A War Veteran Who Never Served

With a few of my earlier posts, I have covered some of the professional ball players who temporarily traded their professional flannels in exchange for a uniform of the armed forces. While some of these men filled the ranks both in combat and support units, others used their professional skills to provide the troops with a temporary escape from the harsh realities of the war by providing them with a taste of home that can be found within the lines of the baseball diamond.

According to Gary Bedingfield’s extensive research, more than 4,500 professional baseball players placed their careers on hold in order to serve in the effort to defeat fascism and tyranny that was sweeping across Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. There were more than 500 major league ball players who served in the armed forces throughout the more than four years of the war (including the last few weeks of December, 1941 when many players like Bob Feller rushed to enlist). Conversely, there were roughly 2,800 men who continued to play major league baseball during the same period, avoiding service for a myriad of reasons (age, unfit for duty, etc.). I have focused this blog on two over-arching subjects; baseball militaria – items used on the diamond (or in relation to it) by servicemen who may or may not have played the game professionally; the people who played the game during their time in uniform. Today’s post, while centered on a contextual (to this blog) object, it also addresses one of the nearly 3,000 MLB players who never served and yet was well-represented on the diamonds across both the European and Pacific theaters during WWII.

Before I delve into the subject matter of this article, I must first offer a disclaimer that I am decidedly not a baseball glove collector nor do I possess any measure of expertise on this very interesting area of baseball collecting. With this being the Chevrons and Diamonds blog where I provide research and insight pertaining to baseball militaria, my interest is more broad. As I researched this topic, I realize that expertise in military gloves and mitts are significantly more specialized and as with other areas of military baseball, is limited (at least that is my assertion) as compared to baseball gloves outside of what was used during the war.

As a Navy veteran, I tend to focus my collecting interest around naval-themed items and within the realm of military baseball, I remain consistent. When I began looking at obtaining a baseball glove for my collection, I found a World War II vintage model that was rather ragged and yet held my interest as it was stamped, “U.S.N.” across the wrist strap. Before making the purchase, I took note that the glove was also missing the web between the thumb and index finger and that there were fragments of the leather lacing remaining protruding from a few of the heavily-oxidized eyelets. I considered the condition and weighed it against the current pricing trends and decided to make the purchase, thinking that I would be able to get the glove into shape.

When the glove arrived a few days later, I unzipped the two-gallon sized zip-locked bag to find not only was it, at one point water-damaged with remnants of mildew or mold, but also that the leather was dried and cracking. It was in far worse shape than I anticipated. Perhaps this was the reason that I was able to acquire it for less than so many other of the scarcer Navy versions had been selling at premium prices in the months prior to me pulling the trigger on this one.  In the few years since, only a smattering have since been listed in online auctions. Regardless, this dried out, cracking and smelly glove is now in my possession and it is my desire to attempt to breathe new life into it with the hope that I leave it in better condition than when I received it.

I broke one of my self-established collecting rules; before I purchase it, I had virtually no understanding of vintage glove models, styles, manufacturers or the many details that a true glove collector can recite with ease. My extent of knowledge stems from examining vintage photographs and taking a peripheral view into what a fielder or position player may have on his catching hand. To me, the all generally appeared the same. Until I began researching for this article, I hadn’t spent any time attempting to understand how diverse and expansive vintage baseball glove field really is.  In the coming months, I hope to take some deeper dives into this area of collecting as it pertains to military service teams and the gloves that were issued to the members of the armed forces.

After a cursory pass in working over the dried leather of my Navy-issued glove (with Horseman’s One Step Leather Cleaner & Condition), I began to see some of the markings that might lead me to determine the manufacturer. One of the obvious markings was the “DW” stamped just above the heel. After nearly two weeks (following the treatment of the leather), more of the manufacturer’s stampings and markings began to emerge as the leather became supple and started to return to its previous shape.  Beneath the DW, “Hand Formed Pad” was discernible. Towards the pinky-finger side of the palm, remnants of a signature were visible – “Riddle” with “Trademark” centered directly below. A quick search of the web revealed that the glove was a GoldSmith Elmer Riddell fielder’s glove model.

Armed with details of the make and model of the glove, I spent some investigating the details in trying to confirm the age (I wanted to be certain that the glove, though marked as a U.S.N., that it was, in fact, from the WWII time-frame). I also wanted to gain a little bit of an understanding about the other information present on the glove:

  • Inside the glove on the heel pad:
    • Horesehide Lining
  • On the outer heel pad:
    • DW
    • Hand Formed Pad
  • On the pinky side-edge:
    • Elmer Riddle (signature)
    • Trademark
  • In the palm:
    • Inner Processed
    • GoldSmith (logo)
    • a Preferred Product (trademark)

The 1938-1944 P. GoldSmith company logo along with the “a Preferred Product” tagline as printed on a vintage baseball (image source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

To properly date the glove, the logo is the most revealing aspect (which, in the case of my glove is partially discernible). As with so many companies, logos changed during significant events (such as mergers, ownership changes, spin-offs, etc.). Noting that my glove has the GoldSmith logo along with the “A Preferred Product” trademark, it predates the merger with the golf brand, MacGregor which occurred between 1945-46 (in 1946, the company changed their name and logo to MacGregor-GoldSmith). By 1952, The company was known solely as MacGregor. Prior to 1938, the company logo was different and the name was P. GoldSmith (named for its founder, Phillip GoldSmith). Considering the company name and logo, I am able to determine that the manufacturing date of the glove lies somewhere in the 1938-44 range.  There is still more information that will narrow this date range down.

Elmer Riddle, pitcher (Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates; 1939-1949). Image source: Society of American Baseball Research (SABR)

The glove has a major-league pitcher’s endorsement (as indicated by the signature that is embossed), Elmer Riddle who played from 1939 to 1949 with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. His best years were 1941, 1943 and 1948 (his only all-star season).  Most likely, Riddle signed an endorsement deal with the P. GoldSmith Company during the early part of the war in 1942 following his ’41 19-2 season (he was the 4th runner-up in MVP balloting). With all of the information at my disposal I determined that my glove was made between 1942-44. Aside from my brilliant deduction skills, I am also fairly adept at tapping into available resources and knowledgeable experts. I reached out to a fellow collector who has a fantastic wealth of information in his site, KeyManCollectibles.com, specifically his Baseball Glove Dating Guide.

In viewing his archive of catalogs, the 1942 GoldSmith Preferred glove catalog shows the initial appearance within their Professional Model glove product line, sharing the page with the RL Model – with the Leo Durocher signature. The product description reads:

This page of the 1942 GoldSmith glove catalog shows the first year for the DW Elmer Riddle signature fielder’s glove (courtesy of KeyManCollectibles.com)

Compact, flexible, streamlined, “Natural Contour” Model (Licensed under Pat. No. 2231204) bearing signature of Elmer Riddle, of the Cincinnati “Reds”. Genuine horsehide with full horsehide lining, and hand formed asbestos felt pad. Inner processed greased palm, oiled back. Leather welted diverted finger seams and reinforced thumb seam. Roll leather bound edge, roll leather bound wrist, leather laced through metal eyelets. Improved double tunnel web with leather connector, laced through metal eyelets. Wide leather wrist strap.”

(Note: seeing that the glove is constructed with asbestos in the padding, I need to be careful in handling the glove as the leather is cracking and could open up enough to create an exposure risk.)

In the process of learning about this particular glove model, I made an interesting discovery. As war was taking hold across Europe, American citizens began to change their stance regarding the conscription (or draft) of young, able-bodied men into compulsory military training as a means of preparedness for what was seemingly inevitable; the United States being drawn into war. With President Roosevelt’s signing of the Selective Training and Service act of 1940, the first U.S. peacetime military conscription commenced requiring all men aged 21 to 35 to report for 12 months of service. By 1941, the age range was expanded, reducing the minimum age to 18 and the upper age to 37 and extended the length of service to 18 months.

As I viewed Mr. Riddle’s stats, I took note that he had no broken time during the war which stood out as a curiosity considering that he was a 27 year-old athlete who was actively playing baseball. While many of his peers were helping with the war effort (away from professional ball), Riddle continued to play the game. During the 1943 season, Elmer Riddle had a very productive season, making 36 appearances (starting 33 games) and winning 21 (he completed 19). In 260 innings, he only surrendered 6 homeruns. How could he have avoided the draft (provided he didn’t volunteer)? There are a number of deferments that were applied to a large number of men who fell into the age range of selective service. One thought that often arises when discovering a person who didn’t serve during WWII is the only son or only surviving son provision within the Selective Service Act (the premise of the fictionalized portrayal of retrieving a sole surviving son in the film, Saving Private Ryan). However, this provision only applies to peacetime conscription. During a national emergency or Congressionally declared war, even sole surviving and only sons will be called to serve. What is baffling is that even Riddle’s older half-brother, catcher Johnny Riddle, played along side Elmer in Cincinnati, avoiding service in the armed forces.

Prior to the 1944 season, he reported (in March) for and passed his pre-induction physical. According to Riddle’s bio at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website, “The Army advised him to report to spring training while awaiting induction. Apparently, he was never called up, because, according to United Press sportswriter Jack Cuddy, he started the season ‘like a burning haystack.’”

While Elmer Riddle never served his country in the armed forces, his name, affixed to a lot of baseball gloves, saw action wherever GIs took breaks from combat action. According to Vintage-Baseball-Gloves.com, the GoldSmith DW Elmer Riddle glove is, “THE (sic) classic wartime glove. More of these were issued than all other models combined.”  I can almost imagine players like Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese donning an Elmer Riddle glove as they took the field in one of their many service team ballgames. While most collectors might not enjoy it, I do see the lovely irony.

More details regarding the GoldSmith/MacGregor-Goldsmith DW Model Glove
GoldSmith (and MacGregor-Goldsmith) produced (at least) three DW models of the fielder’s glove:

  • GoldSmith DW – Elmer Riddle (years played: ’39-47 CIN; ’48-49 PIT)
  • MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Joe Cronin (years played: ’26-27 PIT; ’28-34 WAS; ’35-45 BOS [AL])
  • MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Buddy Kerr (years played: ’43-49 NYG; ’50-51 BOS [NL])

A few collectors noted that the initials in reference to models pertain to the original player for whom the signature model was created.

  • MO – Mel Ott model
  • PD – Paul Derringer model
  • CG – Charlie Gehringer
  • RL – Red Lucas model (subsequently becoming a Leo Durocher endorsed model when the LD Durocher was dropped)
  • JC – Joe Cronin model (however the JCL model was a Pete Reiser signature model and yet Goldsmith never created PR model)
  • HC – Harold Craft model (which transitioned to a Dixie Walker endorsed model)

Consistency is king in helping archaeologists, archivists and researches to easily map out how companies conducted their businesses and yet seldom do we find that they were consistent.  As noted in the very brief sample of the GoldSmith/MacGregor-GoldSmith glove model list, the DW model did not have a ballplayer for whom the letters represented. It is assumed by collectors that it was created for Dixie Walker (most notable with his tenure in Brooklyn) and yet the glove he ended up endorsing was the (MacGregor-Goldsmith HC model (formerly the Harold Craft model). Why was the first player signature glove for Elmer Riddle the DW model rather than an ER?

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About VetCollector

I have been blogging about Militaria since 2010 when I was hired to write for the A&E/History Channel-funded Collectors Quest (CQ) site. It was strange for me to have been asked as I was not, by any means, an expert on militaria nor had I ever written on a recurring basis beyond my scholastic newspaper experience (many MANY decades ago). After nearly two years, CQ was shut down and I discovered that I was enjoying the work and I had learned a lot about my subject matter over that period of time. I served for a decade in the U.S. Navy and descend from a long line of veterans who helped to forge this nation from its infancy all the way through all of the major conflicts to present day and have done so in every branch of the armed forces (except the USMC). I began to take an interest in militaria when I inherited uniforms, uniform items, decorations from my relatives. I also inherited some militaria of the vanquished of WWII that my relatives brought home, furthering my interest. Before my love of militaria, I was interested in baseball history. Beyond vintage baseball cards (early 1970s and back) and some assorted game-used items and autographs, I had a nominal collecting focus until I connected my militaria collecting with baseball. Since then, I have been selectively growing in each area and these two blogs are the result, Chevrons and Diamonds (https://chevronsanddiamonds.wordpress.com/) The Veterans Collection (https://veteranscollection.org/)

Posted on March 8, 2017, in Baseball Glove and Mitts, Equipment, My Collection, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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