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.
It probably shouldn’t seem strange to us after more than a decade dedicated to the pursuit of baseball militaria but 2020 has been a surprising year in terms of the scarcity and rarity of artifacts that have arrived at the Chevrons and Diamonds collection: treasures such as bats, gloves and baseballs that have left us stunned and four wartime flannel uniforms (all Navy) that began to trickle in early in the year. Keeping with that trend, another treasure that had previously seemed unobtainable for well over half a decade became available.
Collecting baseball militaria is a far different endeavor than what baseball or militaria collectors experience. We often find ourselves seeking the unknown as so much of what we uncover has not been documented in previous sales or auction listings. One such occurrence toward the end of 2019 was the acquisition of the only known example of a scorecard from the first game of the 1945 ETO World Series (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). Though we had been in search of a scorecard or program from this series, exactly what was used to keep score was unknown.. When the ETO piece surfaced, there were several elements that helped us to quickly determine that it was from the series and that we had finally found the Nuremburg-used piece that we had been seeking. (We also discovered that there was another scorecard used for the games hosted at HQ Command’s Athletic Field, located at Reims in France.)
Ephemera such as scorecards, programs and scorebooks from service team games or fundraiser exhibitions (games played between service and professional teams) can pose quite a challenge to locate due to numerous factors. Some of the games were played in front of small audiences, which resulted in a small number of scorecards or programs being distributed among the attendees. Of those who kept their paper items after the game, how many survived travel, moves and the elements during the last 70+ years?
On October 3, 1943, a fundraising game was played at Stockton Field, which was home to the Army’s West Coast Training Center and the Air Corps Advanced Flying School, before a capacity crowd of 6,000. Similar to many other fund-raising service exhibition baseball games, this contest pitted the San Francisco Seals against an All-Star conglomeration of West Coast-based service personnel who were formerly professional ballplayers.
All eyes were focused upon the two stars, future Hall of Famers, who were playing for the service team.. Charlie Gehringer, the Detroit Tigers’ “Mechanical Man” second baseman who retired after a 19-year major league career, enlisted in the U.S. Navy and attended instructor’s school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the Navy Pre-Flight program. After graduating from the program, Lieutenant Gehringer was assigned as an instructor at the Navy Pre-Flight School, St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and was named the head coach (he also played) of the school’s baseball team. During the 1943 season, Gehringer’s club posted a 24-5 record, including defeats handed to San Francisco and Oakland of the Pacific Coast League as well as Stanford and University of California, and claimed the All-Service League’s championship (see: Discovering New Research Avenues: SABR and The U.S. Navy Pre-flight School at St. Mary’s). The other star under the spotlight, Joe DiMaggio, entered the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, despite his 3A draft deferment status, just as his Yankee teammates were starting spring training. Recognizing the public attention that DiMaggio would bring to fund raising efforts, the USAAF leadership assigned him to the Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) in Southern California following basic training at Fort Ord, CA, which was the headquarters for the West Coast Army Air Corps Training Command Center. The Yankee Clipper’s new squad had modest success. The Rosebel Plumbers, a civilian industrial league club, and the 6th Ferrying Group team bested the SAAAB nine in 1943 league play, despite DiMaggio’s 20-game hitting streak.
With combat in the Pacific raging on and around the Solomon Islands ashore, on the seas and in the air, the physical toll on service members required more medical care facilities on the West Coast. Three months after Pearl Harbor, the Army Corps of Engineers purchased acreage from Stanislaus County and immediately began construction on a 2,500-bed facility. One year after the initial land acquisition, the new Army medical facility, Hammond General Hospital, was designated as one of only five thoracic surgical centers on the West Coast and could treat the most severe combat traumas. When combat wounded arrived at Hammond, it was clear for most of them due to the severity of their injuries that the treatment they received was for stabilization and for their return to society. Troops would receive neurological care, general and orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery and psychiatry as well as rehabilitation during their stay at Hammond.
Recreation at Hammond General Hospital was needed for patients and staff alike. Baseball was a universal activity that could be incorporated into the rehabilitation process for recovering wounded troops (Phil Rizzuto formed a league for wounded Marines and Sailors recovering in Brisbane, Australia, in 1944. See: Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game). With the regular California service league play completed in September, the Hammond charity game was scheduled for Sunday, October 3, allowing time for the teams to be assembled. The game was promoted as a fund raiser “for the benefit of wounded veterans at Hammond General Hospital” (“Joe DiMaggio Will Be Feature of Game” – The Spokesman Review, September 28, 1943) in West Coast newspapers, with DiMaggio as the “main attraction.”
Several years ago, a program was listed at auction showing only the cover of a program from the charity game played on October 3, 1943, between a “Service All-Stars” team and the San Francisco Seals. The price was considerably steep ($299.00) for the piece and yet the listing was scant in detail and only mentioned Joe DiMaggio as one of the players on the service team. Considering the price and the lack of detail, we decided not to pursue the piece. As we researched the game with hopes of finding another available copy of the program, we discovered that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s museum also had a copy of the program in their archives (see: Baseball Enlists: Uncle Sam’s Teams). Their site, as with the auction listing, showed only the cover and mentioned an additional star player on the service team.
The program and scorecard consists of front and back covers with six interior pages. Constructed from a sheet of cardstock (covers) and lightweight paper (interior pages), the piece succinctly describes the reason for the game and provides the lineups for each team on separate pages, along with scoring grids. Advertising occupies the two interior pages opposite the front and back covers and the centerfold page features head shots of DiMaggio and Gehringer.
“The U.S. Army Air Forces and Stockton Field take this opportunity to express their appreciation to the San Francisco Seals, 1943 Pacific Coast League baseball champions, for their cooperation in making today’s game possible.
Victors over Portland and Seattle in successive Shaughnessy playoffs, the Seals come here today to meet one of the best all-service nines assembled in the West to play in a benefit game dedicated to a great cause – the athletic and recreation fund of the Hammond General Hospital at Modesto. Our thanks, therefore, also are extended to the commanding officers of the various army posts who released their all-star players to make this contest a reality.
Today’s tilt not only helps a worthy cause but also marks the realization of every baseball fan’s dream – a game between two great teams. Stockton is fortunate to play host to such an outstanding assembly of baseball greats.”
Despite his central billing in the game’s promotion, DiMaggio’s bat was not a factor. In his first appearance, the Yankee Clipper reached on an error and his three subsequent at-bats resulted in outs. Gehringer was 1-for-4 with a single in the third inning. The offensive star for the service team was catcher Ray Lamanno with a 3-for-4 showing (two doubles and a single). Former San Francisco Seals first baseman Ferris Fain was the only other service member with a multiple-hit game (two singles). DiMaggio did display his defensive skills with four putouts from center field. On the mound for the Service All-Stars were Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia and Tony Freitas (Athletics, Reds), both of whom hailed from Northern California.
Service All-Stars Roster:
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Rugger Ardizoia||P||Yankees|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Bob Dillinger||2B||Toledo (AA)|
|USAAF||Santa Ana Army Air Base||Joe DiMaggio||CF||Yankees|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco Seals (PCL)|
|USAAF||Mather Field Fliers||Tony Freitas||P||Sacramento Solons (PCL)|
|Navy||Navy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air Devils||Charlie Gehringer||2B||Tigers|
|USAAF||Hammer Field||Harry Goorabian||SS||San Francisco Seals (PCL)|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Walter Judnich||RF||Browns|
|Navy||Naval Air Station Livermore||Ray Lamanno||C||Reds|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Dario Lodigiani||3B||White Sox|
|USAAF||Mather Field Fliers||Joe Marty||LF||Phillies|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Mike McCormick||RF||Reds|
|USAAF||Stockton Air Base||Hal Quick||LF||Williamsport Grays (EL)|
|Navy||Navy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air Devils||Bill Rigney||SS||Oakland Oaks (PCL)|
Though the scorecard lists the opponents as the San Francisco Seals, the actual team was a conglomeration of players from the Pacific Coast League and from California. The “Seals” team featured five former major leaguers (pitchers Tom Seats and Bob Joyce, catchers Joe Sprinz and Bruce Ogrodowski and left fielder Hank Steinbacher) who were on the Seals’ 1943 roster along with two others. Former Athletics hurler Joyce went the distance on the mound in the losing effort, surrendering six runs. Sprinz, formerly with the Cleveland Indians, served as Joyce’s receiver. Anderson was the leading batsman for the so-called Seals with three hits and centerfielder Vias stroked a pair of singles, though only two runs were plated in the loss to the service team.
“San Francisco Seals” (West Coast All-Stars) Roster:
|Willis Enos||LF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bob Joyce||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bruce Ogrodowski||C||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Tom Seats||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Joe Sprinz||C||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Hank Steinbacher||LF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bill Werle||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Manny Vias||CF||Sacramento (PCL)|
|Carl Anderson||2B||Portland (PCL)|
|Harry Clements||SS||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Steve Barath||CF||Louisville (AA)|
Scorecards from service team games are scarce and pose considerable challenges to locate, let alone acquire. The Hammond General Hospital charity game program eluded our reach until a much more reasonably priced copy surfaced a few weeks ago at auction. Our winning bid secured the piece at a fraction of the aforementioned copy and after years of waiting, we finally landed our own copy. Aside from rust stains surrounding the two staples that secure the lightweight internal pages to the cover, the condition of our artifact is excellent, with no dog-eared pages or creases.
Until we saw the initial copy of this scorecard, we had no idea that it existed. Not knowing what to look for poses perhaps the most significant challenge in collecting baseball militaria. Once we knew about the Hammond piece, it took several years to find one within our reach.
It isn’t often that the sale price of an artifact leaves my mouth agape. More often than not, baseball-centric militaria garners little attention compared to counterparts originating with the professional game, leaving bidding at very reasonable level. Things can be a bit more interesting in terms of price and perceived value when the professional and military baseball worlds collide. While one might assume that having professional ballplayers’ names, photographs, signatures or other provenance associated with an artifact would influence prospective buyers and inflite prices, it isn’t always the case.
I have been involved in this market and collecting arena for the better part of a decade and when I discover an auction listing with a unique piece that I would love to add to my collection, I am nearly always accurate with my assessment of the level of bidding interest and the approximate value of the object. I do track the trends of auction sales and maintain the valuations. Unlike other areas of baseball memorabilia collecting, the military circle of participants is rather small due to the diversity of the artifacts that fall into this category. It is at the points of convergence between the different categories of collecting can draw additional interest and drive a prices away from reality. For example, to a baseball glove collector, a run-of-the-mill WWII-era baseball glove that just happens to be stamped with markings for one of the armed forces might have a slightly increased value (above the price of the exact non-military variant) but to a military collector, it may not generate the same level of interest and so, garner a lower price.
The piece that defied reason was one that I submitted a horrendously low (but entirely appropriate) bid for, was right in the area of my interests. In fact, the piece crossed a few more areas of focus – Navy, local history, local baseball and famous ships. The era of the piece was secondary but certainly within what I enjoy the most surrounding the game; the decades of 1930s and ’40s. Living in a Pacific Coast League town and being passionate about the ‘Coast League history, I truly wanted to land this piece but I was also going to be realistic with my bidding and not overspend for something that wasn’t worth a lot of money (to me, at least).
The item that was listed for sale, though very similar to a baseball program, was more of a single sheet flyer promoting a baseball game to be played between the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League and a baseball team from the USS Lexington (CV-2).
Lady Lex was firmly in the hearts of the local area, namely the citizens of the City of Tacoma, having helped the residents ride out blackout conditions in December of 1929. That winter, Tacoma City Light was hampered from providing electricity to the citizens due to a pro-longed drought that greatly reduced the hydroelectric power generation capabilities leaving citizens without light and in many cases, heat for their homes and businesses (one local manufacturer, Cascade Paper Company was forced to lay off 300 employees when the plant was shut down due to power shortages). At the request of the city, President Herbert Hoover directed Navy Secretary Charles Francis Adams III (a descendant of President John Adams) to deal with the matter. Secretary Adams dispatched the carrier to Tacoma here the ship tied up pierside and generated power for 30 days. When news of the Lex’s loss during the Battle of the Coral Sea reached Tacoma, it was as if a part of the city sank with her.
The Indians versus Lexington artifact shows considerable damage (much of it due to moisture) and aging with signs of being glued (probably to a scrapbook page) along with acidic-based discoloration from prolonged contact with other materials as if it was pressed between pages. The base paper of the document appears to be of a heavier cardstock that, perhaps helped to preserve it for the eight-plus decades. The printing itself is monochromatic (black) that includes an art-deco border design and a small photograph of the USS Lexington.
The June 6, 1932 game was held in Bremerton, while the ship was in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an extended overhaul period (which was completed in December of that year). While the roster of the ship’s crew will pose some difficulties in researching, the Seattle Indians roster is a different story. With the exception of a few Indians players (Mulligan, Wetzel and possibly Welch), all had decent professional careers (nine of the 18 played in the major leagues – shown in the table below in bold).
|Seattle Indians||USS Lexington|
|Cox||C||Mackey (James W. Macky)||RF|
In the early 1930s, the USS Lexington fielded a very competitive baseball team winning consecutive championships in 1933 and 1934 (research is ongoing). It was common for professional baseball clubs to play exhibition games with teams outside of their league to keep their rosters sharp and prepared. This game was played in early June which was close to the middle of Seattle’s season and possibly during a succession of off-days. For the men of the USS Lexington, this game offered a level of competition that pushed them to refine their skills and to play at their peak which seemingly carried them well into the next two seasons. In 1933, the squad from the Lady Lex, many of whom competed against the Indians in this 1932 game, went undefeated claiming the All Navy Championship.
Researching the location of the location where this game was played has been a bit of an endeavor. Though no conclusive details have been discovered, I believe that the site has been pinpointed. Extensive online searching provided not a single result in determining details about Washington Ball Park. With the establishment of the navy yard at Bremerton, the town that grew into a city that provided support for the navy’s shipbuilding and repair facilities, became the largest municipality on the Kitsap Peninsula, away from the larger cities of Seattle and Tacoma. Though the city and surrounding region grew in size and population, professional baseball didn’t call Bremerton home until 1946 with the establishment of the Bremerton Bluejackets who were added to the Western International League along with the Wenatchee Chiefs, Salem Senators, Tacoma Tigers, Yakima Stars, Vancouver Capilanos, Spokane Indians and the Victoria Athletics. The Bluejackets called old Roosevelt Field, the wooden ballpark located on 16th and Warren Avenue that opened in 1926, their home through their final season in 1949. Was the ballpark renamed (from Washington Ball Park) to honor President Roosevelt after his 1945 passing? I have expanded my research and will hopefully gain some insights as to the location of the game.
While the name of this ballpark could have been to honor the very popular former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, adding to doubt as to a name change from Washington to Roosevelt, I turned to the local historical research sources. Bonnie Chrey, a volunteer researcher for the Kitsap Historical Society Museum, poured through records and artifacts seeking references to Washington Ball Park. On April 23, 1930, the Bremerton School District dedicated a new athletic field to be used by Bremerton High School’s sports teams which was adjacent to the then existing Washington (Junior High) School. The venue was dedicated that Wednesday as Washington Field. The school building, long since demolished, faced Burwell Street to the south and was bounded on its east and west by Bryan and Montgomery Avenues. The field was bounded to the north by 6th Street.
While several of the Seattle Indians players’ careers warrant deeper research, those with military service in particular, the life of Bottarini was one of a fulfilling baseball career, wartime service with a tragic ending.
John Charles Bottarini, a catcher from Los Angeles, played for Seattle (from 1930-35) where he met and married his wife, the former Hazel Ernestine Morgan on October 10, 1936, in Seattle, Washington. John would work his way through the minor leagues and onto the Chicago Cubs roster on April 18, 1937, following injuries sustained by future Hall of Fame catcher,Gabby Hartnett. Chicago Cubs manager Charley Grimm brought Bottarini up from the Los Angeles Angels where the veteran minor leaguer would see action in 26 games that season before resuming his minor league career. Following four seasons (1939-42) with the Syracuse Chiefs (International League), the veteran catcher entered the U.S. Army Air Force on March 2, 1943 in Santa Fe, New Mexico and would subsequently be assigned to Kirtland Army Airfield (near Albuquerque, New Mexico) where he made his way to the base’s baseball club. It was during his duty at Kirtland that John’s wife gave birth to twin boys, John Charles Jr. and Robert Joseph. Corporal Bottarini was discharged on September 25, 1945 at Fort Bliss, Texas. He returned to the game after the war, signing with the Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas-New Mexico League (class C) in 1946. In the last years of his career, Bottarini spent time as a player-manager before retiring from the game following the 1950 season. In the 1960s Bottarini’s twin boys both entered the service (John Jr. went in to Army and Robert served in the Air Force) following in their father’s footsteps. The 1970s were difficult for the Bottarini family beginning with young Robert’s passing in 1971 and then with the tragic deaths of both John and John Jr., drowning on Fenton Lake in New Mexico when their boat overturned.
Not landing this artifact was a bit of a disappointment (offset greatly by the final selling price of $162.00), however the joy in researching the details has paid dividends in the joy of discovery, though there was some sadness in the findings.
Perhaps the title of this article is a bit misleading as you soon will discover or maybe you might think that this writer (me) doesn’t realize that the United States Navy’s special warfare operators, known as SEa Air Land and that I failed to properly type the acronym? You might be wondering if the subject of this article is touching on the armed forces’ use of a species of sea mammal for war? Please allow me to begin with a personal background regarding my interests and passions and then I will conclude this story with the artifact that, in my opinion, required more elaboration and attention.
Since the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been “my” team. I have followed them through each season as long as I can recall. I was born in the same year as one of the Dodgers’ greatest championship seasons. I remember watching the Blue Crew drop three straight games after evening the 1974 World Series with Oakland on Don Sutton’s and Mike Marshall’s combined 11-strikeout dominance of the Athletics. Steve Garvey’s performance (.381 average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) in that series was just the beginning as he established himself as the anchor of the record-setting infield for the next seven seasons (ending with the departure of Davy Lopes). Seeing the Dodgers take the National League flag two more times only to lose the World Series in both appearances in that decade was heart-breaking but it was also synonymous with their history. Like those Brooklyn fans of the 1940s and 1950s, I learned the true meaning of, “wait ’til next year,” which came for me in 1981.
I grew up 1,107 miles from Dodger Stadium which meant that I watched every one of their games on television until 1999. Though my hometown didn’t have a major league team, it was still very much a baseball town with a rich minor league history. The eight Pacific Coast League (PCL) titles alone makes my town the third best since the league was established in 1903, though there were several decades of our principal team’s membership in other leagues also with considerable success (six titles combined among the different lower-level leagues). However, the standout team of the PCL’s history hailed from the City by the Bay; the San Francisco Seals posted fourteen league titles in 55 seasons (the Seals success ranks them 10th in 1925, 44th in 1922, 50th in 1928 and 71st in 1909 in the 2001 Minor League Baseball’s Best 100 Teams).
In 1957 with the relocation of the New York Giants baseball club to San Francisco, the Seals franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Giants). Through a succession of moves and strange minor-league arrangements, the franchise moved to Tacoma, WA (Tacoma Giants), again to Phoenix (Firebirds), Tucson (Sidewinders) and finally to their present location, Reno, Nevada (Aces). During the team’s existence in San Francisco, they were largely an independent team (not affiliated with a major league club) save for six seasons:
|1936; 1945||New York Giants|
|1951||New York Yankees|
|1956–57||Boston Red Sox|
For most of the PCL’s early decades of operation, the league was detached from the rest of professional baseball on the right-half of the United States which served to effectively isolate the ‘Coast League allowing for growth and development and essentially becoming (what many would consider) a third major league (along with the National and American leagues). The PCL’s success and high level of on-field action resulted in the league drawing comparative attendance numbers, and in some cases outperforming many clubs of the PCL’s “big brother” leagues. With their teams’ rosters populated with a significant amount of home-grown talent combined with major-leaguers seeking to extend their careers (after having been released from their major league contracts), fans enjoyed exciting games and a high-level of competition. The PCL’s success also meant that the young stars on their rosters were primary targets of the “big leagues” and were often signed away as the youngters sought more lucrative contracts and the lure of major league play.
The San Francisco Seals saw several of their players move on to greater success with a few ending up in Cooperstown:
Others passed through San Francisco as they approached their final games as players. Aside from O’Doul who was a Seal before and after his major league career, San Francisco-native, Hall of Fame infielder and O’Doul’s Yankees teammate, Tony Lazzeri played the 1941 season for his hometown ballclub in the twilight of his career.
Following the Seals’ fifth place finish in 1941, team management was faced with questions as to whether a 1942 season would be played and if so, how many current players would be available? All professional ballclubs faced the same concerns and were scrambling to fill roster vacancies as soon as they were notified of a player’s enlistment into the armed forces. Harry Goorabian, a sure-handed short-stop who was new to the team in 1941, clubbed his way to the Seals following his outstanding 1940 season with both the Springfield Browns (class B, Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League) and the San Antonio Missions (class A, Texas League) with a .310 average, would be one of the first to leave San Francisco for the service. Goorabian enlisted into the Army Air Force as a private on January 16, 1942.
San Francisco would see another Seal head to war as right-handed relief-pitcher Bob Jensen enlisted into the Navy on April 23, 1942 without making an appearance in the young 1942 PCL season. Jensen spent 1941 making 32 appearances (197 innings) and amassing a 10-12 record and a 3.88 earned run average as he worked himself back to the Seals roster from the Salt Lake City Bees (class C, Pioneer League). With San Francisco in 1941, Bob Jensen made two appearances, losing them both. Jensen, a San Francisco native, was signed by the Seals and played his first professional baseball season was with the club in 1940, making 34 appearances (he started four). His record, predominantly as a relief pitcher was 2-3 with an ERA of 5.13 before heading to war.
Another Seal infielder, second baseman Al Steele, finished the 1941 season working his way into a part-time role, making 105 plate appearances in 32 of San Francisco’s 176 games. The twenty year-old right-handed middle-infielder batted .242 at during his split season (he also appeared in 20 games with the class B Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League, hitting .228). On April 13, 1942, Steele was inducted at NRS San Francisco as a seaman second class, commencing training as an aviation machinist’s mate at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland Airport. Steel would spend the war working with the scout float planes aboard the USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS Witchita (CA-45) in the Pacific Theater.
Losing three from the roster to service in the war may be insignificant to some, but 1942 (and the war) was only the beginning. As the United States went on the offensive against the Axis powers in two global theaters, the demand for men (and women) continued to increase. President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision and request to keep the game going was delivered by a (January 15, 1942) letter to Judge Kennesaw Landis. “Baseball provides a recreation,” President Roosevelt wrote, “which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.” However, the drain on the rosters continued throughout the war.
As WWII raged on, the Seals’ roster of men who were away serving their country could have been enough to field a baseball team of active duty players. In addition to Goorbian, Jensen and Steele, (through my research) I was already aware of the following Seals players who served on active duty. Listed here are those men (including their pre- or post-war major league club assignments):
- Ferris Fain (ML Experience: Athletics, White Sox, Tigers, Indians)
- Charley Henson
- John Hernandez (signed by the Seals but never played for the team)
- John Johnson
- Don White (ML Experience: Athletics)
- Joe Brovia (ML Experience: Reds)
- Ted Jennings
- Babe Paul
- Don Trower
- Wally Carroll
- Logan Hooper
- Dee Miles (ML Experience: Senators, Athletics, Red Sox)
- Dino Restelli (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Hank Steinbacker (ML Experience: White Sox)
- Sal Taormina
- Milt Cadinha
- Bob Chesnes (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Frank Cvitanich
- Al Lien
- Eddie Stutz
- Bill Werle (ML Experience: Pirates, Cardinals, Red Sox)
Towards the end of August of 1945, just ten days prior to the Japanese signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), teams were already thinking ahead to the boys returning home. Some of the professional players would return in time to finish out the current baseball season. However, most of the team owners began to plan for 1946.
“The Pacific Coast League will have so many players of major league talent next spring that we will be playing very close to major league baseball,” said Jack McDonald, sportscaster and publicity chief for the San Francisco Seals in 1945. These boys,” said MacDonald, “have been playing ball quite regularly while in uniform. Some of them are big leaguers right now.”
“Ferris Fain, for instance, is being hailed as the finest first sacker in the Pacific Ocean area, where he competes regularly against the top talent in the world. Al Lien, the pitcher, has been winning regularly while opposing all-star lineups,” McDonald continued. “If you will recall, Dino Ristelli was the outfielder who led the league in hitting before being called into service in 1944. Restelli is now serving in Italy.” (August 23, 1945 excerpt from the Nevada State Journal. By Hal Wood, UPI correspondent)
I have been a fan (if one can say that regarding a team that has not existed since 1958) of the San Francisco Seals for a few decades. The very first vintage reproduction items that I purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels were a 1939 Seals jersey and a 1940s ball cap (I have a total of four repro Seals caps, now). In addition to the reproduction uniform items, one of the first type-1 vintage photographs that I added to my military baseball image archive was of three Seals players, (two of which served during WWII) Brooks Holder, Ernie Raimondi and Dom DiMaggio. Since then, my Seals collection has remained unchanged until…
I was scouring auction listings for military baseball-related artifacts when I noticed a piece of ephemera that was colorful and overwhelmingly patriotic and it was associated with the Seals. Without hesitation I submitted an offer and a few days later, it arrived. The piece, a 20-page program and scorebook from the 1944 Seals season, was loaded with stories, features and spotlights on the War and the impacts on the game and the Seals players.
Towards the center of the booklet is a two-page spread that covers specific people from the organization who were serving. Also included among those serving are men who were either killed in action (*KIA) or were taken as a prisoner of war (#POW). The list included more players who served than were previously known (the new names are noted by links):
- John Bowen*
- Joseph Brovia
- Robert Chesnes
- Frank Cvitanich
- Ferris Fain
- Harry Goorabian
- Charles Henson
- John Hernandez
- Theodore Jennings
- Robert Jenson
- John Johnson
- Kermit Lewis
- Alfred Lein
- Edward Markham
- Elmer Orella
- Ray Perry
- Edward Stutz
- Salvadore Taormina
- Don Trower
- Don White
- Walter “Duster” Mails (ML Experience: Dodgers, Indians, Cardinals)
- Charles J. Graham Jr. – Son of Charles J. Graham (former long-term Seals Manager and team owner), LT COL, USAAF, 96th Bomb Group (WWII) would go on to own the Sacramento Solons of the PCL
Aside from simply enjoying the addition to my collection, I am compelled to learn more about these men that were called out for their war service. My research into the military careers of these men has only just commenced and I am driven by the sentiment that each veteran is due a written (and published) summary of their service (at the very least) in order to preserve their sacrifices made during our national crisis.
The total number of Seals players to serve in the armed forces during World War II (that I have been able to ascertain) is 31 with two being killed in action (Ernie Raimondi and John “Jack” Bowen). The third KIA (the second one noted in the scorebook) and the lone POW (Andrew Shubin and Ted Spaulding, respectively) were both Seals employees. From 1941 through the end of the 1945 season, a total of 91 players filled roster spots for the Seals which (when considering the 31 service members) means nearly 33% of the team served in the Armed forces at some point during the war.
Aside from the content regarding the players and personnel who served, the program also contains many advertisements and other patriotic subject matter that lends considerable insight to the national conscious and how we were once a unified country in pursuit of a common goal.
Purchasing this program was a great choice in that it helps me to shed new light more professional ballplayers who served and revealed yet another man who gave his life for his country that could be honored among his peers at Gary Bedingfield’s fantastic site, Baseball’s Dead of World War II (I have passed my discovery along to Mr. Bedingfield for further research and inclusion). Along with my two in-theater military baseball scorecards (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944), the 1944 Seals booklet, these pieces of ephemera illustrates the game on both the home front and in theater, how united our nation was in its fight against global tyranny and oppression and the need to find respite (through baseball) as the world was coming apart.