(Tropic) Lightning on a Ball: 25th Infantry Division Stags Baseball

With the signed baseballs that have landed into the Chevrons and Diamonds collection to date, we have enjoyed much success (albeit delayed) with research breakthroughs as we have identified names on each one. Though it took more than a year to fully identify all of the signatures, the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team signed baseball has become a highly treasured piece in the collection. Though the research bear significantly fewer resulting details, the first autographed service team baseball that we acquired, the 1956 36th Field Artillery Group Rammers netted a series of friendly exchanges with one of the relatives of a team member and a subsequent news article (Chuck Emerick is remembered as a great baseball player but an even better husband, father and grandfather) from that player’s hometown paper (the Rock Island Dispatch – Argus).

Autograph collectors wouldn’t give either of the two signed balls in this collection much of a look as neither of them has the signature from a superstar ball player. To a baseball militaria collector, a baseball signed by a team of no-name GIs is invaluable.

The 1949 team baseball, signed be the members of the 25th Infantry Divisions team, the Stags.

The past several months have been an absolute boom to the Chevrons and Diamonds museum with a steady stream of artifacts ranging from uniforms (three fantastic uniforms including a WWII Coast Guard and a 1955 USAF set) to photographs and other ephemera. The arrivals have been nothing short of overwhelming. When a colleague contacted me to gauge my interest in an item that he had just purchased (it had yet to be shipped to him). When the photographs of the item began to populate my private messenger window, there was no hesitation on my part to affirmatively respond. When he offered it for the price of shipping, I couldn’t type., “I’ll take it” fast enough.

Though the ball is yellowed and faded, the makers stamp is visible on this panel.

Viewing each photograph of the yellowed horsehide, Wilson “Official League” baseball, not one panel was left free from signatures or writing. The inscriptions and signatures appear to have been signed using the same pen as the brown-faded ink (most-likely, originally black). Aside from the heavy fading, the ink has dissipated into the horsehide surface and rendered the signatures and inscriptions challenging to read. The most legible markings on the ball (besides the manufacturer’s stamps) read, “25th Div ‘Stags.’”

  • Manufacturer: Wilson (“Made in U.S.A.“)
  • Model: “Official League
  • Manufacture Date: Unknown
  • Additional Markings:
    • AX – (?)”
    • RUBBER CENTER

Four years removed from VJ-Day, the 25 Infantry Division was an occupying force in Japan. Established well before Pearl Harbor in 1941, the “Tropic Lightning” Division began engaging the enemy forces on Guadalcanal in late 1942 after relieving the First Marine Division and fought against Imperial Japanese forces at Cape Esperance, New Georgia, Vella Lavella and Luzon, sustaining over 5,400 casualties by War’s end.  Inscribed with the date of 1949, which means that the ball was used during the last summer of occupation and months prior to the Division being transferred to the Korean Peninsula in July of 1950 as hostilities were breaking out.

I am only just beginning to research the details of the 25th Division baseball. A handful of cursory searches have not yielded anything of substance regarding the division’s team (the “Stags”) as of yet. It is my hope that I can source a unit or veteran group newsletter that might mention the team and players who filled the roster and perhaps, that might happen if this article is discovered by 25th ID historians or unit veterans (or their descendants) who might still be living.

Perhaps “Tropic Lightning” will strike for this baseball and spur the mysteries to unfold

Bat Restoration: New Life for Ferris Fain’s Signature lumber

When more than a year creeps by before one realizes that a two-part article was left unfinished (with just the initial piece published), it is a commentary on one or more of the following issues: I am aging and my memory is taking a beating; I have too many irons in the fire and my memory is lagging; I am completely disorganized and distracted by too many activities and my memory failing. The reality is that all three are true.

Last July (the one that occurred in 2018), I published an article about restoring a 60+ year old chunk of Louisville lumber that bears the name of one of my favorite ball players and former WWII U.S. Army Air Forces airman, Ferris Fain (seeClose to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat). The article in question has been one of Chevrons and Diamonds more popular pieces as it seems that there are many collectors who are seeking to rejuvenate their aging, decaying and damaged vintage bats. Fortunately for me, the condition of the Ferris Fain signature model Louisville Slugger bat wasn’t bad and it was absent any damage.

In the absence of vintage baseball bat restoration manuals or step-by-step guides, I had to tap into the resources available to me. Turning to my bat-collecting colleagues, I gathered tips from those who have touched on certain aspects of revitalizing the wood, slowing progress of wood rot and breathing new life into the black foil brand marks. It was also helpful that I spent time in doing extracurricular work many years ago (in high school) at the invitation of my high school principal to perform some restoration work on several vintage wood administration chairs (I was a very giving person with my advice for certain teachers) over the course of a week at the end of my sophomore year.

The finished restoration project: The Ferris Fain bat is pictured here with an untouched 1953-dated Fain mini bat (a stadium giveaway from June 3rd of that year) giving a color and tone reference point.

Despite removing very little wood material with the steel wool (sanding would have removed the patina and usage markings entirely), the surface of the bat had a fairly fresh appearance once all of the cleaner had dried. Also, my free-hand restoration of the brand (with an ultra-fine black paint pen) looked a little sloppy and too vibrant in places. Since the goal was to retain as much of the original patina and scars, I first took the steel wool over the fresh brands to remove some of the material before applying the linseed oil treatment. I also left the bat to sit untreated for a few months to allow for some oxidation and darkening of the wood before sealing it with the oil, which is where I left off in early July of 2018.

By winter, the wood of the bat darkened quite a bit. After wiping the bat down with a cloth to remove any dust or particulates that settled onto the surface over the previous several months, I cracked open the linseed oil, soaked a wad of paper towels and began to cover the bat from the bottom, working my way upward towards the handle and knob, leaving the bat saturated with the material. Leaving the bat to stand (vertically, with the handle up) for an hour allowing for the wood grain to absorb the oil. When I returned, I reapplied the oil as before and again left the bat to stand in order to allow for absorption.

Another perspective shows that the colors of the two bats are not that dissimilar. The trapper model first baseman’s mitt is an early 1950s MacGregor signature Ferris Fain model.

After a few days of standing in the garage, the bat’s surface was dry and felt as though it needed to be rubbed out with a terry shop cloth.  Through this process, excess oil was lifted and the bat’s surface responded with a satin shine that enhanced the aged patina. The oil naturally darkened and drew out the wood-grain while providing a true vintage aesthetic to the finished product.

Since completing the Fain bat, I faced a more daunting challenge when a 1940s U.S. Navy stamped Ted Williams endorsed Hillerich & Bradsby bat arrived (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved). Drawing upon the Fain bat experience, the Williams and subsequent bat restorations have become a fairly simple process.

“Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down

Five Marines flannels (one uniform set and four additional jerseys) dominate the Chevrons and Diamonds uniform collection which, for a veteran of the U.S. Navy can be a point of contention.  Taking further stock of the flannels, three U.S. Army, two U.S. Navy and now one U.S. Coast Guard baseball jerseys are also part of the collection.

Personalizing or associating the pieces with my family’s legacy of service shows an imbalance or disparity of representation. Looking at the service history of my family, my father is an Army combat veteran (Vietnam); maternal grandfather was a WWII Navy combat veteran; three uncles who served in the Navy (WWI, WWII), another uncle (WWI, WWII, Korean War) in the Army and not a single, solitary veteran of the U.S.M.C. or the Coast Guard.  I also have a relative who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Army Air Forces and was a guest of the Empire of Japan (for the entire duration of WWII – a Corregidor Defender) and, to represent him, there is an early 1940s jersey in my collection (Bolling Field). As to those post- September 18, 1947 (the date that the U.S. Air Force was established as its own branch of the U.S. Armed Forces) jerseys? Zilch.  Having USAF veterans in my family including my son and my father-in-law (who, having played collegiate baseball for the University of Oregon and Portland State College as a southpaw pitcher, donned flannels for the USAF and chucked against a few Bay Area Pacific Coast League teams in the late 1950s), the absence of this branch’s baseball threads from my museum truly stood out.

Made from lightweight cotton, this 1955 USAF Goose Air Base (Labrador, Canada) jersey (and accompanying trousers) is a great addition to the collection and represents our first from this armed forces branch.

From the USAF team at Goose Air Base, this brightly colored jersey is in great condition for being nearly 65 years old.

The stark red script athletic felt lettering, “Goose AB” stood out against the creamy white material like a vintage neon sign against a pitch-black sky. It took just a second to register.  With one other item in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection originating from the Goose Bay Air Base (see: Competition Awards: Buckling Up Metal Baseball Treasure), I realized quickly that the red and white baseball uniform was used at the U.S. Air Force base in Labrador, Canada. Established in 1941 as part of the Lend Lease agreement between the United States and Great Britain, the airfield was constructed and readied for use a base of operations for ferrying aircraft to England and to provide long-range air cover for convoys between the U.S. and the British Isles. While the baseball championship medal (referenced in the story linked above) in this collection was awarded during WWII (in 1944, specifically), it was immediately clear that the Goose AB baseball uniform was from a later time-period.

Without any hesitation, a deal was struck with the seller and in just a few short days, the package arrived. Aside from being considerably wrinkled, the condition of the garments was fantastic yet it is readily apparent that the uniform saw action on the diamond. In hopes of discovering identifying marks left by the Air Force veteran who owned it, the only means of determining the age was with the MacGregor-brand manufacturer’s tag. Using the Chevrons and Diamonds tag-history as a reference, it was easy to determine that the jersey was made between 1955 and ‘56. During these years, Goose Air Base was part of Strategic Air Command and Northeast Air Command becoming the site of the first nuclear weapons within Canada’s borders.

Apart from determining the age of the uniform, there were no marks that would indicate who the veteran was that originally owned it.  My last attempt to identify the airman sent me directly to the seller with my inquiry. The response deflated all hope as the seller stated, “I found these tucked in an B4 garment bag which I picked up an estate sale.” The message continued, “There was also an Air Force handbook dated 1951 and several field caps,” and yet no markings or stenciled names were present. This airman, at least for the present time, will remain unknown.

The Goose AB uniform itself is constructed from lightweight cotton. The base shell is cream-white with red raglan sleeves and a broad red placket and collar. There are five white, two-hole buttons down the placket face.  The color-matched red athletic felt lettering on the front and numeral on the back are affixed with a machine-serge-stitch surrounding each character. Aside from the heavy wrinkling of the fabric, the overall condition of this uniform is excellent.

Showcasing the 1944 U.S. Army Air Forces baseball championship medal awarded to a team from the air base at Goose Bay, Labrador.

Sharing this uniform with my father-in-law would have been special, especially since it dates from close to the same era during which he served.  His passion for the game never ceased until his passing several years ago.

As this uniform was part of a grouping that contained two separate USAF baseball uniforms, the second one will be part of an upcoming article.

 

 

More Than Just a Scorecard: Discovering the 6th Ferrying Group’s Team Roster

As I hinted in last week’s article, the influx of artifacts into the collection has been nothing short of overwhelming over the course of the last few months. The three uniforms (yes, there are two others that arrived previously and in addition to the WWII Coast Guard set) have yet to be fully documented and researched but they were on display at our public event last month. Less conspicuously unveiled and shown at the Armed Forces Recognition display were a handful of “new” World War II military baseball scorecards.

Aside from baseball’s fluidity in its continual change from batter-to-batter and inning-to-inning, teams are in a constant state of alteration as managers and general managers work tirelessly to field a roster of players that can match up well against their opponents on any given day. For the casual observer, a team manager merely drafts line-up cards, gives direction to the players and batters throughout the game as he maneuvers his team like chess-master, making substitutions and pitching changes to keep his players best aligned against his opponent. An outstanding manager not only addresses the needs of the present game but how his team will be matched up against his future opponents in the next week and even the next month. Major Leagues (and, to some extent, minor leagues) have been well documented as to the roster changes and game line-ups affording researches with an easy tool to follow a player’s professional career.  The same cannot be said about the game within the armed forces.

Roster management must have been a bit of a nightmare for military team managers during WWII as the needs of the military superseded the needs of a base or command team. At any given moment, a player could be transferred away to fill a need without notice to the team manager. Tracking players on these service teams’ rosters is a monumental task. Apart from the occasional box score contained within a base or command newspaper or the Sporting News or other civilian news source, rosters largely no longer exist for wartime baseball teams, leaving present-day researchers to piece them together.

Baseball scorecard collectors are off the mainstream of baseball memorabilia collectors though it seems that more people are discovering these historically affordable pieces of baseball history. A scorecard offers a snapshot in time with that day’s roster alignment for the two opposing teams. If a major or minor league game scorecard lacks a date, a researcher is able to use the rosters to reveal the approximate or even the precise date on which the game was played. Another draw for collectors is the aesthetics and artwork that is commonly present, especially with cards from the Golden Era of the game. Apart from the functional aspect (keeping score) the illustrations and photography that can be found adorning the covers and pages of these pieces can be bright and colorful while offering a window into the past.

With the influx of professional players into the armed forces and onto service team baseball rosters during WWII and the audiences that the teams played to and the overall purpose for many of the games (fund-raising), it became a necessity for organizers to produce and print scorecards for the attendees. In most instances, the venues for service games were relatively small which would limit the production of these pieces further reducing the chances of surviving copies.

Though I tried to land this 6th Ferrying Group vs the San Diego Padres scorecard from 1944, I was beaten (source: eBay image).

When a scorecard dating from June 26, 1944 for a fund-raiser (All-Pacific Recreation Fund) game hosted by the Pacific Coast League’s San Diego Padres pitted against the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) 6th Ferrying Group of the Air Transportation Command (ATC), I was excited at the prospect of gaining some insight into the service leagues of Southern California. To date, I have been limited to piecing together rosters from scant story details in the Sporting News that are merely snippets of game narratives regarding the 6th Ferrying Group or any other team that played in their league, which drove me to pursue the online auction listing for the scorecard. Sadly, I was outbid and lost the auction.

Days later, another (different) 6th Ferrying Group scorecard was listed by the same seller. This version was from a game played between the ATC team and the San Bernardino All Stars and played at Perris Hill Park which was, no doubt, the home field of the All Stars (the ball park still stands and is the home field for the California State University, at San Bernardino baseball team and has been renamed Fiscalini Field). I quickly placed another sniped bid only to lose out a second time. Despite my discouragement, I ended up receiving the scorecard (albeit one in well-loved condition) as part of another item from the seller of the previous two scorecards.

Though it is a little damaged and worn, this scorecard is an invaluable piece of history. Perris Hill Ball Park still remains and today, serves as Cal State University, San Bernardino’s baseball stadium and has been renamed to Fiscalini Field.

I spent little time carefully removing the card from the package before I opened the the folded single sheet, moving directly to the rosters. Seeing the 6th Ferrying Group’s list of players, I quickly noted the men who had major league experience and began to work through the other names in search of professional ball-playing experience. Prior to owning this scorecard, the only 6th Ferrying Group team members that were discoverable were Chuck Stevens, Nanny Fernandez, Max West, Walter Loos, Harry Danning and Red Ruffing. Ten new names (seven with prior pro experience and one who went on to play professionally after the war). filled out the roster and opened the door to new research.

6th Ferrying Group Roster (major leaguers in bold):

Name Position Former Team
Art Lilly 2B Hollywood Stars
Chuck Stevens 1B Stl. Browns
Nanny Fernandez SS Boston Braves
Max  West CF Boston Braves
Harry Danning CF NY Giants
Ed Nulty LF Montreal Royals
Swede Jensen RF San Diego Padres
Walter Loos 3B Cincinnati
Red Ruffing P NY Yankees
Hub Kittle P Oakland Oaks
Ollie Olsen P San Diego padres
Roy Pitter P Newark Bears
Willie Werbowski P Semi-pro
Woody Bell OF San Antonio Missions
Ike Wise LF Semi-pro
Chas.  Mowrer LF Semi-pro

The 6th Ferrying Group team roster is a goldmine but the discovery isn’t limited to these 16 men.  The San Bernardino All Stars is nearly impossible to locate the commands from which the roster was constructed, leaving plenty of opportunity for research. Following a quick baseball search, I was successful in identifying eight of the players on the roster of which two played in the major leagues prior to their wartime service.

San Bernardino All Stars(major leaguers in bold):

Name Position Former Team
Don Rosselli 2B
Norman De Weese LF
Art Shoap 1B LA Angels
Frank Kerr C
Don Lang 3B Cincinnati
George Wiedemann RF
H. Munoz SS
Carl Sepulveda CF
Ed Chandler P Pocatello Cardinals
Walter Ripley P Boston Red Sox
Chas.  Harris P
Simon Martinez P Oakland
Bill Molyneaux OF Louisville Colonels
Lefty Watson OF
Doug Slamer LF
Clyde List C Brainerd Blues
Bill Sarni C LA Angels

In addition to researching the names on both rosters, pursuing a box score the amount of money that the was raised from the game would be a fitting punctuation to place upon this scorecard discovery.

References:

Always Prepared: Landing a WWII U.S. Coast Guard Baseball Uniform

I have ridden long bicycle rides that drain every ounce of energy from my body – riding 100 miles while climbing a combined 8,000 feet of elevation saps me of every measure of strength. If I was a few decades younger, I probably would bounce back within a few hours but at my present age, the recovery take a bit longer. In the sphere of writing, a marathon of research, documentation and story-forming has a similar effect on my mind. As with a lengthy ride, the enjoyment that I experience over the course of the event keeps me going but once the final punctuation mark is placed and the piece is published, I am intellectually exhausted.

The two-part feature (Part I and Part II) that focused on Sam Chapman that published nearly two weeks ago left me somewhat vacant of the motivation to pick up the keyboard and begin working on one of the many story ideas that are in my mental queue. In fact, my mind is somewhat scattered as to which direction to take as the baseball militaria pieces have been arriving with an unprecedented frequency and rapidity leaving me considerably overwhelmed and awestruck. In addition to the influx of artifacts, our recent public-display event was nothing short of an incredible experience.

Two Coast Guard players, Doyle Lade and Jimmie Cooper of St. Augustine Coast Guards discuss the game with an officer. Lade pitched in 12 professional seasons (5 with the Chicago Cubs).

The artifact that truly catapulted this endeavor a decade ago was the Inquisition of a  1943-vintage Marine Corps baseball uniform. The gray wool flannel, accented with red wool athletic felt lettering and the red rayon soutache stirred me to research and to investigate what else may be available. Throughout the past ten years, I have documented every uniform that I have seen (some of that effort has resulted in articles and additions to the online uniform archive) regardless of my success or failure in adding them to our museum. This documentation assists me in properly dating pieces as well as providing a means with which to gauge market availability.

During a public display event in 2018, one of the constant questions asked by viewers of the Chevrons and Diamonds mobile museum of baseball militaria artifacts was, “why isn’t the Coast Guard represented” or, “what, no Coast Guard?” among the vintage jerseys and uniforms depicting the Army, Navy, Marines and Army Air Forces. My constant refrain to those inquiries was that in the many years spent researching and acquiring artifacts, I hadn’t seen a single baseball uniform item from the Coast Guard. The absence of one of these uniforms from the market continued well in to 2019 when, not just one, but two vintage Coast Guard baseball pieces came to market on the same day in early June.

The U.S. Coast Guard baseball militaria listings depicted two vastly different uniforms. The first one that drew my interest was one that appeared to be a home (white) wool flannel uniform set (jersey and trousers) that was considerably discolored from both use and aging. Both pieces were trimmed in what appears (from the auction’s accompanying photos) to be a Kelly green thin line of soutache. The jersey is adorned with athletic felt lettering and numerals in the same color which. One might question the colors due to the USCG’s traditional blue and white scheme but it isn’t unusual, especially during WWII when textiles were in high demand for the war-effort. The second listing had a more conventionally-styled uniform set. The lightweight white cotton jersey was trimmed with a thin line of navy blue soutache with color-matched small, athletic felt block lettering spelling out C O A S T  G U A R D across the chest. On the back of the jersey is a single, large color-matched numeral. The trousers were a bit of a departure – while the material appeared to be the same as that of the jersey (save for the color – blue versus white), they lacked the continuation of the souatche theme (which, should have been at thin line of white on the trousers’ outer seam). The thick band of white was an inconsistency for the trousers as was a lack of any manufacturer’s labels.

This tale of two jerseys is one of extremes within the realm of realistic valuation and pricing on the parts of the sellers. The white and blue cotton uniform was on the low side of the normal price range (less than $100) while the white and green set was priced at $50 south of $1,000. Both uniforms possessed nothing in terms of provenance and only the white and blue set could be positively dated due to the presence of a manufacturer’s tag in the collar area. Sewn into the inside of the collar was the familiar GoldSmith Preferred Products tag that dates it between 1940 and 1945 (in 1946, the company began to transition toward the MacGregor brand, the name obtained from the prestigious sporting goods company, Crawford McGregor & Canby Co. which Goldsmith acquired in 1936). The other set bore no tags, leaving the approximate age to be determined by the design and cut of the uniform.

This beautiful 1941-45 U.S. Coast Guard jersey was one of only two that have come to market in a decade.

What is the difference between the terms “scarce” and “rare” when they are applied to vintage artifacts or collectibles? While many might consider the two terms to be subjective or even synonymous, they do bear different meanings. The seller of the white and green uniform added the adjective to “rare” in order to provide justification for the highly unrealistic auction listing price “Extremely rare, especially in its amazing condition, USCG baseball uniform.” The term, “rare” was used but not in the manner that was desired. The jersey is truly infrequently-occurring and uncommon in the marketplace. What the seller meant to say was that it was scarce and in exceedingly high demand.

scarce: Hard to find; absent or rare. (Websters: “deficient in quantity or number compared with the demand not plentiful or abundant”)

rare: Infrequently occurring; uncommon, (Websters: “marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal”)

However, the initial $950.00 asking price along with the current and greatly-reduced and still tremendously over-priced figure ($550.00) over a month later coupled with the caveat, “This is the last price reduction.  If it doesn’t sell for $550, I will try a different venue” has yet to generate the interest that would validate the “Extremely” qualifier.  While the uniform is decidedly rare, lacking provenance from a known ballplayer, it is merely vintage clothing and worth less than $100 on the market.

I turned my attention entirely towards the white and blue uniform set as it was solidly a wartime item. I set my snipe amount and waited for the the auction to close. The lone bidding competition was showing the minimum bid amount but I had to set my snipe for the amount that I was willing to pay and hope that the competition had a lower bid. Inside of the last 10 seconds of the auction, my bid was automatically placed which secured the win. The only question that I had at that point was whether or not the jersey could transit from one coast to the other in time to add it to the mobile museum display that coming weekend. I reached out to the seller (after completing the swift payment in hopes that it would be sent as soon as possible) regarding the upcoming showing and without any hesitation, shipped the uniform with priority.

Our 2019 Armed Forces Recognition Day public showing of the Chevrons and Diamonds collection

This year’s display had it all – uniforms represented from each branch and yet we still encountered a veteran who didn’t see their branch represented until we were able to direct their attention to the two naval aviation branch jerseys prominently displayed. Along with the other baseball militaria artifacts, the Coast Guard jersey was prominently displayed and several USCG veterans were amazed that such a vintage flannel existed. Most viewers of the exhibit had no idea that baseball was played by service members during the war or that professionals joined the ranks, leaving their careers either on hold or ended, completely when they joined.

After nearly 1,500 words, I can see that I have returned to ride yet again. My writer’s exhaustion is now clearly behind me and I am on my way, once again.

 

 

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