A Darker Side: Context Matters When Viewing History; Even with Baseball Militaria
Perhaps the majority of Chevrons and Diamonds’ attention, in terms of baseball militaria artifacts, has been centered on equipment, uniforms and original vintage photography. Occasionally we commit time to ephemera in the form of scorecards, programs and scorebooks but since such pieces are scarce and quite difficult to locate, articles dedicated to such pieces are less frequently covered. Obscure baseball- related militaria artifacts truly draw our attention.
With years invested into researching military history, including wartime art used for advertisements, recruiting posters, propaganda and trench art, we keep our eyes open for unique artifacts in these veins. As one can imagine, such an item would stand out when it arrived on the market. A few weeks ago, one appeared and immediately caught our attention. Before exploring this particular piece, it is important to apply context rather than to simply view artifacts strictly through a contemporary lens.
In order to provide context, one must step away from modern-day, emotionally charged and politically fueled fervor. It is important to understand that applying context is not a way to excuse or diminish actions or ideals that today are seen much differently as society analyzes and learns from history.
- To give racial character to
- A theory that race determines human traits and capacities
- A belief that some races are superior to others:
also: a discrimination based on such belief
It is a word that is bandied about and, at present, haphazardly and quite dangerously applied toward subjects, topics, thoughts, people or persons, ideas and ideals or anything that stands in the way of a political movement or ideology. Rather than listen to differing perspectives, the word (in its various forms), is injected into situations in order to stifle voices and to avoid listening to others’ perspectives. The words racist and racism have become the dogma of political social propaganda, a weapon in the “social justice” war.
In warfare, the battle for the minds of one’s own citizens and troops is just as important as the battles for those of their enemies.. Leaders employ tactics such as gross mischaracterization of opponents through propaganda in order to dehumanize the enemy. Spreading fear amongst a populace can have the desired recruiting effect and embolden troops to conduct themselves in manners that are less than humane on the battlefield. If one were to read a social justice-based textbook or attend an educational lecture, it is highly unlikely that the material would present a holistic perspective; that all nations and warring entities employed the same tactic of dehumanizing the enemy. It is far too easy to point all fingers at the United States as the sole responsible participant in this activity during World War II when the facts do not bear this concept out.
During WWII, all of the Axis nations, led by Germany, Japan and Italy and including Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, et al, employed ministries of propaganda that were tasked to dehumanize the British, French and Americans as well as specific ethnicities and religious groups residing within the enemy nations that they occupied. Humanity can be anything but humane, especially during a time of war.
Taking a singular viewpoint regarding propaganda is one-sided and is even more dangerous when such actions are employed to disparage a generation, class or race of people. The present-day tactic of painting the United States as the lone aggressor in World War II and of being systematically racist is terribly short-sighted and ignores all of the progress that was taking place. It is very convenient and considerably sloppy (in terms of historical research) to point fingers at the atrocious Executive Order 9066 and the internment of American citizens of Japanese ethnicity while ignoring the same action that imprisoned American citizens of German and Italian origin.
Context is perhaps the most important tool that researchers and historians require when looking back through time and beholding artifacts from a different era. It is also the most challenging aspect to acquire when viewing historical items such as generations-old propaganda, newspapers or even personal correspondence. Setting aside preconceptions and engineered fears and biases opens the door to education and can bring about a true sense of understanding and empathy for people in a specific period.
What does any of this have to do with baseball?
When a piece of folk art was recently listed at auction, our attention was focused upon the naval and baseball historical aspects of the piece. The item, a standard (originally blank) letter-sized envelope, was festooned with hand-drawn art with themes of baseball and romance. The addressee, Marino J. Consoli, was at that time serving on active duty in the Navy and in training at the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Physical Instructor School (also known as the “Tunney School” due to the program’s founder, former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney). Consoli’s name sounded vaguely familiar, which prompted us to review our compiled wartime service team rosters to determine if he played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets or any other command during WWII.
The first and most obvious places to start researching Mr. Consoli were within the baseball and naval service spheres. The only player to surface in the results of a search on Baseball Reference was Joe Consoli, whose full name was listed as Marino Joseph Consoli. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1919 and died on January 10, 1989 in Baltimore, Maryland. A quick search of Navy muster sheets revealed that there are some challenges with Consoli’s name. Further digging into documents such as Draft Card, Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form, Baseball Bureau Questionnaire and the 1920 and 1940 census uncovered several inconsistencies surrounding Consoli’s name and birthdate.
According to Consoli’s WWII draft card, his full name was “Marino Joseph Consoli” and his date of birth was July 17, 1919, in Stony Creek Mill, Pennsylvania. His closest relative listed was Mrs. Victoria Consoli, his mother. His occupation was listed as “ball player.” Using this single source, it seemed clear that the two sources pointed to the same man. However, the next few pieces of data began to blur the matter.
We located Consoli’s Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form that listed his birth date as July 7, 1918, a year and ten days earlier than what was shown on his draft card. This could be a simple typo committed by the Pennsylvania state clerk as the birth location matched on both documents. Also listed on the form were Consoli’s dates of naval service (enlisted January 31, 1943, Reading, Pennsylvania, and discharged January 18, 1946, Naval Separation Center, Jacksonville, Florida) along with some of the duty assignment details (including Headquarters Squadron, Fleet Air Wing Four (operating out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska), Mar 1, 1944 – Oct 31, 1945). Also notable was the veteran’s service number (808 96 41).
Turning to the only two U.S. Navy muster sheets we could locate, we discovered more correlating information along with new confusion. During February and March of 1944, “Marion” Joseph Consoli, Specialist “A” 1/c, service number 808 96 41 was in transit aboard the Lapwing class minesweeper, USS Avocet (AVP-4) from “an Alaskan port” but was not necessarily part of the ship’s crew. We can surmise that the yeoman merely transposed letters in Marino’s first name as the service number and his rating (Specialist “A” is the designation for the athletic specialist rating) but we are fairly certain that the man listed on the USS Avocet’s muster sheets is the same Marino Joseph Consoli.
Our investigation into Marino J. Consoli’s wartime service took a turn when we reviewed the Baseball Bureau Questionnaire, completed by him on May 7, 1946. There were several pieces of conflicting information, starting with his stated name of Orlando Joseph “Joe” Consoli and his date of birth, August 21, 1922. With such disparity from the other sources, these two facts cannot be dismissed as mere typographical or alphanumeric transposition errors. Facts that correlated this man to Marion included the location of birth (Stony Creek Mill, PA) and that he served in the Navy during WWII. Armed with new doubts, we began exploring additional documents.
Turning to the 1920 and 1940 census (we could not locate a 1930 record), we located Consoli’s family in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His parents were listed as Angelo (a steel mill worker) and Victoria (both born in Italy). In 1920 (enumerated in February), Angelo was 30 years of age and his young bride of 17 was the mother of a baby boy, Marino, who was 19 months old, which would seemingly place his birth in July of 1918. In the 1940 census, Angelo and his wife Victoria now had three additional children including two daughters and a second son, Orlando (age 18). Was Marino’s younger brother, Orlando, a ballplayer in addition to Marino or was there something else going on?
Within a few minutes of researching Orlando Consoli, we easily ruled him out as being our man. Orlando Angelo Consoli was born on August 20, 1920 (his mother was pregnant at the time of the 1920 census enumeration). His draft card listed his pre-war employment with the Atlantic Refining Company of Reading, Pennsylvania. Orlando enlisted into the Navy on September 21, 1942 and was assigned duty in the Panama Canal Zone (on the Pacific side) as a defender of the resource. He was hospitalized in early 1944 and was discharged from active duty on March 28 of that year. According to his 1972 obituary, he never played professional baseball, leaving us to question why Marion adopted his brother’s name and date of birth (one day later) for the Baseball Bureau questionnaire.
In addition to ruling out Marino’s younger brother, other information listed on the Baseball Bureau form confirmed that “Orlando Joseph” was truly Marino Joseph. Consoli completed the section, “What would you consider your most interesting or unusual experience while in the service?” He wrote, “Amphibious operations on Attu, Aleutian Islands; not seeing a woman or ‘even a tree’ for 23 successive months,” which tied him to the USS Avocet’s muster sheets. Consoli also disclosed that he was assigned to Fleet Air Wing Four (a seaplane squadron based in the Aleutian Islands) but was a chief boatswain’s mate (rather than an athletic specialist), which was probably more of a change in duties than his rating.
All of the research we uncovered regarding Marino Joseph “Joe” Consoli confirmed that the envelope once belonged to him. We made the decision to acquire the artifact as we discovered that Consoli was not only an 11-year veteran minor league third baseman and manager but also had an extensive career as a major league scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Joe Consoli began scouting in 1954 following his tenure with the class “C” Blackwell Broncos (Oklahoma) of the Western Association. During his career with Pittsburgh, Consoli’s scouting and player signings resulted in more than 125 of them reaching the major leagues including John Smiley (2-time all-star), Stan Belinda, Mike Bielecki, Tim Drummond, Al Oliver (7-time all-star, as well as the 1982 NL batting champion while with Montreal) and Bob Robertson.
Growing up in the Stony Creek Mills suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania, Consoli’s family resided on Taft Avenue, just a few doors down the street from Michael and Minnie Furillo’s family. The Furillo’s youngest son, Carl, would follow his friend Joe Consoli, a few years his senior, into professional baseball with greater on-field success with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Years after Consoli’s 1989 passing, his extensive baseball archives (including scouting reports, journals correspondence and other documents) began to surface on the baseball collectibles market. Part of that collection may have included the envelope that was addressed and sent to him in 1943 from an Army nurse named Grosskopf, most likely assigned to the Army Hospital at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, 22 miles northwest of Harrisburg. While the artwork embellishment on the cover was certainly interesting, the hand-drawn illustration on the envelope’s reverse was an example of the national sentiments directed towards the enemy nation that drew the U.S. into World War II – the Empire of Japan.
Aside from the baseball and naval history associated with Consoli and the envelope, the propagandized art on the back of the envelope sent by Ms. Grosskopf truly stood out as a reminder of the tenuous situation facing the nation and the citizens who were serving at that time. Daily casualty reports dominated the newspapers as neighborhoods learned of the deaths of their former high school classmates or their neighbors’ sons. Also gracing the newspapers were reports of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in places such as Nanking, China and the Bataan Peninsula. Contextualizing these facts can lead to understanding why the illustration on the back of the envelope may have been added.
For us, adding this particular piece of history provides us with perspective not typically seen in baseball equipment, uniforms or vintage photographs. Seeing a visual example of the personal, wartime sentiment from 1943 provides insight that is no longer prevalent among our society. Preserving a piece of history that once belonged to a career baseball man who saw action against the enemy in the Aleutian Islands is an honor.
Posted on August 9, 2020, in Ephemera and Other Items, WWII and tagged Anti-American Propaganda, Anti-Tojo Propaganda, Baseball Scout, Joe Consoli, Navy Athletic Instructor, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tunney School, US Navy, Wartime Propaganda. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.