Book by Anne Raugh Keene ’83 Highlights Baseball History During World War II
Seventy-five years ago this May at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, some of baseball’s greatest players—Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Johnny Sain, just to name a few—took to the field for the first time as members of the Cloudbuster Nine, a baseball team at an elite Navy training school in North Carolina. The story of these baseball greats and their naval service during World War II might have remained largely hidden had it not been for their bat boy—Jim Raugh—and his daughter Anne Raugh Keene ’83, whose new book The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II came out this week from Sports Publishing and is available at many major retailers.
“It’s not just a story about the Navy, nor is it a story about baseball,” says Keene. “My book is about resilience and the willingness to embrace failure, intangible traits identified in 1942 Esquire magazine interviews as the right ‘stuff.’”
Keene came across the story of the Cloudbuster Nine when preparing a eulogy for her father’s funeral in 2013. She remembers that all her father ever wanted to do was play major-league baseball, but for reasons not completely clear, including a devastating injury, his bid fell short with the Detroit Tigers. “My father was an athletic prodigy,” Keene says. “Then he was injured, and we knew how devastated he was, but it wasn’t until after he died that I opened up all these scrapbooks, and I realized how good he was.”
Inside her father’s baseball trunk that had been sealed since John F. Kennedy was in the White House, Keene says she “discovered the scrapbook, news clippings, agent contracts, and memorabilia that put the story about the Navy baseball team and my father’s childhood experience into perspective.”
In an attempt to honor her father’s memory, Keene immersed herself in a research project that led from the Louis Round Wilson Research Library at UNC Chapel Hill to conversations with surviving Navy cadets and even interviews with the children of baseball players like long-time Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky. Williams’ daughter, Claudia Williams, provides the foreword for Keene’s book.
As she researched, Keene says, “The spotlight naturally moved toward Ted Williams because virtually everyone I spoke with wanted to talk about him. When Williams enlisted in the Navy, he shunned preferential treatment, insisting on being treated like any other cadet or ‘boot’ in a dog tag.” Keene found that Williams trained hard, often skipping meals and rest periods for extra batting practice, and although he had previously struggled in school, he pushed himself during naval training to excel in such subjects as physics and the theory of flight.
“This book is also about service to others,” Keene says. “Ted Williams not only put his career on hold to serve in two wars, including the Korean conflict when Lieutenant John Glenn served as his wingman. He embodied what it means to have great character, principles, and integrity. Perhaps most importantly, his voluntary service honors our men and women in uniform who sacrificed so much to protect our country.”
Keene’s book also touches on “King John” Miller, Mercersburg’s legendary swim coach who taught at the Academy from 1924 to 1953 (taking time off only to serve in the Navy in the 1940s). Miller helped prepare many of these baseball-stars-turned-Navy-pilots for the water, teaching them to swim in the event that their aircraft crash-landed in the water.
For Mercersburg students and all young people, Keene hopes they will come away from her book with a sense of inspiration and determination: “There’s a section about Johnny Pesky, and [in my research I found] advice that he gives to kids. It was on a World War II oral history interview conducted when Pesky was almost 90 years old. He said, ‘You’ve got to find the strength within yourself, but here’s how to do it. You learn from people who are better than you. Learn from smarter people. Do not envy these people but just learn, and ask questions. If you need help, seek help from people who are better than you. Learn from the best. Give back.’”
Keene felt this inspiration and drive in her own work as she prepared the book. “Something else I’ve learned—and this is from Ted Williams,” she says. “I feel like you expect to work hard, but me personally, in writing this book, I just put 30 percent more out there. I do it because maybe I feel like maybe I’m not as clever as the next person, but it is in my nature to put at least 30 percent more out there to try to get it right.”
Keene grew up in Hickory, N.C., and attended Mercersburg for two years. While at the Academy, she swam, played goalie for the water polo team, participated in softball, and contributed as a staff member for the Blue Review. “Coming from a small Southern town, I felt a little intimidated by classmates and remained rather reserved,” she says, “but I pushed myself in an aggressive environment and found my place.”
Today, Keene stays active in historical archives and documentary film boards and says she is “an advocate for fitness—be it hiking, surfing, travel, whatever takes the cell phone out of my teenage daughter’s hand.” Keene and her family live in Austin, Texas.
As for what’s next for Keene, she is focused on sharing the story of the Cloudbuster Nine with as many audiences as possible, and then she will likely return to a book about the Civil War and her family—a narrative that has already been secured by an agent but that Keene felt needed to be put on hold when she discovered the impactful story of the Cloudbuster Nine.
To learn more about the Cloudbuster Nine and Keene’s process in bringing this story to light, listen to this podcast interview with Keene on 97.9 The Hill’s “Who’s Talking.”
Learn more about Keene and her projects on her website: annerkeene.com.
Historical photos courtesy of the United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection #P0027, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.