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USAAF Wartime Baseball in Western Canada

Admittedly, when we consider wartime baseball, images of ballgames being played in far-away locations in combat theaters within reach of the war front, if not on domestic training bases.  The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photograph archive is replete with a diverse array of images capturing the game within the major war theaters (Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific) along with countless military bases, camps, forts and training facilities. Our continual mission to preserve, digitize and restore the photographs within this extensive library (along with curating additional images) is a considerable undertaking requiring an immeasurable amount of time and effort. As with many of our activities, this particular process often involves research which leads to fantastic discoveries.

There are occasions that we pursue a vintage photo (or group) without performing due diligence to fully comprehend the discernible subject matter. Depending upon the size of the image or how it is being presented for sale, the level of detail that is visible can be quite limited prior to an in-hand examination. Even after the image or images arrive, our workload may preclude anything more than an initial content and condition assessment prior to placing into appropriate storage and in our queue for preservation and digitization.

One such group of photographs that we acquired some time ago depicted a team of men wearing flannels with a beautiful script “U.S. Army” in athletic felt applied to the jersey fronts. The photos all seemed to have been captured in an old-time civilian ballpark surrounded by fencing (complete with large painted advertisement signage) and grandstands constructed in wood. Having been tucked away in archival storage, these were finally retrieved for the digitizing and restoration process. With the prints suffering from various typical maladies seen on images more than three-quarters of a century old such as exposure challenges, creases, tears, scratches and emulsion deterioration, the volume of effort that was required was substantive.

U.S. Army Air Force Yanks Players (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

The 19 vintage photographs in this U.S. Army group were predominantly sized in the 4”x 5” range with the focus, composition and exposure consistently representative of what is seen from professional photographers, though a few were overexposed. The reverse of each photo is stamped with the Official U.S. Army Air Forces mark indicating the source and releasing (to the media) authority. As each photograph was scanned, the details present within the images became quite discernible yielding more information and subsequent questions that directed my research pathways. Once a few of the photos were scanned, we discovered that what we originally assessed to be the Hale America “HEALTH” patch was actually a shield insignia with letters spelling out “YANKS.” In addition to the uniform patch, the advertisements clearly indicated that the venue where the photos were captured was in Alberta, Canada.

Warming up in third base territory, the sleeve patch is fully visible on this Yanks player (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

Following the path of least resistance, we reached out (with a sampling of our photos) to our colleagues who are specifically interested in preserving baseball history in Western Canada. Within a few hours of posting our photos to the group on social media, a response came from Jay-Dell Mah who has extensively researched the history of the game in that region. Jay-Dell’s site, Western Canada Baseball, encapsulates years of extensive research findings, photographs and ephemera along with the history of leagues, teams and personnel. Mah referred me to the 1940s section of his site, pointing me to the Edmonton, Alberta content.

A Yanks batter takes a cut in front of a capacity crowd at Edmonton’s Renfrew Park (Chevrons and Diamonds Archives).

In the past few years, our collection was introduced to wartime baseball that was played on Canadian soil. In researching for our article,  “Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down, we learned about the game as it was played by U. S. service personnel on bases and within the communities throughout Labrador. Without expending any effort, we were safe to assume that the same could be said for the Canadian West Coast as U.S. service personnel would have been stationed there fulfilling a similar strategic purpose. However, these photos appeared to be captured in the Canadian interior province of Alberta which seemed to be of little strategic significance to warrant positioning U.S. military personnel and resources. But the region did have considerable importance to the war effort as it was part of the North American “breadbasket” playing a central role in sustaining citizens and the allied forces with food.

…a force of U.S. personnel, both military and civilian, poured into northwest Canada to build the logistical facilities needed to support the defense of that quarter of the continent. United States military strength in northwest Canada in late 1942 exceeded 15,000, and in the next year, when some of the troops had been replaced by civilian workers, U.S. civilians alone exceeded that figure. On 1 June 1943 the total strength of the American personnel in northwest Canada was over 33,000. In some instances, the United States was able to utilize existing air-base and other facilities, expanded by either or both countries to meet wartime requirements. Other projects were carved out of the virgin wilderness, in some cases in areas never before surveyed. It was here in western Canada that the joint U.S.-Canadian war effort left its biggest and most lasting imprint.” – U.S. Army in WWII Special Studies: Military Relations between the U.S. & Canada

Baseball had been a part of the Canadian fabric with its roots being sent down on a parallel timeline with that of the game south of the border. United States service personnel located in Alberta fielded teams that integrated into the surrounding civilian leagues. In 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces team based in Edmonton known as the “Yanks,” participated in the local city league, capturing the championship. In the 2006 historical narrative about the province, Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed (edited by Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell and Catherine Cavanaugh) a caption reads, “With thousands of American military personnel in Alberta, their presence was felt everywhere. This U.S. Army baseball team won the title in the 1943 Edmonton baseball league.”

The 1943 Yanks roster consisted of officers and enlisted from the U.S. Army air base and were led by Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Captain Frank Wrigglesworth who aside from managing the team also saw actions at second base in 14 games.  Not only did the Yanks capture the pennant of the Edmonton City League, but they were also the champions of Alberta Province. Unlike domestic teams such as the Great Lakes or Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets, the McClellan Field Flyers or the 6th Ferrying Group, the 1943 U.S. Army Air Forces Yanks lacked top-tier major league talent and instead, featured players who were merely serving as most of America’s young men were. In the absence future Cooperstown enshrines, the Yanks made due with their roster that included two players who entered the armed forces from the minor leagues; pitcher Wayne Adams (Decatur Commodores) and Walter Misosky (Crookston Pirates), a left-handed-pitcher who also spent time in the outfield. After the war, outfielder Manuel Dorsky and shortstop Harley Miller parlayed their Yanks experience into minor league careers.

The 1943 U.S. Army Air Force Yanks posed in the Edmonton Snow (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A7253).

1943 U.S. Army Air Force “Yanks”
Rank Player Position Hometown G AB R H Avg
SGT Wayne Adams P Decatur, IL 6 13 0 2 0.154
CAPT Harry Baldwin 3B/SS Brooklyn, NY 17 58 11 21 0.362
Wayne Benjamin OF 1 14 0 0 0.000
SGT Bennie Cuellar OF San Antonio, TX 3 4 1 2 0.500
SGT Robert Christian Trainer Cincinnati, OH
CORP Manuel Dorsky OF Birmingham, AL 9 27 3 9 0.333
CORP Bill Dunn OF Chattanooga, TN 12 37 7 10 0.270
Henry Duval OF 2 5 1 1 0.200
PFC Gino Galenti OF/LHP San Francisco, CA 10 31 4 3 0.097
SSGT Albert Goodrich C Detroit, MI 10 32 4 9 0.281
PFC Johnny Gray P/OF St. Louis, MO 15 37 5 10 0.270
SSGT John Gullekson 1B Virginia, MN 18 70 7 19 0.271
SSGT Cloide J. Hensley OF Madison, KS 8 16 1 3 0.188
SSGT Frank Hindelong C Brooklyn, NY 2 5 1 1 0.200
CORP Jerry/Gerry Johnson OF/LHP Springfield, IL 5 11 2 2 0.182
LT Andrew Konopka OF Milwaukee, WS 10 25 2 2 0.120
PFC Anthony “Tony” Lollo C Brooklyn, NY 7 27 2 5 0.185
CORP Harley Miller SS Keokuk, IA 18 63 12 8 0.127
PFC Walter Misosky LHP/OF Georgetown, PA 16 56 4 10 0.179
Corp Walter Nelson P Sciotoville, OH
SGT Charles F. “Skip” Phillips 2B/3B Keokuk, IA 13 38 7 10 0.263
CORP Pat Priest P Jersey City, NJ 4 6 1 0 0.000
CAPT Frank Wrigglesworth 2B/Coach Eau Claire, WS 14 45 12 8 0.178
(stats sourced from Western Canada Baseball)

With the exception of one photo, none of the images bear any marks that identify the players. One image has what appears to be the signature of first baseman John Gullekson though the mark could simply be the player’s name applied to the photograph. Using the 1943 Alberta Photo Gallery page on Mah’s Western Canada Baseball site (that identifies Wayne Adams, Andrew Konopka, Harley Miller and Walter Misosky), we were able to identify one more of the players in the group of photos.

 

The photos in this group show that the Yanks played some, if not all of their home games at Renfrew Park. Renfrew Park opened in 1935 and would later be renamed John Ducey Park and eventually serve as the home to the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers until it was torn down in 1995, giving way to Edmonton Ballpark (Telus Field/ReMAX Field) that was constructed on the same site. With the distinctive roof structure covering the grandstand, the Renfrew is unmistakable in the Yanks photos.

Only time and further research will allow us to identify most, if not all of the men in this group of photographs. In the interim, it is our hope that enthusiasts, baseball historians or the Yanks family members will enjoy a peek into U.S. and Canadian wartime baseball history.

 

Score-Keeping: 1944 6th Ferrying Group versus Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field

The 6th Ferrying Group baseball team, managed by Corporal Charles “Red” Ruffing (image source: “Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California | USAAF Air Transport Command Ferrying Division” retrospective book, 1944).

Following the June, 1942 American victory at the Battle of Midway that resulted in the loss of four principle aircraft carriers, the Empire of Japan was reeling from a resounding defeat that was only the beginning of the the Japanese forces contracting from the extent of their territorial gains. The United States was still ramping up with the construction of machines and the transformation of civilian young men into a fighting force and the demand for more of both was still increasing to meet the needs in multiple theaters against three distinct enemies. Though many professional ballplayers had already begun to enlist or were drafted into service, still many more were continuing to play, providing Americans with an inexpensive form of recreation.

“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.

Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” – Excerpt of letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Kenesaw M. Landis, January 15, 1942

Under heavy public scrutiny, two of the game’s biggest stars, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, relented and entered the service following the conclusion of the 1942 season (Williams enlisted in May but was inducted into wartime duty after the season’s end while the the Yankee Clipper enlisted on February 17th, 1943). Still many more ball players would continue to join or wait until their selective service boards decided their fate. With the influx of ballplayers into the armed forces, many were not fit to serve in combat capacities due to residuals from injuries or other maladies that would have otherwise exempted them from service. Recognizing the value that professional athletes brought to the armed forces (aside from the men who served in combat units), War Department leadership pulled professional baseball players into athletic and physical fitness instructor roles along with service on base or unit baseball teams that met the needs as both morale boosts and as a fund-raising force used to finance sending athletic equipment to deployed GIs.

With the successful service team baseball campaigns in 1942 by such teams as the Norfolk and Great Lakes Naval Training Station teams, command staff personnel from other domestic bases, camps, forts and training facilitates followed suit, establishing their own teams of former professional ballplayers. Also in 1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces began transforming the air logistics arm of their branch, establishing the Air Transport Command (ATC) and placed the former Air Corps Ferrying Command as the ATC’s subordinate. With a new agreement between the City of Long Beach, California, the USAAF established the Long Beach Army Airfield (LBAA) at Long Beach Airport creating a civilian-military joint use facility. The USAAF placed LBAA under their Technical Services Command with the 348th Army Air Force Base Unit as a principle unit. Considering the close proximity to the Douglas Aircraft Company the USAAF assigned a unit to manage taking delivery of C-47, A-26 and B-17 aircraft that were being manufactured for the Army Air Force: The 6th Ferrying Group.

Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board (Associated Press Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

With the arrival of the 1943 new year, more players were setting their baseball careers aside to take up arms, many of which landed in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). One of the most recognizable names to enlist into the USAAF was Charles “Red” Ruffing who only months previously, helped the Yankees secure their only win in the 1942 World Series (no-hitting the St. Louis Cardinals through seven and 2/3 innings when Terry Moore singled to right field). In that series, Ruffing Set a record for starting a sixth opening game and for seven World Series victories (Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford would eclipse both marks in the early 1960s).

On January 5, 1943, 37-year-old Ruffing was inducted into the army for non-combatant duty; due to his age and the absence of four toes on one of his feet (he lost his toes in an accident while working at an Illinois mine years earlier – the same mine in which his cousin was killed and his father suffered a broken back). Once into the Army Air Forces, Ruffing was assigned to the 348th Air Base Squadron, under the Sixth Ferrying Group where he was part of the Athletics and Recreation (A. & R.) Department as a physical fitness instructor and would take on the management of the air base’s baseball team.

As additional former major and minor league players joined the USAAF, some were assigned to the 348th creating a pool of talent from which Ruffing began to assemble a baseball team, representing the Sixth Ferrying Group. Major leaguers Chuck Stevens (St. Louis Browns) and Max West (Braves) were inducted in March followed by “Nanny” Fernandez (Braves) and Harry Danning (Giants) in April, were subsequently assigned to the 348th with Ruffing as the future Hall of Fame pitcher assembled the team for which he would both pitch and manage. Aside from providing the service men and women in the region with entertainment, the Sixth also played a rigorous schedule with Pacific Coast League opponents. The five former major leaguers (plus one former minor leaguer) on the roster were joined by such stars as Johnny Pesky and Joe DiMaggio as the area’s Service All-Stars were pitted against the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars in a charity game for the All Pacific Recreation Fund.

The 1943 team would dominate the Southern California Service League, securing the championship. As the season wound down in September, the Ferrymen sustained a 23-game winning streak that was ended by the reigning 11th Naval District champions, the San Diego Marines, led by former St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitcher, Ray Yochim. The Sixth would exact revenge on a different team of Marines, defeating the leathernecks of Camp Pendleton on Ruffing’s pitching in the 4-1 league championship contest.

6th Ferrying Group battery-mates, Harry “the Horse” Danning, former New York Giants catcher (left) and former New York Yankees pitcher Charles “Red” Ruffing” discuss strategy and signs ahead of a game (Chuck Stevens/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The following year saw the Sixth Ferrying Group team, with a roster that was practically unchanged, picking up where they left off with 1943. As they did in the previous season, members from the Sixth reprised the All Pacific Recreation game against the two Pacific Coast League teams in August. Aside from their league schedule in the Southern California Service League, the Sixth Ferrying Group played a number of exhibition games against defense industrial teams and regional PCL franchises to raise funds for various charities including the Relief organizations including both Army and Navy as well as for the bat and ball funds.

1944 6th Ferrying Group Roster (bold indicates prior major league service):

Player Position Former Team
Art Lilly 2B Hollywood
Chuck Stevens 1B St. Louis Browns
Nanny Fernandez SS Boston Braves
Max West 3B Boston Braves
Ed Nulty LF Montreal
Red Ruffing P NY Yankees
Ollie Olsen P San Diego
Willie Werbowski P Semi-Pro
Woody Bell* CF San Antonio
Harry Beardo U
Wilbur Wise 3B
Thomas Fouts RF
Harry Danning C NY Giants
Swede Jensen RF San Diego
Roy Pitter P Newark
(Note: All of the above service profile images obtained from the “Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California | USAAF Air Transport Command Ferrying Division” retrospective book, 1944)

Former St. Louis Browns first baseman, Private Chuck Stevens steps prepares for batting practice ahead of a game at the Long Beach Army Air Field. Steven’s 6th Ferrying Command manager and teammate, former Yankees star pitcher, Corporal Charles “Red” Ruffing confers with Corporal Joe DiMaggio of the opposing Santa Ana Air Base squad, behind Stevens.

Corporal Chuck Stevens sprints to first base after driving the ball for his 6th Ferrying Group team.

Over the course of this year, Chevrons and Diamonds has been acquiring artifacts from the estate of a former professional ballplayer who enjoyed a 17-year career with a three-year pause to serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. During his wartime service, the former St. Louis Browns first baseman, Chuck Stevens was an airman in the USAAF and was tapped to play baseball along with his duties. Judging by the volume and diversity of the artifacts that Stevens preserved throughout his playing career (and his lengthy service as an executive with the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America), he quite obviously loved the game and his part in its history. Among the many artifacts that we acquired was the bulk of his wartime pieces that includes original photographs (some, published in this article), scorecards and programs.

Ruffing gets a rub-down following a pitching outing for the 6th Ferrying Group.

Two of the programs that were part of Steven’s estate were from separate exhibition games hosted by the 1944 Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field. Each program shares several components including the patriotic front and radio station advertisement on the back. What differentiates the books are some of the internal pages including the scoring sheets (all unused), rosters and season analysis commentaries. Using the information, I was able to determine that one of them was created for the June 19th game in which the Sixth dominated the Stars on Ruffing’s pitching and a bevy of singles by the batsmen.

Both 1944 Stars program covers are identical with Uncle Sam batting and Stars’ manager, Charlie Root in the beautifully-patriotic two-color printed image.

Ruffing and Mates Win Bond Game
Hollywood, California – Sgt. Red Ruffing, former New York Yankee ace, and his big league helpers of the Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California, breezed to a 7 to 1 victory over the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League here the night of June 19, boosting the Fifth War Loan Drive approximately $1,750,000.

Ruffing hurled the three-hit ball for five innings and struck out seven before finishing in right field, to share honors with Comedians Abbott and Costello and Screen Lovely Jinx Falkenberg, who entertained in pre-game ceremonies. It was a “no-expense” game, with the Hollywood club donating the park, while players gave their services, as did all Gilmore Field attendants.

Ruffing was nicked for the lone Hollywood run in the fourth. Roy Pitter, Ruffing’s successor, was touched for a single by the first man facing him, then pitched hitless ball. Rookie Earl Embree went the route for the Stars and was raked for 12 hits, all singles.

Three singles sent the Ferriers off to a two-run lead in the first inning. Two walks, a sacrifice and single game them another pair in the fourth, and three singles and a passed ball produced the final trio of markers in the sixth.” – John B. Old, The Sporting News (June 22, 1944)

Player Position AB H O A
Art Lilly 2B 5 2 1 1
Chuck Stevens 1B 5 2 8 4
Nanny Fernandez SS 3 1 3 2
Max West CF-3B 4 2 2 2
Harry Danning C 5 1 10 1
Swede Jensen LF-CF 5 3 1 0
Ed Nulty RF-LF 3 0 2 0
Red Ruffing P-RF 3 0 0 0
Roy Pitter P 2 0 0 2
Fauts RF 0 0 0 0
Wise 3B 2 1 0 0
Totals 37 12 27 12

The excellent condition of both programs is due to Stevens’ meticulous care in storing his baseball artifacts, though there are some visible indications of usage and handling. The covers are heavier weight paper with a slight coating lending to a lustre finish. The internal pages are similar to newsprint showing some yellowing and oxidizing. Rather than black ink, all of the monochromatic printing is done using a navy-blue. Each book features 20 pages (including the front and back covers) of text, photographs, illustrations and advertisements.

*Lt. Col. Woodrow “Woody” M. Bell
Following his professional baseball career, Woody M. Bell’s path in the the armed forces differed from those of his Sixth Ferrying Group teammates, extending well beyond the war. His service to the United States spanned more than three decades (31 years in total). The Bellville, Texas native and graduate of Texas A&M signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1939 and was in their farm system starting that season with the Springfield Browns of the Three-I League. as he progressed upward through the Browns’ minor leagues, he was assigned to his hometown San Antonio Missions playing alongside his future Sixth Ferrying Group teammate, first baseman Chuck Stevens in 1940.

After spending the 1940-41 seasons with the Missions, Woody Bell enlisted into the U. S. Army Air Forces and was commissioned a 2nd LT and was assigned to the Ninth Ferrying Squadron (part of the Sixth Ferrying Group), serving as the squadron operations officer and advancing to the rank of captain.

Woody Bell retired from the Air Force having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and returned to the San Antonio area. Bell would spend some of his retirement years serving as the San Antonio Missions as general manager of the team having come full circle with his love for the game. According to his obituary, Bell passed away on February 28, 2009.

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