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More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian

Steaming westbound, a Navy troop ship, bound for the Hawaiian Islands engorged with stores, munitions and fighting men that will resupply and augment forces engaged in the island-hopping campaign in the push towards the Japanese Homeland.  Among the embarked troops was a collection of men, mostly assembled from U.S. Army Air Forces air bases in the western United States, nearly two-dozen fellow servicemen whose pre-war occupations drew considerable interest from the others aboard the ship; among this group were two childhood sandlot friends.

May 1944 – Aboard a troop ship bound for Pearl Harbor clockwise from tope left): Sgt. Walter Judnich (Browns), Cpl. Mike McCormick (Reds) and Staff Sgt. Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), Pfc. Gerald Priddy (Senators) and Sgt. Dario Lodigiani (White Sox) are soon to be a part of the formidable 7th Army Air Force team (ACME Newsphoto).

One of the most picturesque areas on the United States’ West Coast, the San Francisco Bay area has been an incubator, producing incredible baseball talent on sandlots of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. In a 400 square-mile area (including the large San Francisco Bay), four significant ball players plied their wares on sandlots in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Soma, Excelsior and Cow Hollow Districts in San Francisco while two more churned up the base paths surrounding Oakland. Legendary Bay Area names such as LazzeriHeilmann, Cronin, Gomez and Lombardi are all synonymous with greatness with bronze plaques (bearing their likenesses) prominently displayed at Cooperstown. These six players alone firmly place the Bay Area on baseball’s map but the list of notable baseball names from the region is as expansive as the geography, itself. However, the list of outstanding ballplayers from this region is considerable beyond those inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The North Beach District was settled by Italian immigrants following the devastating 1906 and was an incubator for some of baseball’s “royal” families such as Crosetti, Lucchesi and DiMaggio. Sicilian immigrants, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio saw three of their sons pursue baseball from an early age. Rather than take to the sea to gather fish with their father, Vince, Joe and Dominic chased their dreams on the diamond. Fellow Italian, Dario Lodigiani grew up (on nearby Telegraph Hill) with the DiMaggio brothers though he was closer in age to Dominic, his childhood relationship was close with Joe. Joe and Dario were junior high school teammates continuing on at Lowell High School until Joe departed to pursue his professional career with the San Francisco Seals. Dario transferred to Galileo High School, continuing his scholastic baseball career before stepping up semi-pro ball with the Golden Gate Valley league.

Like many of his fellow Bay Area players, Lodigiani signed with one of the local Pacific Coast League franchises, the cross-bay Oakland Oaks (who, at that time, were affiliated with the major league’s New York Yankees), in 1935. After three seasons with the Oaks carrying a .306 average, Dario caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics owner, Connie Mack who traded five players and cash to the Oaks to acquire the young infielder.

We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass- over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s–t, or nothing—he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.” – Dario Lodigiani (source: Ed Attanasio, ThisGreatGame.com)

Lodigiani played for the Athletics for part of the 1938 season (splitting time between Philadelphia and the Eastern League Williamsport Grays) and the entire 1939 campaign. In 1940, Dario effectively spent the entire season in the minors, appearing in 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays of the International League before a September call-up which resulted in a lone, hitless plate appearance (lead-off pinch hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning with the A’s trailing 5-2 to the Washington Senators on September 22nd).  Following the acquisition of Detroit Tiger’s young, solid-hitting second baseman Benny McCoy, Dario Lodigiani became expendable and was shipped that December to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 34-year-old veteran pitcher, Jack Knott.

Though he only saw action for the White Sox in 87 games, Lodigani was the anchor at third base (splitting time at the hot corner with Bob Kennedy who saw action in 71 games) joining future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling in the Chicago infield, however his .239 batting average for 1941 left him vulnerable. In 1942, Kennedy’s hotter bat and better glove relegated Lodigiani to a utility role for his final major league season, before departing for the War.

This photo of Johnny Rigney during a visit to the Chicago White Sox clubhouse at Comiskey Field shows significant editing to prepare it for press-half-toning. Most of the players would be following Johnny Rigney into the armed forces in the coming months. The original caption reads:
July 3, 1942 – Johnny Rigney, who until his induction into the Navy a short time ago, was a leading White Sox hurler, got a watch from his former teammates when he appeared at Comiskey Park last night with the Great Lakes naval training station team against Chanute Field. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. Left to right are Dario Lodigiani, Mule Haas, Ted Lyons, Rigney, Thornton Lee and Orval Grove.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

A few years ago, we acquired a pair of photos that spotlighted two of the Chicago White Sox pitchers who were shown while on active duty during World War II. In one image,  future Hall of Famer, 42-year-old Ted Lyons is wearing his Marines flannels near Navy Pier in Chicago, not long after enlisting. The other photo depicted Johnny Rigney sporting his Navy service dress blues as he was presented with a watch by Ted Lyons and White Sox teammates during a return visit to Comiskey Field. Among those present was Dario Lodigiani. With only 275 games played in six major league seasons in his career, Dario’s name didn’t capture the attention that his 1942 White Sox teammates Luke Appling and Ted Lyons did. In researching other notable ballplayers-turned-servicemen, Lodigiani’s name kept appearing in service game newspaper summaries and our collection’s vintage scorecards.

Seeing Lodigiani’s smiling profile among his fellow White Sox teammates in the 1942 photograph reminded me of another more famous photo that spotlighted his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio posed with random servicemen (in their green, HBT combat uniforms) aboard a troop ship. Not initially recognizing the other faces that accompanied the “Yankee Clipper” and “Lodi,” it soon became apparent that the three other GIs were also former baseball players (Sergeant Walter Judnich, St. Louis Browns; Corporal Mike McCormick, Cincinnati Reds;  and Private First Class Gerald Priddy of the Washington Senators) and were all part of the dominant Central California Serviceman’s League team based at McClellan Field in Sacramento.  The photo of the five ballplayers aboard ship has been on our watch list for years with hopes that another copy of the popular news photo is de-accessioned from a newspaper archive.

Following his 1942 White Sox campaign, Lodigiani was called to serve, joining the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 19, 1943 for the war’s duration (plus six months) from his hometown of San Francisco. Following basic and other training, Corporal Lodigiani reported to McClellan Field along with former St. Louis Browns outfielder (and fellow San Franciscan) Walter Judnich on March 4th. While assigned to the McClellan Field training command air base, Lodigiani was added to the base team and became an immediate a force with both his glove and bat.

Batting .313 and .288 respectively, while in the American League, last season, Pfc. Walt Judnich of the St. Louis Browns and Pfc. Dario Lodigiani of the Chicago White Sox are just two more dogfaces on KP at the Air Service Command headquarters base, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California. Both are star players on the Commander team, but their diamond activity is secondary to techical and military training they receive while preparing to help keep the Army Air Forces planes aloft in different war zones. And cleaning up the dishes, as well as the bases, is part of the chores assigned them while getting ready for the bigger game.” – The Sporting News, July 7, 1943

Recently added to our collection, this news photo of Corporal Dario Lodigiani was heavily retouched by a pre-press photo editor. The original caption reads:
September 18, 1943, Sacramento, California: Dario Lodigiani, former White Sox infielder, is now a corporal in the Army Air Force. He is a member of the crew of the Sacramento Air Service Command stationed at McClellan Field, California.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

An all-star team of professionals who happen to be serving in the armed forces during World War II.

Dario’s impact was immediate and positive for the McClellan Field Commanders as the team left their competition in their slipstream and by mid-August, he was selected as an All-Star to play in the All Pacific Recreation Fund game that was held at Gilmore Field. As part of the Service All-Stars, “Lodi” was reunited as teammates with his boyhood friend, Joe DiMaggio (who was assigned to the Santa Ana Air Base team). Reconnecting with DiMaggio to pummel the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels was just a hint of what was to come. At the end of the 1943 service league season, the McClellan Field squad faced off against a selected group of major league “all-stars” in Sacramento:

Sacramento, California: The climax of the season fo Sacramento fans comes Sunday, October 17, when a team of major league all-stars plays the McClellan Field Commanders at Cardinal Field. Fresh from the World’s Series, Ernie Bonham of the Yankees will be the starting pitcher, to be relieved, with or without necessity, by Milo Candini of Washington and Manuel Salvo of the Braves. 

The all-star line-up of major league players who live in this area, also will include such headline performers as Dick Bartell and Ernie Lombardi of the Giants, Eddie Lake of the Red Sox, Eddie Joost of the Braves, Augie Galan of the Dodgers, Stan Hack of the Cubs, Jim Tobin of the Braves. 

The Commanders are dotted with stars themselves. On the Army team are such names as Walter Judnich of the Browns, Dario Lodigiani of the White Sox, Mike McCormick of the Reds, Ferris Fain and Al Lien of the Seals, Carl DeRose and Rugger Ardizoia of the Yankees’ Kansas City farm and Bill Schmidt of Sacramento.”  – The Sporting News, October 14, 1943

McClellan Field Commanders Roster:

Player Position
Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P
Kenny Butler OF
Carl DeRose P
Bob Dillinger 2B
Ferris Fain 1B
Al Hanley 3B
Walter Judnich OF
Vince Latino 3B
Dario Lodigiani SS
Joe Maravelli P/OF
Red Renfree Manager
Bill Schmidt P
Malcolm Silva P
Charlie Silvera C
Izzy Smith CF
Mike Suynicki C
Don Brown Scorer
Mike McCormick OF
Jerry Priddy 2B/3B

For the 1944 season, the McClellan Field Commanders picked up where they left off from the previous season as they settled into a rhythm of tallying wins against their competition.  Perhaps to their Central California Servicemen’s League opponents’ collective relief, an order was issued by Major General Withers A. Burress, commanding general of the 100th Infantry Division who recognized that the Army’s ballplayers would better serve in the war effort if they were with combat units (or at least that was how the order to relocate the likes of DiMaggio, “Red” Ruffing and others to the Hawaiian Islands. What actually precipitated the order was the level of competition from the Navy and Marine Corp teams in the Hawaiian baseball leagues was too stiff for the Army and the brass wanted to teach the sea-going branch a lesson.

Although in the Army now, Lieutenant Colonel Leland “Lee” Stanford MacPhail is still ordering ball players around. It was MacPhail who went to General Marshall with the idea of transferring professional players from station compliments to combat divisions. 

Lt. Col. MacPhail made the suggestion for three reasons. The erstwhile fiery guide, “the Gowanus,” realized it wouldn’t hurt the morale of combat units to have real live ball player attached to them. He grew tired of permanent reception and replacement center clubs beating teams representing combat regiments, considered it unfair. With 150 major league players on camp teams, he considered the practice in effect bad for organized baseball.” – “The Press Box,” Charles S. Kerg May 3, 1944 Delta Democrat Times

The orders to dismantle the McClellan team came in April of 1944 that pulled the core talent and sent them to Seattle to await further transport. Joining the former McClellan players in Seattle, Santa Ana’s star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio caught up with the men at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington where he suited up for a game with the local base troops in the Evergreen State on the eve of sailing for the South Pacific.

During the transit from Seattle to Pearl Harbor, the pitching and rolling of the transport ship left the airmen ballplayers laid up with seasickness for several days. Despite exhaustion and being weakened from the inability to eat properly, the newly constituted Seventh Army Air Forces (7th AAF) baseball team, based at Hickam Field, was scheduled for two exhibitions games against a Navy team at Honolulu Stadium in those first few days of early June. In the first game, DiMaggio crush his first of two memorable home runs (one in each game) that landed outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet. The second DiMaggio long-ball was a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). For Dario and the rest of the 7th AAF team, DiMaggio’s home runs were sign of the impending dominance they would experience in the Hawaiian Islands.

7th Army Air Force Roster:

Player Position Former Team
John Andre P Honolulu League
Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P Kansas City
Alphonse Ceriello Semi-Pro
Carl DeRose P Amsterdam
Bob Dillinger 3B Toledo
Joe DiMaggio CF/1B New York Yankees
Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco Seals
Edward Funk P Federalsburg
Joe Gedzius SS Oklahoma City
Hal Hairston P Homestead Grays
James Hill Pensacola, FL
Ed Jaab Moline
Wally Judnich CF/1B St. Louis Browns
Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer SS/1B Tyler, TX
Will Leonard C Oakland, CA
Al Lien P San Francisco Seals
Dario Lodigiani 2B/3B Chicago White Sox
Mike McCormack OF/#B Cincinnati Reds
Arthur Rawlinson Semi-Pro
Charles “Red” Ruffing P New York Yankees
Frank “Pep” Saul P Semi-Pro
Bill Schmidt P Sacramento, CA
Charlie Silvera C Wellsville
Don Smith Seton Hall College
Tom Winsett (manager) Brooklyn Dodgers

For the rest of the Central Pacific League, the season was already underway as the 7th was just getting started with dispatching the competition. On July 20th, the 7th AAF took down the Schofield Barracks Redlanders by a score of 8-4 with DiMaggio being absent with illness since July 9 (he returned to the roster briefly after the 23rd) leaving Dario and the rest of the team to take down the competition. By the middle of August, Lodigiani’s squad was steamrolling the competition despite DiMaggio’s spotty appearances in the lineup. Fellow Bay Area native, first baseman Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) was among the league’s tops in hitting, helping the team to several multi-game win streaks. On August 17th, the Seventh secured their 16th consecutive win.

Listed on the back page are the rosters for both teams. Though the Army squad possessed incredible talent, they were merely the 1944 7th AAF team but augmented with a few players from other Army teams.
The Navy was overloaded with talent from top to bottom in addition to the sheer numbers advantage.

With the league championship under their belts, several of the 7th AAF’s roster were picked for the Army vs Navy All Stars Championship (I.e. Service World Series) that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Having been embarrassed by the AAF team, the Navy pulled all the stops and gathered their best players from around the Pacific Theater as well as the U.S. mainland. The Army pulled their all-stars from among the teams spread throughout Hawaii. Despite their efforts, the Army’s All Stars were beaten by the Navy in four straight games in the best of seven. Having already lost, Army and Navy brass decided to play the entire seven games in order to give the troops quartered in the Islands an opportunity to see a game for a morale boost (the series was further extended to 11 games in total).

USASTAF Program from the USAAF South Pacific Tour played on Guam in late 1945 shows the rosters for both the 58th and the 73rd teams.

Lodigiani’s league and All-Star play got him tapped to join the 1945 Army Air Forces tours of the South Pacific which included Micronesia and the Marianas. With games played between the two touring squads (the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and the 73rd  Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) or the local base teams (often augmented by players from the tour squads), the USAAF played in front of crowds of fatigued flight crews and wounded GIs to lift their spirits.

 

58th Wingmen Roster (1945 USAAF South Pacific Tour):

Player Rank Position Experience
Ed Chandler Cpl P Pacific Coast League
“Chubby” Dean Pfc P Cleveland Indians
Bob Dillinger Pfc IF American Association
Ferris Fain S/Sgt IF Pacific Coast League
George Gill Cpl P Detroit Tigers
“Tex” Hughson Pfc P Boston Red Sox
“Chet” Kehn Pfc P Brooklyn Dodgers
Ed Kowalski Pfc P Semi-Pro
Al Lien Cpl P Pacific Coast League
Art Lilly Cpl IF Pacific Coast League
Dario Lodgiani Sgt IF Chicago White Sox
Johnny Mazur Cpl C Piedmont League
“Mike” McCormick Cpl OF Cincinnati Reds
Buster Mills 1st Lt OF/Mgr Cleveland Indians
Lew Riggs Cpl IF Brooklyn Dodgers
Stan Rojek Sgt IF Brooklyn Dodgers
“Big Bill” Schmidt Sgt P Pacific Coast League
Charlie Silvera Cpl C American Association
Burl Storie S/Sgt C Texas League
Johnny Sturm Sgt IF New York Yankees
Max West Cpl OF Boston Braves
Taft Wright Sgt OF Chicago White Sox

With the war ended officially on September 2 (when the Japanese high command signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri), GIs were now seeking to return home and get back to their lives. Those GIs with the required 85 points were eligible to be sent home (as soon as transport was available) ahead of those who lacked the minimum.

The “Advanced Service Rating Score” point system was intended to provide equity in the demobilization of troops from war service. GIs received one point for each month of military service and one additional point was given for each month of overseas service. Each battle star or decoration earned a soldier 5 points. In addition, troops were awarded 12 points per dependent child (up to a maximum of three children).  Dario Lodigiani, like most of the ballplayers who did not see combat service, lacked the minimum demobilization points. Despite their low points total, 37 baseball players were returned to the States for either discharge or reassignment, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on November 15 aboard the attack transport ship USS Cecil (APA-96), stirring up considerable controversy among other GIs.  Among the 37 were: Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilian Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rojek and Sidney Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Cecil Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean. Lodigiani was discharged from the Army immediately upon arrival while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were stuck overseas.

Technical Sergeant Loren H. Penfield (one of several troops to did so) wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes calling attention to the issue of the players being moved to the head of the demobilization line, “Up until now these men have been rated in the same category as ourselves,” Penfield wrote. “However, it appears that they must have been classified along with the “Trippi “deal,” the technical sergeant referenced similar incident that saw the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, Charlie Trippi, sent back early (from the military) to rejoin the Bulldogs squad, five games into the 1945 NCAA football season. Penfield closed his letter, “Can we be returned to the States for assignment without the required points for discharge?” Despite the brewing controversy for Lodigiani and the other 37 players, the heat was minimal and dissipated as the steady stream of GIs were returned from overseas and discharged.

Lodigiani spent his first peacetime holiday season in four years on U.S. soil as his thoughts were of the coming 1946 season. Seven days after returning to U.S. soil, Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving like none other. President Truman’s 1945 Thanksgiving Proclamation encapsulated the impact of the previous four years along with the challenges that were ahead.

We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.

Triumph over the enemy has not dispelled every difficulty. Many vital and far-reaching decisions await us as we strive for a just and enduring peace. We will not fail if we preserve, in our own land and throughout the world, that same devotion to the essential freedoms and rights of mankind which sustained us throughout the war and brought us final victory.” – President Harry S. Truman, November 12, 1945

Returning to normalcy and the game couldn’t come fast enough for the returning veteran ball players and journeymen like Dario Lodigiani faced many challenges resuming their careers.

Despite landing a roster spot with the White Sox, Dario saw limited time (just 44 games) in what would be his last season in the major league. Dario Lodigiani returned “home” to the Oakland Oaks for the 1947, ‘48 and part of the 1949 seasons before moving across the bay to the San Francisco Seals to play through the 1951 season. From 1952-54, Lodi wound his playing career in the low minors (Class A and C) before hung up his spikes.

Wartime service team baseball service was all but forgotten in the following years but veterans such as Lodigiani could have easily pointed his finger at his war service as a reason his major league career was adversely impacted and cut short as it did for so many of his colleagues. However, Dario never left the game, serving as a minor league manager, a coach and scout (for his beloved White Sox) until his death in 2008 in Napa, California, just 50 miles from his childhood home.

Two simple photos in our collection inspired extensive research into an otherwise unknown ballplayer. Dario Lodigiani’s 70+ years in organized baseball had an extensive impact upon the game. His service in the Army Air Forces afforded him opportunities to play alongside and against some of the the best in the game as well as the with and against his childhood friends (Joe and Dom DiMaggio).

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.

A Hidden Military Baseball Tragedy

Not all of the stories surrounding wartime baseball are happy or pleasant ones. I can imagine that many people have negative reactions to the notion that the game was played among active duty service men and women while folks on the front lines were advancing or defending the cause of freedom and the push against tyrants and their ilk. The very thought of a family member was engaged in a battle in either the European or Pacific Theaters while in another part of the world, service members, rather than supporting or backing up their loved one in the fight, were playing a game. A baseball game.

Many colleagues (in militaria collecting) pursue the painful reminders of the prices paid by service members and their surviving families by gathering such items as posthumous medals (including Purple Heart medals) and documentation. The very real suffering and the finality surrounding the death or disfigurement of a man who was struck down by enemy fire can persist for generations. I can image that a family member might have looked upon the games being played in these two combat theaters and domestically as being frivolous and wasteful. Even for Americans who were compelled to ration everything from food to electricity might have questioned the sensibility surrounding the armed forces’ expenditures in support of the game being played by military personnel, especially where team travel might have been involved during extremely restrictive gasoline rationing.

Ask any veteran – who attended a game and saw the service teams (with former professionals on the rosters) playing games for the purpose of providing an escape from the doldrums and tedium of combat –  their personal perspective. Ask a veteran who was combat wounded – and recovering and attended a game during their healing – how these games impacted their emotional state of mind at that time. Ask the veteran who was afforded a break from combat and invited to participate in a game what it meant to be there, if only for nine innings or escape. Ask those who played ball during their training and benefited from the physical exercise, coordination and accuracy that the game required during their transformation from civilians to soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors.

The game of baseball meant a great deal to those in the armed forces before the war and even more during their time in service. The game has been married to the armed forces since both were in their infancy with townball being played by Continental soldiers. Union troops played ball in the Civil War as both soldiers and captives and the game was taken with American fighting men to far off lands such as the Philippines, China, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America and the Caribbean before World War I.

As someone who loves history and strives to preserve both the artifacts and the history of the individuals that are connected to them, digging into the stories is an automatic activity that I have when I receive an addition to my collection. One of my additions – a photo of a nondescript US Army Air Forces baseball player posing on the diamond – has such a personal and sad story that brings together a few different perspectives of wartime experiences: active duty service, baseball and personal and family loss.

Though there is nothing within the image to give away the first baseman’s identity, team or location, I bought the type-1 photograph hoping to uncover hidden details.

Perhaps it is worth pursuing Mrs. Loiffler and the sergeant who sent her this photo of Bill Thomas at some point. I am satisfied in identifying Thomas and the details surrounding his life and the sad circumstances of his death.

It is no secret that I try to add wartime baseball photographs to my image archive and often times I will pursue something that merely catches my eye, not knowing that if there are any details or a story behind the subject. Often, the images lack anything that can help to shed light on the subject or provide facts to make solid determinations as to what is shown. Several photographs in my collection are merely preserved as unknown military baseball players or games and this image was purchased with that mindset. However when the image arrived, the story quickly changed.

On the back of the photo is a hand-written note from an airman to a woman regarding the ball player. The note indicates that the the subject of the image was deceased as the author made mention of the image being “in memory of a good buddy.”

“Dear Mrs. Maud Loiffler, Here is a picture of Bill I am sure you would like to have.

In memory of a good Buddy
Sgt. Jasper H. Shane”

In addition to the handwritten note is a stamp indicating that the photograph, a type-1 silver gelatin, was taken by a US Army Air Corps staff photographer at the airfield located in Victorville, California. A quick bit of research showed that the base located in this area was George Field (later renamed George Air Force Base) which was home to the Advanced Flying School for training for multi-engine pilots on trainers such as the Curtiss AT-9, T-6 Texan and AT-17 aircraft. The flight training would prepare aviators for service in C-47 Skytrain transports, B-25 Michell or B-26 Marauder medium bombers. In addition to training pilots, George Field was also home to one of the USAAF’s bombardier schools.  Besides the note and the official stamp, affixed to the back is a typed notation that reads:

WILLIAM EDWARD THOMAS

BORN DECEMBER 26, 1916
DECEASED MAY 23, 1943
U.S. AIRFORCE
VICTORVILLE, CA

Attached to the back of the photo, this plate provided great clues that ultimately helped to identify the player and to discover what took his life.

Searching for anyone with such a common name as William Thomas can be exhausting but when there are multiple details such as birth and death dates, narrowing the results is exceedingly simplified. One of the top results that surfaced was a link to a player profile page from, perhaps one of the two most helpful military baseball research sites (baseballinwartime.com and baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com) on the intranet. Aside from the confirmation of the dates of birth and death, the fact that the airman listed on the page was stationed at Victorville and played for the base’s team, the Victorville Bombers. Where this story took a bit of a turn was in the account(s) of his tragic end.

Victorville Bombers – 1943 (source: Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice)

  • 2/Lt. Harold B. Dobson (P)
  • Sgt. John A. Lowry
  • Sgt. William E. Thomas (1B)
  • Dougherty (P)
  • Stock (C)
  • Porter (P)
  • S/Sgt. Anson Gaston (C)
  • Charles Crum
  • Sgt. Gary Carbone (P)
  • Capt. Clifford Papik
  • Sgt. Edward Stelmach
  • Corp. Milton Ruyle

Sergeant William “Bill” E. Thomas’ profile provided two separate stories of the tragic event surrounding the former semi-pro ballplayer’s death and perhaps the reason for the official (read: cover-up) story may have been to soften the blow to his family (he was a newlywed) and to keep wartime baseball from being publicly scrutinized.  The official account detailed that the aircraft, a Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan on which Thomas was embarked, collided with another AT-11 that was on a practice bombing run (training pilots and bombardiers) and inflicted heavy damage to his aircraft sending it plummeting to the ground near Silver Lake, California (in Los Angeles), approximately 90 miles southwest of George Field in Victorville. Losing a husband or a son is unfathomable but certainly a possibility during such a crisis as World War II was. Training losses were certainly not uncommon and were, perhaps even more difficult for surviving family members to stomach than a combat-related death. One can imagine that the actual events of May 23, 1943 would have been considerably more upsetting once the details were made public.

This WWII-era and restored Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan looks very much like the aircraft that crashed taking the lives of three Victorville Bombers players image source: YouTube/sniperjdp).

According to Gary Bedingfield‘s research, rather than a mid-air collision occurring during training, the two AT-11 aircraft hade departed George Field en route to  Las Vegas with the Victorville Bombers team embarked (which also included former semi-pro ball player Sgt. John A. Lowry and former minor leaguer 2nd LT. Hal Dobson) to play a baseball game. During the flight, the pilots of each plane were engaged in unsafe, playful close-in maneuvers that resulted in one of the planes crossing paths with the other leaving Thomas’ Kansan without a tail and utterly uncontrollable. Along with the three ballplayers, their pilot 2nd Lt. William S. Barnes perished when the aircraft crashed (the other plane landed safely). My inquisitiveness leaves me wondering why the aircraft were over Silver Lake when Las Vegas was 275 miles in the opposite direction (190 miles northeast of Victorville)?

Sergeant Thomas’ life was over at 26 years of age. He had only been married six months and had only served in the Army Air Force for just over a year. If he had dreams of playing professional baseball and having a family after the war, they ended in the horrible crash. Thomas’s remains were sent home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he was laid to rest at Saint Peter’s Cemetery.

Perhaps it is good for Military Baseball that the actual details about the collision of the George Field AT-11s didn’t reach the public as it could have been the cause for curtailing or cancelling what had been up to that point in the war a great boost to the morale of the armed forces. By the time of this crash, there had been 33 deaths suffered by former professional and semi-pro ball players 18 were accidents or non-combat-related) and yet the game continued in the service. Perhaps I am only guessing at the reason for the omission but the question remains unanswered.

Establishing an Online Military Baseball Scorecard Archive

This well-weathered scorecard from the USASTAF (United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific) game played by Major League Baseball Stars has seen better days. On the cover is written in pencil, “Names of players Inside. Games played on Guam during August and Sept. 1945.”

Keeping up with an authoring and publishing schedule for two historical artifacts sites (which includes researching) as a husband, father, home-owner and while working full-time (in an unrelated career-field) is, at a minimum, a challenge for me. I will be the first to admit that I am not exactly writing material that is of value to a broad audience (quite to the contrary, there are so few people actually interested in this area of history) and one cannot characterize this material at the same spectrum of “literature” as dime-store novels. However, I trudge along, if only for myself with the knowledge that I have created a body of work from which to build and draw upon to further my interest and passion as well as to maintain an easily-accessible resource to share with colleagues.

I recently published my fiftieth article on this site (yesterday, I published my 125th article on The Veteran’s Collection) which, for me is odd to ponder as I do not consider myself to be a writer.  I digress. In reviewing the various articles that I have written, I start to realize that there is some imbalance regarding the topics that I have covered. I also have taken note of how difficult it can be to find certain articles (especially as I try to cross-reference or simply recall details about an artifact to be used to analyze another).

Most of my collection of baseball and military artifacts are carefully stored away from light (and sight) in order to protect them from decay and degradation as they age. The downside of their inaccessibility becomes readily apparent when the need arises to revisit an artifact for research leading or that I discover that I failed to properly photo-document for an article that I also failed to write. This article is the culmination of these points in that within the process of researching a recent acquisition for an upcoming Chevrons and Diamonds.org article, I realized that I was lacking some coverage pertaining to my growing collection of scorecards and programs from military baseball games.

Lacking coverage, photography or any sort of research notes, this rough-cndition, two-color score card is from the USAAF General Depot #5 All Star Classic game played on Memorial Day, May 30, 1945.

A few months ago, I arrived at a realization that I had a need for comparative analysis of military jerseys (or uniforms in general) and trying to conduct such research across a sporadic span of articles was entirely ineffective. Not having a vehicle to create a study of details and features of each garment left me in struggling (nearly guessing) in the absence of documentation (both written and photographic) for each item that I own or have discovered but not acquired. I was prompted to create a section on this site to serve as place to capture all of the jerseys that I have encountered to provide myself and others with a reference library and so the Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms was born. My present circumstances in seeking details regarding my growing archive of scorecards and programs have led me to repeat these steps once again.

In the coming weeks, I will be creating another archive to showcase military baseball game programs, scorecards, roster sheets and scorebooks. In this area, I will provide images and scans of the documents and shining light onto the various details surrounding each in order to provide a source of research for folks seeking information on games and players. Tying together published articles to specific paper document will also provide context (photographs, details, game narrative or other artifacts from specific games) serving to tell a more complete story.

While searching for (and finding) the only European Theater (ETO) scorecard that I own, my recollection of another scorecard that might be useful in cross-referencing (I mistakenly thought it too was from the ETO) but quickly learned that I never researched, documented or photographed it (once I retrieved the actual piece from storage). The three that I had written about included only two that were from World War II (one is from a WWI-era Army versus Navy game) and the other three were of scorecards that I do not own (denoted below with an asterisk (*):

In revisiting the above articles, it is very apparent that the creation of the scorecard archive will be invaluable for future reference and can serve to meet research needs. It may also help to prevent me from purchasing duplicate scorecards should subsequent versions surface as in my pursuit to establishing a substantial library of these scarce documents.

View the Library of Military Baseball Scorecards, Score-books and Game Programs now.

My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts

The hits just keep coming. I don’t know how to properly assess the current state of the baseball militaria “market,” but I have been seeing quite a spate of historically significant artifacts being listed for sale over the last several months. In previous months (years, actually), the well has been fairly dry in terms of the sorts of pieces that have been turning up but I am in awe the currently emerging trend. In terms of determining some measurement or rate of success, I am taking a bit of a retrospective look into what I have landed as compared to what has been listed (in concert with those items where I was outbid by more aggressive buyers). As with baseball statistics, the rate of success (such as in batting average) is only part of the picture. Yes, I have landed a fair percentage of the artifacts listed at auction, however it is the quality of the items that I brought home that lies at the heart of my success.

Two of the most recent Chevrons and Diamonds articles touched upon baseball in the Pacific Theater with both the All-Stars games in the Central Pacific and the late-war All-Stars Western Pacific tour. While both of these articles spotlighted auctions that I did not win, all four listings (that were covered in the articles) provided me with invaluable insight and research for upcoming efforts. As hard as it was to not have success with securing any of those pieces, what did come home was comparable, if not invaluable for my collection.

While I have several forthcoming articles currently in varying states of research and drafting, I am finding that, for the majority, their focus lies within the realm of baseball within the Pacific theater. Today’s piece lies directly at that epicenter: World War II baseball in the Hawaiian Islands.

In researching so many of the professional players who enlisted during WWII, I have read or listened to many interviews with players discussing their time in the service of their country. Each one of these men with the opportunity to discuss their war service unhesitatingly reflects upon how the nation was unified in the struggle against the tyrannical Axis forces. These men talk of setting aside their ball-playing careers to join millions of Americans who left their jobs and homes to carry the fight to the enemy. I have had the opportunity to speak with a few legends (Bob Feller and Duke Snider, on separate occasions) in the early 1990s to discuss our time serving in the Navy and to exchange our experiences – having them ask ME about what I did and where I went during my naval career was gratifying. However, not all of the players who set aside their professional flannels, spikes, bats and gloves did so without reservations and self-concern.

Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams at the All-Star Game during their incredible, record-setting 1941 Season (image source: National Baseball Hall of Fame).

Without a doubt, one of the most recognizable baseball players of all time is Yankees’ long-time center-fielder, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, simply known as “Joltin'” Joe DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper.” When the United States was drawn into World War II following the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks, Joe DiMaggio had only months earlier, concluded one of the greatest offensive seasons by a ball player. That year saw two accomplishments which, after 76 years, each seemingly remains insurmountable. Aside from Ted Williams’season in which he finished with a .406 batting average (which ranks 18th among single-season records) his .400+ average performance is the last of the 20th Century and the only one since Bill Terry’s .401 average 11 years earlier. Considering those two .400+ batting averages, at the beginning of each successive decade (as compared to the seven time it happened during the 1920s and three times in the teens), the difficulties in hitting were obviously on the rise.

William’s accomplishment aside, a ostensibly impossible (to break) record was breached and a new, significantly higher mark was set by the Yankee’s DiMaggio in 1941. The game of baseball is difficult and using the small wooden bat to make contact with a small leather ball (traveling at speeds ranging from 80-105 mph) is so challenging that missing failing to do so, seven out of 10 attempts is considered an impressive achievement (obviously, Ted Williams’1941 season reflected a failure rate of only six times in ten). Failing to put the ball into play and get on base during a game (or even a brief string of games) is a normal occurrence. It is so normal that when players begin to hit safely in a succession of ball games, players, managers, the press, etc. take notice and talk about it when that streak begins to approach 20 games. By 1941, 26 batters had hit successfully in 30 or more consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles’ (of the National League) “Wee” Willie Keeler holding the record at 45 games (set over the course of the 1896-97 seasons). By today’s standards, 45 games seems to be insurmountable yet Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins reached 38 in 2006 (not to overlook Pete Rose’s 44-game streak in 1978 or Paul Molitor’s 39 in 1987).

More impressive than Keeler’s 45 game-streak was the one accomplished by the Yankee Clipper during the 1941 season. Not only did he surpass Keeler’s mark, he blew past it with 11 additional games, setting the record at 56. Keeler’s record stood for more than four decades and though there were some players who drew close to Willie’s record (Ty Cobb -40- in 1911 and George Sisler -41- in 1922), by 1941, it seemed unreachable. During the streak, both Williams and DiMaggio were slugging it out offensively for both average and power. During DiMaggio’s streak, he would hit .408, clout 15 home runs and drive in 55 runs. He would finish the year in third place behind Williams and Cecil Travis (.357) for batting average and fifth for home-runs (behind Ted Williams-37, Dolph Camilli-34, Charlie Keller-33 and Tommy Henrich-31) with 30. “The Streak” and the .406 seasons are so well-documented and how they happened is known by even the most nominal baseball fan. So impressive was the 56-game streak that mathematical analysis has been brought to bear in order to determine a measurement of probability (or perhaps, impossibility?) of its occurrence.

Joe DiMaggio and his Yankees’ would place a period on the 1941 season by winning the World Series, beating their opponent four games to one on their way to four titles during the decade (after having closed out the 1930s with five titles; four consecutive from 1936-1939). I would be remiss in mentioning that the 1941 National League pennant-winner was my beloved Dodgers having overcome decades of futility on their way to becoming perennial contenders for the next five decades.

It is well-publicized that two days after the Japanese sneak-attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller enlisted into the United States Navy, motivated to serve as so many other American young men (my maternal grandfather, included) in those first few days and weeks. Many from baseball’s major and minor league ranks set their careers aside and joined the fight in the first few weeks. However, several of the games biggest stars did not immediately sign up to serve, Joe DiMaggio included.

Despite the countless images, documents and accounts of Joltin’ Joe’s time during World War II, DiMaggio did not set his career on hold to join the armed forces until February of 1943 after playing the entire 1942 season, despite the early-January, prevailing question (by Commissioner Landis) as to whether the game would continue (and President Roosevelt’s decision and response). Joe was not alone in his avoidance of serving. DiMaggio’s rival batting leader from the Red Sox, Ted Williams hired an attorney to have himself reclassified as 3-A (“Registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents”) being the sole-provider for his mother following receipt of his draft notice in January of 1942. William’s received a torrent of negative publicity and finally enlisted into the Naval Reserve in May but played the entire season (the last game of the year, September 27th, his Red Sox faced DiMaggio’s Yankees where Williams mustered a single, going 1-3 with an intentional walk while Joe was 2-4 scoring two and knocking in three runs, including a 2-run homer) before heading into the Navy’s V-5, aviation cadet training program in early 1943. Joe DiMaggio (apparently begrudgingly) enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on February 17, having previously been granted (like Williams) a 3A deferment status. It should be noted that with the exception of a handful of notable professional ballplayers enlisting in the opening several weeks of the War, most players didn’t join the ranks until the waning months of 1942.

In Joe DiMaggio: A Biography (Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Hitters), according to author David Jones, “DiMaggio resented the war with an intensity equal to the most battle-scarred private. It had robbed him of the best years of his career. When he went into the Army, DiMaggio had been a 28-year-old superstar, still at the height of his athletic powers. By the time he was discharged from the service, he was nearly 31, divorced, underweight, malnourished, and bitter. Those three years, 1943 to 1945, would carve a gaping hole in DiMaggio’s career totals, creating an absence that would be felt like a missing limb.” Though he may have desired to serve as a combat soldier, the Yankee Clipper would find himself serving in a morale-boosting capacity, as a team-member on various Army Air Force service teams, much to enjoyment of thousands of GIs serving both domestically and throughout bases within the Pacific Theater.

By the time that Joe DiMaggio arrived in the Pacific to play baseball with the 7th Army Air Force team (based at Hickam Field), he had already spent the previous 16 months playing for his Santa Ana Army Air Base team as well as an All-Star team managed by Babe Ruth that squared off against the Boston Braves on July 12, 1943.  Nearly a year and half spent away from his $40k+ annual salary as he was earning $50 per month along with his GI-counterparts. Aside from performing for the troops, Joe was away from his wife an their shaky-marriage and their small son.

He suffered, according to William Cole in his September 2010 Honolulu Star Advertiser article, Misery filled baseball star’s days in isles during WWII, considerable gastrointestinal problems due to stress leading to being “admitted to the station hospital at Hickam for eight days” on July 9, 1944. The slugger’s time away from duty continued, as on “July 27 DiMaggio was again hospitalized and returned to duty a month later,” which seemed to develop into a cycle. Cole wrote, “He was rehospitalized Sept. 4 for two weeks. Another hospital trip on Oct. 12 led to a stay at Tripler General Hospital for four days.”  Cole references a 1945 psychiatric report conducted following Joe’s continued hospital visits throughout the remainder of his time in the service, citing” Although he denies nervous or mental disability, he admits that he has always been moody, and it would appear that he has always been high-strung, irritable, easily aroused and quick-tempered.”  According to Cole, “DiMaggio definitely didn’t like the public relations role he was fulfilling.”

The physician noted in his report (as conveyed in Cole’s article), “When he (DiMaggio) was in Honolulu, for instance, he felt he was exploited by being put on exhibition, and, what is more, he feels not to the profit of the Army but rather to increase the income of civilians by gate receipts. He feels that he should have been utilized at all times as a physical instructor, and shows a definite aversion to playing baseball while in the Army.”

Honolulu Stadium (circa 1960s): Drier Manor was located across Isenberg Street (which runs along the bottom edge of this photo) on the right, inside of the left field foul line (image source: scottymoore.net).

Despite the emotional and health issues that were apparently plaguing DiMaggio, he still managed to continue playing baseball for the troops in Hawaii. Days after arriving via an arduous transit (aboard a ship) Joe would participate in a pair of exhibition games played over a five-day period, DiMaggio would crush two memorable home runs, one in each game. The first one would land outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet, in the first game. The second would be a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance.

I have never been interested in collecting Joe DiMaggio. Perhaps my lack of desire for his memorabilia was due to multiple factors ranging from near-loathing of the Yankees due to my allegiance to Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Dodgers to being priced out of the market as a result of the Yankee Clipper’s immense and enduring popularity among baseball collectors. Being interested in DiMaggio’s military service and is playing time during his time on active duty transcends my anti-Yankees stance though still precludes me from affording anything pertaining to his career; especially his stint with the USAAF…until a few weeks ago (more on this ahead).

Sgt. DiMaggio and Petty Officer Reese sign baseballs for Vice Admiral Ghormley and Brigadier General Flood ahead of one of the 1944 Central Pacific Area Championship Series games (image source: Honolulu Star Adviser).

Sgt. DiMaggio poses before batting in a 1944 game at Seattle’s Fort Lawton base. Joltin’ Joe was in Seattle awaiting transport to Hawaii on his way to his 7th AAF assignment (image source: Seattle Times).

A simple internet search for Joe DiMaggio photos from his wartime service yields plenty of images in uniform ranging from his Santa Ana team to one in a Fort Lawton (located in fort Seattle) uniform, however, it is the home uniform of DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Force team that dominates the (internet search) results. The 7th AAF uniform is very distinctive with its dark shell and white sleeves which makes it one of the most recognizable of all World War II known and photographed baseball uniforms. The jersey is a dark shell with white sleeves with distinctive lettering across the chest spelling out 7th AAF in white. The soutache that encircles the collar and frames the placket is a thin white line of trim while each sleeve has a thin dark line of trim located approximately one-inch in from the edge.

The trousers that accompany this uniform appear to be color-matched to the dark shell of the jersey but the trim on the pants-legs appears to consist of two 1/2-inch vertical stripes extending from the waistband to the cuffs. The cap is also color-matched but with thin, white trim sewn over each seam of the crown’s six panels.

Due to DiMaggio’s enduring popularity among collectors and fans, this (7th AAF) home jersey was one of the first military baseball uniform reproductions to be made (if not the first) by Ebbets Field Flannels (which they mistakenly identified as a road uniform). It is highly-likely that this jersey is the most-popular repro military baseball garment sold (by any maker) which is why, it should be updated to be historically-accurate, though it was originally made based a photographic study as no known examples survived through the decades.

DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from right) with his 1943 Santa Ana Air Force team (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

One of the most difficult challenges faced by companies in reproducing from black and white images (when an original uniform is unavailable) is color-accuracy. To even the most experienced photography analysts, discerning unknown colors is a near-impossibility. In a conversation (regarding my recent find) with WWII military baseball expert, Gary Bedingfield, while discussing the 7th AAF uniforms, he shared with me a conversation (via an exchange in correspondence in multiple letters traded between Bedingfield and the baseball veteran) that he had with Yankees’ back-up catcher and DiMaggio’s 7th AAF team, Charlie Silvera.

Showing the 7th AAF team at Hickam’s Furlong Field stadium, their home venue (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

“Their (the 7th AAF) home uniforms were dark green and white,” Bedingfield relayed to me, “although I’ve never seen a color photo of them, the always look black and white.” Bedingfield continued, “they were softball uniforms (that had been) donated to the team.”

In addition to what can be found on internet searches of the dark/white home variant, there are a few photos of the 7th AAF team (including DiMaggio) wearing the road version of the uniform. Not quite as distinctive, this uniform is entirely gray with a thin, dark line of soutache on the placket, around the collar and on the sleeves. The dark lettering across the chest is aligned in an arc (rather than straight across as is on the home uniform).

Now that I have your attention (or perhaps I lost you, dear reader, after taking you through 2,600 words in such a lengthy 3,400+  word-story), I can delve into the incredible (to me, at least) find while searching through online auction listings.

While seeking something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a scantly-described (no details regarding size, age, etc.) auction listing that was rife with misspellings but displayed an incredible, type-1 photograph of the “Yankee Clipper” wearing the road gray uniform of the 7th AAF. The listing had one person watching and no bids with less than 24 hour remaining and the price was extremely low for what this was. I hurriedly did some research of the photo in trying to determine when and where it was taken and I zeroed in on the stadium in the background and the photographer’s marking in the lower left corner.

The Prize Photo: Joe DiMaggio, taken in June of 1944 as he poses during a break in the action at Honolulu Stadium for Hawaiian Photographer, Tai Sing Loo (author’s collection).

It was obvious to me that the photo was snapped at Honolulu Stadium, the capital city’s all-wooden ballpark (affectionately dubbed, the “Termite Palace” for reasons that require no explanation) with its unusual grandstand design and the facade on the face of both the upper and lower stands. The photographer, Tai Sing Loo, a well-known Hawaiian photog who snapped some of the most iconic imagery of the Pearl Harbor attack as well as of legendary surfer and renowned athlete, Duke Kahanamoku, snapped and printed the photograph during the game action during one of the two exhibition games soon after DiMaggio arrived on the Island.

I had no reservations in setting up my bid, hoping for the best and that no one else found the image as I had. When the auction closed the next day, I was elated to see that mine was the winning bid and I quickly paid the seller for the the photo. After a few days, I received a notice of shipment without a tracking number (it was shipped very economically, without insurance and tracking!!) I prayed and hoped that it would arrive safely and nervously anticipated its arrival. After a few days, I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I pulled the envelope from my mailbox. I quickly opened the parcel to see that the photo was indeed a Type-1 and in excellent condition.

One of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of this photo surrounds a uniform element that is visible on DiMaggio’s left sleeve. In the three examples of DiMaggio in the uniform, none show the 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on the jersey as is clearly visible in the image that I acquired. In viewing the images of the pages of the program from the fourth game of the Central Pacific Championship Series played between the All-Stars of the Navy and Army, there are hints of what appears to be SSIs on the sleeves of both Ferris Fain and Dario Lodigiani in their player photos. Without the insights from the players themselves, there is seemingly no way to know when or why the SSI was used.

As incredible as it was to add such a fantastic photograph of a baseball legend to my collection, it wasn’t the end of my magical run of success with these significant military baseball-related artifacts from the Pacific Theater.

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