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Military Service

Intro  |  Irby R. Curry  |  Leland S. MacPhail

Sam Breadon letter

Letter from Sam Breadon, President of the St. Louis Cardinals, to Johnny Beazley, St. Louis, Missouri, November 17, 1942
John Andrew Beazley Papers

With the United States at war, Beazley, like many athletes before and since, answered the call to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army on November 4, 1942, at Camp Forrest, Tullahoma, Tennessee. He completed his Army Air Forces officers' candidate training and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in March 1943, telling the Stars and Stripes newspaper, "Even pitching to the Yanks is child's play compared to this 90-day course." Beazley was assigned to a morale-boosting unit and spent the war playing exhibition games. Constant travel and frequent exhibition games meant that he couldn't properly care for his pitching arm; it was injured as a result, and his pitching would never be the same.

Beazley recalled,

I made a stupid mistake. I hadn't thrown a baseball at full speed for several weeks, but a superior officer asked me to pitch a couple of innings in the game that was being played to raise money for war bonds. I got caught up in the competition and forgot what I was doing. I can't remember exactly how many pitches I threw, but I know I stayed on the mound too long. In those days they said I threw my arm away. When I left the game and went to shower, the fellow who had asked me to pitch came by to thank me. I grabbed a towel and we shook hands. Then, I asked him if he would mind turning off the shower. My arm was aching and I couldn't put my hand up high enough to reach the faucet. I guess I knew then I was through.


Irby R. Curry
Irby Curry in France

Lieutenant Irby R. Curry (far left), Lieutenant George W. Puryear (far right), and 4 other U. S. Army Air Service pilots, France, 1918
Puryear Family Photograph Albums

Beazley wasn't the only athlete to have his career in sports cut short by his military service, and other examples, such as Irby Curry, can be found in TSLA's collections. Irby Rice Curry was born in Marlin, Texas, in 1894. After high school, he attended Vanderbilt University and was the quarterback of the football team from 1914-1916. He was given the nickname "Rabbit" because of his small frame (weighing only 130 lbs.), his speed, and his agility. During the 1915 season, he led Vanderbilt to a 9-1 record, and the team scored 514 points in 510 minutes of playing time. In their game against the University of Mississippi, Curry scored six touchdowns and Vanderbilt won the game 91-0 (one of their 7 shut-out games that year). Vanderbilt would not have another 9-win-season until 2012. During the 1916 season, he led the team to a 7-1-1 record and to its first win against the University of Virginia, and he was selected third-team All-American.

Irby Curry in France

Lieutenant Irby R. Curry, France, 1918
Puryear Family Photograph Albums

After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Curry left Vanderbilt and joined the Army Air Service. He and George W. Puryear (who graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1916 and whose photograph album TSLA has a digital copy of) went through flight training and gunnery school together in France and then served as ferry pilots based near Paris. On July 16, 1918, Curry and Puryear joined the 95th Aero Squadron at Saints, France, where they flew SPAD S.XIII fighter planes. Puryear was captured on July 26th and would later become the first American officer to successfully escape from a German POW camp during World War I. Curry was killed in action while on patrol between Bazoches and Fismes, France, on August 10, 1918.


Leland S. MacPhail & the Plot to Kidnap the Kaiser
Kaiser group

The group that attempted to kidnap the Kaiser, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, 1919
Front row: Captain Leland S. MacPhail, Colonel Luke Lea, Captain Thomas P. Henderson, 1st Lieutenant Ellsworth Brown. Back row: Sergeant Dan Reilly, Sergeant Egbert O. Hail, Sergeant Owen Johnston, Corporal Marmaduke P. Clokey.
Luke Lea Papers

On the other hand, there were also those whose careers in sports were not negatively impacted by their military service. One such was a central figure in a 1919 plot to kidnap the Kaiser.

Shortly after the Armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany abdicated his crown and went into exile in Holland (which had remained neutral throughout World War I). The commanding officer of the 114th Field Artillery Regiment, Colonel Luke Lea, however, believed ". . . that the Kaiser should be made to suffer in some small measure the orgy of torture he had inflicted upon more than half of mankind." So Lea, who was also the founder of the Tennessean newspaper and a one-term U. S. Senator, hatched a plot to kidnap the Kaiser and bring him back to Paris so that he could be tried for war crimes.

Lea traveled to Amerongen Castle (where the Kaiser was living in exile) with several of his officers and men: Captain Leland S. MacPhail, Captain Thomas P. Henderson, 1st Lieutenant Ellsworth Brown, Corporal Marmaduke P. Clokey, Sergeant Dan Reilly, Sergeant Owen Johnston, and Sergeant Egbert O. Hail. Lea and his men arrived at Amerongen Castle at 8 p.m. on January 4, 1919, and were able to talk their way inside the castle, but they were not able to meet with the Kaiser. Unable to meet with the Kaiser and, therefore, unable to take him captive, Lea and his men judiciously departed when two companies of Dutch infantry arrived at the castle.

Larry MacPhail

Captain Leland S. MacPhail, France, 1918
Library Photograph Collection

The U. S. Army would probably have preferred to ignore the incident had it not been for an official complaint filed by the Kaiser through the Dutch Government. The Kaiser wanted charges pressed against Lea for appearing "uninvited at the castle of his host, Count Bentinck" and for making him nervous. Then there was the issue of the bronze ashtray, monogrammed with the Kaiser's initials, that Captain MacPhail had pocketed while at Amerongen Castle. While the Army was forced to conduct an investigation of the incident, none of those involved were court-martialed. General Pershing's official position on the trip was to call it "amazingly indiscreet." Unofficially, he told General Bullard, commander of the U. S. 2nd Army, "I'd have given a year's pay to have been able to have taken Lea's trip into Holland and entered the castle . . . without invitation."

Captain Leland S. MacPhail, thief of His Imperial German Majesty's ashtray, is better known to the world as Larry MacPhail, General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds (1933-1937), President of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1938-1942), and General Manager/President/Owner of the New York Yankees (1945-1947). MacPhail kept the ashtray and proudly displayed it on his desk for many years.

In 1946, MacPhail was one of the American League's representatives on the Major League Steering Committee. The committee issued a report to the entire league about economic issues facing the league. The report also addressed the issue of the racial integration of baseball, to which MacPhail was opposed.


Meet the Cardinals

"Meet the Cardinals," 1942
John Andrew Beazley Papers

Camp Tyson

Baseball game at Camp Tyson, Paris, Tennessee, 1942
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection

Pevely Dairy ad

Advertisement for the Pevely Dairy Company of St. Louis, Missouri, 1942
Irradiation exposes food to radioactive materials in order to kill organisms and prevent spoilage.
John Andrew Beazley Papers

Southwestern Bell ad

Advertisement for the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, 1942
During the war, a copper shortage developed because it was needed to manufacture ammunition. Copper was also used in telephone wiring, so telephone companies asked citizens to limit their long-distance calls. Lower call volumes would mean that additional telephone lines would not need to be strung.
John Andrew Beazley Papers

Alpen Brau Beer ad

Advertisement for the Columbia Brewing Company of St. Louis, Missouri, 1942
Perched on Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler's shoulder is a red St. Louis Cardinals mascot warning the fascist leader that the Allies would defeat the forces of evil. The ad uses baseball metaphors and puns to make its point, and it ends by predicting: ". . . we trust that it's in the Cards to win, as surely as we know it's in the cards for Hitler, Hirohito, and Benito to lose." Hirohito was the Emperor of Japan at that time and Benito "Il Duce" Mussolini was the Prime Minister of Italy.
John Andrew Beazley Papers

Chesterfield Cigarettes ad

Advertisement for Chesterfield Cigarettes, 1942
Chesterfield used an image of an American fighter pilot to promote its cigarettes (the dangers of smoking were not known then).
John Andrew Beazley Papers

Rawlings ad

Advertisement for Rawlings, 1942
John Andrew Beazley Papers