apparent that the 7th Army leadership locally sourced the medal and had it engraved and presented to Mr. Ghelf. It was assumed that the entire 29th Division Blue and Greys team was presented with the same personalized medal to commemorate their victory en route to the ETO Championship series. Not having seen another copy previously, the assumption about the entire team receiving them was untested and unproven…Until today.

“The Winner,” a direct translation from German, the medal is clearly sourced from the local marketplace.

Some of the best finds that arrive to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection come by way of accidental discovery. When I was researching a ball player in an attempt to find any correlation or connection to military service, an unintentional Google image search yielded a photo of a familiar medal – one that featured the same obverse design as the Ghelf medal (above) along with the same ribbon and suspension.

Identical to the Earl Ghelf copy, the J. Debratz engraving matches perfectly.

Recognizing that the image was from an online auction listing, I clicked on the image, opening a current auction listing for another engraved copy of the 7th Army Championship medal. The engraving on the reverse is exactly the same as my copy (save for the name):

7th Army Baseball Champions
J. Debratz
Mannheim Stadium
Germany

29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945:

Rank Player Pos Previous
Pvt. Earl A. Dothager P Springfield (WA)
Sgt. Wallace W. Kale
Pvt. Kazimer J. Waiter
Pvt. Robert W. Lansinger P Lancaster (ISLG)
1st Lt. Erwin Prasse LF/Mgr. University of Iowa
Wesley “Lefty” Howard P
Herbert Biedenkapp RF
George Ortega
William A. “Bill” Seal, Jr. IF Vicksburg (CSTL)
Don Kolloway IF White Sox
Sgt. Jack Dobratz P High School
Joe Blalock
Lloyd “Whitey” Moore P Cardinals
Earl Ghelf C/P Amateur/Semi-pro
Ken Hess CF

 

The 7th Army Champions of 1945: The Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division. Earl Ghelf is in the back row, second from the left. Sgt. Jack Dobratz is in the middle row, first from the right.

Without any hesitating, a sniped bid was set ahead of the due diligence in researching the name. The only instance of a roster for the 7th Army (29th Infantry Division) Championship team is located on Baseball in Wartime.com and a quick check revealed no player with that name. Searching through other sources yielded similar results. Who was J. Debratz?  Was his name misspelled on the medal? Was he a coach or a manager?  The decision was made to proceed despite the auction with the hope that should our bid prove successful, in time, the research could pan out.

Upon auction close, our bid was the only one and the Debratz medal arrived a few days later (a few days before publishing this article). One of the most rewarding aspects of collecting named pieces such as this medal is the satisfaction that follows a research or discovery breakthrough. For the present-time, this medal will be displayed along with the Ghelf copy.

With the assistance of Colonel Drew Sullins, board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History, J. Debratz was positively identified as Sergeant Jack Dobratz of Port Huron, Michigan. Sgt. Dobratz entered the United States Army on February 16, 1943 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion in the 29th Infantry Division. He was promoted from private first class to the rank of sergeant on July 18, 1944. Dobratz graduated in January, 1943 from Port Huron High School where he excelled in athletics earning 10 letters in football, basketball and baseball. He was the school’s quarterback and punter on the gridiron and toed the mound as their star pitcher. Leading up to D-Day, Jack “Dobie” Dobratz pitched for his company’s team domestically and after arrival in England.

 

See also:

Billy Seal, Jr.: From the Diamonds of the South to the Battlefields of Germany

One of the Chevrons and Diamonds projects that is presently underway centers on researching and documenting the history of one of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series championship contending teams; the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division (ID). Fueled by the acquisition of an artifacts grouping from a veteran of the 29th ID’s baseball team (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), the primary goal of this (multi-part) project will be to discover and present the personalities that comprised the team that found itself just two series wins away from facing the Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series in the fall of 1945.

The ultimate objective of this effort is to fully identify the players on the roster of the Blue and Greys of the 29th to properly illuminate both the wartime service and baseball-playing contributions of the men faced the 71st Red Circlers in the 1945 U.S. Army Ground Forces Championship Series that was played at Nuremberg Stadium. As was the situation with many other teams in the semi-final rounds of the post-season competition, the 29th was a conglomeration of players from opposition 29th Infantry Divisions teams that were homogenized as they were defeated by the Blue and Greys.

Though the Blue and Gray roster was populated with many average Joe ball players, several of the team’s positions were filled by former professional ball players. One of those former pro players was Billy Seal. William Allen Seal, Jr. was born in Danita, Oklahoma and played his way into a solid third baseman prospect and found himself in the Dodgers farm system by 1938.  Though he would never ascend above the AA level, Billy Seal, Jr.  was solid hitter early in his career and would sustain a .314 average in his twelve minor league seasons.  In his first professional season, Seal bounced between the Fayetteville Angels (of the class-D Arkansas-Missouri League) and the Greenville Buckshots (class-C Cotton States League) maintaining consistency at the plate.  The following season Billy Seal split time between Greenville and the Bowling Green Barons (class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League), nearly repeating his 1938 offensive output which the Dodgers didn’t recognize as notable enough to promote him. Midway through the ‘39 season, the Brooklyn was handed a gift from the Red Sox system as they acquired a Louisville Colonels infielder named Harold G. “Pee Wee” Reese.

For the 1940 season, Pee Wee Reese was promoted to the big-league club and Seal would with Greenville for the duration, hitting .323 for the year while legging-out 41 doubles and five triples and pushing his slugging percentage to .451 (in later years, one of Seal’s regimental comrades, George Phillips, recalled, “Billy Seal was a great soldier and served his country with honor. Bill was a professional baseball player who made it all the way to the old Brooklyn Dodgers as a shortstop. Having been in the National Guard he got called up for service and a fellow by the name of Pee Wee Reese took his place,” though some of his details were a bit inaccurate).

At the season’s end, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (on September 16). One month later, on October 16, 1940, William Allen Seal registered for the draft and continued with his normal off-season work as he awaited spring training. Seal began the year with the Vicksburg Hill Billies (Cotton States League) and was having a career year through the first three months of the season (batting .365 with a .536 slugging percentage in just 67 games) but took his leave from the club to enlist. On July 7, 1941, baseball player Seal began his transformation to become Private William Seal as he enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army, ending his chances at being promoted to the upper levels.

Following his completion of basic training, Private Seal was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas (home of the 2nd Cavalry Division) where he was tapped to play baseball with one of the base teams. Service in the peacetime armed forces for a baseball player could be easy and it was for Seal until everything changed on December 7,1941.

Billy Seal Jr. is pictured here among his brothers in G-Company, 271st Infantry Regiment/69th Infantry Division. This photo was taken on November 14,1944, at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey just prior to the unit’s combat deployment to the European Theater (image source: 69th-infantry-division.com).

In mid-May, 1943, the 271st Infantry Regiment was constituted at Camp Shelby, Mississippi as part of the 69th Infantry Division. After extensive training and preparation, the division departed Mississippi by rail on Halloween bound for Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On November 14, 1944, the 69th ID departed New York Harbor by ship en route for Southampton on a 10-day Atlantic crossing. After a few months and a channel crossing, the 271st Infantry Regiment began their combat tour in Western Europe having landed at LeHavre following an uneventful Channel crossing.  After twenty days of travel in vehicles and on foot, Company “G,” along with the entire 271st crossed into Germany and were met with fierce enemy resistance near the town of Hollerath (which lies on the Siegfried Line and is 100 kilometers northeast of Bastogne and where the anti-tank barrier known as “dragon’s teeth” is still very much intact) after just a few days in the “Fatherland.” Baseball was, perhaps the furthest from the minds of the men engaged in their first fight of the war.

As the Germans continued their retreat, Seal’s regiment crossed the Rhine River on March 28, 1945. The month of April found the 271st engaged in fierce fighting with enemy forces in the Battle of Weissenfels on the 12th And the Battle for Leipzig commencing on the 18th. When the combat came to an end by the end of the month, the “Fighting 69th” had been engaged with the enemy nearly continuously since crossing into Germany in late February.

The end of hostilities and combat operations in Europe with the surrender of the Third Reich in May 7, 1945 transformed the massive Allied fighting force to an occupation military that would be left searching for activities and functions for the troops to participate in.  Aside from facilitating the deactivation of a defeated military coupled with investigations and the search for war criminals, occupying the occupation force with such matters left a large percentage of soldiers with very little to do save for basic military drill and instruction.  One activity that Military leadership in the ETO decided upon was in the realm of competitive sports of which, the national pastime was the premier game.

Troops were dispersed throughout the European Theater in accordance with the needs of the occupation functions. Teams were formed within the various commands and leagues were formed. Regional play commenced in the early part of the summer of 1945.

Somewhere in Germany, 1945: Member of the 69th ID squad pose for a photo during a game. Chicago White Sox infielder, Don Kolloway is seated closest to the camera. Though it is difficult to see the other faces, it is possible that Billy Seal is seated among the men (author’s collection).

Following the German surrender, he played for the 69th’s team in the ETO baseball league as they worked their way into the Seventh Army Championship Series, facing the Blue and Grays of the 29th ID, the eventual Seventh Army Champions who would lose in the 1945 ETO World Series in the Fall of 1945.

Former minor league infielder, Billy Seal, Jr. poses for his buddy and fellow minor leaguer, Earl Ghelf ahead of a game (author’s collection).

Billy Seal, Don Kolloway and Earl Ghelf would all depart the Fighting 69th to fill roster spots on the Blue and Grays as they faced the Red Circlers of the 71st ID in the US Army Ground Forces Championship Series. The 71st would defeat Seal and the 29th ID team heading to and winning the Third Army Championship as they ultimately faced and were defeated by the Sam Nahem, Leon Day and the OISE All Stars in the ETO World Series.

Billy Seal returned to the pro game in 1946 with the Chicks and bounced throughout various teams in the South until retiring following the 1953 season. In 12 pro seasons, Seal played 1550 games, 5,810 ABs for 10 different teams and managed a .310 average with a .492 SLG and 165 HRs.

YearAgeTeamLeagueLevAffGPAABH2B3BHRBASLGTB
193820FayettevilleARMOD 107 431158281013.367.568245
1939212 Teams2 LgsD-CBRO14060260219335179.321.48289
193921GreenvilleCSTLCBRO55 23772955.304.447106
193921Bowling GreenKITLD 85 36512126124.332.501183
194022GreenvilleCSTLC 138 5611814157.323.451253
194123VicksburgCSTLC 67 2741001766.365.536147
194224Fort RileyUS ArmyArmy Service – Service Team Baseball
194325Camp ShelbyUS ArmyArmy Service – Service Team Baseball
194426Camp ShelbyUS ArmyArmy Service – Training
194527ETOUS ArmyArmy Service – Combat Operations (through May 6)
19452769th/29th IDUS ArmyArmy Service -Occupation/Service Team Baseball
1946282 Teams2 LgsB-AA 14153453415624910.292.427228
194628MemphisSOUAAA 43 15342500.275.30747
194628AnnistonSEALBPIT98 38111419910.299.475181
194729VicksburgSEALB 143 53318548621.347.578308
194830VicksburgSEALB 136 51914438519.277.480249
1949312 Teams2 LgsD-B 11539139113224227.338.616241
194931AnnistonSEALB 30 9832204.327.46946
194931CarrolltonGAALD 85 29310022223.341.666195
1950322 Teams2 LgsB-D 13746446416541713.356.558259
195032GadsdenSEALB 99 3331183149.354.553184
195032DublinGASLD 38 131471034.359.57375
195133St. PetersburgFLINB 138 48515034411.309.464225
195234St. PetersburgFLINB 153 5541413349.2550.377209
195335St. PetersburgFLINB 135 46212117420.262.446206

Two of the three photos in this article were part of a grouping that originated from minor leaguer and veteran pitcher of the 69th/29th Infantry division baseball teams, Earl Ghelf. The Ghelf collection was covered in A Growing Backlog of Baseball History to Share and European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) in 2018.

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