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Threads of Lefty: From Ace Farmhand to the GI World Series, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part I

Lawrence Milton “Lefty” Powell’s progression from high school ballplayer through the California State semi-professional league, into the minor leagues and onto the roster of the Boston Red Sox was not an easy road to the big leagues. The left-handed pitcher’s mastery of multiple pitches drew the attention of professional scouts, sportswriters and legends of the game and also prompted comparisons to pitching stars of the time, including such greats as New York Giants future Hall of Fame hurler Carl Hubbell. However, the road to the major league pitching mound is littered with broken dreams of countless thousands of such future talents whose arms suffered irreparable damage sustained from overwork and pitching through pain.

1941
Larry Powell’s baseball career did not end with his 1941 spring training stint with the Boston Red Sox; however, it was impacted by an extended break due to the call of his country during the brewing national and international crisis. Following the enactment of the United States’ first peacetime draft in September, 1940, young men were required to register for the draft the following month and await the call from their local draft board.

Private Larry Powell with the Camp Roberts All-Stars baseball team, August 1942 (Santa Cruz Sentinel-Sun, Aug 2,1942).

Back home in Reedley, California following a tumultuous season with the class “AA” San Francisco Seals, Larry Powell registered with local draft board 124 on October 16. On block 10, Powell listed his employer as the Boston Red Sox as he was under contract with the major league club despite playing the entire 1940 season with the Seals. Physical attributes noted on the back of his draft card indicated the pitcher was 5-feet, 10-1/2 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. He was of “ruddy” complexion with brown hair and hazel eyes. Listed on the “other obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification” block was, “disfigured left thumb.” [1]

Eight months after registering, Powell received his notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army on July 9, 1941, in Sacramento, California.[2] By late July, Powell found himself back in baseball flannels weeks after shedding his San Diego Padres togs. He was playing for the Camp Roberts team, the organizers of which began openly pursuing competitors from other service teams and area semi-pro clubs.[3] In the following weeks, the Roberts club faced off against regional service nines, including Bakersfield Air Base, Camp San Luis Obispo, and the Camp Roberts Hospital team.[4] Area newspapers touted the former star pitcher as the Camp Roberts club’s headliner. On August 24, the Roberts club traveled north to San Francisco to face the Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio at the old sandlot, Funston Field.[5][6]

Larry Powell’s entry into the armed forces through the selective service was not unique as others answered their draft boards’ calls to duty. Even in the major league ranks, some notable names were called into uniform, including Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh Mulcahy, the first big leaguer to be drafted, and Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg. The trickle of ballplayers into the armed forces changed after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7. Hank Greenberg, who had been discharged just two days before, immediately joined the Army Air Forces. Cleveland Indians hurler Bob Feller volunteered for service, enlisting in the Navy on December 9. In the following weeks and months, many players from the major and minor leagues began pouring into the armed forces.

1942
At the time of his entry into the Army, Larry Powell was still the property of the Boston Red Sox despite having been sent down to the minor leagues after failing to meet the club’s expectations. In late January, Boston General Manager Eddie Collins lamented the roster vacancies left by the departure of Powell, Mickey Harris, Al Flair and Earl Johnson to the service. “It hurts our chances but we’re still proud to lose them that way,” the Hall of Famer stated.[7] Joining Powell at Camp Roberts was his fellow West Coast native, Earl Johnson, who enlisted on January 5, 1942, and was added to the post ball team. The 1942 Roberts men boasted such a wide-ranging roster of minor league talent that the club was dubbed the Camp Roberts “All-Stars.” As the Coast League was wrapping up spring training in Southern California, the Seattle Rainiers traveled to Camp Roberts to face the All-Stars. Private Earl Johnson got the start against the Coast Leaguers; however, the results were unfavorable for the soldiers. Roberts’ pitching surrendered six runs on 14 hits to the Seattle batters, who touched both Johnson and Powell. The All-Stars were stymied by a succession of Rainiers hurlers, Bill Bevens, Al Libke and Henry Bushman, who limited the Army batters to two runs on six hits.[8]

1942 Camp Roberts All-Stars:

PlayerPositionFormer
Harold “Hal” Eckhardt2BTucson (AZTX)
Carlo “Carl” Forni2B/SSWenatchee (WINT)
Benite J. GuintiniCFSalt Lake City (PION)
Earl JohnsonPRed Sox
Morris “Morry” JonesOF/1BColumbus (AA)
 JoursLF
Art ManginiRFLos Angeles (PCL)
Otto MeyersMgr./CFWaterloo (IIIL)
Ralph “Hal” Mountain1BMeridian (SEAL)
Hal O’BanionCTwin Falls (PION)
Danny Phillips2BTyler (EXTL)
Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPSan Diego (PCL)
Darryl Reynolds3BSt. Mary’s College
William Scull1BSemi-Pro
Melvin WasleyOFPocatello (PION)


The Johnson-Powell hurling duo was victimized in early April when the Roberts club travelled to Fresno to face the Hammer Field Bombers. For Powell, it was a homecoming of sorts as the game was played at Fresno State College Park[9] before 3,000 fans, who no doubt included family and friends. Unfortunately, for Powell, former San Francisco Seal Harry Goorabian led the Bombers to a 7-4 victory, driving two home runs out of the park.[10] Unfazed, the Camp Roberts All-Stars soldiered on, closing out the month of April with a 4-2 won-lost record.[11]

Private Larry “Lefty” Powell sits with his former manager, Lefty O’Doul in the dugout at Seals Stadium (Courtesy of Zak Ford).

On May 24, Camp Roberts traveled to Salinas to face the “Rodeo Buffet” town baseball team. Again, the Red Sox pitching “connection” of Johnson and Powell shared mound duties and were touched by the Rodeo club for a combined 13 hits. Buffet hurler Fred Lacy stated that he was unimpressed by the star-studded roster of former pro ballplayers in the opposing dugout and he set down the first Roberts batters in order.[12] Buffet batters took a first-inning lead after touching Johnson for a leadoff walk and two singles. It did not take long for Lacy’s lack of respect for Camp Roberts to turn to awe as the Army hit him for three runs on three hits, including a triple by Earl Johnson. The Army poured gasoline onto the fire as the game progressed and carved a groove around the base paths by scoring 30 runs. Larry Powell gave up three runs on four hits while batting a perfect two-for-two at the plate and scoring two runs. When the dust settled, Camp Roberts departed Salinas after feasting on the Buffet.[13]

Visiting Lemoore Army Air Field for a pair of weekend games on June 27-28, the Camp Roberts nine took both contests by a combined score of 30-2. Art Mangini’s 18-1 victory paved the way for Powell as he captured the 12-1 victory on the following day.[14]

1943
After the 1942 season ended and Powell spent some of the holidays with family, the pitcher was sent to Camp Claiborne outside of Alexandria, Louisiana in early January.[15] With a letter of recommendation from San Francisco Seals team owner Charlie Graham, Private Powell, the non-commissioned officer in charge of a communications platoon, was anticipating an appointment to officer candidate school while at Claiborne in code training.[16]  

By early May, Powell had been assigned to Lemoore Army Air Field, suiting up for the “Mechs” nine as they played in the San Joaquin Valley Baseball League. Lemoore Field joined Camp Pinedale, 4th Air Force Replacement Depot, Hanford All-Stars, and Fresno’s Nick Kikkert’s club in the league.

1943 Lemoore Army Air Field “Mechs”

RankPlayerPositionFormer
Sgt.Ned SheehanIF/OF/coachBoise (PION)
Corp.Bill BurtonPSemi-pro
LtTom CareyMgr.*Dodgers
Jim ChambersP
Corp.“Big Jake” JacobsenMgr.
Pvt.Dick LinnellPNorfolk (PIED)
 PeytonC
Pvt.Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPLouisville (AA)
Sgt.Tony PrecinoSS
 StribicC
Sgt.Bob WolfPSemi-pro

Throughout the spring and deep into the summer, Powell was manager and former Brooklyn Dodgers’ batting practice pitcher Tom Carey’s go-to starting pitcher[17] as Lemoore was firmly entrenched in third place in the league’s standings. Powell’s time with Lemoore ended in July with his transfer to Fort Sill, Oklahoma when he was assigned to the 689th Artillery Battalion “Fabins” of the 18th Field Artillery. Powell was added to the 18th Field Artillery’s squad despite the season nearing its end. The dominant baseball team in the region, the Norman Naval Air Station  “Skyjackets,” stocked with Al Benton, Bennie Warren, Johnny Rizzo, and Charlie Gelbert, had their way with all comers throughout the season on their way to claiming the league title. When Powell arrived, the 18th had an undefeated streak that surpassed 20 games. In his first game for the Fort Sill-based nine, Powell pitched a 13-0 no-hitter as the 18th claimed their 22nd consecutive win.[18] Facing the Norman Navy Nine on August 4, the Navy handed the Army their first loss, pounding Powell for 11 runs on 11 hits. Lefty Powell walked five and struck out a pair of Norman batters.[19] Following the end of the season, the 18th faced the Fort Sill Field Artillery School’s (FAS) Negro detachment club. The September 19 contest saw Powell entering the game in the top of the ninth with the FAS nine leading 7-6. Powell held the opponents scoreless, allowing the 18th to rally in the bottom of the frame, plating two runs to win the game, 8-7. With the war progressing in Europe, the 689th Artillery Battalion began preparing to enter the fight.

Seventeen days after defeating the Field Artillery School team, Powell packed his gear as the 689th departed Fort Sill by train for California. Four days later, the train arrived in the California desert near Camp Iron Mountain, where General George Patton’s 3rd Armored Division called home before deploying to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). [20] The men of the 689th commenced an intensive training and hardening program with two weeks of maneuvers in November leading up to Army Ground Force (AGF) testing. In December, the artillery battalion commenced firing tests that culminated on Christmas Eve with the unit being declared fit for battle.[21]

1944
Following training, Powell, now holding the rank of staff sergeant, spent 10 days on furlough over the holidays with his family back home in Reedley.[22] For Powell and the rest of the 689th, baseball was now only a topic of GI conversation. Instead of preparing for spring training, Powell was once again on a train with his unit, bound for Camp Polk, Louisiana to await orders. The only question that remained among the men was “Where will we fight?”[23]

More than two weeks after the commencement of the Normandy Invasion, the 689th departed Camp Polk by rail on June 16. With stops in Texarkana, Chattanooga and New Haven, the battalion arrived 10 days later on June 26 at Camp Miles Standish near Taunton, Massachusetts to prepare for departure to the ETO. For four days the battalion was organized and loaded aboard ships for their Atlantic crossing. Departing on July 1, the 689th was embarked aboard the USS Wakefield (AP-21), a former luxury ocean liner of the United States Lines named SS Manhattan, converted and commissioned into Navy service as a troop transport. Upon arrival in Liverpool, the battalion disembarked and were taken by rail to the newly constructed Camp Cwrt-y-gollen, five miles west of Abergavenny, Wales, where the Fabins were attached to the 12th Corps under the Third Army.

While in Wales, the 689th trained for combat operations and made all preparations for entering combat operations. From the docks of Southampton, the Fabins sailed for Northern France and made their landing on the beachhead at Utah Beach, Normandy on August 24 and connected with the XX Corps Artillery. The Fabins worked their way across France through St. Mars, Cloves, Navours, Herme, Mont Morte, Constantine, Puisileaux, Juoy, Ville, Fleville, Mancieulles, Trieux and Fontoy through September 12 and were predominantly assigned to the 195th Field Artillery Group in support of the 5th Infantry Division and 7th Armored Division as well as the 90th Infantry Division.

Now assigned to the 5th Artillery Group under the 5th Infantry Division as the Rhineland campaign began, the Fabins were now supporting the Allied forces’ push towards Germany. As the month of September wound to a close, the 689th crossed into Luxembourg and established a firing base at Welfrange. During a period of downtime, the men were able to listen to some of the 1944 World Series games through a small radio set as the St. Louis Browns faced off against their National League counterparts, the St. Louis Cardinals.[24]

For the first few weeks of October, the 689th was attached the 40th Field Artillery group as they joined the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 3rd Cavalry Group, constituting Task Force Polk. By November, the battalion had crossed back into France, maneuvering along the Luxemburg border and supporting various operations. On December 3, while assigned to the 10th Armored Division, the battalion entered Germany, advancing to Wehingen. By mid-December, the 698th was hampered by a serious bout of influenza sweeping through the battalion. A substantial portion of unit personnel were transferred to infantry units as German forces mounted a counteroffensive and broke through allied lines. The enemy offensive was later dubbed “The Battle of the Bulge.” With diminished ranks and a perilously low stocks of ammunition, the 689th was pulled back to a position across the French border near the town of Kirsch-lès-Sierck, where they remained through the end of January.

1945
By March, the Fabins were largely assigned to the 193rd Field Artillery Group and continued supporting the 10th Armored Division for most of the month. In April, the 689th supported the 6th Armored Division for the first half of the month as they crossed over the Elbe River. The last vestiges of the Third Reich were being mopped up as the Allies pushed for Berlin as April ended. The 689th arrived in Eggstetten, Austria on May 3 across the Inn River from Hitler’s birthplace, the town of Branau. After the 689th commenced some missions, orders came from the command to cease all firing, with speculation and rumors flying among the men that the end might be near. On May 8, the proclamation was read to the troops that Germany had surrendered, bringing about the end of the war in Europe.

Though the battalion was only in the fight for eight months, the three batteries of the 689th sent nearly 50,000 artillery rounds onto enemy targets.

  • 316 – Guns neutralized or destroyed
  • 52 – Tanks destroyed or disabled
  • 21 – Pillboxes knocked out
  • 51 – Troop concentrations broken up
  • 55 – Vehicles knocked out
  • 24 – Enemy counter attacks broken up
  • 17 – Enemy command posts knocked out
  • 3 – Enemy command posts destroyed
  • 1 – Railway station destroyed
  • 4 – Bridges destroyed
  • 3 – Barges destroyed
  • 4 – Mine fields blown up
  • 2 – Enemy mess halls destroyed
  • 2 – Enemy ammunition dumps blown up
  • 1 – Machine gun knocked out

For their combat service from the summer of 1944 through May, 1945, the Fabins men were authorized to wear four “battle star” devices on their European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for the following campaigns:

  • Northern France – July 25, 1944 – September 1944[25]
  • Rhineland – September 15, 1944 – March 21, 1945[26]
  • Ardennes – December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945[27]
  • Central Europe – March 22, 1945 – May 11, 1945[28]

For the men of the 689th Artillery Battalion the surrender meant that they would be on the move to Freising, Germany, located near Munich, to serve as guards at a displaced persons camp where the Germans had incarcerated 60,000 Russians, French, Italians and others. Transforming from a combat artillery unit into an occupation battalion was “a pain in the neck,” and the men were glad when they were sent to the Bavarian town of Bayrischzell to guard hospitals and to patrol the German-Austrian border.[29]

Post-VE-Day Baseball
Following the German surrender, US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and his staff devised a fair system in determining prioritization for sending troops home. The resulting system tallied points for each GI based upon five distinct factors. If the soldier, airman, sailor or Marine accrued 85 or more points, he was eligible to be sent home for discharge.[30]

Points were awarded according to the following formula:

  • One point for each month of service in the Army
  • One additional point for each month of service overseas
  • Five points for each campaign
  • Five points for a medal for merit or valor (Silver Star for example)
  • Five points for a Purple Heart (awarded to all soldiers who were wounded in action)
  • Twelve points for each dependent child up to three dependent children

With the majority of the men having accrued the required 85 points by July 5, the officers and men of the 689th were homeward bound just two months after VE-Day. However, there were some men who remained in country despite their eligibility status. Staff Sergeant Larry Powell was one of those men who continued with occupation duties and was tapped to pitch once again for the 18th Field Artillery’s squad as the European continent saw more than 100,000 GIs forming teams in hundreds of leagues.

By early August, league winners were advancing into regional playoffs that would culminate in division and army championships. When teams were eliminated, rosters of the losing squads would be raided for the best players to better the chances of the raiding victors on their march toward the GI World Series. Such was the case for the 1st Infantry Division after defeating the Maurice Van Robays-managed 16th Armored Division team, though circumstances dictated a much more drastic action.

The entire 1st Division’s roster had acquired the points necessary for return to the states, but the victorious team stopped continuing their goal of reaching the GI World Series. With the entire 16th Armored roster’s players being under the points threshold, a team swap was enacted moments after the final out of the 6-5 “Big Red One” victory. Upon the realization that each team would be required to exchange their respective units’ shoulder insignia, the men refused to acquiesce to the order. “I’ll always be a 1st Division man,” one of the players asserted, “no matter where the hell they send me.” Similarly, the men of the 16th Armored Division refused the change. “We didn’t do so badly in this war, either,” declared Van Robays.[31]

Late August, 1945, Nuremberg Stadium for the U.S. Army Ground Forces Championship Series, the 29th Division is on defense. The first base coach on the far right is wearing the uniform of the Third Army champions (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Staff Sergeant Larry Powell was added to the 71st Division Red Circlers’ roster ahead of the Third Army Championship series, scheduled for August 7-9. Defeating the 76th Division in a best of five series, the 71st continued to add to their roster from the ranks of their vanquished foes. Former New York Giants pitcher Ken Trinkle was taken from the 76th, joining Powell, Harry “the Hat” Walker, Ken Heintzelman, Maurice Van Robays, and Johnny Wyrostek as reinforcements for the Red Circlers.

71st Infantry Division Red Circlers

Rank#PlayerPositionFormerFormer Unit Team
20Bill AyersPAtlanta (SOUA)65th Infantry Division
14Charlie Bamberger3BLondon (PONY) 
5Ewell BlackwellPReds 
19Alpha BrazlePCardinals65th Infantry Division
9Herb BremerCLittle Rock (SOUA) 
Ben Capp 
Capt.22Joe CostaMgr.5th Infantry Division
6Ettore GiammarcoOFFort Smith (WA) 
Jim GladdCFort Smith (WA)33rd Field Artillery
3Jack HaleyP 
18Ken HeintzelmanPPirates65th Infantry Division
D. Louis KauzlarichLubbock (WTNM) 
22Russ KernSS 
1Garland LawingLFBirmingham (SOUA) 
15Earl LindamoodOFWilmington (ISLG) 
17Anselm “Anse” Moore3BBeaumont (TL) 
Andy Moroff 
11Marshall NesmithRF 
8Walter OlsonPSanta Barbara (CALL) 
SSGT21Lawrence “Lefty” PowellPLouisville (AA)18th Field Artillery
13Bob RamazzottiSSDurham (PIED) 
10Rudy  RundusPAllentown (ISLG) 
23Walter SmithC 
24 TauzlarichC 
7Milton  Ticco1BUniversity of Kentucky 
Maurice Van RobaysOF/PPirates16th Armored/1st Division
  Ken TrinklePGiants76th Infantry Division
Harry “The Hat” WalkerOFCardinals65th Infantry Division
16Johnny WyrostekCFPirates 
12Benny Zientera2BIndianapolis (AA) 
Roster from July through September 1945.

The Southern Germany Championship, pitting the Third Army Champions, the 71st Division, against the champs of the Seventh Army, the 29th Division’s Blues and Grays, was a best-of-five series played at Nuremburg Stadium from August 21-26. The 29th Division proved to be no match for the Red Circlers as they were swept in three straight games, including a 3-1 no-hitter by the 71st Division’s Bill Ayers in the second game. Nearly 6,000 miles away, news of the 71st Division’s ascension to the GI World Series reached a small farming community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. “Larry Powell is pitching ball for the 71st Division,” The Reedley Exponent reported, “They are playing for the championship of Europe.”[32]

After the 71st was defeated by the Sam Nahem-led Oise All-Stars in the GI World Series, Larry Powell was ready to return home. Arriving at Camp Kilmer on November 26, Powell spent one day at the New Jersey base before boarding a train bound for California. Eight days after his arrival on U.S. soil, Lawrence Milton Powell was discharged from the U.S. Army as a 1st Sergeant at Camp Beal, 50 miles north of Sacramento, on December 5, 1945. With $263.12 in mustering-out pay, Larry Powell was left with a 240-mile trek to Reedley.[33]

In January 1946, Powell, provided details of his wartime service. “Support of the 94th Division and 5th Ranger Battalion in their breakthrough of the Siegfried Switch Line,” as well as being “attached to the 6th Armored Division in their push from the Rhine River to the Mulde River at Chemnitz.” (Ancestry.com)

With the war behind him and having missed 4.5 years of his professional baseball career, “Lefty” Powell made his return to the diamond in the spring of 1946. Powell signed his contract with the Red Sox and reported to Sarasota, Florida for training camp. As if he picked up where he left off with Boston during spring training in 1941, Powell showed signs of brilliance on the mound in between his struggles with control. In his 1946 debut exhibition appearance against St. Louis, Powell entered the game in relief, holding the Cardinals hitless for the final three innings and notching a 1-0 victory as Eddie Pellagrini doubled in the winning run in the ninth.[34] Despite an April 6 2-1 loss to the Reds, Cronin kept the 30-year-old rookie on the roster to start the season.

Finishing out April, the 11-3 Red Sox held a two-game lead over the Yankees. Though still with the Red Sox, Powell was withheld from taking the mound in any of Boston’s games for the opening month of the season. On April 30, the Red Sox parted ways with Powell, giving him his unconditional release[35], but he was signed by the crosstown Braves on the following day.[36] Boston Braves manager Billy Southworth expressed enthusiasm in acquiring Powell (along with Si Johnson and Emerson Roser) and hoped that the change of scenery would be beneficial. Powell indicated that he had been dealing with a sore arm for a few weeks, which may have been the cause of his exclusion from pitching for the Red Sox. “If I just harness my control, I’m going to win,” Powell told the Boston Globe.[37]

Unfortunately for Powell, his stay with the Boston Braves was short-lived as he was given his release on May 8, having spent just a week with the club without making any game appearances. With three chances at baseball’s highest level, Powell’s major league quest was over.[38]

Despite his major league setback, Powell was not done with baseball and signed once again with the Seals. After making a handful of appearances, manager Lefty O’Doul sent Powell down to the Salt Lake City Bees of the class “C” Pioneer League. At the end of August, O’Doul recalled the left-hander as the Seals closed in on securing the Pacific Coast League crown and finishing the year with one of the best season records in league history.

From 1947 to 1954, Powell pitched in the minor leagues, largely on the west coast, never rising above class “A.” Larry Powell’s two best post-war seasons were in the Western International League with the Yakima Bears in 1949 and 1950. Powell posted won-lost records of 16-7 and 13-9 with ERAs of 3.42 and 4.63, respectively. After a brief 1954 season with the Visalia Cubs, 39-year-old Powell left the professional game for good.

Larry Powell spent his post-baseball years following in his father’s footsteps, farming. He served on the board of directors for the Central California Association of Farmers, Associated Farmers of America and Fresno County Farm Bureau.[39] In recognition of his contributions to the game, Larry Powell was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972.[40]

With four of his 14 professional season in the Western International League, Lefty Powell participated in League reunions years later. Left to right in this undated photo are: Alden Wilkie, Harvey Storey, Herm Reich, Joe Kralovich, Jack Colbern and Powell (Courtesy of Marc Blau collection).

After thoroughly researching the player, the veteran, and the uniform, we decided to move forward in negotiations to bring 1st Sergeant Larry Powell’s 18th Field Artillery uniform into the fold of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection. Upon its arrival we conducted a thorough examination of the garments as we assessed the condition of the base wool flannel material, stitching, lettering, and embroidery. We checked for markings in each piece along with comparisons to other Lowe and Campbell wartime baseball uniforms to confirm the age. Of the issues noted, the most pressing concern lay with the back numerals as the fabric had separated from the stitching that affixed them to the base wool flannel. In the near future, we will be forced to address this issue to prevent further degradation and complete separation.

First Sergeant Larry “Lefty” Powell’s World War II baseball uniform from his time playing for the 18th Field Artillery Battalion (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

One interesting nuance with the jersey surrounds the buttons. Of the six on the placket, only the bottom-most is original to the piece. It is quite possible that the repairs were made by Powell or on his behalf during the war, which necessitates leaving the replacements intact.

First Sergeant Lawrence M. “Lefty” Powell’s wartime baseball flannel will be exhibited publicly in the coming years and will be showcased to baseball fans in one of the cities where he played during his professional career.

See more:


[1] Selective Service Registration Card, Ancestry.com (accessed November 20, 2022).

[2] Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938-1946, National Archives AAD (accessed November 20, 2022).

[3] “Camp Roberts Seeks Games; Larry Powell Ace of Staff,” The San Francisco Examiner, July 25, 1941: p23.

[4] “Powell to Pitch for Army Squad,” The Bakersfield Californian, August 2, 1941: p10.

[5] Funston Field (https://goodoldsandlotdays.com/medley/memories-of-the-game/182-funston-field-in-san-francisco-s-marina-district), Good Old Sandlot Days (accessed November 20, 2022).

[6] “Camp Roberts Plays in S.F.,” The San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1941: p19.

[7] “Ted Williams Not To Attend Big Dinner,” Durham Morning Herald (Durham, NC) January 28, 1942: p8.

[8] “Training Briefs,” Salinas Morning Post (Salinas, CA) March 21, 1942: p7

[9] “Camp Roberts Nine is Due in Fresno Today,” The Fresno Bee The Republican, April 4, 1942: p8.

[10] “In Between Briefs,” Stockton Daily Evening Record (Stockton, CA) April 22, 1942: p14

[11] “Army Team: Camp Roberts to Clash With Gardners Sunday,” The Bakersfield Californian, April 25, 1942: p12.

[12] Oliver, Ted, “Rodeo Buffet Beaten, 30-5 By Strong Army Outfit at Spreckles,” Salinas Morning Post, May 26, 1942: p9

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Camp Roberts Beats Air Base Nine Twice,” The Californian (Salinas, CA), June 29, 1942: p7.

[15] “Larry Powell to Camp Claiborne,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA) January 7, 1943: p3

[16] Borba, Harry, “Side Lines,” The San Francisco Examiner, March 5, 1943: p23.

[17] Lemoore Army, All-Stars to Tangle Sunday,” Hanford Morning Journal (Hanford, CA), March 28, 1943: p7.

[18] “Powell Hurls No-Hitter for 18th Field Artillery,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL), August 22, 1943: p13.

[19] “Jackets Spoil 18th’s Record,” The Daily Oklahoman, August 5, 1943: p16.

[20] “’Logchips On The Way’ – History of the 689th Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theater of Operations,” U.S. Army, 1948: p13.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Powell Home on Leave,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA) January 13, 19443: p4

[23] ’Logchips On The Way’ – History of the 689th Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theater of Operations,” U.S. Army, 1948: p13.

[24] Ibid: p31.

[25] Authorized by General Orders No. 103, dated November 13, 1945

[26] Authorized by General Orders No. 118, dated December 12, 1945

[27] Authorized by General Orders No. 114, dated December 7, 1945

[28] Authorized by General Orders No. 116, dated December 11, 1945

[29] Ibid: p32-57.

[30] “The Points Were All That Mattered: The US Army’s Demobilization After World War II, (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/points-system-us-armys-demobilization)” The National WWII Museum, New Orleans (accessed December 1, 2022)

[31] Weston, Joe, “1st Div. Nine 5-4 Winner in Strange Germany Test,” Southern France Stars and Stripes, July 13, 1945: p7.

[32] “Larry Powell is Pitching for the 71st Division,” The Reedley Exponent (Reedley, CA), August 30, 1945: p3.

[33] Final Pay Voucher, National Archives and Records Administration (accessed November 23, 2022)

[34] “Powell Holds Redbirds Hitless,” The San Francisco Examiner, March 13, 1946: p22.

[35] “Marty, Powell Draw Releases,” The San Francisco Examiner, May 1, 1946: p21.

[36] “Braves Sign Powell,” Oakland Tribune, May 2, 1946: p23

[37] “Braves Bits,” The Boston Globe, May 5, 1946: p34

[38] “Braves Announce Powell’s Release,” The San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1946: p19.

[39] Larry Powell Obituary, The Fresno Bee, May 28, 2009

[40] “Inductees for 1972 (https://www.fresnoahof.org/year-list.php?y=1972),” Fresno Athletics Hall of Fame (accessed December 1, 2022)

A Patient Find: Joe and Charlie Headline 1943 Hammond General Hospital Game

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.

McClellan Field Fliers teammates, Ferris Fain (left) and Mike McCormick work on an aircraft engine with (former minor leaguer) Eddie Funk in 1943 (photo courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

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.

Future McClellan Field Fliers teammates Dario Lodigiani (left) and Walter Judnich take a breather at basic training at the Presidio of Monterey, California (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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.”

One of the nicest wartime service game programs, this 1943 Hammond General Hospital( fundraiser All-Star game featured two future Hall of Fame players who were serving in the armed forces (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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 1943 Hammond General Hospital fundraiser All-Star game program (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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 centerfold of the Hammond game features Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Gehringer, both future Hall of Fame enshrinees (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

“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:

Branch1943 TeamPlayerPositionPrevious
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersRugger ArdizoiaPYankees
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersBob Dillinger2BToledo (AA)
USAAFSanta Ana Army Air BaseJoe DiMaggioCFYankees
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersFerris Fain1BSan Francisco Seals (PCL)
USAAFMather Field FliersTony FreitasPSacramento Solons (PCL)
NavyNavy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air DevilsCharlie Gehringer2BTigers
USAAFHammer FieldHarry GoorabianSSSan Francisco Seals (PCL)
   HeinP 
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersWalter JudnichRFBrowns
NavyNaval Air Station LivermoreRay LamannoCReds
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersDario Lodigiani3BWhite Sox
USAAFMather Field FliersJoe MartyLFPhillies
USAAFMcClellan Field CommandersMike McCormickRFReds
USAAFStockton Air BaseHal QuickLFWilliamsport Grays (EL)
NavyNavy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air DevilsBill RigneySSOakland Oaks (PCL)
Bold names indicate major league experience, prior to appearance in this game.

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:

PlayerPos1943 Team
Willis EnosLFSan Francisco (PCL)
Bob JoycePSan Francisco (PCL)
Bruce OgrodowskiCSan Francisco (PCL)
Tom SeatsPSan Francisco (PCL)
Joe SprinzCSan Francisco (PCL)
Hank SteinbacherLFSan Francisco (PCL)
Bill WerlePSan Francisco (PCL)
Manny ViasCFSacramento (PCL)
Carl Anderson2BPortland (PCL)
Harry ClementsSSHollywood (PCL)
Steve BarathCFLouisville (AA)
Nelson1B 
Bold names indicate major league experience, prior to appearance in this game.

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.

See also:

Seals at War

When WWII ended and the players returned from serving, the Seals roster was full of veterans (noted in capitals): Bottom row: EDDIE STUTZ, Neill Sheridan, Bruce Ogrodowski, DON TROWER, FERRIS FAIN, Morris (batboy), Hal Luby, Frank Rosso, Vince DiMaggio, Matzen (ball boy). 2nd Row: Lefty O’Doul (manager), Frenchy Uhalt, DON WHITE, SAL TAORMINA, TED JENNINGS, Roy Nicely, Joe Hoover, Mel Ivy, Del Young (coach). Top Row: Cliff Melton, DINO RESTELLI, Joe Sprinz, AL LIEN, BILL WERLE, Malone Saunders, Larry Jansen, Frank Seward, Ray Harrell, Douglas Loane, Jim Tobin, Emmett O’Neill, Hughes (trainer).  Four (in bold) of these war veterans would reach the majors in the following years,

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:

Year Affiliation(s)
1936; 1945 New York Giants
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers
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:

Earl Averill, outfielder
Joe DiMaggio, outfielder
Vernon “Lefty” Gomez, pitcher
Lefty O’Doul, outfielder
Paul Waner, outfielder

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):

Donald William White enlisted into the U.S. Navy on 15 April, 1942 and served until his discharge on September 13, 1945 (source: OpenSFHistory.org).

Infielders

Outfielders

Pitchers

Duster Mails spent 22 years playing professional baseball, finishing his career with the Seals in 1936. When the US entered WWII, Mails, employed by the Seals in public relations at the time, enlisted into the Marines at the age of 48 in 1942.

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…

The very patriotic wartime cover of the 1944 SF Seals score book motivated me to purchase.

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):

“I believe that playing service ball made the difference in me going to the major leagues. That’s because I got a chance to play against and with all these guys,” – Ferris Fain, SGT, USAAF WWII

  • 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.

Heading Home: Raimondi’s Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day has come and gone and while I focused my attention on the meaning of this day (on my other blog, The Veteran’s Collection), I wasn’t overlooking the men who set aside their gloves and spikes and ultimately lost their lives in the service of our country, in doing so. According to Gary Bedingfield’s research of baseball players (see his two sites: Baseball in Wartime and Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice) who served during the second world war, more than 400 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers stepped away from the game to serve their country. Of those, two major league players were killed in action during WWII along with 116 other professional ball players (who lost their lives as a result of combat) with still more who died while serving (non-combat-related deaths). One ballplayer in particular has held my attention since I first learned about him in Gary’s book, Baseball’s Dead of World War II.

My first passion for sports began as a youth and my earliest memories began with T-ball in my local park league. I began watching baseball on television and became aware of the local minor league team (which, at that time, was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs). As I grew and got more immersed in the game, I remember seeing a few minor league games and seeing that team’s affiliation change through the years to the Twins, Yankees and Indians before beginning a long-term connection with the Athletics. The longtime Pacific Coast League Tacoma franchise drew on local baseball history when it changed its name to become the Tacoma Tigers*.

I first learned about third baseman Ernie Raimondi (from Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Dead of WWII book) and his time with the local ballclub several years ago. The 16-year-old Raimondi was signed by and played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (which, at the time was nearly rivaling the American and National Leagues in popularity and attendance) in 1936. In the 14 games with the Seals that season, Ernie had 14 putouts, eight assists and committed three errors while at third; he made 38 plate appearances batting .263 (nine singles and one double) which wasn’t a bad showing for a high school-aged kid, playing at the highest minor league level. Manager Lefty O’Doul wanted Raimondi to gain experience and to hone his craft and sent him to the Tacoma Tigers for the entire 1937 season.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers (source: Tacoma Public Library).

The move north was beneficial to Raimondi for both fielding and hitting which carried him through into the 1938 season before being recalled to San Francisco.

Ernie Raimondi's tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the '38 season.

Ernie Raimondi’s tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the ’38 season.

Ernie’s career would fade in the following years and he would be out of baseball in 1941. He was drafted in April of 1944 and entered service on the eve of the D-Day landings at Normandy. He would see his share of combat service (with the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division) from the time he arrived in the European Theater and 218 days after his Army infantry career began, he was mortally wounded on January 9, 1945 and would fight for his life for 17 days until he would succumb.

Private Ernie Raimondi in 1939 with the San Francisco Seals between Brooks Holder (at left) and Dom DiMaggio.

Private Ernie Raimondi’s baseball career was short and his time with the Tigers was very brief. For a military baseball collector, locating anything from his time in Tacoma has proved to be an impossible venture. The closest that I’ve come is when I acquired an original 1939 Associated Press photo of Raimondi along with fellow Seals and WWII veteran Dom DiMaggio (and Brooks Holder) with bats crossed.

See: Ernie Raimondi’s biography at Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice

*Tacoma Tigers Baseball Club(s)

  • Western International League: 1922, 1937-1951
  • Pacific Coast International League: 1920-1921
  • Northwest International League: 1919
  • Pacific Coast International League: 1918
  • Northwestern League: 1906-1917
  • Pacific Coast League: 1904-1905
  • Pacific Northwest League: 1901-1902
  • Pacific National League: 1903

“The One Constant Through all the Years…has been Baseball”

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.

People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.

At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 1-4

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 2-3 showing the rosters of the All Stars.

Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.

One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.

J. F. Scwendemen WWII Baseball Collection

WWII umpire, J. F. Scwendemen WWII military service team baseball collection with dozens of autographs of MLB stars and Hall of Famers (source: eBay image).

In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.

Hugh Casey, Pee Wee Reese - Norfolk Naval Air Station, 1943

Another recent acquisition for me is this September 11, 1943 image. The original Associated Press caption attached to back reads: “Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA.”

In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.

“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts

Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.

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