Baseball is not forgotten, say three big leaguers touring India, Burma and China.
By Sgt. DAVE RICHARDSON YANK Staff Correspondent
NORTHERN BURMA - Although GIs over here are 16,000 miles from Ebbets Field and many of them haven't seen a ballgame in more than 24 months, the
diamond sport has been anything but forgotten among the pagodas, jungles and rice paddies of the India-Burma and China Theaters.
That's the verdict of three major leaguers and a sports writer who came here on a USO tour. After asking groups of soldiers all sorts of
trick questions about the game and getting quick answers to most of them, they tried playing a game against a GI team, only to be beaten in the last inning.
"It was a softball game at Kunming," says Arthur Patterson, baseball writer for the New York Herald Tribune. "And the humiliating
part of it was that we had a six-run lead with two out in that last inning - and still couldn't win."
"Yes," continues Luke Sewell, manager of the St. Louis Browns, "it was almost as heartbreaking as that Browns-Cards World's Series last
fall. The four of us were on Chennault's team, playing against a ground forces outfit. I made two errors and couldn't get a hit all day."
"Neither could I," chimes in Paul Waner, veteran Yankee outfielder, who happens to be one of the six men in the history of the sport to
get more than 3,000 base hits. "We lost the game, 11-10."
Dixie Walker of the Dodgers, 1944 National League batting champ, was the only one to uphold the honor of the majors. He got a two-base hit.
"This overseas circuit must agree with me," Walker grins. "Last year I went on the same kind of a USO tour to the Aleutians, and came back
to bat .357 for the season. It must be the Army chow."
The quartet asked to go only to the forward areas and isolated outposts, skipping entirely the rear echelon cities. And they got just what
they asked for. They arrived in Bhamo only four days after its capture. Then they flew on to visit the Mars Task Force, newest American infantry force in the
Burma jungles, within earshot of Jap artillery.
"Of all the people to meet out here," says Waner, "who do we bump into but Capt. Buddy Lewis, former shortstop for the Senators. We couldn't
have met a better man, because he's pilot of an Air Commando C-47, and he gave us our hitch to the front."
The way the quartet operated was simply to drop in on GIs and start shooting the bull. Some of the sessions lasted for hours.
Baseball writer Arthur Patterson (pointing); Capt. Buddy Lewis, formerly of the Senators (foreground); Paul Waner of the Yankees, and Luke Sewell of the
Browns stand amid the ruins of a Burmese temple in Bhamo.
Luke Sewell samples GI chow with (l. to r.) Sgt. Nick Muscato of Canandaigua, N.Y., Pvt. Snuffy Bratke of Detroit, Mich., and Sgt. Robert Nunney of
Sewell, Patterson, Waner and Dixie Walker of the Dodgers examine a Jap battle flag held by Capt. Lewis who piloted the plane in which the big leaguers
The five questions most asked by GIs were these, together with the troupe's answers:
1. Will this one-armed Pete Grey, the Memphis outfielder who's going to be tried out by the Browns this spring, succeed in breaking
into big league ball? Sewell says he would like to see him make good, but he questions his hitting ability against A.L. pitchers.
2. Who might get the late Commissioner Landis's job as czar of baseball? Patterson hopes it eventually will be none other than
General Dwight Eisenhower, always a strong supporter of athletics, whose organizing genius, enthusiasm and prestige could do much to encourage organized
3. Will the Major Leagues ever include West Coast clubs? The quartet doubts such a possibility in the near future because air
travel - the only way to meet nationwide schedules - is still too expensive as a regular thing for any club. Besides, transcontinental trips between games
would prove too wearying over an entire season.
4. How do you rate Marty Marion and Vern Stephens, opposing shortstops for the Cards and Browns in the 1944 Series, and Joe Gordon
of the Yankees and Bobby Doerr of the Red Sox, both second basemen? Sewell rates Marion over Stephens because of his superior experience in big league
ball. Waner thinks Joe Gordon is still the greatest second baseman in the game.
5. What is your all-time all-star team? Although differing on one or two selections, they're generally agreed on this line-up:
Carl Hubbell, pitcher; Bill Dickey, catcher; Lou Gehrig, first base; Joe Gordon, second base; Honus Wagner, shortstop; Pie Traynor, third base, and Tris
Speaker, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, outfielders.
"When we told the GIs to try to stick us with trick questions about the game," says Waner, "you should have heard some of the corkers!
We did manage to answer most of them, but only because there were four of us, each knowing a few facts the others didn't. The pay-off, though, was the joker
who asked, 'How can you retire a side on two pitched balls?' We still don't know the answer to that one."
Sewell heaves a sigh, "I wish I did," declares the manager of the club that lost the last Series.