While Major League Baseball celebrates their 150th anniversary (which coincides with the establishment of the first all-professional baseball team in Cincinnati) on this 2019 opening day, 76 years ago a different opening day was taking place at a tiny and exclusive ball park, well inside of the secured confines of the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia. Opening day in baseball is appropriately connected to the renewal of spring with the budding leaves of the deciduous trees and the impending blooms of perennials, daffodils and tulips. Rosters are renewed with player changes, season statistics are reset to zero and all teams are tied in the standings. In 1943, our nation’s armed forces were on the offensive in the Pacific and Northern Africa (days earlier, General Patton’s tank forces defeated General Jürgen von Arnim Afrika Korps at El Guettar, Tunisia).
A trend has been in development for the last few years in terms of the baseball militaria ephemera market in the last few years and while it has been a pleasant surprise, it gives me reason to suspect that there is an imbalance in this particular area of interest. Regardless of the explanations, it has been quite a pleasant turn of events after so many years with scant few pieces.
The very first military baseball program that I was able to secure into my collection was discovered just as my interest in baseball militaria was burgeoning. With just a few pieces already within the collection, the 1945 Third Army Championship Series scorecard and program grabbed my attention and I was able to win the auction with a very minimal bid. It seemed a fitting piece to pursue and though my knowledge surrounding the WWII service team games at the time. A tangible piece of baseball history that included names of some professional baseball players-turned-soldiers-turned-ball players was a great addition and just the beginning.
Over the years, so few of these vintage paper pieces surfaced onto the market. I managed to land my second piece inside of a year. This time, the scorecard was from a Pacific Theater game in 1944 and the names on each of the teams’ rosters was absolutely filled with some of the biggest names from the major league ranks. Rather than this scorecard being solely from an Army game, the contest was part of an (eventual) eleven game Army-Navy All Stars World Series (the program from the fourth game billed the contests as the Central Pacific Area Championship Series). With names on the rosters such as Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, George and Bill Dickey, Hugh Casey, Johnny Mize and Pee Wee Reese, it became a centerpiece in my collection and the motivation for future pursuits.
Since those first two pieces landed into the collection, it has been slow going overall in finding additional pieces. However, overall the trend for available pieces is decidedly in favor of scorecards from the Navy service team games from World War II.
Aside from the Bluejackets teams of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station from 1942-1945, perhaps the service team that has received the most contemporary coverage across multiple forms of media (news, books, blogs and collectors’ online forums) is that of the Norfolk Training Station (NTS) ballclub; also known as the Bluejackets. Even on Chevrons and Diamonds, we have covered the NTS Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) but until now, nothing has been available to acquire – at least not for this collector. Aside from sharing a team name, both installations fielded teams stocked with former professional ballplayers throughout the war.
In similar fashion to the teams recruited and assembled by Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Captain Henry McClure and Chief Signalman (and later Boatswain/Bos’n) Gary Bodie began assembling some of the top talent in baseball, inviting veterans (including a few who played in the previous year’s World Series) to enlist into the Navy in order to secure their assignments to the Norfolk training station. Two of the game’s best middle infielders and 1941 World Series opponents, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto (of the Yankees) and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Dodgers joined the Navy in early 1943 and landed on the NTS Bluejackets (Reese would be transferred to the Norfolk Naval Air Station team in order to spread some of the wealth of talent) ahead of opening day.
Naval Historical Foundation’s Norfolk NTS Bluejackets series:
- Bats Against the Axis: Diversion, Community and Heritage at the 1943 World Series (part 1)
- Bats Against the Axis: King McClure and His Loyal Subjects (part 2)
- Bats Against the Axis: The Beginning of a Rivalry (part 3)
- Bats Against the Axis: 11 Days in September (part 4)
The first Norfolk NTS-associated piece that I landed was a type-1 photograph featuring the entire 1943 team in uniform along with Captain McClure and other officers. The quality of the exposure combined with the deterioration and fading that has taken place in the last 76 years has left the players’ faces more of a challenge to identify. After considerable restoration work on the digital scan of the image (in Photoshop), greater detail is discernible and more of the players have become recognizable.
Completing the assembled, two-piece group is a 1943 program from the first three season-opening games that were played at the Norfolk NTS Field (later re-named McClure Field to honor Captain Henry McClure) before a 5,000-person capacity audience.
When I first saw the listing for the Norfolk NTS program, I immediately performed my due diligence in order to determine which year it was used. Since the early April dates lacked days of the week, I had to resort to focusing on the names listed on each of the team’s rosters. Understanding that two central players on the Norfolk Roster, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio were both serving in the Navy elsewhere in 1944 and each was on their major league club rosters for 1942. In addition, two players who were previously on the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team, Ben McCoy and Don Padgett, which easily intersects with Mickey Cochrane’s 1942 Bluejackets roster. One last point of reference lies with the Senators roster: Jerry Priddy having just been traded to the Senators in the 1942-43 off-season, played for Washington only in 1943 before he was inducted into the Army on January 4, 1944. With the date of the program decidedly dated from early April, 1943, I placed my winning (sniped) bid and a few days later, it arrived.
1943 Norfold Naval Training Station Bluejackets: Opening Day Roster (bold indicates pre-war major league service)
|2||Ben McCoy||Inf||Great Lakes|
|7||Jim Carlin||Inf||NTS Norfolk|
|8||Jack Conway||Inf||Baltimore/NTS Norfolk|
|13||Phil Rizzuto||Inf||New York Yankees|
|3||Ernest DeVaurs||OF||NTS Norfolk|
|21||Don Padgett||OF||St. Louis/Great Lakes|
|9||Dominick DiMaggio||OF||Boston Red Sox|
|20||Mel Preibisch, CSp||OF/Asst.||NTS Norfolk|
|1||Fred Hutchinson||P||NTS Norfolk|
|6||Henry Feimster||P||NTS Norfolk|
|10||Tom Earley||P||Boston Braves|
|12||Max Wilson||P||NTS Norfolk|
|14||Charles Wagner||P||Boston Red Sox|
|15||Ray Volpi||P||Kansas City|
|17||Carl Ray||P||NTS Norfolk|
|4||Vincent Smith||C||NTS Norfolk|
|18||Bill Deininger||C||Sheboygan Wis.|
|G. R. Bodie, Bos’n||Head Coach||NTS Norfolk|
|C. M. Parker, Ensign||Assistant||NTS Norfolk|
Though the program shows the opening series as being three days (April 1, 2, 3), only two games were scheduled and played, commencing on Saturday, April 2nd (also scheduled were two games with Naval Air Station Norfolk immediately following the NTS games).
According to the April 8, 1943 Sporting News’ Shirley Povich, the four games were part of the Senators’ Grapefruit League play just ahead of their regular season opener later that month (Thursday, April 2oth as they played host for a single game with the Philadelphia Athletics). Norfolk’s lineup was formidable as the roster consisted predominantly of ballplayers with major league experience. The two-game series was split with each team securing a win. The Bluejackets pounded the Nats 10-5 in the opener as they tallied seven unanswered runs against Washington pitchers Emil “Dutch” Leonard, Milo Candini and Clyde “Mickey” Haefner. Norfolk batters punished the visitors as they tallied 13 hits which included a pair of homeruns by Benny McCoy and “Scooter” Rizzuto while Fred Hutchinson held his opposing hitters scoreless through five innings, limiting them to a lone hit. Tom Earley was on the mound in relief when the Senators erased the shutout.
April 2, 1943 Washington Senators visit the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (game photos):
The program itself is in very good condition. With some creasing, it is obvious that document was folded and probably placed into the original owner’s uniform pocket for safe-keeping. Though the creases are prominent and visible (the more substantial crease extends from the top to the bottom edges and nearly at the center of the page), they don’t detract from the overall aesthetics. The paper is a card stock (much heavier than what is used on most of the wartime scorecards and programs) giving it a substantive feel when handled. What makes this program even more special is the addition of the coaches’ photos across the top of each team’s rosters. Seeing Chief Bos’n Bodie’s face in his photo helps to spot him in the team photograph (above).
Three months after the season opener, three men from this roster, Gleeson, Masterson and Volpi would find themselves in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Submarine Base ball team. Late in 1944, Masterson reconnected with McCoy, Carlin, Feimster, Smith, Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio on the roster Navy’s All-Star roster to take on the Army’s All-Stars in the Central Pacific World Series Championships played throughout the Hawaiian Islands (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific). In 1945, Vincent Smith was assigned to the Third Fleet vs Fifth Fleet All Stars tour of the Western Pacific.
As the war progressed with Allied victories as Axis-held territories were liberated, Army and Navy leadership began concentrating talent into the Pacific Theater to increase competitiveness between service teams and creating an inevitable gravitational pull towards inter-service championship that would lift the spirits of of war-weary service members who flocked to the games.
In looking at my article writing and publishing patterns of the last twelve months, I can see that I have been merely sporadic and entirely lacking consistency. Since the beginning of April, 2017 until my latest article (at the time of writing this), Seals at War, I have only managed to create 20 articles (a 1.67/month average). A simple scan of the titles reminds me of the reason for such inconsistency: this genre of the baseball or militaria hobby is very sparse in terms of the availability of artifacts. I also suspect that with the steady increase of readership of my articles, I am potentially my own worst enemy as my stories are fueling others’ interest in this area of collecting.
Adding only a handful of artifacts to my collection had a direct correlative impact on providing me with my preferred inspirational subject-matter. In the last several weeks, my bank account of inspiration has received some fantastic credits that are changing the year-long, stagnant trend. In addition to landing the 1944 Seals scorebook, the Waldron NAAF Jersey, a magnificent 1920s baseball medal, and my very first military-related baseball which is getting (my) 2018 off to a very bright start…and there is much more to come!
As with baseball, we can’t win every game and that was the case with the auction of the circa-1944 photograph of the U.S. Navy baseball team on Tinian on which my meager bid was summarily beaten, a few short weeks ago. Missed opportunities are a part of life, the game and so go hand-in-hand with collecting. Whiffing on an artifact that would be an absolutely perfect fit for my collection can be frustrating and yet these occurrences are positive in that I gain understanding on those pieces that are in greater demand and thus have more competitors to land them.
In the article I wrote about the 1944 Seals score book, I made reference to the two WWII service teams pieces that I previously purchased. The first one that I acquired, a Program and score card from the Third Army Championship games, hosted in early August of 1945 at Nuremberg Stadium in Germany opened my eyes to how invaluable these pieces are as records of men who played as they served. The second piece that came home was a battered Scorecard from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Furlong Field on Hickam Army Air Force Base. Both of these game are have been well-documented. There is one additional scorecard (article forthcoming) for a USAAF all-star game that I have in my collection.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a few listings from a person who was selling some fantastic pieces of military baseball memorabilia (purportedly acquired from a hobbyist). In seeing how the bidding was proceeding on the three pieces that I was very interested in (two scorecards and a score book) were from World War II and related to specific games that were played between all-star service teams whose teams consisted primarily of professional baseball players.
- Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
- Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi
Friday October 6, 1944
- Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
Each piece already has numerous bids on them when I first saw them and I realized within a short period of time that each one was going to exceed not only what I was willing to pay for any of them but also their market value. The italicized text is intentional as what a particular piece is worth can be highly subjective. With these items having been produced in small numbers (that is my speculation due to the audiences that are believed to have attended the games), there are so few of them and transaction histories are difficult to obtain (I manually track them) which further complicates the discussion surrounding valuation. In the end, the price that one person is willing to pay essentially establishes the value of an item. For each of these pieces of military baseball ephemera, the excitement of the bidding and the desire to win an auction resulted, in my opinion, inflated final bid prices.
As an aside, less attention was given to a signed team baseball (one of the Navy teams on the rosters contained withing the scorecards) resulting in a very low price and facilitating my ability to land my second military baseball in less than two weeks.
The three items are considerable pieces that shine more light on these little-known games by providing rosters with the names of players, positions, their former teams, branches and, on one roster, the ranks of the ball players.
1. Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
Though my research has yielded no information regarding this specific game, I am confident that in time, I will be able to locate a Stars and Stripes article, at the very least. Some facts that stand out to me in viewing this artifact lie within the rosters themselves. While the major league all-stars team consisted of mostly major leaguers who were serving in the Navy, one player, Tom Winsett, was serving in the Army. I am didn’t quite conclude my research to determine which of the Dickey brothers (Bill or George) was suited up for the Major League team however I do know that both served in and played on the Navy teams. Considering this roster, one would suspect that the odds of a team of naval personnel could pose any sort of a challenge to be rather slim.
Major League All-Stars Roster
|Grace||Joe||3B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Navy||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Navy||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||Navy||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Pellagrini||Eddie||SS||Navy||San Diego Padres|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Navy||Brooklyn Dodgers|
(Major League players in italics)
The Navy All-Stars team wasn’t simply stocked with neophytes and amateur ball players. Present on the roster for the Navy were five veterans hailing from the Athletics and Senators of the American League. At least two of the amateurs (Mo Mozzali and John Jeandron) went on to play professional baseball and perhaps continued research will yield more confirmations of post-War athletic careers of these men.
|Atkinson||Norman E. “Gene”||C||TM2/c||Semi-Pro|
|Brass||T. H.||P||C Sp|
|Harris||Bob||P||SP 1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||3B||PhM3/c||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||YN1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||C Sp||Washington Senators|
The fact that a few items surfaced as I was watching this scorecard, I didn’t bother to submit a bid as the price seemed to be capable of exceeding (in my experience) the prices that these pieces normally garner. When the bidding closed, the final price was less than $51.00 but I suspect that the winning bidder had significant bid that would preclude prospective buyers from submitting a reasonable price that would be capable of toppling.
2. Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi | Friday, October 6, 1944
The second of the three scorecards that was sold garnered considerably greater interest (16 bids) as it sold for more than double of the preceding card and that was undoubtedly due to the sheer star power contained within both teams’ the rosters. Though the Army team for this game was fully-stocked with veritable stars taken from the ranks of the majors and minor leagues, the Navy team carried far more stars with major league experience. One of the Army’s star hitters, Ferris Fain, was building a name for himself and taking advantage of the opportunity as he demonstrated his abilities with his Army Air Force team, playing on the team at Hickam Air Field on Oahu. Fain had played four seasons of professional baseball with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League but was making a name for himself prior to enlisting following the 1942 season. Nine of Fain’s teammates on this Army All-Star team were major leaguers, headlined by seven-time American League All-Star and two-time league MVP, Joe DiMaggio who had also been playing for the Army Air Force team with Fain.
|Ardizoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|DiMaggio||Joe||OF||New York Yankees|
|Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|Judnich||Walter||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
The Navy team, in addition to being considerably larger (37), outnumbered the Army’s major leaugers (9) by more than three-to-one and one could assume that such a talent disparity would result in their dominance in this particular game.
Unlike today’s game in which players routinely migrate from one major league team and league to another, these men were subject to Baseball’s Reserve Clause making them perpetual “property” of their respective teams, indefinitely (until being released or traded). Noting that within these rosters, several major league teammates oppose each other with their respective service teams. It wasn’t until 1947 with Major League Baseball was integrated with the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ roster (having played the 1946 season at AA Montreal), but in 1944, the Army team featured pitcher Hal Hairston, formerly of the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.
|Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|Berry||John||OF||University of Oregon|
|Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|DiMaggio||Dominick||OF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|Grace||Joe||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||OF||Louisville, KY|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Rizzuto||Phil||3B||New York Yankees|
|Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr||Boston Red Sox|
|Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
This scorecard was printed and distributed for on of the games in what was known as the Army-Navy World Series that was held throughout the Hawaiian Islands from September 22 to October 15, 1944. The Navy bested the Army, eight games to two (in this series) with the ninth game concluding in a 10-inning, 6-6 tie. This scorecard is specific to game 9.
3. Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
The last of the scorecards also originates from the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series. This particular game (the fourth of 11) was played at Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks, September 25, 1944. According to Baseball in Wartime, the game was filled with excitement but would wind up with a fourth consecutive victory for the Navy All-Stars.
“The Navy took an early lead over the Army in the fourth game, witnessed by 10,000, as it jumped on four hurlers for 11 hits. Johnny Mize, ex-Giant first baseman, poled a 360-foot homer in the first inning after Barney McCosky walked, and the Navy scored one in the third and fourth, four in the fifth and single runs in the sixth and seventh to win, 10 to 5. The Army could not get its sights set up til the sixth frame, when five runs rolled over the plate, during which rally Ferris Fain, from the San Francisco Seals, and Joe Gordon, former New York Yankee second baseman, homered, knocking out Virgil Trucks and bringing Schoolboy Rowe, last with the Phillies, to the rescue.
Johnny Beazley, who was the victim in the first game, was hit freely by the Navy and retired in the fifth inning in favour of Ed Erautt, property of the Hollywood Pacific Coast League club, who, in turn, was succeeded by Carl DeRose, New York Yankee farmhand, in the sixth. Hairston finished up on the mound for the Army.”
This scorebook is, by far, the most desirable of the three that were sold. Complete with player photos of the star players, the book consists of multiple pages and, like the previous two scorecards, is unused. Topping out in both the number of bids (19) and selling price ($122.68), the most desired piece of the three didn’t fail to draw the most attention among the three auctions.
The Rosters for both of these last championship series games are nearly identical with the same combination of major and minor leaguers along with a few semi-professionals and a collegiate ball player.
|13||Ardozoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|16||Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1||Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|4||DiMaggio||Joe||CF||New York Yankees|
|19||Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|7||Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|6||Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|3||Judnich||Walter||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|25||Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|2||Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|8||Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|20||Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|26||Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|9||Berry||John||RF||University of Oregon|
|28||Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|15||Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|11||DiMaggio||Dominick||CF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|28||Grace||Joe||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|24||Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|20||Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|23||Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|5||Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|26||Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|32||Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|13||Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||CF||Louisville, KY|
|34||Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|2||Rizzuto||Phil||SS||New York Yankees|
|26||Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|30||Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr.||Boston Red Sox|
|14||Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|27||Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
Though the series was billed as a best seven of the eleven games, the Navy had the series nailed shut well ahead of completing all eleven. The military brass wanted to ensure that the service members throughout the Islands had full opportunity to see the baseball legends taking the field with some 10,000 spectators in attendance at each game.
The 1944 Army/Navy All-Star Championship Series in Hawaii
- September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0)
- September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0)
- September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3)
- September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5)
- September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2)
- September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4)
- October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3)
- October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0)
- October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5)
- October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)
- October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5)
These two scorecards (or scorebooks) from the 1944 Championship Series (also billed as the Army vs Navy World Series) are unique to their respective games. Combining the two (above) with the one scorecard that I possess tells me that there is a good possibility that there is a potential for seven others to be on the lookout for.
Perhaps the title of this article is a bit misleading as you soon will discover or maybe you might think that this writer (me) doesn’t realize that the United States Navy’s special warfare operators, known as SEa Air Land and that I failed to properly type the acronym? You might be wondering if the subject of this article is touching on the armed forces’ use of a species of sea mammal for war? Please allow me to begin with a personal background regarding my interests and passions and then I will conclude this story with the artifact that, in my opinion, required more elaboration and attention.
Since the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been “my” team. I have followed them through each season as long as I can recall. I was born in the same year as one of the Dodgers’ greatest championship seasons. I remember watching the Blue Crew drop three straight games after evening the 1974 World Series with Oakland on Don Sutton’s and Mike Marshall’s combined 11-strikeout dominance of the Athletics. Steve Garvey’s performance (.381 average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) in that series was just the beginning as he established himself as the anchor of the record-setting infield for the next seven seasons (ending with the departure of Davy Lopes). Seeing the Dodgers take the National League flag two more times only to lose the World Series in both appearances in that decade was heart-breaking but it was also synonymous with their history. Like those Brooklyn fans of the 1940s and 1950s, I learned the true meaning of, “wait ’til next year,” which came for me in 1981.
I grew up 1,107 miles from Dodger Stadium which meant that I watched every one of their games on television until 1999. Though my hometown didn’t have a major league team, it was still very much a baseball town with a rich minor league history. The eight Pacific Coast League (PCL) titles alone makes my town the third best since the league was established in 1903, though there were several decades of our principal team’s membership in other leagues also with considerable success (six titles combined among the different lower-level leagues). However, the standout team of the PCL’s history hailed from the City by the Bay; the San Francisco Seals posted fourteen league titles in 55 seasons (the Seals success ranks them 10th in 1925, 44th in 1922, 50th in 1928 and 71st in 1909 in the 2001 Minor League Baseball’s Best 100 Teams).
In 1957 with the relocation of the New York Giants baseball club to San Francisco, the Seals franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Giants). Through a succession of moves and strange minor-league arrangements, the franchise moved to Tacoma, WA (Tacoma Giants), again to Phoenix (Firebirds), Tucson (Sidewinders) and finally to their present location, Reno, Nevada (Aces). During the team’s existence in San Francisco, they were largely an independent team (not affiliated with a major league club) save for six seasons:
|1936; 1945||New York Giants|
|1951||New York Yankees|
|1956–57||Boston Red Sox|
For most of the PCL’s early decades of operation, the league was detached from the rest of professional baseball on the right-half of the United States which served to effectively isolate the ‘Coast League allowing for growth and development and essentially becoming (what many would consider) a third major league (along with the National and American leagues). The PCL’s success and high level of on-field action resulted in the league drawing comparative attendance numbers, and in some cases outperforming many clubs of the PCL’s “big brother” leagues. With their teams’ rosters populated with a significant amount of home-grown talent combined with major-leaguers seeking to extend their careers (after having been released from their major league contracts), fans enjoyed exciting games and a high-level of competition. The PCL’s success also meant that the young stars on their rosters were primary targets of the “big leagues” and were often signed away as the youngters sought more lucrative contracts and the lure of major league play.
The San Francisco Seals saw several of their players move on to greater success with a few ending up in Cooperstown:
Others passed through San Francisco as they approached their final games as players. Aside from O’Doul who was a Seal before and after his major league career, San Francisco-native, Hall of Fame infielder and O’Doul’s Yankees teammate, Tony Lazzeri played the 1941 season for his hometown ballclub in the twilight of his career.
Following the Seals’ fifth place finish in 1941, team management was faced with questions as to whether a 1942 season would be played and if so, how many current players would be available? All professional ballclubs faced the same concerns and were scrambling to fill roster vacancies as soon as they were notified of a player’s enlistment into the armed forces. Harry Goorabian, a sure-handed short-stop who was new to the team in 1941, clubbed his way to the Seals following his outstanding 1940 season with both the Springfield Browns (class B, Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League) and the San Antonio Missions (class A, Texas League) with a .310 average, would be one of the first to leave San Francisco for the service. Goorabian enlisted into the Army Air Force as a private on January 16, 1942.
San Francisco would see another Seal head to war as right-handed relief-pitcher Bob Jensen enlisted into the Navy on April 23, 1942 without making an appearance in the young 1942 PCL season. Jensen spent 1941 making 32 appearances (197 innings) and amassing a 10-12 record and a 3.88 earned run average as he worked himself back to the Seals roster from the Salt Lake City Bees (class C, Pioneer League). With San Francisco in 1941, Bob Jensen made two appearances, losing them both. Jensen, a San Francisco native, was signed by the Seals and played his first professional baseball season was with the club in 1940, making 34 appearances (he started four). His record, predominantly as a relief pitcher was 2-3 with an ERA of 5.13 before heading to war.
Another Seal infielder, second baseman Al Steele, finished the 1941 season working his way into a part-time role, making 105 plate appearances in 32 of San Francisco’s 176 games. The twenty year-old right-handed middle-infielder batted .242 at during his split season (he also appeared in 20 games with the class B Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League, hitting .228). On April 13, 1942, Steele was inducted at NRS San Francisco as a seaman second class, commencing training as an aviation machinist’s mate at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland Airport. Steel would spend the war working with the scout float planes aboard the USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS Witchita (CA-45) in the Pacific Theater.
Losing three from the roster to service in the war may be insignificant to some, but 1942 (and the war) was only the beginning. As the United States went on the offensive against the Axis powers in two global theaters, the demand for men (and women) continued to increase. President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision and request to keep the game going was delivered by a (January 15, 1942) letter to Judge Kennesaw Landis. “Baseball provides a recreation,” President Roosevelt wrote, “which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.” However, the drain on the rosters continued throughout the war.
As WWII raged on, the Seals’ roster of men who were away serving their country could have been enough to field a baseball team of active duty players. In addition to Goorbian, Jensen and Steele, (through my research) I was already aware of the following Seals players who served on active duty. Listed here are those men (including their pre- or post-war major league club assignments):
- Ferris Fain (ML Experience: Athletics, White Sox, Tigers, Indians)
- Charley Henson
- John Hernandez (signed by the Seals but never played for the team)
- John Johnson
- Don White (ML Experience: Athletics)
- Joe Brovia (ML Experience: Reds)
- Ted Jennings
- Babe Paul
- Don Trower
- Wally Carroll
- Logan Hooper
- Dee Miles (ML Experience: Senators, Athletics, Red Sox)
- Dino Restelli (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Hank Steinbacker (ML Experience: White Sox)
- Sal Taormina
- Milt Cadinha
- Bob Chesnes (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Frank Cvitanich
- Al Lien
- Eddie Stutz
- Bill Werle (ML Experience: Pirates, Cardinals, Red Sox)
Towards the end of August of 1945, just ten days prior to the Japanese signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), teams were already thinking ahead to the boys returning home. Some of the professional players would return in time to finish out the current baseball season. However, most of the team owners began to plan for 1946.
“The Pacific Coast League will have so many players of major league talent next spring that we will be playing very close to major league baseball,” said Jack McDonald, sportscaster and publicity chief for the San Francisco Seals in 1945. These boys,” said MacDonald, “have been playing ball quite regularly while in uniform. Some of them are big leaguers right now.”
“Ferris Fain, for instance, is being hailed as the finest first sacker in the Pacific Ocean area, where he competes regularly against the top talent in the world. Al Lien, the pitcher, has been winning regularly while opposing all-star lineups,” McDonald continued. “If you will recall, Dino Ristelli was the outfielder who led the league in hitting before being called into service in 1944. Restelli is now serving in Italy.” (August 23, 1945 excerpt from the Nevada State Journal. By Hal Wood, UPI correspondent)
I have been a fan (if one can say that regarding a team that has not existed since 1958) of the San Francisco Seals for a few decades. The very first vintage reproduction items that I purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels were a 1939 Seals jersey and a 1940s ball cap (I have a total of four repro Seals caps, now). In addition to the reproduction uniform items, one of the first type-1 vintage photographs that I added to my military baseball image archive was of three Seals players, (two of which served during WWII) Brooks Holder, Ernie Raimondi and Dom DiMaggio. Since then, my Seals collection has remained unchanged until…
I was scouring auction listings for military baseball-related artifacts when I noticed a piece of ephemera that was colorful and overwhelmingly patriotic and it was associated with the Seals. Without hesitation I submitted an offer and a few days later, it arrived. The piece, a 20-page program and scorebook from the 1944 Seals season, was loaded with stories, features and spotlights on the War and the impacts on the game and the Seals players.
Towards the center of the booklet is a two-page spread that covers specific people from the organization who were serving. Also included among those serving are men who were either killed in action (*KIA) or were taken as a prisoner of war (#POW). The list included more players who served than were previously known (the new names are noted by links):
- John Bowen*
- Joseph Brovia
- Robert Chesnes
- Frank Cvitanich
- Ferris Fain
- Harry Goorabian
- Charles Henson
- John Hernandez
- Theodore Jennings
- Robert Jenson
- John Johnson
- Kermit Lewis
- Alfred Lein
- Edward Markham
- Elmer Orella
- Ray Perry
- Edward Stutz
- Salvadore Taormina
- Don Trower
- Don White
- Walter “Duster” Mails (ML Experience: Dodgers, Indians, Cardinals)
- Charles J. Graham Jr. – Son of Charles J. Graham (former long-term Seals Manager and team owner), LT COL, USAAF, 96th Bomb Group (WWII) would go on to own the Sacramento Solons of the PCL
Aside from simply enjoying the addition to my collection, I am compelled to learn more about these men that were called out for their war service. My research into the military careers of these men has only just commenced and I am driven by the sentiment that each veteran is due a written (and published) summary of their service (at the very least) in order to preserve their sacrifices made during our national crisis.
The total number of Seals players to serve in the armed forces during World War II (that I have been able to ascertain) is 31 with two being killed in action (Ernie Raimondi and John “Jack” Bowen). The third KIA (the second one noted in the scorebook) and the lone POW (Andrew Shubin and Ted Spaulding, respectively) were both Seals employees. From 1941 through the end of the 1945 season, a total of 91 players filled roster spots for the Seals which (when considering the 31 service members) means nearly 33% of the team served in the Armed forces at some point during the war.
Aside from the content regarding the players and personnel who served, the program also contains many advertisements and other patriotic subject matter that lends considerable insight to the national conscious and how we were once a unified country in pursuit of a common goal.
Purchasing this program was a great choice in that it helps me to shed new light more professional ballplayers who served and revealed yet another man who gave his life for his country that could be honored among his peers at Gary Bedingfield’s fantastic site, Baseball’s Dead of World War II (I have passed my discovery along to Mr. Bedingfield for further research and inclusion). Along with my two in-theater military baseball scorecards (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944), the 1944 Seals booklet, these pieces of ephemera illustrates the game on both the home front and in theater, how united our nation was in its fight against global tyranny and oppression and the need to find respite (through baseball) as the world was coming apart.
Memorial Day has come and gone and while I focused my attention on the meaning of this day (on my other blog, The Veteran’s Collection), I wasn’t overlooking the men who set aside their gloves and spikes and ultimately lost their lives in the service of our country, in doing so. According to Gary Bedingfield’s research of baseball players (see his two sites: Baseball in Wartime and Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice) who served during the second world war, more than 400 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers stepped away from the game to serve their country. Of those, two major league players were killed in action during WWII along with 116 other professional ball players (who lost their lives as a result of combat) with still more who died while serving (non-combat-related deaths). One ballplayer in particular has held my attention since I first learned about him in Gary’s book, Baseball’s Dead of World War II.
My first passion for sports began as a youth and my earliest memories began with T-ball in my local park league. I began watching baseball on television and became aware of the local minor league team (which, at that time, was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs). As I grew and got more immersed in the game, I remember seeing a few minor league games and seeing that team’s affiliation change through the years to the Twins, Yankees and Indians before beginning a long-term connection with the Athletics. The longtime Pacific Coast League Tacoma franchise drew on local baseball history when it changed its name to become the Tacoma Tigers*.
I first learned about third baseman Ernie Raimondi (from Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Dead of WWII book) and his time with the local ballclub several years ago. The 16-year-old Raimondi was signed by and played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (which, at the time was nearly rivaling the American and National Leagues in popularity and attendance) in 1936. In the 14 games with the Seals that season, Ernie had 14 putouts, eight assists and committed three errors while at third; he made 38 plate appearances batting .263 (nine singles and one double) which wasn’t a bad showing for a high school-aged kid, playing at the highest minor league level. Manager Lefty O’Doul wanted Raimondi to gain experience and to hone his craft and sent him to the Tacoma Tigers for the entire 1937 season.
The move north was beneficial to Raimondi for both fielding and hitting which carried him through into the 1938 season before being recalled to San Francisco.
Ernie’s career would fade in the following years and he would be out of baseball in 1941. He was drafted in April of 1944 and entered service on the eve of the D-Day landings at Normandy. He would see his share of combat service (with the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division) from the time he arrived in the European Theater and 218 days after his Army infantry career began, he was mortally wounded on January 9, 1945 and would fight for his life for 17 days until he would succumb.
Private Ernie Raimondi’s baseball career was short and his time with the Tigers was very brief. For a military baseball collector, locating anything from his time in Tacoma has proved to be an impossible venture. The closest that I’ve come is when I acquired an original 1939 Associated Press photo of Raimondi along with fellow Seals and WWII veteran Dom DiMaggio (and Brooks Holder) with bats crossed.
*Tacoma Tigers Baseball Club(s)
- Western International League: 1922, 1937-1951
- Pacific Coast International League: 1920-1921
- Northwest International League: 1919
- Pacific Coast International League: 1918
- Northwestern League: 1906-1917
- Pacific Coast League: 1904-1905
- Pacific Northwest League: 1901-1902
- Pacific National League: 1903
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.
People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”
Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.
At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “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.”
Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.
For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.
One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.
In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.
In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.
“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts
Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.