Blog Archives

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.

See also:

%d bloggers like this: