Monthly Archives: January 2020
The quest for baseball militaria quite often results in being outbid, a day late for a great deal or finding an artifact in a condition of utter disrepair and doesn’t warrant being added to a collection but would be better served with an unceremonious disposal. Finding a wool flannel jersey riddled with holes and decay from years of improper storage and being feasted upon by moths and silverfish is not a find at all. Locating a rare and vintage bat that has been used as gardening implement rather than properly stored should cause even the most carefree collector to pause. Some of these treasures are sadly too far gone to be kept and, in some cases (such as with a pest-infested and heavily damaged jersey), they need to be discarded.
The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is populated by many artifacts, some of which are in conditions that would have been avoided by memorabilia hobbyists and museum curators. One of the more challenging artifacts (in terms of preservation and stabilization efforts) was a wartime GoldSmith Elmer Riddle “DW” model glove that was marked with “U.S.N.” that was heavily damaged from water. The horsehide on the glove was rife with dry-rot, mold and extensive cracking and so malodorous that it required storage in a resealable bag. Despite the glove’s state, we were able to preserve what remained and save it from complete destruction. We question the expended effort to save the DW glove (documented in our story: A War Veteran Who Never Served) and have come to the conclusion that there are alternative solutions for heavily deteriorated artifacts.
In the last year, this site has been the beneficiary of a plethora or historical data, research and anecdotes from a baseball historian who, through his efforts and his books, shined a spotlight on Navy wartime baseball and established a foundation upon which all other military baseball historians have built upon. My first contact with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr. followed a social media group posting that was a request for assistance in identifying three faces in a group of four World War II-era vintage snapshots that featured four Navy baseball players. A colleague in that group suggested that I reach out to Mr. Crissey and provided me with his contact information. In addition to Kit’s quick response to my inquiry, the ensuing email correspondence regarding his experiences, interviews and even friendships that he held with many of the major and minor leaguers (who donned Navy flannels during the War) was truly eye-opening. After the Chevrons and Diamonds article, Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars was published, a friendship developed. In addition to our enlightening conversations and research collaboration on countless projects, Kit’s generosity in sharing precious and rare artifacts has opened the doors into so many areas of research and advanced our efforts (seemingly) by light-years.
Crissey, aside from being a wealth of knowledge and research resources, has been a source of encouragement in this endeavor. To be able to respond in kind and enlighten our readers (including Mr. Crissey) in other aspects of wartime baseball; particularly in the area of baseball militaria artifacts. The delightful conversation that followed the publication of Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt (with Kit) set the idea-gears into motion.
As we approach the anniversary of that initial contact, it seemed fitting that a very tangible gift that is representative of this game and the incredible history that is mutually appreciated between us, would be fitting to send to Kit. During a phone conversation with Kit regarding our vintage wartime Mickey Owen catcher’s mitt and how his interest was piqued, he described the feeling of donning a vintage catcher’s mitt and how different they feel from their contemporary counterparts used in today’s game. The sheer weight of the mitt, the stiffness of the extensive padding and thick leather covering leaves one wondering how a catcher can securely close his hand around a pitched ball as it makes contact. A smile was discernible in his voice as Kit talked about the feel of a vintage catcher’s mitt.
I glanced at my 7th Army Air Forces baseball that was handcrafted for me from leather salvaged from a deteriorated early 1950s Ferris Fain “Trapper” first baseman’s mitt and knew that I wanted to bring to a confluence three concepts; the feel of a vintage mitt, the tactile nature of holding a baseball and wartime Navy baseball history. Without hesitation, my mind set upon the artful hands of another baseball and military historian and craftsman, Mr. Don Droke of East Tennessee in hopes that he could draw upon his skills and experience to undertake this project. Taking hold of the Ferris Fain/7th Army Air Forces baseball, I began to search my mind for illustrations that would best embody the Navy game during WWII.
Since February of 2018, Don “the Drokester” Droke has been transforming tattered, worn, decayed and generally un-salvageable baseball gloves and mitts into treasured heirlooms. Leather and horsehide that used to absorb the energy and impact of a fast-moving orb is carefully removed, cut, trimmed and stitched over an old and de-skinned baseball. In nearly two years, Don has created several dozen unique baseballs from gloves bearing the stamped or tooled signatures or caricatures of legendary players, extracting their stamped signatures or embellishing the hide with enhancements to further honor and represent a player or significant accomplishment, depending upon what the artist or the customer commissions.
Droke is an historian with a passion for sharing living historical portrayals through reenacting, story-telling and artifacts, the baseball-making was born from his love of the game while serving as a Civil War Reenactor. Some of Don’s earliest hand-made baseballs were replications of those made by troops (on both sides of the conflict) in the early 1860s. Civil War baseballs were hand-made with available materials such as canvas or leather from an old boot and, aside from being orbital in shape and bearing stitching, hardly represent what we see on today’s diamonds.
“Though the process of making the baseballs can be tedious, and takes some finesse, Droke is able to complete a new ball in about six to eight hours — granted, he does so while enjoying Cincinnati Reds games, as sitting down and making ball after ball would ‘suck the fun out of it.'” – Piney Flats man has unique way of repurposing old baseball gloves – Johnson City Press (Tennessee) | Jonathan Roberts • AUG 4, 2019
For this project, Don started with a well-worn Spalding “Marvel” model 102 catcher’s mitt that was used by naval personnel during WWII as indicated by the “U.S.N.” stamp on the heel. Had the condition been better, this model of catcher’s mitt is truly worth preserving however, the water damage and wear on this particular example was extensive leaving it un-salvageable. According to Droke, the mitt’s condition did not leave much usable leather for making a ball due to the considerable dry rot and cracking and might have to supplement the project with hid from another sacrificed glove.
Once the glove was dismantled, Don located the primary areas on the glove that would surround the outer windings of the baseball, paying particular attention to the features that would tie into the project’s theme. Rather than attempting to match the two-piece, inter-locking shapes, each of Don Droke’s hand crafted baseballs feature panels that are cut to emphasize a feature extracted from the glove which results in unique stitching patters that are reminiscent of the field-made Civil War-used baseballs. Don isolated the “U.S.N.” stamp from the mitt’s heel area cutting out a circular shape and laying it in place on the donor baseball’s outer windings. Each subsequent piece was cut from the glove and trimmed to fit in concert with the adjacent pieces, much like fitting together a three-dimensional spherical puzzle.
Depending upon the project’s specifications, Don can spend several hours each day for three to four days which, besides cutting and assembling the baseball but also pre-conditioning the leather (as was done with this mitt) and thinning the hide (with a Dremmel tool) to ensure consistent material thickness. A more recent enhancement to Droke’s glove baseballs is the application of hand-tooled designs (such as team logos, player illustrations or player-statistics) which this particular project included.
Don’s artistic creativity was brought to bear on this Navy-themed ball with the addition of the 1942 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets team jersey applique (an “N” for Norfolk with “N” “T” “S” superimposed), the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets jersey script applique and an anchor design with N T S across the shank. Also added to the ball was the outcome of the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series held in the Hawaiian Islands (the Navy won with a record of eight wins against two losses and a tie).
Over the course of four days, Don spent time meticulously cutting and fitting 75-year-old, heavily weathered and damaged leather to create both an aesthetically pleasing baseball but also to accommodate specific illustrations and the “U.S.N” stamp, fitting them all together. Each illustration was selected from vintage photographs of baseball uniform jersey and jacket emblems in order to capture the impact made by professional ballplayers who, like millions of Americans, left the comforts of their pre-war life behind in order to restore peace to the globe. Navy wartime baseball played a significant role in lifting morale and providing much needed sports equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and mitts (including the Spalding mitt used for this project) to troops in all combat theaters and at domestic bases.
After Don pulled and tied off the last stitches, he snapped a few quick photos of the finished baseball and then it sunk in that we would not be seeing or holding this treasure before it arrives to Kit Crissey’s door. Watching this project; the transformation from something that would otherwise have been discarded being made into a subtle, yet beautiful piece of folk art is satisfying.
While it may seem counter-intuitive for this article’s featured image to be placed at the very end of the story, however we were truly saving the best part for last. The final punctuation for this story is to hear the reaction of this treasure’s recipient, Mr. Crissey.
Commission a Ball
For our readers who would like to commission their own baseball from Don “The Drokester” Droke, be prepared to provide your own glove or mitt and to pay his very reasonable fee and get in line behind Don’s customers. Feel free to contact Don via email (email@example.com) or visit his page on Facebook, but please be patient in awaiting his response. Between Mr. Droke’s family, his career, farm, Civil War re-enacting, vintage baseball glove collecting, baseball-making or taking in a minor league game or just relaxing at home, watching his beloved Cincinnati Reds, Don will return your email and quite possibly converse with you about his favorite things in life as he takes note of your baseball project.
Resources and Recommended Reading:
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: Vol. 1; The National League – 1981, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: 2; The American League – 1982, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II – 1984, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian
Steaming westbound, a Navy troop ship, bound for the Hawaiian Islands engorged with stores, munitions and fighting men that will resupply and augment forces engaged in the island-hopping campaign in the push towards the Japanese Homeland. Among the embarked troops was a collection of men, mostly assembled from U.S. Army Air Forces air bases in the western United States, nearly two-dozen fellow servicemen whose pre-war occupations drew considerable interest from the others aboard the ship; among this group were two childhood sandlot friends.
One of the most picturesque areas on the United States’ West Coast, the San Francisco Bay area has been an incubator, producing incredible baseball talent on sandlots of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. In a 400 square-mile area (including the large San Francisco Bay), four significant ball players plied their wares on sandlots in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Soma, Excelsior and Cow Hollow Districts in San Francisco while two more churned up the base paths surrounding Oakland. Legendary Bay Area names such as Lazzeri, Heilmann, Cronin, Gomez and Lombardi are all synonymous with greatness with bronze plaques (bearing their likenesses) prominently displayed at Cooperstown. These six players alone firmly place the Bay Area on baseball’s map but the list of notable baseball names from the region is as expansive as the geography, itself. However, the list of outstanding ballplayers from this region is considerable beyond those inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The North Beach District was settled by Italian immigrants following the devastating 1906 and was an incubator for some of baseball’s “royal” families such as Crosetti, Lucchesi and DiMaggio. Sicilian immigrants, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio saw three of their sons pursue baseball from an early age. Rather than take to the sea to gather fish with their father, Vince, Joe and Dominic chased their dreams on the diamond. Fellow Italian, Dario Lodigiani grew up (on nearby Telegraph Hill) with the DiMaggio brothers though he was closer in age to Dominic, his childhood relationship was close with Joe. Joe and Dario were junior high school teammates continuing on at Lowell High School until Joe departed to pursue his professional career with the San Francisco Seals. Dario transferred to Galileo High School, continuing his scholastic baseball career before stepping up semi-pro ball with the Golden Gate Valley league.
Like many of his fellow Bay Area players, Lodigiani signed with one of the local Pacific Coast League franchises, the cross-bay Oakland Oaks (who, at that time, were affiliated with the major league’s New York Yankees), in 1935. After three seasons with the Oaks carrying a .306 average, Dario caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics owner, Connie Mack who traded five players and cash to the Oaks to acquire the young infielder.
“We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass- over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s–t, or nothing—he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.” – Dario Lodigiani (source: Ed Attanasio, ThisGreatGame.com)
Lodigiani played for the Athletics for part of the 1938 season (splitting time between Philadelphia and the Eastern League Williamsport Grays) and the entire 1939 campaign. In 1940, Dario effectively spent the entire season in the minors, appearing in 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays of the International League before a September call-up which resulted in a lone, hitless plate appearance (lead-off pinch hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning with the A’s trailing 5-2 to the Washington Senators on September 22nd). Following the acquisition of Detroit Tiger’s young, solid-hitting second baseman Benny McCoy, Dario Lodigiani became expendable and was shipped that December to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 34-year-old veteran pitcher, Jack Knott.
Though he only saw action for the White Sox in 87 games, Lodigani was the anchor at third base (splitting time at the hot corner with Bob Kennedy who saw action in 71 games) joining future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling in the Chicago infield, however his .239 batting average for 1941 left him vulnerable. In 1942, Kennedy’s hotter bat and better glove relegated Lodigiani to a utility role for his final major league season, before departing for the War.
A few years ago, we acquired a pair of photos that spotlighted two of the Chicago White Sox pitchers who were shown while on active duty during World War II. In one image, future Hall of Famer, 42-year-old Ted Lyons is wearing his Marines flannels near Navy Pier in Chicago, not long after enlisting. The other photo depicted Johnny Rigney sporting his Navy service dress blues as he was presented with a watch by Ted Lyons and White Sox teammates during a return visit to Comiskey Field. Among those present was Dario Lodigiani. With only 275 games played in six major league seasons in his career, Dario’s name didn’t capture the attention that his 1942 White Sox teammates Luke Appling and Ted Lyons did. In researching other notable ballplayers-turned-servicemen, Lodigiani’s name kept appearing in service game newspaper summaries and our collection’s vintage scorecards.
Seeing Lodigiani’s smiling profile among his fellow White Sox teammates in the 1942 photograph reminded me of another more famous photo that spotlighted his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio posed with random servicemen (in their green, HBT combat uniforms) aboard a troop ship. Not initially recognizing the other faces that accompanied the “Yankee Clipper” and “Lodi,” it soon became apparent that the three other GIs were also former baseball players (Sergeant Walter Judnich, St. Louis Browns; Corporal Mike McCormick, Cincinnati Reds; and Private First Class Gerald Priddy of the Washington Senators) and were all part of the dominant Central California Serviceman’s League team based at McClellan Field in Sacramento. The photo of the five ballplayers aboard ship has been on our watch list for years with hopes that another copy of the popular news photo is de-accessioned from a newspaper archive.
Following his 1942 White Sox campaign, Lodigiani was called to serve, joining the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 19, 1943 for the war’s duration (plus six months) from his hometown of San Francisco. Following basic and other training, Corporal Lodigiani reported to McClellan Field along with former St. Louis Browns outfielder (and fellow San Franciscan) Walter Judnich on March 4th. While assigned to the McClellan Field training command air base, Lodigiani was added to the base team and became an immediate a force with both his glove and bat.
“Batting .313 and .288 respectively, while in the American League, last season, Pfc. Walt Judnich of the St. Louis Browns and Pfc. Dario Lodigiani of the Chicago White Sox are just two more dogfaces on KP at the Air Service Command headquarters base, McClellan Field, Sacramento, California. Both are star players on the Commander team, but their diamond activity is secondary to techical and military training they receive while preparing to help keep the Army Air Forces planes aloft in different war zones. And cleaning up the dishes, as well as the bases, is part of the chores assigned them while getting ready for the bigger game.” – The Sporting News, July 7, 1943
Dario’s impact was immediate and positive for the McClellan Field Commanders as the team left their competition in their slipstream and by mid-August, he was selected as an All-Star to play in the All Pacific Recreation Fund game that was held at Gilmore Field. As part of the Service All-Stars, “Lodi” was reunited as teammates with his boyhood friend, Joe DiMaggio (who was assigned to the Santa Ana Air Base team). Reconnecting with DiMaggio to pummel the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels was just a hint of what was to come. At the end of the 1943 service league season, the McClellan Field squad faced off against a selected group of major league “all-stars” in Sacramento:
“Sacramento, California: The climax of the season fo Sacramento fans comes Sunday, October 17, when a team of major league all-stars plays the McClellan Field Commanders at Cardinal Field. Fresh from the World’s Series, Ernie Bonham of the Yankees will be the starting pitcher, to be relieved, with or without necessity, by Milo Candini of Washington and Manuel Salvo of the Braves.
The all-star line-up of major league players who live in this area, also will include such headline performers as Dick Bartell and Ernie Lombardi of the Giants, Eddie Lake of the Red Sox, Eddie Joost of the Braves, Augie Galan of the Dodgers, Stan Hack of the Cubs, Jim Tobin of the Braves.
The Commanders are dotted with stars themselves. On the Army team are such names as Walter Judnich of the Browns, Dario Lodigiani of the White Sox, Mike McCormick of the Reds, Ferris Fain and Al Lien of the Seals, Carl DeRose and Rugger Ardizoia of the Yankees’ Kansas City farm and Bill Schmidt of Sacramento.” – The Sporting News, October 14, 1943
McClellan Field Commanders Roster:
|Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P|
For the 1944 season, the McClellan Field Commanders picked up where they left off from the previous season as they settled into a rhythm of tallying wins against their competition. Perhaps to their Central California Servicemen’s League opponents’ collective relief, an order was issued by Major General Withers A. Burress, commanding general of the 100th Infantry Division who recognized that the Army’s ballplayers would better serve in the war effort if they were with combat units (or at least that was how the order to relocate the likes of DiMaggio, “Red” Ruffing and others to the Hawaiian Islands. What actually precipitated the order was the level of competition from the Navy and Marine Corp teams in the Hawaiian baseball leagues was too stiff for the Army and the brass wanted to teach the sea-going branch a lesson.
“Although in the Army now, Lieutenant Colonel Leland “Lee” Stanford MacPhail is still ordering ball players around. It was MacPhail who went to General Marshall with the idea of transferring professional players from station compliments to combat divisions.
Lt. Col. MacPhail made the suggestion for three reasons. The erstwhile fiery guide, “the Gowanus,” realized it wouldn’t hurt the morale of combat units to have real live ball player attached to them. He grew tired of permanent reception and replacement center clubs beating teams representing combat regiments, considered it unfair. With 150 major league players on camp teams, he considered the practice in effect bad for organized baseball.” – “The Press Box,” Charles S. Kerg May 3, 1944 Delta Democrat Times
The orders to dismantle the McClellan team came in April of 1944 that pulled the core talent and sent them to Seattle to await further transport. Joining the former McClellan players in Seattle, Santa Ana’s star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio caught up with the men at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington where he suited up for a game with the local base troops in the Evergreen State on the eve of sailing for the South Pacific.
During the transit from Seattle to Pearl Harbor, the pitching and rolling of the transport ship left the airmen ballplayers laid up with seasickness for several days. Despite exhaustion and being weakened from the inability to eat properly, the newly constituted Seventh Army Air Forces (7th AAF) baseball team, based at Hickam Field, was scheduled for two exhibitions games against a Navy team at Honolulu Stadium in those first few days of early June. In the first game, DiMaggio crush his first of two memorable home runs (one in each game) that landed outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet. The second DiMaggio long-ball was a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). For Dario and the rest of the 7th AAF team, DiMaggio’s home runs were sign of the impending dominance they would experience in the Hawaiian Islands.
7th Army Air Force Roster:
|John Andre||P||Honolulu League|
|Renaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia||P||Kansas City|
|Joe DiMaggio||CF/1B||New York Yankees|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|Joe Gedzius||SS||Oklahoma City|
|Hal Hairston||P||Homestead Grays|
|James Hill||Pensacola, FL|
|Wally Judnich||CF/1B||St. Louis Browns|
|Cornel “Kearny” Kohlmeyer||SS/1B||Tyler, TX|
|Will Leonard||C||Oakland, CA|
|Al Lien||P||San Francisco Seals|
|Dario Lodigiani||2B/3B||Chicago White Sox|
|Mike McCormack||OF/#B||Cincinnati Reds|
|Charles “Red” Ruffing||P||New York Yankees|
|Frank “Pep” Saul||P||Semi-Pro|
|Bill Schmidt||P||Sacramento, CA|
|Don Smith||Seton Hall College|
|Tom Winsett||(manager)||Brooklyn Dodgers|
For the rest of the Central Pacific League, the season was already underway as the 7th was just getting started with dispatching the competition. On July 20th, the 7th AAF took down the Schofield Barracks Redlanders by a score of 8-4 with DiMaggio being absent with illness since July 9 (he returned to the roster briefly after the 23rd) leaving Dario and the rest of the team to take down the competition. By the middle of August, Lodigiani’s squad was steamrolling the competition despite DiMaggio’s spotty appearances in the lineup. Fellow Bay Area native, first baseman Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals) was among the league’s tops in hitting, helping the team to several multi-game win streaks. On August 17th, the Seventh secured their 16th consecutive win.
With the league championship under their belts, several of the 7th AAF’s roster were picked for the Army vs Navy All Stars Championship (I.e. Service World Series) that was played throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Having been embarrassed by the AAF team, the Navy pulled all the stops and gathered their best players from around the Pacific Theater as well as the U.S. mainland. The Army pulled their all-stars from among the teams spread throughout Hawaii. Despite their efforts, the Army’s All Stars were beaten by the Navy in four straight games in the best of seven. Having already lost, Army and Navy brass decided to play the entire seven games in order to give the troops quartered in the Islands an opportunity to see a game for a morale boost (the series was further extended to 11 games in total).
Lodigiani’s league and All-Star play got him tapped to join the 1945 Army Air Forces tours of the South Pacific which included Micronesia and the Marianas. With games played between the two touring squads (the 58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen” and the 73rd Bombardment Wing “Flyers”) or the local base teams (often augmented by players from the tour squads), the USAAF played in front of crowds of fatigued flight crews and wounded GIs to lift their spirits.
58th Wingmen Roster (1945 USAAF South Pacific Tour):
|Ed Chandler||Cpl||P||Pacific Coast League|
|“Chubby” Dean||Pfc||P||Cleveland Indians|
|Bob Dillinger||Pfc||IF||American Association|
|Ferris Fain||S/Sgt||IF||Pacific Coast League|
|George Gill||Cpl||P||Detroit Tigers|
|“Tex” Hughson||Pfc||P||Boston Red Sox|
|“Chet” Kehn||Pfc||P||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Al Lien||Cpl||P||Pacific Coast League|
|Art Lilly||Cpl||IF||Pacific Coast League|
|Dario Lodgiani||Sgt||IF||Chicago White Sox|
|Johnny Mazur||Cpl||C||Piedmont League|
|“Mike” McCormick||Cpl||OF||Cincinnati Reds|
|Buster Mills||1st Lt||OF/Mgr||Cleveland Indians|
|Lew Riggs||Cpl||IF||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Stan Rojek||Sgt||IF||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|“Big Bill” Schmidt||Sgt||P||Pacific Coast League|
|Charlie Silvera||Cpl||C||American Association|
|Burl Storie||S/Sgt||C||Texas League|
|Johnny Sturm||Sgt||IF||New York Yankees|
|Max West||Cpl||OF||Boston Braves|
|Taft Wright||Sgt||OF||Chicago White Sox|
With the war ended officially on September 2 (when the Japanese high command signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri), GIs were now seeking to return home and get back to their lives. Those GIs with the required 85 points were eligible to be sent home (as soon as transport was available) ahead of those who lacked the minimum.
The “Advanced Service Rating Score” point system was intended to provide equity in the demobilization of troops from war service. GIs received one point for each month of military service and one additional point was given for each month of overseas service. Each battle star or decoration earned a soldier 5 points. In addition, troops were awarded 12 points per dependent child (up to a maximum of three children). Dario Lodigiani, like most of the ballplayers who did not see combat service, lacked the minimum demobilization points. Despite their low points total, 37 baseball players were returned to the States for either discharge or reassignment, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on November 15 aboard the attack transport ship USS Cecil (APA-96), stirring up considerable controversy among other GIs. Among the 37 were: Captain George R. Tebbetts, Corporal Max West, Corporal Joe Gordon, and 1st Lt. Colonel “Buster” Mills, 1st Lt. Stanley Goletz, Corporals Bobby Adams, Edward Chandler, Froilian Fernandez, John Jensen, Don Lang, Arthur Lilly, Albert Olsen, Herman Reich, Charles Stevens, Rinaldo Ardizoia, Carl De Rose, Wilfred Leonard, Alfred W. Lien, Roy Pitter, Charles Silvera and John Mazur; S/SGT Ferris Fain, Sgts. Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Joseph Marty, William Schmidt, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rojek and Sidney Hudson; Pfc. Robert Dillinger, Chester Kehn, Edwin Kowalski, Nick Popovich, Thomas Cabrielli, Cecil Hudson, Howard Pollet and Alfred Dean. Lodigiani was discharged from the Army immediately upon arrival while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were stuck overseas.
Technical Sergeant Loren H. Penfield (one of several troops to did so) wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes calling attention to the issue of the players being moved to the head of the demobilization line, “Up until now these men have been rated in the same category as ourselves,” Penfield wrote. “However, it appears that they must have been classified along with the “Trippi “deal,” the technical sergeant referenced similar incident that saw the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, Charlie Trippi, sent back early (from the military) to rejoin the Bulldogs squad, five games into the 1945 NCAA football season. Penfield closed his letter, “Can we be returned to the States for assignment without the required points for discharge?” Despite the brewing controversy for Lodigiani and the other 37 players, the heat was minimal and dissipated as the steady stream of GIs were returned from overseas and discharged.
Lodigiani spent his first peacetime holiday season in four years on U.S. soil as his thoughts were of the coming 1946 season. Seven days after returning to U.S. soil, Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving like none other. President Truman’s 1945 Thanksgiving Proclamation encapsulated the impact of the previous four years along with the challenges that were ahead.
“We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.
Triumph over the enemy has not dispelled every difficulty. Many vital and far-reaching decisions await us as we strive for a just and enduring peace. We will not fail if we preserve, in our own land and throughout the world, that same devotion to the essential freedoms and rights of mankind which sustained us throughout the war and brought us final victory.” – President Harry S. Truman, November 12, 1945
Returning to normalcy and the game couldn’t come fast enough for the returning veteran ball players and journeymen like Dario Lodigiani faced many challenges resuming their careers.
Despite landing a roster spot with the White Sox, Dario saw limited time (just 44 games) in what would be his last season in the major league. Dario Lodigiani returned “home” to the Oakland Oaks for the 1947, ‘48 and part of the 1949 seasons before moving across the bay to the San Francisco Seals to play through the 1951 season. From 1952-54, Lodi wound his playing career in the low minors (Class A and C) before hung up his spikes.
Wartime service team baseball service was all but forgotten in the following years but veterans such as Lodigiani could have easily pointed his finger at his war service as a reason his major league career was adversely impacted and cut short as it did for so many of his colleagues. However, Dario never left the game, serving as a minor league manager, a coach and scout (for his beloved White Sox) until his death in 2008 in Napa, California, just 50 miles from his childhood home.
Two simple photos in our collection inspired extensive research into an otherwise unknown ballplayer. Dario Lodigiani’s 70+ years in organized baseball had an extensive impact upon the game. His service in the Army Air Forces afforded him opportunities to play alongside and against some of the the best in the game as well as the with and against his childhood friends (Joe and Dom DiMaggio).
As the National Football League wound down the 2019 season with the final regular season contest at Seattle’s Century League Field on Sunday, December 29, the common description of the sport, that it is “a game of inches,” was on full display in the final play as the Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister was tackled just shy of scoring the game-winning touchdown (the San Francisco 49ers captured the division title). Actor and Director Billy Crystal described his earliest memory of passing through Yankee Stadium’s grandstand tunnel during a pre-game batting practice for an early 1950s game. In his recollection, Crystal’s memory was relatable as he recounted inhaling such scents including the diamond’s freshly cut grass evoking some of my earliest ballpark memories.
As my age advances and the physical impacts resulting from the hazards of military service continue to emerge as greater challenges for me, I am becoming acutely aware of the changes. Of the many residual effects that I contend with is substantial hearing loss and its continual degradation which is emphasized when I attend a baseball game but I can still enjoy the fantastic sound of the crack of the bat when a hitter gets a solid connecting with a pitch. One of the most unmistakable sounds from the game is the “thump” of a fastball striking the catcher’s mitt, indicating to all within earshot the sort of pitcher occupying the mound. As each hard-thrown pitch lands into the mitt, the distinctive sound is unmistakable.
When I played baseball, the last position that I wanted to play was behind the dish. The idea of donning the protective gear and spending the game crouched down behind the batters while attempting to put a glove onto the incoming pitches (to prevent them from skipping to the backstop, especially when there are runners on base), didn’t hold my interest. As much as I enjoyed pitching, I lacked the mechanics to deliver the ball with decent velocity which relegated me to playing in the infield or outfield. Taking stock of my interest within the game, I was always fascinated by the catcher position and that this role acted as the on-field manager. The catcher is responsible for positioning the defensive players as well as calling pitches. Hall of Fame catcher, Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager who led his Detroit Tigers to consecutive American League championships (1934-’35), winning the World Series in 1935 from behind the plate (he also led the dominant Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team during WWII). Catchers have ascended to become major league managers more than any other baseball diamond position.
Through the efforts of several wartime philanthropic endeavors, many thousands of pieces of sports equipment were purchased and distributed to troops throughout the combat theaters (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved) for recreation and distraction from the intensity and monotony of the war. As we have been acquiring wartime military-marked, game-used equipment, catchers’ mitts have proven to be quite elusive. Our collection of marked-gloves consists of those used by position players or pitchers. In 2019, we acquired our first military-used catcher’s mitt, a late 1930s-early-1940s Wilson Professional model that was hand-marked by the original owner who served in the Navy during WWII, Pharmacist’s Mate 1/c Gerald W. Benninghoff (see: Catching Corpsman: The Search for a Ball-Playing WWII Pharmacist’s Mate). Since the Benninghoff mitt was only marked with the sailor’s name, it is impossible to determine if it was provided to him (through one of the wartime sports equipment charities) or if he purchased it.
Several years ago, we were watching an auction listing for a wartime Rawlings catcher’s mitt with “U.S.” markings. When that auction closed well above our budgeted financial limit, we decided to exercise patience while waiting for another example to surface. The mitt listed in that auction was a signature model that recognized one of the game’s rising defensive stars behind the dish. Though by the end of 1940, St. Louis Cardinals catcher, Mickey Owen had proven himself with his glove and command of the Cardinals’ pitchers, his offensive stats were mediocre leaving him expendable with the rise of his back-up, Walker Cooper. Owen led the National League picking off would-be base-stealers in 1939 and 1940, taking down 61 and 60 percent (respectively). Despite his consistent play, the Cardinals traded Owen to the Brooklyn Dodgers in December 1940 for $65,000, catcher Gus Mancuso and minor-league pitcher John Pintar.
For a major league catcher to have a player endorsement contract with an equipment manufacturer, he would have had to have been quite established in the league. However, for Mickey Owen, his first signature model appeared in the 1938 Rawlings catalog following his rookie campaign that saw him splitting the 1937 season with Bruce Ogrodowski behind the plate. Considering that Owen batted a paltry .231 and had a minuscule .265 slugging percentage, it seems that Rawlings saw the catcher’s upside, especially since he was playing on the storied St. Louis roster.
Though he was a decent major league catcher throughout his 13 season, Mickey Owen is more of a recognizable figure due to an unfortunate defensive misstep that is much on par with the Bill Buckner incident (in the 1986 World Series). In his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Owen saw his team capture the National League pennant, edging out his former team by a slim, 2.5 game-margin, though his own offensive performance for the 1941 season was considerably off the pace of his previous campaigns in St. Louis.
For their first appearance in World Series in 21 years, the Dodgers faced the Yankees (their first of 12 World Series match-ups with the “Bronx Bombers”). After Game 3, the Dodgers were hosting the Yankees and were trailing in the series, two games to one. Owen was producing at the plate, hitting .285 over the first three games (two hits for seven at bats and one walk and two runs-batted-in). In Game 4, the Yankees grabbed the lead in the top of the first inning on a two-out single by Charlie Keller plating Red Rolfe. In the top of the fourth inning, Johnny Sturm knocked a two-out single that scored Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon giving the Yankees a 3-0 advantage. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Mickey Owen drew a two-out walk followed by another by Pete Coscarart. Both Owen and Coscarart scored on a double by Jimmy Wasdell. which pulled the Dodgers to within a run. Dixie Walker led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double followed by a two-run Pete Reiser homerun which gave the Dodgers the 4-3 advantage over the Yankees which they held onto heading into the top of the ninth inning. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher left pitcher Hugh Casey in to finish the game after facing the Yankees since the start of the sixth inning. Casey consecutive ground-outs to Sturm and Rolfe before facing Tommy Henrich. Henrich worked Casey to a full count and was a strike away from seeing the Dodgers pull the series even. Casey threw a sharp breaking ball that coaxed a swing attempt by Henrich. Strike three was called which should have ended the game however, the pitch also got by Owen and rolled to the backstop as the Yankees right fielder reached first.
The wheels came off the cart for Brooklyn as Casey was rendered ineffective and the Yankees plated four runs as Casey allowed five more Yankees base runners on two walks, a single and two doubles before retiring Johnny Murphy for the final out of the top half of the ninth. Pee Wee Reese, Walker and Reiser would be retired in order to close out the game and giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the series. The demoralized Dodgers lost game five 3-1 sending the Yankees to their ninth World Championship and Owen became the scapegoat for the Series loss.
Mickey Owen’s signature model mitt was available in the Rawlings catalog from 1938 and through thought World War II. Model “MO” is a high end mitt the features leather edging, lace wrist strap with sheepskin (for comfort) on the underside. When we received the glove a while ago, the leather was fairly dry and was quite dirty from use on the diamond. After a light cleaning, the red clay dirt gave way to reveal much of the silver foil remaining in the manufacturer’s stamps. In addition, the “U.S.” was similarly marked. The only damage this mitt shows is the water stain in the palm and a few spots of mildew, caused perhaps by sitting on a garage or basement floor for too long. Treating the mitt with glove conditioner revealed many of the stamps that were previously indistinguishable due to the tight, dry leather. With only a single conditioning treatment (and more to follow), this U.S.-stamped Mickey Owen mitt will display quite nicely and it has already become a great addition to the our glove collection. Adding icing to this cake would be if the mitt had provenance or was attributable to a specific service member. Unfortunately, there are no other markings and the mitt had no connection to a veteran.
Mickey Owen’s selective service call-up didn’t happen until the spring of 1945 in his fifth season with Brooklyn and his last game in a Dodgers’ uniform was against the Cardinals at Ebbets Field on May 21, 1945. In the contest, a make-up game (rescheduled from May 10 due to a rain-out) was quiet in terms of his offensive performance, going 1-for-4 ( a double in the bottom of the 6th inning) at the plate. The Dodgers were shut out by St. Louis, 4-0. A few days later, Owen was reporting for duty in the armed forces.
Prior to Mickey Owen’s induction into the Navy, the catching position for the Sampson Naval Training Center‘s baseball team in the 1945 season was predominantly held by former Rochester receiver, Tony Ravish. By early June, Owen was donning Sampson’s flannels and making an impact for the team. According to The Sporting News, his June 10 debut, he clouted the longest home-run ever made at the Sampson Naval Training Center Field, slapped out two singles, walked once, reached first base on an error and stole two bases to score five times in five trips to the plate, helping the Bluejackets beat Cornell University, 13 to 1. In a June 28 match-up against the industry league team from Curtiss-Wright in Buffalo, New York, Mickey Owen connected for three hits which was half of the total compiled by his Sampson Naval Training Center team as he led the sailors to a 6 to 2 victory. Facing the Eastern League’s Grays of Williamsport, Pennsylvania (a class “A” affiliate of the Washington Senators), Owen went 2-for-2, including a double to help his team to an 8 to 2 victory on August 31st.
After the surrender of the Japanese, bringing about the end of World War II, Dodgers president Branch Rickey went to work planning Brooklyn’s 1946 season roster. Rickey expressed concerns that Mickey Owen would not be released by the U.S. Navy in time for spring training and began seeking alternatives for the starting backstop position. Manager Leo Durocher recognized the glaring hole left by Owen’s absence in speaking about the 1946 roster, “Its catching that makes me wakeful at night. I’m not kidding myself.” the “Lip” commented, “I’d give a lot to find another Mickey Owen some place. But you can’t shake that kind of guys off Prospect Park trees. We need a high-grade, hard-hitting receiver more than we need anything else I can think of at the moment.” The Sporting News| December 27, 1945
By the end of February, 1946, word of Owen’s impending release from the Navy had reached Dodgers management and the press. Owen was expected to be discharged from the Navy on April 2 and spoke with a reporter as he was shopping for a camper trailer while on leave (near his home in Springfield, Missouri) to use.
Prior to his release from the Navy, Owen negotiated with Jorge Pasquel, president of the Mexican League, obtaining a five-year contract offer which included a $12,500 signing bonus. Unfortunately for Owen, he was still under contract with the Dodgers and in doing so, created incredible controversy and a legal fight between Major League Baseball and the Mexican League. Ultimately, Owen played for the Veracruz team in 1946 joining with 17 other former major leaguers who were summarily suspended (for five years) by Major League Baseball’s commissioner, A. B. “Happy” Chandler. Owen’s actions gained the ire of Branch Rickey who stated he would never play for the Dodgers again. After the 1946 season, Mickey Owen was unable to play organized baseball but would resume his career in 1949 with the Cubs. Having been was waived by the Dodgers and following reinstatement by a federal judge who sided with fellow Mexican League veteran, Danny Gardella who sued Major League Baseball, Owens played sparingly for four more seasons with the Cubs and Red Sox before retiring after the 1954 season.
Slipping a hand into this catcher’s mitt, one can imagine the “thumping” sound of a fastball slamming into its thickly padded leather while considering the events taking place around the war-torn world. The only thing that seemed to make sense back then was the game.