Posted by VetCollector
The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photo archive has been steadily growing since we acquired our initial piece showing Hugh Casey and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese changing from their Navy service dress white uniforms into their Norfolk Naval Air Station flannels. We have managed to locate incredible imagery depicting armed forces and baseball history, some of which is so scarce that it is likely we hold the only copies. Despite the diverse and expansive nature of our archive, there are a handful of iconic images that have eluded our pursuit.
Traditionally, our objective with Chevrons and Diamonds has been to spotlight the convergence of baseball and military history through artifacts that we have located, added to our collection and thoroughly researched. While this article holds true to our goal and utilizes many pieces from the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the principal theme focuses on artifacts (in this case, photographs) that we have yet to source. In the interest of telling this story, we made the decision to draw upon the National Archives for digital copies of the desired images to assist in bringing this story to our readers. All of the photos are properly credited and thus allow readers to distinguish between those obtained from the National Archives and the images within our collection.
Baseball’s “Golden Age” (roughly 1920-1960) might not be thought of as golden to fans outside of New York City or St. Louis, with the post season being dominated by teams from those two cities for many of those years. Between 1926, when the Cardinals made their first October appearance, and 1943 (a span of 17 years), the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals made a combined 18 trips to the World Series. In the 11 Yankee World Series appearances in that span, the “Bombers” captured nine crowns while the Cardinals captured four titles in their seven trips. Amazingly, the two teams faced off against each other in only three of those Series.
Following what was perhaps one of the most impressive seasons of baseball in 1941, with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406 season batting average, the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers (in their first World Series appearance since losing to the Cleveland Indians in 1920) in five games, capturing the World Series crown (their ninth in twelve trips to the Fall Classic). Just a few weeks later, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II and major leaguers began to trickle into the armed forces as the Cleveland Indians’ star pitcher, Bob Feller, became the first notable player to enlist (on December 9).
Following President Roosevelt’s “green light” letter, the 1942 baseball season was given the go ahead to proceed as planned, though there was nothing to stop players from being lost to the selective service, i.e. the draft, or enlisting. The Yankees’ 1942 roster was hardly changed from their 1941 championship squad and again the club finished the year atop the American League. The National League’s fourth place finisher in 1941, the St. Louis Cardinals, retooled following the surprising trade of their star first baseman (and future Hall of Fame slugger) Johnny Mize to the New York Giants during the December winter meetings in Chicago. The “Red Birds” also made room for their rising star outfielder Stan Musial, with other roster moves prior to the start of the 1942 spring training.
Aside from the baseball season’s coverage on the sports pages across the U.S., coverage of the war’s progression in the Pacific was front-page news. Still reeling from losses at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and Guam, bad news continued to pour in with the loss of the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and other allied ships at the Battle of the Java Sea off the Dutch East Indies at the end of February and again in May with the surrender of Corregidor in the Philippines (on the 6th). However, there was reason for optimism with the Colonel Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo (April 18) and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8). The Japanese suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7), placing them on the defensive for the remainder of the war. Though Midway is considered a turning point, a lot of fighting was still to come.
Just months following the first U.S. naval victory of WWII at Midway, the Navy and Marine Corps moved to an offensive campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific. Defense production was in full swing with ships and aircraft development and construction greatly sped-up from the peacetime pace. Naval tactics saw a shift from ship-to-ship gun battles to the over-the-horizon, carrier-based air strikes that become the standard of warfare. Five days prior to the 1942 All-Star game at New York’s Polo Grounds, Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214), the “Swashbucklers,” was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station, Ewa on Oahu on July 1, 1942. By August, the squadron had been transported to the island of Espiritu Santo in the Coral Sea.
The 1942 Cardinals squad fought hard to overtake the reigning National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers (who led the league from the seventh game of the season) after being 10 games behind on August 4. In just 41 games from that point, the Cardinals took over first place from the Dodgers and held on, finishing the season with 106-48 record (Brooklyn posted a record of 104-50) and were primed to take on New York, the customary World Series favorites.
New York’s 37-year-old Red Ruffing led off with pitching duties for the Yanks in St. Louis, holding the Cardinals to four runs on five hits while striking out eight over eight innings in New York’s only victory in the 1942 Series. In the next four games, the Cardinals demonstrated that their 106-win season was no fluke as Johnny Beazley secured two of St. Louis’ victories, allowing 10 hits in a 4-3 win in the second game of the Series and seven hits in a 4-3 win in the fifth and final game, thus emerging as the star of the pitching staff. Centerfielder Terry Moore batted .294, scored twice and drove in multiple runs for the Cards. Right fielder Enos “Country” Slaughter averaged .263 with a double and a home run (one of only two Cardinal four-baggers) and scored three runs. As it was with the regular season, St. Louis defeated the Yankees with a team effort.
In their Series loss, the Yankees did not fall easily. Shortstop Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto led the Bronx batters with a .381 average, scoring twice with a home run. Joe DiMaggio and Buddy Hassett carried .333 averages (Hassett had the only extra-base hit, a double, between the two) and Charlie “King Kong” Keller led all hitters with two home runs. In the South Pacific two days after the Cardinals defeated the Yankees, the Marines were engaged in battle along the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island group. On October 11, the Battle of Cape Esperance saw U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers successfully defend ground forces on Guadalcanal from Japanese naval bombardment. Weeks later, the Battle for Henderson Field saw the Marines defend the recently acquired (and renamed) Japanese air base, repulsing several attacks by the enemy’s 17th Army.
As the war progressed, much of the Pacific Theater focus was upon the Solomon Islands. After the hard-fought Guadalcanal campaign by the First Marine Division, the Japanese were putting up a fight on land and sea and in the air. The need for more men in all branches of the service was high and more ballplayers were volunteering as well as being drafted like other service-age Americans in late 1942 and early 1943. While many professional ballplayers were tapped to serve as physical instructors and play the game in morale-boosting capacities (to raise money or entertain troops), the majority of the thousands of former players served in front-line combat or support units. Even the Yankees and Cardinals saw their star players exchanging baseball flannels for the uniforms of their country. After the end of the World Series, the Yankees saw the departure of Tommy Henrich (who had enlisted in the Coast Guard in August but was permitted to continue playing) followed by Buddy Hassett, Phil Rizzuto and George Selkirk (all entered the Navy) and lastly Red Ruffing, drafted at age 39 in January, and Joe DiMaggio in February (both into the USAAF). The Cardinals lost Johnny Beazley (USAAF) and Buddy Blattner (Navy) less than a month after winning the World Series. Terry Moore departed in January (Army) followed by Enos Slaughter (USAAF) in February. Slaughter enlisted in August but delayed his departure until after the Series.
As was the case for all professional baseball clubs, the war continued to have an impact on personnel. The changes were dramatic for both the Yankees and Cardinals and yet each team managed to work their way back for a World Series rematch in October of 1943. The Yankees led the American League for most of the season’s first half before separating from their competition after Independence Day. The Cardinals trailed the National League leader, bouncing between the second and third place position until grabbing the lead for good in the middle of July and finishing 18 games ahead of Cincinnati with a 105-49 season won-lost record, nearly matching their 1942 record. The Yankees’ 98-win season seemed to indicate that they would be the underdog in the ’43 Series. However, odds makers gave the “Bronx Bombers” a slight edge over the reigning world champions.
Out of the gate, the Yankees took a 1-0 edge over the Cardinals on the back of right-handed pitcher Spud Chandler’s 7-hit, 4-2 complete game victory. The Cardinals evened the series as Mort Cooper held the Yankees to three runs on six hits. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion and first baseman Ray Sanders hit a pair of home runs, driving in three of the Cards’ four runs in the win. On the eve of Game 3, newspapers across the United States began carrying a story* written by an Associated Press war correspondent in the South Pacific, detailing an unusual trade proposal pitched to the eventual winner of the World Series.
The proposal that was pitched by Marine Corps aviator Major Gregory Boyington, commanding officer of VMF-214, was a morale-boost for his squadron as well as an incentive for the Cardinals and Yankees. Motivated by a desire for functional and comfortable headwear (and perhaps a desire for a little exposure for his squadron personnel), Boyington offered to trade the World Series victor an enemy aerial kill in exchange for a ball cap worn during the games. As AP correspondent William Hipple, a native of Tacoma, Washington, where Boyington spent his adolescent years and graduated from high school, mentioned in his article, “Such baseball caps are popular headgear in the tropics because they keep the sun out of the fliers’ eyes,” Hipple explained. “But they are scarce down here.”
At the time the article was penned, Boyington, who had already amassed 15 enemy kills to his credit (including those he collected while serving under Claire Chenault with the American Volunteer Group’s “Flying Tigers”), told Hipple that his squadron was “willing to put up 13 enemy planes.” Hipple wrote that the men of VMF-214 (now named “Blacksheep”) had already shot down these enemy aircraft in the previous two weeks. In effect, the major was presumably offering 13 kill stickers to the winning club before commencing with the efforts for their end of the trade. According to Hipple’s article, the Blacksheep said that they believed caps worn by the world champions would bring the squadron luck. “In return [for the caps], they [VMF-214 personnel] promise to make a clean sweep of the south Pacific aerial series, “Hipple concluded.
The third game of the series, the final played at Yankee Stadium, saw the hometown team take down the visitors 6-2 with catcher Bill Dickey and third baseman Billy Johnson leading the offense. Hank Borowy held the Cards to two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking three in eight innings. Johnny Murphy closed the game with a three-up, three-down ninth inning.
The final two games of the Series were played at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with the Yankees taking both games to secure the championship. Spud Chandler pitched his second complete game, a seven-hit, 2-0 shutout to finish the series 2-0 with an impressive .050 earned run average. Billy Johnson (.300), Bill Dickey and Frankie Crosetti (both .278) led New York batters and accounted for eight of the Yankees total of 14 runs in the series.
According to an article published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Wednesday, October 27, 1943, both the Yankees and Cardinals accepted Major Boyington’s and the other Blacksheep’s terms and within a few weeks of the end of the World Series, the Yankees and the Cardinals sent shipments of caps to the men of VMF-214 in the South Pacific.
After the series, the Yankees and Cardinals continued to see their star players exit for the service. Charlie Keller (U.S. Maritime Service, January 1944), Marius Russo (Army, February), Roy Weatherly (Army, April), Bill Dickey (Navy, June) and Billy Johnson (Army, June) were gone from New York. The Cardinals saw both Al Brazle and Harry Walker depart on successive days immediately after the World Series loss. Murry Dickson (Army, November), Lou Klein (Coast Guard, February 1944), Howie Krist (Army, March 1944) all departed for the service before the 1944 season.
By early December, a shipment arrived on the island of Vella Lavella where the Blacksheep squadron’s base of operations was located (approximately 250 miles northwest of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal). In the shipment were 20 baseball caps and six Louisville Slugger baseball bats as promised by the Cardinals. St. Louis’ bid for twenty enemy planes was outdone by more than double as Boyington’s fliers accounted for 48 aerial kills by December. The gifts from the Cardinals made for perfect photo and public relations opportunities as nationwide attention was being focused upon the “competition” between Boyington and a fellow Marine Corps aviator, Major Joe Foss, for the aerial kill record. Despite the “trade” appearing to be a boon (if not lucky) for VMF-214, Boyington’s combat flying career ended a month after the Cardinals caps arrived. On January 3, 1944, Major Gregory Boyington was shot down by an enemy fighter aircraft near the island of Rabaul and spent the remainder of the war as a POW after being picked up by a Japanese submarine.
After losing the 1943 series and five more players from their roster, the Cardinals appeared to have benefited from their deal with the Blacksheep in terms of luck. From the 16th game of the season, an 11-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals led the National League, finishing with a 14.5-game advantage over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis returned to the World Series for a third consecutive trip after duplicating their 1943 win-loss record. 1944 saw an all-St. Louis World Series as the American League’s Browns made their lone post-season appearance in their entire 52-year existence, losing to the Cardinals in six games.
The last two baseball seasons of the war (1944 and ’45) saw major league rosters that were dominated with players who were either 4F (declared unfit for service in the armed forces), teenagers or men who staved off retirement (or returned from it) while the fighting in Europe and the Pacific was reaching a climax.. The quality of baseball being played in major league parks was diminished as heightened service team play boosted morale in the combat theaters.
On January 8, 1944, the Blacksheep ended their second combat tour in the Solomon Islands five days after their commanding officer was shot down and missing in action. Marine Fighter Squadron 214 received the Presidential Unit Citation with nine of their pilots achieving “ace” status (five or more confirmed air-to-air kills). In their first three months of flying, the Blacksheep compiled an impressive record that included 97 confirmed enemy air-to-air kills, more than 200 aircraft destroyed or damaged, including those hit during VMF-214 ground-attack missions, and multiple enemy ships (troop transports and supply vessels) sunk.
The 1946 season was a year of healing for returning GIs, families who suffered loss and for the game. Many of the minor leagues were able to restart after ceasing operations early in the war. The major leagues saw most of their veteran players return from the service as rosters began to resemble what was seen in the 1942 and 43 seasons. The Cardinals returned to the World Series and defeated the odds-makers’ favorite, the Boston Red Sox. During the World Series, Lt. Col. Gregory Boyington announced the founding of the Disabled Veterans Rehabilitation Association to assist paralyzed WWII veterans to obtain jobs and housing. Having spent 20 months as a tortured POW held in Japanese prison camps, the Medal of Honor recipient and former VMF-214 commanding officer contracted severe arthralgia and had to deal with his own health issues following the war.
Regardless of the decades-long fruitless searches, our pursuit of original Blacksheep photos with their Cardinals caps and bats continues. However, our archvitist’s curiosity leaves us with a lingering question; what became of the Cardinals World Series caps and game used Louisville Slugger bats?
- Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game
- Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts
- Charlie “King Kong” Keller Rattles the Woodshed ending a Yearlong Silence
- *Yank Fliers in Pacific Bid for Caps of Winning Team in World Series – One Jap Zero for Each Cap, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), Thursday, October 7, 1943
- World Series Caps to Fliers – Honolulu Advertiser, Wednesday, October 27, 1943
- Nation’s Leading Air Aces Gain Laurels Against Japs – The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, IL), Tuesday, December 7, 1943