Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Jim Hedgecock

Date and Place of Birth: July 2, 1921 Pueblo, Colorado, USA

Baseball Experience: Minor League

Rank: Corporal

Military Unit: HQ Battalion, Third Marine Division USMC

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations


Jim Hedgecock, a 20-game winner in the minors, served with the Third Marine Division in the Pacific during World War II.

Jim Hedgecock was born on July 2, 1921, in Pueblo, Colorado. At 18, the gangly left-hander was a star pitcher on the Golden Coors championship semi-pro team and was signed by manager Bill McCorry of the Ogden Reds of the Class C Pioneer League on March 22, 1940.

Hedgecock reported to the club’s spring training camp at Boyes Springs, California, on April 9. On a pitching staff that included future major leaguers Hal Erickson, Clayton Lambert, Ken Polivka and Rocky Stone, Hedgecock didn’t get much time on the mound and joined the Twin Falls Cowboys – the league’s basement team – in June. He finished the year with a 4-2 record in 10 appearances and a 4.09 ERA.

In 1941, Hedgecock was pitching for his hometown Pueblo Rollers of the Class D Western League, where he had the second most wins on the pitching staff with a 9-10 record in 24 appearances, including a 4-1 three-hitter against the Denver Bears on July 2.

The 20-year-old’s baseball career was put on hold following the 1941 season. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 and Hedgecock joined the Marine Corps. He served in the Pacific with the Third Marine Division and was at Guadalcanal in 1943.

At the conclusion of the Guadalcanal campaign, Corporal Hedgecock helped guide the HQ Battalion baseball team to the Third Marine Division pennant. The team’s line-up included Art Manush (nephew of Hall of Famer Heinie Manush and a minor league outfielder before the war), Jim Trimble (an outstanding high school pitcher who signed with the Senators before enlisting), Ray Champagne (a semi-pro third baseman from Rhode Island) and Bobby Schang (a minor league catcher and son of former major league catcher Wally Schang). Hedgecock - along with Manush, Trimble, Champagne and Schang - were selected to play for the Third Marine Division all-star team that lost to the Army all-stars, 4-3, in 12 innings in 1944.

The Third Marine Division fought at Guam in July 1944, and when the campaign ended in August, the Third Marine Division baseball team was back in action on the island’s makeshift ballfields. In January 1945, they played a four-game series against the Second Marine Division. Facing the Second Marine Division’s major league pitching staff of Cal Dorsett and Jim Bivin, the Third Marine Division held them to a four-game split. Jim Trimble won the first game for them. Bill Connelly, who would pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics in late 1945, was beaten, 4-1, in the second game. The Second Marine Division took the third game, 2-0, and Hedgecock started the fourth game keeping his team in the race until relieved by Connelly in the seventh. Connelly went on to earn the win.

One month later, the Third Marine Division was in action against the Japanese at Iwo Jima. Just 750 miles south of Tokyo,the tiny island had great tactical importance of which the Japanese had no doubt. Iwo Jima was one of their last outer defenses shielding the home islands, and they were determined to keep control. With a garrison of around 22,000 under the control of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese took advantage of the island’s natural features and turned it into a fortress of underground tunnels and defensive bunkers, riddled with concrete pillboxes, machinegun pits, trenches and mortar sites.

The Marines met fanatical resistance when they hit the beaches. The capture of Mount Suribachi on February 23, and the raising of the flag that was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, became the most iconic image of the Pacific war but did not signify the end of the fighting and dying. The Marines continued inland and every inch of the island was fought over before the Japanese capitulated on March 16. A staggering 4,500 Marines were dead including Second Lieutenant Bob Holmes (a pitcher with Joplin of the Western Association in 1942); Private Jack Nealy (a first baseman with Birmingham of the Southern Association in 1943); Private First Class Frank Ciaffone (a pitcher who had signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942); and First Lieutenant Harry O’Neill, who had caught one game for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1939. First Lieutenant Jack Lummus, an outfielder with Wichita Falls of the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1941, who also played football with the New York Giants, had led an assault against Japanese positions before stepping on a landmine. Lummus died the next day and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Third Marine Division’s baseball team lost one of its star pitchers at Iwo Jima, when Jim Trimble’s fox hole was overrun and a Japanese soldier, with a mine strapped to his body, wrapped his arms around the young Marine and detonated the mine, killing them both.

When the Division returned to Guam, the baseball field was renamed Trimble Field in his honor with general Graves B. Erskine in attendance.

Hedgecock returned home in 1945 and returned to baseball in 1946. Playing for the Vancouver Capilanos of the Class B Western International League, the 24-year-old was 10-11 for the sixth-placed team with a 4.93 ERA. Back with the Capilanos in 1947, Hedgecock enjoyed a career year with a 21-10 record and 3.86 ERA to help the team clinch the league pennant. An obvious all-star selection, Hedgecock started on the mound for the West’s Western International League all-stars and hit two doubles, one of which pushed over two winning runs in the eleventh inning, and limited the East all-stars to 10 scattered hits in the 7-5 win.

Hedgecock began the 1948 season with the Seattle Rainiers of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, but after being ineffective in nine relief appearances he was returned to Vancouver. He was on the move again in May, this time heading south to play with the Birmingham Barons of the Class AA Southern Association. He made 18 appearances for the Barons for a 5-4 record before heading back to Vancouver, where he was 2-10 with a 5.29 ERA for the fifth placed club.

Nineteen-forty-nine was Hedgecock’s fourth season with the Vancouver team. He made 30 appearances for an 8-7 record as the Capilanos finished second to earn a play-off spot. On September 9, in the third game of the play-offs at Wenatchee, Hedgecock came in as a reliever in sixth, climbing the mound moments after being informed his wife had entered a Vancouver hospital to have a baby. Wenatchee won the game, 9-6, but the Capilanos went on the clinch the league title.

In 1950, Hedgecock was sold to the Western International League’s Victoria Athletics and posted a 13-14 record in 36 appearances. On March 19, 1951, he made a relief appearance for Victoria in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Browns and was 14-11 in the regular season, which included a 20-0 thrashing of Yakima on May 16, in which he allowed just four hits.

On December 5, 1951, Victoria traded Hedgecock to the Austin Pioneers of the Class B Big State League for long-ball hitting Allen Lawrence. Neither player reported, however, and Victoria traded him back to the Vancouver Capilanos in exchange for Chuck Abernathy in April 1952.

Hedgecock did not play during 1952 but reported to Vancouver in 1953. He also pitched for the Tri-City Braves of the same league and finished the year with a 4-9 record and 5.14 ERA.

In a nine-year minor league career, Hedgecock pitched 269 games for a 90-88 record and 4.51 ERA.

Jim Hedgecock and his wife, Mary, settled in California, where they raised three children in the San Francisco Bay area. His life was tragically cut short by Hodgkin's Disease and he passed away in June 1970, aged 48.

Copyright © 2016 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.