Pearl Harbor Day and the Pineapple World Series

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During World War II, after the death and destruction from Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the highest-level baseball was played on Hawaii, reaching it’s apex during the 1944 Army-Navy Pineapple World Series.

To provide as much entertainment as possible, and to boost morale for their fellow servicemen and the Hawaiian community, the teams agreed in advance to play every game in the best-of-seven series, even if the outcome had been decided earlier. An additional four games were later added, making the series an 11-tilt affair.

In 1944, the Army and Navy squads had more than 60 players who were either on or would be on major league rosters. By 1945, the total grew to 150. Eventual Hall of Famers on the Army and Navy teams included Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Ted Williams. Pittsburgh Pirates’ seven-time home run leader Ralph Kiner’s baseball playing time was limited, because his duties piloting a PBM patrol bomber flying boat out of Naval Station Kaneohe kept him off the diamond.

Patriotism motivated some players like Kiner and Greenberg. DiMaggio, however, intensely resented the war. In his book, “Joe DiMaggio, a Biography,” author David Jones wrote that although the great Yankee Clipper never came within a thousand miles of a battlefield, the war robbed him of his prime baseball years.

When he first donned his Army uniform, DiMaggio was a 28-year-old superstar. Discharged three years later, DiMaggio was 31, underweight, malnourished, divorced and bitter. His three lost World War II years robbed DiMaggio of peak earnings and a chance to add to his already Hall of Fame statistics.

As Gary Bedingfield chronicled in his wonderful book, “Baseball in Hawaii during World War II,” for both native Hawaiians and American service men, baseball was a way of life. In the New York Mirror, sports reporter Bob Considine wrote: “There’s probably more sports played here per capita than anywhere on the mainland.” Considine commented on the “bewildering number of leagues ranging through sandlot, schools, industrials, semi-pro, racial, etc.”

The Hawaii League, which dated back to 1920, included teams like the All-Chinese, the Asahi Rising Suns, and the All-Haole or Caucasian Wanderers. Plantation baseball was intensely competitive with pineapple, sugar cane and coconut growers fielding teams, and giving players days off to prepare. Winning could result in celebratory days off, but bosses viewed losing as an intolerable embarrassment.

The Pineapple World Series was the logical culmination of a Hawaii passionate about baseball, an abundance of available top-flight players, and the historic Army-Navy rivalry that dates back to the two academies’ football game first played in 1890.

On September 22, 1944, at historic Furlong Field with its wooden bleachers and swaying palm trees, 20,000 fans and thousands more listening over Armed Forces Radio waited with anticipation as the Detroit Tigers’ Virgil “Fire” Trucks took the mound for Navy.

Williams had named Trucks as one of the five pitchers he most hated to bat against. Trucks pitched a 4-hit, complete game shutout, 5-0, and gave Navy a 1-0, series lead. Navy reeled off five more consecutive wins, and took a commanding 6-0 Series lead. Once 11 games were in the history book, Navy had dominated, 9-2-1. Trucks later recalled that the Army was initially thought to be the superior team, but Admiral Chester Nimitz recruited Navy superstars from the mainland, and those players provided the sailors with the winning edge.

When peace at last came to Hawaii, baseball continued to thrive; military leagues survived into the mid-1970s. The Lopat All-Stars arrived in 1946, and the Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals played exhibition games that thrilled locals. The Pacific Coast League Sacramento Solons, transferred to Hawaii, became the Hawaii Islanders, and enjoyed huge popularity for their 18 seasons even though they played their home games at the dilapidated but lovingly named the “Termite Palace.” Found to be “severely termite-damaged” and unsafe, the Stadium closed after the 1973 Hula Bowl game.

Although the circumstances under which World War II baseball was played were tragic – more than a million Americans killed, wounded or captured – the entertainment value it provided the soldiers, the players and fans provided ongoing comfort during a period of deep trial and tribulation.

Copyright 2021 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers’ Association member. Contact him at [email protected]