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A Passion for the Troops: Joe E. Brown’s All Pacific Recreation Fund

It is rather odd and perhaps, a little bit disjointed to author a piece that is technically a precursor or an actual “part I” of a two-part story after researching, writing and publishing the succeeding or part II.  few weeks ago, we delved into one of the rarer wartime service-team baseball game programs that one can collect: a substantial scorebook from the 1944 All Recreation Fund game that pitted the Service All-Stars versus both the Pacific Coast League’s (PCL) Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars (see: Service All-Stars Raising Funds on the Diamond for their Comrades in the Trenches).

“Hopefully, we can source the 1943 All Pacific Recreation Fund program to round out the collection and to properly document the games and the participants.”

Just days following our article regarding the 1944 program published, the 1943 program and scorebook arrived to our door sending this author over the top with elation. Now, two of our most sought-after programs from domestic service team baseball programs moved off of our want list.

The fine print on the cover differentiates this book from the 1944 program.

While the roster for the 1944 Service All Stars feature featured some well-known names from the professional ranks, garnering modest attention from the press, the caliber of talent that took the field in the inaugural charity baseball game in 1943 was quite exceptional.  Featuring three future Cooperstown enshrinees, the Service All Stars posed a considerable challenge for the PCL hosts, at least on paper.

1943 All Pacific Recreation Fund Game – Service All-Stars:

Name Pos Command Location Club Affiliation
Rinaldo Ardizoia P Army Air Forces, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California New York Yankees
Harry Danning C 6th Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California New York Giants
Joseph DiMaggio OF Army Air Forces, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, California New York Yankees
Bud Doleshall P U.S. Army, Ft. MacArthur, San Pedro, California Sacramento Senators
A. R.  Edwards C Army Ordnance, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, California St. Louis Browns
Aubrey Epps C U.S. Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, Camp Pendleton, California Knoxville Smokies
Froilan “Nanny” Fernandez IF 6th Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California Boston Braves
Stanley Goletz P Army Air Force, Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona Chicago White Sox
Hal  Hirshon OF U.S. Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, Camp Pendleton, California Detroit Tigers
Myril Hoag OF Army Air Forces, Mather Field, Sacramento, California Chicago White Sox
Walter Judnich OF Army Air Forces, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California St. Louis Browns
Hubert Kittle P 6th Ferrying Group, Sacramento, California Oakland Oaks
Art Lilly IF 6th Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California Hollywood Stars
Dario Lodigiani IF Army Air Forces, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California Chicago White Sox
Theo “Ted” Lyons P U.S. Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, camp Pendleton, California Chicago White Sox
Joseph Marty OF Army Air Force, Hamilton Field, Novato, Novato, California Philadelphia Phillies
Myron McCormick OF Army Air Forces, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California Cincinnati Reds
John Pesky IF U.S. Navy, Atlanta Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia Boston Red Sox
Jack Price IF Army Ordnance, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, California Nashville Vols
Charles “Red”  Ruffing P 6th Ferrying Group, Sacramento, California New York Yankees
Charles “Chuck” Stevens IF 6th Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California St. Louis Browns
Louis Stringer IF Army Air Force, Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona Chicago Cubs
Max West OF 6th Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California Boston Braves

As was seen in the following year’s game, the 1943 event drew a capacity crowd to witness the type of charity game that had become somewhat of a commonplace occurrence around the country with games staged between professional and military teams. This particular event was directly responsible for purchasing more than $25,000 in sporting equipment that was shipped throughout the Pacific combat theater to Army and Navy personnel. Inspired by his early USO-like tours to both entertain and encourage the troops during his early-WWII travels to the South Pacific, comedian Joe E. Brown was following through on his promise to the men he visited. The All Pacific Recreation fund was established and the Service All-Stars game versus the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars was his flagship event.

With a capacity of less than 13,000 fans, Gilmore Field’s turnstiles clicked a total of 21,742 times for the 1943 game with not a single pass being given (not even to the press).  Leading off on defense for the top-half of the first inning, the Los Angeles Angels took the field as the 6th Ferrying Group’s first baseman, Chuck Stevens (who went two-for-three) leading off with a triple. Stevens, a local native (from Long Beach) who had previously played in the St. Louis Brown’s organization. In the previous year, Stevens played for the Toledo Mud Hens who took down Mickey Cochrane’s Great Lakes Bluejackets, a veritable team of professional all-stars serving in the U.S. Navy. Nanny Fernandez (0-for 3) followed Stevens in the order with Wally Judnich (Stevens’ 1941 Browns teammate) batting third (also hitless in the game). Batting cleanup was former Pacific Coast Leaguer (and New York Yankee), Joe DiMaggio who accounted for much of the Service All-Star’s offensive power (4-for-4 with two home runs).

The Service All-Stars collected a total of 13 hits and racked up eight runs while only allowing the Angles and Hollywood to manage six hits (including the two solo home runs by Hollywood’s Babe Herman and Los Angeles’ Rip Russell) to the Coast League team’s two runs.

Similar to the 1944 game program, the 1943 issue is more book-like than what was common during the 1940s. The half-magazine sized booklet is constructed of a high-quality, heavy paper stock with a semi-gloss finish. The cover art (used for both the ’43 and ’44 games) is two-color-printed (red and blue) with the interior pages all monochromatic blue.

Aside from the plethora of sponsors pages and advertisements, the content throughout the book is superior to that of any other program (that we have seen) from service team baseball during World War II. The rosters and team photos are clear and the players depicted are easily discernible (including with the Los Angeles and Hollywood team photos). The team rosters are very complete (despite some obvious errors – Navy Ensign Johnny Pesky is listed as serving in the U.S. Army) offering great details about the service players’ 1943 duty stations.

In addition to completing the All Pacific Recreation Fund game program collection, what makes the 1943 program even more special is that this copy came from the estate of one of the players who factored considerably in the game. Though it isn’t the first piece to arrive into the Chevrons and Diamonds collection from the life-long baseball man, Chuck Stevens, it is certainly one of the most cherished pieces (there will be upcoming articles regarding the Chuck Stevens pieces of which we are honored to now be caretakers of).

Our time has been considerably consumed by several activities (in addition to family and work priorities) and there are several future articles forthcoming surrounding additional service team scorecards as well as a considerable effort to update the Library of Military Baseball Scorecards, Score-books and Game Programs with these two All Pacific Recreation All Stars game programs along with an incredible array of Great Lakes items (stay tuned!).

Billy Seal, Jr.: From the Diamonds of the South to the Battlefields of Germany

One of the Chevrons and Diamonds projects that is presently underway centers on researching and documenting the history of one of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series championship contending teams; the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division (ID). Fueled by the acquisition of an artifacts grouping from a veteran of the 29th ID’s baseball team (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), the primary goal of this (multi-part) project will be to discover and present the personalities that comprised the team that found itself just two series wins away from facing the Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series in the fall of 1945.

The ultimate objective of this effort is to fully identify the players on the roster of the Blue and Greys of the 29th to properly illuminate both the wartime service and baseball-playing contributions of the men faced the 71st Red Circlers in the 1945 U.S. Army Ground Forces Championship Series that was played at Nuremberg Stadium. As was the situation with many other teams in the semi-final rounds of the post-season competition, the 29th was a conglomeration of players from opposition 29th Infantry Divisions teams that were homogenized as they were defeated by the Blue and Greys.

Though the Blue and Gray roster was populated with many average Joe ball players, several of the team’s positions were filled by former professional ball players. One of those former pro players was Billy Seal. William Allen Seal, Jr. was born in Danita, Oklahoma and played his way into a solid third baseman prospect and found himself in the Dodgers farm system by 1938.  Though he would never ascend above the AA level, Billy Seal, Jr.  was solid hitter early in his career and would sustain a .314 average in his twelve minor league seasons.  In his first professional season, Seal bounced between the Fayetteville Angels (of the class-D Arkansas-Missouri League) and the Greenville Buckshots (class-C Cotton States League) maintaining consistency at the plate.  The following season Billy Seal split time between Greenville and the Bowling Green Barons (class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League), nearly repeating his 1938 offensive output which the Dodgers didn’t recognize as notable enough to promote him. Midway through the ‘39 season, the Brooklyn was handed a gift from the Red Sox system as they acquired a Louisville Colonels infielder named Harold G. “Pee Wee” Reese.

For the 1940 season, Pee Wee Reese was promoted to the big-league club and Seal would with Greenville for the duration, hitting .323 for the year while legging-out 41 doubles and five triples and pushing his slugging percentage to .451 (in later years, one of Seal’s regimental comrades, George Phillips, recalled, “Billy Seal was a great soldier and served his country with honor. Bill was a professional baseball player who made it all the way to the old Brooklyn Dodgers as a shortstop. Having been in the National Guard he got called up for service and a fellow by the name of Pee Wee Reese took his place,” though some of his details were a bit inaccurate).

At the season’s end, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (on September 16). One month later, on October 16, 1940, William Allen Seal registered for the draft and continued with his normal off-season work as he awaited spring training. Seal began the year with the Vicksburg Hill Billies (Cotton States League) and was having a career year through the first three months of the season (batting .365 with a .536 slugging percentage in just 67 games) but took his leave from the club to enlist. On July 7, 1941, baseball player Seal began his transformation to become Private William Seal as he enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army, ending his chances at being promoted to the upper levels.

Following his completion of basic training, Private Seal was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas (home of the 2nd Cavalry Division) where he was tapped to play baseball with one of the base teams. Service in the peacetime armed forces for a baseball player could be easy and it was for Seal until everything changed on December 7,1941.

Billy Seal Jr. is pictured here among his brothers in G-Company, 271st Infantry Regiment/69th Infantry Division. This photo was taken on November 14,1944, at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey just prior to the unit’s combat deployment to the European Theater (image source: 69th-infantry-division.com).

In mid-May, 1943, the 271st Infantry Regiment was constituted at Camp Shelby, Mississippi as part of the 69th Infantry Division. After extensive training and preparation, the division departed Mississippi by rail on Halloween bound for Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On November 14, 1944, the 69th ID departed New York Harbor by ship en route for Southampton on a 10-day Atlantic crossing. After a few months and a channel crossing, the 271st Infantry Regiment began their combat tour in Western Europe having landed at LeHavre following an uneventful Channel crossing.  After twenty days of travel in vehicles and on foot, Company “G,” along with the entire 271st crossed into Germany and were met with fierce enemy resistance near the town of Hollerath (which lies on the Siegfried Line and is 100 kilometers northeast of Bastogne and where the anti-tank barrier known as “dragon’s teeth” is still very much intact) after just a few days in the “Fatherland.” Baseball was, perhaps the furthest from the minds of the men engaged in their first fight of the war.

As the Germans continued their retreat, Seal’s regiment crossed the Rhine River on March 28, 1945. The month of April found the 271st engaged in fierce fighting with enemy forces in the Battle of Weissenfels on the 12th And the Battle for Leipzig commencing on the 18th. When the combat came to an end by the end of the month, the “Fighting 69th” had been engaged with the enemy nearly continuously since crossing into Germany in late February.

The end of hostilities and combat operations in Europe with the surrender of the Third Reich in May 7, 1945 transformed the massive Allied fighting force to an occupation military that would be left searching for activities and functions for the troops to participate in.  Aside from facilitating the deactivation of a defeated military coupled with investigations and the search for war criminals, occupying the occupation force with such matters left a large percentage of soldiers with very little to do save for basic military drill and instruction.  One activity that Military leadership in the ETO decided upon was in the realm of competitive sports of which, the national pastime was the premier game.

Troops were dispersed throughout the European Theater in accordance with the needs of the occupation functions. Teams were formed within the various commands and leagues were formed. Regional play commenced in the early part of the summer of 1945.

Somewhere in Germany, 1945: Member of the 69th ID squad pose for a photo during a game. Chicago White Sox infielder, Don Kolloway is seated closest to the camera. Though it is difficult to see the other faces, it is possible that Billy Seal is seated among the men (author’s collection).

Following the German surrender, he played for the 69th’s team in the ETO baseball league as they worked their way into the Seventh Army Championship Series, facing the Blue and Grays of the 29th ID, the eventual Seventh Army Champions who would lose in the 1945 ETO World Series in the Fall of 1945.

A combat weary veteran. Former minor league infielder, Billy Seal, Jr. poses for his buddy and fellow minor leaguer, Earl Ghelf in a German village (author’s collection).

Billy Seal, Don Kolloway and Earl Ghelf would all depart the Fighting 69th to fill roster spots on the Blue and Grays as they faced the Red Circlers of the 71st ID in the US Army Ground Forces Championship Series. The 71st would defeat Seal and the 29th ID team heading to and winning the Third Army Championship as they ultimately faced and were defeated by the Sam Nahem, Leon Day and the OISE All Stars in the ETO World Series.

Billy Seal returned to the pro game in 1946 with the Chicks and bounced throughout various teams in the South until retiring following the 1953 season. In 12 pro seasons, Seal played 1550 games, 5,810 ABs for 10 different teams and managed a .310 average with a .492 SLG and 165 HRs.

 

Year Age Team League Lev Aff G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BA SLG TB
1938 20 Fayetteville ARMO D 107 431 158 28 10 13 .367 .568 245
1939 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs D-C BRO 140 602 602 193 35 17 9 .321 .48 289
1939 21 Greenville CSTL C BRO 55 237 72 9 5 5 .304 .447 106
1939 21 Bowling Green KITL D 85 365 121 26 12 4 .332 .501 183
1940 22 Greenville CSTL C 138 561 181 41 5 7 .323 .451 253
1941 23 Vicksburg CSTL C 67 274 100 17 6 6 .365 .536 147
1942 24 Fort Riley US Army Army Service – Service Team Baseball
1943 25 Camp Shelby US Army Army Service – Service Team Baseball
1944 26 Camp Shelby US Army Army Service – Training
1945 27 ETO US Army Army Service – Combat Operations (through May 6)
1945 27 69th/29th ID US Army Army Service -Occupation/Service Team Baseball
1946 28 2 Teams 2 Lgs B-AA 141 534 534 156 24 9 10 .292 .427 228
1946 28 Memphis SOUA AA 43 153 42 5 0 0 .275 .307 47
1946 28 Anniston SEAL B PIT 98 381 114 19 9 10 .299 .475 181
1947 29 Vicksburg SEAL B 143 533 185 48 6 21 .347 .578 308
1948 30 Vicksburg SEAL B 136 519 144 38 5 19 .277 .480 249
1949 31 2 Teams 2 Lgs D-B 115 391 391 132 24 2 27 .338 .616 241
1949 31 Anniston SEAL B 30 98 32 2 0 4 .327 .469 46
1949 31 Carrollton GAAL D 85 293 100 22 2 23 .341 .666 195
1950 32 2 Teams 2 Lgs B-D 137 464 464 165 41 7 13 .356 .558 259
1950 32 Gadsden SEAL B 99 333 118 31 4 9 .354 .553 184
1950 32 Dublin GASL D 38 131 47 10 3 4 .359 .573 75
1951 33 St. Petersburg FLIN B 138 485 150 34 4 11 .309 .464 225
1952 34 St. Petersburg FLIN B 153 554 141 33 4 9 .255 0.377 209
1953 35 St. Petersburg FLIN B 135 462 121 17 4 20 .262 .446 206

 

Two of the three photos in this article were part of a grouping that originated from minor leaguer and veteran pitcher of the 69th/29th Infantry division baseball teams, Earl Ghelf. The Ghelf collection was covered in A Growing Backlog of Baseball History to Share and European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) in 2018.

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