Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

Click Here to Review Max West's Stats on Baseball Almanac
“Where what happened yesterday is being preserved today.”


Max West


Date and Place of Birth: November 28, 1916 Dexter, Missouri

Died:  December 31, 2003 Sierra Madre, California
Baseball Experience: Major League
Military Unit:
US Army Air Force

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

Max E West was born on November 28, 1916 in Dexter, Missouri. He signed as an outfielder with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 1935 and joined Mission of the same league the following year.

After batting .330 with 16 home runs and 95 RBIs for Mission in 1937, West’s contract was purchased by the Boston Braves. He batted .234 his rookie year but increased his average to .285 in 1939 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs.

West was the starting right fielder in the 1940 All-Star and his three-run home run in the first inning powered the National League past the American League. He entered military service with the Army Air Force on March 26, 1943. He served with the Sixth Ferrying Group, Air Transport Command at Long Beach, California, where he regularly played baseball with Red Ruffing, Gerald Priddy and Nany Fernandez.

In 1945, Corporal West was in the Pacific playing for Lew Riggs’ 313th Bombardment Wing Flyers. The Flyers were based at North Field, Tinian and played round-robin competitions against Birdie Tebbett's 58th Bomb Wing and Buster Mills’ 73rd Bomb Wing. The Flyers line-up featured Johnny Sturm, Nanny Fernandez, Walt Judnich and Stan Goletz. The team was constantly traveling “God, we traveled all the time,” West explained to Todd Anton, author of No Greater Love. “We’d go and come into an island, we didn’t know where the hell we were, so we’d get in line and say we had flight fatigue and get a shot of whiskey. That’s my kind of medicine.”

Despite all the island-hopping playing baseball it should be remembered that the players were still expected to perform their military duties as members of the Army Air Force. “The problem is,” West explained, “we had a job to do as flight/grounds crewmen and the other problem was they’d tell us about nine o’clock at night and say, ‘You’re leaving at six o’clock in the morning for wherever.’ We didn’t know if we were playing ball or getting reassigned to a new squadron.”

West worked on the ground crew with the 313th Bombardment Wing. “I saw some horrific crashes … and we on the ground crew would have to go in and, in all honesty, mop up the human carnage. One time I went in to help, we pulled out this pilot. I do not remember his name, but he had just flown all of us to Saipan for a ball game a few days before. We pulled him out and got him on a stretcher. He was burned pretty badly, and all I saw were his eyes. They were so white and he looked right at me, his lips kind of smiled and he just died. His face just went blank.”

In April 1946, after returning from military service, West was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Jim Konstanty. He played just 73 games that year and batted a lowly .212. He was with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League in 1947, returned to Pittsburgh in 1948 (where he batted just .178 in 87 games) and returned to San Diego the following year. West led the Pacific Coast League in home runs on three occasions, and in 1949 he hit 48 home runs with 166 RBIs. He continued playing in the PCL until 1954.

Max West operated a sporting goods firm with Ralph Kiner in California after retiring from baseball. He passed away on December 31, 2003 in Sierra Madre, California.

Created May 23, 2008.

Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.