American history lesson, recounted by L.E. Taylor
When you’re crouched down behind home plate, a baseball game looks different than ordinary spectators ever see. Through the steel bars of a mask it’s framed, more focused. The ball gets to the action zone faster than a civilian can imagine.
A late August sun pounds the dusty Jayne Field diamond under a brassy sky. This ballgame has been tied twice over eight hot innings. Now with two outs, the team at bat has a man on second. The pitch comes like a lightning strike and the hitter drives a sharp grounder into right; the charging fielder gathers it up and throws in one motion. The relay and the runner arrive at the plate in a dust cloud of pink clay and chalk. It’s a dead tie.
“Yer-OUT!” the umpire barks.
1944. South Pacific War Zone
The muzzle end of a sawed off shot gun prodded the Jap officer along the deck of the USS Icefish. The yeoman, 2nd Class had plunged into dark waters to pull the guy from his sinking junk. It was the Jap’s lucky day.
They proceeded along the slippery deck, down into the American submarine, the yeoman sailor guiding his prisoner from behind. It had been a violent night of surface fighting. The war was in its last dangerous months and the Japanese were trying to evacuate (sneak) their important personnel back to Nippon, but the Navy was onto it and one prize of this particular patrol off the New Guinea coast carefully descended the ladder, dripping wet and sullen.
In the captain’s cabin, the interrogation began. Nineteen year-old Yeoman Masinick handed the shot gun to a mate and stood at rest next to his Exec, eyes on the Jap. Captain Petersone opened the Japanese-English manual and awkwardly began the questioning. Masinick, also the sub’s scribe (log-keeper), tried to follow along, using his own text. Finally, the prisoner looked at the captain, then quizzically at the young sailor. “What’s wrong with you, don’t you speak Engrish?”
It was twelve years later before anyone laughed.
Julius Masinick was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. On 08 December 1941, graduation from Detroit Eastern High School was just six months away. That morning, one day after the Pearl Harbor attack, his counsellor assembled senior boys in the gym. He said, “I know you want to enlist. Don’t be stupid; get your diploma; you’re gonna be drafted anyway.” Julius listened. In June, he found himself with a high school diploma from the best public school system in America, and by summer’s end, he was getting used to his new home in the United States Navy.
Julius was restless. He was six feet tall, fit, and no dummy. This was a chance that only comes once in a lifetime. So he volunteered for submarine duty. His personality and his physique got him the nickname “Bruiser”. In no time, it got shortened to Bud.
Navy boot camp would consist of eighteen weeks at Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. Bud had been a good kid-ballplayer in the tough American Legion League on Detroit’s East Side. At Great Lakes he was just another sailor learning the ropes. It happened, though, that the navy’s premier baseball team, the Bluejackets, was also stationed there. The All-Star services league was formed as a morale boost for U.S. troops. Bob Feller, Johnny Mize, Dom DiMaggio, Barney McCosky, Virgil Trucks were a few of the sixty or so pros at Great Lakes who’d put their careers on hold for the Duration.
The Bluejackets team was led by Hall of Fame Tiger manager Mickey Cochrane. For some reason, maybe Bud’s Detroit roots, Cochrane took a liking to the kid. So did the great Tiger pitcher, “Schoolboy” Rowe, star of three pennant seasons and a World Series Championship. By the end of Bud’s boot camp, the green sailor and the veteran pitcher, Schoolie, had spent countless hours talking baseball.
Then the kid was gone, shipped out to sub school in Connecticut.
After New London, Bud found himself in Pearl Harbor for assignment at sea. Passing a practice diamond on his way to the sub pen, Bud recognized a pitcher wearing the distinctive Bluejackets jersey. “Schoolie!” Bud called out.
“Julie!” The big Texan jogged over to the low fence.
“They call me ‘Bud’ now Schoolie.”
At age fifteen, Lynwood Rowe had pitched phenomenally in an adult league, and in 1932 he won nineteen games in the Texas League. The Tigers signed him in ’33. He won twenty-four games for the ’34 American league champs. Now in his thirties, Schoolboy Rowe looked at the submariner insignia on Bud’s collar. “Well, you done it. Why’d you go and do a dumb thang like that, boy? You could get killed.”
Bud laughed. “You only get one chance, Schoolie.” The veteran smacked the ball into his lumpy glove, nodded, and extended his hand. “You got that right, Bud.”
By V-J Day in 1945, Bud had been on five 60-day patrols with the Icefish, in three battles, and had endured the heart-pounding terror of depth charges more than once. “It was like being sealed in an oil drum,” he recalled, “while ten guys beat on the outside of it with baseball bats.”
Postwar found Bud playing first base in the Carolina Leagues, and he went to one spring training with Toledo. But he had a different world view now. It was time to settle down and he got hired by a Detroit chemical company.
“Well, that’s baseball,” old pal Schoolboy Rowe opined. “At least ya made it out alive.”
Bud married and needed extra income. He’d earned a little by “reffin’ ” youth basketball at Franklin Settlement, one of the city’s big housing projects. One day, a friend said the DABF needed umps; lots of ballgames every week, good pay. Bud was thirty-five.
2005. Jayne Field, Detroit East Side
The dust hasn’t settled and the kid leaps to his feet, screaming. “Bull sh…”
“That’s enough of that.” Bud Masinick removes his steel mask. “You slid around the plate. You gotta touch it.” The player explodes, his face is inches from the ump’s.
Bud looks directly into the blazing eyes of the eighteen year old. “Son, you didn’t hear me. Play’s over. Go sit down.” The tantrum continues, spittle and curses fly. “Son, you’d better go back to the dugout and sit down.” Bud leans in closer to the kid and whispers, “Or you’re gonna have to explain to your friends why you got knocked on your ass by an eighty year old man.”
Bud walks away, pulls out a bandana. “That’s baseball, Schoolie,” he says softly to no one. He wipes the sweat from the inside of his mask. “Yep. That’s baseball.”
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