1944 Ohio State League
Many minor leagues folded after Pearl Harbor. Most of the rest went under during or after the 1942 season. By 1943, the American Association, the Eastern, International and Pacific Coast leagues and the Southern Association were still operating, providing a reserve source of talent for the major leagues. Below those levels there was a problem. Two Class B leagues (12 teams) and just two Class D leagues, the Appalachian and PONY1, finished 1943. The two Class D leagues had a combined ten teams, four in the Appalachian and six in the Pony.
The Ohio State League had been one of the circuits to suspend operations following 1941 despite efforts by league president Joe Donnelly to keep it afloat. After 1942, the largely Ohio-based Class C Middle Atlantic League had also halted play.
Donnelly was a veteran baseball man, originally from Philadelphia, by 1943 a resident of Columbus, Ohio, where he died in 1949. He’d gotten his start at the age of 10 as a self-styled “water boy and tenth assistant” on a team run by his father. Donnelly, then-National Football League president Joe Carr and Harry Smith of Columbus had been behind the Ohio State League’s return to Organized Baseball in 1936. Donnelly had become league president in 1940, and as 1943 ended was determined to revive the league and give fans across the heartland of the Buckeye State the diversion of wartime baseball.
On January 5, 1944, Donnelly announced plans for an organizational meeting in Columbus. Representatives from nine cities were interested, and six became members of the league. The cities included two former Middle Atlantic League locations, Springfield and Zanesville, plus Lima, a holdover from the 1941 Ohio State League. Middletown, Marion, Newark, Mansfield, Lancaster and Hamilton were also represented at the meeting; the first three cities from that group were selected. The reconstituted league’s cities ranged in population from Marion at 30,000 to Springfield with 70,000.
Preparations in the form of organizational affiliations were in progress before the meeting ended. Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants and Ohio native Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers had attended; the Giants already had a working agreement with Springfield and the Dodgers and Zanesville were nearing agreement. The Red Sox and Middletown were also discussing a working agreement.
Lima News columnist Bill Snypp observed, “There are many barriers to successful operation of a Class D league in Ohio, or any place this year, but there seems to be a new kind of determination to overcome these obstacles.” Some of those obstacles became permanent--efforts for a Lima affiliation between the St. Louis Browns and their Toledo farm team failed, although the organization had been affiliated with the 1939 Lima team. A similar effort involving Newark and the Cincinnati Reds was also unsuccessful.
The Middle Atlantic League ceded its territorial rights to the Springfield and Zanesville franchises, and by mid- February, a 130-game May 2 through Labor Day schedule was in place. The league salary limit was $1,500 a month with a roster of 15 players; 13 were required to be rookies. The league officers were Donnelly as president, Springfield’s Bob Ireland as vice president and Frank Colley of Columbus as publicity director.
Pre-season uncertainties loomed. Additional major league affiliations were slow in coming and by early March the status of the clubs in Lima and Marion was in doubt. Donnelly assumed control of the Lima club on March 6, and within a month had arranged a working agreement with the Cardinals.
Finding managers for the teams was also a concern. Springfield hired a familiar face for its Giants, Iowa native Earl Wolgamot. After a catching career in the American Association and Texas League, Wolgamot became a manager in the late 1920s. He had managed Springfield’s Middle Atlantic League entry from 1937 through 1939.
Clifton “Runt” Marr of the Lima Red Birds began his career with Hiawatha, Kansas, in 1912, never reaching the majors, but playing five seasons in the Western League. He first managed in 1922.
The other four teams hired managers with experience as major league players. Grover Hartley of the Marion club was familiar to Ohio State League fans. He’d owned and managed the Findlay team in 1937-41. As a player he’d spent all or part of 14 major league seasons catching in the National, American, and Federal Leagues.
The Zanesville Dodgers’ Jack Knight had pitched for the Phillies in 1925 and 1926 and was briefly with the Cardinals and Braves. His previous eight-season managerial career had been with the Cleveland organization.
Emile “Red” Barnes of the Middletown Red Sox had been a football star at the University of Alabama2 before going on to a four-season career as an outfielder with the Senators and White Sox. His most successful stint as a manager had been with Danville of the Bi-State League, a Red Sox farm team.
Clay Bryant at Newark, where a newspaper contest produced the team name “Moundsmen,” made his managerial debut in 1944. The 33-year-old Bryant reached the major leagues with the Cubs in 1935. Three years later he won 19 games for Chicago’s National League champions. Although arm injuries had derailed his pitching career, Bryant was expected to see significant playing time as an outfielder, but only got into 16 games.
The league started spring training in mid-April. Springfield had the best preparation. With even major league teams facing wartime travel restrictions, the Giants were fortunate to train with New York’s other two Class D teams in Bristol, Tennessee. From the beginning, Springfield had much of its opening roster together. The Giants played several exhibition games with the Bristol and Erie teams. The Springfield News-Sun reported impressive performances from veteran pitcher Tom Faulkner, a 6’6” 21-year-old from Alliance. Faulkner had briefly pitched for Springfield in 1942. Shortstop Cliff Simpson and catcher Bill Daues were also highly regarded.
The other five teams conducted spring training at home. Lima received periodic infusions of talent from the Cardinals’ minor league camp in Lynchburg, Virginia, and their Allentown farm team. Lima prospects included pitcher Dick Steinhauer and outfielder Neal Reside. The Red Birds also had one of the league’s most experienced players, infielder Charley Paige, who had played for Lima in 1939. Reside quickly became one of the loop’s major stars and led the league in hits, runs, total bases, RBI, doubles and triples.
Zanesville manager Knight brought a contingent of players from the Dodgers’ Bear Mountain, New York, camp. Middletown had a blend of players from other Red Sox farm teams and local players such as second baseman Clarence Clayton. Middletown had the advantage of a good ballpark with lights previously used by a local industrial league team.
Newark signed several local youngsters and also received three players on option from the unaffiliated Milwaukee Brewers of the Class AA American Association.3 These came courtesy of Charlie Grimm, Bryant’s manager with the Cubs. Newark was also assured at least two experienced players from Toledo, another American Association club and the top farm team of the St. Louis Browns. Improvements including the acquisition of lights from the former Mansfield team were being made at Newark’s White Field and a contest was underway for a team nickname.
Newark scheduled exhibition games with nearby Denison University and Lockbourne Air Force Base. The Lockbourne game marked the debut of one of the players from Toledo, second baseman Owen Friend. Bryant put himself in the outfield and homered twice against the service team.
The situation wasn’t nearly as promising in Marion. Outside of a manager and an excellent ballpark, the team had little else. As of April 23, Hartley had just eight players on hand. The team soon received nine more from the Phillies’ Olean, New York, club but none of them panned out. Emmett “Turk” Reilly, a former Marion catcher and in 1944 a sporting goods salesman, arranged for four players to be sent from the Richmond team of the Class B Piedmont League. Three of them, Joe Bellamy, Bob McDonald, and Virl Minnis, would be successful. The roster was in continuous flux--by the end of the season more than 60 players appeared in at least one regular season game for the team. Marion entered the season without lights and a nickname. They eventually became the “Diggers.”4
On April 25, Donnelly stepped down as league president to avoid a potential conflict of interest with his role in the Lima ownership. Frank Colley, the league’s publicity director who’d formerly held the same job in the American Association, took over.
The season opened on May 2. At Marion, Lima defeated the home team 8-5 in a game shortened to eight innings by darkness. Springfield’s Tom Faulkner pitched his team to a 7-6 win at Middletown.
Newark had an inauspicious start but with a sign of better things to come. The lighting system was in place, and before the game “Moundsmen” was chosen as the nickname, due to the large number of Native American burial mounds in the area. After the first inning, the nickname seemed ironic. Zanesville scored 11 runs in the opening inning on the way to an 11-8 win. In the sixth inning, the Moundsmen turned to a pitcher who’d just arrived on option from Toledo that morning. The next day’s Newark Advocate said, “Ned Garver clicked with the fans after he’d made the mistake of tossing a slow ball to [Walter] Dill of Zanesville who promptly slammed out a triple. Ned then tossed out the next batter and then fanned Bradley and [Richard] Bishop. Garver fanned eight of the sixteen men to face him.”
Ned Garver was an 18-year-old rookie in 1944. In 1943, he’d pitched for an industrial league team in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and received a contract offer from the Pirates. He declined the offer because he expected military service. After being determined ineligible for service, Garver signed with the Browns and joined Toledo for spring training.
By the time Springfield hosted the last opener on May 12, more than 10,500 fans had seen the inaugural games. Newark led the way with 4,200, followed by Marion (1,750), Springfield (1,650), Middletown (1,550), Lima (850) and Zanesville (750).
The May 8 Newark Advocate gushed about the previous afternoon’s win over Springfield: “Stocky Ned Garver reduced manager Earl Wolgamot’s haughty Springfield Giants to pygmies Sunday afternoon at White Field before a chilled but happy jury of nearly 2,000 fans with a great pitching performance and an even greater individual exhibition of hitting as Newark evened the series with the previously unbeaten Giants by hammering out a 12-0 decision. Besides checking Springfield with six singles and fanning four of the Giants, Garver staged a one-man hitting show. He batted in five runs with a double, single, home run and safe bunt in four trips to the plate.”
Garver was indeed off to a solid start. Before suffering his first loss to Lima on May 26, he bested Marion twice and Lima, Middletown and Springfield once each. He allowed six runs in his first 40 innings.
Lima ace Dick Steinhauer was nearly as effective, winning his first four decisions. Among the top early hitters were Marion third baseman Bob McDonald, Springfield second baseman Whitey Tomlinson and Zanesville outfielder Roy Eder. As for the teams, Newark, Lima and Middletown battled for supremacy as the schedule got rolling. Marion lost six games before winning and settled into last place, a position they’d seldom leave.
Even the Marion losses were interesting. The Marion Star described fireworks at a doubleheader with Newark. “The doubleheader yesterday was side-lighted with some fiery verbal clashes between the ‘men in black’ and managers Clay Bryant and Grover Hartley. The ump who was the target of most of the managerial outbursts was George Angelo, two-ton arbiter from Zanesville. Angelo because of his portly frame and rather high-pitched voice is sometimes jocularly referred to as ‘Costello.’” Things got a little better for Marion when a working agreement was finalized with the Chicago Cubs and their Los Angeles Pacific Coast League farm team on May 20.
In addition to problems with umpires, teams had disputes with each other. On May 18, a brawl was narrowly averted between Lima and Springfield at Lima’s Halloran Park. The Lima News said, “Trouble brewed in the fourth inning when Tom Ivey claimed he was shoved off third base by centerfielder John Carenbauer who was heading for home. When Carenbauer circled third again in the sixth, Manager Earl Wolgamot charged Ivey intentionally elbowed his base runner. Ivey threw down his glove and headed for the Giant bench when alleged unbecoming remarks came from that direction. Members of both clubs huddled on the field in an unfriendly pow-wow, but both managers sent their players back to the dugout. A policeman came out of the stands and escorted Ivey back to third base.”
In late May, a future Newark pitcher made his professional debut for the Toledo Mud Hens against the Great Lakes Naval Station team. Don Spence, just out of Indiana University, shut out the sailors, including several major leaguers, for six innings. In the seventh, the roof caved in and he gave up seven runs. He appeared in four regular season games with Toledo, all in relief, before being optioned to Newark in late June.
Other players were coming and going as well. Future major leaguer Preston Ward joined the Zanesville team from Springfield, Missouri. By the end of June the Dodgers would lose outfielder Roy Eder to the Army.
Springfield acquired another future major leaguer, second baseman Bobby Hofman. He left after three weeks to enter the service, but outfielder Troy Bolick, who joined the Giants around the same time, would be key to the team’s success.
Lima went farther afield to add talent. In early June, several Cuban players joined the team from the Washington Senators’ Williamsport Eastern League affiliate. They were among a group brought to spring training by Washington scout Joe Cambria but only one spent significant time with the Red Birds. 5 More importantly, California native Frank Bowa joined the team in June, plugging a hole at second base. Bowa was the nephew of major league outfielder Frank Demaree.
The Newark Moundsmen sported the league’s eventual batting champ. Luke Majorki joined Newark on option from Toledo. He homered in his first at bat and went 5-for-5 on the day. Through five games he was 14-for-20. Majorki’s stay was rumored to be a brief one because of pending induction into the military, but he stayed with the team long enough to qualify for the batting title, at .355.
The biggest attraction in Newark baseball that June was an exhibition game. On June 6, the same day the Allies invaded France, the Moundsmen played an exhibition game with the Cleveland Indians on the grounds of the Fletcher General Hospital near Cambridge. Over 2,000 civilians and recovering soldiers saw Cleveland win the game 11-3. Garver started for Newark and surrendered three hits and a run in two innings. The run was a homer by Lou Boudreau described in the Newark Advocate as “a liner which eluded Eddie Volan in center field.” At the plate, Garver doubled in a run to give Newark a short-lived lead. The game and contributions from Newark area citizens raised over $200 for wounded veterans.
July 1 was another key date for the 1944 Ohio State League. The team leading the league that day won the right to host the league’s all-star game on July 13. After battling with Middletown throughout the month of June, Newark led by 1½ games to claim the honor. Springfield was third, five games out, while Marion sat last, 13 games off the pace. Among regulars, Middletown’s Steve Senko led the way with a .364 batting average. Among pitchers, Garver was 9-3, Steinhauer 7-1, and Faulkner 8-5. At the plate, Garver was hitting .489 (22-for-45).
For Newark fans, the all-star game was anticlimactic. Nearly 2,500 paying fans and an estimated 900 with passes saw the league stars beat their team 19-3 as Bryant elected to hold Garver out of the game. The lucky scorecard winner was league president Colley—he won a ticket to a future Newark home game.
Despite second-half buttresses to pitching, Garver was still the star in Newark. The July 19 game was memorable, as was the following day’s. The Newark Advocate described the July 19 gem: “Ned Garver the remarkable young baseballer from Ney [Ohio] entered baseball’s hall of fame [threw a no hitter] last night at White Field before a noisy gathering of 1,293 wild- eyed fans as Newark won 10-0. Garver came within a batter of hurling a perfect game. Only 28 Marion hitters faced the Newark righthander during the nine innings. Garver failed to walk a man and he was never behind on a batter during the entire game. He fanned eight of the Diggers. Joe Bellamy, Marion catcher, almost ruined Garver’s masterpiece. Bellamy was the only man to reach base, and that was in the second inning when [third baseman Chester] Conn dropped his liner at third.” The no-hitter was Garver’s eighth consecutive win. He’d allowed seven runs over his last 70 innings. Garver rolled on to increase the win streak to 11 and his overall mark to 17-3 before losing on August 1 to Springfield.
On July 20 the Diggers made their long-awaited debut under the lights, which had finally been installed at Lincoln Park in Marion. They weren’t no-hit, but still lost the game to Lima, 9-5.
In Lima, team president Donnelly resigned to return to defense work in his hometown of Columbus.6 His successor was found among the ranks of league umpires. Forty-five-year-old Jack Norris was the Ohio State League’s most experienced umpire, having previously worked in the Middle Atlantic and Central Leagues. Less than a week after taking over, as president, Norris fired manager Marr and took over field duties for the Red Birds as well.
In the midst of the changes, a 16-year-old pitcher Johnny Klippstein, touted by Lima baseball scribes as a favorite of younger female fans, joined the Red Birds.
Thoughts of the war were never far away. In addition to players leaving or rumored to be leaving, the conflict touched the Ohio State League and its cities in more personal terms. On July 11, former Ohio State League pitcher Ordway “Hal” Cisgen was killed in France. On option from the Yankees, Cisgen had posted a 9-6 record, striking out 114 for pennant-winning Fremont in 1941. Another former Fremont pitcher, Lester Wirkkala, was killed in France in September. William “Tiny” Osborne a pitcher for Springfield’s Middle Atlantic League team in 1941 and 1942, received the Purple Heart after being wounded in the hedgerow fighting near St. Lo, France. Another former Springfield player, 1939 outfielder Bob Hershey, was killed in action in 1943 when his Navy bomber was shot down.
On August 12, Robert Decker left the Springfield Giants to return to his job as a high school teacher and coach in Dundee, Michigan. In 13 games he had hit .412. Ten days later, the Giants signed another veteran, catcher Harlan “Hod” Bull. A Springfield native, Bull had been catching for the city’s top semipro team and had made his professional debut with Springfield’s Middle Atlantic League team in 1933.
That signing coincided with the beginning of a streak that won the regular season pennant for Springfield. When Bull caught his first game, the Giants were third, 3½ games behind Newark. After losing the second game of a doubleheader to Marion, the Giants won 15 games in a row, all at home. The key series was a four-game set with Newark. On August 25, “Long Tom” Faulkner won his 19th game and struck out 11 to run his season total to 206, while the Giants connected for 12 hits. The next night Vince Daily and Mel Walker homered to lead Springfield to a 5-4 win. On the 28th, Springfield shut out the Moundsmen, 3-0, in the first game of a doubleheader and Faulkner defeated Garver 5-1 in the nightcap. The win made Faulkner the league’s second 20-game winner--Garver had won his 20th on August 24 against Middletown. The sweep gave the Giants a two-game lead; they didn’t lose again until the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader against Middletown and finished the season 4½ games ahead of Newark.
In the midst of the streak, Springfield suffered a devastating injury. Righthander Don Devine broke his pitching arm delivering the first pitch against Middletown on September 3. Quoted in the Springfield News-Sun several days later, Devine said, “Of course it wasn’t funny at the time, but to have the flipper give out on the first ball of the game, there’s ironic humor in it somewhere.” Garver was at the game scouting the Giants and over 50 years later remembered the sound of the break as audible throughout the ballpark. The broken arm ended Devine’s career at 18.
One 1944 Ohio State League playoffs semifinal matched Newark and Lima and opened with a postseason-worthy game. The September 7 Newark Advocate recapped: “September 6, 1944, will go down in history as the date on which one of the greatest pitching duels in the annals of Class D baseball took place on the site of White Field [Newark]. On this chilly, memorable evening Ned Garver, remarkable Newark righthander and Earl Geiss, Lima righthander with ice in his veins instead of blood, hurled ten innings of spectacular baseball before Garver won his own game with a single past second with the bases filled, none out and the score tied 0-0 in the last half of the eleventh inning.” Garver’s complete game shutout log was six hits, eleven strikeouts, and two walks.
Newark went on to win the best-of-five series, three games to one. The lone Lima win was on September 8 when Klippstein pitched and hit the Redbirds to a 12-7 victory in the third game. Garver chalked up his second postseason win in the deciding fourth game.
In the other semifinal, Middletown needed all five games to defeat regular-season champ Springfield. The deciding game was a 19-2 Middletown romp. The win was the last managed by Red Barnes. With the school year starting the Red Sox skipper returned home to Alabama and his job as a high school athletic director.
George Kaufman, Newark’s 19-year-old southpaw from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, was the star of the best-of-seven championship series against Middletown. In the first game, he allowed 3 hits, struck out 13 and homered in an 8-2 win. He also won the key fourth game to even the series 2-2, allowing three hits, striking out six, and adding a pair of triples in his own cause. Garver coasted to his third postseason win 16-4 on September 17 to give Newark the league championship, four games to two.
Garver finished his rookie season with a 21-8 record, a 1.21 ERA, and a league-leading 221 strikeouts. In his half-season Kaufman was 11-3 with a 1.46 ERA. These efforts for Newark earned both of them promotions to the Browns’ Toledo Mud Hens American Association (Class AA, then the top minor league level) affiliate for 1945. By 1948, Garver was pitching in the American League with the Browns.7
Four members of the Springfield Giants were promoted to Jersey City (Class AA International League) for 1945, though only one, southpaw Jim Goodwin, would advance to the majors.
Thirteen future major leaguers played in the league Joe Donnelly had brought back from wartime ashes. Lima contributed Jim Bilbrey, Bob Habenicht, Klippstein and Kurt Krieger. Just one Marion player, Don Carlsen, would reach the majors. In addition to Garver, Owen Friend, Hal Hudson, and Leon Brinkopf of Newark reached the “the show.” Springfield’s Goodwin and Hofman and Zanesville’s Ward and Steve Lembo rounded out the baker’s dozen.
The author used several Ohio newspapers as the primary sources for this article, among them the Lima News, Marion Star, Newark Advocate, Springfield News-Sun, Zanesville Times-Recorder, and Fremont News-Messenger. He also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and another Sports-Reference website covering college football.
1 “PONY” was an acronym for Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. The league had entries representing Hamilton and London, Ontario, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Baseball-Reference.com.
2 The 1925 and 1926 Alabama teams, coached by Wallace Wade, played in the Rose Bowl, beating Washington in the 1926 game and tying Stanford in 1927. Sports-Reference.com/College Football.
3 Zanesville Times-Recorder, April 25, 1944.
4 The team chose a name used by former Marion Ohio State League teams (1908-11). Marion considered itself the home of the steam shovel, hence “Diggers.” Marion Star, April 29, 1944; Baseball Reference.com.
5 Nineteen-year-old Gerardo Mendizabal hit .275 in 330 plate appearances for Lima. Baseball-Reference.com.
6 One of the last things Donnolly did before leaving Lima was to stage a typical Ohio State League promotion—Blue Shirt Night. Men wearing blue shirts and women wearing blue dresses were admitted to Halloran Park at a discount.
7 Despite his 1944 success at Newark, Kaufman rose no higher than Toledo, where he pitched only 22 innings in 1945. By 1946 he was out of baseball at age 22. Baseball-Reference.com.