Monthly Archives: August 2019
Keeping a watchful eye out for military baseball items may seem like an easy task to an outsider, especially when it comes to searching for uniform elements such as jerseys, trousers or caps. To those of us who have continually running searches that employ a wide range of keywords, hoping to find that one elusive piece that may have been overlooked by less discerning collectors, the task is a challenge. I have written in a handful of previous articles of the difficulties in finding the crown of the baseball uniform; the baseball cap.
A few searches of online auctions at any given time could, on occasion, yield a vintage ball cap within the results. However, knowing what to look for makes all of the difference in confidently acquiring a piece (especially if it lacks provenance). Studying vintage ball caps, whether from the minor or major leagues or from semi-pros and amateur leagues that operated in the last century will carry the prospective collector far when attempting to identify and date the items.
There are a handful of resources that exist (at present) online. One of them, the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York shares photographs of examples of the artifacts housed in their facility. Perhaps the most invaluable online resource is MLBCollectors.com which provides incredibly detailed photography combined with dates and some descriptions for uniforms from every major league team which I use to evaluate designs, construction and manufacturer’s tags as known examples for comparison.
To further the comparative analysis, our extensive vintage photography archive provides numerous examples of caps (and uniforms) worn by military ball teams and acts as a catalog of what to be on the lookout for.
The most consistent design used across all branches during WWII was a six-panel crown made of dark (navy) blue wool with a leather sweatband. Whether plain or with an emblem attached to the front panels, these hats were common throughout the armed forces service teams. In addition to what was seen on the military diamonds, caps were worn by some personnel within the ranks of the various branches as part of their working uniforms. From the outside of the caps, they can appear to be identical to those worn by players on the field (in some instances, these hats could be distinguishable by the presence of a military stock or supply number inside of the sweatband). Wool caps were standard military supply system-stocked item for aeronautical materials Class-37 and was available for appropriation in three colors; red, green and blue (the blue color was so dark that it appeared, in many instances to be black).
In observing the many examples of service members’ caps, it has been noted that there are considerable variations that range from differing sweatband configurations, materials (and color variations) on the underside of the bill, manufacturers’ tags (ranging from military stock system, private purchase or none at all). However, from the topside perspective, the caps appear to be identical.
When a WWII-era navy blue wool ball cap became available, it was listed merely as a wool baseball cap that was part of a veteran’s estate. Discussion with the seller confirmed that the World War II veteran most-likely played baseball during his wartime service as there were Navy photo albums (not for sale) that held some images of the sailor in his baseball uniform (though I could only take his word). The cap showed some wear but was in overall good condition so there was no hesitation to bid on it.
- Navy ball caps: a brief history (Military Times)
Available Reproduction Ball Caps:
- History Preservation Associates – USN/USMC Blue Ball Cap
- WWII Navy/USMC Aviator’s Ball Cap (SM Wholesale)
What does one write about as a follow-up to an article (see: “Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down) that essentially covered the details surrounding the acquisition of two mid-1950s United States Air Force baseball uniforms? I could bore readers to the point of yawn-induced tears rattling off the finer details surrounding the construction and design of the second of the pair of uniforms that were acquired together earlier this year. Perhaps a better route would be to discuss the (non-existent) finer points of not having a shred of detail surrounding the veteran to whom this group of baseball uniforms once belonged? One glance at the front of the uniform’s jersey (the focus of this article) is the most-telling aspect as to why this opening paragraph is a blatant example of the author reaching for something, ANYTHING to discuss for this article.
Richly-contrasting colors are part of what grabbed our interest and motivated us to acquire these uniforms (apart from their military use). As with the Goose AB’s red and cream two-toned jersey, this uniform set featured a two-color scheme that was not quite as elaborate. The jersey’s green shell is set apart with cream-colored raglan sleeves with a wide green banded collar that extends down to form the placket. The entirely blank front panel gives the uniform an otherwise bland appearance (in contrast to the Goose Air Base jersey). Across the back, however, is a different story.
Representative of what a typical industrial baseball league team would wear, this jersey’s lettering is formed into an arch shape with the remaining letters (that didn’t fit over the top) forming a line that closes the open bottom of the shape. In creamy white athletic felt lettering, “28 TH SUPPLY SQD” that, as far as can be determined, refers to the U.S. Air Force command that was represented by the team. Unfamiliarity with the USAF’s historical command structure poses a challenge with researching the unit in order to determine where the squadron was assigned in the mid-1950s. Left to make an educated guess as to the unit specifics, the 28th was either connected to the 28th Mission Support Group, 28th Military Airlift or the 28th Bombardment Group. Further research into the unit identity is forthcoming and ongoing.
Due to these both being stored within the same USAF-issued B4 garment bag that the seller (from whom these were obtained) purchased at an estate sale, it seems reasonable to assume that they originated from the same Air Force veteran. A thorough examination of both uniform sets yielded no names or personal identification stenciled markings. Inside the collar of the 28th Supply Squadron jersey is the only marking a white fabric strip with an ink-stamped, five-character alpha-numeric that is stapled directly above the manufacturer’s label. With all of the military baseball uniforms that we have seen over the past decade, this is the first with the “Power’s Athletic Wear” label.
Dating this uniform may seem to be a routine exercise of confirmation considering the verifiable age of the other uniform (that was grouped together in the Air Force garment bag), but it is a task that can further help in positively identifying the unit and possibly, the original owner associated with it. After a few moments of online searching the details of the uniform’s tag, we discovered the location of the manufacturer and found that the company was still in operation. We reached out to Powers seeking confirmation and requested further details surrounding the uniform’s age. It is possible that the 28th Supply Squadron sourced their teams’ uniforms directly from the manufacturer due to their home air base’s (Ellsworth Air Force Base, Rapid City, South Dakota) close proximity to the manufacturer or their distributor.
Adding two vintage U.S. Air Force uniforms to the stable in one fell swoop has filled in a gaping hole in the collection and addresses the (“what, no Air Force?”) questions that arise at public showings. As of publication, we are still researching to positively identify the command and hopefully, the ball-playing airman who wore these uniforms on the diamond.
When more than a year creeps by before one realizes that a two-part article was left unfinished (with just the initial piece published), it is a commentary on one or more of the following issues: I am aging and my memory is taking a beating; I have too many irons in the fire and my memory is lagging; I am completely disorganized and distracted by too many activities and my memory failing. The reality is that all three are true.
Last July (the one that occurred in 2018), I published an article about restoring a 60+ year old chunk of Louisville lumber that bears the name of one of my favorite ball players and former WWII U.S. Army Air Forces airman, Ferris Fain (see: Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat). The article in question has been one of Chevrons and Diamonds more popular pieces as it seems that there are many collectors who are seeking to rejuvenate their aging, decaying and damaged vintage bats. Fortunately for me, the condition of the Ferris Fain signature model Louisville Slugger bat wasn’t bad and it was absent any damage.
In the absence of vintage baseball bat restoration manuals or step-by-step guides, I had to tap into the resources available to me. Turning to my bat-collecting colleagues, I gathered tips from those who have touched on certain aspects of revitalizing the wood, slowing progress of wood rot and breathing new life into the black foil brand marks. It was also helpful that I spent time in doing extracurricular work many years ago (in high school) at the invitation of my high school principal to perform some restoration work on several vintage wood administration chairs (I was a very giving person with my advice for certain teachers) over the course of a week at the end of my sophomore year.
Despite removing very little wood material with the steel wool (sanding would have removed the patina and usage markings entirely), the surface of the bat had a fairly fresh appearance once all of the cleaner had dried. Also, my free-hand restoration of the brand (with an ultra-fine black paint pen) looked a little sloppy and too vibrant in places. Since the goal was to retain as much of the original patina and scars, I first took the steel wool over the fresh brands to remove some of the material before applying the linseed oil treatment. I also left the bat to sit untreated for a few months to allow for some oxidation and darkening of the wood before sealing it with the oil, which is where I left off in early July of 2018.
By winter, the wood of the bat darkened quite a bit. After wiping the bat down with a cloth to remove any dust or particulates that settled onto the surface over the previous several months, I cracked open the linseed oil, soaked a wad of paper towels and began to cover the bat from the bottom, working my way upward towards the handle and knob, leaving the bat saturated with the material. Leaving the bat to stand (vertically, with the handle up) for an hour allowing for the wood grain to absorb the oil. When I returned, I reapplied the oil as before and again left the bat to stand in order to allow for absorption.
After a few days of standing in the garage, the bat’s surface was dry and felt as though it needed to be rubbed out with a terry shop cloth. Through this process, excess oil was lifted and the bat’s surface responded with a satin shine that enhanced the aged patina. The oil naturally darkened and drew out the wood-grain while providing a true vintage aesthetic to the finished product.
Since completing the Fain bat, I faced a more daunting challenge when a 1940s U.S. Navy stamped Ted Williams endorsed Hillerich & Bradsby bat arrived (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved). Drawing upon the Fain bat experience, the Williams and subsequent bat restorations have become a fairly simple process.
Five Marines flannels (one uniform set and four additional jerseys) dominate the Chevrons and Diamonds uniform collection which, for a veteran of the U.S. Navy can be a point of contention. Taking further stock of the flannels, three U.S. Army, two U.S. Navy and now one U.S. Coast Guard baseball jerseys are also part of the collection.
Personalizing or associating the pieces with my family’s legacy of service shows an imbalance or disparity of representation. Looking at the service history of my family, my father is an Army combat veteran (Vietnam); maternal grandfather was a WWII Navy combat veteran; three uncles who served in the Navy (WWI, WWII), another uncle (WWI, WWII, Korean War) in the Army and not a single, solitary veteran of the U.S.M.C. or the Coast Guard. I also have a relative who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Army Air Forces and was a guest of the Empire of Japan (for the entire duration of WWII – a Corregidor Defender) and, to represent him, there is an early 1940s jersey in my collection (Bolling Field). As to those post- September 18, 1947 (the date that the U.S. Air Force was established as its own branch of the U.S. Armed Forces) jerseys? Zilch. Having USAF veterans in my family including my son and my father-in-law (who, having played collegiate baseball for the University of Oregon and Portland State College as a southpaw pitcher, donned flannels for the USAF and chucked against a few Bay Area Pacific Coast League teams in the late 1950s), the absence of this branch’s baseball threads from my museum truly stood out.
The stark red script athletic felt lettering, “Goose AB” stood out against the creamy white material like a vintage neon sign against a pitch-black sky. It took just a second to register. With one other item in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection originating from the Goose Bay Air Base (see: Competition Awards: Buckling Up Metal Baseball Treasure), I realized quickly that the red and white baseball uniform was used at the U.S. Air Force base in Labrador, Canada. Established in 1941 as part of the Lend Lease agreement between the United States and Great Britain, the airfield was constructed and readied for use a base of operations for ferrying aircraft to England and to provide long-range air cover for convoys between the U.S. and the British Isles. While the baseball championship medal (referenced in the story linked above) in this collection was awarded during WWII (in 1944, specifically), it was immediately clear that the Goose AB baseball uniform was from a later time-period.
Without any hesitation, a deal was struck with the seller and in just a few short days, the package arrived. Aside from being considerably wrinkled, the condition of the garments was fantastic yet it is readily apparent that the uniform saw action on the diamond. In hopes of discovering identifying marks left by the Air Force veteran who owned it, the only means of determining the age was with the MacGregor-brand manufacturer’s tag. Using the Chevrons and Diamonds tag-history as a reference, it was easy to determine that the jersey was made between 1955 and ‘56. During these years, Goose Air Base was part of Strategic Air Command and Northeast Air Command becoming the site of the first nuclear weapons within Canada’s borders.
Apart from determining the age of the uniform, there were no marks that would indicate who the veteran was that originally owned it. My last attempt to identify the airman sent me directly to the seller with my inquiry. The response deflated all hope as the seller stated, “I found these tucked in an B4 garment bag which I picked up an estate sale.” The message continued, “There was also an Air Force handbook dated 1951 and several field caps,” and yet no markings or stenciled names were present. This airman, at least for the present time, will remain unknown.
The Goose AB uniform itself is constructed from lightweight cotton. The base shell is cream-white with red raglan sleeves and a broad red placket and collar. There are five white, two-hole buttons down the placket face. The color-matched red athletic felt lettering on the front and numeral on the back are affixed with a machine-serge-stitch surrounding each character. Aside from the heavy wrinkling of the fabric, the overall condition of this uniform is excellent.
Sharing this uniform with my father-in-law would have been special, especially since it dates from close to the same era during which he served. His passion for the game never ceased until his passing several years ago.
As this uniform was part of a grouping that contained two separate USAF baseball uniforms, the second one will be part of an upcoming article.