Date and Place of Birth: November 13, 1903 Boston, Massachusetts
Died: April 7, 1969 Boston, Massachusetts
Military Unit: US Navy
Area Served: European Theater of Operations
Si Rosenthal, Red Sox outfielder of the 1920s, lost his son and the use of his legs in WWII, yet he devoted his life toward polio drives, aiding the blind, fighting cerebral palsy, and countless other charity campaigns.
Simon “Si” Rosenthal was born on November 13, 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1921, he was picked from the sandlots of Dorchester, Massachusetts by the Boston Red Sox. When he first signed, Hugh Duffy was the manager. "Duffy wanted me to change my name to Rose because it would fit easier in box scores,” he later explained. “But I told him that I wouldn't do it. I was born with the name Rosenthal. It won't make any difference if my name is Rose, Rosenthal or O'Brien, I'll rise and fall on my own name."
Rosenthal played the outfield with Albany and Pittsfield. In June 1924, he was a top minor league prospect with San Antonio, batting .376 and having set a Texas League record with eleven consecutive base hits. But sliding into second base he broke two bones in his right ankle, bringing an abrupt halt to his career.
Rosenthal was back with San Antonio in 1925 and tore up the league. He was batting .397 when purchased by the Boston Red Sox on June 21, 1925. He made his debut with the Red Sox on September 8, appearing in 19 games and batting a respectable .264.
Rosenthal played 104 games as the Red Sox rightfielder in 1926. He batted .267 with 34 RBIs and four home runs. But the following season he was purchased by the Louisville Colonels of the American Association for $7,000. He never returned to the major leagues but continued to play in the minors with Chattanooga, Dallas, Nashville, Galveston, Atlanta, Mobile, Quincy and Beckley, and ended his career with Peoria in 1935.
In 1943, Rosenthal – aged 39 – entered military service with the Navy. He had previously been rejected for service on physical grounds because of bad teeth and a damaged cartilage in his knee. He had the cartilage removed and got a new set of upper teeth. "The next time I tried, they accepted me,” he told The Sporting News on September 24, 1947. “So I liquidated my business - I had been manufacturing tin cans in South Boston - and pretty soon I found myself on a mine-sweeper.”
At this time, his 17-year-old son, Irwin ‘Buddy’ Rosenthal, was serving with the Marine Corps in the Pacific. "I had been corresponding with Buddy pretty regularly and, on putting in at Norfolk in February 1944. I found a mass of my letters to him had been returned. And I had received no word from him in a long time. Then I learned of his death.”
On the day after Christmas Day 1943, Buddy Rosenthal went ashore at Cape Gloucester, New Britain with the 1st Marine Division. "They went through some tall grass - I learned later - and, as they went along, they couldn't locate the Japs. My boy deliberately exposed himself for an instant. The instant was too long. A second later he was dead.”
On May 5, 1944, Si Rosenthal set sail on a minesweeper for European waters. "My minelayer - the USS Miantonomah - got around quite a bit. On D-Day she was off Omaha Beach, performing a few minor services for the USS Texas. She seemed to be a pretty lucky minelayer, and September 25, 1944, she had just come out of Le Havre [France], heading for Plymouth, England. From there she was going to Boston.
"It was a raw day. It was around 2.30 in the afternoon. I was to go on watch in about 20 minutes and I was sitting on deck reading The Reader's Digest - the article, I think, was 'They Take The Wounded Off Normandy.’
"Next thing I knew, there was an explosion and I was pirouetting through the air. Then I was in the water. I couldn't swim, but my life-jacket was holding me up. Soon I felt a terrific heaviness from the waist down.
"After a while, I could see our chief pharmacist swimming over towards me. He grabbed me and pulled me over to a life-raft. He got me on it somehow, and I sort of half-landed, half-rolled onto a couple of other men.
"More time passed and a small British boat - a lot like one of our PT boats - came out and took me aboard. The men on the British boat looked at the two men on whom I was lying. Both were dead.
"I never have walked since then. For the past three years, my life has been in hospitals - in France, England and Massachussetts."
The USS Miantonomah had struck a mine. She sank about 20 minutes after the explosion with a loss of 58 officers and men.
Rosenthal was paralysed from the waist down and would never walk again. He spent time at hospitals in France and England before returning to the United States and further hospitalization. With his son was dead, the only light in his life at this time was the correspondence with his ex-wife Josephine Davis, whom he had married while playing for San Antonio and had divorced in 1929.
"Josephine kept writing to me - some pretty lovely letters - and from the US Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts, I wrote her proposing that we re-marry." They remarried at their old home in Dorchester on March 3, 1946.
Rosenthal was a patient at Cushing General Hospital, a veteran's hospital in Framinghan, Massachusetts, when the Red Sox staged a day for him on September 13, 1947. The day started a drive to raise funds to build him a house without stairs so he could navigate in his wheelchair. The day alone raised $12,500 towards the $25,000 required.
Then, on March 25, 1949, Edith Nourse Rogers, US congressional representative from Massachusetts, presented a check for $10,000 to Rosenthal to complete his house-building fund in ceremonies at the Needham Paraplegic Project.
In later years despite his handicap, Rosenthal devoted his efforts toward polio drives, aid to the blind, fighting cerebral palsy, and countless other charity campaigns. He was also active in several veterans' organizations including the Jewish War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Military Order of the Purple Heart.
In 1960, Mayor John F Collins of Boston formally declared a "Si Rosenthal Day" and on March 28, 1963, he was honored at a testimonial staged by the Disabled American Veterans for his service in the fostering of brotherhood.
In 1967, Catholic priests of the Divine Word Seminar dedicated a gymnasium at Bay St Louis, Mississippi to Rosenthal for his part in teaming with Father Charles Burns in raising $55,000 of the $120,000 then needed for the gym. In honoring Rosenthal the Seminary noted that he contributed $5,000 of his own money and raised another $10,000 from personal friends across the nation.
Si Rosenthal passed away in a Veteran's Hospital in Boston on April 7, 1969. He was 65 years old.
Read Suldog's wonderful blog about his family ties with Si Rosenthal
Created August 25, 2007. Updated September 17, 2008.
Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.