Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory
Posted by VetCollector
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Woody Bell||OF||San Antonio (TXL)|
|Froilan “Nanny” Fernandez||SS||Braves|
|Johnny “Swede” Jensen||RF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Hub Kittle||P||Oakland (PCL)|
|Art Lilly||2B||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Walter Loos||3B||Columbia (SALL)|
|Ed Nulty||LF||Montreal (IL)|
|Al “Ollie” Olsen||P||San Diego (PCL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Newark (AA)|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See part two in this series: Airman Red Ruffing: A GI Pitcher
- The Unique Career of Red Ruffing – Chris Jaffe, The Hardball Times
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.
Score-Keeping: 1944 6th Ferrying Group versus Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field
Posted by VetCollector
Following the June, 1942 American victory at the Battle of Midway that resulted in the loss of four principle aircraft carriers, the Empire of Japan was reeling from a resounding defeat that was only the beginning of the the Japanese forces contracting from the extent of their territorial gains. The United States was still ramping up with the construction of machines and the transformation of civilian young men into a fighting force and the demand for more of both was still increasing to meet the needs in multiple theaters against three distinct enemies. Though many professional ballplayers had already begun to enlist or were drafted into service, still many more were continuing to play, providing Americans with an inexpensive form of recreation.
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.
And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.
Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” – Excerpt of letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Kenesaw M. Landis, January 15, 1942
Under heavy public scrutiny, two of the game’s biggest stars, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, relented and entered the service following the conclusion of the 1942 season (Williams enlisted in May but was inducted into wartime duty after the season’s end while the the Yankee Clipper enlisted on February 17th, 1943). Still many more ball players would continue to join or wait until their selective service boards decided their fate. With the influx of ballplayers into the armed forces, many were not fit to serve in combat capacities due to residuals from injuries or other maladies that would have otherwise exempted them from service. Recognizing the value that professional athletes brought to the armed forces (aside from the men who served in combat units), War Department leadership pulled professional baseball players into athletic and physical fitness instructor roles along with service on base or unit baseball teams that met the needs as both morale boosts and as a fund-raising force used to finance sending athletic equipment to deployed GIs.
With the successful service team baseball campaigns in 1942 by such teams as the Norfolk and Great Lakes Naval Training Station teams, command staff personnel from other domestic bases, camps, forts and training facilitates followed suit, establishing their own teams of former professional ballplayers. Also in 1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces began transforming the air logistics arm of their branch, establishing the Air Transport Command (ATC) and placed the former Air Corps Ferrying Command as the ATC’s subordinate. With a new agreement between the City of Long Beach, California, the USAAF established the Long Beach Army Airfield (LBAA) at Long Beach Airport creating a civilian-military joint use facility. The USAAF placed LBAA under their Technical Services Command with the 348th Army Air Force Base Unit as a principle unit. Considering the close proximity to the Douglas Aircraft Company the USAAF assigned a unit to manage taking delivery of C-47, A-26 and B-17 aircraft that were being manufactured for the Army Air Force: The 6th Ferrying Group.
With the arrival of the 1943 new year, more players were setting their baseball careers aside to take up arms, many of which landed in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). One of the most recognizable names to enlist into the USAAF was Charles “Red” Ruffing who only months previously, helped the Yankees secure their only win in the 1942 World Series (no-hitting the St. Louis Cardinals through seven and 2/3 innings when Terry Moore singled to right field). In that series, Ruffing Set a record for starting a sixth opening game and for seven World Series victories (Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford would eclipse both marks in the early 1960s).
On January 5, 1943, 37-year-old Ruffing was inducted into the army for non-combatant duty; due to his age and the absence of four toes on one of his feet (he lost his toes in an accident while working at an Illinois mine years earlier – the same mine in which his cousin was killed and his father suffered a broken back). Once into the Army Air Forces, Ruffing was assigned to the 348th Air Base Squadron, under the Sixth Ferrying Group where he was part of the Athletics and Recreation (A. & R.) Department as a physical fitness instructor and would take on the management of the air base’s baseball team.
As additional former major and minor league players joined the USAAF, some were assigned to the 348th creating a pool of talent from which Ruffing began to assemble a baseball team, representing the Sixth Ferrying Group. Major leaguers Chuck Stevens (St. Louis Browns) and Max West (Braves) were inducted in March followed by “Nanny” Fernandez (Braves) and Harry Danning (Giants) in April, were subsequently assigned to the 348th with Ruffing as the future Hall of Fame pitcher assembled the team for which he would both pitch and manage. Aside from providing the service men and women in the region with entertainment, the Sixth also played a rigorous schedule with Pacific Coast League opponents. The five former major leaguers (plus one former minor leaguer) on the roster were joined by such stars as Johnny Pesky and Joe DiMaggio as the area’s Service All-Stars were pitted against the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars in a charity game for the All Pacific Recreation Fund.
The 1943 team would dominate the Southern California Service League, securing the championship. As the season wound down in September, the Ferrymen sustained a 23-game winning streak that was ended by the reigning 11th Naval District champions, the San Diego Marines, led by former St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitcher, Ray Yochim. The Sixth would exact revenge on a different team of Marines, defeating the leathernecks of Camp Pendleton on Ruffing’s pitching in the 4-1 league championship contest.
The following year saw the Sixth Ferrying Group team, with a roster that was practically unchanged, picking up where they left off with 1943. As they did in the previous season, members from the Sixth reprised the All Pacific Recreation game against the two Pacific Coast League teams in August. Aside from their league schedule in the Southern California Service League, the Sixth Ferrying Group played a number of exhibition games against defense industrial teams and regional PCL franchises to raise funds for various charities including the Relief organizations including both Army and Navy as well as for the bat and ball funds.
1944 6th Ferrying Group Roster (bold indicates prior major league service):
|Chuck Stevens||1B||St. Louis Browns|
|Nanny Fernandez||SS||Boston Braves|
|Max West||3B||Boston Braves|
|Red Ruffing||P||NY Yankees|
|Ollie Olsen||P||San Diego|
|Woody Bell*||CF||San Antonio|
|Harry Danning||C||NY Giants|
|Swede Jensen||RF||San Diego|
Over the course of this year, Chevrons and Diamonds has been acquiring artifacts from the estate of a former professional ballplayer who enjoyed a 17-year career with a three-year pause to serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. During his wartime service, the former St. Louis Browns first baseman, Chuck Stevens was an airman in the USAAF and was tapped to play baseball along with his duties. Judging by the volume and diversity of the artifacts that Stevens preserved throughout his playing career (and his lengthy service as an executive with the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America), he quite obviously loved the game and his part in its history. Among the many artifacts that we acquired was the bulk of his wartime pieces that includes original photographs (some, published in this article), scorecards and programs.
Two of the programs that were part of Steven’s estate were from separate exhibition games hosted by the 1944 Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field. Each program shares several components including the patriotic front and radio station advertisement on the back. What differentiates the books are some of the internal pages including the scoring sheets (all unused), rosters and season analysis commentaries. Using the information, I was able to determine that one of them was created for the June 19th game in which the Sixth dominated the Stars on Ruffing’s pitching and a bevy of singles by the batsmen.
“Ruffing and Mates Win Bond Game
Hollywood, California – Sgt. Red Ruffing, former New York Yankee ace, and his big league helpers of the Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California, breezed to a 7 to 1 victory over the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League here the night of June 19, boosting the Fifth War Loan Drive approximately $1,750,000.
Ruffing hurled the three-hit ball for five innings and struck out seven before finishing in right field, to share honors with Comedians Abbott and Costello and Screen Lovely Jinx Falkenberg, who entertained in pre-game ceremonies. It was a “no-expense” game, with the Hollywood club donating the park, while players gave their services, as did all Gilmore Field attendants.
Ruffing was nicked for the lone Hollywood run in the fourth. Roy Pitter, Ruffing’s successor, was touched for a single by the first man facing him, then pitched hitless ball. Rookie Earl Embree went the route for the Stars and was raked for 12 hits, all singles.
Three singles sent the Ferriers off to a two-run lead in the first inning. Two walks, a sacrifice and single game them another pair in the fourth, and three singles and a passed ball produced the final trio of markers in the sixth.” – John B. Old, The Sporting News (June 22, 1944)
The excellent condition of both programs is due to Stevens’ meticulous care in storing his baseball artifacts, though there are some visible indications of usage and handling. The covers are heavier weight paper with a slight coating lending to a lustre finish. The internal pages are similar to newsprint showing some yellowing and oxidizing. Rather than black ink, all of the monochromatic printing is done using a navy-blue. Each book features 20 pages (including the front and back covers) of text, photographs, illustrations and advertisements.
*Lt. Col. Woodrow “Woody” M. Bell
Following his professional baseball career, Woody M. Bell’s path in the the armed forces differed from those of his Sixth Ferrying Group teammates, extending well beyond the war. His service to the United States spanned more than three decades (31 years in total). The Bellville, Texas native and graduate of Texas A&M signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1939 and was in their farm system starting that season with the Springfield Browns of the Three-I League. as he progressed upward through the Browns’ minor leagues, he was assigned to his hometown San Antonio Missions playing alongside his future Sixth Ferrying Group teammate, first baseman Chuck Stevens in 1940.
After spending the 1940-41 seasons with the Missions, Woody Bell enlisted into the U. S. Army Air Forces and was commissioned a 2nd LT and was assigned to the Ninth Ferrying Squadron (part of the Sixth Ferrying Group), serving as the squadron operations officer and advancing to the rank of captain.
Woody Bell retired from the Air Force having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and returned to the San Antonio area. Bell would spend some of his retirement years serving as the San Antonio Missions as general manager of the team having come full circle with his love for the game. According to his obituary, Bell passed away on February 28, 2009.