Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Jim Morris


Date and Place of Birth: May 19, 1924 Garnett, Kansas

Died: September 26, 2000 Tulsa, Oklahoma

Baseball Experience: Minor League
Hospital Apprentice 1st Class (Navy Corpsman)
Military Unit:
Company E, 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Division

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

James H. Morris was a star athlete in high school, lettering in football, basketball and baseball. Not long after, he joined the Navy in 1943, as a Hospital Apprentice, and was soon learning his trade at the training center near Sand Point, Idaho. After receiving additional training in San Diego in early 1944, he shipped out to New Caledonia in April of that year as part of the 52nd Replacement Battalion.

After brief stops at Guadalcanal, Kwajalein, offshore near Saipan and at the Eniwetok Atoll, he found himself wading ashore in July behind the 21st Marine Regiment, at Green Beach, during the Battle for Guam. Just days later, he was cited for bravery under fire and meritorious action during a Japanese attack on the Field Hospital, near Asan Point.

Morris later worked at the Naval Hospitals in Agana, Guam until February 1945 when he joined the attack force going to Iwo Jima. After that battle, they dropped off a boatload of casualties on Saipan then returned to Ylig Bay, Guam. He remained there and worked at the Naval Hospital until shipping back to the states and eventual discharge in December that year, at Norman, Oklahoma.

His career in organized baseball began on Guam, just after Iwo Jima, where he played for the 3rd Marine Division team co-coached by Pee Wee Reese and Marine Lt. Angelo Bertelli (1943 Heisman Award winner from Notre Dame). Pee Wee reportedly was impressed just enough by Morris’ pitching that he sent a recommendation back to the scouting combine in the states. 

So, soon after discharge from service, Morris was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and immediately assigned to the Topeka Kansas Owls of the Western Association. His first game action was with the 1946 Chanute, Kansas team, of the K-O-M league. There he pitched with some success on the same staff as fellow war veteran Ross Grimsley.

The next year, he joined the Miami, Oklahoma Owls, also in the K-O-M league. He pitched an opening day no-hitter against the Carthage, Missouri team and totaled an eye-popping 24 wins for the season. He took the strikeout title (240) that year, while the team won the league championship. It was at Miami that Morris became acquainted with a very young Mickey Mantle (a local kid allowed on the field during warm-ups). A few years later, Mantle reportedly told a luncheon audience that Jim Morris was his favorite player until he threw his (Mantle’s) glove over the fence for being a nuisance. 

In 1948, Morris started the year with the Omaha, Nebraska Cardinals of the Western Association. There was enough success, on a poor team, that he received a mid-season promotion to Houston of the Texas League. There, he joined a staff that included his old pal Ross Grimsley and another war vet, Cloyd Boyer. Future St. Louis Cardinal World Series winning manager John Keane managed that team, with the roster including such notables as Solly Hemus and future Hall of Famer, Joe “Ducky” Medwick (just finishing his career).

The following season, he was back in the Western Association with the St. Joseph, Missouri Cardinals. He had great success that year, ending with an 18 and 7 record. The team won the league championship that year, with Morris pitching another no-hitter along the way. The line-up for that no-hit game included future Hall of Fame Manager, Earl Weaver, at 2nd base.

After the 1949 season, Morris took his family to Wichita, Kansas where he accepted a job at the Boeing Airplane Company, seemingly giving up baseball. However, the following spring he made another try with the Florence, S. Carolina team of the Tri-State league. Arm trouble put an early end to that season and Morris returned to his job at Boeing. The company then said they needed him to make a decision. The result of that decision was the beginning of a long career in management at Boeing but also the beginning of a storied career with the Boeing semi-pro baseball team (The Boeing Bombers).

Beginning in the summer of 1950 and lasting until the Bomber team broke up after the 1958 season, Morris pitched this National Baseball Congress / Industrial League behemoth to 7 Kansas state titles, 2 national titles and the very first World Baseball Championship, in 1955, at a brand new County Stadium in Milwaukie, Wisconsin.

During this time, he set records for most games pitched, most victories, most strikeouts and lowest ERA. During the peak of that run, Morris and the Bomber team also faced numerous minor-league teams, including the Triple AAA team in Wichita (Braves), with great success. But nothing would top the victory against world competition in Milwaukie that included a win over the Japanese National team just over 10 years after Iwo Jima.

Morris pitched a couple more years for local Wichita semi-pro teams and finally hung up his spikes in 1961, but continued working for Boeing in Wichita, Seattle and Philadelphia, finally retiring early in 1979. He was voted into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.

He settled into retirement, as long planned, on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, just south of Miami, Oklahoma, and then later moved to Tulsa with health issues. He was found dead there in September 2000, from heart failure. Soon after, his ashes were spread about the pitchers mound at Lawrence Stadium in Wichita, Kansas. 

Here’s a guy nobody heard of. He served his country in the face of enemy fire while carrying wounded Marines to safety on Guam, treated the countless wounded at Iwo Jima, helped build the mighty Boeing B-52 bombers and pitched his baseball teams to championships all along the way. With those ashes on the pitchers mound, he will literally be part of baseball, in Wichita, forever more.

This biography was written by Jim's son, Dave Morris.

Copyright © 2009 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.