Familiar (Navy) Flannel

As challenging as 2020 has been for nearly everyone around the globe, the year has brought to the surface and thus provided us with opportunities to acquire some of the most incredible artifacts for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection. As much as we enjoy sourcing treasures such as original scorecards, programs, type-1 vintage photographs and equipment, the most sought-after items that are truly cause for excitement are service team flannels.

As the temperatures cool and the leaves begin to change now that autumn is upon us, we are still surprised by the slew of jerseys and uniforms that we were able to add to our collection. In what we would consider a “good year” of treasure hunting, we might be able to acquire more than one baseball jersey or uniform. However, amid the viral, economic and political difficulties, we managed to acquire a quartet of vintage flannel baseball jerseys, one of which includes trousers. Before this year, our collection had been dominated by the presence of jerseys made for and used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

With the arrival of Fire Controlman 2/c Gunderson’s USS Phoenix uniform group (see: Remembering Pearl Harbor and the Game) along with the unnamed USS Timbalier jersey (see: Striking the Drum: a Mid-1940s Jersey from the USS Timbalier), our Navy baseball uniform collection doubled. However, 2020 appears to be the year for Navy jerseys as we were able to locate a third flannel.

During World War II, perhaps the most common uniform design aspect for Navy baseball flannels (at least for shore-based teams) was an unembellished flannel (in white, gray or pinstripes) with simple, athletic felt, block letters that simply spelled out “N A V Y” in an arc across the upper chest area. For most of those uniforms, the font used for the athletic felt lettering was slender and lacked serifs or flourish, thus providing a simplistic appearance.

The simple Navy baseball uniform jerseys were used nearly from the beginning of the war, as we have seen with the Navy Pre-Flight schools at the Universities of North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia and St. Mary’s College (in Moraga, California), with serif lettering that included a three-dimensional” appearance with multiple layers of stitched athletic felt. Throughout domestic naval training bases, the lettering on the jerseys often differed. In some instances, script lettering or block lettering with serifs could be seen. On Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, the uniforms, while maintaining the block letters, deviated from the traditional home-white and away-gray combinations, opting instead for complete pinstriped flannels or with navy blue raglan sleeves with the slender and simple (non-serif) lettering in an arc across the chest.

Since our adventure in military baseball research and collecting commenced more than a decade ago, the search for a Navy-specific jersey or uniform has been ongoing. Our acquisition of a 1943 gray and red Marine uniform drew our attention to seeking other vintage service team jerseys. The closest we came to locating a Navy jersey or uniform occurred towards the end of 2018 when a listing for a gray wool flannel item surfaced at auction. In a departure from the aforementioned more common lettering style, the athletic felt appliques were of the blocked variety with serifs (similar to a bold Times Roman font) which resembled that of the Navy Pre-Flight baseball uniforms but featured a single layer of material. After eight years, a World War II-era Navy jersey had finally arrived.

The 1943 team of Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi, Texas is right up in front in the Naval Air Training Center circuit having taken eight of its first ten games. Pictured are Mascot Roy Brown, front; Ensign Dan Menendez, Ensign Don Watts, Lt.-Comdr. Frank Lane, LTjg Boyd B. SoRelle and Ezra Pat Mac McClothin, first row; Ensign Walt Bietila, Ensign Dave Bechtol, W. J. Goodman, J. Roland and J. Penfold, second row, and Jack Pearson, Dam Mamula, Bob Cowsar, Ed Schueren, Jim Picciano and Pat McCarthy, back row (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Unfortunately, due to financial challenges, there was no possibility of acquiring this jersey. We watched the auction all the way to the end. The jersey sold the week before Thanksgiving for well above what we would normally value an unnamed, unidentified one. Rather than to allow this jersey to change hands and be forgotten, we captured the details and added a page to the Chevrons and Diamonds Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms for historical reference. In the near 21 months since this jersey sold, we had yet to find a similar piece.

In a year filled with incredible finds, it is unfathomable that another WWII naval jersey would not only appear in the marketplace but would fall into our hands.

Fresh from the seller, the 1943-44 NAVY jersey is in need of a cleaning, similar to what we did for our USS Timbalier and USS Phoenix flannels (Chevrons and Diamonds Photo).

The front of the jersey shows a lot of pilling that is most-likely due to excessive machine-wash laundering. The athletic felt lettering is arched between the second and third buttons. The upper left extension of the “V” overlays the left soutache on the button placket (Chevrons and Diamonds Photo).

A new listing appeared in an online auction (that included the option to submit an offer) for a WWII-era Navy jersey. This artifact, a gray flannel (away) jersey with blocked serif lettering affixed to the chest, was trimmed in a single, thin line of blue soutache surrounding the sleeve cuff and around the collar, extending down the button placket. What was unique about this jersey was that the soutache on the placket extended down to just above the third button (from the top), stopping well short of what is seen on many jerseys of the period. Another feature that helped in dating the jersey to the early 1940s was the sun collar surrounding the neck. Inside the collar was a simple manufacturer’s label (Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods) that included the size (42) incorporated into the same tag. Aside from typical staining befitting a used, 75+ year-old textile, the only blemish was a missing button at the bottom of the placket.

After our submitted offer was accepted and the package arrived a few days later, the familiarity of this particular jersey began to settle in. In 2019, a WWII vintage photo of a Navy baseball team surfaced. The players were seen dressed in their flannel uniforms with a lettering style similar to our recent arrival. Unlike the layered lettering of the Pre-Flight uniforms, the jerseys in the photograph were very similar to that of our new acquisition. Further examination of the photograph revealed subtle differences, such as the soutache around the collar (two lines versus our single line), on the placket (extending down below the belt-line) and the positioning on the sleeve cuffs (at the sleeve’s edge instead of 1” back from the edge).

The team in the aforementioned photo was that of Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in 1943, the roster of which consisted of naval aviation cadets who were predominantly former professional ballplayers. Though it is similar to the Corpus Christi uniform, our jersey did not originate from this team (at least not from 1943), judging by the photograph; but the ambiguous familiarity remained within our memory. This jersey was strangely more familiar to us than we could comprehend.

As our research continued (including scouring our extensive vintage photograph library), we paused to  made a quick check of our military baseball uniform archive only to discover that we had just acquired the very jersey that we were not in position to obtain nearly two years earlier. It seems that when collectors are persistent and patient in their endeavors and interests, missed or lost opportunities sometimes return and artifacts become available once again. While we have yet to uncover a specific unit or team to connect this jersey to, we are confident that with both patience and perseverance we will be able to identify which Navy team used this jersey design.

 

See Also:

 

Yankees, Cardinals and…Blacksheep: The 1943 World Series and the Unusual Trade

The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage photo archive has been steadily growing since we acquired our initial piece showing Hugh Casey and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese changing from their Navy service dress white uniforms into their Norfolk Naval Air Station flannels. We have managed to locate incredible imagery depicting armed forces and baseball history, some of which is so scarce that it is likely we hold the only copies. Despite the diverse and expansive nature of our archive, there are a handful of iconic images that have eluded our pursuit.

Traditionally, our objective with Chevrons and Diamonds has been to spotlight the convergence of baseball and military history through artifacts that we have located, added to our collection and thoroughly researched. While this article holds true to our goal and utilizes many pieces from the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the principal theme focuses on artifacts (in this case, photographs) that we have yet to source. In the interest of telling this story, we made the decision to draw upon the National Archives for digital copies of the desired images to assist in bringing this story to our readers. All of the photos are properly credited and thus allow readers to distinguish between those obtained from the National Archives and the images within our collection.

Baseball’s “Golden Age” (roughly 1920-1960) might not be thought of as golden to fans outside of New York City or St. Louis, with the post season being dominated by teams from those two cities for many of those years. Between 1926, when the Cardinals made their first October appearance, and 1943 (a span of 17 years), the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals made a combined 18 trips to the World Series. In the 11 Yankee World Series appearances in that span, the “Bombers” captured nine crowns while the Cardinals captured four titles in their seven trips. Amazingly, the two teams faced off against each other in only three of those Series.

Following what was perhaps one of the most impressive seasons of baseball in 1941, with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406 season batting average, the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers (in their first World Series appearance since losing to the Cleveland Indians in 1920) in five games, capturing the  World Series crown (their ninth in twelve trips to the Fall Classic). Just a few weeks later, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II and major leaguers began to trickle into the armed forces as the Cleveland Indians’ star pitcher, Bob Feller, became the first notable player to enlist (on December 9).

Following President Roosevelt’s “green light” letter, the 1942 baseball season was given the go ahead to proceed as planned, though there was nothing to stop players from being lost to the selective service, i.e. the draft, or enlisting. The Yankees’ 1942 roster was hardly changed from their 1941 championship squad and again the club finished the year atop the American League. The National League’s fourth place finisher in 1941, the St. Louis Cardinals, retooled following the surprising trade of their star first baseman (and future Hall of Fame slugger) Johnny Mize to the New York Giants during the December winter meetings in Chicago. The “Red Birds” also made room for their rising star outfielder Stan Musial, with other roster moves prior to the start of the 1942 spring training.

Aside from the baseball season’s coverage on the sports pages across the U.S., coverage of the war’s progression in the Pacific was front-page news. Still reeling from losses at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and Guam, bad news continued to pour in with the loss of the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and other allied ships at the Battle of the Java Sea off the Dutch East Indies at the end of February and again in May with the surrender of Corregidor in the Philippines (on the 6th). However, there was reason for optimism with the Colonel Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo (April 18) and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8). The Japanese suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7), placing them on the defensive for the remainder of the war. Though Midway is considered a turning point, a lot of fighting was still to come.

Just months following the first U.S. naval victory of WWII at Midway, the Navy and Marine Corps moved to an offensive campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific. Defense production was in full swing with ships and aircraft development and construction greatly sped-up from the peacetime pace. Naval tactics saw a shift from ship-to-ship gun battles to the over-the-horizon, carrier-based air strikes that become the standard of warfare. Five days prior to the 1942 All-Star game at New York’s Polo Grounds, Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214), the “Swashbucklers,” was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station, Ewa on Oahu on July 1, 1942. By August, the squadron had been transported to the island of Espiritu Santo in the Coral Sea.

The 1942 Cardinals squad fought hard to overtake the reigning National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers (who led the league from the seventh game of the season) after being 10 games behind on August 4. In just 41 games from that point, the Cardinals took over first place from the Dodgers and held on, finishing the season with 106-48 record (Brooklyn posted a record of 104-50) and were primed to take on New York, the customary World Series favorites.

Having pitched his Cardinals into a World Series Championship, Johnny Beazley requests entrance into the Navy as a physical fitness instructor. Not winning acceptance into the program, Beazley joined the Army Air Forces (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board (Associated Press Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

New York’s 37-year-old Red Ruffing led off with pitching duties for the Yanks in St. Louis, holding the Cardinals to four runs on five hits while striking out eight over eight innings in New York’s only victory in the 1942 Series. In the next four games, the Cardinals demonstrated that their 106-win season was no fluke as Johnny Beazley secured two of St. Louis’ victories, allowing 10 hits in a 4-3 win in the second game of the Series and seven hits in a 4-3 win in the fifth and final game, thus emerging as the star of the pitching staff. Centerfielder Terry Moore batted .294, scored twice and drove in  multiple runs for the Cards. Right fielder Enos “Country” Slaughter averaged .263 with a double and a home run (one of only two Cardinal four-baggers) and scored three runs. As it was with the regular season, St. Louis defeated the Yankees with a team effort.

In their Series loss, the Yankees did not fall easily. Shortstop Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto led the Bronx batters with a .381 average, scoring twice with a home run. Joe DiMaggio and Buddy Hassett carried .333 averages (Hassett had the only extra-base hit, a double, between the two) and Charlie “King Kong” Keller led all hitters with two home runs. In the South Pacific two days after the Cardinals defeated the Yankees, the Marines were engaged in battle along the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island group. On October 11, the Battle of Cape Esperance saw U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers successfully defend ground forces on Guadalcanal from Japanese naval bombardment. Weeks later, the Battle for Henderson Field saw the Marines defend the recently acquired (and renamed) Japanese air base, repulsing several attacks by the enemy’s 17th Army.

LT(jg) John “Buddy” Hassett in New York City, October 5, 1944 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As the war progressed, much of the Pacific Theater focus was upon the Solomon Islands. After the hard-fought Guadalcanal campaign by the First Marine Division, the Japanese were putting up a fight on land and sea and in the air. The need for more men in all branches of the service was high and more ballplayers were volunteering as well as being drafted like other service-age Americans in late 1942 and early 1943. While many professional ballplayers were tapped to serve as physical instructors and play the game in morale-boosting capacities (to raise money or entertain troops), the majority of the thousands of former players served in front-line combat or support units. Even the Yankees and Cardinals saw their star players exchanging baseball flannels for the uniforms of their country. After the end of the World Series, the Yankees saw the departure of Tommy Henrich (who had enlisted in the Coast Guard in August but was permitted to continue playing) followed by Buddy Hassett, Phil Rizzuto and George Selkirk (all entered the Navy) and lastly Red Ruffing, drafted at age 39 in January, and Joe DiMaggio in February (both into the USAAF). The Cardinals lost Johnny Beazley (USAAF) and Buddy Blattner (Navy) less than a month after winning the World Series. Terry Moore departed in January (Army) followed by Enos Slaughter (USAAF) in February. Slaughter enlisted in August but delayed his departure until after the Series.

As was the case for all professional baseball clubs, the war continued to have an impact on personnel. The changes were dramatic for both the Yankees and Cardinals and yet each team managed to work their way back for a World Series rematch in October of 1943. The Yankees led the American League for most of the season’s first half before separating from their competition after Independence Day. The Cardinals trailed the National League leader, bouncing between the second and third place position until grabbing the lead for good in the middle of July and finishing 18 games ahead of Cincinnati with a 105-49 season won-lost record, nearly matching their 1942 record. The Yankees’ 98-win season seemed to indicate that they would be the underdog in the ’43 Series. However, odds makers gave the “Bronx Bombers” a slight edge over the reigning world champions.

Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler, Yankees pitcher from 1937-1947 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Out of the gate, the Yankees took a 1-0 edge over the Cardinals on the back of right-handed pitcher Spud Chandler’s 7-hit, 4-2 complete game victory. The Cardinals evened the series as Mort Cooper held the Yankees to three runs on six hits. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion and first baseman Ray Sanders hit a pair of home runs, driving in three of the Cards’ four runs in the win. On the eve of Game 3, newspapers across the United States began carrying a story* written by an Associated Press war correspondent in the South Pacific, detailing an unusual trade proposal pitched to the eventual winner of the World Series.

Bill Hipple in Tacoma, Washington, 1934. Associated Press war correspondent Hipple began his career as a reporter with the Tacoma Times, (image source: Tacoma Public Library).

The proposal that was pitched by Marine Corps aviator Major Gregory Boyington, commanding officer of VMF-214, was a morale-boost for his squadron as well as an incentive for the Cardinals and Yankees. Motivated by a desire for functional and comfortable headwear (and perhaps a desire for a little exposure for his squadron personnel), Boyington offered to trade the World Series victor an enemy aerial kill in exchange for a ball cap worn during the games. As AP correspondent William Hipple, a native of Tacoma, Washington, where Boyington spent his adolescent years and graduated from high school, mentioned in his article, “Such baseball caps are popular headgear in the tropics because they keep the sun out of the fliers’ eyes,” Hipple explained. “But they are scarce down here.”

At the time the article was penned, Boyington, who had already amassed 15 enemy kills to his credit (including those he collected while serving under Claire Chenault with the American Volunteer Group’s “Flying Tigers”), told Hipple that his squadron was “willing to put up 13 enemy planes.” Hipple wrote that the men of VMF-214 (now named “Blacksheep”) had already shot down these enemy aircraft in the previous two weeks. In effect, the major was presumably offering 13 kill stickers to the winning club before commencing with the efforts for their end of the trade. According to Hipple’s article, the Blacksheep said that they believed caps worn by the world champions would bring the squadron luck. “In return [for the caps], they [VMF-214 personnel] promise to make a clean sweep of the south Pacific aerial series, “Hipple concluded.

“Major Gregory Boyington, commanding officer of a Marine fighter squadron called ‘Boyington’s Blacksheep,’ which in only two tours of duty has knocked down 61 planes. The first six, he downed as a Flying Tiger. The major left Marine Aviation to fly with the American Volunteer Group August 29, 1941. He returned to the Marines in July, 1942, when he shot down the remaining eighteen planes, all Zeros. Twenty-four dead Japanese pilots are credited to him” (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives, including original caption).

The third game of the series, the final played at Yankee Stadium, saw the hometown team take down the visitors 6-2 with catcher Bill Dickey and third baseman Billy Johnson leading the offense. Hank Borowy  held the Cards to two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking three in eight innings. Johnny Murphy closed the game with a three-up, three-down ninth inning.

The final two games of the Series were played at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with the Yankees taking both games to secure the championship. Spud Chandler pitched his second complete game, a seven-hit, 2-0 shutout to finish the series 2-0 with an impressive .050 earned run average. Billy Johnson (.300), Bill Dickey and Frankie Crosetti (both .278) led New York batters and accounted for eight of the Yankees total of 14 runs in the series.

“October 11, 1943: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates” – original caption (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

According to an article published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Wednesday, October 27, 1943, both the Yankees and Cardinals accepted Major Boyington’s and the other Blacksheep’s terms and within a few weeks of the end of the World Series, the Yankees and the Cardinals sent shipments of caps to the men of VMF-214 in the South Pacific.

Ensign Charley Keller as a junior assistant purser-pharmacist’s mate at the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, September 9 1944 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

After the series, the Yankees and Cardinals continued to see their star players exit for the service. Charlie Keller (U.S. Maritime Service, January 1944), Marius Russo (Army, February), Roy Weatherly (Army, April), Bill Dickey (Navy, June) and Billy Johnson (Army, June) were gone from New York. The Cardinals saw both Al Brazle and Harry Walker depart on successive days immediately after the World Series loss. Murry Dickson (Army, November), Lou Klein (Coast Guard, February 1944), Howie Krist (Army, March 1944) all departed for the service before the 1944 season.

Headgear contributed by the St. Louis Cardinals to members of Maj. Gregory Boyington’s Marine Fighter Squadron are handed to the Marine Ace by 1st Lt. Christopher Magee. In October, the squadron, facing a shortage of baseball caps, offered to shoot down a Japanese Zero for every cap sent them by World Series players, traditional wear for Marine pilots when not in the cockpit. Twenty caps were sent by the Cardinals in December. Meatball stickers to complete the exchange are handed to Lt. Magee (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives)

By early December, a shipment arrived on the island of Vella Lavella where the Blacksheep squadron’s base of operations was located (approximately 250 miles northwest of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal). In the shipment were 20 baseball caps and six Louisville Slugger baseball bats as promised by the Cardinals. St. Louis’ bid for twenty enemy planes was outdone by more than double as Boyington’s fliers accounted for 48 aerial kills by December. The gifts from the Cardinals made for perfect photo and public relations opportunities as nationwide attention was being focused upon the “competition” between Boyington and a fellow Marine Corps aviator, Major Joe Foss, for the aerial kill record. Despite the “trade” appearing to be a boon (if not lucky) for VMF-214, Boyington’s combat flying career ended a month after the Cardinals caps arrived. On January 3, 1944, Major Gregory Boyington was shot down by an enemy fighter aircraft near the island of Rabaul and spent the remainder of the war as a POW after being picked up by a Japanese submarine.

December 4, 1943, Vella Lavella: Downing a Jap Zero for every baseball cap sent them by members of the St. Louis Cars, was an offer made by Major Gregory Boyington’s Marine Fighter Squadron. Here are 20 member of the original squadron wearing them. They have more than kept their part of the bargain; a total of 48 Japanese plane have been downed by the pilots shown here, most of them since they made the offer (USMC Photo/National Archives).

After losing the 1943 series and five more players from their roster, the Cardinals appeared to have benefited from their deal with the Blacksheep in terms of luck. From the 16th game of the season, an 11-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals led the National League, finishing with a 14.5-game advantage over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis returned to the World Series for a third consecutive trip after duplicating their 1943 win-loss record. 1944 saw an all-St. Louis World Series as the American League’s Browns made their lone post-season appearance in their entire 52-year existence, losing to the Cardinals in six games.

The last two baseball seasons of the war (1944 and ’45) saw major league rosters that were dominated with players who were either 4F (declared unfit for service in the armed forces), teenagers or men who staved off retirement (or returned from it) while the fighting in Europe and the Pacific was reaching a climax.. The quality of baseball being played in major league parks was diminished as heightened service team play boosted morale in the combat theaters.

These Leatherneck fighter pilots in the South Pacific hope to catch more Japanese airmen off base. The baseball motif was inspired by 20 caps sent Major Gregory Boyington’s squadron by the St. Louis Cardinals. The ball caps were worn traditionally by Marine pilots when not actually flying. Left to right: On a Corsair fighter wing, 1st Lieutenant Robert W. McClurg, 3 Zeros; 1st Lieutenant Paul A. Mullen, 3 Zeros; 1st Lieutenant Edwin L. Olander, 3 Zeros, December 4, 1943 (Defense Dept. Photo/National Archives).

On January 8, 1944, the Blacksheep ended their second combat tour in the Solomon Islands five days after their commanding officer was shot down and missing in action. Marine Fighter Squadron 214 received the Presidential Unit Citation with nine of their pilots achieving “ace” status (five or more confirmed air-to-air kills). In their first three months of flying, the Blacksheep compiled an impressive record that included 97 confirmed enemy air-to-air kills, more than 200 aircraft destroyed or damaged, including those hit during VMF-214 ground-attack missions, and multiple enemy ships (troop transports and supply vessels) sunk.

The 1946 season was a year of healing for returning GIs, families who suffered loss and for the game. Many of the minor leagues were able to restart after ceasing operations early in the war. The major leagues saw most of their veteran players return from the service as rosters began to resemble what was seen in the 1942 and 43 seasons. The Cardinals returned to the World Series and defeated the odds-makers’ favorite, the Boston Red Sox. During the World Series, Lt. Col. Gregory Boyington announced the founding of the Disabled Veterans Rehabilitation Association to assist paralyzed WWII veterans to obtain jobs and housing. Having spent 20 months as a tortured POW held in Japanese prison camps, the Medal of Honor recipient and former VMF-214 commanding officer contracted severe arthralgia and had to deal with his own health issues following the war.

Regardless of the decades-long fruitless searches, our pursuit of original Blacksheep photos with their Cardinals caps and bats continues. However, our archvitist’s curiosity leaves us with a lingering question; what became of the Cardinals World Series caps and game used Louisville Slugger bats?

See Also:

Sources:

  • *Yank Fliers in Pacific Bid for Caps of Winning Team in World Series – One Jap Zero for Each Cap, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), Thursday, October 7, 1943
  • World Series Caps to Fliers – Honolulu Advertiser, Wednesday, October 27, 1943
  • Nation’s Leading Air Aces Gain Laurels Against Japs – The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, IL), Tuesday, December 7, 1943

His Best Baseball Seasons While Serving: Bobby Hornig’s Unrealized Potential as a Pro

Researching local service team baseball history is a task that has been put off for years with the justification that it should be relatively easy to draw upon area sources and institutions in such an effort.  With much of our research work being focused upon baseball in wartime combat theaters such as Europe and the Pacific along with the more well-known domestic service teams, our local area has been an afterthought, save for a few pieces researched and published in recent months

As our research continues for several projects surrounding a handful of artifacts, we continue to make new discoveries. The discovery of one treasure seems to lead to others.

While researching our piece detailing Lefty Chambers, Tony Saso and Bill Brenner, another player’s name was continually surfacing. After several occasions of viewing the name Bobby Hornig, we were prompted to perform a cursory check on the player’s profile (on Baseball Reference), which revealed that he was a local product and played for regional ball clubs. Shortly after the publication of the Chambers, Saso and Brenner article, Hornig’s name surfaced again during a vintage photo search. This time there was a face to go with his name. Without much thought, we made arrangements to acquire the photo of Bobby Hornig, thinking that the player was captured during his time as pro ball player. It wasn’t until the photo arrived that we saw the service team details in the image.  Other than the snippets we had discovered, we had no knowledge of who Hornig was as a man or as a baseball player.

Bobby Hornig, formerly of the Tacoma Tigers, Spokane Hawks/Indians and Salem Senators of the Western International League, August 3, 1942 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the Seattle Times’ May 19, 2003 article, “Bob Hornig, local baseball-outfield star, dies at 87,” reporter Emily Heffter described Hornig as an All-City baseball star while attending Seattle’s Queen Anne High School. The Tacoma, Washington-born Hornig graduated in 1935, turning down a college scholarship to remain close to his (then) girlfriend, Ruth Totten.  Prior to his 21st birthday, Hornig signed his first professional baseball contract with the class “B” Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League (WIL) in March of 1937, playing with the club for manager Hollis “Sloppy” Thurston until June of that season when he was released. The speedy, hard-hitting outfielder was promptly signed by the cross-state rival Spokane Hawks, where he starred in the outfield and was among the league’s top hitters. Heffter’s piece regarding Hornig mentioned some of the newspaper accolades during his time with the Hawks, calling him the “speedburner with lots of class.”

Fascinated by the glowing review of Hornig’s play in the minor leagues, questions began to arise as to why he never progressed during his brief career (1937-1941) that was played entirely in the WIL. With several articles published during his career documenting his batting and fielding as being among the league’s best, Hornig seemed to be primed to move upwards in the game, if not to the major leagues, then at least to the upper minor leagues. Injuries have always been a part of the game and Hornig suffered what appears to be more than a normal number of them, though they didn’t seem to slow him down once he was back on the diamond. Instead of a series of injuries, another trend appeared to emerge in his professional career that, at least on the surface, contributed to the abrupt end of it.

Almost from the beginning of his tenure with Spokane in 1937, Hornig gave his manager cause to discipline him. Having signed with the team on June 16, just a week later manager Bernie DeViveiros suspended Hornig for going AWOL when the youngster left the team to spend time with his parents in Seattle. Following reinstatement, Hornig was on track and among the top hitters in the league and by late August, he was batting .297 (in 90 games with 392 plate appearances).

Bobby Hornig was spotlighted in the June 26, 1943 edition of the Spokane Chronicle (clipping, Newspapers.com)

On September 13, 1937, the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks visited Spokane for their last game of the season. The roster of the Yankee affiliate was filled with past and future major leaguers along with stars of the Coast League such as Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Pinky May, Hal Haid and Billy Raimondi. On the mound for the Hawks was Leo Fitter. whose spotty career spanned 13 seasons (1926-1938) but who had only six professional years to his credit. Fitter was opposed by 21-year-old Nick Radunich, who was just getting his career started. Hornig got the offense started in the bottom of the first inning, reaching base on an error and then using his speed to score from first on single by Joe Abreu, putting the Hawks on top by a run. In the third, Oakland plated three runs, putting the Hawks down by two. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Hornig knocked a double off Radunich and was driven in on a single by Frank Volpi. The Oaks won the game, 3-2, but Hornig accounted for all of the Hawks’ runs while facing a much more experienced and talented team. Despite the way his season commenced with Spokane in 1937, his showing against the league was punctuated by his performance against the Oaks at the close of it.

The 1938 season should have been a year of moving upward for Hornig and apparently he saw his 1937 success as grounds for an increase in salary with Spokane. Rather than signing his contract after the new year began, he returned it without a signature and demanded higher compensation. His contract holdout lasted into April but he did report to camp with acceptable contract terms. Hornig’s season did not start well. He struggled at the plate and saw some defensive woes that included a May 10 three-error game. On June 6, he suffered a broken bone in his ankle that sidelined him through the end of August. Along with being out of the line-up due to an injury, Hornig was again suspended by DeViveiros for an undisclosed infraction. Just as the 1938 season was winding down, Hornig returned to the lineup on August 31, though too late to help Spokane climb in the standings.

Troubles continued to follow Bobby Hornig in 1939. At spring training in Anaheim, California, progressed, Hornig was experiencing difficulties with the ankle that he had injured in June of the previous season. His speed in the outfield and on the base paths escaped him and manager DeViveiros ordered him to take it easy , sending him back to Spokane for rest. During an April pre-season game against Washington State College, Hornig injured one of his big toes. Despite his physical challenges, Hornig’s bat returned to form and he found his .290 batting average ranked fourth on the Spokane roster behind Dwight Aden (.386), Theodore Clawitter (.333) and Levi McCormack (.304). Hornig was also leading the WIL in sacrifices (14) and was ranked third with stolen bases (21) by the last week of July.

In June, Hornig married his high school sweetheart, Ruth H. Totten, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. According to the 2003 Seattle Times article, Hornig’s future bride resided across the street from a ball field in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.  Ruth would walk her dog through the park “trying to get noticed” by the boys (including Hornig) playing baseball. Bobby did notice her and they dated throughout high school.

In her article, Times reporter Emily Heffter quotes Hornig’s widow, Ruth, as she commented about her husband’s baseball career. “He could have made it in the ‘big leagues,’” Ruth Hornig said, but “romance interfered with him, I think.” Perhaps his romantic life was behind some of his challenges in baseball. Just a few weeks after his wedding, Hornig was again suspended by Spokane and removed from the team’s roster entirely. In need of consistency, new manager Eddie Leishman (DeViveiros was fired on July 3 due to developing friction with the team’s business manager), recently promoted from the class “C” Twin Falls Cowboys (Pioneer League), called up 37-year-old former major league veteran Wes “Two Gun” Schulmerich, who was previously playing for him at Twin Falls. According to articles in the Spokane Spokesman Review between July 27-29, Hornig was refusing his assignment and faced being declared ineligible to play professional baseball that season. Three days after suspending Hornig, Spokane owner Bill Ulrich delivered an ultimatum, directing the outfielder to report to Twin Falls in seven days. Ulrich guaranteed the player’s salary at Twin Falls, stating that despite the Pioneer League rules limiting pay, he would provide Hornig with a bonus to make up the difference. Ulrich also offered Hornig a chance to work his way back to the Hawks’ roster. Hornig was instead hoping to obtain his release from the club in an attempt to sign with another Western International League team and did not comply with the reassignment.

Out of baseball since late July, 1939, and without a 1940 season contract, Hornig remained the property of the Spokane Hawks due to baseball’s Reserve Clause and in mid-February sought a return to the game. He sent a letter to the club requesting reinstatement. Hornig’s exit from the game seemingly burned bridges with the team’s field manager, Leishman, who criticized the fallen outfielder as being more interested in his paycheck than the game itself. Such a trait was directly at odds with Leishman’s managerial style. On March 23, Spokane began shopping Hornig following the player’s month-long contract holdout.  The outfielder dispatched a letter to the club requesting a salary increase or his release, despite being reinstated by Spokane in February at his request. Branded a “problem child” by the Spokane Chronicle, the Hawks unsuccessfully shopped Hornig to other Western International League clubs, prompting Hornig to apply for voluntary retirement.  In Hornig’s letter to the club he stated that he was considering giving up baseball in favor of a job in Seattle that would provide a better income than he was getting playing the game. His 1940 season was finished before it ever got started and at this point, his baseball career appeared to have ended.

Despite his injuries and disciplinary challenges, the 24-year-old outfielder still had a lot of baseball left in him. Ahead of the 1941 season’s spring training, Hornig again sent a mid-February letter to the Spokane Hawks team and to Judge William G. Branham, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, seeking reinstatement. Spokane was required to tender a professional baseball contract following reinstatement but they had no plans beyond evaluating Hornig’s viability for the 1941 season. With the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 affecting baseball clubs at all levels, the Hawks, like all other clubs, were in need of players. The Hawks’ management determined that if Hornig was not a good fit for Spokane, he could have value to other Western International League clubs. Instead of accepting the terms of his contract, Hornig infuriated team management with another holdout. Spokane eventually found a taker in the league and dealt Hornig to the Salem (Oregon) Senators. Having appeared in only four games for Salem since his trade, Hornig was granted his outright release.  His professional baseball career was over.

The Pacific Coast League featured talent drawn from the sandlots, high schools, colleges and semi-professional teams within the neighborhoods surrounding each franchise. With the popularity of the hometown Seattle Rainiers (a founding club of the league) and the game itself, it is no wonder that the region incubated some of the best talent, such as Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Charley Schanz, Mike Budnick, Don White, Levi McCormack and Edo Vanni all of whom saw time in the Coast League. Lower minor leagues such as the Western International and Pioneer leagues farmed talent almost exclusively from their own backyards. During his time as a professional, Hornig played alongside or against some of these men. After December 7, 1941, baseball changed and Hornig’s baseball fortunes were about to change.

After being released by Salem, Hornig went to work operating a printing press for Tacoma-based Pioneer, Inc. and supported his wife. Hornig was working not too far from where his baseball career began with the Tacoma Tigers. His post-season occupation in 1941 became his post-baseball occupation. With the U.S. drawn into the war with Japan and Germany, there was no doubt that Hornig would be called to duty at some point, having registered for the draft in October of 1940. Rather than making another attempt at a baseball career, Hornig instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 18, 1942, as a Seaman 1/c in the V-6 program (Naval Reserve) and was assigned to Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point.

In addition to NAS Seattle/Pasco’s Edo Vanni, the 1941 Seattle Rainiers squad had several players who served during the War. Shown are (front row, left to right): Al Niemic, Ned Stickle, Edo Vanni, Jo-Jo White, Bill Skiff (manger), Taylor, Lynn King, Dick Barrett, Spence Harris. Middle row: Richards (trainer), Charles Fallon, Hal Turpin, George Farrell, Earl Averill, Les Scarsella, Ed Cole, Lloyd Brown, Bill Matheson. Back row: Paul Gregory, Boze Berger, Costello, Dewey Soriano, Bill Lawrence, Les Webber, Bob Collins, Ira Scribner, Syl Johnson. Seated:  Jimmy Arcorace, bat boy (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

It was known that former major league great and manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane, was known for reaching out to his fellow major leaguers to recruit them for wartime naval service and the potential to play for his team. Perhaps this happened in Seattle as former Rainier star Edo Vanni was designated as the manager or the Naval Air Station (NAS) Seattle “Flyers” baseball team in early 1942. Vanni enlisted on February 11, 1942, as a seaman first class and was attached to the U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base command at Naval Air Station Seattle (located at Sand Point). In a similar fashion to Mickey Cochrane at Great Lakes, Vanni began building a baseball team of former professionals who enlisted in the local Puget Sound region. With players from the Pacific Coast League (Hollywood, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle), Western International League (Lewiston, Spokane, and Tacoma) and from Augusta, Mobile, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Tucson, Tulsa and Winston-Salem, a former professional baseball player filled all but one NAS Seattle Flyer roster spot. One of Vanni’s Flyer outfielders was “Chief” Levi McCormack, his former teammate with the 1938 Seattle Rainiers. McCormack had also been in the Spokane Hawks’ outfield with Hornig, and thus he might have   been a factor in Hornig landing a roster spot. Two years his junior, Vanni most likely remembered Hornig from their time together at Queen Anne High School.

1942 Naval Air Station Seattle/Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Bob Alf (NWL)
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
S1/c Francis J. Bellows SS Spokane (WIL)
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar 1B/OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig OF Spokane (WIL)
Paul Irvin LHP Portland (PCL)
Bob Kahle 3B Hollywood (PCL)
Henry Martinez 3B/2B Portland (PCL)
S1/c “Chief” Levi McCormack OF/P Spokane (WIL)
Elmer “Ole” Olsen OF Bakersfield (CALL)
Ens. Kenneth Peters Coach/2B Mobile (SL)
Stan Riedle C Lewiston (WIL)
Barney Saffle Semi-Pro
Rube Sandstrom P Tacoma (WIL)
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone OF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Joe Spadafore 1B Tacoma (WIL)
Harvey Storey OF Tulsa (TL)
S1/c Edo Vanni Mgr/ OF/P Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF San Francisco (PCL)
Al Wright 2B Portland (PCL)

With the 1942 season well underway for the Northwest Region, NAS Seattle began to emerge as the league leader. The Flyers dominated the competition by breaking out with a 25-game win streak. It cemented them for the post-season by placing them out in front as the team to beat.  Not only did the Flyers face service teams such as Coast Guard Repair Yard Seattle, Fort Lewis Warriors and McChord Bombers, they matched up against professional clubs such as the Tacoma Tigers and Spokane Chiefs (WIL) and the San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers (PCL). On Sunday, July 12, the Flyers’ 25-game win streak was halted when they were downed 7-6 by the hometown Seattle Rainiers, who were on their way to securing their third consecutive Pacific Coast League crown. No doubt seeking to outperform his former team, NAS Seattle Flyers’ manager Edo Vanni, a member of the Rainiers championship clubs in 1940 and ’41, was managing from the visitor’s dugout. Vanni was joined by “Chief” Levi McCormack, who began his professional career with the Seattle club in 1936 when they were still named “Indians.” McCormack’s moniker, which today would seem to be derogatory, was truly fitting considering the former Washington State Cougar player was actually Nez Perce Indian royalty:

You ball fans have become accustomed to calling Levi, “Chief” McCormick,” said Abel Grant, uncle of the ball star, yesterday. “While you are referring to him with that title, you fans don’t know how true the appellation is. Levi is my nephew, a son of my sister. His father is a direct descendant of Chief Timothy of the Nez Perces, one of the best friends of the early white settlers. On his mother’s side he is a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, in fact Levi is a member of the fourth generation descended from the old chief. He goes to the Coast league with our best wishes.” – Lewiston Morning Tribune, Monday, July 20, 1936

The Flyers were in control of the 1942 season with pitching and offense.  Through July, the Flyers team batting average was .406, led by outfielder Edo Vanni (.516) first baseman Danny Escobar (.482), second baseman Mel Cole (.470), catcher Steve Ananicz (.435), outfielders Bobby Hornig (.425) Levi McCormack (.425), shortstop Francis Bellows (.410), and third baseman Don White (.406).

In early August, the Navy packed up and relocated the entire Naval Air Station Seattle Flyers squad 220 miles southeast to the small town of Pasco, Washington, to be based at the newly commissioned Naval Air Station situated at the Pasco Airport (known today as the Tri-Cities Airport). The move and added travel distance to away games on the west side of the Cascades didn’t diminish their abilities. Later that month, the Seattle Rainiers hosted the Flyers for a fund-raising exhibition game to outfit the sailors with athletic equipment at their new station.

At the end of the 1942 season, two teams were standing at the top of the Northwest Service League and vying for the title. In the best of three series scheduled to be played at Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle (if necessary), the NAS Pasco Flyers were set to face the Warriors of Fort Lewis, led by former major leaguer, Morrie Arnovich.  Game one turned out to be an offensive showdown with a game-winning home run by McCormack to cap the 11-8 victory. The second game turned out to be the decider as Vanni started John Bittner, who pitched a nine-inning, 7-hit shutout against the Warriors. All but two of the 10 Flyers batters managed hits against Fort Lewis’ former Vancouver Capilanos (WIL) pitcher and Tacoma native, Cy Greenlaw. Bobby Hornig spelled starting right fielder Don White in the eighth inning, copped a base hit and made a spectacular running catch in the top of the ninth to rob Arnovich of his third hit of the game. With the 8-0 win, the Flyers claimed the first Northwest Service League championship.

With the NAS Pasco Flyers’ roster relatively unchanged, there was no reason to expect anything different from the 1942 season to 1943. The addition of local pitching product and veteran of the Spokane Indians (WIL) and Seattle Rainiers, Mike Budnick, helped the Flyers to resume their dominance from the previous season. “Pasco’s club is generally rated as one of the toughest service aggregations in the west,” the Spokane Spokesman Review published June 24, 1943, “and has been dumping some of the best teams available this year including the San Diego Padres (PCL). On June 6, the Flyers downed the Ephrata Army Air Base team, 21-2. The “fleet-footed” Bobby Hornig was the subject of a Spokane Chronicle feature touting his return to the area’s Ferris Field as the Flyers visited to take on the Army’s Geiger Field Indians. He was clearly a favorite of the local fans.

1943 Naval Air Station Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
 Baker RF
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mike Budnick P Seattle (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
Marv Harshman 1B PLU
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig CF Spokane (WIL)
Bob Kahle IF Hollywood (PCL)
Matry Martinez 2B Spokane (WIL)
“Chief” Levi McCormack OF Spokane (WIL)
 Pesky P
Ens. Ken Peters OIC Cardinals
 Peters 2B
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone RF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Harvey Storey SS Tulsa (TL)
Edo Vanni OF/MGR Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF/3B WIL/PCL

Pasco was unmatched in the A.W.O.L. league as the Flyers dispatched the competition with relative ease. On June 30, former Hollywood Stars pitcher Fred Gay pitched as the club administered a 12-2 drubbing of an Army All-Star team in Walla Walla. For Independence Day, Pasco faced a hand-picked squad of the region’s top Army ball players, led by former Browns, White Sox and Athletics pitcher, Camp Adair’s Sergeant Jack Knott (up from the Corvallis, Oregon Army base), at the Seattle Rainiers’ home field, Sick’s Stadium, dropping them 3-1. Pasco posed fierce competition to professional clubs.

The Pasco Flyers were steamrolling the competition in their league and in the region. By July 9, the team had a two-season combined record of 62-7. The war was still progressing and the needs of the Navy intervened, ending the Pasco Flyer’s 1943 campaign. The order was immediate and the players were reassigned to various naval units to prepare for sea service duties and to vacate base facilities as NAS Pasco was being transformed into a naval station predominantly for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service).

Many of the Pasco Flyers saw overseas duty. “Hunk” Anderson saw action in the Philippines. Chief Levi McCormack served in the South Pacific. Manager Edo Vanni was sent to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where he played centerfield for another “Flyers” team (along with his former Pasco pitcher, Johnny Bittner) before completing his Navy career playing for the Hellcats of the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  After a stint with the Bainbridge Naval Training Station Commodores   baseball team,  Mike Budnick found his way to Hawaii and was tagged by Bill Dickey to join the 1945 Western Pacific baseball tour, playing with such stars as Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, Barney McCosky, Elbie Fletcher, Joe Grace, Johnny Vander Meer, Virgil Trucks, Al Brancato and Mickey Vernon.

According to Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter’s article, Bobby Hornig was reassigned to the South Pacific and served “as a picket-boat commander from 1941-1945.” With the reporter’s dates being inaccurate, the potential exists for other inaccuracies surrounding Hornig’s post -NAS Pasco duty assignment. Unfortunately, research sources could not be located to pinpoint Hornig’s service from July of 1943 until the end of the war.

Following the Japanese surrender and VJ-Day, troops began to return to the States to be separated from the service. With all of the adaptations, adjustments and roster moves that occurred within the major and minor leagues, the returning ballplayers had some guarantees for earning their positions back but were faced with new challenges in resuming their baseball careers. For men like Hornig who had already retired well before the United States’ entry into the war, there were no guarantees. Hornig returned home with baseball behind him. His professional baseball career was behind him as he pursued a worthwhile career with Pacific Bell instead.

However, in 1946 baseball turned tragic for some of Hornig’s former NAS Pasco teammates and for his former professional club, the Spokane Indians. In the worst accident in professional baseball history, eight members of the Spokane team were killed, including the team’s manager, Mel Cole (who played second base and caught for the NAS Pasco Flyers), when their team bus was sideswiped by an oncoming sedan four miles west of Snoqualmie Pass summit. The bus rolled 350 feet down the mountainside, ejecting many of the men before resting on a large rock outcropping, where the vehicle caught fire. Five of the eight players perished at the scene. Hornig’s Spokane and Navy teammate, “Chief” Levi McCormack, was injured but survived.

 

See: Wayback Machine: Baseball Hero Pride of Nez Perce

Striking the Drum: a Mid-1940s Jersey from the USS Timbalier

On the heels of the acquisition of a lifetime, a uniform group that formerly belonged to a USS Phoenix (CL-46) veteran, it is hard to imagine that there are other jerseys that could draw our attention. Granted, there is a bit of a comedown once such a treasure is added to our collection. It does not diminish our interest in seeking out other service team artifacts, however.

When a colleague turned our attention to an auction listing for a vintage flannel jersey that he was considering for a project, its design was instantly recognizable as it was consistent with wartime Navy ship baseball team uniforms. Details such as the color, font and size of the athletic felt lettering and how they are arched across the chest of the jersey align precisely to what we have seen on other ship team jerseys. From the cut of the torso, the set-in sleeves and the thin navy blue soutache that encircles the collar and adorns the button-placket (and sleeve cuffs) to the cat-eye buttons and the sun collar, this jersey is reminiscent of many other wartime U.S. Navy baseball uniform tops used for warship teams.

USS Timbalier (AVP-54) in Puget Sound, 22 May 1946, two days before commissioning (US Navy Photo).

In performing some due diligence for my colleague, we were not at all certain that the jersey was one of a Navy ship baseball team. A cursory search of the name on the jersey’s front returned scant results. Ranked third in the search results behind a nine-year-old oil and gas industry company and a Gulf Coast of Louisiana barrier island was the U.S. Navy warship bearing the name on the jersey.

T I M B A L I E R (French: timpanist; timpani player; kettledrummer)

Timbalier (AVP-54) being christened by Mrs. S. B. Dunlap during launching ceremonies, 18 April 1943, at Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, WA (US Navy Photo).

The ship, USS Timbalier (AVP-54), was a Barnegat-class seaplane tender that was named for Timbalier Bay, which lies to the north of Timbalier Island and is partially enclosed by its north shore. Timbalier Island (which is uninhabited), considered one of Louisiana’s barrier islands, is located 75 miles west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The seaplane tender was authorized by Congress in the months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. AVP-54’s keel was laid on November 9, 1942 at the Lake Washington Shipyard (near present-day Kirkland, Washington) on the eastern shore of the large lake. Construction proceeded slowly at the small shipyard, prompting Navy leaders to transfer the unfinished vessel to Puget Sound Navy Yard (known today as Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington) in early 1944. Sixteen months later, the vessel, still incomplete, was moved back to the Lake Washington Shipyard facilities and would not be completed until the spring of the following year, eight months after the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.

Most of the Navy ship jerseys that we have seen in vintage photographs, other collections or listed for sale), aside from featuring the ship’s name spelled out in athletic felt lettering across the chest, also include “U.S.S.,” indicating the vessel as the Navy’s “United States Ship”. This Timbalier jersey lacks the designation. One may ask, “In the absence of the specific designation, what then indicates this jersey as originating from the USS Timbalier?”

USS Timbalier (AVP-54) tending two Martin PBM-3D Mariner seaplanes in the months following the end of World War II (US Navy Photo).

Directly obtaining an artifact from the person who used or wore it is the most ironclad provenance that one can receive. In the absence of such proof, analysis and research is required to either rule out or validate the authenticity of an item.  There are several aspects of the Timbalier jersey that we analyzed that helped us arrive at our assessment that this jersey was from the ship.

  1. Dating the design of the jersey
  2. Button style
  3. Athletic felt lettering and numerals
  4. Analysis of the manufacturer’s tag or label

The cut of the body of the jersey is aligned with others from the early-to-mid 1940s with such features as nine-1/2-inch long, set-in sleeves and a tall sun-collar.  The gray wool is heavy and substantive. The five buttons are of the larger, convex cat eye variety that were common on many wartime service team baseball jerseys. The navy blue athletic felt lettering and numerals are applied with a straight stitch.

Given these design factors alone, the jersey falls into line with the 1945-46 timeline and certainly conforms to the date when the ship was commissioned. The information on the manufacturer’s tag, “Northrop Sports Shop Inc., Norfolk, Virginia”), in our opinion solidifies the assessment that the jersey is from the USS Timbalier. After the ship was placed into commission, she began her shakedown as she made her way south from Washington State. Following stops in California, the Timbalier headed for the East Coast, where her homeport assignment was located, by way of the Panama Canal. USS Timbalier spent three months at New York Naval Shipyard (formerly known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard) for her post-shakedown maintenance before transiting to her home port at Norfolk.

Since the ship most likely had her Norfolk, Virginia, home port assignment prior to her commissioning date, it is a safe assessment that the ship’s athletic equipment was sourced through the Norfolk Navy supply system. Furthermore, the lack of the “U.S.S.” lettering is possibly due to acquisition and initial use predating the ship’s date of commissioning (when she became a United States Ship).

Another aspect of research that must be considered is that the jersey could have been used by a collegiate, scholastic or even a semi-professional team, which prompted a considerable effort to find any possibilities. Conducting numerous searches through several research resources, we were unable to locate even a remote possibility of an alternative baseball team.

Upon withdrawing our newly acquired USS Timbalier jersey from its shipping packaging, it became readily apparent that it required cleaning. The gray wool flannel was discolored to a brown tone with heavy streaks of soiling. The sun collar had even darker brown staining from body oils and sweat due to contact with skin at the player’s neck. The odor that was emanating from the jersey was an overpowering musty smell combined with old tobacco fetor.

After just a few hours of gentle agitation and soaking, the cleaning solution was heavily discolored and clouded by the filth released from the fibers of the USS Timbalier jersey

Following the same cleaning procedure that we employed for our heavily-soiled USS Phoenix jersey, we immediately submersed the USS Timbalier jersey into the proper mixture of warm water and delicate-textile cleaning solution. Almost as soon as the jersey entered the liquid, the dirt began to release from the fibers, causing the soapy-water to discolor and grow cloudy. After nearly four hours of soaking and gentle agitation, the water was so discolored that our plans needed to be modified. Rather than letting the jersey soak overnight in the filthy solution, the decision was made to pour out the dirty water, rinse and wash a second time.

After being overnight in the solution and getting a thorough rinsing, the jersey was significantly improved, as was discernible by both the visual and olfactory senses. The flannel was laid out flat on towels beneath a ceiling fan to dry to a slight dampness before moving outdoors for final air-drying.

A trifecta of Navy jerseys; basking in the evening sun, recent arrivals to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection including the USS Timbalier flannel shown together. The pinstriped 1944 “NAVY”flannel is the subject of a future Chevrons and Diamonds article.

With the drying complete, the USS Timbalier flannel is now ready for display among our other baseball and military artifacts. With four Navy baseball jersey additions in the same number of months, we are astounded by the flood of these items to the collector market.

 

Further Reading:

A Darker Side: Context Matters When Viewing History; Even with Baseball Militaria

Perhaps the majority of Chevrons and Diamonds’ attention, in terms of baseball militaria artifacts, has been centered on equipment, uniforms and original vintage photography. Occasionally we commit time to ephemera in the form of scorecards, programs and scorebooks but since such pieces are scarce and quite difficult to locate, articles dedicated to such pieces are less frequently covered. Obscure baseball- related militaria artifacts truly draw our attention.

With years invested into researching military history, including wartime art used for advertisements, recruiting posters, propaganda and trench art, we keep our eyes open for unique artifacts in these veins. As one can imagine, such an item would stand out when it arrived on the market. A few weeks ago, one appeared and immediately caught our attention. Before exploring this particular piece, it is important to apply context rather than to simply view artifacts strictly through a contemporary lens.

In order to provide context, one must step away from modern-day, emotionally charged and politically fueled fervor. It is important to understand that applying context is not a way to excuse or diminish actions or ideals that today are seen much differently as society analyzes and learns from history.

Racialize.

  1. To give racial character to

Racialism.

  1. A theory that race determines human traits and capacities

Racism.

  1. A belief that some races are superior to others:
    also: a discrimination based on such belief

It is a word that is bandied about and, at present, haphazardly and quite dangerously applied toward subjects, topics, thoughts, people or persons, ideas and ideals or anything that stands in the way of a political movement or ideology. Rather than listen to differing perspectives, the word (in its various forms), is injected into situations in order to stifle voices and to avoid listening to others’ perspectives. The words racist and racism have become the dogma of political social propaganda, a weapon in the “social justice” war.

In warfare, the battle for the minds of one’s own citizens and troops is just as important as the battles for those of their enemies.. Leaders employ tactics such as gross mischaracterization of opponents through propaganda in order to dehumanize the enemy. Spreading fear amongst a populace can have the desired recruiting effect and embolden troops to conduct themselves in manners that are less than humane on the battlefield. If one were to read a social justice-based textbook or attend an educational lecture, it is highly unlikely that the material would present a holistic perspective; that all nations and warring entities employed the same tactic of dehumanizing the enemy. It is far too easy to point all fingers at the United States as the sole responsible participant in this activity during World War II when the facts do not bear this concept out.

During WWII, all of the Axis nations, led by Germany, Japan and Italy and including Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, et al, employed ministries of propaganda that were tasked to dehumanize the British, French and Americans as well as specific ethnicities and religious groups residing within the enemy nations that they occupied. Humanity can be anything but humane, especially during a time of war.

Taking a singular viewpoint regarding propaganda is one-sided and is even more dangerous when such actions are employed to disparage a generation, class or race of people. The present-day tactic of painting the United States as the lone aggressor in World War II and of being systematically racist is terribly short-sighted and ignores all of the progress that was taking place. It is very convenient and considerably sloppy (in terms of historical research) to point fingers at the atrocious Executive Order 9066 and the internment of American citizens of Japanese ethnicity while ignoring the same action that imprisoned American citizens of German and Italian origin.

Context is perhaps the most important tool that researchers and historians require when looking back through time and beholding artifacts from a different era. It is also the most challenging aspect to acquire when viewing historical items such as generations-old propaganda, newspapers or even personal correspondence. Setting aside preconceptions and engineered fears and biases opens the door to education and can bring about a true sense of understanding and empathy for people in a specific period.

What does any of this have to do with baseball?

We acquired this envelope due to the connection to the Navy Athletic Instructor school, baseball history and for the artwork. The artwork on the reverse side is an element of history that we had to carefully consider prior to making this purchase (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Gene Tunney, “The Fighting Marine” during WWI, received a commission to join the Navy in order to build a physical fitness program for the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy Athletics Specialist rating was created as a result Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

When a piece of folk art was recently listed at auction, our attention was focused upon the naval and baseball historical aspects of the piece. The item, a standard (originally blank) letter-sized envelope, was festooned with hand-drawn art with themes of baseball and romance. The addressee, Marino J. Consoli, was at that time serving on active duty in the Navy and in training at the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Physical Instructor School (also known as the “Tunney School” due to the program’s founder, former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney). Consoli’s name sounded vaguely familiar, which prompted us to review our compiled wartime service team rosters to determine if he played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets or any other command during WWII.

The first and most obvious places to start researching Mr. Consoli were within the baseball and naval service spheres. The only player to surface in the results of a search on Baseball Reference was Joe Consoli,  whose full name was listed as Marino Joseph Consoli. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1919 and died on January 10, 1989 in Baltimore, Maryland. A quick search of Navy muster sheets revealed that there are some challenges with Consoli’s name. Further digging into documents such as Draft Card, Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form, Baseball Bureau Questionnaire and the 1920 and 1940 census uncovered several inconsistencies surrounding Consoli’s name and birthdate.

For his draft card, the date of birth shows July 17, 1919 and lists his mother, Victoria along with the place of birth at Stony Creek Mills source: Ancestry.com)

According to Consoli’s WWII draft card, his full name was “Marino Joseph Consoli” and his date of birth was July 17, 1919, in Stony Creek Mill, Pennsylvania. His closest relative listed was  Mrs. Victoria Consoli, his mother. His occupation was listed as “ball player.” Using this single source, it seemed clear that the two sources pointed to the same man. However, the next few pieces of data began to blur the matter.

Note Consoli’s name and date of birth on his State of Pennsylvania Application for WWII Compensation form (source: Ancestry.com).

We located Consoli’s Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form that listed his birth date as July 7, 1918, a year and ten days earlier than what was shown on his draft card. This could be a simple typo committed by the Pennsylvania state clerk as the birth location matched on both documents. Also listed on the form were Consoli’s dates of naval service (enlisted January 31, 1943, Reading, Pennsylvania, and discharged January 18, 1946, Naval Separation Center, Jacksonville, Florida) along with some of the duty assignment details (including Headquarters Squadron, Fleet Air Wing Four (operating out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska), Mar 1, 1944 – Oct 31, 1945). Also notable was the veteran’s service number (808 96 41).

Turning to the only two U.S. Navy muster sheets we could locate, we discovered more correlating information along with new confusion.  During February and March of 1944, “Marion” Joseph Consoli, Specialist “A” 1/c, service number 808 96 41 was in transit aboard the Lapwing class minesweeper, USS Avocet (AVP-4) from “an Alaskan port” but was not necessarily part of the ship’s crew. We can surmise that the yeoman merely transposed letters in Marino’s first name as the service number and his rating (Specialist “A” is the designation for the athletic specialist rating) but we are fairly certain that the man listed on the USS Avocet’s muster sheets is the same Marino Joseph Consoli.

Confusion set in while researching Marino “Joe” Consoli, especially when we located his American Baseball Bureau form from 1946. The use of his brothers first name and birthdate, though off by one day, was an odd discovery source: Ancestry.com).

Our investigation into Marino J. Consoli’s wartime service took a turn when we reviewed the Baseball Bureau Questionnaire, completed by him on May 7, 1946. There were several pieces of conflicting information, starting with his stated name of Orlando Joseph “Joe” Consoli and his date of birth, August 21, 1922. With such disparity from the other sources, these two facts cannot be dismissed as mere typographical or alphanumeric transposition errors. Facts that correlated this man to Marion included the location of birth (Stony Creek Mill, PA) and that he served in the Navy during WWII. Armed with new doubts, we began exploring additional documents.

Turning to the 1920 and 1940 census (we could not locate a 1930 record), we located Consoli’s family in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His parents were listed as Angelo (a steel mill worker) and Victoria (both born in Italy). In 1920 (enumerated in February), Angelo was 30 years of age and his young bride of 17 was the mother of a baby boy, Marino, who was 19 months old, which would seemingly place his birth in July of 1918. In the 1940 census, Angelo and his wife Victoria now had three additional children including two daughters and a second son, Orlando (age 18). Was Marino’s younger brother, Orlando, a ballplayer in addition to Marino or was there something else going on?

Within a few minutes of researching Orlando Consoli, we easily ruled him out as being our man. Orlando Angelo Consoli was born on August 20, 1920 (his mother was pregnant at the time of the 1920 census enumeration). His draft card listed his pre-war employment with the Atlantic Refining Company of Reading, Pennsylvania. Orlando enlisted into the Navy on September 21, 1942 and was assigned duty in the Panama Canal Zone (on the Pacific side) as a defender of the resource. He was hospitalized in early 1944 and was discharged from active duty on March 28 of that year. According to his 1972 obituary, he never played professional baseball, leaving us to question why Marion adopted his brother’s name and date of birth (one day later) for the Baseball Bureau questionnaire.

In addition to ruling out Marion’s younger brother, other information listed on the Baseball Bureau form confirmed that “Orlando Joseph” was truly Marino Joseph.  Consoli completed the section, “What would you consider your most interesting or unusual experience while in the service?” He wrote, “Amphibious operations on Attu, Aleutian Islands; not seeing a woman or ‘even a tree’ for 23 successive months,” which tied him to the USS Avocet’s muster sheets. Consoli also disclosed that he was assigned to Fleet Air Wing Four (a seaplane squadron based in the Aleutian Islands) but was a chief boatswain’s mate (rather than an athletic specialist), which was probably more of a change in duties than his rating.

All of the research we uncovered regarding Marion Joseph “Joe” Consoli confirmed that the envelope once belonged to him. We made the decision to acquire the artifact as we discovered that Consoli was not only an 11-year veteran minor league third baseman and manager but also had an extensive career as a major league scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Marino Joseph Consoli was a three-sport varsity letterman and captained the soccer and baseball teams in high school. He earned National Honor Society honors with his commitment to academics source: Ancestry.com).

Joe Consoli began scouting in 1954 following his tenure with the class “C” Blackwell Broncos (Oklahoma) of the Western Association. During his career with Pittsburgh, Consoli’s scouting and player signings resulted in more than 125 of them reaching the major leagues including John Smiley (2-time all-star), Stan Belinda, Mike Bielecki, Tim Drummond, Al Oliver (7-time all-star, as well as the 1982 NL batting champion while with Montreal) and Bob Robertson.

Growing up in the Stony Creek Mills suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania, Consoli’s family resided on Taft Avenue, just a few doors down the street from Michael and Minnie Furillo’s family. The Furillo’s youngest son, Carl, would follow his friend  Joe Consoli, a few years his senior, into professional baseball with  greater on-field success with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Years after Consoli’s 1989 passing, his extensive baseball archives (including scouting reports, journals correspondence and other documents) began to surface on the baseball collectibles market. Part of that collection may have included the envelope that was addressed and sent to him in 1943 from an Army nurse named Grosskopf, most likely assigned to the Army Hospital at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, 22 miles northwest of Harrisburg. While the artwork embellishment on the cover was certainly interesting, the hand-drawn illustration on the envelope’s reverse was an example of the national sentiments directed towards the enemy nation that drew the U.S. into World War II – the Empire of Japan.

As offensive as this anti-Hideki Tojo art is to view, it demonstrates the proliferation of propaganda and anger (directed towards Japan) that lingered as the war progressed (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Aside from the baseball and naval history associated with Consoli and the envelope, the propagandized art on the back of the envelope sent by Ms. Grosskopf truly stood out as a reminder of the tenuous situation facing the nation and the citizens who were serving at that time. Daily casualty reports dominated the newspapers as neighborhoods learned of the deaths of their former high school classmates or their neighbors’ sons. Also gracing the newspapers were reports of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in places such as Nanking, China and the Bataan Peninsula. Contextualizing these facts can lead to understanding why the illustration on the back of the envelope may have been added.

For us, adding this particular piece of history provides us with perspective not typically seen in baseball equipment, uniforms or vintage photographs. Seeing a visual example of the personal, wartime sentiment from 1943 provides insight that is no longer prevalent among our society. Preserving a piece of history that once belonged to a career baseball man who saw action against the enemy in the Aleutian Islands is an honor.

 

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