Camp Chaffee Flannel: Arkansas Tanker Training Base a WWII Haven of Army Baseball
Researching wartime baseball can be a succession of twists, turns, roadblocks and dead ends as one travels down each road. One clue can remove a barrier or expose an alternate avenue to explore and lead to a highly rewarding breakthrough. In some instances, the objective that sets one onto the path of exploration becomes secondary or tertiary to the buried treasures that are discovered.
Quite typically, we acquire military baseball artifacts that require research to determine various historical aspects. Analyzing attributes that can then be compared with known artifacts, including those within our collection, affords us the ability to arrive at educated approximations or precise determinations. Military baseball uniforms can pose considerable challenges in pinpointing basic aspects such as the year they were manufactured. A task that is exceedingly more difficult is attributing an unnamed piece lacking provenance to a specific player.
In early March, 2022, we took a gamble on acquiring a flannel jersey lettered with “CAMP CHAFFEE” and listed at auction. Based upon several aspects discernible in the photographs of the listing, it was clear that the jersey dated from 1943-44. In addition to the athletic felt lettering on the chest, a large pair of numerals, “13,” was stitched across the back of the jersey in corresponding material. With high confidence that the jersey was used by an Army team from the World War II training base, we completed the purchase, deciding to trust in our research capabilities to connect the jersey to a team and players.
Named to honor the man who is considered the U.S. Army’s “Father of The Armored Force,” Major General Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr., Camp Chaffee was constructed in 1941 in western Arkansas. By March, 1942, Camp Chaffee was fully operational as a training base for the 6th, 14th, and 16th Armored Divisions. As the war progressed, Camp Chaffee expanded in both size and training operations, bringing engineer, artillery, and infantry units to the installation. Perhaps the most notable baseball athlete, the Boston Braves pitching prospect and future inductee into the Hall of Fame, Warren Spahn, trained at Camp Chaffee and played baseball while stationed there in 1943 and 1944.
As athletics played a significant role in the physical readiness and conditioning of troops, unit cohesion and morale also greatly benefited from competition among the commands by way of their sports teams. In the spring and summer, military installations could host their own graduated baseball leagues with classifications similar to what was seen in the minor leagues. Some units had the benefit of large pools of talent in assembling teams with experience that could rival clubs in the American Association and the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. Each of the various units stationed at Camp Chaffee fielded teams, including the 59th Field Artillery, 16th Armored Division, 47th and 62nd Armored Regiments and the 1850th Service Unit that featured Zeb “Red” Eaton, Ed “Truck” Kearse and Warren Spahn. In addition to local league play, the service teams competed against regional semi-pro, minor league and even college squads. In an August 5, 1943, game that pitted the 1859th against a team representing the KFPW radio station, Warren Spahn pitched a 15-0 no-hitter, striking out 17 opposing batters. Two defensive errors in the game allowed KFPW baserunners, thus preventing the Braves hurler from perfection.
Once the Camp Chaffee artifact arrived and was removed from its shipping container, it was immediately obvious that the jersey was heavily soiled and likely had been laundered by a commercial dry cleaner. Upon thorough inspection, the condition of the jersey was far better than was discernible in the auction listing photographs. All the garment’s seams showed no signs of separation, and the threads were tight. All the stitching securing the lettering, numerals and soutache was in the same condition with no signs of decay. Aside from a missing fifth button from the bottom of the placket, the musty odor and dirt-laden wool fibers were the only issues, and both were correctible.
With the jersey cleaned and prepared for display, research surrounding Camp Chaffee continued and we were able to identify a handful of players across multiple rosters from unit teams at the base. Former Sacramento Solon outfielder Averett Thompson and pitcher Elwood “Dinty” Moore of Salem (class “B” Western International League) played for the 47th Armored Regiment team while Jim Sheehan, a catching prospect in the New York Giants organization, served as a player-manager for the 59th Field Artillery. It was highly unlikely that any of these teams or players donned a Camp Chaffee-specific uniform in favor of a unit-corresponding flannel. Several newspaper articles and game summaries that we were able to uncover detailed games at or against Camp Chaffee unit teams for the 1943 season. No sources were found that referenced any Camp Chaffee base team.
The 1944 season at Chaffee saw competition from the 16th Armored Division (featuring former Pirates outfielder, Maurice Van Robays), 18th Armored Infantry Battalion, 736th Tank Battalion (Dinty Moore), and the 276th Engineers with Warren Spahn. This season also so the emergence of the Camp Chaffee base nine, led by their team captain, former Johnstown Johnnies first baseman Judson F. “Jay” Kirke, Jr.
1944 Camp Chaffee Baseball Team
|Pfc.||Judson F. “Jay” Kirke||1B/Capt.||Johnstown (PASA)|
Jay Kirke, a second-generation professional baseball player, was born on August 27, 1912, in Fleischmanns, New York as his father, Judson Fabian Kirke, was in his second major league season with the Boston Braves. A ten-year minor leaguer, Kirke entered the Army on January 4, 1944, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. By April, Kirke was tearing the hide off the ball with the Fort McPherson, Georgia ball team before transferring to Camp Chaffee.
As the 1944 season was getting underway, the Army activated and reconstituted the 174th Infantry Regiment, a historically New York National Guard unit, and assigned them to Camp Chaffee for training in anticipation of overseas deployment. Former Los Angeles Angels catcher Private First Class Harry M. Land started the year with the 174th at Camp White, located 16 miles north of Medford, Oregon and played for the regiment’s “Buffaloes.” By June, the 174th was at Camp Chaffee and began to dominate the competition. Captain Harry Lindsey, special services officer for the 174th dispatched a letter to the citizens of Buffalo, New York, the former home of the regiment when it was part of the state’s National Guard, requesting assistance in procuring new uniforms. Answering Lindsey’s request, John C. Stiglmeier, general manager of the Buffalo Bisons of the class “AA” International League, responded, “We can’t do too much for the soldiers and sailors these days and in particular for the Buffalo regiment.” Stiglmeier’s response, according to the Buffalo Evening News, “was immediate as well as enthusiastic,” as 15 uniforms were dispatched to the 174th at Camp Chaffee.
|John J. Botek|
|Frank Del Papa|
|Ed “Jake” Jacobs||P||House of David|
|Harry M. Land||C||Los Angeles (PCL)|
|Henry W. Mankowski|
|Wilburn C. Timmons||SS/P||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Raymond H. Trendle|
|Maurice Van Robays||OF/P||Pirates|
As the Camp Chaffee nine struggled to keep up, the 174th Buffaloes juggernaut motored on. By mid-summer, former Pirates outfielder Maurice Van Robays was added to the Buff’s roster and was, in addition to playing right field, trying his hand on the mound. By the end of the year, Van Robays, who took on the role of team manager, amassed a pitching record of nine wins and four losses, helping the Buffaloes to a 61-39 record.
In the months following the end of the 1944 baseball season, many of the units at Camp Chaffee were deployed to the European Theater and players including Kirke, Spahn, Kearse and Van Robays headed overseas.
In the final year of the war, baseball continued at Camp Chaffee and the base team fielded an entirely new roster of players. For the new season, the Chaffees competed as a service team in a semi-professional league as well as in their service league. In addition to military opponents, the team squared off against regional semi-pro industrial league teams and minor league clubs, including the Little Rock Travelers. The 1945 Chaffee team included multiple former professional players, including pitcher Witt “Lefty” Guise, who saw action in two September 1940 games for the Cincinnati Reds and was on the team’s roster for their World Series championship that season. Jim McLeod, an infielder with 15 years of pre-war professional experience, spent 1930 and 1932-33 in the major leagues with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Camp Chaffee nine dominated the competition throughout the 1945 season. After winning the Arkansas State semi-pro championship in Pine Bluff on July 30, Chaffee was invited to the national tournament in Wichita, Kansas.
|Sgt.||Kennon Black||P||Lake Charles (EVAN)|
|T/4||Charles Coleman||3B||Dover (ESHL)|
|Sgt.||Witt “Lefty” Guise||P||Birmingham (SOUA)|
|Sgt.||Soule James McLeod||SS||Baltimore (IL)|
|S/Sgt.||Russell Lowell Needham||P||Albany (EL)|
Many eyes in the baseball world were present and focused upon the National Baseball Congress’ Semi-Professional Tournament in Wichita, Kansas starting on August 10, 1945. In addition to a select few civilian industrial teams from Kansas, the 32-team field of competition consisted entirely of Army and Army Air Force teams from around the country. All the clubs participating were dominant in their regions and Camp Chaffee, after securing the Arkansas state semi-pro championship on July 29, received an automatic entry into the national tournament.
For the three-day event, more than 25,000 tickets were sold. Thirteen major league scouts were also in attendance, including Carl Hubbell (New York Giants); Jack Ryan (St. Louis Cardinals); Joe Cambria (Washington Senators); Carl Hagel and Joe Becker (New York Yankees); Tom Greenwade and Bert Wells (Brooklyn Dodgers); Bill Hinchman (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Bobby Mattick; to look over the talent-rich teams.
|Biggs Field||El Paso||TX|
|Camp Chaffee||Fort Smith||AR|
|Camp Kilmer||Piscataway Township||NJ|
|Columbia Army Air Field||Comets||Columbia||SC|
|Enid Army Flying School||Enidairs||Enid||OK|
|Gowen Field Army Air Field||Boise||ID|
|Great Falls Army Air Field||Great Falls||MT|
|Herington Army Air Field||Herington||KS|
|Lincoln Army Air Field||Wings||Lincoln||NB|
|Lockbourne Army Air Field||Lockbourne||OH|
|Orlando Army Air Field||Orlando||FL|
|Sherman Field||Ft. Leavenworth||KS|
|Sioux Falls Army Air Field||Marauders||Sioux Falls||SD|
|Suffolk County Army Air Field||Westhampton||NY|
|Waco Army Air Field||Flyers||Waco||TX|
|West/Pacific Coast ATC||Wings||CA|
For their tournament opener, the men of Camp Chaffee faced the “Marauders” of Sioux Falls Army Air Field, South Dakota. Moundsman “Lefty” Guise started on the hill for Chaffee, pitching five innings of scoreless ball. The Marauders drew first blood in the bottom of the sixth, plating two runs. Their lead was short lived as the Chaffee men countered with a Courtney single and Martinez reaching on an error. Guise helped to ameliorate his sixth inning stumble by sacrificing the two baserunners into scoring position and setting his team up for a rally. Beavers sent a two-out double off the right field wall, plating Courtney and Martinez, but was gunned down attempting to stretch it to a triple.
The wheels began to fall off the cart for Guise as Sioux Falls loaded the bases in the next inning. Guise worked out of the one-out jam, getting Marauders batters Morton and Monty Basgall out. In the eighth inning, Guise was in trouble again, giving up an infield hit and a pair of walks and leaving the bases loaded for reliever Russell Needham, who stranded the Marauders by striking out second baseman Basgall. Sioux Falls pitcher Herb Norquist went the distance, surrendering two runs on four hits but the real story of the game was his 16 strikeouts as Chaffee finished the top of the ninth without scoring. With the game tied, left fielder Edward Gittens reached on an error to get things started. After being sacrificed to second, shortstop Robert Henny stroked a convincing single off Needham, allowing Gittens to score the winning run. With one loss in the double-elimination tournament, Camp Chaffee needed to keep winning to continue.
The timing for Mississippi’s Key Field’s arrival at Wichita could not have been any worse as the team’s roster was hampered by illnesses and injuries as they faced off against Camp Chaffee. Sergeant Kennon Black, starting on the mound for Chaffee, took advantage of the diminished Key Fielders as he handcuffed his opponents at the plate. allowing just two hits. Meanwhile, seven of nine Camp Chaffee batters got hits off the Key Field pitcher, Smith. Camp Chaffee tallied four runs on eight hits. Shortstop McLeod was the game’s sole multi-hit batter in the 4-0 shutout on August 13.
Following in Black’s footsteps, Russell Needham pitched a 2-hitter of his own as Chaffee eliminated El Paso, Texas’ Biggs Field with a 4-0 blanking. Catcher William Glenn led the offense with two hits in three at-bats. Coleman, Pittman and McLeod each drove in runs as first baseman Martinez, who was one-for-three, tallied three of Chaffee’s four scores.
The tables were turned as former Cincinnati Reds pitcher “Lefty” Guise was met by the unfriendly bats of Ohio’s Lockbourne Field on Sunday, August 19. Guise was ineffective as he surrendered six runs on nine hits in his five and two-thirds innings for Chaffee. “Lefty” was lifted in favor of Russell Needham, but the damage was done. Lockbourne’s Wanke went the distance against Chaffee, holding them to two runs on as many hits in the 7-2 shellacking.
Eliminated from the tournament, Camp Chaffee’s season was effectively over except for a handful of exhibition games against local service and industrial league ballclubs. In a September 24 game against Fort Benning, Guise pitched a no-hitter for his 16th win of the season, having lost only two games.
Ahead of Japan’s unconditional surrender on September 2, the armed forces, already discharging servicemen from the war service following Germany’s capitulation in May, ramped up the process. Camp Chaffee’s Guise was set to be separated days after tossing his no-hitter.
With the rapid downsizing of the armed forces, much of the wartime equipment, weapons and uniforms were no longer needed and were divested as surplus materials from the War Department’s inventory. It is unknown if our Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired through this program or if it was taken home by one of the team members.
With nearly a year elapsing since the Camp Chaffee jersey was acquired, we have been unsuccessful in locating a single photo of the team or any players wearing this jersey. Similarly, our research has failed to uncover scorecards or rosters to reveal the players’ number assignments, let alone who specifically wore number 13. Despite the detailed history surrounding Camp Chaffee’s wartime baseball teams, we were forced to weigh our findings against the opportunity to acquire a full wartime service team baseball uniform that included the jersey, trousers and stockings that were named to a ballplayer who was a combat veteran: Lawrence Milton “Lefty” Powell. After several days of careful consideration, we decided to take a previously unthinkable action and trade the Camp Chaffee flannel in exchange for the 18th Field Artillery uniform. This exchange marked the first and hopefully the last time that we let go of such a highly valued artifact.
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms
- Chevrons and Diamonds Collection’s Archive of Army Uniforms and Jerseys
 Patterson, Michael Robert, “Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. – Major General, United States Army, (https://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/achafjr.htm)” Arlington National Cemetery, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 Bedingfield, Gary, “Warren Spahn (https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/spahn_warren.htm)” Baseball in Wartime, Accessed December 28, 2022.
 “Razorback Nine Plays Soldier Team at Fort Smith,” Northwest Arkansas Times, May 8, 1943: p6.
 “No-Hit Pitcher Whiffs 17 Batters,” The Shreveport Journal, August 6, 1943: p14.
 “Van Robays Set to Go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 2, 1944: p8.
 “Tank Unit Has Crack Battery,” The Lawton Constitution (Lawton, Oklahoma), May 1, 1944: p3.
 “Swigart Bests Spahn 6-1 in Champ Battle,” The Gruber Guidon (Camp Gruber, Oklahoma), August 11, 1944: p3.
 “Atlas Electrics Play Soldiers at T.L. Park Today,” Tulsa Daily World, June 25, 1944: p25.
 “Three-Day Pass Goes to GI Member Who Can Smash C.O.’s Window,” The Birmingham News, April 19, 1944: p17.
 “Rainbow Downs Chaffee Nine,” The Gruber Guidon, August 11, 1944: p1.
 “Van Robays Now a Pitcher,” The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania), December 2, 1944: p3.
 Doyle, Charles J., “Van Robays Set to go Overseas,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, December 1, 1944: p27.
 “Camp Chafee Wins,” Wichita Evening Eagle, July 30, 1945: p6.
 “Many Fast Army Clubs Are Ready for U.S. Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 4, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee Wins,” Wichita Eagle, July 30, 1945: P6.
 “25,000 Will See Games in 3 Days,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 8, 1945: p6.
 “Marauders of S. Dakota Win Thriller 3 to 2,” Wichita Evening Eagle, August 12, 1945: p14.
 “Key Fielders Go Out Without Run in National Meet,” The Wichita Eagle, August 14, 1945: p7.
 “Camp Biggs is Out,” The Wichita Eagle, August 16, 1945: p10.
 “Camp Chaffee is Out of Tourney,” The Wichita Eagle, August 20, 1945: p2.
 “Guise, Former Baron, Hurls No-Hitter; Expects Discharge,” The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL) September 25, 1945: p17.
Pitching Machinist, Jack Ryan
In a season that saw Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh win 40 games against 15 losses and have a 1.42 ERA over 464 innings in 66 games with 11 shutouts, and 42 complete games, a 21-game winner would almost seem to be a mediocre pitcher. The greatest pitcher of all time, Denton True “Cy” Young, never posted a 40-win season, though he did manage to accumulate 511 career wins against Walsh’s 195. As 27-year-old Walsh was dominating all comers, Cy Young was working towards his second consecutive 21-win season at the age of 41 while accounting for 28-percent of the Red Sox’s total victories in 1908. At Chicago’s South Side Park, Young’s 25-33 Red Sox faced Ed Walsh and his 34-21 White Sox on June 20 for the only matchup between the two hurlers that season. Ed Walsh came out on top, pitching a four-hit, 1-0 shutout over the great Cy Young, who allowed one run on five hits.
Young was clearly aging and his best years were behind him. However, with consecutive 21-win seasons, Red Sox owner John Irving Taylor viewed the pitcher as being valuable in rebuilding his pitching staff with youth. After eight seasons and 192 victories in a Red Sox uniform and a lone World Series championship, Young was sent by Boston to Cleveland on February 16, 1909. Cleveland was where he had spent his first nine seasons constructing his Hall of Fame career. In return for the man who would have a trophy named for him, the Red Sox received pitchers Charlie Chech and Jack Ryan along with $12,500.
Chech spent 1905 and part of 1906 with the Cincinnati Reds, accumulating a 15-18 record in 50 games with a 2.78 ERA in 333.2 innings. After spending all of 1907 in the American Association with Toledo, Chech was purchased by the Cleveland Naps, where he posted a respectable 11-7 record with a 1.74 ERA in 27 games. After pitching in the class “D” Cotton States League with Jackson and Gulfport from 1906 through 1907 and with New Orleans in the class “A” Southern Association, Jack Ryan was purchased by Cleveland on June 22, 1908. Ten days later, Ryan made his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers at home in League Park, pitching in long relief. Charlie Chech started the game, lasting just 1/3 of an inning while surrendering two runs on two hits and a pair of walks as he faced five batters. Jake Thielman relieved Chech and was not much of an improvement, lasting an inning and a third against six Tiger batters and allowing three runs on three hits. Ryan spread seven base hits and four runs over five innings as he faced 17 Detroit batsmen. The Naps’ Otto Hess pitched the final two frames, giving up two more runs on three hits in the 11-1 loss.
The youngest son behind brothers Robert (born 1880) and Paul (1882), Jack Ryan entered the world in the small town of Lawrenceville, Illinois on September 19, 1884, born to Edmund and Margaret Ellen “Ella” Ryan (nee Childress). Edmund, a Lawrenceville deputy sheriff, was widowed in 1887, leaving the father of three to raise his sons alone. The following year after his father passed away, Edmund’s mother took up residence with the family, giving the young boys a motherly presence in the home.
While Jack’s documented professional baseball career shows that he began playing in the Cotton States League in 1905 with the Jackson Blind Tigers, splitting the season with the Hattiesburg Tar Heels of the same league, newspaper accounts detail pro service as early as 1904 with the Class “D” Delta League’s Jackson Senators, where his older brother Paul was not only a teammate but his battery mate as well. At the conclusion of Jackson’s season, the brothers joined the Mount Carmel (Illinois) Indians to close out the balance of the year. “Jack Ryan, who has been pitching winning ball for the Jackson team in the Cotton States League (sic), will be here next week and finish out the season with the Indians. Brother Paul will do the catching, and great things are expected of the “Dutch” battery. Young Ryan comes here with a good record, and if he has the ball-playing qualities of his brother, he will be received with open arms.”
Making his debut for the Indians on September 15, Jack Ryan’s defensive skills were brought to bear as he played center field against the class “D” Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League’s club from Vincennes, Indiana. Ryan showcased his defensive acumen, making a few running catches in the outfield against the Reds. At the plate, he made a solid connection in an appearance that was caught by the Vincennes defense as the Indians were downed, 3-1.
After spending the 1906 and 1907 seasons in the class “D” Cotton States League with Jackson and Gulfport and part of 1908 season with New Orleans of the class “A” Southern Association, Ryan was purchased by the Cleveland Naps. On July 2, 1908, Ryan made his major league debut in long relief against the Detroit Tigers, the eventual American League champions. After Naps pitcher Chech surrendered two runs on a pair of hits in 1/3 inning, Nap Lajoie went to his bullpen for reliever Jake Thielman. With three more Detroit runs on the board after 1.2 innings, Lajoie went to the well once more and sent the 23-year-old rookie to face the hot-hitting Tigers, trailing 5-1. The Tigers, led by Ty Cobb’s four-for-five performance, continued their assault on Cleveland’s pitching. After five innings on the hill, Ryan, who was touched for four runs on seven hits, including a home run by “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, was lifted in favor of Otto Hess. The Tiger hit parade continued with Hess on the hill as Detroit plated two more runs on three hits in the 11-1 route.
Ryan made seven more appearances, pitching 35.1 innings in 1908 and ending the season with a 2.27 ERA and a 1-1 won-lost record. Ryan’s only start of the season was in St. Louis against the Browns in the last game of the season. Trailing Detroit by a half game for the American League pennant, Lajoie started Ryan in the pivotal game. The Naps took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. The Browns evened the score in the bottom of the fifth as St. Louis’ pitcher, Bill Bailey, kept pace with Ryan through the eighth inning. Cleveland bats sprang to life, touching Bailey for four runs in the top of the ninth inning. In the Browns’ half of the final frame, Ryan pitched his fourth consecutive scoreless inning to close out the 5-1 game. Unfortunately for Ryan and the Naps, Detroit won their final game against the White Sox to secure the pennant.
Despite missing the World Series by a half-game, Ryan’s future in Cleveland seemed bright as he finished the year on a high note. His outlook for the 1909 season was very good but Cleveland management saw things differently and executed a mid-February trade with the Red Sox to bring Cy Young back to Ohio.
During Ryan’s brief tenure in Boston, he amassed a 3-3 record between April 12 and July 21 in 13 games. In the 61.1 innings he pitched, Ryan started eight games and completed two, including an 11-inning, 1-0 losing contest in Philadelphia on June 1. In that game, Ryan pitched 10 shutout innings and was matched frame-for-frame by Athletics pitcher Harry Krause until the bottom of the 11th when he surrendered the winning run with two outs. Ryan, along with his Cleveland teammate, Chech, was traded to the class “A” St. Paul Saints of the American Association on July 26. Unlike Charlie Chech, who pitched in 16 games for St. Paul that season, Ryan’s season was effectively finished.
Ryan spent all of 1910 with St. Paul, appearing in 31 games and amassing a 17-7 record in 211 innings. By December, Brooklyn purchased Ryan, who was reportedly “one of the most successful [pitchers] in the [American] Association last season, being excelled only by Long Tom Hughes, who reverts to Washington.” The Dodgers’ owner was slated to “hand over several of his surplus players” in exchange for Ryan. Unfortunately, his tenure with the Dodgers was brief. Ryan made three appearances for Brooklyn in losses, including a start against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 26. Ryan’s lone start was a disaster as he surrendered five runs on seven hits in 2.1 innings. Ryan’s last major league appearance was in Brooklyn on May 9, 1911, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He entered the game in relief as the Dodgers were trailing, 2-0, after eight innings. Ryan gave up a hit and issued a base-on-balls but closed out a scoreless ninth inning. Brooklyn was blanked in the bottom of the frame. Three days later, Ryan was sold to Mobile of the Southern Association.
After finishing the 1911 season in Mobile, Ryan pitched for class “A” Omaha of the Western League in 1912. From 1913 through 1917, Ryan became a fixture for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Ryan pitched in 222 PCL games, notching a respectable won-lost record of 108-70 and a 3.25 ERA in 1558.2 innings. As his last season with Los Angeles was getting started, news of Congress’ vote to declare war against Germany hit the wires on April 6, 1917. Soon, many professional ballplayers would be trading their flannels for the uniform of their nation.
A year after the United States’ war declaration, 32-year-old Jack Ryan laid down his Angels flannels and donned Navy blue. No doubt drawing upon Ryan’s non-baseball skills and experience, the Navy rated Ryan as a machinist’s mate chief petty officer. During Ryan’s baseball career, he spent his offseason working as a steam fitter at the Dantzler milling plant in Bond, Mississippi.
By the next month, Ryan was pitching and playing for his Navy ball club in Southern California. Assigned to the Naval Training Camp at Balboa Park in San Diego, Ryan was a lock to be added to the Navy baseball team. As most of the wartime draftees and volunteers were classified as reserves, area newspapers often referred to the baseball team as the Naval Reserves in addition to Balboa Park and Balboa Training Camp. Over the course of the next twelve months, the training camp at Balboa would mature as the Navy developed the base into a Naval Training Center which was also reflected sports news coverage.
The former pro hurler entered an April 16 game for the San Diego Naval Reserve/Balboa Park Training Camp squad as the starting pitcher, Carver, was getting battered by the 144th Field Artillery “Grizzlies’” offense. Despite his team’s being outhit, 12-9, and committing four fielding miscues, Ryan quieted the 144th batters and the Navy secured the 8-7 victory.
Balboa Naval Training Camp/Naval Reserves:
|Clyde Anheier||1B||Denver (WL)||1916-1917|
|Herb Benninghoven||C||Great Falls||1916-1917|
|Norman “Tony” Boeckel||3B||Pirates||1916-1917|
|Parke Davis||LF||Spokane (NWL)||1915-1917|
|James Hillsey Dodson Jr.||OF/MGR||University of California Berkeley|
|Dick Hillman||Utility||Medicine Hat||1915-1917|
|Jack Ryan||P||Los Angeles (PCL)||1913-1917|
|Lou Sepulveda||C||Portland (PCL)||1914-1917|
Facing the Point Loma Harbor Patrol team on April 28, Ryan had command of his pitches as he dominated opposing batters. “The former Angel twirler showed his old-time form and struck out ten of the opposing batters.” The 4-2 victory over the Harbor Patrol nine put Ryan’s club out in front of the service league with a 3-0 won-lost record.
With the service league championship on the line, the Balboa Training Camp club faced the North Island “Aviators” in San Diego. With the strongest Army clubs having been eliminated, including Camp Kearny and the 115th Sanitary Train, the two Navy clubs were left to duel for the league crown. Under Ryan’s tutelage, Balboa pitcher Grimes’ only struggle was in the top of the fifth inning when he was touched for three runs, putting the Aviators ahead, 3-1. Grimes’ teammates quickly answered in the bottom half of the inning with four runs of their own, leaving Balboa in the driver’s seat with a 5-3 lead. Four more runs in the bottom of the seventh put the game out of reach as Grimes blanked North Island over the last four innings to secure the 9-3 victory.
Playing to promote Liberty Bond sales, the Balboa Nine opened a 4-game series on May 17 against the San Pedro Submarine Base, a veritable major league all-star roster. The series pit the two best service teams in the region against each other, with both clubs hosting a pair of games. The first two contests, home games for the Sub Marine Base, were originally scheduled to be held at Maier Park, part-time home of the Pacific Coast League’s Vernon Tigers, but were relocated to Pasadena due to a Red Cross parade conflicting with the opening game. Led by future Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann and Yankees star Bob Meusel, the San Pedro submariners were the team to beat in the service league.
San Pedro Submarine Base:
|Grover Cleveland Brant||P||Los Angeles (PCL)|
|Charles Archibald “Butch” Byler||C||Salt Lake City (PCL)|
|Nic De Maggio||RF||Phoenix (RGRA)|
|Herb Hunter||LF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Merriwether B. “Spots” MacMurdo||1B||Tucson (RGRA)|
|Fred McMullin||CF||White Sox|
|Bob Meusel||LF||Vernon (PCL)|
|Donald R. Rader||SS||Sioux City (WL)|
|Bert Whaling||C/Mgr.||Vernon (PCL)|
The Sunday, May 19 opening game of the series was a disaster for the Balboa Navy nine. Torpedoed by Sub batters, San Diego hurlers Grimes and Scott were sunk, having surrendered 16 runs on 11 hits and a combination of 11 walks and errors. The three San Pedro Sub Base hurlers, Brant, Billman and Ehmke, were touched for four runs on seven hits.
The day after the 16-4 drubbing of Balboa, the Submariners claimed their second straight victory in a 3-2 duel between Jack Ryan and Howard Ehmke. In the loss, Ryan was charged with two earned runs on four base hits including a triple by the Subs’ MacMurdo. Although Ryan struck out five Sub Base batters, it was former Detroit Tigers hurler Ehmke who garnered the headlines as he whiffed nine Balboa batsmen while surrendering just one earned run on five hits.
In San Diego the following weekend, the San Pedro Submariners and Balboa Naval Training Station teams faced off for the final two games of the series. Grimes, seeking redemption after the opening game disaster, went to the hill for the home team in the third game on Saturday, May 25. Though he went the distance against the Subs, the result was the same: Grimes was beaten once more. The 4-2 score was more indicative of the evenly matched rosters, though the loss was a tough pill to swallow as the Balboa club lost the series with one game remaining. Grimes allowed four runs on eight hits with his defense charged with two errors. For the Subs, Brant allowed two runs on seven hits with one error charged to his club.
Though the series was already decided in favor of the Sub Base, Jack Ryan took to the mound for the Balboa Naval Training Camp club on Sunday. Ryan pitched masterfully against the stacked Sub Base roster, limiting the opponents to seven hits while fanning 13 and walking a trio. The five-run shutout was the worst lost suffered by the Subs, which provided some semblance of redemption for Balboa. The Sub’s ace Ehmke was inconsistent as he walked six and was charged with a pair of wild pitches. Ehmke was touched for five runs on seven hits, including a double by Rose.
Despite the series loss to the Submarine Base, the Balboa club continued to dominate the league and the accolades and recognition in the regional newspaper headlines reflected the team’s success. For Jack Ryan, the recognition came by way of advancement as he was promoted to the rank of chief petty officer in early June.
As a new service league was forming in Southern California, two of the prominent military clubs opted to abstain due to heavy transportation expenses they would incur traveling to opponents’ venues. With war rationing and limited resources, it was impractical for both the Army’s Camp Kearny and the Balboa club to make frequent road trips to the Los Angeles area. The Submarine Base, Fort MacArthur, Naval Reserves and Balloon School service teams along with three civilian clubs proceeded without the two San Diego area nines. With Ryan’s decision to keep Balboa Park Training Camp out of league play, the club was classified for independent play.
Meanwhile, Chief Machinist’s Mate Ryan’s advancement in the naval ranks continued as he was expected to take the exam for promotion to receive a commission as a warrant. Chief Ryan’s dominance on the mound vaulted him to the service team leaders in Southern California. No records were discovered indicating additional promotions.
Attention shifted quickly from the diamond to the gridiron as summer faded into autumn. On November 11, the guns fell silent in Europe as the Armistice went into effect, bringing about the end of hostilities. As some armed forces personnel began to trickle away from the ranks by the end of 1918, discussions were underway regarding a new baseball season for 1919. The commandant of the Balboa Park Naval Training Station gave the go ahead with Chief Yeoman J. P. Valois taking the helm of the baseball team.
In the new year, Chief Ryan, still serving on active duty, was in camp along with fellow pitcher Wilbur Scott and Lou Sepulveda, whom the next iteration of the Balboa Navy team could be built around. Also returning from the 1918 club were Dick Hillman, Clyde Anhier and outfielder-assistant manager Jimmy Dodson. As plans for the upcoming service league seasons were being formalized, the Pacific Coast League teams were preparing for spring training by sending contracts to their players for the 1919 season. Though he was still in uniform for the Navy and ineligible to sign, Jack Ryan received a contract from his old club, the Los Angeles Angels.
To open the season, Balboa hosted and trounced a local club, 12-2, on January 27.  With the season barely underway, the Balboa Naval Training Station club hosted a local firefighter club on February 21 for a holiday benefit game, the result of which was unavailable. As servicemen were being discharged en masse, the game was reported to likely be the team’s last.
With nearly a year in the Navy, Ryan was discharged. Unhappy with his contract offer from the Angels, about half that of his 1917 contract, Ryan stated his desire to become a free agent and pursue contracts from other Coast League teams. While awaiting a release from Los Angeles, Ryan went to work in his garage business, which he had purchased upon his discharge from the Navy.
Ryan, at the age of 38, made a return to professional baseball in the Cuban Winter League, splitting time between Marianao and Habana, amassing a 4-5 record in 18 games with a 3.52 ERA. After baseball, Ryan continued to ply his mechanical experience in different industries, including the lumber industry, and as a cement finisher. Less than two months after the death of his 41-year-old daughter, Jacquelin Henry Ryan, Jack passed away on October 16, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama and was laid to rest in Gulfport, where he lived for most of his active baseball life during the offseason.
Statistics sourced from Baseball Reference.com
 Nowlin, Bill, “Jack Ryan,” Society of American Baseball Research Bio Project
 “Diamond Dirt,” Daily Republican-Register, Mount Carmel, Illinois, September 10, 1904: p2
 “Defeated, But it Took a Team to Turn the Trick,” Daily Republican-Register, Mount Carmel, Illinois, September 16, 1904: p2
 “Base Ball Briefs,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), December 10, 1910: p8
 Nowlin, Bill, “Jack Ryan,” Society of American Baseball Research Bio Project
 “Naval Reserve Wins One From Grizzlies,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 1918: p5
 “Balboa Park Team Wins Championship,” The Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1918: p6.
 “Jackie Games Called Off at Maier Park,” Evening Express (Los Angeles), May 17, 1918: p2.
 “Sporting Events – Sub Base Wins,” San Pedro Pilot, May 20, 1918: p4.
 “Sub Base Wins Again,” San Pedro Daily Pilot, May 21, 1918: p3.
 “Submarines Make it Three in a Row,” The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1918: p64.
 “Ryan Pitches Balboa Park Team to Victory,” The Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1918: p4.
 Sailor Ball Player Here on Honeymoon,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 1918: p9.
 “Kearny, Balboa Park Not in Baseball League,” Evening Express, July 16, 1918: p2.
 “Balboa Park to Play as Independent,” Evening Express, July 19, 1918: p1.
 “Ryan to be a Warrant,” Evening Express, July 16, 1918: p2.
 “Leading Twirler of Service Teams,” Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT), September 1, 1918: p10.
 “Dodson Coming Up After Games,” The Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1919: p5.
 “Seraphs to Start Training Work,” Evening Express, February 12, 1919: p2
 “Dodson Coming Up After Games,” The Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1919: p5.
 “Balboa Sailors in Final Game,” The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1919: p4.
 “Ryan Anxious to Secure Release,” The Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1919: p5.
 https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18353701/jack-ryan, Find A Grave, Accessed September 10, 2022
Rainiers Ink: World War II Veterans Converge in Seattle
To discerning baseball memorabilia collectors, it would appear as an assemblage of signatures from journeyman major leaguers along with a handful of minor league favorites. Appearing on a soiled and aged baseball that no longer bears the stamps or markings applied by the manufacturer, 22 signatures cover all four panels and both sweet spots. Four of the men who signed the ball appeared in World Series games, with two of them helping to secure championships. Of the 21 men who signed the baseball (one player signed twice), all but five of them made it to the big leagues. Apart from the nominal major league and post-season connections, few collectors would find such an autographed baseball to be of interest.
Every artifact has a story and the simple truth is that collectors should only consider narratives without provenance as such and not allow themselves to be swayed. Focusing upon the item itself and its merits mitigates risks of overpaying or acquiring forgeries; however, a measure of discernment and weighing the narrative along with the piece can assist in the identification process.
“My dad loved baseball and went to every game,” the woman stated when we discussed this purported 1954 Seattle Rainiers-signed baseball. “He took me to several games as a kid.” Looking over the signatures on the ball and comparing them against the roster, most of the names checked out. Comparing some of the signatures to examples already in our collection confirmed authenticity. The woman offering the baseball stated that her dad “caught this ball and then all the team signed it.” This did not make complete sense due to the presence of signatures from the 1953 Seattle Rainiers team. The story, while not entirely accurate, otherwise held up. Rather than the baseball being from 1954, it was more than likely caught in 1953 and the autographs were gathered in that and the following season. Once the ball was in our hands, our analysis of the signatures and we commenced our research of the players who signed them, a prevailing common thread of wartime service began to emerge.
The Seattle Rainiers were one of the original clubs of the Pacific Coast League when it was founded in 1903 and by 1953 the club had captured the league championship five times, with the most recent title having been claimed in 1951 under Rogers Hornsby’s management. Hornsby led the club to a 99-68 won-lost record and playoff wins over Los Angeles and the Hollywood Stars.
Ahead of the 1952 season, Hornsby left Seattle to return to manage in the major leagues. The Rainiers’ winning ways continued under new manager Bill Sweeney as they finished the season in third place with a 96-84 record and were outpaced by the 104-76 Oakland Oaks and 109-71 Hollywood Stars, who captured the PCL crown. In 1953, the Rainiers finished in second place behind Hollywood in Sweeney’s final year at the helm before he took over as manager of the Los Angeles Angels. Hollywood repeated as the Coast League kings and Seattle trailed by eight games, chalking up a 98-82 record.
Changes were afoot in Seattle as owner Emil Sick took steps to develop talent rather than to rely on the influx of major league veterans seeking to extend their playing days past their big-league prime within the ranks of the Coast League. With a history of drawing talent from Western International League (WINT) ranks, the Rainiers entered into an agreement with the Vancouver Capilanos for player development. Sick named former PCL and WINT pitcher Dewey Soriano as general manager of the Seattle club. Replacing Sweeney was Soriano’s first order of business and following the recommendation of former Seattle Rainier pitching phenom and current Detroit Tiger manager Fred Hutchinson, he hired Jerry Priddy as the new player-manager.
Jerry Priddy, whose signature is prominently inscribed on one of the sweet spots of our ball, signed with the Rainiers on October 5, 1953 following his release as a player from the Detroit Tigers. His play had been limited to just 65 games due to a 1952 season-ending slide in which his spikes caught the edge of home plate, resulting in a broken leg and ankle dislocation. At 33 years of age and lacking professional managerial experience, taking the helm of a Pacific Coast League club was not too far off from being a major league manager. Once a highly regarded infield prospect of the Yankees, Priddy was limited in playing time during his two seasons with the club due to a logjam of talent at his natural infield positions, with future Cooperstown inductees Joe Gordon at second base and Phil Rizzuto at shortstop plus four-time All-Star Red Rolfe and the venerable Frankie Crosetti at third base. Priddy was a member of the 1941 and 1942 Yankee pennant winners and played in the 1942 World Series.
After being traded to the perennial cellar-dwelling Washington Senators along with Milo Candini in exchange for pitcher Bill Zuber and cash ahead of the 1943 season, Priddy found himself firmly anchored at second base, helping the club to a second-place finish, 13.5 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. By mid-December, Priddy had been inducted into the Army Air Forces and assigned to McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, California. Former San Francisco Seals first baseman Sergeant Ferris Fain added Priddy to the McClellan baseball team, named the “Commanders.” Priddy joined former major leaguers Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Mike McCormick and a host of minor leaguers, some of whom would ascend to the big leagues after the war. By late spring, the Commanders were disbanded and the players sent to Hawaii to form the nucleus of the 7th Army Air Force (7th AAF) team. Priddy was reunited there with former Yankee teammates Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio and Charlie “Red” Ruffing. Priddy played through the 1944 summer in Hawaii before being shipped back to the mainland, joining the 6th Ferrying Group squad in Long Beach, California. After the 6th Ferrying Group was shipped to the China, Burman, India (CBI) Theater, Priddy remained at the Long Beach Air Base and played on the Rosabell Plummers industrial league team alongside Peanuts Lowrey, George Metkovich, Bob Kahle and Vince DiMaggio. Priddy was discharged on February 23, 1946 and reported to the Senators’ spring training camp to resume his career. After two seasons in Washington, he spent 1948-1949 with the St. Louis Browns and 1950-1953 with Detroit.
The 1954 season was not bright as Priddy’s rookie season as a manager. Despite a well-stocked roster, the Rainiers found themselves trailing the league-leading Hollywood Stars by 20.5 games and sitting in fifth position in the standings by the middle of August. In the last year of the Pacific Coast League’s Governor’s Cup playoff system, with the top four teams advancing to the post season, the Rainiers and their sub-.500 record were sitting on the outside and trying to play their way into fourth place. Financial losses sustained during the 1953 season due to low attendance were further complicating the Rainiers’ quest for the 1954 post season. In need of operational capital, Emil Sick had sold starting pitcher Jim Davis (13-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 1953) to the Chicago Cubs after he had made just two 1954 regular season starts. On August 14, relief pitcher Van Fletcher was in a vehicle crash that landed him in the hospital and on the inactive list. In his 44 appearances, Fletcher had amassed a 4-6 won-lost record with a 2.77 ERA. On August 21, Fletcher was sold to the Detroit Tigers but was out of action for the remainder of the season, having suffered facial injuries. Rainiers’ staff ace Tommy Byrne, a 20-game winner with a 20-10 record and an ERA of 3.15, was sold to the Yankees at the end of August. Losing three of the team’s best arms made vying for the title against front-runners San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and Hollywood a challenge.
Despite a late August win streak, the Rainiers finished the season in fifth place, four games behind fourth-place San Francisco, with a 77-85 record. While Priddy returned to the Rainiers for a second season, he did so only as a player as the Rainiers took advantage of the opportunity to bring Fred Hutchinson home to Seattle with a three-year contract to manage the club.
While Priddy’s signature on one of the two sweet spots lends to dating the ball to 1954, the presence of other players indicates that it spans two seasons starting in 1953.
On the opposing sweet spot, coach and 18-year veteran infielder Bill Schuster’s name appears. Schuster was a veteran of 11 Pacific Coast League seasons with Seattle, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Vancouver and Hollywood. He also was a member of the Cubs’ wartime roster from 1943 through 1945. Schuster saw limited action in two games of the 1945 World Series. He made the final out in Game Five with a pop fly to the catcher and pinch ran for Frank Secory in the bottom of the ninth in Game Six, scoring the final run to secure the win for Chicago. By 1953, after two seasons managing the Vancouver Capilanos, Schuster had a deal in the works to manage the Class “C” Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas – New Mexico League, but it fell through. Instead of working in baseball, Schuster temporarily teamed up running a Pasadena, California gas station and garage with minor leaguer Bob Duretto, who had been cut loose by Vancouver. Prior to the 1954 season, Rainiers General Manager Dewey Soriano added Schuster to assist Priddy as a Rainiers coach.
Five of the signatures on the Rainiers team ball are from players whose careers did not extend into the major leagues. Pitchers Lonnie Myers and Pete Hernandez, who were primarily West Coast ballplayers, saw action with the Rainiers together in 1954. Hernandez was on his second stint with Seattle when he signed our ball, having played two seasons prior in 1952. Myers stayed on, playing with Seattle briefly in 1955 along with spending time in Tulsa (class “AA” Texas League) and Charleston (class “AAA” American Association). Shortstop Don Mallot was nearing the end of his six-season minor league career when he played for Seattle in 1954. What sets the preceding three men apart is that they were too young for WWII service.
Two of the ball’s non-major league signers, pitcher Al Widmar and coach Bill Schuster played professional baseball throughout the war. Both were of draft age during WWII; however, their draft classification and eligibility is presently undetermined. In addition to Jerry Priddy, the balance of the ball’s autographs are from men who served in the armed forces during the war.
Before we obtained the ball, it was presented as a piece bearing signatures of several players who saw action in the major leagues. None of the 16 major leaguers who signed the ball were stars in the big leagues, though four of them – Jerry Priddy, Tommy Byrne, Al Zarilla and Gene Bearden – saw World Series action. Outside of the realm of baseball historians, those four players’ names are mostly unrecognizable today.
One of the most recognizable signatures on the ball was placed by Tommy Byrne, who appeared in six World Series games for the New York Yankees from 1949 to1957. Byrne was a 23-year-old rookie when he made his major league debut at Fenway Park against the Red Sox on April 27, 1943. He entered the game with the Yankees trailing Boston, 4-0, in the bottom of the eighth inning. After he issued a lead-off walk to Red Sox pitcher Tex Hughson, Eddie Lake grounded to back to Byrne, who threw to shortstop Snuffy Stirnweiss covering second base. Stirnweiss bobbled the catch, allowing Hughson to reach safely. Right fielder Tom McBride sacrificed both baserunners ahead for the first out. With runners in scoring position, Bobby Doerr drove a deep fly to center, which allowed Hughson to score. Seemingly rattled, Bryne walked Al Simmons before coaxing Jim Tabor to fly out to right field. Though he allowed one earned run, the outcome of the game was not impacted. Byrne made 10 more appearances with the Yankees and posted a 2-1 record. He started two games in his 11 appearances and remained with the club into early October as the season ended.
Tommy Bryne was accepted into Naval Officer Training School and was commissioned an ensign in November just weeks after the Yankees had won their tenth World Series championship. (Byrne had not played in the Series.) Norfolk Naval Training Station’s manager, Bosun Gary Bodie, was able to add Ensign Byrne to his already powerful Bluejackets roster that included several former major leaguers. The former Yankee’s 16-6 record was outpaced by teammates Frank Marino (15-3), Russ Meers (17-5) and Johnny Rigney (22-4) as the Bluejackets dominated their competition with a won-loss record of 83-22-2. Though some published accounts mention his shipboard participation in the Southern France Invasion, Bryne was still at Norfolk and made his final appearance with the Bluejackets on August 31 against the Army’s Camp Lee (Virginia) ball team in a seven-hit, 6-4 loss.
Following his tenure with the Bluejackets, Byrne was assigned to sea duty aboard the Benson class destroyer USS Ordronaux (DD-617). While serving aboard the ship as the gunnery officer, Byrne organized a nine-team baseball league that played on makeshift diamonds when the ship visited foreign ports such as Oran, Algeria and Malta. With 15 months served aboard the destroyer and 27 months in total, Lieutenant junior grade Byrne was discharged from the Navy.
The third World Series veteran’s signature present on our ball belongs to outfielder Al Zarilla. Zarilla was a member of the 1944 St. Louis Browns team that claimed the franchise’s only American League pennant to advance to the only World Series (against the National League’s Cardinals) played in both teams’ home field, Sportsman’s Park. Appearing in four of the Series’ six tilts, “Zeke” Zarilla started in games 3 and 5 and was a pinch hitter in games 1 and 6. In his 10 plate appearances, he had one base hit, one run scored and a solo run batted in. He struck out four times as the Browns succumbed to the Cardinals, four games to two.
Thirteen days after the World Series loss, Zarilla was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California, where he served in the quartermaster corps. After one year of service stateside, Zarilla was discharged on October 20, 1945.
Gene Bearden’s signature was one of the first to catch our attention. Not only was Bearden a World Series ballplayer, newspapers around the country in October, 1948 labeled him as the hero of the Cleveland Indians’ Series championship. Bearden pitched a 2-0 shutout victory in Game 3 and closed the door on the Boston Braves’ comeback in the last two innings of Game 6 to seal the 4 games to 2 Series victory. Not only did Bearden post two fantastic pitching performances, he was 2-3 at the plate in game three. He hit a double and a single and scored one of the Indians’ two runs.
Before his World Series heroics, Bearden was good minor league pitcher from 1940 to 1942. A prospect in the Detroit Tigers’ system in 1942, Bearden spent the season in the class “B” South Atlantic League, splitting time between Augusta and Savannah. A few weeks after the season’s end, Bearden enlisted into the U.S. Navy on October 13 in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to reporting on Bearden’s 1948 World Series heroics, newspapers throughout the country mentioned Bearden’s struggle for survival in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal following the sinking of the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50). With severe injuries to his skull and knee resulting from the enemy torpedoes striking the ship, Bearden, following his rescue, spent the remainder of his naval service in hospitals healing and rehabilitating from his wounds.* Nearly nine months before Japan signed the instrument of surrender aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Motor Machinist 3/c Bearden was medically discharged from the Navy on January 4, 1945.
Bearden returned to the game, joining the Binghamton Triplets of the class “A” Eastern League, winning 15 games and tossing a three-hit, 2-0 shutout against the Utica Blue Sox on May 6. Following a 15-win season pitching for Casey Stengel’s Oakland Oaks in 1946, Bearden was part of a multi-player trade with the Cleveland Indians over the winter. After a disastrous 1/3-inning performance in May of 1947, Bearden was sent back to Oakland to work out the kinks in his pitching and posted sixteen wins. The next season was Bearden’s best as he posted a 20-7 won-lost record and a league-leading 2.43 earned run average with Cleveland. Six seasons after winning his only World Series championship, Bearden signed with the Rainiers, signaling the end of his major league career.
A two-year back-up catcher with the Chicago White Sox (1950-1951), Joe Erautt played for three seasons in the minor leagues before enlisting into the Army on December 28, 1942. On January 6, 1943, the Windsor (Ontario, Canada) Star reported that Erautt was regarded as “one of the brightest catching prospects on the Pacific Coast” when he was signed by Tigers’ manager Del Baker. The Windsor Star listed Erautt as “the 17th Tiger player to enter the armed forces since World War II broke out.”
Erautt was assigned to a field artillery unit and saw action in North Africa in 1943 with the Fifth Army. Staff Sergeant Erautt listed as his most unusual or interesting experience during WWII on a 1945 American Baseball Bureau questionnaire “playing baseball with ‘Zeke’ Bonura’s All-Stars in Oran, Africa.” With three years of wartime service, Erautt was discharged on December 17, 1945. Erautt resumed his career in the game in the Detroit organization in 1946 with the Buffalo Bisons of the class “AAA” International League.
Vanoide “Van” Fletcher began his professional baseball career in 1949 with the Class “D” Elkin (North Carolina) Blanketeers of the Blue Ridge League at the age of 24, nearly five years removed from the end of World War II. The Yadkin, North Carolina native began his brief term of wartime service when he enlisted in the Army on June 1, 1945 at Fort Bragg and served for seventeen months. Fletcher reached the West Coast in 1952, splitting the season between class “A” Vancouver of the Western International League and Seattle. He spent parts of three seasons with the Rainiers.
Poulsbo, Washington native Steve Nagy was a Brooklyn Dodgers pitching prospect in their minor league system in 1942. The 23-year-old left-handed Seton Hall graduate appeared in 18 games for the class “B” Durham Bulls of the Piedmont League and the Montreal Royals of the “AA” International League, amassing an 11-6 record and a cumulative 2.16 ERA. According to the information Nagy provided on his April 1946 American Baseball Bureau questionnaire, he served “3 years, 3 months and 10 days” in the U.S. Navy, which accounts for the 1943-1945 gap in his professional baseball career statistics. The Montreal Gazette reported on January 29, 1945 that Nagy was serving in the armed forces in England, though research into his service has born little fruit. Nagy resumed his career with Montreal in 1946, leading the Royals’ pitchers with a 17-4 won-lost record and a 3.01 ERA.
Suffering from arm soreness at the end of the season, Nagy pitched 7-2/3 innings in the fourth game of the International League’s Governor’s Cup to defeat the Syracuse Chiefs, 7-4, on September 26 and giving Montreal a 3-1 advantage in the best of seven-game series. In the final game of the series, Nagy’s teammate, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, was 4-5 with two runs batted in, a stolen base and a run scored. The victory in the series sent Montreal to the Little World Series to play the winners of the American Association, the Louisville Colonels.
Nagy’s first showing in the Little World Series was abysmal. Lasting just 2/3 of an inning in the third game, the left-hander faced 12 Colonel batters. Despite issuing six free passes and surrendering an equal number of safeties, Nagy struck out two before his night was finished. Despite having been sold by Brooklyn to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Nagy faced the Colonels a second time in the fifth game of the Series and fared much better. Through seven innings, Nagy allowed three runs on eight hits, striking out seven and walking six. One pitch got away from Nagy, striking Louisville’s third baseman, Al Brancato. Jackie Robinson led the offensive charge for Montreal with three hits in five at-bats and scored two runs in the Royals’ 5-3 victory.
Nagy reached the big leagues with the Pirates in 1947, appearing in six games and posting a 1-3 record with a 5.79 ERA. He split time with the Indianapolis Indians (American Association), where he posted an 8-5 record with a 4.43 ERA in 23 games. He earned his second chance in the majors in 1950 with Washington but was limited to nine appearances. Nagy played with Seattle from 1951 to 1954.
When Merrill “Merl” Russell Combs passed away from lung cancer in 1981, he was working for the Cleveland Indians. Though young at the age of 61 when he died, he spent all his adult life in professional baseball as a player, coach and scout. Combs appeared in just 96 major league games in four seasons with the Red Sox, Senators and Indians, with the bulk of his professional career spent in the Pacific Coast League. Combs was 33 years old when he arrived in Seattle in 1953 as the team’s shortstop for 154 of the team’s 180-game season. Like many of his Rainier teammates, Combs was a veteran of World War II. After his first season of professional ball at class “B” Greensboro of the Piedmont League in 1941, Merl Combs was inducted into the Army at Fort MacArthur on Valentine’s Day, 1942. Combs served 46 months in the Army as an artilleryman, spending time at Camp White (north of Medford, Oregon) and playing baseball with the 91st Infantry Division team. Combs was discharged from the Army on December 5, 1945 and was back in baseball with the Scranton Red Sox of the class “A” Eastern League for the 1946 season. Combs’ signature appears twice on the Rainiers ball and likely was signed in each of his two years with Seattle.
George Edward Schmees was a star athlete for Cincinnati’s Woodward High School football, basketball and baseball teams. During his junior and senior years, Schmees played semi-professional baseball for the Bond Hill Merchants (1941) and Hamilton County Cardinals (1942). Following his 1943 graduation, Schmees enlisted into the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Pleasanton (California) Naval Personal Distribution Center, and by the fall of that year after a partial season on the base’s baseball club, the 18-year-old former high school standout was suiting up at left end for their football team, winning high praise from the coach. Former Olympic decathlete “Jarring Jim” Bausch, who won a gold medal in the event during the 1932 Los Angeles games and was a former halfback for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League, was coaching the Pleasanton Navy squad when Schmees was playing. Bausch told the San Francisco Examiner’s Harry Borba for his October 14, 1943 Side Lines column, “George Schmees, my left end, is one of the best pass catchers I have ever seen.”
In 1944, Schmees played for the Fleet City Bluejackets at the Naval Training and Distribution Center (TADCEN) in Shoemaker, California. Schmees saw playing time with teammates Charlie Wagner, Phil Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio before they departed for Australia. His regular season teammates included former major leaguers Jim Carlin, Tom Earley, Benny McCoy and Vinnie Smith. The following season, a new crop of major leaguers filled the roster, including Joe Abreu, Ken Keltner, Dick Wakefield and Stan Musial. For a young player with nominal experience, playing alongside future hall of famers and major league all-stars helped him to hone his skills and led to him being noticed by major league scouts. Following his discharge from the Navy in 1946, George Schmees was signed to a contract in the Cincinnati Red organization and was assigned to the Ogden Reds of the class “C” Pioneer League. When he arrived in Seattle in 1953, Schmees was coming off a major league season split between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Browns, his only time in the big leagues.
Turlock, California native Leo Thomas was barely out of Alameda High School when he found himself playing professionally in the Dodgers organization and working his way upward through their minor league system. By the time he was playing for the class “C” Santa Barbara Saints of the California League, the infielder had already had two class “D” stops with Kingsport (Appalachian League) and Olean (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League). Instead of ascending to Brooklyn, Thomas joined the Navy and found himself finishing the 1942 season with the Receiving Ship, San Francisco ball team. Thomas continued to serve and play baseball in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1943 and 1944 with the U.S. Navy Receiving Ship, Oakland in the Northern California Service League against teams such as the Coast Guard Surf Riders, Charlie Gehringer’s St. Mary’s Navy Pre-Flight, Stockton Field Fliers, Livermore and Alameda Naval Air Stations, and McClellan Field. In addition to service competition, Receiving Ship faced the area Pacific Coast League teams, including the Sacramento Solons, Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals, giving Thomas exposure to top-flight professional pitchers.
After the war, Leo Thomas picked up where he left of in the Brooklyn organization, playing the entire 1946 season with the West Texas-New Mexico League’s Abilene Blue Sox in class “C.” Thomas logged his 95 major league games, split between the Browns (1950, 1952) and White Sox (1952), before landing with the Rainiers for the remainder of the 1952 season.
On March 23, 1943, despite his impending conscription, Froilan “Nanny” Fernandez, starting third baseman and outstanding rookie of the 1942 Boston Braves, agreed to the terms of his 1943 player contract and returned it to the club. The greater Los Angeles area native played in the minor leagues with the class “B” Yakima Pippins (Western International League) and the San Francisco Seals from 1939 through 1941 before being sold to Boston. As was expected, Fernandez was inducted into the Army Air Forces in Los Angeles on April 14, 1943 and following training was assigned to the Air Transport Command’s Sixth Ferrying Group at Long Beach, California as a physical fitness instructor. Corporal Fernandez’s professional baseball experience made him a prime candidate for the baseball team and he was quickly assigned to the club by its manager, Private Charles “Red” Ruffing, formerly of the New York Yankees. The team’s roster featured Fernandez’s Braves teammate, Max West, and fellow major leaguers Chuck Stevens and Harry Danning along with former stars of the Pacific Coast League Al Olsen, Art Lilly, Hub Kittle and Johnny “Swede” Jensen. International Leaguers Roy Pitter and Ed Nulty were also featured on the Sixth’s roster. The 6th was the dominant service club of Southern California in 1943 and 1944. At the season’s end, several of the players, including West, Stevens, Jensen and Fernandez, were sent to Hawaii.
For the 1945 season, Fernandez, along with his 6th Ferrying Group teammates Chuck Stevens and Al Olsen, was assigned to Wheeler Field and played for the “Wingmen,” joining Joe Gordon, Art Lilly, Charlie Silvera, Mike McCormick and Rugger Ardizoia.
In late July, Fernandez joined a large contingent of Army Air Force players that was dispatched to the Western Pacific to play baseball and entertain the troops stationed on Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Nanny was assigned to the 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers’ based on Guam and was joined by several of his Wheeler teammates in addition to major leaguers Walt Judnich, Johnny Sturm, Stan Goletz and the team’s manager, Lew Riggs. A month after the Japanese signed the instrument of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), Fernandez was headed for home aboard a troop transport. Fernandez was back with the Braves for the 1946 season.
Twenty one-year-old Jackie Tobin was in the middle of this first season of professional baseball with the Louisville Colonels of the class “AA” American Association when he was summoned home to California to undergo his induction physical. Rather than be drafted into the Army, Tobin enlisted in the Navy on July 28. Tobin’s first Navy service team, Naval Reserve Center (NRC) Oakland, included major leaguers Joe Abreu, Ray Lamanno and “Cookie” Lavagetto. Later that season, the bulk of the Oakland NRC team was relocated to Livermore Naval Air Station. In 1944, Tobin was selected for aviation and was assigned to the Navy Pre-Flight School at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Tobin played for the Pre-Flight School’s “Air Devils,” managed by former Detroit Tiger Charlie Gehringer. Air Devil teammates included Ray Scarborough and former Pacific Coast Leaguers Bob Bergstrom, Al Niemiec, Bill Rigney, Ray Perry and Bill Priest.
Released from the Navy on December 27, 1944, Tobin reported to Louisville for spring training. With his older brother Jim pitching throughout the war for the Boston Braves, the Red Sox purchased Jack Tobin from their minor league affiliate and brought him to their spring training camp. Though he earned a spot on the roster, Tobin played predominantly at third base and sparingly at second and in the outfield. His major league career concluded after the end of the season. With the bulk of the service members returning to their clubs, Tobin was the odd man out when players such as Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio rejoined the Sox. Tobin played in the minor leagues for three seasons at San Francisco and two with San Diego before signing with Seattle for the 1953 and 1954 seasons.
Born in small town in Washington State 20 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, Raymond Orteig cut his professional baseball teeth playing north of the Canadian border for the Vancouver Capilanos of the Class “B” Western International League. The catcher was a prospect for the Athletics from 1939 working his way up through the organization from Class “D” Johnstown (Pennsylvania State Association) through the Class “C” Canton Terriers (Middle Atlantic League) before finishing the season with the Capilanos. Orteig played the entire 1940 season in Vancouver hitting .341 with a .522 slugging percentage while clubbing 19 homeruns. He played 73 games in 1941 with Vancouver before the Red Sox purchased his contract and moved him up to Scranton of the Class “A” Eastern League.
Nine days following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Ray Orteig enlisted into the United States Coast Guard on December 16, 1941. By 1944, Orteig was stationed at the Seattle Coast Guard Operating Base and Repair Yard. Former Chicago Cubs outfielder, Marv Rickert was tasked with establishing a baseball team for the base and availed himself of Orteig’s backstop skills. With Rickert being the only player with major league experience, the roster consisted largely of former Pacific Coast League and Western International League players who predominantly hailed from the region. Orteig was a star on the club handling the pitching talent and hitting for power as the team dominated the Pacific Northwest Service and Shipyard Leagues in both 1944 and 1945.
Following his May 7, 1946 discharge, Ray Orteig returned to his roots and signed with the Vancouver Capilanos where he finished out the season hitting .344 with a .640 slugging percentage, clouting 25 round-trippers. Lefty O’Doul took notice of the power-hitting catcher and brought the Coast Guard veteran backstop to San Francisco. From 1947 through 1952, Orteig was the Seals’ starting catcher (with a on-season departure in 1949 when he was with Yakima of the WIL) where he saw his power (.374 slugging) and average (.285) numbers slip. Orteig signed with Seattle for the 1953 season and remained with the club through 1958, having never reached the major leagues.
Vern Kindsfather was 19-years-old when he enlisted into the U.S. Navy on July 23, 1943. Following his training, Kindsfather was assigned to a Fletcher class destroyer that was under construction at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, San Francisco, California. When his ship, the USS Stockham (DD-683) was commissioned on February 11, 1944, Seaman 2/c Kindsfather, along with the entire crew of the ship, became part of Navy tradition as plankowners of naval warship.
Assigned to the Pacific Theater following her sea trials and shakedown, the destroyer Stockham participated in some of the most intense fighting and pivotal battles as the Japanese were on the defensive, retreating towards their home islands. By late spring, Stockham was participating in the pre-invasion bombardment of Saipan in the Marianas Islands group on June 17. Days later, USS Stockham joined Task Group 58.7 and participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in what was known as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” With continuous action in the region, the Stockham returned to Saipan in direct support of the invasion of Saipan and Tinian from June 25 through the middle of August.
The harsh operational pace continued for Kindsfather’s ship as they joined Task Group 38.2 for a month-long sweep primarily in the waters surrounding the Philippines and Okinawa, continuing on to support the Leyte Gulf landings. Stockham was directed to join Third Fleet to meet the enemy’s northern naval force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In early 1945, Stockham was assigned to provide screening for landing forces at Iwo Jima followed by springtime support of the Okinawa invasion. During the summer months, Stockham was assigned carrier screening duties, providing protection from kamikaze attack aircraft. Her guns targeted enemy positions at Cape Shiono at the southern extremity of Honshū before returning to screening duties in support of carrier-based airstrikes against targets on Honshū and Shikoku.
Following the Japanese surrender on August 15, Stockham supported landings at Tokyo Bay and Tateyama as the month drew to a close. On September 2, as the Japanese high command boarded the USS Missouri to sign the Instrument of Surrender, Stockham lay at anchor near Yokosuka providing support for occupation forces.
By the end of October, the USS Stockham departed Japanese waters bound for the West Coast carrying GIs after a year and a half of fighting in the Pacific. Kindsfather, now a Radarman 3/c, was homeward bound however he would not be discharged from the Navy until late in 1946.
At the age of 23, Kindsfather began his professional baseball career in British Columbia, Canada with the Vancouver Capilanos in 1948 under the management of another veteran, former B-17 pilot, Bill Brenner. After two seasons with the “Caps,” Kindsfather was signed by the Seattle Rainiers. Kindsfather’s professional baseball career lasted for 11 seasons before he hung up his spikes. For 25 seasons, Vern Kindsfather coached the baseball team of Clark Community College, his alma mater. Sadly, he would not live to see the new ballpark that was dedicated as Vern Kindsfather Field in his honor in 2011.
Of the 22 signatures, the two remaining autographs were placed by former major leaguers Bill Evans and Clarence Maddern. With just 13 major league games to his credit when he arrived in Seattle in 1953, right-handed pitcher Evans had a 0-1 record in his 21-2/3 relief innings split between the 1949 White Sox and 1951 Red Sox. Maddern spent parts of the 1946, 1948 and 1949 seasons with the Cubs as well as appearing in 10 games for the Indians in 1951. Maddern’s MLB career .248 batting average and .301 on base percentage did not leave his managers with any difficult decisions and he found himself bouncing between the big-league clubs and the minors throughout those seasons. Both Evans and Maddern signed with the Rainiers in 1953 and played with the club through the 1954 season. When they arrived in Seattle, Evans and Maddern were reuniting for the first time since they parted company in the fall of 1945 when they were teammates and two wins away from advancing to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series with their 76th Infantry Division team. Arizona native Maddern played professional ball exclusively in the West with stops in Bisbee (class “C” Arizona-Texas League), Vancouver (Western International League) and Los Angeles (Pacific Coast League) through 1942. After finishing the 1942 season, Maddern enlisted in the Army on October 6, 1942 at Tacoma, Washington. Bill Evans spent the 1941 and 1942 seasons pitching in minor league classes “D” and “B” with Cheyenne (Western League), Charlotte (Piedmont League), Burlington (North Carolina, Bi-State League) and Wichita Falls/Big Spring (Western Texas-New Mexico League), amassing a 32-29 record before enlisting into the Army on October 12, 1942.
By the spring of 1944, both Maddern and Evans were assigned to units at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin with the 76th Infantry Division. Corporal Evans, an infantryman with Company “A” of the 385th Infantry Regiment and Private First Class Maddern, assigned to the division’s Military Police platoon, were both added to the division’s baseball team. The “Onaways” dominated their region as they competed in the regional semi-professional leagues and also faced minor league clubs and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets. Deployed to the ETO, the 76th saw action in Europe, including against the Germans’ last-ditch offensive. Both Maddern and Evans faced the enemy during the Battle of the Bulge and advanced with the 76th Division as they pushed the Germans back into their homeland. Maddern, responding to a 1946 baseball questionnaire, cited that his most unusual experience during the war was handling German prisoners of war. Evans’ combat action against the enemy resulted in both the Bronze and Silver Star Medals.
Following Germany’s surrender, Evans and Maddern were back in action with the Onaways, which featured former major leaguers Cecil Travis and Carvell “Bama” Rowell along with several former minor leaguers. By the fall of 1945, the Onaways were one of the top ETO teams vying for the World Series championship to be played at Soldiers Field at Nuremberg Stadium. Only the 71st Infantry Division’s Red Circlers stood in their way as the two teams met for the Third Army Championship Series in September. Throughout the season, Travis was a leader on the Onaways’ offense with solid hitting, however, he volunteered for duty in the Pacific Theater which led to his return to the States ahead of the three-game series against the 71st. Travis’ absence was felt as Ewell Blackwell pitched in games two and three for the Red Circlers to silence the Onaways’ bats, ending their season. Both Evans and Maddern resumed their baseball careers in 1946 following their return to the United States.
None of the Rainiers who signed our ball has names that resonate with contemporary fans of the game. They are not mentioned in the context of the game’s immortals and yet each was worthy of playing and being paid for his skills on the diamond. “I found this baseball among his things after his death 45 years ago, but I just couldn’t part with it until now,” wrote the daughter of the Rainier fan who obtained each signature from the players in 1953 and 1954. It is clear that the ball held considerable memories as it and the men who signed it were significant nearly 70 years ago.
*Several discrepancies have been discovered within published accounts of Gene Bearden’s World War II service that will be the focus of an upcoming Chevrons and Diamonds article.