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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 archvitist’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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