With the end of World War II in the European Theater of Operations, the brass was looking for ways to entertain the many thousands of idle troops, and somebody came up with the idea for a baseball tournament, with teams representing most Army divisions playing in Nuremberg's Hitler Youth Stadium. The 71st Division topped all the Germany-based teams, setting up a so-called ETO World Series in September of 1945. From Robert Weintraub's intriguing new book:
Their French-based opponent, the clumsily named Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars, was a ragtag outfit, made up mostly of semi-pro players, picked from the relatively few units that hadn’t moved on to Germany or back to England. Their lone “name” player was the France-based equivalent of Walker, a journeyman pitcher named Sam Nahem. He had only a fraction of the manpower Walker could draw upon for his team, which was thus a huge underdog to the Third Army juggernaut. OISE did have two secret weapons, however, one a slugging outfielder and the other a dominant pitcher. They were a secret to most of the white men in attendance because as of September 1945, Major League Baseball hadn’t yet integrated.
Those two secret weapons? Brilliant Negro League players Willard Brown and future Hall of Famer Leon Day. Thanks largely to Brown and Day, the OISE beat the 71st in five games to capture the ETO Championship.
But the name that really caught my eye was that of Sam Nahem. For some reason that name was familiar to me ... and I quickly realized why. When researching this book, I called Nahem. I don't know why I called him, because he pitched only 224 innings in the major leagues. We've got other pitchers in the book who fell short of our cutoffs for inclusion, but usually just when those pitchers' information was easily found, or when they did something particularly notable.
But for some reason I called Nahem, and he told me he threw submarine-style against right-handed hitters, mostly sliders and fastballs, and overhand against left-handed hitters, mostly curves and fastballs. Sam Nahem once told another interviewer, "I often wish that God had given me movement on my fastball, but He didn't."
I wish I'd done more work before I talked to Sam Nahem, as I knew nothing about the ETO Championship of 1945 until just now. I spoke to Nahem early in 2004; just a few months later, the book was published and Nahem passed away.