- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
As anyone who served in World War II may recall, soldiers were sent home after the war on the basis of a point system. Men were awarded points depending on the total amount of time they'd served, the number of overseas campaigns they'd participated in, time in actual combat and family status. Those who had accumulated the most points went home first. If memory serves, 85 points were enough to ensure one a place in an early shipment. I had about 40 points, so I stayed in Germany with the Army of Occupation for the better part of a year. I was assigned to constabulary headquarters in Bamberg, in Bavaria.
Up to that point, my career in the U.S. Army—18 months—had been spent as a tank crewman, but for some reason, in the winter of 1945-46 I was assigned to the Athletic Division, Special Services. This was odd. I was not an athlete, and apart from having attended University of Michigan football games (I was born in Ann Arbor) and Detroit Tiger games, I had taken only a passing interest in sports.
The staff of the Athletic Division consisted of Lieut. Paul E. Koefod, a fly-fisherman from Minnesota, and myself. The first intimation of what the job entailed came on my second day in Bamberg, when a quartermaster sergeant came into the office and asked where I wanted the bats.
"I've got 15 cases of baseball bats. They're assigned to you," he said.
The lieutenant and I hustled around Bamberg and found an empty department store, commandeered the basement and took delivery of the bats. From then on, equipment arrived almost daily. As each unit in the European Theater of Operations departed for home, it sent me its athletic equipment. Not only did I receive their athletic goods, but their recreational supplies as well. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer and volleyball equipment was sent in case lots. Chess sets, board games, weightlifting apparatus and badminton birds piled up awaiting the construction of shelves and bins. It was hard to believe that all that stuff had followed us overseas. In my time of service I'd never seen any Army personnel playing croquet, yet there were at least 15 or 20 croquet sets, still in their original cartons.
I attempted to maintain an inventory, but the stuff arrived in such quantities I finally just kept track of cases. In Germany at that time, if you needed something shipped, you hired carpenters or cabinetmakers to build wooden containers. Most Germans lacked work, of course, and were anxious to help. The boxes often were carefully fitted woodworkers' masterpieces.
One day in February 1946, Lieut. Koefod called me into his office and told me that baseball season was approaching and that it would be my duty to establish and administrate a league for the European Theater. I was to equip teams, draw up a schedule, establish a system of reporting the box scores and arrange the publicity. I had been a soldier long enough to know that you did whatever was asked of you. Experience wasn't important; following orders was.
There were about two dozen units in the European Theater that wanted to field teams. I had to schedule 12 games a day, and each meeting between two units was to consist of back-to-back games on consecutive days, the idea being to reduce traveling expenses. At the end of the season our champion would meet the MTO champion (Mediterranean Theater, mainly units stationed in Italy), and the winner was to play the Army Air Corps champion in a "World Series."
Each unit was told to send someone to Bamberg to pick up equipment from the department store basement. As I've said, we lacked for nothing. Masks, bases, scorebooks, spikes—the lot—were hauled away. I was always amused at the reaction of the team managers when they saw my supply rooms. I loaded them up with as much equipment as they would accept, whether or not it had anything to do with baseball. Playing cards were popular, and I had thousands of decks. I remember only one problem with the outfitting process. The last 20 uniforms that made up a complete set were beautiful. They were made of white wool, as were those worn in the majors back then, with red piping on the legs and shirt. They also had the word artillery sewed on the chest. The man who came to get them was from an infantry regiment. Unlike the players, back then it was the managers who were particular about the uniforms, and this one insisted I send to the States for another set of uniforms, ones that an infantry regiment could wear. I think I made him withdraw his request by offering him half a dozen Ping-Pong tables complete with starched nets and rubber-padded paddles. Or maybe I slipped him a couple of our unused and still-crated billiard sets: balls, racks and cues, all in boxes and wrapped in tissue.