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.

Posted on January 21, 2016, in Ephemera and Other Items, Equipment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I love this article! I collected baseball cards when I was a kid and never stopped following the game. Such fond memories of my dad sharing his love of baseball with me. Somewhere I have photos of him playing baseball in Vietnam.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting! My kids aren’t as into baseball as I am but they have a curiosity of the artifacts and the stories of the history surrounding them. It is fun.

      I’d love to see your father’s photos. My father is a Vietnam veteran, too.

      Like

  2. I don’t recall if I have messaged you before but I have few baseballs I believe to be from Oise championship team/game and a program. One baseball is team signed including Willard Brown and Leon Day for hall of famers and other baseball has date and score of final game and a persons name. If interested in seeing pictures let me know . Great article too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adam, Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to reach out to me.

      I am not certain that you have messaged me previously. I would love to see the pics of the ball – of all the signatures of you can capture them.

      Like

  3. I am writing a children’s non-fiction book about the ETO World Series between the OISE All Stars and the 71st Red Circlers. I would love to see box scores of any of the 5 games. If you run across them please send me a picture. My interest is because Sam Nahem was my uncle. The working title is, “The Big Game: The Army’s first integrated World Series”

    Like

    • Elin,

      That sounds very exciting! I don’t have the box scores of the series but I do have the summaries of each game of the 1945 GI World Series. I know that Sam Nahem had two hits for the OISE All Stars in game 2 as they beat the Red Circlers 2-1 on September 3, 1945. Let me see if I know someone who does have a box score for the series. I will get back to you.

      Like

  4. Archer Anthony Jordan

    My friend, Ray Frank who passed away a few years ago showed me a ball that Sam Nahem gave to his dad, Irving Frank that was signed by the entire OISE All Stars team. Sam and Irving were in the same platoon and had become fast friends since they were both Brooklyn Jews who shared an interest in classical music and progressive politics. Sam told Irving who had no interest in sports that he was naming him to the OISE roster as “Lefty” Frank, relief pitcher. Irving who was right handed was astounded stating he had no athletic ability. Sam said it would just be a ploy to confuse his opponents. The ball now belongs to Ray’s widow and is displayed proudly.

    Like

    • Archer,

      That would be such a great ball to see! I am glad to hear that the family still has possession of such an historic piece and I can’t say that I wouldn’t love to have that preserved among the other great military baseball artifacts, here. The story about Sam’s fun with the roster shows how much of a character he was along with his determination to win. Would your friend be willing to share some photographs of the ball?

      Kind regards,
      VC

      Like

      • The attachments to this email show the all the signatures. I hope you can post them. The G. I. World Series is such a classic Cinderella story I would like to develop a screen play tentatively titled Subway Sam and Lefty Frank. Tony Jordan  

        Like

      • Archer,

        I don’t see any attachments (I don’t believe that this application accepts file attachments).

        I’ll send you an email for you to reply to with your photos.

        VC

        Like

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