Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice


New Orleans Ballplayers in the Armed Forces in WWII

by Gary Bedingfield

Flair entered military service with the Army in January 1942 and was based at Camp Shelby, Mississippi and Camp Sutton, North Carolina with the 166th Field Artillery Regiment that year. He was honored with an Al Flair Day at Franklin Stadium, New Orleans on May 10, 1942, while visiting his parents on furlough from the Army.

In 1944 he was with the 2nd Army Headquarters in Memphis, and played on the 8th Army Headquarters team managed by Hugh Mulcahy that barnstormed around Southwest Pacific bases in late 1944. He was later stationed in the Philippines and Japan.

Flair returned to professional baseball in 1946. He was with the Pelicans in 1947 and batted .308 with 24 home runs and 128 RBIs. He retired from the game after playing with Fort Worth in 1951.

Charlie Gilbert

Charlie GilbertCharlie came from an outstanding baseball-playing family. His father, Larry, had played for the Boston Braves and managed the Pelicans. His older brother, Larry Jr, played for the Pelicans in 1938 but fell ill and tragically died in 1941. His younger brother Harold (also known as Tookie), would play for the Giants in the 1950s.

Charlie played four years of high school ball at Jesuit High and four years of American Legion. He was on the 1936 Legion team that was beaten by Chicago in finals.

He started his pro career Nashville in 1939, where his dad was managing and batted .317 with 67 RBIs. Brooklyn purchased his contract but he suffered a leg injury with Dodgers in 1940 and was sent to Montreal.

Charlie was traded to the Cubs in May 1941 and remained with the big league team until entering military service with the Navy in 1944. He was stationed at the US Naval Air Technical Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and later served at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base in Hawaii.

Gilbert returned to the Cubs in 1946 and was traded to the Phillies in June. His last season in the majors was with Philadelphia in 1947 when he batted .237.

Gilbert finished his professional career in style in 1948 by returning to Nashville and batting .362 with 42 home runs and 110 RBIs.

Charlie Gilbert passed away in New Orleans on August 13, 1983.

Connie Graff

Connie began his minor league career with the Waycross Bears of the Georgia-Florida League in 1939. The Bears released the first baseman shortly afterwards but he signed with Gastonia of the Tar Heel League in 1940 and batted .274 for the season. He played for the Cooleemee Cards of the North Carolina State League and batted .308 before entering military service on June 13, 1942.

Staff Sergeant Graff served with the Army in Europe. He was killed in action on July 8, 1944 at St Lo, France.

In New Orleans, his sacrifice was recognized by service veterans who chartered a VFW post in his name - Connie W Graff Post 7322.

In 1948, Connie Graff's body was returned to New Orleans. Services were held at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and he was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery.

Fran Hecker

Fran began his pro career with Dothan in 1940 and also pitched for Daytona Beach that year. He entered military service as an athletic instructor on March 20, 1941, and was stationed at the American School in England from 1943 to 1945. During that time he regularly pitched for the ASC Angels.

Hecker returned to the game in 1946 and had a great comeback season with New Iberia, posting an 18-15 record with a 3.18 ERA. He had, however, missed five seasons of organised baseball and was now 27 years old.

Hecker pitched for the Pelicans in 1947 and was 15-10 with Lafayette in the Evangeline League in 1948. He ended his playing days with Baton Rouge in the same league in 1949 where he was 11-13 with a 2.45 ERA.

Fran Hecker passed away in New Orleans on October 8, 1989. He was 70.

Al Jurisich

Al JurisichAl was with the Pelicans from 1939 to 1942. He entered military service with the Coast Guard in August 1942 and was stationed in New Orleans.

Discharged from service in 1944, he joined the St Louis Cardinals primarily as a relief pitcher. He was purchased by the Phillies in 1946 and joined the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League in 1948.

Jurisich enjoyed four seasons with the Padres and retired from baseball after the 1951 season.

Al Jurisich passed away in New Orleans on November 3, 1981. He was 60.

Lou Klein

Lou KleinLou began his pro career with Daytona Beach of the Florida State League in 1940, batting .348 with 81 RBIs. He joined the Cardinals in 1943 and batted .287 in his rookie season.

The following year, Klein joined the Coast Guard and served at Curtis Bay, Maryland, where he also played baseball.

Klein was back with the Cardinals in 1946 but jumped to the outlaw Mexican League and was banned by Commissioner Happy Chandler. He returned to the Cardinals in 1949 and later played for the Indians and Athletics.

He played for his hometown Pelicans in 1953 and later coached the Chicago Cubs, enjoying a brief stint as manager.

Lou Klein passed away in Metairie, Louisiana on June 20, 1976. He was 77.

Jack Kramer

Jack KramerJack began his pro career with Lafayette of the Evangeline League in 1936. He won 20 games with San Antonio in 1938 and joined the Browns the following year.

Kramer sat out the 1942 season to take a war plant job and later joined the Seabees but received a medical discharge because he suffered from asthma.

Back in baseball, the Browns sent him to Toledo in 1943 where he won eight straight games and hurled a no-hitter. He rejoined the Browns and was 17-13 during the American League pennant-winning 1944 campaign.

Kramer remained in the majors until 1951. He  had a career high 18 wins with the Red Sox in 1948.

Jack Kramer passed away in Metairie, Louisiana on May 18, 1995. He was 77.


Mel Parnell

Mel ParnellMel began his pro career with Centreville in 1941. He was 16-9 with Canton in 1942 and entered military service with the Army Air Force in 1943.


Parnell was stationed at Blytheville Army Air Field in Arkansas and Maxwell Field, Alabama, where he played baseball for the Bombers.


Parnell returned to Scranton in 1946 and joined the Boston Red Sox in 1947. He spent his entire 10-year career with Boston and compiled a 123-75 record. In 1949 he was 25-7, leading the American League in wins, ERA (2.77), complete games (27) and innings pitched (295.1). He pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox on July 14, 1956.


Parnell later managed the Pelicans and various Boston farm clubs. He was a member of Boston’s radio and television announcing crew from 1965 to 1968.


Mel Parnell lives in New Orleans.


Connie Ryan


Connie RyanConnie, a former LSU graduate, batted .316 with 73 RBIs in his rookie season with Savannah in 1940. By 1942 he was with the Giants and was traded to the Braves the following year, making the all-star team in 1944.


He entered military service in July 1944 and served with the Navy in the Pacific. He was part of the 5th Fleet ball team during the Western Pacific tour of 1945.


Ryan returned to the Braves in 1946 and remained in the majors until 1954. He was a coach and minor league manager with Milwaukee during the late 1950s, and served as a scout and minor league manager with Houston during the 1960s. He went on to manage Atlanta in 1975 and also managed the Texas Rangers in 1977.


Connie Ryan passed away in Metairie, Louisiana on January 3, 1996. He was 75.


Herb Simpson


Herb grew up in New Orleans and played baseball at a playground in Gretna. He was spotted by the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League but was drafted by the Army before he could report to the team.


Simpson was inducted in the Army at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana in November 1942 and took infantry training at Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was assigned to a quartermaster company and arrived in Scotland in 1944, where he was the first man off the ship and was required to kneel down and kiss the ground!


While stationed in England, Simpson was the only African-American on an all white baseball team that played in the Battle League.


He later served as a dispatcher for his company in mainland Europe, which ran a “Red Ball Express” operation.


Simpson returned home and was discharged in February 1946. He signed a pro contract with the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons and also played for the Seattle Steelheads in the short-lived Negro Pacific Coast League.


In 1947, he joined the Harlem Globetrotters baseball team and also played for the Chicago American Giants. He played minor league

baseball with Albuquerque in the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1952 and also joined the Spokane Indians after many of their players lost their lives in a tragic bus accident.


Simpson returned to Albuquerque in 1953 where he batted .372 with 59 RBIs and retired from the professional game after the 1954 season.


Simpson returned to New Orleans where he played semi-pro baseball with the New Orleans Creoles.


Herb Simpson lives in New Orleans.


George Strickland

George StricklandGeorge was a high school and American Legion star in New Orleans and made his pro debut at third base with the Pelicans on September 5, 1943, collecting two hits but committing four errors. He entered military service the following season and served with the Navy in the Pacific through 1945.


Strickland returned to the Pelicans in 1946 (one of eight local players on that team), and continued to play in the minors until his contract was purchased by the Pirates in 1950. The talented infield glove man went on to enjoy ten seasons in the majors - ending his playing days with the Indians in 1960.


Strickland later coached the Twins, Indians and Royals, and managed the Indians in 1964 and again in 1966.


George Strickland lives in New Orleans.


Ray Yochim

Ray YochimRay was a top high school and American Legion pitcher in New Orleans before the war. In 1941, Branch Rickey invited him, along with Mel Parnell (who later pitched for the Red Sox), to pitch batting practice for the Pelicans. At that time, New Orleans was part of the Cardinals' farm system and the sessions led to a chance for Yochim to pitch professionally.


His pro career began in 1941 with Fresno in the California League and by 1942 he was hurling for the Pelicans.


Yochim entered military service with the Marine Corps early in 1943. He never completed boot camp as the Marine Corps baseball team in San Diego needed a pitcher!


He quickly established himself as one of the best servicemen pitchers on the West Coast. In 1944, the San Diego Marine Corps Base clinched the 11th Naval District championship in a three-game playoff with the Naval Training Center. Yochim won 22 games against just five losses.


In 1945, Corporal Yochim was with the Fleet Marines baseball team in Hawaii, where he continued to enjoy success.


Yochim returned to the Cardinals’ organization in 1946 and pitched for Rochester in the International League. In 1947 he was 14-15 with the Red Wings and made his major league debut with the Cardinals on May 2, 1948, pitching the last inning and allowing no runs in a 14-3 loss against the Cubs. He made a further three appearances for the Cardinals in 1949.


Yochim was 15-10 with Birmingham of the Southern Association in 1950 and ended his playing career with the Pelicans in 1958.


Following a lengthy illness, Ray Yochim passed away in Metairie, Louisiana on January 26, 2002. He was 79.