William A. Seal, Jr. – Infielder
Note: his is player biography is part of our feature, The 29th Infantry Division’s Blues and Grays: the men behind one of the Army’s best World War II baseball teams by Drew Sullins, Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army
Born in 1918 in Oklahoma, William A. Seal, Jr., usually referred to as “Billy,” spent his first stint in professional baseball with the Class D Fayetteville Angels of the Arkansas-Missouri league. As a 20-year-old rookie infielder, Seal hit .367 with 13 home runs in a promising start to what would turn out to be a lengthy career in the minors.
A utility infielder, Seal began his baseball career affiliated with the St. Louis Browns, however, right before World War II, he became the property of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although Seal probably didn’t realize it at the time, the shift to the Dodgers organization likely did not help his baseball career. After all, it would have been quite a task to displace future Dodgers Baseball Hall of Fame infielders Billy Herman, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges – a tough line-up to be playing behind if one is trying to break into the majors.
In 1941, the 5’9” 140-pound Seal was playing for the Vicksburg Hillbillies of the Cotton States League appearing in 67 games and hitting .365 for the eventual league runner-up that season. With its entry into World War II looming for the U.S., the Cotton States League folded after the ’41 season and would not return until 1946. It was after this season that Billy Seal was drafted into the Army where he would spend the next four years.
Details on Seal’s Army service prior to 1943 are unknown, but in that year, he was assigned to the 69th Infantry Division’s 271st Infantry Regiment. It was in the 271st that he met Don Kolloway. As an infantryman, Seal saw combat with the 69th Division when it entered the line in January 1945 through VE-Day, May 8, 1945. Once hostilities had ended, given his professional baseball resume, it was only natural that Seal would end up on the 69th Division’s baseball club. But almost as quickly as the team was assembled, it was disassembled, when the Army brass decided to send the 69th Division back to the states. Seal was subsequently transferred to the 29th Infantry Division with his teammates Kolloway, Earl Ghelf and “Whitey” Moore.
Returning home after his wartime service, Seal immediately caught on with the Memphis Chicks of the AA Southern Association but was traded after 43 games to the Anniston (Alabama) Rams, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate of the Class B Southeastern League. For the remainder of the 1946 season through 1949 Seal would play mostly for Southeastern League teams while his wife and children would make their home in Anniston.
Thirty games into the 1949 season, Bill Seal was traded from Anniston becoming the player-manager of the Carrolton Hornets of the Class D Georgia-Alabama League. That year was one of Seal’s finest seasons in professional baseball hitting .347 for the year with 23 home runs and 97 RBI. His closest teammate in RBI during that season trailed him by 22. During the 1949 season, for a few games at least, Billy Seal also managed a notable second-year player; a Navy veteran and cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College, who would go on to make a name for himself in another profession – acting.
In 1948, rookie Bing Russell, showed promise for Carrollton hitting .255 with four home runs. Russell was optimistic after demonstrating his potential in 1948, but the 1949 season was short and dismal for the one-time New York Yankees spring training clubhouse attendant. Russell was on the roster for about half the season; however, he appeared in only 11 games. in 38 at-bats, in 1949, he hit just .182, but that was punctuated by twice being knocked unconscious by pitches before deciding to retire making his second season in pro ball a truly short one. Russell left baseball behind eventually moving to Hollywood where he starred in several movies and television shows most notably as Deputy Sheriff Clem Foster in the iconic T.V. series, Bonanza, and in movies such as The Magnificent Seven. Bing’s son, Kurt, like his father, would also play a little minor league ball before making his own name in the movies before achieving superstar status as an A-List Hollywood actor.
Following his stint as a player-manager with Carrollton, Seal signed on with the Gadsden Pilots to start the 1950 season playing in 99 games before he was traded to the Dublin Green Sox, where he also managed for 38 games. The next season, however, would bring a substantial change to Seal and his family as they found their forever home when he ventured even further south.
For the 1951 season, Seal headed to St. Petersburg, Florida where he had caught on with the St. Petersburg Saints of the Florida International League. Originally, Seal had intended to keep his family in Anniston, Alabama where they had lived as he was traveling throughout the south playing ball. Seal unexpectedly fell in love with St. Petersburg and decided he wanted his family there with him. In 1965, reminiscing with a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times, Seal said, “I wasn’t here long before I called my wife and told her to sell out, we gotta new home.” With that, Billy Seal and his family made the Tampa – St. Petersburg area home for the rest of his life.
Seal had three solid seasons for the St. Petersburg Saints including part of one with a stint as the club’s interim manager. He retired at the end of the 1953 season having played 12 seasons of professional baseball with four years of his career lost to Army service. In more than 5,800 at bats, he had career .314 batting average with 165 home runs and 547 RBI. Solid career numbers, but not enough to get Billy Seal into the big leagues.
In his post-baseball career, Billy Seal worked as a beverage distributorship and car salesman selling Chevrolets. His favorite Chevy to sell was the Corvette. He stayed active with family and loved to golf joining a country club. In 1969, at the young age of 54, his wife, Rosemary passed away. Bill would live for 14 more years as a widow before he died on August 25, 1983. He and Rosemary had a son, William A. Seal III, daughter, Kathryn (Kathee), and four grandchildren.
All photos courtesy of courtesy of Chris Seal.
Continue to Jack Dobratz – Pitcher/Outfielder