The Corps on the Diamond: US Marines Baseball Uniforms
In one of my favorite films, Field of Dreams, actor James Earl Jones (as fictitious author Terrence Mann) monologues about what (I think) most Americans feel about the game of baseball.
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field (the baseball diamond in the cornfield), this game, is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
These sentiments were applicable for Americans during World War II, when all of the world was shrouded in the darkness of the Axis powers and people were being killed by the thousands in Europe and Asia. Though the United States was abstaining from direct involvement when war erupted in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act (of 1940) into law, enacting the first peacetime draft in American history. The following month, in October, 16.5 million draft-eligible men registered for the draft.
In March of 1941, the first of several major league baseball players began reporting for duty following induction into the service. Though the game was being marginally impacted by the peacetime draft, the distant war was having very little impact. This would change with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following day, on December 8th, Cleveland Indians star-pitching ace, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller enlisted in the United States Navy and opened the floodgates of other major and minor league ball players volunteering to serve their country, leaving the 1942 season very much in doubt due to the sudden loss of manpower on their rosters.
As ball club owners grappled with how to field teams depleted by the draft, President Roosevelt and major league officials met to determine what to do with the upcoming season. FDR ultimately decided that for those supporting the war effort in the factories and on the home-front baseball games would be a good distraction and escape from the doubt and concern. For those in uniform and serving at training commands or spending time off the front lines, a mental diversion such as baseball proved to be a significant morale booster.
To outfit the players, the services adopted simple yet recognizable uniforms that tended to be representative of their services. Lettering was ordinary, making it easy for the spectators to recognize each of the opposing teams. Each service and unit team seemed to have unique uniform designs with the exception of the Marine Corps flannels. The service teams competed in relatively normal conditions on fields that were typically located well in the rear, away from the fighting, but it is not suggested that baseball wasn’t played near the front. In the Pacific, as the Navy and Marines were island-hopping in hot pursuit of the retreating Imperial Japanese forces, the men would face periods of dull and quiet boredom between campaigns. Army, Army Air Force, Marines and Navy personnel while on R & R (rest and relaxation on islands such as Pavuvu) would assemble baseball teams to compete against each other.
In my research, I have been successful in locating only a single variation: the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF) flannels seen in the accompanying photo, from the home (white flannel with red lettering and piping) or away (gray flannel with red lettering and piping) uniforms. From photos taken as early as 1943 and throughout World War II, we can consistently find this same uniform in use.
Though no photographs are available, one of the most legendary Brooklyn Dodgers players, Gilbert Ray Hodges donned the flannels of the Marine Corps on the diamond. Fresh from his first games as a rookie with the “Bums” in October of 1943, Hodges entered the war as a Marine ultimately assigned to the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 5th Amphibious Corps on the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. Months later, Gil would participate from April 1 through October 6, 1945 in the assault, occupation and defense of Okinawa Shima. Airing a few years ago on the History Channel’s American Pickers (episode: Mike’s Holy Grail – original air date: April 26, 2012) one of the show’s stars, Mike Wolfe, discovered a box filled with a dozen or so of the WWII-era Marines baseball uniforms in a warehouse belonging to the daughter of a former Army/Navy surplus store owner. The majority of the flannel sets were so dirty, worn, and in some cases tattered, that they appeared to have been packaged up immediately following the ninth inning of the last wartime game played.
Desiring to purchase the lot of baseball uniforms (the majority of which were the road gray version, complete with trousers), Mike negotiated a price of $200 for the lot, figuring to assemble at least three good uniform sets.
To learn more about the WWII USMC baseball uniforms, the first place I turned to was the garments themselves, seeking tags or stamps that might provide clues. However, upon inspection, both the jersey and trousers were devoid of these markings showing only size tags.
Sadly, In my research for this article, I was unable to uncover any specifics that would provide exact dates (for the WWII design) or who manufactured them, other than dated photographs of Marines wearing the gear from 1943 to 1949, the year prior to the Korean War.
Research is a ceaseless task and I continue to maintain a certain level of vigilance in pursuit of the facts to either refute or validate what I have previously learned about these uniforms. Over the course of owning this wonderful Marines baseball uniform is that the overall design may predate World War II by decades. One of my collector colleagues is (as I write this) digging through his photo archive collection in search of an image that could back up this claim. If that does happen, it could potentially muddy the waters to some extent as to pinning down the age of these uniforms, broadening the time-period of their use.
Regardless of my fact-finding pursuit, to possess an original vintage military baseball uniform (at least for this baseball and militaria collector) opens the door to speculation as to who wore it on the field of play. At 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds, there is that extremely slim possibility that my large-sized uniform set could have been issued to and worn by Gil Hodges, one of my all-time favorite players. It certainly is fun to dream.
Collectors seeking to fill a vacancy in their own collection with a solid placeholder or fans of military baseball don’t have to wait (or be subjected to the increasing prices) to locate one of these USMC baseball gems. Ebbets Field Flannels, makers of vintage minor league baseball jerseys and caps, released one of their latest military jersey reproductions this summer. The 1943 U.S. Marines jersey, modeled almost exactly after the road gray uniforms (such as those “picked” by Mike Wolfe), provides a fantastic alternative to the real thing. With the exception of the missing red button due to the non-standard button alignment of the originals, there is little to complain about on this repro jersey.
I did end up purchasing one EFF’s examples just to prevent me from wearing my original.
Posted on April 4, 2016, in Ebbets Field Flannels, My Collection, Replicas and Reproduction Vintage Baseball Uniforms, Uniforms and tagged American Pickers Marines Baseball Uniform, Bob Feller Navy Baseball, Cletus "Boots" Poffenberger, Gil Hodges, Mike Wolfe Marines Baseball Uniform, USMC Baseball Uniforms, WWII MARINES Baseball Uniform. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.
I have a 40s or 50s era ball cap I am wondering if it’s USMC? I didn’t really consider this until seeing that Ebbits Field Flannels had reproduced a very similar hat labeled as Marines. you can view the hat here. I will have to look closer at the name inside and research that …
Any info would be awesome. thanks.
The cap is a 1940s USMC lightweight cap and based upon a cursory review of your photo, it is the same as one of the USMC caps in my collection (see: 1944-1945 Marines Jersey – Red Cotton to view the cap with the corresponding jersey).
I hadn’t seen that Ebbets was making a USMC ball cap and I just searched their site to no avail. Where did you see an EFF USMC cap?
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Yep, the cap in your set looks just about identical! Wow, that’s awesome. I’ve had the cap for a while and always loved it, but even more now. I can provide additional photos if you’d like them.
The Ebbets version is scarce and may be either out of production or only for export, not sure. I encountered it randomly a while back. You can view an example here:
Obviously some differences with ours, but close enough to get me thinking.
If you could snap some photos of the sweatband and underside of the bill and any labeling, that would be great!
The Ebbets cap was made for the offshore markets as noted by the adjustable strap back. It is also a cotton twill versus the more “authentic” wool-flannel material that they normally use. While it may seem that the EFF cap is a repro of these canvas duck material caps that you and I own, it is in fact a cheap copy of the fitted wool variety. These weren’t domestically available through EFF.
I have some additional photos I can send. let me know a good address.
Hi VC, I’ve attached some photos here. Found anothe page on your site with more photos of the hat and the inside of mine looks the same with some small differences to the back part of the headband and also the inclusion of the name. Mine is in worse shape. The bill is a little warped and has some water marks, but it’s still pliable. Tagged size Large, it fits about like a 7 1/4. I’ve worn it in the past but will probably stop now.
Curious to know what sort of value you might place on it? I imagine the market for them is very small, but there can’t be too many in existence.
Thanks again. Glad to have found your site.
On Tue, May 28, 2019 at 3:28 PM Chevrons and Diamonds wrote:
> VetCollector commented: “Rob, If you could snap some photos of the > sweatband and underside of the bill and any labeling, that would be great! > The Ebbets cap was made for the offshore markets as noted by the adjustable > strap back. It is also a cotton twill versus the more “authe” >
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Thank you for sharing the additional photos. Yes, our hats appear to be identical. If you don’t mind my asking, where did you source yours? Do you know any of the cap’s history before you got it?
As far as value is concerned, that discussion is not one that I like to have online. I often inform value-seekers that the cap is worth what you or another interested collector did or would pay for it. Value is perceived rather than inherent with such artifacts. There are pieces that I would be absolutely thrilled to have in my collection but some sellers seem to equate vintage military baseball with artifacts from legendary ball players. I know what I paid for my caps and what I was willing to pay. If the asking prices were too far above what I perceived the inherent value to be, I’d have let them go without an offer despite that it had been nearly a decade of searching to find that first one.
I know that this doesn’t answer your question and for that, I offer my apology.
I just picked up a gray with red Marines on the jersey which size 40 with the name H. R. Snelson stamped in the collar. Any idea when or where this is from?
Rich, we had our eyes on the jersey you acquired. It is the same as one we have in our collection (seen in the article above) and dates to 1943-45.
No problem. I’ll get some additional photos to you this evening. Good to know on the EFF hats. Thanks!
This is Jerry from EFF. We did the Marines cap as part of a limited collection with our UK distributor some years back. We will bring it back at some point. Correct on our jersey. We have to have letters align to the button placement on our patterns, or else an entire new pattern needs to be developed.
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Thank you for your comment and information, Jerry! There are several folks who have been asking me where they could find a reproduction fitted cap (in red wool flannel with the gold “M”). At one point, I had 5-6 folks on the hook to do a custom cap order only (of the red wool Marines cap) to find that EFF discontinued that practice just prior to placing the order.
When I was there with a few of my military jerseys, you reiterated the button alignment issue, then. Have you seen the white/blue Marines jersey? Or, better yet, the NAAF/S Waldron jersey (Sain and Chapman played for this team) that I landed?
Howdy, I came across some pantsof grey flannel with red stripe down the legs. Button fly. Label says U S M C pants, baseball. I don’t see how to attach a picture… let me know if you’d like to see them!
Cheers, Nancy Holland
We will send you an email so that you can reply with photo attachments of the trousers.
Thank you for the amazing article!
I’m a long time sports/baseball memorabilia collector and have a close friend with significant ties to MLB (which I blame on his lack of interest in the significance of sports memorabilia) who knowing how much I loved the stuff gave me what I understand was his great uncle’s full Marines Jersey (Top/Pants/Stirrups). The day he gave it to me, he said, “I know that you’re into this stuff and I trust that you’re going to make sure this jersey winds up in the hands of a deserving person who will love it.”
Fast forward six years and I’m now coaching HS baseball. One of our senior pitchers has committed to the Marines upon graduation. Not surprisingly, the kid is a natural leader, talks less and says more, has the most impressive “presence” I’ve ever seen in an 18 year old – I quickly realized that this jersey was intended for him. I had it professionally framed up and gave it to him on Senior night – the head coach explaining that as proud as we are of all our graduating players that are going on to play at the college level, we’re more proud of where David is headed.
I wanted to provide him with as much history on the jersey as I could and found your article. I also saw a number of photos of jerseys on the web. I haven’t seen one as complete as the one I gave David, but I was curious whether you or anyone else reading can help me understand the difference between the red jersey – discussed in your article – and my blue jersey (photo attached) – maybe home/away? Maybe just different color jerseys for different teams within the Marines? The provenance, wool make, markings, and design being identical other than color suggests it’s not a subsequent jersey?
Any information you or anyone reading this may be able to share, I will certainly appreciate and I will make sure to pass along to David Sandefer!
Well heck – I don’t see how to post a photo of the framed up jersey I reference above – if someone can send me instructions I’d be happy to share it.