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Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature

The Dodgers were and still are my all-time favorite baseball team if not of all professional sports. With the Red Sox being a close second to the “Blue Crew,” I experienced a bit of a dream (and nightmare) World Series in 2018 where it was a difficulty for me choose the team that I wanted to win the most between the two clubs as they faced each other in  the championship. In 1991 when I made made my first trip to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was astounded to artifacts from my favorite teams including items from men who played in the first World Series meeting (in 1916) between my two favorite teams. That visit to the Hall of Fame also stirred within me a desire to pursue other facets (besides sports cards) of the collecting hobby, namely autographs.

After visiting the Hall of Fame Museum, I walked around the small village and patronized a small shop that seemed more like an extension of the museum than a store as it was filled with antique baseball memorabilia ranging from autographed baseballs, photographs, bats and other artifacts dating from the 1920s through the 1950s and up to (then) present day. Clearly this business’ clientele was more well-heeled than an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy as I could scarcely afford to make a purchase of a baseball artifact. Motivated by the overwhelming inventory of autographed memorabilia, one piece in the store did manage to catch and hold my attention, hatching an idea for me to pursue an area of collecting that I never previously gave much thought. Without any sort of hesitation, I purchased a copy of The Sport Americana Series Baseball Address List by R. J. Smalling and started to make a list of players from the “golden era” of the game that I would target for signatures.

My visit to Cooperstown left a lasting impact on me that punched a few holes in my Dodger-blue colored glasses, leaving me with a significant reduction in my hatred for the Giants. I was able to see beyond the rivalry and recognize the contributions of the players from the game rather than to be limited by the myopia influenced by my passion for a team. This transformation translated into an activity that included writing to veteran players (Hall of Famers, included) and requesting their autographs on various piece that I would send to them. One such player was a big first baseman from Demorest, Georgia (where he was born and raised and returned to after his baseball career ended) who spent his entire career crushing Dodgers (and all other National League) pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants carrying a .324 batting average, an on base percentage of .409 while slugging .588 with and OPS of .997 and almost 300 home runs in ten seasons. His prowess against Brooklyn didn’t cease when he left the National League and donned the pinstripes of the Yankees. Mize faced the Dodgers in 10 World Series games making 23 plate appearances and batted .400 with a .600 slugging percentage and an OBP of .478 and was approaching the end of his career. It goes without mentioning that (as a Dodgers fan) I shouldn’t care for Johnny Mize or his signature.

Mize’s career was one that caught my attention both at the Hall of Fame and as I scoured my copy of the massive Baseball Almanac book (which I still have). What stood out to me among his impressive statistics was the absence of playing time (and stats) from 1943 through 1945. Admittedly, I didn’t know that Mize left his player salary and the life of sport for the uncertainty of life itself in order to don the uniform of the United States Navy. But that is what Mize did in March of 1943 following being notified of a change of status from 3-A (registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents) to 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) – at the time, Mize was the sole provider to one of his aunts however by 1943, the draft boards underwent a change in the way hardships were viewed, especially since fathers (sole providers for their families) were being drafted.

Listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 215 lbs., Johnny Mize was well above the normal sized sailors who served during WWII. Here, the former Cardinals and Giants slugger is being fitted for his undress blue uniform at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in late March, 1943.

This Navy publicity photo was taken in 1944 and used in promotional materials and game programs in the Hawaii Leagues. Mize is shown in his pinstriped Navy home uniform.

The Giants first baseman was purported to have a blood coagulation issue that precluded him from Army service. Reported by the Sporting News, March 18, 1943, Giants manager, Mel Ott mentioned that “he had heard something about John being listed clinically as a bleeder, “meaning that Mize suffered from a form of hemophilia. Cleared for military service, Johnny Mize’s eligibility was transferred from the Army and he opted to join the Navy. While undergoing basic training, Mize was picked up by the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. By the end of May, 1943, Johnny Mize was appearing in the Bluejackets’ lineup as they competed against regional ball clubs and service teams. Mize remained at Great Lakes and on Cochrane’s Bluejackets roster until being transferred to Naval Training Center Bainbridge (Maryland).  While he was playing for the Bainbridge squad, Mize fell ill requiring a break from physical exertion resulting in significant weight-gain during his convalescence. When he returned to duty, Mize was transferred to the West Coast.

In February of 1944, Athletic Specialist 2nd Class Mize departed San Francisco Bay aboard the fleet minelayer, USS Terror (CM-5) and by late Spring, Mize was suiting up for the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers under manager Lieutenant Wes Schulmerich, previously of the Navy Pre-Flight Training program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see: Navy Pre-Flight Round-up: The Growth of the Cloudbusters Collection Takes Flight). Though Mize’s impact would be felt, he battled injury for a fair portion of the 1944 season which led to his omission, along with that of the 7th Army Air Force’s Joe DiMaggio, from the Central Pacific All-Stars team due to reduced playing time. Both Mize and DiMaggio joined their respective branch’s All Stars team for the Army-Navy World Series held throughout the Hawaiian Island from September 22 to October 15, 1944 (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific and Game 7 – Navy vs Army All-Stars Championship Series, October 1, 1944).

 

In his first two seasons of service team baseball (with the Bluejackets of Great Lakes and the Klippers), Mize didn’t slack off with his offensive production. In 1944 Mize was limited in his plate appearances at NAS Kaneohe due to a lingering injury.*

Year Club AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg
1943 Great Lakes 251 68 105 8 11 103 .418
1944 Kaneohe 70 11 22 4 0 6 19 .314
Totals 321 79 127 4 8 17 122 .396

In early 1945, LT. Bill Dickey tabbed Mize for duty in the Western Pacific participating with other professional ball players (serving in the Navy) in a goodwill and morale-boosting tour. Servicemen on at Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea and Peleliu would be able to enjoy games being played between teams from the “Third” and “Fifth” Fleets (see: 1945 3rd Fleet vs 5th Fleet – Pacific Tour).  With the main thrust of the Pacific offensive being fought in places such as Iwo Jima, Mize and his teammates found themselves on islands that still had an enemy presence. It was not uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of a ball field.

In this Navy Department photo, Johnny Mize is seen in the back row, just to the left of center, posing among the members of both the Third and Fifth Fleet teams. This image was taken during the Tour of the Pacific in the Spring of 1945.

This very rare and rudimentary scorecard was distributed for a March, 1945 game that featured the the two teams (“3rd” and “5th Fleet”) from the Navy’s Pacific Tour. The game was played at Valor Field on the island of Peleliu.

Within a few weeks following the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, Mize was making his way back to the United States mainland and would be discharged from active duty in time to make an appearance as a spectator at the 1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. It was noted by several reporters, ball players and coaches that Mize had dropped a significant amount of weight and appeared to be in top physical condition. Questioned about his health, Mize recounted his 1945 season of playing baseball five days a week for several months leading up to his separation from the Navy. Mize settled back into the routine of baseball with the Giants for the 1946 season, resuming his Hall of Fame career with a productive season despite his production drop from his 1942 season. In 1947, Mize led the National League in runs scored (137), runs batted in (138) and home runs (51), tying Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner. Despite Mize’s offensive prowess, his Giants finished in third place behind St. Louis and 13 games behind the National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.

Johnny Mize poses for a fan’s candid snapshot following a game in Hawaii in 1944.

While seated at my desk during a night shift at my last Navy duty station, I finished the letter that I wrote to the retired 80-year-old Hall of Famer, folded it and inserted the self-addressed and stamped envelope along with a few items for Mize to sign. I had no thoughts to the mortality of the immortal greats of the game until a few weeks later I learned that Johnny Mize had passed away and soon after, the envelope that I sent arrived in my mailbox was marked, “return to sender.”

Twenty five years later, I discovered a photo of Mize that, despite several flaws, caught my interest. The image was overexposed (either when the photo was captured or when it was printed in the darkroom) and has a discoloration blemish that is the result of improper darkroom chemical baths (the “stopbath” wasn’t fully removed in the rinse) leaving a residue that resulted in a dark patch on the surface of the print. The photo was captured by George Burke and might have been a cast-off print. Regardless of the condition, Mize, a prolific autograph signer, placed his mark on this vintage photo. It only took me a quarter of a century to finish what I set out to obtain.

Twenty five years after my attempt to get Mr. Mize’s autograph, I found this vintage photograph, clearly a cast-off of darkroom imperfection (underexposed and a dark spot on the top right is due to the chemicals not being fully washed at the time the print was developed), I was happy to add this signed print to my collection. That Mize is shown in his St. Louis uniform in his last season, there makes this much more palatable.

About the Johnny Mize artifacts
In addition to the signed photo, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection has gained other Johnny Mize-related artifacts that include multiple WWII scorecards from games that he played while serving in the U.S. Navy. Also, we acquired three photos of Mize during his time in the Navy starting off with him being fitted for his service uniform (undress blues), a navy-veteran’s snapshot of the slugger in Hawaii in 1944 (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and an official Navy publicity photo that came from the estate of Philadelphia Athletics and WWII Navy infielder, Al Brancato. Two other photographs shown here (copies of the originals) were provided to Chevrons and Diamonds from our collecting colleague, Mark Southerland who obtained the original vintage prints (many of which are signed) as part of a substantial group of photographs from the Bill Dickey estate. Lastly, the photograph of the Navy team posed in front of the B-29 is a Navy Department publicity print.

*Mize’s Navy playing stats compiled and provided by Mr. Harrington “Kit” Crissey

Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars

If it was at all possible to achieve, one of the more ambitious goals with my growing archive of vintage photographs depicting military baseball is to identify every person within each image. To underscore the difficulties that surround such a lofty objective, this very task was one that, though successful, was not an easy exercise in facial recognition as I thought it was for a group of four 1944-45 U.S. Navy baseball snapshots.

Vintage baseball photograph collecting has its traps and minefields to navigate for even the most experienced and knowledgeable collector.  Knowing the difference between a News Service and a Wire Service photo can help to protect potential buyers from grossly over-paying for prints. That same skill will also serve collectors well with recognizing a treasure among more common artifacts. Within my collection of military-centric vintage baseball photographs are candid snapshot-type photographs, taken by everyday GIs during their time in uniform.

Besides the rudimentary and unprofessional characteristics that are common among amateur photographers’ work, snapshots afford perspectives that are not routinely seen, especially surrounding events that have professional or press photographers creating images. The enjoyment gained within these vantage points is, however balanced out against the typical issues that are associated with non-professional photogs’ photographic prowess.  Detracting features of snapshots can vary from poor exposure, lack of focus, under/over developing, chemical stains (from the processing) and damage from excessive handling or being mounted to photo album pages.

This group of snapshots were part of a WWII Navy veteran’s collection. Determining the identities of the players turned into an incredibly rewarding research endeavor.

When a group of four snapshot photographs of candidly posed Navy baseball players was listed at auction a while ago, I didn’t hesitate to place my sniped bids based solely upon the subjects in each image. Each central subject was of a ballplayer wearing a baseball uniform surrounded by teammates, opponents and servicemen. The crowds in the background seemed to indicate that the images were captured following the conclusion of a game that was played before crowds of Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Each of the four central ball players seemed to have recognizable faces. I was certain of the identities of two of the four men and set out to identify the other two. The seller listed the photos stating that they originated from an estate of a husband and wife who were both serving in the armed forces and stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Each photo is sized the same: 4-½” x 2-½” making the images somewhat small and requiring significant magnification or my preference, a very high-resolution scan to truly evaluate the subjects. Judging by the uniforms and the two players that I was sure of (Johnny Vander Meer and Johnny Mize) and the known timelines of their service overseas (commencing with the service teams in the Central Pacific or Hawaii Leagues), I could narrow down the list of known Navy professional ballplayers.  Upon their arrival in the post, I began comparing the faces of the central subjects within each image against photos in my collection and with online resources as I attempted to correlate them with faces of names on Navy team rosters.

Self-assured in my assessment of having two of the identities nailed down (Johnny Mize and Johnny Vander Meer), I began seeking external assistance among my baseball historian peers, initially via private messaging and emails. The responses to the inquiries echoed my own thoughts regarding these two gentlemen. Their faces look very familiar and yet the identities are out of my recollective reach. My next step was to expand my call for help by floating the request and photos across a few of the historical baseball social media groups of which I am a member.

After a few weeks of sharing the photographs and garnering similar (to previous requests for assistance), I was connected to an author and fellow Navy veteran who had written and published a book that was the result of his extensive research surrounding Navy baseball during WWII. Harrington Crissey, Jr. (author of Athletes Away: A Selective Look At Professional Baseball Players In The Navy During World War IIresponded to my inquiry and threw a bit of a wrench into my thoughts for one of the two that I identified. “The set of four photos you sent me are of Bob Harris, Vern Olsen, Johnny Mize and George ‘Skeets’ Dickey, who was Bill Dickey’s brother,” wrote Crissey. In addition to the identities, narrowing down the date and location possibilities was one of my objectives. Mr. Crissey added, “Given the uniforms they are wearing, I’m almost certain the photos were taken during the Service World Series (a.k.a Army All Stars vs Navy All Stars Championship Series) which took place in the Hawaiian Islands between September 22 and October 15, 1944.”  All four of the men were listed among all of the individual scorecards that I have seen from the 11-game series.

Armed with Mr. Crissey’s information, I reviewed the scans of the four images to validate his identifications. Vern Olsen and Bob Harris were quite obvious matches when I reviewed various photographs of them online.  The confirmation of Mize being in one of the photos gave me a bit of relief that I had not mistaken him for someone else. Unfortunately, I missed badly on the photo that I thought was Vander Meer who was in fact, George Dickey (which I also validated with photographic comparisons) much to my disappointment.  Once I had a few clear examples of both Vander Meer and Dickey to compare, a sense of near-embarrassment surrounds my mistake.

Vern Olsen, Pitcher, USN (1942-1945) – Chicago Cubs, Tulsa Oilers

As sailors and marines exit the stadium, Vern Olsen stops to pose for a photo following one of the 1945 Navy All-Star games in the Hawaiian Islands in late September-early October.

Lavern Jarl Olsen was born to a Norwegian immigrant in the Portland, Oregon area and grew up playing baseball. By the time he was ready to begin his professional career, Vern signed a professional contract with the Pacific Coast League’s Angels of Los Angeles, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Before taking the mound with the Angels, he was farmed out to the Ponca City Angels (Class “C” of the Western Association) of Oklahoma in 1937. Moving up to the Tulsa Oilers (Class “A” Texas League) for the 1938 and most of the ‘39 season, 37-20 record before getting called up to Chicago for four appearances. By 1940, Olsen was a full-time pitcher in the big leagues with the Cubs. Though he was injured and dealt with illness for most of 1942, Olsen’s tenure in Chicago was decidedly positive and he was seemingly on his way to a good major league pitching career posting a 30-26 record in 107 appearances. After the 1942 season came to a close, Olsen enlisted and found himself playing for Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station team; the Blue Jackets.

By 1944, Olsen was pitching for the Aiea Hilltoppers in the Hawaiian League squaring off against other military teams (also stocked with professional talent). Olsen, along with the other three men in these photos, was a member of the fall of 1944 Army All Stars vs Navy All Stars Championship series that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. For 1945, Olsen was assigned to the Aiea Hospital baseball team in the 14th Naval District League. Vern Olsen did not play in the six-game 1945 Navy All-Star series (September 26-October 7, 1945) played after the Japanese Surrender and was discharged late in 1945. Vern reported to the Cubs’ spring training and made the team though he struggled to remain healthy having lost much of his pre-service baseball strength and conditioning.  Olsen was limited to sporadic use, pitching only 9-2/3-innings in five appearances which resulted in his release at the end of the season. In 1947, Olsen was in camp with the Giants briefly before finding his way to Tulsa where he made two pitching appearances for a total of four innings after which, he retired from the game.

Bob Harris – USN (1942-1945) – Detroit, St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia A’s

Amid a throng of sailors and service personnel, Navy pitcher Bob Harris poses for a sailor’s snapshot outside a Hawaiian ballpark following the conclusion of one of the fall, 1945 Navy All-Star games.

A big right-handed pitcher, 6-foot tall Harris made his major league debut in 1938 with the Detroit Tigers on September 19, 1938 following four minor league seasons. Facing the Senators at Briggs Stadium, Harris entered the game at the top of the eighth inning with his team already trailing the Nats, 11-2, Bob faced nine batters over the final two frames surrendering three hits and one earned run while striking out one batter and not yielding any free passes. Though Harris might not have been pleased with his first major league performance, it is no doubt that his family, friends and his home state were proud of his accomplishment as he became the first major league ball player hailing from Wyoming. Harris would make two more appearances in ‘38 (one in relief and one as a starter) notching his first win – a complete-game at Cleveland on the last day of the season. Harris would make just five appearances with the Tigers in 1939 before being traded to the hapless St. Louis Browns with four other Detroit teammates.

From 1939 through the end of the 1942 season, Harris posted a 30-61 record and a 4.68 earned run average. Control seemed to be a challenge for him to acquire on the mound as he surrendered 323 free passes against 224 strikeouts. Harris went the distance in 27 starts with five shutouts showing that there were bright spots in those seasons before the War.  With the 1942 season fully in Harris’ rear-view mirror and the War in the Pacific was a slugfest with the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, the 27-year-old major leaguer volunteered for Naval service, enlisting on November 15th. After completing his training at Tunny’s athletic specialist’s school at the Bainbridge Naval Training Station, Harris was pulled onto Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Blue Jackets squad, joining the three other subjects of this article (Olsen, Dickey and Mize) on, perhaps one of the most dominating forces in wartime service team baseball for the 1943 season.

Following his season with Great Lakes, Harris returned to Bainbridge Naval Training Station (Center) and this time filled a roster spot with the base’s service team; the Commodores. Johnny Mize, Vern Olsen, Johnny Lucadello, Ed Pelligrini, Joe Grace, Tom Ferrick and Marven Felderman. However, part way through 1944, these eight ballplayers found themselves making their way to the Central Pacific and onto various teams within the Hawaii League. Fellow Bainbridge teammates, Johnny Pesky, Barney McCoskey and Bob Scheffing remained with the Bainbridge team for the time-being.  In June, Harris was assigned to the 14th Naval District team of veritable major league all-stars that were an indicator of the future dominance of Navy baseball in the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Theater for the remainder of the War.  Harris made his way to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s ball team in early July that saw action against five other teams including the inevitable 1944 league champions, the 7th Army Air Force.

Rounding out the 1944 Hawaii League season, Bob Harris found himself as part of the Navy All Star team that resoundingly defeated the Army All Stars in four straight games to win the championship. Though the series victory was sealed, both teams agreed to play all seven games (prior to game one) which the Navy continued their win streak through six.  Left off the Third and Fifth Fleet tours of the Western Pacific, Harris rejoined the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team, participating in the 14th Naval District League for the 1945 season.

Following his service in the Navy, the 31-year-old pitcher made an attempt to resume his professional career in the game splitting time in 1946 between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Milwaukee Brewers, both in the American Association, appearing in just 16 games. Retired from playing, Harris was managing the North Platte (Nebraska) Plainsmen ball club in 1949 and by 1956, was working as an insurance salesman.

George “Skeets” Dickey – USN (1942 – 1945) – Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox

George “Skeets” Dickey smiles for the camera as a sailor takes a snap of the veteran catcher, surrounded by sailors and marines after one of the fall, 1945 Navy All-Star games in Hawaii.

Playing in the shadow of his older brother Bill, one could argue that the pathway to the major leagues was paved. Lacking the talent possessed by his hall of fame sibling, George was greatly limited in the number of games he played in during his six-year major league career.  When the United States entered WWII and baseball was given the “green light” (by President Roosevelt in January of 1942) to continue, some ball players began to stream into the armed forces to join the fight. George’s baseball season came to an end on September 25th of 1942 as the White Sox finished sixth in the American League with a 66-82 record, beating the Indians (8-1) in front of 200 fans at League Park. Dickey’s season ended the day before playing in his last game, reaching base once (base on balls) in four appearances.  Eighteen days later, George Dickey was in the Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and would join manager Mickey Cochrane’s squad for the 1943 season while serving as an anti-aircraft gunnery instructor. Following the team’s dominant performance, George (along with Johnny Mize) was transferred to Bainbridge Naval Training Center.

As the Navy began to assemble the top baseball talent in the Hawaiian Islands in 1944, George Dickey was transferred to Oahu and assigned to the Aiea Naval Hospital ball club joining his former Great Lakes teammate, Vern Olsen and fellow major leaguers Pee Wee Reese, Hank Feimster and Jim Carlin on the roster.  By the fall, Dickey would be pulled onto the Navy’s All-Star roster (for the aforementioned Army All-Stars versus Navy All-Stars Championship Series), joining his brother Bill (who managed the team) and the other three Navy ball players (in this group of snapshots).  George would find himself as part of a 28-man contingent (comprising the Third and Fifth Fleet teams) touring the forward areas of the Pacific, taking baseball to islands including Guam, Tinian and Saipan to entertain the troops.

Dickey returned to the Chicago White Sox in 1947 and played for just two seasons following the war. In 1948, George played for the Southern Association’s Birmingham Barons before he retired from the game.

Johnny Mize – USN (1943-1945) – St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants

Johnny Mize takes a moment to pose for a sailor’s photo outside of the ballpark surrounded by armed forces personnel. This was taken during one of the Navy All-Star games in late September-early October of 1945.

As with the three other ballplayers depicted in these photos, Mize began his naval service playing ball on Cochrane’s Great Lakes Blue Jackets squad in 1943. Following a stint at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center, Mize would be part of the exodus of domestic Navy service team players heading over to Hawaii to participate in the Hawaiian Leagues.

As the Navy dispersed their talent to various teams in the league, Johnny Mize found himself playing alongside fellow major leaguers Marv Felderman, Hugh Casey and Tom Ferrick on the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station’s Klippers. The team, managed by Lieutenant Commander Wes Schulmerich (who previously managed the Navy Pre-Flight Cloudbusters at Chapel Hill) suffered due to injuries sustained by two key players; Felderman and Mize, finishing in fifth place behind the Aiea Barracks Maroons. In third place were the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins followed by second place Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the league champions, the Flyers of the 7th Army Air Force.

By the season’s end, Navy brass pulled Mize onto the Navy’s All-Star team to square off against the Army’s All Stars in a series that was so loaded with a caliber of talent not seen in the major leagues since the 1941 season.  Following the Navy’s easy victory in the All-Star Championship Series, Mize was assigned to play baseball in the forward Pacific Islands in 1945 joining George Dickey and 26 other sailors on a baseball tour, entertaining the troops in the forward areas.  After the Japanese surrender, Mize returned home and was discharge in October, resuming his career with the Giants in 1946 on his way to the Hall of Fame.

These four simple photographs provide small vignettes into a moment that was experienced by an unknown WWII navy veteran who could have been convalescing as he recovered from wounds sustained during the War. For the person who has reservations about these men who played the game while most American young men were off fighting, it is recommended that they observe the veterans among these four players. Understanding what it meant to have a few hours’ break from the pain of recovery or the monotonous life of serving aboard ship or faraway places would change most negative perspectives.

Baseball was transportive and transformative for our troops and remains the same today.

References:

Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific

In looking at my article writing and publishing patterns of the last twelve months, I can see that I have been merely sporadic and entirely lacking consistency. Since the beginning of April, 2017 until my latest article (at the time of writing this), Seals at War, I have only managed to create 20 articles (a 1.67/month average). A simple scan of the titles reminds me of the reason for such inconsistency: this genre of the baseball or militaria hobby is very sparse in terms of the availability of artifacts. I also suspect that with the steady increase of readership of my articles, I am potentially my own worst enemy as my stories are fueling others’ interest in this area of collecting.

Adding only a handful of artifacts to my collection had a direct correlative impact on providing me with my preferred inspirational subject-matter. In the last several weeks, my bank account of inspiration has received some fantastic credits that are changing the year-long, stagnant trend. In addition to landing the 1944 Seals scorebook, the Waldron NAAF Jersey, a magnificent 1920s baseball medal, and my very first military-related baseball which is getting (my) 2018 off to a very bright start…and there is much more to come!

As with baseball, we can’t win every game and that was the case with the auction of the circa-1944 photograph of the U.S. Navy baseball team on Tinian on which my meager bid was summarily beaten, a few short weeks ago. Missed opportunities are a part of life, the game and so go hand-in-hand with collecting. Whiffing on an artifact that would be an absolutely perfect fit for my collection can be frustrating and yet these occurrences are positive in that I gain understanding on those pieces that are in greater demand and thus have more competitors to land them.

In the article I wrote about the 1944 Seals score book, I made reference to the two WWII service teams pieces that I previously purchased. The first one that I acquired, a Program and score card from the Third Army Championship games, hosted in early August of 1945 at Nuremberg Stadium in Germany opened my eyes to how invaluable these pieces are as records of men who played as they served. The second piece that came home was a battered Scorecard from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Furlong Field on Hickam Army Air Force Base. Both of these game are have been well-documented. There is one additional scorecard (article forthcoming) for a USAAF all-star game that I have in my collection.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a few listings from a person who was selling some fantastic pieces of military baseball memorabilia (purportedly acquired from a hobbyist). In seeing how the bidding was proceeding on the three pieces that I was very interested in (two scorecards and a score book) were from World War II and related to specific games that were played between all-star service teams whose teams consisted primarily of professional baseball players.

  1. Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
  2. Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi
    Friday October 6, 1944
  3. Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series

Each piece already has numerous bids on them when I first saw them and I realized within a short period of time that each one was going to exceed not only what I was willing to pay for any of them but also their market value. The italicized text is intentional as what a particular piece is worth can be highly subjective. With these items having been produced in small numbers (that is my speculation due to the audiences that are believed to have attended the games), there are so few of them and transaction histories are difficult to obtain (I manually track them) which further complicates the discussion surrounding valuation. In the end, the price that one person is willing to pay essentially establishes the value of an item.  For each of these pieces of military baseball ephemera, the excitement of the bidding and the desire to win an auction resulted, in my opinion, inflated final bid prices.

As an aside, less attention was given to a signed team baseball (one of the Navy teams on the rosters contained withing the scorecards) resulting in a very low price and facilitating my ability to land my second military baseball in less than two weeks.

The three items are considerable pieces that shine more light on these little-known games by providing rosters with the names of players, positions, their former teams, branches and, on one roster, the ranks of  the ball players.

1. Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944

Navy vs Major League All Stars score card, April 19, 1944 (source: eBay image).

Though my research has yielded no information regarding this specific game, I am confident that in time, I will be able to locate a Stars and Stripes article, at the very least.  Some facts that stand out to me in viewing this artifact lie within the rosters themselves. While the major league all-stars team consisted of mostly major leaguers who were serving in the Navy, one player, Tom Winsett, was serving in the Army.  I am didn’t quite conclude my research to determine which of the Dickey brothers (Bill or George) was suited up for the Major League team however I do know that both served in and played on the Navy teams.  Considering this roster, one would suspect that the odds of a team of naval personnel could pose any sort of a challenge to be rather slim.

Major League All-Stars Roster

Last First Position Branch Former Team
Casey Hugh P Navy Brooklyn Dodgers
Dickey     Navy  
Felderman Marv C Navy Chicago Cubs
Ferrick Tom P Navy Cleveland Indians
Grace Joe 3B Navy St. Louis Browns
Harris Robert A. P Navy Philadelphia Athletics
Lucadello John 2B Navy St. Louis Browns
Masterson Walter E. P Navy Washington Senators
McCosky Barney CF Navy Detroit Tigers
Mize Johnny 1B Navy St. Louis Cardinals
Olsen Vern RF Navy Chicago Cubs
Pellagrini Eddie SS Navy San Diego Padres
Reese Pee Wee SS Navy Brooklyn Dodgers
Winsett  Tom LF Army Brooklyn Dodgers

(Major League players in italics)

The Navy All-Stars team wasn’t simply stocked with neophytes and amateur ball players. Present on the roster for the Navy were five veterans hailing from the Athletics and Senators of the American League.  At least two of the amateurs (Mo Mozzali and John Jeandron) went on to play professional baseball and perhaps continued research will yield more confirmations of post-War athletic careers of these men.

Last First Position Rank Former Team
Anderson Arne P SM Washington Senators
Atkinson Norman E. “Gene” C TM2/c Semi-Pro
Bishop Tom B. SS EM2/c Semi-Pro
Brady E. J. 2B SF2/c
Brancato Al SS SK2/c Philadelphia Athletics
Brass T. H. P C Sp
Brennen J. D. P EM2/c
Clifford N. E. C MM2/c
Durkin R. E. LF MM2/c
Felonk A. F. CF MM3/c
Harris Bob P SP 1/c Philadelphia Athletics
Hecklinger E. T. 1B GM3c
Henry G. P CBM
Jeandron John Hubert 3B PhM3/c Port Arthur Tarpons
Johnson A. Rankin P YN1/c Philadelphia Athletics
Madigan N. J. P ML1/c
Masterson Walter E. P C Sp Washington Senators
McCorkle C Cox
Merhoff F. D. RF GM1/c
Meyers A. J. 1B S2/c
Meyers D. T. RF S2/c
Mozzali Mo LF TM2/c
Powell J. H. CF MS1/c
Roos N. S. P SM
Sessions Oscar M. P CEM Navy
Simione P. S. CF BM2/c
Snider F. T. RF SM
Stutz E. F. P CM2/c
Ward R. L. 3B CMM
White C. D. 2B EM2/c

The fact that a few items surfaced as I was watching this scorecard, I didn’t bother to submit a bid as the price seemed to be capable of exceeding (in my experience) the prices that these pieces normally garner. When the bidding closed, the final price was less than $51.00 but I suspect that the winning bidder had significant bid that would preclude prospective buyers from submitting a reasonable price that would be capable of toppling.

2. Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi | Friday, October 6, 1944

Navy versus Army All Star Game Program. October 6, 1944, Hoolulu Park, Hilo, HI (source: eBay image).

The second of the three scorecards that was sold garnered considerably greater interest (16 bids) as it sold for more than double of the preceding card and that was undoubtedly due to the sheer star power contained within both teams’ the rosters. Though the Army team for this game was fully-stocked with veritable stars taken from the ranks of the majors and minor leagues, the Navy team carried far more stars with major league experience. One of the Army’s star hitters, Ferris Fain, was building a name for himself and taking advantage of the opportunity as he demonstrated his abilities with his Army Air Force team, playing on the team at Hickam Air Field on Oahu. Fain had played four seasons of professional baseball with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League but was making a name for himself prior to enlisting following the 1942 season.  Nine of Fain’s teammates on this Army All-Star team were major leaguers, headlined by seven-time American League All-Star and two-time league MVP, Joe DiMaggio who had also been playing for the Army Air Force team with Fain.

Last First Position Former Team
Ardizoia Rugger P Kansas City Blues
Ashworth James C Helena
Beazley Johnny P St. Louis Cardinals
Clarke Joe Coach Semi-Pro
DeRose Carl P Amsterdam
Dillinger Bob 3B Toledo Mud Hens
DiMaggio Joe OF New York Yankees
Edwards Hank OF Cleveland Indians
Erautt Eddie “Ace” P Hollywood Stars
Fain Ferris 1B San Francisco Seals
Funk Eddie P Federalsburg, MD
Gautreaux Sid C Brooklyn Dodgers
Gordon Joe SS New York Yankees
Hairston Hal P Homestead Grays
Judnich Walter OF St. Louis Browns
Kohlmeyer Kearney SS
Lang Don OF Indianapolis Indians
Leonard Wilfred C Oakland Oaks
Lien Al P San Francisco Seals
Lodigiani Dario 2B Chicago White Sox
McCormick Mike OF Cincinnati Reds
Molberg Dick P Semi-Pro
Schmidt Bill P Sacramento Solons
Schmidt Don P Semi-Pro
Shumbree John Coach Semi-Pro
Silvera Charley C Kansas City Blues
Winsett Tom Winsett Mgr. Brooklyn Dodgers

The Navy team, in addition to being considerably larger (37), outnumbered the Army’s major leaugers (9) by more than three-to-one and one could assume that such a talent disparity would result in their dominance in this particular game.

Unlike today’s game in which players routinely migrate from one major league team and league to another, these men were subject to Baseball’s Reserve Clause making them perpetual “property” of their respective teams, indefinitely (until being released or traded). Noting that within these rosters, several major league teammates oppose each other with their respective service teams. It wasn’t until 1947 with Major League Baseball was integrated with the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ roster (having played the 1946 season at AA Montreal), but in 1944, the Army team featured pitcher Hal Hairston, formerly of the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.

Last First Position Former Team
Adair Jim P Midland Cowboys
Anderson Arne R.  P Washington Senators
Atkinson Norman E. C Semi-Pro
Berry John OF University of Oregon
Bishop Tom B. SS Semi-Pro
Brancato Al 3B Philadelphia Athletics
Carlin Jim OF Philadelphia Phillies
Casey Hugh P Brooklyn Dodgers
Dickey Bill Mgr. New York Yankees
Dickey George C Chicago White Sox
DiMaggio Dominick OF Boston Red Sox
Evans Gordon OF Charleston Senators
Feimster Hank P Boston Red Sox
Felderman Marv C Chicago Cubs
Ferrick Tom P Cleveland Indians
Grace Joe OF St. Louis Browns
Hallet Jack P Pittsburgh Pirates
Harris Robert A. P Philadelphia Athletics
Jeandron John Hubert 2B Port Arthur Tarpons
Johnson A. Rankin P Philadelphia Athletics
Lucadello John 2B St. Louis Browns
Masterson Walter E. P Washington Senators
McCosky Barney OF Detroit Tigers
Mize Johnny 1B St. Louis Cardinals
Mozzali Mo Mozzali OF Louisville, KY
Olsen Vern P Chicago Cubs
Recca Sal 3B Norfolk Tars
Reese Pee Wee SS Brooklyn Dodgers
Rizzuto Phil 3B New York Yankees
Rowe Lynn “Schoolboy” P Detroit Tigers
Schulmerich Wes Asst. Mgr Boston Red Sox
Sears Ken “Ziggy” C New York Yankees
Sessions Oscar M. P Navy
Shokes Eddie 1B Cincinnati Reds
Smith Vince C Pittsburgh Pirates
Trucks Virgil P Detroit Tigers
Vander Meer Johnny P Cincinnati Reds

This scorecard was printed and distributed for on of the games in what was known as the Army-Navy World Series that was held throughout the Hawaiian Islands from September 22 to October 15, 1944. The Navy bested the Army, eight games to two (in this series) with the ninth game concluding in a 10-inning, 6-6 tie. This scorecard is specific to game 9.

3. Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series

Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series. Naval Air Station Kaneohe versus Fleet Air Wing Detachment (source: eBay image).

The last of the scorecards also originates from the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series. This particular game (the fourth of 11) was played at Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks, September 25, 1944. According to Baseball in Wartime, the game was filled with excitement but would wind up with a fourth consecutive victory for the Navy All-Stars.

“The Navy took an early lead over the Army in the fourth game, witnessed by 10,000, as it jumped on four hurlers for 11 hits. Johnny Mize, ex-Giant first baseman, poled a 360-foot homer in the first inning after Barney McCosky walked, and the Navy scored one in the third and fourth, four in the fifth and single runs in the sixth and seventh to win, 10 to 5. The Army could not get its sights set up til the sixth frame, when five runs rolled over the plate, during which rally Ferris Fain, from the San Francisco Seals, and Joe Gordon, former New York Yankee second baseman, homered, knocking out Virgil Trucks and bringing Schoolboy Rowe, last with the Phillies, to the rescue.

Johnny Beazley, who was the victim in the first game, was hit freely by the Navy and retired in the fifth inning in favour of Ed Erautt, property of the Hollywood Pacific Coast League club, who, in turn, was succeeded by Carl DeRose, New York Yankee farmhand, in the sixth. Hairston finished up on the mound for the Army.”

This scorebook is, by far, the most desirable of the three that were sold. Complete with player photos of the star players, the book consists of multiple pages and, like the previous two scorecards, is unused.  Topping out in both the number of bids (19) and selling price ($122.68), the most desired piece of the three didn’t fail to draw the most attention among the three auctions.

The Rosters for both of these last championship series games are nearly identical with the same combination of major and minor leaguers along with a few semi-professionals and a collegiate ball player.

Army All-Stars:

Number Last First Position Former Team
13 Ardozoia Rugger P Kansas City Blues
10 Ashworth James C Helena
16 Beazley Johnny P St. Louis Cardinals
30 Clarke Joe Coach Semi-Pro
17 DeCarlo A. C
27 DeRose Carl P Amsterdam
1 Dillinger Bob 3B Toledo Mud Hens
4 DiMaggio Joe CF New York Yankees
11 Edwards Hank C Cleveland Indians
19 Erautt Eddie “Ace” P Hollywood Stars
7 Fain Ferris 1B San Francisco Seals
18 Funk Eddie P Federalsburg, MD
15 Gautreaux Sid C Brooklyn Dodgers
6 Gordon Joe SS New York Yankees
28 Hairston Hal P Homestead Grays
3 Judnich Walter RF St. Louis Browns
22 Kohlmeyer Kearney SS
12 Lang Don LF Indianapolis Indians
9 Leonard Wilfred C Oakland Oaks
25 Lien Al P San Francisco Seals
2 Lodigiani Dario 2B Chicago White Sox
5 McCormick Mike LF Cincinnati Reds
23 Molberg Dick P Semi-Pro
24 Schmidt Bill P Sacramento Solons
21 Schmidt Don P Semi-Pro
29 Schumbres J. Coach
8 Silvera Charley C Kansas City Blues
20 Winsett Tom Winsett Mgr. Brooklyn Dodgers

 

Navy All-Stars:

Number Last First Position Former Team
12 Adair Jim P Midland Cowboys
26 Anderson Arne R.  P Washington Senators
10 Atkinson Norman E. C Semi-Pro
9 Berry John RF University of Oregon
4 Bishop Tom B. SS Semi-Pro
17 Brancato Al 3B Philadelphia Athletics
16 Carlin Jim LF Philadelphia Phillies
27 Casey Hugh P Brooklyn Dodgers
28 Dickey Bill Mgr. New York Yankees
15 Dickey George C Chicago White Sox
11 DiMaggio Dominick CF Boston Red Sox
31 Evans Gordon LF Charleston Senators
  Feimster Hank P Boston Red Sox
18 Felderman Marv Chicago Cubs
28 Grace Joe RF St. Louis Browns
29 Hallet Jack P Pittsburgh Pirates
24 Harris Robert A. P Philadelphia Athletics
20 Jeandron John Hubert 2B Port Arthur Tarpons
23 Johnson A. Rankin P Philadelphia Athletics
6 Leibold David Bat Boy
5 Lucadello John 2B St. Louis Browns
26 Masterson Walter E. P Washington Senators
3 McCosky Barney CF Detroit Tigers
32 Mize Johnny 1B St. Louis Cardinals
13 Mozzali Mo Mozzali CF Louisville, KY
30 Olsen Vern P Chicago Cubs
21 Recca Sal 3B Norfolk Tars
34 Reese Pee Wee SS Brooklyn Dodgers
2 Rizzuto Phil SS New York Yankees
26 Rowe Lynn “Schoolboy” P Detroit Tigers
30 Schulmerich Wes Asst. Mgr. Boston Red Sox
14 Sears Ken “Ziggy” C New York Yankees
19 Sessions Oscar M. P Navy
29 Shokes Eddie 1B Cincinnati Reds
1 Smith Vince C Pittsburgh Pirates
22 Trucks Virgil P Detroit Tigers
27 Vander Meer Johnny P Cincinnati Reds

Though the series was billed as a best seven of the eleven games, the Navy had the series nailed shut well ahead of completing all eleven. The military brass wanted to ensure that the service members throughout the Islands had full opportunity to see the baseball legends taking the field with some 10,000 spectators in attendance at each game.

The 1944 Army/Navy All-Star Championship Series in Hawaii

  1. September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0)
  2. September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0)
  3. September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3)
  4. September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5)
  5. September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2)
  6. September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4)
  7. October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3)
  8. October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0)
  9. October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5)
  10. October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)
  11. October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5)

These two scorecards (or scorebooks) from the 1944 Championship Series (also billed as the Army vs Navy World Series) are unique to their respective games. Combining the two (above) with the one scorecard that I possess tells me that there is a good possibility that there is a potential for seven others to be on the lookout for.

Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944

Baseball is and has been played on every surface imaginable, gravel, dirt, tarmac, turf (both natural and artificial) and even concrete. The locations can be almost anywhere: in the middle of a palatial stadium, encircled with 45,000 spectators or in a Midwestern cornfield with a lone bleacher stand enough for 10 viewers.

The opening game of the 1943 baseball season at Furlong Field. This diamond would see dozens of baseballs brightest and best don their spikes and military-team flannels to entertain the troops stationed in Hawaii during WWII.

The opening game of the 1943 baseball season at Furlong Field. This diamond would see dozens of baseballs brightest and best don their spikes and military-team flannels to entertain the troops stationed in Hawaii during WWII.

Picture yourself seated in a wooden bleacher with the fragrance of fresh cut grass blending with aviation engine exhaust from the nearby flight-line of a major U.S. Army Air Force Base, nestled among the swaying palm trees. In the not-so-far-off distance, the sound of ship’s bells and whistles could be heard emanating from the ships in Pearl Harbor. Under the warm tropical sun, you begin to look at your blank scorecard, in awe of what is before you. The lineups are about to be announced, but without prompting, you already recognize the faces.

There were many professional ball players stationed within the military in Hawaii during the World War II years. By 1944, The Navy’s Central Pacific Area Service League and Fourteenth District League had over 30 major leaguers. Playing in the six-team Central League were the Kaneohe Klippers (Johnny “Big Cat” Mize from the NY Giants) and the Aiea Hospital Team (featuring Harold Pee Wee Reese from the Brooklyn Dodgers). By mid-spring, the Seventh Army Air Force team’s roster was bolstered with the arrival of the New York Yankees star outfielder, the Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

At the beginning of that Autumn, what was known by the locals as “The Real World Series” was scheduled for play between the Army and Navy teams (each roster, essentially made up of all stars from these leagues). With all of the stars of the game filling out both rosters, the draw would be substantial fields throughout Oahu and the surrounding islands. In the first four games alone, a total of 64,000 all-service member audience filled the bleachers and lined the fields to watch the Navy team take a four game lead over the Army squad.

9/22 – Navy 5-0 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/23 – Navy 8-2 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/25 – Navy 4-3 (Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks)
9/26 – Navy 10-5 (Kaneohe Bay NAS)
9/28 – Navy 12-2 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/30 – Navy 6-4 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
10/1 – Army 5-3 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
10/4 – Navy 11-0 (Maui)
10/5 – Army 6-5 (Maui)
10/6 – Tie (14 innings) 6-6 (Hilo)
10/15 – Navy 6-5 (Kukuiolono Park, Kaui)

Navy took the series 8-2-1  (read more about this series)

I have been in the baseball militaria collecting game for a few years. I watch for pieces to surface that would be great additions or that are connected to some of the more well-known events and players. These more significant pieces seldom present themselves and when they do, I try my best to acquire them. Though my ultimate desire would be to land a uniform from one of the players who participated in these games, they might be cost-prohibitive (provided the piece has provenance connecting it to one of the famous players).

Score card from Game 4 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Hickam Army Army Air Force Base at Furlong Field.

Score card from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Hickam Army Air Force Base at Furlong Field.

Last week, I was able to locate a piece that is directly tied to this championship series. When I first truly began searching for items, one of these scorecards surfaced and I had so little time to respond – to research provenance and what was an appropriate price to pay. I wanted the scorecard but I didn’t want to get caught in a bidding war, trying to out-duel another buyer who was more inclined to win the auction rather that to be intelligent with his money. My lack of bidding meant that I would be waiting more than three years to see another example come onto the market. In this instance, there would be two.

With my winning bid, I paid and awaited the arrival of the scorecard. The auction photos showed it to have been folded and the original owner did not use it to keep score (I wish that he had). My example was dated for the October 1, 1944 game (#7) in which the Army squad etched their first victory of the dominant Navy team.

Lt Tom Winsett finally tasted the sweetness of revenge as his khakimen outscored Lt Bill Dickey’s champions, 5 to 3, at Furlong Field, Oahu, October 1. The soldiers made five runs on the six hits allowed by Virgil Trucks. Homers by Lang in the second, Dillinger in the sixth with DeCarlo on base and Fain in the ninth, with Judnich resting on first, accounted for all Army runs. Trucks doubled home Reese in the second. Singles by DiMaggio, Brancato and Shokes, sandwiched between DiMaggio’s stolen base and Reese’s walk, tallied a brace of runs for the Tars in the third. Bill Schmidt, former Sacramento pitcher, who spelled DeRose in the third frame, was credited with the victory.

The defeat was the first one of the year for Trucks. The Detroiter had won ten tilts for the Great Lakes Blue Jackets before copping two series games. In losing, Trucks struck out nine, walked four. Big Bill allowed only two hits and no runs, walked nobody and struck out four in four innings. Reese, brilliant on the bases and in the field, led the batters with three for four.

 – Source: Baseball in Wartime

The scorecard is nothing fancy (by comparison to others in my collection). The cover is simple and quite bold with the unmistakable text. The interior bi-fold holds generic box score cards for each team. What truly makes this piece of ephemera is the composition of the team rosters. Listed among the names are nearly 40 major league players; five of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown:

  • Joe Gordon
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Pee Wee Reese
  • Bill Dickey
  • Phil Rizzuto

Also listed among the names are players from what was then considered to be the third major league, the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Having these rosters in hand is great and helps to tell a more inclusive story.

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