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A Hall of Fame Softball Greeting

The impetus behind Chevrons and Diamonds and our curatorial pursuits has always centered on baseball. That term, for us, is quite specific in that it simply refers to the game that was founded in the mid-nineteenth century and is centered upon a 9 to 9-1/4-inch, hide-wrapped and stitched sphere. All the artifacts that we pursue are connected to the history of the game. Some would argue that baseball’s younger brother, softball, is the same game. The debate is an interesting one but in terms of artifacts, the two are distinctly different.

Aside from a handful of artifacts acquired through gifts/donations, the Chevrons and Diamonds collection consists largely of baseball pieces. With the current market trends, pursuits of new items require greater diligence and patience as prices and competition have increased dramatically. Until recently, corresponding softball militaria remained conversely inexpensive, quite literally valued at pennies on the baseball-comparative dollar.

Softball bat, ball and glove prices have risen to a point of being cost-prohibitive. When listed at auction, the bidding can be fierce for pieces that six months ago sold for less than $25 but are now 10 or more times that price. Watching the bidding wars at such auctions is new for us as we were not previously interested in such pieces. When a colleague who shares a similar interest in the absurdity of the bidding sent a link to an auction listing for a wartime softball, I was prepared to follow it for the next several days to see how high the price would climb.

Wartime softball equipment is as diverse in terms of origins and manufacturers as that of baseball material. Pursuing such artifacts requires an amount of due diligence equal to what we spend when we find a prospective baseball artifact. The ball that was shown in the aforementioned auction listing matched what we had seen in the past dozen years; so there was no cause for concern as to the ball’s wartime authenticity. Based upon the $10 starting price, we knew that there would be a significant amount of interest and thus numerous bids. There was something odd about the listing that caught our attention as we were about to click the button to set a “watch.” An option to buy the ball outright was also provided and the price was the same as the starting bid. Without further consideration, we purchased the softball. 

Within moments of submitting the payment, a sense of remorse set in, prompting a second look at the already purchased softball. In addition to the clear indications of use were what appeared to be three signatures on two of the ball’s panels. A closer inspection showed one to be that of former New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey. The other legible autograph was quite clearly that of former Cubs and Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman. The third was not distinguishable and would have to wait for further examination.

The sweet spot of the ball is marked with the specific model information: Day and Night, Official Softball, Kapok Center, 12-inch (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the ball literally in hand, utilizing proper handling techniques to avoid introducing substances such as oils from skin that could accelerate deterioration of the signatures or stamps, we examined the various markings. Paying close attention to the decayed signatures and comparing them against known, authentic autographs from Dickey and Herman that were signed in the corresponding 1940s era, we were able to determine that both were genuine. What was believed to be another player’s signature above Dickey’s looked to be a birthday greeting from the Cooperstown-enshrined Yankees catcher.

Three panels of the ball included manufacturer’s stamped markings including the brand, model and material composition. The maker’s mark, “Universal Sports Co., Empire State Building” was one that is seen on numerous balls; however, we were unsuccessful in locating a definitively matched company.

“This ball built expressly for U.S. Armed Forces” stamp was applied after manufacturing and with long, flat-surfaced rubber stamp. Note the smudged, heavy ink deposits that indicate a rocking motion over the ball (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 The “Day and Night” feature for softballs was common across softball makers. It enhanced visibility regardless of the lighting conditions. Unlike cork-center baseballs, many softballs had a center of kapok that absorbed the energy when hit, which limited the velocity and trajectory, helped to keep the orb within the field of play and thus made it more challenging to put it over the outfield fence.

The stamping on the ball that truly captured our attention was the one that indicated service use.  Quite obviously applied with a flat rubber stamp (as noted by the heavier ink on the extremities), “THIS BALL BUILT EXPRESSLY FOR U.S. ARMED FORCES” was a departure from the more commonly used “U.S.”, “U.S.N.”, “Special Services U.S. Army” and “U.S. Army.”

With a fair amount of loss, former Yankee catcher Bill Dickey’s autograph is still legible (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The ball’s covering was quite obviously aging and the signatures had significantly faded. In-person analysis of the signatures removed any doubts that remained at the time of purchase. Confirming both Dickey’s and Herman’s writing, we started on the line directly above Dickey’s autograph and realized that it was not only applied using the same pen as Bill’s, but it was written by the same person. Rather than the writing being a signature, instead we noted that it was a birthday greeting that was also written by Dickey.

Who wouldn’t want an autographed ball signed by Bill Dickey and Billy Herman for their birthday? The birthday greeting was obviously written by the Hall of Fame catcher (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the absence of provenance, it is our belief that this ball originates from World War II and can be further pinpointed to 1945 or as early as the last quarter of 1944 after Herman arrived at Pearl Harbor. In addition, we suspect that the signatures were applied while the two were serving in the Navy together on the island of Oahu.

Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman entered the Navy in early March 1944 after being reclassified as 1A by his draft board in early February. Rather than to face the draft, Herman joined the Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (GLNTS) for indoctrination and instruction. Soon after his arrival, Herman was added to the station’s Bluejackets baseball team by manager Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane (see: No Amount of Winning Could Ever Offset a Harsh Loss for Mickey Cochrane). Without missing a beat, Billy Herman found himself at home playing second base for the team whose roster included Schoolboy Rowe, Virgil Trucks, and Gene Woodling as well as his 1943 Brooklyn teammate, infielder Al Glossop. In June of that season, Joe Cronin led his Red Sox onto the Station to face the Bluejackets on their home field and walked away with a 3-1 loss. In addition to Virgil Trucks’ masterful 12-strikeout pitching performance, Billy Herman drove Trucks across the plate in the bottom of the eighth to leave the Bluejackets up by two runs heading into the ninth.

Signed in 1945, former Chicago Cub and Brooklyn Dodger Billy Herman’s signature is easily distinguishable despite years of aging (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Many of Herman’s Bluejackets teammates were dispatched to Oahu in the summer ahead of the Service World Series against the Army squad. The future Hall of Fame second baseman remained with Cochrane and finished the GLNTS season. By mid-October, Herman was aboard a ship that was bound for Oahu but would arrive well after the 11th and final game of the Series.

Soon after arriving in Hawaii, Billy Herman (right) is posed with former Dodgers teammate, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese at Furlong Field at Pearl Harbor (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Herman was not the only ballplayer making his way to the islands at this time. Arriving with the Dodgers second baseman were 33 players ranging in experience from major and minor leagues to semi-professional and amateur baseball. The talent included catchers Manny Fernandez (Dayton Wings), Bennie Huffman (Browns) and Frank Wolf. Pitchers included Johnny Rigney (White Sox), Bob Klinger (Pirates), Hal White (Tigers), Lou Tost (Braves), Lou Ciola (Athletics), Jim Trexler (Indianapolis Indians), Mike Budnick (Seattle Rainiers), Max Wilson (Phillies) and Frank Marino (Tulsa Oilers). The islands were getting a fresh stock of Infielders that consisted of Elbie Fletcher (Pirates), Connie Ryan (Braves), Al Glossop (Dodgers), Merrill “Pinky” May (Phillies), Johnny McCarthy (Braves), Frank Juliano, Gibby Brack (Montreal Royals), Tom Carey (Red Sox), Fred Chapman (Athletics), Sherry Robertson (Senators), Eddie Robinson (Indians), Mickey Vernon (Senators), Buddy Blattner (Cardinals) and Pete Pavlick (Erie Sailors). The outfielder contingent included Red McQuillen (Browns), Dick West (Reds), Gene Woodling (Indians), Red Tramback (Oklahoma City Indians), Barney Lutz (Elmira Pioneers) and Del Ennis (Trenton Packers).

Lieutenant Bill Dickey, manager of the Navy All-Stars poses with “Long” Tom Winsett, manager of the Army All-Stars at Furlong Field before the start of the 1944 Service World Series (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

By January of 1945, Lieutenant Bill Dickey had assumed duties as the 14th Naval District’s Athletic Director and was charged with assembling two teams of Navy ballplayers that would tour the Western Pacific for the purpose of entertaining the troops and boosting their morale. It was initially reported that Bill Dickey would be leading the tours, “One of the greatest collections of baseball stars ever gathered will leave the Fourteenth Naval District soon to take baseball, America’s No. 1 sport, directly to the fighting men in the forward fighting zones,” the February 5, 1945, Honolulu Advertiser reported. “The group, headed by Lt. Bill Dickey, USNR, former catching star of the New York Yankees,” the story continued, “heads out on a 14,000-mile trip which is intended to supply the best possible sports entertainment for thousands of men in the Pacific.” However, when the rosters were finalized and the men departed, Bill Dickey, according to Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. in his 1984 book, Athletes Away, “saw to it that he (Dickey) and two other veterans, Billy Herman and Schoolboy Rowe, were excused from going.”

Dickey continued to run the Fourteenth Naval District’s athletic department, which included the baseball league, and aside from umpiring a few early season games, Herman was assigned to the Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks team and played his familiar second base position with the club for the entire 1945 season.

In attempting to validate the softball and the signatures, we must consider several factors. We are certain that the softball is genuine, based upon the materials, construction and markings. We are also convinced that both signatures are genuine, leaving us to speculate on the circumstances that brought those two particular players together to sign the ball.

Since both Dickey and Herman were in Hawaii and serving in the Navy together from October of 1944 through the end of the war, we can easily place them together on Oahu. However, we further speculate that the two men had some sort of bond that went beyond the basic factors. Considering Dickey ensured that Herman was excused from the Pacific tours, we surmise that the two had some sort of a friendship that transcended the obvious. Herman and Dickey faced each other in the 1932 (Cubs versus Yankees) and 1941 (Dodgers versus Yankees) World Series and both men were in their early-to-mid 30s in age and were nearing the end of their professional careers by 1945. Perhaps the ball was signed for a mutual friend of Herman and Dickey.

Displayed with a wartime U.S.N. marked bat and a U.S. marked bat, the wartime softball makes for a simple and tasteful display of authentic artifacts (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Based upon the visible details, it Is our belief that the softball dates from 1945 and was most likely signed in Hawaii by the two future Hall of Famers. Displaying it alongside the Navy-marked bats and gloves only enhances the ball’s visual aesthetic, making it a fantastic addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.

Charles “Red” Ruffing: Pitching for Victory

World Series celebrations fade, player-movement talk warms up, igniting what is known as the “Hot Stove League.” Speculation spawns suppositions and rumors about trades and salary space for teams looking to bolster rosters that were previously poised to cross the threshold into the post season.

The winter is also the time of the year when baseball fans await the announcement of the Hall of Fame voting for the enshrinement of that year’s new class. As with the heated talks in the Hot Stove League, fans can become incensed regarding the Hall worthiness of election-eligible players. Questions are always asked, discussion arise about the validity of  enshrinements of some of the players whose plaques hang in the museum’s gallery. There are several players who are targets of those seeking to somehow level the field of enshrinees with calls for removal. A simple internet search will provide the banter and fodder created by armchair Hall of Fame voters.

Hall of Famer Charles “Red” Ruffing has given armchair critics pause. Power-hitting Hall of Fame enshrinee Jimmie Foxx said of Red, “That Ruffing is a wonder. Always in there winning that important game for you.” Prompted by a recent vintage photograph acquisition, we took inventory of our photograph library to find our collection of images depicting Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee hurler Charles “Red” Ruffing during his wartime service in the armed forces. The most recent arrival featured Ruffing in his USAAF away uniform, posed near bleachers filled with uniformed service personnel. It bore an autograph and inscription from the Hall of Fame pitcher. Until we began to focus on baseball militaria, Ruffing was not a player that we had given much thought to in terms of his career or his service during World War II. However, we amassed an interesting group of photos and our research of other players’ service careers continued to intersect with Ruffing and initiated much due research into Red’s war years.

In the years following his trade to the Yankees, Red Ruffing made a name with his pitching and hitting consistency, rubbing elbows with celebrities like Jimmy “Cinderella Man” Braddock. “September 12, 1938, New York, New York: Ruffing, Braddock and Pearson as they signed autographs for Katherine Werz, pretty program girl at the Cotton Club. She seems to say, ‘what is the rush for?'” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Making 624 pitching appearances in 22 seasons, Ruffing started 538 (335 complete) games and complied a 273-225 record with a career ERA of 3.80.  A glance at his career stats could lead some to the conclusion that his pitching was not Hall-worthy but to judge him solely by his record is a disservice to the man and to the game. The first seven seasons of Red’s career were spent with the Boston Red Sox during perhaps the worst period in the team’s history. Reeling from the 1919 sale of Ruth and the subsequent departures of the team’s most talented players through trades and sales four years before Ruffing’s arrival, the Red Sox were awful for his entire 1924-1930 tenure. The Sox’ best year in that span was Ruffing’s first, during which he made eight appearances with two starts (both were no-decisions); however, the Sox finished tied for last (effectively seventh place) with the White Sox.  One can assert that his was a story of two careers as success for Ruffing was immediate following his sale to the Yankees. After he twice led the American League in losses in 1928 and ’29, the Red Sox owner sold Ruffing to the Yankees after the pitcher racked up three consecutive losses to start the 1930 season. Pitching in 34 games (of which he started 25), Ruffing finished 1930 with the best record of his career to date at 15-8. A pitcher’s record is not only a reflection of his performance but also that of the defense that surrounds him on the diamond, and Ruffing was the beneficiary of stellar players on those Yankee teams.

Red Ruffing’s pitching style compared with that of his Yankees teammate, Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez.

Not only did Ruffing’s regular season performance improve when he donned Yankee pinstripes but he also contributed to seven American League pennants (1932, 1936-39, 1941-42) with the Yankees and six World Series championships (losing only to the Cardinals in 1942). Ruffing compiled a 7-2 record (going the distance in eight) with a combined ERA of 2.63 in the 10 games he pitched in.

Rather than exploring Ruffing’s playing statistics, we are going to focus on three glaring spots within his 22-season-record when he was not accumulating wins for the Yankees.

With the United States raising troops to serve and fight during WWII through voluntary enlistment and the draft, ballplayers were putting their playing careers on ice as they traded flannels for armed forces uniforms. At the age of 37, being married with children and missing four toes from his left foot (lost in a mining accident at the age of 13), it would not have been outside the realm of normalcy for Ruffing to be classified as 4-F.

The original caption reads: “Charles “Red” Ruffing, Yankee right hander, will be on hand for mound duty when the World Series opens. The 200 pound six-footer was born in Granville, Illinois, and is a resident of Long Beach, California.” 1942 press photo (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

After losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series to Johnny Beazley and the St. Louis Cardinals, Ruffing returned to his home in Long Beach, California and went to work for the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, makers of the A-31 Vengeance bomber. That should have rendered him classified as II-B (deferred in war production) by the Selective Service board.  The thought of being eligible to serve let alone drafted into the military might not have come to Ruffing’s mind but local Draft Board 276  called him in for his induction physical on December 29, 1942. Rather than lament the situation, Ruffing looked ahead to his service, stating to a reporter, “I’m all set to go.” Seven days after an Army doctor examined the pitcher and determined that his six remaining toes were enough to qualify him for service as an athletic instructor, helping keep troops agile and fit for duty, he reported for training on January 5, 1943.

“Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board. He was placed in 1-B class and goes in for non-combatant duty.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Ruffing’s entry into the Army Air Forces was an opportunity for the Army to promote service and to use the pitcher’s experience to tell the story of military life. On his first day in basic training, Ruffing relayed a rather comical and very humbling experience as reported in the Wednesday, January 13, 1943 edition of the Oakland Tribune, “A sergeant said to me, ‘Ruffing, I understand that you can pitch.’ “‘That’s right’, I answered, and the sergeant said, ‘Okay, buddy, see how fast you can pitch this tent!'” The future Hall of Fame enshrinee had been transformed overnight into “Private Ruffing.”

After a few weeks in training, Ruffing was assigned to the Air Transport Command (ATC), Ferrying Division, at Long Beach that is known today as Long Beach Airport. In addition to his physical fitness instruction duties, the pitcher was already tapped for ball playing duties with the command’s team. The January 21, 1943 Pasadena Post reported that Ruffing would play in the outfield and first base until his pitching arm was in shape for mound outings later in the season. The 1942 Air Transport nine had been limited to Sunday games; however, with the influx of professional ballplayers, the Army leadership saw opportunities for bringing attention to many financial needs for soldiers.

By late February, Ruffing’s name was drawing attention from Southern California baseball fans. Former Los Angeles Angels slugging left fielder and Cubs utility man, Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff, was handed the reins of a Major League All-Star club that faced off against a minor league All-Star nine in support of the Southern California Baseball Association’s medical fund (providing financial aid for area semi-professional baseball players in need of medical services). Novikoff’s roster included Vince DiMaggio (Pirates), Tuck Stainback (Yankees), Max West (Braves), Gerry Priddy (Senators) Nanny Fernandez (Braves), Steve Mesner (Reds), Vern Stephens (Browns) and Peanuts Lowrey (Cubs). At the ready for mound duties were pitchers Johnny Lindell (Yankees), Dick Conger (Phillies) and Red Embree (Indians). The only two named to the roster who were serving on active armed forces duty were Red Ruffing and a former Cub middle infielder, Navy Coxswain Bob Sturgeon.  For the 4,000 fans in attendance at Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Park (known today as Jackie Robinson Stadium, located near the Rose Bowl), the minor league All-Stars made a great showing when the game was finally played on Sunday, February 29, after having been delayed one week due to several days of rain. Led by Angels skipper Bill Sweeney, the minor leaguers kept the game close until the eighth inning when the tide turned in their favor and they won the contest, 4-2.

After more than a month of playing exhibition and all-star games, Ruffing made his mound debut against the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base squad, pitching two scoreless innings despite surrendering hits to the Navy’s Bob Lemon, Diamond Cecil and Wayne Collins. Leading an All-Service line-up that included some recent service arrivals such as Tom Lloyd (Harrisburg Senators), Jack Graham (Montreal Royals), Eddie Bockman (Norfolk Tars), Nanny Fernandez (Braves) and Chuck Stevens (Browns), Ruffing gave way to Wayne Collins, who finished the game as the team upset the favored Navy squad. Ruffing was moved into right field to bring his bat to bear (Ruffing is still ranked fourth on Major League Baseball’s list of home runs by pitchers with 34). Heading into the top of the ninth trailing Los Alamitos, Bob Dillinger led off the inning with a double that was repeated by Fernandez’s run-scoring two-bagger. Ruffing pushed Fernandez to third on an infield out. Ed Nulty’s RBI single tied the game at three runs apiece.  In the top of the tenth, the All-Stars pushed ahead with a Tom Lloyd leadoff single, followed by Eddie Bockman’s triple off the centerfield fence.  Despite going 1-4 at the plate, Ruffing’s first pitching start was a brief yet solid outing.

On Sunday, April 11, 1943, a reconstituted Service All-Star team appeared before a capacity crowd at Gilmore Field to take on the hometown Hollywood Stars. A newcomer to the All-Stars was Ruffing’s former Yankees teammate, Private Joseph DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper,” who was assigned to the Army Air Forces’ Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB). The two ex-Yanks led the charge against the “Twinks” as Joltin’ Joe was 3-5 at the plate and drove in two of the team’s five runs. With a few weeks of pitching under his belt, Ruffing was getting dialed in as he turned in three perfect innings to start the game. Eddie Bockman set the tone for the All-Stars by driving one of the Hollywood pitcher’s opening offerings over the left field wall to lead off the contest as Ruffing’s servicemen claimed a 5-2 victory.

NamePositionFormer Team
Woody BellOFSan Antonio (TXL)
Harry DanningCFGiants
Froilan “Nanny” FernandezSSBraves
Johnny “Swede” JensenRFSan Diego (PCL)
Hub KittlePOakland (PCL)
Art Lilly2BHollywood (PCL)
Walter Loos3BColumbia (SALL)
Chas.  MowrerLFSemi-pro
Ed NultyLFMontreal (IL)
Al “Ollie” OlsenPSan Diego (PCL)
Roy PitterPNewark (AA)
Red RuffingPYankees
Chuck Stevens1BBrowns
Willie WerbowskiPSemi-pro
Max WestCFBraves
Ike WiseLFSemi-pro
1943 Long Beach ATC’s Sixth Ferrying Group team. This roster encompasses the entire season though not every player listed was present for the entire year.

As the season got underway for the Sixth Ferrying Group nine, Ruffing and the men faced off against varying competition as they squared against the University of Southern California (USC), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Pacific Coast League teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres and Hollywood Stars. The Sixth’s squad developed as spring progressed. Aside from Ruffing, who assumed team manager duties, Chuck Stevens and Nanny Fernandez, the Ferry Group team had added former Coast League names such as “Swede” Jensen and “Ollie” Olsen (both from the Padres), Hub Kittle (Oaks) and Art Lilly (Stars). Filling out the roster were major leaguers such as Max West (Braves) and Harry “The Horse” Danning (Giants).

Ruffing’s squad ascended to the top of the service league standings as the Ferry Group dispatched the likes of Fort MacArthur’s Battery “F” and their young ace pitcher, Corporal Charles “Bud” Doleshal, an amateur fireballer who, because of his wartime pitching success, found himself on the Yankees’ radar. On May 16, Ruffing faced the 174th Infantry Buffaloes (San Fernando), who touched him for a dozen base hits. Also in the league were the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees, Santa Ana Army Air Base, Los Alamitos Naval Air Base, Camp San Luis Obispo Blues, San Bernardino Air Depot, the Paramount (film studio) Cubs, Vultee Aircraft and Rosabell Plumbers (the latter three were civilian industrial teams).  From the outset of the 6th Ferry Group’s season play, they dominated the competition with a roster filled with former major and minor leaguers such as Max West, Nanny Fernandez, Ed Nulty, Harry Danning and Chuck Stevens.

Ruffing knew how to wangle newly inducted ballplayers and facilitate transfers to the Long Beach Air Base.  According to Hub Kittle’s Society For American Baseball Research biography (by Ken Ross), Red, like a few of his baseball counterparts, truly built his team with a little bit of string-pulling. When Oakland Oaks pitcher Hub Kittle received his draft notice and was on his way to Los Angeles to report for induction, he was approached by the Sixth’s astute manager. “Kittle, I hear you are going into the army next week. Well, I’m Red Ruffing, and I manage the Sixth Ferry Command in Long Beach. I’d like to have you come and pitch for us. When you get to Fort MacArthur, you give me your serial number and I’ll put in a request for you.” Ruffing’s former Yankee teammate, Joe DiMaggio, who was seeking to bolster his Santa Ana squad, also reached out to Kittle. Due to the lack of available billets for athletic trainers, the Yankee Clipper advised Kittle to go to the musician’s union as a cymbal player in hopes he could be assigned to the base’s band. Ultimately, Ruffing got his pitcher as Kittle was forced to choose between the two commands, opting for the Sixth. Rather than serving as an athletic specialist, Kittle was assigned to the base gym, serving as a masseur for fighter pilots. 

On May 23, the season-long competition between the Army and Navy (the Sixth Ferrying Group and the Los Alamitos Naval Air Base)  continued as the teams played to raise funds in support of the Kiwanis Club’s Service Fund. Ten days later, Joe DiMaggio’s SAAAB club played host to Ruffing’s Ferry Group as the Yankee Clipper hit in his twelfth consecutive game. Santa Ana prevailed 5-3 as Ruffing coughed up the tying run with a bases-loaded free pass issued to Leo Prim in the fifth inning after having pitched around DiMaggio. Ruffing took the loss as he surrendered two more runs later in the game.

Despite the fuel rationing and restrictions placed upon travel that was deemed unnecessary, the Sixth arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a scheduled two-game series against the Kirtland Field squad. In the Sunday (June 6) game, Ruffing controlled the Kirtland men from the mound with a seemingly easy 7-2 victory. The following day, Red’s bat helped to break the game open in the top of the tenth inning. What had been an even brawl that left the score knotted at 11 runs apiece saw the Ferrying Group take control with Ruffing’s lead-off double that sparked a seven-run inning and sealed the 18-11 victory.

The following week, victories were gained against the San Diego Marines (6-5), Los Alamitos (6-1) and the San Bernardino All-Stars at the Perris Hill ballpark. The San Bernardino squad was a combined military and civilian squad drawn from the San Bernardino Army Air Depot club and the civilian firefighters’ team, also from the San Bernardino Air Depot.

The competition was diverse and predominantly spread throughout Southern California. Aside from their league opponents, the Sixth seemingly met all challengers on the diamond including the Camp Rousseau (Port Hueneme) Seabees. In mid-July, Ruffing and several other active-duty ballplayers were handpicked to take on the Pacific Coast League’s club in San Francisco at Seals Stadium as part of a double-header. The opening game saw the Seals hosting the Hollywood Stars with the nightcap featuring an Army-Navy All-Star team taking on a combined roster of the Oakland Oaks and the Seals, with the game’s proceeds being used to purchase athletic equipment for servicemen.  Joining Ruffing from the Sixth Ferrying Group were Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens and Max West along with Walt Judnich, Rugger Ardizoia, Dario Lodigiani, Joe Marty, Ray Lamanno, Cookie Lavagetto, Cal Dorsett, Joe Hatten, and Charlie Gehringer. The Army-Navy squad dominated the Oaks-Seals squad, 14-3. With Ruffing managing, the pitching duties were left to Dorsett, Hatten and Ardizoia.  Nearly $4 million was raised in the event.

Great major league pitchers surpass significant milestones throughout their career. Those who achieved immortal status with Cooperstown enshrinement have surpassed high water marks in statistical categories such as victories, complete games, strikeouts, earned run average or an accumulation of dominating seasons. Ruffing led the league in strikeouts once (190 in 1932), once in wins (21 in 1938) and twice in strikeouts per nine innings (6.6 in 1932 and 5.2 in 1934).  He never pitched a major league no-hitter. However, while facing his old teammate, Joe DiMaggio, as the Santa Ana Army Air Base visited Long Beach, 38-year-old Private Ruffing tossed a nine-strikeout, 2-0 gem and was nearly perfect, with just one baserunner having reached on an error. Following the win, Ruffing commented to the Long Beach Press-Telegram (August 1, 1943) that he was “in shape for the first time this season.”

At the end of July, the Sixth Ferrying Group was outperforming all comers with outstanding pitching. Ruffing, with 18 starts under his belt, posted a 9-4 record. Starters Willie Werbowski and Max West were holding their own with records of 12-11 and 10-8, respectively. However, it was the offense that truly made a difference for the win column with a .369 team average and four batters hitting .400 or better. Max West led the pack by hitting .490, followed by Harry Danning (.448), Hub Kittle (.429) and Al Olsen (.400).  True to his professional career hitting, Ruffing in 95 plate appearances was in the middle of the pack with a “mere” .365 average. Stalwart first baseman Chuck Stevens, with 165 at-bats, made 20 more trips to the dish than West, who trailed him with 145.

The Sixth had a busy schedule in early August with five games in an eight-day period against Naval Training Station San Diego, Victorville Army Air Base, Ontario Air Base, 174th Infantry Regiment and Camp Santa Anita Army Ordnance. The bats remained hot for the Sixth as Nanny Fernandez extended his consecutive game-hitting streak to 37 in a 7-2 win over Victorville. In the July 8 Santa Anita Game, Ruffing pitched five innings (Kittle finished) in a lopsided, 24-2 contest as Nanny Fernandez’ streak extended to 40 consecutive games. On August 12, Ruffing’s men trounced the Kearny Mesa Marine Corps Aviation Base, 14-5, led by Werbowski’s 9-hit complete game (his 14th win) and Fernandez’ 3-5 offensive performance that extended his streak to 43 games. Against the Fullerton All-Stars on August 15, Fernandez went hitless, capping his streak at 44 games.

Harry M. Land (right) of the 174th Infantry Regiment Buffaloes with Ruffing at Long Beach (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 The Ferrying Group played one final game in San Pedro against the Coast Guard Repair Yard squad on August 19, downing the “Coasties” 3-2.

The Sixth were seemingly picking up steam as the season moved through the dog days of summer. On August 21, Ruffing and five of the Ferrying Group’s roster joined forces with the biggest names from the professional ranks who were serving in the Southern California region for one of the biggest fundraising events of the year.  The brainchild of actor-comedian Joe E. Brown, the All-Pacific Recreational Fund game featured the Service All-Stars against a combined roster of Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Despite the Service All-Stars current disposition, the Pasadena Post labeled the team a “Million Dollar Ball Club” due to the single greatest gathering of stars west of the Mississippi River. Aside from three future Hall of Fame enshrines (Ruffing, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Lyons), the team included major leaguers Johnny Pesky, Mike McCormick, Dario Lodigiani, Walter Judnich and Joe Marty.

All Pacific Recreation Fund All-Stars game, 1943 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

California Eagle columnist J. Cullen Fentress noted (in the August 19, 1943 issue) the absence of one of the region’s best serviceman pitchers, Joe Fillmore. The former Baltimore Elite Giants pitcher had dominated opposing batters including those of U.C.L.A and U.S.C. “The game on Saturday is for the benefit of fighting men – men who are fighting for what FDR has interpreted as the Four Freedoms,” Fentress wrote, “and yet a hurler, generally regarded as one of the best performing on service nines, finds that because of his race, he will not get the chance to do his bit for the common fight.”

“Democracy in the rest of the world. What about here at home?” Fentress wrote.

The largest daytime baseball crowd in Los Angeles’ history turned out for a spectacular event that raised $20,196 to purchase athletic equipment for Pacific Theater service personnel. In a game that saw a total of 47 players participate, the fans did not leave disappointed as the Service All-Stars put on quite a show. The Angels-Stars were overwhelmed from the start. The Service Stars were led by DiMaggio’s flawless hitting demonstration as he was 4-4 with two home runs and scored three of the team’s eight tallies. He also walked once, proving to be an impossible out. Ruffing pitched the opening four frames, striking out seven, allowing only two hits, one of them a Rip Russell home run in the bottom of the second inning, and issuing only one free pass. Service All-Stars with multiple hits included Joe Marty and Chuck Stevens (with a three-bagger and a single). Hollywood’s leading batter was the venerable Babe Herman. The longtime, solid-hitting Dodger first baseman and outfielder, who found himself back in the Coast League with Hollywood as a youthful 40-year old, took Ruffing’s relief, Rugger Ardizoia, deep for a home run.

Red Ruffing is prominently featured on this page of the 1943 All Pacific Recreation Fund program (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Without missing a beat, following the All-Star game’s festivities, the Sixth Ferrying Group went straight to work the next day as pitcher Hub Kittle held the San Pedro Coast Guardsmen aground with eight innings of no-hit baseball and notched a 5-1 victory on Sunday, August 22.  Seven  days later, Ruffing’s men visited Santa Ana and faced the Air Base team once more. Ruffing shut out the SAAAB nine, 2-0, and limited DiMaggio to a lone double in the seventh inning. Ruffing struck out seven and allowed four hits as the Ferrying Group captured their 48th win of the season in front of 3,000 fans.

At the close of August, six of the Ferrying Group’s batters were carrying lofty batting averages. Max West led the pack as he carried a .482 season average. Harry Danning was 47 points off West’s pace with .435 and Fernandez followed with .411. Ruffing, just below the .400-mark, was holding fast with .393 with Ed Nulty (360) and Chuck Stevens (.325) rounding out the list of sluggers.

After 24 consecutive wins, the Sixth suffered a loss at the hands of the 11th Naval District squad, 1-0.  Boasting a 52-10 record, the Ferry Group continued on. With a game deadlocked at 3-3 in the 9th inning at Pomona, the Ferrying Group’s bats sparked an 8-run rally once the 13th Army Hospital’s starter, Frank Angeloni, was forced to leave the game with a finger blister on his pitching hand.  On September 16, Long Beach area fans saw a matchup of future Hall of Fame pitchers as the Sixth Ferrying Group hosted the Camp Pendleton Marines. Outlasting Marine starter Ted Lyons (formerly of the Chicago White Sox), who departed in the fourth inning, Ruffing tossed six innings of three-hit shutout baseball and left with a 5-0 lead, but his team lost the game, 8-5. Werbowski in relief surrendered seven hits while his normally sure-handed defense coughed up three errors, resulting in eight-run seventh inning

Following their 8-5 loss, Ruffing’s men faced Camp Pendleton for their sixth game of the season, trailing in the season series 3-2. In a 10-inning pitching duel that saw Lyons pitch against Ruffing’s squad once more, the Lakewood Stadium crowd watched as both teams were held to just four hits. Lyons departed after five innings with the score tied, 1-1, while Hub Kittle went the distance, holding the Marine batters to a single run. The Sixth scored the winning run off Camp Pendleton’s Howard, who had been effective since taking over for Lyons. Thus, the Ferrying Group evened the series at three games apiece.

This “Still a Yank” illustration (by Jack Sword) emphasizes that though Ruffing’s uniform changed, he is a “Yank” as he pitches for his country rather than for just New York (image source: Edmonton Journal, February 13, 1943).

As the Yankees experienced a momentary stumble and gave a sliver of hope to the Washington Senators, who were chipping away at New York’s lead in the American League pennant race, sportswriters in southern California were watching Ruffing at what appeared to be his career best. Taking note of the Yanks’ need for pitching to finish the season and for the upcoming World Series, journalists rubbed a little salt in the Yankees’ open wound as they spotlighted Ruffing’s absence from their roster. As the Bronx Bombers prepared to host the Detroit Tigers and face a red-hot Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Ruffing was instructing the Los Alamitos batters on the finer points of pitching as he fanned 18 of the Navy batters on his way to a 7-4 victory. Four days later, Ruffing pitched a one-hit, 10-0 shutout and smashed a home run against the Camp Roberts Rangers.

On the eve of the Fall Classic, his Yankees teammates voted to split their World Series winnings to include Ruffing and six other New York teammates serving in uniform despite their spending the entire 1943 season in the armed forces, according to a story in the Pasadena Post (September 28, 1943). Red, along with DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Buddy Hassett, Tom Henrich, George Selkirk and Norman Branch each were due to receive $500 as the pot was to be shared among 47 players, clubhouse and gate attendants and the Yankees bat boy.

Visiting Fullerton on October 3, the Sixth Ferrying Group baffled the All-Star batters as Ruffing coaxed 10 strikeouts in a 10-1 road victory. The following day saw the visiting San Bernardino AAF team defeat the Sixth, 4-2, as Ed Chandler outlasted Werbowski.

A year removed from losing the fifth and final game of the 1942 World Series, Red Ruffing was on the eve of pitching in another game which would decide a championship. His former team, along with the 1942 World Series champions, were returning to the Fall Classic to face each other once again.  Both the Yankee and Cardinal rosters were decidedly altered by wartime departures of key players and yet had handily risen to the top of their respective leagues.

As the Cardinals hosted the Yankees for game four, trailing in the Series, two games to one, Ruffing was preparing for his early afternoon contest to decide the California Service Championship at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars. Ruffing, promoted from the rank of private to corporal just two days ahead of the championship game, was set for the seventh and deciding game against the Camp Pendleton Marines. The Pasadena Post’s Rube Samuelson wrote about the pitching matchup of Ruffing versus Lyons in his October 10, 1943 Draw Up a Chair column, “No other active pitcher approached them in total wins.” Samuelson reflected upon Ted Lyons’ 20 major league seasons with the White Sox and his 259 career wins as compared to Ruffing’s 18 seasons and 258 victories. At 42 and 38 years old (respectively) neither pitcher would overpower a World Series team but both should easily dominate the caliber of players within the service team ranks. In the six previous matchups between Camp Pendleton and the Sixth Ferrying Group, neither pitcher truly dominated his opponent, which meant that the championship was truly up for grabs.

The 4-1 score and the outcome doesn’t accurately depict what happened during the game. Ruffing’s bat played a bigger role than did his pitching, which was not nearly as effective as that of Lt. Lyons.  Ted limited the Sixth’s batters to six hits while Ruffing surrendered nearly double (11).  Red crushed a long single in the second inning that plated two. As Ruffing was touched for hits, Max West preserved the score with solid defense in center field, with an accurate throw from deep in the outfield to cut down a run at the plate after a Pendleton Marine had tagged third base on a deep fly ball. In his recap of the game, Samuelson, in his October 13 column, commented on Lyons’ physical conditioning, regardless of the game’s outcome. “Looking at the two of them (the starting pitchers), it was Ruffing who looked to be 43 years old and Lyons 26.” The two pitchers were going in opposite directions with regards to their fitness. While Ruffing had put on weight since leaving the Yankees, Lyons had shed 14 pounds of his 1942 season playing weight, owing to the intense physical training of Lieutenant Colonel Dick Hanely’s combat conditioning program at Camp Pendleton.

For the Sixth, the baseball season continued with an exhibition game at Recreation Park as they faced the Long Beach All-Stars, led by Washington Senators’ pitcher Louis “Bobo” Newsom. Walter Olsen of Santa Barbara (CALL) along with George Caster (Athletics and Browns pitcher), Red Kress (former Browns, Senators, Tigers and White Sox infielder) and Jack Salveson (Cleveland Indians) joined Newsom on the All-Star roster.

Games that followed included another match-up against Camp Pendleton (a 9-6 victory) on October 19 for their 64th win of the season and an exhibition game on the 24th against the San Bernardino All-Stars, an easy 19-7 win. On Halloween, the Sixth faced Fullerton, notching a 5-2 win with Ruffing pitching five shutout innings.

With no signs of ceasing play, the Sixth Ferrying Group continued their exhibition season into November. On Sunday, November 4, the Sixth faced the newly formed U.S. Naval Drydock team that included George Caster, Win Ballou (San Francisco Seal pitcher) and Cecil Garriott. Breaking the Sixth’s string of wins, the Drydock Nine used the pitching of Caster and Ballou to limit the Ferrying Group to six hits and two runs while tagging Pitter and Werbowski for four runs on 12 hits. Closing out the month, the Sixth dropped another contest, this time to the San Bernardino Army Air Force nine on November 28 to end the season.

1943 was a significant year of change for the United States as the tide had turned in the Pacific with the enemy forces on the defensive since the decimation of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway in June along with the push to dislodge the Japanese from the Solomon Islands. Axis forces were defeated in North Africa and Italy surrendered to the Allies; however, the war on the European Continent was only beginning. After ringing in the New Year, the Southern California service diamonds would spring back to life, months ahead of professional baseball’s training camps, and Ruffing would pick up where he left off in November.

Stay tuned for part two in this series.

Resources:

All of the photos published in this article are the part of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and may not be used without written permission.

Yankees, Cardinals and…Blacksheep: The 1943 World Series and the Unusual Trade

The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photo archive has been steadily growing since we acquired our initial piece showing Hugh Casey and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese changing from their Navy service dress white uniforms into their Norfolk Naval Air Station flannels. We have managed to locate incredible imagery depicting armed forces and baseball history, some of which is so scarce that it is likely we hold the only copies. Despite the diverse and expansive nature of our archive, there are a handful of iconic images that have eluded our pursuit.

Traditionally, our objective with Chevrons and Diamonds has been to spotlight the convergence of baseball and military history through artifacts that we have located, added to our collection and thoroughly researched. While this article holds true to our goal and utilizes many pieces from the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the principal theme focuses on artifacts (in this case, photographs) that we have yet to source. In the interest of telling this story, we made the decision to draw upon the National Archives for digital copies of the desired images to assist in bringing this story to our readers. All of the photos are properly credited and thus allow readers to distinguish between those obtained from the National Archives and the images within our collection.

Baseball’s “Golden Age” (roughly 1920-1960) might not be thought of as golden to fans outside of New York City or St. Louis, with the post season being dominated by teams from those two cities for many of those years. Between 1926, when the Cardinals made their first October appearance, and 1943 (a span of 17 years), the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals made a combined 18 trips to the World Series. In the 11 Yankee World Series appearances in that span, the “Bombers” captured nine crowns while the Cardinals captured four titles in their seven trips. Amazingly, the two teams faced off against each other in only three of those Series.

Following what was perhaps one of the most impressive seasons of baseball in 1941, with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406 season batting average, the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers (in their first World Series appearance since losing to the Cleveland Indians in 1920) in five games, capturing the World Series crown (their ninth in twelve trips to the Fall Classic). Just a few weeks later, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II and major leaguers began to trickle into the armed forces as the Cleveland Indians’ star pitcher, Bob Feller, became the first notable player to enlist (on December 9).

Following President Roosevelt’s “green light” letter, the 1942 baseball season was given the go ahead to proceed as planned, though there was nothing to stop players from being lost to the selective service, i.e. the draft, or enlisting. The Yankees’ 1942 roster was hardly changed from their 1941 championship squad and again the club finished the year atop the American League. The National League’s fourth place finisher in 1941, the St. Louis Cardinals, retooled following the surprising trade of their star first baseman (and future Hall of Fame slugger) Johnny Mize to the New York Giants during the December winter meetings in Chicago. The “Red Birds” also made room for their rising star outfielder Stan Musial, with other roster moves prior to the start of the 1942 spring training.

Aside from the baseball season’s coverage on the sports pages across the U.S., coverage of the war’s progression in the Pacific was front-page news. Still reeling from losses at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and Guam, bad news continued to pour in with the loss of the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and other allied ships at the Battle of the Java Sea off the Dutch East Indies at the end of February and again in May with the surrender of Corregidor in the Philippines (on the 6th). However, there was reason for optimism with the Colonel Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo (April 18) and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8). The Japanese suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7), placing them on the defensive for the remainder of the war. Though Midway is considered a turning point, a lot of fighting was still to come.

Just months following the first U.S. naval victory of WWII at Midway, the Navy and Marine Corps moved to an offensive campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific. Defense production was in full swing with ships and aircraft development and construction greatly sped-up from the peacetime pace. Naval tactics saw a shift from ship-to-ship gun battles to the over-the-horizon, carrier-based air strikes that become the standard of warfare. Five days prior to the 1942 All-Star game at New York’s Polo Grounds, Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214), the “Swashbucklers,” was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station, Ewa on Oahu on July 1, 1942. By August, the squadron had been transported to the island of Espiritu Santo in the Coral Sea.

The 1942 Cardinals squad fought hard to overtake the reigning National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers (who led the league from the seventh game of the season) after being 10 games behind on August 4. In just 41 games from that point, the Cardinals took over first place from the Dodgers and held on, finishing the season with 106-48 record (Brooklyn posted a record of 104-50) and were primed to take on New York, the customary World Series favorites.

Having pitched his Cardinals into a World Series Championship, Johnny Beazley requests entrance into the Navy as a physical fitness instructor. Not winning acceptance into the program, Beazley joined the Army Air Forces (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board (Associated Press Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

New York’s 37-year-old Red Ruffing led off with pitching duties for the Yanks in St. Louis, holding the Cardinals to four runs on five hits while striking out eight over eight innings in New York’s only victory in the 1942 Series. In the next four games, the Cardinals demonstrated that their 106-win season was no fluke as Johnny Beazley secured two of St. Louis’ victories, allowing 10 hits in a 4-3 win in the second game of the Series and seven hits in a 4-3 win in the fifth and final game, thus emerging as the star of the pitching staff. Centerfielder Terry Moore batted .294, scored twice and drove in multiple runs for the Cards. Right fielder Enos “Country” Slaughter averaged .263 with a double and a home run (one of only two Cardinal four-baggers) and scored three runs. As it was with the regular season, St. Louis defeated the Yankees with a team effort.

In their Series loss, the Yankees did not fall easily. Shortstop Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto led the Bronx batters with a .381 average, scoring twice with a home run. Joe DiMaggio and Buddy Hassett carried .333 averages (Hassett had the only extra-base hit, a double, between the two) and Charlie “King Kong” Keller led all hitters with two home runs. In the South Pacific two days after the Cardinals defeated the Yankees, the Marines were engaged in battle along the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island group. On October 11, the Battle of Cape Esperance saw U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers successfully defend ground forces on Guadalcanal from Japanese naval bombardment. Weeks later, the Battle for Henderson Field saw the Marines defend the recently acquired (and renamed) Japanese air base, repulsing several attacks by the enemy’s 17th Army.

LT(jg) John “Buddy” Hassett in New York City, October 5, 1944 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As the war progressed, much of the Pacific Theater focus was upon the Solomon Islands. After the hard-fought Guadalcanal campaign by the First Marine Division, the Japanese were putting up a fight on land and sea and in the air. The need for more men in all branches of the service was high and more ballplayers were volunteering as well as being drafted like other service-age Americans in late 1942 and early 1943. While many professional ballplayers were tapped to serve as physical instructors and play the game in morale-boosting capacities (to raise money or entertain troops), the majority of the thousands of former players served in front-line combat or support units. Even the Yankees and Cardinals saw their star players exchanging baseball flannels for the uniforms of their country. After the end of the World Series, the Yankees saw the departure of Tommy Henrich (who had enlisted in the Coast Guard in August but was permitted to continue playing) followed by Buddy Hassett, Phil Rizzuto and George Selkirk (all entered the Navy) and lastly Red Ruffing, drafted at age 39 in January, and Joe DiMaggio in February (both into the USAAF). The Cardinals lost Johnny Beazley (USAAF) and Buddy Blattner (Navy) less than a month after winning the World Series. Terry Moore departed in January (Army) followed by Enos Slaughter (USAAF) in February. Slaughter enlisted in August but delayed his departure until after the Series.

As was the case for all professional baseball clubs, the war continued to have an impact on personnel. The changes were dramatic for both the Yankees and Cardinals and yet each team managed to work their way back for a World Series rematch in October of 1943. The Yankees led the American League for most of the season’s first half before separating from their competition after Independence Day. The Cardinals trailed the National League leader, bouncing between the second and third place position until grabbing the lead for good in the middle of July and finishing 18 games ahead of Cincinnati with a 105-49 season won-lost record, nearly matching their 1942 record. The Yankees’ 98-win season seemed to indicate that they would be the underdog in the ’43 Series. However, odds makers gave the “Bronx Bombers” a slight edge over the reigning world champions.

Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler, Yankees pitcher from 1937-1947 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Out of the gate, the Yankees took a 1-0 edge over the Cardinals on the back of right-handed pitcher Spud Chandler’s 7-hit, 4-2 complete game victory. The Cardinals evened the series as Mort Cooper held the Yankees to three runs on six hits. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion and first baseman Ray Sanders hit a pair of home runs, driving in three of the Cards’ four runs in the win. On the eve of Game 3, newspapers across the United States began carrying a story* written by an Associated Press war correspondent in the South Pacific, detailing an unusual trade proposal pitched to the eventual winner of the World Series.

Bill Hipple in Tacoma, Washington, 1934. Associated Press war correspondent Hipple began his career as a reporter with the Tacoma Times, (image source: Tacoma Public Library).

The proposal that was pitched by Marine Corps aviator Major Gregory Boyington, commanding officer of VMF-214, was a morale-boost for his squadron as well as an incentive for the Cardinals and Yankees. Motivated by a desire for functional and comfortable headwear (and perhaps a desire for a little exposure for his squadron personnel), Boyington offered to trade the World Series victor an enemy aerial kill in exchange for a ball cap worn during the games. As AP correspondent William Hipple, a native of Tacoma, Washington, where Boyington spent his adolescent years and graduated from high school, mentioned in his article, “Such baseball caps are popular headgear in the tropics because they keep the sun out of the fliers’ eyes,” Hipple explained. “But they are scarce down here.”

At the time the article was penned, Boyington, who had already amassed 15 enemy kills to his credit (including those he collected while serving under Claire Chenault with the American Volunteer Group’s “Flying Tigers”), told Hipple that his squadron was “willing to put up 13 enemy planes.” Hipple wrote that the men of VMF-214 (now named “Blacksheep”) had already shot down these enemy aircraft in the previous two weeks. In effect, the major was presumably offering 13 kill stickers to the winning club before commencing with the efforts for their end of the trade. According to Hipple’s article, the Blacksheep said that they believed caps worn by the world champions would bring the squadron luck. “In return [for the caps], they [VMF-214 personnel] promise to make a clean sweep of the south Pacific aerial series, “Hipple concluded.

“Major Gregory Boyington, commanding officer of a Marine fighter squadron called ‘Boyington’s Blacksheep,’ which in only two tours of duty has knocked down 61 planes. The first six, he downed as a Flying Tiger. The major left Marine Aviation to fly with the American Volunteer Group August 29, 1941. He returned to the Marines in July, 1942, when he shot down the remaining eighteen planes, all Zeros. Twenty-four dead Japanese pilots are credited to him” (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives, including original caption).

The third game of the series, the final played at Yankee Stadium, saw the hometown team take down the visitors 6-2 with catcher Bill Dickey and third baseman Billy Johnson leading the offense. Hank Borowy held the Cards to two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking three in eight innings. Johnny Murphy closed the game with a three-up, three-down ninth inning.

The final two games of the Series were played at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with the Yankees taking both games to secure the championship. Spud Chandler pitched his second complete game, a seven-hit, 2-0 shutout to finish the series 2-0 with an impressive .050 earned run average. Billy Johnson (.300), Bill Dickey and Frankie Crosetti (both .278) led New York batters and accounted for eight of the Yankees total of 14 runs in the series.

“October 11, 1943: 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” – original caption (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

According to an article published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Wednesday, October 27, 1943, both the Yankees and Cardinals accepted Major Boyington’s and the other Blacksheep’s terms and within a few weeks of the end of the World Series, the Yankees and the Cardinals sent shipments of caps to the men of VMF-214 in the South Pacific.

Ensign Charley Keller as a junior assistant purser-pharmacist’s mate at the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, September 9 1944 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

After the series, the Yankees and Cardinals continued to see their star players exit for the service. Charlie Keller (U.S. Maritime Service, January 1944), Marius Russo (Army, February), Roy Weatherly (Army, April), Bill Dickey (Navy, June) and Billy Johnson (Army, June) were gone from New York. The Cardinals saw both Al Brazle and Harry Walker depart on successive days immediately after the World Series loss. Murry Dickson (Army, November), Lou Klein (Coast Guard, February 1944), Howie Krist (Army, March 1944) all departed for the service before the 1944 season.

Headgear contributed by the St. Louis Cardinals to members of Maj. Gregory Boyington’s Marine Fighter Squadron are handed to the Marine Ace by 1st Lt. Christopher Magee. In October, the squadron, facing a shortage of baseball caps, offered to shoot down a Japanese Zero for every cap sent them by World Series players, traditional wear for Marine pilots when not in the cockpit. Twenty caps were sent by the Cardinals in December. Meatball stickers to complete the exchange are handed to Lt. Magee (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives)

By early December, a shipment arrived on the island of Vella Lavella where the Blacksheep squadron’s base of operations was located (approximately 250 miles northwest of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal). In the shipment were 20 baseball caps and six Louisville Slugger baseball bats as promised by the Cardinals. St. Louis’ bid for twenty enemy planes was outdone by more than double as Boyington’s fliers accounted for 48 aerial kills by December. The gifts from the Cardinals made for perfect photo and public relations opportunities as nationwide attention was being focused upon the “competition” between Boyington and a fellow Marine Corps aviator, Major Joe Foss, for the aerial kill record. Despite the “trade” appearing to be a boon (if not lucky) for VMF-214, Boyington’s combat flying career ended a month after the Cardinals caps arrived. On January 3, 1944, Major Gregory Boyington was shot down by an enemy fighter aircraft near the island of Rabaul and spent the remainder of the war as a POW after being picked up by a Japanese submarine.

December 4, 1943, Vella Lavella: Downing a Jap Zero for every baseball cap sent them by members of the St. Louis Cars, was an offer made by Major Gregory Boyington’s Marine Fighter Squadron. Here are 20 member of the original squadron wearing them. They have more than kept their part of the bargain; a total of 48 Japanese plane have been downed by the pilots shown here, most of them since they made the offer (USMC Photo/National Archives).

After losing the 1943 series and five more players from their roster, the Cardinals appeared to have benefited from their deal with the Blacksheep in terms of luck. From the 16th game of the season, an 11-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals led the National League, finishing with a 14.5-game advantage over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis returned to the World Series for a third consecutive trip after duplicating their 1943 win-loss record. 1944 saw an all-St. Louis World Series as the American League’s Browns made their lone post-season appearance in their entire 52-year existence, losing to the Cardinals in six games.

The last two baseball seasons of the war (1944 and ’45) saw major league rosters that were dominated with players who were either 4F (declared unfit for service in the armed forces), teenagers or men who staved off retirement (or returned from it) while the fighting in Europe and the Pacific was reaching a climax.. The quality of baseball being played in major league parks was diminished as heightened service team play boosted morale in the combat theaters.

These Leatherneck fighter pilots in the South Pacific hope to catch more Japanese airmen off base. The baseball motif was inspired by 20 caps sent Major Gregory Boyington’s squadron by the St. Louis Cardinals. The ball caps were worn traditionally by Marine pilots when not actually flying. Left to right: On a Corsair fighter wing, 1st Lieutenant Robert W. McClurg, 3 Zeros; 1st Lieutenant Paul A. Mullen, 3 Zeros; 1st Lieutenant Edwin L. Olander, 3 Zeros, December 4, 1943 (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives).

On January 8, 1944, the Blacksheep ended their second combat tour in the Solomon Islands five days after their commanding officer was shot down and missing in action. Marine Fighter Squadron 214 received the Presidential Unit Citation with nine of their pilots achieving “ace” status (five or more confirmed air-to-air kills). In their first three months of flying, the Blacksheep compiled an impressive record that included 97 confirmed enemy air-to-air kills, more than 200 aircraft destroyed or damaged, including those hit during VMF-214 ground-attack missions, and multiple enemy ships (troop transports and supply vessels) sunk.

The 1946 season was a year of healing for returning GIs, families who suffered loss and for the game. Many of the minor leagues were able to restart after ceasing operations early in the war. The major leagues saw most of their veteran players return from the service as rosters began to resemble what was seen in the 1942 and 43 seasons. The Cardinals returned to the World Series and defeated the odds-makers’ favorite, the Boston Red Sox. During the World Series, Lt. Col. Gregory Boyington announced the founding of the Disabled Veterans Rehabilitation Association to assist paralyzed WWII veterans to obtain jobs and housing. Having spent 20 months as a tortured POW held in Japanese prison camps, the Medal of Honor recipient and former VMF-214 commanding officer contracted severe arthralgia and had to deal with his own health issues following the war.

Regardless of the decades-long fruitless searches, our pursuit of original Blacksheep photos with their Cardinals caps and bats continues. However, our archivist’s curiosity leaves us with a lingering question; what became of the Cardinals World Series caps and game used Louisville Slugger bats?

See Also:

Sources:

  • *Yank Fliers in Pacific Bid for Caps of Winning Team in World Series – One Jap Zero for Each Cap, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), Thursday, October 7, 1943
  • World Series Caps to Fliers – Honolulu Advertiser, Wednesday, October 27, 1943
  • Nation’s Leading Air Aces Gain Laurels Against Japs – The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, IL), Tuesday, December 7, 1943

Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt

As the National Football League wound down the 2019 season with the final regular season contest at Seattle’s Century League Field on Sunday, December 29, the common description of the sport, that it is “a game of inches,” was on full display in the final play as the Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister was tackled just shy of scoring the game-winning touchdown (the San Francisco 49ers captured the division title). Actor and Director Billy Crystal described his earliest memory of passing through Yankee Stadium’s grandstand tunnel during a pre-game batting practice for an early 1950s game. In his recollection, Crystal’s memory was relatable as he recounted inhaling such scents including the diamond’s freshly cut grass evoking some of my earliest ballpark memories.

As my age advances and the physical impacts resulting from the hazards of military service continue to emerge as greater challenges for me, I am becoming acutely aware of the changes. Of the many residual effects that I contend with is substantial hearing loss and its continual degradation which is emphasized when I attend a baseball game but I can still enjoy the fantastic sound of the crack of the bat when a hitter gets a solid connecting with a pitch.  One of the most unmistakable sounds from the game is the “thump” of a fastball striking the catcher’s mitt, indicating to all within earshot the sort of pitcher occupying the mound. As each hard-thrown pitch lands into the mitt, the distinctive sound is unmistakable.

When I played baseball, the last position that I wanted to play was behind the dish. The idea of donning the protective gear and spending the game crouched down behind the batters while attempting to put a glove onto the incoming pitches (to prevent them from skipping to the backstop, especially when there are runners on base), didn’t hold my interest. As much as I enjoyed pitching, I lacked the mechanics to deliver the ball with decent velocity which relegated me to playing in the infield or outfield. Taking stock of my interest within the game, I was always fascinated by the catcher position and that this role acted as the on-field manager. The catcher is responsible for positioning the defensive players as well as calling pitches. Hall of Fame catcher, Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager who led his Detroit Tigers to consecutive American League championships (1934-’35), winning the World Series in 1935 from behind the plate (he also led the dominant Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team during WWII). Catchers have ascended to become major league managers more than any other baseball diamond position.

Through the efforts of several wartime philanthropic endeavors, many thousands of pieces of sports equipment were purchased and distributed to troops throughout the combat theaters (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved) for recreation and distraction from the intensity and monotony of the war. As we have been acquiring wartime military-marked, game-used equipment, catchers’ mitts have proven to be quite elusive. Our collection of marked-gloves consists of those used by position players or pitchers. In 2019, we acquired our first military-used catcher’s mitt, a late 1930s-early-1940s Wilson Professional model that was hand-marked by the original owner who served in the Navy during WWII, Pharmacist’s Mate 1/c Gerald W. Benninghoff (see: Catching Corpsman: The Search for a Ball-Playing WWII Pharmacist’s Mate). Since the Benninghoff mitt was only marked with the sailor’s name, it is impossible to determine if it was provided to him (through one of the wartime sports equipment charities) or if he purchased it.

Several years ago, we were watching an auction listing for a wartime Rawlings catcher’s mitt with “U.S.” markings.  When that auction closed well above our budgeted financial limit, we decided to exercise patience while waiting for another example to surface.  The mitt listed in that auction was a signature model that recognized one of the game’s rising defensive stars behind the dish. Though by the end of 1940, St. Louis Cardinals catcher, Mickey Owen had proven himself with his glove and command of the Cardinals’ pitchers, his offensive stats were mediocre leaving him expendable with the rise of his back-up, Walker Cooper. Owen led the National League picking off would-be base-stealers in 1939 and 1940, taking down 61 and 60 percent (respectively). Despite his consistent play, the Cardinals traded Owen to the Brooklyn Dodgers in December 1940 for $65,000, catcher Gus Mancuso and minor-league pitcher John Pintar.

Mickey Owen’s first signature model catcher’s mitt was a professional model as seen in this page of the 1938 Rawlings catalog (source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

For a major league catcher to have a player endorsement contract with an equipment manufacturer, he would have had to have been quite established in the league. However, for Mickey Owen, his first signature model appeared in the 1938 Rawlings catalog following his rookie campaign that saw him splitting the 1937 season with Bruce Ogrodowski behind the plate. Considering that Owen batted a paltry .231 and had a minuscule .265 slugging percentage, it seems that Rawlings saw the catcher’s upside, especially since he was playing on the storied St. Louis roster.

Though he was a decent major league catcher throughout his 13 season, Mickey Owen is more of a recognizable figure due to an unfortunate defensive misstep that is much on par with the Bill Buckner incident (in the 1986 World Series). In his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Owen saw his team capture the National League pennant, edging out his former team by a slim, 2.5 game-margin, though his own offensive performance for the 1941 season was considerably off the pace of his previous campaigns in St. Louis.

The first year of the Rawlings model “MO,” Mickey Owen signature catcher’s mitt as shown in the maker’s 1943 catalog (source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

For their first appearance in World Series in 21 years, the Dodgers faced the Yankees (their first of 12 World Series match-ups with the “Bronx Bombers”). After Game 3, the Dodgers were hosting the Yankees and were trailing in the series, two games to one. Owen was producing at the plate, hitting .285 over the first three games (two hits for seven at bats and one walk and two runs-batted-in).  In Game 4, the Yankees grabbed the lead in the top of the first inning on a two-out single by Charlie Keller plating Red Rolfe. In the top of the fourth inning, Johnny Sturm knocked a two-out single that scored Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon giving the Yankees a 3-0 advantage. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Mickey Owen drew a two-out walk followed by another by Pete Coscarart. Both Owen and Coscarart scored on a double by Jimmy Wasdell. which pulled the Dodgers to within a run. Dixie Walker led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double followed by a two-run Pete Reiser homerun which gave the Dodgers the 4-3 advantage over the Yankees which they held onto heading into the top of the ninth inning. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher left pitcher Hugh Casey in to finish the game after facing the Yankees since the start of the sixth inning. Casey consecutive ground-outs to Sturm and Rolfe before facing Tommy Henrich. Henrich worked Casey to a full count and was a strike away from seeing the Dodgers pull the series even. Casey threw a sharp breaking ball that coaxed a swing attempt by Henrich. Strike three was called which should have ended the game however, the pitch also got by Owen and rolled to the backstop as the Yankees right fielder reached first.

The wheels came off the cart for Brooklyn as Casey was rendered ineffective and the Yankees plated four runs as Casey allowed five more Yankees base runners on two walks, a single and two doubles before retiring Johnny Murphy for the final out of the top half of the ninth.  Pee Wee Reese, Walker and Reiser would be retired in order to close out the game and giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the series. The demoralized Dodgers lost game five 3-1 sending the Yankees to their ninth World Championship and Owen became the scapegoat for the Series loss.

This U.S.-marked Mickey Owen signature model catchers mitt by Rawlings dates from the early 1940s and displays well along with my signed photo of the former Cardinals and Dodgers player.

Mickey Owen’s signature model mitt was available in the Rawlings catalog from 1938 and through thought World War II. Model “MO” is a high end mitt the features leather edging, lace wrist strap with sheepskin (for comfort) on the underside. When we received the glove a while ago, the leather was fairly dry and was quite dirty from use on the diamond. After a light cleaning, the red clay dirt gave way to reveal much of the silver foil remaining in the manufacturer’s stamps. In addition, the “U.S.” was similarly marked. The only damage this mitt shows is the water stain in the palm and a few spots of mildew, caused perhaps by sitting on a garage or basement floor for too long. Treating the mitt with glove conditioner revealed many of the stamps that were previously indistinguishable due to the tight, dry leather. With only a single conditioning treatment (and more to follow), this U.S.-stamped Mickey Owen mitt will display quite nicely and it has already become a great addition to the our glove collection. Adding icing to this cake would be if the mitt had provenance or was attributable to a specific service member. Unfortunately, there are no other markings and the mitt had no connection to a veteran.

Mickey Owen’s selective service call-up didn’t happen until the spring of 1945 in his fifth season with Brooklyn and his last game in a Dodgers’ uniform was against the Cardinals at Ebbets Field on May 21, 1945. In the contest, a make-up game (rescheduled from May 10 due to a rain-out) was quiet in terms of his offensive performance, going 1-for-4 ( a double in the bottom of the 6th inning) at the plate. The Dodgers were shut out by St. Louis, 4-0. A few days later, Owen was reporting for duty in the armed forces.

Prior to Mickey Owen’s induction into the Navy, the catching position for the Sampson Naval Training Center‘s baseball team in the 1945 season was predominantly held by former Rochester receiver, Tony Ravish. By early June, Owen was donning Sampson’s flannels and making an impact for the team. According to The Sporting News, his June 10 debut, he clouted the longest home-run ever made at the Sampson Naval Training Center Field, slapped out two singles, walked once, reached first base on an error and stole two bases to score five times in five trips to the plate, helping the Bluejackets beat Cornell University, 13 to 1. In a June 28 match-up against the industry league team from Curtiss-Wright in Buffalo, New York, Mickey Owen connected for three hits which was half of the total compiled by his Sampson Naval Training Center team as he led the sailors to a 6 to 2 victory. Facing the Eastern League’s Grays of Williamsport, Pennsylvania (a class “A” affiliate of the Washington Senators), Owen went 2-for-2, including a double to help his team to an 8 to 2 victory on August 31st.

Now cleaned and conditioned, this U.S.-stamped Rawlings Model “MO” Mickey Owen Mitt is in excellent, though used condition.

After the surrender of the Japanese, bringing about the end of World War II, Dodgers president Branch Rickey went to work planning Brooklyn’s 1946 season roster. Rickey expressed concerns that Mickey Owen would not be released by the U.S. Navy in time for spring training and began seeking alternatives for the starting backstop position. Manager Leo Durocher recognized the glaring hole left by Owen’s absence in speaking about the 1946 roster, “Its catching that makes me wakeful at night. I’m not kidding myself.” the “Lip” commented, “I’d give a lot to find another Mickey Owen some place. But you can’t shake that kind of guys off Prospect Park trees. We need a high-grade, hard-hitting receiver more than we need anything else I can think of at the moment.” The Sporting News| December 27, 1945

By the end of February, 1946, word of Owen’s impending release from the Navy had reached Dodgers management and the press. Owen was expected to be discharged from the Navy on April 2 and spoke with a reporter as he was shopping for a camper trailer while on leave (near his home in Springfield, Missouri) to use.

Prior to his release from the Navy, Owen negotiated with Jorge Pasquel, president of the Mexican League, obtaining a five-year contract offer which included a $12,500 signing bonus. Unfortunately for Owen, he was still under contract with the Dodgers and in doing so, created incredible controversy and a legal fight between Major League Baseball and the Mexican League. Ultimately, Owen played for the Veracruz team in 1946 joining with 17 other former major leaguers who were summarily suspended (for five years) by Major League Baseball’s commissioner, A. B. “Happy” Chandler. Owen’s actions gained the ire of Branch Rickey who stated he would never play for the Dodgers again. After the 1946 season, Mickey Owen was unable to play organized baseball but would resume his career in 1949 with the Cubs. Having been was waived by the Dodgers and following reinstatement by a federal judge who sided with fellow Mexican League veteran, Danny Gardella who sued Major League Baseball, Owens played sparingly for four more seasons with the Cubs and Red Sox before retiring after the 1954 season.

Slipping a hand into this catcher’s mitt, one can imagine the “thumping” sound of a fastball slamming into its thickly padded leather while considering the events taking place around the war-torn world. The only thing that seemed to make sense back then was the game.

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