Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice


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Charlie Silvera

 

Date and Place of Birth: October 13, 1924 San Francisco, California

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Catcher
Rank: Unknown

Military Unit: USAAF

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

 

The Yankees' back-up catcher during the heyday of DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle. Silvera served in the Pacific Theater with the USAAF and went on to play in the major leagues for 10 seasons.

 

Charlie Silvera was born on October 13, 1924, in San Francisco, California. He grew up in the Mission District, and attended St. Ignatius High School. “I had signed to play pro ball in May 1942,” explains Silvera, “and along with Jerry Coleman, reported to the Wellsville Yankees of the PONY League for the remainder of the season.”

Silvera played 75 games with Wellsville and batted a respectable .254 (Jerry Coleman hit .304 in 83 games). The following spring, aged 18, he was called into the service and was initially stationed at McClellan Field in California. The following year Corporal Silvera was sent to Hickam Field in Hawaii, and then to the Pacific islands where he played baseball with the 73rd Bombardment Wing Bombers.

"I was stationed at Saipan and there were also two teams on Tinian,” he explains. “We were attached to the 20th Air Force and our team included Tex Hughson [Braves], Dario Lodigiani [White Sox], Ferris Fain [Athletics] and Mike McCormick [Cubs].

"We used bomb crates as sideline markers and fences and because Joe Gordon’s [Yankees] and Joe Marty's [Phillies] club [58th Bombardment Wing Wingmen] had the most power, we would move the bomb crates back 10 to 20 feet. With the other Tinian club [313th Bombardment Wing Flyers] we would move the bomb crate fence in depending on who was pitching.

58th Wingmen playing the 73rd Bombers on Saipan, August 1945. Joe Marty of the 58th Wingmen is at-bat. Charlie Silvera is the catcher and Joe Gordon is on deck (far left).

Playing baseball as entertainment for the troops may sound like a pleasurable way to spend the war but it was not without its dangers. “Japanese soldiers would watch the games from the jungle in the background and go back and hide when the game was over. In our spare time we would venture to places ‘off limits’. The Japanese were still around us but the bananas were worth it!”

Bananas were plentiful on Saipan for the 73rd Bombers.
(Back row, left to right): Tex Hughson, Dario Lodigiani, Ferris Fain, Mike McCormick, unknown.
(Front row, left to right): Charlie Silvera, unknown, Chet Kehn.


Furthermore, Silvera believes that wartime baseball helped him to improve as a player. “The war was unfortunate for a lot of major league players because they lost two, three and sometimes four years in the service,” he says. “I was fortunate to play with great players and benefit from their guidance and experience.”

Silvera was back in the Yankees’ organization in 1946 and played 91 games with the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association. In 1947 he joined the Portland Beavers of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, and after batting .301 with Beavers in 1948, Silvera made his major league debut with the New York Yankees for four games at the end of the season.

Silvera spent the next eight years as a back-up catcher to Yogi Berra and was eligible for seven World Series although he only appeared in Game 2 of the 1949 Series. He ended his major league career with the Chicago Cubs in 1957 and was back with the Yankees’ organization in 1958 as a player-manager with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. “I managed three years in the minors,” he recalls, “coached under Billy Martin at Minnesota, and scouted for Washington, Atlanta, Oakland, the Yankees, Milwaukee and Florida.”

“I had a wonderful career,” he told the New York Times on June 12, 2008. “I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Created May 30, 2007. Updated March 27, 2010.

 

Copyright © 2010 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.