Initially constructed as a general purpose “athletic field” under naval Yard and Docks project manager Lincoln Rogers in 1918, McClure Field is the second oldest brick baseball stadium in the United States (bested only by Chicago’s Wrigley Field).
In its early days, the turf at McClure hosted six-on-six football games and track meets before ceding way to the legendary baseball games that haunt the field to this day.
Throughout World War II, when the nation’s premier athletes enlisted in the armed forces, several Major League players reported to Norfolk for training. Some of baseball’s biggest names including Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese, Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and many of others found themselves playing on the field as members of one of the base’s two teams: the Naval Training Station Bluejackets and the Naval Air Station Airmen. Exhibition games played against major league squads would routinely pack the stands, and all profits from tickets sold would go to the war bonds effort.
Then, in September 1943, a bigger idea dawned on the base’s athletic organizers: why not pit the two teams, with their balanced mixture of professionals and regular sailors, against each other in a best-of-seven series? When the time came for the showdown, German U-boats threatening offshore put the base on lockdown. Despite a general public clamoring to get in, only those wearing sailors’ hats actually saw the games.
Frustrating matters to no end, the accessibility freeze extended to the media and press as well. Over what became a gloriously tense 11-day series in which all seven games went to extra innings, local papers resorted to reporting based on insiders’ accounts of the action conveyed over the phone. The New York Times was locked out entirely, resulting in a measley three-paragraph write-up of the spectacular. In the end, the 1943 Navy World Series concluded with the Bluejackets besting the Airmen in an event that would go down in down in history as a boisterous, tense athletic feat that no civilian actually witnessed.
After seeing the effect such a creative use of talent had on his charges’ morale, Norfolk’s commanding officer Captain Henry McClure had been converted from a tepid supporter of America’s game to a lifelong baseball fan. In turn, the Navy saw fit that the field was officially renamed after McClure.
McClure Field continues to be in use by thousands of ball-playing sailors, officers, and their families to this day, most of whom have no idea they’re sharing the field with the ghosts of some of America’s greatest ball players.