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