The Wreckers

The 1916 25th Infantry Wreckers

The 1916 25th Infantry Wreckers

There are a lot of reasons people join the Army. Some are drafted, some patriotic. Some enjoy the lifestyle, some understand they need the self-discipline the military provides. Some are just looking for an assured three hots and a cot. If you could play baseball, you could also practice your craft for the unit team. Between 1914 and 1920 one of the best unit teams ever played for the US Army. They were the segregated 25th Infantry Wreckers.

In 1914 the US Army was anticipating expansion in case of American entry into World War I. The 25th Infantry was a segregated unit stationed in Hawaii (Schofield Barracks). It had been around for a while and used the prospects of its baseball team as a recruiting tool. That worked well. By the late 19-teens they’d established a first-rate team that was dominate on the islands and could also dominate barnstorming teams and Minor League outfits.

In 1914 they began play in the Post League, a military league for the various Hawaiian armed forces bases. There were four teams, one Asian, one Portuguese, one Chinese, and the Wreckers. The 25th finished first easily. Between 1914 and 1918 they finished first by more than 10 games every year. They also dominated Pacific Coast League teams who barnstormed through the islands. In 1918 the 25th was transferred to Arizona (Camp Little) where they continued their winning ways, this time dominating Southwest teams.

The team got its big chance in 1919 when later Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel led a team of barnstorming Major Leaguers through the West. They took on the Wreckers and Stengel was impressed (there seems to be no exact records of the games played between the two teams, but apparently the Wreckers won at least some). Stengel approached J.L. Wilkinson the white owner of the All Nations team, a segregated ball team playing in the Midwest, with a recommendation he look at several of the players on the Wreckers. Wilkinson, who was about to make his All Nations into the kernel of the Kansas City Monarchs and join the Negro National League did so. He was impressed enough to sign six Wreckers to contracts with the Monarchs upon their discharge. A number of other Negro League teams followed suit and by 1921 16 Wreckers were now playing in the Negro Leagues. It finished the Wreckers as a force to be reckoned with in military and amateur baseball.

Who, you ask, were these guys? The list is a litany of great players in the early Negro Leagues. Bullet Joe Rogan and Andy Cooper are in the Hall of Fame. A case can be made that Heavy Johnson and Dobie Moore should be. Other notable Negro Leaguers who played for the Wreckers include Bob Fagan, Hurley McNair, Moses Herring, William Johnson, Lemuel Hawkins, and Dayton Marcus. Rogan, McNair, Fagan, Moore, and Hawkins became stalwarts on the Monarchs teams that dominated the earliest years of the Negro National League.

It was a formidable roster and a formidable team. Arguably, it is the greatest amateur team ever assembled. I’ve been searching for info on them for a long time now and finally found it. I normally wait for things like this for Black History month in February, but I wanted to get it to you as soon as I could.

 

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6 Responses to “The Wreckers”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    I’ve got two questions about this, V. One is that I’m confused. Were the Wreckers an integrated team or a segregated one? (Being that they later became part of the Negro Leagues).

    The other question is one that I’ve thought about for a long time that is outside the subject of this post but not completely. That question is why were major league baseball players drafted during World War I, World War II, and during the Korean War, but I remember very clearly that major league players in the late 60s and early 70s (while the draft was still going on for the Vietnam War) were constantly going to the Reserves, but not being drafted. This is certainly not a knock against the players, some of whom were my early baseball heroes. On the Mets alone (my team, right or wrong), I can recall fairly frequent interruptions of the seasons of players such as Wayne Garrett, Bud Harrelson, and Tug McGraw. Those weren’t the only ones on the Mets, to be sure, but they are the only ones who I can remember off the top of my head who were interrupted during the season by doing Reserve duty.

    The only players who later played in the major leagues who I can recall being actual Vietnam Veterans are Garry Maddox (started out with the Giants) and outfielder Dave Schneck of the Mets. Probably this was because they were not property of any teams, yet, is my guess, although they Maddox and Schneck may have enlisted. I don’t really know.

    But the question is this—– Why did major league teams protect their players from active duty during the Vietnam War? It wasn’t done during Korea and the two World Wars.

    Do you happen to know this, V? This is something I’ve wondered about for a while, now.

    Glen

    • verdun2 Says:

      The Army, as with much of society, was segregated during the 1914-1920 period. Integration of units occurred under Harry Truman in the late 1940s. Sorry I failed to make that clear.
      I have no idea about the Viet Nam question. I remember a handful of players showing up at our mess hall. They were on a USO sponsored goodwill tour and I got to shake a couple of hands. Don’t remember any player specifically, but do recall that most of the guys I knew wondered why we were in Nam and they weren’t.
      v

  2. Precious Sanders Says:

    This is really cool. I never knew the armed forces had teams like this so far back. Thanks for sharing.

  3. glenrussellslater Says:

    Yeah, I knew about the Harry S. Truman part, and my father served from 1953 to 1955. There were lots of blacks in his platoon, including a black drill sergeant at one of the camps that he served at. He also served with Robert Duvall when he was at Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and they became best friends. He saw him once since he was in the Army; my father’s wife (also known as my mother) bumped into him in Greenwich Village at the time when Duvall was sharing an apartment with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman. No, I’m not name-dropping. Well, maybe I am. Anyway, Robert Duvall is a poor example of the integration thing because he’s not black. In fact, he’s one of those white guys, as you can readily see in any of his movies.

    Did you ever write a post about how Jackie Robinson, God bless him, actually BEAT Rosa Parks in creating havoc (the GOOD kind of havoc) on a bus? This was while he was in the army? Except that unlike Rosa Parks’s incident, Robinson’s was totally impromptu, whereas Park’s was organized and planned.

    Robinson was a hero for the blacks even going back to his Army days. He was a proud man, as you know. Which makes it all the more amazing how during the first couple of years he was able to bite his lip and follow Branch Rickey’s orders to not make waves.

    God bless Jackie Robinson. Did you know that his kids were born at the same hospital that I was? (More name-dropping). Jackie would have made a great manager. It’s a shame that he died so young. He sure deserved better. One of my all-time heros. I did not go to the movie because I figured it was going to be just another one of those oversimplified “TV Movie of The Week” kind of things, and from what I’ve read in a lot of reviews of the movie, a lot of critics sure agreed with my gut feeling. By the way, if you want to read a good book about all of this Jackie Robinson-Branch Rickey stuff, I recommend Jimmy Breslin’s book that came out a few years ago titled, simply, “Branch Rickey”. It’s a very short book. As you probably know, Breslin is a very good writer.

    Glen

    • verdun2 Says:

      FYI there’s a made for TV flick titled “The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson” that details the bus incident (while he was in the army). You might try and find a copy. It’s not totally historically accurate (it’s TV after all), but it’s worth a look if you’re interested.
      v

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