Monthly Archives: November 2017

Japanese Influence on the Game: History on an Internment Camp Ball

The history of the game for players of Japanese origin and descent is considerably more recent than it is for African American players. Japanese ball players have seen great success since they were allowed to take to the fields of the Major Leagues.

After more than 29 years of waiting for my beloved Dodgers to return to the World Series, I was in awe to watch the boys in blue march through the end of September and both rounds of the playoffs (against the Diamondbacks and Cubs) with relative ease. Seeing the likes of Turner, Bellinger, Seager, Taylor, Forsythe and Puig inflicting damage in the playoffs and continuing into the Series was an absolute thrill. However, it wasn’t until the World Series that the Dodgers unhittable pitching began to fade. Kershaw’s start in game one wasn’t spectacular but the bullpen bailed him out, holding on for the win. The seesaw battle of exchanging wins with the Houston Astros was both exciting and difficult to watch. What brought particular discomfort was to see Yu Darvish relegated to a batting practice pitcher by the Astros’ batters.

Former Japan League and 2017 Dodgers pitchers Kenta Maeda and Yu Darvish proved to be formidable in the regular season rotation. Darvish struggled after winning two games in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Maeda, converted (for the post season) to a relief pitcher was dominant until he faced the Astros in the Series.

Yu Darvish arrived late in the season and was brought in to help carry the Dodgers into the post-season. At the time of the trade, Los Angeles was reeling from the loss of their ace, Clayton Kershaw, from an injury. When their protracted losing streak came to an end, the Japanese pitcher Darvish was one of the reasons for helping to turn things around. Yu Darvish’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) career was nothing short of spectacular prior to his arrival to the Texas Rangers (the team who traded him to Los Angeles) and the subsequent four-time All Star, had moments of greatness mixed with modest performances in the Major Leagues during his first three seasons (he missed the entire 2025 season following “Tommy John” surgery). However in his post-season appearances with the Rangers, he failed to deliver, yielding two losses (one in the 2012 American League Wild Card and the other in Game 2 of the 2016 American League Division Series).  Yu seemed to have turned the post-season victory corner with the Dodgers as he claimed victories against Arizona and Chicago in his 2017 playoffs appearances.

Dubbed “Tatsumaki” (the Tornado), Hideo Nomo’s delivery was anything but conventional as it was reminiscent of Luis Tiant, turning his back to the batter before delivering the ball to the plate. Nomo was a bona fide star of the Japanese leagues before signing with the Dodgers prior to the 1995 season.

NPB players have experienced success in the American Major Leagues and the Dodgers have been the recipients of considerable talent from these exciting overseas veteran ballplayers, beginning with Hideo Nomo in 1995 (not including Masanori Murakami, a relief pitcher who was the first, signing with the San Francisco Giants in 1963 and appeared in 54 games between 1964-65).  In total, 56 players (three on active rosters while five are current free agents, including Darvish) from Japan have served on major league rosters, many of which have dominated in their positions. Besides Nomo and Darvish, the Dodgers rosters since 1995 have been dotted with the following NPB veterans:

The 2017 Dodgers pitching staff has another NPB veteran pitcher, right-hander Kenta Maeda has been a bright-spot since he was signed to their major league roster in 2016, posting win/loss records of 16-11 and 13-6 in his two full seasons as a starter. During the post-season, Maeda was used only as a reliever, notching two victories in the NLDS and NLCS and appearing in four of the World Series games. For “my” Dodgers, the short-term future looks bright for another run at the championship. As the “hot stove league” starts to heat up with yet another of the NPB star hitters is looking to find fortune on a major league roster (Shohei Otani) and Los Angeles is one of the teams in contention to bid for his talents, the 2018 season could be filled with highlights from a Japanese star player. Horace Wilson’s 19th Century exporting of the sport to Japan continues to yield returns for the game in the United States. Within our own shores, the history of the game for Japanese Americans experienced a similar past as did African American players, being excluded entirely from major league rosters. Much of the focus of civil rights equality in the game has centered on the color barrier being broken with Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson. As the integration of the big leagues wasn’t completed until 1960 (with the Boston Red Sox’s addition of Pumpsie Green to their roster) for players of African descent, the unspoken and unwritten line of segregation (of Japanese American ballplayers from MLB) was still very much intact for a few more years. In 1967 (20 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut), outfielder Mike Lum became the first American-born Japanese person to take the field in major league baseball, commencing his 15-year career with the Atlanta Braves.

Baseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943. (Source: Library of Congress: Ansel Adams)

For most American kids growing up in the 1920s-40s during baseball’s “golden era,” the game was an integral part of the experiences of youth in sandlots and streets of cities and towns across the United States. Regardless of ethnicities or the color of skin, kids were passionate about the game. When the U.S. was drawn into World War II and the ensuing internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans into camps throughout the Western half of the country, the game went with them into captivity.

This (purportedly Nisei internment camp) three-piece baseball uniform set could have been originally used by a professional team as noted by the ghosted lettering across the jersey front (eBay image).

As a collector of military baseball, artifacts from the internment camps have special consideration from me due to the impacts of these Americans, their love for country and the game and that many of the young men who were interned, volunteered to serve the nation who stripped away from them, everything except for their dignity.  Many of these men went on to serve with distinction throughout the armed forces and including within the legendary 442nd RCT (the most decorated unit of WWII). When baseball artifacts surface for sale, I take particular interest.  Earlier this year, a Nisei baseball uniform was listed at auction, purported to be from a player from an internment camp baseball team (see: Nisei Relocation Camp Baseball: Authenticating a Uniform). Though I was very interested and even willing to take a gamble on the uniform, the bidding went above my budget (the closing price was $370), even with questions surrounding its authenticity. For the second time this year, another Nisei baseball item (again, from the internment camps) was listed and sold at auction.

This Nisei players-signed 12-inch 1940s Goldsmith softball is an absolute historical treasure (source: eBay image).

The auction had an opening bid of $59.99 (source: eBay screenshot).

The listing’s description read, “This ball is signed by the ‘Young Men from Block 74’ to their coach, Mr. Shintaku.” The seller mentioned some researching of the players’ signatures that are distinguishable on the ball.  “I was able to pick out one of the names, George Kurashige,” he wrote, “it turns out within the database there was only one in all of the camps. He was born in 1929 and in 1945 he would have been 16 which did fit for the ‘young men’s team.” The seller’s research showed that this player was interned at the Gila River camp in Arizona and that the camp was large enough to have been subdivided. The description continued, “(sic) the Butte camp division housed the 74th block among many others. There was also four Mr. Shintakus also stationed at the camp,” which seems to convince the seller that the Gila/Butte camp is where the ball originates. Constructed within this camp was a 6,000-seat baseball venue.

The softball includes a period-correct box (which is missing the top) with the GoldSmith Official label. The label shows the 12-inch softball to be “Concealed Stitch” model (the very faint stamping on the ball itself corresponds to the box). A cursory search for online listings shows an abundance of this model of softball (inclusive of boxes) with very little interest and low listing prices. However, with the history and the signatures on the Nisei ball, it garnered considerable interest, selling for nearly $300.

My interest in the ball was more from an historical perspective rather than wanting to add it to my collection. Softball, though very similar to baseball, has nominal value for me in terms of collecting. I decided not to pursue this artifact and hope that it ended up with someone who is preserving the history from the Japanese American experience or, more specifically from the internment camps to ensure that the history is preserved and shared with following generations.

As fall passes into winter and major league baseball rosters begin to settle following the free agency moves, I will grow increasingly hopeful for the 2018 season to see what the Dodgers do for the coming year. I am left wondering where Yu Darvish and Shohei Otani wind up, hoping to see the boys in blue landing one (or both) of these young Japanese players.

To learn more about people with Japanese origins or ancestry in Major League Baseball, see:

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WWII Veterans Honored on the Diamond: Ruptured Duck Patches for Baseball Uniforms

In the midst of researching for an article I was writing, I noticed search results that had a recurrent theme that pulled me away from the subject of my study and onto something that I knew nothing about. It isn’t saying much in regards to experiencing discoveries in terms of militaria or baseball as I am a relative newcomer to this area of collecting. What caught my attention was an image of three Chicago Cubs players wearing uniforms with a patch bearing a familiar military design that is affectionately known as the “Ruptured Duck.”

Like many returning World War II veterans, this sailor’s uniform was adorned with a ruptured duck patch (the small yellow patch located on the right breast) indicating that he had been discharged from active duty.

The patch emblem, for a collector of WWII military uniforms is one that is very familiar. However, unlike the regulation sized patch that was sewn onto the uniforms of discharged veterans returning from war service, this patch was several times larger and was sewn onto the players’ baseball uniform sleeves (on the left). My first encounter with the Ruptured Duck insignia was when my grandfather showed me his navy uniform when I asked about his time in the service during the war. I remember him smiling as he dragged it out from the closet and recalled some of the good, light-hearted stories. Having seen my grandparents’ wedding photos, I knew that he wore it on their wedding day. The first time I heard the Ruptured Duck term from him while describing the rating insignia and ribbons, for some reason, I never questioned why something that clearly looked like an eagle carried such a disparate nomenclature.

War-weary veterans returning home from service had only their uniforms (and any souvenirs they may have acquired) in their duffle bags. Upon their discharge, veterans were issued the Ruptured Duck patch to sew onto their uniforms which afforded an easily recognizable mark to indicate that they were no longer on active duty. Recalling my own time in service, a sailor, marine, soldier or airman is always on duty and therefor available for any ad hoc work detail that may arise. Imagine waiting for a standby seat aboard a military transport when a sergeant happens by to collect men to carry out a task and draws upon the idle men in the waiting room. Those wearing the Ruptured Duck could (if they chose) disregard the orders of the sergeant as they were no longer service members. There were other, more administrative reasons for the patch.

Veteran Ballplayers. Three Chicago Cubs catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston and Paul Gillespie wearing their ruptured duck patches in 1945. This photo clearly shows blue-backed version #2)

Upon seeing to photo of (a significantly larger version of) the patch sewn to a Chicago Cubs player’s uniform I was intrigued by what it could possibly indicate. I was intrigued to discover that the patch was an acknowledgement of the veteran status of this player – that he had served his country during the war to bring about an end to global fascism and tyranny – was authorized by Major League Baseball for wear on the field.

Through some tedious and careful searching, it appears that very view returning veterans opted to don the Ruptured Duck on their uniforms. According to The Story of the Ruptured Duck (on MLB.com) only four men (all Chicago Cubs) chose to display the patch: Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey (3b/OF) and three catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston, and Paul Gillespie. Further searching also reveals that a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers (of the AA International League) also donned the patch. “Each player returning from a stint in the armed service in 1945 received the Ruptured Duck patch on his jersey’s left sleeve,” Authors Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler wrote in The American Association Milwaukee Brewers (Images of Baseball). “

Notice the players in his 1945 image of the Milwaukee Brewers club with the ruptured duck patch affixed to their left sleeves.

There is some speculation as to why more players did not wear the patch on their sleeves. One prevailing notion is that by virtue of veterans wearing the patch, those who did not serve (either by choice or not being qualified for service) might have faced ostracization by the fans or even teammates or opposing players.  In a July 17, 1945 letter from the American League president that was sent to representatives of the four western American League ballclubs, Will Harridge wrote, “(the patch) may attract too much attention to players who, through no fault of their own, did not enter the service.” Harridge made mention that the Chicago Cubs had already moved forward with having players wear the emblem while leaving the decision to do so in the hands of each team.

Regarding the patch itself, there has been a lot of preliminary discussion among collectors surrounding what was initially thought to be an existence of a few versions. My oft-repeated caution regarding collectibles that lacking provenance, one should never take a seller’s word as truth or fact (even if you trust that person). In the absence of supporting evidence, sellers may make whatever claims they want in order to sell the piece. In regards to these large ruptured duck patches, the same guidance applies.

Baseball Ruptured Duck Versions and Variations

  • White-backed
    • Version 1 – The white wool base is embroidered with gold stitching. The features of the design appear to be more flattened and the patch’s backing seems to be of a canvas material. The width of these patches measures 5-1/2 inches.
    • Version 2 – This patch also has a white wool base however the backing material consists of a broad cheesecloth. The base material extends well beyond the gold embroidered outline and the details of the ruptured duck pattern appear more raised and contoured.
  • Yellow-backed

    • Version 1 – This patch is smaller (2-1/4 inches tall by 3 inches in width) than the three other versions. The overall design consists of a yellow canvas with a large-opening, cheesecloth backing. The image is embroidered in navy blue thread.
  • Blue-backed

    • Version 1 – The blue canvas base shares the same dimensions as the white-backed versions and has a white cheesecloth backing. The embroidery is a combination of both navy blue and gold thread forming the familiar eagle-shape and outline. The gold embroidery is employed as the base pattern with the blue embroidery providing the detail in the feathers and edges. This is THE ONLY version that has photographic evidence of major and minor league use following the end of WWII.
    • Version 2 – This patch is very similar to the previous blue version with the most apparent differences being most discernible when comparing them side-by-side. The fronts of each has very similar embroidery work. However this second variation seems to be slightly more rudimentary as if it is an overseas-made copy. In my opinion, it this is a knock-off of the very rare version one of the blue (read: most-authentic) baseball ruptured duck patch.
  • Cooperstown Collection – This patch is about 25% smaller than the other patch variations and is fully-embroidered (rather than embroidered onto a backing material); by computer-aided embroidery equipment. It was made for the commemoration of the original (blue-backed) patch that was worn on major league baseball uniforms in 1945. The patch bears very few similarities to the original. They were affixed to the information cards when they were distributed.

    Beware that there are, on occasion, online action listings of these reproduction patches that have been separated from the collector card. The accompanying printed card provides a history of the insignia.

The availability of these large (baseball uniform) patches varies but the most commonly listed (online auction) are the white-backed version 2 ruptured duck patches.

One of my militaria collector colleagues worked relentlessly to research and document the history (manufacture, usage, etc.) of these over-sized ruptured duck patches reaching out to the Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, NY) and to a manufacturer that was making these patches at the end of the war. In his conversation with the Hall, the archivists there indicated that the only type of the “baseball ruptured duck” in the collection was the blue-backed version. It is speculated that the white versions were made to be worn on the home (white) uniforms as the blue version was designed for the road (gray). However, photos show the ball players in their home whites with the blue ruptured duck.

Others (including my colleague) have concluded that the white patch has nothing to do with baseball due to the evidence at hand. I, however, do believe that the white version was manufactured for the home white uniforms if, for nothing else, in anticipation of major league baseball requesting home and road differentiation.  Perhaps the idea was set aside as the patches were unpopular and some clubs were not in support of their war veteran players standing out from those who didn’t or couldn’t serve?

My colleague had a conversation with one of the online sellers of the white version 2 patches who disclosed an interesting fact regarding their stockpile of ruptured duck patches, “the box that they came in was an original World War II issue box with the original stock number.” However, the box has since been thrown out so I cannot get any manufacturer information from it.” The presence of a war department stock number indicates that they were most-likely made for the armed forces rather than for professional baseball.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the other versions as having ties to the game.

In the absence of conclusive research and documentation, the questions surrounding the variations will continue in perpetuity. In my own pursuit of these elements of military baseball history, I will acquire what I believe to be authentic and make every attempt to provide evidence as to the validity of the artifacts. At present, I only have a single version

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