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Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game

In the decade that we have been researching artifacts and players, we have encountered the occasional baseball fan bearing a measure of bitterness and animosity towards the men who played baseball on service teams during World War II. While it certainly is understandable when comparisons are made with players such a s Warren Spahn or Gil Hodges participated in and witnessed some of the most horrific battles of the war. It is far too easy to look at the stories surrounding players like Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams who seemingly entered the war with significant hesitation that appeared to some to be evasiveness when other ballplayers such as Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Sam Chapman and Al Brancato volunteered days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Perhaps with perspective and insight into the wartime service of these professional ballplayers and the positive impact they had on their fellow servicemen, that bitterness may lessen. 

The first Norfolk NTS artifact in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection: this 1943 Norfolk Bluejackets team photo featured many major leaguers including Fred Hutchinson (back row, 6th from right), Dom DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from left) and (front row, 2nd from right) Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.

The very first Norfolk Naval Training Station artifact that landed within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection was a magnificent team photograph of the 1943 Bluejackets. The condition of the vintage type-1 photograph is less than desirable, and the image was a bit overexposed. Regardless of these detractors, the faces of each player are clearly identifiable in the high-resolution scan that we made from the photo. Soon after the acquisition of the photograph, we sourced a scorecard from the first games at Norfolk’s McClure Field against the Washington Senators (see: Discovering the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Through Two Scarce Artifacts). 

April 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station program and scorecard for their season opener against the Washington Senators.

One of the featured players of the Norfolk team was already a budding star in his two-year major league career with 10 games in two trips to the World Series (1941 and ‘42) along with a championship ring. Phillip Francis “Scooter” Rizzuto played his last professional game on October 5, 1942, a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.  Two days later, “Scooter” was in Norfolk for boot camp having reported for duty in the U.S. Navy on October 7, 1942. By the spring of 1943, the former Yankee shortstop was filling the same position on Bosun Gary Bodie’s Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. 

With many of the stories of baseball players finding their way onto service team rosters versus serving alongside other Americans in conventional armed forces roles (including combat), there are those who view these professionals with disdain seeing men who found a path to remain outside of harm’s way. Even today, there are those detractors who view these men with great animosity. Perhaps it is safe to make such an assumption that there were at least a few baseball players who could be judged in this manner, however it is far too simplistic and considerably easy to disregard what any of these men thought, felt or actually did, in addition to simply playing baseball.  One must consider the impact that the games had on fellow servicemen. To stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio or any of the hundreds who served and played the game to uplift the GIs and give them respite and a taste of home.  

Another vintage photograph in our collection. The original caption (affixed to the reverse) reads: “New York: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates (Oct. 11, 1943).” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) writer, Harry Grayson penned a rather sarcastic commentary (published in syndicated newspapers in mid-October across the U.S.)  regarding Cardinals’ pitcher, Murry Dickson being granted a 10-day furlough (from his Seventh Service Command duties) in order to participate in the 1943 World Series versus the Yankees. However, the same opportunity was not afforded to Johnny Beazley, Howie Pollet or Enos Slaughter who were also serving on active duty. What made the inconsistency stand out more, according to Grayson was that Phil Rizzuto was on furlough in New York (to spend time at home before being sent for duty in the South Pacific) and played in a series with the legendary semi-professional Brooklyn Bushwicks as they took on the New London (Connecticut) Coast Guardsmen on September 26. Rizzuto, wearing his Navy service dress blues, was joined by airman (and former Cardinals center fielder) Terry Moore at Yankee Stadium (also dressed in his service uniform). The author mentioned Major League Baseball Commissioner Landis’ prior refusal to accommodate Navy Lieutenant Larry French’s request to pitch for his former club, the Brooklyn Dodgers, while he was stationed at the nearby Navy Yard, illustrating further contradiction. However, Grayson’s punctuating closing sentence that ballplayers, who had been scheduled for an exhibition tour of the Pacific, were left without excuses for duty (other than baseball). 

Rizzuto’s time at Norfolk didn’t conclude with the baseballs season as he spent the winter months on the court with the NTS basketball team along with former Dodgers shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. By early March 1944, Bosun Bodie was left to rebuild his baseball club due to the departure of Benny McCoy, Charlie Wagner, Tom Earley, Vinnie Smith, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto for new duty assignments. Scooter, Vinnie Smith and DiMaggio landed in San Francisco Bay Area Sea Bees base known as Camp Showmaker (located near present-day Pleasanton). While further assignment, Dom DiMaggio and Rizzuto were added to the Shoemaker baseball team, the Fleet City Bluejackets. DiMaggio was handed the managerial reins to the club that also included Hank Feimster (former Red Sox pitcher) and former Cincinnati Reds outfielder, Hub Walker. the rand faced the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals on April 4 for an exhibition game. 

Since late January 1942, the Island of New Guinea was one of the Japanese Empire’s strategic targets with its natural resources and more importantly, its proximity to the Australian continent. With their invasion of Salamaua–Lae, the Japanese began to take a foothold on the island. By the time that Rizzuto and his former Norfolk Teammate, Don Padgett arrived on the Island in the spring of 1944, the Allied forces were amid the Reckless and Persecution operations against the Japanese. During his time in New Guinea, Rizzuto contracted malaria and suffered with a severe bout of shingles requiring his removal to U.S. Navy Fleet Hospital 109, located at Camp Hill, Brisbane, Australia. One serviceman wrote of Rizzuto’s time at the hospital and how he would interact with the American wounded mentioning (Ruby’s Report, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, July 13, 1944)  that Phil would do “everything to keep the patients’ minds off the war. Wrote the young sailor from Kentucky, “I have seen him sit down and answer questions by the hour and never once try to avoid a session of baseball grilling as only a bunch of hospital patients can put on.”  

One of our two vintage photos showing Rizzuto in Brisbane, Australia, summer 1944. Shown are: Back Row (L-R): Charlie Wagner, Don Padgett, Benny McCoy. Front Row: Dom DiMaggio, Rocco English, Phil Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Once he recovered from his ailments, Rizzuto took on duties as an athletic instructor, managing baseball service league while down under. “You’d be surprised how much sport can do to help the men who have just returned from battle.” the shortstop mentioned in an interview with sportswriter, Blues Romeo. Rizzuto’s primary duty in Australia was to organize games and tournaments for the battle-wounded sailors and Marines. “The physically handicapped boys in the hospital got together and formed athletic teams, “said Rizzuto. “They call it the ‘Stumpy Club.’ It’s made up of men who lost legs and arms in battle.” For those critical of baseball players who “got a free pass” from the war might consider the positive impact that many of the former professionals had on their peers. “Despite their handicaps, the men put everything they have into the game.” Rizzuto told the reporter. “At first it’s not a pleasant sight, watching so many guys with crutches, but that’s the kind of stuff that keeps their mind at ease.” the shortstop mentioned. “What guts those guys have!”  

Joining Rizzuto in Brisbane were fellow major leaguers, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio, Charlie Wagner, Benny McCoy along with a handful of minor leaguers.  

The second of our vintage photos taken in Brisbane. Rizzuto is kneeling second from the right (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Navy leadership had no intentions of losing bragging rights to the Army heading into the Service World Series after watching the heavily stacked Seventh Army Air Force team dominate the 1944 league play on Oahu.  While the 7th was busy handling the competition and planning for the fall series, the Navy began assembling top major and minor league talent from the continent and the Pacific Theater. 

At Furlong Field for the Service World Series in the fall of 1944. Left to right are: Ken Sears, Joe Rose, Phil Rizzuto, Marv Felderman. (Mark Southerland Collection).

Rizzuto and DiMaggio were recalled from Australia in September to Oahu in anticipation of the Service World Series (September 22 through October 15, 1944. Ahead of the series, Navy All-Stars manager, Lieutenant Bill Dickey plugged both Dom and Phil into their normal positions (center field and shortstop, respectively) for a Friday night (September 15) exhibition game against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins at Weaver Field (the Navy All-Stars won, 7-4). Two days later, DiMaggio and Rizzuto switched teams as the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins for a regular season game against the Hawaii Leagues champion 7th Army Air Forces squad on Sunday, September 17.   

While the Army roster consisted of the 7th AAF team (augmented with players from other Hawaiian base tames) For the series, the Navy fielded a team of All-Stars that would be the envy of either major league. To maximize the top-tier talent, some players were re-positioned from their normal spots on the diamond. Rizzuto was moved to the “hot corner” to allow for Pee Wee Reese to play at short.   

1944 Hawaii Service World Series Results: 

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

With the Army All-Stars defeated handily in the Service World Series, Rizzuto returned to Brisbane and resumed his duties with the service baseball leagues and the “Stumpy Club.”  

Following the completion of his duties in Brisbane, Rizzuto was transferred back to New Guinea to the small port town of Finschhafen (which was the site of a 1943 Allied offensive led by Australian forces) that ultimately secured the town and the harbor. Rizzuto was subsequently assigned to the Navy cargo ship, USS Triangulum (AK-102) serving once again on one of the shipboard Oerlikon 20-millimeter cannons anti-aircraft gun mounts as the vessel ferried supplies within the region.  As the Triangulum was constantly steaming to keep the troops supplied in the surrounding Bismark and Western Solomon Islands, General MacArthur and the American forces were keeping his promise to return to the Philippines and dislodge the Japanese forces that had been in the Island territory since December of 1941. 

By January of 1945, Rizzuto was serving on the Philippine Island of Samar (three months earlier, the Japanese Navy was dealt a deadly blow by the small destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 just off the island’s coast) and remained in the region until he was returned to California by the middle of October.  Rizzuto was discharge on October 28, 1945 and returned to the Yankees for training camp the following spring having been tempted by a lucrative contract and incentives to play in Mexico. 

Whether it was the thousands of cheering service personnel attending the games in which Rizzuto played or his hands-on service rendered to the recuperating combat wounded in Australia, he served in ways that are entirely ignored by critics of wartime service team baseball. 

See also:

Discovering the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Through Two Scarce Artifacts

While Major League Baseball celebrates their 150th anniversary (which coincides with the establishment of the first all-professional baseball team in Cincinnati) on this 2019 opening day, 76 years ago a different opening day was taking place at a tiny and exclusive ball park, well inside of the secured confines of the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia. Opening day in baseball is appropriately connected to the renewal of spring with the budding leaves of the deciduous trees and the impending blooms of perennials, daffodils and tulips. Rosters are renewed with player changes, season statistics are reset to zero and all teams are tied in the standings. In 1943, our nation’s armed forces were on the offensive in the Pacific and Northern Africa (days earlier, General Patton’s tank forces defeated General Jürgen von Arnim Afrika Korps at El Guettar, Tunisia).

A trend has been in development for the last few years in terms of the baseball militaria ephemera market in the last few years and while it has been a pleasant surprise, it gives me reason to suspect that there is an imbalance in this particular area of interest. Regardless of the explanations, it has been quite a pleasant turn of events after so many years with scant few pieces.

The very first military baseball program that I was able to secure into my collection was discovered just as my interest in baseball militaria was burgeoning. With just a few pieces already within the collection, the 1945 Third Army Championship Series scorecard and program grabbed my attention and I was able to win the auction with a very minimal bid. It seemed a fitting piece to pursue and though my knowledge surrounding the WWII service team games at the time. A tangible piece of baseball history that included names of some professional baseball players-turned-soldiers-turned-ball players was a great addition and just the beginning.

Over the years, so few of these vintage paper pieces surfaced onto the market. I managed to land my second piece inside of a year. This time, the scorecard was from a Pacific Theater game in 1944 and the names on each of the teams’ rosters was absolutely filled with some of the biggest names from the major league ranks. Rather than this scorecard being solely from an Army game, the contest was part of an (eventual) eleven game Army-Navy All Stars World Series (the program from the fourth game billed the contests as the Central Pacific Area Championship Series). With names on the rosters such as Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, George and Bill Dickey, Hugh Casey, Johnny Mize and Pee Wee Reese, it became a centerpiece in my collection and the motivation for future pursuits.

Since those first two pieces landed into the collection, it has been slow going overall in finding additional pieces. However, overall the trend for available pieces is decidedly in favor of scorecards from the Navy service team games from World War II.

Aside from the Bluejackets teams of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station from 1942-1945, perhaps the service team that has received the most contemporary coverage across multiple forms of media (news, books, blogs and collectors’ online forums) is that of the Norfolk Training Station (NTS) ballclub; also known as the Bluejackets. Even on Chevrons and Diamonds, we have covered the NTS Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) but until now, nothing has been available to acquire – at least not for this collector. Aside from sharing a team name, both installations fielded teams stocked with former professional ballplayers throughout the war.

In similar fashion to the teams recruited and assembled by Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Captain Henry McClure and Chief Signalman (and later Boatswain/Bos’n) Gary Bodie began assembling some of the top talent in baseball, inviting veterans (including a few who played in the previous year’s World Series) to enlist into the Navy in order to secure their assignments to the Norfolk training station. Two of the game’s best middle infielders and 1941 World Series opponents, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto (of the Yankees) and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Dodgers joined the Navy in early 1943 and landed on the NTS Bluejackets (Reese would be transferred to the Norfolk Naval Air Station team in order to spread some of the wealth of talent) ahead of opening day.

With former major leaguers such as Ben McCoy, Phil Rizzuto, Eddie Robinson, Jim Gleeson, Dominick DiMaggio, Fred Hutchinson, Walter Masterson, Henry Feimster and Charles Wagner were keys to the immense success of Bos’n Bodie and Captain McClure’s Naval Training Station Bluejackets in 1943 (author’s collection).

Naval Historical Foundation’s Norfolk NTS Bluejackets series:

The first Norfolk NTS-associated piece that I landed was a type-1 photograph featuring the entire 1943 team in uniform along with Captain McClure and other officers. The quality of the exposure combined with the deterioration and fading that has taken place in the last 76 years has left the players’ faces more of a challenge to identify. After considerable restoration work on the digital scan of the image (in Photoshop), greater detail is discernible and more of the players have become recognizable.

Showing all four panels of the April 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station vs Washington Senators program.

Completing the assembled, two-piece group is a 1943 program from the first three season-opening games that were played at the Norfolk NTS Field (later re-named McClure Field to honor Captain Henry McClure) before a 5,000-person capacity audience.

The cover of the Norfolk NTS vs Washington Senators season opener baseball program shows some minor creasing.

When I first saw the listing for the Norfolk NTS program, I immediately performed my due diligence in order to determine which year it was used. Since the early April dates lacked days of the week, I had to resort to focusing on the names listed on each of the team’s rosters. Understanding that two central players on the Norfolk Roster, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio were both serving in the Navy elsewhere in 1944 and each was on their major league club rosters for 1942. In addition, two players who were previously on the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team, Ben McCoy and Don Padgett, which easily intersects with Mickey Cochrane’s 1942 Bluejackets roster. One last point of reference lies with the Senators roster: Jerry Priddy having just been traded to the Senators in the 1942-43 off-season, played for Washington only in 1943 before he was inducted into the Army on January 4, 1944. With the date of the program decidedly dated from early April, 1943, I placed my winning (sniped) bid and a few days later, it arrived.

1943 Norfold Naval Training Station Bluejackets: Opening Day Roster (bold indicates pre-war major league service)

No. Name Position 1942 Club
2 Ben McCoy Inf Great Lakes
7 Jim Carlin Inf NTS Norfolk
8 Jack Conway Inf Baltimore/NTS Norfolk
13 Phil Rizzuto Inf New York Yankees
16 Eddie Robinson Inf Baltimore
19 Jeff Cross Inf Rochester/Houston
3 Ernest DeVaurs OF NTS Norfolk
21 Don Padgett OF St. Louis/Great Lakes
11 Jim Gleeson OF Cincinnati/Columbus
9 Dominick DiMaggio OF Boston Red Sox
20 Mel Preibisch, CSp OF/Asst. NTS Norfolk
1 Fred Hutchinson P NTS Norfolk
5 Walter Masterson P Washington
6 Henry Feimster P NTS Norfolk
10 Tom Earley P Boston Braves
12 Max Wilson P NTS Norfolk
14 Charles Wagner P Boston Red Sox
15 Ray Volpi P Kansas City
17 Carl Ray P NTS Norfolk
4 Vincent Smith C NTS Norfolk
18 Bill Deininger C Sheboygan Wis.
G. R. Bodie, Bos’n Head Coach NTS Norfolk
C. M. Parker, Ensign Assistant NTS Norfolk

Though the program shows the opening series as being three days (April 1, 2, 3), only two games were scheduled and played, commencing on Saturday, April 2nd (also scheduled were two games with Naval Air Station Norfolk immediately following the NTS games).

According to the April 8, 1943 Sporting News’ Shirley Povich, the four games were part of the Senators’ Grapefruit League play just ahead of their regular season opener later that month (Thursday, April 2oth as they played host for a single game with the Philadelphia Athletics). Norfolk’s lineup was formidable as the roster consisted predominantly of ballplayers with major league experience. The two-game series was split with each team securing a win. The Bluejackets pounded the Nats 10-5 in the opener as they tallied seven unanswered runs against Washington pitchers Emil “Dutch” Leonard, Milo Candini and Clyde “Mickey” Haefner. Norfolk batters punished the visitors as they tallied 13 hits which included a pair of homeruns by Benny McCoy and “Scooter” Rizzuto while Fred Hutchinson held his opposing hitters scoreless through five innings, limiting them to a lone hit. Tom Earley was on the mound in relief when the Senators erased the shutout.

April 2, 1943 Washington Senators visit the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (game photos):

The program itself is in very good condition. With some creasing, it is obvious that document was folded and probably placed into the original owner’s uniform pocket for safe-keeping. Though the creases are prominent and visible (the more substantial crease extends from the top to the bottom edges and nearly at the center of the page), they don’t detract from the overall aesthetics. The paper is a card stock (much heavier than what is used on most of the wartime scorecards and programs) giving it a substantive feel when handled. What makes this program even more special is the addition of the coaches’ photos across the top of each team’s rosters. Seeing Chief Bos’n Bodie’s face in his photo helps to spot him in the team photograph (above).

The back cover of the Norfolk Naval Training Station vs Washington Senators program includes the April schedule and a message from Captain Henry McClure.

Three months after the season opener, three men from this roster, Gleeson, Masterson and Volpi would find themselves in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Submarine Base ball team. Late in 1944, Masterson reconnected with McCoy, Carlin, Feimster, Smith, Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio on the roster Navy’s All-Star roster to take on the Army’s All-Stars in the Central Pacific World Series Championships played throughout the Hawaiian Islands (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific). In 1945, Vincent Smith was assigned to the Third Fleet vs Fifth Fleet All Stars tour of the Western Pacific.

As the war progressed with Allied victories as Axis-held territories were liberated, Army and Navy leadership began concentrating talent into the Pacific Theater to increase competitiveness between service teams and creating an inevitable gravitational pull towards inter-service championship that would lift the spirits of of war-weary service members who flocked to the games.

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