It is no secret that baseball is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but it also played a major role in war relief funds during World War II. One game in particular left it’s mark on July 28, 1943, where the Cloudbusters, a group of major league players training to become fighter pilots in the Navy, played the Yanklands, a blended team consisting of the Yankees and Indians at Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth managed the Yanklands in an effort to draw in crowds for the war-relief efforts. The Cloudbusters had a lineup that included 24-year-old Ted Williams and his Red Sox teammate, Johnny Pesky. Along with Boston Braves hurler Johnny Sain and infielder Buddy Gremp, it was a star-studded line up that hoped to raise enough money for the war at hand.
The Cloudbusters were among the roughly 500 major league players who suspended their careers to serve in the war. Former Yankees serving as Cloudbuster coaches included Buddy Hassett, who had filled Lou Gehrig’s shoes at first base for the Yankees in 1942, and outfielder Dusty Cooke, who played in the 1930s.
Williams and even coaches like Hassett were battered, bruised and exhausted from their physical training in the Navy. And the Cloudbusters, who played more than 40 games that season, did not earn a cent for making the kidney-jarring, overnight trek to New York on a bus. Everyone paid admission that day, including Ruth and Yankees management, reporters and umpires, even the players wearing jerseys for the Yankees and the Indians. Despite the exhaustion, the Cloudbusters beat the Yanklands 11-3 that day. In the end, many seats at Yankee Stadium remained empty. The crowd of 27,281 generated about $30,000, a disappointment compared to war bond games that raised much more. Still, some moments would leave an impact in baseball history.
Williams and Ruth had met for the first time just two weeks earlier at a military All-Star charity game at Fenway Park. Now they were together at Yankee Stadium, resulting in an iconic photograph of the two greatest hitters of all time. It showed them sitting on footlockers with Williams outfitted in military khakis and lighting Ruth’s cigar. Williams asked Ruth to sign a ball that day and it was believed to be the first and only instance in which Williams asked another celebrity for an autograph. The ball, which was later stolen and recovered, would become one of his prized possessions.
That day Ruth made his last plate appearance in his No. 3 jersey at Yankee Stadium. He hit one “mighty foul” into the stands, according to The Times, then walked.
Ruth viewed his role with the Yanklands as a job audition, envisioning a sought-after managing offer from the Yankees, but was only a show pony to raise war-relief dollars. Sain, then 25, was the last pitcher to face Ruth in an organized game. A few years later he became the first Major League Baseball player to throw a pitch to Jackie Robinson. Hassett, who served in the Navy until 1945, never made it back to the major leagues, having sacrificed prime playing years during the war.
Of the major league players who served in the war, fewer than 45 are still alive. But the memories of that era, including that unusual doubleheader in 1943, endure.
Source: First, the Yankees Played the Indians. Then World War ll Took the Field by Anne Raugh Keene The New York Times