The Ballplayers of WWII Did Their Part

All of you know of my passion for baseball and of my deep interest in World War II. Today—on this Day of Infamy—I thought all of you would find interesting the reaction of the ballplayers to this national crisis.

My mom saved this bit of history dated, Monday Evening, December 8, 1941

My mom saved this bit of history dated, Monday Evening, December 8, 1941. Early White House casualty estimate was low by 900.

Future Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Hank Greenburg enlisted on December 9, 1941. Greenburg had been drafted, served in the Army, and had just been discharged earlier in the year. Feller enlisted in the Navy and insisted on serving in combat and not on an “entertainment squad.” In all, 35 future members of the Hall of Fame, including umpires, executives, and Negro League players served in the military, including, besides Feller and Greenburg, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Jackie Robinson among others.

So many players left for the service that the number of minor leagues fell from 44 in 1940 to 12 by War’s end. It was this “man”-power shortage, of course, that led to the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the film, A League of Their Own.

The lack of ballplayers became so acute that the both the young and the old were pressed into service. Joe Nuxhall pitched 2/3rds of an inning (giving up 5 runs) for the Cincinnati Reds in 1944—at the age of 15. He still holds the record for the youngest player ever to appear in a MLB game. Older players who were well past their prime were also called back to the big leagues. Pitcher Paul Schrieber, appeared in 10 games for the 1922-23 Brooklyn Robins, which was seemingly the end of his major league career. He was a coach and batting practice pitcher for the Yankees beginning in 1935, but in 1945, at age 42, he was activated, pitching in two games in relief. Schrieber holds the record for the longest stretch—22 years—between big league appearances.

Those players still playing contributed to the war effort in their own ways, particularly by raising money for War Bonds. One such effort, held June 26, 1944, has come to be known as the Tri-Corner Game. Almost 50,000 fans jammed the Polo Grounds to see the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers play each other in a nine-inning, round robin contest. Each team batted six times with the Dodgers tallying five runs and the Yankees one while the Giants were shut out. Admission was the purchase of a war bond. Between program and outfield fence advertising, and admissions $4,400,000 was raised, the equivalent of $59 million in 2014 dollars.

500 former, current, or future major leaguers would serve in the military and almost 4,100 minor leaguers were part of the armed forces. To learn more about who these guys were, visit Baseball in Wartime, a magnificent website that features many of the professionals who served, as well as articles on service teams, service games, a timeline of baseball during the war, and several other interesting features. (It was created and is run by Englishman Gary Bedingfield, and has been expanded from its original focus on WW II to include ballplayers who served across all of America’s wars.)

It was a fearful time. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government issued .22 caliber rifles and ammunition to citizens so that they could take part in repelling an invasion which many expected. Submarine watch towers were built along the beaches of the Atlantic Coast, towers that still stood when I was a boy. It was a time when boys from a different generation put down their bats and balls and took up rifles and learned to fly bombers or in the case of my dad, became radiomen aboard destroyers patrolling the Pacific. Their female counterparts in the WAVES and WACS and factories—my mom sewed WAVE  blouses at Butler Brothers in Baltimore—put their dreams on hold, and together, they saved the world. We should be especially thankful today that they overcame both the national fear, and the personal fear they all felt, and made sure that their grandchildren have the unencumbered luxury of Life’s little joys, such as playing baseball.

U. S. Marines playing ball, probably on Guam, 1944. From Boots Poffenberger's collection.

U. S. Marines playing ball, probably on Guam, 1944. From Boots Poffenberger’s collection.

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Heart of the Beholder

This is the story of two men, one rich, one poor whose paths crossed once, but for a moment.


Marty Sawyer leaned on a fence post, his eyes meandering across the field before him. Marty was still sweating from his morning’s work of setting drainage pipe that would run to a new subdivision that was soon to be built. He was tired and dirty, but satisfied with his efforts and with the lunch he had just devoured. It was just about time to get back to his shovel.

The wildflowers growing in this field had caught his attention as he had worked and whenever he paused to straighten and stretch his back, he turned his gaze towards them. Pale blue chicory was growing in several clumps near one rock outcropping while the purple and white of dame’s rocket, said to be Marie Antoinette’s favorite flower, grew along the banks of a small run that trickled through this field, bubbling up from some unseen spring. The entire pasture itself was lush with the whispy white flowers of Queen Anne’s lace. The field had been allowed to go fallow as boundary stakes also sprouted among the grass and flowers. On the road the marked the far side of the field, he spotted a black limousine.

Inside the speeding limousine, Jeremy Wynston slid open the tinted door which separated him from his driver.

“Exciting day, O’Rourke! You know what were about to pick up?”

“If I remember correctly, the Rothschild Slipper Orchid.”

Mr. Wynston laughed an approving little laugh, pleased that his chauffeur had paid such careful attention.

“That’s right! The Rothschild Slipper Orchid, the rarest, most expensive orchid in the world. Had it flown in all the way from Malaysia, and now there will be one in my greenhouse. I’ll be the envy of every member of the American Orchid Society.” Mr. Wynston slid the door closed again.

O’Rourke made a left, but soon brought the limo to a halt at which time, the door slid open again.

“What’s the hold up, O’Rourke?”

“Construction, sir. It won’t be long though. What do they look like, anyway?”

“What does what look like?”

“Your new orchid, sir. What’s it look like?”

Mr. Wynston paused for a second. “Well, it kind of looks like a garden spider.”

“A garden spider?”

“Yeah, it’s striped and it’s kind of shaped like a spider. Trust me, for as expensive as the damned thing is, it’s beautiful.”

O’Rourke and the cars behind him were given the signal that they could now proceed and Mr. Wynston, took a mental inventory of the equipment that chugged up and down the shoulder of the road. He noticed Marty Sawyer standing leaning on the fence post.

“Look at that guy just staring at a bunch of weeds,” remarked Mr. Wynston who shook his head and closed the window partition once more.


This is the story of a rich man and a poor man. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which was which.2014-08-18_14-47-51_528

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Why Trump Is the President-Elect

I had no intention of commenting further on the election once I had said my piece last week, but when the hysteria broke out again on Facebook about 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday when it appeared likely that Donald Trump was our next President, I felt compelled to offer my amateur analysis.

Probably much to my own regret.

I will attempt to explain to all those who are “hopeless,” “depressed,” “afraid,” “embarrassed,” and “terrified,” why your fellow countrymen are so “stupid” as to elect Trump. (All these words are taken directly from Facebook friends’ pages.) These are ironic sentiments indeed, for it seems that no one who has expressed them has any sense that this is exactly how Trump voters have felt for the past eight years.

In any case, my analysis is not based on any exit poll, entrance poll, or May pole, just my own observations. I offer thoughts, not treatises.

Trump voters were tired of being told that Trump’s comments about women were deplorable by politicians who shared the stage with rappers who make money singing about “bitches” and “hos.” I’m not nearly as worried about Trump as a role model as I am about Miley Cyrus as a role model. In any case, the sexual conduct of a President was removed as a consideration for the job 20 years ago when a certain someone’s husband was found to be somewhat less than unreproachable on this score. Trump’s past conduct changed very few votes.

Trump voters were tired of petulant celebrities threatening to move if the great unwashed were to elect him. Note to Whoopi Goldberg, et. al.: We’ll survive without you. (I’m setting the over/under on the number of Hollywood types who actually move out of the country as 1 and I’m taking the under.) Celebrity endorsements changed very few votes.

Trump voters were tired of hearing the other side describe themselves as the party of inclusion when the one group they will never “include” are people who disagree. Facebook posts make this abundantly clear.

Mrs. Clinton’s “deplorable” comment galvanized the remaining undecideds and moved them squarely into the Trump camp. There was a sense of “Hey, you’re talking about my neighbor/friend/child/spouse! And maybe even me!” This one speech swayed thousands upon thousands of votes.

The election illustrates not so much a left/right divide in the United States as an urban/rural divide. That is clear from the voting map broken down by municipalities which show blue, urban and college-town islands in a vast sea of red. The bureaucrats who issue edicts on digging holes, yet wouldn’t know which end of the shovel to stick in the ground, helped spread the crimson. In turn, this helps explain the high turnout in rural areas.

Trump voters embraced someone who said what they also thought, however stupid the expression of that thought might have been, and without being intimidated by the Political Correctness Police. I don’t know of a single Trump supporter who really thinks that the President-elect is going to somehow make Mexico pay for a wall along the border, for example. In fact, there are probably way more Clinton supporters who believe he’s serious than Trump supporters.

Trump received a great deal of criticism for such talk. He has been mocked for everything from his positions to his hair. He has been ridiculed and dismissed as a clown. He has been told he was stupid, and it was not lost on his supporters that the media attempted to bully “the bully.” The ultimate irony is that it was the mockery designed to tear him down that raised him up in the eyes of many in the electorate. They’ve been called all those same names, too, until they were ultimately labeled “deplorable.” Trump didn’t claim victimhood either, an increasingly popular American pastime. Instead, he dared the political and cultural elites to mock him further—kind of like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. This more than anything explains how a billionaire came to represent “the Forgotten Man.” Our societal elites have been affixing those same labels to the average man and woman for two decades, but at last, here was someone who would stand up to the self-righteous outrage and hypocrisy. Not only stand up to it, but give it back and then some. And so, the guy hanging drywall in the Trump Tower came to identify with the owner of the building.

Just remember this: We produced Barack Obama and we produced Donald Trump. If we don’t like what we see, whatever we’re looking at, then we better start looking in the mirror. As I said last week, no politician is going to save us. We’re going to have to save ourselves.

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I Vote No

Over the course of the past several weeks, I have been disparaged, denounced, and vilified. And that’s just by my friends. On Facebook.

Oh, they haven’t set out to hurt me; indeed, nothing has been directed at me personally, but it’s been hurtful nonetheless because of who I support for President. Not that I’ve announced who I’m supporting on Facebook or most other places for that matter. Nor will I here. It never seems to occur to many folks that when you post something to the effect that a person must be a total moron (or worse) if you vote for Candidate A, that you’re talking about me. You know, me, your friend who just happens to think differently than you do. It’s getting hard to take.

So is the hypocrisy.

So is the idiocy.

So is trotting out memes with meaningless quotes or statistics taken out of context, especially when you know full well that if “your team” went the other way on the issue that you’d be posting memes filled with the opposite message. The Director of the F.B.I. is a jackass . . . no, wait, he’s a hero. Could be that he’s a jackass who did the right thing. I don’t know, but I am not going to blindly insult people about whom I care, and whom I respect as a result of whatever the F.B.I. Director does.

In any case, these elections are about who gets the biggest share of the pie. If the Republicans win, they do. If the Democrats win, they do. The one rule upon which they both absolutely agree is no one else gets to pick up a fork and have at it. And guess who is paying for the pie?

Worst of all is that we seem to have moved past holding our personal ideas superior to our neighbors’ ideas. Too many people seem to feel fully justified in holding themselves superior to their neighbors, who are no longer “wrong,” but are now inferior. Regarding someone else as inferior makes it much easier to subjugate him, first for his own good; that’s usually how it starts and that’s usually the rationale that is sold to the masses who are just grateful that they are not lumped in with the inferiors. The next step however, is to subjugate the inferiors for the “good” of the subjugators. Then the list of “inferiors” begins to grow.

Those two candidates with their respective faces in the pie aren’t going to save us. We’ll have to save ourselves and soon. Regardless of who wins the Presidency next Tuesday, bite your tongue, love your neighbor, and hope for the best. And if you can’t do that, at least quit insulting me on Facebook.


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Writing Pleasures

I recently had the pleasure and the privilege of talking to Tammy Bjelland on her Stories of Growth podcast which will air on November 1st. If you wanted to attend tomorrow’s seminar, The Joys and Frustrations of Writing AND Publishing a Book, but can’t, you can still listen in to the podcast for my take on various aspects of the writing process and writing life. It was a great conversation which you will enjoy in any case.

One of the best aspects of the writing life are the people you meet, and as it turns out, I actually ran into Tammy at Jala Yoga in Winchester yesterday. On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of meeting two friends of Boots Poffenberger at the Hagerstown Lion’s Club weekly luncheon. Bernie Lesky was a hunting buddy of Boots and Dave Kaplan is the son of Abner Kaplan, who happened to be Boots’ best man at his wedding and a long-time friend. It was very special to meet two people so intimately connected to someone whom I researched so thoroughly and came to enjoy so much.

I am certainly NOT enjoying the vitriol surrounding the upcoming election, but I’ll have more on that next week, as well as another Five Minute Fiction For Free entry later in November.

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The Third Man May Have Been SpongeBob

I recently watched the highly acclaimed 1949 film, The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotton, Orson Wells, and a beautiful Italian actress named Alida Valli. The film was completely disconcerting, not because of Orson Welles malignant character nor the creepy lighting, but because I could swear that the theme music, played solely on the zither, is also the background music for SpongeBob SquarePants.

The problem, of course, is that the music is used to raise and lower the tension in the movie, and, since I saw SpongeBob SquarePants first, I expected the shadowy figure in the raincoat to be a long-nosed, yellow sponge whenever the music really got going. Much like Joseph Cotton in the movie, the more I tried to unravel the mystery, the more disturbing were the facts that I uncovered. First, this fairly annoying zither version spent 11 weeks (11 weeks!) at number one on the Billboard Best Seller in Stores chart in 1950. It was so popular that it spawned several cover versions, which combined have sold an estimated 40 million copies (40 million!)  Thirty seconds of this song is kind of interesting; listening to it throughout an hour and 48 minute movie is more than kind of irritating, and I think it is the genesis of the phrase, “My last nerve has been plucked.” Guy Lombardo had a very popular version that featured a guitar instead of a zither that I’m quite sure is the version used in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Second, and what was truly disturbing, was discovering that the Wikipedia article on SpongeBob SquarePants covers seven different aspects of the show and runs about as long as the article on the Normandy Landings. Somebody needs to step out of the shadows and adjust our social sense of balance.

The Third Man won several contemporary awards and is now considered a classic mystery. It didn’t do much for me, but that may be because I kept expecting Harry Lime, the villain of the piece who remains unseen for the first two-thirds of the movie, to look a lot like Squidward once he finally appeared. Instead, he looked a lot like Orson Welles.

In any case, below is the Guy Lombardo version of “The Third Man Theme.” What do you think?


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I Can Help You Birth Your Book!

Writing a book is like having a baby: Creating it may involve some concentrated pain, but once Junior—or your manuscript—is born, it’s born. It will need to be cleaned up, but it’s alive and kicking.

Publishing and marketing a book, however, is like raising that child so that it can function out in the world. This is a never-ending process in which you won’t always know what you’re doing.

I have gained a great deal of experience in my book-parenting career. A great deal of “Hey, this works!” and an even greater number of “Hey, this doesn’t work!” moments, and with this practical experience in hand, I am now offering my services as a writing mentor. (Click on the tab, “Mentoring Services” above for a bit more detail.)

Mentoring a writer involves more than the mere insertion of commas or the correction of awkward sentences in his or her manuscript. There is an emotional process in which all writers, and all artists, for that matter, must engage. Think of it this way: Despite what some publishing services might tell you, your book has as much chance of being a best-seller as your child does of playing major league baseball. Failure to make the big-time, however, does not mean that your book will not be successful in its own way and on its own terms. If you don’t accept those terms, however, you will be frustrated and then some. You want your book to be successful, but you also want your writing experience to be satisfying. I can help you with commas and audience and voice, but a mentor does more than improve his protégé’s work; he is a guide to the protégé himself.

To introduce myself as a mentor, I am holding a writing seminar entitled, The Joys and Frustrations of Writing AND Publishing a Book on October 29th from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Cornerstone Business Group, 1437 Front Royal Pike, Winchester, VA.

This seminar will prove helpful to anyone who has ever thought about, attempted to, or succeeded in writing and publishing a book or article. Topics will include the creative, publishing, and emotional processes that every writer must consider. This is true whether you are writing a novel or you are a business person looking to publish a book or article in your field.

To register, please click on the “Seminar Registration” tab above. There is a $10.00 fee for materials.

If you would pass along this notice to anyone you know who might benefit from my advice and guidance, or would be interested in attending the seminar, I would be most appreciative. I am excited about this new phase of my own writing career and I look forward to helping insure the satisfaction of others.

Click here for the seminar event page on Facebook.

These are the happy moments in one's writing career.

These are the happy moments in one’s writing career.

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