Barney McCosky: From Naval Aviation Cadet to Slugging Champion
On Wednesday, August 8, 1945, the Detroit Tigers started the day atop the American League standings with a one-game advantage over the Washington Senators. They were set to host a doubleheader against the Red Sox at Briggs Stadium. At 12:47 p.m. (local time)) that afternoon, a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-29 bomber, nicknamed Bockscar, took off from the airfield at Tinian in the Marianas, headed northbound. Detroit took the opening game, 5-2, but dropped the nightcap, 7-4, ending the day with their one-game American League lead intact. After the game, at 10:02 p.m. on the other side of the globe, the USAAF B-29 released its payload over the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Having completed a four-game sweep of the visiting New York Yankees, Tiger players spent August 14 resting as they awaited the arrival of the second-place Senators, who now trailed Detroit by three games. News of Japan’s capitulation reached the U.S. that same day, which was cause for national jubilation as the war was over.
Hours after the Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, September 1, at 9:08 p.m., General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers and signed in his capacity as Supreme Commander aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), bringing an official close to the war. The Tigers held a slim 1.5 game lead in the American League with 31 games remaining on the schedule.
On the Island of Saipan, just north of Tinian, where Bockscar was based, two former Detroit players were serving in the armed forces and paying close attention to the Tigers’ progress. Captain George “Birdie” Tebbetts first saw action with the Tigers in 1936 but took over the starting backstop position in 1939. Tebbetts was a key member of the 1940 pennant-winning club before joining the Army Air Forces following the 1942 season. Chief Petty Officer Barney McCosky was also a member of the 1940 World Series-losing Tigers and was serving with the Seabees as a physical fitness instructor, organizing softball and baseball leagues and playing in games. Now that the war was over, the hope for both players was to somehow make it back to the States in time if the Tigers advanced to the 1945 World Series.
For both former Tigers, 1942 seemed like ages ago and the sting of losing the 1940 World Series to Cincinnati still lingered. From 1939 to 1942, Barney McCosky carried a .316 average, and he finished in the top ten of the American League batting crown standings from 1940-1942. In the Tigers’ pennant-winning season, McCosky’s .340 average placed him behind Joe DiMaggio (.352), Luke Appling (.348), Ted Williams (.344), Rip Radcliff (.342) and Hank Greenberg (.340). When he was sworn into the Naval Aviation Cadet program on December 10, 1942, he was one of the future stars of Detroit.
With the United States fully engaged in the fight against the Axis powers, baseball was losing a significant number of players to the armed forces. Many of baseball’s athletes opted to pursue aviation in the armed forces, including Ted Williams, Johnny Sain, Johnny Pesky, Billy Southworth Jr., Bert Shepard and Buddy Lewis. McCosky applied for and was accepted into the V-5 Naval Aviation Training program and was sworn in on December 10, 1942, but faced a lengthy wait until he was called into the program. As winter ebbed and spring loomed on the horizon, McCosky turned down the Tigers’ invitation to training camp and continued to wait for the Navy’s call.
On opening day of the 1943 season, as Detroit hosted Cleveland, Barney McCosky was sworn into active service and reported to Wooster College to begin the U.S. Navy Flight Preparatory School (often referred to as “ground school”) phase of Navy Pre-Flight training. After nearly two weeks at Wooster, McCosky was added to the “Scots” baseball roster and anticipated starting against Kent State on April 26, but he was prevented from playing due to a quarantine. As McCosky progressed with his training, he played for the Scots throughout May and into June. By mid-June, he completed the first stage of ground school training and went home for weekend leave, which included a visit to Briggs Stadium and a workout with his old team. Feeling that his age was a limiting factor, McCosky sought an exit from the V-5 program. “I was 25 at the time,” he later said, “and when I got in that school there were kids 19 and 20, just out of college. I couldn’t keep up with those guys. I said, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ The Great Lakes Naval Training Station, north of Chicago, was home to the Navy’s Bluejackets, led by former Tiger manager Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane. He had led Detroit during McCosky’s first three seasons in the organization’s minor leagues.
“So, I called Great Lakes. I said, ‘Mickey, get me out of this end of it. Get me over there; I’ll be a sailor.’ About a week later I was in Great Lakes.” McCosky made his debut with the Bluejackets on June 21 as they hosted the Cleveland Indians, playing in front of more than 10,000 Navy recruits. For Great Lakes, the 2-1 victory was their 18th in 21 games and their fourth win over a major league club that season. Barney was one-for-three at the plate.
|Earl Bolyard||CF||Dallas (TL)|
|Dan Casey||Villanova U.|
|J. Russell Cook|
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C||White Sox|
|Robert R. M. Emmet|
|Carl Fiore||3B||Wilkes-Barre (EL)|
|Dennis Gleason||C||Lancaster (ISLG)|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||RF||Browns|
|George “Pete” Hader||P||New Orleans (SOUA)|
|Chester Hajduk||2B||White Sox|
|Robert A. “Bob” Harris||P||Athletics|
|Tony Hinkle||1B Coach|
|Tom Madden||3B||Newport News (VIRL)|
|Glenn “Red” McQuillen||LF||Browns|
|Leo “Red” Nonnenkamp||RF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Eddie Pellagrini||SS||Louisville (AA)|
|Henry Perry||P||Dallas (TL)|
|Warren “Sheriff” Robinson||C||Rochester (IL)|
|Fred Shaffer||3B Coach|
After McCosky joined the club, Great Lakes had a 34-7-1 record. In those 42 games, McCosky had 154 at-bats, mustering 42 hits and scoring 39 runs. He also drove in 31 and finished the season with a .273 batting average as the Bluejackets concluded with a 52-10-1 record. With the end of the season, McCosky and nine of the Great Lakes squad, including Joe Grace, Red McQuillen, Leo Nonnenkamp, George Dickey, Eddie Pellagrini, Vern Olsen, Johnny Schmitz, Bob Harris, and Johnny Mize, received orders to report to the Navy Athletic Specialist Training School at Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Maryland.
For McCosky, the Gene Tunney Physical Training Instructor Program was rigorous and changed his perspectives regarding Tiger spring camp workouts, “I have to laugh when I think how we used to beef down at Lakeland (Florida) when [Tiger manager] Del Baker would make us do some setting-up exercise four or five times,” he lamented. “There would be shouts of ‘enough…enough…”
Following his January, 1944 graduation from the Tunney training program, Athletic Specialist First Class McCosky was transferred to the west coast to await transport to the Hawaiian Islands. Many of his former Great Lakes teammates formed a contingent of players heading to the islands, including Dickey, Ferrick, Grace, Harris, Lucadello, Mize, Olsen and Pellagrini. Upon arrival on Oahu, McCosky and most of the former Bluejackets were assigned to the 14th Naval District to serve as physical fitness instructors. McCosky and Lucadello were transferred to the Aiea Naval Barracks and both were added to the unit’s baseball team, the Maroons.
|Abner “Andy” Ashford||1B|
|W. H. Epperson|
|William “Bill” Garbe||1B||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Bill “Dutch” Holland||P||Pittsfield (CAML)|
|Gordon Howerton||IF/OF||Muskegon (MICH)|
|Edgar “Special Delivery” Jones||2B/Mgr.|
|Max Patkin||P||Green Bay (WISL)|
|Eddie Pellagrini||SS||Louisville (AA)|
|Pat Ralsh||P||Willmington (ISGL)|
|Sal Recca||C/3B||Norfolk (PIED)|
|Wildred “Rhiney” Rhinelander||Mgr.||U.S. Navy|
|Tom Saviori||OF||Mobile (SEAL)|
|Charles B. Simmons|
|Bob Usher||CF||Birmingham (SOUA)|
|Larry Lee Varnell||Eastern league|
|Leo Visintainer||P||Redding Cubs (NorCal Amateur League)|
For McCosky, 1944 was a fantastic baseball year that saw him playing in some of the most incredible games of the war years as the diamond’s best congregated on the islands that season. When McCosky and Lucadello joined the Aiea club, the Honolulu League was nearly at the midpoint of its season. The Maroons were trailing the East Division-leading Pearl Harbor Marines by a game in second place in the ten-team circuit. At the conclusion of regular season play, Aiea finished with a won-lost record of 7-2, placing the club one game out of first place and as a qualifier for the Hawaii League’s playoffs.
Named the Cronin Series, the playoffs featured the top five teams of both divisions. The series took place throughout the month of April. Aiea’s 17-game winning streak after dropping their opening game of the Cronin Series was a dominant showcasing of the team’s talent as they captured the Honolulu League crown going away. Of the 23 players named to the Honolulu League All-Star team, eight were from the Aiea Barracks Maroons, including McCosky.
McCosky’s bat factored heavily in Aiea’s success as he was in the running for the league’s triple crown until the Pearl Harbor Marines’ Sam Mele pulled ahead and captured the batting title with a .358 average. Barney’s .333 was good enough for third in the standings behind the 7th Army Air Force’s Eddie Jabb’s .341, but the former Tiger captured the home run and RBI titles.
During the 1944 Honolulu League, Central Pacific Area (CPA) League and Hawaii League seasons, the two primary Oahu newspapers carried details of the noteworthy baseball talent present on the island. Future Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Mize headlined a group of former major leaguers who had arrived on the island since the end of the 1943 baseball season and were subsequently assigned to area naval bases. “It was good big-league ball because they were all out there,” McCosky told William J. Marshall in 1988. Eager to showcase the baseball players and to capitalize on their talent for the war effort, administrators planned an exhibition tilt for the end of April, pitting the Major League All-Stars against the local stars. To prepare the All-Stars for the event, the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Dolphins hosted the big leaguers for an April 19 contest on their home diamond, Weaver Field.
Pee Wee Reese was suffering from an injury that kept him out of the game. It necessitated some creativity with the lineup. With three pitchers on the roster, Lucadello was moved from second base to Reese’s vacated shortstop position and Barney McCosky was shifted to second base. Pitcher Vern Olsen was sent to right field. Despite the unusual positionings, the big leaguers were poised to give the Sub Base nine fits.
The major leaguers took care of the Dolphins handily behind the bat of Johnny Mize, who led with a home run, double, and two singles in the 9-3 victory. The Sub Base did manage three hits, with former Philadelphia Athletic shortstop Al Brancato accounting for an eighth inning roundtripper.
Chickamauga Park at the Schofield Barracks played host to another all-star competition that saw the Navy face off against the Army before 18,000 GIs. The Navy hit parade was led by second baseman Johnny Lucadello and former Indian pitcher Tom Ferrick, playing in right field, as both went three-for-five at the plate. In the top of the first, with Navy runners at every station, third baseman Al Brancato wiped the bases clean as he drove in three runs with a timely base hit, putting the Navy on top. The former Athletic shortstop was two-for-three on offense.
Ten days after the game at Weaver Field, the Major League All-Star squad, which this time included Pee Wee Reese, Al Brancato and Eddie Pellagrini as starting position players, faced the Honolulu League All-Stars for a game that benefited War Bond sales. The April 29 War Bond Game was played at Honolulu Stadium.
Reese had recovered from his injury and thus participated in the War Bond Game, a 12-inning battle. The event raised $650,000 solely from gate admissions with another $350,000 from a corresponding autographed memorabilia auction. The return of Reese for this game meant that McCosky occupied his natural spot in center.
Again, the major leaguers were the victors over an aggregation of Honolulu League all-stars augmented with several service team players, including Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmyer (SS), Joe Gedzius (2B) and Eddie Funk (P) of the 7th Army Air Force, Sam Mele (1B), Ed Puchleitner (CF) and Andy Steinbach of the Marines and Bob Usher (LF), Bill Holland (P), Frank Roberts (C) and Joe Wells (P) of Aiea Naval Barracks. The Honolulu All-Stars held their own against the former big leaguers through 11 innings with the score knotted at two runs apiece.
Reese had defensive trouble in the sixth as he could not handle a hard shot deep in the hole at short off the bat of rightfielder Tom Saviori, which ultimately deadlocked the game at two. Reese had six plate appearances and reached base with three singles but did not factor in any of the scoring. “The smoothness of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese at short was something to see, “the Honolulu Advertiser’s Red McQueen wrote, “and it was just Pee Wee’s luck to get hit on his sore heel by a bad throw-in from center by Barney McCosky.”
Army brass intent on laying claim to the preponderance of Hawaii baseball crowns that season pulled together their best players from the west coast and deposited them all on the 7th Army Air Force squad at Hickam Army Airfield in early June, with the Central Pacific Area League’s season already underway. A competitive force in the early goings of the year, the 7th AAF was transformed into a military version of the New York Yankees. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the 7th featured future Hall of Famers from the Bronx Bombers, including Charles “Red” Ruffing, Joe “Flash” Gordon and the “Yankee Clipper” himself, Joe DiMaggio, as the Fliers were the team to beat in the league.
Running neck-and-neck with the Army’s “Yankees,” the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers, now bolstered with Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey, put McCosky’s Maroons at a competitive disadvantage for the remainder of the season. The Maroons competed with the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay “Klippers” and the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” for the best position behind the two leaders.
The 7th AAF defeated the Aiea Naval Hospital in a best of three championship series while McCosky’s Maroons finished in fourth place and the Dolphins third. McCosky endured a slump and a mid-August ankle injury that impacted his offensive performance as he finished with a respectable .287 average with 33 runs scored, 29 RBIs and 12 home runs. The Fliers’ Walt Judnich overtook McCosky in the CPA League’s home run race at the end of the season with 14, leaving the two as the only batters with double-digit roundtrippers. McCosky’s 81 total bases were the best in the league. The former Tiger was named to the CPA League’s All-Star team.
As the juggernaut 7th AAF team also captured the Hawaii League crown in September, the Navy was assembling a powerhouse baseball team of its own to face the Army in the Servicemen’s World Series. The Navy pulled its stars from all the Hawaiian bases to form a collection of all-stars that was superior to any assemblage of players since the 1942 major league midsummer classic. To further bolster their roster, Phil Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio were flown in from Australia for the seven-game series.
In a pre-series tune-up game against the Sub Base Dolphins, McCosky’s bat factored heavily in the Navy stars’ 10-2 victory as he went four-for-five with three doubles and five RBIs. The seven-game Servicemen’s World Series ran from September 22 through October 4 with the Navy All-Stars capturing the first six. The show went on the road to the other islands for four more games on Maui, Hawaii and Kauai with the Navy taking two more and tying one. McCosky saw action in five games, posting a .273 average in 19 at-bats.
In early 1945, McCosky was named to the two-team contingent of Navy ballplayers sent to tour the western Pacific to boost the morale of troops stationed on remote islands. Departing aboard two Marine Corps C-46 transports in mid-February, the Navy baseball tour took the men to Johnston Island, Majuro Roi, Kwajalein, Ulithi, Peleliu, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, playing as many as two dozen games.
|Albert (Al) Brancato||SS||Athletics|
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C||White Sox|
|Del Ennis||LF||Trenton (ISLG)|
|Benny Huffman||LF||San Antonio (TL)|
|Frank Marino||P||Tulsa (TL)|
|Glenn “Red” McQuillen||CF||Browns|
|Johnny Vander Meer||P||Reds|
Once the tour ended, McCosky, along with Benny Huffman, Gene Woodling, Al Glossop, Jim Trexler and boxer Fred Apostoli, were assigned to serve on Saipan. McCosky served in his athletic specialist role as an athletics director until the war ended.
Hank Greenberg was discharged from the Army Air Forces in June and returned to the Tigers in time to play his first game on July 1. McCosky’s Serviceman’s World Series teammate and Pacific tour opponent, Virgil Trucks, arrived in St. Louis to start for the Tigers on September 30 against the Browns in the last game of the season. McCosky’s homeward-bound trek was far different.
“When it [the war] did end, I had enough points to come back. That’s the year that Detroit was playing the Cubs in the Series. In fact, Greenberg came back for that and, I think, somebody else. And our commander, Goodenough, he says ‘You’ve got enough points, Barney, and the best thing I can do is, I can fly you out of here (Saipan) and get you to Honolulu. But when you get there, you might have a tough time because of all the brass and everything else that can get ahead of you going back to the States.’ And I was trying to get back and I had plenty of time, about a month to get back and get into that World Series.”
McCosky continued, “I got to Honolulu, sat in the barracks, and finally my name came up to go back; no plane. They put me on an old LST, an old clunker. And we started back to Frisco. And we got out about ten miles and it broke down. They sent for a tug. They hooked a tug on that sucker and we went all the way back to Frisco with that. We listened to the game[s] on the boat. Missed it completely, right out of it.”
McCosky was in baseball shape and ready to play but it was not meant to be. “We could have been there. We could have been playing because we played enough ball that we were in good shape; it would be nothing to walk in there because we were facing big league pitching all the time on the island. It was one of those things that happened.”
|Apr – Jun 1943||Navy Flight Preparatory School – Wooster College “Scots”||Aviation Cadet||OF|
|June -Sep 1943||Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets||S1/c||CF|
|March – Sep 1944||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks Maroons||Sp(A)1/c||RF/MGR|
|April 19, 1944||Major League All Stars vs Navy||Sp(A)1/c||CF|
|April 29, 1944||Major League Stars – War Bond Game||Sp(A)1/c||CF|
|April 30, 1944||14th Naval District All-Stars||Sp(A)1/c||CF|
|Sep – Oct 1944||Navy All-Stars (Servicemen’s World Series – Hawaii)||CSp(A)||CF|
|March 1945||Third Fleet||CSp(A)||CF|
Four days after the Tigers beat the Cubs in the seventh game of the World Series, Barney McCosky was discharged from the Navy on October 14, 1945. He resumed his baseball career with the Tigers the following spring but was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for future Hall of Famer George Kell on May 26. McCosky played for the A’s until he was sold in May, 1951, to Cincinnati, where he remained for a few weeks until being claimed off waivers by Cleveland. He played for the Indians until he was released on July 10, 1953, bringing an end to his playing career. While McCosky’s career statistics are not legendary, he was a solid player with very good career numbers during his 11 seasons in the majors. His career .312 batting average ranks him 95th on the all-time list and his .286 on-base percentage ties him with Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan.
One can only speculate on McCosky’s career had he not given three prime baseball seasons in service to his nation.
Note: We are grateful to Jeffrey Lazarus and Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. for their contributions for this article.
Sources for Barney McCosky: From Naval Aviation Cadet to Slugging Champion
 George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian,” Chevrons and Diamonds (bit.ly/Tebbetts), accessed April 21, 2023.
 “Tigers Lose McCosky,” The Sault Daily Star (Sault St. Marine, Ontario, Canada), December 16, 1942: p.9.
 “The Day’s Sports in Short Order,” Detroit Free Press, April 14, 1943: p.23.
 “McCosky to Face Kent Nine Today,” The Akron Beacon Journal, April 26, 1943: p.17.
 “Kent State Bows to Wooster, 3-1,” The Akron Beacon Journal, April 27, 1943: p.25.
 “Today’s Sports in Short Order,” Detroit Free Press, June 12, 1943: p.14.
 “Advice from One Who Knows,” Detroit Free Press, June 13, 1943: p.22.
 Bedingfield, Gary, “Barney McCosky,” Baseball in Wartime (https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/mccosky_barney.htm), accessed April 21, 2023.
 “Great Lakes Downs Cleveland, 2-1,” Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN), June 21, 1943: p.20.
 “Mize and 9 Others Leave Great Lakes for Eastern Base,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1943: p.19.
 “Major Leaguers Assigned to the 14th Naval District,” The Honolulu Advertiser, February 19, 1944.
 Marshall, William J., “Interview with William B. McCosky/A. B. “Happy” Chandler: Desegregation of Major League Baseball Oral History Project,” March 16, 1988.
 “Big League Stars Defeat Navy, 9 To 3,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 20, 1944: p.8.
 Vandergrift, K.S. Capt., “Major League Stars Blank Army Team 9-0,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 1, 1944: p.8.
 McQueen, Red, “Hoomalimali,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 2, 1944: p.10.
 Fowler, Chief Charles, “7th AAF Wins on Judnich’s Homer,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 16, 1944: p.8.
 Crissey Harrington E., Athletes Away: A Selective Look at Professional Baseball Players in the Navy during World War II. Archway Press 1984.
 Marshall, William J., “Interview with William B. McCosky” A. B. “Happy” Chandler: Desegregation of Major League Baseball Oral History Project, March 16, 1988.