Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Joe Abreu

 

Date and Place of Birth: May 24, 1913 Oakland, California

Died: March 17, 1993 Hayward, California

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Infield
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit: US Navy

Area Served: United States

 

Joe AbreuJoseph L “Joe” Abreu was born on May 24, 1913 in Oakland, California. He was the sixth born in a family of nine children and his parents arrived in California from Madeira, Portugal in 1906.

 

The Abreus were an athletic family. Three of his brothers boxed professionally and Joe was a standout shortstop under coach Elwood “Doc” Hess at McClymond's High School in West Oakland.

 

Abreu graduated in 1934 and that summer coached the Oakland Post No 5 American Legion team which went to the semi-finals of the American Legion tournament in Topeka, Kansas. Six players from that team went in to professional baseball.

 

During the summer of 1935 he worked as a handy man in a wholesale liquor firm in San Francisco, and played semi-pro baseball with Central Banks in the Berkeley City League. He also played in the local winter league where he attracted attention from professional scouts.

 

Abreu signed with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and began his pro career in 1936 as part of the Yankees’ organization. He batted .396 for Yakima Pippins in the Northwest League in his rookie season and led them to the pennant. The following spring he was a serious prospect at the Oaks’ spring training camp.

 

However, when the Yankees took over the Spokane Hawks of the Western International League in 1937, Abreu was sent there. He hit .325, led the league in triples and made the all-star team. Back in Oakland in 1938, under Dutch Zwilling he hit .299 and led the club in doubles, triples, RBIs, total bases and sacrifices.

 

Abreu married Bernice Marshall on January 4, 1939, and batted .294 with the Oaks during the summer. He joined the Fort Worth Cats in the Texas League in 1940, and his batting average dropped to .250 that season, prompting a sale to Milwaukee of the American Association for 1941. Abreu hit .284 for the Brewers despite injuring his sciatic nerve and breaking his right thumb.

 

In 1942, Abreu was on his way to Ocala, Florida to join the Brewers at their spring training camp when a telegram informed him he had been sold to the Los Angeles club. He was with the Angels a week when he was acquired by Birmingham of the Southern Association. The Barons immediately transferred him to their parent club – the Cincinnati Reds.

 

In his major league debut on April 23 against the Pirates Abreu drove in the Reds’ last run of a five-run seventh inning, as the Reds won 5-3. The following day he hit a home run of Aldon Wilkie. But Abreu would play only nine games with Cincinnati batting .214. Capturing a far bigger share of the headlines than his on-field pursuits was his interest in magic. A keen amateur magician, Abreu first became interested when Carl Zamloch, the former Cubs’ pitcher, put on a magic show at McClymond’s High School in 1932. Abreu was hooked and a few years later went to see Zamloch to learn more skills as a magician. By the time Abreu joined the Reds he could boast a repertoire of over 400 card tricks and was a member of the National Society of Magicians.

 

Joe Abreu performs a card trick for Tom Swope of the Cincinnati Post in 1942.

In July 1942, Abreu was traded to the New York Yankees with Jim Turner for Frankie Kelleher, and the Yankees assigned him to Newark. The following year he was in military service with the Navy at Livermore Naval Air Station in California.

 

Abreu continued to play an abundance of baseball while in service. He was an all-star selection with Livermore Naval Air Station in the Army and Navy League of California, and played for the Golden Glows in the Alameda Summer and Winter leagues.

 

Livermore Naval Air Station, managed by Reds’ catcher Ray Lammano, won 150 games and lost 45 between late 1942 and August 1944.

 

On September 8, 1944, Joe Abreu’s Major-Minor League Stars played Smiley Clayton’s Negro All Stars at the Oakland Oaks’ ballpark in Emeryville. Abreu’s team included Bill Rigney, Cookie Lavagetto, Ray Lamanno, and Rae Scarborough.

 

Abreu was discharged after the war ended and the Yankees’ organization named him as player-manager of the Wellsville Yankees in the PONY League. In September 1946, despite batting.352 to win the league batting crown and leading the PONY League with 21 home runs he was unable to guide Wellsville out of the second division and was given his unconditional release.

 

He was player-manager with the Newnan Brownie of the Georgia-Alabama League in 1947, and managed the Tampa Smokers of the Florida International League in 1948. On June 16, 1948, the Smokers held a night in Abreu’s honor when he was presented with a new car and other gifts.

 

Abreu managed the Santa Rosa Cats of the Far West League in 1949, then returned to California where he played for the semi-pro Guy’s Drugs of Oakland, winners of the Bush Rod Winter League – the first league to ever use the Designated Hitter rule.

 

During the mid-50s Abreu was also playing softball with the Naval Supply Center team in the Oakland Recreation Department Class A League, and was involved in youth instructional baseball clinics in the local area.

 

Joe Abreu passed away on March 17, 1993 in Hayward, California. He was 79 years old.

 

Created July 17, 2007.

Copyright © 2010 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.


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