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From Storekeeper to Middle Infielder: the Dolphins’ Al Brancato

Note: This is second of a multi-part story. See Part 1: Al Brancato: A Homegrown Athletic Infielder

As Brancato settled into his Boston surroundings, the Philadelphia Athletics were firmly settled into the American League cellar, dropping nearly 100 games as they finished with a 55-99 won-lost record. Continued labor woes befell the Athletics with a considerable number of their players serving in the armed forces and with the war progressing slowly on all fronts, it was clear that all clubs would be losing still more players in the coming months.

As the oft-borrowed line from Alexander Pope states, “Hope springs eternal”[1] for the coming baseball season once Valentine’s Day arrives and players report to their respective training camps. With travel restrictions in place, the A’s, like all the northern major league clubs, were forced to train in their local region in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. On March 28, two weeks before opening day of the 1943 season, SK2/c Brancato paid a visit to the A’s spring camp. “Brancato, on leave for only a few hours from his duties as a second class storekeeper on a cruiser, rushed to Wilmington to see his old mates,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stan Baumgartner wrote of the former A’s shortstop’s visit, “and Connie Mack immediately put him in the game.” Brancato was inserted into an intra-squad game pitting the Athletics starters against the “Yannigans,” a squad of the club’s backup players.[2]

The rusty shortstop was added to the Yannigans roster and his impact was immediate, despite an 18-month hiatus from the game. From his familiar shortstop position, Brancato was back in the saddle turning a double-play. “Gosh, it felt great to get out, feel a bat between my hands and stop a few hot ones” Brancato told Baumgartner after the game. In his two at bats, Brancato rolled out to second base and hit into a double play. “I hope they never stop baseball,” Brancato said, commenting on the potential cessation of the game during the war, “We all want it. We want to read about it.” With three months before his ship was set to enter active fleet service, Brancato reflected upon the unknown future, “As soon as we can finish up this little business, which I guess I will be in up to my ears in a few months, I want to come back and pick up where I left off.” Understanding the considerable boost to troop morale the game provided troops, Brancato concluded, “I hope the men at home keep the ball flying.”[3]

With the June 30, 1943 commissioning of the USS Boston, Brancato was officially transferred from the Receiving Station, Boston to the ship. The Boston crew took notice of their ex-ballplayer-turned-storekeeper, “The sporting world has given to the USS Boston a real big leaguer in the person of Al Brancato, SK,” the ship’s newspaper, The Bean Pot, reported with considerable optimism. “Playing 3rd and SS with the As (sic) for three seasons, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame when he enlisted in the Navy, 1942.” Noting Al’s vice-free living, the July 17, 1943 Bull Pen article stated, “Al’s total abstinence knocks for a loop the crack-pot notion of some people that all the sailors ‘rush in where angels fear to tread,’” while emphasizing Brancato’s avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.[4]

For the next several months, the new cruiser and her crew were put through numerous exercises and evaluations during sea trials in preparation for wartime fleet duties. Every system and component from the propulsion plant, maneuvering equipment, guns, and detection systems along with her crew’s proficiency in operations were evaluated to determine corrective actions that were needed. Once the ship’s sea trials and post-shakedown maintenance were completed, USS Boston set out for the Pacific by way of the Panama Canal. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1943, the ship reported for duty.[5]

USS Boston muster sheet dated January 19, 1944 showing Brancato’s transfer to the Pearl Harbor Sub Base, authorized on January 14 (source: National Archives/Ancestry.com).

Honolulu, a hotbed of both military and civilian baseball for decades, saw an influx of former major and minor leaguers serving in the armed forces. They were assigned to area military installations and added to their respective baseball teams. The 1943 champions of the Hawaii League, the Hawaiian Defense League and the Army-Navy Series, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins consisted largely of former professionals, featuring former major leaguers Jimmy Gleeson, outfielder, Cincinnati Reds; Rankin Johnson, pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics; and Walt Masterson, pitcher, Washington Senators. Al Brancato was ashore at Waikiki Beach on liberty soon after his ship docked at Pearl Harbor. “I ran into Walt Masterson and Jimmy Gleeson at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. They were attached to the submarine base. It was they who told me about the Navy baseball setup on the island.” No doubt with some assistance from Masterson and the local Navy brass, Brancato’s days aboard the Boston were numbered. “I was able to get transferred from the Boston to the sub base where I worked in the spare parts department of the ship’s store.”[6] On January 14, 1944, SK2/c Brancato was transferred from the USS Boston to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base (Base 128).[7]

As the Honolulu League’s playoffs, the Cronin Championship Series (named to honor Red Sox manager, Joe Cronin who was the opening day featured guest[8]), were winding down by early April, 1944, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were preparing for their upcoming Central Pacific Area Service League (CPASL) season, holding practices as the roster was assembled under Masterson, who had taken over the reins as manager. With many returning veterans, the former Senators pitcher added former Yankee Ken “Ziggy” Sears and Joe Grace from the Browns. Masterson also added three Philadelphia Athletics: pitcher Bob Harris, Al Brancato, and Bruce Konopka, who had played with Al on the Yannigans team in March, 1943.

1944 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” Roster

PlayerPositionFormer
Arnie “Red” AndersonPChattanooga (SOUA)
Norman Gene “Pee Wee” AtkinsonCSemi-Pro
Howard BassPRiverside (CALL)
Tom Bishop3B/SSSemi-Pro
Earl J. Brady2B/3B
Al BrancatoSS/3BAthletics
Jim BrennanP
Neil CliffordCSt. Paul (AA)
Bob DurkinRFSemi-Pro
Gordon Evans2B/LFCharleston (MATL)
Andy F. FelonkOF
Joseph “Joe” GraceOF/1BBrowns
Robert A. “Bob” HarrisPAthletics
Frank Hecklinger1BNew Bern (COPL)
George (Nig) HenryP
John “Hubie” Jeandron2B/3BPort Arthur (EVAN)
A. Rankin JohnsonPAthletics
Bruce Konopka1BAthletics
N. J. “Herb” MadiganPAmateur
Walt MastersonP/MGRSenators
Bob “Lee” McCorkleCValdosta (GAFL)
Fred MerhoffOFSpringfield College (MA)
Andy J. MeyersAmateur
Don MeyersOFSemi-Pro
Maurice “Mo” MozzaliLF/1B/CFSemi-Pro
Romie (“Roman”?) Okarski3BAppleton (WISL)
John PowellOF
Norm S. RoosePAmateur
Ken “Ziggy” SearsC/1BYankees
Oscar SessionsPU.S. Navy
Phil S. SimioneSS/OFU.S. Navy
Frank T. (“Floyd”?) SniderRFDothan (GAFL)
Eddie StutzPSan Francisco (PCL)
Russ WardINF
Clovis “Bob” White2BElizabethton (APPY)
While this roster reflects the personnel for the entire season, the team number at any given time was smaller due to personnel movement and changes. The 1944 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins played in the Central Pacific Area and Hawaii Leagues concurrently. In the Hawaii League, they were referred to simply as “Navy.” Some of the men listed played on the Sub Base club, effectively a split-squad that competed in the 14th Naval District League in 1944.

Oahu continued to see an influx of Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel who possessed resumes with professional, semipro and collegiate experience. The Navy disseminated their talent among the many installations on the island as well as to other island bases. Army leadership, eager to turn the tables on the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s 1943 championship, began to amass their incoming talent predominantly on the Hickam Field-based Seventh Army Air Force team and would continue to stack their roster throughout the early weeks of the season.

Al Brancato in his Navy flannels with a bird’s eye view during the 1944 season (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

Anticipating the 1944 CPA Service and Hawaii League seasons, the two Oahu papers carried details of the noteworthy baseball talent Future Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Mize headlined a group of major leaguers who had arrived since the end of the 1943 baseball season. Eager to showcase the baseball players and to capitalize on their talent for the war effort, administrators planned an exhibition tilt pitting the Major League All-Stars against the local stars for the end of April. In order 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.

April 19, 1944 Major League All-Stars Line-up:

NamePositionFormer
George “Skeets” DickeyCWhite Sox
Johnny Mize1BGiants
Barney McCosky2BTigers
Johnny LucadelloSSBrowns
Marvin Felderman3BCubs
Tom WinsettLFDodgers
Joseph “Joe” GraceCFBrowns
Vern OlsenRFCubs
Hugh CaseyPDodgers
Tom FerrickPIndians
Bill “Dutch” HollandPPittsfield (CAML)
Pee Wee Reese, suffering from a foot injury, was named to the roster but replaced by Johnny Lucadello

Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins April 19, 1944 Lineup:

NamePositionFormer
Neil CliffordCSt. Paul (AA)
Frank Hecklinger1BNew Bern (COPL)
Clovis “Bob” White2BElizabethton (APPY)
John “Hubie” Jeandron3BPort Arthur (EVAN)
Al BrancatoSSAthletics
Frank T. (“Floyd”?) SniderRFDothan (GAFL)
John PowellCF
Maurice “Mo” MozzaliLFSemi-Pro
Oscar SessionsPU.S. Navy
N. J. “Herb” MadiganPAmateur
The 1943 Dolphins dominated in their leagues. Their loss to the Major League All-Stars on April 19 indicated the uphill battle the team faced as the opposing teams saw an influx of professional talent.
Scorecards from the April 19, 1944 Navy vs All-Stars game (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The big leaguers got the best of the Dolphins behind the bat of Johnny Mize, who led with a home run, double, and two singles in the 9-3 victory. The Navy managed three hits with Al Brancato accounting for an eighth inning round-tripper.[9]

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.[10] The Navy hit parade was led by second baseman Johnny Lucadello and former Indians 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 Athletics shortstop was two-for-three on offense. Ahead of the May 7 regular season start of the Hawaii Baseball League and May 17 commencement of the CPA Service League and with just three April 1944 exhibition games under his belt, it appeared that Brancato was beginning to establish himself as a formidable offensive force in the Hawaiian tropics.

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.

1944 – April 29 – Major League All Stars – War Bond Game – Honolulu Stadium. Front Row : Johnny Lucadello (SP “A” 1/c), Leo Visintainer BM1/c), Pee Wee Reese (CSP “A”), Eddie Pellagrini (SP “A” 1/c), Al Brancato (SK2/c), Marvin Felderman (SP “A” 1/c) Middle: J. W. Falkenstine (LTjg), Wyman (batboy), Hugh Casey (SP “A” 1/c), Walter Masterson (CSP “A”), Tom Winsett (Lt. Army), Jack Hallett (SP “A” 2/c) Back: Barney McCosky (SP “A” 1/c), Johnny Mize (SP “A” 2/c), James “Art” Lilly (“BSM2”), George “Skeets” Dickey (SP “A” 2/c), Joe Grace (SP “A” 1/c), Bob Harris (SP “A” 1/c), Tom Ferrick (SP “A” 1/c), Wes Schulmerich (LT), Vern Olsen (SP “A” 1/c), Joe Rose (announcer) (Photo courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.)

CPA Service League

  • Aiea Naval Hospital “Hilltoppers”
  • Aiea Naval Receiving Station/Barracks “Maroons”
  • Kaneohe Naval Air Station “Klippers”
  • Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
  • Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
  • Wheeler Army Air Field “Wingmen”
  • *Schofield Barracks “Redlanders”
  • *South Sector “Commandos”

*Played only in the second half of the season.

Hawaii League

  • Athletics
  • Braves
  • Hawaiis
  • Navy/ Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
  • Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
  • Tigers
  • Wanderers

Based upon their 1943 success and a bolstered 1944 roster, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were the early-season favorites to repeat as champions in their respective leagues. However, out of the gate, the Sub Base opened with a loss in the CPASL but claimed a 3-0 victory over the Braves in the Hawaii League. On May 25, the Dolphins’ Bob Harris pitched a two-hit, 4-0 shutout over Wheeler Field as Brancato went two-for three with an RBI and a run-scored.[11] By the end of May, the Dolphins were in third place behind Kaneohe (4-0) and Aiea Hospital (3-1) in the CPASL with one win and two losses.[12]

To start June, the Dolphins were 1-3 in the CPA Service League but were out in front in the Hawaii League’s standings at 6-1. Al Brancato was hitting for power and leading the Hawaii League with a .400 slugging percentage as his team was likewise leading in team batting with a .267 average. Brancato’s .400 batting average had him second in the Hawaii League’s standings behind the Braves shortstop Ernest “Sparky” Neves.[13]

This page from the 1944 Williams Sportlight roster lists and schedule for the third round of the Hawaii Baseball League came from Brancato’s personal collection (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As the Dolphins’ CPA woes continued with mounting losses parking the Subs firmly at the bottom of the standings, the situation was made bleaker as Joe DiMaggio, Ferris Fain, Dario Lodigiani, and a host of other former major leaguers arrived on the island on June 3 and were promptly assigned to the 7th AAF squad. However, on June 5 as DiMaggio and company made their debut at Honolulu Stadium in front of 21,000 attendees against the seemingly hapless Dolphins in a Hawaii League matchup, the Sub Base prevailed 6-2, despite the “Yankee Clipper’s” ninth-inning, 435-foot bomb over the venue’s left field wall. Navy bats accounted for 8-hits with Mozzali, Snider and Brancato each garnering two. Brancato, playing at short, recorded two putouts and four assists in support of Bob Harris’ mound duties. Stroking a single and a double, Brancato also accounted for the game’s only stolen base and tallied a run.[14]

7th Army Air Force Fliers:

PlayerPositionFormer
John AndrePHonolulu League
Renaldo “Rugger” ArdizoiaPKansas City (AA)
James AshworthCHelena (CSTL)
John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk3BPerth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)
Alfonso “Al” CerielloIFSemi-Pro
Joseph ClarkCoach
Carl DeRosePAmsterdam (CAML)
Bob Dillinger3BToledo (AA)
Joe DiMaggioCF/1BYankees
Ferris Fain1BSan Francisco (PCL)
Edward FunkPFederalsburg  (ESHL)
Joseph “Joe” GedziusSSSpokane (WINT)
Vincent GenegrassoTrainer
Joe Gordon2B/SSYankees
Hal HairstonPHomestead Grays
James HillCPensacola, FL
Ed JaabOFMoline
Walter “Wally” JudnichCF/1BBrowns
Cornel George “Kearny” KohlmeyerSS/1BTyler (ETXL)
Don Lang1BKansas City (AA)
Will LeonardCOakland (PCL)
Al LienPSan Francisco (PCL)
Dario Lodigiani2B/3BWhite Sox
Myron “Mike” McCormickOF/3BReds
Gerald “Jerry” Priddy2BSenators
Arthur RawlinsonIFSemi-Pro
Charles “Red” RuffingPYankees
Frank “Pep” SaulPSeton Hall College
Bill SchmidtPSacramento Solons (PCL)
Don SchmidtSeton Hall College
John ShumbresCoach
Charlie SilveraCWellsville (PONY)
Tom WinsettOF/Mgr.Dodgers
The 7th’s opening day roster differed greatly by June with the arrival of the major leaguers from the west coast.

By the middle of June, it was apparent that the Sub Base was deeply submerged beneath an insurmountable deficit in the CPA Service League with Pee Wee Reese’s Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers seated at the top with the 7th AAF a game behind.[15] Meanwhile, the Dolphins held a 2.5 game advantage over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League with an 11-2 record.

The Hawaiian sun and beaches had an incredibly positive effect on Al Brancato’s bat. By June 20, the Philadelphian’s batting average not only climbed to the top of Hawaii League standings but also was nearly 10 points over .400 as he helped to push his league-leading team’s .271 average higher. With 44 at-bats, Brancato was leading the league in hits and runs scored. Brancato’s 23 total bases were also second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 24.[16]

The CPA League wound down the first half of the season with the Aiea Naval Hospital and the 7th AAF tied for first. Aiea defeated the 7th to claim the first-half crown, which guaranteed the squad a berth in the late summer championships. While the CPA League enjoyed a break, the Hawaii League continued play, heading into the Independence Day holiday. On July 2, a rematch between the Sub Base and 7th AAF took place at Honolulu Stadium in front of the venue’s largest crowd on record. The fans were treated to a pitching duel that saw the Army’s Eddie Funk match Eddie Stutz inning-for-inning through 11 scoreless innings. The Navy’s Stutz allowed a single to Jerry Priddy of the 7th AAF in the top of the first. Stutz allowed one additional baserunner via a walk through eleven innings. The Seventh’s Funk surrendered safeties in the bottom half of the first (2), second (1), eighth (1), and tenth (1) innings. Stutz’s tank running on empty in the bottom of the 12th led to the 7thAAF bats to capitalize, touching him for a walk and four hits to break the scoreless tie and take a 4-0 lead. The Navy bats were shut down by Funk in the bottom of the 12th to ice the 4-0 victory, shaving the Dolphins’ Hawaii League lead to 1.5 games. Brancato was 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base in the loss.[17]

Four different wartime newsletters with articles mentioning Brancato including the USS Boston’s “Bean Pot,” Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s “Patrol,” and Aiea Naval Hospital’s “Hospital Hi Lites” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Mid-July saw the 3-3 Dolphins sitting in the middle of the pack in the CPA Service League[18] but they were maintaining their 1-1/2 game lead over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League standings with a record of 15-4.[19] Two weeks after falling to the 7th AAF, the Navy looked to avenge their 4-0 loss but faced an uphill battle. As if seeing a refreshed Joe DiMaggio was not enough of a challenge, the 7th was further bolstered with the arrival of the Yankee Clipper’s former teammate, Joe Gordon. Twenty-six thousand spectators witnessed the Navy’s shellacking at the hand of the Fliers. While Gordon and DiMaggio batted a combined 2-for-8 from the middle of the order, it was the bottom of the Seventh’s lineup that raked Navy pitching for the lion’s share of offense. First baseman Ferris Fain was 2-3 with   two runs scored, a double and a home run. Will Leonard and pitcher Al Lien were both 2-4. Of the 8 runs scored, Dario Lodigiani matched Fain’s tallies while Mike McCormick, DiMaggio, Priddy and Leonard accounted for the balance with one run each. For the Navy, Brancato was 1-3 with a walk, accounting for a fourth of the Sub Base’s hit total in the 8-1 loss.[20]

In a July 23 Hawaii circuit matchup against the Tigers, Brancato set the league mark with 11 assists in a nine-inning game. Brancato also had one putout and committed one error.[21]

Trailing the 7th AAF by one game in the Hawaii League, the Sub Base nine was still very much in the race as July came to a close.[22] In the CPA league standings, it was a three-way race between the Aiea Hilltoppers, the 7th AAF and the Kaneohe Klippers, with the Dolphins trailing the lead pack by three games. Following an offensive slump with a zero-for-15 hitless streak,[23] Brancato slipped to second in the Hawaii League’s batting race with a .366 average behind Jerry Priddy’s .390. Brancato still held on to the top spots in hits (30), runs scored (21), total bases (37), and walks (22) and was fourth in RBI.[24]

With the three-way race atop the CPA Service League standings between Aiea Naval Hospital (10-4), 7th AAF (10-4) and NAS Kaneohe (10-5), the Pearl Harbor Sub Base was jockeying for position behind the leaders as they defeated the Aiea Navy Barracks on August 4. Brancato, Joe Grace and Mo Mozzali led the Dolphins’ offensive output. Brancato opened the Sub Base’s scoring with a solo home run in the fourth inning. In the eighth, with Mozzali on base, Neil Clifford singled Mo home for the second tally. Trailing 5-2 in the ninth, Mozzali stroked a four-bagger with Merhoff on base to pull the Dolphins within a run. Joe Grace followed with a solo shot to tie the game. Gordon Evans singled and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Neil Clifford singled and plated Evans for the go-ahead score. The Sub Base victory closed their gap in the standings to 2.5 games.[25]

Over in the Hawaii League, the 7th AAF extended their 17-game win streak after defeating the Braves, 5-2 on August 4. The Sub Base squad kept pace but were 2.5 games off the lead.[26]

Halfway through August as the seasons were inching towards the close, the Dolphins were chipping away at their deficits in both leagues’ standings. In the CPA, they were two games out of second place while in the Hawaii loop, they trailed the 7th by one in the win column.[27]  As of August 18, in the CPA league, Brancato’s offensive production had him situated in the ninth position with an average of .268 while his Hawaii League numbers kept him atop the heap at .373, with 33 hits in 98 at-bats. While Joe DiMaggio (16-for-38, .421) and Bob Dillinger (16-for-65, .382) carried better averages, they had significantly fewer appearances at the plate.[28]

Honolulu Advertiser’s artist Art Winburg spotlighted Brancato’s Hawaii League performance in this 1944 cartoon (Honolulu Advertiser/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With 110 or more at-bats, Brancato’s .295 average placed him 6th in the CPA batting title race with five days remaining in August. In 34 CPA service league games, he had 36 hits in 132 at bats and 50 total bases. With Pee Wee Reese voted in at shortstop, Brancato’s fantastic glove and bat work made him fan-favorite selection at third base on the Navy All-Star team.[29] The Pearl Harbor nine continued to win in the CPA circuit but as powerful as the Dolphins were down the stretch, it was a two-horse race between the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the 7th AAF. The Subs trailed the 7th by 4.5 games and were 1.5 games behind the Aiea Hospital nine by August 27.

The 7th AAF secured the second-half CPA Service League crown by defeating the Aiea Hilltoppers, 3-2, on August 30. With a record of 21 wins and five losses and two remaining games to be played in the league’s season, the Fliers secured the opportunity to face the Hilltoppers in the three-game CPA Service League championship series.[30]

In a meaningless CPA league game, the Sub Base Dolphins hosted the 7th AAF at Weaver Field and were blanked on the pitching of Don Schmidt. Flier bats accounted for all the offense as the Subs dropped their final game in the loop, 7-0. Finishing in third place behind the 22-5 first-place Seventh Army Air Force (22-5) and Aiea Naval Hospital (19-8), the Sub Base nine concluded the season with a respectable 16-11 record.[31] Brancato’s batting production tailed off in the final week of the season as he finished out of the top ten at .274.[32]

The Sub Base club closed out the Hawaii League regular season with a 9-5 loss at the hands of the 7th Army Air Force. The Fliers claimed their 28th consecutive circuit win while clinching the championship. The Dolphins fell victim to four Flier home runs at the hands of Ferris Fain, Walt Judnich, Joe Gordon and Don Lang, Brancato and Grace were each one-for-three and accounted for two runs apiece. The Navy finished the season in second place with a 27-9 record behind the Seventh’s won-loss record of 31-4. Both teams qualified for the League’s championship playoffs known as the Cartwright Series (named to recognize longtime Hawaii resident and baseball pioneer, Alexander Cartwright[33]), along with the Braves and Hawaiis, respectively the number three and four Hawaii League finishers.

After leading all Hawaii League batters throughout the season, Al Brancato’s reduced offensive production opened the door for others to surpass him in the batting average rankings in the first week of September. At the season’s end, Brancato (.339) was firmly in third place behind the 7th’s Bob Dillinger (.400) and Joe Grace (.372) while topping the league in hits (43), runs (32), and walks (35). He finished tied with Joe Gordon and John Jeandron for the lead in doubles (11).[34] Al Brancato was an easy pick at shortstop for the Hawaii League season-end All-Star honors.

Radio personality Joe Rose interviewing (left to right) Walt Masterson, Rankin Johnson, Al Brancato and Bob Harris (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.). Walt Masterson being inteviewed – Dick Keller, Joe Rose, Masterson, Rankin Johnson, Brancato, Bob Harris

After winning their first game in the Cartwright Series, defeating the Braves 5-4, the Navy nine dropped their next game to the Hawaiis, 4-1. [35] The Series finale fittingly pitted two top teams, the Fliers and Dolphins, against each other. However the Navy looked to gain an advantage by adding the newly arrived Phil Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio to the lineup. The 7th AAF jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the third before the Navy began to claw their way back into the game. Scoring a run in the fourth and fifth innings, the Navy trailed 6-4 after seven innings. The Fliers went up by three, tallying another run in the top of the eighth which the Navy matched in the bottom half of the frame. Pitching a complete game, the Navy’s Walt Masterson held the Fliers scoreless in the top of the ninth. However, the opposing pitcher, Al Lien, did the same to close out the 7-5 victory and secure the Cartwright flag. Of the 11 Navy hits and five runs, Phil Rizzuto’s four-for-five at the plate and two runs scored added considerable pop to the offense. Ken “Ziggy” Sears accounted for two of the Navy’s tallies with a pair of solo home runs. In the three games, Brancato was two-for-fourteen combined.[36]

Despite Al Brancato’s end of season slump, he feasted on outstanding pitching from a mix of major, minor, and semi-professional-experienced hurlers. He continued to refine his defensive skills and to live up to Connie Mack’s (then recent) claim, stating that Brancato had one of the greatest throwing arms in baseball.[37] In a July Hawaii League tilt against the Wanderers, Brancato’s strength caught sportswriter Carl Machado’s attention. “Al Brancato showed his shotgun arm after muffing Iwa Mamiya’s grounder, retrieving the ball to make the play at first in time.”[38]

The stacked 7th Army Air Force squad dominated in both the CPA Service and Hawaii Leagues with three future Hall of Fame players anchoring the offensive juggernaut. While the faces of the Army’s senior leaders were alight with smiles, the Navy had plans of their own for the next few weeks. Though the monsoon season would arrive in November, the Navy was planning to “reign” on the Army’s parade.

Stay tuned for part 3.


[1] Pope, Alexander, “An Essay on Man,” 1734.

[2] Baumgartner, Stan, “A’s Regulars Trounce Yannigans, 4-2,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 1943: p22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Sportlight,” The Bean Pot/USS Boston shipboard newspaper, July 17, 1943: p2.

[5] “Boston VI (CA-69),” Naval History and Heritage Commandhttps://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/boston-vi.html, Accessed July 22, 2022.

[6] Crissey, Harrington E., Jr., Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-Fs – Vol. 2: The American League, 1982: p100.

[7] U.S. Navy Muster Sheet, USS Boston, January 19, 1944, Ancestry.com.

[8] Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p60.

[9] “Big League Stars Defeat Navy, 9 To 3,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 20, 1944: p8.

[10] Vandergrift, K.S. Capt., “Major League Stars Blank Army Team 9-0,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 1 1944: p8.

[11] Fowler (“Chief”), “Sub Base Wins on Harris 2-hitter,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 26, 1944: p12.

[12] Fowler (“Chief”), “Aiea Hospital Plays Wheeler,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 30, 1944: p11.

[13] “Hawaii League Notes,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, June 4, 1944; p14.

[14] Kim, Bill, “Joe DiMaggio Thrills Record Baseball Mob,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 5, 1944: p8-9.

[15] Fowler, Chas., Masterson Pitches Sub Base to Victory,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 16, 1942: p12-13.

[16] “Brancato Pacing Hawaii League Batters with Average of .409,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 20, 1944: p10-11.

[17] Kim, Bill, “7th AAF Triumphs in 12 Innings,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 3, 1944: p10-11.

[18] “CPA League standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 18, 1944: p8.

[19] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 16, 1944: p16.

[20] Machado, Carl, “Fliers Now Leading In Hawaii League,“ Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 17, 1944: p8.

[21] “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 1, 1944: p9.

[22] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 30, 1944: p18.

[23] “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.

[24] “Jerry Priddy Paces Hawaii Loop Batters,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 4, 1944: p6.

[25] Fowler, Chas (“Chief”), “K-Bay Edges Hilltoppers, 3-2 In 10 Innings,” Sub Base Wins 6-5,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 5, 1944: p6.

[26] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 6, 1944: p18.

[27] “Baseball Standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 14, 1944: p8.

[28] “Leading Batters,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, August 19, 1944; p9.

[29] “Diamond Dust,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 28, 144: p8.

[30] Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF Captures CPA 2nd Half Title with 3-2 Win Over Aiea,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 30, 1944: p10.

[31] Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF and Hilltoppers Score Wins,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 2, 1944: p8.

[32] “Ferris Fain is Bat Champ,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 4, 1944: p8.

[33] Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p8.

[34] “Bob Dillinger Cops ’44 Batting Crown,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 14, 1944: p8.

[35] “Sub Base Bows to Hawaiis, 4-1,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 14, 1944: p10.

[36] “Judnich Clouts Two Homers as Fliers Cop Cartwright Title,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 18, 1944: p8.

[37] “Shadows,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 7, 1944: p8.

[38] Machado, Carl, “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.

Al Brancato: A Homegrown Athletic Infielder

Note: This is the first in a multi-part series documenting the wartime service of Philadelphia Athletics infielder, Al Brancato.

Nicknamed “the Termite Palace,” the wooden Honolulu Stadium, opened in 1926, hosted the “All Americans” in 1934 for an exhibition game as the squad of major leaguers, featuring the recently retired and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, were on Oahu for a stopover before heading on to Japan for a month-long promotional tour. In addition to the “Bambino,” the All-Stars that descended upon the Hawaiian ballpark included Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, and Jimmie “Double-X” Foxx. They were led by “The Grand Old Man,” Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics.  The major league stars defeated a team of Hawaiian All-Stars, 8-0, as the fans enjoyed a six-inning scoreless pitcher’s duel that was broken up in the seventh-inning by a Gehrig bomb into the right field stands.[1]

A decade after the All-Stars tour, another collection of major league stars took to the Termite Palace’s diamond against a collection of local talent in an exhibition game that had substantial meaning. This time around, the major league stars were presently serving in the armed forces and were led by former Dodger Tom Winsett. Before a crowd of nearly 20,000, the local club held their own against brilliant pitching by Navy hurler and former Brooklynite Hugh Casey. Reminiscent of the 1934 game, the local club kept pace with the major leaguers as both teams were prevented from plating baserunners through the first four frames.

April 29, 1944 War Bond Game: Major League Stars Line-up:

NameFormerPositionABRHPOAE
Harold “Pee Wee” ReeseDodgersSS603310
Joseph “Joe” GraceBrownsRF611100
Barney McCoskyTigersCF502400
Johnny MizeGiants1B5121310
Albert (Al) BrancatoAthletics3B521240
Johnny LucadelloBrowns2B402370
Tom WinsettDodgersLF602100
Marvin FeldermanCubsC200210
Hugh CaseyDodgersP200010
Jack HallettPiratesP (6th)100000
Vern OlsenCubsP (8)000000
Tom FerrickIndiansP (9)100000
Walt MastersonSenatorsP (12)000000
George “Skeets” DickeyWhite SoxC300710
4641336160
The April 29, 1944 War BondMajor League Stars Line-up
April 29, 1944 Honolulu War Bond Game program and scorecard. Click image to read more (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The major leaguers broke the tie in the top of the fifth inning when former Philadelphia Athletic Al Brancato drew a walk from Honolulu pitcher Joe Wells. Johnny Lucadello followed up with a walk of his own to put Brancato into scoring position at second. Tom Winsett drove a fly deep to right field which allowed Brancato to move up 90 feet. Catcher Marv Felderman matched Winsett with a sacrifice fly of his own to allow Brancato to tally the game’s first run without the benefit of a hit.[2]

After the locals tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, the game remained tied deep into extra frames. In the top of the 12th, facing Len Kasparovitch, Joe Grace knocked his first single of the game on a line drive to center field. Barney McCosky pushed Grace to second with a bunt. Johnny Mize drew a walk. With runners on first and second, Al Brancato drove a single to straightaway centerfield that was misplayed by outfielder Ed Jaab, allowing three baserunners to score. However, a fan jumped onto the field to grab the horsehide for a souvenir, thus putting Mize at third and Brancato at second. Johnny Lucadello drove a line shot to right center allowing Mize to score and putting runners at the corners with Brancato now at third. With Winsett at bat, Brancato and Lucadello executed a double steal that allowed Brancato to tally the third run of the inning and put the major leaguers ahead 4-1. The locals mustered up a 1-run rally in the bottom half of the frame but the major leaguers sealed the 4-2 victory. The real winners were the troops as the game raised over $1,000,000 in War Bond sales.[3]

The former Athletics infielder, 5-9, 188 lb. Al Brancato, the Philadelphia-boy who broke into the big leagues with his hometown American League club in 1939, was the difference in the War Bond game with his 1-5 performance at the plate with two runs scored. Brancato drove in a run, stole two bases and walked.  The second-generation Italian-American infielder was gifted with massive hands with power in his throwing arm that required him to adjust his throws to first base. Oahu was a long way from Philadelphia and Brancato was more than 2 and 1/2 years removed from his last game at Shibe Park.

The year 2022 marks the Athletics’ 54th season in Oakland, California, which is its third and current home city. The Oakland version of the American League’s Athletics was established with the arrival of the franchise from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by way of Kansas City, Missouri. Founded in 1901, former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher and manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, known as “Connie Mack,” was awarded the Philadelphia franchise in the newly established American League (AL). During Mack’s ownership and management of the club, the Athletics captured seven pennants and four World Series titles and built one of the storied baseball clubs of the first half-century of the AL. The “Mackmen” who delivered those championships included Eddie Collins, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Charles “Chief” Bender, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx, all of whom are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Since the Athletics have spent as many seasons in their third “hometown” as within the city of their founding, it is doubtful that contemporary baseball fans possess knowledge of the Philadelphia Athletics’ cavalcade of legendary players, stars, and journeymen. Names that should be known are seemingly lost to time including Stuffy McInnis, Jack Coombs, Bing Miller, Bob Johnson, Eddie Joost, Sam Chapman, Ferris Fain, Jimmy Dykes, and George Earnshaw. With 53 years of baseball and four championships, there are hundreds of men who donned flannels bearing the iconic “A” or white elephant emblems.

Following the Athletics’ loss in the 1931 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, Connie Mack began to sell off his star players to address the club’s financial needs. Not only did he part ways with some of the game’s greatest players, the lack of talent in players that he filled the vacancies with created a considerable vacuum that sent the team deep into the second division of the standings for 14 seasons.

The exodus from the Athletics began when twelve-game winner Bill Shores was sold on June 30, 1931 to the Portland Beavers (PCL). On September 29, 1932, Connie Mack sold Jimmy Dykes, Mule Haas, and Al Simmons to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. Relief pitcher Eddie Rommel hurled his last major league game in 1932 and transitioned into a career as an umpire. Following the 1933 season, Connie Mack executed a fire sale on December 12, 1933 during the winter meetings: Mickey Cochrane was sold to Detroit for $100,000 and backup catcher Johnny Pasek. Lefty Grove, Rube Walberg, and Max Bishop went to the Red Sox for Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler and $125,000. George Earnshaw and a catcher were sent to the White Sox for catcher Charlie Berry and $20,000 as the Great Depression continued for the foreseeable future.

By the late 1930s, Mack was years into rebuilding as scouts scoured sandlot, high school, collegiate and minor league diamonds for youthful talent to create a long-running nucleus of infielders, outfielders, catchers and hurlers. Mack conducted trades with other clubs,  hopeful that a youth movement would stunt the succession of seasons with 97-100 losses since 1936.

  • Dario Lodigiani – Traded by Oakland (PCL) on October 19, 1937
  • Sam Chapman – Before the 1938 season, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Chubby Dean – In February, 1936, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Elmer Valo – Before the 1938 season, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Benny McCoy – On December 9, 1939, traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Philadelphia Athletics for Wally Moses. The trade was voided and players returned to their original clubs on January 14, 1940. McCoy was subsequently granted free agency. On January 29, 1940, signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Athletics.
  • Crash Davis – On May 29, 1940, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Pete Suder – On October 1, 1940, drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics from the New York Yankees in the 1940 rule 5 draft.
  • Tom Ferrick – Before the 1941 season, signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Athletics.

Amid the depression and the Athletics’ futility, the eyes of Connie Mack’s scouts were fixed upon a hometown athlete. “I started in 1938 with Mr. Mack” Al Brancato said. “He took me right out of high school and to spring training before I finished high school.”[4] The four-sport South Philadelphia High School letterman excelled in football, basketball, gymnastics, and baseball.

Brancato’s first spring training experience was abbreviated after an encounter with the ground lime marking the foul line. “I didn’t even have much of a spring training,” he said. “In those days, the white lines were made out of powder with lye [sic]. I got some powder in my eyes after diving for a ball, so I was out for a few weeks.”

At age 19, Al Brancato began his professional career with the class “B” Greenville Spinners (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

After splitting 1938 between Williamsport and Class “B” Greenville (South Atlantic League) and a successful 1939 season with Williamsport in which he captured the Eastern League’s RBI crown with 98 runs batted in[5], the young Philadelphian was called up to the Athletics and made his major league debut on September 7 against the Washington Senators, going hitless in three plate appearances. In consecutive games against the Red Sox on September 10 and 11, Brancato made two pinch-hit appearances without reaching base. On September 12 against the visiting St. Louis Browns, he went 2-6 with a single and double, an RBI and a run scored. The kid from Philadelphia, despite his .206 average in 21 games to close out the season, showed promise and was in the major leagues to stay for the near future.

February 26, 1941 – Los Angeles, California: Not a bit sorry to be at the end of their transcontinental journey were these members of the Philadelphia Athletics who arrived here by Union Pacific Train. After making a hurried inventory of their baggage, they departed for Anaheim, California, scene of the A’s spring baseball practice. Left to right – front: Al Brancato, Benny McCoy and coach Dave Keefe. Rear: Felix Mackiewicz and Eddie Collins, Jr. Center: Fred Chapman, Lawrence Davis and Peter Suder (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In 1940, his first full season with Philadelphia, Brancato spent 80% of his time at shortstop, managing a fielding percentage of .949. At third base, where he appeared in 25 games, his percentage was a few points lower at .926. At the plate, Brancato struggled, hitting just .191. Brancato’s 1941 season was a marked improvement over 1940 at the plate. The 22-year-old infielder raised his average 42 points, though at .234 he still had room for improvement. Playing the bulk of his games at short, “Bronk’s” .915 fielding percentage was a decrease over the previous year.

June 7, 1941: These Philadelphia Athletics infielders are an important factor in the club’s upward surge toward the first division. Left to right: Dick Siebert,1B; Benny McCoy, 2B; Al Brancato, SS; Pete Suder, 3B (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Despite the influx of talented youth, Connie Mack’s Athletics did not fare any better in the standings. In 1939 the club finished in seventh place and in 1940 and 1941 they were eighth. In 1941, the club cracked the 60-win threshold with a 64-90 record, indicating that the ship was headed on the right course. The Yankees captured the 1941 World Series championship in a season that saw Joe DiMaggio set a consecutive-game hitting-streak record (56 games) and Boston’s Ted Williams bat .406 and become the last player to break the .400 batting average threshold. Sixty-two days after Brooklyn’s Jimmy Wasdell, pinch-hitting for Pee Wee Reese, drove the last pitch from the Yankees’ Tiny Bonham to Joe DiMaggio deep in centerfield to close out Game Five of the 1941 World Series, everything changed for baseball and for Al Brancato.

Like all eligible American males, Al Brancato registered for the peacetime draft on October 16, 1940 at his local draft board at 15th and Snyder in Philadelphia.[6] The day following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Bronk reported for his induction physical, receiving a 1-A classification and expecting an early call into the service.[7] A month later on January 13, he was inducted into the United States Navy as a storekeeper second-class and was initially assigned duty at the Philadelphia Customs House, serving in recruiting before being transferred to the receiving ship at League Island[8] for a more permanent assignment with the Naval Reserve station. Speculation by sports writer Stan Baumgartner was that Brancato might be permitted to play baseball with the A’s while serving, “It is possible under Brancato’s present setup, storekeeper, that the shortstop might find time to keep in splendid shape and even play a few games with the Mackmen on Saturday and Sunday (the usual off time of the storekeepers).” However, this was seemingly an impossibility.

Al Brancato (center), infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team, was sworn in as a Storekeeper 2nd Class, U.S. Navy, by Lieutenant K. B. Emmons (USNR), in Philadelphia, January 13, as the Manager of the Athletics, Connie Mack (left), looked on (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

New York Daily News sports columnist Hy Turkin, in his Ted’s Still Batty! column of February 4, 1943, similarly speculated on the possibility of former Brooklyn Dodger’s infielder Pee Wee Reese, who was assigned to the Naval shipyard in Brooklyn, joining fellow teammates Hugh Casey and Larry French. “This brings up the question in some minds,” Turkin wrote, “whether they couldn’t drop in on nearby Ebbets Field, Sunday afternoons, to spend their days off performing in Dodger livery.” Prior to this time, French had petitioned Navy leadership for the opportunity to pitch for Brooklyn in the hopes of claiming the three wins he needed to reach the 200-victory career milestone. Despite his keeping in shape by pitching for the local semi-professional club, the Brooklyn Bushwicks, during his off time, French’s  request was denied by Rear Admiral W. B. Young, who was seeking to avoid setting a precedent with professional ballplayers on active duty. Further codification occurred when major league baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis established criteria that aligned with Admiral Young’s decision regarding the National Defense List (NDL). “Any player accepted into any branch of the armed services shall be automatically placed onto the NDL and shall not count in the player limits of his club until removed from such national defense service list.” Landis’ ruling insured that LT French and any other player in the service would not be allowed to play for any professional team during the war.[9]

Capitalizing on his athletic abilities, the Philadelphia Naval Reserve station added SK2/c Brancato to their basketball squad and he was named team captain. On April 3, Brancato’s squad faced a local team of Army officers in the Quartermaster’s Inter-Department Basketball League Championships. Despite leading the Army 19-10 in the first half, Brancato’s Reserves were downed 25-24. Brancato made one field goal and two free throws for four of his team’s 24 points.[10]

Nearly 10 Athletics were serving in the armed forces, forcing Connie Mack to get creative with his roster. For opening day on April 14 against the Red Sox, Brancato joined his club as they warmed up for the game. Instead of his blue-trimmed white wool flannel baseball uniform, Brancato was bedecked in his Navy dress blues. Pete Suder took over at shortstop, having earned the position in Brancato’s absence. “Among those looking very wistful before game time was Al Brancato,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Hank Simmons wrote. “He told our Cy Peterman he had not thrown a ball all spring.”[11]

As the 1942 baseball season commenced, the player landscape had significantly changed, with many of the game’s top talent already serving in the armed forces. Major league officials and team owners were already engaged in efforts to raise funds in support of service personnel in making the game more available to those in the ranks by providing them with the required equipment including bats, gloves, catcher’s protective gear, bases and baseballs.[12] Recognizing the need to provide support to troops and their families encountering financial hardships, major league baseball participated in fund-raising efforts to bolster the Army and Navy Relief organizations, commencing with a May 8 game at Ebbets Field with the visiting New York Giants.[13]

As plans were being crafted for a fund-raising game in conjunction with the major league All-Star Game, the idea was put forth to have the winner of the mid-summer classic face a team of all-stars who were serving in the armed forces. Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejacket manager Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane” was tasked with assembling a team of former ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces. Cochrane was given latitude by military leaders and drew players from both coasts and even from the Panama Canal Zone.[14] Unavailable to Cochrane due to military duties and assignments were 12 solid players including Hank Greenberg, Hugh Mulcahy, Buddy Lewis, Johnny Berardino, Cookie Lavagetto, Joe Marty, and Zeke Bonura. “The unavailable players would probably rival in strength the club Lieutenant Cochrane will field,” the Mount Carmel (Pennsylvania) Item reported.[15] Among the names of the unavailable players, SK2/c Brancato would have been an obvious selection for the team; however, he was unavailable due to wedding and honeymoon plans and associated furlough coinciding with the date of the game and festivities.[16]

By September, SK2/c Class Brancato was transferred to Receiving Station Boston as the Navy began assembling the prospective crew for the newly christened heavy cruiser USS Boston (CA-69) as she was undergoing fitting out at Bethlehem Shipbuilding’s Fore River Shipyard, located at Quincy, Massachusetts. The second ship in the eventual 13-vessel Baltimore class, USS Boston was the sixth U.S. Navy warship named in honor of the Massachusetts city. Boston and her sisters were the first ships planned under the restrictive London Naval Treaty that limited sizes and armament of ships in the years following World War I. With the limitations removed, the Baltimore class ships were the largest and most powerfully armed heavy cruisers in the U.S. Navy by 1943 as the first ships entered service. With his pending assignment to the ship and her war-fighting capabilities, the course of Petty Officer Brancato’s naval service seemed to be taking him into harm’s way.

Part 2: From Storekeeper to Middle Infielder: the Dolphins’ Al Brancato


[1] Costello, Rory, “Honolulu Stadium,” Society of American Baseball

[2] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 1, 1944: p10.

[3] Macado, Carl, Majors Need Extra Innings to Win, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 1, 1944: p10.

[4] N. Diunte, “Brancato, 93, One of the Last Links to the Major Leagues in the 1930s,” Baseball Happenings. Accessed July 19, 2022 (http://bit.ly/2ka8zY5).

[5] Brancato Joins U.S. Navy, unknown newspaper clipping

[6] Brancato, Albert, Draft Card, Ancestry.com, Accessed July 20, 2022

[7] “Brancato Earns 1-A Army Rating,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, December 9, 1941: p6.

[8] “Brancato Joins Navy,” The Wilkes-Barre Record, January 14, 1942; P15.

[9] “Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy,” Chevrons and Diamonds, July 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3OmEz8z. Accessed July 20, 2022

[10] “Tigers Win Title in Court League,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 1942:p22.

[11] Simmons, Hank, “Greetings Fail to Help Phils’ Debut,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15, 1942: p33.

[12] “Bat and Ball Fund Bat: A Very Rare Babe Ruth Model Bat,” Chevrons and Diamonds, April 26, 2022: https://bit.ly/3znKzcV,  Accessed July 19, 2022

[13] “Historic Game Program Discovery: July 7, 1942 Service All-Stars,” Chevrons and Diamonds,  January 17, 2022:  https://bit.ly/3IXtcTf, Accessed July 21, 2022

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Dozen Unavailable For All-Star Team,: Mount Carmel Item, July 3, 1942: p7.

[16] “Al Brancato Joins Ranks of Benedicts,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 1942: p33.

Dutch Raffeis: the “Flying Dutchman” of U.S. Navy Service-Team Baseball

Baseball researchers face many hurdles and challenges in their pursuits of deeper and greater knowledge of professional baseball players. In the past 150 years of Major League Baseball, nearly 20,000 people have donned a uniform and signed to a roster (according to researcher and author, Jeremy Frank in 2016) and the members of the Society of American Baseball Researchers have an ongoing project to author biographies for every one of these players (see the Baseball Biography Project at SABR.org). Specifically stated (on the SABR site), the endeavor is an “effort to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.” The lion’s share of the completed biographies encompasses the names that even the most passively interested fans will easily recognize and the volume of accessible research for these players is considerable, affording researchers with, in many cases, the ability to be selective in documenting facts. Researching lesser-known players is a far greater challenge.

In a July 10, 1962 Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News article spotlighting the batting prowess of the (then) leading hitter (of the Naval AIr Station Quonset “Airbees”), Norman Teague who was (then) leading the Sunset League’s hitters with a .531 average, a reference was made to another utterly dominant batter from the league, 35 years earlier. “Teague is by no means the first lead-off hitter to punish Sunset League pitching. One of the best was Raffeis, ‘the Flying Dutchman’ of the champion 1927 Torpedo-Hospital club” the article stated. In describing this star of the Newport league player, the “militant ‘Dutch’ Raffeis, a shortstop, batted .460, scored 33 runs and stole 24 bases in 16 games. The Torpedo-Hospital combination lost only one game that season.”  Of the two ball players mentioned, one name stands out among service team baseball history.

On this panel of the signed 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins team-autographed ball is the signature of long-time Navy Chief Torpedoman, Henry A. “Dutch” Raffeis who was a force with his bat, glove and feet on the diamond throughout his naval career that spanned more than three decades (image source: eBay image).

Inscribed among the signatures on a 1943 baseball, several of whom were signed by major league ballplayers (including Walt Masterson and Arne “Red” Anderson), is a very-legible autograph from Dutch Raffeis. Though a concerted and lengthy effort ensued in the process of researching the names on this baseball, the team it wasn’t until several months later that we were able to determine which team these men played for and positively identify each player. Armed with the Dutch’s first name following an assist from fellow military baseball historian, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, a wealth of research surrounding Raffeis, his naval career and baseball prowess was unlocked. Henry Raffeis’ life would otherwise be insignificant in the sphere of baseball history and probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of any SABR researcher, statistician or author, but he nevertheless had an impact upon the game as well as the U.S. Navy.

Who is “Dutch” Raffeis and why should anyone care? Henry A. Raffeis was born (on November 14, 1897) five-and-a-half months before Commodore George Dewey’s nine-ship flotilla engaged and defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo’s 13-ship fleet (on May 1, 1898) in Manilla Bay. Depending upon which census record one reviews, Dutch was the son of immigrants: his father originates from Austria (1910) or France (1920, 1930) while his mother hails from Holland (1910), Vienna (1920) or France (1930) making him a first-generation American. In possession of only a seventh-grade education, Henry Raffeis enlisted into the Navy at the age of 17 on January 22, 1915 as war raged in Europe and just 100-days before the RMS Lusitania was blasted by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on May 1 of that year.

Apprentice seaman Raffeis has only a few months of naval experience when he found himself playing baseball at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, though details are considerably ambiguous. However, his level of baseball play must have been quite notable and reminiscent of one of the stars of the era, Honus Wagner (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman” due to his German Heritage and prowess on the diamond) whose Hall of Fame career was waning. By 1920, Dutch was assigned to the U.S. Submarine Base Los Angeles (at San Pedro), the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast where he played at the hot corner (third base) for installation’s league championship team.  Raffeis was rated as a gunner’s mate (torpedo) which all but guaranteed his service in the Navy’s silent service. During the 1920s, Raffeis was assigned to submarine bases (in addition to San Pedro and the aforementioned Quonset Point) at Coco Solo (Panama Canal Zone) and Pearl Harbor where he helped his teams secure championships (Coco Solo – 1925, Honolulu City League – 1926, the Battle Fleet Championships 1927-28).

“The Torpedo Station, battled-scarred veteran of 16 campaigns, has won the most titles, four, although it had to share the laurels with the Richmonds in its first conquering season of 1922. But the ‘Torps’ won in convincing style the following year when their battlefront was manned by such doughty players as Eddie Harrington, B.J. Smith, Stubbs, Witherspoon, Brewster, Holly and Hart. They won 32 out of 40 games in two seasons.

Combined with the Naval Hospital, the Station captured the bunting going away in 1927, harpooning 15 victories against only one defeat. Jarvos, Chief Horace Davis, Charley Mitchell, “Dutch” Raffeis, and Templeton were some of the figures who engineered that steamrolling junket. In 1935, a fence-denting, courageous Station array, managed by Charley Mitchell bagged the tars’ fourth pennant, despite a porous defense.” – Brief History of the (Sunset) League

Though details are a bit scarcer for Raffeis during the decade of the 1930s, there are still some great discoveries regarding both his navy career and his baseball exploits. In April of 1930, Raffeis, now a chief petty officer (torpedoman), arrived in San Francisco having detached from the submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone but where he subsequently served is unknown until his name appears on the May 29, 1933 Honolulu Star Bulletin’s sports page. A box score from the paper details a game between the Navy and a local city league team comprised of men of Chinese ancestry.  In the 12-6 win for the Gobs, Dutch was still a force at the dish at the ripe “old” age of 36 as he batted 4-for-6 with two doubles and scoring two of the team’s 12 runs.

Navy (vs Chinese): May 29, 1933: Line-up/Box score:

Name Pos AB R H PO A E
Raffeis LF 6 2 4 1 0 0
Rose 2B 3 1 1 2 0 0
Bench SS 4 1 0 1 3 0
Halloran 1B 4 1 2 11 0 0
Henry P 5 0 0 0 2 0
Cerillo 3B 5 1 2 1 2 0
Meagher CF-2B 5 2 1 3 1 2
D’Uva CF-2B 4 2 1 6 3 0
Johnson RF-CF 4 2 3 2 0 1
Reed RF 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scherruble 2 0 0 0 0 0
42 12 14 27 11 3

Following a year-long assignment on the Big Island (at Hilo), Raffeis was again transferred back to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, rejoining the team. Leading the already strong team of players, LT. Frank (Max) Leslie, who at the time, was serving with VP-4F, flying patrol aircraft (note: at the Naval Academy, Leslie played for the midshipmen baseball squad under team manager, Chief Bender in 1926). LT Leslie would later lead the dive bombers of VB-3 in their highly successful attack on the Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway.

No further data is available detailing Henry Raffeis’ service or his activities on the diamond for the remainder of the decade though his active duty naval career concluded, having spent at least 20 years in uniform. By April of 1940, Raffeis was working as the superintendent of traffic for a Honolulu, Hawaii taxicab company. Dutch was a resident of the Terada Hotel (on Westervelt Street) that was owned and operated by Jukichi and Sen Terada who also lived on site with their two daughters (Kinue and Doris).

In the summer of 1940, 46-year-old Raffeis was recalled from his inactive reserve status (on August 10, 1940) and assigned to the Porpoise-Class submarine, USS Pompano (SS-181) for the next six months (note: Pompano’s first combat patrol commenced 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and she would be lost with all hands in September of 1943).

Seemingly picking up where his Navy baseball career left off, Raffeis reported to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base (from the Pompano) on February 9, 1942 and re-joined the team that he spent many years manning the Dolphins’ infield and taking on duties as an assistant head coach, backing up Lieutenant O. D. “Doc” Yarborough. After the conclusion of the 1942 season, Doc Yarborough was reassigned to the mainland leaving Dutch Raffeis to assume the helm of the team for 1943.

1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Baseball Team

Easily recognizable among the 1943 Sub Base team are Walt Masterson (4th row, 2nd from left). Arnie “Red” Anderson (4th row, 3rd from left) and Jimmy Gleeson (3rd row, far right). Combat veteran Oscar “Chicken Hawk” Sessions is seated in the front row, far left. Chief Torpedoman Henry “Dutch” Raffeis is seated in the second row, 5th from the left.

1943 Rosters: Pearl Harbor Navy Sub Base

The team is listed as Pearl Harbor Navy (vs Schofield Barracks Red Landers) though, due to the team members listed, it is quite easily determined that this is the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine base team. Dutch Raffeis is listed as the team’s manager and coach.

Under the “Flying Dutchman’s” helm, the Navy team competed heavily in the Hawaii League and faced stiff competition from city teams that were well-stocked with talent (the “Athletics” team featured former minor league pitcher, Eddie Funk who would be part of the 1944 7th AAF juggernaut team that dominated the Islands, winning the championship) . By July of the 1942 season, Dutch’s boys were already eliminated from contention. As the armed forces were expanding with the influx of young men, Raffeis was beginning to see an influx of talent into the area commands and so, he began to bolster his team, however it was not in time to salvage the season.

With the 1943 season in full swing for the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, Raffeis continued to see professional ballplayers-turned-sailors arrive as he continued to bolster his team’s roster with baseball talent and experience. By late Spring, Dutch saw the arrival of Jimmy Gleeson, Walt Masterson and Ray Volpi following their brief tenure with the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets earlier in the season. Winning the 1943 season championship would be the “Flying Dutchman’s” swansong as management of the team was taken over by former Senators pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Walt Masterson.

Henry “Dutch” Raffeis, seated at the center of his league champion, 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins team.

With the service team rosters in Hawaii being flooded with formerly professional level baseball talent, it is remarkable to see positions still maintained by career sailors such as Raffeis or Oscar Sessions  (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) who was included by the Navy for the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series).

Following the 1943 Sub Base Pearl Harbor Championship, Army brass on Oahu cherry-picked top baseball talent from domestic air bases and transferred them to Hawaii, forming a veritable all-star team under the command of the Seventh Air Force (7th AAF) led by Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Mike McCormack, Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Ferris Fain. The 7th AAF won the Hawaii League championship going away while the stalwart Navy ballplayer, coach and manager, Raffeis slipped behind the scenes for the 1944 season. Forty-seven-year-old Henry Raffeis was transferred to sea to finish out his naval career, serving aboard the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) for his last few months of service. A few months shy of his 48th birthday, Henry “Dutch” Raffaies was transferred from the USS Holland back to the continental United States. He was released from active duty on June 11, 1945, 35 days after German surrendered to the Allied forces.

Between June 11, 1945 and sometime in 1968 no records are available regarding Raffeis’ post-Navy life nor are there any indications of what he may have done as a Navy retiree. In 1968, California voter registration shows the 71-year-old’s home address to be in San Diego, a “Navy town,”  in a neighborhood populated by an abundance of World War II veterans. Less than three years later, Henry “Dutch” Raffeis passed away at Frente Cooperativa Las Cabanas, San Rafael de Santa Ana, Costa Rica on December 10, 1971 and was laid to rest in that city’s Central Cemetery.

Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature

The Dodgers were and still are my all-time favorite baseball team if not of all professional sports. With the Red Sox being a close second to the “Blue Crew,” I experienced a bit of a dream (and nightmare) World Series in 2018 where it was a difficulty for me choose the team that I wanted to win the most between the two clubs as they faced each other in  the championship. In 1991 when I made made my first trip to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was astounded to artifacts from my favorite teams including items from men who played in the first World Series meeting (in 1916) between my two favorite teams. That visit to the Hall of Fame also stirred within me a desire to pursue other facets (besides sports cards) of the collecting hobby, namely autographs.

After visiting the Hall of Fame Museum, I walked around the small village and patronized a small shop that seemed more like an extension of the museum than a store as it was filled with antique baseball memorabilia ranging from autographed baseballs, photographs, bats and other artifacts dating from the 1920s through the 1950s and up to (then) present day. Clearly this business’ clientele was more well-heeled than an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy as I could scarcely afford to make a purchase of a baseball artifact. Motivated by the overwhelming inventory of autographed memorabilia, one piece in the store did manage to catch and hold my attention, hatching an idea for me to pursue an area of collecting that I never previously gave much thought. Without any sort of hesitation, I purchased a copy of The Sport Americana Series Baseball Address List by R. J. Smalling and started to make a list of players from the “golden era” of the game that I would target for signatures.

My visit to Cooperstown left a lasting impact on me that punched a few holes in my Dodger-blue colored glasses, leaving me with a significant reduction in my hatred for the Giants. I was able to see beyond the rivalry and recognize the contributions of the players from the game rather than to be limited by the myopia influenced by my passion for a team. This transformation translated into an activity that included writing to veteran players (Hall of Famers, included) and requesting their autographs on various piece that I would send to them. One such player was a big first baseman from Demorest, Georgia (where he was born and raised and returned to after his baseball career ended) who spent his entire career crushing Dodgers (and all other National League) pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants carrying a .324 batting average, an on base percentage of .409 while slugging .588 with and OPS of .997 and almost 300 home runs in ten seasons. His prowess against Brooklyn didn’t cease when he left the National League and donned the pinstripes of the Yankees. Mize faced the Dodgers in 10 World Series games making 23 plate appearances and batted .400 with a .600 slugging percentage and an OBP of .478 and was approaching the end of his career. It goes without mentioning that (as a Dodgers fan) I shouldn’t care for Johnny Mize or his signature.

Mize’s career was one that caught my attention both at the Hall of Fame and as I scoured my copy of the massive Baseball Almanac book (which I still have). What stood out to me among his impressive statistics was the absence of playing time (and stats) from 1943 through 1945. Admittedly, I didn’t know that Mize left his player salary and the life of sport for the uncertainty of life itself in order to don the uniform of the United States Navy. But that is what Mize did in March of 1943 following being notified of a change of status from 3-A (registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents) to 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) – at the time, Mize was the sole provider to one of his aunts however by 1943, the draft boards underwent a change in the way hardships were viewed, especially since fathers (sole providers for their families) were being drafted.

Listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 215 lbs., Johnny Mize was well above the normal sized sailors who served during WWII. Here, the former Cardinals and Giants slugger is being fitted for his undress blue uniform at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in late March, 1943.

This Navy publicity photo was taken in 1944 and used in promotional materials and game programs in the Hawaii Leagues. Mize is shown in his pinstriped Navy home uniform.

The Giants first baseman was purported to have a blood coagulation issue that precluded him from Army service. Reported by the Sporting News, March 18, 1943, Giants manager, Mel Ott mentioned that “he had heard something about John being listed clinically as a bleeder, “meaning that Mize suffered from a form of hemophilia. Cleared for military service, Johnny Mize’s eligibility was transferred from the Army and he opted to join the Navy. While undergoing basic training, Mize was picked up by the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. By the end of May, 1943, Johnny Mize was appearing in the Bluejackets’ lineup as they competed against regional ball clubs and service teams. Mize remained at Great Lakes and on Cochrane’s Bluejackets roster until being transferred to Naval Training Center Bainbridge (Maryland).  While he was playing for the Bainbridge squad, Mize fell ill requiring a break from physical exertion resulting in significant weight-gain during his convalescence. When he returned to duty, Mize was transferred to the West Coast.

In February of 1944, Athletic Specialist 2nd Class Mize departed San Francisco Bay aboard the fleet minelayer, USS Terror (CM-5) and by late Spring, Mize was suiting up for the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers under manager Lieutenant Wes Schulmerich, previously of the Navy Pre-Flight Training program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see: Navy Pre-Flight Round-up: The Growth of the Cloudbusters Collection Takes Flight). Though Mize’s impact would be felt, he battled injury for a fair portion of the 1944 season which led to his omission, along with that of the 7th Army Air Force’s Joe DiMaggio, from the Central Pacific All-Stars team due to reduced playing time. Both Mize and DiMaggio joined their respective branch’s All Stars team for the Army-Navy World Series held throughout the Hawaiian Island from September 22 to October 15, 1944 (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific and Game 7 – Navy vs Army All-Stars Championship Series, October 1, 1944).

 

In his first two seasons of service team baseball (with the Bluejackets of Great Lakes and the Klippers), Mize didn’t slack off with his offensive production. In 1944 Mize was limited in his plate appearances at NAS Kaneohe due to a lingering injury.*

Year Club AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg
1943 Great Lakes 251 68 105 8 11 103 .418
1944 Kaneohe 70 11 22 4 0 6 19 .314
Totals 321 79 127 4 8 17 122 .396

In early 1945, LT. Bill Dickey tabbed Mize for duty in the Western Pacific participating with other professional ball players (serving in the Navy) in a goodwill and morale-boosting tour. Servicemen on at Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea and Peleliu would be able to enjoy games being played between teams from the “Third” and “Fifth” Fleets (see: 1945 3rd Fleet vs 5th Fleet – Pacific Tour).  With the main thrust of the Pacific offensive being fought in places such as Iwo Jima, Mize and his teammates found themselves on islands that still had an enemy presence. It was not uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of a ball field.

In this Navy Department photo, Johnny Mize is seen in the back row, just to the left of center, posing among the members of both the Third and Fifth Fleet teams. This image was taken during the Tour of the Pacific in the Spring of 1945.

This very rare and rudimentary scorecard was distributed for a March, 1945 game that featured the the two teams (“3rd” and “5th Fleet”) from the Navy’s Pacific Tour. The game was played at Valor Field on the island of Peleliu.

Within a few weeks following the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, Mize was making his way back to the United States mainland and would be discharged from active duty in time to make an appearance as a spectator at the 1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. It was noted by several reporters, ball players and coaches that Mize had dropped a significant amount of weight and appeared to be in top physical condition. Questioned about his health, Mize recounted his 1945 season of playing baseball five days a week for several months leading up to his separation from the Navy. Mize settled back into the routine of baseball with the Giants for the 1946 season, resuming his Hall of Fame career with a productive season despite his production drop from his 1942 season. In 1947, Mize led the National League in runs scored (137), runs batted in (138) and home runs (51), tying Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner. Despite Mize’s offensive prowess, his Giants finished in third place behind St. Louis and 13 games behind the National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.

Johnny Mize poses for a fan’s candid snapshot following a game in Hawaii in 1944.

While seated at my desk during a night shift at my last Navy duty station, I finished the letter that I wrote to the retired 80-year-old Hall of Famer, folded it and inserted the self-addressed and stamped envelope along with a few items for Mize to sign. I had no thoughts to the mortality of the immortal greats of the game until a few weeks later I learned that Johnny Mize had passed away and soon after, the envelope that I sent arrived in my mailbox was marked, “return to sender.”

Twenty five years later, I discovered a photo of Mize that, despite several flaws, caught my interest. The image was overexposed (either when the photo was captured or when it was printed in the darkroom) and has a discoloration blemish that is the result of improper darkroom chemical baths (the “stopbath” wasn’t fully removed in the rinse) leaving a residue that resulted in a dark patch on the surface of the print. The photo was captured by George Burke and might have been a cast-off print. Regardless of the condition, Mize, a prolific autograph signer, placed his mark on this vintage photo. It only took me a quarter of a century to finish what I set out to obtain.

Twenty five years after my attempt to get Mr. Mize’s autograph, I found this vintage photograph, clearly a cast-off of darkroom imperfection (underexposed and a dark spot on the top right is due to the chemicals not being fully washed at the time the print was developed), I was happy to add this signed print to my collection. That Mize is shown in his St. Louis uniform in his last season, there makes this much more palatable.

About the Johnny Mize artifacts
In addition to the signed photo, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection has gained other Johnny Mize-related artifacts that include multiple WWII scorecards from games that he played while serving in the U.S. Navy. Also, we acquired three photos of Mize during his time in the Navy starting off with him being fitted for his service uniform (undress blues), a navy-veteran’s snapshot of the slugger in Hawaii in 1944 (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and an official Navy publicity photo that came from the estate of Philadelphia Athletics and WWII Navy infielder, Al Brancato. Two other photographs shown here (copies of the originals) were provided to Chevrons and Diamonds from our collecting colleague, Mark Southerland who obtained the original vintage prints (many of which are signed) as part of a substantial group of photographs from the Bill Dickey estate. Lastly, the photograph of the Navy team posed in front of the B-29 is a Navy Department publicity print.

*Mize’s Navy playing stats compiled and provided by Mr. Harrington “Kit” Crissey

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