A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats

With considerable debate among baseball fans and baseball film aficionados as to where the film, Field of Dreams is ranked, the movie is still a favorite of ours. One of the central characters depicted in the story (and portrayed by actor Burt Lancaster) is the real-life baseball player Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham. According to the film, Graham made a humble defensive appearance in the bottom of the eighth inning on the last game of the season, never getting a chance to swing the bat. Since that film (one could argue that it began with the film’s inspiration, W. P. Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe), many similar “Moonlight” Graham-esque comparative stories have been told.

“To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases — stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish…” – “Moonlight Graham (played by Burt Lancaster in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams)

The story told about Graham in the film (a deviation from what actually happened with Archibald Graham under the guise of “dramatic license”) leads to the main characters, Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann (played by Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, respectively), giving him a chance to have the opportunity to bat. During World War II, service team baseball, many unknowns, such as Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) were afforded opportunities to play with and against major league talent. 

The Chevrons and Diamonds project has shed light upon several ballplayers that, in terms of mainstream baseball fans, were essentially unknown. Admittedly, until this venture into the realm of baseball militaria collecting launched, many of these players were unknown to this author.  With the arrival of our second military scorecard into our collection (from the seventh game of the 1944 Army versus Navy All Stars championship series), the pursuit of knowledge surrounding the players on the roster motivated me to not only learn what I could about them, but also to keep my eyes open for related artifacts.

With the “star power” present on that 1944 Army versus Navy scorecard with names such as Dom DiMaggio, Hugh Casey, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer and Charlie Silvera, among the players were enshrined among the game’s greatest in Cooperstown.  Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Bill Dickey, Pee Wee Reese and Joe DiMaggio (all from major league teams in New York City) stand out among the 64 players comprising the two teams. My eyes were drawn to the names that I did not recognize. Who were these All-Star players who were serving and playing baseball alongside the game’s greatest of that era?

Over the course of the past decade, the “unknown” players on those rosters are becoming household names. Documenting the progression of these ballplayers from the time they were inducted through to their release from service is a tedious undertaking but the end result is quite illuminating with certain discoveries such as the intersecting of service team careers of players.

Though it was just a fictitious story that was brought to life with a script, actors, props and cameras, the Field of Dreams movie was centered on a cornfield-turned-baseball-diamond in a cornfield on an Iowa farm. The set, a diamond carved out of a cornfield, has been preserved as an attraction for fans of the film and draws people from around the world to the tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa (Note: on August 13, 2020, the farm will play host to a regular season home game for the Chicago White Sox against the Visiting Yankees).  On December 20, 1916 in a small town just 47 miles east of Dyersville, Marvin Wilfred Felderman was born to Conrad “Coonie,” a farmer and his wife Sarah Felderman. Marvin was the youngest of his two sisters and brother.  Felderman was a scholastic athlete in high school where he played basketball as a forward, he achieved all-conference (Blackhawk Conference) honors. Felderman was a pitcher and catcher and helped his high school team reach the Iowa state tournament in two separate seasons. Marvin earned all-state honors as a catcher. Felderman also participated on his school’s track and field team before graduating in 1935. In addition to scholastic baseball, Marvin Felderman also played in the American Legion and for the Bellevue Merchants (semi-pro).

In 1936, Felderman’s professional baseball career commenced with the Elks of the Nebraska State League (class “D”) transitioning quite easily to the minor leagues as he batted .304 with a .427 slugging percentage. In 1937-38, Felderman helped his Duluth Dukes (Duluth, Minnesota, class “D,” Northern League) take the league championship. While in Minnesota, Felderman attended the All-Star Baseball and Umpire School, along with Dukes teammate, first baseman Lyle Thompson. Catching for Nashville of the Class A1 Southern Association, Marvin Felderman helped the Volunteers capture the pennant in both 1940 and ’41. Vols teammates who would be familiar to him in the coming years, Russ Meers would join forces with Marvin in 1945 and he would face Boots Poffenberger (in the South Pacific).

The 1940 Southern Association Champion Nashville Volunteers. Marv Felderman is in the back row, second from the left. In the front row are Russ Meers (2nd from the right) and Boots Poffenberger (immediate to Meers’ left). Future naval aviator Johnny Sain is in the back row, fourth from the left (source: The Sporting News, October 2, 1940)

In conjunction with President Roosevelt’s signing of the peacetime Selective Service Act on September 16, 1940, Marvin Felderman receive his draft card 30 days later along with every other eligible young man, as his baseball career soldiered onward. Marv’s play caught the attention of the Chicago Cubs who purchased his contract from Nashville on August 1st of that season.

Felderman’s career was progressing though his ascent through the minor leagues was steady. He fought injuries to his throwing shoulder and hand and was often sidelined for prolonged periods of time. Following spring training, Felderman broke camp having earned a spot on the Cubs roster. Manager Jimmy Williams carried three catchers heading into opening day with Felderman joining veteran Clyde McCullough and Chico Hernandez.

On April 19, the fifth game of the 1942 season was tied going into the 14th inning at Wrigley Field. Chico Hernandez led off the bottom of the 14thinning, pinch hitting for pitcher Claude Passeau with an infield single to Cincinnati’s third baseman, Chuck Aleno. Marv Felderman was sent in to pinch run for Hernandez making his first major league appearance. After Stan Hack bunted Felderman to second base leaving the tying run in scoring position, centerfielder Phil Cavarretta drove a fly-out deep to centerfield. Felderman was caught off base when Harry Craft threw the ball in to second for the double play, handing the 2-1 win to the Reds. Without a doubt, this was not the way Felderman wanted to inaugurate his major league career. Perhaps his base running faux pas was a point of contention for Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson as Felderman wouldn’t get another chance until the end of the season.

Felderman spent the bulk of the 1942 season on assignment to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the class “AA” International League as a part-time catcher. Though his average for the season was a shade below .220 for his 53 games (133 plate appearances) north of the border, he was part of the late-season call-up to the big-league club, making his return to the Cubs.

’Caught with their catchers down,’ to twist around an old saying, is the situation in which the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves as the mad scramble continues for playoff positions in the International League. Eddie Fernandes and Merwin (sic) Felderman have been laboring under one handicap after another. Fernandes got off to a bad start when he jumped into a Toronto uniform, minus the necessary spring training, and his harm has been kinky.

Felderman has struggled along with a sore arm and a shoulder condition that also hampered his throwing. His shoulder was so bad at times that he couldn’t take a free swing when batting. Topping all this, Felderman split a finger during the third game of the all-out-for-second-place series with the Jersey City Giants.” – August 6, 1942, The Sporting News

Trailing the National League-leading St. Louis Cardinals by 35 games, manager Wilson spent the last few games of the season giving the organization’s youth big league experience, inserting them into the line-up where he could. Marvin Felderman was back up with the big-league club with the hopes that he could showcase his abilities for the future with the Cubs.

Marvin’s second big league game was far better than his first. As the starting catcher, he would play the entire game catching for starting pitcher Hank Wyse who would go the distance in the 8-0 victory in Philadelphia on September 17.  In Felderman’s first plate appearance of the scoreless top of the second inning with one out, Marv stroked a long fly out to the left fielder off Phillies’ starting pitcher, Andy Lapihuska. With the Cubs ahead 4-0 with two outs in the top third, Felderman was walked by Lapihuska in his second appearance. In the top of the sixth inning, Lapihuska caught Felderman looking for a leadoff strikeout.  With the Cubs batters chasing Lapihuska, Felderman faced a new Phils pitcher, Hilly Flitcraft with two gone in the seventh inning. Marv would finally break through with his bat, stroking his first major league safety; a single with Chicago already ahead 6-0. In his last at-bat of the game, Felderman wiffed on a Boom-Boom Beck pitch for the second out of the ninth inning.

On September 22 for the second game of a day-night double-header, starting catcher, 34-year-old Jimmie “Double-X” Foxx (who was claimed off the waiver wire from the Red Sox on June 1) was lifted with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning having gone 0-2 against the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer with Cincinnati leading 2-0. Johnny “Double-No-Hit” Vander Meer struck out the young rookie catcher to end the sixth. Felderman caught the remainder of the game returning to the plate for his final at-bat of the day, leading off the bottom of the ninth against Vander Meer once again. Vander Meer had a repeat performance against the young rookie as he tallied his 11th and final strikeout of the game. Felderman was 0-2 with two strikeouts. One of Felderman’s bright moments happened on the bottom of the eighth inning after three consecutive singles and a walk (one run scored), Frankie Kelleher was caught attempting to steal home after Felderman attempted to pick-off Lonnie Frey who had a large lead at second base.

Felderman would not see action in the last two games, another day-night double-header against the Cardinals in St. Louis on September 27.  His three major league appearances in the 1942 season were all that he would have for the rest of his professional career: six at-bats, four strikeouts, one walk and one base hit. Felderman made it to the big leagues twice and had only a few chances to play, however Marv’s opportunity was significantly greater than what Moonlight Graham had with Giants manager, John McGraw in 1905. Felderman’s career took a different turn that placed him onto the field with scores of major leaguers for the next three years.

Only two brief months following the season’s end, Marvin Felderman enlisted into the U.S. Navy on November 30, 1942. Choosing to avoid being drafted into the army, his naval entrance was presumably the result of being recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane.

At the end of March, LCDR Cochrane held open tryouts drawing candidates from new recruits in training at the naval training station with more than 80 candidates reporting to the diamonds, including 21 pitchers.  Cochrane was attempting to build upon his success during the 1942 season but was faced with replacing the bulk of the Bluejackets’ stars, including Johnny Rigney, Johnny Lucadello, Benny McCoy, Frankie Pytlak, Ernie Andres and Chester Hajduk who departed for further assignments. The 1943 season would prove to be a continuation of high caliber competition from most of the American Association, industrial league and independent teams aside from their normal circuit of service league play. Cochrane’s 1943 Bluejackets dominated the competition for the second straight year hammering out win-loss-tie record of 52-10-2 (including wins over a handful of major league teams).

September 13, 1943: Great Lakes, IL – The Bluejackets baseball tea, from Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois, pauses with the station’s athletic officer, Lieutenant Commander J. Russell Cook, and examines the cross roads sign in front of the outgoing unit barracks before leaving for the coast. Left to right, Jack Hallett (Pittsburgh), Marvin Felderman (Cubs), a partially-obscured Tom Ferrick (Cleveland), Don Dunker (Indiana University), John Rigney (White Sox), Warren Robinson (Rochester), Fred Shaffer (Louisville), LCDR Cook, Tom Madden (Newport News), Carl Fiore (Scranton) and Earl Bolyard (Dallas).
Property of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

With the 1943 baseball season complete, Marvin Felderman departed Great Lakes bound for Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland for training in the “Tunney” Athletic Specialist Program. Station officials and the local baseball enthusiasts were excited for the 1944 baseball season and the prospects of having major league talent to don their team’s flannels. The Navy had other plans for the services of Felderman, Jonny Mize, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadello who completed their training by the end of 1943.

The Bainbridge Naval Training Station’s potentially great 1944 team received a heavy jolt today with the announcement that ten former major league players would be moved from the reservation this week. Nine were due to leave tomorrow, while Johnny Mize, former St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants first baseman, was to be held over until the end of the week in order to finish work in the physical instructor’s school.

Those leaving tomorrow include Tom Ferrick, formerly of the Cleveland Indians;  Joe Grace and Johnny Lucadellow, of the St. Louis Browns; Barney McCoskey, of the Detroit Tigers; Vern Olsen and Marvin Felderman of the Chicago Cubs; George Dickey, of the Chicago White Sox; Jack Hallet, of the Cleveland Indians, and Eddie Pelligrini of the Boston Red Sox. 

All are being transferred to undisclosed ports.” – The News, Frederick, MD, January 4, 1944

From Bainbridge NTS, Felderman headed west, arriving in San Francisco, presumably after visiting home. His stay in the Bay Area was brief as he awaited transport to the South Pacific while temporarily quartered aboard the USS Despatch (IX-2) (the Despatch was the converted protected cruiser, USS Boston that was converted into a receiving ship). Departing San Francisco, Felderman arrived in Honolulu on February 27, 1944 after an 11-day sea voyage from the mainland. His first (brief) command assignment was with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard where he served for just a few short weeks.  From the End of March through the middle of May, Felderman was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Receiving Barracks and saw action for the team.

Seeing major league-level competition on a consistent basis, Felderman’s offensive performance with the 1944 was subpar at best. By the end of July, he was batting .190 through 17 games. In 63 at-bats, he had only managed 12 hits, a double and two home runs. Marv only plated seven runs by the midway point of the season. However, Felderman acquitted himself enough on the diamond to be pulled onto a few all-star teams including suiting up for the “Major League All-Stars” when they faced off against the “Navy” on April 19 at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base’s Weaver Field. Felderman reprised his role again as an All-Star when the team defeated the Army All-Stars at Schofield Barracks’ home field, Chickamauga Park.  In the waning weeks of April, Marv was tapped for a second All-Star Game representing the 14th Naval District Major Leaguers however, research has yet to determine the opponent and outcome of that game.  Felderman was tagged once more to catch for the Major League All-Stars as they faced off against the Honolulu League Stars in a War Bond Drive game on April 29.

“Approximately 25,000 rabid fans, mostly servicemen stationed in this area, witnessed two games in Honolulu and a nearby military camp recently. Through the courtesy of Navy authorities, these fans were treated with the appearance of many former big-league stars, who are now on active service with the Navy in the Hawaiian Islands. 

It was a big day at the Honolulu Stadium, the site of the initial exhibition tilt, when the Major League All-Stars, representing the Navy, scored a 4-2 victory over the Honolulu League club in 12 innings. Such former Big Time players as Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers; Joe Grace (Browns); Barney McCosky (Tigers); Johnny Mize (Giants), Al Brancato (Athletics); Johnny Lucadello (Browns); John Winsett (Dodgers); George “Skeets” Dickey (White Sox); Vern Olsen (Cubs); Tom Ferrick (Indians); Hugh Casey (Dodgers); Bob Harris (Athletics) and Walt Masterson (Senators), did their chores for the major leaguers. 

Giant Fans over here were delighted with Mize, who formerly belted them around the Polo Grounds. In the game against the Honolulu club, Johnny sent a tremendous drive up against the 425-foot wall in center field. Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers collected three hits in one game. In the other fracas, the ex-Dodger star played a terrific game. 

Walt Masterson, Jack Hallet, Vern Olsen and Tom Ferrick worked for the majors in the 4-2 victory. The following day, the club played another game for the benefit of military personnel at an Army camp and scored an impressive 9-0 triumph with Hugh Casey, Walt Masterson, Bob Harris and Anderson taking turns on the mound. The quartette allowed eight hits.” – Iriwn J. Thomas, T/5, Sporting News. April 29, 1944

A publicity photo of Marv Felderman from the 1944 season.
Property of the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection

On May 13, Felderman arrived at Kaneohe Naval Air Station and was quickly added to the Klippers’ roster, re-connecting with his fellow 1943 Great Lakes teammate, Johnny Mize on Wes Schulmerich’s team. The Klippers had an additional major leaguer with pitching experience, Kaneohe’s ace former-Brooklyn Dodger Hugh Casey.  With Mize sidelined by an injury, the 1944 season was a struggle for Felderman’s club without the presence of offensive power.

The tough All-Service League gets underway Tuesday (5/16) with Aiea meeting Wheeler Field at 4:30. The six teams entered (7th AAF, Aiea, Kaneohe, Wheeler, Aiea Hospital, Sub Base) are ready and it looks like a horse race. 

The Navy teams have made last minute changes in their rosters and watch out Army. Kaneohe has some up with Marv Felderman, the catching they have been yelling for, and they now look like the class of the league. Aiea Hospital has a new battery, ‘Skeets’ Dickey and Verne Olsen.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944

1944 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:

Player Position
 Alexander 2B
 Arkeketa 3B
John Berry CF
Hugh Casey P
Bing Devine 2B
Marv Felderman C
Tom Ferrick P
Frank Hargrove RF
 Hite
 Mlaker SS
 Martinez LF
Irvin Meairs SS
Johnny Mize 1B
 Numerich P
Wes Schulmerich Mgr
John  Skeber 1B
 Wittig

Felderman, established himself as a defensive backstop who could handle pitchers during games with considerable effectiveness. As the second half of the 1944 Central Pacific Service League’s season was underway, Felderman was hitting consistently though he wasn’t tearing the cover off the baseball. In the second game of the season against the Schofield Barracks Redlanders, Marv managed pitchers Numerich and Casey to a 6-1 win while also playing a role in the win with his bat.”

The Klippers defeated the Redlanders 6-1. Southpaw Numerich faced Schofield’s Ed Loverich. After the fourth, the score was 2-1.  In the bottom of the 8th with one out, Alexander doubled, Mize followed with a 2-run shot over centerfield to push Kaneohe further ahead, 4-1. With another out, (John) Skeber drove a deep solo shot. Then Mlaker singled and was advanced by a Felderman hit. Hugh Casey (who relived Numerich in seventh) drove the run across for the final tally.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 15, 1944

Though it was still early in the season, Felderman’s performance with the Klippers was demonstrating his value to the success of the club. Disaster struck on May 17 in a game against the 7th Army Air Force team in a match that had ex-Dodger pitcher, Hugh Casey holding his own against the airmen. In the seventh inning, Felderman suffered a serious injury necessitating him being rushed to the hospital following a beaning from the opposition pitching. Felderman was out of the line-up for quite some time as he required a few weeks to heal and recover from the injury.

Kaneohe was off to a fantastic start of the season and was leading the CPA Service League as May came to a close, but it wouldn’t last. In the first week of June, the 7th AAF’s fortunes changed with the arrival of a large contingent of major league talent (including Mike McCormick Walter Judnich and Dario Lodigiani)  led by the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. In addition to losing Felderman for a few weeks, Kaneohe lost their slugger, Johnny Mize to injury limiting him to less than 70 at-bats (16 fewer than Felderman’s 85). Marv’s final batting average was a paltry .224.

During the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series, pictured left to right are: Ken Sears, Joe Rose, Phil Rizzuto and Marv Felderman (photo courtesy of Mark Southerland).

After a season-long domination by the 7th Army Air Force squad, a team of stockpiled major and minor league talent that was the product of the Army’s response to the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team (and other Hawaii-area Navy service teams’) predominate success, Navy leadership gathered together their stars  from the Pacific Theater into an All-Star team to take on the Army for the 1944 Army versus Navy service world series. The talented catcher with one hit in six major league at-bats found himself on a roster that had a log-jam of catchers, including the team’s manager, New York Yankees’ future hall of fame backstop, Bill Dickey who was managing the team.

  • Marv Felderman, Chicago Cubs
  • Vince Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Ken Sears, New York Yankees
  • Norman Atkinson, Semi-Pro
  • George Dickey, Chicago White Sox

Standings for the various 1944 Season – Hawaiian Leagues. Felderman’s Kaneohe Klippers fifth in the CPA Service League (source: Honolulu Advertiser, September 3, 1944).

While the box scores are scant in providing play-by-play details, for the 8th game of the series, Felderman did get into the eighth game (the series had been decided with the Navy’s fourth consecutive win to open the seven-game contest) with the Navy leading the Army, six games to one, spelling Vinnie Smith after a few innings in what would be Jack Hallet’s 11-0, three-hit shutout of the Army.  With the considerable attendance (averaging more than 15,000 servicemen per game), leadership made the decision to extend the series to seven games (despite the Navy’s win in four straight) followed by four additional bringing the series to a close after the 11th game on October 15.  Five days later, on October 20, Felderman returned to NAS Kaneohe from his temporary duty assignment. Aside from the championship plaque and other accolades, Felderman returned to his primary duty station with a promotion to chief petty officer.

With the year-round favorable weather conditions in the South Pacific (aside from the frequent-yet-brief cooling rains), baseball can be played without ceasing, independent of the regular season league schedules. For the first two weeks in December, Felderman was temporarily assigned to the Aiea Receiving Barracks (December 2-14, 1944), no doubt, for participation in another, as of yet, undiscovered baseball tournament.

Chief Athletic Specialist Felderman remained with Kaneohe for the 1945 season as the bulk of the major league talent (stationed in Hawaii in 1944) from both branches was sent to the Western Pacific to provide relief by playing baseball for the combat-weary troops fighting in the Marianas and Micronesia. With the new season, the Kaneohe club was loaded with new faces leaving the sports writers at the Honolulu Star Bulletin less than thrilled for the Klipper’s outlook with the headline, “Kaneohe Bay weak spots in lineup.” Attempting to infuse a little bit of hope, the Bulletin’s sports editor wrote, “New manager Joe Gonzales (LTjg) will be pitching.  Former USC pitcher who, at one point had 21 straight victories for the Trojans.”  Felderman was spotlighted by the piece for the value his experience brought to the club.

Marv Felderman, a major leaguer several times, and a brilliant minor league catcher, will handled the backstopping with aplomb and decorum. Felderman won’t set the league on fire with his hitting, but he’s in there to handle the pitchers, prevent the base paths from becoming a runway. Summing up, this club won’t make many mistakes. You will have to beat them, as they won’t beat themselves.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 2, 1945

1945 NAS Kaneohe Bay Klippers Roster:

Player Position
John Berry 1B
Jack Conway
Bob Cullins UTILITY
Marv Felderman C
Joe Gonzales MGR/P
Ralph Gosnell C
Bruz Hamner P
Frank Hargrove LF
Irvin “Red”  Meairs SS
Russ Meers P
Pete Pavlick 2B
Sherry Robertson 3B
Gabriel Sady C
Pete Savage P
Phil Seewald P
Joe Skeber 1B
Steve “Red” Tramback CF
Bob Usher RF
Hank Weiss P

By the last week of May, the Klippers nine were proving the naysayers wrong by taking over first place in the 14th Naval District League. In a game against Naval Air Station Honolulu, the Klipper’s Gonzalez defeated Honolulu’s Max Wilson in a 3-2 pitching duel before a crowd of 8,500 fans at Furlong Field on the Hickam air base. Felderman followed a John Berry solo homerun and a Bob Usher base-on-balls with a triple, tying the game.

Marvin Felderman (front row, far right) with his 1945 Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers (image source: Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

As the 1945 14th Naval District League season progressed, Kaneohe ran into stiff competition for first place as the Dolphins of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base ran neck-and-neck in keeping pace.

Furlong Field, battle ground of many brilliant sports events of the past months, will be the scene of another outstanding attraction on Sunday (6/24) afternoon at 3 when the Kaneohe Klippers and Sub Base Dolphins trade swats with the championship of the first half of the 14th Naval District at stake.

Both clubs are 13 and 5 and will play before an anticipated crowd of 25,000 servicemen and civilians.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 23, 1945

Felderman was finally having a notable season in 1945 and was a key role-player in Kaneohe’s success as he found himself in the Honolulu sportswriters’’ spotlight.

A lot of fans in the 14th Naval District Baseball League are wondering how the Kaneohe Klippers keep right on winning. The Kilppers have no “name” stars in action day after day, yet they tied for the first half crown and are sure to be a threat all during the second half. One of the important cogs in the Klipper machine is Marv Felderman, the number one and only catcher who has seen action in league play. Felderman has never tasted the success of many of the stars in the league have, but he is a steady hustling player who goes all out every game. 

An Iowan by birth, Marv has been around and has several major league trials and is sure to get more when the war ends. He batted at a .320 clip during the first half of the season and his 24 hits were good enough to send 22 runs over the plate, being tied for runner up honors to Ken Sears in that department. Felderman is only one cog, of course, as the Kilppers function as a unit and not as group of individuals, but his play has been one of the bright spots of the entire circuit.” – Honolulu Star Bulletin, July 21, 1945

Through five innings of a July 28 contest with the Marine Flyers, Kaneohe was trailing 2-0 when in the Klipper’s sixth, the sent 11 men to the plate (scoring seven) led by Felderman’s offensive outburst. In the 11-2 victory, Marvin tallied two doubles and a single against Marines pitcher Sid Gautreaux .

Through the August “dog days” stretch of the 1945 season, injuries once again plagued the Klippers as they plummeted in the standings following a protracted losing streak. At the close, of the 14th Naval District League play, NAS Kaneohe was in sixth place with an 11-13 record behind Aiea Barracks (19-9), Aiea Hospital (16-9), Sub Base (16-10), Barber’s Point (16-11), Fleet Marines (15-12) and NAS Honolulu (15-12). Base 8 Hospital (11-15), Ship Repair Unit (8-19) and Marine Fliers (6-21) rounded out the standings with 10 days remaining.

Aiea Barracks sealed their league title and the Klipper took time out to include their fans with festivities surrounding their last game of the season as they hosted the Honolulu Crossroaders. After securing a 7-3 victory, the two teams held several skills contests (such as distance throwing, a home run derby and speed competition on the base paths) to entertain the fans.

Klipper Day was held for 12,500 fans at Klipper Diamond to honor the Kaneohe Klippers on Sunday, September 16 for the last game of the season. Marv Felderman of the Chicago Cubs said during an interview on the field, “This reminds me of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.”  The game between the Honolulu Crossroaders and Klippers was a 7-3 victory by Kaneohe. John Berry drove a ball over the left field fence in the fourth followed by one by manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales.” Honolulu Advertiser, September 8, 1945

Soon after the final game in Kaneohe, Felderman returned stateside and was discharged from the Navy on October 9, 1945. Aside from his discharge papers, service decorations, naval training and playing experience, Felderman returned home with a relationship that he would cherish for the rest of his life. During his time in the Hawaiian Islands, Marv met Yeoman First Class Katherine (Kay) Elizabeth Holloway and the two were married before the end of 1945.

During his 1947 stint with the Los Angeles Angels, Felderman took a hard-thrown ball on his nose when Las Scarcella attempted to score from third base (source: Winona-Republican-Herald, April 23, 1947).

The flood of ball players with war service returning to professional baseball was substantial and the competition for roster spots was fierce. No longer property of the Cubs following his naval service, 30-year-old Felderman signed with the reigning 1945 American Association champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Limited to just 70 games, Marvin again dealt with injuries and it was becoming apparent to scouts and the big-league clubs that his best years were likely behind him.  In his first three post-war professional baseball seasons, Felderman was limited to just 178 games with four teams. In 1949, Felderman was hanging onto his career, playing semi-professional ball in the Michigan-Indiana League with the Benton Harbor (Michigan) Buds.

Before winding down his professional career, Felderman appeared in 12 minor league games; one game with the Texas League’s Fort Worth Cats and 11 with Fresno of the “C”-level California League. At age 35, Felderman’s playing career was done.

(source: eBay Image).

Memorabilia associated with or connected to Marv Felderman’s career is rather limited due to the brevity of his professional career. There were no signature gloves or professional model bats bearing his name or branded autograph made by glove or bat manufacturers due to Felderman’s three game major league career (803 professional games in total spanning 11 seasons).  As we have discussed many times on Chevrons and Diamonds, player-specific artifacts from service teams are scarce and are seldom available. However, not too long ago, a Felderman artifact surfaced that was connected with his Navy baseball career in the Hawaiian Islands.

(source: eBay Image).

Judging by the existence of this card (along with two others that were sold), passes were provided by the management of the Hawaiian Baseball League to allow players on service teams to have access to attend games as spectators (rather than on-field participants). Bearing Felderman’s name on the front, what makes the pass even more special is that the reverse features the player’s autograph. The previous owner of Felderman’s pass also had the autographed 1944-season pass provided to Ferris Fain of the 7th AAF squad along with Chubby Dean’s from the 1945 season which would seem to indicate that these were obtained by someone who was close to service team baseball in the Hawaiian Islands during the war.

Moonlight Graham played baseball for eight professional seasons in the minor leagues on the eastern seaboard as his professional ball-playing career came to a conclusion (similar to the way that Felderman’s wound down, decades later). It is doubtful that any baseball artifacts exist that can be attributed to Moonlight Graham however there is a measure of satisfaction in acquiring the Felderman piece as I ponder the similar career trajectories of the two men.

Author’s Note: When embarking upon a story that surrounds an artifact, the objective is always to uncover the personal histories that were either previously forgotten, unknown or were merely segments of another context. Researching this relatively unknown ballplayer has been a bit of an adventure spanning a few weeks where each discovery seemingly spawned additional paths to investigate. Attempts were made to control the expanding research which may lead to future articles as those avenues are pursued or interconnected while researching other players.

 

Dominating Their League (and our Collection): The 1944 Norfolk NTS Bluejackets

In the sphere of baseball memorabilia collecting, there are certain artifacts that conjure deeply emotional responses when they are beheld. The jersey or uniform worn by one of the game’s greats, the glove used by a legend during a pivotal World Series game, or the bat that hit the game-winning home-run in a contest in which the score was knotted in a tie; these treasures seem to engender jaw-drops and sheer awe by folks when their eyes fall upon the items.  In no other sport is the history of autographs more ingrained and deep-rooted than it is within baseball’s storied past. One of the most-telling indications of the value placed upon signatures from the people who played the game lies with the monetary-worth associated with specific items, such as autographed baseballs.

There are many examples of the considerably-high appraisal values associated with such treasures. To underscore the consistent high-prices, this 2017 Antiques Roadshow segment demonstrates the sort of financial interest the most-desired signatures can generate. Certainly inheriting a treasure such as a team-signed 1927 Yankees baseball is a windfall in terms of monetary value but for those who enjoy such treasures for their historical significance, it is invaluable.

The Chevrons and Diamonds collection features a handful of military service team-signed baseballs from World War II and into the 1950s. Starting with our first, a sphere that was autographed by the 1956 “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group based in Germany, we slowly began to source, acquire and receive treasures that brought a personal connection to service teams from more than a half-century ago. When we shined a spotlight upon the “Rammers” ball, life was breathed into the artifact as the descendant of one of the signers, a man who turned down the potential for a professional career within the Chicago Cubs organization, saw his grandfather’s autograph in the (story’s accompanying) photos of the ball (see: Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why) which fueled a family’s renewed interest in the veteran’s service and his love of baseball.  After being gifted with another signed piece, the 1949-dated ball from the “Stags” of the 25th Infantry Division, the significance of the everyday veteran who also played baseball during their time in uniform was further cemented in seeing infantrymen’s names encircling the ball.

To baseball fans and collectors of baseball memorabilia, these two signed pieces are understandably insignificant and rather undesirable due the lack of recognizable names inscribed on either ball. However, to Chevrons and Diamonds, such treasures underscore the game’s long-standing connection to the armed forces. Owning a baseball that was signed by professional ballplayers that made notable or significant contributions to the game gives a sense of connection to the game’s history.

While acquiring a ball signed by the 1927 Yankees is certainly the pinnacle of baseball autograph collecting, for those who focus on baseball militaria, a piece such as our 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” team ball (signed by four major and six minor leaguers), can elicit a greater sense of connection to the professional side of the game.

When we first acquired the P.H. Submarine Base signed ball, we lacked the research resources necessary to properly identify the signatures or associate them to a specific team. In the months that followed, every autograph was subsequently identified and correlated to a matching name on a scorecard or roster, narrowing the ball down to the 1943 team that dominated three separate leagues (securing the championships) in the Hawaiian Islands during that season. The success of the ’43 “Dolphins” prompted Army leadership to respond in kind by building a championship caliber team of their own for the 1944 season.  The result of that response was the assemblage of the Seventh Army Air Force squad whose roster was populated almost entirely by major leaguers and top-level minor leaguers that in turn, dominated the 1944 season, relegating the Pearl Harbor Sub Base “Dolphins” to a distant second place.

We are always on the lookout for similarly significant autographed baseballs and in the course of nearly 20 months, we have seen a few significant signed balls from noteworthy wartime service games and teams but were entirely unsuccessful in securing them for our collection. In the past few weeks, the situation changed when a colleague shared some photos of a signed baseball (purportedly from the 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets”) that he acquired and was seeking assistance in identifying the signatures that were present. After reviewing a few of the names that were easily discernible, we matched them against the rosters from the 1942, 1943 and 1945 teams (obtained from supporting documentation in the form of scorecards, newspaper clippings and books), I was able to confirm the baseball came from the 1944 team.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets.

I asked the colleague how he determined the baseball bore signatures from the ’43 Norfolk Bluejackets and he responded that the information came from “the person I got it [the ball] from. He got a [different] ball from the last game of the 1943 [season] Red Sox vs White Sox [series] and [had it] signed by the White Sox,” our colleague continued,” and later got the navy players [to sign the Norfolk ball] the same year as he remembered.”  Understanding how some timing details can grow foggy as the decades pass, we didn’t press for more information. Our colleague closed the conversation, writing, “He (the veteran) also was in the navy.  Each of these guys played for navy and specifically 1943.” Sharing some of our research that validated the actual iteration of the Norfolk team, our colleague responded that the ball was available, messaging that the ball, “needs to go to a place where it can be appreciated for its history and am glad you found it.”

Beneath the Reach logo stamp is Tommy Byrne’s lone signature.

Indeed, we were glad to have found this baseball. Once we had it in hand, a closer examination of the autographs showed that the ball contained inscriptions from nine major leaguers and three minor league players. Twelve players from the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets” roster of 20 signed the period-correct William Harridge Reach Official American League baseball (used by the American League from 1943-1947).

1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Roster (names present on the ball are in bold):

Player Position 1944 Stats
Sig Broskie C, PH 0.368
Jack Conway SS 0.280
Jeff Cross 3B 0.314
Bill Deininger C 0.319
Hooks Devaurs CF 0.288
Benny Huffman C, LF 0.329
Clyde McCullough C 0.390
Red McQuillen RF 0.367
George Meyer INF 0.224
Mel Preibisch LF 0.321
Eddie Robinson** 1B 0.282
Hank Schenz 2B 0.369
Tommy Byrne LHP 16-6
Herb Chmiel** LHP 4-1
Frank Marino RHP 15-3
Russ Meers LHP 17-5
Tom Nisbet RHP 0-1
Johnny Rigney RHP 22-4
Jack Robinson RHP 9-2

Bluejackets Staff:

Gary Bodie Manager
Mush Esler** Trainer
Chuck  Reinecker Batboy

As the season was getting started, the press had concerns as to the capabilities of the new faces on the roster and how the manager, Gary Bodie will address the seemingly gaping holes left by the departed stars of the 1943 season.

Gone are many members of last year’s championship club, but true to Navy tradition, a winning club is in the offing at the NNTS.

Coach Bodie won’t have some of the stars of the brilliant infield at his command this year. They’re scattered about the four corners of the earth. When the umps called, “Play Ball” in the first game of the season, Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, Second Baseman Benny McCoy, Third Baseman Jim Carlin, and Pitchers Tom Earley, Freddie Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Hank Feimster and Maxie Wilson were conspicuously missing. So were Vinnie Smith and Dom DiMaggio – all transferred to other bases. 

But veteran Bodie has come up with another rip-snortin‘ combination that promises to be a whirlwind in Navy competition this year. The swashbuckling Bluejackets will eagerly watch the work of big Eddie Robinson, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, one of last year’s mainstays. Jeff Cross, a St. Louis farm hand at Houston, will be back at third. 

Bodie plans to use Jack Conway at Phil Rizzuto’s post, while George Meyer, ex-Texas League veteran, is slated to see service at second base, and will have as his understudy, Henry Schenz, former Portsmouth Cub infielder. 

Hailing from Sheboygan in the Wisconsin League is Bill Deininger, second-string catcher on the 1943, who will bear the brunt of the catching duties this year. Benny Huffman, formerly with the St. Louis Browns, will divide the receiving chores with Deininger. 

Bodie has a battery of six hurlers to choose from – three righthanders and a trio of southpaws. The lefties are Tommy (Yankees) Byrnes, Russ (Cubs) Meers and Herb (Tulsa) Chmiel, while the righthanders include Johnny (White Sox) Rigney, Frank (Tulsa) Marino and Jack (Binghamton) Robinson.” – Sporting News, April 27, 1944

Out of the gate, the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station dominated their competition.

Seven thousand sailors and officers overflowed the naval base stadium, Easter Sunday, April 9, to watch Gary Bodie’s NTS team open the season with a 12-2 decision over the Portsmouth Cubs, defending Piedmont League champions. 

After Capt. H. A. McClure, commanding officer of the NST, start things rolling by throwing out the first ball, the Bluejackets pounded three Portsmouth pitchers for 16 hits, including a homer by Bennie Huffman, formerly of the St. Louis Browns. 

The Piedmont Leaguers collected eight hits off Russ Meers (Chicago Cubs) and Frank Marino (Tulsa), and a two-base smash by Rayon Couto, veteran Cuban catcher, was one of the longest blows of the game. 

Eddie Robinson (Baltimore), of the NTS, and Francisco Campos, 19-year-old Cuban Cub, set the pace in the hitting with three safeties apiece.” – Sporting News, April 13, 1944

The 1944 Norfolk team, though not as competitive in their league and exhibition play the 1942 Bluejackets, still managed to notch 83 wins against 22 losses (and two ties), pulling them ahead of the noteworthy 1943 Norfolk squad.  Mirroring the previous season’s opening series against a major league opponent (against the Washington Senators), the Norfolk team faced St. Louis, that season’s eventual American League Champions, defeating them by a 6-3 margin as browns closed out their spring training season. Norfolk NTS closed out their 1944 year by playing host to the Senators, dominating Washington by a score of 9-4.

The Norfolk Naval Training Station team swept two games from the Quantico Marines, August 19-20, winning the first 11-5, and the second, 16-4. Johnny Rigney yielded only four hits for his nineteenth victory of the season in the second tilt. The win was the seventy-third for NTS, topping the 72-mark compiled by the strong Bluejacket club of last year.” – Sporting News, August 31, 1944

In the 1942 and 1943 campaigns, the Bluejackets closed out their seasons with a seven-game championship, facing off with their cross-base rivals, the Naval Air Station “Fliers.” However, on September 7, 1944, Norfolk NTS commanding officer, Captain H. A. McClure announced that the “Little World’s Series” had been cancelled, marking the end of the of the season

1944 Bluejackets team leaders:

  • Batting average – Hank Schenz – .369
  • Home runs – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 11
  • RBI’s – Eddie Robinson – 99
  • Doubles – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 26
  • Hits – Red McQuillen – 160
  • Triples – Red McQuillen – 11
  • Runs – Jeff Cross – 109
  • Stolen bases – Jeff Cross – 50
  • Winning Percentage – Johnny Rigney – .850%
  • Wins – Johnny Rigney – 22

Even the club trainer, Myron John “Mush” Esler, had professional experience serving as the trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers (American Association) for 1938.*

In terms of the collectible aspects of the Norfolk NTS autographed baseball, consideration aside from the significance of the team and the autographs present on the ball, must be given to the condition of the ink of the signatures and ball itself. With regards to the heavily faded condition of the ink and the manufacturer’s markings, it is apparent that the baseball has received a considerable amount of ultra-violet exposure over the past seven decades.  The nearly pristine white appearance of the hide covering and stitching are demonstrate both an absence of shellac and exposure to human oils and soiling from handling.

Showing signatures from Eddie Robinson, Jeff Cross, Benny Huffman, Jack Conway and Henry “Hank” Schenz.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets didn’t have the “star-power” that was present on the ‘43 squad but the results of Bosun’ Bodie’s formulaic mixture of talented and highly capable former major and minor leaguers mirrored what was seen in previous seasons. Although our team-signed baseball lacks the entire roster, the presence of autographs from the Bluejackets’ stars makes this treasure a home run acquisition.

**Notes:

  • Of the signatures present on this ball, first baseman Eddie Robinson who had just eight major league games (with nine plate appearances) to his credit before entering the U.S. Navy following the 1942 season, is currently the oldest living major league baseball player having surpassed his 99th year on December 15, 2019.  After three years of Navy service, Robinson spent 12 more seasons in the majors with the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators,, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Yankees, Kansas City Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles. Robinson played in 10 World Series games (six with the 1948 Indians and four with the 1955 Yankees) and proved to be a substantial contributor with his bat. In 23 total at-bats, Eddie has a .348 batting average and a .423 on-base percentage.
  • Without evidence to the contrary, one other of the 1944 Norfolk Bluejackets whose autograph graces our ball’s surface is left-handed pitcher, Herbert Chmiel who turned 98-years-old on September 22, 2019. Chmiel’s five professional baseball seasons (1941-42, 1946-48) were spent with seven minor league clubs that straddled his three years in a Navy uniform (1942-1945). Herb Chmiel’s last season as a pro-ball player saw him with the 1948 Los Angeles Angels (Pacific Coast League) where he saw action as a relief pitcher with 14 innings in six appearances.
  • “Mush Esler served as a trainer for the University of Toledo from 1939-1940 and in the same capacity for the Cleveland Rams (National Football League) for 1941. Chief Athletic Specialist Mush served in the Navy from March 1942 through December 1945. After the war, Mush served as the trainer for the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals before spending the remaining years of his life as the Chicago White Sox trainer from 1951 until his premature death in 1955 at the age of 44.

 

 

75 Years Later, WWII Navy Baseball is Still Giving

The quest for baseball militaria quite often results in being outbid, a day late for a great deal or finding an artifact in a condition of utter disrepair and doesn’t warrant being added to a collection but would be better served with an unceremonious disposal. Finding a wool flannel jersey riddled with holes and decay from years of improper storage and being feasted upon by moths and silverfish is not a find at all. Locating a rare and vintage bat that has been used as gardening implement rather than properly stored should cause even the most carefree collector to pause. Some of these treasures are sadly too far gone to be kept and, in some cases (such as with a pest-infested and heavily damaged jersey), they need to be discarded.

This USN-marked ELmer Riddle DW Model glove was in rough shape when we acquired it.

The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is populated by many artifacts, some of which are in conditions that would have been avoided by memorabilia hobbyists and museum curators. One of the more challenging artifacts (in terms of preservation and stabilization efforts) was a wartime GoldSmith Elmer Riddle “DW” model glove that was marked with “U.S.N.” that was heavily damaged from water. The horsehide on the glove was rife with dry-rot, mold and extensive cracking and so malodorous that it required storage in a resealable bag. Despite the glove’s state, we were able to preserve what remained and save it from complete destruction. We question the expended effort to save the DW glove (documented in our story: A War Veteran Who Never Served) and have come to the conclusion that there are alternative solutions for heavily deteriorated artifacts.

In the last year, this site has been the beneficiary of a plethora or historical data, research and anecdotes from a baseball historian who, through his efforts and his books, shined a spotlight on Navy wartime baseball and established a foundation upon which all other military baseball historians have built upon.  My first contact with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr. followed a social media group posting that was a request for assistance in identifying three faces in a group of four World War II-era vintage snapshots that featured four Navy baseball players. A colleague in that group suggested that I reach out to Mr. Crissey and provided me with his contact information. In addition to Kit’s quick response to my inquiry, the ensuing email correspondence regarding his experiences, interviews and even friendships that he held with many of the major and minor leaguers (who donned Navy flannels during the War) was truly eye-opening. After the Chevrons and Diamonds article, Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars was published, a friendship developed. In addition to our enlightening conversations and research collaboration on countless projects, Kit’s generosity in sharing precious and rare artifacts has opened the doors into so many areas of research and advanced our efforts (seemingly) by light-years.

This group of snapshots were part of a WWII Navy veteran’s collection and was the vehicle that led to establishing a friendship with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey.

Crissey, aside from being a wealth of knowledge and research resources, has been a source of encouragement in this endeavor. To be able to respond in kind and enlighten our readers (including Mr. Crissey) in other aspects of wartime baseball; particularly in the area of baseball militaria artifacts. The delightful conversation that followed the publication of Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt (with Kit) set the idea-gears into motion.

Droke matched the 7th’s insignia onto one of our Ferris Fain glove-baseball’s panels – shown here with the 7th AAF patch and the same Fain model glove.

As we approach the anniversary of that initial contact, it seemed fitting that a very tangible gift that is representative of this game and the incredible history that is mutually appreciated between us, would be fitting to send to Kit.  During a phone conversation with Kit regarding our vintage wartime Mickey Owen catcher’s mitt and how his interest was piqued, he described the feeling of donning a vintage catcher’s mitt and how different they feel from their contemporary counterparts used in today’s game. The sheer weight of the mitt, the stiffness of the extensive padding and thick leather covering leaves one wondering how a catcher can securely close his hand around a pitched ball as it makes contact. A smile was discernible in his voice as Kit talked about the feel of a vintage catcher’s mitt.

Representative of what was made by Civil War soldiers (on both sides) and used between marches and battles. This ball (and the Confederate-wrapped box) were made by Don Droke in early 2018 (image source: Pam Henderson).

I glanced at my 7th Army Air Forces baseball that was handcrafted for me from leather salvaged from a deteriorated early 1950s Ferris Fain “Trapper” first baseman’s mitt and knew that I wanted to bring to a confluence three concepts; the feel of a vintage mitt, the tactile nature of holding a baseball and wartime Navy baseball history. Without hesitation, my mind set upon the artful hands of another baseball and military historian and craftsman, Mr. Don Droke of East Tennessee in hopes that he could draw upon his skills and experience to undertake this project. Taking hold of the Ferris Fain/7th Army Air Forces baseball, I began to search my mind for illustrations that would best embody the Navy game during WWII.

One of Don Droke’s earliest baseballs made from glove-sourced leather from a Mickey Mantle model glove (image source: Don Droke).

Since February of 2018, Don “the Drokester” Droke has been transforming tattered, worn, decayed and generally un-salvageable baseball gloves and mitts into treasured heirlooms. Leather and horsehide that used to absorb the energy and impact of a fast-moving orb is carefully removed, cut, trimmed and stitched over an old and de-skinned baseball. In nearly two years, Don has created several dozen unique baseballs from gloves bearing the stamped or tooled signatures or caricatures of legendary players, extracting their stamped signatures or embellishing the hide with enhancements to further honor and represent a player or significant accomplishment, depending upon what the artist or the customer commissions.

Droke is an historian with a passion for sharing living historical portrayals through reenacting, story-telling and artifacts, the baseball-making was born from his love of the game while serving as a Civil War Reenactor.  Some of Don’s earliest hand-made baseballs were replications of those made by troops (on both sides of the conflict) in the early 1860s. Civil War baseballs were hand-made with available materials such as canvas or leather from an old boot and, aside from being orbital in shape and bearing stitching, hardly represent what we see on today’s diamonds.

“Though the process of making the baseballs can be tedious, and takes some finesse, Droke is able to complete a new ball in about six to eight hours — granted, he does so while enjoying Cincinnati Reds games, as sitting down and making ball after ball would ‘suck the fun out of it.'” – Piney Flats man has unique way of repurposing old baseball gloves – Johnson City Press (Tennessee) | Jonathan Roberts • AUG 4, 2019

Despite the heavy wear and cracking from dry-rot, this Wartime Spalding “Marvel” Model 102 stamp is still discernible (source: eBay Image).

For this project, Don started with a well-worn Spalding “Marvel” model 102 catcher’s mitt that was used by naval personnel during WWII as indicated by the “U.S.N.”  stamp on the heel. Had the condition been better, this model of catcher’s mitt is truly worth preserving however, the water damage and wear on this particular example was extensive leaving it un-salvageable. According to Droke, the mitt’s condition did not leave much usable leather for making a ball due to the considerable dry rot and cracking and might have to supplement the project with hid from another sacrificed glove.

Once the glove was dismantled, Don located the primary areas on the glove that would surround the outer windings of the baseball, paying particular attention to the features that would tie into the project’s theme. Rather than attempting to match the two-piece, inter-locking shapes, each of Don Droke’s hand crafted baseballs feature panels that are cut to emphasize a feature extracted from the glove which results in unique stitching patters that are reminiscent of the field-made Civil War-used baseballs. Don isolated the “U.S.N.” stamp from the mitt’s heel area cutting out a circular shape and laying it in place on the donor baseball’s outer windings. Each subsequent piece was cut from the glove and trimmed to fit in concert with the adjacent pieces, much like fitting together a three-dimensional spherical puzzle.

Depending upon the project’s specifications, Don can spend several hours each day for three to four days which, besides cutting and assembling the baseball but also pre-conditioning the leather (as was done with this mitt) and thinning the hide (with a Dremmel tool) to ensure consistent material thickness. A more recent enhancement to Droke’s glove baseballs is the application of hand-tooled designs (such as team logos, player illustrations or player-statistics) which this particular project included.

This stamp was the primary material objective. Don shows how the wartime “U.S.N.” stamp-panel fits on the donor baseball (image source: Don Droke).

Note and sketches show how Don Droke was preparing for tooling the artwork directly into the re-purposed mitt leather (image source: Don Droke).

Don’s artistic creativity was brought to bear on this Navy-themed ball with the addition of the 1942 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets team jersey applique (an “N” for Norfolk with “N” “T” “S” superimposed), the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets jersey script applique and an anchor design with N T S across the shank. Also added to the ball was the outcome of the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series held in the Hawaiian Islands (the Navy won with a record of eight wins against two losses and a tie).

The panels are coming together for fitting ahead of the final step, stitching the ball together (image source: Don Droke).

Over the course of four days, Don spent time meticulously cutting and fitting 75-year-old, heavily weathered and damaged leather to create both an aesthetically pleasing baseball but also to accommodate specific illustrations and the “U.S.N” stamp, fitting them all together. Each illustration was selected from vintage photographs of baseball uniform jersey and jacket emblems in order to capture the impact made by professional ballplayers who, like millions of Americans, left the comforts of their pre-war life behind in order to restore peace to the globe. Navy wartime baseball played a significant role in lifting morale and providing much needed sports equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and mitts (including the Spalding mitt used for this project) to troops in all combat theaters and at domestic bases.

After Don pulled and tied off the last stitches, he snapped a few quick photos of the finished baseball and then it sunk in that we would not be seeing or holding this treasure before it arrives to Kit Crissey’s door. Watching this project; the transformation from something that would otherwise have been discarded being made into a subtle, yet beautiful piece of folk art is satisfying.

Stitching is complete. The illustrations are beautifully framed by the ball’s stitching and are finished off by a hand-rubbed polish that makes the 75-year-old mitt leather truly shine (image source: Don Droke).

While it may seem counter-intuitive for this article’s featured image to be placed at the very end of the story, however we were truly saving the best part for last. The final punctuation for this story is to hear the reaction of this treasure’s recipient, Mr. Crissey.

During the making of our Navy Baseball, Don Droke was also tending to his cattle during a severe cold snap that struck East Tennessee. Despite his efforts in , this ailing little calf perished (image source: Don Droke).

Commission a Ball
For our readers who would like to commission their own baseball from Don “The Drokester” Droke, be prepared to provide your own glove or mitt and to pay his very reasonable fee and get in line behind Don’s customers. Feel free to contact Don via email (theglovester2000@yahoo.com), but please be patient in awaiting his response. Between Mr. Droke’s family, his career, farm, Civil War re-enacting, vintage baseball glove collecting, baseball-making or taking in a minor league game or just relaxing at home, watching his beloved Cincinnati Reds, Don will return your email and quite possibly converse with you about his favorite things in life as he takes note of your baseball project.

Resources and Recommended Reading:

  • Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: Vol. 1; The National League – 1981, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
  • Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: 2; The American League – 1982, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
  • Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II – 1984, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.

 

More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian

Steaming westbound, a Navy troop ship, bound for the Hawaiian Islands engorged with stores, munitions and fighting men that will resupply and augment forces engaged in the island-hopping campaign in the push towards the Japanese Homeland.  Among the embarked troops was a collection of men, mostly assembled from U.S. Army Air Forces air bases in the western United States, nearly two-dozen fellow servicemen whose pre-war occupations drew considerable interest from the others aboard the ship; among this group were two childhood sandlot friends.

May 1944 – Aboard a troop ship bound for Pearl Harbor clockwise from tope left): Sgt. Walter Judnich (Browns), Cpl. Mike McCormick (Reds) and Staff Sgt. Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), Pfc. Gerald Priddy (Senators) and Sgt. Dario Lodigiani (White Sox) are soon to be a part of the formidable 7th Army Air Force team (ACME Newsphoto).

One of the most picturesque areas on the United States’ West Coast, the San Francisco Bay area has been an incubator, producing incredible baseball talent on sandlots of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. In a 400 square-mile area (including the large San Francisco Bay), four significant ball players plied their wares on sandlots in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Soma, Excelsior and Cow Hollow Districts in San Francisco while two more churned up the base paths surrounding Oakland. Legendary Bay Area names such as LazzeriHeilmann, Cronin, Gomez and Lombardi are all synonymous with greatness with bronze plaques (bearing their likenesses) prominently displayed at Cooperstown. These six players alone firmly place the Bay Area on baseball’s map but the list of notable baseball names from the region is as expansive as the geography, itself. However, the list of outstanding ballplayers from this region is considerable beyond those inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The North Beach District was settled by Italian immigrants following the devastating 1906 and was an incubator for some of baseball’s “royal” families such as Crosetti, Lucchesi and DiMaggio. Sicilian immigrants, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio saw three of their sons pursue baseball from an early age. Rather than take to the sea to gather fish with their father, Vince, Joe and Dominic chased their dreams on the diamond. Fellow Italian, Dario Lodigiani grew up (on nearby Telegraph Hill) with the DiMaggio brothers though he was closer in age to Dominic, his childhood relationship was close with Joe. Joe and Dario were junior high school teammates continuing on at Lowell High School until Joe departed to pursue his professional career with the San Francisco Seals. Dario transferred to Galileo High School, continuing his scholastic baseball career before stepping up semi-pro ball with the Golden Gate Valley league.

Like many of his fellow Bay Area players, Lodigiani signed with one of the local Pacific Coast League franchises, the cross-bay Oakland Oaks (who, at that time, were affiliated with the major league’s New York Yankees), in 1935. After three seasons with the Oaks carrying a .306 average, Dario caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics owner, Connie Mack who traded five players and cash to the Oaks to acquire the young infielder.

We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass- over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s–t, or nothing—he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.” – Dario Lodigiani (source: Ed Attanasio, ThisGreatGame.com)

Lodigiani played for the Athletics for part of the 1938 season (splitting time between Philadelphia and the Eastern League Williamsport Grays) and the entire 1939 campaign. In 1940, Dario effectively spent the entire season in the minors, appearing in 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays of the International League before a September call-up which resulted in a lone, hitless plate appearance (lead-off pinch hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning with the A’s trailing 5-2 to the Washington Senators on September 22nd).  Following the acquisition of Detroit Tiger’s young, solid-hitting second baseman Benny McCoy, Dario Lodigiani became expendable and was shipped that December to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 34-year-old veteran pitcher, Jack Knott.

Though he only saw action for the White Sox in 87 games, Lodigani was the anchor at third base (splitting time at the hot corner with Bob Kennedy who saw action in 71 games) joining future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling in the Chicago infield, however his .239 batting average for 1941 left him vulnerable. In 1942, Kennedy’s hotter bat and better glove relegated Lodigiani to a utility role for his final major league season, before departing for the War.

This photo of Johnny Rigney during a visit to the Chicago White Sox clubhouse at Comiskey Field shows significant editing to prepare it for press-half-toning. Most of the players would be following Johnny Rigney into the armed forces in the coming months. The original caption reads:
July 3, 1942 – Johnny Rigney, who until his induction into the Navy a short time ago, was a leading White Sox hurler, got a watch from his former teammates when he appeared at Comiskey Park last night with the Great Lakes naval training station team against Chanute Field. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. Left to right are Dario Lodigiani, Mule Haas, Ted Lyons, Rigney, Thornton Lee and Orval Grove.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

A few years ago, we acquired a pair of photos that spotlighted two of the Chicago White Sox pitchers who were shown while on active duty during World War II. In one image,  future Hall of Famer, 42-year-old Ted Lyons is wearing his Marines flannels near Navy Pier in Chicago, not long after enlisting. The other photo depicted Johnny Rigney sporting his Navy service dress blues as he was presented with a watch by Ted Lyons and White Sox teammates during a return visit to Comiskey Field. Among those present was Dario Lodigiani. With only 275 games played in six major league seasons in his career, Dario’s name didn’t capture the attention that his 1942 White Sox teammates Luke Appling and Ted Lyons did. In researching other notable ballplayers-turned-servicemen, Lodigiani’s name kept appearing in service game newspaper summaries and our collection’s vintage scorecards.

Seeing Lodigiani’s smiling profile among his fellow White Sox teammates in the 1942 photograph reminded me of another more famous photo that spotlighted his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio posed with random servicemen (in their green, HBT combat uniforms) aboard a troop ship. Not initially recognizing the other faces that accompanied the “Yankee Clipper” and “Lodi,” it soon became apparent that the three other GIs were also former baseball players (Sergeant Walter Judnich, St. Louis Browns; Corporal Mike McCormick, Cincinnati Reds;  and Private First Class Gerald Priddy of the Washington Senators) and were all part of the dominant Central California Serviceman’s League team based at McClellan Field in Sacramento.  The photo of the five ballplayers aboard ship has been on our watch list for years with hopes that another copy of the popular news photo is de-accessioned from a newspaper archive.

Following his 1942 White Sox campaign, Lodigiani was called to serve, joining the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 19, 1943 for the war’s duration (plus six months) from his hometown of San Francisco. Following basic and other training, Corporal Lodigiani reported to McClellan Field along with former St. Louis Browns outfielder (and fellow San Franciscan) Walter Judnich on March 4th. While assigned to the McClellan Field training command air base, Lodigiani was added to the base team and became an immediate a force with both his glove and bat.

Batting .313 and .288 respectively, while in the American League, last season, Pfc. Walt Judnich of the St. Louis Browns and Pfc. Dario Lodigiani of the Chicago White Sox are just two more dogfaces on KP at the Air Service Command headquarters base, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California. Both are star players on the Commander team, but their diamond activity is secondary to techical and military training they receive while preparing to help keep the Army Air Forces planes aloft in different war zones. And cleaning up the dishes, as well as the bases, is part of the chores assigned them while getting ready for the bigger game.” – The Sporting News, July 7, 1943

Recently added to our collection, this news photo of Corporal Dario Lodigiani was heavily retouched by a pre-press photo editor. The original caption reads:
September 18, 1943, Sacramento, California: Dario Lodigiani, former White Sox infielder, is now a corporal in the Army Air Force. He is a member of the crew of the Sacramento Air Service Command stationed at McClellan Field, California.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

An all-star team of professionals who happen to be serving in the armed forces during World War II.

Dario’s impact was immediate and positive for the McClellan Field Commanders as the team left their competition in their slipstream and by mid-August, he was selected as an All-Star to play in the All Pacific Recreation Fund game that was held at Gilmore Field. As part of the Service All-Stars, “Lodi” was reunited as teammates with his boyhood friend, Joe DiMaggio (who was assigned to the Santa Ana Air Base team). Reconnecting with DiMaggio to pummel the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels was just a hint of what was to come. At the end of the 1943 service league season, the McClellan Field squad faced off against a selected group of major league “all-stars” in Sacramento:

Sacramento, California: The climax of the season fo Sacramento fans comes Sunday, October 17, when a team of major league all-stars plays the McClellan Field Commanders at Cardinal Field. Fresh from the World’s Series, Ernie Bonham of the Yankees will be the starting pitcher, to be relieved, with or without necessity, by Milo Candini of Washington and Manuel Salvo of the Braves. 

The all-star line-up of major league players who live in this area, also will include such headline performers as Dick Bartell and Ernie Lombardi of the Giants, Eddie Lake of the Red Sox, Eddie Joost of the Braves, Augie Galan of the Dodgers, Stan Hack of the Cubs, Jim Tobin of the Braves. 

The Commanders are dotted with stars themselves. On the Army team are such names as Walter Judnich of the Browns, Dario Lodigiani of the White Sox, Mike McCormick of the Reds, Ferris Fain and Al Lien of the Seals, Carl DeRose and Rugger Ardizoia of the Yankees’ Kansas City farm and Bill Schmidt of Sacramento.”  – The Sporting News, October 14, 1943

McClellan Field Commanders Roster:

Player Position
Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P
Kenny Butler OF
Carl DeRose P
Bob Dillinger 2B
Ferris Fain 1B
Al Hanley 3B
Walter Judnich OF
Vince Latino 3B
Dario Lodigiani SS
Joe Maravelli P/OF
Red Renfree Manager
Bill Schmidt P
Malcolm Silva P
Charlie Silvera C
Izzy Smith CF
Mike Suynicki C
Don Brown Scorer
Mike McCormick OF
Jerry Priddy 2B/3B

For the 1944 season, the McClellan Field Commanders picked up where they left off from the previous season as they settled into a rhythm of tallying wins against their competition.  Perhaps to their Central California Servicemen’s League opponents’ collective relief, an order was issued by Major General Withers A. Burress, commanding general of the 100th Infantry Division who recognized that the Army’s ballplayers would better serve in the war effort if they were with combat units (or at least that was how the order to relocate the likes of DiMaggio, “Red” Ruffing and others to the Hawaiian Islands. What actually precipitated the order was the level of competition from the Navy and Marine Corp teams in the Hawaiian baseball leagues was too stiff for the Army and the brass wanted to teach the sea-going branch a lesson.

Although in the Army now, Lieutenant Colonel Leland “Lee” Stanford MacPhail is still ordering ball players around. It was MacPhail who went to General Marshall with the idea of transferring professional players from station compliments to combat divisions. 

Lt. Col. MacPhail made the suggestion for three reasons. The erstwhile fiery guide, “the Gowanus,” realized it wouldn’t hurt the morale of combat units to have real live ball player attached to them. He grew tired of permanent reception and replacement center clubs beating teams representing combat regiments, considered it unfair. With 150 major league players on camp teams, he considered the practice in effect bad for organized baseball.” – “The Press Box,” Charles S. Kerg May 3, 1944 Delta Democrat Times

The orders to dismantle the McClellan team came in April of 1944 that pulled the core talent and sent them to Seattle to await further transport. Joining the former McClellan players in Seattle, Santa Ana’s star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio caught up with the men at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington where he suited up for a game with the local base troops in the Evergreen State on the eve of sailing for the South Pacific.

During the transit from Seattle to Pearl Harbor, the pitching and rolling of the transport ship left the airmen ballplayers laid up with seasickness for several days. Despite exhaustion and being weakened from the inability to eat properly, the newly constituted Seventh Army Air Forces (7th AAF) baseball team, based at Hickam Field, was scheduled for two exhibitions games against a Navy team at Honolulu Stadium in those first few days of early June. In the first game, DiMaggio crush his first of two memorable home runs (one in each game) that landed outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet. The second DiMaggio long-ball was a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). For Dario and the rest of the 7th AAF team, DiMaggio’s home runs were sign of the impending dominance they would experience in the Hawaiian Islands.

7th Army Air Force Roster:

Player Position Former Team
John Andre P Honolulu League
Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia P Kansas City
Alphonse Ceriello Semi-Pro
Carl DeRose P Amsterdam
Bob Dillinger 3B Toledo
Joe DiMaggio CF/1B New York Yankees
Ferris Fain 1B San Francisco Seals
Edward Funk P Federalsburg
Joe Gedzius SS Oklahoma City
Hal Hairston P Homestead Grays
James Hill Pensacola, FL
Ed Jaab Moline
Wally Judnich CF/1B St. Louis Browns
Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer SS/1B Tyler, TX
Will Leonard C Oakland, CA
Al Lien P San Francisco Seals
Dario Lodigiani 2B/3B Chicago White Sox
Mike McCormack OF/#B Cincinnati Reds
Arthur Rawlinson Semi-Pro
Charles “Red” Ruffing P New York Yankees
Frank “Pep” Saul P Semi-Pro
Bill Schmidt P Sacramento, CA
Charlie Silvera C Wellsville
Don Smith Seton Hall College
Tom Winsett (manager) Brooklyn Dodgers

For the rest of the Central Pacific League, the season was already underway as the 7th was just getting started with dispatching the competition. On July 20th, the 7th AAF took down the Schofield Barracks Redlanders by a score of 8-4 with DiMaggio being absent with illness since July 9 (he returned to the roster briefly after the 23rd) leaving Dario and the rest of the team to take down the competition. By the middle of August, Lodigiani’s squad was steamrolling the competition despite DiMaggio’s spotty appearances in the lineup. Fellow Bay Area native, first baseman Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) was among the league’s tops in hitting, helping the team to several multi-game win streaks. On August 17th, the Seventh secured their 16th consecutive win.

Listed on the back page are the rosters for both teams. Though the Army squad possessed incredible talent, they were merely the 1944 7th AAF team but augmented with a few players from other Army teams.
The Navy was overloaded with talent from top to bottom in addition to the sheer numbers advantage.

With the league championship under their belts, several of the 7th AAF’s roster were picked for the Army vs Navy All Stars Championship (I.e. Service World Series) that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Having been embarrassed by the AAF team, the Navy pulled all the stops and gathered their best players from around the Pacific Theater as well as the U.S. mainland. The Army pulled their all-stars from among the teams spread throughout Hawaii. Despite their efforts, the Army’s All Stars were beaten by the Navy in four straight games in the best of seven. Having already lost, Army and Navy brass decided to play the entire seven games in order to give the troops quartered in the Islands an opportunity to see a game for a morale boost (the series was further extended to 11 games in total).

USASTAF Program from the USAAF South Pacific Tour played on Guam in late 1945 shows the rosters for both the 58th and the 73rd teams.

Lodigiani’s league and All-Star play got him tapped to join the 1945 Army Air Forces tours of the South Pacific which included Micronesia and the Marianas. With games played between the two touring squads (the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and the 73rd  Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) or the local base teams (often augmented by players from the tour squads), the USAAF played in front of crowds of fatigued flight crews and wounded GIs to lift their spirits.

 

58th Wingmen Roster (1945 USAAF South Pacific Tour):

Player Rank Position Experience
Ed Chandler Cpl P Pacific Coast League
“Chubby” Dean Pfc P Cleveland Indians
Bob Dillinger Pfc IF American Association
Ferris Fain S/Sgt IF Pacific Coast League
George Gill Cpl P Detroit Tigers
“Tex” Hughson Pfc P Boston Red Sox
“Chet” Kehn Pfc P Brooklyn Dodgers
Ed Kowalski Pfc P Semi-Pro
Al Lien Cpl P Pacific Coast League
Art Lilly Cpl IF Pacific Coast League
Dario Lodgiani Sgt IF Chicago White Sox
Johnny Mazur Cpl C Piedmont League
“Mike” McCormick Cpl OF Cincinnati Reds
Buster Mills 1st Lt OF/Mgr Cleveland Indians
Lew Riggs Cpl IF Brooklyn Dodgers
Stan Rojek Sgt IF Brooklyn Dodgers
“Big Bill” Schmidt Sgt P Pacific Coast League
Charlie Silvera Cpl C American Association
Burl Storie S/Sgt C Texas League
Johnny Sturm Sgt IF New York Yankees
Max West Cpl OF Boston Braves
Taft Wright Sgt OF Chicago White Sox

With the war ended officially on September 2 (when the Japanese high command signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri), GIs were now seeking to return home and get back to their lives. Those GIs with the required 85 points were eligible to be sent home (as soon as transport was available) ahead of those who lacked the minimum.

The “Advanced Service Rating Score” point system was intended to provide equity in the demobilization of troops from war service. GIs received one point for each month of military service and one additional point was given for each month of overseas service. Each battle star or decoration earned a soldier 5 points. In addition, troops were awarded 12 points per dependent child (up to a maximum of three children).  Dario Lodigiani, like most of the ballplayers who did not see combat service, lacked the minimum demobilization points. Despite their low points total, 37 baseball players were returned to the States for either discharge or reassignment, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on November 15 aboard the attack transport ship USS Cecil (APA-96), stirring up considerable controversy among other GIs.  Among the 37 were: Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilian Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rojek and Sidney Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Cecil Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean. Lodigiani was discharged from the Army immediately upon arrival while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were stuck overseas.

Technical Sergeant Loren H. Penfield (one of several troops to did so) wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes calling attention to the issue of the players being moved to the head of the demobilization line, “Up until now these men have been rated in the same category as ourselves,” Penfield wrote. “However, it appears that they must have been classified along with the “Trippi “deal,” the technical sergeant referenced similar incident that saw the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, Charlie Trippi, sent back early (from the military) to rejoin the Bulldogs squad, five games into the 1945 NCAA football season. Penfield closed his letter, “Can we be returned to the States for assignment without the required points for discharge?” Despite the brewing controversy for Lodigiani and the other 37 players, the heat was minimal and dissipated as the steady stream of GIs were returned from overseas and discharged.

Lodigiani spent his first peacetime holiday season in four years on U.S. soil as his thoughts were of the coming 1946 season. Seven days after returning to U.S. soil, Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving like none other. President Truman’s 1945 Thanksgiving Proclamation encapsulated the impact of the previous four years along with the challenges that were ahead.

We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.

Triumph over the enemy has not dispelled every difficulty. Many vital and far-reaching decisions await us as we strive for a just and enduring peace. We will not fail if we preserve, in our own land and throughout the world, that same devotion to the essential freedoms and rights of mankind which sustained us throughout the war and brought us final victory.” – President Harry S. Truman, November 12, 1945

Returning to normalcy and the game couldn’t come fast enough for the returning veteran ball players and journeymen like Dario Lodigiani faced many challenges resuming their careers.

Despite landing a roster spot with the White Sox, Dario saw limited time (just 44 games) in what would be his last season in the major league. Dario Lodigiani returned “home” to the Oakland Oaks for the 1947, ‘48 and part of the 1949 seasons before moving across the bay to the San Francisco Seals to play through the 1951 season. From 1952-54, Lodi wound his playing career in the low minors (Class A and C) before hung up his spikes.

Wartime service team baseball service was all but forgotten in the following years but veterans such as Lodigiani could have easily pointed his finger at his war service as a reason his major league career was adversely impacted and cut short as it did for so many of his colleagues. However, Dario never left the game, serving as a minor league manager, a coach and scout (for his beloved White Sox) until his death in 2008 in Napa, California, just 50 miles from his childhood home.

Two simple photos in our collection inspired extensive research into an otherwise unknown ballplayer. Dario Lodigiani’s 70+ years in organized baseball had an extensive impact upon the game. His service in the Army Air Forces afforded him opportunities to play alongside and against some of the the best in the game as well as the with and against his childhood friends (Joe and Dom DiMaggio).

Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt

As the National Football League wound down the 2019 season with the final regular season contest at Seattle’s Century League Field on Sunday, December 29, the common description of the sport, that it is “a game of inches,” was on full display in the final play as the Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister was tackled just shy of scoring the game-winning touchdown (the San Francisco 49ers captured the division title). Actor and Director Billy Crystal described his earliest memory of passing through Yankee Stadium’s grandstand tunnel during a pre-game batting practice for an early 1950s game. In his recollection, Crystal’s memory was relatable as he recounted inhaling such scents including the diamond’s freshly cut grass evoking some of my earliest ballpark memories.

As my age advances and the physical impacts resulting from the hazards of military service continue to emerge as greater challenges for me, I am becoming acutely aware of the changes. Of the many residual effects that I contend with is substantial hearing loss and its continual degradation which is emphasized when I attend a baseball game but I can still enjoy the fantastic sound of the crack of the bat when a hitter gets a solid connecting with a pitch.  One of the most unmistakable sounds from the game is the “thump” of a fastball striking the catcher’s mitt, indicating to all within earshot the sort of pitcher occupying the mound. As each hard-thrown pitch lands into the mitt, the distinctive sound is unmistakable.

When I played baseball, the last position that I wanted to play was behind the dish. The idea of donning the protective gear and spending the game crouched down behind the batters while attempting to put a glove onto the incoming pitches (to prevent them from skipping to the backstop, especially when there are runners on base), didn’t hold my interest. As much as I enjoyed pitching, I lacked the mechanics to deliver the ball with decent velocity which relegated me to playing in the infield or outfield. Taking stock of my interest within the game, I was always fascinated by the catcher position and that this role acted as the on-field manager. The catcher is responsible for positioning the defensive players as well as calling pitches. Hall of Fame catcher, Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager who led his Detroit Tigers to consecutive American League championships (1934-’35), winning the World Series in 1935 from behind the plate (he also led the dominant Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team during WWII). Catchers have ascended to become major league managers more than any other baseball diamond position.

Through the efforts of several wartime philanthropic endeavors, many thousands of pieces of sports equipment were purchased and distributed to troops throughout the combat theaters (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved) for recreation and distraction from the intensity and monotony of the war. As we have been acquiring wartime military-marked, game-used equipment, catchers’ mitts have proven to be quite elusive. Our collection of marked-gloves consists of those used by position players or pitchers. In 2019, we acquired our first military-used catcher’s mitt, a late 1930s-early-1940s Wilson Professional model that was hand-marked by the original owner who served in the Navy during WWII, Pharmacist’s Mate 1/c Gerald W. Benninghoff (see: Catching Corpsman: The Search for a Ball-Playing WWII Pharmacist’s Mate). Since the Benninghoff mitt was only marked with the sailor’s name, it is impossible to determine if it was provided to him (through one of the wartime sports equipment charities) or if he purchased it.

Several years ago, we were watching an auction listing for a wartime Rawlings catcher’s mitt with “U.S.” markings.  When that auction closed well above our budgeted financial limit, we decided to exercise patience while waiting for another example to surface.  The mitt listed in that auction was a signature model that recognized one of the game’s rising defensive stars behind the dish. Though by the end of 1940, St. Louis Cardinals catcher, Mickey Owen had proven himself with his glove and command of the Cardinals’ pitchers, his offensive stats were mediocre leaving him expendable with the rise of his back-up, Walker Cooper. Owen led the National League picking off would-be base-stealers in 1939 and 1940, taking down 61 and 60 percent (respectively). Despite his consistent play, the Cardinals traded Owen to the Brooklyn Dodgers in December 1940 for $65,000, catcher Gus Mancuso and minor-league pitcher John Pintar.

Mickey Owen’s first signature model catcher’s mitt was a professional model as seen in this page of the 1938 Rawlings catalog (source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

For a major league catcher to have a player endorsement contract with an equipment manufacturer, he would have had to have been quite established in the league. However, for Mickey Owen, his first signature model appeared in the 1938 Rawlings catalog following his rookie campaign that saw him splitting the 1937 season with Bruce Ogrodowski behind the plate. Considering that Owen batted a paltry .231 and had a minuscule .265 slugging percentage, it seems that Rawlings saw the catcher’s upside, especially since he was playing on the storied St. Louis roster.

Though he was a decent major league catcher throughout his 13 season, Mickey Owen is more of a recognizable figure due to an unfortunate defensive misstep that is much on par with the Bill Buckner incident (in the 1986 World Series). In his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Owen saw his team capture the National League pennant, edging out his former team by a slim, 2.5 game-margin, though his own offensive performance for the 1941 season was considerably off the pace of his previous campaigns in St. Louis.

The first year of the Rawlings model “MO,” Mickey Owen signature catcher’s mitt as shown in the maker’s 1943 catalog (source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

For their first appearance in World Series in 21 years, the Dodgers faced the Yankees (their first of 12 World Series match-ups with the “Bronx Bombers”). After Game 3, the Dodgers were hosting the Yankees and were trailing in the series, two games to one. Owen was producing at the plate, hitting .285 over the first three games (two hits for seven at bats and one walk and two runs-batted-in).  In Game 4, the Yankees grabbed the lead in the top of the first inning on a two-out single by Charlie Keller plating Red Rolfe. In the top of the fourth inning, Johnny Sturm knocked a two-out single that scored Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon giving the Yankees a 3-0 advantage. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Mickey Owen drew a two-out walk followed by another by Pete Coscarart. Both Owen and Coscarart scored on a double by Jimmy Wasdell. which pulled the Dodgers to within a run. Dixie Walker led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double followed by a two-run Pete Reiser homerun which gave the Dodgers the 4-3 advantage over the Yankees which they held onto heading into the top of the ninth inning. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher left pitcher Hugh Casey in to finish the game after facing the Yankees since the start of the sixth inning. Casey consecutive ground-outs to Sturm and Rolfe before facing Tommy Henrich. Henrich worked Casey to a full count and was a strike away from seeing the Dodgers pull the series even. Casey threw a sharp breaking ball that coaxed a swing attempt by Henrich. Strike three was called which should have ended the game however, the pitch also got by Owen and rolled to the backstop as the Yankees right fielder reached first.

The wheels came off the cart for Brooklyn as Casey was rendered ineffective and the Yankees plated four runs as Casey allowed five more Yankees base runners on two walks, a single and two doubles before retiring Johnny Murphy for the final out of the top half of the ninth.  Pee Wee Reese, Walker and Reiser would be retired in order to close out the game and giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the series. The demoralized Dodgers lost game five 3-1 sending the Yankees to their ninth World Championship and Owen became the scapegoat for the Series loss.

This U.S.-marked Mickey Owen signature model catchers mitt by Rawlings dates from the early 1940s and displays well along with my signed photo of the former Cardinals and Dodgers player.

Mickey Owen’s signature model mitt was available in the Rawlings catalog from 1938 and through thought World War II. Model “MO” is a high end mitt the features leather edging, lace wrist strap with sheepskin (for comfort) on the underside. When we received the glove a while ago, the leather was fairly dry and was quite dirty from use on the diamond. After a light cleaning, the red clay dirt gave way to reveal much of the silver foil remaining in the manufacturer’s stamps. In addition, the “U.S.” was similarly marked. The only damage this mitt shows is the water stain in the palm and a few spots of mildew, caused perhaps by sitting on a garage or basement floor for too long. Treating the mitt with glove conditioner revealed many of the stamps that were previously indistinguishable due to the tight, dry leather. With only a single conditioning treatment (and more to follow), this U.S.-stamped Mickey Owen mitt will display quite nicely and it has already become a great addition to the our glove collection. Adding icing to this cake would be if the mitt had provenance or was attributable to a specific service member. Unfortunately, there are no other markings and the mitt had no connection to a veteran.

Mickey Owen’s selective service call-up didn’t happen until the spring of 1945 in his fifth season with Brooklyn and his last game in a Dodgers’ uniform was against the Cardinals at Ebbets Field on May 21, 1945. In the contest, a make-up game (rescheduled from May 10 due to a rain-out) was quiet in terms of his offensive performance, going 1-for-4 ( a double in the bottom of the 6th inning) at the plate. The Dodgers were shut out by St. Louis, 4-0. A few days later, Owen was reporting for duty in the armed forces.

Prior to Mickey Owen’s induction into the Navy, the catching position for the Sampson Naval Training Center‘s baseball team in the 1945 season was predominantly held by former Rochester receiver, Tony Ravish. By early June, Owen was donning Sampson’s flannels and making an impact for the team. According to The Sporting News, his June 10 debut, he clouted the longest home-run ever made at the Sampson Naval Training Center Field, slapped out two singles, walked once, reached first base on an error and stole two bases to score five times in five trips to the plate, helping the Bluejackets beat Cornell University, 13 to 1. In a June 28 match-up against the industry league team from Curtiss-Wright in Buffalo, New York, Mickey Owen connected for three hits which was half of the total compiled by his Sampson Naval Training Center team as he led the sailors to a 6 to 2 victory. Facing the Eastern League’s Grays of Williamsport, Pennsylvania (a class “A” affiliate of the Washington Senators), Owen went 2-for-2, including a double to help his team to an 8 to 2 victory on August 31st.

Now cleaned and conditioned, this U.S.-stamped Rawlings Model “MO” Mickey Owen Mitt is in excellent, though used condition.

After the surrender of the Japanese, bringing about the end of World War II, Dodgers president Branch Rickey went to work planning Brooklyn’s 1946 season roster. Rickey expressed concerns that Mickey Owen would not be released by the U.S. Navy in time for spring training and began seeking alternatives for the starting backstop position. Manager Leo Durocher recognized the glaring hole left by Owen’s absence in speaking about the 1946 roster, “Its catching that makes me wakeful at night. I’m not kidding myself.” the “Lip” commented, “I’d give a lot to find another Mickey Owen some place. But you can’t shake that kind of guys off Prospect Park trees. We need a high-grade, hard-hitting receiver more than we need anything else I can think of at the moment.” The Sporting News| December 27, 1945

By the end of February, 1946, word of Owen’s impending release from the Navy had reached Dodgers management and the press. Owen was expected to be discharged from the Navy on April 2 and spoke with a reporter as he was shopping for a camper trailer while on leave (near his home in Springfield, Missouri) to use.

Prior to his release from the Navy, Owen negotiated with Jorge Pasquel, president of the Mexican League, obtaining a five-year contract offer which included a $12,500 signing bonus. Unfortunately for Owen, he was still under contract with the Dodgers and in doing so, created incredible controversy and a legal fight between Major League Baseball and the Mexican League. Ultimately, Owen played for the Veracruz team in 1946 joining with 17 other former major leaguers who were summarily suspended (for five years) by Major League Baseball’s commissioner, A. B. “Happy” Chandler. Owen’s actions gained the ire of Branch Rickey who stated he would never play for the Dodgers again. After the 1946 season, Mickey Owen was unable to play organized baseball but would resume his career in 1949 with the Cubs. Having been was waived by the Dodgers and following reinstatement by a federal judge who sided with fellow Mexican League veteran, Danny Gardella who sued Major League Baseball, Owens played sparingly for four more seasons with the Cubs and Red Sox before retiring after the 1954 season.

Slipping a hand into this catcher’s mitt, one can imagine the “thumping” sound of a fastball slamming into its thickly padded leather while considering the events taking place around the war-torn world. The only thing that seemed to make sense back then was the game.

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