Monthly Archives: August 2018

Despite the Auction Loss, Victory is Found in the Discovery

It isn’t often that the sale price of an artifact leaves my mouth agape. More often than not, baseball-centric militaria garners little attention compared to counterparts originating with the professional game, leaving bidding at very reasonable level. Things can be a bit more interesting in terms of price and perceived value when the professional and military baseball worlds collide. While one might assume that having professional ballplayers’ names, photographs, signatures or other provenance associated with an artifact would influence prospective buyers and inflite prices, it isn’t always the case.

I have been involved in this market and collecting arena for the better part of a decade and when I discover an auction listing with a unique piece that I would love to add to my collection, I am nearly always accurate with my assessment of the level of bidding interest and the approximate value of the object. I do track the trends of auction sales and maintain the valuations. Unlike other areas of baseball memorabilia collecting, the military circle of participants is rather small due to the diversity of the artifacts that fall into this category. It is at the points of convergence between the different categories of collecting can draw additional interest and drive a prices away from reality. For example, to a baseball glove collector, a run-of-the-mill WWII-era baseball glove that just happens to be stamped with markings for one of the armed forces might have a slightly increased value (above the price of the exact non-military variant) but to a military collector, it may not generate the same level of interest and so, garner a lower price.

The piece that defied reason was one that I submitted a horrendously low (but entirely appropriate) bid for, was right in the area of my interests. In fact, the piece crossed a few more areas of focus – Navy, local history, local baseball and famous ships. The era of the piece was secondary but certainly within what I enjoy the most surrounding the game; the decades of 1930s and ’40s. Living in a Pacific Coast League town and being passionate about the ‘Coast League history, I truly wanted to land this piece but I was also going to be realistic with my bidding and not overspend for something that wasn’t worth a lot of money (to me, at least).

This flyer (or program, showing both sides) for an exhibition game played between the Seattle Indians (of the Pacific Coast League) and the baseball team from the visiting aircraft carrier, USS Lexington (CV-2), is in rough condition but possesses fantastic information  naval and baseball history (source: eBay images),

The item that was listed for sale, though very similar to a baseball program, was more of a single sheet flyer promoting a baseball game to be played between the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League and a baseball team from the USS Lexington (CV-2).

USS Lexington (CV-2) provides electrical power to the City of Tacoma (WA) during a severe drought and subsequent electricity shortage – December 1929 – January 1930 (Photo: Tacoma Public Library).

Lady Lex was firmly in the hearts of the local area, namely the citizens of the City of Tacoma, having helped the residents ride out blackout conditions in December of 1929. That winter, Tacoma City Light was hampered from providing electricity to the citizens due to a pro-longed drought that greatly reduced the hydroelectric power generation capabilities leaving citizens without light and in many cases, heat for their homes and businesses (one local manufacturer, Cascade Paper Company was forced to lay off 300 employees when the plant was shut down due to power shortages). At the request of the city, President Herbert Hoover directed Navy Secretary Charles Francis Adams III (a descendant of President John Adams) to deal with the matter. Secretary Adams dispatched the carrier to Tacoma here the ship tied up pierside and generated power for 30 days. When news of the Lex’s loss during the Battle of the Coral Sea reached Tacoma, it was as if a part of the city sank with her.

The Indians versus Lexington artifact shows considerable damage (much of it due to moisture) and aging with signs of being glued (probably to a scrapbook page) along with acidic-based discoloration from prolonged contact with other materials as if it was pressed between pages. The base paper of the document appears to be of a heavier cardstock that, perhaps helped to preserve it for the eight-plus decades. The printing itself is monochromatic (black) that includes an art-deco border design and a small photograph of the USS Lexington.

The June 6, 1932 game was held in Bremerton, while the ship was in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an extended overhaul period (which was completed in December of that year). While the roster of the ship’s crew will pose some difficulties in researching, the Seattle Indians roster is a different story. With the exception of a few Indians players (Mulligan, Wetzel and possibly Welch), all had decent professional careers (nine of the 18 played in the major leagues – shown in the table below in bold).

 

Seattle Indians USS Lexington
Name POS Last Name POS
Mulligan 3B Murdock 1B
Barberis 3B Lee 1B
Welch (Welsh?) CF House 2B
Burns 1B/Mgr Long CF
Cook 1B Berkery CF
Scott RF Sheats C
Almada, Mel RF Thatcher C
Cox C Mackey (James W. Macky) RF
Botterini C Razuk RF
Muller 2B Williams SS
Ellsworth SS Mitchell 3B
Page P Gowdy LF
Freitas P Gibson LF
Kallio P Mills P
Nelson P Bland P
Walters P Ford P
Haid P Williams P
Wetzel P Joyce P

The 1932 USS Lexington team that played the Seattle Indians were still with the squad in 1933 when they went undefeated and won the All Navy Championship (source: Naval History & Heritage Command).

In the early 1930s, the USS Lexington fielded a very competitive baseball team winning consecutive championships in 1933 and 1934 (research is ongoing). It was common for professional baseball clubs to play exhibition games with teams outside of their league to keep their rosters sharp and prepared. This game was played in early June which was close to the middle of Seattle’s season and possibly during a succession of off-days. For the men of the USS Lexington, this game offered a level of competition that pushed them to refine their skills and to play at their peak which seemingly carried them well into the next two seasons. In 1933, the squad from the Lady Lex, many of whom competed against the Indians in this 1932 game, went undefeated claiming the All Navy Championship.

Several of the men from the 1932 team continued to play competitive baseball into the 1934 season. Here, Captain C.A. Blakely and Admiral David F. Sellers present the team with their championship trophies on March 2, 1934. Pictured with the two senior officers are team members (left-right): F3c J.B. Williams, F1c H.E. Gardner, Coxswain B.N. Lee, TM3c J.W. Macky, GM2c R.D. Long (captain), Sea1c T.D. Mitchell, Sea1c S.E. Bond, GM3c C.C. Anderson, F2c C.E. Gibson, F3c G.L. Ford, WT1c J.E. Sheats, F2c W.E. Gowdy, Chief Gunner A.S. Fenton (coach). One man in group is not listed (source: Naval History & Heritage Command).

Bremerton, Washington’s Roosevelt Field in 1939 was the eventual home of the Bremerton Bluejackets – Western International League – from 1946-49 (image source: Kitsap County Historical Society Museum archives).

Researching the location of the location where this game was played has been a bit of an endeavor. Though no conclusive details have been discovered, I believe that the site has been pinpointed. Extensive online searching provided not a single result in determining details about Washington Ball Park. With the establishment of the navy yard at Bremerton, the town that grew into a city that provided support for the navy’s shipbuilding and repair facilities, became the largest municipality on the Kitsap Peninsula, away from the larger cities of Seattle and Tacoma. Though the city and surrounding region grew in size and population, professional baseball didn’t call Bremerton home until 1946 with the establishment of the Bremerton Bluejackets who were added to the Western International League along with the Wenatchee ChiefsSalem SenatorsTacoma TigersYakima StarsVancouver CapilanosSpokane Indians and the Victoria Athletics. The Bluejackets called old Roosevelt Field, the wooden ballpark located on 16th and Warren Avenue that opened in 1926, their home through their final season in 1949. Was the ballpark renamed (from Washington Ball Park) to honor President Roosevelt after his 1945 passing? I have expanded my research and will hopefully gain some insights as to the location of the game.

Roosevelt Park was located on the corner of 16th Street and Warren Avenue from 1926 until it was demolished in 1983. Was this stadium the site of the game?

While the name of this ballpark could have been to honor the very popular former Assistant Secretary of the Navy  and the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, adding to doubt as to a name change from Washington to Roosevelt, I turned to the local historical research sources. Bonnie Chrey, a volunteer researcher for the Kitsap Historical Society Museum, poured through records and artifacts seeking references to Washington Ball Park. On April 23, 1930, the Bremerton School District dedicated a new athletic field to be used by Bremerton High School’s sports teams which was adjacent to the then existing Washington (Junior High) School. The venue was dedicated that Wednesday as Washington Field. The school building, long since demolished, faced Burwell Street to the south and was bounded on its east and west by Bryan and Montgomery Avenues. The field was bounded to the north by 6th Street.

 

While several of the Seattle Indians players’ careers warrant deeper research, those with military service in particular, the life of Bottarini was one of a fulfilling baseball career, wartime service with a tragic ending.

Catcher John C. Bottarini with the Seattle Indians in 1936 (photo courtesy of UCLA’s Los Angeles Times Photographs Collection).

John Charles Bottarini, a catcher from Los Angeles, played for Seattle (from 1930-35) where he met and married his wife, the former Hazel Ernestine Morgan on October 10, 1936, in Seattle, Washington. John would work his way through the minor leagues and onto the Chicago Cubs roster on April 18, 1937, following injuries sustained by future Hall of Fame catcher,Gabby Hartnett. Chicago Cubs manager Charley Grimm brought Bottarini up from the Los Angeles Angels where the veteran minor leaguer would see action in 26 games that season before resuming his minor league career. Following four seasons (1939-42) with the Syracuse Chiefs (International League), the veteran catcher entered the U.S. Army Air Force on March 2, 1943 in Santa Fe, New Mexico and would subsequently be assigned to Kirtland Army Airfield (near Albuquerque, New Mexico) where he made his way to the base’s baseball club. It was during his duty at Kirtland that John’s wife gave birth to twin boys, John Charles Jr. and Robert Joseph. Corporal Bottarini was discharged on September 25, 1945 at Fort Bliss, Texas.  He returned to the game after the war, signing with the Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas-New Mexico League (class C) in 1946. In the last years of his career, Bottarini spent time as a player-manager before retiring from the game following the 1950 season.  In the 1960s Bottarini’s twin boys both entered the service (John Jr. went in to Army and Robert served in the Air Force) following in their father’s footsteps. The 1970s were difficult for the Bottarini family beginning with young Robert’s passing in 1971 and then with the tragic deaths of both John and John Jr., drowning on Fenton Lake in New Mexico when their boat overturned.

Not landing this artifact was a bit of a disappointment (offset greatly by the final selling price of $162.00), however the joy in researching the details has paid dividends in the joy of discovery, though there was some sadness in the findings.

 

 

 

Now Pitching for Mickey Cochrane’s Bluejackets of Great Lakes…

Collecting original baseball militaria vintage photographs can be very rewarding, especially when the subjects in the images are of major leaguers (past or future). My collection has grown over the years to not only include ballplayers who reach the highest level of the game but also play their way into Cooperstown while having given away a portion of their career to the armed forces when their nation needed them at the most critical time in history.

In the early months of 1942, the mood of the people of the United States was a myriad of emotions ranging from outrage and anger, fear, great sorrow and loss and of unity. Suffering the tragic loss of thousands of armed forces personnel and a handful of citizens at Pearl Harbor and in the surrounding bases on the Island of Oahu and news of the battles raging on the Bataan Peninsula combined with the surrender of American military forces on Guam and Wake Island, Americans at home had every reason to be concerned about what was taking place and how it would impact the future of our nation. It seemed as though the world was falling under a dark cloud of evil both in the Pacific and across Europe as both German and Japanese militaries were laying waste to every nation they invaded and every military force that attempted to oppose them.

Historians have experience a measure of success in documenting and communicating about the impacts on the game of baseball within hours of the news of the Pearl Harbor attacks reaching the mainland of the United States. For most baseball fans, the knowledge of the quick responses by stars of the game such as Cleveland Indians’ ace pitcher, Bob Feller (enlisted into the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941) and Hank Greenberg (who made his return to the Army on February 1, 1942, having been discharged two days before the Pearl Harbor attack). Besides these two stars of the game heading off to fight, most players from the major and minor leagues did not rush to join en masse, but rather waited to learn what was going to happen with baseball and the military draft. The two most significant stars of the game in the 1941 season, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had no intentions of rushing into the fight as both reported to spring training for the 1942 season though each player would face criticism for avoiding service (Ted Williams was skewered for his III-A deferment status regardless of being his mother’s sole provider) and ultimately succumb to the vocal disappointment and enlist, joining the throng of young Americans entering the ranks in the waning months of 1942 and early 1943.

Major and minor league baseball experienced an outflow of personnel that reached a critical mass by the middle of the 1944 season that forced many lower level leagues to shutdown operations. Those players who could not serve in the armed forces moved to the higher level leagues to fill their vacated positions. Though the game helped to sustain many Americans by providing them with an escape from rationing, scrap drives and working in the war effort, the quality of play was nothing close to what was seen when the greats of the game was at its pinnacle in 1941 with DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and William’s .406 season.

On May 17, 1942, White Sox starter Johnny Rigney pitched his last game before departing for basic training a few miles north of Chicago at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Facing the Washington Senators that day, the Oak Park, Illinois native tossed a three-hit, complete game (he surrendered a double to Bobby Estalella and a single each to Bob Repass and Mike Chartak), in the 4-3 win in front of 16,229 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. While the White Sox roster still was still full with most of their star players on that mid-May day, they were already 13-2 and 11.5 games out of contention. Rigney, one of the bright spots on the pitching staff since his arrival to the big league club in 1937. By the time of his induction, he had a 56-56 record with an era of 3.63 and was 3-3, having appeared in seven games in ’42.

After completion of Navy basic training, Johnny Rigney (no relation to fellow ballplayer and Navy man, Bill Rigney) was recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane to pitch for the service team that he managed for 1942.  Cochrane, a former American League star catcher for Philadelphia and Detroit, following his enlistment into the Navy and assignment to Great Lakes as an athletics director took on the management of the baseball team and quickly began reaching out to draft-eligible major leaguers to encourage them to join up and to get them assigned to fill roster spots on the Bluejackets squad. Rigney followed several big leaguers to the Navy and joined Cochrane’s team which already consisted of Sam Harshaney (St. Louis Browns), Benny McCoy (Detroit Tigers/Philadelphia Athletics), Russell Meers (Chicago Cubs), Donald Padgett (St. Louis Cardinals), Frank Pytlak (Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox), James Reninger (Philadelphia Athletics), Joe Grace (St. Louis Browns), Chet Hajduk (Chicago White Sox) and Johnny Lucadello (St. Louis Browns).

This type-1 photograph has a printed caption affixed to the back that reads: “July 3, 1942 – Johnny Rigney, who until his induction into the Navy a short time ago, was a leading White Sox hurler, got a watch from his former teammates when he appeared at Comiskey Park last night with the Great Lakes naval training station team against Chanute Field. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. Left to right are Dario Lodigiani, Mule Haas, Ted Lyons, Rigney, Thornton Lee and Orval Grove.”

Billed by many baseball historians as the greatest team of WWII, the Great Lakes squads were dominant among all of the service teams. The 1942 squad was considered the weakest among the war years squads, finishing the year with a 52-10-1 record (a whopping .800 winning percentage) which included a 17-game winning streak and not suffering any losses to opposing military teams. Where the ’42 Bluejackets struggled was in exhibition games (fundraising events for Navy Relief and other service member needs) against major league clubs posting a 4-6 record in the 10 games they played that year. Former White Sox hurler was considered the ace of Cochrane’s staff and taking the mound against the most difficult and formidable opponents. Coach Cochrane would also tag Rigney for service in a fund-raising game played between the 1942 American League All-Stars and the Service All-Stars at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on July 7, 1942 (the American League squad defeated the service team, 5-0 after Bob Feller’s abysmal pitching performance, surrendering three runs before being relieved by Rigney in the 2nd Inning).

One of the type-1 press photographs in my collection depicts Johnny Rigney visiting his former White Sox teammates at Comiskey Park on July 3, 1942. The image is a high-contrast photograph that is in fantastic condition. One of the more interesting aspects of this print, aside from some minimal surface damage due to the seven decades of aging and decay, is the presence of editing marks made directly onto the surface. Most discernible on the print are the handmade enhancements to Rigney’s uniform in order to distinguish his dress blues from the surrounding features. Other edits on the image surround the upper left portion behind the three players’ heads, extending to the center around Rigney’s dixie cup hat. It is very likely that the wall behind the players was covered with distracting elements taking the focus away from what was happening with the personalities within the main framed area.

A large percentage of the vintage images in my baseball militaria photograph archive depict game action or show players on the field in various manners. However this photo captures an interlude away from the field of play between Rigney and fellow White Sox personalities. Besides Rigney, two of the White Sox players shown in the image would soon be serving: third baseman Dario Lodigiani would enlist into the U.S. Army Air Forces and would eventually be assigned the 7th AAF team in Hawaii along with his fellow San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Coast League (PCL) alumnus Joe DiMaggio and Ferris Fain; Ted Lyons, the (then) 20 year veteran that had pitched himself into eligibility for Cooperstown enshrinement, joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the youthful age of 42.

The two other White Sox shown in the vintage photo are Rigney’s fellow pitchers Orval Grove and “Lefty” Lee, neither of whom would serve in the armed forces and George “Mule” Haas, the 12-year veteran outfielder (with the Pirates, Athletics and White Sox from 1925-38) who was part of manager Jimmy Dykes‘ coaching staff from 1940 to ’46.

The photo itself is a large, non-standard size (8.25 x 7 -inches), silver-gelatin print that is borderless. It is possible that the newspaper photo editor (who prepped the image for publication) trimmed the borders off as part of the editing process. One element of this image that adds to the interest is that the White Sox players are wearing their (home) white uniforms with red and blue trim marking the first season in which “White Sox” appeared in script lettering across the chest and the only use of such a design until 1987.

Photos of professional ballplayers in their armed forces uniforms (whether their flannels or military) are getting increasingly difficult to find but I keep scouring my sources to further build my archive.

Service Academy Discoveries: Major League Baseball’s Road-Less-Traveled from (and to) the Army/Navy Rivalry

The study of history involves wonderful discoveries; many of which are connections that a researcher may not have previously known. Another aspect of the discovery of previously unknown connections is the contextual perspective that may not have been considered. I realize that many of the discoveries that I make are not necessarily unknown to scholars or other historians however, when I begin to overlay the military history with that of baseball, a new vantage point begins to emerge.

One aspect of collecting baseball militaria that has been eye-opening for me surrounds the armed forces academies (specifically, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis). Aside from the highly collectible cadet annuals from each institution (USMA’s Howitzer and USNA’s Lucky Bag), baseball artifacts seldom come to market and, if they do, these pieces garner significant interest from baseball and militaria collectors, alike. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to successfully bid on piece of Naval Academy and Baseball history (see: Academic Baseball Award: Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno’s Baseball Career). When I landed Admiral Frank Fenno’s 1924 medal that was awarded to him for his batting achievements for that season (carrying a .410 average), I was floored to discover the other connections that the admiral had to the game. Aside from the interest that he had from the Philadelphia Athletics’ owner and manager, Connie Mack‘s desire to sign the young class of ’18 high school graduate from Westminster, Massachusetts, Fenno would end up playing his final two Naval Academy baseball seasons for Hall of Fame pitcher, Charles Albert “Chief” Bender (a member of the Ojibwe tribe), a 12-year veteran of the Athletics and favorite of the team’s manager, “The Tall Tactician,” Connie Mack.

Chief Bender’s major league playing career has effectively ended following the 1917 season though he continued to play professionally from 1919 to 1924 in the minor leagues on teams ranging in levels from C to AA before he took the job managing the Midshipmen. Bender’s tenure with Anapolis lasted from 1924-28 and the team was quite successful posting a record of 42-34-2 (.551 winning percentage). Perhaps the most important games the midshipmen played each season was with their military rivals, the Cadets of West Point. Under Coach Bender’s leadership, the Naval Academy posted a 3-2 (.600) record which contrasted greatly against the 6-14 losing record over the previous 28 seasons of competition against West Point. Bender’s protege, LTJG Frank Fenno, would follow suit taking the helm of the Midshipmen squad for two seasons (1934-35) and posting a disappointing 10-20-1 (.338) record though he did trade manage to wins with the Army, posting a record of 1-1 (.500).

Landing Admiral Fenno’s medal was a great introduction into baseball played in and between the service academies. My interest was piqued and I was prompted to expand my search criteria to include such artifacts. Sometimes, discoveries are under our noses and we overlook them, blinded by certain aspects while not exploring them further or pursuing other details. Not too long after I acquired the first military baseball scorecard and program (see: Third Army – Baseball Championship Series), a listing for a Naval Academy scorecard appeared and though it was worn, damaged and missing elements, I decided to pursue the piece. Without opposition, I landed the scorecard and focused on the naval academy midshipmen on the roster and in the team photograph, though the same information was present for the opposing team for the specific game that this artifact was from. I scanned the rosters of the Naval Academy and West Point team to see if there were any familiar names or if, perhaps one of the faces in the image was recognizable but no one really stood out to me. Saving the deeper dive into researching the names listed on each roster until later, I placed the single sheet of damaged cardstock into an archival bag with a backing board and put it away.

Hans Lobert, third baseman for the New York Giants and Joe Schultz, third baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers (Robins) in 1915. The image was taken on April 15, 1915, the opening day at the Polo Grounds, New York City (image source: Library of Congress).

Being an avid reader and researcher, I usually have a book that is contextual to current projects or interests on my nightstand (full disclosure – I actually have a stack of prioritized books to read in succession) that I spend some time in before closing my eyes. A few nights ago, I wanted to take in a few pages of one of my favorite photography books, Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (by siblings, Constance McCabe and Neal McCabe), as I was seeking a photo of a specific player included among the 120+ beautiful images by the preeminent baseball photographer of the early 20th Century, Charles Conlon. Skimming through the photographs and reading the brief biographies and anecdotes that accompany each one, I discovered a bit of information about player whom I had never given much more than a passing thought to over the years. Hans Lobert was a 14-year veteran who was a consistent contributor starting in his third year in the big leagues (and third ball club). Through is most successful seasons (1907-1915) Lobert averaged .276 and posted a .339 on base percentage. Hans did manage to lead his league in one offensive category in one season, sacrificing 38 times. Charles Conlon was notoriously prolific in capturing ballplayers on his glass plate images. He was nearly indiscriminate, snapping every player who passed through his home stadium (he predominantly worked at New York’s Polo Grounds) taking thousands of images and seeing the Lobert image in the book before, never really caught my attention. When I read the caption regarding his post-playing career job, serving as a baseball coach for the U. S. Military Academy (West Point). my mind took me back to my old Army versus Navy scorecard.

While this 1919 Army vs Navy scorecard is unscored and missing half of a page, the information contained is a goldmine for historical research.

When I retrieved the old scorecard from my collection and scanned the photo and player listings, I instantly spotted the veteran major leaguer proudly seated among the cadets. I felt that it was time for me to explore the names on the card with a bit more depth and Lobert presented me with a fantastic starting point. When I dove into Hans’ playing career, Charles Conlon may have take an interest in this player due to his tenacity on the field and his colorful personality (the man raced a horse around the base-paths, after all).

Interview with Hans Lobert regarding his basepath race with a horse:

The New York Times reported on February 27, 1918 that former NY Giants third baseman, Hans Lobert’s new job managing the Cadets (source: New York Times)

It was quite a boon for West Point to land the venerable old player to coach the young team ahead of the 1918 season as John Bernard “Hans” or “Honus” Lobert had just retired from the New York Giants following their 1917 World Series loss to the Chicago White Sox. Giants manager John McGraw didn’t use Hans in any of the six games against the the hard-hitting Eddie Collins, Buck Weaver and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson or the dominant pitching by Eddie Cicotte or Red Faber. Hans Lobert’s career was winding down in his last two major league seasons (in his three-year Giants tenure); managing only 128 plate appearances (with a .212 batting average), most-likely due to his injuries. Though he played in the last regular season against the Phillies on October 3, 1917 at Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl and poked two hits in his three at-bats, his playing career was done and he was resigned to watch his team fall to Chicago over the next 10 days. By February, rather than following the path of many aging ballplayers seeking to extend their careers in the minors, Lobert decided to pursue coaching.

Reviewing the players on each roster, I began to see that not only were both military academies coached by professional ball players but also that the some of the cadets and midshipmen moved on to some interesting career achievements and one who tragically perished in a maritime accident involving a merchant ship and a navy submarine. In light of this site’s central mission, one of the men on the Naval Academy’s roster truly stands out as significant. While collegiate baseball players are immediately available to play professionally following the conclusion of their studies and amatuer careers, those who are appointed to and play for service academies are obligated to serve (traditionally for six years, but was changed in recent years to just two) following their graduation making them less attractive to major league teams. A 2016 policy change has provided players with the potential to alter their method of completing service obligation and play professionally but this has yet to have an impact on baseball players.

Hans Lobert assumed command of the U.S. Military Academy West Point Cadets baseball club in 1918. Here, Lobert is suited up during his first season at the controls (image source: 1919 Howitzer).

There have been some graduates of the military academies who have played professional sports following their graduation (but they are a rare breed due to the service obligation) such as David Robinson and Roger Staubach. Though all three service academies have produced professional athletes in basketball and predominantly football, baseball players haven’t seen the same measure of consideration by pro organizations. What I found fascinating with one of the Navy players, Willard Gaines, is that after he was graduated and commissioned an ensign, he was allowed to play in the major leagues with the Washington Senators during the 1921 season, taking leave to pitch in four games over a ten day period stretching from June 26 as he made his first appearance against the Yankees. Over 4-2/3 shutout innings, “Nemo” Gaines surrendered five hits, walked two and struck out one batter before resuming his modest 25-year naval career. Reviewing Gaines various assignments throughtout his career, he strikes me as the Naval officer version of Moonlight Graham.

Both squads of the 1919 Army/Navy game were filled with several incredible people from both military and baseball history.

Admiral Austin Foyle’s medals are currently in the collection of a fellow militaria collecting colleague (image source: US Militaria Forum).

Aside from Gaines and the tragic death of Harlow Pino, the Navy squad saw others make good with their careers such outfielder, Victor Blakeslee (retired in 1924 as an LTJG) who authored a book in 1941 and Austin Doyle spent his career as a naval aviator (Aviator Number 3046), the commanding officer of both the USS Nassau (CVE-16) and USS Hornet (CV-12) and the head of Naval Air Training. Doyle earned two Navy Cross medals and the Legion of Honor among other significant decorations. Edward Milner served aboard the cruisers USS Rochester (ACR-2), USS Marblehead and USS Tulsa (PG-22) in the 1920s-1930s. Milner commanded the USS General E. T. Collins (AP-147) from 1944-45 before retiring as a commander. With so much more research remaining, I will be prioritizing it withing the growing backlog.

1919 U. S. Naval Academy Baseball Roster:

Last Name (as listed) Name Position Class
Baker L.N. Baker P n/a
Baker Harold Davies Baker P 1922
Blakeslee Victor Franklin Blakeslee OF/Captain 1920
Clark Howard Clark OF 1921
Doyle Austin Kelvin Doyle 2B 1920
Gaines Willard “Nemo” Roland Gaines P 1921
Hogan Edward Hogan C 1922
Humphryes Charles Owens Humphryes 1B 1922
McLaury Frank Malvern McLaury OF 1921
Milner Edward Joseph Milner SS 1921
Pino Harlow Milton Pino 3B 1921
Stubbs Frances Horatio Stubbs OF 1921

Coaches: Hartman, William “Billy” Lush | Baseball Representative: LCDR L.B. Anderson

A cursory research effort for the men listed on the West Point roster revealed some astounding Army careers for these academy graduates. Though he excelled on the diamond under Lobert’s coaching, he was no slouch on the gridiron coming to West Following his first three seasons at Miami (Ohio) University. After transferring to the USMA, he worked his way attaining third team All America. Blaik served two years active duty as a cavalry officer before taking his first coaching job on his way to a College Hall of Fame career (head coach of Dartmouth, 1934-40 and West Point 1941-58). Esher Burkart would pursue a full career in the Army retiring as a colonel and receiving the Legion of Honor. Major General George Honnen’s career was fulfilling as he served with distinction, retiring in 1957, having helped Generals Walter Krueger, George Decker and Clyde D. Eddleman to form the Sixth Army in 1943 at General MacArthur’s request. As with the Naval Academy roster, I have much research to complete.

1919 U. S. Military Academy (West Point) Baseball Roster:

Last Name Position Class
Billo Joseph Jacob Billo 1B
Blaik Earl Henry Blaik LF 1920
Burkart Esher Claflin Burkart P 1920
Dixon Frederick Seymour Dixon 2B
Domminey John Victor Domminey 3B
Ferenbaugh Claude Birkett Ferenbaugh C 1918
Honnen George Honnen SS 1922
Kelly Paul Clarence Kelly P
Lystad Helmer William Lystad CF
McCarthy McCarthy C
McGrath W. G. McGrath P
Milton John Dickerson Milton P
Polk Polk P
Shoemaker Shoemaker P
Tate Tate 1B/Captain

Manager: Lt. Regan | Coach: John “Hans” Lobert, | Baseball Representative: MAJ Mitchell

The Midshipmen’s record (leading up to the 1919 game) against the Cadets was nothing short of abysmal and West Point was seeking to continue their dominance over Anapolis with the addition of a successful major league position player to their coaching staff. Lober’s credentials as a 14-year major leaguer seemed to provide, if nothing else, more cache’ than Navy’s (coach) Billy Lush’s 489 games (in seven seasons) in the bigs.

Though the card was unscored and missing the side for keeping score of the Navy’s exploits, the information is incredible.

Army visiting Navy, May 31, 1919. According to a game summary written in the 1920 West Point annual, the “Howitzer,” the game went much like the entire season did for the cadets:

May 31, 1919: United States Military Academy visiting Annapolis. The game did not go well for Hans Lobert’s cadets who lost, 10-6 (image source: 1920 Howitzer).

By the way the Navy game started it looked as if our hopes of nine straight would be fulfilled. McGrath had the Navy eating out of his hand for the first four innings. Then in the fourth with the bases full McCarthy laid out a homer that by itself would probably have won the game. But McGrath was not to be outdone by his battery mate. He lined one down the first base line that carried him around the sacks. Two home runs in one inning was too much to have even hoped for. This second homer was really the cause of our undoing. The run undoubtedly tired McGrath. He managed to pull through the fifth inning with the Navy still scoreless.

In the sixth he weakened. His control was gone. The Navy got three runs. McGrath started the seventh, but it became a repetition of the previous inning. Milton relieved him, but the Navy had obtained three more runs. In our half we pushed another run across and tied the score. So the game went on. We were unable to get through R. D. Baker, who had relieved Gaines in the fourth, after the seventh inning.

The team was supporting Milton wonderfully and the Corps was yelling itself hoarse. The Navy was hitting the ball, but wonderful fielding prevented their scoring. In the tenth we got two men on bases with none out. But Domminey hit to third and forced McCarthy while the relative positions were unchanged. Then Wilhide grounded to short, forcing Domminey at second and placing Milton on third. We still had two men on, but there were now two out. Tate was up. He grounded to L. N. Baker for the third out. Then came the awful eleventh. Blakeslee came up first and tripled to left field. Clark and Doyle went out with drives to the outfield.

Humphreys doubled down the third base line, scoring Blakeslee. Alexander walked. With these two on, Cloughley laid out a home run to right center field. Little need be said further.

It took the Navy eleven years and eleven innings, but they finally did it.”

It still amazes me when I dig into the research and shed light on the people who wore both the uniform of their nation and that of the game to find some of the most fascinating people. This game was played nearly a century ago which leaves these men and their service to our nation, largely forgotten. To consider that they also played baseball hardly qualifies as a footnote in the history of the game.

See also:

Two of the three service academies have seen just a few of their former players (five combined) ascend to the major leagues:

United States Military Academy:

  • Walt French – Class of 1923, Philadelphia Athletics (1923-1929)
  • Chris Rowley – Class of 2013, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers (2017-2018)

U.S. Naval Academy:

  • Nemo Gaines – Class of 1921, Washington Senators (1921)
  • Oliver Drake – Class of 2008, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels (2015-2018)
  • Mitch Harris – Class of 2013, St. Louis Cardinals (2015)

United States Air Force Academy

  • None

Historic Threads: A Red Ball Express Veteran and Ball Player’s Flannels

Within the first half of 2019, I was able to land some very significant artifacts. For a fairly decent stretch, my collection was bolstered with a few important photographs that included ball players who played their way into the Hall of Fame. As Spring wound down and the summer heat began to arrive, for a myriad of reasons, the run of acquisitions was stunted as if the faucet was not only closed, but tightened shut with a wrench. Though my ability to pursue artifacts was cut-off, the availability of some rather impressive pieces has only continued.

Negro soldier and ball player, Carl Mays’ WWII uniform set sold in July, 2018 for $284 (source: eBay Image).

One of the most significant artifacts that I had to watch pass by was an historically important baseball uniform. I had to watch the bidding over the course of several days culminate in a relatively inexpensive purchase for the winner of the online auction listing. As I wrote in Breaking the Color Barrier in the Ranks and on the Diamond, African American baseball militaria artifacts are decidedly scarce.  With this in mind, watching a uniform set (which consisted of a jersey and trousers) from a ballplayer who served with the 47th Quartermaster Regiment and purportedly on the Red Ball Express, pass me by was a source of frustration and considerable disappointment.

The Red Ball Express during WWII (image source: maksimsmuseum.com).

The shoulder sleeve insignia worn on the uniform sleeves of the men operating the Red Ball Express (image source: maksimsmuseum.com).

The Red Ball Express was the name for the 6,000+ truck convoy supply line (originally) stemming from the Normandy beachhead in France to the front as it progressed inland. Consisting of more than 75% African American drivers and crew, these men braved bombings and strafing attacks by Germans bent on disrupting the flow of ammunition, water, food and other supplies to keep the troops equipped and fed as they pushed the Wehrmacht backwards towards their homeland. The Red Ball Express was a risky endeavor for truck crews as supply lines were a prime target for the enemy as disrupting them could reduce the effectiveness of the front line fighting troops.

The uniform that was listed and sold belonged to a man who (apparently) did not continue with the game, at least not in any professional capacity as he attended college years after returning from his wartime service, becoming a teacher, high school administrator and school board member in Alexandria, Virginia. Dr. Gilbert Mays was a lifelong Virginia resident and passed away at the age of 94 on March 5, 2014.

“Dr. Mays worked in Richmond from 1958 to 1970 for the Virginia Department of Education as a supervisor for mathematics and science in secondary education. His job focused initially on black schools during the era of segregation, but his job came to encompass oversight of all secondary schools for math and science studies.

He was recruited to the Alexandria school system in 1970 as it was still struggling to integrate black and white students. He was briefly assistant principal at T.C. Williams High School before being named principal at Minnie Howard Middle School in 1971. He returned to Williams in the late 1970s as executive associate principal and retired in 1985.

Gilbert Mays was born in Dolphin, Va., and was a 1953 graduate of Saint Paul’s College, a historically black college in Lawrenceville, Va. He received a master’s degree in 1958 and a doctorate in 1977, both in education from the University of Virginia.

He served in the Army in Europe during World War II and participated in the truck caravan known as the Red Ball Express, which kept the military supplied with gasoline and other staples. Earlier, he was among those who tested an early prototype for the Jeep at Fort Holabird in Baltimore.” – Washington Post obituary, March 13, 2014

Regardless of Dr. Mays’ profession, this baseball uniform would have been an honor to house within my own collection.

See also:

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