Back row (left to right): Clyde Aulston, James “Chief” Waterhouse, Fred Goliah, William “Big C” Johnson (?), J. Smith/W. Cullens (?), Rolland Herring (?), Bob Fagan, Lemuel Hawkins, George Jasper, Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
Data collected and site built by Adam Darowski (@baseballtwit). Special thanks for the support and research assistance: Scott Simkus (@scott_simkus), Kevin Johnson (@KJOKBASEBALL), Bill Staples, Jr. (@BillStaplesJr), and Gary Ashwill (Agate Type).
The 25th Infantry Wreckers were an all-Black Army baseball team that rose to prominence in the years surrounding World War I due to a dominant roster that included Hall of Famer Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, Negro League stars Oscar “Heavy” Johnson and Walter “Dobie” Moore, and several other players who would have careers in the Negro Leagues.
The 25th Infantry was one of four all-Black US Army units (along with the 24th Infantry, 9th Cavalry, and 10th Cavalry) formed in 1866 collectively known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” The 25th Infantry baseball team was established in 1893 by Colonel Andrew S. Burt. On January 15, 1913, the 25th Infantry arrived at Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was here that the regiment baseball team would evolve from a great Army team into the “Wreckers”—one of the top professional teams in the country.
In this era before the founding of the Negro National League, playing baseball for Uncle Sam was among the most steady paychecks a Black ballplayer could find. At least a dozen 25th Infantry players would go on to play in the major Negro Leagues, ranging from part-timers to Hall of Famer Rogan.
In Hawaii, the Wreckers were part of an incredible melting pot of baseball talent. They would play against other Army teams (all White except for the 24th Infantry) but also several civilian clubs that were mostly organized by ethnicity. For example, they often clashed with a talented All-Chinese team that featured Buck Lai, Lang Akana, Vernon Ayau, and several other strong players. They would also play traveling All-Star teams made of major and upper minor league players, Pacific Coast League teams, university teams, and anyone else who wanted to test their skill against the Wrecking Crew.
Since first learning about the Wreckers, I’ve been fascinated that such a dominant team could exist not only outside of the so-called “organized baseball” umbrella, but also outside what we typically consider the Negro Leagues or pre-Negro Leagues. As my interest in this team grew, I signed on to write the SABR biography for Oscar “Heavy” Johnson, who played with the team from 1914 until 1922—a significant portion of the prime of his career. After leaving the team, he immediately went to the Kansas City Monarchs (where several former Wreckers already made up the core of the team) and proceeded to hit .400 in back-to-back seasons—the second resulting in the Negro National League Triple Crown.
I couldn’t tell the story of Johnson without conducting significant research on his days with the Wreckers, so I began using Newspapers.com to learn more. Not only did Hawaii have an incredibly competitive and diverse baseball scene, it was also extensively covered in the Hawaiian papers. Those papers are luckily now digitized and searchable. I began collecting box scores for the Wreckers so that I could look at Johnson’s stats. But as I entered the stats, I became increasingly interested in Johnson’s other well-known temmmates (like Rogan and Moore), his lesser known teammates (including Norman “Dad” Swinton and Allie Crafton), and even the players he frequently played agianst (like Lai and Akana).
A single spreadsheet turned into several connected spreadsheets. Before long, I realized I had crafted a profile of several great players who were almost completely unknown. I’ve built this website based on CSV exports from the spreadsheets so I can share their story with the baseball research community. Simply put, not only do I want people to know what kind of player Oscar Johnson was in his 7+ years in the Army—I also want them to know who Allie Crafton and Dad Swinton were.
* denotes the player played for the 25th Infantry Wreckers, but did so in Arizona and no box scores are available
Notes on some other potential major league Wreckers:
I appeared on the first episode of Sports Reference’s new “For Your Reference” podcast to discuss the 25th Infantry Wreckers.