Monthly Archives: January 2017

Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform

Uniforms are perhaps the most visually appealing connection to baseball’s history and I consider it an honor to have a few vintage examples in my collection. From the most mundane and ordinary to the ornately appointed and trimmed-out jerseys, viewing and touching the material of a piece of baseball history is a very gratifying experience.

Throughout the past several decades, uniforms have experienced a significant amount of change en route to the breathable (and sterile) double-knit polyester togs that are seen on today’s diamonds. Some of the most interesting aspects of jerseys and trousers, as seen on major and minor league fields, have also been found to have been employed within the ranks for armed forces service teams.

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

I am always vigilant with regards to baseball uniforms that I would love to add to my collection and in the last eight months, a uniform set surfaced at auction that really piqued my interest. The group consisted of a two-color (white with burgundy sleeves and lettering) jersey and ball cap; a white, six-panel crown (with burgundy piping between each panel) that is capped by a color-matching button and bill. What set this uniform apart from every other offering that I have ever seen? This jersey and cap set was made of satin material.

While many of the game’s current fans are familiar with baseball’s past wool uniform materials (there several combinations; wool flannel, wool-cotton, wool-poly blends, etc.), collectively referred to as “flannels,” few have knowledge that a handful of teams experimented with satin as a base material.  When teams began to install lights for night games (the first artificially illuminated major league game took place on May 24, 1935 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field), they sought to shake tradition up by employing a different uniform for these select games. According to Marc Okkonen in his 1991 work, Baseball Uniforms of The 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide, the Reds were the first also to experiment with satin in conjuction with games played under the lights:

“The Cincinnati Reds introduced night baseball in 1935 and in the following year they commissioned the Goldsmith Company to produce a special uniform for occasional game use in 1936 and 1937. It is not clear what inspired this so-called “Palm Beach” version (possibly, it was the advent of baseball under the arc lights) but it presented some interesting departures from long standing Reds’ uniform tradition. In place of the standard C-REDS logo, the name REDS appeared in the now-fashionable red script lettering on the left breast. And the real shocker was the combination of white jersey and BRIGHT RED pants, which was only one version of the new Palm Beach ensemble.”

Other teams followed suit with their own renditions of satin uniforms starting with Cardinals in 1941 (and again in ’46), the Dodgers (with at least three different examples) in 1944 and ’45 and the Braves in 1946. Jackie Robinson would wear the handed-down Dodgers satins during his stint with the organizations farm club, the Montreal Royals. There are no references that I could find to the employment of satin uniforms later than the 1940s.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

What makes the military baseball uniform unique beyond it being the only one that I have found is that it is directly associated to a specific Army installation. Camp Hunter Liggett and that it is made of the rarely seen satin material.  The uniform jersey’s manufacturer tag that shows it was made by A. G. Spalding & Brothers. The design of the tag indicates that the uniform dates to the early years of the fort; between 1941 and ’42 (the tag was used by Spalding from ’34-’42).  Though it is difficult to discern from the photos, the block lettering on the chest (“ARMY”) and back (“Camp Hunter Liggett”) appears to be made from a burgundy-colored wool.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

The accompanying ball cap has a shorter, more-rounded bill and a leather sweatband that is indicative of being manufactured during the early 1940s. Unfortunately, there was no label or tag visible in the photos that accompanied the auction listing yet it is likely that it was also manufactured by Spalding.

Like most other vintage satin uniforms that can be seen in private collections or at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Liggett uniform group has significantly yellowed with age and shows signs of use – typical sweat stains surrounding the collar and (possibly) infield dirt stains on the chest (from sliding into second base, perhaps?). The overall condition of this group is remarkably good and would have been a fantastic addition to my collection.

The buy-it-now auction closed in June of 2016 with the buyer getting it for a steal at $249 (plus a few dollars for shipping). Sadly, this one slipped away due to the auction price exceeding my (then) budget. It pays to have a few dollars set aside for emergencies such as these.

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Academic Baseball Award: Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno’s Baseball Career

Now that the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 has been announced and the debates are raging on about which of the elected are truly worthy over those who were once again overlooked, I am looking forward to the upcoming season, hopeful for the Dodgers to overcome last season’s playoff fade. The Dodgers have won the last four consecutive NL West flags and have two NLCS and two NLDS defeats to show for their efforts. Fortunately, I can fall back upon my military baseball collecting where there are both victories and defeats and yet no off-season.

Until recently, I have focused attention on acquiring photographs with a keen eye trained for uniforms to add to my collection. I have been selective, landing some vintage photos from as early as prior to WWI and into WWII, a WWII-era Hillerich and Bradsby bat (stamped U.S. Navy) and a few other assorted pieces.

One piece that I landed a few years ago caught my eye due to its uniqueness and that I hadn’t seen anything like it before (or since). Not being very in tune with the service academy athletics (beyond attending college football games that included West Point and the Air Force Academy teams and watching the annual Army/Navy football game on television) or the history as it pertains to baseball, I took particular interest in what the seller described as an athletic varsity letter (think: letterman’s jacket) for baseball from the Naval Academy in 1944. The seller had two listings: one for the letter and the other for the 1944 Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ yearbook) from the naval officer for whom the letter was awarded.  Landing this letter caused me to pay closer attention to anything that might be related to baseball within the service academies.

Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno

Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno

Not long ago, I spotted an auction listing that was very unusual and a departure from my typical baseball memorabilia. The listing mentioned a medal that was awarded to a naval officer (at the time, a midshipman) who also was the recipient of three Navy Cross and one Army Distinguished Service Cross medals. This particular medal was engraved with the sailor’s name and the date that it was presented to him and was more in keeping with a sports trophy than a medal awarded for valor or esteemed service in uniform.

Frank Wesley Fenno, Jr.  came to the Naval Academy with aspirations of playing professional baseball. Fenneo’s classmates wrote of him in The Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ annual), “His life’s ambition was to play baseball, and when he didn’t get in a game, it was owing to academic interference. Center field was his position and when the little pill landed in that territory, it didn’t have a chance (a warped sense of modesty prevents our telling about that home run in the Army-Navy Game).” During his years there, Frank had a reputation for both his prowess in the outfield and consistency with his bat, as further noted in The Lucky Bag, “In the outfield Fenno, Leslie, and Ward appeared to be the strongest combination. Fenno, our 1925 captain, got anything that came within the range of possibility, and all three men were handy with the stick.”

This medal was awarded to Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (class of 1925) for carrying the Naval Academy team's highest batting average (.410) for the 1924 season.

This medal was awarded to Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (class of 1925) for carrying the Naval Academy team’s highest batting average (.410) for the 1924 season.

The medal, presented to Midshipmen Fenno in 1924 by the Naval Academy’s Navy Atheletic Association in recognition of his .410 batting average for his junior year baseball season. Fenno would letter in the sport for all four years before graduating and being commissioned as an ensign in 1925. Admiral Fenno would have an illustrious career as a submariner receiving the Navy’s second highest valor award (subordinate to the Medal of Honor) three times during World War II. He also received the Army’s second highest award during his WWII service. In later years, the Admiral served as the chief of staff at the United States Taiwan Defense Command where his love for the game would continue:

“I’ve been looking through your website and came across a list of Chiefs of Staff for USTDC.  I was there as a photographer from 1955 to 1956 and remember that Rear Admiral Frank. W. Fenno Jr. was the Chief of Staff under Vice Admiral Stewart H. Ingersoll, the first Commander of USTDC.  Since Rear Admiral Fenno is not listed, his picture is attached along with a photo of him shipping over (re-enlisting) four of the photo lab staff in August 1956.  Admiral Fenno also played on the TDC softball team.”  (source: US TDC Blog)

Admiral Frank Fenno re-enlists three sailors, circa 1955-56 at the US Taiwan Defense Command (source: http://ustdc.blogspot.com/)

Admiral Frank Fenno re-enlists three sailors, circa 1955-56 at the US Taiwan Defense Command (source: http://ustdc.blogspot.com/)

I will sheepishly admit to bidding on the medal with no prior knowledge of the admiral nor these types of medals, beating out six other bidders. In communicating with the seller in trying to obtain any provenance and history as to how he obtained the medal, I learned that this it was most-likely sold some time after his other decorations were either sold or donated.

This piece checked a lot of militaria boxes in that it was engraved with the veteran’s name, had reasonable provenance and it was directly dated. When the medal arrived, it was in its original Bailey, Banks & Biddle box (though the it is a little worn). The pendant, ribbon and clasp are all in excellent condition though the metal surfaces show some reasonable tarnish.

RADM Frank W. Fenno’s Valor Awards:

  • 1st Navy Cross Citation
  • 2nd Navy Cross Citation
  • 3rd Navy Cross Citation
  • Distinguished Service Cross Citation
  • Silver Star Citation
  • 1st Legion of Merit Citation
  • 2nd Legion of Merit Citation

WWII Commands Held:

Publications

Other References:

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