The crew of the American submarine played ball on top of the world

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When my grandfather, John Galuardi, worked in the General Services Administration, he helped oversee the move of the Navy offices to Crystal City, Virginia. He told me there was a box in an office containing a baseball bat used by the crew of the USS Seadragon submarine to play ball at the North Pole. I was hoping you had an idea of ​​where the bat is nowadays. It seems to me that such an artifact could be somewhere in a museum.

Cody Galuardi, Slingerlands, NY

The bat is in a den in Prattville, Alabama, home of Jim Steele. Well, a bat is anyway, and it’s not the bat that was in the office of Hyman Rickoverthe father of the nuclear navy.

Jim Steele’s father was George Steel IIthe first captain of the USS Seadragon and his commanding officer during the historic 1960 voyage through the Northwest Passage.

“The ball game was definitely a highlight of this trip,” Jim told Answer Man.

The nuclear submarine was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and intended for service in the Pacific. The Navy decided to send it through the Northwest Passage, parts of which would be covered in ice.

Like Jeanne Willoz-Egnorcurator of maritime history and culture at the Mariners Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia, written in a blog post: “the only way to know if a submarine could make the passage was to try.”

The Seadragon was equipped with special equipment, including sonar to detect the ice above and a light meter to help determine the thickness of the ice. The equipment and skills of over 100 crew members under Steele allowed Seadragon to become the first submarine to perform an underwater transit of the Northwest Passage.

After reaching the North Pole, the Seadragon surfaced in open water, her hull and sail dark against the white ice. The game had been planned in advance as a way to celebrate and let off steam.

“We were blessed with clear blue skies above our heads, warm sunshine and little to no wind,” wrote a young Seadragon officer named Alfred Scott McLaren in his 2015 book “Silent and Unseen”.

The large pack ice composing the field was as close as possible to the geographic North Pole. The mound was placed at the North Pole. The line from home plate to second base and center field ran along the Greenwich meridian.

A batter circling the bases after a home run would cross 24 time zones. The position of the International Date Line meant that hitting a ball to right field would hit it the next day. A line drive in left field would remain today, but throwing it to first base might involve throwing it tomorrow.

Wrote McLaren, “Double and triple plays could take several days.” And according to the brass plate affixed to the bat in Jim Steele’s Alabama lair, the crew beat the officers by a score of 13 to 10.

How come Rickover also has a bat in his office? The answer lies in an interview George Steele gave to Paul Stillwell from the US Naval Institute in 1986.

Steele said that after completing the trip, he was woken up by a call from Rickover. Steele was in Waikiki to celebrate with his family. He had a bit of a hangover. “I can tell you that three mai tais is about right, but four mai tais is one too many,” he told Stillwell, before coming to attention. to the sound of Rickover’s conversation.

What was so important? Rickover said, “Get all the baseball gear you used at the North Pole, put a tag on each item that says it was used at the North Pole. Get everything on the next plane for me in Washington. I’m going to give it to members of Congress, and it will do a lot of good for the nuclear energy program.

Steele replied, “Yes, yes.” After hanging up, he called the Seadragon’s duty officer and told him to lock up all arctic softball equipment in the torpedo room. Then he called the general manager of Seadragon John Riley and told him to scavenge as much used baseball equipment as possible from Naval Base Pearl Harbor, enough to fill a panel truck.

Steele told Riley, “Take all the arctic bullet gear and stick it on top of that pile in the torpedo room, and wave it all around together, rub it all in, then it’ll all be arctic ball equipment. Each man in the crew is going to have something, a ball or a glove or a bat. When they have theirs, the rest goes to Washington.

As Steele told Stillwell for the oral history, “And that’s what I did. It took over an hour to sign. He continued: ‘So at a party when I left the ship, the leader of the boat came over with a big smile carrying a softball bat with a brass plate on it, and he said, ‘Captain, l The crew wants you to have this real, real bat used at the North Pole.

The interview transcript follows that with laughs.

Jim Steele said, “My dad knew there would be people who wanted souvenirs.” Jim is certain he has the original bat. “That I know from what dad told me,” he said.

As for all the other North Pole bats and balls floating out there, who can tell?

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