Date and Place of Birth: February 23, 1916 San Francisco, California
Died: July 15, 1968 Eureka, California
Military Unit: Company C, 125th Armored Engineers, 14th Armored Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations
“Three years ago a doctor told me Eddie Kearse would never play ball again. In fact, the doc intimated Eddie’s condition was so serious the kid might never get out of bed. And look at him, will you! Hitting that ball and moving around as though he never had an injury or an ailment.”
New York Yankees’ scout, Joe Devine, in March 1947
Edward P. “Eddie” Kearse was born in San Francisco, California, on February 23, 1916. He was signed by the New York Yankees and his minor league career began with the Rogers Lions of the Arkansas-Missouri League in 1936. In 1937 he played with Joplin of the Western Association and spent 1938 with Wenatchee of the Western International League. Kearse joined the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League in 1939 and was with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League in 1940, where he batted .302 in 86 games.
In 1941, he was with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association and was the following year he was called up by the Yankees to work as the bullpen catcher. Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar were the starting receivers for the Yankees, but when Dickey injured his right foot and Rosar sprained a muscle in his left leg in a game against the Tigers on June 11, Kearse got his chance to play. He caught Lefty Gomez for the third inning before the game was halted due to rain. Kearse was behind the plate for a further ten games filling in for the injured receivers. He ended the year with a .192 batting average, getting five hits in 26 at-bats.
On December 7, 1942, Kearse joined the Army. He served at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, where he was behind the plate for Warren Spahn on the post ball team before going overseas in 1944.
Kearse served as a sergeant with the 125th Armored Engineers in Europe and was seriously wounded during a mortar barrage in France on November 22, 1944. He underwent several operations that left appalling scars on his back and shoulders. But he was determined to play baseball again and against all odds he did so.
On June 18, 1945, Kearse joined the Oakland Oaks as a back-up catcher to Billy Raimondi. The combat veteran was given the night off on August 14 to celebrate the end of the war, and on October 21 he was selected to play in the annual Majors versus Minors game at Oakland. In 1946, Kearse played 73 games with the Oaks and batted .273. The following season he appeared in 58 games producing a .252 average.
“You know what got Eddie back into baseball?” Yankees’ scout, Joe Devine, told the Oakland Tribune in 1947, “Sheer courage, that’s what. He wanted to play and he made himself well in spite of any predictions made by a smart doctor. What a guy!”
There is little doubt that Kearse had incredible will and determination, in addition to be a tough competitor. “I remember one day,” recalled Oaks’ owner, Vince Devincenzi in the same Tribune article, “when he went after a foul ball and his right hand was practically split open when he misjudged the catch. Did Eddie ask to be taken out of the game? He did not. We held up the contest until the hand had been taped and Eddie went the distance.”
Kearse joined the San Diego Padres in 1947 and became player-manager with the Ventura Yankees of the California League in 1948. The following year he was player-manager at Paducah and Grand Forks, before retiring from the professional game. However, he was still playing ball with Eureka VFW in 1954 and played semi-pro baseball in 1958 with the Humboldt Crabs at the age of 42.
Eddie Kearse lived the last 17 years of his life in Eureka, California, with his wife, Helena, and worked in the plywood industry for Mutual Plywood in Fairhaven, California. They had three children Edward, Claudia and Kathleen. Kearse passed away on July 15, 1968. He was just 52 years old.
“Humboldt County lost one of its most prominent,” wrote Don Terbush in the Eureka Times on July 18, 1968. “He was understandably proud of his days with the Yankees but chose, instead, to discuss baseball in general rather than his personal career. He was an avid fan of the game from the Midget to the Major League level. He was never too busy to lend a helping hand to the budding player and to the local baseball programs as a whole.
“Only last summer Ed donated an oversized baseball bat which had been presented to him during his playing days in New York to the Eureka Midget League. It is to be awarded annually to the city champion.
“He was a friend indeed to the national pastime and to the multitudes associated with it.”
Thanks to Eddie Kearse's son, Mike Kearse for help with this biography.
Created February 4, 2007. Updated February 22, 2009.
Copyright © 2009 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.