Monthly Archives: April 2020

Klipper Day: Marking the End of a Season

Joe DiMaggio’s namesake, Pan Am’s “Yankee Clipper” as seen near Long Island, New York’s Manhasset Bay.

Clip•per
3: something that moves swiftly: such as
a: a fast sailing ship
especially: one with long slender lines, an overhanging bow, tall masts, and a large sail area

During the industrialization in the United States’ infancy, the expansion of trade along with the need for more rapid commerce pushed sailing and ship design technology leading to the development of swift merchant sailing ships.  Predominantly built in British and American shipyards, the wooden clipper ships featured a sleek hull with a narrow beam with three large masts (with square sails and rigging). These ships were built for speedy trans-ocean transits with reduced cargo capacities (from their predecessors) with the intention taking goods to market faster.  Clipper ships’ heyday spanned from the decade preceding the American Civil War and waned as the 1860s came to a close.

Six decades after the Clipper ships were outmoded by steel-hulls and the emergence of steam power, technology and innovation again were brought to bear for rapid trans-Pacific transit of people and cargo. Pan American Airlines sent their requirements for a flying boat out for bid in the mid-1930s with the Boeing Aircraft Company’s proposal being selected in July of 1936. In less than two years, the first Boeing 314 Clipper was test-flown from Seattle’s Elliot Bay in June of 1939. In the previous century, the clipper ships featured massive sail –area to give the vessels incredibly large surface areas to harness the wind to propel them through the water fast. The Boeing 314 Clipper’s design incorporated the enormous wing from the XB-15 that provided the ship with the lift and efficiency required for the ranges the aircraft would be routinely flying.  The first commercial flight of the Boeing Clipper took place in February of 1939 with a six-day flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

When an ocean voyage to Hawaii took several days from the U.S. mainland, Pan Am’s Boeing 314 Clipper made the Islands accessible in hours for the more-affluent travelers.

The Boeing 314 Clippers were a sleek and aesthetically pleasing design that looked at home in a tropical paradise on the Pan Am advertising posters.

The Clipper flying boats became an iconic, luxurious mode of travel between the continent and the Hawaiian Islands in their brief, three-year career in commercial air transportation until the Japanese attack on the island of Oahu.  Naval aviation was rapidly evolving and developing in the decade leading up to WWII with the expansion of seaplane and flying boat fleets. One of the largest air bases in the Navy was Naval Air Station (NAS) Kaneohe Bay, located at the foot of the Mokapu Peninsula.

By December 7, 1941, NAS Kaneohe Bay had only existed as a naval air station since the Navy acquired the 32- acre Fort Kuwa’aohe Military Reservation in 1940. In addition to the development of the large runways, taxiways and hangar facilities constructed, the Navy created substantial ramps on the base’s Kaneohe Bay shoreline to accommodate the massive sea plane facility that the naval air station became known for.  As the Japanese attacked their principal objectives at Pearl Harbor, secondary targets such as Kaneohe Bay were also in their sights. Spread around the ramps, moored in the water as well as in near the hangars were 33 Catalina PBY flying boats. Twenty-seven of the massive aircraft were destroyed with the remaining survivors sustaining damage.

Designated as the C-98, Pan Am’s fleet of Boeing 314 Clippers were purchased by the War Department and pressed into service as the airline’s experienced civilian crew continued to fly the aircraft. The Clippers continued to fly Pacific routes ferrying military personnel and cargo with Oahu serving as a routine destination from the mainland. The large protected harbor of Kaneohe Bay already serving as an ideal airport for the Navy’s Catalina flying boats, NAS Kaneohe would seem to be an ideal base of operations for the C-98 Clippers.

Some of the major leaguers on this team include Sherry Robertson (back row, far left) and catcher Marv Felderman (front row, far right) along with Joe Gonzalez, manager and pitcher; Russ Meers, pitcher; Bob Usher, outfielder; and Steve Tramback, outfielder (image source: Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

Early into our exploration into baseball militaria, NAS Kaneohe Bay frequently surfaced as we researched various service team ballplayers starting with the 1943 season. Before the arrival of former professional ballplayers (who joined the Navy in the months following the December 7, 1941 sneak-attack), sailors stationed at naval air station at Kaneohe routinely participated in sports such as basketball, football and baseball as the base teams competed in area leagues.

Consistent Chevrons and Diamonds readers will note previous articles that reference the Kaneohe baseball team that featured some well-known former professional players who made their way from the mainland to Oahu and were assigned to the Naval Air Station. With the likes of Johnny Mize (see: Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature) and Marv Felderman (see: A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats) serving on the 1944 team, the Klippers of Kaneohe fielded a highly competitive team. The baseball team, named in honor of the swift and sleek nineteenth-century sailing ship and the luxurious and far-reaching Boeing 314 flying boat, adopted the altered (spelled with a “K” for an alliterative connection to the bay) name from the football squad. The Kaneohe Klippers name first appeared in print in the Honolulu Advertiser in the fall of 1942.

During the process of researching in support of our aforementioned Marvin Felderman article, a September 8, 1945 Honolulu Advertiser article (penned by W. Austin Joyce) surfaced that made reference to the Klippers’ final game of the season.

Klipper Day was held for 12,500 fans at Klipper Diamond to honor the Kaneohe Klippers on Sunday, September 16 for the last game of the season. Marv Felderman of the Chicago Cubs said during an interview on the field, “This reminds me of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.”  The game between the Honolulu Crossroaders and Klippers was a 7-3 victory by Kaneohe. John Berry drove a ball over the left field fence in the fourth followed by one by manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales.”  – Honolulu Advertiser, September 18, 1945

The Honolulu advertiser article spotlighted the pre-game festivities  which included a skills competition dubbed a, “Sports-Go-Bang” contest of four separate skills events that pit three players from each team to compete and entertain the large crowd in attendance.

  • Fungo Hitting – Dale Jones (Philadelphia Phillies) beat out Ned Harris (Detroit Tigers), Dee Miles (Athletics), Sherry Robertson (Senators) and outslugged four other long distance hitters.
  • Distance Throwing – Steve Tramback (Cubs) – secured the win with a 400-foout toss
  • Base Running – Bob Usher (Reds) and Dale Jones (Phillies) tied for the win in the base-running event covering the bases in 15 seconds.
  • Accuracy Throwing – Dick West (Reds) and Gabe Sady threw the ball into a barrel at second base from the plate. Each winner secured a $25 war bond.

The Klippers’ last game of the season (and of the war) was a victory for the Kaneohe nine as the Honolulu Crossroaders, piloted by former University of California Bears pitcher, Mike Koll, were defeated, 7-3.  In the game within the game, the Kaneohe offense was bolstered by back-to-back fourth inning homeruns by
first-sacker John Berry and manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales; each earned $25 war bonds for long-ball achievements.

Weeks after publishing the Marvin Felderman article, a fantastic piece of military baseball ephemera surfaced on the market that caught our attention due to the very specific mention of “Klipper Day” on the cover. The program booklet and scorecard that was listed was an over-sized, fourteen-page piece and beautifully adorned with photographs and details that mirrored the Honolulu Advertiser story. This Klipper Day scorecard was very obviously created and handed out to the fans in attendance at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay for the game.

Though most of the professional baseball players returned to their pre-war lives following their service in the Navy and on the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay roster effectively ending the high level of play that the local fans were accustomed to, the Klippers nine returned to the diamond in the 1946 season fielding players from the ranks of ordinary sailors.  Unlike the professional ballplayers, the Boeing 314 Clippers did not return to their pre-war duties as Pan American moved on from the flying boats in favor of more efficient long-range aircraft. The Boeing 314s were parked in San Diego where they deteriorated for several years before being sold for scrap.

Klipper Day marked the end of an era for the Klippers of Kaneohe Bay but also coincided with the end of the season of the team’s namesake, the Boeing 314 Clippers, however without fanfare.

 

 

TCMA’s Secret Gem: “Athletes Away” Navy Baseball Card Set

After the 1990s decade of overproduction, excesses in options and over-saturation of the sports card cardboard marketplace caused a mass exodus of collectors from one of the oldest collecting hobbies. The sports card business in the 1990s represented all that was bad within the hobby despite the aspects that made it fun, still existing yet getting lost in the noise. Corrupted by money and the pursuit of fast riches, the hobby turned from the sheer joy of chasing down and trading for cards that would complete a set, to one of financial investment and price guides. Instead of discussing stats and favorite players, hobbyists began watching prices for inserts and specialty cards rising to three and even four digits based upon speculation that an 18-year-old draft pick would rise to the stardom of the game’s best and brightest.

The card that turned sports card production and collecting on its side: 1989 Upper Deck #1: Ken Griffey Jr. (Chevrons and Diamonds archives)

Disillusioned by the greed of the hobbyists and card shops, not to mention the card manufacturers themselves, one can point fingers to a number of causes leading to the degradation of baseball card collecting. However, a common theme emerges from a large portion of collectors: over-saturation of the market which was spurred into action by the fervor surrounding the mercurial rise of a superstar player and the launch of a new generation of baseball cards that featured high gloss, crisp colors and graphics that awakened a stagnant industry.

The inaugural issuance of the once giant Upper Deck company was the 1989 baseball set that featured a rookie baseball player that was catching the attention of sportswriters and fans alike as he drew incredible interest due to his play while ascending through the minor leagues. The Seattle Mariners’ rookie prospect, Ken Griffey, Jr. adorned the front of 1989 Upper Deck Baseball, card #1 and created a stir like no other before or since.

“More than 1 million Griffey cards were printed. In Upper Deck’s original mailing to dealers, the company said it would sell 65,000 cases of card packs. With 20 boxes in a case, 520 cards in a box, and 700 different cards in the set, there would be about 965,000 of each card produced for the boxes. Combine that number with the amount of Griffeys in the untold number of “factory sets,” and you’d have your production run.

Given the number of Griffey cards in circulation, there have long been rumors of an illicit reason for the card’s ubiquity. Upper Deck, the legend goes, knew that printing the cards was just like printing money. As such, there was a sheet the company could run with 100 Griffey cards on it, instead of the standard sheet that had just one Griffey in the top corner along with 99 pictures of other players.”  – Junior Mint: The enduring popularity (and ubiquity) of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Card | By Darren Rovell

The 1989 Upper Deck #1 still garners the interest (though the card must be highly graded by an independent authentication and grading company, sealed into a plastic slab and labeled with the grade along with a unique identifier) and can generate sales transactions in the high three and sometimes four-digit ranges. As the 1990s wound down, there was a significant glut in the marketplace with the arrival of countless card manufacturers and the proliferation of products as businesses made a full-court-press for every consumer dollar. A Netflix film, Jack of All Trades, captured the reality of this dark era of card-collecting and the impacts still being felt by collectors (see: ‘Jack of All Trades’ on Netflix: A Baseball Card Documentary That Doubles as a Personal Father/Son Story).

While card collecting as a whole took a significant hit in interest levels in reaction to what happened prior to the turn of the new century and those cards manufactured during the 1990s were largely relegated to junk-status, cardboard manufactured prior to the 1970s remained stable in terms of perceived value (among collectors), attracting a new audience.

Baseball militaria collectors have few options available in terms of enhancing their collections with baseball cards. Two manufacturers, Tri-Star Obak (2011) and Panini (2012 and 2015) made military-themed cards as set inserts in the last few years that feature players who served during World War II, however they are of relatively limited production numbers.  In 1959, Fleer produced a special, 80-card set to commemorate the end of Ted Williams’ career (1939-1960). As part of the Williams set, Fleer produced 11 cards that recognized the ‘Splendid Splinter’s’ World War II and Korean War service (see: A Set to Honor Teddy Ballgame’s Military Service) however, they only scratch the surface in any attempt to satisfy the collectors’ desire for military-related cardboard. Apart from building “veteran” themed groups from vintage card sets featuring cards from players who served, the option for cards recognizing baseball during the war are virtually non-existent, or so was the perception.

One of the card manufacturers of the 1970s and ’80s that was a bit of a dark horse among the big names (Topps Fleer and later, Donruss) laid the groundwork in addressing collectors’ desires for new treatments of vintage cards.  The company’s founder, Michael Aronstein was ahead of his time with sets that turned younger generations’ attention to the game’s golden era, beginning with the reproduction of the 1936 Goudy cards in the 200-card 1972 TCMA 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Reprints set (see: Heritage before Heritage and Beautiful purple cards). Some speculate that TCMA’s popularity is what influenced makers such as Topps towards their re-issue and re-printing movement of the 1990s.

During TCMA’s 15-year-run, the company largely produced cards that paid homage to the game’s heyday directing attention to teams and stars from the 1920s through the 1950s. Some of the card sets that were produced centered on specific teams such as the 1927 Yankees (released in 1979), 1914 “Miracle” Braves and the 1959 Dodgers (both released in 1980). TCMA ventured into the minor leagues with sets such as the Rochester Red Wings and Wichita Aeros (1980) and into sets centered on the game’s greats with “Hitters,” “Pitchers” and “Sluggers” (1982).  Unlike what is commonly seen within the sets produced by the major sports card companies, checklist inserts and set production data are not readily available.

As we continue in our quest to locate and secure photography associated with the military game, over the last 10 years, we have encountered a smattering of images listed (in online auctions) as photos or real photo postcards (RPPC) that were clearly printed (half-toned and containing labels on the image faces). “Photographs” of this type tend to be clippings from books or periodicals and are always absent the characteristics (such as good resolution, exposure or clarity that are hallmarks of photos printed from negatives) of type-1 images.

Often listed among search results, this “vintage photo” of Pee Wee Reese flanked by Merrill May and Johnny Vander Meer wearing Navy baseball flannels went largely overlooked during our searches for vintage photographs (source: “Athletes Away,” TCMA 1976).

As we search and scour online sales and auctions for vintage military baseball photography, an occasional listing of a candid image (above) showing Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer and Merrill May in their Navy baseball flannels in front of a tropical vegetation backdrop. The image appears to have postcard dimensions and, due to it being a half-tone printed item, the exposure appears to be of a low and “muddy” contrast that is typical of such material. While the subject of the photograph would capture our attention, we would routinely dismiss the items. Having only seen the front of the postcard-like photo, there was no reason to suspect that the image should have captured our attention.

Oct. 11, 1943 – St. Louis: “New York: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Card #1 in the set shows NY Yankees SS, Phil Rizzuto and St. Louis Cardinals CF Terry Moore in their service uniforms attending Game 5 of the 1943 World Series at Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

In recent months, another listing of the Reese-Vander Meer-May photo appeared in a search however, this time, there were a few additional similarly themed postcard photographs included as part of a group. A closer examination of the additional auction listing images raised our eyebrows as we noted details printed on the backs of each card. The addition of the other cards drew attention to the presence of numerals on the face of each card along with the names of the players shown. Of the handful of cards, one of them truly stood out. On the front featured two men in their service uniforms – Phil Rizzuto (formerly of the New York Yankees) wearing his Navy service dress blues and Terry Moore (formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals) in his U.S. Army dress uniform – at the fifth and deciding game of the 1943 World Series at Sportsman’s Park. On the reverse of the card is what appears to be the introduction of an essay that was penned by Harrington Crissey, LT, USNR, entitled “Athletes Away.” Printed in smaller type in the lower right-hand corner of the card, “T.C.M.A” and a 1975 copyright date.  We immediately acquired the few pieces that were listed and subsequently reached out to Mr. Crissey with an inquiry.

In the year since I became acquainted with Mr. Crissey, we have collaborated on considerable research of wartime military baseball – predominantly focused upon his area of expertise, the game played by professional ball players who served (and played) in the U.S. Navy – we discussed his three books, Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s: Volume 1: The National League (published 1981), Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s, Vol. 2: The American League (1982) and Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II (1984) along with his extensive research, interviews and correspondence with the players and his incredible library of photographs, documents and personal items (obtained from the men who played and served). Despite all our conversations and correspondence, there was no mention of the cards until I shared my “discovery.”

#11 – Glenn “Red” McQuillen, veteran LF of the St. Louis Browns, gifted some of his personal WWII Navy photos to Harrington Crissey, becoming cornerstones in the Athletes Away card set (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

Without pause, Mr. Crissey explained how the set came into existence, mentioning how he came into contact with the founder of TCMA cards,  “Mike Aronstein was a young man about my age who had collected a very large number of glossy photos of players and was selling them at reasonable (for those days) prices, “ Crissey wrote in an email.  “I bought many of them from him both at card shows and later at his apartment in New York City,” Mr. Crissey continued.  Crissey explained that the 18-card set was the result of a collaboration with Aronstein with photos from their respective vintage image collections.

#12 – The combined 3rd and 5th Fleet teams pose on Tinian beneath the 20th Air Force’s B-29. “Flag Ship” (the first B-29 to land on Tinian) during the Navy Baseball Tour of the Western Pacific in 1945 (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

The “Athletes Away” TCMA 18-card set shines a spotlight upon baseball during World War II, specifically Navy baseball with seven of the cards depicting the players either in their service team flannels or in their navy service uniforms. “The photos of players in major league uniforms plus the one of Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore were from the Aronstein collection,” Crissey wrote. Aside from card #1 (showing the aforementioned Rizzuto/Moore photograph from Aronstein’s collection). Card number 2-6 and #12 were all made from Crissey’s photo collection. Most of the photos supplied by Crissey were given to him directly by former St. Louis Browns outfielder, Glenn “Red” McQuillen, one of the players featured on six of the TCMA cards, giving the set a more personal historical connection. The remainder of the set features photos of players who served in the Navy but are shown in their major league uniforms before they entered the service.

TCMA Athletes Away Set List:

    1. Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore
    2. Action at Gab Gab, Guam
    3. Navy players warm the bench
    4. Merrill May, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer
    5. Navy players in working uniforms, Guam
    6. At Great Lakes with Manager Cochrane
    7. Del Ennis – Phillies
    8. Mace Brown – Pirates
    9. Reese, Gordon, Dickey – 1941 World Series
    10. Glenn McQuillen – Browns
    11. Mike Budnick – Giants
    12. Navy Pacific Tour Teams
    13. “Skeets” Dickey – White Sox
    14. Connie Ryan – Bees
    15. Hal White – Tigers
    16. Mickey Cochrane – Tigers
    17. Barney McCoskey – Tigers
    18. Ben Huffman – Browns

#3 Somewhere in the Marianas, several Navy ballplayers on the bench ready to get into the game are identified as: Vander Meer( Johnny), Lipton (actually Johnny Lipon), White (Hal), Rigney (Johnny), Becker (Joe), McQuillen (Glenn “Red”) and Grace (Joe) wearing their dungarees (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

As the dialogue between us continued, Mr. Crissey inquired as to the cards that I was missing from the Athletes Away set. A few days after our conversation, a package arrived with the pieces that brought my set to completion.  Mr. Crissey was unaware of the production size of the Athletes Away set nor was he familiar with the manner in which the cards were distributed to TCMA customers. If the present very limited availability is an indication, it appears that production was limited.

Aronstein, an avid collector of vintage photographs, ventured into other areas including the minor leagues before transitioning to his fully-licensed (through the MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and NFL) photographic reproduction business, selling frame-able, autograph-ready retail sports photographic prints. We attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to Mr. Aronstein for input.

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