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From Storekeeper to Middle Infielder: the Dolphins’ Al Brancato

Note: This is second of a multi-part story. See Part 1: Al Brancato: A Homegrown Athletic Infielder

As Brancato settled into his Boston surroundings, the Philadelphia Athletics were firmly settled into the American League cellar, dropping nearly 100 games as they finished with a 55-99 won-lost record. Continued labor woes befell the Athletics with a considerable number of their players serving in the armed forces and with the war progressing slowly on all fronts, it was clear that all clubs would be losing still more players in the coming months.

As the oft-borrowed line from Alexander Pope states, “Hope springs eternal”[1] for the coming baseball season once Valentine’s Day arrives and players report to their respective training camps. With travel restrictions in place, the A’s, like all the northern major league clubs, were forced to train in their local region in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. On March 28, two weeks before opening day of the 1943 season, SK2/c Brancato paid a visit to the A’s spring camp. “Brancato, on leave for only a few hours from his duties as a second class storekeeper on a cruiser, rushed to Wilmington to see his old mates,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stan Baumgartner wrote of the former A’s shortstop’s visit, “and Connie Mack immediately put him in the game.” Brancato was inserted into an intra-squad game pitting the Athletics starters against the “Yannigans,” a squad of the club’s backup players.[2]

The rusty shortstop was added to the Yannigans roster and his impact was immediate, despite an 18-month hiatus from the game. From his familiar shortstop position, Brancato was back in the saddle turning a double-play. “Gosh, it felt great to get out, feel a bat between my hands and stop a few hot ones” Brancato told Baumgartner after the game. In his two at bats, Brancato rolled out to second base and hit into a double play. “I hope they never stop baseball,” Brancato said, commenting on the potential cessation of the game during the war, “We all want it. We want to read about it.” With three months before his ship was set to enter active fleet service, Brancato reflected upon the unknown future, “As soon as we can finish up this little business, which I guess I will be in up to my ears in a few months, I want to come back and pick up where I left off.” Understanding the considerable boost to troop morale the game provided troops, Brancato concluded, “I hope the men at home keep the ball flying.”[3]

With the June 30, 1943 commissioning of the USS Boston, Brancato was officially transferred from the Receiving Station, Boston to the ship. The Boston crew took notice of their ex-ballplayer-turned-storekeeper, “The sporting world has given to the USS Boston a real big leaguer in the person of Al Brancato, SK,” the ship’s newspaper, The Bean Pot, reported with considerable optimism. “Playing 3rd and SS with the As (sic) for three seasons, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame when he enlisted in the Navy, 1942.” Noting Al’s vice-free living, the July 17, 1943 Bull Pen article stated, “Al’s total abstinence knocks for a loop the crack-pot notion of some people that all the sailors ‘rush in where angels fear to tread,’” while emphasizing Brancato’s avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.[4]

For the next several months, the new cruiser and her crew were put through numerous exercises and evaluations during sea trials in preparation for wartime fleet duties. Every system and component from the propulsion plant, maneuvering equipment, guns, and detection systems along with her crew’s proficiency in operations were evaluated to determine corrective actions that were needed. Once the ship’s sea trials and post-shakedown maintenance were completed, USS Boston set out for the Pacific by way of the Panama Canal. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1943, the ship reported for duty.[5]

USS Boston muster sheet dated January 19, 1944 showing Brancato’s transfer to the Pearl Harbor Sub Base, authorized on January 14 (source: National Archives/Ancestry.com).

Honolulu, a hotbed of both military and civilian baseball for decades, saw an influx of former major and minor leaguers serving in the armed forces. They were assigned to area military installations and added to their respective baseball teams. The 1943 champions of the Hawaii League, the Hawaiian Defense League and the Army-Navy Series, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins consisted largely of former professionals, featuring former major leaguers Jimmy Gleeson, outfielder, Cincinnati Reds; Rankin Johnson, pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics; and Walt Masterson, pitcher, Washington Senators. Al Brancato was ashore at Waikiki Beach on liberty soon after his ship docked at Pearl Harbor. “I ran into Walt Masterson and Jimmy Gleeson at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. They were attached to the submarine base. It was they who told me about the Navy baseball setup on the island.” No doubt with some assistance from Masterson and the local Navy brass, Brancato’s days aboard the Boston were numbered. “I was able to get transferred from the Boston to the sub base where I worked in the spare parts department of the ship’s store.”[6] On January 14, 1944, SK2/c Brancato was transferred from the USS Boston to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base (Base 128).[7]

As the Honolulu League’s playoffs, the Cronin Championship Series (named to honor Red Sox manager, Joe Cronin who was the opening day featured guest[8]), were winding down by early April, 1944, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were preparing for their upcoming Central Pacific Area Service League (CPASL) season, holding practices as the roster was assembled under Masterson, who had taken over the reins as manager. With many returning veterans, the former Senators pitcher added former Yankee Ken “Ziggy” Sears and Joe Grace from the Browns. Masterson also added three Philadelphia Athletics: pitcher Bob Harris, Al Brancato, and Bruce Konopka, who had played with Al on the Yannigans team in March, 1943.

1944 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” Roster

PlayerPositionFormer
Arnie “Red” AndersonPChattanooga (SOUA)
Norman Gene “Pee Wee” AtkinsonCSemi-Pro
Howard BassPRiverside (CALL)
Tom Bishop3B/SSSemi-Pro
Earl J. Brady2B/3B
Al BrancatoSS/3BAthletics
Jim BrennanP
Neil CliffordCSt. Paul (AA)
Bob DurkinRFSemi-Pro
Gordon Evans2B/LFCharleston (MATL)
Andy F. FelonkOF
Joseph “Joe” GraceOF/1BBrowns
Robert A. “Bob” HarrisPAthletics
Frank Hecklinger1BNew Bern (COPL)
George (Nig) HenryP
John “Hubie” Jeandron2B/3BPort Arthur (EVAN)
A. Rankin JohnsonPAthletics
Bruce Konopka1BAthletics
N. J. “Herb” MadiganPAmateur
Walt MastersonP/MGRSenators
Bob “Lee” McCorkleCValdosta (GAFL)
Fred MerhoffOFSpringfield College (MA)
Andy J. MeyersAmateur
Don MeyersOFSemi-Pro
Maurice “Mo” MozzaliLF/1B/CFSemi-Pro
Romie (“Roman”?) Okarski3BAppleton (WISL)
John PowellOF
Norm S. RoosePAmateur
Ken “Ziggy” SearsC/1BYankees
Oscar SessionsPU.S. Navy
Phil S. SimioneSS/OFU.S. Navy
Frank T. (“Floyd”?) SniderRFDothan (GAFL)
Eddie StutzPSan Francisco (PCL)
Russ WardINF
Clovis “Bob” White2BElizabethton (APPY)
While this roster reflects the personnel for the entire season, the team number at any given time was smaller due to personnel movement and changes. The 1944 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins played in the Central Pacific Area and Hawaii Leagues concurrently. In the Hawaii League, they were referred to simply as “Navy.” Some of the men listed played on the Sub Base club, effectively a split-squad that competed in the 14th Naval District League in 1944.

Oahu continued to see an influx of Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel who possessed resumes with professional, semipro and collegiate experience. The Navy disseminated their talent among the many installations on the island as well as to other island bases. Army leadership, eager to turn the tables on the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s 1943 championship, began to amass their incoming talent predominantly on the Hickam Field-based Seventh Army Air Force team and would continue to stack their roster throughout the early weeks of the season.

Al Brancato in his Navy flannels with a bird’s eye view during the 1944 season (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

Anticipating the 1944 CPA Service and Hawaii League seasons, the two Oahu papers carried details of the noteworthy baseball talent Future Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Mize headlined a group of major leaguers who had arrived since the end of the 1943 baseball season. Eager to showcase the baseball players and to capitalize on their talent for the war effort, administrators planned an exhibition tilt pitting the Major League All-Stars against the local stars for the end of April. In order to prepare the All-Stars for the event, the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Dolphins hosted the big leaguers for an April 19 contest on their home diamond, Weaver Field.

April 19, 1944 Major League All-Stars Line-up:

NamePositionFormer
George “Skeets” DickeyCWhite Sox
Johnny Mize1BGiants
Barney McCosky2BTigers
Johnny LucadelloSSBrowns
Marvin Felderman3BCubs
Tom WinsettLFDodgers
Joseph “Joe” GraceCFBrowns
Vern OlsenRFCubs
Hugh CaseyPDodgers
Tom FerrickPIndians
Bill “Dutch” HollandPPittsfield (CAML)
Pee Wee Reese, suffering from a foot injury, was named to the roster but replaced by Johnny Lucadello

Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins April 19, 1944 Lineup:

NamePositionFormer
Neil CliffordCSt. Paul (AA)
Frank Hecklinger1BNew Bern (COPL)
Clovis “Bob” White2BElizabethton (APPY)
John “Hubie” Jeandron3BPort Arthur (EVAN)
Al BrancatoSSAthletics
Frank T. (“Floyd”?) SniderRFDothan (GAFL)
John PowellCF
Maurice “Mo” MozzaliLFSemi-Pro
Oscar SessionsPU.S. Navy
N. J. “Herb” MadiganPAmateur
The 1943 Dolphins dominated in their leagues. Their loss to the Major League All-Stars on April 19 indicated the uphill battle the team faced as the opposing teams saw an influx of professional talent.
Scorecards from the April 19, 1944 Navy vs All-Stars game (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The big leaguers got the best of the Dolphins behind the bat of Johnny Mize, who led with a home run, double, and two singles in the 9-3 victory. The Navy managed three hits with Al Brancato accounting for an eighth inning round-tripper.[9]

Chickamauga Park at the Schofield Barracks played host to another all-star competition that saw the Navy face off against the Army before 18,000 GIs.[10] The Navy hit parade was led by second baseman Johnny Lucadello and former Indians pitcher Tom Ferrick, playing in right field, as both went three-for-five at the plate. In the top of the first with Navy runners at every station, third baseman Al Brancato wiped the bases clean as he drove in three runs with a timely base hit, putting the Navy on top. The former Athletics shortstop was two-for-three on offense. Ahead of the May 7 regular season start of the Hawaii Baseball League and May 17 commencement of the CPA Service League and with just three April 1944 exhibition games under his belt, it appeared that Brancato was beginning to establish himself as a formidable offensive force in the Hawaiian tropics.

Ten days after the game at Weaver Field, the Major League All-Star squad, which this time included Pee Wee Reese, Al Brancato and Eddie Pellagrini as starting position players, faced the Honolulu League All-Stars for a game that benefited War Bond sales. The April 29 War Bond Game was played at Honolulu Stadium.

1944 – April 29 – Major League All Stars – War Bond Game – Honolulu Stadium. Front Row : Johnny Lucadello (SP “A” 1/c), Leo Visintainer BM1/c), Pee Wee Reese (CSP “A”), Eddie Pellagrini (SP “A” 1/c), Al Brancato (SK2/c), Marvin Felderman (SP “A” 1/c) Middle: J. W. Falkenstine (LTjg), Wyman (batboy), Hugh Casey (SP “A” 1/c), Walter Masterson (CSP “A”), Tom Winsett (Lt. Army), Jack Hallett (SP “A” 2/c) Back: Barney McCosky (SP “A” 1/c), Johnny Mize (SP “A” 2/c), James “Art” Lilly (“BSM2”), George “Skeets” Dickey (SP “A” 2/c), Joe Grace (SP “A” 1/c), Bob Harris (SP “A” 1/c), Tom Ferrick (SP “A” 1/c), Wes Schulmerich (LT), Vern Olsen (SP “A” 1/c), Joe Rose (announcer) (Photo courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.)

CPA Service League

  • Aiea Naval Hospital “Hilltoppers”
  • Aiea Naval Receiving Station/Barracks “Maroons”
  • Kaneohe Naval Air Station “Klippers”
  • Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
  • Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
  • Wheeler Army Air Field “Wingmen”
  • *Schofield Barracks “Redlanders”
  • *South Sector “Commandos”

*Played only in the second half of the season.

Hawaii League

  • Athletics
  • Braves
  • Hawaiis
  • Navy/ Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”
  • Seventh Army Air Force (7th AAF) “Flyers”
  • Tigers
  • Wanderers

Based upon their 1943 success and a bolstered 1944 roster, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins were the early-season favorites to repeat as champions in their respective leagues. However, out of the gate, the Sub Base opened with a loss in the CPASL but claimed a 3-0 victory over the Braves in the Hawaii League. On May 25, the Dolphins’ Bob Harris pitched a two-hit, 4-0 shutout over Wheeler Field as Brancato went two-for three with an RBI and a run-scored.[11] By the end of May, the Dolphins were in third place behind Kaneohe (4-0) and Aiea Hospital (3-1) in the CPASL with one win and two losses.[12]

To start June, the Dolphins were 1-3 in the CPA Service League but were out in front in the Hawaii League’s standings at 6-1. Al Brancato was hitting for power and leading the Hawaii League with a .400 slugging percentage as his team was likewise leading in team batting with a .267 average. Brancato’s .400 batting average had him second in the Hawaii League’s standings behind the Braves shortstop Ernest “Sparky” Neves.[13]

This page from the 1944 Williams Sportlight roster lists and schedule for the third round of the Hawaii Baseball League came from Brancato’s personal collection (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As the Dolphins’ CPA woes continued with mounting losses parking the Subs firmly at the bottom of the standings, the situation was made bleaker as Joe DiMaggio, Ferris Fain, Dario Lodigiani, and a host of other former major leaguers arrived on the island on June 3 and were promptly assigned to the 7th AAF squad. However, on June 5 as DiMaggio and company made their debut at Honolulu Stadium in front of 21,000 attendees against the seemingly hapless Dolphins in a Hawaii League matchup, the Sub Base prevailed 6-2, despite the “Yankee Clipper’s” ninth-inning, 435-foot bomb over the venue’s left field wall. Navy bats accounted for 8-hits with Mozzali, Snider and Brancato each garnering two. Brancato, playing at short, recorded two putouts and four assists in support of Bob Harris’ mound duties. Stroking a single and a double, Brancato also accounted for the game’s only stolen base and tallied a run.[14]

7th Army Air Force Fliers:

PlayerPositionFormer
John AndrePHonolulu League
Renaldo “Rugger” ArdizoiaPKansas City (AA)
James AshworthCHelena (CSTL)
John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk3BPerth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)
Alfonso “Al” CerielloIFSemi-Pro
Joseph ClarkCoach
Carl DeRosePAmsterdam (CAML)
Bob Dillinger3BToledo (AA)
Joe DiMaggioCF/1BYankees
Ferris Fain1BSan Francisco (PCL)
Edward FunkPFederalsburg  (ESHL)
Joseph “Joe” GedziusSSSpokane (WINT)
Vincent GenegrassoTrainer
Joe Gordon2B/SSYankees
Hal HairstonPHomestead Grays
James HillCPensacola, FL
Ed JaabOFMoline
Walter “Wally” JudnichCF/1BBrowns
Cornel George “Kearny” KohlmeyerSS/1BTyler (ETXL)
Don Lang1BKansas City (AA)
Will LeonardCOakland (PCL)
Al LienPSan Francisco (PCL)
Dario Lodigiani2B/3BWhite Sox
Myron “Mike” McCormickOF/3BReds
Gerald “Jerry” Priddy2BSenators
Arthur RawlinsonIFSemi-Pro
Charles “Red” RuffingPYankees
Frank “Pep” SaulPSeton Hall College
Bill SchmidtPSacramento Solons (PCL)
Don SchmidtSeton Hall College
John ShumbresCoach
Charlie SilveraCWellsville (PONY)
Tom WinsettOF/Mgr.Dodgers
The 7th’s opening day roster differed greatly by June with the arrival of the major leaguers from the west coast.

By the middle of June, it was apparent that the Sub Base was deeply submerged beneath an insurmountable deficit in the CPA Service League with Pee Wee Reese’s Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers seated at the top with the 7th AAF a game behind.[15] Meanwhile, the Dolphins held a 2.5 game advantage over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League with an 11-2 record.

The Hawaiian sun and beaches had an incredibly positive effect on Al Brancato’s bat. By June 20, the Philadelphian’s batting average not only climbed to the top of Hawaii League standings but also was nearly 10 points over .400 as he helped to push his league-leading team’s .271 average higher. With 44 at-bats, Brancato was leading the league in hits and runs scored. Brancato’s 23 total bases were also second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 24.[16]

The CPA League wound down the first half of the season with the Aiea Naval Hospital and the 7th AAF tied for first. Aiea defeated the 7th to claim the first-half crown, which guaranteed the squad a berth in the late summer championships. While the CPA League enjoyed a break, the Hawaii League continued play, heading into the Independence Day holiday. On July 2, a rematch between the Sub Base and 7th AAF took place at Honolulu Stadium in front of the venue’s largest crowd on record. The fans were treated to a pitching duel that saw the Army’s Eddie Funk match Eddie Stutz inning-for-inning through 11 scoreless innings. The Navy’s Stutz allowed a single to Jerry Priddy of the 7th AAF in the top of the first. Stutz allowed one additional baserunner via a walk through eleven innings. The Seventh’s Funk surrendered safeties in the bottom half of the first (2), second (1), eighth (1), and tenth (1) innings. Stutz’s tank running on empty in the bottom of the 12th led to the 7thAAF bats to capitalize, touching him for a walk and four hits to break the scoreless tie and take a 4-0 lead. The Navy bats were shut down by Funk in the bottom of the 12th to ice the 4-0 victory, shaving the Dolphins’ Hawaii League lead to 1.5 games. Brancato was 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base in the loss.[17]

Four different wartime newsletters with articles mentioning Brancato including the USS Boston’s “Bean Pot,” Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s “Patrol,” and Aiea Naval Hospital’s “Hospital Hi Lites” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Mid-July saw the 3-3 Dolphins sitting in the middle of the pack in the CPA Service League[18] but they were maintaining their 1-1/2 game lead over the 7th AAF in the Hawaii League standings with a record of 15-4.[19] Two weeks after falling to the 7th AAF, the Navy looked to avenge their 4-0 loss but faced an uphill battle. As if seeing a refreshed Joe DiMaggio was not enough of a challenge, the 7th was further bolstered with the arrival of the Yankee Clipper’s former teammate, Joe Gordon. Twenty-six thousand spectators witnessed the Navy’s shellacking at the hand of the Fliers. While Gordon and DiMaggio batted a combined 2-for-8 from the middle of the order, it was the bottom of the Seventh’s lineup that raked Navy pitching for the lion’s share of offense. First baseman Ferris Fain was 2-3 with   two runs scored, a double and a home run. Will Leonard and pitcher Al Lien were both 2-4. Of the 8 runs scored, Dario Lodigiani matched Fain’s tallies while Mike McCormick, DiMaggio, Priddy and Leonard accounted for the balance with one run each. For the Navy, Brancato was 1-3 with a walk, accounting for a fourth of the Sub Base’s hit total in the 8-1 loss.[20]

In a July 23 Hawaii circuit matchup against the Tigers, Brancato set the league mark with 11 assists in a nine-inning game. Brancato also had one putout and committed one error.[21]

Trailing the 7th AAF by one game in the Hawaii League, the Sub Base nine was still very much in the race as July came to a close.[22] In the CPA league standings, it was a three-way race between the Aiea Hilltoppers, the 7th AAF and the Kaneohe Klippers, with the Dolphins trailing the lead pack by three games. Following an offensive slump with a zero-for-15 hitless streak,[23] Brancato slipped to second in the Hawaii League’s batting race with a .366 average behind Jerry Priddy’s .390. Brancato still held on to the top spots in hits (30), runs scored (21), total bases (37), and walks (22) and was fourth in RBI.[24]

With the three-way race atop the CPA Service League standings between Aiea Naval Hospital (10-4), 7th AAF (10-4) and NAS Kaneohe (10-5), the Pearl Harbor Sub Base was jockeying for position behind the leaders as they defeated the Aiea Navy Barracks on August 4. Brancato, Joe Grace and Mo Mozzali led the Dolphins’ offensive output. Brancato opened the Sub Base’s scoring with a solo home run in the fourth inning. In the eighth, with Mozzali on base, Neil Clifford singled Mo home for the second tally. Trailing 5-2 in the ninth, Mozzali stroked a four-bagger with Merhoff on base to pull the Dolphins within a run. Joe Grace followed with a solo shot to tie the game. Gordon Evans singled and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Neil Clifford singled and plated Evans for the go-ahead score. The Sub Base victory closed their gap in the standings to 2.5 games.[25]

Over in the Hawaii League, the 7th AAF extended their 17-game win streak after defeating the Braves, 5-2 on August 4. The Sub Base squad kept pace but were 2.5 games off the lead.[26]

Halfway through August as the seasons were inching towards the close, the Dolphins were chipping away at their deficits in both leagues’ standings. In the CPA, they were two games out of second place while in the Hawaii loop, they trailed the 7th by one in the win column.[27]  As of August 18, in the CPA league, Brancato’s offensive production had him situated in the ninth position with an average of .268 while his Hawaii League numbers kept him atop the heap at .373, with 33 hits in 98 at-bats. While Joe DiMaggio (16-for-38, .421) and Bob Dillinger (16-for-65, .382) carried better averages, they had significantly fewer appearances at the plate.[28]

Honolulu Advertiser’s artist Art Winburg spotlighted Brancato’s Hawaii League performance in this 1944 cartoon (Honolulu Advertiser/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With 110 or more at-bats, Brancato’s .295 average placed him 6th in the CPA batting title race with five days remaining in August. In 34 CPA service league games, he had 36 hits in 132 at bats and 50 total bases. With Pee Wee Reese voted in at shortstop, Brancato’s fantastic glove and bat work made him fan-favorite selection at third base on the Navy All-Star team.[29] The Pearl Harbor nine continued to win in the CPA circuit but as powerful as the Dolphins were down the stretch, it was a two-horse race between the Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers and the 7th AAF. The Subs trailed the 7th by 4.5 games and were 1.5 games behind the Aiea Hospital nine by August 27.

The 7th AAF secured the second-half CPA Service League crown by defeating the Aiea Hilltoppers, 3-2, on August 30. With a record of 21 wins and five losses and two remaining games to be played in the league’s season, the Fliers secured the opportunity to face the Hilltoppers in the three-game CPA Service League championship series.[30]

In a meaningless CPA league game, the Sub Base Dolphins hosted the 7th AAF at Weaver Field and were blanked on the pitching of Don Schmidt. Flier bats accounted for all the offense as the Subs dropped their final game in the loop, 7-0. Finishing in third place behind the 22-5 first-place Seventh Army Air Force (22-5) and Aiea Naval Hospital (19-8), the Sub Base nine concluded the season with a respectable 16-11 record.[31] Brancato’s batting production tailed off in the final week of the season as he finished out of the top ten at .274.[32]

The Sub Base club closed out the Hawaii League regular season with a 9-5 loss at the hands of the 7th Army Air Force. The Fliers claimed their 28th consecutive circuit win while clinching the championship. The Dolphins fell victim to four Flier home runs at the hands of Ferris Fain, Walt Judnich, Joe Gordon and Don Lang, Brancato and Grace were each one-for-three and accounted for two runs apiece. The Navy finished the season in second place with a 27-9 record behind the Seventh’s won-loss record of 31-4. Both teams qualified for the League’s championship playoffs known as the Cartwright Series (named to recognize longtime Hawaii resident and baseball pioneer, Alexander Cartwright[33]), along with the Braves and Hawaiis, respectively the number three and four Hawaii League finishers.

After leading all Hawaii League batters throughout the season, Al Brancato’s reduced offensive production opened the door for others to surpass him in the batting average rankings in the first week of September. At the season’s end, Brancato (.339) was firmly in third place behind the 7th’s Bob Dillinger (.400) and Joe Grace (.372) while topping the league in hits (43), runs (32), and walks (35). He finished tied with Joe Gordon and John Jeandron for the lead in doubles (11).[34] Al Brancato was an easy pick at shortstop for the Hawaii League season-end All-Star honors.

Radio personality Joe Rose interviewing (left to right) Walt Masterson, Rankin Johnson, Al Brancato and Bob Harris (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.). Walt Masterson being inteviewed – Dick Keller, Joe Rose, Masterson, Rankin Johnson, Brancato, Bob Harris

After winning their first game in the Cartwright Series, defeating the Braves 5-4, the Navy nine dropped their next game to the Hawaiis, 4-1. [35] The Series finale fittingly pitted two top teams, the Fliers and Dolphins, against each other. However the Navy looked to gain an advantage by adding the newly arrived Phil Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio to the lineup. The 7th AAF jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the third before the Navy began to claw their way back into the game. Scoring a run in the fourth and fifth innings, the Navy trailed 6-4 after seven innings. The Fliers went up by three, tallying another run in the top of the eighth which the Navy matched in the bottom half of the frame. Pitching a complete game, the Navy’s Walt Masterson held the Fliers scoreless in the top of the ninth. However, the opposing pitcher, Al Lien, did the same to close out the 7-5 victory and secure the Cartwright flag. Of the 11 Navy hits and five runs, Phil Rizzuto’s four-for-five at the plate and two runs scored added considerable pop to the offense. Ken “Ziggy” Sears accounted for two of the Navy’s tallies with a pair of solo home runs. In the three games, Brancato was two-for-fourteen combined.[36]

Despite Al Brancato’s end of season slump, he feasted on outstanding pitching from a mix of major, minor, and semi-professional-experienced hurlers. He continued to refine his defensive skills and to live up to Connie Mack’s (then recent) claim, stating that Brancato had one of the greatest throwing arms in baseball.[37] In a July Hawaii League tilt against the Wanderers, Brancato’s strength caught sportswriter Carl Machado’s attention. “Al Brancato showed his shotgun arm after muffing Iwa Mamiya’s grounder, retrieving the ball to make the play at first in time.”[38]

The stacked 7th Army Air Force squad dominated in both the CPA Service and Hawaii Leagues with three future Hall of Fame players anchoring the offensive juggernaut. While the faces of the Army’s senior leaders were alight with smiles, the Navy had plans of their own for the next few weeks. Though the monsoon season would arrive in November, the Navy was planning to “reign” on the Army’s parade.

Stay tuned for part 3.


[1] Pope, Alexander, “An Essay on Man,” 1734.

[2] Baumgartner, Stan, “A’s Regulars Trounce Yannigans, 4-2,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 1943: p22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Sportlight,” The Bean Pot/USS Boston shipboard newspaper, July 17, 1943: p2.

[5] “Boston VI (CA-69),” Naval History and Heritage Commandhttps://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/boston-vi.html, Accessed July 22, 2022.

[6] Crissey, Harrington E., Jr., Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-Fs – Vol. 2: The American League, 1982: p100.

[7] U.S. Navy Muster Sheet, USS Boston, January 19, 1944, Ancestry.com.

[8] Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p60.

[9] “Big League Stars Defeat Navy, 9 To 3,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 20, 1944: p8.

[10] Vandergrift, K.S. Capt., “Major League Stars Blank Army Team 9-0,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 1 1944: p8.

[11] Fowler (“Chief”), “Sub Base Wins on Harris 2-hitter,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 26, 1944: p12.

[12] Fowler (“Chief”), “Aiea Hospital Plays Wheeler,” The Honolulu Advertiser, May 30, 1944: p11.

[13] “Hawaii League Notes,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, June 4, 1944; p14.

[14] Kim, Bill, “Joe DiMaggio Thrills Record Baseball Mob,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 5, 1944: p8-9.

[15] Fowler, Chas., Masterson Pitches Sub Base to Victory,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 16, 1942: p12-13.

[16] “Brancato Pacing Hawaii League Batters with Average of .409,” The Honolulu Advertiser, June 20, 1944: p10-11.

[17] Kim, Bill, “7th AAF Triumphs in 12 Innings,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 3, 1944: p10-11.

[18] “CPA League standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 18, 1944: p8.

[19] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 16, 1944: p16.

[20] Machado, Carl, “Fliers Now Leading In Hawaii League,“ Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 17, 1944: p8.

[21] “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 1, 1944: p9.

[22] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, July 30, 1944: p18.

[23] “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.

[24] “Jerry Priddy Paces Hawaii Loop Batters,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 4, 1944: p6.

[25] Fowler, Chas (“Chief”), “K-Bay Edges Hilltoppers, 3-2 In 10 Innings,” Sub Base Wins 6-5,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 5, 1944: p6.

[26] “The Williams Sportlight Standings of the League,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 6, 1944: p18.

[27] “Baseball Standings,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 14, 1944: p8.

[28] “Leading Batters,” Al Karasick’s Spotlite on Sports, August 19, 1944; p9.

[29] “Diamond Dust,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 28, 144: p8.

[30] Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF Captures CPA 2nd Half Title with 3-2 Win Over Aiea,” The Honolulu Advertiser, August 30, 1944: p10.

[31] Fowler (“Chief”), “7th AAF and Hilltoppers Score Wins,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 2, 1944: p8.

[32] “Ferris Fain is Bat Champ,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 4, 1944: p8.

[33] Bedingfield, Gary, Baseball in Hawaii During WWII, 2021: p8.

[34] “Bob Dillinger Cops ’44 Batting Crown,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 14, 1944: p8.

[35] “Sub Base Bows to Hawaiis, 4-1,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 14, 1944: p10.

[36] “Judnich Clouts Two Homers as Fliers Cop Cartwright Title,” The Honolulu Advertiser, September 18, 1944: p8.

[37] “Shadows,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 7, 1944: p8.

[38] Machado, Carl, “Hawaii Loop Chatter..,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 15, 1944: p15.

Al Brancato: A Homegrown Athletic Infielder

Note: This is the first in a multi-part series documenting the wartime service of Philadelphia Athletics infielder, Al Brancato.

Nicknamed “the Termite Palace,” the wooden Honolulu Stadium, opened in 1926, hosted the “All Americans” in 1934 for an exhibition game as the squad of major leaguers, featuring the recently retired and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, were on Oahu for a stopover before heading on to Japan for a month-long promotional tour. In addition to the “Bambino,” the All-Stars that descended upon the Hawaiian ballpark included Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, and Jimmie “Double-X” Foxx. They were led by “The Grand Old Man,” Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics.  The major league stars defeated a team of Hawaiian All-Stars, 8-0, as the fans enjoyed a six-inning scoreless pitcher’s duel that was broken up in the seventh-inning by a Gehrig bomb into the right field stands.[1]

A decade after the All-Stars tour, another collection of major league stars took to the Termite Palace’s diamond against a collection of local talent in an exhibition game that had substantial meaning. This time around, the major league stars were presently serving in the armed forces and were led by former Dodger Tom Winsett. Before a crowd of nearly 20,000, the local club held their own against brilliant pitching by Navy hurler and former Brooklynite Hugh Casey. Reminiscent of the 1934 game, the local club kept pace with the major leaguers as both teams were prevented from plating baserunners through the first four frames.

April 29, 1944 War Bond Game: Major League Stars Line-up:

NameFormerPositionABRHPOAE
Harold “Pee Wee” ReeseDodgersSS603310
Joseph “Joe” GraceBrownsRF611100
Barney McCoskyTigersCF502400
Johnny MizeGiants1B5121310
Albert (Al) BrancatoAthletics3B521240
Johnny LucadelloBrowns2B402370
Tom WinsettDodgersLF602100
Marvin FeldermanCubsC200210
Hugh CaseyDodgersP200010
Jack HallettPiratesP (6th)100000
Vern OlsenCubsP (8)000000
Tom FerrickIndiansP (9)100000
Walt MastersonSenatorsP (12)000000
George “Skeets” DickeyWhite SoxC300710
4641336160
The April 29, 1944 War BondMajor League Stars Line-up
April 29, 1944 Honolulu War Bond Game program and scorecard. Click image to read more (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The major leaguers broke the tie in the top of the fifth inning when former Philadelphia Athletic Al Brancato drew a walk from Honolulu pitcher Joe Wells. Johnny Lucadello followed up with a walk of his own to put Brancato into scoring position at second. Tom Winsett drove a fly deep to right field which allowed Brancato to move up 90 feet. Catcher Marv Felderman matched Winsett with a sacrifice fly of his own to allow Brancato to tally the game’s first run without the benefit of a hit.[2]

After the locals tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, the game remained tied deep into extra frames. In the top of the 12th, facing Len Kasparovitch, Joe Grace knocked his first single of the game on a line drive to center field. Barney McCosky pushed Grace to second with a bunt. Johnny Mize drew a walk. With runners on first and second, Al Brancato drove a single to straightaway centerfield that was misplayed by outfielder Ed Jaab, allowing three baserunners to score. However, a fan jumped onto the field to grab the horsehide for a souvenir, thus putting Mize at third and Brancato at second. Johnny Lucadello drove a line shot to right center allowing Mize to score and putting runners at the corners with Brancato now at third. With Winsett at bat, Brancato and Lucadello executed a double steal that allowed Brancato to tally the third run of the inning and put the major leaguers ahead 4-1. The locals mustered up a 1-run rally in the bottom half of the frame but the major leaguers sealed the 4-2 victory. The real winners were the troops as the game raised over $1,000,000 in War Bond sales.[3]

The former Athletics infielder, 5-9, 188 lb. Al Brancato, the Philadelphia-boy who broke into the big leagues with his hometown American League club in 1939, was the difference in the War Bond game with his 1-5 performance at the plate with two runs scored. Brancato drove in a run, stole two bases and walked.  The second-generation Italian-American infielder was gifted with massive hands with power in his throwing arm that required him to adjust his throws to first base. Oahu was a long way from Philadelphia and Brancato was more than 2 and 1/2 years removed from his last game at Shibe Park.

The year 2022 marks the Athletics’ 54th season in Oakland, California, which is its third and current home city. The Oakland version of the American League’s Athletics was established with the arrival of the franchise from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by way of Kansas City, Missouri. Founded in 1901, former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher and manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, known as “Connie Mack,” was awarded the Philadelphia franchise in the newly established American League (AL). During Mack’s ownership and management of the club, the Athletics captured seven pennants and four World Series titles and built one of the storied baseball clubs of the first half-century of the AL. The “Mackmen” who delivered those championships included Eddie Collins, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Charles “Chief” Bender, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx, all of whom are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Since the Athletics have spent as many seasons in their third “hometown” as within the city of their founding, it is doubtful that contemporary baseball fans possess knowledge of the Philadelphia Athletics’ cavalcade of legendary players, stars, and journeymen. Names that should be known are seemingly lost to time including Stuffy McInnis, Jack Coombs, Bing Miller, Bob Johnson, Eddie Joost, Sam Chapman, Ferris Fain, Jimmy Dykes, and George Earnshaw. With 53 years of baseball and four championships, there are hundreds of men who donned flannels bearing the iconic “A” or white elephant emblems.

Following the Athletics’ loss in the 1931 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, Connie Mack began to sell off his star players to address the club’s financial needs. Not only did he part ways with some of the game’s greatest players, the lack of talent in players that he filled the vacancies with created a considerable vacuum that sent the team deep into the second division of the standings for 14 seasons.

The exodus from the Athletics began when twelve-game winner Bill Shores was sold on June 30, 1931 to the Portland Beavers (PCL). On September 29, 1932, Connie Mack sold Jimmy Dykes, Mule Haas, and Al Simmons to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. Relief pitcher Eddie Rommel hurled his last major league game in 1932 and transitioned into a career as an umpire. Following the 1933 season, Connie Mack executed a fire sale on December 12, 1933 during the winter meetings: Mickey Cochrane was sold to Detroit for $100,000 and backup catcher Johnny Pasek. Lefty Grove, Rube Walberg, and Max Bishop went to the Red Sox for Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler and $125,000. George Earnshaw and a catcher were sent to the White Sox for catcher Charlie Berry and $20,000 as the Great Depression continued for the foreseeable future.

By the late 1930s, Mack was years into rebuilding as scouts scoured sandlot, high school, collegiate and minor league diamonds for youthful talent to create a long-running nucleus of infielders, outfielders, catchers and hurlers. Mack conducted trades with other clubs,  hopeful that a youth movement would stunt the succession of seasons with 97-100 losses since 1936.

  • Dario Lodigiani – Traded by Oakland (PCL) on October 19, 1937
  • Sam Chapman – Before the 1938 season, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Chubby Dean – In February, 1936, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Elmer Valo – Before the 1938 season, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Benny McCoy – On December 9, 1939, traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Philadelphia Athletics for Wally Moses. The trade was voided and players returned to their original clubs on January 14, 1940. McCoy was subsequently granted free agency. On January 29, 1940, signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Athletics.
  • Crash Davis – On May 29, 1940, signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent.
  • Pete Suder – On October 1, 1940, drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics from the New York Yankees in the 1940 rule 5 draft.
  • Tom Ferrick – Before the 1941 season, signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Athletics.

Amid the depression and the Athletics’ futility, the eyes of Connie Mack’s scouts were fixed upon a hometown athlete. “I started in 1938 with Mr. Mack” Al Brancato said. “He took me right out of high school and to spring training before I finished high school.”[4] The four-sport South Philadelphia High School letterman excelled in football, basketball, gymnastics, and baseball.

Brancato’s first spring training experience was abbreviated after an encounter with the ground lime marking the foul line. “I didn’t even have much of a spring training,” he said. “In those days, the white lines were made out of powder with lye [sic]. I got some powder in my eyes after diving for a ball, so I was out for a few weeks.”

At age 19, Al Brancato began his professional career with the class “B” Greenville Spinners (courtesy of Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

After splitting 1938 between Williamsport and Class “B” Greenville (South Atlantic League) and a successful 1939 season with Williamsport in which he captured the Eastern League’s RBI crown with 98 runs batted in[5], the young Philadelphian was called up to the Athletics and made his major league debut on September 7 against the Washington Senators, going hitless in three plate appearances. In consecutive games against the Red Sox on September 10 and 11, Brancato made two pinch-hit appearances without reaching base. On September 12 against the visiting St. Louis Browns, he went 2-6 with a single and double, an RBI and a run scored. The kid from Philadelphia, despite his .206 average in 21 games to close out the season, showed promise and was in the major leagues to stay for the near future.

February 26, 1941 – Los Angeles, California: Not a bit sorry to be at the end of their transcontinental journey were these members of the Philadelphia Athletics who arrived here by Union Pacific Train. After making a hurried inventory of their baggage, they departed for Anaheim, California, scene of the A’s spring baseball practice. Left to right – front: Al Brancato, Benny McCoy and coach Dave Keefe. Rear: Felix Mackiewicz and Eddie Collins, Jr. Center: Fred Chapman, Lawrence Davis and Peter Suder (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In 1940, his first full season with Philadelphia, Brancato spent 80% of his time at shortstop, managing a fielding percentage of .949. At third base, where he appeared in 25 games, his percentage was a few points lower at .926. At the plate, Brancato struggled, hitting just .191. Brancato’s 1941 season was a marked improvement over 1940 at the plate. The 22-year-old infielder raised his average 42 points, though at .234 he still had room for improvement. Playing the bulk of his games at short, “Bronk’s” .915 fielding percentage was a decrease over the previous year.

June 7, 1941: These Philadelphia Athletics infielders are an important factor in the club’s upward surge toward the first division. Left to right: Dick Siebert,1B; Benny McCoy, 2B; Al Brancato, SS; Pete Suder, 3B (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Despite the influx of talented youth, Connie Mack’s Athletics did not fare any better in the standings. In 1939 the club finished in seventh place and in 1940 and 1941 they were eighth. In 1941, the club cracked the 60-win threshold with a 64-90 record, indicating that the ship was headed on the right course. The Yankees captured the 1941 World Series championship in a season that saw Joe DiMaggio set a consecutive-game hitting-streak record (56 games) and Boston’s Ted Williams bat .406 and become the last player to break the .400 batting average threshold. Sixty-two days after Brooklyn’s Jimmy Wasdell, pinch-hitting for Pee Wee Reese, drove the last pitch from the Yankees’ Tiny Bonham to Joe DiMaggio deep in centerfield to close out Game Five of the 1941 World Series, everything changed for baseball and for Al Brancato.

Like all eligible American males, Al Brancato registered for the peacetime draft on October 16, 1940 at his local draft board at 15th and Snyder in Philadelphia.[6] The day following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Bronk reported for his induction physical, receiving a 1-A classification and expecting an early call into the service.[7] A month later on January 13, he was inducted into the United States Navy as a storekeeper second-class and was initially assigned duty at the Philadelphia Customs House, serving in recruiting before being transferred to the receiving ship at League Island[8] for a more permanent assignment with the Naval Reserve station. Speculation by sports writer Stan Baumgartner was that Brancato might be permitted to play baseball with the A’s while serving, “It is possible under Brancato’s present setup, storekeeper, that the shortstop might find time to keep in splendid shape and even play a few games with the Mackmen on Saturday and Sunday (the usual off time of the storekeepers).” However, this was seemingly an impossibility.

Al Brancato (center), infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team, was sworn in as a Storekeeper 2nd Class, U.S. Navy, by Lieutenant K. B. Emmons (USNR), in Philadelphia, January 13, as the Manager of the Athletics, Connie Mack (left), looked on (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

New York Daily News sports columnist Hy Turkin, in his Ted’s Still Batty! column of February 4, 1943, similarly speculated on the possibility of former Brooklyn Dodger’s infielder Pee Wee Reese, who was assigned to the Naval shipyard in Brooklyn, joining fellow teammates Hugh Casey and Larry French. “This brings up the question in some minds,” Turkin wrote, “whether they couldn’t drop in on nearby Ebbets Field, Sunday afternoons, to spend their days off performing in Dodger livery.” Prior to this time, French had petitioned Navy leadership for the opportunity to pitch for Brooklyn in the hopes of claiming the three wins he needed to reach the 200-victory career milestone. Despite his keeping in shape by pitching for the local semi-professional club, the Brooklyn Bushwicks, during his off time, French’s  request was denied by Rear Admiral W. B. Young, who was seeking to avoid setting a precedent with professional ballplayers on active duty. Further codification occurred when major league baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis established criteria that aligned with Admiral Young’s decision regarding the National Defense List (NDL). “Any player accepted into any branch of the armed services shall be automatically placed onto the NDL and shall not count in the player limits of his club until removed from such national defense service list.” Landis’ ruling insured that LT French and any other player in the service would not be allowed to play for any professional team during the war.[9]

Capitalizing on his athletic abilities, the Philadelphia Naval Reserve station added SK2/c Brancato to their basketball squad and he was named team captain. On April 3, Brancato’s squad faced a local team of Army officers in the Quartermaster’s Inter-Department Basketball League Championships. Despite leading the Army 19-10 in the first half, Brancato’s Reserves were downed 25-24. Brancato made one field goal and two free throws for four of his team’s 24 points.[10]

Nearly 10 Athletics were serving in the armed forces, forcing Connie Mack to get creative with his roster. For opening day on April 14 against the Red Sox, Brancato joined his club as they warmed up for the game. Instead of his blue-trimmed white wool flannel baseball uniform, Brancato was bedecked in his Navy dress blues. Pete Suder took over at shortstop, having earned the position in Brancato’s absence. “Among those looking very wistful before game time was Al Brancato,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Hank Simmons wrote. “He told our Cy Peterman he had not thrown a ball all spring.”[11]

As the 1942 baseball season commenced, the player landscape had significantly changed, with many of the game’s top talent already serving in the armed forces. Major league officials and team owners were already engaged in efforts to raise funds in support of service personnel in making the game more available to those in the ranks by providing them with the required equipment including bats, gloves, catcher’s protective gear, bases and baseballs.[12] Recognizing the need to provide support to troops and their families encountering financial hardships, major league baseball participated in fund-raising efforts to bolster the Army and Navy Relief organizations, commencing with a May 8 game at Ebbets Field with the visiting New York Giants.[13]

As plans were being crafted for a fund-raising game in conjunction with the major league All-Star Game, the idea was put forth to have the winner of the mid-summer classic face a team of all-stars who were serving in the armed forces. Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejacket manager Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane” was tasked with assembling a team of former ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces. Cochrane was given latitude by military leaders and drew players from both coasts and even from the Panama Canal Zone.[14] Unavailable to Cochrane due to military duties and assignments were 12 solid players including Hank Greenberg, Hugh Mulcahy, Buddy Lewis, Johnny Berardino, Cookie Lavagetto, Joe Marty, and Zeke Bonura. “The unavailable players would probably rival in strength the club Lieutenant Cochrane will field,” the Mount Carmel (Pennsylvania) Item reported.[15] Among the names of the unavailable players, SK2/c Brancato would have been an obvious selection for the team; however, he was unavailable due to wedding and honeymoon plans and associated furlough coinciding with the date of the game and festivities.[16]

By September, SK2/c Class Brancato was transferred to Receiving Station Boston as the Navy began assembling the prospective crew for the newly christened heavy cruiser USS Boston (CA-69) as she was undergoing fitting out at Bethlehem Shipbuilding’s Fore River Shipyard, located at Quincy, Massachusetts. The second ship in the eventual 13-vessel Baltimore class, USS Boston was the sixth U.S. Navy warship named in honor of the Massachusetts city. Boston and her sisters were the first ships planned under the restrictive London Naval Treaty that limited sizes and armament of ships in the years following World War I. With the limitations removed, the Baltimore class ships were the largest and most powerfully armed heavy cruisers in the U.S. Navy by 1943 as the first ships entered service. With his pending assignment to the ship and her war-fighting capabilities, the course of Petty Officer Brancato’s naval service seemed to be taking him into harm’s way.

Part 2: From Storekeeper to Middle Infielder: the Dolphins’ Al Brancato


[1] Costello, Rory, “Honolulu Stadium,” Society of American Baseball

[2] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 1, 1944: p10.

[3] Macado, Carl, Majors Need Extra Innings to Win, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 1, 1944: p10.

[4] N. Diunte, “Brancato, 93, One of the Last Links to the Major Leagues in the 1930s,” Baseball Happenings. Accessed July 19, 2022 (http://bit.ly/2ka8zY5).

[5] Brancato Joins U.S. Navy, unknown newspaper clipping

[6] Brancato, Albert, Draft Card, Ancestry.com, Accessed July 20, 2022

[7] “Brancato Earns 1-A Army Rating,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, December 9, 1941: p6.

[8] “Brancato Joins Navy,” The Wilkes-Barre Record, January 14, 1942; P15.

[9] “Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy,” Chevrons and Diamonds, July 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3OmEz8z. Accessed July 20, 2022

[10] “Tigers Win Title in Court League,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 1942:p22.

[11] Simmons, Hank, “Greetings Fail to Help Phils’ Debut,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15, 1942: p33.

[12] “Bat and Ball Fund Bat: A Very Rare Babe Ruth Model Bat,” Chevrons and Diamonds, April 26, 2022: https://bit.ly/3znKzcV,  Accessed July 19, 2022

[13] “Historic Game Program Discovery: July 7, 1942 Service All-Stars,” Chevrons and Diamonds,  January 17, 2022:  https://bit.ly/3IXtcTf, Accessed July 21, 2022

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Dozen Unavailable For All-Star Team,: Mount Carmel Item, July 3, 1942: p7.

[16] “Al Brancato Joins Ranks of Benedicts,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 1942: p33.

High-Flying WWII Big Island Navy Baseball

During World War II, Oahu was the epicenter for baseball in the Hawaiian Islands. While a handful of former professional baseball players were present on the island in the months following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, more began to arrive in the spring of 1943. One of them was Chief Athletic Specialist Walter Masterson, who had previously pitched major league ball for the Washington Senators. By 1944, Oahu was a hotbed of talent, with dozens of former major leaguers and players who were previously in the high minors filling rosters of Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces teams throughout the island. While some of the military installations on outlying islands also fielded teams with professional-caliber talent, the level of play was not at the same level as was seen on Oahu. 

Despite the lack of major leaguers, the 10-team AAA League on the big island of Hawaii commenced play on Sunday, April 30, to considerable fanfare from combined crowds or more than 3,000 spectators at Truck and Hoolulu Parks. Aside from the civilian Hawaiis, the balance of the league largely consisted of service clubs from the Army, Marines and Navy. 

Big Island Baseball 
In the last half of April, 1944, the big island’s premier diamond circuit, the AAA Baseball League, announced the participating teams and their managers.  

  • Sea Bees – Lt. K. G. MacLeod 
  • Air Corps Natives – Lt. John Gordon (first half only) 
  • Templeers – Pfc. M. Brustad  
  • Rens – Sgt. John Hand (combined with Powderbugs 4 games into the season) 
  • Powderbugs – Sgt. Major White (combined with Rens 4 games into the season) 
  • Renords – (combined Powderbugs/Rens team)  
  • Scrap Irons – Capt. Carl Merrill 
  • Hawaiis – Sonny Henderson 
  • Banyon Marines – Louis Sillars 
  • Navy Flyers – Chief Bill Fowler 
  • Navy “Little Varsity” – Chief Daugherty 
  • Tank Busters – Georgie Jordan (second half, only) 

Of the ten clubs in the league, only one roster lacked active duty military personnel on its roster. The Hawaiis, like their same-name counterparts in Oahu’s Honolulu League, consisted of local baseball stars and were perennial league contenders. In addition to their high level of talent, the Hawaiis held an edge over the league due to the years of developing cohesiveness, stemming from maintaining roster consistency. While the Hawaiis’ advantage made them an obvious pre-season favorite, another well-stocked team, the Navy Flyers, would contest the prognosticators. Drawing from naval units based at the Naval Air Station (NAS), the Flyers assembled their club with players with prior sandlot, high school, collegiate, semipro, and professional baseball experience. 

Fly Navy 
The Flyers of Naval Air Station Hilo assembled a formidable roster of athletes, including one former minor leaguer, Bob Cummins, a centerfielder who split the 1943 season between the Class “D” Kingsport Cherokees (Appalachian League) and the Roanoke Red Sox of the Class “B” Piedmont League. A few months after the end of the baseball season, Oakland, California native Cummins enlisted on December 27, 1943, and after his boot camp training was stationed on the island of Hawaii. The Flyers’ manager, Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, took note of Seaman first class Cummins’ baseball credentials and tapped him for duty both in the outfield and on the mound.  

(Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

Chief Fowler had an eye for talent as he constructed the Flyers’ roster, drawing from NAS Hilo commands. A former Bethesda, Maryland area high school three-sport star and University of Maryland basketball and baseball player, Leon Vannais was another catch for the Flyers. He played semipro baseball in 1941 in Hackensack, New Jersey, for the O’Shea’s Glenwoods as a first baseman, outfielder, and pitcher. In the days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Vannais joined the Navy, entering the naval aviation cadet program. Ensign Vannais earned his wings in October, 1942, and completed advanced training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1943 ahead of his assignment to Hilo. Vannais, an aircraft carrier-qualified torpedo dive bomber pilot, was assigned to the Naval Air Station, though his days on land were likely short due to the fleet’s demand for his expertise. 

Flyers first baseman, Francis Guisto (Hawaii Herald-Tribune).

San Leandro, California native Francis Guisto was working as a shipfitter, building Liberty ships at the Richmond Shipyard, Richmond, California. A graduate of Manteca Union High School’s class of 1940, Guisto was one of 50 attendees at a major league tryout camp held in Marysville, California in late July, 1941. The camp was led by C. F. “Al” Chapman, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds organization. During a July 27 exhibition game between the camp squad and the local semipro Orinda Reds, Guisto accounted for the campers’ lone score in the 3-1 loss with a line shot to left centerfield, driving in a base runner. Guisto had another tryout at the end of September, but unfortunately he was not one of the three players, all pitchers, signed to minor league contracts. Guisto entered the Navy in early 1943 and following completion of boot camp, he boarded the USS Republic (AP-33) on July 21, bound for Pearl Harbor. The future Flyers first baseman was transferred to Hilo soon after arriving on Oahu. He was added to the Navy Flyers’ basketball roster as a forward and was touted by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald as a ringer would “give opponents a real headache” (Navy Cagers Look Strong, by Jim Moore, November 29, 1943). 

Hilo’s 1944 Baseball Season  
Pre-season prognostications pointed toward an end-of-season showdown between the two well-stocked clubs: Hilo’s civilian club, the Hawaiis, and the Naval Air Station Hilo club, the Navy Flyers. By the end of the season’s first half of play, the civilian club held a one-game advantage over the Flyers heading into the break. At the AAA League’s mid-season break, five of the Flyers, first baseman Francis Guisto, pitcher George Babich and second baseman Gunnar Hagstrom, were selected as league All-Stars.  

At a mere 145 pounds, the diminutive second baseman, Ensign Gunnar Hagstrom, stared down some of baseball’s giant hitters in pair of games on July 3 and 5, 1944, at Truck Park in Hilo. Arguably the game’s greatest hitter of the 1940s, the “Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, was three years removed from his 56-game hitting streak when he stood in the batter’s box against Hagstrom and his Defenders, a squad of the island’s AAA League All-Stars. While many of Hagstrom’s teammates may have been intimidated by the visiting juggernaut 7th Army Air Force team, sharing the diamond with such talent was nothing new to him. 

Hagstrom’s Navy Flyers club finished the season’s first half of play one game behind the Hawaiis. Though Leon “Lefty” Vannais would have been a shoo-in selection for the AAA All-Stars, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s sports columnist, Jimmie Page, reported on June 19 that the Navy Flyers had lost him, their best pitcher. Though his departure to the fleet left a hole in the NAS Hilo’s pitching rotation, Page wrote on July 8, “the Navy Flyers should have about the same kind of club.”   

The two-game series with the 7th AAF was scheduled by AAA League officials in early June to coincide with the mid-season break.  

All-Star Player Position Hometown AAA Club 
Carl Allen UIF Denver, CO Templeers 
George Michael Babich Bayonne, NJ Navy Flyers 
John Berutich OF San Francisco, CA Navy Little Varsity 
Harry Brooks OF St. Louis, MO Marines 
Tom Cancelli SS Patterson, NJ Scrap Irons 
Wardell Clyburn UIF Englewood, NJ Renords 
James Corbett N. Tonawanda, NY Navy Flyers 
Bill Fowler Mgr. Yakima, WA Navy Flyers 
John Fox OF Marian, IN Sea Bees 
Francis Guisto 1B Stockton, CA Navy Flyers 
Gunnar Hagstrom 2B Pittsfield, Mass. Navy Flyers 
Frank Kendall Canby, OR Sea Bees 
Sam Mamula 3B Martins Ferry, OH Marines 
Martin Moharsky Kingston, PA Marines 
Tom Peacock OF Fort Worth, TX Navy Flyers 
Bob Peterson UIF Denver, CO Sea Bees 
Roe Sarsuelo Territory of Hawaii Hawaiis 
Edward Schnelling St. Louis, MO Templeers 
Julius Siegel OF Detroit, MI Templeers 
The AAA League’s All-Star “Defenders” roster that faced the 7th Army Air Force during the mid-season break.

The Defenders roster, led by Chief Athletic Specialist Bill Fowler, featured the league’s best pitcher (in the absence of the departed Vannais) in Babich, who, in addition to Hagstrom and Guisto, was accompanied by fellow Flyers Tom Peacock (OF) and Jim Corbett (P) on the All-Star roster.  

The 7th AAF swept the series with a 5-2 victory in the first game and a 5-0 shutout in the second. The Defenders’ pitching and defense held the great DiMaggio hitless until game two, when he hit a sizzling shot down the left foul line past Hagstrom, who was then stationed at the hot corner. In seven total at-bats, DiMaggio reached base on a single, an error and a walk and scored a run. Facing Frank Saul, former Seton Hall standout, Hagstrom was hitless in four appearances in the first game. Starting at third base in game two, Hagstrom was blanked twice by pitcher Bill Schmidt before he was lifted in favor of the Marines’ Sam Mamula. The 7th AAF’s pitchers had their way with their hosts, stymieing batters and limiting them to just nine hits in 18 innings.  

Gunnar Arvid Hagstrom, Williams College, class of 1942 (Williams College Gul/Ancestry.com)

Cloudbuster Gunnar Hagstrom 
Though he had never set foot on a professional baseball diamond, the DiMaggio name on an opponent’s roster was not an unfamiliar sight for Gunnar Hagstrom. The year before, while attending Navy Pre-Flight training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Naval Aviation Cadet Hagstrom had played for the school’s “Cloudbusters,” joining forces with former major leaguers Joe Coleman, Johnny Pesky, Buddy Gremp, Buddy Hassett, Johnny Sain, and Ted Williams on one of the most dominant service teams of World War II, a team which had a 30-9 won-lost record for 1943. Born on January 10, 1920, in Enviken, Sweden, and having immigrated to the U.S. in 1923, Pittsfield (Massachusetts) High School’s Gunnar Hagstrom, class of 1938, lettered in football, basketball and baseball, and captained the school’s cage and diamond squads. He took his athleticism to Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he lettered again in basketball and baseball and served as the captain of the latter team, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1942. Hagstrom returned home and was signed to the semi-pro Mohawk Beverage club of Shire City Twilight League, playing throughout the summer. Hagstrom volunteered for the Navy V-5 Naval Aviation program and was sworn in on August 1. A month later, on September 1, Hagstrom departed Pittsfield to commence his training. 

Following his July 6, 1943, completion of the 11-week Navy Pre-Flight course at Chapel Hill, Hagstrom was assigned to primary flight training at Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois. Upon graduation, Ensign Hagstrom was assigned to Carrier Aircraft Servicing Unit (CASU) Thirty-One at Hilo, Hawaii and added to the unit’s baseball team ahead of the 1944 AAA Baseball League’s season opener. 

Fordham’s Captain Babich 
Born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, George Michael Babich was four-letter high school athlete before heading to Brooklyn to attend college and play on Fordham’s football, basketball, and baseball teams. Starting center for the Fordham University basketball team, George Babich was a powerhouse in the Rams’ starting five and served as the team’s captain. With seven games remaining in the regular season, Babich graduated on January 21, 1943, and entered the U.S. Navy. In addition to his caging duties, Babich saw action on Fordham’s gridiron from 1940-1943 and was the starting left end. On November 28, 1942, the University of North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight Cloudbusters football team visited the Polo Grounds to face the Fordham Rams. Though he did not factor in the 6-0 victory over the aviation cadets, Babich was the starting left end for Fordham, which relied heavily on a ground game. With just two completed passes for 72 total yards, the Rams’ only score occurred in the opening quarter. Babich also played in Fordham’s 1942 New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl victory over the University of Missouri. Following several days of heavy rains, the saturated Tulane Stadium field surface stripped Fordham of their dominant passing game that relied heavily upon Babich at left end, resulting in a sloppy ground game and a 2-0 Rams victory. Babich was ranked fifth in the AP Features’ Poll in all-round college athlete voting (Paul Governali Best in East – News-Pilot San Pedro, March 9, 1943) 

Babich’s skills were refined on a Rams diamond club that also produced several pro ballplayers, including Steve Filipowicz, Al Litwa, George Cheverko, and John Szajna. Six weeks after graduating from Fordham, Chief Babich enlisted into the U.S. Navy on March 9, 1943, and arrived on the big island of Hawaii in the spring of 1944 after completing basic training and the Gene Tunney Athletic Specialist School. 

Second Half Flyers 
Kicking off the second half of the AAA season, a double feature was scheduled for Sunday, July 9, at Hoolulu Park with the early game, a harbinger of the season outcome, featuring the Hawaiis hosting the Navy Flyers.  

George Babich struggled early in the game, allowing four Hawaii runs on three hits in the top of the first inning, but settled down when he returned to the mound in the second inning after his teammates cut the lead in half. The Hawaiis’ Roe Sarsuelo traded goose eggs with Babich for the next six innings, transforming what started off looking to be a high-scoring affair into a pitchers’ duel. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Flyer bats broke through when shortstop John Kennedy dropped a bloop single to drive in the tying run.  

The Hawaiis failed to counter the Flyers in the top of the ninth as Babich’s dominance continued. In the bottom of the ninth, first sacker Francis Guisto, who was 2-4 heading to the plate, crushed a two-run bomb and sealed the 6-4 victory for the Flyers.  

The nightcap game saw the Navy “Little Varsity” capitalizing on eight Renords miscues. The “Little Varsity” batters tallied three runs in the second inning and another one in the eighth. None of the Navy’s three hits scored runs as all four of their tallies were unearned. The Renord batters plated their two runs against Navy’s Johnny Mize, who went the distance. Mize’s bat also accounted for one of the three Navy hits in the 4-2 victory. 

Rank # Name Position Former/Hometown 
CSp (A) George Michael Babich Fordham University 
LTjg  Anso Belardinelli RF/P  Norwalk, CT
 Danny Brosman SS  
  Leo Connors 3B  
 15 James Corbett  
 Robert Cummins CF Roanoke (PIED) 
  Melvin Fletcher Asst. Equip. Mgr.  
CSp (A)  Bill Fowler Mgr. Yakima, WA 
S1/c 12 Francis Guisto 1B Stockton, CA 
Ens. Gunnar Hagstrom 2B Pittsfield, MA 
 Harper M. “Bud” Heitmeyer LF Oakland, CA
  Bert Irish Scorer  
  Art “Fats” Johnson Equip Mgr.  
 John Kennedy SS Pellston, PA 
 Thomas Truman Peacock LF  
  Joe Sirgo OF Canton, OH 
 17 Tom “Tommy” Sutton 3B/OF  
 13 James “Jimmie” Tiger 3B/UT/OF  
Ens.  Leon “Lefty” Vannais Hackensack, NJ 
 10 Edward Zielinski RF  
The 1944 Naval Air Station Hilo Flyers baseball team. Due to the Navy’s operational needs, some team members did not play the entire season.
Kicking off the second half of the AAA League’s season, Hoolulu park hosted two of the games on July 9, 1944. Click the image to view the entire scorecard (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

An Invaluable Game Program 
A recent acquisition of a rare eight-page program from the July 9 pair of games provides a wealth of research data with the rosters of all four teams, AAA League staff and officials, rosters with scorecards, two weekend schedules, and the AAA League ground rules. Though the grids are unscored, the printed rosters of the four clubs are a truly invaluable record. The overall condition of the program is quite good despite having been folded. The binding staples are still strong and the paper has not oxidized or degraded. The cover, printed on heavy orange paper stock, has faded only slightly over the course of nearly eight decades but the monochrome black ink is still very dark and crisp. The paper of the inner pages is lightweight and very typical of wartime service game programs and has yellowed with age. Despite the lack of major league names within the lineups, this scorecard is a highly prized piece within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection due to its scarcity (view a downloadable copy of the entire program)

The top two AAA League clubs faced each other in the second half-opener (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Flying High to the Finish 
The second half of AAA League play saw the Flyers and Hawaiis battling for the top spot in the standings. With an August 4 victory over Little Varsity, the Flyers opened a two-game margin over the civilian club. By September 2, the Flyers held a half-game lead over the Hawaiis as the season was drawing to a close. With a game remaining for each club to play, both the Flyers and Hawaiis suffered losses, keeping the ½-game lead intact and securing the second half victory for the Navy squad. 

The AAA League championship pit the winners of each half of the season for a scheduled best of three series between the Hawaiis and Flyers. The opening game saw Babich hurl all nine innings in a 7-5 victory on September 15. The second game, planned for September 17, was rained out, forcing the first of several rescheduling actions. Knotted at two runs apiece in the 11th Inning, the umpire called the September 20 game due to darkness. Babich pitched brilliantly for all eleven innings. Another rainout pushed the September 20 game resumption ahead to the 24th

With the series in the balance, league officials made the decision to start fresh, effectively nullifying the tied game. Babich once again took the mound for the Flyers and he held his opponents to two runs on seven hits as the Navy tallied nine on 12 hits in the rout, locking up the AAA championship in two games. 

(Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

In the weeks following the end of the 1944 AAA League season, major league ballplayers returned to the big island to showcase the premier talent that resided on Oahu. In what was essentially a continuation of the Servicemen’s World Series, the star players serving in the Army and Navy competed against each other at Hoolulu Park for the 10th game of the Series. With a 7-2 record heading into the game, the Navy played to a 6-6 tie.  

Grounded Flyers  
Weeks after his teammates locked up the league title, former star pitcher Lefty Vannais was in the thick of the fight across the Pacific. Vannais, a TBF Avenger pilot, participated in the October 24 Battle of Leyte Gulf, scoring a hit on “what was then believed to be the [Yamato-Class battleship] Musashi,” wrote Philip S. Heisler, Musashi Sinking Revives Plane-Battleship Tiff, The Baltimore Sun, January 28, 1945. “All of the returning pilots agreed that the Musashi was hit repeatedly but continued on her course,” the article continued. “The attack continued throughout the morning and afternoon,” and the mighty ship’s deck was awash by 4 p.m… After the war, the Silver Star and Air Medal-decorated pilot returned to New Jersey. 

U.S. Navy Task Force 38 aircraft, including a TBF Avenger piloted by Leon “Lefty” Vannais, attack the Japanese battleship Musashi (foreground) and a destroyer in the Sibuyan Sea, 24 October 1944 (U.S. Navy Photo).

The 9-2 championship-winning game was Babich’s last in Hawaii as the chief athletic specialist was transferred stateside. Discharged from the Navy on March 15, 1946, Babich returned home to Bayonne, accepting the athletic director position at St. Peter’s College in August. George Babich resumed his athletic career, playing for the North Plainfield Saracens of the New Jersey Football League. He also signed with the Jersey City Atoms for the 1946-48 seasons and saw time with the American Basketball League’s Brooklyn Gothams in 1948 and 1949. In keeping with his three-sport pre-war prowess, Babich also played part of 1948 with the St. Louis Browns’ Port Chester Clippers and part of 1949 with the Stamford Pioneers, both of the Class B Colonial League.  

Bob Cummins, the lone Flyer with pre-war professional ballplaying experience, resumed his career in the Boston Red Sox organization, where he had previously spent the 1942 season and part of 1943 in the minor leagues. The Willows, California native was assigned to the Class “C” San Jose Red Sox of the California League, spending the 1947 and 1948 seasons with that club. In 1949, Cummins was released and subsequently signed in mid-April with the El Paso Texans of the Arizona-Texas League. He was released and added to the inactive list in September, having appeared in just 72 games. In March 1950, Cummins returned to California and signed with the Class “D” Marysville Peaches of the Far West League. After a full season with the Peaches, Cummins hung up his spikes for good to work the next 34 years for Pacific Bell, raise a family and coach youth baseball. 

After winning the AAA League championship, the Flyers roster was broken up. First baseman Frank Guisto joined Gunnar Hagstrom on the CASU Airdales squad for the 1945 season. Under manager Pat Colgan, a former Boston catching prospect from the Eastern League’s Scranton Red Sox, the Airdales posted a 35-5 won-lost record and captured the AAA League crown. With the Japanese surrender, Guisto was discharged and returned home with a very bright baseball future looming ahead. With contract opportunities with the Sox of Boston and Chicago, he opted to stay closer to home and instead played ball with local semipro clubs, including the Stockton Ports, Senior Pro Stockton Braves, and other organizations. He lent his experience to area youth by coaching Little League and led one of his teams to the World Series in Pennsylvania. 

With two AAA League titles under his belt and a discharge from the Navy, former naval aviator LTjg Gunnar Hagstrom returned to Pittsfield and began a career with New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, where he spent his entire post-Navy career until retirement.  

Without much fanfare or media coverage beyond the big island’s shores, the small wartime community of Hilo supported and enjoyed baseball that was an equivalent of that of pre-war high minor leagues. The Navy’s diamond dominance in the Hawaiian Islands was furthered by the Naval Air Station Flyers’ title season in 1944. 

The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter

An interesting personality from the Golden Age of the game, Enos Bradsher Slaughter, better known as “Country,” despite his zeal and energy in how he played the game, is forever linked to a controversial August 20, 1947 spiking incident that occurred during Jackie Robinson’s breakout year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Country” Slaughter, a North Carolina farm boy, played the game with vigor and had a reputation for playing the game as though it could be his last. He seemingly never held back on any play on the field, including running full speed to first base during a routine infield out. Regardless of his on-field play and the sportswriters’ arguments surrounding his encounter with Robinson, our research uncovered other interesting and potentially controversial aspects of the Hall of Fame Cardinal rightfielder’s wartime service.

Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, Enos Slaughter was a gracious and very popular participant during autograph signing sessions at collectors’ card shows. Slaughter’s signed items are quite plentiful and readily available within the collector market. For many years after his August, 2002 passing, prices for Slaughter’s signature were relatively stable. In the last half-decade, collector demand has driven prices of his autograph upward, elevating values of other Slaughter memorabilia as a result. Until the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection received a group of personal photographs from the estate of former St. Louis Browns first baseman and WWII USAAF veteran Chuck Stevens that featured several major leaguers who were serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, including Enos Slaughter, we had not paid significant attention to the former Cardinal player and his wartime service.

The arrival of Stevens’ photos provided us with a unique perspective into World War II Army Air Forces baseball that has not been seen publicly, specifically a glimpse of the USAAF’s August 1945 Marianas tournament. By the time of his participation with George “Birdie” Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” Slaughter had been serving for nearly three years in the Army Air Forces. He had departed just days after helping the Cardinals capture the World Series crown from the Yankees in early October, 1942.

On a day in which a combined sortie of British and U.S. 8th Air Force heavy bombers conducted a raid on Nazi-held Rotterdam, Netherlands, Enos Slaughter’s Cardinals, in the midst of chipping away Brooklyn’s 4.5-game lead in the National League, were about to close out a four-game series with the Dodgers at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis after having taken the first three games. Slaughter, who had been notified of his impending September selective service call-up, paid a visit to a St. Louis Army recruiter’s office to volunteer as an aviation cadet with the condition that he would report at the conclusion of the 1942 season. More than 18,600 fans were on hand for the early Thursday afternoon (August 27, 1942) start that saw Brooklyn’s Curt Davis take the mound against Max Lanier. The heart of the Cardinals’ lineup accounted for the bulk of St. Louis’ offense, including “Country’s” one-for-four performance, driving in Jimmy Brown for their only run of the game. Perhaps the news of Slaughter’s enlistment gave the Cardinal batsmen a dose of reality concerning the war’s impact on the game, or it was simply Brooklyn’s day in their 4-1 win.

As the Yankees faced stiff competition from the Cardinals during the Fall Classic in early October, Marines on Guadalcanal were in the midst of a series of engagements with Japanese forces along the Matanikau River. The Cardinals dispatched the Yankees in five games, with the deciding game being played at Yankee Stadium on October 5. Two days later, Slaughter, who had hit .263 with a home run, scored three runs and drove in two runs in the Series, awaited his call to report for duty.

Enos Slaughter would not report for aviation cadet training until March 13, 1943, following his marriage to the former Josephine Begonia of Chicago, Illinois in February. Slaughter’s arrival in San Antonio was met with nominal fanfare and was carried in the nation’s newspapers. “I’ve never done much flying, except on a few trips to All-Star games,” the Red Bird outfielder told the St. Louis Star in mid-March, “but I know I am going to like flying. They tell me the studies are hard, but I am going to do the best job I can – and hope I make it, for I’d like to be in there flying, along with young Captain Billy Southworth (the son of his Cardinals manager).” Enos reported to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (SAACC) carrying 10 extra pounds. “I am sure that the Army will see that gets trimmed off,” the Raleigh News and Observer reported on March 28, “If this war stretches out so long I’ll be too old to get back in uniform, I will feel that I have done something for baseball in preserving it so other mill hands, farm boys, coal miners or fellow from any other walk of life may know the thrill of stepping up to the plate in a World Series,” Slaughter said.

In researching Slaughter’s military service, we found that the issue of the former outfielder’s color blindness is often reported and discussed regarding the reason for the his disqualification from Army flight training. While most biography readers would accept Enos’ condition and subsequent change in his military service as a simple fact, it raised concerns about factual reporting either at that time or in subsequent commentaries. Perhaps decades of elapsed time diminished the details, along with any measure of exception taken with the facts. It wasn’t until we discovered a Friday, April 9, 1943 column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Down the Middle” by Dick Williamson) that our concerns were validated.

When Slaughter was accepted into the Army’s flight training program at the time of his enlistment on August 27, 1942, he most certainly would have been subjected to a physical examination by an Army medical officer to ensure that he was fit for Army duty and that he met the basic health requirements to be accepted as an aviation cadet. If that did not happen in August of 1942, surely it had to have taken place when he reported for duty on March 13, 1943. How could Slaughter’s color blindness have gone undiscovered until he was in flight training? The question was one that we couldn’t get past.

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch piece, Williamson wrote that Slaughter had been “grounded” at the San Antonio Army Air Force Preflight School (Group IV). The piece reminded readers that “in August last year, Slaughter was being called by his Roxboro, North Carolina draft board for immediate induction. But meanwhile he applied for aviation cadet training and took a screening mental and physical examination in St. Louis.” Columnist Williamson wrote, “At this [August, 1942] test, Slaughter was found to be color blind, a defect that ordinarily eliminates an aviation cadet applicant.” The three-paragraph article seemed to prove that our instincts were correct.

Questions surrounding Slaughter’s enlistment lingered. If he failed to qualify for aviation cadet training, how was he permitted to proceed with the program and stave off his immediate induction? The second paragraph in the Times-Dispatch posed a more specific question along with a supposition. “For some reason, the St. Louis examining board waived Slaughter’s color blindness and accepted him as a future aviation cadet (could it have been because the Cards were in a neck-and-neck race with the Dodgers for the pennant?).” In calling attention to the St. Louis draft board’s decision, the article also illuminated another important fact; the actions of Slaughter and his St. Louis board helped the ballplayer avoid his hometown board (in Roxboro, North Carolina) and their potentially less-than baseball-friendly posture. Whatever arrangement was made between the draft board and Slaughter, the end result was that Enos was allowed to continue playing baseball through the end of the 1942 season and then await his call-up to aviation training.

Unfortunately, Enos Slaughter is not alive today to provide context or to dispute the details published by Dick Williamson. Providing a measure of perspective, in the countless newspaper articles that we found that discussed Slaughter’s color blindness disqualification, Williamson’s piece is the only one to mention the alleged waiver. A modicum of doubt arises in the last paragraph of Williamson’s segment about Slaughter. “Slaughter knew he was color blind and realized all the time he would be eliminated from further cadet training,” Williamson wrote.“When he did take the exam and was found color blind he was given “GDO” (Ground Duty Only).” Williamson qualified his statement: “This information comes to me from a serviceman who talked with Slaughter at the San Antonio school before the baseball star underwent the tough physical exam there.” While hearsay doesn’t typically hold up in the legal realm, the information provided by Williamson’s unnamed source should be considered only with a few grains of salt.

According to Slaughter’s Baseball Hall of Fame profile, the former Cardinal was offered the opportunity to train as a bombardier when his color blindness “discovery” resulted in his dismissal from flight training. “I said if I couldn’t be the one flying the plane, I’d just as soon not be flying. So I became physical education instructor in charge of about 200 troops,” Slaughter told Frederick Turner, author of When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946. Slaughter remained at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center and was assigned to the 509th Base Headquarters Squadron. The Cardinals slugger was also tapped by the manager, 2nd Lt. Del Wilber ( a former Cardinals minor leaguer), to play on the base’s ball club and compete against local Texas service and semi-professional teams.

“Five former professional baseball players are included on the starting lineup of the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. Pictured with Lieutenant Colonel Chester Hill, special service officer, they are (from left) Dave Coble, catcher, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox; Fred Scheske, outfielder, Little Rock, Southern Association; Bill Smith, pitcher, New York Giants and Jersey City Giants; Del Wilber, infielder, St. Louis Cardinals and Columbus, Ohio, and Enos “Country” Slaughter, outfielder and batting star of the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals.” – June 7, 1943 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the 1943 San Antonio Service League’s 63-game season underway, Slaughter was on an offensive tear. By the end of May, he was hitting .535 as he faced opponents such as the Randolph Field “Ramblers” (including David “Boo” Ferriss, Bibb Falk and a handful of minor leaguers), the “War Workers,” the Brooks Field “Ganders” and teams from Camp Normoyle Ordnance Depot, Stinson Army Air Field, Kelly Field and Hondo Navigation School.

In mid-June, Slaughter was granted a furlough to participate in the 1942 World Series champion’s ring ceremonies in St. Louis. Joined on the field at Sportsman’s Park to collect their rings were fellow service members Frank Crespi and Johnny Beazley. Terry Moore, serving in the Army Air Forces and stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, was represented at the ceremony by his mother. Immediately following the festivities in St. Louis, Slaughter was flown back to San Antonio in time for his service team’s game against Brooks Field.

The accompanying original caption reads, “Enos Slaughter, clutch hitter with San Antonio Air Cadet Center of Service Men’s League – San Antonio, Texas. Ex-Card star in slump, but drives in runs in the clutch…will also hit in clutch when he goes after Japs, Wops and Hitler’s HEELS.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

In early July, the SAACC team participated in the annual Houston semipro baseball, 14-team tournament that included squads from several Houston-area military bases. The tournament favorite was the Waco Army Flying School, piloted by former Detroit Tigers backstop George “Birdie” Tebbetts. The club included former major leaguers Sid Hudson, “Hoot” Evers, “Buster” Mills and Bruce Campbell. The Waco squad dominated the tournament as the SAACC Warhawks failed to secure a spot in the finals. Waco defeated the Bayton Oilers to claim the tournament victory. In August, Private Slaughter was promoted to Private First Class.

1943 San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawks:

Player Position
Dave Coble C
Steve Colosky P
Ed Cooper
Jim Cox
John Ducos
Don Finfrock 2B
Dave Garland
Siegel Grove
Tex Hendrix Bat boy
Chester Hill Spc. Svcs. Officer
Eddie Houser
Leo Johnson
Woody Johnson P
Marty Lackowitz Trainer
Frank O’Neil
Dave Pluss RF
Fred Scheske OF
Enos “Country” Slaughter OF
Bill Smith P
Del Wilber IF/Mgr

Always on the hunt for baseball militaria, we were quite surprised when we sourced two vintage photos, from two different sellers, of the San Antonio Army Aviation Cadet Center team featuring Enos Slaughter in his team flannels. Both type-1 images originated from the SAACC public relations office and were so stamped on the backs. These photos appeared to be taken around the same time (June, 1943). The first SAACC Warhawk photo showed a group of players flanking an Army Air Forces officer (Lt. Col. Chester Hill, the Special Services Officer) and called attention to the group of men as being former professional baseball players. The second photo from Slaughter’s 1943 season showed him posed while holding his bat. In addition to capturing Slaughter during his time in San Antonio, both photos provided fantastic details of the SAACC uniform.

As the 1943 season progressed, one of the most significant war bond fundraising events was taking shape. Raising funds in support of the war effort was an effort that involved all Americans. Not only were citizens called upon to ration resources (food, clothing and fuel), but recycling was an all-hands effort that some folks suggest has not yet been replicated despite modern-day municipal and commercial programs. Investing in the future of the nation involved financial investment in the purchase of bonds (very similar to contemporary U.S. Treasury savings bonds) that provided the purchaser with a return on his/her investment when the bond reached maturity. The August 26, 1943 War Bond Jubilee was a significant effort. Its goal was to sell millions of dollars of war bonds that people would purchase at an event held at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Aside from the more than two hours of musical and comedic performances from orchestras, dance bands and radio, stage and film stars (such as Cab Calloway, Ethel Merman, James Cagney and Milton Berle), the main attraction was a game that pitted stars from the three New York major league clubs (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) against the U.S. Army’s New Cumberland (Pennsylvania) Reception team, which was augmented with service all-stars that included (future Hall of Fame enshrinees in bold) Captains Hank Greenberg (1B) and Sid Hudson (P), Lieutenants Johnny Beazley (P), Billy Hitchcock (SS) and Birdie Tebbetts (C) and Private First Class Enos Slaughter (RF). Also filling out the Cumberland roster were Elmer Valo (RF), Ducky Detweiler (1B), Danny Murtaugh (2B), Hal Marnie (2B), Pat Mullin (CF), Bill Peterman (C), Lynn Myers (SS), Bobby Rhawn (3B), Chuck Harig (LF) and Shargey (PH).

Before the All-Star game, fans were treated to perhaps the most memorable old-timers game in the history of baseball, dubbed the “Tableau of Yesterday.” Present at the game (three of which are noted in bold) were 12 living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the 1936 inaugural induction class. The exhibition showcased Babe Ruth‘s last-ever at bat, when he faced off against 55-year-old Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson, for a batting display, with the other legends fielding their traditional positions and Bill Klem calling balls and strikes.

“With Ruth (48 years old) at bat, George Sisler (50) was at first base, Eddie Collins (59) at second, bow-legged Honus Wagner (69) at short, Tris Speaker (55) in centerfield and Connie Mack (83) waving a scoreboard. Their ranks were filled out by other famous players of a bygone era – Roger Bresnahan (64) catching, Frank Frisch (44) at third base, Duffy Lewis (53) in left field and Jack “Red” Murray (59) in right.” – Associated Press, Friday August 27, 1943

Walter Johnson took the mound one final time to pitch to Babe Ruth in the August 26, 1943 War Bond Game at the Polo Grounds. The 58-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher would succumb to a brain tumor on December 10, 1946, just 40 months later (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The event raised more than 800 million dollars (in purchased War Bonds) and the nearly 40,000 fans were treated to Babe Ruth’s last ever home run blast. “It didn’t matter that in fielding some of the Babe’s ‘practice shots’ Murray fell down, Speaker was practically decapitated and Collins was all but carried into right field by a line drive,” wrote the Associated Press’ Sid Feder. “The folks had a look at ‘em, and the Babe finally parked one. That was the icing on the cake.”

Never mind that there was still a ballgame to be played following the old timers’ exhibition. Filling out the New York All-Stars’ roster were: Dick Bartell and Frankie Crosetti at short, Billy Jurges, Joe Gordon, Billy Herman and Mickey Witek at second base, Billy Johnson at third, Arky Vaughan, Charlie Keller, and Joe “Ducky” Medwick in left field, Buster Maynard and Augie Galan in center, Dixie Walker and Paul Waner in right, Nick Etten and Galan at first and Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey and Mickey Owen behind the plate. Manager Casey Stengel‘s pitching staff consisted of Curt Davis, Van Lingle Mungo, Ace Adams, Spud Chandler, Carl Hubbell, Tiny Bonham, Tommy Byrne and Ed Head (the nine future Hall of Fame enshrines shown in bold).

Though billed as the featured event, the game between the All-Stars and the Army team was overshadowed despite the star power on both rosters. The Camp Cumberland squad, managed by Captain Hank Gowdy, eked out 14 hits against the New York stars; however, they managed to plate only two runners. The Cumberland pitchers limited the Stars to nine hits, but the Gotham batsmen tallied five runs to claim the victory. Private Slaughter batted 1-for-3 and scored one of the Cumberland runs in the loss. The fans and the nation were the real winners in this hallmark event because of the money raised for the war effort and the historically entertaining day. In retrospect, those in attendance witnessed an unprecedented Hall of Fame event, with 21 members participating in the game and seven being part of the festivities but not playing.

Returning to San Antonio following the War Bond game, Enos Slaughter, promoted to the rank of sergeant, was “apologetic” for hitting just .498 (in 75 games) in his first season with the SAACC Warhawks. The team secured the Texas Army League championship. As Sgt. Slaughter continued his work at the air base leading physical fitness instruction, he was part of the U.S. Army Air Forces training film, Survival of the Fittest.

Slaughter’s enlistment controversy resurfaced a year after he reported for duty with a brief two-paragraph article (published on Thursday, March 2, 1944) discussing the details surrounding his induction and subsequent exit from the aviation cadet program. “He (Slaughter) washed out,” Stan Anderson of the Logan, Utah paper Student Life wrote, “because he answered a psychologist’s question as to why he joined the Air Corps with a remark to the effect that getting into the Air Corps Reserve was his only means of staving off the Army long enough to play in that year’s World Series.” Anderson’s piece continued, “Very candid boy, apparently. But poor attitude, the offended Army Air Corps representative decided at once.”

In 1944 Slaughter’s San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center Warhawk club again claimed both the best record in the Texas service league’s 55 –game jaunt and the championship in the season-ending playoffs. Sergeant Slaughter slipped from his 1943 batting average, dropping to a miniscule .414 and finishing behind Randolph Field’s David “Boo” Ferriss’ .417. Enos captured the league crown for hits (82), doubles (22), total bases (153) and runs (64) and tied his manager, Del Wilber, for the league lead in home runs (13). Slaughter was no slouch on the base paths as he swiped 16 and finished tied for second.

As his former teammates were preparing for the first game of the all-St. Louis World Series between the Cardinals and the Browns, Sgt. Slaughter was not only in town but joined the “Redbirds” on the field during pre-game warm-ups. Slaughter’s presence must have aided the Cardinals as they set down the Browns to claim the championship in six games.

By February of 1945, U.S. forces were pushing the Imperial Japanese forces from their island strongholds in the Western Pacific. On February 16, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific on Iwo Jima commenced with a pre-invasion shore bombardment from the naval forces. Three days later, Marines began landing on the black, volcanic, sandy shores of the island. Fighting would last until nearly the end of the following month. Despite the victory in wresting control of the island from the Japanese, U.S. forces suffered extensive casualties, numbering more than 26,000, 6,821 of them killed.

As was happening with Birdie Tebbetts’ Waco squad, Army brass detached two key players from the Cadet Center team months before the start of the 1945 season. Sgt. Enos Slaughter and Private Howie Pollet were granted a furlough as they transferred to Kearns Army Air Field near Salt Lake City, Utah. Joining Slaughter and Pollet at Kearns were Tex Hughson, Sid Hudson, Clarence “Hooks” Iott, “Chubby” Dean, George Gill, Sam West, Johnny Sturm, Lew Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Chuck Stevens, Taft Wright and Bobby Adams. They all awaited further transfer.

Staff Sergeant Bruce Bohle wrote his employer, the St. Louis Star and Times, to tell them of his encounter with the ballplayers soon after their arrival at Kearns. “Imagine my surprise on entering the dining hall,” Bohle opened his letter, “to find the dishwashing chores handled by two former members of the Cardinals. They were Enos Slaughter and Howard Pollet.” Bohle continued, “These ball players rate ace-high with the boys at Kearns. They receive the same training and handle the same duties as all of us,” Bohle commented, “Slaughter and Pollet were in fine form while working with the dishwashing brigade. That’ll give you a laugh!”

As reported in the (Thursday, March 8) Salt Lake Telegram, the gathering of players was “a manager’s dream,” wrote the unnamed author. “That’s the AAF overseas replacement depot, Kearns, these days.” The article boasted Kearns as having a “who’s on first and what’s the pitcher’s name” situation at the air base with the drawback being that the players wouldn’t be playing nor would they be around when baseball season opened.

All of the Kearns Air Base assemblage of ballplayers (except for Lott and West) were soon transferred to Oahu and distributed among Bellows Field, Wheeler Field and Hickam Field, with each assigned to the corresponding baseball teams. Slaughter, Pollet and Rojek ended up with the Hickam Air Field “Bombers” at Pearl Harbor.

The Monday, April 23 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter at Hickam Field along with Howie Pollet and Captain Birdie Tebbetts, “to perform military duties with the army air forces.” The Star-Bulletin continued, “Seven major and minor league ball players in all have come in to date, including three pitchers, two outfielders, two infielders and a catcher,” calling the additions to the Hickam baseball team, a “septuple shot in the arm.” Joining the trio were John Jensen (San Diego Padres), Roy Pitter (Yankees) and George Gill (Tigers and Browns). With the Honolulu League season underway since late January, Hickam had already seen the additions of Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) and Dario Lodigiani (White Sox), both of whom had played for the 7th AAF team in 1944 in Hawaii, and Bill Hitchcock (Tigers), who had played on the McClellan Field (Sacramento) team.

1945 Hickam Field Bombers:

Rank Player Position Former Team (Pre-War)
John J.”Moe” Ambrosia Bat Boy/2B Unknown
John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk 3B/P/MGR Semi-Pro
Leonard Burton P Tallahassee (GAFL)
Glenn Dobbs Tulsa U./Chicago Cardinals (NFL)
S/Sgt. Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco (PCL)
Eddie Funk P San Diego (PCL)
Cpl. George Gill P Browns/Tigers
Capt. Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Cpl. Johnny Jensen LF/CF San Diego (PCL)
George Colonel “Kearnie” Kohlmyer 2B Tyler (EXTL)
Sgt. Dario Lodigiani 2B White Sox
Johnny Mazur C Semi-Pro
Roy Pitter P NYY Property
Pfc. Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Sgt. Stan Rojek SS Dodgers
Bill Salveson P Semi-Pro
Frank Saul P Semi-Pro
Don Schmidt P Semi-Pro
Sgt. Enos “Country” Slaughter CF/LF Cardinals
George Sprys RF Appleton (WISL)
Tom Tatum RF Dodgers
Capt. George “Birdie” Tebbetts C Tigers

Slaughter’s impact on the Hickam “Bombers” squad was immediate as he batted in the clean-up spot. During an April 24 matchup against the Fort Shafter Commanders in front of 4,000 at Honolulu Stadium in the Cronin Series, Slaughter walked and scored in the fourth inning and stroked a home run in the seventh to put Hickam ahead, 2-1. Enos used his defensive prowess to rob Earl Kuper of extra bases as he made a brilliant play on a 350-foot line drive in the fifth inning. In his second game, he plated three with a home run to beat the Honolulu All-Stars (a civilian team) in the Cronin Series.

Baseball wasn’t the only game for Slaughter at Hickam. The slugger was joined by Tebbetts, Frank Saul, George Gill and Roy Pitter to play in the CPBC softball tournament as part of the Hickam Bombers squad. They took down the AP&SC team, 7-1, on May 2 for their fifth win in the brackets.

The baseball season continued for the Hickam squad as they continued to rack up wins, defeating the Maui All-Stars and Maui Marines. They held each team scoreless while Slaughter drove seven runs (combined) and was awarded a $50 war bond for the most RBIs in the H.C. & S. Co. Athletic Association Series held at New Baldwin Field on the island of Maui.

By May 17, Hickam remained unbeaten in league play and Slaughter continued his offensive and defensive onslaught. The bats of Hickam’s Rojek, Fain, Jensen, Hitchcock, Tebbetts and Kearny Kohlmyer combined with Enos Slaughter’s output earned them the nickname, “Murderous Row” by the Honolulu Advertiser.

Slaughter was tapped by his Hickam manager Birdie Tebbetts, along with 11 other former professional players, to participate in a baseball clinic held for more than 1,000 youths at Honolulu Stadium. It was the first of its kind in Honolulu. The players taught the kids skills for batting, pitching, sliding, base stealing and pickoff plays.

As the season progressed, Hickam faced off against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins on May 25 in what was a pure offensive showdown. One would think that after being staked to a 12-0 lead after the third inning, the game was well in hand for the Bombers, especially after tallying nine runs in the second inning alone. Tebbetts lifted himself and Slaughter, who had suffered an injury, a strained hamstring, while running hard to first base in the second inning. with the large lead, but the Dolphins proceeded to work their way back against the impending rout. Ken Sears’ two home runs in addition to round-trippers by “Schoolboy” Rowe, John Jeandron, Charlie Gilbert, Bob McCorkle and Don Meyers drew the Dolphins to within a run but they ultimately fell short, 18-17.

With Slaughter’s injury and faltering pitching, Hickam suffered their first loss of the season to the Wingmen of Wheeler Air Base, 7-2, on May 26. Hickam’s offense came roaring back to life against the Honolulu Tigers in an 11-4 attack with Kohlmyer subbing for Slaughter in right field.

As May turned to June, the Hickam Bombers remained atop the Hawaii League standings in a three-way tie for first place with the teams from Wheeler Field and Bellows Field, each with a single loss. On June 9th, the Bombers received their second loss of the season at the hands of the Aiea Naval Hospital at Ceres Field, home of the “Hilltoppers.” Led by Sal Recca (a double and three singles) and Johnny Berardino (a triple and a double), the Hilltoppers’ bats got to Gill, who surrendered five runs. The Bombers were without the services of Slaughter, Tom Tatum and Dario Lodigiani.

In early June, the former Yankee catcher, Navy Lieutenant Bill Dickey, drafted plans to hold an All-Star game at Furlong Field on June 24 that would resemble the mid-summer classic between the stars of the National and American leagues. This game would feature players stationed throughout Hawaii and assembled in league teams, regardless of their current branches of service.

The American Leaguers were set to be managed by Birdie Tebbetts and feature Tex Hughson, Ted Lyons, Bob Harris, Walt Masterson, Bill Dickey, Rollie Hemsley, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Walt Judnich and Fred Hutchinson. The roster of the Nationals was to include Ray Lamanno, Gil Brack, Don Lang, Lou Riggs, Stan Rojek, Nanny Fernandez, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Max West, Mike McCormick and Schoolboy Rowe, with Billy Herman managing.

Earlier this year, we located a 1940s Wilson Official League baseball that was covered with signatures from former major and minor-league ballplayers. Each player appeared to sign the ball using the same pen and included the year (“1945”) inscribed beneath one of the autographs. Included with the baseball was a PSA/DNA certificate of authenticity, validating the signatures as genuine. Due to the names of the players who signed the ball, we determined that the group of men were part of the 1945 Hickam Bombers (see: Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers). Perhaps the most prominent of the signatures is that of Enos Slaughter.

1945 Hickam Bombers ball: Ferris Fain, Enos Slaughter, Kernie Kohlmeyer, Steve Tomko, John J. “Moe” Ambrosia, Bill Mosser, Birdie Tebbetts (source: Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On June 16, LT. Col Edgar B. Stansbury, chief of AAFPOA Special Services, announced that the Army Air Forces would play their last baseball game in Hawaii on the following day, bringing about an end to the season and the planned All Star game. According to the June 17, 1945 Honolulu Advertiser, there was no reason provided by the colonel who “asserted it would be impossible to hold a major league All-Star Game” due to the mandate. The Navy leadership made a similar announcement regarding their players. Slaughter and the rest of the pro ballplayers appeared in their final Hickam Bombers game that afternoon as they took on the Bellows Field Flyers, claiming their final win, 2-0, on a Dario Lodigiani two-run single in the ninth inning.

Hickam attempted to rebuild the team, refilling the positions vacated by the former professionals with Air Forces personnel in order to salvage their season, with the first game scheduled for June 29. Meanwhile, Slaughter prepared for what lay ahead. On June 25, the Associated Press published an article (Big Name Athletes Move to Outlying Islands) by reporter Murlin Spencer. “Baseball stars who have made Oahu one of the greatest islands for baseball fans are moving to outlying islands so that GIs on the outer fringes can see them, too.” Slaughter was listed among many stars that were departing.

On July 9, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the arrival of Slaughter and the contingent of USAAF players on the island of Guam. The piece mentioned that decisions had yet to be made regarding how the men would be divided into teams. AAFPOA athletic officer Captain Billy Hitchcock, who was in charge of the contingent of players, spoke of issues surrounding the condition of the ball fields and facilities available to use for games. He also named the managers for the three teams that the group would be divided into. “Birdie Tebbetts of the Hickam Bombers, Buster Mills of the Bellows Flyers and Mike McCormick of the Wheeler Wingmen,” Hitchcock said, “probably will be managing these teams.”

58th Bombardment Wing Wingmen:

Player Position Former
Bob “Bobby” Adams 2B Syracuse (IL)
Al “Chubby” Dean P Indians
Tom Gabrielli C Pirates
George Gill P Tigers/Browns
Joe Gordon SS Yankees
Billy Hitchcock 3B Tigers
Edwin “Ed” Kowalski P Appleton (WISL)
Al Lang LF Reds
Don Lang OF Kansas City (AA)
Pete Layden OF collegiate player
Arthur “Art” Lilly IF Hollywood (PCL)
Joe Marty OF Phillies
Roy Pitter P Yankees
Howie Pollet P Cardinals
Enos “Country” Slaughter OF Cardinals
Chuck Stevens 1B Browns
Johnny Sturm 1B Yankees
George “Birdie” Tebbetts C/Mgr Tigers
Vic Wertz CF Tigers

Hitchcock formed the teams (under the command of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces or USASTAF) and created a round-robin format of competition to provide an entertaining tournament that would be played on Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. The team assignments seemed to correspond with the roster configurations previously seen in Hawaii with Wheeler, Bellows and Hickam; but there were some exceptions. Tebbetts’ roster appeared to have been given a slight advantage by landing two outstanding hitters in Slaughter and former Yankee infielder Joe Gordon (both of whom would end up enshrined in Cooperstown). The tournament commenced with the inaugural game between Tebbetts’ 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and Buster Mills’ 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers” on July 27.

Sunday, July 29: The 58th Wingmen’s first game on the island of Tinian. The Wingmen’s 1st baseman Chuck Stevens is at bat (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The USASTAF tournament games were not the only baseball competition that the men faced. In some instances, the players would see action with pick-up games that would often include highly-skilled regular GIs filling in some of the roster positions. Staff Sergeant Ed Ruder, a war correspondent stationed in the Marianas, wrote of a pickup game that featured several former Cardinals and Browns players. His piece, “Cardinal and Brown Players Hold St. Louis Day in Pacific,” spotlighted a game between Army and Marine Corps clubs, each augmented by former players from the two St. Louis teams. The Marines squad featured Bill Barnes, Vernal “Nippy” Jones, and Ray Yochim of the Cardinals and Harry Hatch, former Browns farmhand. The Army team included (from the 58th Wingmen) former Cardinals Slaughter, Pollet and former Browns Gill and Kearny Kohlmyer. Also representing the St. Louis area was batboy John. J. “Moe” Ambrosia, formerly of the Hickam Bombers. The Marines got the better of the Army that day on the back of Yochim’s pitching as he outdueled Pollet, 7-6.

Looking down the right field line towards the outfield, this photo from Chuck Steven’s personal collection shows the visitors’ dugout and the massive crowds that ringed the diamond to watch the men play, August 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Slaughter’s .351 batting average was among the leaders in the USASTAF tournament, trailing Stan Rojek (.358), Bill Leonard (.355) and Johnny Jensen (.353) when the competition wound to a close. In total, 27 games were played just within the USASTAF round robin league before more than 180,000 GI fans.

This photo from former St. Louis Browns 1st baseman, Chuck Stevens’ collection was inscribed on the reverse, “Isn’t this a great picture? It was taken here in the tent – that’s George Gill and Tom Gabrielli in the back – Enos Slaughter and Ed Kowalski with me – it was taken kinda early in the morning so that so that might have something to do with the way we look. Sad bunch of sacks – Great bunch of Soldiers.” This was captured during the August-September USASTAF Marianas baseball tournament (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Sergeant Slaughter’s overseas service came to an abrupt close when he, along with 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, Froilan 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, Sam Rojek and Sid Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Sid Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean arrived in Long Beach, California as they disembarked from the USS Cecil (APA-96).

Days later, controversy surrounding Slaughter brewed once again when the news reached troops still stationed overseas and awaiting their orders to return home. “It now seems that the function of some big name baseball, football and other athletic stars is, perhaps unwittingly,” a Stars and Stripes editorial conveyed, “to help lower the morale of overseas servicemen.” Letters to the paper from GIs caused a dustup over the accelerated return and subsequent discharges for the baseball players, and Slaughter’s name was one of ten specifically called out.

Sgt. Slaughter transferred from Camp Anza (Riverside, California) to Fort Sheridan, Illinois and was granted a 58-day furlough following his arrival; but he was ordered to report to San Antonio on January 1, 1946. “I am hoping to get out in time for spring training,” Slaughter told W. Vernon Tietjen of the St. Louis Star and Times, “but I don’t know. Latest is that you need 55 points, and I am still in the 40s.” Nearly four weeks later, on January 25, Slaughter was discharged from the Army Air Forces 24 days before reporting to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Cardinals’ spring training.

Despite the questions and controversy surrounding Slaughter’s entrance into the air cadet program and his color blindness disqualification, his positive impact and morale boosting while playing baseball for his comrades in arms was felt for more than two years. The artifacts in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection that reflect Sergeant Enos Slaughter’s service were fantastic additions over the last few years and will always be treasured. We are delighted to share them with our audiences.

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