Camp Chaffee Flannel: Arkansas Tanker Training Base a WWII Haven of Army Baseball
Researching wartime baseball can be a succession of twists, turns, roadblocks and dead ends as one travels down each road. One clue can remove a barrier or expose an alternate avenue to explore and lead to a highly rewarding breakthrough. In some instances, the objective that sets one onto the path of exploration becomes secondary or tertiary to the buried treasures that are discovered.
Quite typically, we acquire military baseball artifacts that require research to determine various historical aspects. Analyzing attributes that can then be compared with known artifacts, including those within our collection, affords us the ability to arrive at educated approximations or precise determinations. Military baseball uniforms can pose considerable challenges in pinpointing basic aspects such as the year they were manufactured. A task that is exceedingly more difficult is attributing an unnamed piece lacking provenance to a specific player.
In early March, 2022, we took a gamble on acquiring a flannel jersey lettered with “CAMP CHAFFEE” and listed at auction. Based upon several aspects discernible in the photographs of the listing, it was clear that the jersey dated from 1943-44. In addition to the athletic felt lettering on the chest, a large pair of numerals, “13,” was stitched across the back of the jersey in corresponding material. With high confidence that the jersey was used by an Army team from the World War II training base, we completed the purchase, deciding to trust in our research capabilities to connect the jersey to a team and players.
Named to honor the man who is considered the U.S. Army’s “Father of The Armored Force,” Major General Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr., Camp Chaffee was constructed in 1941 in western Arkansas. By March, 1942, Camp Chaffee was fully operational as a training base for the 6th, 14th, and 16th Armored Divisions. As the war progressed, Camp Chaffee expanded in both size and training operations, bringing engineer, artillery, and infantry units to the installation. Perhaps the most notable baseball athlete, the Boston Braves pitching prospect and future inductee into the Hall of Fame, Warren Spahn, trained at Camp Chaffee and played baseball while stationed there in 1943 and 1944.
As athletics played a significant role in the physical readiness and conditioning of troops, unit cohesion and morale also greatly benefited from competition among the commands by way of their sports teams. In the spring and summer, military installations could host their own graduated baseball leagues with classifications similar to what was seen in the minor leagues. Some units had the benefit of large pools of talent in assembling teams with experience that could rival clubs in the American Association and the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. Each of the various units stationed at Camp Chaffee fielded teams, including the 59th Field Artillery, 16th Armored Division, 47th and 62nd Armored Regiments and the 1850th Service Unit that featured Zeb “Red” Eaton, Ed “Truck” Kearse and Warren Spahn. In addition to local league play, the service teams competed against regional semi-pro, minor league and even college squads. In an August 5, 1943, game that pitted the 1859th against a team representing the KFPW radio station, Warren Spahn pitched a 15-0 no-hitter, striking out 17 opposing batters. Two defensive errors in the game allowed KFPW baserunners, thus preventing the Braves hurler from perfection.
Once the Camp Chaffee artifact arrived and was removed from its shipping container, it was immediately obvious that the jersey was heavily soiled and likely had been laundered by a commercial dry cleaner. Upon thorough inspection, the condition of the jersey was far better than was discernible in the auction listing photographs. All the garment’s seams showed no signs of separation, and the threads were tight. All the stitching securing the lettering, numerals and soutache was in the same condition with no signs of decay. Aside from a missing fifth button from the bottom of the placket, the musty odor and dirt-laden wool fibers were the only issues, and both were correctible.
With the jersey cleaned and prepared for display, research surrounding Camp Chaffee continued and we were able to identify a handful of players across multiple rosters from unit teams at the base. Former Sacramento Solon outfielder Averett Thompson and pitcher Elwood “Dinty” Moore of Salem (class “B” Western International League) played for the 47th Armored Regiment team while Jim Sheehan, a catching prospect in the New York Giants organization, served as a player-manager for the 59th Field Artillery. It was highly unlikely that any of these teams or players donned a Camp Chaffee-specific uniform in favor of a unit-corresponding flannel. Several newspaper articles and game summaries that we were able to uncover detailed games at or against Camp Chaffee unit teams for the 1943 season. No sources were found that referenced any Camp Chaffee base team.
The 1944 season at Chaffee saw competition from the 16th Armored Division (featuring former Pirates outfielder, Maurice Van Robays), 18th Armored Infantry Battalion, 736th Tank Battalion (Dinty Moore), and the 276th Engineers with Warren Spahn. This season also so the emergence of the Camp Chaffee base nine, led by their team captain, former Johnstown Johnnies first baseman Judson F. “Jay” Kirke, Jr.
1944 Camp Chaffee Baseball Team
|Pfc.||Judson F. “Jay” Kirke||1B/Capt.||Johnstown (PASA)|
Jay Kirke, a second-generation professional baseball player, was born on August 27, 1912, in Fleischmanns, New York as his father, Judson Fabian Kirke, was in his second major league season with the Boston Braves. A ten-year minor leaguer, Kirke entered the Army on January 4, 1944, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. By April, Kirke was tearing the hide off the ball with the Fort McPherson, Georgia ball team before transferring to Camp Chaffee.
As the 1944 season was getting underway, the Army activated and reconstituted the 174th Infantry Regiment, a historically New York National Guard unit, and assigned them to Camp Chaffee for training in anticipation of overseas deployment. Former Los Angeles Angels catcher Private First Class Harry M. Land started the year with the 174th at Camp White, located 16 miles north of Medford, Oregon and played for the regiment’s “Buffaloes.” By June, the 174th was at Camp Chaffee and began to dominate the competition. Captain Harry Lindsey, special services officer for the 174th dispatched a letter to the citizens of Buffalo, New York, the former home of the regiment when it was part of the state’s National Guard, requesting assistance in procuring new uniforms. Answering Lindsey’s request, John C. Stiglmeier, general manager of the Buffalo Bisons of the class “AA” International League, responded, “We can’t do too much for the soldiers and sailors these days and in particular for the Buffalo regiment.” Stiglmeier’s response, according to the Buffalo Evening News, “was immediate as well as enthusiastic,” as 15 uniforms were dispatched to the 174th at Camp Chaffee.
|John J. Botek|
|Frank Del Papa|
|Ed “Jake” Jacobs||P||House of David|
|Harry M. Land||C||Los Angeles (PCL)|
|Henry W. Mankowski|
|Wilburn C. Timmons||SS/P||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Raymond H. Trendle|
|Maurice Van Robays||OF/P||Pirates|
As the Camp Chaffee nine struggled to keep up, the 174th Buffaloes juggernaut motored on. By mid-summer, former Pirates outfielder Maurice Van Robays was added to the Buff’s roster and was, in addition to playing right field, trying his hand on the mound. By the end of the year, Van Robays, who took on the role of team manager, amassed a pitching record of nine wins and four losses, helping the Buffaloes to a 61-39 record.
In the months following the end of the 1944 baseball season, many of the units at Camp Chaffee were deployed to the European Theater and players including Kirke, Spahn, Kearse and Van Robays headed overseas.
In the final year of the war, baseball continued at Camp Chaffee and the base team fielded an entirely new roster of players. For the new season, the Chaffees competed as a service team in a semi-professional league as well as in their service league. In addition to military opponents, the team squared off against regional semi-pro industrial league teams and minor league clubs, including the Little Rock Travelers. The 1945 Chaffee team included multiple former professional players, including pitcher Witt “Lefty” Guise, who saw action in two September 1940 games for the Cincinnati Reds and was on the team’s roster for their World Series championship that season. Jim McLeod, an infielder with 15 years of pre-war professional experience, spent 1930 and 1932-33 in the major leagues with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Camp Chaffee nine dominated the competition throughout the 1945 season. After winning the Arkansas State semi-pro championship in Pine Bluff on July 30, Chaffee was invited to the national tournament in Wichita, Kansas.
|Sgt.||Kennon Black||P||Lake Charles (EVAN)|
|T/4||Charles Coleman||3B||Dover (ESHL)|
|Sgt.||Witt “Lefty” Guise||P||Birmingham (SOUA)|
|Sgt.||Soule James McLeod||SS||Baltimore (IL)|
|S/Sgt.||Russell Lowell Needham||P||Albany (EL)|
Many eyes in the baseball world were present and focused upon the National Baseball Congress’ Semi-Professional Tournament in Wichita, Kansas starting on August 10, 1945. In addition to a select few civilian industrial teams from Kansas, the 32-team field of competition consisted entirely of Army and Army Air Force teams from around the country. All the clubs participating were dominant in their regions and Camp Chaffee, after securing the Arkansas state semi-pro championship on July 29, received an automatic entry into the national tournament.
For the three-day event, more than 25,000 tickets were sold. Thirteen major league scouts were also in attendance, including Carl Hubbell (New York Giants); Jack Ryan (St. Louis Cardinals); Joe Cambria (Washington Senators); Carl Hagel and Joe Becker (New York Yankees); Tom Greenwade and Bert Wells (Brooklyn Dodgers); Bill Hinchman (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Bobby Mattick; to look over the talent-rich teams.
|Biggs Field||El Paso||TX|
|Camp Chaffee||Fort Smith||AR|
|Camp Kilmer||Piscataway Township||NJ|
|Columbia Army Air Field||Comets||Columbia||SC|
|Enid Army Flying School||Enidairs||Enid||OK|
|Gowen Field Army Air Field||Boise||ID|
|Great Falls Army Air Field||Great Falls||MT|
|Herington Army Air Field||Herington||KS|
|Lincoln Army Air Field||Wings||Lincoln||NB|
|Lockbourne Army Air Field||Lockbourne||OH|
|Orlando Army Air Field||Orlando||FL|
|Sherman Field||Ft. Leavenworth||KS|
|Sioux Falls Army Air Field||Marauders||Sioux Falls||SD|
|Suffolk County Army Air Field||Westhampton||NY|
|Waco Army Air Field||Flyers||Waco||TX|
|West/Pacific Coast ATC||Wings||CA|
For their tournament opener, the men of Camp Chaffee faced the “Marauders” of Sioux Falls Army Air Field, South Dakota. Moundsman “Lefty” Guise started on the hill for Chaffee, pitching five innings of scoreless ball. The Marauders drew first blood in the bottom of the sixth, plating two runs. Their lead was short lived as the Chaffee men countered with a Courtney single and Martinez reaching on an error. Guise helped to ameliorate his sixth inning stumble by sacrificing the two baserunners into scoring position and setting his team up for a rally. Beavers sent a two-out double off the right field wall, plating Courtney and Martinez, but was gunned down attempting to stretch it to a triple.
The wheels began to fall off the cart for Guise as Sioux Falls loaded the bases in the next inning. Guise worked out of the one-out jam, getting Marauders batters Morton and Monty Basgall out. In the eighth inning, Guise was in trouble again, giving up an infield hit and a pair of walks and leaving the bases loaded for reliever Russell Needham, who stranded the Marauders by striking out second baseman Basgall. Sioux Falls pitcher Herb Norquist went the distance, surrendering two runs on four hits but the real story of the game was his 16 strikeouts as Chaffee finished the top of the ninth without scoring. With the game tied, left fielder Edward Gittens reached on an error to get things started. After being sacrificed to second, shortstop Robert Henny stroked a convincing single off Needham, allowing Gittens to score the winning run. With one loss in the double-elimination tournament, Camp Chaffee needed to keep winning to continue.
The timing for Mississippi’s Key Field’s arrival at Wichita could not have been any worse as the team’s roster was hampered by illnesses and injuries as they faced off against Camp Chaffee. Sergeant Kennon Black, starting on the mound for Chaffee, took advantage of the diminished Key Fielders as he handcuffed his opponents at the plate. allowing just two hits. Meanwhile, seven of nine Camp Chaffee batters got hits off the Key Field pitcher, Smith. Camp Chaffee tallied four runs on eight hits. Shortstop McLeod was the game’s sole multi-hit batter in the 4-0 shutout on August 13.
Following in Black’s footsteps, Russell Needham pitched a 2-hitter of his own as Chaffee eliminated El Paso, Texas’ Biggs Field with a 4-0 blanking. Catcher William Glenn led the offense with two hits in three at-bats. Coleman, Pittman and McLeod each drove in runs as first baseman Martinez, who was one-for-three, tallied three of Chaffee’s four scores.
The tables were turned as former Cincinnati Reds pitcher “Lefty” Guise was met by the unfriendly bats of Ohio’s Lockbourne Field on Sunday, August 19. Guise was ineffective as he surrendered six runs on nine hits in his five and two-thirds innings for Chaffee. “Lefty” was lifted in favor of Russell Needham, but the damage was done. Lockbourne’s Wanke went the distance against Chaffee, holding them to two runs on as many hits in the 7-2 shellacking.
Eliminated from the tournament, Camp Chaffee’s season was effectively over except for a handful of exhibition games against local service and industrial league ballclubs. In a September 24 game against Fort Benning, Guise pitched a no-hitter for his 16th win of the season, having lost only two games.
Ahead of Japan’s unconditional surrender on September 2, the armed forces, already discharging servicemen from the war service following Germany’s capitulation in May, ramped up the process. Camp Chaffee’s Guise was set to be separated days after tossing his no-hitter.
With the rapid downsizing of the armed forces, much of the wartime equipment, weapons and uniforms were no longer needed and were divested as surplus materials from the War Department’s inventory. It is unknown if our Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired through this program or if it was taken home by one of the team members.
With nearly a year elapsing since the Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired, we have been unsuccessful in locating a single photo of the team or any players wearing this jersey. Similarly, our research has failed to uncover scorecards or rosters to reveal the players’ number assignments, let alone who specifically wore number 13. Despite the detailed history surrounding Camp Chaffee’s wartime baseball teams, we were forced to weigh our findings against the opportunity to acquire a full wartime service team baseball uniform that included the jersey, trousers and stockings that were named to a ballplayer who was a combat veteran: Lawrence Milton “Lefty” Powell. After several days of careful consideration, we decided to take a previously unthinkable action and trade the Camp Chaffee flannel in exchange for the 18th Field Artillery uniform. This exchange marked the first and hopefully the last time that we let go of such a highly valued artifact.
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Army Uniforms and Jerseys
 Patterson, Michael Robert, “Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. – Major General, United States Army, (https://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/achafjr.htm)” Arlington National Cemetery, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 Bedingfield, Gary, “Warren Spahn (https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/spahn_warren.htm)” Baseball in Wartime, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 “Razorback Nine Plays Soldier Team at Fort Smith,” Northwest Arkansas Times, May 8, 1943: p6.
 “No-Hit Pitcher Whiffs 17 Batters,” The Shreveport Journal, August 6, 1943: p14.
 “Van Robays Set to Go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 2, 1944: p8.
 “Tank Unit Has Crack Battery,” The Lawton Constitution (Lawton, Oklahoma), May 1, 1944: p3.
 “Swigart Bests Spahn 6-1 in Champ Battle,” The Gruber Guidon (Camp Gruber, Oklahoma), August 11, 1944: p3.
 “Atlas Electrics Play Soldiers at T.L. Park Today,” Tulsa Daily World, June 25, 1944: p25.
 “Three-Day Pass Goes to GI Member Who Can Smash C.O.’s Window,” The Birmingham News, April 19, 1944: p17.
 “Rainbow Downs Chaffee Nine,” The Gruber Guidon, August 11, 1944: p1.
 “Van Robays Now a Pitcher,” The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania), December 2, 1944: p3.
 Doyle, Charles J., “Van Robays Set to go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, December 1, 1944: p27.
 “Camp Chafee Wins,” Wichita Evening Eagle, July 30, 1945: p6.
 “Many Fast Army Clubs Are Ready for U.S. Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 4, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee Wins,” Wichita Eagle, July 30, 1945: P6.
 “25,000 Will See Games in 3 Days,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 8, 1945: p6.
 “Marauders of S. Dakota Win Thriller 3 to 2,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 12, 1945: p14.
 “Key Fielders Go Out Without Run in National Meet,” The Wichita Eagle, August 14, 1945: p7.
 “Camp Biggs is Out,” The Wichita Eagle, August 16, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee is Out of Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 20, 1945: p2.
 “Guise, Former Baron, Hurls No-Hitter; Expects Discharge,” The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL) September 25, 1945: p17.
Visual Traces of a Wartime Service Career
The year 2020 was one of considerable growth for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection as many artifacts with historical significance were sourced and added. While we apply very specific guidelines that ensure that each piece has a direct military correlation, not every piece that found its way into our archives last year adhered to our stringent criteria.
When we discovered an online listing that featured a team-signed Reach (Spalding) Official American League baseball, intrigue set in as many of the autographs were from ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II. Due diligence soon confirmed that the ball, listed as a Washington Senators team baseball, was as advertised.
In our quest to secure vintage photos of service baseball, wartime or otherwise, we find that some players received better coverage than others, resulting in more market-available photographs. With the (then) recent arrival of a beautiful press photo depicting Boston Red Sox pitcher Mickey Harris with his parents and his wartime flannel jersey, inspiration led me to see if any other artifacts related to the player were available. Searches in online auctions yielded nothing more than a handful of autograph cuts, early 1950s baseball cards (issued by Bowman, Leaf and Topps) and photographs from his professional career (vintage and reproduction). However, on a popular social media platform, the Washington Senators baseball surfaced as a recommendation, obviously due to the Mickey Harris-related search we had been performing.
Upon opening the link, we discovered that the ball was not only signed by Harris but also by a number of players who, just a few years before placing their autographs on the ball, were serving domestically and around the world in the armed forces. The manufacturer’s stamping with the official league marks indicated that the ball was made for use during the 1948-49 seasons. Mickey Harris was traded by Boston (along with Sam Mele) to the Senators following his third loss of the 1949 season on June 7. The presence of Enrique Gonzalez’ signature narrowed the date range of the signing between August 9 and September 25.
Harris’ career was all downhill following the 1946 season when he was part of a decent pitching staff that was headlined by Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ 25-6 record. Tex Hughson, another 20-game winner on the ’46 club, led the team in earned run average, leaving Harris’ 17-9 record and 3.64 ERA overshadowed. He was clearly one of the reasons for the Red Sox’ ascension to the 1946 World Series and despite his losses in games 2 (3-0) and 6 (4-1), he pitched well. Harris was not the only pitcher to suffer from a lack of run support in the Series, which was shocking, considering the Sox’ top ranking in average, runs, hits on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Red Sox batters ranked second for home runs, fourth for triples and led the American League in doubles. Their Series opponent, the Saint Louis Cardinals, were similar in their offensive statistical categories. The difference was a combination of Cardinal pitching holding Boston at bay combined with the Red Sox’ lackluster defense (10 total errors to St. Louis’ four).
Following the ’46 season, Harris’ pitching was in decline as he struggled with injuries and more than likely his confidence, which led to his trade to Washington. At the end of Harris’ 1941 campaign, his career situation was much different. Mickey was in his first full season on an above average second-place team that saw the last season in which a player hit for an average of .400 or better. The young Red Sox team had a bright future ahead of it until Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a global war. Coming off an 8-14, 3.25 ERA season, Harris found himself answering his draft board’s call and was inducted on October 14, 1941, just 17 days after pitching Boston to a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. Following in-processing at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris was assigned to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, for additional training.
In a published letter (The Boston Globe, January 30, 1942: Pitching for the Balboa Nine, by Harold Kaese) that Harris wrote to Joe Cronin, his former manager in Boston, Harris detailed his pitching exploits as he played for his Army command’s team. Pitching for the 83rd Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) at Fort Kobbe in the Panama Canal Zone, Harris described his team’s lack of talent. “The current club I play with hasn’t any hitting power and no defense whatsoever,” Harris decried. In his first game, he dropped a 1-0 decision that was followed with a 4-2 loss in which the team’s third baseman allowed the go-ahead run to score. Perhaps he was attempting to downplay the two losses in his communication to Cronin, hoping to restart his Red Sox career with the club after the war ended. Harris continued, “I was hoping I would be sent down here, if any place, so I could try to stay in shape.” While not playing baseball for his command’s team. Harris worked as a mail clerk at headquarters. “I sort all incoming and outgoing mail,” he wrote to Cronin.
Duty in the Canal Zone was not relaxed despite how Harris described it in his letter to Cronin. The canal was of vital strategic importance, providing expedited transits of shipping between the two major oceans. American military personnel stationed in the region peaked at 65,000, with civilian support staff numbering in the tens of thousands. it was clear to Harris that his duties, including playing baseball to boost morale, were important. Both the Germans and Japanese developed plans to destroy or seize control of the canal, though neither nation’s forces made any attempt to carry them out.
Harris worked on his control and attempted to develop his change-up pitch. “I throw quite a few changes,” he told Cronin, “and I get them over.” Harris was committed to being prepared to return to the big league club. “I will keep working on things that need correcting and will profit by mistakes I make while playing down here,” Harris continued, “so that I won’t let it happen to me when I am back playing with the Sox again.”
Every pitcher has ambitions for wins, inducing batters to make outs in high stress situations as they employ their skills and experience to dominate opponents’ offenses. However, not allowing a single batter to reach base in a game is in another realm of accomplishments that so few pitchers allow themselves to dream about. Harris took his outing to such a level as he not only retired all 27 batters he faced on April 12, 1942 but used only 67 pitches to achieve the feat. Facing an all-star roster from the Canal Zone league in the first game of the Isthmus “Little World Series”, Private Harris commented on the opposition. “It was a good team of pros, with (Leo) Eastham and (Otto) Huber, who played for Hartford, on it, but I would have beaten any team with the stuff I had that day.” More than 2,000 spectators, including several hundred servicemen, watched as Harris struck out five and even made a spectacular defensive play on a slow roller to preserve the perfecto. It was not until later in the game that Harris was clued into what he was doing on the mound. “I didn’t realize I was pitching a no-reach game until the seventh inning, when a morale officer started to speak to me and the manager put his finger to his lips,” Harris told the Boston Globe. “Then I figured it out. Well, I just poured it to ’em the rest of the way. I struck out a pinch hitter on three pitched balls.” Harris’ club won the game, 9-0.
In the Canal Zone’s winter league play, Harris finished with a win-loss record of 11-4. In addition to his perfect game, Mickey fanned 17 in a contest and tossed two one-hit games. Aside from his correspondence with his Red Sox manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former Detroit Tigers catcher and manager who was leading the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets club, was taking notice of Harris’ success on the Army club in Panama. Cochrane was charged with assembling a roster of ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces to take on the winner of the 1942 major league baseball All-Star game. With a significant push to raise funds in support of the Army and Navy Relief organizations, the game was scheduled for July 7 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.
Cochrane’s Service All-Star roster featured a nucleus of 10 Great Lakes NTS Bluejacket players that were augmented by three from Norfolk NTS and seven Army ballplayers. Seeking to bolster his pitching staff, Cochrane pulled the strings to have Private Mickey Harris recalled from Panama to join Bob Feller, Johnny Rigney and John Grodzicki. As part of his travel from the Panamanian Isthmus, Harris was granted 30-days of leave in conjunction with the event and the practices leading up to the game.
One of the first photos of Harris that we acquired was captured at one of the Service All-Stars’ practices on July 3 at Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Harris is pictured with 12 All-Star teammates. The image was acquired with a large group of military baseball images that centered on Sam Chapman’s career in the Navy.
The talented American League roster tallied three runs in the top of the first and never looked back as they secured the right to travel to Cleveland on the evening of July 6 to face Cochrane’s squad of service ballplayers. Harris told a Boston Globe reporter, “I’m in good shape and I hope that I get to pitch in a part of the All-Star game. When Mickey told me I would be on the squad he said he couldn’t promise me that I would get into the game, but I don’t guess they would bring me all the way up from Panama for nothing.”
Harris was correct. Cochrane started Bob Feller, who struggled with control out of the gate. Feller, who could not retire a batter in the second inning, left the game after having surrendered three runs on four hits and walking five. Trailing 3-0, Cochrane sent Harris to spell Johnny Rigney in the seventh and was immediately tagged by Yankee Phil Rizzuto for a double. Rizzuto followed his hit by stealing third. Harris coaxed Senators’ right fielder Stan Spence to tap a slow roller back to the pitcher for an easy play. But then his former Red Sox teammate, Ted Williams, powered a deep fly to left center, resulting in an RBI triple. With a run in and one out, Harris induced a Joe DiMaggio pop fly for the second out, but Browns’ first baseman George McQuinn stroked a two-out triple to right center that scored Williams. Harris finished the seventh by retiring another former Red Sox teammate, second baseman Bobby Doerr. Aside from the American League, the winners of the game were the Army and Navy Relief organizations, which split the $75,000 pot raised in the game.
Despite originally being slated to return to Panama (by way of Texas) on July 14, the September 4, 1942 edition of The Berkshire Eagle reported that Harris had been reassigned. “Private Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, flew from his Army station in the Panama Canal Zone to join the service all-star squad that met the AL All-Stars in Cleveland on July 7 but didn’t return to that assignment. He is now stationed at Pine Camp, NY, where he pitches for the camp team, which has won 23 games in a Tri-State service league.” Though further research has not yet confirmed his reassignment, it was temporary.
Once again pitching in the Canal Zone winter league, Harris’ Balboa Brewers struggled out of the gate, dropping eight of their first 10 games. The ship was righted with the arrival of former Holy Cross pitcher Al Jarlett as the cub posted a seven-game win streak. The Brewers, facing the Cuban All-Stars, were bolstered with a 1942 World Series hero, Terry Moore, (2-4 in the game) as Balboa captured a 6-1 victory on September 12. A month later, Moore was present in St. Louis to see the Yankees defeat his Cardinals in the 1943 World Series as Harris continued with his Panama assignment.
Harris spent nearly four years in the Army, serving almost the entire time in Panama. In the 1945 Pacific Championship, Harris struck out twenty Canal Zone All-Star batters in leading Balboa to a 1-0 victory on July 21. On the opposing roster was his former Brewers teammate, Private Terry Moore, whom Harris had previously never fanned. However, three of Harris’ strikeouts came at the expense of Moore as the season wound to a close.
With the surrender of Japan in the Pacific, Harris wrote home that he was hopeful of being able to join the Red Sox during their final series of the 1945 season, four games against New York at Yankee Stadium; however, he didn’t leave the Panamanian isthmus until October.
As he wrote to Cronin in 1942, Harris dedicated himself to maturing and perfecting his pitching, making Joe Cronin’s 1946 spring training decision to keep him easy. Harris opened the season winning eight decisions before losing his first game on May 26 to the Yankees. In his two World Series losses to the Cardinals, Harris failed to strike out his former Canal Zone league teammate and later opponent, Terry Moore, until the bottom of the first inning in Game Six.
Our most recent Harris addition shows the Balboa Brewer in mid-windup as he appears to be warming up prior to entering a game in May, 1945. It can be a challenge to source a single image of a professional ballplayer during his wartime service let alone five. It is rather unique to be able to visually chronicle Harris’ four years in the Army.
Connecting Joe Cronin, the American Red Cross and Sampson Naval Training Center: Vintage Baseball Ephemera
Finishing the season with a record of 93 wins and 59 losses would be a respectable performance for a major league club. However, finishing nine games behind the American League Champion New York Yankees (who lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to one) was still not acceptable for a team that featured one of the most loaded rosters in the major leagues with a team that was built around the best hitter in the game in Ted Williams.
1942 was the best for manager Joseph Edward Cronin since arriving in Boston as a 28-year-old veteran shortstop who managed his former team, the Washington Senators, to a World Series appearance in his first season at the helm in 1933 (losing the World Series to the New York Giants, four games to one). Now 35 years old, Cronin was nearing the end of his playing career. His number of games at that position had been greatly reduced (to just one) with the arrival of the young shortstop, Johnny Pesky. The season was a rapidly changing one.
The United States had been at war for ten months and though Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis received the greenlight letter from President Franklin Roosevelt for baseball to proceed a month after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the game was severely impacted by the needs of the nation. With three Red Sox men Roy Partee, Andy Gilbert and Mickey Harris) already on active duty prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the player exodus to serve in the war effort started as a trickle and was developing into a steady flow as the 1942 season progressed. Cronin’s Red Sox had already lost four players from its roster by mid-season (Al Flair, Earl Johnson, Frankie Pytlak and Eddie Pellagrini) and Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Pesky had committed to begin serving in the Navy when the season concluded.
Joe Cronin’s strong sense of obligation to his nation compelled him to serve as many other ballplayers were foregoing their lucrative professional baseball contracts to in order to serve in the war effort. Volunteering for the United States Army Air Forces as he sought to earn his aviator’s wings, Cronin, who turned 36 years old in October, 1942, exceeded the maximum age and was disqualified. Prior to applying for service in the USAAF, he had volunteered at a Boston-area aircraft observation post, serving as an enemy aircraft spotter. Cronin was offered a commission to serve as an officer but declined the option as felt he lacked the qualifications.
Prior to his attempts to enlist, Cronin received a telegram from the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. during the 1942 World Series seeking his assistance with the organization’s overseas morale efforts. He discussed his desire to serve with his wife, Mildred, and with the Red Sox team owner, Tom Yawkey, prior to accepting the call to help. “In these times,” Joe Cronin told the Boston Globe, “you want to pitch in and do what you can. Besides, I was flattered by their interest in me.” Yawkey gave the Red Sox manager his blessing. “Joe was wondering if there would be any baseball next season and wanted to take this Red Cross job,” Yawkey relayed to a Boston Globe reporter, “So I said, ‘All right, fine, go ahead. Do anything you want to, Joe.’ He (Cronin) said he’d be back if baseball goes on.”
The risk of Cronin remaining overseas in the performance of his Red Cross duties during the 1943 baseball season was not something that concerned his boss. “We’ll be all right,” Yawkey stated. “We’ll just get another manager in that case. But I think Joe will be back.” As the war dragged on and the ranks of professional baseball players continued to contract, there were considerable doubts as to the continuation of the professional game in 1943. Joe Cronin’s departure marked the first instance of a major league manager serving in the war effort. By early December, major league baseball owners confirmed the game’s continuation for the next season.
As his morale work with the Red Cross began, Cronin was sent to Bermuda, where he introduced British troops to the game. In November, he was dispatched to Chicago, where coincidentally the major league baseball winter meetings were being held. Cronin was able to attend with Red Sox general manager, Eddie Collins, in conjunction with his work. Following the holiday season, Cronin departed the West Coast for the Hawaiian Islands, arriving on January 7, 1943 for service in support of military personnel. For the next three weeks, Cronin’s schedule included more than 100 appearances as assigned by the Red Cross’ Hawaiian Department Special Service Office. For several weeks, the Red Sox manager spoke with servicemen and support personnel while visiting Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard bases on Oahu, Kauai and the “Big Island.” Cronin participated in the season-opening ceremonies of the baseball season at Honolulu Stadium, appearing before the start of the game between the Army Signal Corps and the Rainbows. Cronin, wearing his Red Cross service uniform, offered at a few pre-game pitches, resulting in an infield single.
Back stateside in time to arrive at the Red Sox camp for the start of spring training, Cronin spoke to reporters about his time with the troops in Hawaii. “(Cronin) practically gets tears in his eyes when he talks about what great guys those soldiers and sailors of ours are,” wrote Sports columnist Bill Cunningham in the March 18, 1943 Honolulu Advertiser. Before opening day of the 1943 season, Cronin’s Red Sox lost two more men to the armed forces as his roster was drastically different from the 93-win team the previous year. Bobby Doerr and Tex Hughson still managed to garner enough All Star votes to play in the 1943 Mid-Summer Classic, though the team finished in an abysmal seventh place and with 30 fewer wins.
After 1943, Joe Cronin’s teams for the next two seasons continued to hover at or a few games below .500, which can be viewed as an accomplishment considering the Red Sox roster consisted of those who were very young, well past their prime or were just not physically eligible for service in the armed forces. Considering Cronin’s status both as a rejected Air Forces flying officer and as a Red Cross volunteer, finding ways to contribute to the war effort and to support those in uniform was made simpler with baseball.
From 1943 through the end of the war, the Red Sox, like other major and minor league teams, scheduled and played games against military service teams both in the surrounding New England area and in the vicinities of their opponents. For the Red Sox, the games had meaning only in that they provided local area troops the opportunity to see actively serving (former) professional ballplayers hosting a major league club and raised funds (from ticket sales, concessions and advertising) to support relief efforts and for recreational equipment for the troops.
Apart from the scant news articles or the occasional press photograph that may still exist from these games, surviving artifacts are terribly scarce if they exist at all. Paper goods such as scorecards or programs that were produced for service team games, whether one of the participating organizations was a major or minor league team, could range in production quality from multi-color printing on high quality card stock to typed pages that were duplicated via mimeograph printing on basic sheet paper. The delineation between the types of programs and scorecards typically depends upon the venue hosting the game. For the minor league and major league parks, one can expect to find the more richly produced pieces.
A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues approached us regarding one of our recent photo acquisitions (a game-action photograph of the ETO (European Theater of Operations) World Series being played at Soldiers Field at Nuremberg Stadium. The photo that we acquired had yet to be researched but our excitement at landing a veteran-inscribed item prompted us to share it with a few colleagues. One of them proposed a trade that proved to be too difficult to pass by.
The ETO World Series photograph was securely packaged and sent (tracking number provided to our trade partner) as we awaited the arrival of the return item. Our expectations and the anticipation of the piece of history were justifiable upon unpacking the delicate 76-year-old bi-folded sheet of paper.
On their return to Fenway following a 7-win, 14-game Midwestern road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, the 1944 Red Sox made a slight detour to the Western shores of Upstate New York’s Seneca Lake, nearly equidistant between Rochester and Syracuse, at the Sampson Naval Training Station. On the previous day, the Red Sox had split a double-header with the Tigers before boarding their train to Sampson.
The Monday afternoon game was slated for a 1400 (2 p.m.) start and would feature two rosters that, one might have suggested, were evenly matched, if not weighted in favor of the Navy men. The Sampson squad was led by Lieutenant Leino Corgnati, a 34-year-old former minor league middle infielder whose last professional game was played with the Class “D” Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Raiders of the Western League a decade previously. Corgnati’s club featured a mix of former major and minor leaguers with a sprinkling of highly-skilled Navy men (perhaps with high school, college or semi-professional baseball experience). Leading the Sampson men were pitchers Hal White (Detroit Tigers), Walt Dyche (Jersey City) and Jim Davis (Newark Bears). The position players included Don Manno (Boston Braves, Hartford Bees), Tom Carey (Boston Red Sox), Del Ennis (Trenton Packers), “Packy” Rogers (Portland Beavers), Ray Manarel (Norfolk Tars) and Jack Phillips (Newark Bears). Cronin’s Red Sox roster, though a patchwork of players, was led by Skeeter Newsome. Jim Tabor, George Metkovich, Lou Finney, Pete Fox, 38-year-old “Indian” Bob Johnson and future Hall of Famer, Bob Doerr.
1944 Sampson Roster – June 5 vs Boston (bold indicates major league service):
|LT||1||Leino B. Corgnati||Coach|
|S2/c||19||James C. “Jim” Davis||P||Newark|
|AS||14||Walter Dyche||P||Jersey City (IL)|
|SM2/c||8||Delmer “Del” Ennis||LF/CF|
|S2/c||16||Robert “Bill” Kalbaugh||SS||Durham|
|CSp||25||William “Bill” Mock||P||Wilkes-Barre (EL)|
|CSp||17||Anthony “Tony” Ravish||C||Columbus (SALL)|
|S2/c||15||Packy Rogers||3B/LF||Portland (PCL)|
|S2/c||23||John Szajna||3B||Sunbury (ISLG)|
|S2/c||18||Johnny Vander Meer||P||Cincinnati|
While Cronin’s Red Sox were hovering just under a .500 winning percentage (with a record of 21-23), Corgnati’s Sampson Training Station club was a solid 8-0, averaging 11.1 runs per game. Eleven of the Navy batters were carrying averages of .333 or better (three were batting over .500) heading into their game against the Red Sox. The Cronin crew were the first real test for the Sampson team, which until this game had yet to face a major league club. Heading into the Sox game, the Sampson club had defeated Baltimore, Syracuse and Rochester of the International League, Hartford, Albany, Elmira and Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League and the Navy Trainers team (consisting of V-1, V-7 and V-12 program students) from Colgate University. For Cronin and his Red Sox, the game was a morale-boosting exhibition at the end of a long road trip. For the Sampsonites, the match-up was a chance to prove that their undefeated record was not a fluke and to give their fans a great show. Due to the Navy’s ban on non-essential travel, the Sampson team’s eight prior wins were all secured on the Naval Training Station’s Ingram Field.
Manager Corgnati’s starting pitcher, still working himself into playing shape following his late March induction into the Navy, was being limited to pitching the first few innings of his starts. With much fanfare surrounding his arrival to Sampson, former Cincinnati Reds star hurler Johnny “Double No-hit” Vander Meer was slated to open the game against the Red Sox. In the top of the first inning, Vander Meer struggled with his control as he surrendered two free passes and three base hits to Boston, which pushed three of the base-runners across the plate. Sampson hitters were unfazed by the instant three-run deficit as they began to claw their way back into the game, getting a run right back from Boston’s starting pitcher, Vic Johnson. Vander Meer sorted out his control issues from the opening frame and proceeded to tally up scoreless innings until his relief in the seventh. The outing was Vander Meer’s longest of the young season. Meanwhile, Sampson hitters continued to feast on Boston’s pitching, scoring four runs in the second, two in the third and another in the fifth, pushing ahead of the Red Sox, 8-3. In the bottom of the sixth, Boston fell apart, surrendering 11 runs through via a bevy of hits and fielding errors.
With the game seemingly well in hand after Sampson plated another run, Corgnati relieved Vander Meer with Hal White , who was quickly touched for four runs, leaving the score an embarrassing 20-7 drubbing of Cronin’s weary Red Sox. Needing time to board a Boston-bound train, the game was cut short after the top of the eighth inning and soon afterwards, Cronin and his team were rolling eastbound.
More than three quarters of a century later, after removing the yellowed and delicately brittle bi-folded sheet of paper (enclosed in an archival rigid sleeve), the type-written details across the cover reflected the June 5, 1944 game featuring the visiting Boston Red Sox at the Sampson Naval Training Station’s Ingram Field. Carefully retrieving the piece from its protective holder, the damage and decay became more appreciable in a corner and a small section from the bottom of the Boston roster page. On the back cover, the paper remnant from the scrapbook in which the program was previously mounted was still glued to and concealed the upper third of the page.
In addition to the invaluable roster of Sampson players, the artifact’s value is bolstered by the lone autograph found prominently emblazoned across the front cover, carefully applied by the visiting team’s manager, future Hall of Famer, Joe Cronin.
The addition of the Sampson and Red Sox item to our increasing library of service game ephemera provides a boost to one of the more significant Chevrons and Diamonds project undertakings. Though the Sampson roster merely reflects the team’s configuration as it stood on June 5, 1944 and would change with the arrivals and departures of personnel throughout the season, the information provided greater detail than was previously discoverable in box scores contained within archived newspapers.
Having Joe Cronin’s signature is the icing on the cake.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the game is when it took place. Presumably after 120 minutes of game time, it was near (or past) four-o-clock in the afternoon. Three thousand, four hundred miles east of Sampson, the men of the 101st Airborne Division were boarding their Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft as they were preparing for the largest airborne and amphibious assault in history of warfare, providing a stark contrast in events. That next morning, newspapers and radio broadcasts would be covering the events of D-Day at Normandy. Joe Cronin and his Red Sox had the day off.