Baseball in Wartime

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Earl Torgeson


Date and Place of Birth: January 1, 1924 Snohomish, Washington

Died: November 8, 1990 Everett, Washington

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: First Base
Rank: Unknown

Military Unit: 70th Infantry Division US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations


Clifford E “Earl” Torgeson was born on January 1, 1924 at Snohomish, Washington. As a youngster he was a baseball phenom. So much so that, while in high school playing baseball and football, the people of Snohomish petitioned the football coach to make him give up the gridiron game because he had such a bright future in baseball.


At just 17, he was signed by the Seattle Rainiers early in 1941, and optioned to Wenatchee in the Western International League where he hit .332. But in November of that year he almost lost his life in an automobile accident that killed his aunt and seriously injured his mother.


The 18 year-old was the slugging sensation of the Rainiers’ spring training camp in 1942, and when manager Bill Skiff used him in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs he responded with two hard-hit singles, an RBI and a run scored. Torgeson went on to replace Lee Scarsella at first base for the Rainiers’ that season – Scarsella being sold off to the Oakland Oaks. Torgeson ended the season batting .312 with the eyes of many major league clubs upon him.


Torgeson entered military service with the Army on January 15, 1943 and was stationed at Fort Lawton near Seattle, Washington. On July 4, 1943 he played for the Army all-stars, managed by Morrie Arnovich, against Pasco Naval Air Flyers at Sicks Stadium.


He was later sent to Europe with the 70th Infantry Division, and in February 1945, the Rainiers received word that Torgeson had been wounded, although not seriously.


After the German Surrender in May 1945, he played for division baseball team along with pitcher Aldon Wilkie.


On January 5, 1946, while Torgeson was still in the military, the Seattle Rainiers and Boston Braves agreed a deal that would secure his path to the major leagues. “I have been looking at young players for quite a few years,” Seattle vice-president Torchy Torrance told The Sporting News on January 17, “and I am making this prediction – this boy is destined to be one of the great first basemen of the decade.”


Torgeson received his military discharge in April 1946 and returned to the Rainiers. He spent the season with the Pacific Coast League club and batted .284 but dislocated his shoulder during a game against San Diego which delayed the deal with the Boston Braves until August 31. The Rainiers received $50,000 plus four players – Lou Tost, Bill Ramsay, Hugh Poland and Tony York – in exchange for the 22 year-old. Furthermore, Torgeson married Miss Norma Syverson during the season.

Torgeson was an immediate hit with the Braves as a rookie in 1947, batting .281 with 16 home runs. Like Hall of Famer Earl Averill, who was also from Snohomish, Washington, Torgeson soon inherited Averill's nickname, The Earl of Snohomish.


In the 1948 World Series, he led all hitters with a .389 batting average. He hurt his left shoulder trying to break up a double play in mid-May 1949 and was sidelined for the remainder of the season after playing just 25 games. Although the injury hampered him throughout his career, he returned in 1950 to lead the National League with 120 runs scored and in 1951 had career highs of 24 home runs and 92 RBIs. After he dropped to .230 in 1952, he was sent to the Phillies in a four-team trade, and never had another big season. He appeared with the White Sox in the 1959 World Series, was released in 1961, and signed with the Yankees as a player-coach for the final month of the season.


Torgeson later served four years as a Snohomish County commissioner. Suffering from leukemia he passed away at his home in Everett, Washington on November 8, 1990. He was 66 years old.


Created June 10, 2007.


Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.