Blog Archives

More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian

Steaming westbound, a Navy troop ship, bound for the Hawaiian Islands engorged with stores, munitions and fighting men that will resupply and augment forces engaged in the island-hopping campaign in the push towards the Japanese Homeland.  Among the embarked troops was a collection of men, mostly assembled from U.S. Army Air Forces air bases in the western United States, nearly two-dozen fellow servicemen whose pre-war occupations drew considerable interest from the others aboard the ship; among this group were two childhood sandlot friends.

May 1944 – Aboard a troop ship bound for Pearl Harbor clockwise from tope left): Sgt. Walter Judnich (Browns), Cpl. Mike McCormick (Reds) and Staff Sgt. Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), Pfc. Gerald Priddy (Senators) and Sgt. Dario Lodigiani (White Sox) are soon to be a part of the formidable 7th Army Air Force team (ACME Newsphoto).

One of the most picturesque areas on the United States’ West Coast, the San Francisco Bay area has been an incubator, producing incredible baseball talent on sandlots of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. In a 400 square-mile area (including the large San Francisco Bay), four significant ball players plied their wares on sandlots in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Soma, Excelsior and Cow Hollow Districts in San Francisco while two more churned up the base paths surrounding Oakland. Legendary Bay Area names such as LazzeriHeilmann, Cronin, Gomez and Lombardi are all synonymous with greatness with bronze plaques (bearing their likenesses) prominently displayed at Cooperstown. These six players alone firmly place the Bay Area on baseball’s map but the list of notable baseball names from the region is as expansive as the geography, itself. However, the list of outstanding ballplayers from this region is considerable beyond those inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The North Beach District was settled by Italian immigrants following the devastating 1906 and was an incubator for some of baseball’s “royal” families such as Crosetti, Lucchesi and DiMaggio. Sicilian immigrants, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio saw three of their sons pursue baseball from an early age. Rather than take to the sea to gather fish with their father, Vince, Joe and Dominic chased their dreams on the diamond. Fellow Italian, Dario Lodigiani grew up (on nearby Telegraph Hill) with the DiMaggio brothers though he was closer in age to Dominic, his childhood relationship was close with Joe. Joe and Dario were junior high school teammates continuing on at Lowell High School until Joe departed to pursue his professional career with the San Francisco Seals. Dario transferred to Galileo High School, continuing his scholastic baseball career before stepping up semi-pro ball with the Golden Gate Valley league.

Like many of his fellow Bay Area players, Lodigiani signed with one of the local Pacific Coast League franchises, the cross-bay Oakland Oaks (who, at that time, were affiliated with the major league’s New York Yankees), in 1935. After three seasons with the Oaks carrying a .306 average, Dario caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics owner, Connie Mack who traded five players and cash to the Oaks to acquire the young infielder.

We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass- over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s–t, or nothing—he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.” – Dario Lodigiani (source: Ed Attanasio, ThisGreatGame.com)

Lodigiani played for the Athletics for part of the 1938 season (splitting time between Philadelphia and the Eastern League Williamsport Grays) and the entire 1939 campaign. In 1940, Dario effectively spent the entire season in the minors, appearing in 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays of the International League before a September call-up which resulted in a lone, hitless plate appearance (lead-off pinch hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning with the A’s trailing 5-2 to the Washington Senators on September 22nd).  Following the acquisition of Detroit Tiger’s young, solid-hitting second baseman Benny McCoy, Dario Lodigiani became expendable and was shipped that December to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 34-year-old veteran pitcher, Jack Knott.

Though he only saw action for the White Sox in 87 games, Lodigani was the anchor at third base (splitting time at the hot corner with Bob Kennedy who saw action in 71 games) joining future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling in the Chicago infield, however his .239 batting average for 1941 left him vulnerable. In 1942, Kennedy’s hotter bat and better glove relegated Lodigiani to a utility role for his final major league season, before departing for the War.

This photo of Johnny Rigney during a visit to the Chicago White Sox clubhouse at Comiskey Field shows significant editing to prepare it for press-half-toning. Most of the players would be following Johnny Rigney into the armed forces in the coming months. The original caption reads:
July 3, 1942 – Johnny Rigney, who until his induction into the Navy a short time ago, was a leading White Sox hurler, got a watch from his former teammates when he appeared at Comiskey Park last night with the Great Lakes naval training station team against Chanute Field. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. Left to right are Dario Lodigiani, Mule Haas, Ted Lyons, Rigney, Thornton Lee and Orval Grove.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

A few years ago, we acquired a pair of photos that spotlighted two of the Chicago White Sox pitchers who were shown while on active duty during World War II. In one image,  future Hall of Famer, 42-year-old Ted Lyons is wearing his Marines flannels near Navy Pier in Chicago, not long after enlisting. The other photo depicted Johnny Rigney sporting his Navy service dress blues as he was presented with a watch by Ted Lyons and White Sox teammates during a return visit to Comiskey Field. Among those present was Dario Lodigiani. With only 275 games played in six major league seasons in his career, Dario’s name didn’t capture the attention that his 1942 White Sox teammates Luke Appling and Ted Lyons did. In researching other notable ballplayers-turned-servicemen, Lodigiani’s name kept appearing in service game newspaper summaries and our collection’s vintage scorecards.

Seeing Lodigiani’s smiling profile among his fellow White Sox teammates in the 1942 photograph reminded me of another more famous photo that spotlighted his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio posed with random servicemen (in their green, HBT combat uniforms) aboard a troop ship. Not initially recognizing the other faces that accompanied the “Yankee Clipper” and “Lodi,” it soon became apparent that the three other GIs were also former baseball players (Sergeant Walter Judnich, St. Louis Browns; Corporal Mike McCormick, Cincinnati Reds;  and Private First Class Gerald Priddy of the Washington Senators) and were all part of the dominant Central California Serviceman’s League team based at McClellan Field in Sacramento.  The photo of the five ballplayers aboard ship has been on our watch list for years with hopes that another copy of the popular news photo is de-accessioned from a newspaper archive.

Following his 1942 White Sox campaign, Lodigiani was called to serve, joining the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 19, 1943 for the war’s duration (plus six months) from his hometown of San Francisco. Following basic and other training, Corporal Lodigiani reported to McClellan Field along with former St. Louis Browns outfielder (and fellow San Franciscan) Walter Judnich on March 4th. While assigned to the McClellan Field training command air base, Lodigiani was added to the base team and became an immediate a force with both his glove and bat.

Batting .313 and .288 respectively, while in the American League, last season, Pfc. Walt Judnich of the St. Louis Browns and Pfc. Dario Lodigiani of the Chicago White Sox are just two more dogfaces on KP at the Air Service Command headquarters base, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California. Both are star players on the Commander team, but their diamond activity is secondary to techical and military training they receive while preparing to help keep the Army Air Forces planes aloft in different war zones. And cleaning up the dishes, as well as the bases, is part of the chores assigned them while getting ready for the bigger game.” – The Sporting News, July 7, 1943

Recently added to our collection, this news photo of Corporal Dario Lodigiani was heavily retouched by a pre-press photo editor. The original caption reads:
September 18, 1943, Sacramento, California: Dario Lodigiani, former White Sox infielder, is now a corporal in the Army Air Force. He is a member of the crew of the Sacramento Air Service Command stationed at McClellan Field, California.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

An all-star team of professionals who happen to be serving in the armed forces during World War II.

Dario’s impact was immediate and positive for the McClellan Field Commanders as the team left their competition in their slipstream and by mid-August, he was selected as an All-Star to play in the All Pacific Recreation Fund game that was held at Gilmore Field. As part of the Service All-Stars, “Lodi” was reunited as teammates with his boyhood friend, Joe DiMaggio (who was assigned to the Santa Ana Air Base team). Reconnecting with DiMaggio to pummel the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels was just a hint of what was to come. At the end of the 1943 service league season, the McClellan Field squad faced off against a selected group of major league “all-stars” in Sacramento:

Sacramento, California: The climax of the season fo Sacramento fans comes Sunday, October 17, when a team of major league all-stars plays the McClellan Field Commanders at Cardinal Field. Fresh from the World’s Series, Ernie Bonham of the Yankees will be the starting pitcher, to be relieved, with or without necessity, by Milo Candini of Washington and Manuel Salvo of the Braves. 

The all-star line-up of major league players who live in this area, also will include such headline performers as Dick Bartell and Ernie Lombardi of the Giants, Eddie Lake of the Red Sox, Eddie Joost of the Braves, Augie Galan of the Dodgers, Stan Hack of the Cubs, Jim Tobin of the Braves. 

The Commanders are dotted with stars themselves. On the Army team are such names as Walter Judnich of the Browns, Dario Lodigiani of the White Sox, Mike McCormick of the Reds, Ferris Fain and Al Lien of the Seals, Carl DeRose and Rugger Ardizoia of the Yankees’ Kansas City farm and Bill Schmidt of Sacramento.”  – The Sporting News, October 14, 1943

McClellan Field Commanders Roster:

Player Position
Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P
Kenny Butler OF
Carl DeRose P
Bob Dillinger 2B
Ferris Fain 1B
Al Hanley 3B
Walter Judnich OF
Vince Latino 3B
Dario Lodigiani SS
Joe Maravelli P/OF
Red Renfree Manager
Bill Schmidt P
Malcolm Silva P
Charlie Silvera C
Izzy Smith CF
Mike Suynicki C
Don Brown Scorer
Mike McCormick OF
Jerry Priddy 2B/3B

For the 1944 season, the McClellan Field Commanders picked up where they left off from the previous season as they settled into a rhythm of tallying wins against their competition.  Perhaps to their Central California Servicemen’s League opponents’ collective relief, an order was issued by Major General Withers A. Burress, commanding general of the 100th Infantry Division who recognized that the Army’s ballplayers would better serve in the war effort if they were with combat units (or at least that was how the order to relocate the likes of DiMaggio, “Red” Ruffing and others to the Hawaiian Islands. What actually precipitated the order was the level of competition from the Navy and Marine Corp teams in the Hawaiian baseball leagues was too stiff for the Army and the brass wanted to teach the sea-going branch a lesson.

Although in the Army now, Lieutenant Colonel Leland “Lee” Stanford MacPhail is still ordering ball players around. It was MacPhail who went to General Marshall with the idea of transferring professional players from station compliments to combat divisions. 

Lt. Col. MacPhail made the suggestion for three reasons. The erstwhile fiery guide, “the Gowanus,” realized it wouldn’t hurt the morale of combat units to have real live ball player attached to them. He grew tired of permanent reception and replacement center clubs beating teams representing combat regiments, considered it unfair. With 150 major league players on camp teams, he considered the practice in effect bad for organized baseball.” – “The Press Box,” Charles S. Kerg May 3, 1944 Delta Democrat Times

The orders to dismantle the McClellan team came in April of 1944 that pulled the core talent and sent them to Seattle to await further transport. Joining the former McClellan players in Seattle, Santa Ana’s star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio caught up with the men at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington where he suited up for a game with the local base troops in the Evergreen State on the eve of sailing for the South Pacific.

During the transit from Seattle to Pearl Harbor, the pitching and rolling of the transport ship left the airmen ballplayers laid up with seasickness for several days. Despite exhaustion and being weakened from the inability to eat properly, the newly constituted Seventh Army Air Forces (7th AAF) baseball team, based at Hickam Field, was scheduled for two exhibitions games against a Navy team at Honolulu Stadium in those first few days of early June. In the first game, DiMaggio crush his first of two memorable home runs (one in each game) that landed outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet. The second DiMaggio long-ball was a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). For Dario and the rest of the 7th AAF team, DiMaggio’s home runs were sign of the impending dominance they would experience in the Hawaiian Islands.

7th Army Air Force Roster:

Player Position Former Team
John Andre P Honolulu League
Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P Kansas City
Alphonse Ceriello Semi-Pro
Carl DeRose P Amsterdam
Bob Dillinger 3B Toledo
Joe DiMaggio CF/1B New York Yankees
Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco Seals
Edward Funk P Federalsburg
Joe Gedzius SS Oklahoma City
Hal Hairston P Homestead Grays
James Hill Pensacola, FL
Ed Jaab Moline
Wally Judnich CF/1B St. Louis Browns
Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer SS/1B Tyler, TX
Will Leonard C Oakland, CA
Al Lien P San Francisco Seals
Dario Lodigiani 2B/3B Chicago White Sox
Mike McCormack OF/#B Cincinnati Reds
Arthur Rawlinson Semi-Pro
Charles “Red” Ruffing P New York Yankees
Frank “Pep” Saul P Semi-Pro
Bill Schmidt P Sacramento, CA
Charlie Silvera C Wellsville
Don Smith Seton Hall College
Tom Winsett (manager) Brooklyn Dodgers

For the rest of the Central Pacific League, the season was already underway as the 7th was just getting started with dispatching the competition. On July 20th, the 7th AAF took down the Schofield Barracks Redlanders by a score of 8-4 with DiMaggio being absent with illness since July 9 (he returned to the roster briefly after the 23rd) leaving Dario and the rest of the team to take down the competition. By the middle of August, Lodigiani’s squad was steamrolling the competition despite DiMaggio’s spotty appearances in the lineup. Fellow Bay Area native, first baseman Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) was among the league’s tops in hitting, helping the team to several multi-game win streaks. On August 17th, the Seventh secured their 16th consecutive win.

Listed on the back page are the rosters for both teams. Though the Army squad possessed incredible talent, they were merely the 1944 7th AAF team but augmented with a few players from other Army teams.
The Navy was overloaded with talent from top to bottom in addition to the sheer numbers advantage.

With the league championship under their belts, several of the 7th AAF’s roster were picked for the Army vs Navy All Stars Championship (I.e. Service World Series) that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Having been embarrassed by the AAF team, the Navy pulled all the stops and gathered their best players from around the Pacific Theater as well as the U.S. mainland. The Army pulled their all-stars from among the teams spread throughout Hawaii. Despite their efforts, the Army’s All Stars were beaten by the Navy in four straight games in the best of seven. Having already lost, Army and Navy brass decided to play the entire seven games in order to give the troops quartered in the Islands an opportunity to see a game for a morale boost (the series was further extended to 11 games in total).

USASTAF Program from the USAAF South Pacific Tour played on Guam in late 1945 shows the rosters for both the 58th and the 73rd teams.

Lodigiani’s league and All-Star play got him tapped to join the 1945 Army Air Forces tours of the South Pacific which included Micronesia and the Marianas. With games played between the two touring squads (the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and the 73rd  Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) or the local base teams (often augmented by players from the tour squads), the USAAF played in front of crowds of fatigued flight crews and wounded GIs to lift their spirits.

 

58th Wingmen Roster (1945 USAAF South Pacific Tour):

Player Rank Position Experience
Ed Chandler Cpl P Pacific Coast League
“Chubby” Dean Pfc P Cleveland Indians
Bob Dillinger Pfc IF American Association
Ferris Fain S/Sgt IF Pacific Coast League
George Gill Cpl P Detroit Tigers
“Tex” Hughson Pfc P Boston Red Sox
“Chet” Kehn Pfc P Brooklyn Dodgers
Ed Kowalski Pfc P Semi-Pro
Al Lien Cpl P Pacific Coast League
Art Lilly Cpl IF Pacific Coast League
Dario Lodgiani Sgt IF Chicago White Sox
Johnny Mazur Cpl C Piedmont League
“Mike” McCormick Cpl OF Cincinnati Reds
Buster Mills 1st Lt OF/Mgr Cleveland Indians
Lew Riggs Cpl IF Brooklyn Dodgers
Stan Rojek Sgt IF Brooklyn Dodgers
“Big Bill” Schmidt Sgt P Pacific Coast League
Charlie Silvera Cpl C American Association
Burl Storie S/Sgt C Texas League
Johnny Sturm Sgt IF New York Yankees
Max West Cpl OF Boston Braves
Taft Wright Sgt OF Chicago White Sox

With the war ended officially on September 2 (when the Japanese high command signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri), GIs were now seeking to return home and get back to their lives. Those GIs with the required 85 points were eligible to be sent home (as soon as transport was available) ahead of those who lacked the minimum.

The “Advanced Service Rating Score” point system was intended to provide equity in the demobilization of troops from war service. GIs received one point for each month of military service and one additional point was given for each month of overseas service. Each battle star or decoration earned a soldier 5 points. In addition, troops were awarded 12 points per dependent child (up to a maximum of three children).  Dario Lodigiani, like most of the ballplayers who did not see combat service, lacked the minimum demobilization points. Despite their low points total, 37 baseball players were returned to the States for either discharge or reassignment, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on November 15 aboard the attack transport ship USS Cecil (APA-96), stirring up considerable controversy among other GIs.  Among the 37 were: Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilian Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rojek and Sidney Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Cecil Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean. Lodigiani was discharged from the Army immediately upon arrival while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were stuck overseas.

Technical Sergeant Loren H. Penfield (one of several troops to did so) wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes calling attention to the issue of the players being moved to the head of the demobilization line, “Up until now these men have been rated in the same category as ourselves,” Penfield wrote. “However, it appears that they must have been classified along with the “Trippi “deal,” the technical sergeant referenced similar incident that saw the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, Charlie Trippi, sent back early (from the military) to rejoin the Bulldogs squad, five games into the 1945 NCAA football season. Penfield closed his letter, “Can we be returned to the States for assignment without the required points for discharge?” Despite the brewing controversy for Lodigiani and the other 37 players, the heat was minimal and dissipated as the steady stream of GIs were returned from overseas and discharged.

Lodigiani spent his first peacetime holiday season in four years on U.S. soil as his thoughts were of the coming 1946 season. Seven days after returning to U.S. soil, Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving like none other. President Truman’s 1945 Thanksgiving Proclamation encapsulated the impact of the previous four years along with the challenges that were ahead.

We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.

Triumph over the enemy has not dispelled every difficulty. Many vital and far-reaching decisions await us as we strive for a just and enduring peace. We will not fail if we preserve, in our own land and throughout the world, that same devotion to the essential freedoms and rights of mankind which sustained us throughout the war and brought us final victory.” – President Harry S. Truman, November 12, 1945

Returning to normalcy and the game couldn’t come fast enough for the returning veteran ball players and journeymen like Dario Lodigiani faced many challenges resuming their careers.

Despite landing a roster spot with the White Sox, Dario saw limited time (just 44 games) in what would be his last season in the major league. Dario Lodigiani returned “home” to the Oakland Oaks for the 1947, ‘48 and part of the 1949 seasons before moving across the bay to the San Francisco Seals to play through the 1951 season. From 1952-54, Lodi wound his playing career in the low minors (Class A and C) before hung up his spikes.

Wartime service team baseball service was all but forgotten in the following years but veterans such as Lodigiani could have easily pointed his finger at his war service as a reason his major league career was adversely impacted and cut short as it did for so many of his colleagues. However, Dario never left the game, serving as a minor league manager, a coach and scout (for his beloved White Sox) until his death in 2008 in Napa, California, just 50 miles from his childhood home.

Two simple photos in our collection inspired extensive research into an otherwise unknown ballplayer. Dario Lodigiani’s 70+ years in organized baseball had an extensive impact upon the game. His service in the Army Air Forces afforded him opportunities to play alongside and against some of the the best in the game as well as the with and against his childhood friends (Joe and Dom DiMaggio).

My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts

The hits just keep coming. I don’t know how to properly assess the current state of the baseball militaria “market,” but I have been seeing quite a spate of historically significant artifacts being listed for sale over the last several months. In previous months (years, actually), the well has been fairly dry in terms of the sorts of pieces that have been turning up but I am in awe the currently emerging trend. In terms of determining some measurement or rate of success, I am taking a bit of a retrospective look into what I have landed as compared to what has been listed (in concert with those items where I was outbid by more aggressive buyers). As with baseball statistics, the rate of success (such as in batting average) is only part of the picture. Yes, I have landed a fair percentage of the artifacts listed at auction, however it is the quality of the items that I brought home that lies at the heart of my success.

Two of the most recent Chevrons and Diamonds articles touched upon baseball in the Pacific Theater with both the All-Stars games in the Central Pacific and the late-war All-Stars Western Pacific tour. While both of these articles spotlighted auctions that I did not win, all four listings (that were covered in the articles) provided me with invaluable insight and research for upcoming efforts. As hard as it was to not have success with securing any of those pieces, what did come home was comparable, if not invaluable for my collection.

While I have several forthcoming articles currently in varying states of research and drafting, I am finding that, for the majority, their focus lies within the realm of baseball within the Pacific theater. Today’s piece lies directly at that epicenter: World War II baseball in the Hawaiian Islands.

In researching so many of the professional players who enlisted during WWII, I have read or listened to many interviews with players discussing their time in the service of their country. Each one of these men with the opportunity to discuss their war service unhesitatingly reflects upon how the nation was unified in the struggle against the tyrannical Axis forces. These men talk of setting aside their ball-playing careers to join millions of Americans who left their jobs and homes to carry the fight to the enemy. I have had the opportunity to speak with a few legends (Bob Feller and Duke Snider, on separate occasions) in the early 1990s to discuss our time serving in the Navy and to exchange our experiences – having them ask ME about what I did and where I went during my naval career was gratifying. However, not all of the players who set aside their professional flannels, spikes, bats and gloves did so without reservations and self-concern.

Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams at the All-Star Game during their incredible, record-setting 1941 Season (image source: National Baseball Hall of Fame).

Without a doubt, one of the most recognizable baseball players of all time is Yankees’ long-time center-fielder, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, simply known as “Joltin'” Joe DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper.” When the United States was drawn into World War II following the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks, Joe DiMaggio had only months earlier, concluded one of the greatest offensive seasons by a ball player. That year saw two accomplishments which, after 76 years, each seemingly remains insurmountable. Aside from Ted Williams’season in which he finished with a .406 batting average (which ranks 18th among single-season records) his .400+ average performance is the last of the 20th Century and the only one since Bill Terry’s .401 average 11 years earlier. Considering those two .400+ batting averages, at the beginning of each successive decade (as compared to the seven time it happened during the 1920s and three times in the teens), the difficulties in hitting were obviously on the rise.

William’s accomplishment aside, a ostensibly impossible (to break) record was breached and a new, significantly higher mark was set by the Yankee’s DiMaggio in 1941. The game of baseball is difficult and using the small wooden bat to make contact with a small leather ball (traveling at speeds ranging from 80-105 mph) is so challenging that missing failing to do so, seven out of 10 attempts is considered an impressive achievement (obviously, Ted Williams’1941 season reflected a failure rate of only six times in ten). Failing to put the ball into play and get on base during a game (or even a brief string of games) is a normal occurrence. It is so normal that when players begin to hit safely in a succession of ball games, players, managers, the press, etc. take notice and talk about it when that streak begins to approach 20 games. By 1941, 26 batters had hit successfully in 30 or more consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles’ (of the National League) “Wee” Willie Keeler holding the record at 45 games (set over the course of the 1896-97 seasons). By today’s standards, 45 games seems to be insurmountable yet Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins reached 38 in 2006 (not to overlook Pete Rose’s 44-game streak in 1978 or Paul Molitor’s 39 in 1987).

More impressive than Keeler’s 45 game-streak was the one accomplished by the Yankee Clipper during the 1941 season. Not only did he surpass Keeler’s mark, he blew past it with 11 additional games, setting the record at 56. Keeler’s record stood for more than four decades and though there were some players who drew close to Willie’s record (Ty Cobb -40- in 1911 and George Sisler -41- in 1922), by 1941, it seemed unreachable. During the streak, both Williams and DiMaggio were slugging it out offensively for both average and power. During DiMaggio’s streak, he would hit .408, clout 15 home runs and drive in 55 runs. He would finish the year in third place behind Williams and Cecil Travis (.357) for batting average and fifth for home-runs (behind Ted Williams-37, Dolph Camilli-34, Charlie Keller-33 and Tommy Henrich-31) with 30. “The Streak” and the .406 seasons are so well-documented and how they happened is known by even the most nominal baseball fan. So impressive was the 56-game streak that mathematical analysis has been brought to bear in order to determine a measurement of probability (or perhaps, impossibility?) of its occurrence.

Joe DiMaggio and his Yankees’ would place a period on the 1941 season by winning the World Series, beating their opponent four games to one on their way to four titles during the decade (after having closed out the 1930s with five titles; four consecutive from 1936-1939). I would be remiss in mentioning that the 1941 National League pennant-winner was my beloved Dodgers having overcome decades of futility on their way to becoming perennial contenders for the next five decades.

It is well-publicized that two days after the Japanese sneak-attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller enlisted into the United States Navy, motivated to serve as so many other American young men (my maternal grandfather, included) in those first few days and weeks. Many from baseball’s major and minor league ranks set their careers aside and joined the fight in the first few weeks. However, several of the games biggest stars did not immediately sign up to serve, Joe DiMaggio included.

Despite the countless images, documents and accounts of Joltin’ Joe’s time during World War II, DiMaggio did not set his career on hold to join the armed forces until February of 1943 after playing the entire 1942 season, despite the early-January, prevailing question (by Commissioner Landis) as to whether the game would continue (and President Roosevelt’s decision and response). Joe was not alone in his avoidance of serving. DiMaggio’s rival batting leader from the Red Sox, Ted Williams hired an attorney to have himself reclassified as 3-A (“Registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents”) being the sole-provider for his mother following receipt of his draft notice in January of 1942. William’s received a torrent of negative publicity and finally enlisted into the Naval Reserve in May but played the entire season (the last game of the year, September 27th, his Red Sox faced DiMaggio’s Yankees where Williams mustered a single, going 1-3 with an intentional walk while Joe was 2-4 scoring two and knocking in three runs, including a 2-run homer) before heading into the Navy’s V-5, aviation cadet training program in early 1943. Joe DiMaggio (apparently begrudgingly) enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on February 17, having previously been granted (like Williams) a 3A deferment status. It should be noted that with the exception of a handful of notable professional ballplayers enlisting in the opening several weeks of the War, most players didn’t join the ranks until the waning months of 1942.

In Joe DiMaggio: A Biography (Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Hitters), according to author David Jones, “DiMaggio resented the war with an intensity equal to the most battle-scarred private. It had robbed him of the best years of his career. When he went into the Army, DiMaggio had been a 28-year-old superstar, still at the height of his athletic powers. By the time he was discharged from the service, he was nearly 31, divorced, underweight, malnourished, and bitter. Those three years, 1943 to 1945, would carve a gaping hole in DiMaggio’s career totals, creating an absence that would be felt like a missing limb.” Though he may have desired to serve as a combat soldier, the Yankee Clipper would find himself serving in a morale-boosting capacity, as a team-member on various Army Air Force service teams, much to enjoyment of thousands of GIs serving both domestically and throughout bases within the Pacific Theater.

By the time that Joe DiMaggio arrived in the Pacific to play baseball with the 7th Army Air Force team (based at Hickam Field), he had already spent the previous 16 months playing for his Santa Ana Army Air Base team as well as an All-Star team managed by Babe Ruth that squared off against the Boston Braves on July 12, 1943.  Nearly a year and half spent away from his $40k+ annual salary as he was earning $50 per month along with his GI-counterparts. Aside from performing for the troops, Joe was away from his wife an their shaky-marriage and their small son.

He suffered, according to William Cole in his September 2010 Honolulu Star Advertiser article, Misery filled baseball star’s days in isles during WWII, considerable gastrointestinal problems due to stress leading to being “admitted to the station hospital at Hickam for eight days” on July 9, 1944. The slugger’s time away from duty continued, as on “July 27 DiMaggio was again hospitalized and returned to duty a month later,” which seemed to develop into a cycle. Cole wrote, “He was rehospitalized Sept. 4 for two weeks. Another hospital trip on Oct. 12 led to a stay at Tripler General Hospital for four days.”  Cole references a 1945 psychiatric report conducted following Joe’s continued hospital visits throughout the remainder of his time in the service, citing” Although he denies nervous or mental disability, he admits that he has always been moody, and it would appear that he has always been high-strung, irritable, easily aroused and quick-tempered.”  According to Cole, “DiMaggio definitely didn’t like the public relations role he was fulfilling.”

The physician noted in his report (as conveyed in Cole’s article), “When he (DiMaggio) was in Honolulu, for instance, he felt he was exploited by being put on exhibition, and, what is more, he feels not to the profit of the Army but rather to increase the income of civilians by gate receipts. He feels that he should have been utilized at all times as a physical instructor, and shows a definite aversion to playing baseball while in the Army.”

Honolulu Stadium (circa 1960s): Drier Manor was located across Isenberg Street (which runs along the bottom edge of this photo) on the right, inside of the left field foul line (image source: scottymoore.net).

Despite the emotional and health issues that were apparently plaguing DiMaggio, he still managed to continue playing baseball for the troops in Hawaii. Days after arriving via an arduous transit (aboard a ship) Joe would participate in a pair of exhibition games played over a five-day period, DiMaggio would crush two memorable home runs, one in each game. The first one would land outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet, in the first game. The second would be a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance.

I have never been interested in collecting Joe DiMaggio. Perhaps my lack of desire for his memorabilia was due to multiple factors ranging from near-loathing of the Yankees due to my allegiance to Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Dodgers to being priced out of the market as a result of the Yankee Clipper’s immense and enduring popularity among baseball collectors. Being interested in DiMaggio’s military service and is playing time during his time on active duty transcends my anti-Yankees stance though still precludes me from affording anything pertaining to his career; especially his stint with the USAAF…until a few weeks ago (more on this ahead).

Sgt. DiMaggio and Petty Officer Reese sign baseballs for Vice Admiral Ghormley and Brigadier General Flood ahead of one of the 1944 Central Pacific Area Championship Series games (image source: Honolulu Star Adviser).

Sgt. DiMaggio poses before batting in a 1944 game at Seattle’s Fort Lawton base. Joltin’ Joe was in Seattle awaiting transport to Hawaii on his way to his 7th AAF assignment (image source: Seattle Times).

A simple internet search for Joe DiMaggio photos from his wartime service yields plenty of images in uniform ranging from his Santa Ana team to one in a Fort Lawton (located in fort Seattle) uniform, however, it is the home uniform of DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Force team that dominates the (internet search) results. The 7th AAF uniform is very distinctive with its dark shell and white sleeves which makes it one of the most recognizable of all World War II known and photographed baseball uniforms. The jersey is a dark shell with white sleeves with distinctive lettering across the chest spelling out 7th AAF in white. The soutache that encircles the collar and frames the placket is a thin white line of trim while each sleeve has a thin dark line of trim located approximately one-inch in from the edge.

The trousers that accompany this uniform appear to be color-matched to the dark shell of the jersey but the trim on the pants-legs appears to consist of two 1/2-inch vertical stripes extending from the waistband to the cuffs. The cap is also color-matched but with thin, white trim sewn over each seam of the crown’s six panels.

Due to DiMaggio’s enduring popularity among collectors and fans, this (7th AAF) home jersey was one of the first military baseball uniform reproductions to be made (if not the first) by Ebbets Field Flannels (which they mistakenly identified as a road uniform). It is highly-likely that this jersey is the most-popular repro military baseball garment sold (by any maker) which is why, it should be updated to be historically-accurate, though it was originally made based a photographic study as no known examples survived through the decades.

DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from right) with his 1943 Santa Ana Air Force team (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

One of the most difficult challenges faced by companies in reproducing from black and white images (when an original uniform is unavailable) is color-accuracy. To even the most experienced photography analysts, discerning unknown colors is a near-impossibility. In a conversation (regarding my recent find) with WWII military baseball expert, Gary Bedingfield, while discussing the 7th AAF uniforms, he shared with me a conversation (via an exchange in correspondence in multiple letters traded between Bedingfield and the baseball veteran) that he had with Yankees’ back-up catcher and DiMaggio’s 7th AAF team, Charlie Silvera.

Showing the 7th AAF team at Hickam’s Furlong Field stadium, their home venue (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

“Their (the 7th AAF) home uniforms were dark green and white,” Bedingfield relayed to me, “although I’ve never seen a color photo of them, the always look black and white.” Bedingfield continued, “they were softball uniforms (that had been) donated to the team.”

In addition to what can be found on internet searches of the dark/white home variant, there are a few photos of the 7th AAF team (including DiMaggio) wearing the road version of the uniform. Not quite as distinctive, this uniform is entirely gray with a thin, dark line of soutache on the placket, around the collar and on the sleeves. The dark lettering across the chest is aligned in an arc (rather than straight across as is on the home uniform).

Now that I have your attention (or perhaps I lost you, dear reader, after taking you through 2,600 words in such a lengthy 3,400+  word-story), I can delve into the incredible (to me, at least) find while searching through online auction listings.

While seeking something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a scantly-described (no details regarding size, age, etc.) auction listing that was rife with misspellings but displayed an incredible, type-1 photograph of the “Yankee Clipper” wearing the road gray uniform of the 7th AAF. The listing had one person watching and no bids with less than 24 hour remaining and the price was extremely low for what this was. I hurriedly did some research of the photo in trying to determine when and where it was taken and I zeroed in on the stadium in the background and the photographer’s marking in the lower left corner.

The Prize Photo: Joe DiMaggio, taken in June of 1944 as he poses during a break in the action at Honolulu Stadium for Hawaiian Photographer, Tai Sing Loo (author’s collection).

It was obvious to me that the photo was snapped at Honolulu Stadium, the capital city’s all-wooden ballpark (affectionately dubbed, the “Termite Palace” for reasons that require no explanation) with its unusual grandstand design and the facade on the face of both the upper and lower stands. The photographer, Tai Sing Loo, a well-known Hawaiian photog who snapped some of the most iconic imagery of the Pearl Harbor attack as well as of legendary surfer and renowned athlete, Duke Kahanamoku, snapped and printed the photograph during the game action during one of the two exhibition games soon after DiMaggio arrived on the Island.

I had no reservations in setting up my bid, hoping for the best and that no one else found the image as I had. When the auction closed the next day, I was elated to see that mine was the winning bid and I quickly paid the seller for the the photo. After a few days, I received a notice of shipment without a tracking number (it was shipped very economically, without insurance and tracking!!) I prayed and hoped that it would arrive safely and nervously anticipated its arrival. After a few days, I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I pulled the envelope from my mailbox. I quickly opened the parcel to see that the photo was indeed a Type-1 and in excellent condition.

One of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of this photo surrounds a uniform element that is visible on DiMaggio’s left sleeve. In the three examples of DiMaggio in the uniform, none show the 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on the jersey as is clearly visible in the image that I acquired. In viewing the images of the pages of the program from the fourth game of the Central Pacific Championship Series played between the All-Stars of the Navy and Army, there are hints of what appears to be SSIs on the sleeves of both Ferris Fain and Dario Lodigiani in their player photos. Without the insights from the players themselves, there is seemingly no way to know when or why the SSI was used.

As incredible as it was to add such a fantastic photograph of a baseball legend to my collection, it wasn’t the end of my magical run of success with these significant military baseball-related artifacts from the Pacific Theater.

References:

 

 

%d bloggers like this: