During World War II, Oahu was the epicenter for baseball in the Hawaiian Islands. While a handful of former professional baseball players were present on the island in the months following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, more began to arrive in the spring of 1943. One of them was Chief Athletic Specialist Walter Masterson, who had previously pitched major league ball for the Washington Senators. By 1944, Oahu was a hotbed of talent, with dozens of former major leaguers and players who were previously in the high minors filling rosters of Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces teams throughout the island. While some of the military installations on outlying islands also fielded teams with professional-caliber talent, the level of play was not at the same level as was seen on Oahu.
Despite the lack of major leaguers, the 10-team AAA League on the big island of Hawaii commenced play on Sunday, April 30, to considerable fanfare from combined crowds or more than 3,000 spectators at Truck and Hoolulu Parks. Aside from the civilian Hawaiis, the balance of the league largely consisted of service clubs from the Army, Marines and Navy.
Big Island Baseball
In the last half of April, 1944, the big island’s premier diamond circuit, the AAA Baseball League, announced the participating teams and their managers.
- Sea Bees – Lt. K. G. MacLeod
- Air Corps Natives – Lt. John Gordon (first half only)
- Templeers – Pfc. M. Brustad
- Rens – Sgt. John Hand (combined with Powderbugs 4 games into the season)
- Powderbugs – Sgt. Major White (combined with Rens 4 games into the season)
- Renords – (combined Powderbugs/Rens team)
- Scrap Irons – Capt. Carl Merrill
- Hawaiis – Sonny Henderson
- Banyon Marines – Louis Sillars
- Navy Flyers – Chief Bill Fowler
- Navy “Little Varsity” – Chief Daugherty
- Tank Busters – Georgie Jordan (second half, only)
Of the ten clubs in the league, only one roster lacked active duty military personnel on its roster. The Hawaiis, like their same-name counterparts in Oahu’s Honolulu League, consisted of local baseball stars and were perennial league contenders. In addition to their high level of talent, the Hawaiis held an edge over the league due to the years of developing cohesiveness, stemming from maintaining roster consistency. While the Hawaiis’ advantage made them an obvious pre-season favorite, another well-stocked team, the Navy Flyers, would contest the prognosticators. Drawing from naval units based at the Naval Air Station (NAS), the Flyers assembled their club with players with prior sandlot, high school, collegiate, semipro, and professional baseball experience.
The Flyers of Naval Air Station Hilo assembled a formidable roster of athletes, including one former minor leaguer, Bob Cummins, a centerfielder who split the 1943 season between the Class “D” Kingsport Cherokees (Appalachian League) and the Roanoke Red Sox of the Class “B” Piedmont League. A few months after the end of the baseball season, Oakland, California native Cummins enlisted on December 27, 1943, and after his boot camp training was stationed on the island of Hawaii. The Flyers’ manager, Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, took note of Seaman first class Cummins’ baseball credentials and tapped him for duty both in the outfield and on the mound.
Chief Fowler had an eye for talent as he constructed the Flyers’ roster, drawing from NAS Hilo commands. A former Bethesda, Maryland area high school three-sport star and University of Maryland basketball and baseball player, Leon Vannais was another catch for the Flyers. He played semipro baseball in 1941 in Hackensack, New Jersey, for the O’Shea’s Glenwoods as a first baseman, outfielder, and pitcher. In the days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Vannais joined the Navy, entering the naval aviation cadet program. Ensign Vannais earned his wings in October, 1942, and completed advanced training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1943 ahead of his assignment to Hilo. Vannais, an aircraft carrier-qualified torpedo dive bomber pilot, was assigned to the Naval Air Station, though his days on land were likely short due to the fleet’s demand for his expertise.
San Leandro, California native Francis Guisto was working as a shipfitter, building Liberty ships at the Richmond Shipyard, Richmond, California. A graduate of Manteca Union High School’s class of 1940, Guisto was one of 50 attendees at a major league tryout camp held in Marysville, California in late July, 1941. The camp was led by C. F. “Al” Chapman, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds organization. During a July 27 exhibition game between the camp squad and the local semipro Orinda Reds, Guisto accounted for the campers’ lone score in the 3-1 loss with a line shot to left centerfield, driving in a base runner. Guisto had another tryout at the end of September, but unfortunately he was not one of the three players, all pitchers, signed to minor league contracts. Guisto entered the Navy in early 1943 and following completion of boot camp, he boarded the USS Republic (AP-33) on July 21, bound for Pearl Harbor. The future Flyers first baseman was transferred to Hilo soon after arriving on Oahu. He was added to the Navy Flyers’ basketball roster as a forward and was touted by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald as a ringer would “give opponents a real headache” (Navy Cagers Look Strong, by Jim Moore, November 29, 1943).
Hilo’s 1944 Baseball Season
Pre-season prognostications pointed toward an end-of-season showdown between the two well-stocked clubs: Hilo’s civilian club, the Hawaiis, and the Naval Air Station Hilo club, the Navy Flyers. By the end of the season’s first half of play, the civilian club held a one-game advantage over the Flyers heading into the break. At the AAA League’s mid-season break, five of the Flyers, first baseman Francis Guisto, pitcher George Babich and second baseman Gunnar Hagstrom, were selected as league All-Stars.
At a mere 145 pounds, the diminutive second baseman, Ensign Gunnar Hagstrom, stared down some of baseball’s giant hitters in pair of games on July 3 and 5, 1944, at Truck Park in Hilo. Arguably the game’s greatest hitter of the 1940s, the “Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, was three years removed from his 56-game hitting streak when he stood in the batter’s box against Hagstrom and his Defenders, a squad of the island’s AAA League All-Stars. While many of Hagstrom’s teammates may have been intimidated by the visiting juggernaut 7th Army Air Force team, sharing the diamond with such talent was nothing new to him.
Hagstrom’s Navy Flyers club finished the season’s first half of play one game behind the Hawaiis. Though Leon “Lefty” Vannais would have been a shoo-in selection for the AAA All-Stars, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s sports columnist, Jimmie Page, reported on June 19 that the Navy Flyers had lost him, their best pitcher. Though his departure to the fleet left a hole in the NAS Hilo’s pitching rotation, Page wrote on July 8, “the Navy Flyers should have about the same kind of club.”
The two-game series with the 7th AAF was scheduled by AAA League officials in early June to coincide with the mid-season break.
|All-Star Player||Position||Hometown||AAA Club|
|Carl Allen||UIF||Denver, CO||Templeers|
|George Michael Babich||P||Bayonne, NJ||Navy Flyers|
|John Berutich||OF||San Francisco, CA||Navy Little Varsity|
|Harry Brooks||OF||St. Louis, MO||Marines|
|Tom Cancelli||SS||Patterson, NJ||Scrap Irons|
|Wardell Clyburn||UIF||Englewood, NJ||Renords|
|James Corbett||C||N. Tonawanda, NY||Navy Flyers|
|Bill Fowler||Mgr.||Yakima, WA||Navy Flyers|
|John Fox||OF||Marian, IN||Sea Bees|
|Francis Guisto||1B||Stockton, CA||Navy Flyers|
|Gunnar Hagstrom||2B||Pittsfield, Mass.||Navy Flyers|
|Frank Kendall||P||Canby, OR||Sea Bees|
|Sam Mamula||3B||Martins Ferry, OH||Marines|
|Martin Moharsky||P||Kingston, PA||Marines|
|Tom Peacock||OF||Fort Worth, TX||Navy Flyers|
|Bob Peterson||UIF||Denver, CO||Sea Bees|
|Roe Sarsuelo||P||Territory of Hawaii||Hawaiis|
|Edward Schnelling||C||St. Louis, MO||Templeers|
|Julius Siegel||OF||Detroit, MI||Templeers|
The Defenders roster, led by Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, featured the league’s best pitcher (in the absence of the departed Vannais) in Babich, who, in addition to Hagstrom and Guisto, was accompanied by fellow Flyers Tom Peacock (OF) and Jim Corbett (P) on the All-Star roster.
The 7th AAF swept the series with a 5-2 victory in the first game and a 5-0 shutout in the second. The Defenders’ pitching and defense held the great DiMaggio hitless until game two, when he hit a sizzling shot down the left foul line past Hagstrom, who was then stationed at the hot corner. In seven total at-bats, DiMaggio reached base on a single, an error and a walk and scored a run. Facing Frank Saul, former Seton Hall standout, Hagstrom was hitless in four appearances in the first game. Starting at third base in game two, Hagstrom was blanked twice by pitcher Bill Schmidt before he was lifted in favor of the Marines’ Sam Mamula. The 7th AAF’s pitchers had their way with their hosts, stymieing batters and limiting them to just nine hits in 18 innings.
Cloudbuster Gunnar Hagstrom
Though he had never set foot on a professional baseball diamond, the DiMaggio name on an opponent’s roster was not an unfamiliar sight for Gunnar Hagstrom. The year before, while attending Navy Pre-Flight training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Naval Aviation Cadet Hagstrom had played for the school’s “Cloudbusters,” joining forces with former major leaguers Joe Coleman, Johnny Pesky, Buddy Gremp, Buddy Hassett, Johnny Sain, and Ted Williams on one of the most dominant service teams of World War II, a team which had a 30-9 won-lost record for 1943. Born on January 10, 1920, in Enviken, Sweden, and having immigrated to the U.S. in 1923, Pittsfield (Massachusetts) High School’s Gunnar Hagstrom, class of 1938, lettered in football, basketball and baseball, and captained the school’s cage and diamond squads. He took his athleticism to Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he lettered again in basketball and baseball and served as the captain of the latter team, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1942. Hagstrom returned home and was signed to the semi-pro Mohawk Beverage club of Shire City Twilight League, playing throughout the summer. Hagstrom volunteered for the Navy V-5 Naval Aviation program and was sworn in on August 1. A month later, on September 1, Hagstrom departed Pittsfield to commence his training.
Following his July 6, 1943, completion of the 11-week Navy Pre-Flight course at Chapel Hill, Hagstrom was assigned to primary flight training at Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois. Upon graduation, Ensign Hagstrom was assigned to Carrier Aircraft Servicing Unit (CASU) Thirty-One at Hilo, Hawaii and added to the unit’s baseball team ahead of the 1944 AAA Baseball League’s season opener.
Fordham’s Captain Babich
Born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, George Michael Babich was four-letter high school athlete before heading to Brooklyn to attend college and play on Fordham’s football, basketball, and baseball teams. Starting center for the Fordham University basketball team, George Babich was a powerhouse in the Rams’ starting five and served as the team’s captain. With seven games remaining in the regular season, Babich graduated on January 21, 1943, and entered the U.S. Navy. In addition to his caging duties, Babich saw action on Fordham’s gridiron from 1940-1943 and was the starting left end. On November 28, 1942, the University of North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight Cloudbusters football team visited the Polo Grounds to face the Fordham Rams. Though he did not factor in the 6-0 victory over the aviation cadets, Babich was the starting left end for Fordham, which relied heavily on a ground game. With just two completed passes for 72 total yards, the Rams’ only score occurred in the opening quarter. Babich also played in Fordham’s 1942 New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl victory over the University of Missouri. Following several days of heavy rains, the saturated Tulane Stadium field surface stripped Fordham of their dominant passing game that relied heavily upon Babich at left end, resulting in a sloppy ground game and a 2-0 Rams victory. Babich was ranked fifth in the AP Features’ Poll in all-round college athlete voting (Paul Governali Best in East – News-Pilot San Pedro, March 9, 1943)
Babich’s skills were refined on a Rams diamond club that also produced several pro ballplayers, including Steve Filipowicz, Al Litwa, George Cheverko, and John Szajna. Six weeks after graduating from Fordham, Chief Babich enlisted into the U.S. Navy on March 9, 1943, and arrived on the big island of Hawaii in the spring of 1944 after completing basic training and the Gene Tunney Athletic Specialist School.
Second Half Flyers
Kicking off the second half of the AAA season, a double feature was scheduled for Sunday, July 9, at Hoolulu Park with the early game, a harbinger of the season outcome, featuring the Hawaiis hosting the Navy Flyers.
George Babich struggled early in the game, allowing four Hawaii runs on three hits in the top of the first inning, but settled down when he returned to the mound in the second inning after his teammates cut the lead in half. The Hawaiis’ Roe Sarsuelo traded goose eggs with Babich for the next six innings, transforming what started off looking to be a high-scoring affair into a pitchers’ duel. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Flyer bats broke through when shortstop John Kennedy dropped a bloop single to drive in the tying run.
The Hawaiis failed to counter the Flyers in the top of the ninth as Babich’s dominance continued. In the bottom of the ninth, first sacker Francis Guisto, who was 2-4 heading to the plate, crushed a two-run bomb and sealed the 6-4 victory for the Flyers.
The nightcap game saw the Navy “Little Varsity” capitalizing on eight Renords miscues. The “Little Varsity” batters tallied three runs in the second inning and another one in the eighth. None of the Navy’s three hits scored runs as all four of their tallies were unearned. The Renord batters plated their two runs against Navy’s Johnny Mize, who went the distance. Mize’s bat also accounted for one of the three Navy hits in the 4-2 victory.
|CSp (A)||4||George Michael Babich||P||Fordham University|
|LTjg||Anso Belardinelli||RF/P||Norwalk, CT|
|1||Robert Cummins||CF||Roanoke (PIED)|
|Melvin Fletcher||Asst. Equip. Mgr.|
|CSp (A)||Bill Fowler||Mgr.||Yakima, WA|
|S1/c||12||Francis Guisto||1B||Stockton, CA|
|Ens.||8||Gunnar Hagstrom||2B||Pittsfield, MA|
|2||Harper M. “Bud” Heitmeyer||LF||Oakland, CA|
|Art “Fats” Johnson||Equip Mgr.|
|9||John Kennedy||SS||Pellston, PA|
|7||Thomas Truman Peacock||LF|
|Joe Sirgo||OF||Canton, OH|
|17||Tom “Tommy” Sutton||3B/OF|
|13||James “Jimmie” Tiger||3B/UT/OF|
|Ens.||Leon “Lefty” Vannais||P||Hackensack, NJ|
An Invaluable Game Program
A recent acquisition of a rare eight-page program from the July 9 pair of games provides a wealth of research data with the rosters of all four teams, AAA League staff and officials, rosters with scorecards, two weekend schedules, and the AAA League ground rules. Though the grids are unscored, the printed rosters of the four clubs are a truly invaluable record. The overall condition of the program is quite good despite having been folded. The binding staples are still strong and the paper has not oxidized or degraded. The cover, printed on heavy orange paper stock, has faded only slightly over the course of nearly eight decades but the monochrome black ink is still very dark and crisp. The paper of the inner pages is lightweight and very typical of wartime service game programs and has yellowed with age. Despite the lack of major league names within the lineups, this scorecard is a highly prized piece within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection due to its scarcity (view a downloadable copy of the entire program)
Flying High to the Finish
The second half of AAA League play saw the Flyers and Hawaiis battling for the top spot in the standings. With an August 4 victory over Little Varsity, the Flyers opened a two-game margin over the civilian club. By September 2, the Flyers held a half-game lead over the Hawaiis as the season was drawing to a close. With a game remaining for each club to play, both the Flyers and Hawaiis suffered losses, keeping the ½-game lead intact and securing the second half victory for the Navy squad.
The AAA League championship pit the winners of each half of the season for a scheduled best of three series between the Hawaiis and Flyers. The opening game saw Babich hurl all nine innings in a 7-5 victory on September 15. The second game, planned for September 17, was rained out, forcing the first of several rescheduling actions. Knotted at two runs apiece in the 11th Inning, the umpire called the September 20 game due to darkness. Babich pitched brilliantly for all eleven innings. Another rainout pushed the September 20 game resumption ahead to the 24th.
With the series in the balance, league officials made the decision to start fresh, effectively nullifying the tied game. Babich once again took the mound for the Flyers and he held his opponents to two runs on seven hits as the Navy tallied nine on 12 hits in the rout, locking up the AAA championship in two games.
In the weeks following the end of the 1944 AAA League season, major league ballplayers returned to the big island to showcase the premier talent that resided on Oahu. In what was essentially a continuation of the Servicemen’s World Series, the star players serving in the Army and Navy competed against each other at Hoolulu Park for the 10th game of the Series. With a 7-2 record heading into the game, the Navy played to a 6-6 tie.
Weeks after his teammates locked up the league title, former star pitcher Lefty Vannais was in the thick of the fight across the Pacific. Vannais, a TBF Avenger pilot, participated in the October 24 Battle of Leyte Gulf, scoring a hit on “what was then believed to be the [Yamato-Class battleship] Musashi,” wrote Philip S. Heisler, Musashi Sinking Revives Plane-Battleship Tiff, The Baltimore Sun, January 28, 1945. “All of the returning pilots agreed that the Musashi was hit repeatedly but continued on her course,” the article continued. “The attack continued throughout the morning and afternoon,” and the mighty ship’s deck was awash by 4 p.m… After the war, the Silver Star and Air Medal-decorated pilot returned to New Jersey.
The 9-2 championship-winning game was Babich’s last in Hawaii as the chief athletic specialist was transferred stateside. Discharged from the Navy on March 15, 1946, Babich returned home to Bayonne, accepting the athletic director position at St. Peter’s College in August. George Babich resumed his athletic career, playing for the North Plainfield Saracens of the New Jersey Football League. He also signed with the Jersey City Atoms for the 1946-48 seasons and saw time with the American Basketball League’s Brooklyn Gothams in 1948 and 1949. In keeping with his three-sport pre-war prowess, Babich also played part of 1948 with the St. Louis Browns’ Port Chester Clippers and part of 1949 with the Stamford Pioneers, both of the Class B Colonial League.
Bob Cummins, the lone Flyer with pre-war professional ballplaying experience, resumed his career in the Boston Red Sox organization, where he had previously spent the 1942 season and part of 1943 in the minor leagues. The Willows, California native was assigned to the Class “C” San Jose Red Sox of the California League, spending the 1947 and 1948 seasons with that club. In 1949, Cummins was released and subsequently signed in mid-April with the El Paso Texans of the Arizona-Texas League. He was released and added to the inactive list in September, having appeared in just 72 games. In March 1950, Cummins returned to California and signed with the Class “D” Marysville Peaches of the Far West League. After a full season with the Peaches, Cummins hung up his spikes for good to work the next 34 years for Pacific Bell, raise a family and coach youth baseball.
After winning the AAA League championship, the Flyers roster was broken up. First baseman Frank Guisto joined Gunnar Hagstrom on the CASU Airdales squad for the 1945 season. Under manager Pat Colgan, a former Boston catching prospect from the Eastern League’s Scranton Red Sox, the Airdales posted a 35-5 won-lost record and captured the AAA League crown. With the Japanese surrender, Guisto was discharged and returned home with a very bright baseball future looming ahead. With contract opportunities with the Sox of Boston and Chicago, he opted to stay closer to home and instead played ball with local semipro clubs, including the Stockton Ports, Senior Pro Stockton Braves, and other organizations. He lent his experience to area youth by coaching Little League and led one of his teams to the World Series in Pennsylvania.
With two AAA League titles under his belt and a discharge from the Navy, former naval aviator LTjg Gunnar Hagstrom returned to Pittsfield and began a career with New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, where he spent his entire post-Navy career until retirement.
Without much fanfare or media coverage beyond the big island’s shores, the small wartime community of Hilo supported and enjoyed baseball that was an equivalent of that of pre-war high minor leagues. The Navy’s diamond dominance in the Hawaiian Islands was furthered by the Naval Air Station Flyers’ title season in 1944.
Three quarters of a century after Japanese officials signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, animosity towards ballplayers who were tasked with playing baseball in addition to their daily military duties remains, despite being two generations removed. Through ignorance, bitterness or a combination of the two, there is a failure to recognize the importance of the game for the morale of the civilian population and troops and also for the direct support of the drive toward victory.
In an online discussion contrasting the service of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, one baseball fan lauded Williams for “never playing baseball” during the war as a response to another fan’s appreciation for the Yankee Clipper’s wartime service. “Joltin’ Joe missed the 1943 Yankees championship season because of it [wartime service in the Army],” the DiMaggio fan contended.
“Because of what?” the Williams fan questioned. “You call that being in the service? He was a pampered ass! Williams lost nearly five years actually serving [and] defending this country!”
Arguments such as these do not typically hold our attention, but this one underscored the lack of knowledge of the reason baseball held considerable importance within the armed forces, both at home and in overseas combat theaters. Aside from the morale boosting benefits, baseball was pivotal in supporting the cause and the fight for victory.
Amid the United States’ Great Depression, the treasury secretary under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. established the United States Savings Bond Program to encourage citizens to save as well as invest in their country. On March 1, 1935, the treasury department began selling the first U.S. savings bonds, known as the Series A. By the late 1930s, with the threat of war looming in Europe and the Far East, the need for defense spending increased and the bond program transitioned into the Defense Savings Program.
The average annual American household income when the Savings Bond Program was introduced was roughly $1600. By 1940, with declining wages amid the depression and increased defense spending, American households averaged less than $1400 per year. Spending $18.75 on a $25 savings bond was a substantial commitment of financial resources. In 2022-values, a $25 bond cost an individual $362 of his or her $27,020 earnings.
On May 1, 1941, the treasury department began selling its latest product in support of defense financing with the E Series, which, like the earlier series, was targeted toward individuals. “The E Series Bond was closely patterned after its predecessors, the Series A through D. It was priced at 75 percent of face value and returned 2.9-percent interest, compounded semiannually, if held to a 10-year maturity. There were five denominations to start: $25, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Two large investor denominations, the $5,000 and $10,000, were added later, as was a “memorial” denomination: the $200, for President Roosevelt (1945).” Following the Pearl Harbor attack, savings bonds quickly became known as war bonds.
Building a military to a wartime level in the first year of World War II cost billions. New ships, aircraft, tanks, uniforms, ammunition, and manpower required a significant financial investment by citizens and a portion of the funds were acquired through the war bond program. “From May 1, 1941, through December 1945, the War Finance Division and its predecessors were responsible for the sale of nearly $186 billion worth of government securities. Of this, more than $54 billion was in the form of war savings bonds. E Bonds alone accounting for $33.7 billion.” By the war’s end, individual citizen investments in war bonds funded a substantial part of the bill and baseball played a key role in promoting the program.
Professional baseball organizations recognized that they bore multiple responsibilities in the effort to win the war. In addition to providing citizens with an outlet for inexpensive entertainment and morale boasting, some leaders within the game understood the importance the game had in supplying tangible support. Author Steven Bullock wrote, “Famed baseball executive Branch Rickey expressed the opinion that baseball had an obligation to do everything within its power to bolster the Allied cause, even operating at a break-even level if necessary.” The interwoven histories of baseball and the armed forces extended well before the American Civil War as did the game’s status within the culture of the United States. “Baseball, he [Rickey] reasoned, was so deeply embedded in the American way of life that the two were inseparable. For Rickey, professional baseball’s fate paralleled the fate of the nation as a whole and thus the national pastime should not hesitate to drain its resources to support the war effort,” Bullock surmised.
The game did extend itself into the war effort as many of the lower minor leagues suspended operations (some folded) because of manpower shortages due to players entering the armed forces or participating in vital defense industry jobs. Men who would have played ball at the lower minor league levels found themselves as mere teenagers at the highest levels of the game in the absence of the veteran talent. Suspended leagues and teams offered their uniforms and equipment to the armed forces to provide recreation equipment in combat theaters and domestic bases.
On May 8, 1942, major league baseball initiated its commitment to financially support the war effort with a fund-raising game in support of Army and Navy relief organizations. It was a Giants versus Dodgers game at Ebbets Field (see: Diamond Score: Major League Baseball’s First Service Relief Game). Additional armed forces relief games were played that season, including a game at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium that pitted the American League All-Stars against an aggregation of professional ballplayers serving in the armed forces (see: Historic Game Program Discovery: July 7, 1942 Service All-Stars). However, it was not until May 24, 1943, when major league baseball made headlines in support of war bonds.
Before a crowd of nearly 30,000, the Washington Senators hosted an event that culminated in an exhibition game against the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. Those in attendance made pledges for or directly purchased war bonds to the tune of $2,000,000. Norfolk manager Boatswain Gary Bodie fielded a lineup that included Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Benny McCoy, Eddie Robinson, Don Padgett, Jim Carlin, Jack Conway, “Hooks” DeVaurs, Vinnie Smith and former Red Sox hurler Charlie Wagner on the mound. Norfolk defeated Washington, 4-3, with DiMaggio leading the offense by scoring two of the Bluejackets’ four runs and Wagner holding the Senators scoreless until the ninth inning. Before the game, fans were treated to entertainment from Al Schacht, Bing Crosby and Babe Ruth. Underscoring the purpose of the event was the slogan “every fan a patriot.” The game was the brainchild of Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. With $2,125,375 raised, the event was a resounding success.
By the spring of 1944, exhibition games with service teams in support of raising funds were normative. The previous year saw the peak in terms of single-event fund amounts and many of the star players who had served domestically were now serving in the Territory of Hawaii. With Honolulu League play nearing its end, promoters in Hawaii announced a war bond game to be played at Honolulu Stadium at the end of April, featuring major league stars against an all-star roster of Honolulu League players. Rather than selling tickets directly to the public, tickets would be given to those who purchased war bonds of a $25 denomination for general admission seating and a $50 denomination for reserved seating. Without any announcements of rosters or which players would comprise the two teams, demand for tickets was immediate.  Hawaii baseball fans were fully aware of which major leaguers were already present in Hawaii, but rumors swirled as to the players who would soon be serving in the islands, such as former Brooklyn Dodgers stars Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese, who had recently been detached from the Norfolk Naval Air Station (see: A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital).
The buildup of excitement for the game was continual throughout the month as the Honolulu League’s championship playoffs, the Cronin Series, were underway. The Cronin Series had commenced on March 5 as the Aiea Naval Barracks faced off against the civilian semi-pro Waikiki club. Just days before the start of the Series, Aiea received a much-needed boost with the arrival of former major leaguers Barney McCosky and Johnny Lucadello, who had played previously with the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets. The Aiea club had finished the Honolulu League regular season play in second place, a game behind the Pearl Harbor Marines in the standings. Construction at Honolulu Stadium expanded spectator capacity from just under 20,000 to 25,000 seats. The new configuration accommodated 20,000 general admission and 5,000 reserved seats.
When the USS Ascella (AK-137) arrived at Pearl Harbor, baseball in Hawaii was further enriched as CSP(A) Pee Wee Reese, CSP(A) Hugh Casey, SP(A)2/c Sal Recca, CSP(A) Eddie Shokes and SP(A)2/c Eddie Wodzicki disembarked on April 9.
On April 11, the first day that tickets were available, more than $100,000 in bond sales were reported, with considerable focus on the reserved seating. Promoters anticipated selling out the event. Doing so would result in the biggest crowd in the history of the game in the islands.
Serving as precursor to the war bond game, a game between a Navy ballclub (players from the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”) and Major League All-Stars was scheduled by Navy officials on April 19 at Weaver Field (at the sub base). The Major League All-Stars’ roster featured several former pro ballplayers who had been on Oahu Island since late 1943; however, Hugh Casey started the game just days after arriving. Pee Wee Reese was ailing from a minor foot injury and thus unavailable for the game. The All-Stars defeated the Navy, 9-3.
|Sp(A) 1/c||George “Skeets” Dickey||C|
|Sp(A) 2/c||Johnny Mize||1B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Barney McCosky||CF|
|CSp (A)||Johnny Lucadello||SS|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Marvin Felderman||3B|
|1St Lt.||Tom Winsett||LF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Joe Grace||3B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Vern Olsen||RF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Hugh Casey||P|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Tom Ferrick||P|
|Bill “Dutch” Holland||P|
While the Navy squad was engaged with the Major League All-Stars, it was announced that all 5,000 reserved seats for the war bond game were sold out while plenty of general admission tickets were still available with ten days remaining. On April 23, the Aiea Naval Barracks team clinched the Honolulu League championship with a 3-0 Cronin Series victory over the Hawaiian Air Department club. They dominated the field, posting a 17-1 record and outmatching the Pearl Harbor Marines, who finished second with a 14-4 record. Aiea’s pitcher Joe Wells secured his 8th consecutive win.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS||Tyler (ETXL)||7th AAF|
|Edward Puchleitner||CF||Grand Forks (NORL)||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Sam Mele||1B||NYU||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Bob Usher||LF||Birmingham (SOUA)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joseph “Joe” Gedzius||2B||Spokane (WINT)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|(Albert Francis?) Joe Duarte||3B||Pearl Harbor Civilians|
|Frank Roberts||C||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joe Wells||P||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
Aiea’s manager, Wilfred “Rhiney” Rhinelander, was named by league officials to take the helm of the Honolulu League All-Stars. He announced Joe Wells and catcher Frank Roberts as his starting battery on April 25. The following day, the major league lineup was announced, with Hugh Casey towing the rubber as the starting pitcher.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||SS||Dodgers||Aiea Hospital Hilltoppers|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||OF||Browns||Pearl Harbor Submarine Base|
|Barney McCosky||CF||Tigers||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Johnny Mize||1B||Giants||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Johnny Lucadello||IF||Browns||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Tom Winsett||OF||Dodgers||7th AAF|
|Eddie Pellagrini||SS||Louisville (AA)||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Marvin Felderman||C||Cubs||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Hugh Casey||P||Dodgers||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
In addition to the war bond sales for game admission, officials planned for an additional fundraiser during the pre-game festivities inside the ballpark. According to an article in the 4/27 Honolulu Advertiser, “Autographed bats and balls of the major league stars who will participate in the war bond game Saturday against the Honolulu League all-stars will be auctioned before the tilt gets underway at 2:30 PM. The fray starts at 3 PM. Mickey Kane, veteran auctioneer, will be in charge.” Rather than following incremental dollar amounts, bidding was set in terms of war bond pledges as part of the 5th War Loan Drive (held between June 5 and July 8).
At $18.75 per ticket, the cost to purchase a $25 war bond amounted to 38 percent of an Army or Marine Corps private’s or a Navy apprentice seaman’s monthly salary, making the game cost-prohibitive. During the Cronin Series, spectators paid $0.55 for bleacher or grandstand general admission seats and $0.75 for grandstand reserved seating, showing 3,300 and 4,900 percent increases in ticket prices for the war bond game. Adjusted for inflation by today’s standards, general admission was equivalent to a $302.25 outlay, though it was an investment rather than money spent. Recognizing the morale-boosting impact of the game, some local businessmen sought to make it available to servicemen who were recovering from war wounds in local military hospitals.
“Large war bond buyers are making it possible for convalescent servicemen to attend the major leaguers – local all-stars baseball game Saturday at Honolulu Stadium, the committee in charge revealed today. Leo Leavitt, boxing promoter, led off by buying $5000 in bonds and turning over 200 general admission tickets for distribution among service men in hospitals.” No record was found and the total number of tickets donated to convalescing GIs remains unknown.
The wooden Honolulu Stadium, nicknamed the “Termite Palace” due to its continual attack by the wood-consuming insects, opened in 1926 and played host to various sporting events, including baseball. In 1934, baseball’s overseas barnstorming squad, featuring Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, played during a stopover en route to Japan. It was during this tour that Red Sox backup catcher Moe Berg famously carried his concealed Bell & Howell movie camera to the roof of Saint Luke’s Hospital in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo, capturing footage of area buildings that was allegedly used eight years later in preparation of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-launched air raid. Speculation swirled that the power-hitting first baseman for the major league squad, Johnny Mize, formerly with the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, would accomplish what Babe Ruth could not do in ’34.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on April 27 that “baseball fans are speculating on the possibility of Johnny Mize accomplishing what has never been done before – hitting a ball over the right field bleachers of the Honolulu Stadium.” League president Earle K. Vida told reporters that Mize “sized up the stadium and said he believed he could knock one over the right field bleachers.” While the distance from home plate to the bottom of the right field bleachers was only 315 feet, “Theodore “Pump” Searle, stadium manager, estimates it would take another 150 feet to get the ball over. Even the mighty Babe Ruth was unable to do this when he played here,” the Star-Bulletin piece stated.
The day before the game, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported brisk sales for general admission seats as fans were ensuring that they would witness history and be part of the anticipated baseball spectacle. With the early afternoon game time set, the Honolulu Star-Tribune posted the pre-game schedule of events, with batting practice for the home team All-Stars at 1:00 followed by the major leaguers at 1:40. Infield warm-ups ran for 20 minutes, commencing at 2:15 to allow 25 minutes for the auction ahead of the game.
Unlike the April 19 game with the Navy nine, the major league squad had their hands full against the Honolulu League All-Stars. The “locals” pitching staff held their own, inning after inning. Wells held the big leaguers hitless for the first three frames but began to struggle in the top of the fourth. Former Philadelphia Athletics and USS Boston sailor Al Brancato earned a free pass with Johnny Lucadello following suit with another walk. Tom Winsett drove the ball deep for a long-distance out, allowing Brancato and Lucadello to advance. Marv Felderman’s deep fly ball plated Brancato for the first run of the game.
In the home half of the sixth inning, Holland, who had relieved Wells on the mound, led off with a fly-out. Saviori drove a screaming ground ball deep in the hole at second, forcing a normally sure-handed Pee Wee Reese to bobble it, and he reached safely. Frank Powell, spelling starting shortstop Kohlmeyer, singled to right field and advanced the runner to third. Jaab followed with a slow roller to Lucadello, who could not field the ball before Saviori scored to tie the game. 
The score remained locked at one run apiece. In the top of the 12th, Joe Grace led off with a single to center. Barney McCosky followed, advancing Grace to second on a fielder’s choice. Len Kasparovitch walked Johnny Mize. Brancato stepped to the plate and laced a rocket to centerfield. Jaab, who had taken over for starter Puchleitner, misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll past. The bases would have been cleared had it not been for fan interference as the ball rolled up to the standing room only crowd beyond the centerfield rope barrier. What would have been an inside-the-park homerun was ruled a ground-rule double as a spectator picked up the live ball. Grace crossed the plate and his run was counted, breaking the 1-1 tie. The major leaguers had runners in scoring position with Mize at third and Brancato at second with one out. Lucadello singled to right, allowing Mize to tally the third run of the game for the major leaguers as Brancato moved 90 feet away from pay dirt. Executing a double steal attempt as Lucadello broke for second, Al Brancato raced for home and scored the third run of the inning.
Trailing 4-1, the All-Stars were not willing to acquiesce to the major leaguers. Starter Hugh Casey had pitched through the first five innings. Jack Hallett had pitched in the sixth and seventh innings (allowing one run), followed by Vern Olsen in the eighth. Tom Ferrick had pitched the next three frames as the bullpen kept the home team from pay dirt. In to close out the game, Walt Masterson toed the rubber for the major leaguers and looked like he was about to close the door after he fanned Garbe. However, Gino Marionetti had other ideas as he drove a ball between Winsett and McCosky and wound up standing on second. Masterson struck out Charles Simmons for the second out of the inning. Backup catcher Ray Fletcher crushed a triple that scored Marionetti and cut the major league lead to two runs. Masterson then got the final out and preserved the 4-2 victory.
Pee Wee Reese led the major league squad with three of his team’s 13 base hits while Al Brancato accounted for 50 percent of the runs. McCosky, Mize, Lucadello and Winsett had two hits each and Brancato and Grace had one. Mize was unsuccessful in clearing the right field stands but did hit a double. The major leaguers swiped five bags as Brancato and Lucadello each stole a pair and McCosky accounted for one. Despite his lone hit, Al Brancato was clearly the player of the game, adding an RBI to his offensive total.
While all 5,000 reserved seats were sold, nearly 5,000 general admission seats were empty; however, the goal of raising $1,000,000 was far exceeded. The pregame auction raised more than $650,000, with the Hawaii Territorial Employees’ Retirement System committing $400,000 in their winning bids for autographed memorabilia. In total, $1,180,000 in war bonds was raised for the event.
With the Hawaii League days away from commencing season play, many of the major leaguers joined the Navy’s 14th Naval District All-Stars for a matchup at Schofield Barracks’ Chickamauga Park the following day. Except for Tom Winsett, who played for the Army nine, the entire roster of major league players was joined by a handful of Pearl Harbor Sub Base sailors as the Navy blanked their counterparts, 9-0. Brancato was once again the offensive star, tallying three of the Navy’s runs and driving in another three in a 2-3 performance at the plate in front of 18,000 servicemen. Unlike the previous day’s game, this contest was played for an audience that consisted entirely of service personnel and served as a morale boost.
 A History of the United States Savings Bonds Program, U.S. Savings Bonds Division, Department of the Treasury, 1991.
 Bullock, Steven R. 2004. Playing for their nation: baseball and the American military during World War II. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
 Whittlesey, Merrill W., War Bond Game Glitters Before $2,000,000 Gate, The Sporting News, June 3, 1943: 2.
 Keen Interest in War Bond Game Apr. 29, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 1, 1944: 8
 Watson, Don, Speaking of Sports Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 12, 1944
 A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital, ChevronsandDiamonds.org, July 24, 2021
 Reserve Seats Are Sold Out, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 19, 1944
 Auction at Bond Game, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 27, 1944: 12
 Convalescent Service Men Will Attend Saturday Baseball Game, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 27, 1944: 10
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 18
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 14th Naval District All-Stars who Blanked Army 9-0, The Honolulu Advertiser, May 7, 1944: 14
After hanging up his cleats with his 1941 release from the Chicago Cubs and his Cooperstown destination cemented, the Gashouse Gang pitching legend, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean traded his position on the mound for one behind the radio microphone.
By 1947, as the Browns’ play-by-play man, ‘Ol Diz was vocalizing his discontent with the pitching of the St. Louis pitchers’ performance during game broadcasts. Sports Illustrated’s Ted O’Leary noted in his September 28, 1964 piece, Short Noisy Return of Dizzy, that his oral frustrations such as, “What’s the matter with that guy? Why don’t he throw that fast one? Dawg gone, I don’t know what this game’s acomin’ to. I swear I could beat nine out of 10 of the guys that call themselves pitchers nowadays,” drew the ire of Browns hurlers’ wives. O’Leary wrote, “They were not too keen on going to the ball park to witness the humiliation of their husbands. Most of the pitchers’ wives began calling both [Browns Owner Bill] DeWitt and Dean on the phone. ‘If that big lug thinks he can do any better than my husband, why doesn’t he get out there and try?’ one wife asked DeWitt.”
St. Louis was firmly entrenched in its familiar low position in the American League standings, inspiring discontented fans to stay at home, leaving Sportsman’s Park with an abundance of empty seats for late season games. Bill DeWitt saw an opportunity to create a little bit of fan interest and perhaps to satisfy the Browns’ wives by calling Dean’s bluff. DeWitt signed Dizzy to a $1 contract on September 17, giving the pitcher a little more than a week to get into shape. As if seeing the beloved Cardinals pitcher wearing a rival Cubs uniform from 1938-41 was not bad enough, fans of the National League St. Louis club saw the 37-year-old suit up for the Browns to face the visiting Chicago White Sox on September 28 for the last game of the season. Dean pitched the first four innings and surrendered three hits and a walk before he was pulled in favor of reliever Glen Moulder, who gave up five runs on five hits and four walks to lose the game.
Sitting and watching in the visitor’s dugout, White Sox second-year manager Ted Lyons may have been recalling that moment he saw Dean first don the Browns’ colors just a few years earlier. Despite what the record books reflect, Dizzy’s four shutout inning performance for the Browns in 1947 was not the first time he suited up for the perennial American League second-division dwellers.
More than two weeks following Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets’ 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs, Davenport, Iowa’s Quad-City Times announced on June 25, 1943 that an exhibition game would be played at Davenport’s Municipal Stadium (known today as Modern Woodmen Park), home of the independent league Maroons. Arranged by the Quad-City Athletic Club, the contest was set to bring major league baseball back to the small ballpark situated above the levy on the bank of the Mississippi River, with a big league club facing off against a service team from the Windy City of Chicago. “We had a chance to book several service clubs in here for that night,” club president Jack Lagomarcino told the Quad-City Times. “But when we heard that Teddy Lyons was pitching for the Marines in Chicago, that was all we wanted to know.” Lagomarcino continued, “We got in touch with him and his officers, and they agreed to the game.” Anticipating drawing a large crowd, the ballpark was expanded by 1,500 to accommodate 8,000 fans for what was being billed as “Ted Lyons Night” on July 13.
Theodore Amar Lyons, a stalwart pitcher for 20 seasons with the White Sox, enlisted into the Marine Corps on November 1, 1942. The future Hall of Fame enshrinee applied for the Marine Corps Officers Training program on October 12 and ten days later divested his financial interest in his south side Chicago bowling alley business in preparation for departure. The 41-year-old told reporters that he hoped to pitch every day for the Marines rather than his once-weekly rotation with the Chicago club, according to the October 22 edition of The Times of Streator, Illinois.
Lyons trained at Quantico, Virginia, completing his training and being commissioned as a second lieutenant. While undergoing his Marine Corps instruction, he joined former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Ike Pearson on the Quantico nine.
After detaching from his training school commands, Lyons was assigned duty at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Marine Aviation Detachment at the Navy Pier in Chicago, where he assumed duties as the athletics officer in charge of combat conditioning and physical training. By early June, Lyons was with the Navy Pier Aero-Macs baseball team, whose roster was an aggregation of Navy and Marine Corps players. On June 2, the Aero-Macs faced the East Chicago Sox, a semipro club, and Lyons was added to the lineup for duties on the mound. Unfortunately, the results of the game are unknown. With the Navy Pier command’s primary role as a training center, the baseball team roster was in constant flux. By the end of June, the positions were filled entirely with Marines.
Taking the reins of the Navy Pier Marines team, Lt. Lyons prepared the players to face their scheduled opponent, the St. Louis Browns. Unlike Cochrane’s major and minor league star-studded Bluejackets roster, Lyons’ 21 “leatherneck” players were true amateurs, pulled together from four separate Marine Corps training squadrons. Staff Sergeant James G. Hallet, the shortstop, served as the detachment’s acting first sergeant. For weeks leading up to the game, the team prepared to face seasoned professionals. Aside from perfecting their defense and base running acumen, Lyons had to prepare the men to face major league pitching, which the former White Sox ace provided healthy doses of in practice. However, the Marines were in for quite a surprise when the Browns announced their starting pitcher four days ahead of the game.
“Dizzy is not signing a contract, and by no means is it to be construed that he is joining the Browns except to face his old friend, Ted Lyons,” manager Sewell told reporters. “Dean is not returning to organized baseball except for the one night,” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) reported on Friday, July 9. In 1943, Dean was reportedly earning $10,000 to broadcast both Browns and Cardinals games in St. Louis and was two years removed from pitching for the Cubs. “You bet your boots I’ll pitch for the Browns next Tuesday night,” Dean stated. “Ted Lyons made the crack once that he could beat me in my best days. I’ll show him in Davenport that my best days are not over. I guarantee you that I will strike out that old man once,” the former Cardinals great boasted.
Newspapers touted the event for several days leading up to the day of the game. Despite all the press and the expanded seating, slightly more than half of the seats were filled. Both veteran pitchers were slated to hurl the first three frames.
Navy Pier Marines:
|Pvt.||Grover C. Boldt||2B|
|Corp.||Somes J. Dagle||LF|
|S.Sgt.||James G. Hallet||SS|
|Corp.||James L. Coldiron||CF|
|Pvt.||Charles F. Wallraff||C|
|Pvt.||Lee F. Houser||3B|
|Sgt.||Frank L. Klein||RF|
|Capt.||Theodore “Ted” Lyons||P/Mgr.|
|Corp.||Samuel E. House||P|
Before the game started, the two teams engaged in field events that included 100-yard dash races, a long-distance throwing competition and throwing for accuracy. It was all business when the Browns took the field for the top of the first inning and Dizzy strode to the mound. For several weeks, Dean had worked on strength training and other conditioning, ensuring that his arm was in peak form. Marine second baseman Boldt and left fielder Dagle were retired for the first two outs but SSGT Hallet doubled off Dean. He was gunned down by right fielder Al Zarilla as he attempted to stretch the safety to a triple. Lyons retired the side in the bottom of the frame, with both teams coming up empty. The Browns struck first in the bottom of the second inning following Zarilla’s single. Marines catcher Wallraff muffed a pitch, allowing Zarilla to reach second on the passed ball while a throwing error by shortstop Hallet moved the runner to third. Joe Schultz singled to drive Zarilla home. The Marines countered in the top of the third, with successive hits by Callewaert and Dagle evening the score, 1-1. Dean’s night was done, his having surrendered five hits and striking out one. Archie McKain took over for Dean to pitch the middle three innings.
In the bottom of the third frame the knotted score did not last as the Browns moved ahead by a run, only to have the Marines tie the game in the top of the fourth as McKain allowed the final leatherneck score. Lyons finished the bottom of the fourth with the game tied at two runs apiece. The former White Sox pitcher allowed two runs while striking out three Browns.
Corporal Samuel E. House hurled the last five frames but allowed the Browns to tally four runs. He struck out nine Browns, walking three. The Browns secured the 6-2 win, aided by Fritz Ostermueller’s brilliant pitching. Ostermueller struck out seven of the nine Marines he faced during innings 7, 8 and 9. In the weeks following the game and with the completion of their aviation training, most of the Marine players were detached and transferred to their wartime assignments. By August, Lt. Lyons was assigned to duty at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, California.
This copy of the game’s scorecard is a recent arrival to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, donated by a baseball historian, colleague and friend. From the front cover to the back, the program consists of 12 pages, with the majority of the content being dedicated to advertising support. In addition to the team scoring grid pages, separate pages include the team rosters (view the complete scorecard).
With just 4,500 fans at the game, our scorecard is certainly a scarce piece. With only the first few frames of each team’s grids scored, it appears that the original owner was in attendance solely for the spectacle of the two pitching greats squaring off. The lineups on our scorecard differ from the actual game record due to the last-minute changes submitted by each team’s manager after the pieces were printed.
Navy Pier Marines reserve players:
|Pfc.||John J. Adamcik|
|Sgt.||John A. Bercich|
|Pfc.||Charles J. Misko|
|Pfc.||Elmer W. Mory|
|Pfc.||Robert E. Rudewick|
|Sgt.||Dallas R. Stahr|
|Pvt.||Everett R. Sumpter|
The booklet-sized, 9-inch by 6-inch piece is in excellent condition with very minor wear showing on the pages. The staples, though rusting slightly, are solid and the pages are held firmly in place. The real treasure in this piece lies within the roster of Lyons’ team, which has enabled us to shed light upon an aggregation of regular Marines who, while serving their country, stood in the batter’s box against one the game’s pitching legends.
In researching the Marines players in pursuit of professional baseball experience, only Private Everett Sumpter, shown on our scorecard as “Simpter,” played organized ball, He didn’t play until 1947, when he was with the Lamesa Lobos of the class C West Texas-New Mexico League. Following his duty as the non-commissioned officer in charge of drill and instruction as part of Headquarters Squadron, Marine Aviation Detachment, Sergeant Dallas R. Stahr was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross medal in the Pacific Theater. The balance of the squad, while not as highly decorated as Sergeant Stahl, served throughout the war, with a few continuing to retirement from the Marine Corps.
After the final out was made in the 11th game of the 1944 Serviceman’s World Series on the Island of Kauai, the landscape of service baseball in Hawaii was drastically reformed for 1945 with respect to the spring and summer teams and leagues. When the season ended ahead of the Serviceman’s World Series, the Army’s 7th AAF team was standing alone atop the mountain of Hawaii Baseball by finishing first in the Central Pacific Area (CPA) League standings, sweeping the Hawaii League’s Cartwright Series and claiming the CPA League’s championship in a best-of-three series by sweeping the Aiea Naval Hospital club.
Following the holiday season, baseball on Oahu was set to recommence without the previous season’s champion. The powerhouse 7th Army Air Force squad, loaded with major league stars, including Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing, three Yankees and future members of the Hall of Fame, was dissolved. While Ruffing and DiMaggio were back in the States, the remainder of the team was distributed among other area Army teams.
The 1945 Hickam Field “Bombers” roster, when viewed as a cumulative total over the course of the season, appears as a sizeable aggregation of players. Numbering nearly 65 players in total, the roster was actually in flux with each passing month. The team that finished the season was quite different from the group that began play in the Honolulu League in January. During the middle months of their campaign, an influx of former major leaguers from Army airfield teams on the mainland resulted in the displacement of several players to other league teams. By August, many of the Bombers were starring on civilian rosters in Hawaii due to rule changes restricting service teams from playing in civilian leagues. Despite the season’s impacts due to military leadership decisions, the Hickam squad lived up to pre-season expectations.
Introduced to the public by the Honolulu Advertiser on January 28, the Hickam Bombers squad was built around a core of players from the 1944 7th AAF squad, including standouts Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals), Dario Lodigiani (Chicago White Sox) and Eddie Funk (Federalsburg). Outfielder and pitcher Izzy Smith, a star semipro player hailing from Sacramento who was wrested from his centerfield position by Joe DiMaggio in June, 1944 and subsequently transferred to the Wheeler nine, was joined by James Hill (catcher), John Andres (outfield) and John Bialowarczuk (second base), thus rounding out the 7th AAF contingent. Former Detroit Tigers rookie Shortstop Billy Hitchcock arrived from Greenville Army Air Base to play third, with Martin “Luau” Pigg taking turns in the outfield with George Sprys.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Batboy|
|John Andre||OF||Honolulu League|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||2B||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Bill Dillon||Eqp Mgr|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Eddie Funk||P||Federalsburg (ESHL)|
|Dario Lodigiani||SS/Coach||White Sox|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Melvin “Luau” Pigg||2B||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
The 10-team league included service teams from Tripler General Hospital, Hawaiian Air Depot, Wheeler Airfield, Fort Shafter, and Bellows Field along with an Army Engineer nine and the Eagles, an all-colored ball club. Two area civilian clubs, Kaimuki and Waikiki, were also league participants. Hickam was off to a fast start from the outset of Honolulu League competition with Eddie Funk’s pitching setting the pace in his first appearance of the season for the Bombers. On February 1 against Tripler, the former Federalsburg Athletic turned in a masterpiece by striking out 15 Tripler men on his way to a two-walk no-hitter at home. Six days later against the Kaimukis, Funk surrendered seven hits while fanning 11 in the 13-3 victory. Fain led the Bomber attack by scoring two tallies and driving in four.
By the end of March 25, Hickam was firmly in second place in the Honolulu League standings. Wheeler was out in front with a won-lost record of 19-2 with the Bombers three games behind at 16-5. Fort Shafter (15-5) and Bellows Field (14-7) rounded out the top four clubs. Eddie Funk was carrying an eight-game win streak and Ferris Fain’s .448 batting average was good enough for second place in the league behind the .485 of Kaimuki’s Muramoto. Fain led all batters with 23 RBIs.
While the Honolulu League’s season was underway, the 15-team Central Pacific Base Command (CPBC) All-Army League competition commenced on April 1. Bellows, Wheeler, and Hickam were the premier clubs in the CPBC league and played games between contests in the Honolulu League.
As the Honolulu League season was winding to a close, Hickam trailed Wheeler by three games with three left to play heading into a matchup between the two teams on April 3. Wheeler needed only to beat Hickam to secure the championship. With only 3,500 on hand at Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen sent Carl DeRose to the mound to quell the Bomber bats; however, it was not to be. DeRose was assaulted by Hickam batters as he surrendered 10 hits and seven runs. His troubles with control made his outing even more troublesome as he issued six free passes. Hickam’s 7-3 advantage did not rest entirely on DeRose’s shoulders when he was pulled after 5-2/3 innings. His defense committed five errors along the way.
Despite plating eight runs in the game, Hickam stranded 16 base runners. Bomber starter Don Schmidt helped himself at the plate with two hits, driving in two runs while scoring one. Trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Wingmen staged a comeback attempt, exiting the game after getting three runs, with the Bombers’ Salveson entering in relief to close out the game. With the 8-6 victory, the Bombers pulled to within two games. The Bombers’ hopes were dashed as Wheeler closed out the season the following day with an easy 4-3 victory over Waikiki, giving the league title to the Wingmen.
The culmination of the three-month season resulted in the Hickam squad coming together as a well-oiled club. Manager Dario Lodigiani’s use of talent in the right situation resulted in a highly competitive Bombers team. Two of his players garnered post-season awards. Billy Hitchcock, who arrived on the island after the season started and missed several early games, claimed prizes of war bonds and fruit bowls for leading the league in runs scored (34) and tying teammate Ferris Fain in RBIs (29). In addition to his shared RBI champion award, Fain also claimed the prize for doubles (10). Eddie Funk, Fain, Lodigiani and Hitchcock were named Honolulu League All-Stars.
The lion’s share of hardware and accolades went to the Wheeler Wingmen along with the league pennant, much to the disappointment of Hickam brass as the Honolulu League championship playoffs, known as the Cronin Series, were set to commence on Wednesday, April 11. The teams that qualified for the Series in addition to Wheeler and Hickam were the Bellows Flyers, Fort Shafter Commandos and Honolulu League All-Stars.
On the opening day of the round-robin play, the Honolulu Advertiser wrote, “Manager Mike McCormick’s Wingmen, who won the Honolulu league pennant with 23 wins against three defeats, will be pressed hard for the Cronin Series championship,” in the article Wingmen, Shafter Open Cronin Series Tonite at Hon. Stadium. In the run up to the close of the regular season, the Bombers were playing their best as they fought to the end. “The most improved team in the circuit during the final stages of league play was Hickam, and Manager Dario Lodigiani’s Bombers are favored in many quarters to beat the other teams to the wire in this series,” the piece said. Despite having pitchers Rugger Ardizoia, who won 12 consecutive games to close out the season, and Carl DeRose, the Wingmen were lacking in starters to carry them to the title.
The Honolulu Advertiser’s predictions appeared to be accurate in the opening game of the series as Shafter dismantled Ardizoia with five hits and three runs in the first three frames on the way to a 5-1 win over the pennant-winning Wingmen. Hours later, news of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reached the islands, which compelled organizers to postpone the upcoming weekend games until the following weekdays out of respect for the President.
After the first week of play, Shafter was out in front with a won-lost record of 2-0. Hickam’s 2-1 record, after their series-opening loss to Bellows, placed them a half game behind. Wheeler also fell behind, dropping two games and winning just one. On April 20, fifteen Army baseball stars landed on Oahu. George “Birdie” Tebbetts, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Howie Pollett, George Gill, Stan Rojek, Roy Pitter and John Jensen were among the newly arrived contingent. They reported for duty with Hickam. Unfortunately for several of the seasoned Bomber players, the roster additions translated to reassignments to other teams. Among the transfers, two of the team’s stars, Paolo “Paul” Pancotto (C) and Isadore “Izzy” Smith (OF) were sent to the civilian Wanderers club of the Hawaii League along with Joe Sciurba (2B), Melvin “Luau” Pigg (OF) and James Hill (C).
|John “Johnny” Beazley||P||Cardinals|
|Johnny “Swede” Jensen||LF/CF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||CF/LF||Cardinals|
|Geroge “Birdie” Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
As the second week progressed, Hickam pulled into a 5-1 tie with Shafter with the Wingmen behind at 3-3. The Bombers were experiencing a shot in the arm from the new stars. In a Tuesday, April 24 game against Fort Shafter, Enos Slaughter drilled a solo shot deep into the Honolulu stands to put Hickam ahead 2-0. Eddie Funk hurled all nine innings and survived to secure a 2-1 victory.
On April 29, Hickam and Wheeler found their roles reversed from the April 3, do-or-die game between the two clubs. The two teams faced off with the Bombers in the driver’s seat, needing to defeat the Wingmen to secure the series championship. In front of 10,000 fans at the wooden Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen shelled Bomber pitchers Funk, Don Schmidt, and Bill Salveson for 14 hits while Ardizoia and Albert Olen held Hickam to eight safeties. Hickam was unable to quiet the bats of Wheeler first baseman Chuck Stevens, who crushed a home run to deep right field and singled, and catcher Charlie Silvera, who had three singles and two RBIs. Hickam’s power hitters – Slaughter, Fain, Hitchcock and Lodigiani – were a combined three-for-16 with two runs. Bomber right fielder George Sprys’ three-for-four and two runs scored led Hickam in the 7-4 loss.
On May 1, an order from the Army’s Pacific Base Command ruled that Army personnel could no longer participate in athletic events deemed unessential to war activities. In addition, Army teams were disallowed from participating in civilian professional leagues against all civilian clubs. The Army’s ruling forced the Honolulu League officials to coordinate with AAF-POA baseball officer Lt. Tom Winsett and Shafter Commandos business manager Vernon Holt to address the situation. With the cancellation of all remaining Cronin Series games, the decision was made to determine the series winner. Due to the standings as of April 30, with Hickam (6-2) leading Ft. Shafter by a half-game (5-2) coupled with the April 30 Bellows-Shafter game being called after three innings, a ruling was needed. With only three innings in the books, the Bellows-Ft. Shafter game could not be considered complete, and the Army’s decree precluded the game from being finished on May 1. The panel was forced to determine that Fort Shafter, with a six-run lead, would not have beaten Bellows, thus leaving Hickam alone at the top of the Cronin Series standings. Hickam was declared the champion.
With the Honolulu League and Cronin Series in the rearview mirror, there was no looking back. Hickam Army Air Field’s base commander, Colonel Malcolm S. Lawton, transferred the Bombers’ reins from manager Sergeant Lodigiani’s hands to those of Captain Birdie Tebbetts. “The 30-year-old receiver is a pepperbox behind the plate, keeping up a continuous line of chatter throughout the game,” the Honolulu Advertiser’s Al Sarles wrote of Tebbetts. Touting Birdie’s five big league seasons behind the plate with the Tigers and his time at the helm of the Waco Army Flying School’s club since 1942, Sarles penned “Tebbetts has a wealth of major league experience to bring to the managerial post,” in Ex-Tiger Catcher Succeeds Lodigiani (May 4, 1945).
The Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler Field clubs found a workable solution to continue competing in the civilian Hawaii League as several players from the three clubs were distributed among the civilian teams to augment rosters that suffered their own losses due to military inductions. With military players on the rosters of the Tigers, Hawaiis, Braves, Athletics and Wanderers, the league could continue.
Hawaii League competition opened for Hickam on May 2 with Tebbetts at the helm. Adding to his already stocked stable of pitchers, the ace of the 1942 World Series, former St. Louis Cardinals hurler Johnny Beazley, was added to the roster. The Hickams were a formidable club and decimated the “civilian teams.” In a May 21 match against the Wanderers, Bomber batters racked up 13 hits as they crushed the team that featured a handful of former Hickam players. Outfielder Enos Slaughter toed the rubber in the ninth inning for his second pitching outing of the season, though he was wild, walking one batter, plunking another and allowing two tallies as no Wanderer batter could touch his offerings. Perhaps showing his opponents a bit of mercy, Tebbetts pulled Lodigiani in favor of team mascot Joe “Moe” Ambrosio at second base in the seventh. Ambrosio went hitless in his lone at-bat.
By June 4, Hickam was in a three-way tie atop the Hawaii League with the other two USAAF teams at the end of the season’s first half. Once again, an Army ruling altered the course of service team play in Hawaiian civilian leagues. It forced Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler to withdraw from the league. As June was drawing to a close, the Hickam squad suffered a bomb blast of their own as most of the team’s stars were pulled for duty in the Western Pacific. Dario Lodigiani, Stan Rojek, Birdie Tebbetts, Howie Pollett, Ferris Fain, John Jensen, Billy Hitchcock, George Gill, Roy Pitter, and John Mazur were all pulled from the roster. The departed Hickam players joined a contingent of USAAF former major and minor leaguers to form a three-team league in the Marianas which played dozens of games on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan through August to entertain the troops.
Hickam continued to compete against service teams throughout the summer despite their withdrawal from the CPBC League after the conclusion of the first round of play on May 20. “In 14 consecutive contests, the Bombers have scored 100 runs, or better than seven per game,” Al Sarles wrote in his Hickam Sports Shorts column in the August 9 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser. “They have collected 144 hits for an average of better than 10 per game.” New manager Johnny Bialowarczuk had his team playing incredible baseball regardless of being outside league competition. “Hickam’s opponents have only been able to collect 45 runs in 14 contests,” Sarles wrote. Salveson and Schmidt had become a solid tandem of starting pitchers. As of August 9, Salveson had won three straight complete games while surrendering just six runs on 22 hits. He had walked five batters during the stretch but fanned 24.
By mid-September, the Bombers’ dominance was noteworthy, though they were not infallible. Wimpy Quinn’s Fleet Marines faced Hickam in a best-of-five series that came down to the final game. Quinn’s and Hal Hirschon’s bats were the bane of Bomber pitching as FMF downed Hickam in a 3-0 series- clinching game on September 15. With barely enough time to lick their wounds, the Bombers played host to former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams’s Marine Fliers the next day. Hickam bats laid waste to the Fliers’ pitching and opened a 10-run lead after the first few innings. Bill Salveson held a comfortable, 10-2 lead when the Fliers’ bats began to chip away at the deficit. The Marines tagged Bomber pitching for 14 hits in the last three innings and tallied three runs in each of the final frames before Saul stemmed the flow and Hickam walked away with a 13-11 victory.
When we acquired a team-signed ball with 26 autographs featuring Enos Slaughter, Birdie Tebbetts, Ferris Fain, and Dario Lodigiani in 2020, the seller listed it as originating from the USAAF Marianas games. However, analysis of the ball’s signatures and comparison with the three Marianas Rosters (58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers,” and 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”), our research led to investigating Hawaii service team rosters. With the exception of three names, all the players were members of the Hickam Bombers.
Once it was established that our signed ball was from the Hickam team, the fruitless pursuit of additional artifacts ensued. One of our colleagues, a noted St. Louis Cardinals historian, reached out that year and shared with us (in a social media chat) a team photo that he had in his possession that showed the Bombers posed on their home field. The photo, formerly in the possession of Enos Slaughter, was given to our colleague by his family following the passing of the Cardinal legend. Last month, we executed a trade to bring the Hickam photo into the fold after two years of infrequent discussions.
After further analysis of the 1945 Hickam roster, the identities of the players in the photo and the signatures present on the ball, it is apparent that both were captured during the first half of the Hawaii League season, between May 2 and late June. To some, it may seem inconsequential to locate two significant pieces from the same brief span of time in the context of Hickam’s 1945 season and the personnel churn the team experienced throughout the year.
After the stars were dispatched to the Marianas, the Hickam team, dubbed “Medium Bombers” by the Honolulu Advertiser on July 20, continued to be an impressive squad. With the departure of both Lodigiani and Tebbetts, second baseman Johnny “Murphy” Bialowarczuk was named as the Bomber manager on June 28 despite the questions surrounding the continuation of service team play.
Aside from the major leaguers who signed our ball, including two-time American League batting champion Ferris Fain, four-time All-Star catcher Birdie Tebbetts, and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, there are a few signatures from Hickam Bomber players that stand out.
Seton Hall basketball star Frank Saul, who left school after his freshman year to enter the service, joined the Bombers as a pitcher following the conclusion of the Hawaii basketball season in late April. “Pep” Saul remained with the baseball team through September and would return to college in 1946, when he became the school’s first career 1,000-point scorer before joining the National Basketball Association. During his professional career, he won four NBA titles with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and the Minneapolis Lakers (now in Los Angeles). Saul was inducted into Seton Hall’s hall of fame in 1973.
Baseball connects people in ways that are often overlooked. Saul’s Hickam teammate, pitcher Don Schmidt, was also a Seton Hall alum, with their college careers overlapping. It is unknown whether the two Pirates encountered each other on campus or if they met for the first time on the Hickam roster. In 1944, Schmidt was a member of the 7th AAF juggernaut that included three future members of the Hall of Fame, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing. His pitching was good enough to get him named to the Army All-Star team by Tom Winsett. Schmidt pitched two complete games in the Serviceman’s World Series but both resulted in losses (Game 3, 4-3 and Game 6, 6-4). He made relief appearances in Games 1 and 10. In 1949 Schmidt wrote that his ambition in baseball was to “win in the majors” but his career never took him higher than class AAA with Milwaukee of the American Association. Schmidt played seven minor league seasons from 1946 to 1953 before hanging up his spikes.
The University of Tulsa’s first team All-American quarterback, Glenn Dobbs, led his team to a perfect 10-0 1942 season that culminated in a Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech on January 1, 1943. Dobbs joined Hickam on May 9 and remained with the club through the summer as the starting second baseman. After his discharge, Dobbs played football professionally with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dons in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946 to1949 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League (CFL) from 1951 to 1954. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1946 and was a CFL All-Star in 1951. Dobbs was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. He returned to coach his alma mater from 1961 to 1968, leading the team to two first-place finishes and two Bluebonnet Bowl appearances (see: Glenn Dobbs Statue Unveiled At Tulsa University).
During a stint with an unknown professional baseball club, Carteret, New Jersey’s John P. Bialowarczuk wrote that his most interesting experience was hitting a home run off former Washington Senators pitcher Walt Masterson. The 1939 American Legion ball player had stints with the Perth Amboy club of the Metropolitan Semi-Pro league between 1940 to 1942 before joining the Army Air Force. Serving with the 7th Army Air Force in Hawaii for three years, Bialowarczuk shared the diamond with Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Pee Wee Reese, Schoolboy Rowe, and Hugh Casey. Manager Tom Winsett took notice of his talent and added him to the Army All-Stars for the Serviceman’s World Series in the fall of 1944.
The non-Hickam Bombers who signed our ball include former Cincinnati outfielder Mike McCormick, who carried a .288 batting average and a .302 on-base percentage in 14 World Series games with the Reds, Boston Braves and Brooklyn; and Walt Judnich, formerly with the Browns. One name we are still researching is “Bill Mosser.” Though we have found a corresponding minor leaguer who served in the armed forces from February, 1944 to May, 1946, we have yet to confirm or rule him out as the player who signed our ball.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Bat Boy|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||IF||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Leonard Burton||P||Houston (TL)|
|Richard “Dick” Cattabiani||LF|
|Don “Pee Wee” Dwyer|
|Ray Edwards||Biz Mgr.|
|John Geilen||Ath. Dir.|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmyer||2B||St. Joseph (MICH)|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|Joseph “Joe” Sciruba||2B||Lynchburg (VIRL)|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
As we continue to identify each player in the team photo, we are more than pleased to unite these two incredible artifacts within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Articles:
- Service World Series, 1944 – Hawaiian Islands
- The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter
- George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian
- Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers
- The Navy’s Little Colonel: Chief Athletic Specialist Harold “Pee Wee” Reese
- Red Ruffing, an Airman’s Ace
- More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian
We often discuss items that have been on our “want” lists for extended periods of time and when such items are located, there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment. In some instances, we have merely speculated that an item, such as a game program or scorecard, must have been created for a game and then we hold out hope to find one (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). In other areas of baseball militaria curating, we are fully aware of the existence of artifacts but have fallen victim to limited budgets or poor timing. With the highly competitive market for military-marked World War II baseball bats, we have found specific examples to be entirely elusive.
In the past few years, we have been able to curate an assortment of wartime baseball bats; however, we have been limited to sourcing just two of the four known branch markings. In our May 11, 2021 article. Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, we spotlighted military markings found on wartime bats along with factors that influence collector competition and valuation. Aside from player endorsements found on military-marked bats, bats marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” are by far the most heavily sought. Bats marked with “U.S. Army” (sans “Special Services”) are a close second in terms of desirability, while “U.S.N.” and “U.S.”- marked pieces bring up the rear. The Chevrons and Diamonds bat collection has consisted entirely of bats marked with the latter stamps.
Condition has also been a factor that has allowed us to acquire the pieces in our collection. Often purchasing items that have been abused or neglected and show substantial signs of decay and wear, we have taken on bats that collectors would not consider acquiring as firewood, let alone displaying as a prized artifact. If we determine that a piece can be reconditioned and repaired while preserving the aesthetics, we will take pieces with such efforts in mind. To date, we have experienced success with a handful of pieces.
Searching for pieces endorsed by 1930s and ‘40s legends and marked with the elusive service stamps has proven to be a source of frustration. Our previous experience leads us to keep our expectations extremely low when a prospective item becomes available at auction. We bid amounts that are within budget only to watch the prices reach 200 percent or more above our bid and well above reason. Service-marked bats that are in excellent or better condition attract bidding that goes far beyond our top price and we watch them pass by.
In the last quarter of 2021, one seller listed in succession six or seven wartime service-marked bats with endorsements, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and others, each featuring some of the most sought-after branch stampings. It was obvious that the group of auction listings pointed to a collector’s carefully curated collection that was in the process of being liquidated and the market responded accordingly. Each listing was highly contested by several bidders, driving prices to several hundred dollars for each piece. By the end of November, all the listings closed and we were unable to compete for any of them.
During the holiday season, a few individual auction listings for wartime service bats surfaced. One of the items was a Hillerich & Bradsby Safe Hit Johnny Mize Model bat marked with “U.S. Army” on the barrel. Viewing the accompanying photos, it was clear that the condition of the bat was excellent despite indications of game use. All the branded stamps were deep, dark and very visible and the wood surface still held the manufacturer’s original finish. A subtle irony regarding the service stamp was that Mize served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Athletic Specialist First Class Mize enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March, 1943 as his New York Giant teammates were weeks-deep into spring training. The manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane, had an established pipeline serving as a feeder to keep his team’s roster stocked with pro ballplayers when they entered the Navy. Cochrane’s Bluejackets landed a true power hitter in Mize as he joined a team that included several former major leaguers, including Frank Biscan, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace, Johnny Lucadello, Barney McCosky, Red McQuillen and Johnny Schmitz.
Johnny Mize was transferred to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was slated to play for the base team while in a training program. Unfortunately, baseball was not an option for the slugger as an illness kept him on light duty, excluding all physical exertion as he convalesced.
By the spring of 1944, Mize was on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and assigned to the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay. He was promptly assigned to the base’s baseball team, the Klippers. In addition to his playing for the Klippers club, Mize also played for various All-Star teams and on the Navy’s Service World Series team that defeated their Army counterparts in four straight games in the autumn of 1944. In early 1945, Mize joined an assemblage of Navy ballplayers for a weeks-long tour of the western Pacific, playing exhibition games to boost the morale of troops stationed on the islands (see Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature).
As 2021 was winding to a close, it became apparent that the bid we placed was going to succeed and deliver to our collection its first U.S. Army marked piece. Perhaps it was the timing of the holidays and the pre-payday-post-Christmas financial crunch many people face that led to the limited competition at the auction that afforded us this win. The well-packed Johnny Mize model bat arrived safely and without any complications. Upon close examination of the wood grain, knob, barrel and brand marks, we were quite pleased to note that the condition was better than was discernible in the auction images.
With the addition of this bat and several other items that we have curated for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the new year is off to an incredible start!
Wartime Service Bats:
- Healing Battle Scars: Double Ott Rejuvenation – October 16, 2021
- Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market – May 11, 2021
- “Game Used” Lumber: Wartime Service Adds Meaning for Collectors – October 31, 2020
- Tools of the Trade: Wartime Equipment used by (Former) Professional Ballplayers – July 9, 2020
- Charlie “King Kong” Keller Rattles the Woodshed ending a Yearlong Silence – May 8, 2020
- Hard to Find Military Sticks: “Double-X” Joins Our World War II Baseball Lumber Pile – April 9, 2019
- Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved – February 7, 2019
- Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature – September 12, 2019
- Klipper Day: Marking the End of a Season – April 30, 2020
- Scorecards and Programs: Service World Series, 1944 – Hawaiian Islands