BlueJackets remember one of their own

Joe Sullivan is second from the top in this 1928 photo of the Silverdale High School football team. - Courtesy photo
Joe Sullivan is second from the top in this 1928 photo of the Silverdale High School football team.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

When Marge Sullivan picked up the newspaper on Saturday, May 13, she hardly expected what she would read within.

She began as she always does, reading the main stories on the front page before perusing the interior, stopping when something catches her eye.

In this particular edition, she didn’t expect to find a notice looking for relatives of the man that caught her eye in 1970.

Needless to say, she was surprised to find the Kitsap BlueJackets were searching for her and fellow relatives of Joe Sullivan, an original Bremerton BlueJacket and one of the first sons of Silverdale to make national headlines after leaving the area.

“That surprised me,” Marge Sullivan, 83, said. “I pick up the paper down there all the time. I couldn’t believe it when I read that in there. The article in the paper just surprised the heck out of me.”

The Kitsap BlueJackets are honoring the late Sullivan, who passed away in 1985, as part of the team’s opening day ceremonies on Thursday, June 8 at the Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields. Sullivan, who played for the original BlueJackets in 1946, won 30 games during his Major League Baseball career with the Detroit Tigers (1935-36), the Boston Bees/Braves (1939-41) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (1941), a stretch that included helping the Tigers win the 1935 World Series.

But baseball is only a small part of what made the man so remarkable, relatives said.

“Just his good nature,” said Marge, his second wife and an East Bremerton resident. “I never met a person that didn’t say how nice he was. He was just a nice, pleasant person. He never had anything bad to say about anybody.”

But other relatives, like his sister Harriet Morton, a Tracyton resident, jokingly offered another side of Joe.

“I remember his teasing,” Morton said smiling. “And he used to scare me. We used to go down to walk at the old barn. I’d go down there and he would start growling like a bear.”

A 1928 graduate of Silverdale (now Central Kitsap) High School, Sullivan was born in 1910 in Mason City, Ill. He moved to Tracyton in 1923.

A three-sport star in high school, it became apparent early on that Sullivan had the tools to make it at the next level.

“He played every sport,” Morton said. “And he was good at all of them.”

“Bremerton was always the big enemy back in those days,” said Jim Morton, Sullivan’s brother-in-law and fellow Silverdale High grad.

“And they were good,” Harriet added.

“Joe was one of the first ones that ever beat Bremerton pitching,” Jim said. “I was the next one. But he was the one that taught me the knuckleball.”

Jim Morton said he remembered Sullivan was discouraged from throwing his knuckleball, a pitch known for its erratic and unpredictable ball movement, in high school but not because he couldn’t control it. The team just didn’t have any catchers who could snag the pitch.

After graduating in 1928, he started playing semi-pro ball for the Bremerton Cruisers of the Northwest League. He also married his first wife, Maxyne Whitaker, that same year.

In 1929, Sullivan played for New Westminster of the Vancouver City League. In 1930, Bloedel-Donovan Lumber Co. of Port Angeles took him to a 16-team state tournament where Sullivan signed with New York Yankees scout Bill Essick. That season, he played with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. After being released, Sullivan went to Tuscon to play in the Arizona State League.

The Detroit Tigers bought his contract in 1932 and sent him to Beamont of the Texas State League. Returning to play for Hollywood in 1934, a 25-11 season earned him his first shot in the bigs the following year, going 6-6 with a 3.51 ERA in 25 games for the Tigers, who would defeat the Chicago Cubs 4-2 to capture the World Series crown. In his five seasons, Sullivan was 30-37 with a 4.02 ERA in 150 games.

“It was pretty exciting,” recalled Harriet Morton, who visited her brother in Detroit during the 1936 season. “They lived in a big apartment building with lots of other players. So I got to know them. But I’ll always remember Detroit in the summer. It’s just awful.”

Aside from the weather, Harriet Morton said the experience was well worth it.

One of Jim Morton’s favorite baseball memories came on Thursday, September 7, 1939, when Sullivan’s Boston squad went head-to-head with Hall-of-Famer Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants. Sullivan and Hubbell both pitched complete games, though the Giants beat Boston 4-3 in 14 innings.

“That always made Joe mad (when he retired),” Jim Morton said of current pitchers. “He used to pitch until the end of every game if he was pitching well. Mainly, (he was upset) that (pitchers today) weren’t in shape to pitch 10 or 15 innings.”

After his 1941 season with Pittsburgh, Sullivan played for Portland of the PCL. In 1943 he played for the Bremerton Cruisers and then pitched home games for the BlueJackets, then of the class-B Western International League, at Roosevelt Field.

In 1945, he began a career with PSNS that eventually saw him become fire chief.

“I know all the guys he worked with thought he was wonderful,” Harriet Morton said.

Maxyne and Marge were friends belonging to the Delta Kai Sigma sorority when Maxyne and Joe were married. She said that was how she first met her future husband.

“I knew who he was of course,” Marge Sullivan said. “(Maxyne and I) were friends at the club that she and I both belonged too. He was always in back with the boys.”

After Joe and Marge were married in 1970, Joe retired from PSNS the same year.

“He finally talked me into moving to Sequim (in 1975) so he could golf everyday,” Marge Sullivan said. “My living with him was retirement. Just the good parts.”

As avid lovers of the outdoors, the couple used their time in Sequim to golf, crab and fish. Sullivan died in 1985 after a bout with lung cancer.

“He was just a wonderful person,” Marge Sullivan said. “He had a happy, successful life. I’m just looking forward to seeing what they have to say. And sitting with his sister and her husband. We’re all friends.”

“He was always someone I admired,” Jim Morton said.

“He was a good brother,” Harriet added.

Other opening day festivities

In addition to honoring Sullivan, the BlueJackets have plenty planned for their opening day, which is sponsored by KPS Heath Plans.

The game will feature a Navy fly-over and performance by the Navy band, led by Rear Adm. Bill French. Tickets for the opener and all of the BlueJackets’ home games are available at (360) 479-0123.

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