Before I begin this post, let me first provide a bit of a disclaimer. I would not characterize myself as an expert in military baseball. I have been acquiring a significant amount of information in the past 5-6 years that I have been more heavily focused on this particular genre of collecting.
With the scarcity of military baseball items that surface in online auctions, estate and garage sales, antique stores and from other collectors, I am left with very few options when it comes to building out a well-rounded collection. I now have several vintage uniforms and jerseys, a few gloves, a ball cap, dozens of photographs, a few pieces of ephemera, spikes and a (U.S. Navy softball) bat. Throughout my time collecting, I have been searching for the one item that one would imagine to be prevalent in a baseball collector’s cache. However, due to their seemingly non-existence, I do not own an authentic military baseball.
In the past few days, a fellow collector posted a question in one of the online discussion forums, where I am a member, regarding the veracity of a baseball in an eBay auction listing. The listing purports the baseball to be from the Special Services, U.S. Army, used during World War II. The collector who posted about the listing has obvious concerns about the veracity of the seller’s assertions. His concerns are absolutely warranted.
Reiterating my level of expertise, I do possess a certain measure of reason and the ability to observe. Besides being a collector, I also played the game as a kid, service member and civilian. I have held more baseballs in my hands than I could begin to count. I know what normal wear and tear looks like on a baseball. The scuffs, grass stains, bat imprints, dirt marks, etc. all present themselves on a ball in the same way with game use or just in throwing and catching between a couple guys. I have a bag with balls that were used during batting practice at my local AAA minor league ball park that I gathered from the stands and parking lot from when I moonlighted there in the early 1990s. Also, I have a collection of pristine signed baseballs along with a few other game-used balls that were signed by players (at the same stadium) in the 1960s and ‘70s. Furthermore, I have watched and bid on baseballs that had rock-solid provenance – game-used and autographed – that came from the collection of an umpire who officiated the championship games between the Army and Navy and between the American League and National League military players in Hawaii. There has been a smattering of other signed game-used balls that I have watched or bid on.
Considering my experience, I have a very solid comfort level in discernment and my ability to spot a ball that is anything but authentic. Considering my confidence, I know that I am lacking in many other facets of being able to authenticate baseballs and I have been taking steps to reinforce my knowledge through education. One source that has been invaluable is a treasure trove of knowledge, documentation, illustrations and photographs of baseballs produced and used by the major leagues, minor leagues, little leagues and even within the ranks of the military. As with any manufactured item, the manufacturer’s marks are a great tool for researching the item. With baseballs, one needs to pay attention to the manufacturer’s logos, word marks, trademarks and date (if present) in the imprinting on the ball. With game used balls, these marks can be difficult to discern but there is usually some portion of them visible with close inspection.
Regarding the auction in the question posed by my collector colleague. Certain aspects of the ball are quite glaring and should immediately cause concern for even a layman (like me). In this auction, the ball has an extremely dark caste that is very evenly distributed around the entire ball. The coloring bears no resemblance to any game used ball that I have seen. The ball has a very clear and crisp stamping of a large block lettered “U.S.” that shows no signs of wear – another oddity considering that the ball is being presented as game-used. Lastly, the high-gloss sheen present on all of the ball’s surfaces indicate that it has been varnished or shellacked. This practice was a common method for preservation of autographs on balls but, but today is a highly frowned-upon practice.
Other aspects one must consider:
- A lack of manufacturer’s marks
- Absence of bat marks or scuffs
- Low-quality photographs that do not show any close-in details of the ball
- The repeated auction listings for these balls spanning a half-decade indicating an endless supply of WWII baseballs.
There are several sellers attempting to cash in on collectors who lack experience and knowledge of these baseballs. As with any substantial purchase, research and knowledge are the best tools that one can use to save money. One other tool that people should rely upon is “gut instinct.” You have that for a reason. If you have a doubt at all, research to either allay or validate it. If you can do neither, let someone else waste their money. Wait for the ball that gives you a sense of authenticity. Ask the seller for provenance. Perform your due diligence and make sound decisions.
Now that I have provided you with a number of auctions that (in my opinion) are at worst fraudulent or simply misleading, I am sharing some listings of balls that I believe to be genuine (post WWII) military baseballs (although they are lacking official stampings on the balls).
As with the game, patience at the plate will serve you best. That fat and juicy-looking fastball might just break and fall out of the strike zone. If you’re swinging for the fences, you will strike out. These shady sellers are tossing garbage across the plate and you would be best served to take a walk to first (I have used far too many allegoric baseball references).
To demonstrate that I too had some thoughts as to the veracity of these “coffee scuffballs” and the idea that they were authentic, I am sharing an article that I wrote a few years ago, “Skimming” Your Way to Overpaying for Militaria in which I lent a measure of credibility to the seller “giscootterjoe” and his endless bag-o-balls. Since I wrote that piece in 2012 (republished, here in 2016), I have been watching this seller with his continuous sales of these balls.
I wrote this piece in hopes that my fellow collectors avoid spending their money on fakes. I want to be careful with regards to the sellers who have these listings that are, in my educated opinion, faked military baseballs. They may very well be victims of a fraudster, themselves and are merely eBay sellers trying to earn a living. However, the end result is the same. Trusting collectors are still purchasing fraudulent baseballs.
Buyer beware seems to be the most applicable measure of caution that I can provide to you.
Militaria enthusiasts have long enjoyed collecting embroidered insignia – patches – since they began to emerge on the uniforms of soldiers, sailors and marines and airmen. From the earliest times when embroidered rank began to be a part of the uniform, someone has collected them. By the Great War when unit insignia began to propagate onto the olive drab wool uniforms (at the war’s end), collectors on the homefront were awaiting to fill their collections with the dozens upon dozens of colorful patches.
I can imagine the young boy admiring his father’s old doughboy WWI uniform that he discovered tucked away in a trunk in the attic or perhaps even his father’s few spare (unused) unit insignia kept safely in a wooden box on the dresser. The young boy asks his father for one and dad lovingly agrees to hand one or two over to the interested son. The young son then shows the patches to his friend who also has a veteran father with a similar cache of insignia and a trade is made, igniting the popular aspect of the militaria hobby that continues to this day. It may just be my perception, but a seemingly smaller segment of patch collecting centers on patches that adorn professional baseball uniforms.
In the 19th century, baseball uniforms were sparse in adornments. Some bore no indication at all that would lend to their team names or home cities. Uniforms in the earliest days might even lack color. As the game matured, uniforms began to be trimmed with piping, pinstripes and adorned with soutache (braiding encircling the collar, sleeves and the edged of the button-faces). Player numbers made an experimental appearance on the 1916 Cleveland uniforms (and again with the 1923 Cardinals) but wouldn’t begin to be widely adopted until the 1929 Yankees. Numbers on the uniform fronts started in 1953 with Brooklyn and though other teams have dabbled in this practice, only the Dodgers have remained consistent (the smaller red numerals remain on the lower right, at present).
Another uniform decoration that has become common-place with the modern game; a practice that is widely accepted as a means to commemorate special occasions, significant events and anniversaries is the affixing of patches to the jersey sleeves. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first appearance of a commemorative patch first appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century, “Uniform patches have long been used to commemorate or promote special events. The first such patch used on a major league uniform was worn by the 1907 Chicago White Sox on the left sleeve of their road jerseys. The circular patch commemorated the club’s 1906 World Series victory over their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Cubs.”
When the United States was drawn into WWI, Major League Baseball answered the call. Some teams began to visibly demonstrate their patriotism and support of the citizens (that were being called up to serve) by decorating their players’ uniforms with embroidered emblems stitched to their jerseys. Brooklyn and Chicago of the National League along with Chicago, Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland of the American League participated in 1917-18 with patriotic sleeve patches that were attached either to the chest or sleeves. With the start of the 1925 season, the National League set out to commemorate their 50th season with a patch to be worn by all of the NL’s teams. In 1930, both of Boston’s major league teams wore sleeve patches to pay tribute to the city’s 300th anniversary. In the season preceding when New York City would play host to the 1939 World’s Fair, all of the city’s teams (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) wore a patch to recognize the event throughout that year. To mark the sport’s alleged centennial, all major and many minor league clubs wore a patch to mark the occasion.
With the United States fully immersed in World War II and her citizens weary from the want of more than a decade of a depressed economy, promoting healthy living. In a period news article, an officer of the Ft. Des Moines WAAC training center emphasized the role of each American, “you’re big job now,“ said the WAAC lieutenant, “is to train yourself to be of worth to the government; first, train yourself physically to withstand the terrific strain which we must all endure; second, you must be mentally stable.” This was the message of the Hale American Health program that was promoted by many sports organizations, most-notably throughout all levels of baseball. Beginning in 1942, the HALE American “Health” shield patch began showing up on all major and many minor league teams’ uniforms. As the war progressed, the “HEALTH” lettering was dropped in favor of red and white stripes.
The Health patch found its way onto military team uniforms during the war in different variations. In researching photographs, most of the patches adorning military baseball team uniforms were with the red and white vertical stripes. One variation that I have, as yet, been unsuccessful in locating a real-world example of has “U.S.” superimposed over the vertical stripes.
The practice of patching military baseball uniforms continues much in the same way today as with professional teams. Collectors need to be savvy to discern what is authentic or reproduction or to distinguish the difference between military and civilian baseball patches. Photographic evidence helps to provide some measure of provenance (photo albums from the veteran who wore the original baseball uniform; the source of the patch) and should be paired with the patch, if at all possible. Unlike military uniform adornments, patches from service uniforms are rather scarce. Though I have been searching, I have only successfully landed one such patch for my collection.
In an upcoming article that I am presently researching, I will be focusing on another armed force patch that was worn on a handful of major league uniforms by veterans who returned from WWII. Stay tuned.
- A Look at Some Old HALE America Patches
- Uni-Watch: Best Sleeve Patches in Baseball History
- Baseball Hall of Fame – Dressed to the Nines: 1942
- Baseball Hall of Fame – Dressed to the Nines: Patches
- MLB Health Patch
- Baseball Almanac: Uniforms
- Collecting Military Patches
This blog has been dominated by some fairly traditional examples of baseball memorabilia – jerseys and uniforms, gloves, scorecards and vintage photography (depicting baseball) – but I keep my eyes open for the unusual and unique items that would serve to tell a more complete story of the game and its inseparable connection to the U.S. armed forces.
While the war was being fought on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific islands and upon the high seas, the American home-front was a hotbed of activity as citizens worked tirelessly and in unity to keep the troops equipped with the hardware and ammunition to take the fight to the enemy. With President Roosevelt’s January 15, 1942 “Green Light” letter to Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the game would continue despite the commencement of the players’ exodus to enlist in order to serve. Baseball equipment manufacturers got in the war-game in manufacturing for the effort – some making equipment to fight the war (such as Hillerich and Bradsby’s manufacturing of M1 Rifle stocks) while continuing to outfit players of the game. In addition to the supporting the domestic professional, collegiate, recreational and scholastic leagues, manufacturers supplied the troops with baseball equipment to use during periods of R&R and in conjunction with their training and fitness.
With so many Americans taking leave of their employment in order to take up arms against the enemy, factories were scrambling to fill the shortages of workers as they ramped up from their slow, depression-era production into full-scale war manufacturing. The president wrote that Major League Baseball must continue because workers, “ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.” In addition to being able to attend professional ballgames, recreational leagues were formed among the manufactures and some companies even fielded teams that competed at the semi-professional level. One such team was the Boeing Bombers of Wichita, Kansas.
Beginning in 1942, the Boeing plant in Wichita, KS began construction (under a sub-contract from Cessna) of 750 model CG-4 towed gliders in preparation for a future invasion of Europe. Around the same time, the Boeing company of Wichita formed the Boeing Bombers team that competed as semi-professionals and was comprised of solid athletes who also worked for the company. In 1942, the team won the National Semipro Championship defeating the Waco Dons in 12 innings by a score of 2-1. Boeing would continue to field the Bombers into the 1950s. One of the Boeing team alum, Daryl Spencer, went on to play for the New York and San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and finished his career in 1963 with the Cincinnati Reds.
While reviewing the results of one of my online auction searches, I saw a listing for a sterling silver medallion that was associated with Republic Aviation and prominently featured a baseball player on the face along with what appeared to be a two-digit year (54). The medallion is approximately two inches in diameter and features a machined hole for a suspension. Across the bottom is a set of USAAC/USAAF/USAF pilot’s wings with the Republic Aviation superimposed over the center. I performed some cursory, fruitless searches for anything related to the now-defunct aircraft manufacture having fielded a baseball club, perhaps similar to the aforementioned Boeing Bombers. I decided that being in possession of the artifact was far more interesting then to let it pass by and I could conduct the research once I have the medallion in hand.
After the package arrived, I took out my loupe for a close-up examination hoping to find any detail that might help with research. Other than what was visible in the seller’s photographs, there was nothing hidden. I decided to spend some time researching Republic Aviation’s history to no avail regarding anything related to a baseball team. I did manage to find Clarence Wilber “Buster” Bray, a four-game-centerfielder (with 11 at-bats and an .091 batting average) for the 1941 Boston Braves who spent part of the war working for Republic Aviation before serving, himself.
Republic was absorbed into Fairchild in 1965. I found a June 2013 article in Air & Space (Smithsonian) Magazine by Joshua Stoff (curator for the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, in which he describes having peek into the archives of Republic Aviation in 1987 just prior to the Fairchild management’s decision to destroy every item. From that article, I was led to the American Airpower Museum’s website on which I submitted a request for assistance in researching baseball at Republic Aviation.
Within a day, Jacky Clyman responded and directed me to Ken Neubeck, president of the Long Island Republic Airport Historical Society (LIRAHS). Mr. Neubuck was a former employee of Fairchild Republic and recalled that the company, “fielded a team for several years, up to the point when the company closed in 1987.” This was the first positive news that I had received since I began my investigation. Ken asked, “Is there any particular significance for the 1954 team?”
I informed Ken about the medallion and that I was seeking anything at all regarding a company team, what their record was for that season and why they might have been given the medallion. I also sent him an image to give him a visual reference.
The next day, Mr. Neubeck replied that he had spent time searching through his collection of Republic Aviation’s newspapers from 1954 in search of anything pertaining to baseball. He stated, “Unfortunately, your medallion makes no reference to whether it is softball or baseball,” and provided me with two images of the newspapers for me to review. The articles mentioned the Republic Aviation Corporation’s (RAC) sponsorship of a local little league baseball team which had some on-field success as well as an RAC varsity intramural softball team. Ken was unsuccessful in uncovering anything relating to a baseball team and then stated, “I have to believe that it must be a RAC varsity softball participation medallion to the softball team members.”
As I was writing this article, I did discover an older auction listing of the same medallion dated, 1949 that provided no history or provenance – another dead end. While there is nothing conclusive or definitive in what was provided to me by Ken Nuebeck, it is a safe to agree with his assessment.
The medallion, if nothing else, displays nicely with my baseball collection and has a direct link to military history with Republic’s rich heritage of warplane manufacturing.
Now that all of the Major League teams have held their home-opening games and festivities and the 2017 season is well underway, the return of the so-called ant-racism protests against certain symbolism and iconography (that is represented within sports – baseball in particular) is infiltrating the enjoyable aspects of the game. There is a smattering of protests that occur annually (sometimes persisting throughout entire sports seasons) by small groups of people who find ways to be offended by the names and logos that represent professional teams. In the National Hockey League, the “offensive” teams are the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Eskimos. The National Football League has the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. Major League Baseball’s hot-button teams are the Atlanta Braves and the 2016 American League Champion Cleveland Indians.
Opening day in Cleveland last week, fans were subjected to a handful of people of various ethnic origins (including American Indian) who assailed (verbally and physically) with their disdain for both the team name and logo. Being a traditionalist, changes to team names and logos – especially historic ones – driven by contrived offense, stir up negative reactions within me. To avoid the tiresome debate about the honoring origins of the team name and logo (and the detractors who persist in suggesting both to be racist despite the history surrounding the Cleveland players – such as Louis Sockalexis and Al Bender), I will try, instead to highlight an aspect of baseball history that has a military connection.
When I talk to my children about history and how racism is an ill that has existed within man almost since creation, I try to take them away from present-day and infuse context into the discussion. It is far too easy to condemn people, when looking back from present-day and current situations, as racists solely based upon behaviors, activities or geography. The written word from other eras is often mistaken as racist due to the lost meanings of terms and phrases as they existed in time. Just listening to my kids interact with their friends can lead to a wealth of misinterpretation as their language lexicon is far different from that of my generation. Rather than to open ourselves up and apply understanding of that time, it is far simpler to judge a person for their skin color and gender and demonize them accordingly. How ironic that we employ racism as a means to eradicate racism. It can only be seen as a shifting of (perceived) power rather than seeking equality and balance and a harmonious society.
I recently began watching Ken Burns’ fantastic Public Broadcasting series, Baseball which I haven’t seen since the series originally aired in the early 1990s. As I was watching the first episode, Inning One: Our Game which covered the origins of the game from the mid-19th century leading up to the 1880s, a small snippet of the show covered a game that took place at a western fort in Oklahoma. What caught my attention was the mention of a baseball game that was played between the Army and an Apache team (who were considered prisoners of war and were detained at the fort) who featured a former warrior and chief of note, the great Geronimo. As I have written previously, the game transcends all bounds; time, generations, geography and even former combatant foes.
When considering the ramifications former adversaries from two vastly different cultures engaging in a game, it is hard to imagine that there was anything but bitter feelings between the two opposing sides. Racially-charged epithets could have been exchanged between the two teams and it is possible that neither was aware of what was said due to the language barriers. In the years following this game and the wider adoption of the game within the American Indian communities, baseball stars would rise from the reservations and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Indian children were taken from their families to educate and assimilate them to Western culture). As Indians made their way onto professional rosters and they proved successful and even garnered fan-followings, depictions of the players and their on-field actions could be perceived (by today’s standards) as derogatory (as noted by Royse Parr in his article, American Indians in Major League Baseball: Now and Then). Not to diminish the Parr’s assertions that Indian players detested nicknames of “chief” which detracted from the term’s cultural significance and belied the ignorance of the people who casually expressed them. These were the times and society has progressed since those days.
When looking at the root issue of the protests at Progressive Field, we must also acknowledge that there is a significant portion (90%) of the American Indian community who do not find the team names, mascots and logos offensive, according to the 1994 Annenberg Public Policy Center and 2016 Washington Post polls. In a span of nearly a decade and a half, nothing has changed in terms of finding the names offensive. In fact, outside of the handful of people in Cleveland, there are several Indian groups and tribes who support the allegedly derogative team names.
American Indians have been substantial contributors to the game almost since they were introduced to it. Considering the likes of the modern game’s early stars:
- Louis Sockalexis – a Penobscot from Maine who played three seasons for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League (who would eventually, in a very round-about way transition to become the present-day Cleveland Indians who were so-named to honor the team’s former star from Maine).
- Al Bender – an Ojibwe (Chippewa) from Minnesota, Bender was a favorite of his Philadelphia Athletics manager, Connie Mack. In one World Series, he pitched three shutouts and would retire with a mere 2.46 earned run average. He would spend his post-playing days as a coach in the minors and major leagues and even had a stint as the Naval Academy’s manager, posting a 42-34-2 record with the Midshipmen. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, a year before his death.
- Zack Wheat – a Cherokee outfielder who starred for Brooklyn for 18 seasons in the early 1900s and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1959. He still holds many of the Dodgers team batting records.
- Jim Thorpe – a Sac/Fox from Oklahoma and direct descendant of the warrior Black Hawk who played for the Giants, Reds and Braves from 1913-19. Thorpe also played in the NFL and won gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon.
- Rudy York – a Cherokee who as a rookie catcher with the Detroit Tigers in 1937 broke Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in a month, hitting 18 in August, and also drove in 49 runs that month to break Lou Gehrig’s record by one. York finished his career with 277 home runs, 1,152 RBIs and a .275 batting average.
- Pepper Martin – an Osage who starred at third base and the outfield for the Cardinals’ famed “Gashouse Gang” of the 1930s, and in 1931 was named the first Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
- Allie Reynolds – a hard-throwing right-hander of Creek descent who went 131-60 in eight years with the Yankees and finished his 13-year major league career in 1954 with a 182-107 record.
As an American with Cherokee ancestry, I am not offended in the slightest by the names. I prefer to consider that the Native American men who played the game during Baseball’s terrible decades of exclusionary policies (against African Americans) ultimately served to pave the way for societal change. In the process of introducing baseball to Indians on reservations and with re-education centers (like Carlisle), the game worked against the establishment to dismantle systematic prejudices. I can’t help but think that Geronimo and his fellow Apache ballplayers from those Fort Sill games are smiling with the progress they brought to this land.
- Throwing Fort Sill Baseball back to the 19th Century
- Historic Baseball Game set at Fort Sill
- American Indian Baseball Players – Baseball Almanac
- Native Americans significant in baseball history
- Nebraska Indians baseball team played in Evergreen, Alabama in 1914
One visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY will pique even an average fan’s interest in viewing or handling game-used equipment. My first visit to Cooperstown was an eye-opening experience as I took my time, completely absorbing each exhibit and the artifacts that were displayed as they told the stories of the players, teams, cities and record exploits on the field. To see a uniform on display that was worn by a legendary player from the early years of the game gives a sense of connection to the game, bridging a decades-long gap the moment it comes into view.
I spent an entire day at the Hall of Fame museum; countless hours standing and staring as I viewed the artifacts and the associated photographs of the players. Though I already owned a few ball contemporary caps that I would occasionally wear, after seeing the vintage baseball uniforms and caps, I wanted to have something of my own (yes, I am a bit of a sucker) which led me to purchase a pseudo replica of an old Brooklyn Dodgers cap. After leaving the museum, I strolled through a few of the sports collectible shops along Main Street that were in close proximity of The Hall and viewed a few vintage game-worn jerseys and autographed balls that were listed for sale (albeit out of range of my budget). Ever since that trip and the subsequent visit a few years later with my wife, I have been fascinated by the old uniforms and jerseys of the game.
Better than simply viewing a vintage baseball jersey is to actually touch and hold and manipulate one. Most of my game-worn jerseys show signs of wear and use: dirt stains from sliding into base or sweat stains from the player’s repeated game-use (yes, this isn’t the most appealing visual) which conveys their usage. A well-known collector of game-used jerseys, Stephen Wong, has jerseys that were worn by legendary and notable players and has authored two books that feature selections from his collection. In his first work, Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections, Wong demonstrates how he employs period and player-specific photography as an effective tool as a means to authenticate a jersey by verifying unique traits (alignment of pinstripes, lettering, wear, repairs, etc.) that can be cross-referenced. In his second book, Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments, Mr. Wong showcases his jerseys (or full uniforms) along with photographs of the player wearing the same or similar garment. The pairing of vintage photos alongside the visually stunning photography of the uniforms as they currently exist is lends to the connection. As an aside, both books are a must for baseball memorabilia collectors and fans of the game from its golden era.
It is far easier to locate images of professional ballplayers wearing their uniforms than it is to obtain photos of military ballplayers. Of the uniforms that I own, the road gray (and red trim/lettering) Marines uniform is the only one that I have found representative photographs of (unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to identify an individual jersey and the Marines appear to have supplied a considerable quantity to their men in theater). As for the other four jerseys, no photographs have yet to surface that would visually connect them to game use or ball players wearing them.
While I failed earlier this year to acquire the (possible) Nisei relocation camp uniform, my most recent baseball uniform acquisition occurred nearly a year ago. Listed on eBay, the road gray jersey and trousers (with red rayon soutache and flannel lettering) that once belonged to a soldier from the 399th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Powderhorns” due to their distinctive unit insignia), 100th Infantry Division. Across the front of the jersey in red wool flannel block letters, “399 INF” with the numerals to the right and the letters to the left of the placard. For nearly a year, I have been watching for any photographs to surface that might show this uniform in action. Many of the photos that I have purchased over the years depict games being played late in the war in the European Theater but most of the players’ uniforms lack any unit identification markings.
Further inspection of the uniform fails to reveal anything that would identify the veteran or even the manufacturer. The tag in the collar of the jersey was printed in ink with any manufacturer’s markings, if they were ever present are long-since worn off or faded into obscurity. What is visible in the tag in d simple block lettering, “STYLE” and “union made” and a very faint place for the veteran to print his name. I have been diligently searching other jersey listings in an attempt to match the label to possibly identify the manufacturer. One clue that might hint at a manufacturer are the buttons. According to Stephen Wong’s research, the two-hole, convex buttons (that are present on my uniform) are unique to jerseys manufactured by Goldsmith MacGregor.
“Button whose surface curves outward. These buttons are typically associated with Cincinnati uniform manufacturer P. Goldsmith & Sons, later MacGregor-Goldsmith and later MacGregor. Because of their unique style, convex buttons in particular the two-hole variant, can be used to identify a jersey’s manufacturer in period images.” – excerpt from Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments
As far as accurately dating the uniform, the unit lettering and the design of the jersey and trousers indicate that it can only be from World War II. Thought the 399th was formed and officially activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in November of 1942 and the boys deployed to the European Theater of Operations in October of 1944 and would serve until the war’s end.
The 399th Infantry Regiment History
- 100th Infantry Division WWII History (Parent Division of the 399th)
- 399th In Action – Narrative of WWII Combat service
Considering the unit’s war service and deactivation in January of 1946, I have no doubts that this baseball uniform most-likely dates from 1943 to 1945 and was predominately used while the 399th was in overseas service.
I hold out hope that I will be able to locate a photograph showing servicemen from the 399th playing a game while wearing their uniforms if only to have the visual connection.
I am a bit of a jersey-nut. If I tallied all of my wearable sports jerseys, I think they would number somewhere in the 40s. The majority of that number consists of baseball jerseys – the most significant percentage of those are flannel reproductions of vintage minor league, negro league and WWII military baseball versions. Since I started to actively pursue militaria (beyond what I have inherited from family members), I have searched for and acquired a few baseball jerseys (three of which also included the accompanying trousers). For my military baseball collecting, landing jerseys (especially those with provenance) is the ultimate in my collecting quest.
I will be focusing some of my future posts on the vintage uniforms that are currently in my collection. Though a few of them are in need of more thorough research (in order to determine when and where they might have been used), forcing myself to write about them and share them on this blog will compel me to press further into locating any sort of data that can help me to connect them more specifically with history. In previous posts, I have documented some of the military baseball uniforms that eluded my pursuits (Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform, Obscure Military Baseball Jerseys – Rare Finds or Fabrications)) though in writing about them, helps me to preserve a record of what exists in order to have a resource for analysis.
I have seen several vintage baseball uniforms (specifically jerseys) that have been listed at auction that would be fantastic to add to my collection but they don’t truly fit in with my narrow military focus. Last year, one uniform came to market that I really wanted to pull the trigger on as it was very closely aligned with my interest but still fell outside of the military. It went unsold and was relisted three times with price reductions that were inching the grouping closer to a reasonable price range for me and had it gotten a bit lower (before it sold), this article would be covering my sixth vintage jersey (uniform) rather than another one that got away.
There are volumes upon volumes of books and personal narratives of one of our nation’s darkest actions ever perpetrated upon its own citizenry; Executive Order 9066 which called for and executed the Internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Internment of Italian Americans was signed by Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order authorized the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort and was able to accomplish this by withholding due process to those subjected to the terms of the order. On the United States’ West Coast, all Americans of Japanese Ancestry were removed from their businesses, property and homes (many, forcibly) and ultimately relocated to large camps that were hastily created by the War Department within the interior of the United States (away from the sensitive military areas) and greatly lacked in necessities and most comforts afforded to even the poorest of the poor.
To counter the effects of the isolation and monotony of incarcerated camp-life, these Americans engaged in as many normal activities as possible. Baseball teams were formed and, in some of the camps, substantial leagues were formed (at the Gila camp, a 32-team league) and competed against each other. One ball-playing internee (George Omachi) noted, ”It was demeaning and humiliating to be incarcerated in your own country. Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable.” I can’t help but consider that many of the young military-aged men who played on the camp teams opted to also serve their country, leaving behind their imprisoned families to serve the nation that stripped them of their Constitutionally-protected rights.
In terms of collecting and possessing a uniform worn by a camp ballplayer who could have also served in the armed forces, it would have been a nice addition to accompany my other items. Further justification that the uniform bears military historical significance is that the camps were all administered and secured by the U.S. military (predominantly, the U.S. Army). This particular uniform may also have possessed other baseball historical importance. Close examination of the jersey shows ghosting of lettering on the chest that could indicate prior use before it found its way into the camp. Accompanying the uniform was an autographed team photo showing players wearing (what appears to be) the same jersey and trousers as was listed in the online auction. The listing description didn’t provide anything in terms of provenance or any details surrounding how the seller obtained the items or who they came from. Had the auction gone unsold and relisted at yet a lower price, I would have pressed for information to help support the claims made within the listing.
What is challenging about the uniform is the lack of readily available analytics to validate the claims made by the uniform’s seller. In researching the uniform, one can only utilize what is visible within the auction photographs while placing very little weight upon the descriptive text. What can be seen:
- The material and construction of the uniform (wool flannel)
- Ghosting of lettering across the chest (though what the lettering was is indistinguishable in the photos)
- The uniform has matching manufacturer’s tags in the collar of the jersey and inside the trousers (Powers Athletic Wear; Waterloo, Iowa)
- The uniform’s design and appointments (the soutache on the jersey front and trouser legs)
- The matching cap design: six panel with leather sweatband and soft bill
Without a database of labels for the manufacturer, specifically dating the uniform inside of a broad range (1940s to 1960s) is difficult. At the very least, the uniform was made after the 1930s (comparing it to other known uniform designs within these eras). I unsuccessfully scoured the internet for anything related to Nisei baseball in search of photographs that could support the seller’s claims. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount to wade through but nothing like this uniform could be located.
The seller claimed that the uniform was previously used by a minor-league team, stating “It was a uniform from the California Fresno Bees/Minor League team.” He or she mentioned the (then) common practice of handing down old uniforms, often removing the names and number prior to giving them to the new team(s). There are no records that identify the name or location of a professional team fitting the one provided within the auction details serving to increase doubt as to the veracity of the listing as presented. Without the provided photo, there is virtually nothing to corroborate the story that this uniform had been used by a Nisei team, however the photo is very convincing.
Though I was unconvinced, had the price been a bit lower, I probably would have pulled the trigger and made the purchase. I remain mixed, however that I would be celebrating or left disappointed with the purchase of an overpriced vintage adult baseball uniform that lacked the purported history. I am genuinely hopeful that the person who ended up buying the uniform was able to fully research and validate that it truly is what it was listed as.
Nisei Military and Baseball Resources:
- Baseball behind barbed wire
- A Century of Japanese American Baseball
- Nisei Baseball History Project
- Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice: Goro Kashiwaeda
- Nikkei Veterans Honor Roll
There exists the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and the National Museums of the United States Navy (in Washington, DC), the National Museum of the USAF (in Dayton, OH) and the National Museum of the Marine Corps (in Triangle, VA). Someday, there will also be the National Museum of the United States Army (proposed to be constructed in Washington, DC). However, my Military Baseball Hall of Fame will only ever exist within the confines of the online world.
The Inaugural Class of 2017:
Recalling the induction ceremonies at Cooperstown, NY for the class of 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame (HoF) as I watched the punctuation marks placed firmly at the culmination of two of the game’s greats; both of whom I followed with considerably focused interest from before they waved lumber at their first professionally pitched baseball.
- I recalled the 1988 draft when the Dodgers selected a community college first baseman with the last pick of 62nd Mike Piazza was the last player selected – the 1,390th overall – which meant that he was, to sports writers and fans alike, absolutely irrelevant in terms of having a chance at succeeding at any level of professional baseball. However, when the Dodgers expanded their rosters towards the end of the 1992 season, the converted (to) catcher had been proving his relevancy with hard work in his progression through organization’s minor league system. He finished that season by appearing in 21 games and hitting his first of 427 career home runs (setting the record at 396 for a catcher). He never returned to the minor leagues (other than for a few injury-rehabilitation appearances), retiring after 16 major league seasons in 2007. It took four trips to the HoF balloting to finally garner 83% of the votes as his career came full circle, 29 years after being drafted dead-last as his bronze bust has been placed among the game’s greatest players.
- Opposite to the baseball draft “rags-to-riches” story of Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr. was drafted in the previous season by the Seattle Mariners with the first overall pick of the 1987 baseball amateur draft. While “Junior” was somewhat considered baseball royalty due to his father’s long-standing major league career, he was taken first solely on his own merits, accomplishments and sheer talent. From the moment that he started in the minor leagues, he established himself both in the outfield and at the plate as he made quick work of his 129-game career in the lower levels of professional ball (with three teams from 1987-1988). From the moment he arrived in Seattle, he could seemingly do no wrong (unless he crashed into an outfield wall and shattered his wrist) though I remember there was a groundswell of fans who vocalized their thoughts that he didn’t play hard enough. Griffey was so talented and worked tirelessly and did so behind the scenes. Junior’s efforts only appeared to look easy as the toll from going all-out wore him down in his latter years of his career with Cincinnati and Chicago before he returned home to finish his career with the Mariners. Closing the book on Ken Griffey Jr.’s career, he garnered the highest percentage of HoF votes for all inductees, earning 99.3% of the vote (only one sports writer did not cast a vote for his election), just shy of the first-ever unanimous selection.
Both of these men were absolutely enjoyable to watch throughout their careers and being an adult as they were just starting out leaves me with very detailed memories and the ability to contextualize them and compare them against my childhood favorites and those who preceded these two into the Hall. As an aging veteran and one who is captivated by military history – specifically, U.S. Navy history – I can’t help but consider the legendary men (and women) who wore the uniform and shaped our nation’s history while doing so. In combining the game and naval historical figures, I am able to assemble a bit of a Navy Hall of Fame of Annapolis midshipmen who plied their wares on the diamond with their arms, gloves and bats.
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is filled with the elite of the elite who played the game; their selection into this fraternity (while elected by either sports writers or HoF Eras Committee members) is predicated upon several tangible and theoretical criteria along with the immeasurable impact they had for the team’s success or the advancement of the game. To determine the legends of the Navy, it is both easier and more difficult to determine. One could suggest such aspects as length of career, rank achieved, technological or operational innovation, awards and decorations bestowed or conduct under fire or in battle. For this fan of history, it is a combination of all the above that sets this Military Baseball Hall of Fame fraternity apart from the others. For the baseball fan in me, I will look at this fraternity to see which of these men took to the baseball diamond before they embarked upon their legendary careers in the Navy.
For the non-military fans (i.e. baseball aficionados) who read my blog, I will provide you with some resources to help you understand my thinking. In terms of the awards and decorations earned by my HoF-list members, I will focus on the top three valor medals (since my initial selections are all Navy, they are the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star). As far as rank achieved, I will limit the lowest rank to that of captain (unless the player was awarded a qualifying valor medal) and for this article, I will focus on Naval Academy graduates (which also include officers who served in the U.S. Marine Corps). When I researched the Admiral Fenno baseball medal that I acquired last fall, I found my eyes wandering throughout the pages of the Naval Academy’s yearbook, The Lucky Bag, taking note of the names and faces that were present on the various baseball teams each year (along with Fenno) for a veritable who’s who listed on the rosters.
- Admiral Richmond K. Turner (USNA 1908) – Navy Cross
- Midshipman Turner was the manager of the 1908 Annapolis club. Having to replace seven vacancies from the 1907 team’s starting roster, he managed to field a competitive team that finished with a 12-6-2 record. Unfortunately, the Cadets of West Point took the rivalry game, 6-5 at the culmination of the season.
- Admiral Turner was responsible in planning and executing the initial landings (of the Marines) on the Solomon Islands (Tulagi, Gavutu–Tanambogo and Guadalcanal). Though some could argue as to the success of the initial invasions of these islands (the Navy suffered its worst surface engagement defeat in its entire history during the Battle of Savo Island, 8-9 August 1942), the Marines were successfully landed. Though entirely unsupported once the remainder of the naval vessels evacuated, the Marines’ tenacity and will helped them to advance and secure these islands helping to establish a foothold in the Solomons ultimately stopping the Japanese advancement to Australia and pushing the enemy out of the islands, entirely.
- Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan (USNA 1911) Medal of Honor
- At the beginning of his final season on the Academy ballclub, midshipman Callaghan switched from his natural position at first base to take over as the backstop. Dan would finish his stellar season behind the plate, earning his letter while the team concluded with a disappointing 7-9-1 record.
- As commander of Task Group 67.4 aboard his flagship, USS San Francisco (CA-38), the ship he previously commanded, Rear Admiral Callaghan led his group into an engagement with Japanese Admiral Hiroaki Abe’s force on the night of 13 November 1942 in what would be known as the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Callaghan’s forces, while sustaining heavy damage, prevented Abe’s ships from reaching their intended target. Unfortunately, Callaghan himself would be lost when a Japanese shell exploded on the bridge, killing almost the entire command staff off the ship.
- Admiral Joseph J. “Jocko” Clark (USNA 1917) – Navy Cross, Silver Star
- Midshipman Clark’s athletic prowess in the naval academy (his baseball career) resonated throughout his time as an officer in the Navy. He would organize his ships’ teams and foster competition. During Captain Clark command of the USS Yorktown as he was getting his ship and crew prepared for battle, his navigator recommended that Clark read author Frank G. Graham’s book, The New York Yankees: An Informal History. No doubt, influenced by their nine World Series championships, Clark’s favorite team was the Yankees, he drew inspiration from Graham’s work, “That’s the way to do it! The way the New York Yankees do it: teamwork! They watch for every angle and fight for every inch. This is the way we’ll run this ship! This is the way we’ll run the war!” Jocko made the book required reading for all hands aboard the ship, including the air wing personnel and pilots.
- As Marines were battling for control of Saipan during the summer of 1944, Admiral Clark was taking control of the air and sea lanes surrounding the Bonin Islands. He led his task force into strongly-held enemy waters in pursuit of a convoy heading for the Japanese home islands, intercepting and destroying several of their precious cargo ships, destroyer escorts and a destroyer. His carrier aircraft also located another destroyer and several patrol vessels and eradicated enemy aircraft, earning him recognition for his acting upon intelligence, devising and executing the attack.
- Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (USNA 1925) – Navy Cross (3), Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star
- Midshipman Frank Fenno’s baseball career at Annapolis was two-fold. Not only was he a prolific hitter, achieving a seasons’ best .410 average, he returned in the early 1930s to serve as the team’s manager, continuing his lifelong passion for the game. There was talk among his fellow midshipmen that had he not pursue a career in the navy, he might have donned spikes and found success at the major-league level of play. Perhaps LTJG Fenno was heavily influenced by the arrival (during his 3rd year) of Connie Mack’s retired star pitcher, Albert “Chief” Bender as the team’s manager during his playing days which prompted the young naval officer to assume the same leadership role of the team.
- Over the course of Rear Admiral Fenno’s career as a submarine commander, he would see significant success in sinking and disrupting Japanese shipping and preventing more than twenty tons of gold and silver as well as sensitive diplomatic and national security documents from the besieged Philippine Islands after heroically delivering ammunition to the defenders of Corregidor.
- Rear Admiral Maxwell Leslie (USNA 1926) Navy Cross
- Midshipman Leslie anchored the 9-8 academy team’s outfield from the left side of the diamond. Not only was he a good hitter but he was clutch in sacrificing with his bat. Leslie’s last three seasons at Annapolis were under the tutelage of Hall of Fame pitcher, Chief Bender’s entire tenure as the team’s new manager.
- (Then) LCDR Leslie led his squadron of SBD Dauntless dive bombers (from VB-3, USS Yorktown) as they successfully attacked the Japanese carriers during the Midway battle. Leslie’s own SBD had accidentally released his bomb en route due to a faulty arming switch inside the bomber. He led the attack without a weapon, absorbing the onslaught of Japanese anti-aircraft fire to ensure that the other members of his squadron would have better chances in placing their ordnance on target.
With these five ball-playing heroes, I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the men who played the game during their military academic years following their prowess between the foul lines by serving valorously in the face of the enemy. Unlike their major league and Cooperstown counterparts, these men are seldom held up as heroes nor are their exploits compared to present day service members (and rightfully so). I would like to spend time researching the USNA’s newspaper archives (if I could ever gain access) to read of each of these men’s on-field records and provide some measure of an accounting of their baseball careers to accompany their military heroic deeds.
My collection of Naval Academy baseball memorabilia consists of three items:
- A scorecard from the 1916 baseball season that features “Jocko” Clark on the roster (and pictured within the team photograph)
- The aforementioned medal for the highest batting average for Frank W. Fenno
- A Naval academy varsity “N” letter for baseball from 1944 (it accompanied a 1944 Lucky Bag book that sold in a separate auction).
Adding the Admiral Fenno medal to my collection increased my inventory of Annapolis baseball items by one third which prompted me to pen this article. In retrospect, I wish I had pursued the book that had been part of a group but at the time, the separate auction price exceeded what I could afford. At least two of the pieces in my collection have ties to my inaugural “military baseball hall of fame” class.
*Historic baseball-related photos are courtesy of their respective year’s Lucky Bag class annuals. The profile images of the inductees are courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
When I began my research for my lone World War II vintage U.S. Navy service glove, I inadvertently discovered an obituary for a man who passed away in 2002. In quickly reading the article, I noticed that he had a moniker, “the Glove Doctor” and I was interested in learning more about him as he was also mentioned as the glove designer for the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, a role (along with the moniker) he inherited from his father, Harry Latina. In my article about Elmer Riddle and his signature glove, I focused on the aspect that though the pitcher never served in the armed forces, gloves bearing his name saw service across the globe throughout both theaters of combat operations.
To most non-ballplayers and non-collectors, a baseball glove is nothing more than a functional tool constructed of animal skin that is intended to assist the baseball player in receiving the (seemingly) rock-hard baseball from its flight having been batted or thrown. The soft leather and padding provide the fielder with more surface area for sure-handed catches and insulation to reduce pain from the impact of the fast-moving orb into their hand. It is purely a fundamentally functional object. However, to the ball player and collector, the glove has vastly more significance.
In the book, For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All, Stefan Fatsis wrote in his essay, My Glove: A Biography,“ that he had wanted to “write about my glove for years. Not only is it the single most personal object that I own – the one thing that I would be devastated to lose – it is my last, best connection to the baseball that defined my life as a kid. Not just playing the game incessantly, but being a crazy fan of it, too. My glove is a reminder that the innocence and thrill that made baseball so great and so important still exist in this thirty-year-old hunk of leather.” The glove is the long-lasting personal interface between the individual and the game. One might argue that the same could be said of other equipment; bats, uniforms, spikes or even the ball itself; all of these items are either subject to wear or obsolescence during a season or even within a single game. A ballplayer’s glove will last for an entire career. In holding my own glove (that I have used since I was an adolescent) or my WWII vintage Elmer Riddle, I never once thought of the person who invested his time and expertise into the design or the significance of the imprinted patent numbers that can be found on many of them.
With minimal research effort, one can easily see how Harry B. Latina had an incredible impact on the game beginning with his work immediately following World War I. According to The Fascinating History Of The Baseball Glove, “Rawlings came to the forefront of glove manufacturing in 1919, when St. Louis (Cardinals) pitcher Bill Doak went to the company with the idea of putting a web between the thumb and index finger. Known as the Bill Doak glove, it transformed the way a baseball glove was viewed: no longer as a means of protection, but as a tool.” The primary person at Rawlings who worked with Doak was Harry “The Glove Doctor” Latina who would be on the forefront of countless innovations and patents that would vault Rawlings to the forefront of glove manufacturers over the course of the Twentieth Century.
Aside from the many advancements in baseball glove design, perhaps Harry’s greatest contribution to baseball originated within his family. Harry and his wife, Florence had three children: Harry B. Jr., Roland and Carol Lee “Mimi.” In the 1940 federal census, Harry Jr is listed as an assemblyman with an electric motor manufacturer, heading in a different direction from his father as did Carol Lee. Roland, however took an interest in his father’s profession joining him at Rawlings a few years following the end of World War II (in 1947).
“What does all of this have to do with the military?” you might ask. I could stretch out the idea that Rollie worked with ballplayers returning to the major leagues from the war (he did) but that isn’t it. I could refer to Rollie’s father’s innovations appearing on the makeshift ballfields in the war theaters, but that isn’t it, either. No, Harry’s middle child contributed to the war effort of his own accord, enlisting to serve in the United States Navy soon after graduating from high school in East St. Louis, IL in 1942. In researching Rollie’s service, the Gunners’ Mate spent his time serving in the Pacific theater aboard a few ships as well as an amphibious landing group aboard a Landing Craft Tank (LCT).
Latina’s earlier ships, the Anthedon and Clytie were both part of the Navy’s auxiliary Forces – submarine tenders (essentially, sea-going submarine repair, refit and refueling facilities) before he made his way to the front lines. Serving aboard landing craft – vessels that deliver U.S. Marines and SeaBees to enemy-held beaches while under fire could be considerably hazardous duty during the island-hopping allied offensive in the Pacific Theater. With further research, one might be able to determine more specifically the battles and engagements his units may have participated in. Prior to his LCT service, GM3/c Latina detached from the Clytie and was assigned to serve under the Commander Seventh Amphibious Force, Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey for a few months before reporting aboard USS LST 881.
During the next two years following Latina’s service during the war, he joined his father at Rawlings working alongside Harry as he learned the art of glove-making while listening to professional ballplayers to continue the advancement of designs. When Harry Latina retired, Rollie took over the role and soon became known by the same “glove doctor” moniker that was with his father for more than 40 years. Rollie would retire from Rawlings in 1986 having developed many of his own patented designs:
A Sampling of Rollie “The Glove Doctor” Latina’s Patents:
- Wrist strap construction for a baseball glove
- Ball glove having a concave backstop
- Baseball glove construction
As a collector of baseball militaria, I am constantly researching and educating myself about the men and the equipment, ephemera, documents and uniforms they used in and surrounding the game in association with military service. The more that I educate myself I discover that there is considerably more to learn and this mindset holds true with WWII gloves and their makers. Part of my education process is to capture and document as much information regarding gloves that were used by service members, focused primarily upon the WWII time-frame. I am hopeful that the result of this effort would be some form of a visual database that collectors can refer to when they acquire a military glove.
- Sports Illustrated: Glove Story
- Baseball’s Glove Man – Bob Clevenhagen
- For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game that Connects Us All
- Good Glove photos are tough to find – Harry/Rollie Latina Photos
- Rawlings’ Patents
- Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., Inc. History
- Rawlings’ ‘Glove Doctor’ dies
- Roland Latina’s Findagrave Memorial
With a few of my earlier posts, I have covered some of the professional ball players who temporarily traded their professional flannels in exchange for a uniform of the armed forces. While some of these men filled the ranks both in combat and support units, others used their professional skills to provide the troops with a temporary escape from the harsh realities of the war by providing them with a taste of home that can be found within the lines of the baseball diamond.
According to Gary Bedingfield’s extensive research, more than 4,500 professional baseball players placed their careers on hold in order to serve in the effort to defeat fascism and tyranny that was sweeping across Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. There were more than 500 major league ball players who served in the armed forces throughout the more than four years of the war (including the last few weeks of December, 1941 when many players like Bob Feller rushed to enlist). Conversely, there were roughly 2,800 men who continued to play major league baseball during the same period, avoiding service for a myriad of reasons (age, unfit for duty, etc.). I have focused this blog on two over-arching subjects; baseball militaria – items used on the diamond (or in relation to it) by servicemen who may or may not have played the game professionally; the people who played the game during their time in uniform. Today’s post, while centered on a contextual (to this blog) object, it also addresses one of the nearly 3,000 MLB players who never served and yet was well-represented on the diamonds across both the European and Pacific theaters during WWII.
Before I delve into the subject matter of this article, I must first offer a disclaimer that I am decidedly not a baseball glove collector nor do I possess any measure of expertise on this very interesting area of baseball collecting. With this being the Chevrons and Diamonds blog where I provide research and insight pertaining to baseball militaria, my interest is more broad. As I researched this topic, I realize that expertise in military gloves and mitts are significantly more specialized and as with other areas of military baseball, is limited (at least that is my assertion) as compared to baseball gloves outside of what was used during the war.
As a Navy veteran, I tend to focus my collecting interest around naval-themed items and within the realm of military baseball, I remain consistent. When I began looking at obtaining a baseball glove for my collection, I found a World War II vintage model that was rather ragged and yet held my interest as it was stamped, “U.S.N.” across the wrist strap. Before making the purchase, I took note that the glove was also missing the web between the thumb and index finger and that there were fragments of the leather lacing remaining protruding from a few of the heavily-oxidized eyelets. I considered the condition and weighed it against the current pricing trends and decided to make the purchase, thinking that I would be able to get the glove into shape.
When the glove arrived a few days later, I unzipped the two-gallon sized zip-locked bag to find not only was it, at one point water-damaged with remnants of mildew or mold, but also that the leather was dried and cracking. It was in far worse shape than I anticipated. Perhaps this was the reason that I was able to acquire it for less than so many other of the scarcer Navy versions had been selling at premium prices in the months prior to me pulling the trigger on this one. In the few years since, only a smattering have since been listed in online auctions. Regardless, this dried out, cracking and smelly glove is now in my possession and it is my desire to attempt to breathe new life into it with the hope that I leave it in better condition than when I received it.
I broke one of my self-established collecting rules; before I purchase it, I had virtually no understanding of vintage glove models, styles, manufacturers or the many details that a true glove collector can recite with ease. My extent of knowledge stems from examining vintage photographs and taking a peripheral view into what a fielder or position player may have on his catching hand. To me, the all generally appeared the same. Until I began researching for this article, I hadn’t spent any time attempting to understand how diverse and expansive vintage baseball glove field really is. In the coming months, I hope to take some deeper dives into this area of collecting as it pertains to military service teams and the gloves that were issued to the members of the armed forces.
After a cursory pass in working over the dried leather of my Navy-issued glove (with Horseman’s One Step Leather Cleaner & Condition), I began to see some of the markings that might lead me to determine the manufacturer. One of the obvious markings was the “DW” stamped just above the heel. After nearly two weeks (following the treatment of the leather), more of the manufacturer’s stampings and markings began to emerge as the leather became supple and started to return to its previous shape. Beneath the DW, “Hand Formed Pad” was discernible. Towards the pinky-finger side of the palm, remnants of a signature were visible – “Riddle” with “Trademark” centered directly below. A quick search of the web revealed that the glove was a GoldSmith Elmer Riddell fielder’s glove model.
Armed with details of the make and model of the glove, I spent some investigating the details in trying to confirm the age (I wanted to be certain that the glove, though marked as a U.S.N., that it was, in fact, from the WWII time-frame). I also wanted to gain a little bit of an understanding about the other information present on the glove:
- Inside the glove on the heel pad:
- Horesehide Lining
- On the outer heel pad:
- Hand Formed Pad
- On the pinky side-edge:
- Elmer Riddle (signature)
- In the palm:
- Inner Processed
- GoldSmith (logo)
- a Preferred Product (trademark)
To properly date the glove, the logo is the most revealing aspect (which, in the case of my glove is partially discernible). As with so many companies, logos changed during significant events (such as mergers, ownership changes, spin-offs, etc.). Noting that my glove has the GoldSmith logo along with the “A Preferred Product” trademark, it predates the merger with the golf brand, MacGregor which occurred between 1945-46 (in 1946, the company changed their name and logo to MacGregor-GoldSmith). By 1952, The company was known solely as MacGregor. Prior to 1938, the company logo was different and the name was P. GoldSmith (named for its founder, Phillip GoldSmith). Considering the company name and logo, I am able to determine that the manufacturing date of the glove lies somewhere in the 1938-44 range. There is still more information that will narrow this date range down.
The glove has a major-league pitcher’s endorsement (as indicated by the signature that is embossed), Elmer Riddle who played from 1939 to 1949 with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. His best years were 1941, 1943 and 1948 (his only all-star season). Most likely, Riddle signed an endorsement deal with the P. GoldSmith Company during the early part of the war in 1942 following his ’41 19-2 season (he was the 4th runner-up in MVP balloting). With all of the information at my disposal I determined that my glove was made between 1942-44. Aside from my brilliant deduction skills, I am also fairly adept at tapping into available resources and knowledgeable experts. I reached out to a fellow collector who has a fantastic wealth of information in his site, KeyManCollectibles.com, specifically his Baseball Glove Dating Guide.
In viewing his archive of catalogs, the 1942 GoldSmith Preferred glove catalog shows the initial appearance within their Professional Model glove product line, sharing the page with the RL Model – with the Leo Durocher signature. The product description reads:
“Compact, flexible, streamlined, “Natural Contour” Model (Licensed under Pat. No. 2231204) bearing signature of Elmer Riddle, of the Cincinnati “Reds”. Genuine horsehide with full horsehide lining, and hand formed asbestos felt pad. Inner processed greased palm, oiled back. Leather welted diverted finger seams and reinforced thumb seam. Roll leather bound edge, roll leather bound wrist, leather laced through metal eyelets. Improved double tunnel web with leather connector, laced through metal eyelets. Wide leather wrist strap.”
(Note: seeing that the glove is constructed with asbestos in the padding, I need to be careful in handling the glove as the leather is cracking and could open up enough to create an exposure risk.)
In the process of learning about this particular glove model, I made an interesting discovery. As war was taking hold across Europe, American citizens began to change their stance regarding the conscription (or draft) of young, able-bodied men into compulsory military training as a means of preparedness for what was seemingly inevitable; the United States being drawn into war. With President Roosevelt’s signing of the Selective Training and Service act of 1940, the first U.S. peacetime military conscription commenced requiring all men aged 21 to 35 to report for 12 months of service. By 1941, the age range was expanded, reducing the minimum age to 18 and the upper age to 37 and extended the length of service to 18 months.
As I viewed Mr. Riddle’s stats, I took note that he had no broken time during the war which stood out as a curiosity considering that he was a 27 year-old athlete who was actively playing baseball. While many of his peers were helping with the war effort (away from professional ball), Riddle continued to play the game. During the 1943 season, Elmer Riddle had a very productive season, making 36 appearances (starting 33 games) and winning 21 (he completed 19). In 260 innings, he only surrendered 6 homeruns. How could he have avoided the draft (provided he didn’t volunteer)? There are a number of deferments that were applied to a large number of men who fell into the age range of selective service. One thought that often arises when discovering a person who didn’t serve during WWII is the only son or only surviving son provision within the Selective Service Act (the premise of the fictionalized portrayal of retrieving a sole surviving son in the film, Saving Private Ryan). However, this provision only applies to peacetime conscription. During a national emergency or Congressionally declared war, even sole surviving and only sons will be called to serve. What is baffling is that even Riddle’s older half-brother, catcher Johnny Riddle, played along side Elmer in Cincinnati, avoiding service in the armed forces.
Prior to the 1944 season, he reported (in March) for and passed his pre-induction physical. According to Riddle’s bio at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website, “The Army advised him to report to spring training while awaiting induction. Apparently, he was never called up, because, according to United Press sportswriter Jack Cuddy, he started the season ‘like a burning haystack.’”
While Elmer Riddle never served his country in the armed forces, his name, affixed to a lot of baseball gloves, saw action wherever GIs took breaks from combat action. According to Vintage-Baseball-Gloves.com, the GoldSmith DW Elmer Riddle glove is, “THE (sic) classic wartime glove. More of these were issued than all other models combined.” I can almost imagine players like Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese donning an Elmer Riddle glove as they took the field in one of their many service team ballgames. While most collectors might not enjoy it, I do see the lovely irony.
More details regarding the GoldSmith/MacGregor-Goldsmith DW Model Glove
GoldSmith (and MacGregor-Goldsmith) produced (at least) three DW models of the fielder’s glove:
- GoldSmith DW – Elmer Riddle (years played: ’39-47 CIN; ’48-49 PIT)
- MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Joe Cronin (years played: ’26-27 PIT; ’28-34 WAS; ’35-45 BOS [AL])
- MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Buddy Kerr (years played: ’43-49 NYG; ’50-51 BOS [NL])
A few collectors noted that the initials in reference to models pertain to the original player for whom the signature model was created.
- MO – Mel Ott model
- PD – Paul Derringer model
- CG – Charlie Gehringer
- RL – Red Lucas model (subsequently becoming a Leo Durocher endorsed model when the LD Durocher was dropped)
- JC – Joe Cronin model (however the JCL model was a Pete Reiser signature model and yet Goldsmith never created PR model)
- HC – Harold Craft model (which transitioned to a Dixie Walker endorsed model)
Consistency is king in helping archaeologists, archivists and researches to easily map out how companies conducted their businesses and yet seldom do we find that they were consistent. As noted in the very brief sample of the GoldSmith/MacGregor-GoldSmith glove model list, the DW model did not have a ballplayer for whom the letters represented. It is assumed by collectors that it was created for Dixie Walker (most notable with his tenure in Brooklyn) and yet the glove he ended up endorsing was the (MacGregor-Goldsmith HC model (formerly the Harold Craft model). Why was the first player signature glove for Elmer Riddle the DW model rather than an ER?