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Airman Red Ruffing: A GI Pitcher

With Charles “Red” Ruffing’s 29-month U.S. Army Air Forces career, beginning with his induction on December 29, 1942, the extensive press coverage documenting every week’s activities could fill dozens of pages to chronical his tenure in uniform. Contrary to what can be unearthed for most ballplayers, the level of detail is simply astounding. Pitching in the major leagues for 19 seasons is certainly enough to garner press attention. In a span of a decade, the Yankees claimed the American League pennant seven times allowing Ruffing to accumulate a 7-3 World Series pitching record and capture six World Series titles. As if his record was not enough to garner an inordinate amount of press attention, having the U.S. Army Air Forces assign him to an air base in close proximity to Hollywood thrust Ruffing beneath the news media’s veritable microscope.

Capitalizing on the situation, Army brass ensured reporters and photographers would chronicle his activities for recruitment and morale-boosting opportunities, resulting in increased vintage photograph availability for collectors 75 years later. Our assessment of the Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph library and the discovery of several images of Ruffing prompted several weeks of research into the pitcher’s Army Air Force career. In our first segment, Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory, our exploration of Ruffing followed him from the last game of the 1942 World Series through the end of 1943 as he completed his first year in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

A year removed from his entry into the Army and with a California Service Championship to his Sixth Ferrying Group team’s credit, the pitcher was doing what he could t to boost the morale of his comrades-in-arms and  baseball fans by providing a much-needed distraction from the rigors on the home front. While his team’s baseball schedule paled in comparison to a major league 154-game season, his duties outside of the foul lines kept him more active than he was with the Yankees. Aside from the victories, service league championships and the individual accolades covered in newsprint, there was significant financial impact delivered to the dozens of charities receiving money from the fundraisers associated with nearly all the Ferrying Group’s games.

As major and minor league players enjoyed their offseason lives, baseball in the California Service Leagues was up and running in late January. Ruffing was set to continue at the helm of the club as they began workouts for the upcoming 1944 campaign. A Long Beach Press-Telegram sports columnist wrote (January 26, 1944), “The club again figured to be one of the strongest service nines in the country.”  Early fundraising planning was already underway by the first week of February, with the Hollywood Stars set to host the Sixth in their preseason opener at Gilmore Field to benefit the Kiwanis Club’s fund to assist children with disabilities.

Ruffing’s expanding waistline continued to draw the attention of sportswriters. Columnist Russ Newland, taking a jab at the pitcher’s non-baseball activities, wrote in his February 11, 1944 Western Sports Slant piece, “Ruffing tips the scales at 232 pounds but his arm is better than ever.” Foreshadowing the upcoming 1944 season, Newland wrote, “Charley Ruffing, the New York Yankees pitcher in the service, thinks both major leagues will be much slower on account of older men and green material,” speaking to the condition of the players on rosters in the American and National Leagues.

Red Ruffing converses with his former Yankees teammate, Joe DiMaggio of the Santa Ana Army Air Base as Chuck Stevens poses before taking batting practice (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Scheduling for the season continued as the Ferry Group inked a date to visit Minter Field Air Base (Bakersfield) to take on the installation’s team. With the Seattle Rainiers holding spring training in town, a tune-up with the Pacific Northwest club was booked to coincide with that game. However, Southern California athletic planners experienced a brief scare when the USAAF senior leadership ordered all of the baseball teams to be disbanded and personnel reassigned on March 11. With the Kiwanis fundraiser game just days away, the Hollywood Stars were left scrambling to find a suitable last-minute opponent. The order was rescinded on the following day and schedules resumed as planned.

Seattle’s first exhibition game of the year was held in Bakersfield on Sunday, March 19, 1944 and saw the Rainiers dominated by Ferrying Group pitchers, 7-1, as Ruffing hurled the first three frames. Seattle’s lone bright moments came in the form of a single run off the former Yankee and turning a triple play. Otherwise, the Sixth roughed up Seattle’s pitching for ten hits. Al Olsen also toed the rubber for the Ferrying Group for six innings in relief, surrendering eight hits to Seattle while allowing only one runner to cross the plate. On Tuesday, March 20, the Port Hueneme Seabees visited Long Beach and Ruffing’s Ferrying Group was less than hospitable to their guests, treating them to a 5-3 defeat.

Traveling to Gilmore Field one week later, the Sixth Ferrying Group took down another of the Coast League’s franchises. This time the Hollywood Stars were the victim, with Ruffing and Pitter pitching to the “Twinks.” The Ferrying men pounded out 19 hits and plated 16 runs while being stingy towards the bats of their hosts, limiting Hollywood to just four runs, three of them charged to Pitter. Ruffing pitched five innings and allowed one run on six hits in front of 8,000 faithful fans. The exhibition game was a charity fund-raiser in support of the Kiwanis Club’s Crippled Children’s Fund.

Facing their third Pacific Coast League opponent in the exhibition season, the Sixth visited the spring training facilities of the Los Angeles Angels, capturing yet another victory, 7-5. With the win over Los Angeles, Long Beach Press-Telegram sportswriter Frank T. Blair wrote in his column, Frank-ly Speaking, “Sixth Ferry nine cuffed three Coast League clubs – Seattle, Angels and Hollywood – in spring exhibition games.” Blair added. “Red Ruffing’s outfit might be the strongest service team in the country,” Blair concluded by pointing out the strong pitching of Al Olsen, Roy Pitter, Hub Kittle and Bill Werbowski  behind Ruffing as the principal reason for the team’s early season dominance.  The Sixth seemed bent on backing up Blair’s assertion by shutting out the Angels, 7-0, their fourth win over the Coast League and second against Los Angeles. Roy Pitter went the distance for the Sixth, allowing just five hits while striking out 12 as Ruffing played the game in right field.

Since June of 1943, much speculation had been swirling around Red Ruffing’s continued service in the Air Forces. As he approached his 39th birthday, it appeared that he could opt to end his service because his age was over the limit. In early April, the veteran pitcher recognized the positive impact that his ball playing was having on both morale boosting and fund-raising, so he chose to serve, according to sports columnist Russ Newland.

Facing the Fifth Marine Division nine from Camp Pendleton on April 12, Ruffing’s start was abbreviated after surrendering a run in each of the first two innings. Replaced by Werbowski, Red shifted to right field in the third with the Sixth in possession of a 3-2 lead. The Sixth added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning but was matched by their opponents in the bottom half.  Trailing 5-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Fifth Marines blew the game open by scoring four runs and taking the lead. In the eighth inning, Ruffing’s men scored a run, leaving the score 8-6 until the Marines tacked on the game’s final tally.  The Ferrying Group was outhit 16-7 and committed two defensive miscues. Two days later, Johnny Berardino’s Terminal Island Naval Air Station nine handed the Sixth another loss. The losses appeared to be mounting as Ruffing surrendered three runs in the bottom of the first inning to the San Diego Naval Training Station squad. The Ferrying Group failed to score in the 7-0 shutout loss on April 16.

Battery mates Red Ruffing and former Giants backstop Harry Danning discuss pitching strategies (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On April 28, the Sixth were on their way to repeating Ruffing’s 1943 no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning behind Roy Pitter’s arm. Ruffing’s men might have had an easier go against the Santa Ana Air Base (SAAAB) team this time around with Joe DiMaggio being absent from the roster. The star Yankee had been pulled from the Santa Ana team for deployment to the South Pacific to serve in a morale building capacity, according to the San Bernardino County Sun.  Perhaps demoralized by the loss of their offensive star, the SAAAB club was shut out, 11-0.

Coinciding with Ruffing’s 39th birthday, the venerable pitcher was promoted to the rank of sergeant and faced Fort MacArthur’s Battery B club on May 3.

The disbanding of the McClellan Field Commanders combined with the departure of Joe DiMaggio was under the direction of Army leadership, a direct response to the Navy scattering some of its top baseball talent among several Hawaii commands and their corresponding ball clubs. As Ruffing’s Sixth Ferrying Group was dominating the 1943 California service baseball, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” were doing the same with the competition. Baseball in the Hawaiian Territory was a high-profile activity, with the Island of Oahu being crowded with several service, amateur and semi-pro leagues, all of them highly competitive at their respective levels. Seeking to turn the tide in the islands, the Army gathered talent, taking nearly the entire roster of players from one of their top teams, the McClellan Field nine. Adding a power-hitting exclamation mark to this veritable all-star roster, the Yankee Clipper was snatched from Southern California in order to form an entirely new club based at Hickam Field, the 7th Army Air Force (7th AAF) Fliers, to bring about an end to the Navy dominance on the island. For the time being, the Army left the Sixth Ferrying Group nearly untouched as only Jerry Priddy was shipped to Hawaii from the Long Beach squad.

Throughout the month of May, the Sixth had their way with the service and industrial league clubs of Southern California. In June, the winning continued for the Ferrying Group squad. A return to Gilmore Field for an exhibition contest against the Hollywood Stars resulted in the 24th consecutive win for Ruffing’s men. Outhit 12-4, the Stars succumbed to the pitching tandem of Ruffing and Pitter, 7-1.

Johnny Berardino’s Terminal Island Naval Air Station brought about an end to the Sixth’s win streak with a tight 2-1 victory on June 25. The loss to Terminal Island was followed with a 6-3 beating at the hands of the San Diego Naval Training Station nine. However, they kept their streak against the Pacific Coast League alive by blanking the San Diego Padres, with Ruffing lasting six innings and striking out 11 before giving way to Al Olsen, who preserved the 2-hit, 6-0 shutout.

Acquired in the fall of 2020, this Red Ruffing signed press photo is one of the showcase pieces in our collection. Ruffing inscribed, “To my friend, Bill Whaley with very best wishes and kindest regards, Chas. “Red” Ruffing – 8/27/44″ (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On July 6, the Sixth Ferrying Group, likely frustrated by a succession of defeats at the hands of the Terminal Island Naval Air Station, exacted revenge with a 15-0 blowout. Berardino’s club suffered its worst loss of the season as Chuck Stevens led the barrage with a home run and two singles and Nanny Fernandez legged out a pair of triples among the 18 hits tallied by the Sixth.  The win left the season series with Terminal Island tilted in the Ferrying Group’s favor, four games to two.

While the Red Ruffing and the Sixth were seemingly on their way to repeating their 1943 success with another championship, the writing was on the wall as rumors began to circulate that the Army leadership in Hawaii wanted to increase its advantage by bringing Ruffing to Oahu and adding him to the 7th AAF roster. Days later, the rumors were confirmed as the big right-handed pitcher was whisked away from Long Beach and sent to Hickam Field. Within a week, Ruffing joined his 1942 Yankees teammates, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Jerry Priddy, on the 7th AAF roster, donning his new uniform for the first time on July 30.

Ruffing joined a team that was already leading or close to the lead in their leagues. In the Hawaii League, the 7th’s 19-4 record had them out in front of the Pearl Harbor Sub Base (17-7) by 3.5 games. Trailing the Aiea Naval Hospital by one game In the Central Pacific Area (CPA) League, the 7th was 8-4 and tied with the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay “Klippers.” To add insult to injury, the day after suffering a loss at the hands of the 7th AAF, the Pearl Harbor Sub Base squad, along with every other opposing team, had to contend with the early reports of yet another USAAF pitching ace that was set to join Ruffing and company. The 1942 World Series pitching hero Johnny Beazley was, according to Don Watson of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (August 2), soon to land on Oahu and further bolster the dominant club.

Making his first pitching appearance since arriving on Oahu, Ruffing took the mound for the Hickam Bombers for a three-inning tune-up, having been farmed out by the 7th AAF’s manager, former Brooklyn Dodger “Long” Tom Winsett. Due to their well-stocked roster, it wasn’t uncommon for some of the 7th’s players to appear in games for teams within other leagues. During his three innings, Ruffing surrendered a lone-base hit. Ruffing had been scheduled to take the mound on August 6 for the 7th AAF in their game against the Hawaiis but was suffering from a severe cold. It wasn’t until the Fliers faced the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers on August 11 at Isenberg Field on the island of Kauai that Ruffing made his first start for his new club.

With more than 10,000 in attendance, Ruffing pitched a 5-hit complete game, a 6-1 victory over the Aiea Naval Hospital team that featured former Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. The victory put the 7th AAF out in front of Aiea in the CPA League standings. Aside from Ruffing’s pitching prowess, his bat accounted for two of his team’s 11 hits, driving in two runs against the Navy’s Hank Feimster and Vern Olsen. Scheduled to make his next appearance on August 20, Ruffing was scratched from the lineup as he was dealing with a knee injury.

In his August 20 Hoomalimali column in the Honolulu Advertiser, Red McQueen relayed a portion of a United Press syndicated editorial by Jack Cuddy regarding a proposed tournament that would determine the best of the best service teams of 1944. Cuddy’s suggested pitting the Parris Island Marines against Fort Campbell’s 20th Armored Division “Armor Raiders” against each other in a five game series, the winner of which would earn the right to face the Great Lakes NTC “Bluejackets” for the overall championship. McQueen argued that the tournament should also include the 7th AAF. Coincidently and already in play were the final arrangements for what was being billed as the Army-Navy championship. The Navy announced that Lieutenant Bill Dickey as of August 20, was already en route to Oahu to take the helm of the All-Star roster that was being assembled to face the Army squad.

Ruffing’s knee injury kept him out of any games for the remainder of August and into September. Despite a late charge in the CPA League standings by the streaking Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, the 7th AAF secured the league crown. Over in the Hawaii League, in Ruffing’s second start the 7th, carrying a 25-game winning streak, faced off against the Athletics for a Sunday afternoon game on August 3. For six strong innings in front of more than 8,000 Honolulu Stadium spectators, Ruffing’s knee was not a factor as he held the Athletics to three singles in the 5-1 victory, striking out four and without issuing a single walk. Ruffing’s work helped net the team their second league championship of the season.

On the eve of the CPA League Championship Series, Ruffing was slated to take the mound on Friday, August 8, in the opening game of the three-game showdown against the Aiea Navy Hilltoppers. Red’s knee injury flared up once more and kept him out of the game. Unfortunately, Ruffing never pitched again in Hawaii, despite being slated for a few more games. The recently arrived Johnny Beazley effectively replaced Red, who was shipped back to the States within days. “Count Red Ruffing out of the Service World Series, “wrote Red McQueen in his September 15 column. “The former Yankee mound ace has returned to the Mainland. A knee injury sustained in the ’42 World Series, aggravated shortly after his arrival here, made pitching a painful assignment to Big Red.” The loss of Ruffing was costly as the Army was swept by the Navy in the first four games of the series.

“An outstanding exhibition baseball game is brewing for Recreation Park here Sunday, October 1,” the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported on September 21. “The Sixth Ferrying Group, with Corporal (sic) “Red” Ruffing back in harness following a brief duty in Hawaii, will take on the reinforced U.S. Naval Dry Docks outfit. It seemed that a few days’ rest and a flight back to the States aided in Ruffing’s knee injury recovery. In addition to Ruffing’s return to the Sixth, Jerry Priddy was back with the Long Beach team.

The remainder of the 1944 California service baseball season for the Sixth Ferrying Group was dotted with exhibition games, including October matchups with Vince DiMaggio’s Major League All-Stars and the Kansas City Royals, a Negro League team that featured Willie Simms, Bonny Surrell, Ray Dandridge, Lloyd “Pepper” Bassett, “Wild Bill” Wright, Sam Bankhead and Willie Wells.  In early November at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, the Sixth faced the Birmingham Black Barons, winners of the 1944 Negro League Championship, as the baseball season and the year wound to a quiet close for Ruffing.

Spring in Southern California comes early, which meant that the Sixth Ferrying Group opened up training at the end of January to get the roster in shape. As the team was working out, the early exhibition season planning was commencing. As was done in previous seasons, the Pacific Coast League teams sought to gain experience by facing big league caliber talent. The Sacramento Solons scheduled a March 18 contest with the Ferrying Group. However, before the season got started, the entire roster of the Sixth was shipped out apart from catcher Harry Danning and Ruffing.

The dissolution of the team left a hole in Southern California baseball. It left many teams and fund-raising event planners scrambling to fill the void. From the Coast League teams to the Kiwanis Crippled Children’s fund, the absence of the Sixth was very apparent. The major league all-star caliber talent and name recognition were no longer available to draw the fans to the events as in previous years.

As spring progressed, so did the war effort. Germany was all but finished and the Japanese were defending the last vestiges of their empire. American forces captured Iwo Jima, leaving the USAAF long range heavy bombers with unfettered access to the Japanese homeland from airfields on Tinian and Saipan.

In early April, rumors began to circulate from New York that Ruffing would soon be discharged. Red downplayed them.  Yankee manager Joe McCarthy’s response was that the pitcher would, “be welcome with open arms even if he is 40 years old.” Regardless of Ruffing’s efforts to quell the talk, his discharge was impending as the Army transferred the pitcher to Camp Lee, Virginia, by May 1. By June 1, Ruffing had been transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was being processed out at the post’s 1262nd Service Command Separation Center.  The Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News reported that Ruffing, 20-pounds overweight, had stated that he had no immediate plans for the future and had not pitched in a game since September 1944, when he injured his knee. The paper reported that the knee injury was sustained, “when he twisted his knee as a result of hooking a shoe cleat in the {pitching) mound rubber.” His discharge was finalized on June 5.

After unwinding for a few days, Ruffing visited the Yankees for a workout. On June 23, the Yankees announced that they reached an agreement with Ruffing and signed the former ace to a $20,000 contract, matching his 1942 season’s salary. Though he immediately joined the club for their June 26-July 8 western road trip (St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit), he was not slated to pitch.

This beautifully hand-tinted full-page color insert was part of a series run in the 1945 New York Sunday News Note the ruptured duck insignia patch on his left sleeve indicating WWII service. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Donning pinstripes for the first time since October 5, 1942, Red Ruffing stood tall on the hill at Yankee Stadium in front of a small crowd of 9,752 as he faced the Athletics. This time the team was from Philadelphia rather than Honolulu. The left sleeve of Red’s battery mate, catcher Aaron Robinson, himself a 2-year wartime veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, mirrored the pitcher’s as they were both adorned with a large emblem indicating the two had been discharged from the armed forces (see: WWII Veterans Honored on the Diamond: Ruptured Duck Patches for Baseball Uniforms).

Ruffing pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits in his return. The game was very much in hand with a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth frame as Red led off the inning, facing Philadelphia’s Lou Knerr. One baseball’s best power-hitting pitchers of all time stroked a deep line drive to right-center, legging out a triple for his first hit of the season. Second baseman Mike Milosevich followed the pitcher with a single that allowed Red to score. Perhaps gassed from his six innings on the mound or from his triple, combined with the extra weight he was carrying, Ruffing left the game in the top of the seventh after walking the A’s Bobby Estalella followed by an RBI single off the bat of Buddy Rosar. Ruffing was replaced by Al Gettel, who finished the game. Ruffing started 11 games for the Yankees and finished with an impressive 7-3 record and a 2.89 earned run average. With the roster missing the  majority of the Yankee stars, New York finished in fourth place. 

Ruffing left the service with his 6th Ferrying Group flannels and wore the uniform during pre-season workouts ahead of reporting to Yankees spring camp. The affixed caption “March 21, 1946 – Chicago, Illinois: Charles “Red” Ruffing, the New York Yankees’ veteran moundsman, goes south for his spring training but it’s the south side of Chicago. He is shown working out on a lot adjoining the University of Chicago field house, while his team trains in Florida. Ruffing balked at an order to fly to Panama with the Yanks February 10 and has been ignored by the club since.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The following season, Ruffing appeared in eight games as a situational starting pitcher and was quite effective with an ERA of 1.77 and a 5-1 record. Ruffing’s season ended abruptly on June 29 in a loss to the Athletics. In the top of the fourth inning after inducing Irv Hall to fly out, George McQuinn powered a home run to deep right field, giving the As a 1-0 advantage. Red got Sam Chapman to pop out in foul territory for the second out of the inning but Buddy Rosar doubled to left-center. For the final out of the inning, Hank Majeski lined a shot that struck Red’s right kneecap. Ruffing picked up the carom and threw to first to get Majeski for the final out of the inning but the damage was done.  The Yankees were scoreless after the bottom of the fourth and Red returned to the mound for the top of the fifth. Red gave up a one-out single to Tuck Stainback before retiring the side. Set to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning, Red was lifted for a pinch hitter, ending his day.

The line drive off his knee left him heavily bruised and kept Ruffing out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. With Charles “Red” Ruffing’s 29-month U.S. Army Air Forces career, beginning with his induction on December 29, 1942, the extensive press coverage documenting every week’s activities could fill dozens of pages to chronical his tenure in uniform. Contrary to what can be unearthed for most ballplayers, the level of detail is simply astounding. Pitching in the major leagues for 19 seasons is certainly enough to garner press attention. In a span of a decade, the Yankees claimed the American League pennant seven times allowing Ruffing to accumulate a 7-3 World Series pitching record and capture six World Series titles. As if his record was not enough to garner an inordinate amount of press attention, having the U.S. Army Air Forces assign him to an air base in close proximity to Hollywood thrust Ruffing beneath the news media’s veritable microscope.

After another knee injury to his 41-year-old body, the Yankees cut him loose in September. The White Sox gave the big right-hander one last shot for the 1947 season. His record served as an indication that his career was over. Ruffing turned 42 on the eve of his first game for Chicago, resulting in an 8-7 loss to the Athletics. Red pitched his last major league game against his first team, the Red Sox, on September 15, 1947, taking a 7-5 loss. He finished the season with a 4-5 record and an ERA of 6.11.

The impact of Ruffing’s wartime service is immeasurable. He helped to win the war on the high seas, in the skies and on far-off battlefields. It is far too easy and dismissive to relegate his time in uniform to escaping combat by merely playing baseball. Despite being drafted (rather than volunteering), Ruffing embraced the opportunity through baseball to provide his comrades with a break from combat training or the difficulties in recovering from life-altering scars on the battlefield. Baseball, whether through watching a game or an interaction with a notable player such as Ruffing, provided a sense of normalcy to thousands of troops, who viewed Ruffing as a role model, and a true hero.

See also:

All of the photos published in this article are the part of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and may not be used without written permission.

Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory

World Series celebrations fade, player-movement talk warms up, igniting what is known as the “Hot Stove League.” Speculation spawns suppositions and rumors about trades and salary space for teams looking to bolster rosters that were previously poised to cross the threshold into the post season.

The winter is also the time of the year when baseball fans await the announcement of the Hall of Fame voting for the enshrinement of that year’s new class. As with the heated talks in the Hot Stove League, fans can become incensed regarding the Hall worthiness of election-eligible players. Questions are always asked, discussion arise about the validity of  enshrinements of some of the players whose plaques hang in the museum’s gallery. There are several players who are targets of those seeking to somehow level the field of enshrinees with calls for removal. A simple internet search will provide the banter and fodder created by armchair Hall of Fame voters.

Hall of Famer Charles “Red” Ruffing has given armchair critics pause. Power-hitting Hall of Fame enshrinee Jimmie Foxx said of Red, “That Ruffing is a wonder. Always in there winning that important game for you.” Prompted by a recent vintage photograph acquisition, we took inventory of our photograph library to find our collection of images depicting Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee hurler Charles “Red” Ruffing during his wartime service in the armed forces. The most recent arrival featured Ruffing in his USAAF away uniform, posed near bleachers filled with uniformed service personnel. It bore an autograph and inscription from the Hall of Fame pitcher. Until we began to focus on baseball militaria, Ruffing was not a player that we had given much thought to in terms of his career or his service during World War II. However, we amassed an interesting group of photos and our research of other players’ service careers continued to intersect with Ruffing and initiated much due research into Red’s war years.

In the years following his trade to the Yankees, Red Ruffing made a name with his pitching and hitting consistency, rubbing elbows with celebrities like Jimmy “Cinderella Man” Braddock. “September 12, 1938, New York, New York: Ruffing, Braddock and Pearson as they signed autographs for Katherine Werz, pretty program girl at the Cotton Club. She seems to say, ‘what is the rush for?'” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Making 624 pitching appearances in 22 seasons, Ruffing started 538 (335 complete) games and complied a 273-225 record with a career ERA of 3.80.  A glance at his career stats could lead some to the conclusion that his pitching was not Hall-worthy but to judge him solely by his record is a disservice to the man and to the game. The first seven seasons of Red’s career were spent with the Boston Red Sox during perhaps the worst period in the team’s history. Reeling from the 1919 sale of Ruth and the subsequent departures of the team’s most talented players through trades and sales four years before Ruffing’s arrival, the Red Sox were awful for his entire 1924-1930 tenure. The Sox’ best year in that span was Ruffing’s first, during which he made eight appearances with two starts (both were no-decisions); however, the Sox finished tied for last (effectively seventh place) with the White Sox.  One can assert that his was a story of two careers as success for Ruffing was immediate following his sale to the Yankees. After he twice led the American League in losses in 1928 and ’29, the Red Sox owner sold Ruffing to the Yankees after the pitcher racked up three consecutive losses to start the 1930 season. Pitching in 34 games (of which he started 25), Ruffing finished 1930 with the best record of his career to date at 15-8. A pitcher’s record is not only a reflection of his performance but also that of the defense that surrounds him on the diamond, and Ruffing was the beneficiary of stellar players on those Yankee teams.

Red Ruffing’s pitching style compared with that of his Yankees teammate, Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez.

Not only did Ruffing’s regular season performance improve when he donned Yankee pinstripes but he also contributed to seven American League pennants (1932, 1936-39, 1941-42) with the Yankees and six World Series championships (losing only to the Cardinals in 1942). Ruffing compiled a 7-2 record (going the distance in eight) with a combined ERA of 2.63 in the 10 games he pitched in.

Rather than exploring Ruffing’s playing statistics, we are going to focus on three glaring spots within his 22-season-record when he was not accumulating wins for the Yankees.

With the United States raising troops to serve and fight during WWII through voluntary enlistment and the draft, ballplayers were putting their playing careers on ice as they traded flannels for armed forces uniforms. At the age of 37, being married with children and missing four toes from his left foot (lost in a mining accident at the age of 13), it would not have been outside the realm of normalcy for Ruffing to be classified as 4-F.

The original caption reads: “Charles “Red” Ruffing, Yankee right hander, will be on hand for mound duty when the World Series opens. The 200 pound six-footer was born in Granville, Illinois, and is a resident of Long Beach, California.” 1942 press photo (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

After losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series to Johnny Beazley and the St. Louis Cardinals, Ruffing returned to his home in Long Beach, California and went to work for the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, makers of the A-31 Vengeance bomber. That should have rendered him classified as II-B (deferred in war production) by the Selective Service board.  The thought of being eligible to serve let alone drafted into the military might not have come to Ruffing’s mind but local Draft Board 276  called him in for his induction physical on December 29, 1942. Rather than lament the situation, Ruffing looked ahead to his service, stating to a reporter, “I’m all set to go.” Seven days after an Army doctor examined the pitcher and determined that his six remaining toes were enough to qualify him for service as an athletic instructor, helping keep troops agile and fit for duty, he reported for training on January 5, 1943.

“Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board. He was placed in 1-B class and goes in for non-combatant duty.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Ruffing’s entry into the Army Air Forces was an opportunity for the Army to promote service and to use the pitcher’s experience to tell the story of military life. On his first day in basic training, Ruffing relayed a rather comical and very humbling experience as reported in the Wednesday, January 13, 1943 edition of the Oakland Tribune, “A sergeant said to me, ‘Ruffing, I understand that you can pitch.’ “‘That’s right’, I answered, and the sergeant said, ‘Okay, buddy, see how fast you can pitch this tent!'” The future Hall of Fame enshrinee had been transformed overnight into “Private Ruffing.”

After a few weeks in training, Ruffing was assigned to the Air Transport Command (ATC), Ferrying Division, at Long Beach that is known today as Long Beach Airport. In addition to his physical fitness instruction duties, the pitcher was already tapped for ball playing duties with the command’s team. The January 21, 1943 Pasadena Post reported that Ruffing would play in the outfield and first base until his pitching arm was in shape for mound outings later in the season. The 1942 Air Transport nine had been limited to Sunday games; however, with the influx of professional ballplayers, the Army leadership saw opportunities for bringing attention to many financial needs for soldiers.

By late February, Ruffing’s name was drawing attention from Southern California baseball fans. Former Los Angeles Angels slugging left fielder and Cubs utility man, Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff, was handed the reins of a Major League All-Star club that faced off against a minor league All-Star nine in support of the Southern California Baseball Association’s medical fund (providing financial aid for area semi-professional baseball players in need of medical services). Novikoff’s roster included Vince DiMaggio (Pirates), Tuck Stainback (Yankees), Max West (Braves), Gerry Priddy (Senators) Nanny Fernandez (Braves), Steve Mesner (Reds), Vern Stephens (Browns) and Peanuts Lowrey (Cubs). At the ready for mound duties were pitchers Johnny Lindell (Yankees), Dick Conger (Phillies) and Red Embree (Indians). The only two named to the roster who were serving on active armed forces duty were Red Ruffing and a former Cub middle infielder, Navy Coxswain Bob Sturgeon.  For the 4,000 fans in attendance at Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Park (known today as Jackie Robinson Stadium, located near the Rose Bowl), the minor league All-Stars made a great showing when the game was finally played on Sunday, February 29, after having been delayed one week due to several days of rain. Led by Angels skipper Bill Sweeney, the minor leaguers kept the game close until the eighth inning when the tide turned in their favor and they won the contest, 4-2.

After more than a month of playing exhibition and all-star games, Ruffing made his mound debut against the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base squad, pitching two scoreless innings despite surrendering hits to the Navy’s Bob Lemon, Diamond Cecil and Wayne Collins. Leading an All-Service line-up that included some recent service arrivals such as Tom Lloyd (Harrisburg Senators), Jack Graham (Montreal Royals), Eddie Bockman (Norfolk Tars), Nanny Fernandez (Braves) and Chuck Stevens (Browns), Ruffing gave way to Wayne Collins, who finished the game as the team upset the favored Navy squad. Ruffing was moved into right field to bring his bat to bear (Ruffing is still ranked fourth on Major League Baseball’s list of home runs by pitchers with 34). Heading into the top of the ninth trailing Los Alamitos, Bob Dillinger led off the inning with a double that was repeated by Fernandez’s run-scoring two-bagger. Ruffing pushed Fernandez to third on an infield out. Ed Nulty’s RBI single tied the game at three runs apiece.  In the top of the tenth, the All-Stars pushed ahead with a Tom Lloyd leadoff single, followed by Eddie Bockman’s triple off the centerfield fence.  Despite going 1-4 at the plate, Ruffing’s first pitching start was a brief yet solid outing.

On Sunday, April 11, 1943, a reconstituted Service All-Star team appeared before a capacity crowd at Gilmore Field to take on the hometown Hollywood Stars. A newcomer to the All-Stars was Ruffing’s former Yankees teammate, Private Joseph DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper,” who was assigned to the Army Air Forces’ Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB). The two ex-Yanks led the charge against the “Twinks” as Joltin’ Joe was 3-5 at the plate and drove in two of the team’s five runs. With a few weeks of pitching under his belt, Ruffing was getting dialed in as he turned in three perfect innings to start the game. Eddie Bockman set the tone for the All-Stars by driving one of the Hollywood pitcher’s opening offerings over the left field wall to lead off the contest as Ruffing’s servicemen claimed a 5-2 victory.

NamePositionFormer Team
Woody BellOFSan Antonio (TXL)
Harry DanningCFGiants
Froilan “Nanny” FernandezSSBraves
Johnny “Swede” JensenRFSan Diego (PCL)
Hub KittlePOakland (PCL)
Art Lilly2BHollywood (PCL)
Walter Loos3BColumbia (SALL)
Chas.  MowrerLFSemi-pro
Ed NultyLFMontreal (IL)
Al “Ollie” OlsenPSan Diego (PCL)
Roy PitterPNewark (AA)
Red RuffingPYankees
Chuck Stevens1BBrowns
Willie WerbowskiPSemi-pro
Max WestCFBraves
Ike WiseLFSemi-pro
1943 Long Beach ATC’s Sixth Ferrying Group team. This roster encompasses the entire season though not every player listed was present for the entire year.

As the season got underway for the Sixth Ferrying Group nine, Ruffing and the men faced off against varying competition as they squared against the University of Southern California (USC), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Pacific Coast League teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres and Hollywood Stars. The Sixth’s squad developed as spring progressed. Aside from Ruffing, who assumed team manager duties, Chuck Stevens and Nanny Fernandez, the Ferry Group team had added former Coast League names such as “Swede” Jensen and “Ollie” Olsen (both from the Padres), Hub Kittle (Oaks) and Art Lilly (Stars). Filling out the roster were major leaguers such as Max West (Braves) and Harry “The Horse” Danning (Giants).

Ruffing’s squad ascended to the top of the service league standings as the Ferry Group dispatched the likes of Fort MacArthur’s Battery “F” and their young ace pitcher, Corporal Charles “Bud” Doleshal, an amateur fireballer who, because of his wartime pitching success, found himself on the Yankees’ radar. On May 16, Ruffing faced the 174th Infantry Buffaloes (San Fernando), who touched him for a dozen base hits. Also in the league were the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees, Santa Ana Army Air Base, Los Alamitos Naval Air Base, Camp San Luis Obispo Blues, San Bernardino Air Depot, the Paramount (film studio) Cubs, Vultee Aircraft and Rosabell Plumbers (the latter three were civilian industrial teams).  From the outset of the 6th Ferry Group’s season play, they dominated the competition with a roster filled with former major and minor leaguers such as Max West, Nanny Fernandez, Ed Nulty, Harry Danning and Chuck Stevens.

Ruffing knew how to wangle newly inducted ballplayers and facilitate transfers to the Long Beach Air Base.  According to Hub Kittle’s Society For American Baseball Research biography (by Ken Ross), Red, like a few of his baseball counterparts, truly built his team with a little bit of string-pulling. When Oakland Oaks pitcher Hub Kittle received his draft notice and was on his way to Los Angeles to report for induction, he was approached by the Sixth’s astute manager. “Kittle, I hear you are going into the army next week. Well, I’m Red Ruffing, and I manage the Sixth Ferry Command in Long Beach. I’d like to have you come and pitch for us. When you get to Fort MacArthur, you give me your serial number and I’ll put in a request for you.” Ruffing’s former Yankee teammate, Joe DiMaggio, who was seeking to bolster his Santa Ana squad, also reached out to Kittle. Due to the lack of available billets for athletic trainers, the Yankee Clipper advised Kittle to go to the musician’s union as a cymbal player in hopes he could be assigned to the base’s band. Ultimately, Ruffing got his pitcher as Kittle was forced to choose between the two commands, opting for the Sixth. Rather than serving as an athletic specialist, Kittle was assigned to the base gym, serving as a masseur for fighter pilots. 

On May 23, the season-long competition between the Army and Navy (the Sixth Ferrying Group and the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base)  continued as the teams played to raise funds in support of the Kiwanis Club’s Service Fund. Ten days later, Joe DiMaggio’s SAAAB club played host to Ruffing’s Ferry Group as the Yankee Clipper hit in his twelfth consecutive game. Santa Ana prevailed 5-3 as Ruffing coughed up the tying run with a bases-loaded free pass issued to Leo Prim in the fifth inning after having pitched around DiMaggio. Ruffing took the loss as he surrendered two more runs later in the game.

Despite the fuel rationing and restrictions placed upon travel that was deemed unnecessary, the Sixth arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a scheduled two-game series against the Kirtland Field squad. In the Sunday (June 6) game, Ruffing controlled the Kirtland men from the mound with a seemingly easy 7-2 victory. The following day, Red’s bat helped to break the game open in the top of the tenth inning. What had been an even brawl that left the score knotted at 11 runs apiece saw the Ferrying Group take control with Ruffing’s lead-off double that sparked a seven-run inning and sealed the 18-11 victory.

The following week, victories were gained against the San Diego Marines (6-5), Los Alamitos (6-1) and the San Bernardino All-Stars at the Perris Hill ballpark. The San Bernardino squad was a combined military and civilian squad drawn from the San Bernardino Army Air Depot club and the civilian firefighters’ team, also from the San Bernardino Air Depot.

The competition was diverse and predominantly spread throughout Southern California. Aside from their league opponents, the Sixth seemingly met all challengers on the diamond including the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees. In mid-July, Ruffing and several other active-duty ballplayers were handpicked to take on the Pacific Coast League’s club in San Francisco at Seals Stadium as part of a double-header. The opening game saw the Seals hosting the Hollywood Stars with the nightcap featuring an Army-Navy All-Star team taking on a combined roster of the Oakland Oaks and the Seals, with the game’s proceeds being used to purchase athletic equipment for servicemen.  Joining Ruffing from the Sixth Ferrying Group were Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens and Max West along with Walt Judnich, Rugger Ardizoia, Dario Lodigiani, Joe Marty, Ray Lamanno, Cookie Lavagetto, Cal Dorsett, Joe Hatten, and Charlie Gehringer. The Army-Navy squad dominated the Oaks-Seals squad, 14-3. With Ruffing managing, the pitching duties were left to Dorsett, Hatten and Ardizoia.  Nearly $4 million was raised in the event.

Great major league pitchers surpass significant milestones throughout their career. Those who achieved immortal status with Cooperstown enshrinement have surpassed high water marks in statistical categories such as victories, complete games, strikeouts, earned run average or an accumulation of dominating seasons. Ruffing led the league in strikeouts once (190 in 1932), once in wins (21 in 1938) and twice in strikeouts per nine innings (6.6 in 1932 and 5.2 in 1934).  He never pitched a major league no-hitter. However, while facing his old teammate, Joe DiMaggio, as the Santa Ana Army Air Base visited Long Beach, 38-year-old Private Ruffing tossed a nine-strikeout, 2-0 gem and was nearly perfect, with just one baserunner having reached on an error. Following the win, Ruffing commented to the Long Beach Press-Telegram (August 1, 1943) that he was “in shape for the first time this season.”

At the end of July, the Sixth Ferrying Group was outperforming all comers with outstanding pitching. Ruffing, with 18 starts under his belt, posted a 9-4 record. Starters Willie Werbowski and Max West were holding their own with records of 12-11 and 10-8, respectively. However, it was the offense that truly made a difference for the win column with a .369 team average and four batters hitting .400 or better. Max West led the pack by hitting .490, followed by Harry Danning (.448), Hub Kittle (.429) and Al Olsen (.400).  True to his professional career hitting, Ruffing in 95 plate appearances was in the middle of the pack with a “mere” .365 average. Stalwart first baseman Chuck Stevens, with 165 at-bats, made 20 more trips to the dish than West, who trailed him with 145.

The Sixth had a busy schedule in early August with five games in an eight-day period against Naval Training Station San Diego, Victorville Army Air Base, Ontario Air Base, 174th Infantry Regiment and Camp Santa Anita Army Ordnance. The bats remained hot for the Sixth as Nanny Fernandez extended his consecutive game-hitting streak to 37 in a 7-2 win over Victorville. In the July 8 Santa Anita Game, Ruffing pitched five innings (Kittle finished) in a lopsided, 24-2 contest as Nanny Fernandez’ streak extended to 40 consecutive games. On August 12, Ruffing’s men trounced the Kearny Mesa Marine Corps Aviation Base, 14-5, led by Werbowski’s 9-hit complete game (his 14th win) and Fernandez’ 3-5 offensive performance that extended his streak to 43 games. Against the Fullerton All-Stars on August 15, Fernandez went hitless, capping his streak at 44 games.

Harry M. Land (right) of the 174th Infantry Regiment Buffaloes with Ruffing at Long Beach (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 The Ferrying Group played one final game in San Pedro against the Coast Guard Repair Yard squad on August 19, downing the “Coasties” 3-2.

The Sixth were seemingly picking up steam as the season moved through the dog days of summer. On August 21, Ruffing and five of the Ferrying Group’s roster joined forces with the biggest names from the professional ranks who were serving in the Southern California region for one of the biggest fundraising events of the year.  The brainchild of actor-comedian Joe E. Brown, the All-Pacific Recreational Fund game featured the Service All-Stars against a combined roster of Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Despite the Service All-Stars current disposition, the Pasadena Post labeled the team a “Million Dollar Ball Club” due to the single greatest gathering of stars west of the Mississippi River. Aside from three future Hall of Fame enshrines (Ruffing, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Lyons), the team included major leaguers Johnny Pesky, Mike McCormick, Dario Lodigiani, Walter Judnich and Joe Marty.

All Pacific Recreation Fund All-Stars game, 1943 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

California Eagle columnist J. Cullen Fentress noted (in the August 19, 1943 issue) the absence of one of the region’s best serviceman pitchers, Joe Fillmore. The former Baltimore Elite Giants pitcher had dominated opposing batters including those of U.C.L.A and U.S.C. “The game on Saturday is for the benefit of fighting men – men who are fighting for what FDR has interpreted as the Four Freedoms,” Fentress wrote, “and yet a hurler, generally regarded as one of the best performing on service nines, finds that because of his race, he will not get the chance to do his bit for the common fight.”

“Democracy in the rest of the world. What about here at home?” Fentress wrote.

The largest daytime baseball crowd in Los Angeles’ history turned out for a spectacular event that raised $20,196 to purchase athletic equipment for Pacific Theater service personnel. In a game that saw a total of 47 players participate, the fans did not leave disappointed as the Service All-Stars put on quite a show. The Angels-Stars were overwhelmed from the start. The Service Stars were led by DiMaggio’s flawless hitting demonstration as he was 4-4 with two home runs and scored three of the team’s eight tallies. He also walked once, proving to be an impossible out. Ruffing pitched the opening four frames, striking out seven, allowing only two hits, one of them a Rip Russell home run in the bottom of the second inning, and issuing only one free pass. Service All-Stars with multiple hits included Joe Marty and Chuck Stevens (with a three-bagger and a single). Hollywood’s leading batter was the venerable Babe Herman. The longtime, solid-hitting Dodger first baseman and outfielder, who found himself back in the Coast League with Hollywood as a youthful 40-year old, took Ruffing’s relief, Rugger Ardizoia, deep for a home run.

Red Ruffing is prominently featured on this page of the 1943 All Pacific Recreation Fund program (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Without missing a beat, following the All-Star game’s festivities, the Sixth Ferrying Group went straight to work the next day as pitcher Hub Kittle held the San Pedro Coast Guardsmen aground with eight innings of no-hit baseball and notched a 5-1 victory on Sunday, August 22.  Seven  days later, Ruffing’s men visited Santa Ana and faced the Air Base team once more. Ruffing shut out the SAAAB nine, 2-0, and limited DiMaggio to a lone double in the seventh inning. Ruffing struck out seven and allowed four hits as the Ferrying Group captured their 48th win of the season in front of 3,000 fans.

At the close of August, six of the Ferrying Group’s batters were carrying lofty batting averages. Max West led the pack as he carried a .482 season average. Harry Danning was 47 points off West’s pace with .435 and Fernandez followed with .411. Ruffing, just below the .400-mark, was holding fast with .393 with Ed Nulty (360) and Chuck Stevens (.325) rounding out the list of sluggers.

After 24 consecutive wins, the Sixth suffered a loss at the hands of the 11th Naval District squad, 1-0.  Boasting a 52-10 record, the Ferry Group continued on. With a game deadlocked at 3-3 in the 9th inning at Pomona, the Ferrying Group’s bats sparked an 8-run rally once the 13th Army Hospital’s starter, Frank Angeloni, was forced to leave the game with a finger blister on his pitching hand.  On September 16, Long Beach area fans saw a matchup of future Hall of Fame pitchers as the Sixth Ferrying Group hosted the Camp Pendleton Marines. Outlasting Marine starter Ted Lyons (formerly of the Chicago White Sox), who departed in the fourth inning, Ruffing tossed six innings of three-hit shutout baseball and left with a 5-0 lead, but his team lost the game, 8-5. Werbowski in relief surrendered seven hits while his normally sure-handed defense coughed up three errors, resulting in eight-run seventh inning

Following their 8-5 loss, Ruffing’s men faced Camp Pendleton for their sixth game of the season, trailing in the season series 3-2. In a 10-inning pitching duel that saw Lyons pitch against Ruffing’s squad once more, the Lakewood Stadium crowd watched as both teams were held to just four hits. Lyons departed after five innings with the score tied, 1-1, while Hub Kittle went the distance, holding the Marine batters to a single run. The Sixth scored the winning run off Camp Pendleton’s Howard, who had been effective since taking over for Lyons. Thus, the Ferrying Group evened the series at three games apiece.

This “Still a Yank” illustration (by Jack Sword) emphasizes that though Ruffing’s uniform changed, he is a “Yank” as he pitches for his country rather than for just New York (image source: Edmonton Journal, February 13, 1943).

As the Yankees experienced a momentary stumble and gave a sliver of hope to the Washington Senators, who were chipping away at New York’s lead in the American League pennant race, sportswriters in southern California were watching Ruffing at what appeared to be his career best. Taking note of the Yanks’ need for pitching to finish the season and for the upcoming World Series, journalists rubbed a little salt in the Yankees’ open wound as they spotlighted Ruffing’s absence from their roster. As the Bronx Bombers prepared to host the Detroit Tigers and face a red-hot Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Ruffing was instructing the Los Alamitos batters on the finer points of pitching as he fanned 18 of the Navy batters on his way to a 7-4 victory. Four days later, Ruffing pitched a one-hit, 10-0 shutout and smashed a home run against the Camp Roberts Rangers.

On the eve of the Fall Classic, his Yankees teammates voted to split their World Series winnings to include Ruffing and six other New York teammates serving in uniform despite their spending the entire 1943 season in the armed forces, according to a story in the Pasadena Post (September 28, 1943). Red, along with DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Buddy Hassett, Tom Henrich, George Selkirk and Norman Branch each were due to receive $500 as the pot was to be shared among 47 players, clubhouse and gate attendants and the Yankees bat boy.

Visiting Fullerton on October 3, the Sixth Ferrying Group baffled the All-Star batters as Ruffing coaxed 10 strikeouts in a 10-1 road victory. The following day saw the visiting San Bernardino AAF team defeat the Sixth, 4-2, as Ed Chandler outlasted Werbowski.

A year removed from losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series, Red Ruffing was on the eve of pitching in another game which would decide a championship. His former team, along with the 1942 World Series champions, were returning to the Fall Classic to face each other once again.  Both the Yankee and Cardinal rosters were decidedly altered by wartime departures of key players and yet had handily risen to the top of their respective leagues.

As the Cardinals hosted the Yankees for game four, trailing in the Series, two games to one, Ruffing was preparing for his early afternoon contest to decide the California Service Championship at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars. Ruffing, promoted from the rank of private to corporal just two days ahead of the championship game, was set for the seventh and deciding game against the Camp Pendleton Marines. The Pasadena Post’s Rube Samuelson wrote about the pitching matchup of Ruffing versus Lyons in his October 10, 1943 Draw Up a Chair column, “No other active pitcher approached them in total wins.” Samuelson reflected upon Ted Lyons’ 20 major league seasons with the White Sox and his 259 career wins as compared to Ruffing’s 18 seasons and 258 victories. At 42 and 38 years old (respectively) neither pitcher would overpower a World Series team but both should easily dominate the caliber of players within the service team ranks. In the six previous matchups between Camp Pendleton and the Sixth Ferrying Group, neither pitcher truly dominated his opponent, which meant that the championship was truly up for grabs.

The 4-1 score and the outcome doesn’t accurately depict what happened during the game. Ruffing’s bat played a bigger role than did his pitching, which was not nearly as effective as that of Lt. Lyons.  Ted limited the Sixth’s batters to six hits while Ruffing surrendered nearly double (11).  Red crushed a long single in the second inning that plated two. As Ruffing was touched for hits, Max West preserved the score with solid defense in center field, with an accurate throw from deep in the outfield to cut down a run at the plate after a Pendleton Marine had tagged third base on a deep fly ball. In his recap of the game, Samuelson, in his October 13 column, commented on Lyons’ physical conditioning, regardless of the game’s outcome. “Looking at the two of them (the starting pitchers), it was Ruffing who looked to be 43 years old and Lyons 26.” The two pitchers were going in opposite directions with regards to their fitness. While Ruffing had put on weight since leaving the Yankees, Lyons had shed 14 pounds of his 1942 season playing weight, owing to the intense physical training of Lieutenant Colonel Dick Hanely’s combat conditioning program at Camp Pendleton.

For the Sixth, the baseball season continued with an exhibition game at Recreation Park as they faced the Long Beach All-Stars, led by Washington Senators’ pitcher Louis “Bobo” Newsom. Walter Olsen of Santa Barbara (CALL) along with George Caster (Athletics and Browns pitcher), Red Kress (former Browns, Senators, Tigers and White Sox infielder) and Jack Salveson (Cleveland Indians) joined Newsom on the All-Star roster.

Games that followed included another match-up against Camp Pendleton (a 9-6 victory) on October 19 for their 64th win of the season and an exhibition game on the 24th against the San Bernardino All-Stars, an easy 19-7 win. On Halloween, the Sixth faced Fullerton, notching a 5-2 win with Ruffing pitching five shutout innings.

With no signs of ceasing play, the Sixth Ferrying Group continued their exhibition season into November. On Sunday, November 4, the Sixth faced the newly formed U.S. Naval Drydock team that included George Caster, Win Ballou (San Francisco Seal pitcher) and Cecil Garriott. Breaking the Sixth’s string of wins, the Drydock Nine used the pitching of Caster and Ballou to limit the Ferrying Group to six hits and two runs while tagging Pitter and Werbowski for four runs on 12 hits. Closing out the month, the Sixth dropped another contest, this time to the San Bernardino Army Air Force nine on November 28 to end the season.

1943 was a significant year of change for the United States as the tide had turned in the Pacific with the enemy forces on the defensive since the decimation of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway in June along with the push to dislodge the Japanese from the Solomon Islands. Axis forces were defeated in North Africa and Italy surrendered to the Allies; however, the war on the European Continent was only beginning. After ringing in the New Year, the Southern California service diamonds would spring back to life, months ahead of professional baseball’s training camps, and Ruffing would pick up where he left off in November.

Stay tuned for part two in this series.

Resources:

All of the photos published in this article are the part of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and may not be used without written permission.

Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game

In the decade that we have been researching artifacts and players, we have encountered the occasional baseball fan bearing a measure of bitterness and animosity towards the men who played baseball on service teams during World War II. While it certainly is understandable when comparisons are made with players such a s Warren Spahn or Gil Hodges participated in and witnessed some of the most horrific battles of the war. It is far too easy to look at the stories surrounding players like Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams who seemingly entered the war with significant hesitation that appeared to some to be evasiveness when other ballplayers such as Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Sam Chapman and Al Brancato volunteered days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Perhaps with perspective and insight into the wartime service of these professional ballplayers and the positive impact they had on their fellow servicemen, that bitterness may lessen. 

The first Norfolk NTS artifact in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection: this 1943 Norfolk Bluejackets team photo featured many major leaguers including Fred Hutchinson (back row, 6th from right), Dom DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from left) and (front row, 2nd from right) Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.

The very first Norfolk Naval Training Station artifact that landed within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection was a magnificent team photograph of the 1943 Bluejackets. The condition of the vintage type-1 photograph is less than desirable, and the image was a bit overexposed. Regardless of these detractors, the faces of each player are clearly identifiable in the high-resolution scan that we made from the photo. Soon after the acquisition of the photograph, we sourced a scorecard from the first games at Norfolk’s McClure Field against the Washington Senators (see: Discovering the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Through Two Scarce Artifacts). 

April 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station program and scorecard for their season opener against the Washington Senators.

One of the featured players of the Norfolk team was already a budding star in his two-year major league career with 10 games in two trips to the World Series (1941 and ‘42) along with a championship ring. Phillip Francis “Scooter” Rizzuto played his last professional game on October 5, 1942, a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.  Two days later, “Scooter” was in Norfolk for boot camp having reported for duty in the U.S. Navy on October 7, 1942. By the spring of 1943, the former Yankee shortstop was filling the same position on Bosun Gary Bodie’s Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. 

With many of the stories of baseball players finding their way onto service team rosters versus serving alongside other Americans in conventional armed forces roles (including combat), there are those who view these professionals with disdain seeing men who found a path to remain outside of harm’s way. Even today, there are those detractors who view these men with great animosity. Perhaps it is safe to make such an assumption that there were at least a few baseball players who could be judged in this manner, however it is far too simplistic and considerably easy to disregard what any of these men thought, felt or actually did, in addition to simply playing baseball.  One must consider the impact that the games had on fellow servicemen. To stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio or any of the hundreds who served and played the game to uplift the GIs and give them respite and a taste of home.  

Another vintage photograph in our collection. The original caption (affixed to the reverse) reads: “New York: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates (Oct. 11, 1943).” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) writer, Harry Grayson penned a rather sarcastic commentary (published in syndicated newspapers in mid-October across the U.S.)  regarding Cardinals’ pitcher, Murry Dickson being granted a 10-day furlough (from his Seventh Service Command duties) in order to participate in the 1943 World Series versus the Yankees. However, the same opportunity was not afforded to Johnny Beazley, Howie Pollet or Enos Slaughter who were also serving on active duty. What made the inconsistency stand out more, according to Grayson was that Phil Rizzuto was on furlough in New York (to spend time at home before being sent for duty in the South Pacific) and played in a series with the legendary semi-professional Brooklyn Bushwicks as they took on the New London (Connecticut) Coast Guardsmen on September 26. Rizzuto, wearing his Navy service dress blues, was joined by airman (and former Cardinals center fielder) Terry Moore at Yankee Stadium (also dressed in his service uniform). The author mentioned Major League Baseball Commissioner Landis’ prior refusal to accommodate Navy Lieutenant Larry French’s request to pitch for his former club, the Brooklyn Dodgers, while he was stationed at the nearby Navy Yard, illustrating further contradiction. However, Grayson’s punctuating closing sentence that ballplayers, who had been scheduled for an exhibition tour of the Pacific, were left without excuses for duty (other than baseball). 

Rizzuto’s time at Norfolk didn’t conclude with the baseballs season as he spent the winter months on the court with the NTS basketball team along with former Dodgers shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. By early March 1944, Bosun Bodie was left to rebuild his baseball club due to the departure of Benny McCoy, Charlie Wagner, Tom Earley, Vinnie Smith, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto for new duty assignments. Scooter, Vinnie Smith and DiMaggio landed in San Francisco Bay Area Sea Bees base known as Camp Showmaker (located near present-day Pleasanton). While further assignment, Dom DiMaggio and Rizzuto were added to the Shoemaker baseball team, the Fleet City Bluejackets. DiMaggio was handed the managerial reins to the club that also included Hank Feimster (former Red Sox pitcher) and former Cincinnati Reds outfielder, Hub Walker. the rand faced the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals on April 4 for an exhibition game. 

Since late January 1942, the Island of New Guinea was one of the Japanese Empire’s strategic targets with its natural resources and more importantly, its proximity to the Australian continent. With their invasion of Salamaua–Lae, the Japanese began to take a foothold on the island. By the time that Rizzuto and his former Norfolk Teammate, Don Padgett arrived on the Island in the spring of 1944, the Allied forces were amid the Reckless and Persecution operations against the Japanese. During his time in New Guinea, Rizzuto contracted malaria and suffered with a severe bout of shingles requiring his removal to U.S. Navy Fleet Hospital 109, located at Camp Hill, Brisbane, Australia. One serviceman wrote of Rizzuto’s time at the hospital and how he would interact with the American wounded mentioning (Ruby’s Report, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, July 13, 1944)  that Phil would do “everything to keep the patients’ minds off the war. Wrote the young sailor from Kentucky, “I have seen him sit down and answer questions by the hour and never once try to avoid a session of baseball grilling as only a bunch of hospital patients can put on.”  

One of our two vintage photos showing Rizzuto in Brisbane, Australia, summer 1944. Shown are: Back Row (L-R): Charlie Wagner, Don Padgett, Benny McCoy. Front Row: Dom DiMaggio, Rocco English, Phil Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Once he recovered from his ailments, Rizzuto took on duties as an athletic instructor, managing baseball service league while down under. “You’d be surprised how much sport can do to help the men who have just returned from battle.” the shortstop mentioned in an interview with sportswriter, Blues Romeo. Rizzuto’s primary duty in Australia was to organize games and tournaments for the battle-wounded sailors and Marines. “The physically handicapped boys in the hospital got together and formed athletic teams, “said Rizzuto. “They call it the ‘Stumpy Club.’ It’s made up of men who lost legs and arms in battle.” For those critical of baseball players who “got a free pass” from the war might consider the positive impact that many of the former professionals had on their peers. “Despite their handicaps, the men put everything they have into the game.” Rizzuto told the reporter. “At first it’s not a pleasant sight, watching so many guys with crutches, but that’s the kind of stuff that keeps their mind at ease.” the shortstop mentioned. “What guts those guys have!”  

Joining Rizzuto in Brisbane were fellow major leaguers, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio, Charlie Wagner, Benny McCoy along with a handful of minor leaguers.  

The second of our vintage photos taken in Brisbane. Rizzuto is kneeling second from the right (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Navy leadership had no intentions of losing bragging rights to the Army heading into the Service World Series after watching the heavily stacked Seventh Army Air Force team dominate the 1944 league play on Oahu.  While the 7th was busy handling the competition and planning for the fall series, the Navy began assembling top major and minor league talent from the continent and the Pacific Theater. 

At Furlong Field for the Service World Series in the fall of 1944. Left to right are: Ken Sears, Joe Rose, Phil Rizzuto, Marv Felderman. (Mark Southerland Collection).

Rizzuto and DiMaggio were recalled from Australia in September to Oahu in anticipation of the Service World Series (September 22 through October 15, 1944. Ahead of the series, Navy All-Stars manager, Lieutenant Bill Dickey plugged both Dom and Phil into their normal positions (center field and shortstop, respectively) for a Friday night (September 15) exhibition game against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins at Weaver Field (the Navy All-Stars won, 7-4). Two days later, DiMaggio and Rizzuto switched teams as the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins for a regular season game against the Hawaii Leagues champion 7th Army Air Forces squad on Sunday, September 17.   

While the Army roster consisted of the 7th AAF team (augmented with players from other Hawaiian base tames) For the series, the Navy fielded a team of All-Stars that would be the envy of either major league. To maximize the top-tier talent, some players were re-positioned from their normal spots on the diamond. Rizzuto was moved to the “hot corner” to allow for Pee Wee Reese to play at short.   

1944 Hawaii Service World Series Results: 

  • September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0) 
  • September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0) 
  • September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3) 
  • September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5) 
  • September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2) 
  • September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4) 
  • October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3) 
  • October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0) 
  • October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5) 
  • October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6) 
  • October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5) 

With the Army All-Stars defeated handily in the Service World Series, Rizzuto returned to Brisbane and resumed his duties with the service baseball leagues and the “Stumpy Club.”  

Following the completion of his duties in Brisbane, Rizzuto was transferred back to New Guinea to the small port town of Finschhafen (which was the site of a 1943 Allied offensive led by Australian forces) that ultimately secured the town and the harbor. Rizzuto was subsequently assigned to the Navy cargo ship, USS Triangulum (AK-102) serving once again on one of the shipboard Oerlikon 20-millimeter cannons anti-aircraft gun mounts as the vessel ferried supplies within the region.  As the Triangulum was constantly steaming to keep the troops supplied in the surrounding Bismark and Western Solomon Islands, General MacArthur and the American forces were keeping his promise to return to the Philippines and dislodge the Japanese forces that had been in the Island territory since December of 1941. 

By January of 1945, Rizzuto was serving on the Philippine Island of Samar (three months earlier, the Japanese Navy was dealt a deadly blow by the small destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 just off the island’s coast) and remained in the region until he was returned to California by the middle of October.  Rizzuto was discharge on October 28, 1945 and returned to the Yankees for training camp the following spring having been tempted by a lucrative contract and incentives to play in Mexico. 

Whether it was the thousands of cheering service personnel attending the games in which Rizzuto played or his hands-on service rendered to the recuperating combat wounded in Australia, he served in ways that are entirely ignored by critics of wartime service team baseball. 

See also:

Dugout Art? Hand-crafted Baseball Militaria Created by Tennessee Historian and Artist

Not all of the Chevrons and Diamonds artifacts and treasures fall neatly into traditional collecting categories. One of the most collected areas of the militaria hobby centers on artifacts (trench art) made by GIs in the field.  For our baseball memorabilia collectors who are unfamiliar with soldier or sailor-made artifacts, we have published a few articles that discuss this very common GI practice (see: Following the Flag and Researching After You Buy – Sometimes it is the Better Option). “How could trench art possibly tie into baseball memorabilia (or baseball militaria),” one might ask?

This 19th Century-vintage “lemon peel” baseball was purportedly retrieved from the Shiloh Battlefield in 1862 (image source: TheNationalPastime.com).

The game of baseball has a long and storied history and was spawned from games that were played in the American Colonies. Perhaps the seminal establishment as the game played by members of the armed forces occurred during the American Civil War with soldiers forming teams and competing on either side of conflict (though there are no accounts of opposing forces facing off on the diamond). Short on recreational equipment during the Civil War, troops had to improvise in order to have a ball or bat to play the game.  While baseballs weren’t mass-produced nor did there exists sporting goods manufacturers, the rules of the era dictated the construction of the small orb.

“The ball must weigh not less than five and three-fourths, nor more than six ounces avoirdupois. It must measure not less than nine and three-fourths, nor more than ten inches in circumference. It must be composed of india-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become the property of the winning club, as a trophy of victory.” – The Rules of 1860, as adopted by the National Association of Base-Ball Players.

Commonly referred to as the “lemon peel” ball, these baseballs were created following a specific pattern using standard materials.  However, what was used by troops in the field might vary depending upon the resources that were available. A soldier of that era who crafted a baseball would have been forced to improvise the materials and the results would have born little resemblance to what we see on today’s diamonds (to get glimpse of a baseball purportedly retrieved from the Shiloh (April, 1862) Battlefield, see: A Baseball Salvaged From A Civil War Battlefield).

The unique patchwork and stitching of the U.S. Army Special Services baseball is reminiscent of balls made during the Civil War.

In the tight-knit community of baseball memorabilia collectors, we have encountered some incredible people who are leaving their indelible marks upon the hobby with their attention to history and passion for sharing their knowledge and love of this game. Some of these folks have knowledge that transcends authoritative publications. Among this group are highly knowledgeable (if not experts) in player autographs, identifying equipment such as bats, gloves, mitts and catchers’ equipment. One can gain insights in how to stabilize the leather of 70-100-year-old glove or mitt or how to clean a player’s game-used bat without removing the game-wear. Breathing new life into a glove by re-lacing according to the original manufacturer’s specifications is an art form that only a handful of craftsmen and women possess and one will find such talent among this group.

True craftsmanship is revealed within small segments of collector groups among those who merge the skills of artifact preservation with history and creativity. One such innovator has taken a step into a different direction. The East Tennessee craftsman, a passionate Civil War reenactor and former assistant baseball coach organically developed the skills necessary to accurately restore vintage gloves to their former glory. Having restored more than 500 vintage gloves as he strives to maintain the historical integrity, Don Droke has encountered a considerable share of baseball leather that were beyond saving only to begin to see an accumulation of battered and decayed vintage gloves and mitts.

“’This all came about by a fluke,” Droke said. “My wife and I are Civil War reenactors, and all of the sudden out in the middle of a field, (other reenactors) were playing baseball, so I walked over, looked at their baseball and thought, ‘I can make that.’”  – Piney Flats man has unique way of re-purposing old baseball gloves

Don Droke approached me with the idea of creating a handmade baseball from the salvageable leather remnants of a wartime service glove that was stamped with “U.S. Special Services” markings. The ball that Don created is an amalgamation of Civil War ingenuity, necessity and World War II history. As with all of his projects, Droke began mine with a dilapidated WWII- glove that was issued to and used by soldiers. Working around the glove’s damage and decay, Droke sought out the best areas to cut usable material taking caution to preserve the stampings (including model number, maker, player endorsement signature, etc.) as possible before he applies the sections over the re-purposed windings of a donor baseball. The pieces are cut and pulled tightly so that they lay flat against the inner surface of the ball (picture a globe-shaped, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle) finishing the work off by stitching them together. The end-result is a one-of-a-kind work of art that showcases the features of the former military-veteran glove.

After spending nearly a year with the McClellan Field (Sacramento, CA) Army Air Forces Team and winning the area championship, Ferris Fain was re-assigned to Hickam Field (Pearl Harborm, Hawaii) forming a dominant squad of former professional ball-players. Droke matched the 7th’s insignia onto one of the ball’s panels.

Over the next several months, Mr. Droke’s artistry and skills evolved as word got out to other collectors. As demand increased for his work, so did his ideas which further inspired creativity. Don reached out to me about doing another ball however, this time it was to pay homage to one of my favorite players, Ferris Fain, former American League first baseman (1947-1955 for the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians) who won back—to-back batting titles in 1951 and ‘52. The basis for the ball would be a Ferris Fain signature model (MacGregor brand) first baseman’s glove (Trapper design) from the mid-1950s that was worse-for-wear. What made this project even more unique was the addition of tooling to some of the panels to honor Fain’s battle crowns, his first major league team and his World War II service.

When the ball arrived, I was overwhelmed not only by the craftsmanship in the fitment of the leather and stitching but also by his skills in illustrations on the leather.  Among all of the vintage jerseys, gloves, bats, scorecards and programs, vintage photographs and medals, Mr. Droke’s creations are some of my favorite pieces in our collection.

Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat

Recognizing Sgt. Ferris Fain’s Army Air Force service, I stanged this photo with his restored bat, a singed baseball (modern) that Fain inscribed his American League batting championship years (1951 and ’52) along with a 1943 U.S. Army-stamped Goldsmith glove and a 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (Fain’s unit and team during the war).

Last week I mentioned (see: My First Baseball Militaria At-bat; I Lead-off with the Marine Corps) that I was preparing for a public showing of my collection of baseball militaria at a local minor league ballpark. As a brief follow-up (ahead of an upcoming article about that experience) I should say that the experience and reception was incredible and a great success! Since I am on the subject of reviewing my recent open ended articles that may have left some readers wondering, I did have a great experience with my first restoration of a vintage baseball bat (read: Nothing To Write? I Think I’ll Just Restore a Vintage Bat, Instead).

In recent years, I connected with a few groups of fellow baseball memorabilia collectors with the idea that I wanted to learn from and share my own information among a gathering of others who have a wealth of knowledge. Sharing with and drawing from others who have been collecting for decades longer and in areas that I hadn’t previously committed much energy has served me well and opened my eyes to the extent of passion that others possess. In terms of collecting bats, I only had a smattering of pieces of lumber that I either acquired in anticipation of obtaining a player’s signature or that I landed while working at the aforementioned minor league ballpark, decades ago. Though my scant collection included some game-used wood from players who never went far with their professional careers, it was fun to have their bats (which were signed at one point since I obtained them). The other sticks in my collection were vintage store-model (they look very similar to what professional players receive from manufacturers but are sold in sporting goods stores for amateur use or autographs) bats.

The grit and grime on this poor old (60-plus years) stick was not going to easily give way. (Image source: eBay).

Last year, I obtained an early 1950s store model, Ferris Fain signature bat that had seen a lot of use and abuse. In addition to the heavy wear, accumulation of dirty grime and house paint spills, the bat had extremely faint manufacturer’s stamps and the player’s signature mark was nearly impossible to see. Professional model bats (for game use) have deep and distinct, burned-in markings that are quite difficult to obscure with use and time but the same is untrue for these lightly-marked store-purchased pieces of lumber. Rather than the burned-brands, thes Louisville Sluggers have foil-stamped (the stamps are subtle) marks that get worn or rubbed off with use. By no means am I a vintage bat expert but I have some excellent resources to draw from. In terms of Hillerich and Bradsby (maker of the most famous brand, Louisville Slugger), this reference is very detailed in providing information to discern age and models of ‘Slugger bats.

The Hillerich and Bradsby oval brand is very faint due to the typical shallow impressions seen on store model bats. The years of use have worn away the black foil that helped the lettering versus the burned branding seen on pro-model bats) to stand out (Image source: eBay).

Store model bats, though sought after by collectors, are quite affordable and can be great display pieces when shown with other items (jerseys, caps, gloves, autographed photos, cards, etc.) when costly game-used bats are unavailable or unobtainable.  Player-signature store model bats were made bearing the autographs of the more prevalent stars of the game. Some signature models were continued far beyond the career years of players that transcended the game. However, with some of the more mercurial stars like Fain whose career burned brightly and faded quickly due to his all-out style of play and propensity for injuries (and fighting), signature bats are considerably more scarce. Scarcity doesn’t necessarily drive demand or values upward as they do for well-knowns such as Mantle or Williams (with store-model bat production in orders of magnitude far above Fain models) however, for collectors like me, landing one of his bats in any condition is a bit of a boon. In terms of baseball militaria, a Fain signature (store model) bat would not be a part of any collection as he wouldn’t have had such a bat made for him until he was established in the major leagues in the years following his wartime service in the Army Air Force.

Ferris Fain’s faint signature and the Louisville Slugger trademark are barely discernible among the filth (Image source: eBay).

When I brought this bat home and shared it among my fellow collectors, the reception for such a beat-up old stick was mixed with one collector (whom I greatly respect) offering the suggestion of unloading it in favor of one in better condition. The recommendation was that my bat wasn’t worth any restorative effort. Taking this input with a grain of salt, the collector also gave me guidance on how I should proceed and the careful steps that I should take along with the products that I should use in order to protect the patina and signs of use while cleaning it up.

Removing the grime
This bat was quite darkened by usage and years of handling and storage (no doubt in someone’s garage among the paints and garden tools). The surface was heavily oxidized to a dirty gray hue and had a variety of stains and markings from various objects that made contact with the bat. Soaking a small area of a paper towel with Goo Gone, I began to gently massage the handle of the bat exercising a bit of caution and hesitancy as the dirt began to slightly dissipate on the wood’s surface.  Moving around the handle and downward (towards the barrel), I continued to wet the paper towel and lift away the dirt a little bit at a time. After nearly an hour, I completed the entire surface and noted that very little was removed despite the appearance of the nearly blackened paper towels that I had been using. After a few more hours of working the bat and noting only slight improvements (while absolutely none of the paint was removed), I decided that something more aggressive than paper was required to cut through the years of soiling.

Needing something with a bit more abrasive power, I grabbed a section of 0000 steel wool, wetted it with the Goo Gone and repeated the cleaning cycle. The steel wool began to peel away the layers of dirt with relative ease leaving a warm, aged color to the wood while retaining the usage markings and indentations in tact. The paint required a bit more attention but was no match for the fine grit of the steel pad.

Restoring the Foil Stamps
Fortunately with store-model Louisville Slugger bats, the brand and signature markings can be distinguishable even if the black foil (which resembles the burned-in brand has faded or been worn off. Since none of the black foil remained on my bat, I decided to replace it with something indelible and that would hold up to the final step in the restoration process (reconditioning the wood surface with oil).  Any novice restorer might be convinced that locating an extra fine tipped pen (to re-trace the near-needle-thin lines) would be well-suited for such a task. However, ink would be problematic when met with linseed oil. If one were to forego the oil-reconditioning, the ink would be subject to oxidation and fading with time. What my fellow collector recommended was to use a pen that, instead of paint as its medium, acrylic black paint would be used to fill in the stamps and markings. The challenge that I faced in seeking a paint pen marker was to locate one with an extra-fine head and unfortunately, the best option was a 1.5mm tip. I used the Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Marker, 1.5mm and a boatload of patience.

At my age, free-hand tracing of fine lines required the use of ample light and magnification to be able to see the original markings. Using a jeweler’s magnifying lamp afforded me with the best opportunity to carefully guide the pen through each stamped indentation.  For those who are not familiar with the mechanics of paint pens, they can be quite a challenge as they require depressing of the tip (in order to draw the paint downward) which can be a bit messy and cause more paint to flow onto the bat’s surface than intended. I recommend using a newspaper to press the tip of the pen to the desired paint-saturation. I spent a few hours, stopping to rest my eyes and hand at intervals and to allow the paint to dry and avoid transferring it to my hand and to other areas of the bat.

Once the painting was done on both the brand and the signature stampings, I didn’t like the crispness of the paint. I also had a few spots where I was unable to keep the pen tip within the lines. I followed the painting with careful and deliberate application of dry steel wool removing the over-painted areas and the shiny paint surface to match the used and aged condition of the bat.

The restoration nearly completed (save for the linseed oil finish), the bat already displays nicely with the signed baseball, original type-1 print, the glove and the two Hillerich & Bradsby pieces of advertising ephemera.

All that remains with the restoration of the Ferris Fain bat is to carefully apply linseed oil to properly treat the surface of the wood. Looking through my wood finishing supplies I see that I am lacking in linseed oil which will leave this Fain bat unfinished at present.

 

 

 

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