Among the many interesting facts arising out of what was Camp Crowder in its heyday is the story of the major league baseball players who found themselves there — as part of Uncle Sam's team — during World War II.
An acquaintance who shares my interest in history recently shared a few photos of some of those guys. One of the photos is seen here. Maybe you can help with a couple of identities. There are four names on the back of the picture — five guys, four names. The men holding the baseballs in the staged pitcher stance are the four named — except I'm puzzled about one of them. One of those names, belonging to the person second from left, is Al Weis, but unless there is another professional baseball player named Al Weis — and I can't find him — it can't be the Al Weis who played for the New York Mets because that Al Weis wasn't born until 1938.
Another name on the back of the photo is Tommy Bridges, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. That's him in the middle. Bridges, who would have been about 38 years old when the photo was taken, had pitched for the Tigers since 1930. He was a leading pitcher in the league when he joined the Army in 1944 and wound up at Camp Crowder in Neosho. After the war, Bridges returned to the Tigers but didn't get a lot of play, and then ended up in the minors for a couple of years. He had 1,674 career strikeouts.
Another name on the photo is George Barley, who had trained with the New York Yankees as a prospect before World War II. He is pictured second from the right.
The last name is Bill Cox, the guy on the far right, who before this picture was taken had played for the St. Louis Browns, the Chicago White Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals. By World War II his career in the Major League was over.
So who is the fourth pitcher, second from the left, in the photo? The name says Al Weis, but it can't be the Al Weis of the 1960s Mets. I really know next to nothing about baseball history, and I'm sure there are a lot of guys out there who are laughing at me right now for my ignorance. Laugh away – just give me the answer.
While I'm at it, I might as well inquire as to the identity of the fifth man in the photo, on the far left. He isn't named, but why he is in the same picture with all of these former and current Major League pitchers? And why is he not posed, like the others? Or is he? He is removing his cap and scratching his head, it seems. Is that intentional? Or is it just a candid shot?
Not pictured here, but another Major Leaguer who wound up in the Camp Crowder baseball program during World War II was Marius Russo, a star southpaw pitcher for the Yankees who left the team to join the Army in 1944. He returned briefly in 1946 and had 311 strikeouts in his full four-year professional career.
I'm sure there were many other pro baseball players at Camp Crowder that I'm not aware of. Can you imagine the teams Crowder must have fielded? I wonder if their seasons were all intramural or if they played civilian teams from the surrounding area?
If you can help answer any of the many questions I've posed here today, please write me at: Wes Franklin, 12161 Norway Rd., Neosho, MO 64850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org You can always call as well, but like many people I enjoy getting mail.
Wes Franklin writes a weekly column for the Daily News.