An interesting personality from the Golden Age of the game, Enos Bradsher Slaughter, better known as “Country,” despite his zeal and energy in how he played the game, is forever linked to a controversial August 20, 1947 spiking incident that occurred during Jackie Robinson’s breakout year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Country” Slaughter, a North Carolina farm boy, played the game with vigor and had a reputation for playing the game as though it could be his last. He seemingly never held back on any play on the field, including running full speed to first base during a routine infield out. Regardless of his on-field play and the sportswriters’ arguments surrounding his encounter with Robinson, our research uncovered other interesting and potentially controversial aspects of the Hall of Fame Cardinal rightfielder’s wartime service.
Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, Enos Slaughter was a gracious and very popular participant during autograph signing sessions at collectors’ card shows. Slaughter’s signed items are quite plentiful and readily available within the collector market. For many years after his August, 2002 passing, prices for Slaughter’s signature were relatively stable. In the last half-decade, collector demand has driven prices of his autograph upward, elevating values of other Slaughter memorabilia as a result. Until the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection received a group of personal photographs from the estate of former St. Louis Browns first baseman and WWII USAAF veteran Chuck Stevens that featured several major leaguers who were serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, including Enos Slaughter, we had not paid significant attention to the former Cardinal player and his wartime service.
The arrival of Stevens’ photos provided us with a unique perspective into World War II Army Air Forces baseball that has not been seen publicly, specifically a glimpse of the USAAF’s August 1945 Marianas tournament. By the time of his participation with George “Birdie” Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” Slaughter had been serving for nearly three years in the Army Air Forces. He had departed just days after helping the Cardinals capture the World Series crown from the Yankees in early October, 1942.
On a day in which a combined sortie of British and U.S. 8th Air Force heavy bombers conducted a raid on Nazi-held Rotterdam, Netherlands, Enos Slaughter’s Cardinals, in the midst of chipping away Brooklyn’s 4.5-game lead in the National League, were about to close out a four-game series with the Dodgers at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis after having taken the first three games. Slaughter, who had been notified of his impending September selective service call-up, paid a visit to a St. Louis Army recruiter’s office to volunteer as an aviation cadet with the condition that he would report at the conclusion of the 1942 season. More than 18,600 fans were on hand for the early Thursday afternoon (August 27, 1942) start that saw Brooklyn’s Curt Davis take the mound against Max Lanier. The heart of the Cardinals’ lineup accounted for the bulk of St. Louis’ offense, including “Country’s” one-for-four performance, driving in Jimmy Brown for their only run of the game. Perhaps the news of Slaughter’s enlistment gave the Cardinal batsmen a dose of reality concerning the war’s impact on the game, or it was simply Brooklyn’s day in their 4-1 win.
As the Yankees faced stiff competition from the Cardinals during the Fall Classic in early October, Marines on Guadalcanal were in the midst of a series of engagements with Japanese forces along the Matanikau River. The Cardinals dispatched the Yankees in five games, with the deciding game being played at Yankee Stadium on October 5. Two days later, Slaughter, who had hit .263 with a home run, scored three runs and drove in two runs in the Series, awaited his call to report for duty.
Enos Slaughter would not report for aviation cadet training until March 13, 1943, following his marriage to the former Josephine Begonia of Chicago, Illinois in February. Slaughter’s arrival in San Antonio was met with nominal fanfare and was carried in the nation’s newspapers. “I’ve never done much flying, except on a few trips to All-Star games,” the Red Bird outfielder told the St. Louis Star in mid-March, “but I know I am going to like flying. They tell me the studies are hard, but I am going to do the best job I can – and hope I make it, for I’d like to be in there flying, along with young Captain Billy Southworth (the son of his Cardinals manager).” Enos reported to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (SAACC) carrying 10 extra pounds. “I am sure that the Army will see that gets trimmed off,” the Raleigh News and Observer reported on March 28, “If this war stretches out so long I’ll be too old to get back in uniform, I will feel that I have done something for baseball in preserving it so other mill hands, farm boys, coal miners or fellow from any other walk of life may know the thrill of stepping up to the plate in a World Series,” Slaughter said.
In researching Slaughter’s military service, we found that the issue of the former outfielder’s color blindness is often reported and discussed regarding the reason for the his disqualification from Army flight training. While most biography readers would accept Enos’ condition and subsequent change in his military service as a simple fact, it raised concerns about factual reporting either at that time or in subsequent commentaries. Perhaps decades of elapsed time diminished the details, along with any measure of exception taken with the facts. It wasn’t until we discovered a Friday, April 9, 1943 column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Down the Middle” by Dick Williamson) that our concerns were validated.
When Slaughter was accepted into the Army’s flight training program at the time of his enlistment on August 27, 1942, he most certainly would have been subjected to a physical examination by an Army medical officer to ensure that he was fit for Army duty and that he met the basic health requirements to be accepted as an aviation cadet. If that did not happen in August of 1942, surely it had to have taken place when he reported for duty on March 13, 1943. How could Slaughter’s color blindness have gone undiscovered until he was in flight training? The question was one that we couldn’t get past.
In the Richmond Times-Dispatch piece, Williamson wrote that Slaughter had been “grounded” at the San Antonio Army Air Force Preflight School (Group IV). The piece reminded readers that “in August last year, Slaughter was being called by his Roxboro, North Carolina draft board for immediate induction. But meanwhile he applied for aviation cadet training and took a screening mental and physical examination in St. Louis.” Columnist Williamson wrote, “At this [August, 1942] test, Slaughter was found to be color blind, a defect that ordinarily eliminates an aviation cadet applicant.” The three-paragraph article seemed to prove that our instincts were correct.
Questions surrounding Slaughter’s enlistment lingered. If he failed to qualify for aviation cadet training, how was he permitted to proceed with the program and stave off his immediate induction? The second paragraph in the Times-Dispatch posed a more specific question along with a supposition. “For some reason, the St. Louis examining board waived Slaughter’s color blindness and accepted him as a future aviation cadet (could it have been because the Cards were in a neck-and-neck race with the Dodgers for the pennant?).” In calling attention to the St. Louis draft board’s decision, the article also illuminated another important fact; the actions of Slaughter and his St. Louis board helped the ballplayer avoid his hometown board (in Roxboro, North Carolina) and their potentially less-than baseball-friendly posture. Whatever arrangement was made between the draft board and Slaughter, the end result was that Enos was allowed to continue playing baseball through the end of the 1942 season and then await his call-up to aviation training.
Unfortunately, Enos Slaughter is not alive today to provide context or to dispute the details published by Dick Williamson. Providing a measure of perspective, in the countless newspaper articles that we found that discussed Slaughter’s color blindness disqualification, Williamson’s piece is the only one to mention the alleged waiver. A modicum of doubt arises in the last paragraph of Williamson’s segment about Slaughter. “Slaughter knew he was color blind and realized all the time he would be eliminated from further cadet training,” Williamson wrote.“When he did take the exam and was found color blind he was given “GDO” (Ground Duty Only).” Williamson qualified his statement: “This information comes to me from a serviceman who talked with Slaughter at the San Antonio school before the baseball star underwent the tough physical exam there.” While hearsay doesn’t typically hold up in the legal realm, the information provided by Williamson’s unnamed source should be considered only with a few grains of salt.
According to Slaughter’s Baseball Hall of Fame profile, the former Cardinal was offered the opportunity to train as a bombardier when his color blindness “discovery” resulted in his dismissal from flight training. “I said if I couldn’t be the one flying the plane, I’d just as soon not be flying. So I became physical education instructor in charge of about 200 troops,” Slaughter told Frederick Turner, author of When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946. Slaughter remained at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center and was assigned to the 509th Base Headquarters Squadron. The Cardinals slugger was also tapped by the manager, 2nd Lt. Del Wilber ( a former Cardinals minor leaguer), to play on the base’s ball club and compete against local Texas service and semi-professional teams.
With the 1943 San Antonio Service League’s 63-game season underway, Slaughter was on an offensive tear. By the end of May, he was hitting .535 as he faced opponents such as the Randolph Field “Ramblers” (including David “Boo” Ferriss, Bibb Falk and a handful of minor leaguers), the “War Workers,” the Brooks Field “Ganders” and teams from Camp Normoyle Ordnance Depot, Stinson Army Air Field, Kelly Field and Hondo Navigation School.
In mid-June, Slaughter was granted a furlough to participate in the 1942 World Series champion’s ring ceremonies in St. Louis. Joined on the field at Sportsman’s Park to collect their rings were fellow service members Frank Crespi and Johnny Beazley. Terry Moore, serving in the Army Air Forces and stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, was represented at the ceremony by his mother. Immediately following the festivities in St. Louis, Slaughter was flown back to San Antonio in time for his service team’s game against Brooks Field.
In early July, the SAACC team participated in the annual Houston semipro baseball, 14-team tournament that included squads from several Houston-area military bases. The tournament favorite was the Waco Army Flying School, piloted by former Detroit Tigers backstop George “Birdie” Tebbetts. The club included former major leaguers Sid Hudson, “Hoot” Evers, “Buster” Mills and Bruce Campbell. The Waco squad dominated the tournament as the SAACC Warhawks failed to secure a spot in the finals. Waco defeated the Bayton Oilers to claim the tournament victory. In August, Private Slaughter was promoted to Private First Class.
1943 San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawks:
|Tex Hendrix||Bat boy|
|Chester Hill||Spc. Svcs. Officer|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||OF|
Always on the hunt for baseball militaria, we were quite surprised when we sourced two vintage photos, from two different sellers, of the San Antonio Army Aviation Cadet Center team featuring Enos Slaughter in his team flannels. Both type-1 images originated from the SAACC public relations office and were so stamped on the backs. These photos appeared to be taken around the same time (June, 1943). The first SAACC Warhawk photo showed a group of players flanking an Army Air Forces officer (Lt. Col. Chester Hill, the Special Services Officer) and called attention to the group of men as being former professional baseball players. The second photo from Slaughter’s 1943 season showed him posed while holding his bat. In addition to capturing Slaughter during his time in San Antonio, both photos provided fantastic details of the SAACC uniform.
As the 1943 season progressed, one of the most significant war bond fundraising events was taking shape. Raising funds in support of the war effort was an effort that involved all Americans. Not only were citizens called upon to ration resources (food, clothing and fuel), but recycling was an all-hands effort that some folks suggest has not yet been replicated despite modern-day municipal and commercial programs. Investing in the future of the nation involved financial investment in the purchase of bonds (very similar to contemporary U.S. Treasury savings bonds) that provided the purchaser with a return on his/her investment when the bond reached maturity. The August 26, 1943 War Bond Jubilee was a significant effort. Its goal was to sell millions of dollars of war bonds that people would purchase at an event held at the Polo Grounds in New York.
Aside from the more than two hours of musical and comedic performances from orchestras, dance bands and radio, stage and film stars (such as Cab Calloway, Ethel Merman, James Cagney and Milton Berle), the main attraction was a game that pitted stars from the three New York major league clubs (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) against the U.S. Army’s New Cumberland (Pennsylvania) Reception team, which was augmented with service all-stars that included (future Hall of Fame enshrinees in bold) Captains Hank Greenberg (1B) and Sid Hudson (P), Lieutenants Johnny Beazley (P), Billy Hitchcock (SS) and Birdie Tebbetts (C) and Private First Class Enos Slaughter (RF). Also filling out the Cumberland roster were Elmer Valo (RF), Ducky Detweiler (1B), Danny Murtaugh (2B), Hal Marnie (2B), Pat Mullin (CF), Bill Peterman (C), Lynn Myers (SS), Bobby Rhawn (3B), Chuck Harig (LF) and Shargey (PH).
Before the All-Star game, fans were treated to perhaps the most memorable old-timers game in the history of baseball, dubbed the “Tableau of Yesterday.” Present at the game (three of which are noted in bold) were 12 living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the 1936 inaugural induction class. The exhibition showcased Babe Ruth‘s last-ever at bat, when he faced off against 55-year-old Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson, for a batting display, with the other legends fielding their traditional positions and Bill Klem calling balls and strikes.
“With Ruth (48 years old) at bat, George Sisler (50) was at first base, Eddie Collins (59) at second, bow-legged Honus Wagner (69) at short, Tris Speaker (55) in centerfield and Connie Mack (83) waving a scoreboard. Their ranks were filled out by other famous players of a bygone era – Roger Bresnahan (64) catching, Frank Frisch (44) at third base, Duffy Lewis (53) in left field and Jack “Red” Murray (59) in right.” – Associated Press, Friday August 27, 1943
The event raised more than 800 million dollars (in purchased War Bonds) and the nearly 40,000 fans were treated to Babe Ruth’s last ever home run blast. “It didn’t matter that in fielding some of the Babe’s ‘practice shots’ Murray fell down, Speaker was practically decapitated and Collins was all but carried into right field by a line drive,” wrote the Associated Press’ Sid Feder. “The folks had a look at ‘em, and the Babe finally parked one. That was the icing on the cake.”
Never mind that there was still a ballgame to be played following the old timers’ exhibition. Filling out the New York All-Stars’ roster were: Dick Bartell and Frankie Crosetti at short, Billy Jurges, Joe Gordon, Billy Herman and Mickey Witek at second base, Billy Johnson at third, Arky Vaughan, Charlie Keller, and Joe “Ducky” Medwick in left field, Buster Maynard and Augie Galan in center, Dixie Walker and Paul Waner in right, Nick Etten and Galan at first and Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey and Mickey Owen behind the plate. Manager Casey Stengel‘s pitching staff consisted of Curt Davis, Van Lingle Mungo, Ace Adams, Spud Chandler, Carl Hubbell, Tiny Bonham, Tommy Byrne and Ed Head (the nine future Hall of Fame enshrines shown in bold).
Though billed as the featured event, the game between the All-Stars and the Army team was overshadowed despite the star power on both rosters. The Camp Cumberland squad, managed by Captain Hank Gowdy, eked out 14 hits against the New York stars; however, they managed to plate only two runners. The Cumberland pitchers limited the Stars to nine hits, but the Gotham batsmen tallied five runs to claim the victory. Private Slaughter batted 1-for-3 and scored one of the Cumberland runs in the loss. The fans and the nation were the real winners in this hallmark event because of the money raised for the war effort and the historically entertaining day. In retrospect, those in attendance witnessed an unprecedented Hall of Fame event, with 21 members participating in the game and seven being part of the festivities but not playing.
Returning to San Antonio following the War Bond game, Enos Slaughter, promoted to the rank of sergeant, was “apologetic” for hitting just .498 (in 75 games) in his first season with the SAACC Warhawks. The team secured the Texas Army League championship. As Sgt. Slaughter continued his work at the air base leading physical fitness instruction, he was part of the U.S. Army Air Forces training film, Survival of the Fittest.
Slaughter’s enlistment controversy resurfaced a year after he reported for duty with a brief two-paragraph article (published on Thursday, March 2, 1944) discussing the details surrounding his induction and subsequent exit from the aviation cadet program. “He (Slaughter) washed out,” Stan Anderson of the Logan, Utah paper Student Life wrote, “because he answered a psychologist’s question as to why he joined the Air Corps with a remark to the effect that getting into the Air Corps Reserve was his only means of staving off the Army long enough to play in that year’s World Series.” Anderson’s piece continued, “Very candid boy, apparently. But poor attitude, the offended Army Air Corps representative decided at once.”
In 1944 Slaughter’s San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawk club again claimed both the best record in the Texas service league’s 55 –game jaunt and the championship in the season-ending playoffs. Sergeant Slaughter slipped from his 1943 batting average, dropping to a miniscule .414 and finishing behind Randolph Field’s David “Boo” Ferriss’ .417. Enos captured the league crown for hits (82), doubles (22), total bases (153) and runs (64) and tied his manager, Del Wilber, for the league lead in home runs (13). Slaughter was no slouch on the base paths as he swiped 16 and finished tied for second.
As his former teammates were preparing for the first game of the all-St. Louis World Series between the Cardinals and the Browns, Sgt. Slaughter was not only in town but joined the “Redbirds” on the field during pre-game warm-ups. Slaughter’s presence must have aided the Cardinals as they set down the Browns to claim the championship in six games.
By February of 1945, U.S. forces were pushing the Imperial Japanese forces from their island strongholds in the Western Pacific. On February 16, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific on Iwo Jima commenced with a pre-invasion shore bombardment from the naval forces. Three days later, Marines began landing on the black, volcanic, sandy shores of the island. Fighting would last until nearly the end of the following month. Despite the victory in wresting control of the island from the Japanese, U.S. forces suffered extensive casualties, numbering more than 26,000, 6,821 of them killed.
As was happening with Birdie Tebbetts’ Waco squad, Army brass detached two key players from the Cadet Center team months before the start of the 1945 season. Sgt. Enos Slaughter and Private Howie Pollet were granted a furlough as they transferred to Kearns Army Air Field near Salt Lake City, Utah. Joining Slaughter and Pollet at Kearns were Tex Hughson, Sid Hudson, Clarence “Hooks” Iott, “Chubby” Dean, George Gill, Sam West, Johnny Sturm, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens, Taft Wright and Bobby Adams. They all awaited further transfer.
Staff Sergeant Bruce Bohle wrote his employer, the St. Louis Star and Times, to tell them of his encounter with the ballplayers soon after their arrival at Kearns. “Imagine my surprise on entering the dining hall,” Bohle opened his letter, “to find the dishwashing chores handled by two former members of the Cardinals. They were Enos Slaughter and Howard Pollet.” Bohle continued, “These ball players rate ace-high with the boys at Kearns. They receive the same training and handle the same duties as all of us,” Bohle commented, “Slaughter and Pollet were in fine form while working with the dishwashing brigade. That’ll give you a laugh!”
As reported in the (Thursday, March 8) Salt Lake Telegram, the gathering of players was “a manager’s dream,” wrote the unnamed author. “That’s the AAF overseas replacement depot, Kearns, these days.” The article boasted Kearns as having a “who’s on first and what’s the pitcher’s name” situation at the air base with the drawback being that the players wouldn’t be playing nor would they be around when baseball season opened.
All of the Kearns Air Base assemblage of ballplayers (except for Lott and West) were soon transferred to Oahu and distributed among Bellows Field, Wheeler Field and Hickam Field, with each assigned to the corresponding baseball teams. Slaughter, Pollet and Rojek ended up with the Hickam Air Field “Bombers” at Pearl Harbor.
The Monday, April 23 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter at Hickam Field along with Howie Pollet and Captain Birdie Tebbetts, “to perform military duties with the army air forces.” The Star-Bulletin continued, “Seven major and minor league ball players in all have come in to date, including three pitchers, two outfielders, two infielders and a catcher,” calling the additions to the Hickam baseball team, a “septuple shot in the arm.” Joining the trio were John Jensen (San Diego Padres), Roy Pitter (Yankees) and George Gill (Tigers and Browns). With the Honolulu League season underway since late January, Hickam had already seen the additions of Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) and Dario Lodigiani (White Sox), both of whom had played for the 7th AAF team in 1944 in Hawaii, and Bill Hitchcock (Tigers), who had played on the McClellan Field (Sacramento) team.
1945 Hickam Field Bombers:
|Rank||Player||Position||Former Team (Pre-War)|
|John J.”Moe” Ambrosia||Bat Boy/2B||Unknown|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||3B/P/MGR||Semi-Pro|
|Leonard Burton||P||Tallahassee (GAFL)|
|Glenn Dobbs||Tulsa U./Chicago Cardinals (NFL)|
|S/Sgt.||Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Eddie Funk||P||San Diego (PCL)|
|Cpl.||Johnny Jensen||LF/CF||San Diego (PCL)|
|George Colonel “Kearnie” Kohlmyer||2B||Tyler (EXTL)|
|Sgt.||Dario Lodigiani||2B||White Sox|
|Roy Pitter||P||NYY Property|
|Sgt.||Enos “Country” Slaughter||CF/LF||Cardinals|
|George Sprys||RF||Appleton (WISL)|
|Capt.||George “Birdie” Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
Slaughter’s impact on the Hickam “Bombers” squad was immediate as he batted in the clean-up spot. During an April 24 matchup against the Fort Shafter Commanders in front of 4,000 at Honolulu Stadium in the Cronin Series, Slaughter walked and scored in the fourth inning and stroked a home run in the seventh to put Hickam ahead, 2-1. Enos used his defensive prowess to rob Earl Kuper of extra bases as he made a brilliant play on a 350-foot line drive in the fifth inning. In his second game, he plated three with a home run to beat the Honolulu All-Stars (a civilian team) in the Cronin Series.
Baseball wasn’t the only game for Slaughter at Hickam. The slugger was joined by Tebbetts, Frank Saul, George Gill and Roy Pitter to play in the CPBC softball tournament as part of the Hickam Bombers squad. They took down the AP&SC team, 7-1, on May 2 for their fifth win in the brackets.
The baseball season continued for the Hickam squad as they continued to rack up wins, defeating the Maui All-Stars and Maui Marines. They held each team scoreless while Slaughter drove seven runs (combined) and was awarded a $50 war bond for the most RBIs in the H.C. & S. Co. Athletic Association Series held at New Baldwin Field on the island of Maui.
By May 17, Hickam remained unbeaten in league play and Slaughter continued his offensive and defensive onslaught. The bats of Hickam’s Rojek, Fain, Jensen, Hitchcock, Tebbetts and Kearny Kohlmyer combined with Enos Slaughter’s output earned them the nickname, “Murderous Row” by the Honolulu Advertiser.
Slaughter was tapped by his Hickam manager Birdie Tebbetts, along with 11 other former professional players, to participate in a baseball clinic held for more than 1,000 youths at Honolulu Stadium. It was the first of its kind in Honolulu. The players taught the kids skills for batting, pitching, sliding, base stealing and pickoff plays.
As the season progressed, Hickam faced off against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins on May 25 in what was a pure offensive showdown. One would think that after being staked to a 12-0 lead after the third inning, the game was well in hand for the Bombers, especially after tallying nine runs in the second inning alone. Tebbetts lifted himself and Slaughter, who had suffered an injury, a strained hamstring, while running hard to first base in the second inning. with the large lead, but the Dolphins proceeded to work their way back against the impending rout. Ken Sears’ two home runs in addition to round-trippers by “Schoolboy” Rowe, John Jeandron, Charlie Gilbert, Bob McCorkle and Don Meyers drew the Dolphins to within a run but they ultimately fell short, 18-17.
With Slaughter’s injury and faltering pitching, Hickam suffered their first loss of the season to the Wingmen of Wheeler Air Base, 7-2, on May 26. Hickam’s offense came roaring back to life against the Honolulu Tigers in an 11-4 attack with Kohlmyer subbing for Slaughter in right field.
As May turned to June, the Hickam Bombers remained atop the Hawaii League standings in a three-way tie for first place with the teams from Wheeler Field and Bellows Field, each with a single loss. On June 9th, the Bombers received their second loss of the season at the hands of the Aiea Naval Hospital at Ceres Field, home of the “Hilltoppers.” Led by Sal Recca (a double and three singles) and Johnny Berardino (a triple and a double), the Hilltoppers’ bats got to Gill, who surrendered five runs. The Bombers were without the services of Slaughter, Tom Tatum and Dario Lodigiani.
In early June, the former Yankee catcher, Navy Lieutenant Bill Dickey, drafted plans to hold an All-Star game at Furlong Field on June 24 that would resemble the mid-summer classic between the stars of the National and American leagues. This game would feature players stationed throughout Hawaii and assembled in league teams, regardless of their current branches of service.
The American Leaguers were set to be managed by Birdie Tebbetts and feature Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The roster of the Nationals was to include Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lou Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mike McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe, with Billy Herman managing.
Earlier this year, we located a 1940s Wilson Official League baseball that was covered with signatures from former major and minor-league ballplayers. Each player appeared to sign the ball using the same pen and included the year (“1945”) inscribed beneath one of the autographs. Included with the baseball was a PSA/DNA certificate of authenticity, validating the signatures as genuine. Due to the names of the players who signed the ball, we determined that the group of men were part of the 1945 Hickam Bombers (see: Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers). Perhaps the most prominent of the signatures is that of Enos Slaughter.
On June 16, LT. Col Edgar B. Stansbury, chief of AAFPOA Special Services, announced that the Army Air Forces would play their last baseball game in Hawaii on the following day, bringing about an end to the season and the planned All Star game. According to the June 17, 1945 Honolulu Advertiser, there was no reason provided by the colonel who “asserted it would be impossible to hold a major league All-Star Game” due to the mandate. The Navy leadership made a similar announcement regarding their players. Slaughter and the rest of the pro ballplayers appeared in their final Hickam Bombers game that afternoon as they took on the Bellows Field Flyers, claiming their final win, 2-0, on a Dario Lodigiani two-run single in the ninth inning.
Hickam attempted to rebuild the team, refilling the positions vacated by the former professionals with Air Forces personnel in order to salvage their season, with the first game scheduled for June 29. Meanwhile, Slaughter prepared for what lay ahead. On June 25, the Associated Press published an article (Big Name Athletes Move to Outlying Islands) by reporter Murlin Spencer. “Baseball stars who have made Oahu one of the greatest islands for baseball fans are moving to outlying islands so that GIs on the outer fringes can see them, too.” Slaughter was listed among many stars that were departing.
On July 9, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter and the contingent of USAAF players on the island of Guam. The piece mentioned that decisions had yet to be made regarding how the men would be divided into teams. AAFPOA athletic officer Captain Billy Hitchcock, who was in charge of the contingent of players, spoke of issues surrounding the condition of the ball fields and facilities available to use for games. He also named the managers for the three teams that the group would be divided into. “Birdie Tebbetts of the Hickam Bombers, Buster Mills of the Bellows Flyers and Mike McCormick of the Wheeler Wingmen,” Hitchcock said, “probably will be managing these teams.”
58th Bombardment Wing Wingmen:
|Bob “Bobby” Adams||2B||Syracuse (IL)|
|Al “Chubby” Dean||P||Indians|
|Edwin “Ed” Kowalski||P||Appleton (WISL)|
|Don Lang||OF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Pete Layden||OF||collegiate player|
|Arthur “Art” Lilly||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||OF||Cardinals|
|George “Birdie” Tebbetts||C/Mgr||Tigers|
Hitchcock formed the teams (under the command of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces or USASTAF) and created a round-robin format of competition to provide an entertaining tournament that would be played on Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. The team assignments seemed to correspond with the roster configurations previously seen in Hawaii with Wheeler, Bellows and Hickam; but there were some exceptions. Tebbetts’ roster appeared to have been given a slight advantage by landing two outstanding hitters in Slaughter and former Yankee infielder Joe Gordon (both of whom would end up enshrined in Cooperstown). The tournament commenced with the inaugural game between Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and Buster Mills’ 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers” on July 27.
The USASTAF tournament games were not the only baseball competition that the men faced. In some instances, the players would see action with pick-up games that would often include highly-skilled regular GIs filling in some of the roster positions. Staff Sergeant Ed Ruder, a war correspondent stationed in the Marianas, wrote of a pickup game that featured several former Cardinals and Browns players. His piece, “Cardinal and Brown Players Hold St. Louis Day in Pacific,” spotlighted a game between Army and Marine Corps clubs, each augmented by former players from the two St. Louis teams. The Marines squad featured Bill Barnes, Vernal “Nippy” Jones, and Ray Yochim of the Cardinals and Harry Hatch, former Browns farmhand. The Army team included (from the 58th Wingmen) former Cardinals Slaughter, Pollet and former Browns Gill and Kearny Kohlmyer. Also representing the St. Louis area was batboy John. J. “Moe” Ambrosia, formerly of the Hickam Bombers. The Marines got the better of the Army that day on the back of Yochim’s pitching as he outdueled Pollet, 7-6.
Slaughter’s .351 batting average was among the leaders in the USASTAF tournament, trailing Stan Rojek (.358), Bill Leonard (.355) and Johnny Jensen (.353) when the competition wound to a close. In total, 27 games were played just within the USASTAF round robin league before more than 180,000 GI fans.
Sergeant Slaughter’s overseas service came to an abrupt close when he, along with Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilan Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Sam Rojek and Sid Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Sid Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean arrived in Long Beach, California as they disembarked from the USS Cecil (APA-96).
Days later, controversy surrounding Slaughter brewed once again when the news reached troops still stationed overseas and awaiting their orders to return home. “It now seems that the function of some big name baseball, football and other athletic stars is, perhaps unwittingly,” a Stars and Stripes editorial conveyed, “to help lower the morale of overseas servicemen.” Letters to the paper from GIs caused a dustup over the accelerated return and subsequent discharges for the baseball players, and Slaughter’s name was one of ten specifically called out.
Sgt. Slaughter transferred from Camp Anza (Riverside, California) to Fort Sheridan, Illinois and was granted a 58-day furlough following his arrival; but he was ordered to report to San Antonio on January 1, 1946. “I am hoping to get out in time for spring training,” Slaughter told W. Vernon Tietjen of the St. Louis Star and Times, “but I don’t know. Latest is that you need 55 points, and I am still in the 40s.” Nearly four weeks later, on January 25, Slaughter was discharged from the Army Air Forces 24 days before reporting to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Cardinals’ spring training.
Despite the questions and controversy surrounding Slaughter’s entrance into the air cadet program and his color blindness disqualification, his positive impact and morale boosting while playing baseball for his comrades in arms was felt for more than two years. The artifacts in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection that reflect Sergeant Enos Slaughter’s service were fantastic additions over the last few years and will always be treasured. We are delighted to share them with our audiences.
- The ‘Strike’ Against Jackie Robinson: Truth or Myth? – by Warren Corbett, Society for American Baseball Research, Spring 2017 Baseball Research Journal
- The Jackie Robinson spiking incident, paragraph 23 of Enos Slaughter – by Joseph Wancho, Society for American Baseball Research,
Throughout the past decade, autographs were never a central aspect of the Chevrons and Diamonds collection nor have we actively pursued signatures of ballplayers, choosing instead to focus on uniforms, equipment, original photographs and ephemera. In some instances, acquiring a signed item was inevitable, though not central, to the factors contributing to the decision to acquire an autographed piece. However, in the last 18-24 months, as we sought verifiable baseballs from wartime service games, the examples that survived were preserved because they bore signatures.
In retrospect, acquiring artifacts of a particular category seems to happen in spurts. We acquired our first few baseballs in a succession of a few months, starting in the fall of 2017. After a few years of being unable to locate a verifiable service team baseball, we were able to once again add more in a series of acquisitions. Though our search has been focused primarily upon unused or unsigned service team baseballs, we have yet to secure an example for our collection.
A few of the signed baseballs that we have landed are from some of the most notable service teams that played during World War II, including the Navy squads of the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins and 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the rosters of each studded with former stars of the major and minor leagues. While neither baseball was signed by a future member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, several of the signatures on each ball were from star players before their careers were put on hold for war service. The remainder of the inscribed names were placed by former minor leaguers, semi-professionals and regular servicemen. One such serviceman rubbing shoulders with major leaguers was Oscar Sessions of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins squad (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine).
“Between the present and the past there exists no more intimate personal connection than an autograph. It is the living symbol of its author.” Thomas Madigan, author of Word Shadows Of The Great – The Lure Of Autograph Collecting
As the war progressed, service team rosters on Oahu began to be saturated with major league players as they were transferred from domestic military installations to various bases on the island beginning in early 1943. This trend continued into the ensuing year. Following the (Army versus Navy) Service World Series in the fall of 1944, top-tier talent on both Series team rosters were disseminated throughout Oahu bases to compete in the 1945 baseball season’s league play. Also in 1945, both the Navy and Army assembled two squads of all-stars to travel to the Western Pacific to entertain troops with baseball in newly captured enemy strongholds including Guam, Micronesia and the Philippines.
The 1944 season in Hawaii, as it could be argued by many baseball historians, was the peak of both the amassed talent and the quality of competition. The following year, with so many of the top players being pulled from Hawaiian League teams to play in the Western Pacific, the various Oahu commands were left scrambling to fill roster vacancies. The dominant team of the 1944 season, the 7th Army Air Force Flyers, no longer existed and the players were dispersed to other commands and for the overseas tour.
In our search for baseball militaria, we were fortunate to uncover a program (USASTAF Major League Baseball All Stars Program) from one of games of the USAAF Western Pacific tour that provided rosters for two (the 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers” and 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”) of the three squads (which also included the 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) that made up the Army Air Forces’ group of ball players. Additional research for an article regarding the USAAF games in the Marianas yielded a roster for the 313th (see: George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian).
With our familiarity of the USAAF Western Pacific teams’ rosters, we were rather gleefully interested when a signed, 1945-dated baseball became available. Inscribed on the baseball were 26 signatures that included eleven men who were divided into the three teams. While many of the signatures were easily recognizable, several were difficult to discern and a few more of the autographs were signed by players whom we were not familiar with. The ball was also accompanied by a certificate from Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) that validated the signatures as authentic. We secured the baseball with a reasonable transaction; however, we were unsure of several aspects regarding the names and if the collection of signatures amounted to a specific team.
Among the autographs were some of the game’s best players (including a future selection to the Hall of Fame): Dario Lodigiani (White Sox), Walt Judnich (Browns), Mike McCormick (Reds), Birdie Tebbetts (Tigers), Howie Pollet (Cardinals) and Enos “Country” Slaughter (Cardinals), not to mention the future all-star and two-time American League batting champion Ferris Fain). The initial thoughts of this ball having a correlation to the Pacific teams was dashed with a minor dose of research. With the exception of four names, Walter Judnich (Bellows Field Flyers), Mike McCormick (Wheeler Wingmen), Bill Mosser and Steve Tomko (correlating teams are currently unknown), the players were all members of the Hickam (Field) Bombers baseball team in 1945. Utilizing archived articles, box scores and game recaps from the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star, we were able to assemble a full season roster for the 1945 Hickam team which aided in identifying the more difficult autographs.
There were a few names on the ball that posed considerable challenges in identification. One of the names, “John Murphy,” left us scratching our heads. If we simply placed our trust in the PSA/DNA autograph certification, we would have had to ignore our instincts and deny that our eyes were telling us that there was no likeness to the confirmed signature of the former Yankees pitcher of the same name. With such a common name, we were about to resign ourselves to this particular player being one of several dozen men who shared the name and served in the Army during WWII until we experienced a breakthrough with our research effort.
List of Signatures on the 1945 USAAF Baseball (major league experience in italics):
|Team||Rank||Name||Position||Former Team (Pre-War)|
|Hickam Bombers||John J.”Moe” Ambrosia||Bat Boy/2B||Unknown|
|Hickam Bombers||John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||3B/P/MGR||Semi-Pro|
|Hickam Bombers||Leonard Burton||P||Tallahasse (GAFL)|
|Hickam Bombers||Glenn Dobbs||Tulsa U./Chicago Cardinals (NFL)|
|Hickam Bombers||S/Sgt.||Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Hickam Bombers||Eddie Funk||P||San Diego (PCL)|
|Hickam Bombers||Cpl.||George Gill||P||Browns/Tigers|
|Hickam Bombers||Capt.||Billy Hitchcock||3B||Tigers|
|Hickam Bombers||Cpl.||Johnny Jensen||LF/CF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Bellows Field Flyers/Fliers||Sgt.||Walter Judnich||OF||Browns|
|Hickam Bombers||Geroge Colonel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||2B||Tyler (EXTL)|
|Hickam Bombers||Sgt.||Dario Lodigiani||2B||White Sox|
|Hickam Bombers||Johnny Mazur||C||Semi-Pro|
|Wheeler Wingmen||Myron “Mike” McCormick||CF/MGR||Reds|
|Hickam Bombers||Roy Pitter||P||NYY Property|
|Hickam Bombers||Pfc.||Howie Pollet||P||Cardinals|
|Hickam Bombers||Sgt.||Stan Rojek||SS||Dodgers|
|Hickam Bombers||Bill Salveson||P||Semi-Pro|
|Hickam Bombers||Frank Saul||P||Semi-Pro|
|Hickam Bombers||Don Schmidt||P||Semi-Pro|
|Hickam Bombers||Sgt.||Enos “Country” Slaughter||CF/LF||Cardinals|
|Hickam Bombers||George Sprys||RF||Appleton (WISL)|
|Hickam Bombers||Tom Tatum||RF||Dodgers|
|Hickam Bombers||Capt.||Geroge “Birdie” Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
Among the dozens of articles throughout the 1945 season in both Honolulu newspapers, we found two that revealed an inaccuracy within our compiled Hickam roster. An abundance of references to third baseman John Murphy, one of the team’s leading hitters and fielders, seemed to indicate the Murphy was splitting time with third baseman John Bialowarczuk, who was also one of the team’s better hitting infielders. However, there were two articles that discussed the management duties falling to a “John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk” who also played at third. Understanding that the two names referenced the same manwe were drawn to focus to research efforts upon Mr. Bialowarczuk which led to our discovery that the two names were referring to the same person.
One of the trends with Chevrons and Diamonds articles is that we enjoy introducing our readers to those players who never enjoyed professional baseball careers, let alone playing in a major league game. John Bialowarczuk was an airman who dreamed of playing in the major leagues after the war. Before World War II, he was making a name for himself with his hometown semi-professional baseball club, the Carteret (New Jersey) Cardinals, where he seemed to be playing shortstop against foes such as the Metuchen Eagles and the East Brunswick Panthers in 1941. Bialowarczuk was born on May 6, 1921, in Carteret, New Jersey, 10 years after future Hall of Fame left fielder Joe “Ducky Medwick. John followed Medwick through Carteret High School. However, instead of signing a professional baseball contract, Bialowarczuk found himself on the local semi-pro Cardinals’ roster, playing from 1938 to 1942 with hopes of being scouted by the major leagues. John’s Cardinals were very competitive, taking on regional semi-pro clubs and even collegiate baseball teams, including Rutgers University. Seven months after Pearl Harbor, 21-year old Bialowarczuk enlisted in the Army on August 17, 1942. By 1943, John was on the north shore of Oahu, stationed at the Kahuku Army Airfield, where he played on the base’s sports teams. His softball team, APO 964, secured the Seventh Air Force championship as they won the Seventh Fighter Command’s 1943 tournament.
By the fall of 1943, Bialowarczuk was establishing a reputation as an all-around athlete, leading Hickam’s Seventh Air Force Flyers football squad as the team’s quarterback. With the steady influx of former professional ballplayers making their way onto the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy and Marine Corps teams throughout the island, the level of competition increased. Corporal Bialowarczuk was now stationed at Hickam and played on the Bombers baseball squad (which did not benefit from additional talent until the following season) for both the 1944 and 1945 seasons. Bialowarczuk was discharged at the end of the war. In the spring of 1946, he may have been working out with a professional club (there is no record of any professional experience) as he had the opportunity to submit an American Baseball Bureau form. On his form, Bialowarczuk stated that his ambition in baseball was, “to be a major leaguer.” He considered his most interesting or unusual baseball experience to be, “hitting a home run off Walt Masterson,” no doubt while playing for Hickam in 1944. He also stated that “playing against major league stars,” was his most interesting experience while serving with the Seventh Air Force. Bialowarczuk highlighted opposing players such as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey and Detroit’s Schoolboy Rowe. John Bialowarczuk passed away in 2017 at the age of 96. Though his “Murphy” alias is listed on his American Baseball Bureau profile, the reason for its use remains a mystery.
John J. “Moe” Ambrosia was an active-duty U.S. Army Air Forces airman and was a member of the 1945 Hickam Bombers team. For most of the baseball season, “Moe” served as the team’s mascot and bat boy. Regardless of his official capacity on the team, Ambrosia possessed enough baseball talent and experience that manager Birdie Tebbetts began to utilize him in the field. On one such occasion, Tebbetts sent Ambrosia out to cover second base late in a 15-inning marathon game against the Fort Shafter club. The trend continued for Ambrosia as he began to see more action into July. When the rosters were drained of several players (Fain, Gill, Hitchcock, Jensen, Lodigiani, Mazur, Pollet, Rojek Slaughter and Tebbetts), the managerial reins were handed to John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk, who promoted Moe to an everyday player. Unlike Bialowarczuk, Ambrosia did not have any post-war baseball activity and it is unknown what became of the Hickam Bombers’ mascot. Ambrosia’s signature is rather prominently placed on our baseball, augmented with his “Moe” nickname.
The four remaining names, Bill Mosser (who had a 6-year post-war minor league career), Steve Tomko (who is presently unknown), Bellows Field Flyers outfielder Walter Judnich and Wheeler Wingman centerfielder/manager Mike McCormick, remain a mystery as to their connection with what seems to be a Hickam Bombers team-signed baseball. Regardless of the anomalies, the baseball is truly a cherished addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.
Additional Signed Service Team Baseballs in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection:
In the waning days of July, 1945, the baseball competition on two islands of the Northern Marianas was heating up. Teams on Saipan and Tinian had been in the Western Pacific for a short time as part of the Army’s plan to provide the men, who were bringing the fight to the Japanese home islands, relief from the heavily-taxing operational pace. With the caliber of both players and on-field play drew significant crowds despite the presence of some of the game’s best players actively serving as airmen beyond the foul lines.
Former Red Sox pitcher, Cecil “Tex” Hughson stationed on Saipan after a few seasons playing for the Waco Army Flying School Wolves team, wrote an August 2, 1945 letter to Joe Cronin, his Boston manager, providing and update as to the baseball activities, “We were divided into three teams.” Hughson wrote,” and the other two teams are on Tinian now, but one is to go to Guam as soon as they have accommodations for them there.” Joining Hughson on the Saipan squad was Sid Hudson (Senators), Mike McCormick (Reds) Taft Wright and Dario Lodigiani (both of the White Sox), recently shipped from Hawaii. The three teams that largely consisted of major leaguers were the 58th Bombing Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombing Wing “Bombers” and 313th Bombing Wing “Flyers.”
The 58th Wing’s roster featured several major leaguers (including two future Cooperstown enshrinees) augmented by a handful of minor leaguers and at least one service member without professional baseball experience. The 58th’s manager, Captain George R. “Birdie” Tebbets who also served as the team’s catcher, spent the 1943 and 1944 seasons in the same capacity with the Waco Army Flying School (at Rich Field Army Air Base) where he led that team to a record of 88-16 competing largely against service and semi-professional ballclubs. In that span of time, the WAFS Wolves captured both the Texas State Semi-Pro and Houston Service League championships in consecutive seasons.
Aside from playing baseball, these men could be found working as ground crew, maintainers, armorers or in other support capacities including instructing and leading in physical fitness training. Flights of B-29 heavy bombers would depart for General Curtis LeMay’s low-altitude bombing missions on enemy targets on the Japanese home islands, often returning with heavy damage and crew casualties sustained by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and fighters. All too often, the damage (to some aircraft) was so severe that attempted landings produced deadly results with fiery runway crashes or ditching in the waters near shore. The men on the ground, including former major and minor league ballplayers now serving and playing on these rosters, rushed to the scenes to extinguish fires and extract the wounded and dead. In the hours following these duties, the games would go on to divert attention from the carnage in order to help flight crews to maintain readiness in order to continue with subsequent missions, despite the losses. Life on the Northern Marianas was dangerous business.
Tibbets and Tebbetts; the careers of two men with similar-sounding names, followed vastly different paths, intersected on a tiny island in the western Pacific roughly 1,500 miles south of Tokyo. Though confirmation has not been found, it is possible, if not unreasonable to consider that the two U.S. Army Air Forces officers met in the summer of 1945 on the either of the two inhabited Northern Marianas group. Paul Tibbets, a fixture on the islands since his B-29 squadron arrived on Tinian in late May of 1945, was part of the command structure and, if he was a baseball fan as most American young men were, would have taken an interest in the arrival of the some of the game’s biggest stars who were serving in the Army Air Forces.
On August 17, 1942, Captain Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr., recently named as the commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron of the 97th Bombardment Group (flying the B-17D “Flying Fortress”) climbed into the left seat of the heavy bomber Butcher Shop as he prepared to lead the first American daylight heavy bomber mission, a shallow-penetration raid against a marshaling yard in the German Occupied town of Rouen, France, the first of his 25 combat missions while flying as part of the famous Eighth Air Force.
Five days later, on August 22, 1942, 29-year-old George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts reported for training in the United States Army Air Forces. The philosophy major and 1934 graduate of Providence College was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces as he began training at Rich Field in Waco, Texas. By spring of 1943, Tebbets, nicknamed “Birdie” as a child by an aunt who thought his (then) distinctive voice resembled the sound of chirping birds, assumed the management of the air base’s baseball team, the Waco Army Flying School “Wolves.” Lt. Tebbetts, drawing from new cadets and airmen, assembled a squad that consisted of former professional ballplayers who were either assigned to the Rich Field base or were aviation cadets, training in the base’s flight school. During an early-May break between games, Tebbetts and a fellow Air Forces lieutenant took an Army plane from Waco to Lambert Field (St. Louis) to take in the St. Louis Browns game against the visiting Boston Red Sox. Lt. Tebbetts met with Boston manager Joe Cronin on the field and briefly enjoyed the feel of the game by catching during the Red Sox batting practice session before the start of the game.
1943 Waco Army Flying School Wolves
|Cpl.||Bob Birchfield||1B||Opelousas/Port Arthur|
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P|
|Pvt.||John “Nippy” Stewart||SS||New Iberia|
|2nd Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
Heading into May, Tebbetts’ Waco team was on a roll winning six straight game, demonstrating their formidability among the area service and semi-professional baseball leagues. During the six-game streak, the Waco Wolves prey included the Blackland Army Air Field Flying School, an Austin semi-pro squad as well as college teams from Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Tebbetts’ Wolves dropped a three-game weekend series, splitting the Sunday, May 23rd double-header in front of a crowd of 5,000 with the Naval Air Technical Training Center “Skyjackets,” Norman, Oklahoma. The Skyjackets took the Saturday evening’s 10-inning duel 4-3. Waco defeated Norman in the early Sunday game 5-2 followed by the Naval Air team’s 4-3 victory to secure the series win. Tebbetts’ Wolves would return the favor in spades just a short time later, taking three from the Skyjackets to take the season series lead, four games to two.
The WAFS Wolves played their way into and won the Houston Post tournament as they defeated the Bayton Oilers on July 19 in the finals. The victory propelled the Wolves into the Texas Semi-Pro Championship Series in Waco, Texas which they secured. In early August, Waco’s bats were silenced and their pitching was overpowered by the Texas Service League All-Stars, 7-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 5,000 at Tech Field in San Antonio. The All-Stars pitcher, David “Boo” Ferriss yielded a hit to Tebbetts but was otherwise dominant over the Waco batters for the final three-innings. The All-Stars’ Enos Slaughter led his team to victory, knocking a pair of hits and putting on a defensive clinic in the field.
Second Lieutenant Tebbetts played in 65 of Waco’s games, catching for a mixture of major and minor league pitchers. Birdie’s ace of the staff, Sid Hudson, was 17-1 for the WAFS team. Hudson, not respecting of Army ranks on the diamond, would often shake off his catching manager’s signs. “This monkey gave me the most beautiful double-cross the other day that I have ever seen.” He regaled to the Sporting News, “I signaled for a curve ball and he threw a helluva fastball that hit me between the eyes so hard it knocked me down!”
On September 5, while facing Fort Worth Army Airfield, Nick Popovich pitched a four-hit, 5-1 performance to secure their ninth consecutive and 49th victory of the season. Closing out the 1943 season, Tebbett’s Waco Wolves secured the Houston Post (service league) and area semi-pro championships for the 1943 season. With his first year serving the Army Air Forces, George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts was promoted to First Lieutenant.
1944 Waco Army Flying School Wolves
|Cpl.||Walter “Hoot” Evers||CF||Tigers|
|2nd Lt.||Colonel “Buster” Mills||LF||Indians|
|Ernie “Lefty” Nelson||P||Stockton|
|1st Lt.||Birdie Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
In the Waco Army Flying School’s 1944 baseball season, the Wolves picked up where they left off in 1943. By July, the Wolves were streaking through their competition, winning their 11th of 12 games as pitcher Herb Nordquist stymied the South Coast All-Stars in a 4-0 shutout. Three of Waco’s four runs were knocked in by “Hoot” Evers as he stroked two singles and a double. Evers accounted for the fourth run, scoring from first on a Gil Turner single. Prior to the game start of the game, Birdie Tebbetts sustained a broken toe while warming up a Waco pitcher. This injury kept him sidelined for both Waco and his regular Army duties (which kept him from deploying overseas). The Wolves suffered another blow to their roster as Lt. Buster Mills was transferred to serve as a physical training officer at Aloe Army Airfield in Victoria, Texas following his tenth-inning walk-off homerun against the Karlen Brothers team (in Dallas, Texas) on June 30th which at that time, was the Wolves’ fourteenth consecutive win.
Though they continued to win, Tebbetts’ club suffered yet another loss as his pitching ace, Corporal Sid Hudson, former Washington Senator, was suffering severe soreness to his pitching arm. When reports (that Hudson would never pitch again) reached his owner, Clark Griffith the news was unsettling considering that when the war was over, his staff anchor (40-47, 4.13 ERA, 276 Ks) would not be returning. However, Hudson would deny the injury’s severity mentioned in the early-July-1944 report stating that his arm “never felt better,” despite his considerable reduction in innings pitched for the Wolves (limited to a total of 24 by the end of July).
The hits to the Wolves’ roster were apparent as Waco lost its fourth consecutive in the last week of July at the hands of the Fort Worth Army Air Field nine, 4-0. In the ninth inning, the Wolves left the bases loaded as Fort Worth’s Lefty Fries set down Gil Turner and Hoot Evers to secure the last two outs in relief of Andy Minshew. On July 30th, Sid Hudson made a triumphant return to Waco’s lineup in the Texas Semi-Pro tournament finals, securing the win over the 12th Armored Division when he went the distance, striking out 12 in the 1-0 victory.
For the August 20-September 4, 1944 Houston Post semi-pro tournament, the competition was stacking up in order to put for the best chance to take down the Waco Wolves and the Orange Boosters squad was assembled for that purpose. The Boosters were constructed of teams from the Orange Levingston Shipyards and Orange Consolidated Shipyards squads and augmented with players borrowed from Houston-area Army camp clubs. The Boosters were managed by Steve Mancuso (older brother of Gus and Frank) and featured pitcher Kirby Higbe (Camp Livingston, Louisiana), George Gill (Lake Charles, Louisiana Army Air Base), Wally Hebert, Les Fleming, Dixie Parsons and Steve Carter. The Orange Boosters’ attempts were for naught as the Waco club dispatched them on their way to the tournament’s title game against Fort Worth Army Airfield. Tebbett’s nine required all nine innings to secure their second consecutive championship overcoming a 6-5 deficit in the final frame with a two-run rally.
On August 20, the Waco squad rolled into San Antonio to face the Baytown Oilers but the much anticipated pitching match-up that would have seen Tex Hughson against Sid Hudson however heavy rains thwarted the contest until August 24. Hughson was ready to go for the Oilers but Tebbetts sent in Walter LaFranconi rather than his ace and his decision proved to be correct. While Waco roughed up Tex for 13 safeties, LaFranconi pitched a three-hit gem, securing the 6-1 victory.
Despite dropping a tournament 3-2 game to Camp Hulen (who took third place in the contest behind second place Baytown) in ten innings, the Wolves locked up their second consecutive Houston Post semi-professional title by defeating two of the area’s best pitchers in Baytown’s Hughson and Howie Pollet of Camp Hulen. Lt. “Buster” Mills locked up the tournament’s outstanding player award due to his strong defense and sure-hitting.
After the close of the 1944 season, the Waco squad saw the first of its post-championship departures as Nick Popovich was reassigned to Enid Army Flying School in Enid, Oklahoma. More changes were made to the roster ahead of Waco’s 1945 including the addition of Vernon Gilchrist from the Canal Zone team, and the loss of Corporal Bob Stone, whose play in the Houston Post semi-pro tournament earned him all-tournament honors in both 1943 and ’44. Ahead of Waco’s spring training, Tebbetts earned his second Army promotion donning his captain’s bars in late January, 1945 as he coached the base’s basketball team (former Detroit Tigers’ outfielder “Hoot” Evers starred on the team) to a league-leading 17-1 record.
As Captain Tebbetts and the Wolves were gearing up and training for the 1945 baseball season, the Waco squad was hit hard with their most detrimental roster changes since 1943. With a record of 22-1, pitching ace Sid Hudson received word that he was being transferred for overseas duty. Tebbetts wouldn’t have to concern himself with Hudson’s departure as the Wolves manager and part-time catcher departed with Hudson in mid-March.
Tebbetts’ tenure as the Waco manager was an unbridled success as he led the team to an 88-16 record with championships in both the Texas state semi-pro and Houston Post tournaments in back-to-back seasons.
Birdie arrived in Honolulu and was assigned to Hickam Field, assuming command of the “Bombers” baseball club, competing against other service teams on Oahu. At his disposal were former major leaguer pitchers such as Howie Pollet and Johnny Beazley who he was very familiar while managing against their respective clubs in the previous seasons. Third Baseman Bob Dillinger, a sure-hitting infielder in the Browns’ farm system carried a .305 average in his 1942 season at Toledo, his last professional assignment before joining the Army. Tebbetts’ Bombers roster was bolstered by the 1944 batting champ (of the Hawaii Leagues), former San Francisco Seals first baseman Ferris Fain.
Early in the Hawaiian season, nearly 1,000 local area youths ranging in ages 8-18 were the beneficiaries of Army Special Services fund-raising efforts (with much of the financial resources coming from Service Team games throughout the war years) that resulted in a large-scale baseball clinic that was led by Birdie Tebbetts. Birdie captured the attention of the future stars stating, “One purpose we are here is to show you what you need to become a ball player.” Birdie solicited help from other former professionals such as Billy Hitchcock, Stan Rojek, Dario Lodigiani, Johnny Sturm, Max West, Walter Judnich, Tex Hughson, Chubby Dean, Enos “Country” Slaughter along with members of his Hickam squad, Howie Pollet, Bob Dillinger and Ferris Fain.
In early July, Tebbetts was named to manage the American League All-Stars team consisting of Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The National League service all-stars squad, led by Billy Herman featured Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojack, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mick McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe. In just a few short weeks, the leadership of the USAAF, on the heels of the Navy’s successful morale-boosting baseball tour of the Pacific, assembled 48 former professional ballplayers and deployed them to the Marianas in an effort to provide the massive build-up of troops pouring onto the islands (as part of the massive strategic air bases being constructed) with a morale-boosting outlet.
Upon arrival to Tinian, the group of 48 players was divided into three teams that were aligned with the subordinate commands that were part of Twentieth Air Force under the United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific (USASTAF). The men were divided into three teams, each of which was assigned to a parent 20th Air Force Bombardment Wing. The 313th “Flyers” squad (part of the XXI Bomber Command), led by Lew Riggs, was based on Tinian’s North Field. Grouped beneath the XX Bomber Command (at Saipan’s Isley Field) were the 73rd Wing “Bombers” captained by Buster Mills and Birdie Tebbetts’ 58th “Wingmen” who were based at Tinian’s West Field.
1945 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”
|Art Lilly||IF||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Bobby Adams||2B||Syracuse (IL)|
|Don Lang||OF||Kansas City (AA)|
|Ed Kowalski||P||Appleton (WISL)|
The USASTAF based on Saipan and Tinian consisted of the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands with three bombardment wings the 58th and 73rd (in the 20th) and the 313th (in the 21st). Each wing was comprised of multiple bombardment groups (40th, 444th, 462nd and 468th in the 58th; the 497th, 498th, 499th and 500th in the 73rd; 6th, 9th, 504th, 505th, 509th and 383rd in the 313th) with roughly four bombardment squadrons in each group. For these two bomber commands, there were approximately 30,000 men, not to mention the additional Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel also stationed on the islands. Each of the baseball teams represented more than 10,000 Air Forces personnel when they took the field.
“The extent of sports participation by servicemen in the Marianas is indicated by figures for one island which could appear almost fantastic.
Captain J.S. McEntee, manager of “Sporting News,” weekly mimeographed paper published at the base, reports that the island has 65 baseball diamonds, 125 softball diamonds, 42 boxing arenas, 75 lighted basketball courts, 20 tennis courts, 3oo horseshoe pitching courts and 12 major size swimming beaches. For each of the baseball and softball diamonds are lighted. There are ten island baseball leagues.” – The Sporting News, June 28, 1945
The USAAF Marianas baseball competition was held in a three-team round-robin fashion with the tournament commencing on July 27, 1945 with Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen taking on Buster Mills’ 73rd. The 1944 Hawaiian League batting champ from the 7th AAF team, Ferris Fain secured the win for Tebbetts’ former Waco Wolves teammate’s new club, the 73rd Bombers by driving in the game-winning solo-homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning.
73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers”
As the tournament continued, the operational pace of the B-29 missions over Japan with the low-level bombing runs continued. It wasn’t uncommon for a game to be played while the aircraft were away on a mission. The ballgame offered a few hours of relief from the tension and stress as the men on the ground awaited the return of squadron aircraft during their 15+hour missions, hopeful of all planes returning safely. However, hours after the final out of a game as the very heavy bombers were returning, ground personnel would count the number of plane and hope that those that did make it back could safely land, despite any damage received by enemy fighter aircraft or ground-fire. The landings were anything but guaranteed as some B-29s sustained damage that caused them to overshoot runways (ditching into the sea), crash, or erupt into flames due to damaged, smoldering engines.
For the ballplayers, their duties didn’t solely consist of playing games. Some of the men, such as Max West, served as ground crews facing dangerous and troubling situations when the aircraft returned from missions. “I saw some horrific crashes … and we on the ground crew would have to go in and, in all honesty, mop up the human carnage,“ stated West*. “One time I went in to help, we pulled out this pilot. I do not remember his name,” west continued, “but he had just flown all of us to Saipan for a ball game a few days before. We pulled him out and got him on a stretcher. He was burned pretty badly, and all I saw were his eyes. They were so white and he looked right at me, his lips kind of smiled and he just died. His face just went blank.”
The games on the islands were always competitive and the players went all out to win the games for their fans. Regardless of where the team played, the excitement and reception given to the players by the troops watching, made it like, “Playing before,” according to 73rd Wing “Bomber” infielder Stan Rojek, “80,000 in Yankee Stadium. We gave everything we had.” Rojek, speaking Cy Kritzer, reporter for The Sporting News, “There was no loafing or protecting yourself. Not before those crowds,” Rojek stated in a December 6, 1945 article.
Tex Hughson, commenting about the ballplayers’ activities and duties in the Marianas, wrote (in his August 2, 1945 letter to Cronin), “They plan to have a Navy team on each of the three islands and to start what will be termed the Marianas League,” stated the former Red Sox pitcher. Tex continued, “We have been busy building our own tents to live in and our own park to play in. The ball park certainly is no beauty, but will answer the purpose. Of course, there is no grass and the seats for ‘customers’ are made exclusively of bomb crates, of which we have plenty here.” As the games continued throughout the Northern Marianas, so did efforts to bring about an end to the nearly four-year-long and horrific war with Japan.
On August 5, 1945, USAAF Colonel Paul Tibbets christened his Boeing B-29 ship “Enola Gay” (after his mother). Just hours later, on August 6, at 02:45, the Enola Gay’s wheels left the Tinian Tarmac as Colonel Paul Tibbets began to turn the ship towards Japan. Colonel Tibbets could have fielded a baseball team with the 12 men manning the high-altitude heavy bomber on its mission to deliver the first atomic weapon to be used on an enemy target (Hiroshima, Japan). As Colonel Tibbets guided the flight of seven aircraft north towards Japan, one can imagine that thoughts of baseball were far from the minds of the crewmen. When the Enola Gay touched down on Tinian, General Car Spaatz presented Colonel Tibbets with the Army’s second highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. Three days later, the Enola Gay joined the second atomic bombing mission as six B-29s departed Tinian northward to the Japanese islands. On this September 9 mission led by the B-29 named “Bockscar,” Nagasaki became the second target (the city of Kokura was the primary target of the mission but was obscured by smoke and clouds necessitating a shift to the secondary target city), but this time, Colonel Tibbets remained behind, having participated in the final planning while on the island of Guam.
Six days after Nagasaki was bombed, on August 15, the unconditional surrender of Japan was announced by Emperor Hirohito bring the war to a close, however the USAAF games continued in the Marianas, the Bonin Islands (Iwo Jima) and Micronesia (Guam), boosting morale of the troops in the Western Pacific. The formal Instrument of Surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The armed forces’ mission transitioned from combat operations to occupation and assisting in the region’s stabilization and the commencement of reconstruction. However the attention of most, if not all of the troops turned to going home to their families, jobs and peace.
Taking breaks from the Marianas league’s round-robin tournament play between the 58th, 73rd and 313th clubs, the teams took the games “on the road” to Iwo Jima as summer was giving way to autumn with a series starting on Thursday, September 20. Captain Tebbetts’ 58th Wingmen had struggled in the Marianas (Buster Mills’ 73rd edged out Riggs’ 313th) however redeemed themselves on Iwo by dominating their opponents, despite some defensive miscues by Birdie.
313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”
|Stan Goletz||P||White Sox|
|Rugger Ardizoia||P||Kansas City|
|Al Olsen||P||San Diego|
|Johnny Jensen||LF||San Diego|
More than 180,000 witnessed the 27 games that were presented by the USASTAF on the four Western Pacific Islands (Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Guam). The airmen, along with members of the other branches of the armed forces, witnessed competitive baseball played by some of the best from the major and minor leagues with the games in the Western Pacific. Within a few weeks of the Japanese surrender, Tebbetts and most the members of the 58th, 73rd and 313th teams were returned to the continental U.S.
Birdie Tebbetts returned to the major leagues, signing a new contract (in late February 1946) with his old team (though he wasn’t fully released from the Army until March 28), the Detroit Tigers. Tebbetts’ playing time with the Tigers was limited to just 87 games in the 1946 season as he struggled at the plate. The following year, the Tigers management, seeking to turn their fortunes with a fresh, veteran face behind the plate, sent Birdie Tebbetts to Boston on May 21, 1947 in exchange for catcher Hal Wagner who played in the 1946 World Series. The change was good for Tebbetts as turned things around for the remainder of the ‘47 season, continuing into two consecutive All-Star seasons for the Red Sox in 1948 and ‘49.
After his playing career ended, Tebbetts’ drew upon his wartime management success when he accepted Cleveland’s offer to manage their Class AA Indianapolis Indians in 1953. His winning record in the American Association coupled with his management of the Indians youth as well as those on loan from Cincinnati (who didn’t have a AA minor league affiliate) helped to pave the way to managing in the major leagues with the Redlegs. Tebbetts managed in the big leagues for more than 10 seasons with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Cleveland from 1954 through 1966 and spent 1967 piloting the Marion (Virginia) Mets of the Appalachian League. Birdie continued working in baseball as a major league scout through 1992 having spent nearly 60 years in the game.
Colonel Paul Tibbets’ career continued to flourish after the war as he attained the rank of brigadier general, commanded the 6th Air Division (at MacDill Air Force Base). General Tibbets served as the deputy director for both operations and the National Military Command System on the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring from the Air Force. in 1966. Tibbets continued to be honored for his role in ushering in the end of the war.
Author’s Note: The mission of Chevrons and Diamonds of using artifacts to bring the personal stories of the game and the people who played it while serving in the armed forces is one that we don’t take lightly. The impetus of writing this story of Tebbetts centered on a handful of vintage Type-1 photographs that captured the catcher during his time in the Army Air Forces that were obtained from the estate of Tebbetts’ 58th Wingman first baseman teammate, Chuck Stevens who played on the St. Louis Browns club in 1941, ‘46 and ‘48. Stevens had an 18-year professional career, mostly in the minor leagues but spent some of his best years serving and playing baseball in the U.S. Army Air Forces (1943-45) and will be the subject of an upcoming article. The other Tebbetts photos include a Type-1 press photo from his one of his two seasons managing and playing for the Waco Army Flying School team and an autographed photo from his years with the Red Sox.
All of the B-29-related photos are part of our vintage image collection and originated from an unnamed U.S. Army Air Forces veteran’s photo-scrapbook. Based upon the the photographs and other ephemera present within the album, it appears that the veteran was assigned to the 873rd Bomb Squadron, 49th Bombardment Wing in the 73rd Bombardment Wing on Saipan.