With considerable debate among baseball fans and baseball film aficionados as to where the film, Field of Dreams is ranked, the movie is still a favorite of ours. One of the central characters depicted in the story (and portrayed by actor Burt Lancaster) is the real-life baseball player Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham. According to the film, Graham made a humble defensive appearance in the bottom of the eighth inning on the last game of the season, never getting a chance to swing the bat. Since that film (one could argue that it began with the film’s inspiration, W. P. Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe), many similar “Moonlight” Graham-esque comparative stories have been told.
“To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases — stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish…” – “Moonlight Graham (played by Burt Lancaster in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams)
The story told about Graham in the film (a deviation from what actually happened with Archibald Graham under the guise of “dramatic license”) leads to the main characters, Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann (played by Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, respectively), giving him a chance to have the opportunity to bat. During World War II, service team baseball, many unknowns, such as Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) were afforded opportunities to play with and against major league talent.
The Chevrons and Diamonds project has shed light upon several ballplayers that, in terms of mainstream baseball fans, were essentially unknown. Admittedly, until this venture into the realm of baseball militaria collecting launched, many of these players were unknown to this author. With the arrival of our second military scorecard into our collection (from the seventh game of the 1944 Army versus Navy All Stars championship series), the pursuit of knowledge surrounding the players on the roster motivated me to not only learn what I could about them, but also to keep my eyes open for related artifacts.
With the “star power” present on that 1944 Army versus Navy scorecard with names such as Dom DiMaggio, Hugh Casey, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer and Charlie Silvera, among the players were enshrined among the game’s greatest in Cooperstown. Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Bill Dickey, Pee Wee Reese and Joe DiMaggio (all from major league teams in New York City) stand out among the 64 players comprising the two teams. My eyes were drawn to the names that I did not recognize. Who were these All-Star players who were serving and playing baseball alongside the game’s greatest of that era?
Over the course of the past decade, the “unknown” players on those rosters are becoming household names. Documenting the progression of these ballplayers from the time they were inducted through to their release from service is a tedious undertaking but the end result is quite illuminating with certain discoveries such as the intersecting of service team careers of players.
Though it was just a fictitious story that was brought to life with a script, actors, props and cameras, the Field of Dreams movie was centered on a cornfield-turned-baseball-diamond in a cornfield on an Iowa farm. The set, a diamond carved out of a cornfield, has been preserved as an attraction for fans of the film and draws people from around the world to the tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa (Note: on August 13, 2020, the farm will play host to a regular season home game for the Chicago White Sox against the Visiting Yankees). On December 20, 1916 in a small town just 47 miles east of Dyersville, Marvin Wilfred Felderman was born to Conrad “Coonie,” a farmer and his wife Sarah Felderman. Marvin was the youngest of his two sisters and brother. Felderman was a scholastic athlete in high school where he played basketball as a forward, he achieved all-conference (Blackhawk Conference) honors. Felderman was a pitcher and catcher and helped his high school team reach the Iowa state tournament in two separate seasons. Marvin earned all-state honors as a catcher. Felderman also participated on his school’s track and field team before graduating in 1935. In addition to scholastic baseball, Marvin Felderman also played in the American Legion and for the Bellevue Merchants (semi-pro).
In 1936, Felderman’s professional baseball career commenced with the Elks of the Nebraska State League (class “D”) transitioning quite easily to the minor leagues as he batted .304 with a .427 slugging percentage. In 1937-38, Felderman helped his Duluth Dukes (Duluth, Minnesota, class “D,” Northern League) take the league championship. While in Minnesota, Felderman attended the All-Star Baseball and Umpire School, along with Dukes teammate, first baseman Lyle Thompson. Catching for Nashville of the Class A1 Southern Association, Marvin Felderman helped the Volunteers capture the pennant in both 1940 and ’41. Vols teammates who would be familiar to him in the coming years, Russ Meers would join forces with Marvin in 1945 and he would face Boots Poffenberger (in the South Pacific).
In conjunction with President Roosevelt’s signing of the peacetime Selective Service Act on September 16, 1940, Marvin Felderman receive his draft card 30 days later along with every other eligible young man, as his baseball career soldiered onward. Marv’s play caught the attention of the Chicago Cubs who purchased his contract from Nashville on August 1st of that season.
Felderman’s career was progressing though his ascent through the minor leagues was steady. He fought injuries to his throwing shoulder and hand and was often sidelined for prolonged periods of time. Following spring training, Felderman broke camp having earned a spot on the Cubs roster. Manager Jimmy Williams carried three catchers heading into opening day with Felderman joining veteran Clyde McCullough and Chico Hernandez.
On April 19, the fifth game of the 1942 season was tied going into the 14th inning at Wrigley Field. Chico Hernandez led off the bottom of the 14thinning, pinch hitting for pitcher Claude Passeau with an infield single to Cincinnati’s third baseman, Chuck Aleno. Marv Felderman was sent in to pinch run for Hernandez making his first major league appearance. After Stan Hack bunted Felderman to second base leaving the tying run in scoring position, centerfielder Phil Cavarretta drove a fly-out deep to centerfield. Felderman was caught off base when Harry Craft threw the ball in to second for the double play, handing the 2-1 win to the Reds. Without a doubt, this was not the way Felderman wanted to inaugurate his major league career. Perhaps his base running faux pas was a point of contention for Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson as Felderman wouldn’t get another chance until the end of the season.
Felderman spent the bulk of the 1942 season on assignment to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the class “AA” International League as a part-time catcher. Though his average for the season was a shade below .220 for his 53 games (133 plate appearances) north of the border, he was part of the late-season call-up to the big-league club, making his return to the Cubs.
“’Caught with their catchers down,’ to twist around an old saying, is the situation in which the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves as the mad scramble continues for playoff positions in the International League. Eddie Fernandes and Merwin (sic) Felderman have been laboring under one handicap after another. Fernandes got off to a bad start when he jumped into a Toronto uniform, minus the necessary spring training, and his harm has been kinky.
Felderman has struggled along with a sore arm and a shoulder condition that also hampered his throwing. His shoulder was so bad at times that he couldn’t take a free swing when batting. Topping all this, Felderman split a finger during the third game of the all-out-for-second-place series with the Jersey City Giants.” – August 6, 1942, The Sporting News
Trailing the National League-leading St. Louis Cardinals by 35 games, manager Wilson spent the last few games of the season giving the organization’s youth big league experience, inserting them into the line-up where he could. Marvin Felderman was back up with the big-league club with the hopes that he could showcase his abilities for the future with the Cubs.
Marvin’s second big league game was far better than his first. As the starting catcher, he would play the entire game catching for starting pitcher Hank Wyse who would go the distance in the 8-0 victory in Philadelphia on September 17. In Felderman’s first plate appearance of the scoreless top of the second inning with one out, Marv stroked a long fly out to the left fielder off Phillies’ starting pitcher, Andy Lapihuska. With the Cubs ahead 4-0 with two outs in the top third, Felderman was walked by Lapihuska in his second appearance. In the top of the sixth inning, Lapihuska caught Felderman looking for a leadoff strikeout. With the Cubs batters chasing Lapihuska, Felderman faced a new Phils pitcher, Hilly Flitcraft with two gone in the seventh inning. Marv would finally break through with his bat, stroking his first major league safety; a single with Chicago already ahead 6-0. In his last at-bat of the game, Felderman wiffed on a Boom-Boom Beck pitch for the second out of the ninth inning.
On September 22 for the second game of a day-night double-header, starting catcher, 34-year-old Jimmie “Double-X” Foxx (who was claimed off the waiver wire from the Red Sox on June 1) was lifted with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning having gone 0-2 against the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer with Cincinnati leading 2-0. Johnny “Double-No-Hit” Vander Meer struck out the young rookie catcher to end the sixth. Felderman caught the remainder of the game returning to the plate for his final at-bat of the day, leading off the bottom of the ninth against Vander Meer once again. Vander Meer had a repeat performance against the young rookie as he tallied his 11th and final strikeout of the game. Felderman was 0-2 with two strikeouts. One of Felderman’s bright moments happened on the bottom of the eighth inning after three consecutive singles and a walk (one run scored), Frankie Kelleher was caught attempting to steal home after Felderman attempted to pick-off Lonnie Frey who had a large lead at second base.
Felderman would not see action in the last two games, another day-night double-header against the Cardinals in St. Louis on September 27. His three major league appearances in the 1942 season were all that he would have for the rest of his professional career: six at-bats, four strikeouts, one walk and one base hit. Felderman made it to the big leagues twice and had only a few chances to play, however Marv’s opportunity was significantly greater than what Moonlight Graham had with Giants manager, John McGraw in 1905. Felderman’s career took a different turn that placed him onto the field with scores of major leaguers for the next three years.
Only two brief months following the season’s end, Marvin Felderman enlisted into the U.S. Navy on November 30, 1942. Choosing to avoid being drafted into the army, his naval entrance was presumably the result of being recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane.
At the end of March, LCDR Cochrane held open tryouts drawing candidates from new recruits in training at the naval training station with more than 80 candidates reporting to the diamonds, including 21 pitchers. Cochrane was attempting to build upon his success during the 1942 season but was faced with replacing the bulk of the Bluejackets’ stars, including Johnny Rigney, Johnny Lucadello, Benny McCoy, Frankie Pytlak, Ernie Andres and Chester Hajduk who departed for further assignments. The 1943 season would prove to be a continuation of high caliber competition from most of the American Association, industrial league and independent teams aside from their normal circuit of service league play. Cochrane’s 1943 Bluejackets dominated the competition for the second straight year hammering out win-loss-tie record of 52-10-2 (including wins over a handful of major league teams).
With the 1943 baseball season complete, Marvin Felderman departed Great Lakes bound for Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland for training in the “Tunney” Athletic Specialist Program. Station officials and the local baseball enthusiasts were excited for the 1944 baseball season and the prospects of having major league talent to don their team’s flannels. The Navy had other plans for the services of Felderman, Jonny Mize, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadello who completed their training by the end of 1943.
“The Bainbridge Naval Training Station’s potentially great 1944 team received a heavy jolt today with the announcement that ten former major league players would be moved from the reservation this week. Nine were due to leave tomorrow, while Johnny Mize, former St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants first baseman, was to be held over until the end of the week in order to finish work in the physical instructor’s school.
Those leaving tomorrow include Tom Ferrick, formerly of the Cleveland Indians; Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadellow, of the St. Louis Browns; Barney McCoskey, of the Detroit Tigers; Vern Olsen and Marvin Felderman of the Chicago Cubs; George Dickey, of the Chicago White Sox; Jack Hallet, of the Cleveland Indians, and Eddie Pelligrini of the Boston Red Sox.
All are being transferred to undisclosed ports.” – The News, Frederick, MD, January 4, 1944
From Bainbridge NTS, Felderman headed west, arriving in San Francisco, presumably after visiting home. His stay in the Bay Area was brief as he awaited transport to the South Pacific while temporarily quartered aboard the USS Despatch (IX-2) (the Despatch was the converted protected cruiser, USS Boston that was converted into a receiving ship). Departing San Francisco, Felderman arrived in Honolulu on February 27, 1944 after an 11-day sea voyage from the mainland. His first (brief) command assignment was with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard where he served for just a few short weeks. From the End of March through the middle of May, Felderman was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Receiving Barracks and saw action for the team.
Seeing major league-level competition on a consistent basis, Felderman’s offensive performance with the 1944 was subpar at best. By the end of July, he was batting .190 through 17 games. In 63 at-bats, he had only managed 12 hits, a double and two home runs. Marv only plated seven runs by the midway point of the season. However, Felderman acquitted himself enough on the diamond to be pulled onto a few all-star teams including suiting up for the “Major League All-Stars” when they faced off against the “Navy” on April 19 at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s Weaver Field. Felderman reprised his role again as an All-Star when the team defeated the Army All-Stars at Schofield Barracks’ home field, Chickamauga Park. In the waning weeks of April, Marv was tapped for a second All-Star Game representing the 14th Naval District Major Leaguers however, research has yet to determine the opponent and outcome of that game. Felderman was tagged once more to catch for the Major League All-Stars as they faced off against the Honolulu League Stars in a War Bond Drive game on April 29.
“Approximately 25,000 rabid fans, mostly servicemen stationed in this area, witnessed two games in Honolulu and a nearby military camp recently. Through the courtesy of Navy authorities, these fans were treated with the appearance of many former big-league stars, who are now on active service with the Navy in the Hawaiian Islands.
It was a big day at the Honolulu Stadium, the site of the initial exhibition tilt, when the Major League All-Stars, representing the Navy, scored a 4-2 victory over the Honolulu League club in 12 innings. Such former Big Time players as Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers; Joe Grace (Browns); Barney McCosky (Tigers); Johnny Mize (Giants), Al Brancato (Athletics); Johnny Lucadello (Browns); John Winsett (Dodgers); George “Skeets” Dickey (White Sox); Vern Olsen (Cubs); Tom Ferrick (Indians); Hugh Casey (Dodgers); Bob Harris (Athletics) and Walt Masterson (Senators), did their chores for the major leaguers.
Giant Fans over here were delighted with Mize, who formerly belted them around the Polo Grounds. In the game against the Honolulu club, Johnny sent a tremendous drive up against the 425-foot wall in center field. Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers collected three hits in one game. In the other fracas, the ex-Dodger star played a terrific game.
Walt Masterson, Jack Hallet, Vern Olsen and Tom Ferrick worked for the majors in the 4-2 victory. The following day, the club played another game for the benefit of military personnel at an Army camp and scored an impressive 9-0 triumph with Hugh Casey, Walt Masterson, Bob Harris and Anderson taking turns on the mound. The quartette allowed eight hits.” – Iriwn J. Thomas, T/5, Sporting News. April 29, 1944
On May 13, Felderman arrived at Kaneohe Naval Air Station and was quickly added to the Klippers’ roster, re-connecting with his fellow 1943 Great Lakes teammate, Johnny Mize on Wes Schulmerich’s team. The Klippers had an additional major leaguer with pitching experience, Kaneohe’s ace former-Brooklyn Dodger Hugh Casey. With Mize sidelined by an injury, the 1944 season was a struggle for Felderman’s club without the presence of offensive power.
“The tough All-Service League gets underway Tuesday (5/16) with Aiea meeting Wheeler Field at 4:30. The six teams entered (7th AAF, Aiea, Kaneohe, Wheeler, Aiea Hospital, Sub Base) are ready and it looks like a horse race.
The Navy teams have made last minute changes in their rosters and watch out Army. Kaneohe has some up with Marv Felderman, the catching they have been yelling for, and they now look like the class of the league. Aiea Hospital has a new battery, ‘Skeets’ Dickey and Verne Olsen.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944
1944 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:
Felderman, established himself as a defensive backstop who could handle pitchers during games with considerable effectiveness. As the second half of the 1944 Central Pacific Service League’s season was underway, Felderman was hitting consistently though he wasn’t tearing the cover off the baseball. In the second game of the season against the Schofield Barracks Redlanders, Marv managed pitchers Numerich and Casey to a 6-1 win while also playing a role in the win with his bat.”
“The Klippers defeated the Redlanders 6-1. Southpaw Numerich faced Schofield’s Ed Loverich. After the fourth, the score was 2-1. In the bottom of the 8th with one out, Alexander doubled, Mize followed with a 2-run shot over centerfield to push Kaneohe further ahead, 4-1. With another out, (John) Skeber drove a deep solo shot. Then Mlaker singled and was advanced by a Felderman hit. Hugh Casey (who relived Numerich in seventh) drove the run across for the final tally.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944
Though it was still early in the season, Felderman’s performance with the Klippers was demonstrating his value to the success of the club. Disaster struck on May 17 in a game against the 7th Army Air Force team in a match that had ex-Dodger pitcher, Hugh Casey holding his own against the airmen. In the seventh inning, Felderman suffered a serious injury necessitating him being rushed to the hospital following a beaning from the opposition pitching. Felderman was out of the line-up for quite some time as he required a few weeks to heal and recover from the injury.
Kaneohe was off to a fantastic start of the season and was leading the CPA Service League as May came to a close, but it wouldn’t last. In the first week of June, the 7th AAF’s fortunes changed with the arrival of a large contingent of major league talent (including Mike McCormick Walter Judnich and Dario Lodigiani) led by the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. In addition to losing Felderman for a few weeks, Kaneohe lost their slugger, Johnny Mize to injury limiting him to less than 70 at-bats (16 fewer than Felderman’s 85). Marv’s final batting average was a paltry .224.
After a season-long domination by the 7th Army Air Force squad, a team of stockpiled major and minor league talent that was the product of the Army’s response to the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team (and other Hawaii-area Navy service teams’) predominate success, Navy leadership gathered together their stars from the Pacific Theater into an All-Star team to take on the Army for the 1944 Army versus Navy service world series. The talented catcher with one hit in six major league at-bats found himself on a roster that had a log-jam of catchers, including the team’s manager, New York Yankees’ future hall of fame backstop, Bill Dickey who was managing the team.
- Marv Felderman, Chicago Cubs
- Vince Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Ken Sears, New York Yankees
- Norman Atkinson, Semi-Pro
- George Dickey, Chicago White Sox
While the box scores are scant in providing play-by-play details, for the 8th game of the series, Felderman did get into the eighth game (the series had been decided with the Navy’s fourth consecutive win to open the seven-game contest) with the Navy leading the Army, six games to one, spelling Vinnie Smith after a few innings in what would be Jack Hallet’s 11-0, three-hit shutout of the Army. With the considerable attendance (averaging more than 15,000 servicemen per game), leadership made the decision to extend the series to seven games (despite the Navy’s win in four straight) followed by four additional bringing the series to a close after the 11th game on October 15. Five days later, on October 20, Felderman returned to NAS Kaneohe from his temporary duty assignment. Aside from the championship plaque and other accolades, Felderman returned to his primary duty station with a promotion to chief petty officer.
With the year-round favorable weather conditions in the South Pacific (aside from the frequent-yet-brief cooling rains), baseball can be played without ceasing, independent of the regular season league schedules. For the first two weeks in December, Felderman was temporarily assigned to the Aiea Receiving Barracks (December 2-14, 1944), no doubt, for participation in another, as of yet, undiscovered baseball tournament.
Chief Athletic Specialist Felderman remained with Kaneohe for the 1945 season as the bulk of the major league talent (stationed in Hawaii in 1944) from both branches was sent to the Western Pacific to provide relief by playing baseball for the combat-weary troops fighting in the Marianas and Micronesia. With the new season, the Kaneohe club was loaded with new faces leaving the sports writers at the Honolulu Star Bulletin less than thrilled for the Klipper’s outlook with the headline, “Kaneohe Bay weak spots in lineup.” Attempting to infuse a little bit of hope, the Bulletin’s sports editor wrote, “New manager Joe Gonzales (LTjg) will be pitching. Former USC pitcher who, at one point had 21 straight victories for the Trojans.” Felderman was spotlighted by the piece for the value his experience brought to the club.
“Marv Felderman, a major leaguer several times, and a brilliant minor league catcher, will handled the backstopping with aplomb and decorum. Felderman won’t set the league on fire with his hitting, but he’s in there to handle the pitchers, prevent the base paths from becoming a runway. Summing up, this club won’t make many mistakes. You will have to beat them, as they won’t beat themselves.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 2, 1945
1945 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:
|Irvin “Red” Meairs||SS|
|Steve “Red” Tramback||CF|
By the last week of May, the Klippers nine were proving the naysayers wrong by taking over first place in the 14th Naval District League. In a game against Naval Air Station Honolulu, the Klipper’s Gonzalez defeated Honolulu’s Max Wilson in a 3-2 pitching duel before a crowd of 8,500 fans at Furlong Field on the Hickam air base. Felderman followed a John Berry solo homerun and a Bob Usher base-on-balls with a triple, tying the game.
As the 1945 14th Naval District League season progressed, Kaneohe ran into stiff competition for first place as the Dolphins of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base ran neck-and-neck in keeping pace.
“Furlong Field, battle ground of many brilliant sports events of the past months, will be the scene of another outstanding attraction on Sunday (6/24) afternoon at 3 when the Kaneohe Klippers and Sub Base Dolphins trade swats with the championship of the first half of the 14th Naval District at stake.
Both clubs are 13 and 5 and will play before an anticipated crowd of 25,000 servicemen and civilians.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 23, 1945
Felderman was finally having a notable season in 1945 and was a key role-player in Kaneohe’s success as he found himself in the Honolulu sportswriters’’ spotlight.
“A lot of fans in the 14th Naval District Baseball League are wondering how the Kaneohe Klippers keep right on winning. The Kilppers have no “name” stars in action day after day, yet they tied for the first half crown and are sure to be a threat all during the second half. One of the important cogs in the Klipper machine is Marv Felderman, the number one and only catcher who has seen action in league play. Felderman has never tasted the success of many of the stars in the league have, but he is a steady hustling player who goes all out every game.
An Iowan by birth, Marv has been around and has several major league trials and is sure to get more when the war ends. He batted at a .320 clip during the first half of the season and his 24 hits were good enough to send 22 runs over the plate, being tied for runner up honors to Ken Sears in that department. Felderman is only one cog, of course, as the Kilppers function as a unit and not as group of individuals, but his play has been one of the bright spots of the entire circuit.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, July 21, 1945
Through five innings of a July 28 contest with the Marine Flyers, Kaneohe was trailing 2-0 when in the Klipper’s sixth, the sent 11 men to the plate (scoring seven) led by Felderman’s offensive outburst. In the 11-2 victory, Marvin tallied two doubles and a single against Marines pitcher Sid Gautreaux .
Through the August “dog days” stretch of the 1945 season, injuries once again plagued the Klippers as they plummeted in the standings following a protracted losing streak. At the close, of the 14th Naval District League play, NAS Kaneohe was in sixth place with an 11-13 record behind Aiea Barracks (19-9), Aiea Hospital (16-9), Sub Base (16-10), Barber’s Point (16-11), Fleet Marines (15-12) and NAS Honolulu (15-12). Base 8 Hospital (11-15), Ship Repair Unit (8-19) and Marine Fliers (6-21) rounded out the standings with 10 days remaining.
Aiea Barracks sealed their league title and the Klipper took time out to include their fans with festivities surrounding their last game of the season as they hosted the Honolulu Crossroaders. After securing a 7-3 victory, the two teams held several skills contests (such as distance throwing, a home run derby and speed competition on the base paths) to entertain the fans.
“Klipper Day was held for 12,500 fans at Klipper Diamond to honor the Kaneohe Klippers on Sunday, September 16 for the last game of the season. Marv Felderman of the Chicago Cubs said during an interview on the field, “This reminds me of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.” The game between the Honolulu Crossroaders and Klippers was a 7-3 victory by Kaneohe. John Berry drove a ball over the left field fence in the fourth followed by one by manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales.” Honolulu Advertiser, September 8, 1945
Soon after the final game in Kaneohe, Felderman returned stateside and was discharged from the Navy on October 9, 1945. Aside from his discharge papers, service decorations, naval training and playing experience, Felderman returned home with a relationship that he would cherish for the rest of his life. During his time in the Hawaiian Islands, Marv met Yeoman First Class Katherine (Kay) Elizabeth Holloway and the two were married before the end of 1945.
The flood of ball players with war service returning to professional baseball was substantial and the competition for roster spots was fierce. No longer property of the Cubs following his naval service, 30-year-old Felderman signed with the reigning 1945 American Association champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Limited to just 70 games, Marvin again dealt with injuries and it was becoming apparent to scouts and the big-league clubs that his best years were likely behind him. In his first three post-war professional baseball seasons, Felderman was limited to just 178 games with four teams. In 1949, Felderman was hanging onto his career, playing semi-professional ball in the Michigan-Indiana League with the Benton Harbor (Michigan) Buds.
Before winding down his professional career, Felderman appeared in 12 minor league games; one game with the Texas League’s Fort Worth Cats and 11 with Fresno of the “C”-level California League. At age 35, Felderman’s playing career was done.
Memorabilia associated with or connected to Marv Felderman’s career is rather limited due to the brevity of his professional career. There were no signature gloves or professional model bats bearing his name or branded autograph made by glove or bat manufacturers due to Felderman’s three game major league career (803 professional games in total spanning 11 seasons). As we have discussed many times on Chevrons and Diamonds, player-specific artifacts from service teams are scarce and are seldom available. However, not too long ago, a Felderman artifact surfaced that was connected with his Navy baseball career in the Hawaiian Islands.
Judging by the existence of this card (along with two others that were sold), passes were provided by the management of the Hawaiian Baseball League to allow players on service teams to have access to attend games as spectators (rather than on-field participants). Bearing Felderman’s name on the front, what makes the pass even more special is that the reverse features the player’s autograph. The previous owner of Felderman’s pass also had the autographed 1944-season pass provided to Ferris Fain of the 7th AAF squad along with Chubby Dean’s from the 1945 season which would seem to indicate that these were obtained by someone who was close to service team baseball in the Hawaiian Islands during the war.
Moonlight Graham played baseball for eight professional seasons in the minor leagues on the eastern seaboard as his professional ball-playing career came to a conclusion (similar to the way that Felderman’s wound down, decades later). It is doubtful that any baseball artifacts exist that can be attributed to Moonlight Graham however there is a measure of satisfaction in acquiring the Felderman piece as I ponder the similar career trajectories of the two men.
Author’s Note: When embarking upon a story that surrounds an artifact, the objective is always to uncover the personal histories that were either previously forgotten, unknown or were merely segments of another context. Researching this relatively unknown ballplayer has been a bit of an adventure spanning a few weeks where each discovery seemingly spawned additional paths to investigate. Attempts were made to control the expanding research which may lead to future articles as those avenues are pursued or interconnected while researching other players.
The quest for baseball militaria quite often results in being outbid, a day late for a great deal or finding an artifact in a condition of utter disrepair and doesn’t warrant being added to a collection but would be better served with an unceremonious disposal. Finding a wool flannel jersey riddled with holes and decay from years of improper storage and being feasted upon by moths and silverfish is not a find at all. Locating a rare and vintage bat that has been used as gardening implement rather than properly stored should cause even the most carefree collector to pause. Some of these treasures are sadly too far gone to be kept and, in some cases (such as with a pest-infested and heavily damaged jersey), they need to be discarded.
The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is populated by many artifacts, some of which are in conditions that would have been avoided by memorabilia hobbyists and museum curators. One of the more challenging artifacts (in terms of preservation and stabilization efforts) was a wartime GoldSmith Elmer Riddle “DW” model glove that was marked with “U.S.N.” that was heavily damaged from water. The horsehide on the glove was rife with dry-rot, mold and extensive cracking and so malodorous that it required storage in a resealable bag. Despite the glove’s state, we were able to preserve what remained and save it from complete destruction. We question the expended effort to save the DW glove (documented in our story: A War Veteran Who Never Served) and have come to the conclusion that there are alternative solutions for heavily deteriorated artifacts.
In the last year, this site has been the beneficiary of a plethora or historical data, research and anecdotes from a baseball historian who, through his efforts and his books, shined a spotlight on Navy wartime baseball and established a foundation upon which all other military baseball historians have built upon. My first contact with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr. followed a social media group posting that was a request for assistance in identifying three faces in a group of four World War II-era vintage snapshots that featured four Navy baseball players. A colleague in that group suggested that I reach out to Mr. Crissey and provided me with his contact information. In addition to Kit’s quick response to my inquiry, the ensuing email correspondence regarding his experiences, interviews and even friendships that he held with many of the major and minor leaguers (who donned Navy flannels during the War) was truly eye-opening. After the Chevrons and Diamonds article, Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars was published, a friendship developed. In addition to our enlightening conversations and research collaboration on countless projects, Kit’s generosity in sharing precious and rare artifacts has opened the doors into so many areas of research and advanced our efforts (seemingly) by light-years.
Crissey, aside from being a wealth of knowledge and research resources, has been a source of encouragement in this endeavor. To be able to respond in kind and enlighten our readers (including Mr. Crissey) in other aspects of wartime baseball; particularly in the area of baseball militaria artifacts. The delightful conversation that followed the publication of Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt (with Kit) set the idea-gears into motion.
As we approach the anniversary of that initial contact, it seemed fitting that a very tangible gift that is representative of this game and the incredible history that is mutually appreciated between us, would be fitting to send to Kit. During a phone conversation with Kit regarding our vintage wartime Mickey Owen catcher’s mitt and how his interest was piqued, he described the feeling of donning a vintage catcher’s mitt and how different they feel from their contemporary counterparts used in today’s game. The sheer weight of the mitt, the stiffness of the extensive padding and thick leather covering leaves one wondering how a catcher can securely close his hand around a pitched ball as it makes contact. A smile was discernible in his voice as Kit talked about the feel of a vintage catcher’s mitt.
I glanced at my 7th Army Air Forces baseball that was handcrafted for me from leather salvaged from a deteriorated early 1950s Ferris Fain “Trapper” first baseman’s mitt and knew that I wanted to bring to a confluence three concepts; the feel of a vintage mitt, the tactile nature of holding a baseball and wartime Navy baseball history. Without hesitation, my mind set upon the artful hands of another baseball and military historian and craftsman, Mr. Don Droke of East Tennessee in hopes that he could draw upon his skills and experience to undertake this project. Taking hold of the Ferris Fain/7th Army Air Forces baseball, I began to search my mind for illustrations that would best embody the Navy game during WWII.
Since February of 2018, Don “the Drokester” Droke has been transforming tattered, worn, decayed and generally un-salvageable baseball gloves and mitts into treasured heirlooms. Leather and horsehide that used to absorb the energy and impact of a fast-moving orb is carefully removed, cut, trimmed and stitched over an old and de-skinned baseball. In nearly two years, Don has created several dozen unique baseballs from gloves bearing the stamped or tooled signatures or caricatures of legendary players, extracting their stamped signatures or embellishing the hide with enhancements to further honor and represent a player or significant accomplishment, depending upon what the artist or the customer commissions.
Droke is an historian with a passion for sharing living historical portrayals through reenacting, story-telling and artifacts, the baseball-making was born from his love of the game while serving as a Civil War Reenactor. Some of Don’s earliest hand-made baseballs were replications of those made by troops (on both sides of the conflict) in the early 1860s. Civil War baseballs were hand-made with available materials such as canvas or leather from an old boot and, aside from being orbital in shape and bearing stitching, hardly represent what we see on today’s diamonds.
“Though the process of making the baseballs can be tedious, and takes some finesse, Droke is able to complete a new ball in about six to eight hours — granted, he does so while enjoying Cincinnati Reds games, as sitting down and making ball after ball would ‘suck the fun out of it.'” – Piney Flats man has unique way of repurposing old baseball gloves – Johnson City Press (Tennessee) | Jonathan Roberts • AUG 4, 2019
For this project, Don started with a well-worn Spalding “Marvel” model 102 catcher’s mitt that was used by naval personnel during WWII as indicated by the “U.S.N.” stamp on the heel. Had the condition been better, this model of catcher’s mitt is truly worth preserving however, the water damage and wear on this particular example was extensive leaving it un-salvageable. According to Droke, the mitt’s condition did not leave much usable leather for making a ball due to the considerable dry rot and cracking and might have to supplement the project with hid from another sacrificed glove.
Once the glove was dismantled, Don located the primary areas on the glove that would surround the outer windings of the baseball, paying particular attention to the features that would tie into the project’s theme. Rather than attempting to match the two-piece, inter-locking shapes, each of Don Droke’s hand crafted baseballs feature panels that are cut to emphasize a feature extracted from the glove which results in unique stitching patters that are reminiscent of the field-made Civil War-used baseballs. Don isolated the “U.S.N.” stamp from the mitt’s heel area cutting out a circular shape and laying it in place on the donor baseball’s outer windings. Each subsequent piece was cut from the glove and trimmed to fit in concert with the adjacent pieces, much like fitting together a three-dimensional spherical puzzle.
Depending upon the project’s specifications, Don can spend several hours each day for three to four days which, besides cutting and assembling the baseball but also pre-conditioning the leather (as was done with this mitt) and thinning the hide (with a Dremmel tool) to ensure consistent material thickness. A more recent enhancement to Droke’s glove baseballs is the application of hand-tooled designs (such as team logos, player illustrations or player-statistics) which this particular project included.
Don’s artistic creativity was brought to bear on this Navy-themed ball with the addition of the 1942 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets team jersey applique (an “N” for Norfolk with “N” “T” “S” superimposed), the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets jersey script applique and an anchor design with N T S across the shank. Also added to the ball was the outcome of the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series held in the Hawaiian Islands (the Navy won with a record of eight wins against two losses and a tie).
Over the course of four days, Don spent time meticulously cutting and fitting 75-year-old, heavily weathered and damaged leather to create both an aesthetically pleasing baseball but also to accommodate specific illustrations and the “U.S.N” stamp, fitting them all together. Each illustration was selected from vintage photographs of baseball uniform jersey and jacket emblems in order to capture the impact made by professional ballplayers who, like millions of Americans, left the comforts of their pre-war life behind in order to restore peace to the globe. Navy wartime baseball played a significant role in lifting morale and providing much needed sports equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and mitts (including the Spalding mitt used for this project) to troops in all combat theaters and at domestic bases.
After Don pulled and tied off the last stitches, he snapped a few quick photos of the finished baseball and then it sunk in that we would not be seeing or holding this treasure before it arrives to Kit Crissey’s door. Watching this project; the transformation from something that would otherwise have been discarded being made into a subtle, yet beautiful piece of folk art is satisfying.
While it may seem counter-intuitive for this article’s featured image to be placed at the very end of the story, however we were truly saving the best part for last. The final punctuation for this story is to hear the reaction of this treasure’s recipient, Mr. Crissey.
Commission a Ball
For our readers who would like to commission their own baseball from Don “The Drokester” Droke, be prepared to provide your own glove or mitt and to pay his very reasonable fee and get in line behind Don’s customers. Feel free to contact Don via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), but please be patient in awaiting his response. Between Mr. Droke’s family, his career, farm, Civil War re-enacting, vintage baseball glove collecting, baseball-making or taking in a minor league game or just relaxing at home, watching his beloved Cincinnati Reds, Don will return your email and quite possibly converse with you about his favorite things in life as he takes note of your baseball project.
Resources and Recommended Reading:
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: Vol. 1; The National League – 1981, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: 2; The American League – 1982, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II – 1984, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
The Dodgers were and still are my all-time favorite baseball team if not of all professional sports. With the Red Sox being a close second to the “Blue Crew,” I experienced a bit of a dream (and nightmare) World Series in 2018 where it was a difficulty for me choose the team that I wanted to win the most between the two clubs as they faced each other in the championship. In 1991 when I made made my first trip to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was astounded to artifacts from my favorite teams including items from men who played in the first World Series meeting (in 1916) between my two favorite teams. That visit to the Hall of Fame also stirred within me a desire to pursue other facets (besides sports cards) of the collecting hobby, namely autographs.
After visiting the Hall of Fame Museum, I walked around the small village and patronized a small shop that seemed more like an extension of the museum than a store as it was filled with antique baseball memorabilia ranging from autographed baseballs, photographs, bats and other artifacts dating from the 1920s through the 1950s and up to (then) present day. Clearly this business’ clientele was more well-heeled than an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy as I could scarcely afford to make a purchase of a baseball artifact. Motivated by the overwhelming inventory of autographed memorabilia, one piece in the store did manage to catch and hold my attention, hatching an idea for me to pursue an area of collecting that I never previously gave much thought. Without any sort of hesitation, I purchased a copy of The Sport Americana Series Baseball Address List by R. J. Smalling and started to make a list of players from the “golden era” of the game that I would target for signatures.
My visit to Cooperstown left a lasting impact on me that punched a few holes in my Dodger-blue colored glasses, leaving me with a significant reduction in my hatred for the Giants. I was able to see beyond the rivalry and recognize the contributions of the players from the game rather than to be limited by the myopia influenced by my passion for a team. This transformation translated into an activity that included writing to veteran players (Hall of Famers, included) and requesting their autographs on various piece that I would send to them. One such player was a big first baseman from Demorest, Georgia (where he was born and raised and returned to after his baseball career ended) who spent his entire career crushing Dodgers (and all other National League) pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants carrying a .324 batting average, an on base percentage of .409 while slugging .588 with and OPS of .997 and almost 300 home runs in ten seasons. His prowess against Brooklyn didn’t cease when he left the National League and donned the pinstripes of the Yankees. Mize faced the Dodgers in 10 World Series games making 23 plate appearances and batted .400 with a .600 slugging percentage and an OBP of .478 and was approaching the end of his career. It goes without mentioning that (as a Dodgers fan) I shouldn’t care for Johnny Mize or his signature.
Mize’s career was one that caught my attention both at the Hall of Fame and as I scoured my copy of the massive Baseball Almanac book (which I still have). What stood out to me among his impressive statistics was the absence of playing time (and stats) from 1943 through 1945. Admittedly, I didn’t know that Mize left his player salary and the life of sport for the uncertainty of life itself in order to don the uniform of the United States Navy. But that is what Mize did in March of 1943 following being notified of a change of status from 3-A (registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents) to 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) – at the time, Mize was the sole provider to one of his aunts however by 1943, the draft boards underwent a change in the way hardships were viewed, especially since fathers (sole providers for their families) were being drafted.
The Giants first baseman was purported to have a blood coagulation issue that precluded him from Army service. Reported by the Sporting News, March 18, 1943, Giants manager, Mel Ott mentioned that “he had heard something about John being listed clinically as a bleeder, “meaning that Mize suffered from a form of hemophilia. Cleared for military service, Johnny Mize’s eligibility was transferred from the Army and he opted to join the Navy. While undergoing basic training, Mize was picked up by the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. By the end of May, 1943, Johnny Mize was appearing in the Bluejackets’ lineup as they competed against regional ball clubs and service teams. Mize remained at Great Lakes and on Cochrane’s Bluejackets roster until being transferred to Naval Training Center Bainbridge (Maryland). While he was playing for the Bainbridge squad, Mize fell ill requiring a break from physical exertion resulting in significant weight-gain during his convalescence. When he returned to duty, Mize was transferred to the West Coast.
In February of 1944, Athletic Specialist 2nd Class Mize departed San Francisco Bay aboard the fleet minelayer, USS Terror (CM-5) and by late Spring, Mize was suiting up for the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers under manager Lieutenant Wes Schulmerich, previously of the Navy Pre-Flight Training program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see: Navy Pre-Flight Round-up: The Growth of the Cloudbusters Collection Takes Flight). Though Mize’s impact would be felt, he battled injury for a fair portion of the 1944 season which led to his omission, along with that of the 7th Army Air Force’s Joe DiMaggio, from the Central Pacific All-Stars team due to reduced playing time. Both Mize and DiMaggio joined their respective branch’s All Stars team for the Army-Navy World Series held throughout the Hawaiian Island from September 22 to October 15, 1944 (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific and Game 7 – Navy vs Army All-Stars Championship Series, October 1, 1944).
In his first two seasons of service team baseball (with the Bluejackets of Great Lakes and the Klippers), Mize didn’t slack off with his offensive production. In 1944 Mize was limited in his plate appearances at NAS Kaneohe due to a lingering injury.*
In early 1945, LT. Bill Dickey tabbed Mize for duty in the Western Pacific participating with other professional ball players (serving in the Navy) in a goodwill and morale-boosting tour. Servicemen on at Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea and Peleliu would be able to enjoy games being played between teams from the “Third” and “Fifth” Fleets (see: 1945 3rd Fleet vs 5th Fleet – Pacific Tour). With the main thrust of the Pacific offensive being fought in places such as Iwo Jima, Mize and his teammates found themselves on islands that still had an enemy presence. It was not uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of a ball field.
Within a few weeks following the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, Mize was making his way back to the United States mainland and would be discharged from active duty in time to make an appearance as a spectator at the 1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. It was noted by several reporters, ball players and coaches that Mize had dropped a significant amount of weight and appeared to be in top physical condition. Questioned about his health, Mize recounted his 1945 season of playing baseball five days a week for several months leading up to his separation from the Navy. Mize settled back into the routine of baseball with the Giants for the 1946 season, resuming his Hall of Fame career with a productive season despite his production drop from his 1942 season. In 1947, Mize led the National League in runs scored (137), runs batted in (138) and home runs (51), tying Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner. Despite Mize’s offensive prowess, his Giants finished in third place behind St. Louis and 13 games behind the National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.
While seated at my desk during a night shift at my last Navy duty station, I finished the letter that I wrote to the retired 80-year-old Hall of Famer, folded it and inserted the self-addressed and stamped envelope along with a few items for Mize to sign. I had no thoughts to the mortality of the immortal greats of the game until a few weeks later I learned that Johnny Mize had passed away and soon after, the envelope that I sent arrived in my mailbox was marked, “return to sender.”
Twenty five years later, I discovered a photo of Mize that, despite several flaws, caught my interest. The image was overexposed (either when the photo was captured or when it was printed in the darkroom) and has a discoloration blemish that is the result of improper darkroom chemical baths (the “stopbath” wasn’t fully removed in the rinse) leaving a residue that resulted in a dark patch on the surface of the print. The photo was captured by George Burke and might have been a cast-off print. Regardless of the condition, Mize, a prolific autograph signer, placed his mark on this vintage photo. It only took me a quarter of a century to finish what I set out to obtain.
About the Johnny Mize artifacts
In addition to the signed photo, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection has gained other Johnny Mize-related artifacts that include multiple WWII scorecards from games that he played while serving in the U.S. Navy. Also, we acquired three photos of Mize during his time in the Navy starting off with him being fitted for his service uniform (undress blues), a navy-veteran’s snapshot of the slugger in Hawaii in 1944 (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and an official Navy publicity photo that came from the estate of Philadelphia Athletics and WWII Navy infielder, Al Brancato. Two other photographs shown here (copies of the originals) were provided to Chevrons and Diamonds from our collecting colleague, Mark Southerland who obtained the original vintage prints (many of which are signed) as part of a substantial group of photographs from the Bill Dickey estate. Lastly, the photograph of the Navy team posed in front of the B-29 is a Navy Department publicity print.
*Mize’s Navy playing stats compiled and provided by Mr. Harrington “Kit” Crissey
“The secretary of war desires we express his deepest regret that your son, Private First Class Gordon Stanley Cochrane, Jr. was killed in action on February [XX], 1945 in Holland.”
It is a notification that no one is ever prepared to receive. When their children are sent to far off places to fight in brutal wars, parents attempt to steel themselves with while hoping to never see the Western Union carrier nor the armed forces branch staff car arrive at their home. Yet when either action occurs, the immediate rush of painful emotions are overwhelming, regardless of their preparatory anticipation. For Gordon Stanley “Mickey” Cochrane, the arrival of such news was a devastation that left him with the sense that it was he that was killed on that European battlefield.
In response to his son’s enlistment into the Army in February of 1944, Mickey Cochrane desired to do more than to just physically prepare young men for service while coaching a service baseball team. The retired catcher and former star of the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers (the latter, a team that he served as both the starting backstop and manager), left the security and quiet of his Montana ranch (roughly 80 miles southwest of Billings at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains) to serve his nation in its fight against the Axis forces of Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Socialist Italy in the best way that he knew how. “Mike” Cochrane, as he was known to his friends, joined the Navy and received a Naval Reserve commission (as a lieutenant) and took the helm of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station baseball club in April of 1942. Months prior to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Cochrane had been discussing plans to serve in some capacity but his desire to serve escalated following the nation’s thrust into war.
The head-injury that ended his playing career five years earlier (in 1937) most certainly factored into his ability to gain entry into the armed forces and to serve in a combat capacity as was his desire. Mickey suffered a skull fracture as the result of being beaned by a Bump Hadley pitch during his third at-bat of the May 25th game at Yankee Stadium. With the game tied with one run apiece, Cochrane strode to the plate with a runner (1B Pete Fox) on at first and two outs. In his previous at-bat, Cochrane tallied the Tigers’ lone run by taking Hadley deep with a homerun to right field. Now facing Hadley with a runner on carrying a .306 average for young the season, Cochrane positioned himself on the right side of the plate. Hadley’s pitch was inside and up, striking Mickey on the head, just above his right eye (his skull fractured in three places), sending him to the hospital with his life very much in doubt. Cochrane later admitted that he had his footing dug-in at the plate and he lost sight of the ball during the last four feet of its travel towards him, negating reason and chance to duck away. Mickey also insisted that Hadley’s consistent manner of pitching throughout his career indicated that the errant throw was simply an accident though it cost Cochrane nearly two months in the hospital and ended his career. It may have also limited his choices in how he could serve during the War.
Though he returned to the Tigers’ bench to finish out the 1937 season, Cochrane’s team was already fading behind the Yankees in the standings. While he was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries, the closest the Tigers, piloted by Del Baker and Cy Perkins in his absence) came to overtaking the American League lead was being one game back following a win over Washington on June 15th. The slow, steady and slide over the remainder of the season would leave the Tigers firmly in second place behind the 1937 American League pennant and World Series winning Yankees. Late in the 1938 season following a fourth consecutive loss with Detroit then seventeen games out of first place and friction running high between ownership and Cochrane, Mickey’s tenure with the Tigers came to an abrupt end despite his overall .582 winning percentage, securing two American League pennants and a World Series Championship for the organization. Cochrane’s 1937 salary as manager ($45,000) made him the (then) highest paid manager in the history of major league baseball (according to a 1939 annual congressional report of salaries) which could have also factored into the ownership’s decision to let him go.
Soon after his dismissal, Cochrane found himself in the business world and entirely apart from the game, splitting his time between Detroit and his Montana ranch. As the 1939 season was winding down, rumors were swirling about tapping into Cochrane’s baseball knowledge for his hometown Braves. Following Frankie Frisch’s resignation as the baseball broadcaster for WAAB and WNAC radio stations (who, at the time was negotiating with Pittsburgh ownership to take the open Pirates manager job), Mickey Cochrane was rumored to be replacing him behind the microphone, possibly stepping out of his role as a manufacturer’s representative for a Detroit-area steel, wire and rubber manufacturing company.
Despite the broadcasting rumor, Mickey’s sales role continued. Near his Montana ranch, Cochrane was a victim of theft when his car was broken into in the Billings, Montana area in April of 1940. Missing were two suitcases of clothes and personal property that included a $350 motion picture camera though his property was recovered a few months later. In July, Billings police department located the camera in a local pawn shop and his suitcases were recovered hidden in a haystack. Towards the end of his second full year away from the game, Cochrane’s name was mentioned as one of the front-runners for consideration to take the helm of the Cleveland Indians following Ossie Vitt‘s departure (instead, Roger Peckinpaugh reprised his 1928-1933 role for one season before Lou Boudreau took the helm in ’42). Nevertheless, Cochrane maintained his sales representative role.
The epic 1941 season (DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted WIlliams’ .406 season-batting average) elapsed as war raged across Europe. Ten days following the Yankees’ five-game World Series victory, Mickey Cochrane’s name surfaced yet again for a baseball franchise job, however this time it was within the Pacific Coast League where he spent his second year (1924) in professional baseball (then with the Portland Beavers). Speculation at the time was that Cochrane was going to succeed Victor Ford Collins as president of the PCL’s Hollywood Stars. A report in the Detroit Times stated that the combined presidency and managerialship was offered by minority stock owner (and actor) William Frawley during a hunting trip that the two were on in South Dakota. Collins and the Stars’ business manager dismissed the report and stated that Frawley lacked authority for hiring negotiations or decisions.
Sometime after graduating from high school in the Spring, Cochrane’s son, Gordon Stanley Cochrane, Jr. enrolled into the Georgia Military Academy, an action that was not uncommon for young American men seeking to serve amid the long-standing depression that was plaguing the American economy.
Just ten days before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, reports were swirling regarding discussions surrounding Cochrane possibly taking the helm of the Cleveland club following Peckinpaugh’s ascendancy from his role as the field manager to club vice president. With defense production priorities, Cochrane’s current sales role had diminished prompting his interest in a return to baseball. Also rumored at the time was that Connie Mack was interested in facilitating Mickey’s return to the Athletics as his club’s field manager with the possibility of resuming his playing career following a nearly five-year absence as an active catcher. However, it was not to be as the United States was drawn into World War II on December 7th.
After several months of efforts to join the Navy and to obtain his commission, drawing upon friends in Washington D.C., Cochrane received his appointment and was assigned to serve under Lieutenant Commander Gene Tunney who would eventually be responsible for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s physical fitness program. Tunney, a former light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion boxer (known then as “The Fighting Marine” due to his WWI USMC service; before enlisting, Tunney was 10-0-1 as a professional fighter) was serving in the Navy Bureau in D.C. early in 1941 and may have been instrumental in facilitating Cochrane’s appointment (in concert with known “string-puller,” Ford Motor Company executive Harry Bennett, a former boxer and a navy veteran) in addition to securing his assignment to Great Lakes. Upon his arrival at the Naval Training Station, Cochrane immediately went to work assembling a team from the existing ranks of active duty sailors and began to place calls to draft-eligible veteran baseball players in hopes of encouraging them to enlist in the Navy (in order to play ball for the Great Lakes service team). Though ultimately unsuccessful in landing one of the greatest stars of the game, Ted Williams would eventually volunteer for the Navy’s V-5 flight-training program and played baseball for the Cloudbuster Nine at Chapel Hill, North Carolina during his first several months in the naval service.
In early June of 1942, while Cochrane’s Bluejackets were off to a dominating start to their first season under his command, the war was in full swing with the American Navy taking the first step of turning the tide against the Japanese, ending their offensive progress and commencing their regression back towards the homeland in an stunning and bold victory at Midway (June 4-7). Though there had been an exodus of top-tier talent from the professional baseball ranks, many of the game’s stars were still playing the game following President Roosevelt’s “Green light Letter” of January that year. Programs for raising money to support the troops and their families (Navy Relief Society and the USO) along with providing them with sporting equipment (such as the Professional Baseball Fund) led to exhibition games that pitted professional teams against service teams with the proceeds going to benefit the GIs. For the upcoming Mid-Summer Classic, an arrangement was made that would see the game’s winner face off against a team of service member baseball all-stars.
The 1942 Bluejackets roster did included a few non-major leaguers while the rest were recruited (or arrangements were made to transfer those players already in the Navy ranks to Great Lakes) by Cochrane, having played in at the highest levels of the game (bold type indicates prior major league service):
While the 1942 season progressed with the Bluejackets early dominance over other service teams, preparations began in anticipation of the first-ever Major League versus Service Member All-Star Game as Great Lakes Manager, LT Cochrane was given access to pull players from all branches lifting players from bases across the country and from as far away as the Panama Canal Zone. The two strong Naval Training Station programs located in Norfolk and Great Lakes supplied the Navy players while the Army players were obtained from numerous locales.
1942 Service Team All-Stars:
|Ernie Andres||INF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Frankie Baumholtz||OF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Sam Chapman||OF||Norfolk NTS|
|Bob Feller||P||Norfolk NTS|
|Joe Grace||OF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Chester Hajduk||INF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Sam Harshaney||C||Great Lakes NTS|
|John Lucadello||INF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Benny McCoy||INF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Don Padgett||OF||Great Lakes NTS|
|Frankie Pytlak||C||Great Lakes NTS|
|Johnny Rigney||P||Great Lakes NTS|
|Vinnie Smith||C||Norfolk NTS|
The National Leaguers played host to the Americans at New York’s Polo Grounds in front of 34,178 fans who knew that there were more than bragging rights on the line. All of the game’s fireworks took place in the top of the first inning beginning with a lead-off homerun by Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau, taking the Cardinals’ Mort Cooper deep to right field. The Yankees’ Tommy Henrich followed up with a no-out double to right field. Ted Williams’s fly-out to left field failed to move Henrich which left the number four hitter, Joe DiMaggio, to push the runner to third on a ground-out to third-baseman Arky Vaughn of Brooklyn. With two outs and Henrich on third, Yankees’ first baseman Rudy York swung into Cooper’s pitch and rode it into the right field stands putting the Americans on top with three runs. Detroit’s Al Benton relieved starter Spud Chandler (of the Yankees) in the bottom of the fifth inning and would finish the game. The only offensive action that the Nationals tallied was a pinch-hit solo homerun by Brooklyn catcher, Mickey Owen to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. The American league squad boarded the train that evening bound for Cleveland to face the Service All-Stars on the very next day.
The July 7th game was a resounding success for the fundraising though the game, at least for the service team all-stars, was a dud. With attendance at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium cracking 62,000, more than $120,000 was raised as result of the game. $100,000 of the total was directed to the Professional Baseball Fund (also known as the “Bat and Ball Fund) that was used to purchase sports equipment – predominantly gloves, bats, balls and catchers’ protective gear) as was the case for most of the service team games played throughout the way. Fresh off of their win over the National League All-Stars, the Americans had no problem blanking the service members, 5-0. Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller was touched for three runs off four hits in the first inning. He was lifted after facing two men in the 2nd inning and was entirely ineffective. The service team managed just six hits in the game (see: A Forgotten All-Star Game by Stan Grosshandler).
Following the All-Star game, the Cochrane’s Bluejackets continued their dominance of service team play finishing the year with a 63-14 record for the season.
Manager Mickey Cochrane recruited well again for the 1943 season attracting some of the best players from baseball into the Navy and onto the Great Lakes squad including future Hall of Famer, Johnny Mize. The 1943 team continued their dominance under Cochrane, finishing the year with a 52-10-1 record.
The 1943 Bluejackets:
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C|
During the Bluejackets’ 1943 season, the team took to the road to visit one of their league opponents, a company team of employees at a Dearborn, Michigan automaker-turned-war-equipment manufacturer. Cochrane led his team to Ford Rotunda Field to face the Ford (Motor Company) All-Stars before a crowd of 5,000 civilians and military personnel. Aside from thrilling the crowd of baseball fans by donning the tools of ignorance in the ninth inning of the victory over Ford, Cochrane’s bench was bolstered with his Detroit battery-mate, pitcher Eldon Auker along with former Detroit outfielder, Jo Jo White. Another highlight of the game for the spectators was the attendance of two 1928 Philadelphia Athletics teammates from Cochrane’s fourth season in the major leagues; Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, who were each in their final year of their playing careers. The Bluejackets defeated the Ford All-Stars 3-1 despite the lack of hitting by the Great Lakes players, save for a two-for-four and a two-for-five hitting performance by Glenn McQuillen and Johnny Lucadello, respectively.
Mickey Cochrane had plenty of reason to be upbeat about his first two years of naval service and his baseball team’s successes both on the field and in generating a hefty stream of cash into the Professional Baseball Fund, ensuring that GIs would be supplied with sporting equipment throughout all theaters of the war, By early 1944, Cochrane’s son made the decision to leave the Georgia Military Academy and join the fight by enlisting as a private into the U.S. Army. On January 13, 1944, Gordon Stanley Cochrane was sworn in at Camp Dodge, Iowa and began his training. Lieutenant Commander Cochrane took notice of his son’s desire to serve.
In Cochrane’s last season managing and coaching the Great Lakes squad, he assembled what he counted as the best of the three Bluejackets teams (that he managed) with yet another future Hall of Fame infielder, Billy Herman to round out his entirely major league roster. Winning 48 games against just two losses was an incredible feat and secured his place in history having assembled, perhaps the greatest service team ever while consistently managing to a sustained and unprecedented .862 winning percentage.
The 1944 Bluejackets
|Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe||P|
Not only did Cochrane’s Bluejackets dominate service teams during league play but they also made easy work of major league teams throughout his three-season tenure. On May 23, 1944, Manager Joe Cronin brought his Red Sox to Great Lakes to take on the Bluejackets of the Naval Training Station in an exhibition to raise money for Navy Relief and for the Professional Baseball Fund. Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane started ex-Detroit Tiger Virgil “Fire” Trucks against Red Sox starter, Lancelot “Yank” Terry.
From the first pitch, Trucks dominated the war-depleted Red Sox as he baffled Boston hitters by fanning 12 and surrendering only two hits (future Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr and Cronin each singled) in the contest. Meanwhile, the Bluejackets hitters seemed to be unfazed by Red Sox starting pitcher Yank Terry‘s offerings as five of Great Lakes batsmen touched him for hits including two by Trucks). With the score knotted with one run a piece heading into the bottom of the eighth inning the Bluejackets hitters scored two runs following Clyde McCullough’s lead-off single (who was pushed from first to third base on Al Glossop’s base knock). McCullough scored on a double by Virgil Trucks and Billy Herman sealed the game by driving in Trucks with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Cochrane’s legacy at Great Lakes extended beyond the Naval Training Station and the surrounding areas. Many of the Bluejackets, following their time in Illinois, found themselves in the Pacific Theater either playing ball or serving in other capacities more fitting of an active duty sailor. Recognizing that his son was participating in the long, difficult and costly slog of pushing the Nazis back towards Germany and the risks faced by those overseas, Mickey pressed Navy brass for a role beyond the diamonds. At that time. the Island of Guam was back into the American hands following the 21 days of heavy fighting and considerable American losses (3,000 killed in action and 7,122 wounded) and Cochrane managed to get himself transferred there, carrying out various administrative functions surrounding the management of the fleet recreational center at Gab Gab Beach.
One can imagine that his thoughts were far removed from being consumed by events surrounding the game or even his baseball legacy while Cochrane was serving overseas. Yet, the game did continue as did the annual voting for enshrinement of players among the game’s greatest. On February 1, 1945, Mickey Cochrane received 125 Hall of Fame votes falling short (along with all ballot candidates) of the required 186 for election. There would be no players enshrined into Cooperstown that year.
In a letter penned to Ed Pollack, formerly of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Mickey Cochrane spoke of his son’s service in the Army and mentioned that Gordon Jr. was seeing heavy action in Belgium. “So far, he’s come out all right,” wrote the elder Cochrane. “He went back from the lines for some rest,” wrote Mickey, “(he) probably is up there again by now and I have my fingers crossed.” Charlie Bevis wrote in his Cochrane Bio, Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher that Gordon, Jr. had already been killed in action at the time of the letter’s publishing (on February 28, 1945) in Pollack’s column. Weeks later, word would reach Mickey’s wife notifying her of her son’s death on the Belgium battlefield, no doubt that he had been killed instantly in the Battle of the Bulge. Gordon Stanley Cochrane Jr.’s body would eventually be interred in the family plot located in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, not far from the home where Mickey was raised (see note below).
One can imagine the devastation felt by Mickey Cochrane in losing his only son. Aside from the emotional burdens that parents bear in such a loss, Mickey also endured the notion that he spent a considerable portion of his children’s lives away while playing baseball, missing many parenting opportunities.
Former pitcher and Detroit teammate, Elden Auker poignantly wrote in his autobiography, Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms, “The bullet that killed him (Gordon, Jr.) had some kind of range. It traveled all the way across the Atlantic, lodged itself into the spirit of Gordon’s father, the great Mickey Cochrane, and slowly killed him. Mickey’s gravestone shows he died June 28, 1962, but he started [in 1945]. Consider another life claimed by World War II.” The fire in his spirit that helped him to be successful both as a player and manager had departed his being and it was very apparent to those who were close to him. With the War in Europe winding down, the grieving Cochrane was transferred back to the U.S. mainland.
Once he was stateside in 1945, Mickey paid a visit to the Portland Beavers clubhouse April 26th during their road-visit with the San Francisco Seals. Beavers manager Marv Owen was a teammate with Cochrane in Detroit and conversing with an old friend so soon after the loss of his son while touching the game that he loved so much might have given him brief solace from the pain. Four days later, Adolph Hitler committed suicide outside his Berlin Bunker, effectively ending the War in Europe, leaving General Alfred Jodl, representing the German High Command to sign the unconditional surrender on May 7th. On September 2nd, 119 days later, the Japanese followed suit bringing the war to an end. For Cochrane and more than 407,300 American families, the price paid for victory was far too high and it would take decades for the pain of losing a child to fade. For many, the pain would never subside.
Mickey Cochrane’s first major league manager, Connie Mack, invited the Hall of Fame catcher to make his return to the team where he got is big league start. Cochrane took on duties as a coach and as the general manager of the Athletics but it did not last. Still reeling from his son’s combat death, Mickey Cochrane lacked the fire and drive that drove him to success as a player and field general with both Detroit and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets. Five years later, Cochrane took a scouting job with the Yankees just for the 1955 season.
Bill DeWitt, then general manager of the Tigers brought Cochrane back as a minor league players scout. DeWitt recounted in July of 1962, “When I was with Branch Rickey on the Cardinals, around 1925, we tried to draft a young catcher named Frank King (who was) playing with Dover in the Eastern Shore League,” recalled DeWitt. “We didn’t get him and we later found out what a hot prospect he was. Frank King was really Mickey Cochrane, playing under an assumed name to protect his college eligibility.” Earlier in 1962 (April), Cochrane was a guest of DeWitt in Tampa to take in what may well have been the last game the Hall of Fame catcher saw. Seated in a wheelchair and fighting a losing battle with his illness, Mickey Cochrane mustered up enough strength to watch four innings of the game before departing due to fatigue.
On July 14, 1962, 59 year-old Gordon Stanley “Mickey” Cochrane, then a resident of Lake Bluff, Illinois, lost his battle with cancer.
NOTE: There are numerous conflicting data surrounding Gordon S. Cochrane Jr.’s death. Several point to his passing on during the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings while others reference him being killed later in 1944 in Holland. Though it has yet to be positively confirmed through an authoritative source, it does appear to that the young man was killed in action in the time frame of late January to early February of 1945. Also a matter of conflicting information is the burial location as reported in online sources. In his biography, Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher, author Charlie Bevis provided the details surrounding the soldier’s interment location which most-likely occurred well after the war’s end when the repatriation of remains was permitted, beginning in 1947 (to learn more, see: Burying the Dead in WWII: The Quartermaster Graves Registration Service).
The three photographs of Mickey Cochrane visible in this article, shot during his Great Lakes tenure are all vintage prints. All three of the images are type-1 (which includes news or press photographs), two of which were released (with stamped markings on the reverse) by Navy Department public relations. The print of Cochrane receiving his Great Lakes jersey is a news photo with the caption affixed to the reverse. As with most of the articles written and published on Chevrons and Diamonds, focusing on the people (and telling their stories) that are associated with the featured artifact provides more relatable context rather than simply describing the pieces themselves. The Cochrane Great Lakes photographs with Ty Cobb and Joe Cronin were purchased as a group with the final image of the newly-commissioned lieutenant receiving his jersey was a more recent acquisition. I remain ever vigilant for Great Lakes players and team photographs.
Vintage Photography Collecting Resources:
Baseball Photograph Collections:
- A Portrait of Baseball Photography – by Marshall Fogel, Khyber Oser, Henry Yee
- Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon – by Harry N. Abrams
- The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs – by Harry Abrams
If it was at all possible to achieve, one of the more ambitious goals with my growing archive of vintage photographs depicting military baseball is to identify every person within each image. To underscore the difficulties that surround such a lofty objective, this very task was one that, though successful, was not an easy exercise in facial recognition as I thought it was for a group of four 1944-45 U.S. Navy baseball snapshots.
Vintage baseball photograph collecting has its traps and minefields to navigate for even the most experienced and knowledgeable collector. Knowing the difference between a News Service and a Wire Service photo can help to protect potential buyers from grossly over-paying for prints. That same skill will also serve collectors well with recognizing a treasure among more common artifacts. Within my collection of military-centric vintage baseball photographs are candid snapshot-type photographs, taken by everyday GIs during their time in uniform.
Besides the rudimentary and unprofessional characteristics that are common among amateur photographers’ work, snapshots afford perspectives that are not routinely seen, especially surrounding events that have professional or press photographers creating images. The enjoyment gained within these vantage points is, however balanced out against the typical issues that are associated with non-professional photogs’ photographic prowess. Detracting features of snapshots can vary from poor exposure, lack of focus, under/over developing, chemical stains (from the processing) and damage from excessive handling or being mounted to photo album pages.
When a group of four snapshot photographs of candidly posed Navy baseball players was listed at auction a while ago, I didn’t hesitate to place my sniped bids based solely upon the subjects in each image. Each central subject was of a ballplayer wearing a baseball uniform surrounded by teammates, opponents and servicemen. The crowds in the background seemed to indicate that the images were captured following the conclusion of a game that was played before crowds of Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Each of the four central ball players seemed to have recognizable faces. I was certain of the identities of two of the four men and set out to identify the other two. The seller listed the photos stating that they originated from an estate of a husband and wife who were both serving in the armed forces and stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II.
Each photo is sized the same: 4-½” x 2-½” making the images somewhat small and requiring significant magnification or my preference, a very high-resolution scan to truly evaluate the subjects. Judging by the uniforms and the two players that I was sure of (Johnny Vander Meer and Johnny Mize) and the known timelines of their service overseas (commencing with the service teams in the Central Pacific or Hawaii Leagues), I could narrow down the list of known Navy professional ballplayers. Upon their arrival in the post, I began comparing the faces of the central subjects within each image against photos in my collection and with online resources as I attempted to correlate them with faces of names on Navy team rosters.
Self-assured in my assessment of having two of the identities nailed down (Johnny Mize and Johnny Vander Meer), I began seeking external assistance among my baseball historian peers, initially via private messaging and emails. The responses to the inquiries echoed my own thoughts regarding these two gentlemen. Their faces look very familiar and yet the identities are out of my recollective reach. My next step was to expand my call for help by floating the request and photos across a few of the historical baseball social media groups of which I am a member.
After a few weeks of sharing the photographs and garnering similar (to previous requests for assistance), I was connected to an author and fellow Navy veteran who had written and published a book that was the result of his extensive research surrounding Navy baseball during WWII. Harrington Crissey, Jr. (author of Athletes Away: A Selective Look At Professional Baseball Players In The Navy During World War II) responded to my inquiry and threw a bit of a wrench into my thoughts for one of the two that I identified. “The set of four photos you sent me are of Bob Harris, Vern Olsen, Johnny Mize and George ‘Skeets’ Dickey, who was Bill Dickey’s brother,” wrote Crissey. In addition to the identities, narrowing down the date and location possibilities was one of my objectives. Mr. Crissey added, “Given the uniforms they are wearing, I’m almost certain the photos were taken during the Service World Series (a.k.a Army All Stars vs Navy All Stars Championship Series) which took place in the Hawaiian Islands between September 22 and October 15, 1944.” All four of the men were listed among all of the individual scorecards that I have seen from the 11-game series.
Armed with Mr. Crissey’s information, I reviewed the scans of the four images to validate his identifications. Vern Olsen and Bob Harris were quite obvious matches when I reviewed various photographs of them online. The confirmation of Mize being in one of the photos gave me a bit of relief that I had not mistaken him for someone else. Unfortunately, I missed badly on the photo that I thought was Vander Meer who was in fact, George Dickey (which I also validated with photographic comparisons) much to my disappointment. Once I had a few clear examples of both Vander Meer and Dickey to compare, a sense of near-embarrassment surrounds my mistake.
Vern Olsen, Pitcher, USN (1942-1945) – Chicago Cubs, Tulsa Oilers
Lavern Jarl Olsen was born to a Norwegian immigrant in the Portland, Oregon area and grew up playing baseball. By the time he was ready to begin his professional career, Vern signed a professional contract with the Pacific Coast League’s Angels of Los Angeles, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Before taking the mound with the Angels, he was farmed out to the Ponca City Angels (Class “C” of the Western Association) of Oklahoma in 1937. Moving up to the Tulsa Oilers (Class “A” Texas League) for the 1938 and most of the ‘39 season, 37-20 record before getting called up to Chicago for four appearances. By 1940, Olsen was a full-time pitcher in the big leagues with the Cubs. Though he was injured and dealt with illness for most of 1942, Olsen’s tenure in Chicago was decidedly positive and he was seemingly on his way to a good major league pitching career posting a 30-26 record in 107 appearances. After the 1942 season came to a close, Olsen enlisted and found himself playing for Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station team; the Blue Jackets.
By 1944, Olsen was pitching for the Aiea Hilltoppers in the Hawaiian League squaring off against other military teams (also stocked with professional talent). Olsen, along with the other three men in these photos, was a member of the fall of 1944 Army All Stars vs Navy All Stars Championship series that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. For 1945, Olsen was assigned to the Aiea Hospital baseball team in the 14th Naval District League. Vern Olsen did not play in the six-game 1945 Navy All-Star series (September 26-October 7, 1945) played after the Japanese Surrender and was discharged late in 1945. Vern reported to the Cubs’ spring training and made the team though he struggled to remain healthy having lost much of his pre-service baseball strength and conditioning. Olsen was limited to sporadic use, pitching only 9-2/3-innings in five appearances which resulted in his release at the end of the season. In 1947, Olsen was in camp with the Giants briefly before finding his way to Tulsa where he made two pitching appearances for a total of four innings after which, he retired from the game.
Bob Harris – USN (1942-1945) – Detroit, St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia A’s
A big right-handed pitcher, 6-foot tall Harris made his major league debut in 1938 with the Detroit Tigers on September 19, 1938 following four minor league seasons. Facing the Senators at Briggs Stadium, Harris entered the game at the top of the eighth inning with his team already trailing the Nats, 11-2, Bob faced nine batters over the final two frames surrendering three hits and one earned run while striking out one batter and not yielding any free passes. Though Harris might not have been pleased with his first major league performance, it is no doubt that his family, friends and his home state were proud of his accomplishment as he became the first major league ball player hailing from Wyoming. Harris would make two more appearances in ‘38 (one in relief and one as a starter) notching his first win – a complete-game at Cleveland on the last day of the season. Harris would make just five appearances with the Tigers in 1939 before being traded to the hapless St. Louis Browns with four other Detroit teammates.
From 1939 through the end of the 1942 season, Harris posted a 30-61 record and a 4.68 earned run average. Control seemed to be a challenge for him to acquire on the mound as he surrendered 323 free passes against 224 strikeouts. Harris went the distance in 27 starts with five shutouts showing that there were bright spots in those seasons before the War. With the 1942 season fully in Harris’ rear-view mirror and the War in the Pacific was a slugfest with the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, the 27-year-old major leaguer volunteered for Naval service, enlisting on November 15th. After completing his training at Tunny’s athletic specialist’s school at the Bainbridge Naval Training Station, Harris was pulled onto Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Blue Jackets squad, joining the three other subjects of this article (Olsen, Dickey and Mize) on, perhaps one of the most dominating forces in wartime service team baseball for the 1943 season.
Following his season with Great Lakes, Harris returned to Bainbridge Naval Training Station (Center) and this time filled a roster spot with the base’s service team; the Commodores. Johnny Mize, Vern Olsen, Johnny Lucadello, Ed Pelligrini, Joe Grace, Tom Ferrick and Marven Felderman. However, part way through 1944, these eight ballplayers found themselves making their way to the Central Pacific and onto various teams within the Hawaii League. Fellow Bainbridge teammates, Johnny Pesky, Barney McCoskey and Bob Scheffing remained with the Bainbridge team for the time-being. In June, Harris was assigned to the 14th Naval District team of veritable major league all-stars that were an indicator of the future dominance of Navy baseball in the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Theater for the remainder of the War. Harris made his way to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s ball team in early July that saw action against five other teams including the inevitable 1944 league champions, the 7th Army Air Force.
Rounding out the 1944 Hawaii League season, Bob Harris found himself as part of the Navy All Star team that resoundingly defeated the Army All Stars in four straight games to win the championship. Though the series victory was sealed, both teams agreed to play all seven games (prior to game one) which the Navy continued their win streak through six. Left off the Third and Fifth Fleet tours of the Western Pacific, Harris rejoined the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team, participating in the 14th Naval District League for the 1945 season.
Following his service in the Navy, the 31-year-old pitcher made an attempt to resume his professional career in the game splitting time in 1946 between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Milwaukee Brewers, both in the American Association, appearing in just 16 games. Retired from playing, Harris was managing the North Platte (Nebraska) Plainsmen ball club in 1949 and by 1956, was working as an insurance salesman.
George “Skeets” Dickey – USN (1942 – 1945) – Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox
Playing in the shadow of his older brother Bill, one could argue that the pathway to the major leagues was paved. Lacking the talent possessed by his hall of fame sibling, George was greatly limited in the number of games he played in during his six-year major league career. When the United States entered WWII and baseball was given the “green light” (by President Roosevelt in January of 1942) to continue, some ball players began to stream into the armed forces to join the fight. George’s baseball season came to an end on September 25th of 1942 as the White Sox finished sixth in the American League with a 66-82 record, beating the Indians (8-1) in front of 200 fans at League Park. Dickey’s season ended the day before playing in his last game, reaching base once (base on balls) in four appearances. Eighteen days later, George Dickey was in the Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and would join manager Mickey Cochrane’s squad for the 1943 season while serving as an anti-aircraft gunnery instructor. Following the team’s dominant performance, George (along with Johnny Mize) was transferred to Bainbridge Naval Training Center.
As the Navy began to assemble the top baseball talent in the Hawaiian Islands in 1944, George Dickey was transferred to Oahu and assigned to the Aiea Naval Hospital ball club joining his former Great Lakes teammate, Vern Olsen and fellow major leaguers Pee Wee Reese, Hank Feimster and Jim Carlin on the roster. By the fall, Dickey would be pulled onto the Navy’s All-Star roster (for the aforementioned Army All-Stars versus Navy All-Stars Championship Series), joining his brother Bill (who managed the team) and the other three Navy ball players (in this group of snapshots). George would find himself as part of a 28-man contingent (comprising the Third and Fifth Fleet teams) touring the forward areas of the Pacific, taking baseball to islands including Guam, Tinian and Saipan to entertain the troops.
Dickey returned to the Chicago White Sox in 1947 and played for just two seasons following the war. In 1948, George played for the Southern Association’s Birmingham Barons before he retired from the game.
Johnny Mize – USN (1943-1945) – St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants
As with the three other ballplayers depicted in these photos, Mize began his naval service playing ball on Cochrane’s Great Lakes Blue Jackets squad in 1943. Following a stint at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center, Mize would be part of the exodus of domestic Navy service team players heading over to Hawaii to participate in the Hawaiian Leagues.
As the Navy dispersed their talent to various teams in the league, Johnny Mize found himself playing alongside fellow major leaguers Marv Felderman, Hugh Casey and Tom Ferrick on the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station’s Klippers. The team, managed by Lieutenant Commander Wes Schulmerich (who previously managed the Navy Pre-Flight Cloudbusters at Chapel Hill) suffered due to injuries sustained by two key players; Felderman and Mize, finishing in fifth place behind the Aiea Barracks Maroons. In third place were the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins followed by second place Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the league champions, the Flyers of the 7th Army Air Force.
By the season’s end, Navy brass pulled Mize onto the Navy’s All-Star team to square off against the Army’s All Stars in a series that was so loaded with a caliber of talent not seen in the major leagues since the 1941 season. Following the Navy’s easy victory in the All-Star Championship Series, Mize was assigned to play baseball in the forward Pacific Islands in 1945 joining George Dickey and 26 other sailors on a baseball tour, entertaining the troops in the forward areas. After the Japanese surrender, Mize returned home and was discharge in October, resuming his career with the Giants in 1946 on his way to the Hall of Fame.
These four simple photographs provide small vignettes into a moment that was experienced by an unknown WWII navy veteran who could have been convalescing as he recovered from wounds sustained during the War. For the person who has reservations about these men who played the game while most American young men were off fighting, it is recommended that they observe the veterans among these four players. Understanding what it meant to have a few hours’ break from the pain of recovery or the monotonous life of serving aboard ship or faraway places would change most negative perspectives.
Baseball was transportive and transformative for our troops and remains the same today.