Monthly Archives: January 2016

Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball

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The Overseas Invasion Services Expedition (OISE) All Star baseball team (source: Baseball in Wartime).

The Overseas Invasion Services Expedition (OISE) All Star baseball team (source: Baseball in Wartime).

With the dog days of summer and the elevating outside temperatures, one can sense the waning of the present baseball season. It will only be a matter of weeks before the minor league teams will be wrapping their schedules and the major league teams will expand their rosters, calling up the top performers from their respective farm systems.

During the 1940s, many of the major and minor league players received a call for service of a far greater nature from their teams. The armed forces had needs to fill on both the battlefield and the playing field. The need for service teams to spread good will and transport the service men and women, if only for a few innings, from the monotony and horrors they were facing each day. Some

professional ball players, rather than donning ODs (olive drab uniforms) and boondockers, sported spikes and flannel. Instead of M1 Garands and grenades as tools of the trade, these professionals picked up gloves, bats and horsehide balls.

Throughout the war, service teams played before crowds of GIs on fields in both the Pacific and European war theaters. Their rosters would feature names like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller, though “Rapid Robert” would volunteer for combat service early in the war, battling the Japanese aboard the USS Alabama (BB-60).

By August of 1945 with the war in Europe complete, the service teams began an elimination series to narrow the select group of teams to determine who would play in the final championship games. Ultimately, the 71st Infantry Division team, featuring St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harry Walker and Ewell Blackwell, pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds, would be be matched up with the Overseas Invasion Services Expedition (OISE) All Stars. The OISE team also included several professionals such as Negro Leaguers Leon Day and Willard Brown. Ultimately, the OISE All Stars would win the five game series, three games to two.

Collectors are fully aware aware of the scarcity of vintage major league baseball (and now, minor league) memorabilia. Items from the WWII service teams are even more difficult to locate. To find pieces from these historic games? Forget about it.

A few years ago, I was able to purchase a program and scoresheet from the championship games played at Nuremberg Stadium. The scoresheet was for the games that were played between the 71st and 76th Infantry Division teams in early August, sixty seven years ago. With that acquisition, I thought that would be the end of the availability of anything from these games.

Not too many months later, I was aghast to discover an online auction listing for a vintage autographed baseball that looked to be from one of these championship games. The ball, though lacking the typical “US” markings seemed to have some legitimacy with signatures from what I thought were familiar names. The auction description read:

It’s a REACH brand baseball, the logo readable. It has 9 signatures on it and on one side it looks as if it is written 1945 E. T. O Champs. The autographs I can make out are: Elmer J Madden, Joe Mattingly, Lou Mazaretta, Frankie Cato, Glenn Smith, Tony Mancini, Collins Haigler, and Bill something, could be Ayers, as he pitched a 2 hitter.

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The inscription appears to read: “1945 ETO Champions 71st Div” which could mean the ball was signed by players on one of teams who played at Nuremberg Stadium in August of 1945 (source: eBay).

I checked several references including the extremely detailed Baseball in Wartime site (by WWII baseball historian, Gary Bedingfield) and my program and was not successful in matching a single name from the ball. Intuition dictated that the ball could still be authentic as the rosters could easily change from one series to the next due to the needs of the Army. In addition, I reasoned that there was little reason for anyone to fake such a ball as it could never attain the sort of money forgers typically try for with Hall of Fame-inductee signed balls.

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Opening the program reveals the score card for the Third Army Championship games.

I considered the facts and decided to place what I thought was a safe bid (at least for my budget), so if it turned out to be a forgery, the sting wouldn’t be so bad. The days ticked off until the auction close, and my snipe bid dropped in at the last seconds, which turned out to fall short. Another bidder felt that the value was (at least) a dollar greater than my bid amount. It wasn’t meant to be.

What are the odds of seeing anything else from the championship games?

Only time will tell.

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A Passion for the (Military) Game

In my younger days, I dabbled in baseball card collecting and focused primarily on cards from the 1950s and 60s. Being a lifelong Dodgers fan, I sought out specific cards from “my” team. I was myopic with the cards that I pursued. This hyper focus was in direct alignment with my limited budget as I had to take into account that the cards of my favorite ballplayers were also some of the most valuable and sought after by collectors. For example, I couldn’t attempt to acquire an entire 1956 Topps set, opting instead to pursue the 1956 Topps cards of the Brooklyn Dodgers (which included Hall of Famers, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella).

Over those years, I pieced together “team sets” from 1955 and 1956 of my beloved Bums from Brooklyn landing some very nice examples (though none have been graded) of the likes of Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, “The Duke” and many more. Acquiring Sandy Kofax and Don Drysdale rookie cards we crowning achievements from those days.  My interest in the cards tapered off and I put it all away when I realized that the money I invested would not yield a return should I decide to divest it. I also started a family which further reduced my disposable income. I moved away from collecting all together.

Years later, I received two groups of military treasures that belonged to my grandfather and grand uncle, sparking an interest in researching and learning about military history and my family connection to history.  My interest in military baseball was piqued when I received my paternal grandmother’s photo album from the 1930s and saw the images of her little brother in his navy ship’s baseball uniform, posed for team photographs. I was reminded of my own participation with my ship’s baseball (and football) teams when I served in the Navy. I was hooked but only did I slowly begin to research America’s Pastime and how it is intertwined with the military.

When I was contacted by Gary Bedingfield regarding research that he was conducting for his (then) book project (that would become Baseball’s Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service) as he searched for a sailor who was lost in the Battle of Savo Island, August 8-9, 1942. I was fascinated by his amazing online resource, Baseball in Wartime that primarily focused on professional ball players who traded their spikes for combat boots to fight for our nation.  I was able to complete his research, locating Ensign Norman K. Smith who was killed in action aboard the USS Quincy (CA-39). Through spending time immersed in Gary’s site, I noted several of my favorite players who also served in uniform. I was hooked!

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The road gray Marines baseball jersey in the back of this display was my very first item that I purchased for this collection.

My entrance into military baseball collecting was through a purchase of a 1943-44 US Marines road gray wool flannel baseball uniform (jersey and trousers) that was in immaculate, yet game-worn condition. My interest expanded from there as I began gathering vintage photos, scorecards or anything that is associated with men who played ball during their serving this country, dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. Years later, my collection has grown to the point where I was asked to share it with the general public, displaying it my state’s largest fair (which is also ranked in the top 10 largest in the nation) with the potential of as many as 1.4 million visitors viewing this unique baseball collection.

 

 

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