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Airman Red Ruffing: A GI Pitcher

With Charles “Red” Ruffing’s 29-month U.S. Army Air Forces career, beginning with his induction on December 29, 1942, the extensive press coverage documenting every week’s activities could fill dozens of pages to chronical his tenure in uniform. Contrary to what can be unearthed for most ballplayers, the level of detail is simply astounding. Pitching in the major leagues for 19 seasons is certainly enough to garner press attention. In a span of a decade, the Yankees claimed the American League pennant seven times allowing Ruffing to accumulate a 7-3 World Series pitching record and capture six World Series titles. As if his record was not enough to garner an inordinate amount of press attention, having the U.S. Army Air Forces assign him to an air base in close proximity to Hollywood thrust Ruffing beneath the news media’s veritable microscope.

Capitalizing on the situation, Army brass ensured reporters and photographers would chronicle his activities for recruitment and morale-boosting opportunities, resulting in increased vintage photograph availability for collectors 75 years later. Our assessment of the Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph library and the discovery of several images of Ruffing prompted several weeks of research into the pitcher’s Army Air Force career. In our first segment, Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory, our exploration of Ruffing followed him from the last game of the 1942 World Series through the end of 1943 as he completed his first year in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

A year removed from his entry into the Army and with a California Service Championship to his Sixth Ferrying Group team’s credit, the pitcher was doing what he could t to boost the morale of his comrades-in-arms and  baseball fans by providing a much-needed distraction from the rigors on the home front. While his team’s baseball schedule paled in comparison to a major league 154-game season, his duties outside of the foul lines kept him more active than he was with the Yankees. Aside from the victories, service league championships and the individual accolades covered in newsprint, there was significant financial impact delivered to the dozens of charities receiving money from the fundraisers associated with nearly all the Ferrying Group’s games.

As major and minor league players enjoyed their offseason lives, baseball in the California Service Leagues was up and running in late January. Ruffing was set to continue at the helm of the club as they began workouts for the upcoming 1944 campaign. A Long Beach Press-Telegram sports columnist wrote (January 26, 1944), “The club again figured to be one of the strongest service nines in the country.”  Early fundraising planning was already underway by the first week of February, with the Hollywood Stars set to host the Sixth in their preseason opener at Gilmore Field to benefit the Kiwanis Club’s fund to assist children with disabilities.

Ruffing’s expanding waistline continued to draw the attention of sportswriters. Columnist Russ Newland, taking a jab at the pitcher’s non-baseball activities, wrote in his February 11, 1944 Western Sports Slant piece, “Ruffing tips the scales at 232 pounds but his arm is better than ever.” Foreshadowing the upcoming 1944 season, Newland wrote, “Charley Ruffing, the New York Yankees pitcher in the service, thinks both major leagues will be much slower on account of older men and green material,” speaking to the condition of the players on rosters in the American and National Leagues.

Red Ruffing converses with his former Yankees teammate, Joe DiMaggio of the Santa Ana Army Air Base as Chuck Stevens poses before taking batting practice (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Scheduling for the season continued as the Ferry Group inked a date to visit Minter Field Air Base (Bakersfield) to take on the installation’s team. With the Seattle Rainiers holding spring training in town, a tune-up with the Pacific Northwest club was booked to coincide with that game. However, Southern California athletic planners experienced a brief scare when the USAAF senior leadership ordered all of the baseball teams to be disbanded and personnel reassigned on March 11. With the Kiwanis fundraiser game just days away, the Hollywood Stars were left scrambling to find a suitable last-minute opponent. The order was rescinded on the following day and schedules resumed as planned.

Seattle’s first exhibition game of the year was held in Bakersfield on Sunday, March 19, 1944 and saw the Rainiers dominated by Ferrying Group pitchers, 7-1, as Ruffing hurled the first three frames. Seattle’s lone bright moments came in the form of a single run off the former Yankee and turning a triple play. Otherwise, the Sixth roughed up Seattle’s pitching for ten hits. Al Olsen also toed the rubber for the Ferrying Group for six innings in relief, surrendering eight hits to Seattle while allowing only one runner to cross the plate. On Tuesday, March 20, the Port Hueneme Seabees visited Long Beach and Ruffing’s Ferrying Group was less than hospitable to their guests, treating them to a 5-3 defeat.

Traveling to Gilmore Field one week later, the Sixth Ferrying Group took down another of the Coast League’s franchises. This time the Hollywood Stars were the victim, with Ruffing and Pitter pitching to the “Twinks.” The Ferrying men pounded out 19 hits and plated 16 runs while being stingy towards the bats of their hosts, limiting Hollywood to just four runs, three of them charged to Pitter. Ruffing pitched five innings and allowed one run on six hits in front of 8,000 faithful fans. The exhibition game was a charity fund-raiser in support of the Kiwanis Club’s Crippled Children’s Fund.

Facing their third Pacific Coast League opponent in the exhibition season, the Sixth visited the spring training facilities of the Los Angeles Angels, capturing yet another victory, 7-5. With the win over Los Angeles, Long Beach Press-Telegram sportswriter Frank T. Blair wrote in his column, Frank-ly Speaking, “Sixth Ferry nine cuffed three Coast League clubs – Seattle, Angels and Hollywood – in spring exhibition games.” Blair added. “Red Ruffing’s outfit might be the strongest service team in the country,” Blair concluded by pointing out the strong pitching of Al Olsen, Roy Pitter, Hub Kittle and Bill Werbowski  behind Ruffing as the principal reason for the team’s early season dominance.  The Sixth seemed bent on backing up Blair’s assertion by shutting out the Angels, 7-0, their fourth win over the Coast League and second against Los Angeles. Roy Pitter went the distance for the Sixth, allowing just five hits while striking out 12 as Ruffing played the game in right field.

Since June of 1943, much speculation had been swirling around Red Ruffing’s continued service in the Air Forces. As he approached his 39th birthday, it appeared that he could opt to end his service because his age was over the limit. In early April, the veteran pitcher recognized the positive impact that his ball playing was having on both morale boosting and fund-raising, so he chose to serve, according to sports columnist Russ Newland.

Facing the Fifth Marine Division nine from Camp Pendleton on April 12, Ruffing’s start was abbreviated after surrendering a run in each of the first two innings. Replaced by Werbowski, Red shifted to right field in the third with the Sixth in possession of a 3-2 lead. The Sixth added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning but was matched by their opponents in the bottom half.  Trailing 5-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Fifth Marines blew the game open by scoring four runs and taking the lead. In the eighth inning, Ruffing’s men scored a run, leaving the score 8-6 until the Marines tacked on the game’s final tally.  The Ferrying Group was outhit 16-7 and committed two defensive miscues. Two days later, Johnny Berardino’s Terminal Island Naval Air Station nine handed the Sixth another loss. The losses appeared to be mounting as Ruffing surrendered three runs in the bottom of the first inning to the San Diego Naval Training Station squad. The Ferrying Group failed to score in the 7-0 shutout loss on April 16.

Battery mates Red Ruffing and former Giants backstop Harry Danning discuss pitching strategies (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On April 28, the Sixth were on their way to repeating Ruffing’s 1943 no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning behind Roy Pitter’s arm. Ruffing’s men might have had an easier go against the Santa Ana Air Base (SAAAB) team this time around with Joe DiMaggio being absent from the roster. The star Yankee had been pulled from the Santa Ana team for deployment to the South Pacific to serve in a morale building capacity, according to the San Bernardino County Sun.  Perhaps demoralized by the loss of their offensive star, the SAAAB club was shut out, 11-0.

Coinciding with Ruffing’s 39th birthday, the venerable pitcher was promoted to the rank of sergeant and faced Fort MacArthur’s Battery B club on May 3.

The disbanding of the McClellan Field Commanders combined with the departure of Joe DiMaggio was under the direction of Army leadership, a direct response to the Navy scattering some of its top baseball talent among several Hawaii commands and their corresponding ball clubs. As Ruffing’s Sixth Ferrying Group was dominating the 1943 California service baseball, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” were doing the same with the competition. Baseball in the Hawaiian Territory was a high-profile activity, with the Island of Oahu being crowded with several service, amateur and semi-pro leagues, all of them highly competitive at their respective levels. Seeking to turn the tide in the islands, the Army gathered talent, taking nearly the entire roster of players from one of their top teams, the McClellan Field nine. Adding a power-hitting exclamation mark to this veritable all-star roster, the Yankee Clipper was snatched from Southern California in order to form an entirely new club based at Hickam Field, the 7th Army Air Force (7th AAF) Fliers, to bring about an end to the Navy dominance on the island. For the time being, the Army left the Sixth Ferrying Group nearly untouched as only Jerry Priddy was shipped to Hawaii from the Long Beach squad.

Throughout the month of May, the Sixth had their way with the service and industrial league clubs of Southern California. In June, the winning continued for the Ferrying Group squad. A return to Gilmore Field for an exhibition contest against the Hollywood Stars resulted in the 24th consecutive win for Ruffing’s men. Outhit 12-4, the Stars succumbed to the pitching tandem of Ruffing and Pitter, 7-1.

Johnny Berardino’s Terminal Island Naval Air Station brought about an end to the Sixth’s win streak with a tight 2-1 victory on June 25. The loss to Terminal Island was followed with a 6-3 beating at the hands of the San Diego Naval Training Station nine. However, they kept their streak against the Pacific Coast League alive by blanking the San Diego Padres, with Ruffing lasting six innings and striking out 11 before giving way to Al Olsen, who preserved the 2-hit, 6-0 shutout.

Acquired in the fall of 2020, this Red Ruffing signed press photo is one of the showcase pieces in our collection. Ruffing inscribed, “To my friend, Bill Whaley with very best wishes and kindest regards, Chas. “Red” Ruffing – 8/27/44″ (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On July 6, the Sixth Ferrying Group, likely frustrated by a succession of defeats at the hands of the Terminal Island Naval Air Station, exacted revenge with a 15-0 blowout. Berardino’s club suffered its worst loss of the season as Chuck Stevens led the barrage with a home run and two singles and Nanny Fernandez legged out a pair of triples among the 18 hits tallied by the Sixth.  The win left the season series with Terminal Island tilted in the Ferrying Group’s favor, four games to two.

While the Red Ruffing and the Sixth were seemingly on their way to repeating their 1943 success with another championship, the writing was on the wall as rumors began to circulate that the Army leadership in Hawaii wanted to increase its advantage by bringing Ruffing to Oahu and adding him to the 7th AAF roster. Days later, the rumors were confirmed as the big right-handed pitcher was whisked away from Long Beach and sent to Hickam Field. Within a week, Ruffing joined his 1942 Yankees teammates, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Jerry Priddy, on the 7th AAF roster, donning his new uniform for the first time on July 30.

Ruffing joined a team that was already leading or close to the lead in their leagues. In the Hawaii League, the 7th’s 19-4 record had them out in front of the Pearl Harbor Sub Base (17-7) by 3.5 games. Trailing the Aiea Naval Hospital by one game In the Central Pacific Area (CPA) League, the 7th was 8-4 and tied with the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay “Klippers.” To add insult to injury, the day after suffering a loss at the hands of the 7th AAF, the Pearl Harbor Sub Base squad, along with every other opposing team, had to contend with the early reports of yet another USAAF pitching ace that was set to join Ruffing and company. The 1942 World Series pitching hero Johnny Beazley was, according to Don Watson of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (August 2), soon to land on Oahu and further bolster the dominant club.

Making his first pitching appearance since arriving on Oahu, Ruffing took the mound for the Hickam Bombers for a three-inning tune-up, having been farmed out by the 7th AAF’s manager, former Brooklyn Dodger “Long” Tom Winsett. Due to their well-stocked roster, it wasn’t uncommon for some of the 7th’s players to appear in games for teams within other leagues. During his three innings, Ruffing surrendered a lone-base hit. Ruffing had been scheduled to take the mound on August 6 for the 7th AAF in their game against the Hawaiis but was suffering from a severe cold. It wasn’t until the Fliers faced the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers on August 11 at Isenberg Field on the island of Kauai that Ruffing made his first start for his new club.

With more than 10,000 in attendance, Ruffing pitched a 5-hit complete game, a 6-1 victory over the Aiea Naval Hospital team that featured former Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. The victory put the 7th AAF out in front of Aiea in the CPA League standings. Aside from Ruffing’s pitching prowess, his bat accounted for two of his team’s 11 hits, driving in two runs against the Navy’s Hank Feimster and Vern Olsen. Scheduled to make his next appearance on August 20, Ruffing was scratched from the lineup as he was dealing with a knee injury.

In his August 20 Hoomalimali column in the Honolulu Advertiser, Red McQueen relayed a portion of a United Press syndicated editorial by Jack Cuddy regarding a proposed tournament that would determine the best of the best service teams of 1944. Cuddy’s suggested pitting the Parris Island Marines against Fort Campbell’s 20th Armored Division “Armor Raiders” against each other in a five game series, the winner of which would earn the right to face the Great Lakes NTC “Bluejackets” for the overall championship. McQueen argued that the tournament should also include the 7th AAF. Coincidently and already in play were the final arrangements for what was being billed as the Army-Navy championship. The Navy announced that Lieutenant Bill Dickey as of August 20, was already en route to Oahu to take the helm of the All-Star roster that was being assembled to face the Army squad.

Ruffing’s knee injury kept him out of any games for the remainder of August and into September. Despite a late charge in the CPA League standings by the streaking Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, the 7th AAF secured the league crown. Over in the Hawaii League, in Ruffing’s second start the 7th, carrying a 25-game winning streak, faced off against the Athletics for a Sunday afternoon game on August 3. For six strong innings in front of more than 8,000 Honolulu Stadium spectators, Ruffing’s knee was not a factor as he held the Athletics to three singles in the 5-1 victory, striking out four and without issuing a single walk. Ruffing’s work helped net the team their second league championship of the season.

On the eve of the CPA League Championship Series, Ruffing was slated to take the mound on Friday, August 8, in the opening game of the three-game showdown against the Aiea Navy Hilltoppers. Red’s knee injury flared up once more and kept him out of the game. Unfortunately, Ruffing never pitched again in Hawaii, despite being slated for a few more games. The recently arrived Johnny Beazley effectively replaced Red, who was shipped back to the States within days. “Count Red Ruffing out of the Service World Series, “wrote Red McQueen in his September 15 column. “The former Yankee mound ace has returned to the Mainland. A knee injury sustained in the ’42 World Series, aggravated shortly after his arrival here, made pitching a painful assignment to Big Red.” The loss of Ruffing was costly as the Army was swept by the Navy in the first four games of the series.

“An outstanding exhibition baseball game is brewing for Recreation Park here Sunday, October 1,” the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported on September 21. “The Sixth Ferrying Group, with Corporal (sic) “Red” Ruffing back in harness following a brief duty in Hawaii, will take on the reinforced U.S. Naval Dry Docks outfit. It seemed that a few days’ rest and a flight back to the States aided in Ruffing’s knee injury recovery. In addition to Ruffing’s return to the Sixth, Jerry Priddy was back with the Long Beach team.

The remainder of the 1944 California service baseball season for the Sixth Ferrying Group was dotted with exhibition games, including October matchups with Vince DiMaggio’s Major League All-Stars and the Kansas City Royals, a Negro League team that featured Willie Simms, Bonny Surrell, Ray Dandridge, Lloyd “Pepper” Bassett, “Wild Bill” Wright, Sam Bankhead and Willie Wells.  In early November at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, the Sixth faced the Birmingham Black Barons, winners of the 1944 Negro League Championship, as the baseball season and the year wound to a quiet close for Ruffing.

Spring in Southern California comes early, which meant that the Sixth Ferrying Group opened up training at the end of January to get the roster in shape. As the team was working out, the early exhibition season planning was commencing. As was done in previous seasons, the Pacific Coast League teams sought to gain experience by facing big league caliber talent. The Sacramento Solons scheduled a March 18 contest with the Ferrying Group. However, before the season got started, the entire roster of the Sixth was shipped out apart from catcher Harry Danning and Ruffing.

The dissolution of the team left a hole in Southern California baseball. It left many teams and fund-raising event planners scrambling to fill the void. From the Coast League teams to the Kiwanis Crippled Children’s fund, the absence of the Sixth was very apparent. The major league all-star caliber talent and name recognition were no longer available to draw the fans to the events as in previous years.

As spring progressed, so did the war effort. Germany was all but finished and the Japanese were defending the last vestiges of their empire. American forces captured Iwo Jima, leaving the USAAF long range heavy bombers with unfettered access to the Japanese homeland from airfields on Tinian and Saipan.

In early April, rumors began to circulate from New York that Ruffing would soon be discharged. Red downplayed them.  Yankee manager Joe McCarthy’s response was that the pitcher would, “be welcome with open arms even if he is 40 years old.” Regardless of Ruffing’s efforts to quell the talk, his discharge was impending as the Army transferred the pitcher to Camp Lee, Virginia, by May 1. By June 1, Ruffing had been transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was being processed out at the post’s 1262nd Service Command Separation Center.  The Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News reported that Ruffing, 20-pounds overweight, had stated that he had no immediate plans for the future and had not pitched in a game since September 1944, when he injured his knee. The paper reported that the knee injury was sustained, “when he twisted his knee as a result of hooking a shoe cleat in the {pitching) mound rubber.” His discharge was finalized on June 5.

After unwinding for a few days, Ruffing visited the Yankees for a workout. On June 23, the Yankees announced that they reached an agreement with Ruffing and signed the former ace to a $20,000 contract, matching his 1942 season’s salary. Though he immediately joined the club for their June 26-July 8 western road trip (St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit), he was not slated to pitch.

This beautifully hand-tinted full-page color insert was part of a series run in the 1945 New York Sunday News Note the ruptured duck insignia patch on his left sleeve indicating WWII service. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Donning pinstripes for the first time since October 5, 1942, Red Ruffing stood tall on the hill at Yankee Stadium in front of a small crowd of 9,752 as he faced the Athletics. This time the team was from Philadelphia rather than Honolulu. The left sleeve of Red’s battery mate, catcher Aaron Robinson, himself a 2-year wartime veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, mirrored the pitcher’s as they were both adorned with a large emblem indicating the two had been discharged from the armed forces (see: WWII Veterans Honored on the Diamond: Ruptured Duck Patches for Baseball Uniforms).

Ruffing pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits in his return. The game was very much in hand with a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth frame as Red led off the inning, facing Philadelphia’s Lou Knerr. One baseball’s best power-hitting pitchers of all time stroked a deep line drive to right-center, legging out a triple for his first hit of the season. Second baseman Mike Milosevich followed the pitcher with a single that allowed Red to score. Perhaps gassed from his six innings on the mound or from his triple, combined with the extra weight he was carrying, Ruffing left the game in the top of the seventh after walking the A’s Bobby Estalella followed by an RBI single off the bat of Buddy Rosar. Ruffing was replaced by Al Gettel, who finished the game. Ruffing started 11 games for the Yankees and finished with an impressive 7-3 record and a 2.89 earned run average. With the roster missing the  majority of the Yankee stars, New York finished in fourth place. 

Ruffing left the service with his 6th Ferrying Group flannels and wore the uniform during pre-season workouts ahead of reporting to Yankees spring camp. The affixed caption “March 21, 1946 – Chicago, Illinois: Charles “Red” Ruffing, the New York Yankees’ veteran moundsman, goes south for his spring training but it’s the south side of Chicago. He is shown working out on a lot adjoining the University of Chicago field house, while his team trains in Florida. Ruffing balked at an order to fly to Panama with the Yanks February 10 and has been ignored by the club since.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The following season, Ruffing appeared in eight games as a situational starting pitcher and was quite effective with an ERA of 1.77 and a 5-1 record. Ruffing’s season ended abruptly on June 29 in a loss to the Athletics. In the top of the fourth inning after inducing Irv Hall to fly out, George McQuinn powered a home run to deep right field, giving the As a 1-0 advantage. Red got Sam Chapman to pop out in foul territory for the second out of the inning but Buddy Rosar doubled to left-center. For the final out of the inning, Hank Majeski lined a shot that struck Red’s right kneecap. Ruffing picked up the carom and threw to first to get Majeski for the final out of the inning but the damage was done.  The Yankees were scoreless after the bottom of the fourth and Red returned to the mound for the top of the fifth. Red gave up a one-out single to Tuck Stainback before retiring the side. Set to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning, Red was lifted for a pinch hitter, ending his day.

The line drive off his knee left him heavily bruised and kept Ruffing out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. With Charles “Red” Ruffing’s 29-month U.S. Army Air Forces career, beginning with his induction on December 29, 1942, the extensive press coverage documenting every week’s activities could fill dozens of pages to chronical his tenure in uniform. Contrary to what can be unearthed for most ballplayers, the level of detail is simply astounding. Pitching in the major leagues for 19 seasons is certainly enough to garner press attention. In a span of a decade, the Yankees claimed the American League pennant seven times allowing Ruffing to accumulate a 7-3 World Series pitching record and capture six World Series titles. As if his record was not enough to garner an inordinate amount of press attention, having the U.S. Army Air Forces assign him to an air base in close proximity to Hollywood thrust Ruffing beneath the news media’s veritable microscope.

After another knee injury to his 41-year-old body, the Yankees cut him loose in September. The White Sox gave the big right-hander one last shot for the 1947 season. His record served as an indication that his career was over. Ruffing turned 42 on the eve of his first game for Chicago, resulting in an 8-7 loss to the Athletics. Red pitched his last major league game against his first team, the Red Sox, on September 15, 1947, taking a 7-5 loss. He finished the season with a 4-5 record and an ERA of 6.11.

The impact of Ruffing’s wartime service is immeasurable. He helped to win the war on the high seas, in the skies and on far-off battlefields. It is far too easy and dismissive to relegate his time in uniform to escaping combat by merely playing baseball. Despite being drafted (rather than volunteering), Ruffing embraced the opportunity through baseball to provide his comrades with a break from combat training or the difficulties in recovering from life-altering scars on the battlefield. Baseball, whether through watching a game or an interaction with a notable player such as Ruffing, provided a sense of normalcy to thousands of troops, who viewed Ruffing as a role model, and a true hero.

See also:

All of the photos published in this article are the part of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and may not be used without written permission.

Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers

Our 1945 autographed Hickam Bombers ball showing autographs from Ferris Fain, Enos Slaughter, Kernie Kohlmeyer, Steve Tomko and John J. “Moe” Ambrosia (source: Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Throughout the past decade, autographs were never a central aspect of the Chevrons and Diamonds collection nor have we actively pursued signatures of ballplayers, choosing instead to focus on uniforms, equipment, original photographs and ephemera. In some instances, acquiring a signed item was inevitable, though not central, to the factors contributing to the decision to acquire an autographed piece. However, in the last 18-24 months, as we sought verifiable baseballs from wartime service games, the examples that survived were preserved because they bore signatures.

In retrospect, acquiring artifacts of a particular category seems to happen in spurts. We acquired our first few baseballs in a succession of a few months, starting in the fall of 2017.  After a few years of being unable to locate a verifiable service team baseball, we were able to once again add more in a series of acquisitions. Though our search has been focused primarily upon unused or unsigned service team baseballs, we have yet to secure an example for our collection.

A few of the signed baseballs that we have landed are from some of the most notable service teams that played during World War II, including the Navy squads of the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins and 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the rosters of each studded with former stars of the major and minor leagues. While neither baseball was signed by a future member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, several of the signatures on each ball were from star players before their careers were put on hold for war service. The remainder of the inscribed names were placed by former minor leaguers, semi-professionals and regular servicemen. One such serviceman rubbing shoulders with major leaguers was Oscar Sessions of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins squad (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine).

“Between the present and the past there exists no more intimate personal connection than an autograph. It is the living symbol of its author.” Thomas Madigan, author of Word Shadows Of The Great – The Lure Of Autograph Collecting

As the war progressed, service team rosters on Oahu began to be saturated with major league players as they were transferred from domestic military installations to various bases on the island beginning in early 1943. This trend continued into the ensuing year. Following the (Army versus Navy) Service World Series in the fall of 1944, top-tier talent on both Series team rosters were disseminated throughout Oahu bases to compete in the 1945 baseball season’s league play. Also in 1945, both the Navy and Army assembled two squads of all-stars to travel to the Western Pacific to entertain troops with baseball in newly captured enemy strongholds including Guam, Micronesia and the Philippines.

The 1944 season in Hawaii, as it could be argued by many baseball historians, was the peak of both the amassed talent and the quality of competition. The following year, with so many of the top players being pulled from Hawaiian League teams to play in the Western Pacific, the various Oahu commands were left scrambling to fill roster vacancies. The dominant team of the 1944 season, the 7th Army Air Force Flyers, no longer existed and the players were dispersed to other commands and for the overseas tour.

In our search for baseball militaria, we were fortunate to uncover a program (USASTAF Major League Baseball All Stars Program) from one of  games of the USAAF Western Pacific tour that provided rosters for two (the 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers” and 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen”) of the three squads (which also included the 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) that made up the Army Air Forces’ group of ball players. Additional research for an article regarding the USAAF games in the Marianas yielded a roster for the 313th (see: George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian).

With our familiarity of the USAAF Western Pacific teams’ rosters, we were rather gleefully interested when a signed, 1945-dated baseball became available. Inscribed on the baseball were 26 signatures that included eleven men who were divided into the three teams. While many of the signatures were easily recognizable, several were difficult to discern and a few more of the autographs were signed by players whom we were not familiar with. The ball was also accompanied by a certificate from Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) that validated the signatures as authentic. We secured the baseball with a reasonable transaction; however, we were unsure of several aspects regarding the names and if the collection of signatures amounted to a specific team.

Among the autographs were some of the game’s best players (including a future selection to the Hall of Fame): Dario Lodigiani (White Sox), Walt Judnich (Browns), Mike McCormick (Reds), Birdie Tebbetts (Tigers), Howie Pollet (Cardinals) and Enos “Country” Slaughter (Cardinals), not to mention the future all-star and two-time American League batting champion Ferris Fain).  The initial thoughts of this ball having a correlation to the Pacific teams was dashed with a minor dose of research.  With the exception of four names, Walter Judnich (Bellows Field Flyers), Mike McCormick (Wheeler Wingmen), Bill Mosser and Steve Tomko (correlating teams are currently unknown), the players were all members of the Hickam (Field) Bombers baseball team in 1945. Utilizing archived articles, box scores and game recaps from the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star, we were able to assemble a full season roster for the 1945 Hickam team which aided in identifying the more difficult autographs.

There were a few names on the ball that posed considerable challenges in identification. One of the names, “John Murphy,” left us scratching our heads. If we simply placed our trust in the PSA/DNA autograph certification, we would have had to ignore our instincts and deny that our eyes were telling us that there was no likeness to the confirmed signature of the former Yankees pitcher of the same name. With such a common name, we were about to resign ourselves to this particular player being one of several dozen men who shared the name and served in the Army during WWII until we experienced a breakthrough with our research effort.

List of Signatures on the 1945 USAAF Baseball (major league experience in italics):

Team Rank Name Position Former Team (Pre-War)
Hickam Bombers John J.”Moe” Ambrosia Bat Boy/2B Unknown
Hickam Bombers John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk 3B/P/MGR Semi-Pro
Hickam Bombers Leonard Burton P Tallahasse (GAFL)
Hickam Bombers Glenn Dobbs Tulsa U./Chicago Cardinals (NFL)
Hickam Bombers S/Sgt. Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco (PCL)
Hickam Bombers Eddie Funk P San Diego (PCL)
Hickam Bombers Cpl. George Gill P Browns/Tigers
Hickam Bombers Capt. Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Hickam Bombers Cpl. Johnny Jensen LF/CF San Diego (PCL)
Bellows Field Flyers/Fliers Sgt. Walter Judnich OF Browns
Hickam Bombers Geroge Colonel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer 2B Tyler (EXTL)
Hickam Bombers Sgt. Dario Lodigiani 2B White Sox
Hickam Bombers Johnny Mazur C Semi-Pro
Wheeler Wingmen Myron “Mike” McCormick CF/MGR Reds
Unknown Bill Mosser P Semi-Pro
Hickam Bombers Roy Pitter P NYY Property
Hickam Bombers Pfc. Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Hickam Bombers Sgt. Stan Rojek SS Dodgers
Hickam Bombers Bill Salveson P Semi-Pro
Hickam Bombers Frank Saul P Semi-Pro
Hickam Bombers Don Schmidt P Semi-Pro
Hickam Bombers Sgt. Enos “Country” Slaughter CF/LF Cardinals
Hickam Bombers George Sprys RF Appleton (WISL)
Hickam Bombers Tom Tatum RF Dodgers
Hickam Bombers Capt. Geroge “Birdie” Tebbetts C Tigers
Unknown Steve Tomko Unknown

Among the dozens of articles throughout the 1945 season in both Honolulu newspapers, we found two that revealed an inaccuracy within our compiled Hickam roster. An abundance of references to third baseman John Murphy, one of the team’s leading hitters and fielders, seemed to indicate the Murphy was splitting time with third baseman John Bialowarczuk, who was also one of the team’s better hitting infielders. However, there were two articles that discussed the management duties falling to a “John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk” who also played at third.  Understanding that the two names referenced the same manwe were drawn to focus to research efforts upon Mr. Bialowarczuk which led to our discovery that the two names were referring to the same person.

Signed 1945 Hickam Bombers baseball: Roy Pitter, John “Murphy.” We discovered that Murphy, though professionally authenticated as the Yankees pitcher, Johnny “Fireman” Murphy, the signature didn’t match and “Fordham Johnny” (as he was also known) did not serve in the armed forces (source: Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the trends with Chevrons and Diamonds articles is that we enjoy introducing our readers to those players who never enjoyed professional baseball careers, let alone playing in a major league game.  John Bialowarczuk was an airman who dreamed of playing in the major leagues after the war. Before World War II, he was making a name for himself with his hometown semi-professional baseball club, the Carteret (New Jersey) Cardinals, where he seemed to be  playing shortstop against foes such as the Metuchen Eagles and the East Brunswick Panthers in 1941. Bialowarczuk was born on May 6, 1921, in Carteret, New Jersey, 10 years after future Hall of Fame left fielder Joe “Ducky Medwick. John followed Medwick through Carteret High School. However, instead of signing a professional baseball contract, Bialowarczuk found himself on the local semi-pro Cardinals’ roster, playing from 1938 to 1942 with hopes of being scouted by the major leagues. John’s Cardinals were very competitive, taking on regional semi-pro clubs and even collegiate baseball teams, including Rutgers University.  Seven months after Pearl Harbor, 21-year old Bialowarczuk enlisted in the Army on August 17, 1942. By 1943, John was on the north shore of Oahu, stationed at the Kahuku Army Airfield, where he played on the base’s sports teams. His softball team, APO 964, secured the Seventh Air Force championship as they won the Seventh Fighter Command’s 1943 tournament.

The 1945 Hickam Bombers roster was dramatically altered after most of the major leaguers were sent to the Marianas. Note John “Murphy” replaced Birdie Tebbetts as the team’s manager (source: Honolulu Advertiser, July 20, 1945).

John Bialowwarczuk’s May 20, 1946 American Baseball Bureau player information sheet. Note his wartime alias is listed as “Murphy” (image source: Ancestry).

By the fall of 1943, Bialowarczuk was establishing a reputation as an all-around athlete, leading Hickam’s Seventh Air Force Flyers football squad as the team’s quarterback. With the steady influx of former professional ballplayers making their way onto the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy and Marine Corps teams throughout the island, the level of competition increased. Corporal Bialowarczuk was now stationed at Hickam and played on the Bombers baseball squad (which did not benefit from additional talent until the following season) for both the 1944 and 1945 seasons. Bialowarczuk was discharged at the end of the war. In the spring of 1946, he may have been working out with a professional club (there is no record of any professional experience) as he had the opportunity to submit an American Baseball Bureau form. On his form, Bialowarczuk stated that his ambition in baseball was, “to be a major leaguer.”  He considered his most interesting or unusual baseball experience to be, “hitting a home run off Walt Masterson,” no doubt while playing for Hickam in 1944. He also stated that “playing against major league stars,” was his most interesting experience while serving with the Seventh Air Force. Bialowarczuk highlighted opposing players such as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey and Detroit’s Schoolboy Rowe. John Bialowarczuk passed away in 2017 at the age of 96. Though his “Murphy” alias is listed on his American Baseball Bureau profile, the reason for its use remains a mystery.

The Kahuku Army Airfield softball team claimed the 7th Air Force championship in 1943. John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk is seated at the far left in the second row (source: Honolulu Advertiser, Aug. 14, 1943).

John J. “Moe” Ambrosia was an active-duty U.S. Army Air Forces airman and was a member of the 1945 Hickam Bombers team. For most of the baseball season, “Moe” served as the team’s mascot and bat boy. Regardless of his official capacity on the team, Ambrosia possessed enough baseball talent and experience that manager Birdie Tebbetts began to utilize him in the field. On one such occasion, Tebbetts sent Ambrosia out to cover second base late in a 15-inning marathon game against the Fort Shafter club. The trend continued for Ambrosia as he began to see more action into July. When the rosters were drained of several players (Fain, Gill, Hitchcock, Jensen, Lodigiani, Mazur, Pollet, Rojek Slaughter and Tebbetts), the managerial reins were handed to John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk, who promoted Moe to an everyday player. Unlike Bialowarczuk, Ambrosia did not have any post-war baseball activity and it is unknown what became of the Hickam Bombers’ mascot. Ambrosia’s signature is rather prominently placed on our baseball, augmented with his “Moe” nickname.

The four remaining names, Bill Mosser (who had a 6-year post-war minor league career), Steve Tomko (who is presently unknown), Bellows Field Flyers outfielder Walter Judnich and Wheeler Wingman centerfielder/manager Mike McCormick, remain a mystery as to their connection with what seems to be a Hickam Bombers team-signed baseball. Regardless of the anomalies, the baseball is truly a cherished addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.

 

Additional Signed Service Team Baseballs in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection:

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