Three quarters of a century after Japanese officials signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, animosity towards ballplayers who were tasked with playing baseball in addition to their daily military duties remains, despite being two generations removed. Through ignorance, bitterness or a combination of the two, there is a failure to recognize the importance of the game for the morale of the civilian population and troops and also for the direct support of the drive toward victory.
In an online discussion contrasting the service of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, one baseball fan lauded Williams for “never playing baseball” during the war as a response to another fan’s appreciation for the Yankee Clipper’s wartime service. “Joltin’ Joe missed the 1943 Yankees championship season because of it [wartime service in the Army],” the DiMaggio fan contended.
“Because of what?” the Williams fan questioned. “You call that being in the service? He was a pampered ass! Williams lost nearly five years actually serving [and] defending this country!”
Arguments such as these do not typically hold our attention, but this one underscored the lack of knowledge of the reason baseball held considerable importance within the armed forces, both at home and in overseas combat theaters. Aside from the morale boosting benefits, baseball was pivotal in supporting the cause and the fight for victory.
Amid the United States’ Great Depression, the treasury secretary under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. established the United States Savings Bond Program to encourage citizens to save as well as invest in their country. On March 1, 1935, the treasury department began selling the first U.S. savings bonds, known as the Series A. By the late 1930s, with the threat of war looming in Europe and the Far East, the need for defense spending increased and the bond program transitioned into the Defense Savings Program.
The average annual American household income when the Savings Bond Program was introduced was roughly $1600. By 1940, with declining wages amid the depression and increased defense spending, American households averaged less than $1400 per year. Spending $18.75 on a $25 savings bond was a substantial commitment of financial resources. In 2022-values, a $25 bond cost an individual $362 of his or her $27,020 earnings.
On May 1, 1941, the treasury department began selling its latest product in support of defense financing with the E Series, which, like the earlier series, was targeted toward individuals. “The E Series Bond was closely patterned after its predecessors, the Series A through D. It was priced at 75 percent of face value and returned 2.9-percent interest, compounded semiannually, if held to a 10-year maturity. There were five denominations to start: $25, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Two large investor denominations, the $5,000 and $10,000, were added later, as was a “memorial” denomination: the $200, for President Roosevelt (1945).” Following the Pearl Harbor attack, savings bonds quickly became known as war bonds.
Building a military to a wartime level in the first year of World War II cost billions. New ships, aircraft, tanks, uniforms, ammunition, and manpower required a significant financial investment by citizens and a portion of the funds were acquired through the war bond program. “From May 1, 1941, through December 1945, the War Finance Division and its predecessors were responsible for the sale of nearly $186 billion worth of government securities. Of this, more than $54 billion was in the form of war savings bonds. E Bonds alone accounting for $33.7 billion.” By the war’s end, individual citizen investments in war bonds funded a substantial part of the bill and baseball played a key role in promoting the program.
Professional baseball organizations recognized that they bore multiple responsibilities in the effort to win the war. In addition to providing citizens with an outlet for inexpensive entertainment and morale boasting, some leaders within the game understood the importance the game had in supplying tangible support. Author Steven Bullock wrote, “Famed baseball executive Branch Rickey expressed the opinion that baseball had an obligation to do everything within its power to bolster the Allied cause, even operating at a break-even level if necessary.” The interwoven histories of baseball and the armed forces extended well before the American Civil War as did the game’s status within the culture of the United States. “Baseball, he [Rickey] reasoned, was so deeply embedded in the American way of life that the two were inseparable. For Rickey, professional baseball’s fate paralleled the fate of the nation as a whole and thus the national pastime should not hesitate to drain its resources to support the war effort,” Bullock surmised.
The game did extend itself into the war effort as many of the lower minor leagues suspended operations (some folded) because of manpower shortages due to players entering the armed forces or participating in vital defense industry jobs. Men who would have played ball at the lower minor league levels found themselves as mere teenagers at the highest levels of the game in the absence of the veteran talent. Suspended leagues and teams offered their uniforms and equipment to the armed forces to provide recreation equipment in combat theaters and domestic bases.
On May 8, 1942, major league baseball initiated its commitment to financially support the war effort with a fund-raising game in support of Army and Navy relief organizations. It was a Giants versus Dodgers game at Ebbets Field (see: Diamond Score: Major League Baseball’s First Service Relief Game). Additional armed forces relief games were played that season, including a game at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium that pitted the American League All-Stars against an aggregation of professional ballplayers serving in the armed forces (see: Historic Game Program Discovery: July 7, 1942 Service All-Stars). However, it was not until May 24, 1943, when major league baseball made headlines in support of war bonds.
Before a crowd of nearly 30,000, the Washington Senators hosted an event that culminated in an exhibition game against the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. Those in attendance made pledges for or directly purchased war bonds to the tune of $2,000,000. Norfolk manager Boatswain Gary Bodie fielded a lineup that included Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Benny McCoy, Eddie Robinson, Don Padgett, Jim Carlin, Jack Conway, “Hooks” DeVaurs, Vinnie Smith and former Red Sox hurler Charlie Wagner on the mound. Norfolk defeated Washington, 4-3, with DiMaggio leading the offense by scoring two of the Bluejackets’ four runs and Wagner holding the Senators scoreless until the ninth inning. Before the game, fans were treated to entertainment from Al Schacht, Bing Crosby and Babe Ruth. Underscoring the purpose of the event was the slogan “every fan a patriot.” The game was the brainchild of Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. With $2,125,375 raised, the event was a resounding success.
By the spring of 1944, exhibition games with service teams in support of raising funds were normative. The previous year saw the peak in terms of single-event fund amounts and many of the star players who had served domestically were now serving in the Territory of Hawaii. With Honolulu League play nearing its end, promoters in Hawaii announced a war bond game to be played at Honolulu Stadium at the end of April, featuring major league stars against an all-star roster of Honolulu League players. Rather than selling tickets directly to the public, tickets would be given to those who purchased war bonds of a $25 denomination for general admission seating and a $50 denomination for reserved seating. Without any announcements of rosters or which players would comprise the two teams, demand for tickets was immediate.  Hawaii baseball fans were fully aware of which major leaguers were already present in Hawaii, but rumors swirled as to the players who would soon be serving in the islands, such as former Brooklyn Dodgers stars Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese, who had recently been detached from the Norfolk Naval Air Station (see: A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital).
The buildup of excitement for the game was continual throughout the month as the Honolulu League’s championship playoffs, the Cronin Series, were underway. The Cronin Series had commenced on March 5 as the Aiea Naval Barracks faced off against the civilian semi-pro Waikiki club. Just days before the start of the Series, Aiea received a much-needed boost with the arrival of former major leaguers Barney McCosky and Johnny Lucadello, who had played previously with the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets. The Aiea club had finished the Honolulu League regular season play in second place, a game behind the Pearl Harbor Marines in the standings. Construction at Honolulu Stadium expanded spectator capacity from just under 20,000 to 25,000 seats. The new configuration accommodated 20,000 general admission and 5,000 reserved seats.
When the USS Ascella (AK-137) arrived at Pearl Harbor, baseball in Hawaii was further enriched as CSP(A) Pee Wee Reese, CSP(A) Hugh Casey, SP(A)2/c Sal Recca, CSP(A) Eddie Shokes and SP(A)2/c Eddie Wodzicki disembarked on April 9.
On April 11, the first day that tickets were available, more than $100,000 in bond sales were reported, with considerable focus on the reserved seating. Promoters anticipated selling out the event. Doing so would result in the biggest crowd in the history of the game in the islands.
Serving as precursor to the war bond game, a game between a Navy ballclub (players from the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins”) and Major League All-Stars was scheduled by Navy officials on April 19 at Weaver Field (at the sub base). The Major League All-Stars’ roster featured several former pro ballplayers who had been on Oahu Island since late 1943; however, Hugh Casey started the game just days after arriving. Pee Wee Reese was ailing from a minor foot injury and thus unavailable for the game. The All-Stars defeated the Navy, 9-3.
|Sp(A) 1/c||George “Skeets” Dickey||C|
|Sp(A) 2/c||Johnny Mize||1B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Barney McCosky||CF|
|CSp (A)||Johnny Lucadello||SS|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Marvin Felderman||3B|
|1St Lt.||Tom Winsett||LF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Joe Grace||3B|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Vern Olsen||RF|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Hugh Casey||P|
|Sp(A) 1/c||Tom Ferrick||P|
|Bill “Dutch” Holland||P|
While the Navy squad was engaged with the Major League All-Stars, it was announced that all 5,000 reserved seats for the war bond game were sold out while plenty of general admission tickets were still available with ten days remaining. On April 23, the Aiea Naval Barracks team clinched the Honolulu League championship with a 3-0 Cronin Series victory over the Hawaiian Air Department club. They dominated the field, posting a 17-1 record and outmatching the Pearl Harbor Marines, who finished second with a 14-4 record. Aiea’s pitcher Joe Wells secured his 8th consecutive win.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS||Tyler (ETXL)||7th AAF|
|Edward Puchleitner||CF||Grand Forks (NORL)||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Sam Mele||1B||NYU||Pearl Harbor Marines|
|Bob Usher||LF||Birmingham (SOUA)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joseph “Joe” Gedzius||2B||Spokane (WINT)||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|(Albert Francis?) Joe Duarte||3B||Pearl Harbor Civilians|
|Frank Roberts||C||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
|Joe Wells||P||Aiea Receiving Barracks|
Aiea’s manager, Wilfred “Rhiney” Rhinelander, was named by league officials to take the helm of the Honolulu League All-Stars. He announced Joe Wells and catcher Frank Roberts as his starting battery on April 25. The following day, the major league lineup was announced, with Hugh Casey towing the rubber as the starting pitcher.
|Player||Pos||Former||1944 Honolulu League Team|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||SS||Dodgers||Aiea Hospital Hilltoppers|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||OF||Browns||Pearl Harbor Submarine Base|
|Barney McCosky||CF||Tigers||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Johnny Mize||1B||Giants||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Johnny Lucadello||IF||Browns||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Tom Winsett||OF||Dodgers||7th AAF|
|Eddie Pellagrini||SS||Louisville (AA)||Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks|
|Marvin Felderman||C||Cubs||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
|Hugh Casey||P||Dodgers||NAS Kaneohe Klippers|
In addition to the war bond sales for game admission, officials planned for an additional fundraiser during the pre-game festivities inside the ballpark. According to an article in the 4/27 Honolulu Advertiser, “Autographed bats and balls of the major league stars who will participate in the war bond game Saturday against the Honolulu League all-stars will be auctioned before the tilt gets underway at 2:30 PM. The fray starts at 3 PM. Mickey Kane, veteran auctioneer, will be in charge.” Rather than following incremental dollar amounts, bidding was set in terms of war bond pledges as part of the 5th War Loan Drive (held between June 5 and July 8).
At $18.75 per ticket, the cost to purchase a $25 war bond amounted to 38 percent of an Army or Marine Corps private’s or a Navy apprentice seaman’s monthly salary, making the game cost-prohibitive. During the Cronin Series, spectators paid $0.55 for bleacher or grandstand general admission seats and $0.75 for grandstand reserved seating, showing 3,300 and 4,900 percent increases in ticket prices for the war bond game. Adjusted for inflation by today’s standards, general admission was equivalent to a $302.25 outlay, though it was an investment rather than money spent. Recognizing the morale-boosting impact of the game, some local businessmen sought to make it available to servicemen who were recovering from war wounds in local military hospitals.
“Large war bond buyers are making it possible for convalescent servicemen to attend the major leaguers – local all-stars baseball game Saturday at Honolulu Stadium, the committee in charge revealed today. Leo Leavitt, boxing promoter, led off by buying $5000 in bonds and turning over 200 general admission tickets for distribution among service men in hospitals.” No record was found and the total number of tickets donated to convalescing GIs remains unknown.
The wooden Honolulu Stadium, nicknamed the “Termite Palace” due to its continual attack by the wood-consuming insects, opened in 1926 and played host to various sporting events, including baseball. In 1934, baseball’s overseas barnstorming squad, featuring Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, played during a stopover en route to Japan. It was during this tour that Red Sox backup catcher Moe Berg famously carried his concealed Bell & Howell movie camera to the roof of Saint Luke’s Hospital in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo, capturing footage of area buildings that was allegedly used eight years later in preparation of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-launched air raid. Speculation swirled that the power-hitting first baseman for the major league squad, Johnny Mize, formerly with the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, would accomplish what Babe Ruth could not do in ’34.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on April 27 that “baseball fans are speculating on the possibility of Johnny Mize accomplishing what has never been done before – hitting a ball over the right field bleachers of the Honolulu Stadium.” League president Earle K. Vida told reporters that Mize “sized up the stadium and said he believed he could knock one over the right field bleachers.” While the distance from home plate to the bottom of the right field bleachers was only 315 feet, “Theodore “Pump” Searle, stadium manager, estimates it would take another 150 feet to get the ball over. Even the mighty Babe Ruth was unable to do this when he played here,” the Star-Bulletin piece stated.
The day before the game, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported brisk sales for general admission seats as fans were ensuring that they would witness history and be part of the anticipated baseball spectacle. With the early afternoon game time set, the Honolulu Star-Tribune posted the pre-game schedule of events, with batting practice for the home team All-Stars at 1:00 followed by the major leaguers at 1:40. Infield warm-ups ran for 20 minutes, commencing at 2:15 to allow 25 minutes for the auction ahead of the game.
Unlike the April 19 game with the Navy nine, the major league squad had their hands full against the Honolulu League All-Stars. The “locals” pitching staff held their own, inning after inning. Wells held the big leaguers hitless for the first three frames but began to struggle in the top of the fourth. Former Philadelphia Athletics and USS Boston sailor Al Brancato earned a free pass with Johnny Lucadello following suit with another walk. Tom Winsett drove the ball deep for a long-distance out, allowing Brancato and Lucadello to advance. Marv Felderman’s deep fly ball plated Brancato for the first run of the game.
In the home half of the sixth inning, Holland, who had relieved Wells on the mound, led off with a fly-out. Saviori drove a screaming ground ball deep in the hole at second, forcing a normally sure-handed Pee Wee Reese to bobble it, and he reached safely. Frank Powell, spelling starting shortstop Kohlmeyer, singled to right field and advanced the runner to third. Jaab followed with a slow roller to Lucadello, who could not field the ball before Saviori scored to tie the game. 
The score remained locked at one run apiece. In the top of the 12th, Joe Grace led off with a single to center. Barney McCosky followed, advancing Grace to second on a fielder’s choice. Len Kasparovitch walked Johnny Mize. Brancato stepped to the plate and laced a rocket to centerfield. Jaab, who had taken over for starter Puchleitner, misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll past. The bases would have been cleared had it not been for fan interference as the ball rolled up to the standing room only crowd beyond the centerfield rope barrier. What would have been an inside-the-park homerun was ruled a ground-rule double as a spectator picked up the live ball. Grace crossed the plate and his run was counted, breaking the 1-1 tie. The major leaguers had runners in scoring position with Mize at third and Brancato at second with one out. Lucadello singled to right, allowing Mize to tally the third run of the game for the major leaguers as Brancato moved 90 feet away from pay dirt. Executing a double steal attempt as Lucadello broke for second, Al Brancato raced for home and scored the third run of the inning.
Trailing 4-1, the All-Stars were not willing to acquiesce to the major leaguers. Starter Hugh Casey had pitched through the first five innings. Jack Hallett had pitched in the sixth and seventh innings (allowing one run), followed by Vern Olsen in the eighth. Tom Ferrick had pitched the next three frames as the bullpen kept the home team from pay dirt. In to close out the game, Walt Masterson toed the rubber for the major leaguers and looked like he was about to close the door after he fanned Garbe. However, Gino Marionetti had other ideas as he drove a ball between Winsett and McCosky and wound up standing on second. Masterson struck out Charles Simmons for the second out of the inning. Backup catcher Ray Fletcher crushed a triple that scored Marionetti and cut the major league lead to two runs. Masterson then got the final out and preserved the 4-2 victory.
Pee Wee Reese led the major league squad with three of his team’s 13 base hits while Al Brancato accounted for 50 percent of the runs. McCosky, Mize, Lucadello and Winsett had two hits each and Brancato and Grace had one. Mize was unsuccessful in clearing the right field stands but did hit a double. The major leaguers swiped five bags as Brancato and Lucadello each stole a pair and McCosky accounted for one. Despite his lone hit, Al Brancato was clearly the player of the game, adding an RBI to his offensive total.
While all 5,000 reserved seats were sold, nearly 5,000 general admission seats were empty; however, the goal of raising $1,000,000 was far exceeded. The pregame auction raised more than $650,000, with the Hawaii Territorial Employees’ Retirement System committing $400,000 in their winning bids for autographed memorabilia. In total, $1,180,000 in war bonds was raised for the event.
With the Hawaii League days away from commencing season play, many of the major leaguers joined the Navy’s 14th Naval District All-Stars for a matchup at Schofield Barracks’ Chickamauga Park the following day. Except for Tom Winsett, who played for the Army nine, the entire roster of major league players was joined by a handful of Pearl Harbor Sub Base sailors as the Navy blanked their counterparts, 9-0. Brancato was once again the offensive star, tallying three of the Navy’s runs and driving in another three in a 2-3 performance at the plate in front of 18,000 servicemen. Unlike the previous day’s game, this contest was played for an audience that consisted entirely of service personnel and served as a morale boost.
 A History of the United States Savings Bonds Program, U.S. Savings Bonds Division, Department of the Treasury, 1991.
 Bullock, Steven R. 2004. Playing for their nation: baseball and the American military during World War II. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
 Whittlesey, Merrill W., War Bond Game Glitters Before $2,000,000 Gate, The Sporting News, June 3, 1943: 2.
 Keen Interest in War Bond Game Apr. 29, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 1, 1944: 8
 Watson, Don, Speaking of Sports Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 12, 1944
 A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital, ChevronsandDiamonds.org, July 24, 2021
 Reserve Seats Are Sold Out, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 19, 1944
 Auction at Bond Game, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 27, 1944: 12
 Convalescent Service Men Will Attend Saturday Baseball Game, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 27, 1944: 10
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 18
 Major Leaguers Win in 12 Innings 4-2, The Honolulu Advertiser Sun April 30, 1944: 16
 14th Naval District All-Stars who Blanked Army 9-0, The Honolulu Advertiser, May 7, 1944: 14
We often discuss items that have been on our “want” lists for extended periods of time and when such items are located, there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment. In some instances, we have merely speculated that an item, such as a game program or scorecard, must have been created for a game and then we hold out hope to find one (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). In other areas of baseball militaria curating, we are fully aware of the existence of artifacts but have fallen victim to limited budgets or poor timing. With the highly competitive market for military-marked World War II baseball bats, we have found specific examples to be entirely elusive.
In the past few years, we have been able to curate an assortment of wartime baseball bats; however, we have been limited to sourcing just two of the four known branch markings. In our May 11, 2021 article. Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, we spotlighted military markings found on wartime bats along with factors that influence collector competition and valuation. Aside from player endorsements found on military-marked bats, bats marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” are by far the most heavily sought. Bats marked with “U.S. Army” (sans “Special Services”) are a close second in terms of desirability, while “U.S.N.” and “U.S.”- marked pieces bring up the rear. The Chevrons and Diamonds bat collection has consisted entirely of bats marked with the latter stamps.
Condition has also been a factor that has allowed us to acquire the pieces in our collection. Often purchasing items that have been abused or neglected and show substantial signs of decay and wear, we have taken on bats that collectors would not consider acquiring as firewood, let alone displaying as a prized artifact. If we determine that a piece can be reconditioned and repaired while preserving the aesthetics, we will take pieces with such efforts in mind. To date, we have experienced success with a handful of pieces.
Searching for pieces endorsed by 1930s and ‘40s legends and marked with the elusive service stamps has proven to be a source of frustration. Our previous experience leads us to keep our expectations extremely low when a prospective item becomes available at auction. We bid amounts that are within budget only to watch the prices reach 200 percent or more above our bid and well above reason. Service-marked bats that are in excellent or better condition attract bidding that goes far beyond our top price and we watch them pass by.
In the last quarter of 2021, one seller listed in succession six or seven wartime service-marked bats with endorsements, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and others, each featuring some of the most sought-after branch stampings. It was obvious that the group of auction listings pointed to a collector’s carefully curated collection that was in the process of being liquidated and the market responded accordingly. Each listing was highly contested by several bidders, driving prices to several hundred dollars for each piece. By the end of November, all the listings closed and we were unable to compete for any of them.
During the holiday season, a few individual auction listings for wartime service bats surfaced. One of the items was a Hillerich & Bradsby Safe Hit Johnny Mize Model bat marked with “U.S. Army” on the barrel. Viewing the accompanying photos, it was clear that the condition of the bat was excellent despite indications of game use. All the branded stamps were deep, dark and very visible and the wood surface still held the manufacturer’s original finish. A subtle irony regarding the service stamp was that Mize served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Athletic Specialist First Class Mize enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March, 1943 as his New York Giant teammates were weeks-deep into spring training. The manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane, had an established pipeline serving as a feeder to keep his team’s roster stocked with pro ballplayers when they entered the Navy. Cochrane’s Bluejackets landed a true power hitter in Mize as he joined a team that included several former major leaguers, including Frank Biscan, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace, Johnny Lucadello, Barney McCosky, Red McQuillen and Johnny Schmitz.
Johnny Mize was transferred to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was slated to play for the base team while in a training program. Unfortunately, baseball was not an option for the slugger as an illness kept him on light duty, excluding all physical exertion as he convalesced.
By the spring of 1944, Mize was on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and assigned to the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay. He was promptly assigned to the base’s baseball team, the Klippers. In addition to his playing for the Klippers club, Mize also played for various All-Star teams and on the Navy’s Service World Series team that defeated their Army counterparts in four straight games in the autumn of 1944. In early 1945, Mize joined an assemblage of Navy ballplayers for a weeks-long tour of the western Pacific, playing exhibition games to boost the morale of troops stationed on the islands (see Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature).
As 2021 was winding to a close, it became apparent that the bid we placed was going to succeed and deliver to our collection its first U.S. Army marked piece. Perhaps it was the timing of the holidays and the pre-payday-post-Christmas financial crunch many people face that led to the limited competition at the auction that afforded us this win. The well-packed Johnny Mize model bat arrived safely and without any complications. Upon close examination of the wood grain, knob, barrel and brand marks, we were quite pleased to note that the condition was better than was discernible in the auction images.
With the addition of this bat and several other items that we have curated for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the new year is off to an incredible start!
Wartime Service Bats:
- Healing Battle Scars: Double Ott Rejuvenation – October 16, 2021
- Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market – May 11, 2021
- “Game Used” Lumber: Wartime Service Adds Meaning for Collectors – October 31, 2020
- Tools of the Trade: Wartime Equipment used by (Former) Professional Ballplayers – July 9, 2020
- Charlie “King Kong” Keller Rattles the Woodshed ending a Yearlong Silence – May 8, 2020
- Hard to Find Military Sticks: “Double-X” Joins Our World War II Baseball Lumber Pile – April 9, 2019
- Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved – February 7, 2019
- Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature – September 12, 2019
- Klipper Day: Marking the End of a Season – April 30, 2020
- Scorecards and Programs: Service World Series, 1944 – Hawaiian Islands
A note to our readers: This is a follow-up to our piece, A Sinking News Story: World Series Hero Gene Bearden, a Sub-Chaser and the Loss of the USS Helena as new evidence has been brought to our attention.
Accuracy and completeness. Throughout the six years that we have been researching artifacts, teams and players, we have taken great strides to ensure that we bring to bear and exhaust each research avenue that we have at our disposal in order to publish content that is both accurate and complete. In the absence of supporting facts, we have opted to sit on stories rather than to publish something that contains erroneous or unsupported information or to wait until we are able to find substantiating evidence. In six weeks of tireless research and story development, we were satisfied that we had excavated everything about Gene Bearden’s USS Helena story, citing our inability to locate the origin of the narrative. However, within 12 hours of publishing our latest article, one of our readers, Charlie Burrow. located what we were unable to find – the connection to Bearden as the originator of the USS Helena narrative.
Tribe’s War-Mangled Bearden Hid Injuries Behind Big Curve
Making his major league debut as a starting pitcher, Gene Bearden pitched a very good game, lasting 8-2/3 innings on the road against the Washington Senators on May 8, 1948. The Navy veteran limited Senators batters to just three hits while walking four. He struck out five and allowed Washington’s only run as the Indians beat the “Nats,” 6-1. Not only was he marvelous on the mound, but he also got his first major league hit and drove in his first RBI off Sid Hudson as part of Cleveland’s 5-run scoring spree in the eighth inning.
Naturally, the eyes of the press focused upon the Indians’ rookie knuckleball pitcher following his impressive debut. Sportswriter Harry Jones of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had a high-quality story about Bearden’s first career win and also something far deeper that would draw the attention of Americans from coast to coast. Whatever was lacking in the October, 1948 narratives about Bearden’s harrowing experience on the USS Helena, Harry Jones’ May 9, 1948, article ensured that no doubts existed about the pitcher being the story’s originator.
Jones reported that Bearden, “was in the ship’s engine room when it was struck by a torpedo” and was given orders to abandon ship. In fact, three Japanese torpedoes struck the ship within a span of three minutes, breaking the ship’s keel, opening the propulsion machinery spaces to the sea and causing rapid flooding. With both engine rooms filling with water, the ship’s propulsion and electrical power were knocked out. Two minutes after the third torpedo struck the ship, the commanding officer gave the order to abandon ship.
Harry Jones described Bearden’s ordeal. “Given instructions to abandon ship,” Jones wrote, “Gene began to climb a metal ladder leading out of the engine room when a second torpedo struck. The ladder crumbled and he was hurled to the floor below.” The narrative continued, “His knee was twisted and crushed and his head was split open by flying fragments and he lay unconscious in the pit of the sinking ship.”
The published accounts of Helena’s final moments do not align with the story written by Jones. Within two minutes of the first torpedo striking the ship, flooding was so massive in the forward engine room that seawater began to reach engine room number two before the second and third torpedoes struck roughly 120 seconds after the first crippling shot. Bearden’s story suggests that he had time to climb a ladder that was subsequently blown apart, throwing him to the deck of the space. However, those spaces were rapidly flooding and the deck was several feet beneath in-rushing seas. With the ladder destroyed, somehow Bearden, 6-4 and 198 pounds, was carried from the depths of the darkened, flooding and sinking ship and led into the waters of the Kula Gulf sometime after 2:00 a.m. as the Helena was breaking apart less than 15 minutes from the impact of the first torpedo.
“Somebody pulled me out,” Gene said. “They told me later it was an officer. I don’t know how he did it. The ship went down in about 17 minutes. All I know is that I came to in the water some time later.”– Gene Bearden, Bearden’s Secret is Out: Torpedo Can’t Stop Him, Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1948
Bearden’s story takes him from being in the water to spending two days adrift in a life raft before being transported back to the States and to a Jacksonville, Florida-area hospital, where he was advised that his baseball career was effectively over due to the severity of his wounds.
“I don’t know how many doctors told me that,” Gene said. “I didn’t know what to do. I learned a trade in the Navy, but baseball was the only thing I had known. Finally, I ran across a doctor who said he might be able to patch me up well enough. I think his name was Wyland. He was quite a guy. He worked with me for months.”– Gene Bearden, Bearden’s Secret is Out: Torpedo Can’t Stop Him, Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1948
The road to recovery, according to Jones’ article, was a lengthy one, with Bearden suffering damage to his kneecap that “had been crushed beyond repair.” The Plain Dealer piece continued, “The ligaments in his leg had been so badly mangled that an aluminum cap and screw were inserted.” Bearden’s skull trauma was so severe that “the aluminum plate was inserted where his skull had been gouged open,” wrote Jones in describing Bearden’s wounds. Following surgical procedures, Bearden reportedly spent the first month in bed. “For two more months, he wore a plaster cast, but was able to maneuver with crutches, then a cane,” the story continued. With Bearden arriving in Florida sometime in August of 1943, it was not until March of 1944 that he was able to walk unaided.
According to Jones, Bearden was not discharged from the hospital until January, 1945, following “a series of leg exercises which gave him full use of the limb.” Weeks later, Bearden was pitching for the Binghamton club, starting an Impressive 8-game winning streak.
Bearden Perfects Knuckler in Bid for Tribe Mound Job
Surprisingly, the May 9, 1948, story was not the initial source of the Cleveland newspaper account of Bearden’s wartime experiences. On April 11, Harry Jones reported a slightly different USS Helena account. “We were chasing a couple of Jap tin cans (submarines),” Bearden relayed.
“Somehow we got right between ‘em and they let us have it, but good. The ship went down in 16 minutes. I was in the engine room and had started up the ladder when we got hit. The next thing I remember I was in the water. They told me afterward that a chief pulled me out of the engine room and got me on a raft just before the ship went under. We were in the water for the next three days and I was unconscious just about half the time. Finally we got picked up and that was the end of the war for me.”– Gene Bearden, Bearden Knuckles Down to Capture Job, Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 11, 1948
The variation of details between the two stories told weeks apart would not typically be cause for concern; however, without official Navy documentation to support Bearden’s claims, alterations to the narrative become suspect.
Focusing solely on these two published accounts with Bearden’s commentary, it is clear that the pitcher was responsible for the origin of the USS Helena story. Strangely, another published account accompanied the two 1948 Plain Dealer articles. It leaves us questioning Bearden’s motive behind the false narrative.
Bears Get Bearden, Navy Vet – Twice Torpedoed, Rescued as Ships went Down
Following Bearden’s fantastic season with the Binghamton Triplets, he was sold to the Newark Bears. Seeking to introduce the club’s new pitcher to Newark fans, William Klein of the Newark Star Ledger published Bearden’s wartime account, titled Bears Get Bearden, Navy Vet on September 6, 1945. Aside from a few minor variances from the 1948 story, Klein told of Bearden’s year-long hospitalization in the aftermath of his survival ordeal from the Helena. From this point, the story had a confusing twist.
“After a year’s hospitalization,” Klein stated, “he was assigned to the Elliot and again was fished out of the Pacific when an aerial torpedo sent the destroyer to the bottom.” However, the USS Elliot (DD-146), one of the many destroyers present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was serving as a training ship from August, 1944 to June, 1945. USS Elliot was decommissioned on October 12, 1945 and was sold for scrap in 1946. “Bearden was hardly scratched,” Klein wrote, “except for both legs broken, his right arm shattered in several spots and a severe back injury. After another long hospital siege, he was discharged.”
When the National Military Personnel Records Center (NMPRC) re-opens, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests will be made in an attempt to clear-up the unknown details such as the nature of Bearden’s discharge and to confirm each of his training and duty stations.
Today, society can be far too swift to disparage a veteran with accusations of “stolen valor” as it levies attacks on service members who embellish their service careers. While there is certainly enough evidence to point fingers at Bearden as the author of a fallacy, he did serve his country honorably during one of the most challenging periods of our nation’s history. Motor Machinist’s Mate 3/c Bearden did serve aboard a Navy ship sailing into harm’s way and was aboard when she was involved in a destructive collision that could have easily resulted in the loss of life including his own.
The navy blue athletic flannel lettering spelled out “20th REGT” on the chest of the gray flannel jersey, was intriguing and piqued our interest. The flannel had been shared in a social media post in a baseball memorabilia collectors’ group that was brought to our attention by a colleague prompting us to research what could be discerned from the accompanying photos. The item was quite obviously a wartime baseball flannel jersey and the person who shared photos of his find discovered the artifact in an antiques store. “I found this today in Missouri. It is an old military baseball jersey,” the accompanying text stated. “Is it worth $45?” he asked.
The lettering on the front of the jersey indicated that the player that wore it was an Army veteran and was potentially assigned to the 20th Regiment. Initial inclinations would lead nearly anyone armed with a basic understanding of Army structure to assume that this was an infantry regiment. Prudence dictates that one must not make assumptions or forgo proper due diligence in determining the identity of the unit and age of the artifact.
We were already familiar with the 20th Infantry Regiment due to a 2018 acquisition of a veteran’s collection of baseball photos that captured his unit playing baseball on New Guinea and Luzon during the war (see Following the Horrors of Battle in the Pacific, Baseball was a Welcomed Respite). Known as “Sykes Regulars,” the 20th Infantry Regiment, attached to the Sixth Infantry Division, saw some of the most intense fighting of World War II. With 219 consecutive days of combat leading up to April 15, 1945, on the Philippine Island of Luzon, the Sykes Regulars played baseball after the end of the fighting. Some members of the 20th played baseball on New Guinea as well.
Despite the obvious identity, questions remained. The jersey could have been from another branch such an artillery, armored or engineer regiment but it could also have been from a state National Guard unit. Determining the age of the jersey would be a bit less of a challenge regardless of the absence of a useful manufacturer’s label.
Several baseball collectors responded to the question as to its value and the feedback unanimously confirmed the potential buyer’s questions. A few of the respondents added that the asking price was reasonable enough that they would buy the jersey. After commenting on the post and providing some information regarding the 20th Infantry Regiment, we reached out directly (offline) to Mr. Terry Akin, the person who made the social media post, and began corresponding to determine if there was any additional information that accompanied the jersey.
At that time, the 20th Regiment jersey, which was originally accompanied with matching trousers, was still for sale at the antiques shop as a single item. Unfortunately, another customer purchased the trousers. Our colleague was planning to return to purchase the jersey and to resell the piece. After we introduced him to Chevrons and Diamonds and our mission, research and education efforts, he wanted to acquire the jersey and, much to our surprise and gratitude, donate it to our collection, citing his own passion for the game and career in the Army as reasons to assist us.
With the jersey in hand, we assessed its condition to determine the best route for care before adding the piece to the collection. Inspecting it for evidence of pests along with any soiling or troubled areas that would need attention was a priority. Perhaps one of the most disastrous actions would have been to introduce an infestation of pest eggs such as from silverfish, carpet beetles and moths. Their appetite for natural wool fibers can exact irreparable damage upon a historic vintage jersey in just a few days. With the inspection for pests completed, a check was performed on all the stitching in the seams, the soutache and the lettering and numbers to determine the condition of the threads. It would have been unfortunate to damage the jersey by displaying it on a mannequin torso. Visual examination of the base wool material helped to determine if cleaning was required to prevent fiber decay and erosion caused by fine particles of soil embedded in the natural fibers.
With the condition assessment completed and showing no glaring issues, documenting the jersey’s design, pattern, materials, labels, and any other identifying traits served to assist in the identification and dating of the piece. Another crucial step when introducing a newly acquired artifact is to photo document it to establish a baseline to assess decay and deterioration for intervention and subsequent corrective action.
With many hours of research already completed, we are still unsure as to the identity of the unit team on which our 20th Regiment Jersey was used. However, having determined the garment’s age based upon the pattern and features of the flannel, it is our assessment that it dates from 1940 to 1942. The details of the 20th Regiment jersey are available for a closer look in our Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms.
The addition of this piece to our growing collection of military flannels serves to preserve armed forces baseball history, will be a centerpiece of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection and will serve as a visual tool to educate our virtual and in-person guests. We and our visitors are grateful to Mr. Akin for his generous donation.
Note: This is the conclusion of our three-part Pee Wee Reese series. See part one: Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy and part two: A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital
The winter months of 1944-45 provided some of the fiercest fighting of the war for American troops in both the European and Pacific combat theaters. The late October battle of Leyte Gulf paved the way for the coming invasion of the Philippines as General Douglas MacArthur was set to deliver on his promise to the Filipino people and to the Americans taken captive by the Japanese. Early January saw that promise fulfilled as the nearly eight-month campaign to wrest the Japanese occupiers from the islands commenced. As the 1944 calendar flipped to 1945, the Battle of the Bulge in Europe was into its third week, with heavy casualties from the enemy that were exacerbated by the harshest winter in decades.
On the home front, both the Army and Navy were dealing with a public relations mess following the Army’s early release of a prominent professional athlete. “The discharge of a well-known professional football player for physical disability,” Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, was quoted in Chattanooga Daily Times (February 28, 1945) sports columnist Wirt Gammon’s Just Between Us Fans column, “followed immediately by successful participation by that individual in professional games, is obviously subjected to widespread [public] disapproval.” Speculation among sportswriters was that the unnamed professional athlete who was released from service was the 1942 Heisman Trophy winner and former University of Georgia halfback Frank Sinkwich, who was medically discharged due to pes planus or “flat feet.”
Following the Army and Navy’s very public Service World Series baseball spectacle in Hawaii that was covered in every newspaper from coast to coast, public perspective may have become less than favorable as casualties continued to mount and citizens were growing fatigued from strict rationing. Athletes may have appeared to them to not be lacking in necessities.
The Hawaiian Islands were nearly overrun with professional ballplayers serving in uniform, with more players arriving throughout the fall and winter months. Talk of assembling teams and taking a multi-team contingent of all-star caliber players on tour to the Western Pacific to entertain troops started ramping up and rumors began to circulate among the athletes. It wasn’t long before the scuttlebutt, a Navy term for gossip, became reality. According to author Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. in his 1984 book Athletes Away, there was a (then) unverified rumor that he was made aware of years later. “The players heard a story to the effect that when former pro tennis player Bobby Riggs had gotten on the short wave radio one night in Pearl to announce the [baseball] tour to the servicemen in the area, “ Crissey wrote, “the broadcast happened to be picked up on Guam, where Admiral Nimitz, as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, had recently moved his headquarters.” According to the story, Nimitz was unaware of the planned tour and was less than thrilled with Riggs’ radio broadcast. “That’s O.K.,” he supposedly said. “Send those athletes out here, and when they get through with their tour, we’ll put them to work with picks and shovels.”
Multiple stories cycled among the players regarding the genesis of the Pacific tour. In an undated letter written by Pee Wee Reese many years later, he responded to a memorabilia collector’s inquiry surrounding a game-used bat that had been autographed and inscribed with details of the Pacific tour. The collector asked of Reese, “How did so many well-known players come together on a little island in the Pacific?” On Louisville Slugger letterhead, Reese responded, “They got too many in Honolulu and Admiral Nimitz decided to get rid of a few. They selected two teams (baseball) – two fighters – Georgie Abrams and Fred Apostoli – tennis player Bobby Riggs. We more or less just barnstormed all through the Pacific.”
|Mace Brown||P||Red Sox|
|Mike Budnick||LF||Seattle (PCL)|
|Joseph “Joe” Grace||RF||Browns|
|Merrill “Pinky” May||3B||Phillies|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||SS||Dodgers|
|Johnny Rigney||P||White Sox|
|Cornelius “Connie” Ryan||3B||Braves|
|Jim Trexler||P||Indianapolis (AA)|
The 28 men chosen for the tour played a warm-up game in early February that saw the Navy face off against a roster of Army stars. The Navy rotated their players through the order, ensuring that each one saw action. Virgil Trucks started the game and Hal White finished it. Pee Wee played the entire game at short. Despite dropping the contest, the outcome was less of a concern as the Navy wanted to get the players tuned up. The Army fielded a squad that resembled the 1944 Service World Series team and they defeated the Navy, 4-2. Days later, with the 28 players divided into two rosters for a split squad contest, the Third Fleet faced the Fifth Fleet for one last tune-up before heading to the Western Pacific. Pee Wee’s Third Fleet nine blanked their opponents, 2-0.
|Albert (Al) Brancato||SS||Athletics|
|George “Skeets” Dickey||C||White Sox|
|Del Ennis||LF||Trenton (ISLG)|
|Benny Huffman||LF||San Antonio (TL)|
|Frank Marino||P||Tulsa (TL)|
|Glenn “Red” McQuillen||CF||Browns|
|Johnny Vander Meer||P||Reds|
From Hawaii, the two twin-engine U.S. Marine Corps C-46 Curtiss Commandos flew southwest to tiny Johnston Atoll, which served as a seaplane and patrol base during the war. The island was far too small to provide enough space for a baseball diamond amid the 6,000-foot runway, buildings and fuel and freshwater storage, which meant that the personnel stationed there were not able to witness a game. After refueling, the two aircraft departed for the Marshall Islands, where the Third and Fifth Fleet teams provided entertainment to the contingent of Seabees and other personnel stationed there who were suffering from boredom. “You get so you repeat conversations. Jokes get so old they creak,” Constructionman 3/c Joseph C. Ashlock wrote in a letter to his parents. With the arrival of the Navy ballplayers, there was excitement. “There were several major league baseball players, including Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer and Barney McCosky,” wrote the young CB in his letter, published in the March 15, 1945 edition of the Spokane Chronicle. “I might have lived a lifetime in the States and never seen half of these fellows,” Ashlock continued. “But here we were together on a backyard island in the Pacific,” he concluded.
In addition to three days of baseball, the men on the island with Ashlock were treated to a three-round exhibition bout between Fred Apostoli and Georgie Abrams as well as to “lightning-fast” table tennis matches featuring Bobby Riggs against former teen national ping pong champion Buddy Blattner.
From island to island, the teams followed similar entertainment agendas for troops on the tiny atolls of Majuro, Kwajalein and Roi in the Marshall Islands and to Anguar in the western Caroline Islands. Though it had only been a few months since the cessation of the 73-day battle at “Bloody” Peleliu, the tour made stops on that island along with Ulithi in the Carolines. Unlike games in the major league palaces, those played on the islands were intimate. The men of the Third and Fifth Fleet teams were sailors who happened to be ballplayers. Unlike the massive barrier that sets contemporary ballplayers in a protective bubble on a towering pedestal, the men on the tours were immersed in the crowds of servicemen, joining them in the chow halls and around the bases after the scheduled events. Signing autographs was normal and one can imagine that countless signatures were captured by sailors to be sent home to family and friends.
Petty Officer 1/c H. K. Emmons and his brother-in-law, William H. Bowes, sent home a game program that was autographed by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer, according to Walt Hanson’s Sportsfolio column in the March 15, 1945 edition of the Long Branch, New Jersey’s Daily Record.
The Third and Fifth Fleet teams entertained thousands of troops throughout the Mariana islands including Tinian, Saipan and Guam, from which the B-29 Superfortresses conducted raids on the Japanese homeland. Seabees stationed on each location carved out ballfields in the coral for the teams to play on. With the majority of the athletes being graduates of the athletic Instructor schools that were the brainchild of the “fighting Marine,” Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight champion boxer-turned Navy Commander joined the men on a few of the tour stops, raving about his players. “About the hottest player right now is Johnny Mize, the old Giant,” the boxer stated. “I dare say he would lift any second division big league team at least two notches in the standings. He is hitting home runs which travel about a mile and never get much higher off the ground than a trolley wire,” Tunney professed. Without fail, Tunney shined a spotlight on the former Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, “I hasten to add, too, that Pee Wee Reese is at the very top of his form,” said the still very fit 47-year-old pugilist. “He scampers like a rabbit, has lost none of his bounce and still covers a world of ground.” Dan Parker relayed this quote in his March 29, 1945 column in the Camden, New Jersey Courier Post, from a report submitted by Bob Sylvester, who was embedded with the players on the tour.
The ballplayers were loose and playing well together despite the demanding schedule. As is normal for most GIs stationed in far-off locations, spontaneity combined with a lack of foresight of consequences can lead to rather humorous if not dangerous situations. While riding between Saipan and Tinian in a landing craft, returning from a ballgame, “Elbie Fletcher, smoking a cigar, offered to jump overboard for $25,” reported Bob Sylvester. “It was quickly raised. In he (Fletcher) went, after first giving the coxswain $5 to come back and pick him up. As the coxswain came alongside,” Sylvester continued, “Pee Wee Reese, who had contributed some of the $25, leaned over the side and tried to keep Elbie’s head under water by poking at him with an old mop.” Sylvester concluded the tale, “Fletcher was immediately hauled aboard with the (soggy) cigar butt still in his kisser.”
Though the Americans held control over the islands and hostilities had effectively ended, not all of the Japanese soldiers were neutralized when the ballplayers were present. Sylvester reported that some of the enemy combatants, themselves baseball fans and keen on American major leaguers, were keeping a watchful eye on the American activities and would sneak up close enough to watch the ball games.
“After a few more exhibitions as a group, the troupe will be broken up and its members assigned to various Mariana Islands for athletic drills and to supervise rehabilitation training in the hospitals,” reported the Kenosha News on March 27, 1945 in Sports Stars Go Overseas to Play for Service Men.
Nearly two dozen games were played on the tour and true to Nimitz’ word, rather than being sent back to the U.S. or Hawaii, the men were put to work. In the aforementioned Reese letter, Pee Wee said, “When we finished, they broke us up (and) sent us everywhere. I ended up on Guam. I guess you could say we were suppose (sic) to entertain the troops. They seemed to enjoy it.”
With as many as 10,000 troops surrounding makeshift ballfields, the stars not only put on highly competitive exhibitions but also took the time to interact with sailors, marines and soldiers before and after the games. “I saw Pee Wee Reese, Vander Meer and others on an island out here recently,” OAM 1/c David P. Charles wrote in his letter to the Greenville (South Carolina) News, published on May 15, 1945. “The ballpark is a little rough but it serves the purpose.” GIs wrote letters to many hometown newspapers, relaying details about the tours or encounters with players as thousands of them were positively impacted by the players’ presence.
At the end of the tour, Chief Athletic Specialist Reese was sent to Guam, where he was quickly put to work by former Notre Dame tailback and 1943 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lt. Angelo Bertelli as a physical fitness instructor and a coach of the Third Marine Division’s All-Star baseball team. The Paducah (Kentucky) Sun-Democrat reported on May 16, 1945 that Pee was ineligible to play on the Marine All-Star team.
In early May, the Third Marine All-Stars held a “spring” training of sorts in 100-degree temperatures on the island, with Bertelli having been assigned there following fierce fighting on Iwo Jima. Down more than 20 pounds from his playing weight at Notre Dame, Bertelli was not only leading the team with Pee Wee as an assistant but he was also playing in the field. Ineligible to play alongside Lt. Bertelli, who was playing third base, Pee Wee was itching for some game action. “I had hoped I’d be able to get into a lineup now and then,” the Dodgers infielder lamented to Marine combat correspondent Sgt. Bill Ross (published in the May 24 edition of the New York Daily News). “I’ve played just occasionally in the past year and I’d like to get into the game with a fast bunch of boys like this Third Division outfit,” Reese remarked.
Though he relayed no details of the game, Marine 1st Lt. C. E. Williamson sent a note that was published in the May 24, 1945 Nevada State Journal regarding the somewhat incomplete line-ups for a game between the Third Marine Division All-Star team and a Navy All-Star team. In this game, rather than being posted at his normal third base coaching position, Chief Petty Officer Pee Wee Reese opposed the Third Marine team from the shortstop spot in a line-up that included Connie Ryan, RF; Red McQuillen, CF; Del Ennis, 3B; Johnny Vander Meer, 1B-P; Virgil Trucks, LF-P; George Dickey, C; Tom Ferrick, P; and Hal White, UT.
One of Reese and Bertelli’s Third Marine team members, Pfc. Stanley Bazan, a former catcher in the St. Louis Browns organization, was wounded in combat on Iwo Jima while serving as a machine gunner in the 21st Marine Regiment. An enemy round penetrated his right shoulder and after two months of healing, his coaches were skeptical of his ability to play behind the plate. The East Chicago native found approval from Reese after demonstrating his prowess both behind and at the plate. “The Browns have a good prospect in Bazan,” Reese was quoted in The Times of Munster, Indiana. “He handles a pitcher well, has a strong, accurate arm and hits all sorts of pitching.” Bazan was under contract with the Toledo Mud Hens in 1943 when he enlisted into the Marines. Rather than returning to professional baseball and despite Reese’s assessment, Bazan signed with the semi-pro “Autos” of the Michigan State League in 1946.
|Stanley Bazan||C||Pensacola (SEAL)|
|Edmond J. “Ed” Beaumier||P||Trois-Rivieres (CAML)|
|Angelo Bertelli||MGR||Notre Dame University|
|Gene Bledsoe||1B||Mississipi State U.|
|Ray Congdon||OF||Sudbury (ISLG)|
|Harold “Hal” Connors||SS||Roanoke (PIED)|
|Andy Gibson||3B||Allentown (ISLG)|
|Ted Patterson||SS||Southern Association|
|Harold “Pee Wee” Reese||MGR||Dodgers|
|Robert J. Schang||CF||Monroe (CSTL)|
Bazan’s teammate, Corporal Edmund J. Beaumier of Maine, a veteran of campaigns at both Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and a former left-handed pitcher in the Indians organization, was wounded in action on Guadalcanal, taking a hit to his pitching arm. Fully recovered from his wound, the 23-year-old Beaumier was striking out the competition with relative ease. Beaumier returned to his professional career after the war, making it as high as class “A” in the minor leagues in 1949, when he stepped away from the game.
The ballfields on Guam were rudimentary, with simplistic features such as backstops and dirt or coral playing surfaces. Venues such as Gab Gab and Geiger Fields were quite literally carved into the landscape by Seabees using heavy equipment. In the high temperatures and humidity, the sunlight would heat the ground which, in turn, reflected the heat upwards to make play fairly miserable. When Pee Wee Reese wrote home about the conditions, his wife, Dorothy, dispatched a rather heavy care package that took a mere three months to reach her sailor husband on Guam. Inside the box, Pee Wee found 20 pounds of Kentucky blue grass seed. “Pee Wee planted it immediately,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported on July 25, 1945. “He waters it daily and has it protected with several ‘Keep off the grass’ signs.”
While baseball was being played on the island, the 20th Air Force was pressing the fight on the Japanese home islands with incessant daytime bombing missions originating from Guam, Saipan and Tinian. For several months, the 20th also dropped more than 63 million leaflets warning the citizens of Japan of the continued raids. With many of the population pouring out of the cities that were potential targets, one of the objectives of the leaflet campaign, Japanese officials ordered the arrest of citizens in possession of the documents. On the morning of August 6, Colonel Paul Tibbetts guided his B-29, Enola Gay, airborne from Tinian. A few hours later, the first bomb, “Little Boy,” was released over Hiroshima. Three days later, the second bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped over Nagasaki from the bomb bay of Bock’s Car, another 20th Air Force B-29, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney. Following the second bombing, the Emperor announced the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 15 and eighteen days later the formal instrument was signed aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
With the end of hostilities, the operations on Guam changed from supporting bombing missions to dropping supplies to the POW camps spread throughout Japan and Japanese-held territories. With the continued operations and with players yet to begin rotating home, baseball continued in the Pacific. Back in Brooklyn, there was already talk of Reese’s job being up for grabs in ‘46 as the Dodgers had players such as Stan Rojek, Bob Ramazzotti, Tommy Brown and Eddie Basinski, whom some speculated could contend for his position. In addition to the prospects in the pipeline, Brooklyn had infielders including young Alex Campanis, Gene Mauch and Boyd Bartley in the service besides Reese. Still serving and coaching the Third Marines on Guam, Pee Wee was far removed from the personnel happenings and rumors in Brooklyn.
Having previously been declared ineligible to play for the Third Marine Division All-Stars, Pee Wee Reese was turned loose to suit up for the team that he had been coaching since the end of the Third and Fifth Fleet Pacific Tour. In his September 27, 1945 Globe-Gazette (Mason City, Iowa) Spotlight Sports column, Roger Rosenblum reported that Reese’s impact on the team was immediate. Not only was Reese the team’s leading hitter, he was “chiefly responsible for the 26 triumphs in 30 games the Stars have registered,” wrote Rosenblum. “Pee Wee is hitting above the .400 mark.”
In the office of the Brooklyn Dodgers, club President Branch Rickey hosted a WWII veteran and former Army officer, Jack Roosevelt Robinson. A 26-year-old infielder who played the 1945 season with the Kansas City Monarchs, Robinson publicly signed a minor league contract that was previously negotiated in August. With the Monarchs, Robinson had appeared in 33 games at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese’s natural position, and one at first base. The Dodgers were taking a significant step forward that was about to change the face of minor and major league baseball as well as the Dodgers’ future roster and Reese had yet to learn of what awaited him.
With his duties on Guam completed, Reese, along with Tom Ferrick and other service members, boarded the Bayfield Class attack transport ship, USS Cecil (APA-96), bound for the U.S. mainland. With more than 1200 sailors, Seabees and Marines aboard, there were many idle-handed passengers and one of the ship’s officers took notice. As was customary at the time, finding busy work for the passengers was put upon the two athletic specialist chief petty officers, Ferrick and Reese. They were told to round up men for a working party, which neither of them desired to do. Reese, instructed to round up men as Ferrick was told to wait by a hatch, ditched and hid from the officer. Ferrick soon followed, later explaining to the officer (who discovered him missing) that he had gone to investigate what became of Reese. The two ballplayers had no desire to make enemies among the men, who simply wanted to return home and put the war behind them.
In Roger Kahn’s August 19, 1992 Los Angeles Times article (He Didn’t Speculate in Color), the author detailed a conversation during the homeward bound transit that Reese had with a petty officer. Reese was informed of what was happening in Brooklyn and came to terms quickly with the notion that Branch Rickey was building a team to emerge from a survival-mode operation and truly contend as the club did in 1941 and ’42. He accepted the situation for what it was and attempted to step into Robinson’s shoes in order to see the situation from the newcomer’s perspective. “I don’t know this Robinson,” Reese told himself, “but I can imagine how he feels. I mean if they said to me, ‘Reese, you have to go over and play in the colored guys’ league,’ how would I feel? Scared. The only white. But I’m a good shortstop and that’s what I’d want ‘em to see. Not my color. Just that I can play the game.”
After the Cecil docked in a California port in early November, Reese disembarked and was back on U.S. soil for the first time in nearly two years. By November 13, Pee Wee was discharged and home with his wife and daughter. In a widely circulated newspaper photo, Reese is seen sitting at his wife’s bureau, still wearing his dress blue uniform and exchanging his chief petty officer’s cap for a familiar royal blue ball cap as his wife Dorothy can’t contain her joyful approval.
Reese returned to the Dodgers’ camp for the first time in three years while not too far away, Jackie Robinson was drawing the attention of the press as he arrived at spring training for the Dodgers’ class “AA” club, the Montreal Royals. Following a championship season in Montreal, Robinson was promoted to Brooklyn and would make his debut at first base with Pee Wee playing nearby at shortstop. In a season that culminated with the Dodgers returning to the World Series for the first time since 1941, Pee Wee Reese’s naval service during World War II was behind him as he built upon his Hall of Fame career. It would take winning four more National League pennants before he and the Dodgers captured the franchise’s first world championship in 1955. Reese would make one last trip to the World Series the following season and then make the move with the team to Los Angeles and play in just 59 games in his final season in 1958.
After 16 major league seasons and three years spent in the Navy, the majority of voting sportswriters did not consider Reese as a lock for the Hall of Fame and the election results during Pee Wee’s eligibility run demonstrated that. Needing to be named on 75-percent or more ballots, Pee Wee Reese’s best showing was in 1976, his second to last year on the ballot, when he received 47.9 percent.
Pee Wee Reese was elected to the Hall of Fame by his peers in the Veterans Committee and inducted in 1984.
Author’s Note: We wish to extend our gratitude to Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. who, in addition to providing several photographs from his personal collection has been invaluable for his friendship and many conversations and the mountains of research he provided for this series and many others.