NFL Star Warren Lahr and His Lifelong Dream to “Play Big League Baseball”

By Bill Staples, Jr. 

In December 1949, Cleveland Browns defensive back Warren Lahr contacted Cleveland Indians general manager Hank Greenberg and requested a tryout with the team. The 25-year-old future NFL star wanted to explore a switch to professional baseball. Lahr’s inquiry was detailed in the December 22, 1949 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Indians Invite Browns' Lahr to Spring Tryout By Harry Jones Warren Lahr, the genial Western Reserve graduate who starred for the Cleveland Browns as a defensive halfback this season, now has a hankering to play big-league baseball, especially with the Indians. Lahr, a former shortstop on the sandlots of West Wyoming. Pa. his hometown, is not the only member of the Browns with baseball ambitions. Two years ago, Edgar Jones, a pitcher of some merit, had a spring trial with the Indians. He was offered a minor league contract and turned it down. "I know I'm not good enough to play in the major leagues right away,” Warren said. “I've never had professional experience. What I want to know is how long would it take for me to get to the majors? "If they think I have the ability to make the grade in a couple of years, then I might be interested. I'm too old to spend three or four years in the minors May Get Contract Greenberg told Lahr that he may attend the minor league camp for several weeks and, if the Indians' scouts believe he has outstanding ability, then he will be given a contract, probably for Class A or higher. Under ordinary circumstances prospects at the age of 25 are not signed. "My ambition has always been to play big league baseball,” Warren said. "I never had an offer before I went to college. West Wyoming is stuck way back in the coal fields and baseball scouts never get around there.” Lahr entered Western Reserve in 1941 and starred as a running back with the Red Cats in ‘42, ‘46 and '47. He joined the Browns in 1948 but was injured at training camp and saw no action. He was given little chance of making the squad this year and eventually won the defensive halfback role vacated by Tommy Colella. Coach Paul Brown cited him as "the biggest surprise of the season.” "Brown doesn't know that I would like to play baseball,” Warren said. "He may be surprised again." Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 22, 1949, Page 18.


"My ambition has always been to play big league baseball.” – Warren Lahr, 1949

Photo: Warren Lahr, age 14, circa 1937. (Courtesy of the Lahr Family.)

The Decision

Lahr was a multi-sport athlete who excelled in everything he did: football, baseball, basketball, track and field. In fact, he and a few of his Browns teammates played on a competitive basketball team in the off season. So, of all sports, why did he pick professional baseball? And why now?

Why Now (Dec. 1949)?

Here’s a few factors that might have influenced the timing of his decision:

Warren sat out the entire 1948 season due to an injury. He stayed healthy his second year but had yet to establish himself as a starter. He got playing time in every game during the 1949 season, but most likely he was hungry to be a starter and for the salary that went with the promotion.

The 1949-1950 off-season was also time for him to renew his contract, so perhaps he wanted to explore career options — and use his possible departure as leverage in negotiations. Who knows?

At home, he and his wife Rowena welcomed their first child in October, and the financial responsibilities of fatherhood might have weighed heavily on him. And like many pro athletes back then, work during the offseason to supplement their football income was required. 

Why Baseball?

Warren was born September 5, 1923. His sister, Vilma, was born two years later. As the youngest children in a family of eight, the two were “thick as thieves.” She called him “Warnie” and in turn he gave her the nickname “Boopsie” (after Betty Boop). Years later Warren’s children would know her mostly as “Aunt Boopsie.” Vilma is alive and well today, and at age 96, she has a sharp mind and can recall the days of their youth with great clarity.

Photo: Vilma and Warren Lahr (left) relax on the front porch with mother Lillie and unidentified male (possibly William Cole, Lillie’s brother) circa 1939. Courtesy of the Lahr Family.

“Warren was a great athlete, he could do it all,” she said in a recent phone interview. “All of us Lahr kids were athletic. I was a pretty good golfer myself, many years ago,” she added. 

All of the Lahr children excelled in sports: Charles Jr. in tennis, Esther in basketball, Lillian in golf & tennis, and Edmund in swimming (which led to hearing loss in one ear). 

“Our older brother John was the baseball player of the family. There was talk of him going pro, but that never materialized. I had heard that our father, Charles, played semi-pro baseball when he was younger, but I honestly don’t know anything about his career,” she confessed. 

“When dad died (in 1942), our oldest brother Charles stepped in to fill his shoes. He helped my mother a lot and was a father figure for us younger kids,” recalled Vilma. 

Lahr Family Baseball History 

Warren’s father, Charles Augustus Lahr, was born January 21, 1883, in Wilkes-Barre, PA. He came from a large family, with five brothers and two sisters. He was a devoted husband and father, and an active leader in the Wyoming Presbyteran Church who abstained from drinking alcohol. 

Vilma recalls her father being a tall man — a description not supported by his WWII registration records that lists him at 5’4” and 145 lbs in 1941.

(Note: Warren is listed as 5’ 10 1/2” and 175 lbs. in his WWII draft card in 1942; so perhaps he got his size from his mother Lillian’s side of the family, the Coles).

Charles had a strong, athletic build, chiseled from his years working in the coal mines. His hands and forearms were strong like Honus Wagner’s — the hands of a laborer. When he wasn’t working, he was on the diamond playing baseball with one of the local amateur and semi pro teams. 

In 1934, the local paper, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, recalled the athletic ability of Warren’s father:

“It has been years since we crossed the path of Charley Lahr, whom most of you old timers remember as some pumpkin as a ball gamer in the days of the old Flat-Irons. But Charley hasn't changed with the progress of years and let us remark that this champion of the old days is beyond the half century mark. But Charley doesn't tell his age; he is apparently just as physically fit; is just as mentally alert. And how Charley delights in talking of the days when ball cramers played for the sport of it — and could play baseball.”

Source: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, Apr 11, 1934, Page 14.

The earliest record of Charles Lahr playing baseball occurs in 1902, when 19-year-old “Charley” played catcher for the amateur Pittston Grays.

In 1903, Charles still lived at home with his parents on 16 Ralph Street in Wilkes-Barre. He was recruited by other local clubs like the Weitzenkorns (sponsored by a fine apparel store), appearing in the box scores batting lead off and playing left field and second base. His last name was spelled a variety of ways in the local papers — Lahr, Lehr, Lahar and Laird.

On August 21, 1904, with a club simply called the Wilkes-Barre Amateurs, Lahr contributed in right field with 3 putouts and an assist, and hit safely twice and scored two runs in a 10-9 victory over the Plymouth Reds. Nearly 1,200 fans attended the game at the Washington diamond. 

During the 1905 season, Lahr played with several teams, including The Parsons, North Wilkes-Barre, and Wetzenkorns, where he held down centerfield or left field and batted between the 3rd and 5th spots in the lineup.

Photo: Charles Lahr, front row left in street clothes, with the 1905 Wilkes-Barre ball club.  Source: Kevin Hapeman.

That same year Charles and his new wife, Lillian Cole, welcomed twin girls to the family — Marjorie and Margaret. Both were described as “remarkably pretty and bright” when, tragically, Margaret died of croup two years later.

During the 1906 season, Lahr found himself in the middle of controversy when he slid into second base and kicked the base loose, sending it four feet away from the designated spot. The umpire called him out after the defender tagged him off the bag.

Weitzenkorns manager Neil Brislin argued that the home team, the Plymouth ball club, was responsible for securing the bases. Lahr’s team left the field in protest after the first inning, and Brislin challenged the Plymouth club to a rematch on their home field in Wilkes-Barre, with a winner-take-all wager of $25 to $100 (adjusted for inflation, equal to $800 to $3,200 in 2022).

Family responsibilities took priority over baseball in 1907, as the only ballplayers named Lahr in box scores that season were his brothers Albert and Herbert. After the birth of daughter Eva in the Spring, Charles mourned the loss of both his mother and daughter Margaret later in the Fall.

Charles Lahr returned to the field again in 1908, playing with the Parsons, the Sterlings, and McNelis. His stint with McNelis is noteworthy, as it marked the first time he is documented in a lineup with his brother George. On June 28, 1908, the McNelis lineup included Charles in left field and George at second base and centerfield. Charles recorded 3 runs on 2 hits and a walk, while George recorded 2 hits to help McNelis defeat the Georgetown Giants, 11 to 7. 

Source: The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA, June 29, 1908, Page 13.

On October 11, 1908, Charles Lahr and his McNelis club welcomed the barnstorming Negro Leagues Cuban Giants to East End Park, for a contest that promised a purse of $100 for the winners. No results were reported in the press. 

In 1909, the 27-year-old Charles joined the new ball club sponsored by the Flatiron Hotel. Leading off for the Flat Irons and playing left field, Lahr belted a home run in a 12-3 loss to the Wilkes-Barre Barons, a professional team in the Class B New York State League. Lahr hit his homerun off either Fred Applegate or Levi Knapp, the pitchers appearing in that game. 

The Flat Irons went on to win the pennant in the Wyoming League in 1909, and then compete for the Luzerne County Championship against the Vulcans of the City League and Sugar Notch of the Anthracite League.  The November 9 issue of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader printed the outcome and related celebration. 


Long Drives Were Made, Bases Stolen and Records Smashed In All Directions When the Amateur Champions Started to Warm Things Upon Roof Garden. 

Games were won and lost, pennants captured and long drives made over "tea cups' on the roof garden of the Flatiron Hotel last night when the Flatirons, winners of the Wyoming League pennant, and amateur champions of the county, were tendered a banquet by Hugh Lawson. 

The menu was a choice one. Lawson had his best on the cards and when his diamond warrior band started in to do things averages faded and new figures were posted. 

City Treasurer Dan Hart was toastmaster and throughout the evening Daniel hit with a perfect score. Hugh Lawson was introduced and he landed for a terrific drive. Mr. Lawson disputed the fact that baseball is an American game and declared he played the game years back when a boy in Sweden. He failed to produce-proof and assured his hearers that when authorities had passed on his records the Flatirons would be the first to look at the books. 

… Charles Lahr was at bat with an original poem, “The Docking Boss,” and Jack Salzinger uncorked some twisters by reciting the experience of "a Wyoming valley slate picker at Slatington." Playing manager Neil Brislin stole a base, in response to the toast 'Smiles." Dutch Brannon and "Yon" Haley of Plains, moved up the runners with a duet, "High Balls." 

…Those present were: Charles Lahr, Frank P. Brannbn, Joseph L Gorham, John Salzinger, Patrick Haley, F. F. Thompson, Eugene Lavery, T. E. McCaffrey, Martin A. McEnrue, Michael Halpin, William Murrav, James Conway, Con Burke, Nell Brislin, Thomas Brett, Daniel L Hart, John J. McDevitt, W. L. McCollum, Hugh Lawson. 

The Flatirons during the past season won every game they played in the Wyoming League, and also defeated the St. Peter's champions of Lackawanna County, as well as other strong amateur organizations. The team's only defeat was at the hands of the Wilkes-Barre New York State League team.

Source: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, Sep 22, 1909, Page 8.


Charles’ delivery of an original poem is insightful. First, it reveals that he was a creative person and one of eloquence. Second, it explains his new leadership role in the coal mines. 

A dock boss is a “foreman who checks carloads of newly mined coal to estimate the amount of slate and other foreign matter that has been included in order to establish a rate of dockage.” His celebratory poem with the Flatirons foreshadowed his next move.

In 1910 Charles Lahr joined his company baseball team, the Dorrance Colliery club, playing centerfield and hitting cleanup. His decision to play on the company ballclub paid off professionally. By 1912 he rose through the ranks with the Dorrance Colliery and was elected as a delegate at the tri-district miners convention. 

Between 1910 and 1912, there are several references to ball players named Lahr playing for local teams, but it’s unclear if it’s Charles or his brothers. Most likely it’s his brothers, as the next ten years were busy for Charles and Lillian Lahr, who expanded their family to eight children. 

Charles’ children and baseball career are both mentioned in the following article about a fire that destroyed their home and almost took their lives in April 1922.


Difficult Time In Saving Their Eight Children

No Insurance On Home DAMAGE $1,500 

Awakened this morning to find his home in flames, Charles A. Lahr, who conducts a farm at the Wyoming Valley Camp Ground, and who for years was a former local resident, scarcely succeeded in saving the lives of his eight children before the house was reduced to ashes. The fire broke out about four o'clock. No cause can be assigned unless an overheated stove caused the blaze. The loss is $1,600 and Lahr carried no insurance. The house was a two story frame building and the fire was discovered in the rear, near the kitchen. Mrs. Lahr was the first to be awakened by the smoke and at once gave the alarm. The house was located on the road leading to the Mt. Lookout colliery. Mr. Lahr formerly resided on Johns street, North Wilkes-Barre, but for the past four years has been farming at the camp ground. He was well known as a baseball player a few years ago. 

Source: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, Apr 29, 1922, Page 10

Warren and his sister Vilma were born after the house fire, and it appears the family moved around a bit before establishing a  permanent residence on Eighth Street in West Wyoming. Warren was born on September 5, 1923, in Mt. Zion, PA, the same town where uncle Herbert Lahr lived (walking distance to West Wyoming). Vilma was born in Exeter in January 1926. 

Lahr Family photo, circa 1928. Back row: Lillie, John, Charles Jr., Eva Maye Payne, Edmund; Middle: Esther, father Charles Sr., mother Lillian, Amanda, Warren (held by Amanda). Front: William and Phyllis Payne (held by Charles), Vilma (held by Lillian). Source: The Lahr Family.

In July 1928, the Presbyterian Church announced it was organizing a new baseball club, directed by Charles Lahr, manager. It’s not clear if the manager is Warren’s father or 20-year-old brother, Charles Wesley Lahr. It’s likely that it’s the father, and that the team included brother-ballplayers Charles and John, 16-years-old. 

Warren was 4-years-old when his father and brothers participated in the church league in the late 1920s. While little Warnie stayed home with his mother and sisters, his older brothers Charles and John were known to hit the road for motor trips to locations like Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit. 

In May 1930, Wyoming Baptist featured Warren’s brother John Lahr in center field, batting sixth, and hitting a double and a triple in a 13-0 victory of St. Peter’s. Charles Lahr Sr. served as umpire for the contest. Warren is now 6-years-old, and most likely in attendance and starting to appreciate the action on the diamond.

A year later, Warren appeared in the local newspaper for the first time for his athletic prowess — he won first place in the race for boys ages 6-8 at the Presbyterian Church picnic. Little Warnie’s prize for first place was a free haircut at Irv’s Barber Shop. 

The final reference of the Lahr Family and baseball appears in the Nov 27, 1931, issue of The Pittston Gazette, announcing that Charles Lahr is the president of the Sunday School Baseball League. His brother, Stanley, is listed as the manager of the Wyoming ballclub. 

War Time

In 1942 all of the Lahr men completed their WWII Registration Cards — Charles Sr. completed his in April, and Warren his in June. The documents reveal that Charles was working as a foreman in the W.P.A. program at the time. And Warren appears to have landed summer employment at IBM in Endicott, NY – most likely through the assistance of his sister Lillie Long, whose husband Joe was an IBM factory worker at the time. It’s also worth noting that IBM had a company baseball and softball teams that competed in the Major Industrial League. 

Making of a Ballplayer

It is now clear that the Lahr’s passion for baseball was a family affair – passed down from their father. But having passion is one thing, developing the skill to compete is another. 

As mentioned in the 1949 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, Warren said he honed his baseball skills while playing the sandlots of West Wyoming, PA. Those games must have been unofficial, as records of him playing in an organized baseball league and/or team are nonexistent.

According to Vilma, the neighborhood kids would meet in empty fields by the school and church, and convert them into baseball fields. Their uncle Herbert and his children – three boys and a girl – would join them. “Uncle Herb was a very nice man and a good athlete,” Vilma recalled. “The schools didn’t offer sports for girls back then like they do today, so we would join the boys on the field in the pick up games. We loved playing baseball too,” she added. 

There are, however, many examples of Warren playing other organized sports in the local newspapers, including: 

Basketball (1941)

Track & Field (1941)

And of course, football (1942)

Photo: Warren and his brother John, circa 1942 (approx. ages 19 and 30). Source: The Lahr Family. 

The Final Inning

Warren’s father, Charles Lahr, died of a heart attack on November 17, 1942. Charles was a trim and fit 59-years-old. He had been sick for a few days, but his death was unexpected. The family was devastated.


Note: Warren is incorrectly listed as “Herman” and Edmund as “Edwin” in the above obituary.

Source: The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 17 Nov 1942, Page 10.

Warren missed the Western Reserve game against Ohio Wesleyan in late November to attend his father’s funeral back home. 

Source: The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA, Nov 21, 1942, Page 7.

His absence on the football field was a factor as Ohio Wesleyan upset of Western Reserve, 13-12. He would miss more games due to military service — between Oct. 1943 to Oct. 1945 — his prime years to develop as an athlete (ages 20-22). 

Warren’s Military Service Record

Source: Pennsylvania, U.S., Veteran Compensation Application Files, WWII, 1950-1966
Source: The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA, Oct 15, 1943, Page 3. Given the popularity of baseball among U.S. soldiers, Warren most likely played ball during his three years of military service. He completed his training at Sampson Naval Base in New York in late 1943. While there, according to Frank Raykovitz, Lahr’s teammate at West Wyoming High, trainees at Sampson constructed a baseball field. There’s a high probability that Lahr was among those who helped build the field. At this time, there are no other documented cases of Warren Lahr connected to baseball during WWII. After the war, Warren returned to Western Reserve for the 1946 and 1947 seasons. In December 1947, he announced that he would forgo his senior year of eligibility to play pro football. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers but chose to sign with the Cleveland Browns instead. Coach Paul Brown had only seen Lahr play once, but he was impressed with Warren’s athleticism and potential. Lahr’s 1948 season was cut short due to a knee injury. He was placed on the disabled list and replaced on the roster by George Terlep, a quarterback out of Notre Dame. While he sat idle with his football career uncertain, the Cleveland Indians won the World Series in 1948. Perhaps this is when the game of baseball was starting to look like a more attractive career option for Warren. He announced his desire to pursue a baseball career in December 1949, a decision most likely made after deep reflection. Knowing that Charles Sr. died in November, it’s possible that Warren’s decision to pursue baseball was contemplated around the anniversary of his father’s death. If so, perhaps the idea of playing baseball was an attempt on his part to emotionally reconnect with his dad. It’s not unheard of. In 1994, the sports world witnessed a similar situation when NBA star Michael Jordan, quit basketball to pursue a career in professional baseball, in part to honor his late father, James Jordan Sr., who was a lifelong baseball fan. While there is no hard evidence to support this theory, the scattered pieces of the Lahr family puzzle strongly suggest that Warren’s decision to play baseball was influenced by his father, Charles Augustus Lahr, the man who loved his family, his community, and the great game of baseball. A Change of Heart Ultimately, Warren chose not to pursue a career in professional baseball. According to his sister Vilma, Warren said that his confidence level in his baseball skills were not as strong as his football skills. “The ball just comes in too fast … I don’t trust my vision. I feel more confident on the football field,” he said. So instead he signed a new contract with the Browns in May 1950, and from there his NFL career skyrocketed. He played 10 seasons, contributing to multiple championships, was named an All-Pro several times, and finished with the Browns record for most interceptions (44).
After his retirement from the NFL in 1959, he became a respected color commentator on CBS TV broadcasts for the Cleveland Browns. And for every game in the broadcast booth, he wore a bow tie, made with love by his wife, Rowena. In retirement he modeled the pattern set by his father and dedicated himself to his family — his wife and five daughters. His love and skill for baseball remained. According to his daughter Janet Lahr Lewis, in the 1960s Warren participated in multiple father-daughter softball games where, according to her, “he hit several bombs (home runs) over the fence.” Sadly, Warren modeled his father’s actions one last time — he died unexpectedly, and far too young, of a heart attack. In mid-January he felt sick after playing tennis. He thought it was the flu. Then, on January 19, 1969, Warren laid down on the couch, closed his eyes to rest and never woke up. Warren Lahr, at 45-years-young, was dead. His Legacy Warren never fulfilled his childhood dream of playing big league baseball, but his stellar football career, work as a respected broadcaster, and impact as a loyal husband and father left a far greater legacy than what he might have achieved in pro baseball. In 2008 he was inducted into the Browns Legends (Ring of Honor). Those outside of Cleveland have probably never heard his name. But for those connected to the Lahr family, they are proud of Warren and his NFL career. His legacy lives on through the families of his five daughters, and undoubtedly through the families of all of his brothers and sisters.
Photo: Warren’s siblings at a Lahr Family Reunion circa 1985. Left to right: Esther Lecher, Lillian Long, Amanda Collechio, John Lahr, Charles W. Lahr, Vilma Ripa. Source: The Lahr Family.
Football is a great game, but for some reason it doesn’t connect people emotionally — especially fathers and sons — the way that baseball can. In 1949, Warren Lahr shared his secret ambition with the world, “… to play big league baseball.” We now have a greater insight and appreciation for what sparked Warren’s passion for baseball – his father, the ballplayer, Charles Lahr.

Images: Custom baseball cards of Charles and Warren Lahr created at:

References: Complete list of all articles referenced (with links to original sources).


Published October 15, 2022

Baseball Photo Mystery Solved - 1922 MLB Tour of Japan Stops in Hawaii

Touring MLB All-Americans Honor Alexander Cartwright in Hawaii, January 23, 1923 

The Digital Archives of Hawaii is in development and offers some interesting artifacts available for public view. As of September 2022, a keyword search for “baseball” results in only 20 results: 

Among those results is a photo of former Hawaii governor Sanford Dole, identified in the archive description simply as: “with baseball players.” 

Fortunately, clicking on the image serves up a high-resolution version of the photo, and closer inspection reveals that the uniform of the players is that of the All-American major league ballclub that toured Japan in December 1922. 

Images: (left) Close up of US-Japan patch on left arm of uniform; (right) hat of 1922 All-American uniform. 

 A zoom of the photo also revealed the location as the grave site of Baseball Hall of Famer Alexander Joy Cartwright in Honolulu, Hawaii. According to the HOF, Cartwright is “often cited is as a major contributor to the origins of modern American baseball.” 

Identifying the players The 1922 tour of Japan is well documented on The site includes multiple photos that identify each player. 

One such document is a postcard featuring a "Mitsukoshi & Co. Stamp Postcard w/Mitsukoshi & Co. Stamp at Bottom".

Above image: (L-R): Amos Strunk, Joe Bush, Buck O’Neill, George Moriarty (ump), George Kelly, Herb Hunter, Irish Meusel, Herb Pennock 

Above image: (L-R): Unknown Man, Luke Sewell, Bert Griffith, Waite Hoyt, Casey Stengel, George Moriarty Jr. (bat boy), Fred Hoffman, Riggs Stephenson, Bibb Falk


 With the help of the information on and, I was able to determine the people, place and exact date of the photo. Based on my research, the new description is: 

Photo: Members of the All-American Touring baseball team and Hawaii dignitaries pay tribute at the grave of Alexander J. Cartwright on January 23, 1923. Left to right: Herb Pennock, George Kelly, Riggs Stephenson, Frank “Buck” O’Neil (background), (Unknown profile, Waite Hoyt?), former Hawaii Governor Sanford Dole, Bibb Falk, Amos Strunk. 

Below is the full-text copy of the article describing the event on page 1 of Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii), on Jan 23, 1923: 

Tribute Paid To Founder Of Organized Baseball In Impressive Ceremony Here 

Major League Players and High Officials Place Wreath on Cartwright Grave, Pay Oral Tribute

Organized baseball today paid tribute to its founder. Beneath the drowsy shade of palm trees in Nuuanu cemetery there gathered about the tombstone of Alexander Joy Cartwright early this afternoon the members of the All-American baseball party, major leaguers who have been touring the Orient and are now on their way home. 

In their neat white uniforms that contrasted strangely against the green background, they stood with bared heads while an immense wreath was laid upon the grave and while Sanford B. Dole, first president of the Hawaiian Republic, Herb Hunter, of the baseball party and Wallace R. Farrington, governor of Hawaii, paid oral tribute to the memory of one of the island's greatest citizens. 

 Judge Dole briefly sketched the career of Alexander Joy Cartwright how he organized the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York, stepped off the first diamond, drew up the first set of rules and engineered the first game of organized baseball. Then he told how Cartwright went west with the gold rush of 1849, spreading the game as he went along until he came to Hawaii. 

Dole Remembers Him 
"I remember him well." said Judge Dole, "a great big broad-shouldered man who had no trouble In quelling a riot single-handed one day on the docks here. Of course his playing days were over when I came to Hawaii, but I recall him many times as being called upon to settle disputes. Judge Dole pointed out that it was Cartwright's work that influenced baseball to become a national game rather than being confined and remaining provincial to the eastern seaboard. He added that the climate here was the kind that permitted baseball the year around and that while Hawaii may not have produced great stars, it made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in ability thus far. Herb Hunter, in charge of the All-American baseball party, made the speech In conjunction with the laying of the wreath. 

Speech By Hunter
Hunter said: "When we left home a few months ago, pronounced as "Baseball Pilgrims" on a tour of the Orient, determined as we were to bring out the importance of base-ball in international friendships, little did we realize such an honor as is ours at this moment. "One of the pleasantest features are of this tour is the opportunity A here in your beautiful city of Honolulu to set aside a few moments of this delightful day to show and to express our deep respect as baseball players of today to the memory of the man who is largely responsible for starting the game of baseball on its way to its present high state of development. Because we believe that baseball is an honorable and characteristic element of American life, we take this opportunity to pay our tribute to its founder by placing this wreath on his last resting place. “May God bless his memory and keep the great American game at which he founded true the highest ideals of American sportsmanship. 

Governor Speaks
Governor Farrington followed, on behalf of the territory, expressing the gratitude of the island people and the major leaguers paying tribute to a fellow island citizen. He also spoke highly of present-day players and mentioned the fact that baseball has developed ably as a professional sport and is still maintaining the ideals of sportsmanship which had been prevalent in 'the days when Alexander Joy Cartwright had organized the game. "He is a man who still lives in the hearts of the old and young of the American people," said the governor, "for the American people all know and enjoy the great game of baseball." Those Present Present at the ceremony was Bruce Cartwright. Jr., grandson of the founder of baseball; Mrs. Cartwright and the children, William Edward, aged 9. Coleman. aged 7, and Virginia, aged 11. Among those present who knew the founder personally there was James A. Wilder and Gerrit P. Wilder. Many members of the Rotary Club were present, coming to the ceremony directly after the noon meeting. 


Osami Nagano: The Japanese Admiral Who Celebrated Babe Ruth & Lead the Attack on Pearl Harbor


Image: Top left: Admiral Osami Nagano; right: Babe Ruth meets with Japanese Naval cadets after the game at Yankee Stadium, September 29, 1927.

Imagine if during the historic home run race of 1998, a ball hit by slugger Mark McGwire became a prized souvenir of Osama Bin Ladin, the man who three years later orchestrated the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001.

While this 21st-Century scenario didn't occur, the image it creates in your mind gives you a sense of the dynamics that unfolded back in 1927 when Babe Ruth set the single-season record with 60 home runs. The man who met Babe Ruth, asked for his autograph, and became a proud owner of a historic home run souvenir was Japanese Naval Admiral Osami Nagano. Years later Nagano orchestrated the devastating attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Here’s the story of this little known connection between the celebrated Ruth and the infamous Nagano.

The Game
On September 29, 1927, approximately 7,500 fans peppered the seats of Yankee Stadium with the hopes of seeing the great Babe Ruth hit a home run. Babe was sitting on home run number 57 and had his sights set on breaking the record of 59, which he set during the 1921 season. 

With a seating capacity of 57,545, roughly 9 out of 10 (87 percent) seats were vacant. It was a day game on a Thursday, so most fans were either at work or school. The sky was partly cloudy, the temperature was a cool 58 degrees by mid-afternoon. 

In a game that lasted just short of two hours, the Yankees defeated the Washington Senators, 15-4, behind Babe’s stellar day at the plate. Ruth went 3-for-5 and drove in 6 RBIs, hitting a one-run home run (#58) in the 1st inning, an RBI-triple in the 2nd, and a grand slam (#59) in the 5th inning. (Note: A full summary of the on-field activity is available at the SABR Game Project.)

A report in the Times Union (Brooklyn, NY) published later that day (must have been an early game to make the presses on the same day) describes an interesting and unexpected home run highlight:

“Ruth hit his 58th home run of the season in the first inning. (Horace) Lisenbee was pitching. No one was on base. The ball landed in the right field bleachers. The crowd, including 200 Japanese sailors, guests of the management, went wild as Ruth trotted around the bases.”

Yes, that’s right, 200 Japanese sailors. 

(BTW, with only 7,500 fans in attendance, my guess is that this might be the largest crowd of Japanese nationals to ever attend a MLB game -- played in the U.S., that is. If not by number, then it could be a record as a percentage of overall fans [200/7500 = 3%]. But I digress ...)

This was not the first major league game for the Japanese cadets during their U.S. visit, as they had previously attended a game at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 23. There, they witnessed an extra-innings pitching duel between the Chicago White Sox and Red Sox, The White Sox won 2-1 in 11-innings. Source: The Boston Herald, September 23, 1927, pg. 29.

Japanese Sailors in New York
According to the press, “the Japanese cruisers Asama and Iwate, steamed into New York today (Sept 28) for a nine day visit. Under the command of Rear Admiral Osama Nagano, the two ships, which left Japan on June 30, have made calls at Honolulu, San Francisco, San Pedro, New Orleans, Havana and Boston.

The first event in the elaborate program arranged by civil and naval authorities was an official visit by Rear Admiral Nagano and his staff to Mayor Walker followed by a call at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and another at army headquarters on Governor’s Island… Both cruisers have been training ships of cadets for a number of years.”

The New York Times added, “The midshipmen will see a baseball game at the Yankee Stadium Thursday afternoon.” 

Compared to the pitching dual in Boston, this game was far more exciting for the Japanese sailors, as reflected in the New York Times headline the day after the game:

Japanese Sailors Cheer Babe Ruth, New York Times, September 30, 1927: 10. 

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing, wedding and outdoor

In the above photo credited to “Pacific & Atlantic.” the following caption appeared in the Daily News (New York, NY)

“O, migosh! Babe seems to be attempting facial hari-kari! After witnessing those two glorious homers, Japanese naval officers gathered about him and the playful Babe nearly gave fans heart failure when he took dagger and started shaving himself.”

Ruth would go on to hit home run #60 the following day (September 30), and the Yankees would defeat Washington in the next two days to finish the season with a 110-44 record and clinch the American League pennant. 

The Babe continued his hitting tear in the World Series against the Pirates. He went 6-for-14 (.400) with two home runs and finished with a slash line of: .471 OBP/.800 SLG/1.271 OPS.

On October 6, the Japanese sailors departed New York harbor for Annapolis, Maryland. They arrived on October 8, the same day the Yankees won Game Four of the World Series, 4-3, sweeping the Pirates for the championship. 

A Home Run Ball
“Guns Boom as Japanese Ships Arrive in Annapolis.” This was the headline in the October 8, 1927, issue of the Baltimore Sun announcing the arrival of the Japanese sailors. Aboard the Iwate and Asama were 650 officers and 183 Imperial Training Squadron students. They attended a Navy football game on Saturday, but the game of baseball and their interaction with Ruth was all they wanted to talk about.

“The subject uppermost in the minds of the Japanese officers, however, was not football – it was baseball. Of all their impressions of America, one officer said, one of the greatest was of the American ‘baseball industry.’

Displays Ball Ruth Hit
Admiral Nagano displayed a ball with Babe Ruth’s signature on it. This ball, Admiral Nagano explained, was given to him by the ‘Swat King’ and was one which Ruth knocked out of the lot in a recent game with Washington.”

Source: The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Sun, Oct 09, 1927 · Page 20

As you recall, Ruth hit two home runs during the game on September 29, so it is unclear if Nagano was the owner of #58 or #59. And it appears that someone must have returned the home run balls to Ruth during the game, for it to be possible for him to give one of the souvenirs to the Admiral. Who knows? 

What we do know is that 1927 was not Nagano’s first visit to the U.S. His first visit to the U.S. occurred in 1913. He was a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war (1904) and commanded a warship during the great battle in the Sea of Japan. As a result, in 1913 he represented Japan as a naval attaché in Washington during the disarmament conference and studied at Harvard for a year (1913-1914). Source: The Boston Herald, September 22, 1927, pg. 1.

Years later he told the press that when he was a student at Harvard, he had “an American father and mother,” of the last name Wheeler who lived in Scituate, MA. (Note: The most likely candidates fitting that profile in the 1910 U.S. Census are Clarence G. Wheeler and Sarah A. Wheeler (both age 29) of Scituate, MA.) 

During his visit in 1913-14, Nagano was asked by reporters if Japan would take military action against the U.S. in response to the rising Anti-Japanese sentiment reflected in the Anti-Alien Laws of California barring anyone born in Japan from owning land. Nagano stated that the issue was a local matter for California and Japan would not intervene. He then added, “Japan’s relations with America mean so much to both countries that a war would be disastrous.” 

Little did he know how prophetic his own words were, and how true they would become, almost three decades later. 

Return to Japan
According to F.J. Bradley, author of “He Gave the Order: The Life and Times of Admiral Osami Nagano (Merriam Press, 2015), the Japanese Naval training cruise left Annapolis on October 13 and made seven more stops before completing their 23,818 mile journey. See itinerary below. 

Source: Bradley, F. J.. He Gave the Order: The Life and Times of Admiral Osami Nagano. N.p.: Merriam Press, 2015.

Photo: Babe Ruth (front row, center) during the 1934 All-American Goodwill Tour of Japan.

In 1934, Babe Ruth toured Japan as a member of the All-American Goodwill Tour. Three years later, Nagano became commander in chief of the Japanese naval fleet. By April 1941, he was named naval chief of staff where he planned and gave the command to launch the Pearl Harbor attack eight months later. 

According to an interview with Julia Ruth, Babe’s daughter, the slugger was so upset after the attack on Pearl Harbor that he threw away all of the gifts he received during his trip to Japan. The feeling was mutual. During WWII, the Japanese soldiers who once celebrated Ruth, shouted his name with obscenities from the dark jungles and fox holes of war. 

After the surrender of Japan and the subsequent dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S., Nagano was put on trial by the international military tribunal. There, he assumed full responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attack.

“I sanctioned the Pearl Harbor attack campaign. Since it was purely a matter of naval operations, nobody else is concerned. I am entirely responsible for the campaign.” Source: Ventura County Star (Ventura, CA), Jun 28, 1946, page 1.

While still on trial, Nagano died of a heart attack on January 5, 1947, Tokyo, Japan. He was 66.

Babe Ruth died the following year on August 16, 1948. He was 53.

By August 1951, Japan was once again in love with the Great Bambino and declared August 16 “Babe Ruth Day” across the country. 

There has been no mention of Nagano’s autographed Babe Ruth baseball in the press since the 1927 article in Baltimore – and its whereabouts today are unknown. 

One souvenir from Babe’s record setting season in 1927 -- the 60th home run ball -- is on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame