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Tommy Warren

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: July 5, 1917 Tulsa, OK
Date and Place of Death:    January 2, 1968 Tulsa, OK
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Pharmacist's Mate
Military Unit: US Navy
Area Served: Mediterranean Theater of Operations

Tommy Warren, who was wounded during Operation Torch in North Africa, was the first player with overseas combat experience in World War II to appear in a major league game. He pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers on opening day against the Phillies in 1944.

Thomas G. “Tommy” Warren was born on July 5, 1917, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father, a semi-pro player for many years, was manager of the Frisco Railroad team in Tulsa, when Tommy was growing up and he was the team’s bat boy, mascot and fly shagger.

Warren was an all-around athlete at Central High School in Tulsa, and in 1936, joined the Tulsa Safeways, a semi-pro team which made it to the finals of the state tournament.

In 1937, he was playing for the Texas Oil Company and signed a professional contract to play with the Midland Cardinals of the Class D West-Texas New Mexico League the following season. His record on the mound with the Cardinals was 13 and 11. Warren’s contract was assigned to the Abilene Apaches of the same league for 1939, but he was released in April, and returned to semi-pro baseball with a team in Perry, Oklahoma.

In late 1941, Claude Jonnard, manager of the Amarillo Gold Sox in the West Texas-New Mexico League, brought Warren in from the semi-pro ranks to help his club get into the playoffs. He pitched two games, won both, and hit .321, playing the outfield when he wasn’t on the mound.

On December 8, 1941 - the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - Warren put his baseball career on hold to enlist in the Navy. “I wanted to get in because I knew my younger brother, Larry, was on the aircraft carrier Saratoga, at Pearl Harbor,” he told The Sporting News.

Warren trained as a pharmacist's mate at the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia, and was assigned to convoys across the Atlantic. He served on the battleship USS Texas, and was at Iceland, England, Gibraltar and North Africa during the Allied invasion in November 1942 (Operation Torch). Under fire from Vichy French forces, his medical unit evacuated the first wounded at Port Lyautey in Morocco, and he suffered a serious head wound during this time.

Warren was returned to the United States to convalesce and spent 10 months at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in September 1943.

The 25-year-old was determined to get back into baseball and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers for spring training. “The situation is normal at Brooklyn,” wrote J. G. T. Spink in The Sporting News, “Again the Dodgers have come up with the unusual. This time it’s a sailor who reported at the Bear Mountain camp wearing a pair of red leather cowboy boots. But that’s not the half of it. The newcomer [Warren] is the first wounded veteran of World War II to join a major league club as a player.

“He talks as fast and free as Dizzy Dean,” Spink observed. “To prove he can run, he has bet Branch Rickey, Jr., he can beat any Dodger in spring camp, to prove he can hit and pitch, he offers a scrapbook full of newspaper evidence that he has out-pitched Satchel Paige and has hit homers with the bases full.”

Warren looked good in spring training. He threw a number of scoreless innings in exhibition games and was determined to secure a place on the Dodgers’ roster. "I want to make good as a ballplayer," he explained, "and not because of any of this hero stuff, and I'm confident I can."

Warren’s efforts paid off and the Dodgers kept him on their roster for opening day. “I’ll be pitching for the boys overseas,” he remarked. “They want baseball to continue and I’ll certainly try to do my share.”

His greatest inspiration, he said, is a short note he received from Private First-Class Peter Demmie, of San Jose, California, whom he evacuated under shelfire in North Africa. "I'll never forget the buddy that saved my life," the note said. "Lots of luck to one of the swellest people I know."

Warren made his major league debut on opening day, April 18, making a relief appearance against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, or at least to Warren, he was optioned to the Montreal Royals of the Class AA International League for part of the season. Warren was 7-2 with a 1.83 ERA for the Royals in 13 appearances, but quit the team in June to try and get back into the Navy. His efforts to re-enlist were unsuccessful and he was recalled by the Dodgers in July.

"[He has an] overhand fast ball," said Brooklyn manager, Leo Durocher. "Overhand curve, side-arm fastball, side-arm curve, change of pace, and a delivery that can come from anywhere between his ear and hip pocket."

Warren pitched in 22 games during the regular season for the Dodgers, primarily as a reliever, and finished with a 1-4 record and 4.98 ERA. His lone win came on July 30, in the first game of a double-header at Ebbets Field against the Cardinals. He also made 19 appearances as a pinch hitter that year and finished with a .256 batting average.

Warren was back with Montreal in 1945, and joined his hometown Tulsa Oilers of the Class AA Texas League in 1946. He spent three years with the Oilers and won 40 games during that time.

Warren later served as a deputy sheriff in Tulsa, and pitched for Monterrey in the Mexican League in 1950. But all this time he was getting into serious financial difficulty brought around through an addiction to gambling. In February 1949, while still a deputy sheriff in Tulsa, Warren set up a scam involving new cars. He convinced people to part with money on the promise they would receive a new automobile from a friend in the trade in Detroit. The cars never appeared and Warren lost the money gambling on horse races, prize fights and basketball games.

During the summer of 1951, while free under a $3,000 bond, he played for the Miami Eagles in the Class D K-O-M League. In April 1952, he was convicted of larceny by fraud and sentenced to three years at McAlester State Prison. But even a prison sentence couldn’t stop Warren playing baseball as he was soon pitching for the McAlester Outlaws under the guidance of prison athletic director Norman Rowan.

Warren was released from prison in February 1953, and joined the Temple Eagles of the Class B Big State League. Later that year he joined the Corpus Christi Aces of the Class B Gulf Coast League, appearing in 18 games with a 6-5 record.

In 1954, aged 36, he was appointed player/manager of the Seminole Oilers of the Class D Sooner State League. Warren was 10-1 on the mound for the Oilers and batted .366 as an outfielder, but the team was in sixth place when he was released in June, and he signed as player/manager with the Borger Gassers of the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League. “Warren comes to the Gassers highly recommended as a manager and a pitcher,” announced the Borger board of directors in the Abilene Reporter-News on June 25, 1954. “He has a reputation of producing a hustling ball team.” The Gassers finished seventh that year and disbanded at the end of the season.

Tommy Warren died January 2, 1968, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, due to a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the chest. He left a note citing ill health as the reason. He was just 50 years old and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa.

Date Added January 3, 2018

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