Category Archives: Vintage Baseball Photos

Progression From Cards to Photos; Seeking Imagery of those with Service

Gil Hodges’ 1957 Topps card. Following the ’56 set, these seemed a bit more plane but they included the player’s full major league statistics.

Many years ago, before I discovered the enjoyment of gathering and researching baseball artifacts that were used by ball-playing service members, I was very interested in baseball cards from the 1950s and early 1960s. For some reason, I was taken by the 1956 Topps cards in particular due to the landscape-orientation of the images and the hand-tinting of the players’ photograph and the “comic strip” artwork and factoids that were presented on the card backs (above the individual’s playing stats which included the previous season and the career totals). Even at that time, these cards were already highly collectible and commanded significantly higher prices than their contemporary counterparts. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to take a more “affordable” approach and collect the cards of the Brooklyn Dodgers as that team was the reigning world champion and whose roster was still stocked with the core players who helped bring their organization its very first title (and last, in that city).

 

The 1957 Topps card for Gil Hodges shows his service in the Marine Corps in 1944-45 before resuming his career with the Dodgers after the war.

While pursuing the ’56 Brooklyn set, I began widen my interests for certain players and purchased their cards from other years (cards issued previous and subsequent to 1956).  When I landed a few players’ cards from the 1957 Topps set, I noticed that the player’s statistics encompassed their full career, broken out by each year on separate lines and totaled at the bottom. Though I owned a Major League Baseball (MLB) Encyclopedia and was thoroughly familiar with many of my favorite players’ career statistics, it wasn’t until I held a card in my hand that a particular statistic stood out to me. In 1957, Gilbert “Gil” Raymond Hodges played a single game of major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 which was reflected by a single line; he had only two at-bats* and did not get a hit. For the next two seasons, his ’57 card lists that though he was still a Brooklyn Dodgers player, he did not play for the team as he was “In U.S. Marine Corps.” As I looked through other cards, I saw similar statistics for other players. Dodgers Hall of Fame shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese had the same information though he was “In U.S. Navy” but he had three previous seasons in a Dodgers uniform. When I began to pay attention to the information pertaining to players’ service during the war, I was past the mid-way point of my own military career.

My interest in collecting baseball memorabilia waned after the 1994 strike shortened the season and for the first time in MLB history, stripped fans of a World Series (which was ultimately cancelled). Admittedly, I was excited by the Seattle Mariners magical 1995 season and their first appearance into the playoffs and being there for their clinching game of the American League Division Series followed by Game 1 of the Mariners’ first American League Championship Series. Despite the excitement that I personally experienced, I still discontinued all collecting interests until I was reignited with a passion for military history more than a decade later.

Pictured here with a few unrelated artifacts is my very first military baseball piece, a 1943-44 USMC baseball uniform.

Fast forward to 2009-2010 when I acquired my first military baseball artifact (a 1943-44 Marine Corps red-trimmed, road gray wool flannel baseball uniform) which re-ignited my baseball collecting interest, focusing entirely upon those who served in the armed forces and played the game. Not long after obtaining the first uniform, I discovered a second Marines jersey (made of red-canvas, yellow-trimmed from the same WWII-period) that I added to my collection. I recalled one of my favorite players (the aforementioned Gil Hodges) and that he served in the Marines during WWII and couldn’t help but imagine him wearing one of the two uniforms that I had in my collection. When I started searching the internet in hopes of locating any photographs of him during the war, I stumbled upon auction listings photos of Marines wearing baseball uniforms. I began to pursue and started collecting these and similar vintage photos of service members playing the game, posed in team settings or just having a catch while away from the hazardous duties of armed conflict.

This is most-likely a domestic USMC team that played in the Government League in 1915.

Regardless of the branch of service, I continued to expand my collection of uniforms, ephemera (such as scorecards and programs from service team games) and photographs. After several years of collecting, I am seeing an unintended trend within my collection. The majority of my pieces are Marine Corps-centric which is somewhat humorous considering my naval service and the nature of the intra-service rivalry (and brotherhood) shared between personnel within both branches. Aside from the two iterations of the jerseys/uniforms previously mentioned, I subsequently located a third wartime USMC jersey and two Marines ball caps. The photos that have found their way into my collection date as far back as 1915 (some in Latin America) through China in the 1920s and 30s and into World War II.

Some speculate that the Marines introduced the game to the locals while they were in country on Santo Domingo in 1916. If they didn’t bring the game there, the Marines certainly influenced the locals with their own gameplay.

Collecting vintage photography can be both rewarding and frustrating. When one can connect an unidentified photograph to a location, time or event, shedding new light on history brings a measure of satisfaction, especially when the photo has never been seen by the public. However, when photos lack any means of identification, they are relegated to merely being an enjoyable, visual artifact. A few of my images were sourced from a veteran’s scrapbook (no doubt, broken apart to maximize the picker’s profits) that after two years of attempting to locate any sort of context, I was able to discover that the game depicted in the images was played by the visiting U.S. Marines in 1943 in Wellington, New Zealand.

In addition to veterans’ scrapbook and snapshot photos, I have added images that were taken by news photographers or public relations personnel for the purpose of sharing positive news to the home front to offset the lists of KIA/WIA/MIA that would dominate local newspapers during the war.  These images are typically larger images (some as large as 10-inches) were professionally enlarged (snapshots are normally tiny contact-prints) that are printed on glossy photo paper (specifically during the 1940s). While my photo archive is not extensive by any measure, it does provide a decent perspective on the historical depth of the intertwining of the game within the Marine Corps.

This team photo is inscribed “1916 Mare Island” which seems to align well with the uniforms’ design.

My card collection has been tucked away since the early-to-mid 1990s until the last few weeks when I dug the 1950s cards in light of the (“my”) Dodgers entry into the 2017 post-season and finally reaching the World Series. Connecting my two collections (military baseball and card collections) has only served to reveal to me that my early interests (card collecting) in the men who also served has transcended to my present collecting focus.

USMC intra-squad game held in 1945 on Okinawa. No other details or inscription was provide with this photograph leaving me with no idea if this was before during or after the cessation of combat activities on the island.

Thinking back to that set of 1956 Topps cards and the team that was fielded in the 1955 World Championship, it is difficult to imagine the challenging road each player took to get to that point in their professional careers, especially after seeing the horrors of war. Unlike today’s Dodgers roster that does not contain a single military veteran (which holds true for all of MLB), the 1955 World Champion-team from Brooklyn had the following members who also wore the uniform of their nation.

World Champion Dodgers who served in or during WWII:

  • Carl Erskine (Navy)
  • Carl Furillo (Army) – Carl served in combat in the Pacific Theater, received three battle stars, and was wounded. Peter Golenbock says in his book Bums that Furillo turned down a Purple Heart medal for his wounds, stating that he hadn’t been sufficiently valiant.
  • Don Hoak (Navy) Hoak enlisted in the US Navy during World War II, on February 27, 1945 towards the end of World War II and only a short time after he turned 17 years of age. On February 21, 1946 as Hoak serving at Pensacola, Florida, his father was crushed when the tractor he was operating overturned, killing him and leaving Don’s mother a widow at home with his 3-year-old brother. That summer, Don was discharged from the Navy.
  • Gilbert “Gil” Hodges (USMC)
  • Dixie Howell (Army) – in November 1943, Howell entered military service with the U.S. Army. He served in France and Belgium during World War II and was taken prisoner by the German troops in September 1944, being liberated by advancing Allied forces six months later. He returned to the United States and was discharged from military service late in 1945.
  • Clem Labine (Army) – Labine  enlisted Army on December 14, 1944 and volunteered to serve as a paratrooper.
  • Jackie Robinson (Army)
  • Harold “Pee Wee” Reese (Navy)
  • Edwin “Duke” Snider (Navy)

Other 1955 Dodgers with Military Service:

  • Roger Craig (Army 1951-52)
  • Billy Loes (Army 1951)
  • Don Newcombe (Korean War)
  • Johnny Podres (Navy 1956) – Podres became a sailor in the United States Navy, yet serving his country did not, in any way, diminish his baseball skills — he pitched for Bainbridge Naval Station and Glenview Air Station. The Navy released Podres in October because his back issues made him “physically unfit for further military service.” It was “a form of arthritis of the spinal column.

 

*On the last game of the 1943 season against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, October 3rd, Gil Hodges had three plate appearances. He entered the game as a pinch hitter, eighth in the order, taking over for catcher Mickey Owen (who didn’t have a plate appearance). Hodges coaxed a walk from Cincinnati starting pitcher (and future Navy veteran) Johnny Vander Meer and he subsequently stole second base.

 

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Barbary Wars, Naval Heroes and…Baseball?

Baseball history is perhaps one of the most fascinating studies in that the sport has been played in some form or fashion within the United States since the colonial times if not earlier. Some aspects of history shared between the two can be directly connected while others are more Baconesque (I am showing my age with that reference) in their degrees of separation. I suppose that today’s article is in the spirit of the latter in terms of connection but there are certain specific details that are decidedly of the former. Bear with me…

The bonds shared between the U.S. Armed Forces and the game might have been formed well before the pre-American Civil War as noted in the writings of Henry Dearborn, a major general in the Continental Army (having served under General Benedict Arnold), made mention of what some baseball historians as the earliest military-baseball reference:

“In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north central Pennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd, Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare. — “ Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.”

– Excerpt from “A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic by John Thorn from his blog, Our Game.

Reuben James saving the life of Stephen Decatur, engraving by Alonzo Chappel, 1858 (public domain).

With early baseball and Town Ball being played within the newly-established United States (which also included the English game, Rounders), it isn’t too difficult to imagine young American boys embracing the game in the late 18th century in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York or Delaware, the home state of the Reuben James. History looks back on this man, who enlisted into the U.S. Navy aboard several ships, including the USS Constellation (one of the Navy’s first six frigates). Some readers may recall this sailor’s name as three American warships have carried his name in the 20th Century. The Navy chose to honor James for his service during the Barbary Wars while he was under the command of Stephen Decatur. The action that the young boatswain’s mate is honored for took place during a gunboat battle on August 3, 1804 and Decatur led a boarding party aboard the enemy vessel. The hand-to-hand combat that ensued was a bloody affair as sabers and edged weapons clashed. Decatur was engaged with an enemy sailor when James, seeing his commander about to receive a deadly blow from the Barbary sailor, heroically placed his own body in the way, allowing the blade to strike him and sparing the intended target. Decatur was spared and though the blade struck James, he would survive the battle, living into his 60s before passing away in Washington D.C. in 1838.

USS Reuben James (DD-245) on the Hudson River, New York (USA), on 29 April 1939 (U.S. Navy photo).

The first USS Reuben James (DD-245), a four-pipe Clemons Class destroyer, was commissioned 97 years ago on September 24, 1920. The Reuben James spent the majority of her career serving in the Atlantic Fleet. One of the most notable events of her service was as the USS Olympia‘s (Admiral Dewey’s Spanish American War flagship) escort in returning the Unknown Soldier home from France in March of 1921.  In 1939, Germany, having commenced with hostilities in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt having agreed to supporting the allies by supplying the British against the forces of the Third Reich. Reuben James had been engaged in protecting the supply ships in the early convoys from the Eastern Seaboard to England. On Halloween morning, 1939 while escorting Convoy HX-156, Reuben James was torpedoed by U-552.

A few years ago, while searching for vintage photographs depicting baseball in the armed forces, I found a pair of images that depicted a game being played in Europe in 1921, featuring sailors from the USS Reuben James (DD-245). These two images (one of the actual game and the other a posed team photo) bore handwritten inscriptions on the reverse of each.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

It was my hope that with the specific information contained within the inscriptions that I would be able to discover details of at least their port visit in Italy or to uncover operations in connection with the dates and service within the Mediterranean Sea. Considering the DD-245’s escort service with the USS Olympia in March of 1921, it is possible that this game was played prior to the James’ participation in the return of the Unknown Soldier to the United States.

In February of 1921, the USS Gilmer (DD-233), was undergoing emergency repairs to her starboard screw and shaft having suffered damage from an unseen, submerged object. Their ship in drydock in Pola, Italy, it seems that the crew could most-likely be available for a game against a team from a sister ship. However, according to the inscriptions on my photos, the game was held in Briolini which is nearly 400 kilometers away from where the Gilmer was being repaired. Given the timeline of both ships, it seems that the game would have been held between February and March of 1921.

This photo shows sailors from the USS Rueben James (DD-245) in their team baseball uniforms along with sailors in nondescript baseball uniforms as well as sailors in service dress whites.
The image caption mentions a game played against the USS Gilmer (DD-233) a sister ship of the Clemson class.
The game was played in Brioni, Italy (about 76km from Venice) with Rueben James downing the Gilmer, 27-14. — at Brioni, Italy.

If I am afforded the opportunity to access records within the National Archives, perhaps I can better document this game between these two ships.

 

 

 

Nisei Relocation Camp Baseball: Authenticating a Uniform

This WWII blue cotton duck Fifth Army uniform dates from WWII and is in pristine condition. The Great Lakes Naval Training station jersey is a reproduction (made by Ebbets Field Flannels). The Naval Academy varsity letter is from 1944. The Third Army Championship scorecard lists rosters from a few teams and contains a mixture of major and minor league players among the regular service members who fill out the batting order.

I am a bit of a jersey-nut. If I tallied all of my wearable sports jerseys, I think they would number somewhere in the 40s. The majority of that number consists of baseball jerseys – the most significant percentage of those are flannel reproductions of vintage minor league, negro league and WWII military baseball versions. Since I started to actively pursue militaria (beyond what I have inherited from family members), I have searched for and acquired a few baseball jerseys (three of which also included the accompanying trousers). For my military baseball collecting, landing jerseys (especially those with provenance) is the ultimate in my collecting quest.

I will be focusing some of my future posts on the vintage uniforms that are currently in my collection. Though a few of them are in need of more thorough research (in order to determine when and where they might have been used), forcing myself to write about them and share them on this blog will compel me to press further into locating any sort of data that can help me to connect them more specifically with history. In previous posts, I have documented some of the military baseball uniforms that eluded my pursuits (Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform, Obscure Military Baseball Jerseys – Rare Finds or Fabrications)) though in writing about them, helps me to preserve a record of what exists in order to have a resource for analysis.

I have seen several vintage baseball uniforms (specifically jerseys) that have been listed at auction that would be fantastic to add to my collection but they don’t truly fit in with my narrow military focus. Last year, one uniform came to market that I really wanted to pull the trigger on as it was very closely aligned with my interest but still fell outside of the military. It went unsold and was relisted three times with price reductions that were inching the grouping closer to a reasonable price range for me and had it gotten a bit lower (before it sold), this article would be covering my sixth vintage jersey (uniform) rather than another one that got away.

This autographed Nisei team photo shows several of the players wearing (what appears to be) the same uniform that is listed within an auction for a purported Nisei baseball uniform that was used in one of the War Relocation Center camps (eBay image).

There are volumes upon volumes of books and personal narratives of one of our nation’s darkest actions ever perpetrated upon its own citizenry; Executive Order 9066 which called for and executed the Internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Internment of Italian Americans was signed by Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order authorized the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort and was able to accomplish this by withholding due process to those subjected to the terms of the order. On the United States’ West Coast, all Americans of Japanese Ancestry were removed from their businesses, property and homes (many, forcibly) and ultimately relocated to large camps that were hastily created by the War Department within the interior of the United States (away from the sensitive military areas) and greatly lacked in necessities and most comforts afforded to even the poorest of the poor.

Baseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943. (Source: Library of Congress: Ansel Adams)

To counter the effects of the isolation and monotony of incarcerated camp-life, these Americans engaged in as many normal activities as possible. Baseball teams were formed and, in some of the camps, substantial leagues were formed (at the Gila camp, a 32-team league) and competed against each other. One ball-playing internee (George Omachi) noted, ”It was demeaning and humiliating to be incarcerated in your own country. Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable.” I can’t help but consider that many of the young military-aged men who played on the camp teams opted to also serve their country, leaving behind their imprisoned families to serve the nation that stripped them of their Constitutionally-protected rights.

This three-piece baseball uniform set could have been originally used by a professional team as noted by the ghosted lettering across the jersey front (eBay image).

The uniform sold for less than $400 which, if it truly is from a Nisei and minor league team, is worth the selling price (eBay screenshot).

In terms of collecting and possessing a uniform worn by a camp ballplayer who could have also served in the armed forces, it would have been a nice addition to accompany my other items. Further justification that the uniform bears military historical significance is that the camps were all administered and secured by the U.S. military (predominantly, the U.S. Army). This particular uniform may also have possessed other baseball historical importance. Close examination of the jersey shows ghosting of lettering on the chest that could indicate prior use before it found its way into the camp. Accompanying the uniform was an autographed team photo showing players wearing (what appears to be) the same jersey and trousers as was listed in the online auction. The listing description didn’t provide anything in terms of provenance or any details surrounding how the seller obtained the items or who they came from. Had the auction gone unsold and relisted at yet a lower price, I would have pressed for information to help support the claims made within the listing.

What is challenging about the uniform is the lack of readily available analytics to validate the claims made by the uniform’s seller. In researching the uniform, one can only utilize what is visible within the auction photographs while placing very little weight upon the descriptive text. What can be seen:

  • The material and construction of the uniform (wool flannel)
  • Ghosting of lettering across the chest (though what the lettering was is indistinguishable in the photos)
  • The uniform has matching manufacturer’s tags in the collar of the jersey and inside the trousers (Powers Athletic Wear; Waterloo, Iowa)
  • The uniform’s design and appointments (the soutache on the jersey front and trouser legs)
  • The matching cap design: six panel with leather sweatband and soft bill

Without a database of labels for the manufacturer, specifically dating the uniform inside of a broad range (1940s to 1960s) is difficult. At the very least, the uniform was made after the 1930s (comparing it to other known uniform designs within these eras).  I unsuccessfully scoured the internet for anything related to Nisei baseball in search of photographs that could support the seller’s claims. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount to wade through but nothing like this uniform could be located.

Relaxing behind the lines: members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) take in a game in France in 1945 (source: Oregon Nikkei Endowment on Flickr).

The seller claimed that the uniform was previously used by a minor-league team, stating “It was a uniform from the California Fresno Bees/Minor League team.”  He or she mentioned the (then) common practice of handing down old uniforms, often removing the names and number prior to giving them to the new team(s). There are no records that identify the name or location of a professional team fitting the one provided within the auction details serving to increase doubt as to the veracity of the listing as presented. Without the provided photo, there is virtually nothing to corroborate the story that this uniform had been used by a Nisei team, however the photo is very convincing.

Though I was unconvinced, had the price been a bit lower, I probably would have pulled the trigger and made the purchase. I remain mixed, however that I would be celebrating or left disappointed with the purchase of an overpriced vintage adult baseball uniform that lacked the purported history. I am genuinely hopeful that the person who ended up buying the uniform was able to fully research and validate that it truly is what it was listed as.

I would be truly honored to have one of these uniforms from the 442nd RCT baseball team in my collection (source: Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice).

Nisei Military and Baseball Resources:

 

Hot Stove League Winners and Losers

The hot stove league is just ramping up throughout Major League Baseball with the beginnings of player movement discussions. The winter meetings will be upcoming and trades will be discussed as teams seek to create their 2017 rosters in hopes of playing for the championship in a little less than a year from now. Fans’ emotions cycle through the spectrum as hopes are raised with each announcement, often times met with disapproval and disappointment.

The hot stove league is an excellent analogy for collecting baseball militaria. Watching for items that meet certain criteria poses many similar challenges. Does the item fit my collection? Is the item worth the asking price? Is it authentic (with provenance) Is there any room to negotiate? What impact will the item have in terms of how the piece might display? So many questions to be answered.

After the transaction has been completed and the anticipation (waiting the piece’s arrival) has subsided, were expectations met, exceeded or dashed? Similar to how fans and front office people alike spend time evaluating the if the acquisition was a worthwhile expenditure, collectors also review what they buy.

Baseball militaria has, so far, proven to be a very narrow field of focus for my collecting with so few items being available. I am open to acquiring artifacts from most time periods with my strongest interest lying in the 20 year-period leading up to the second World War. Very few artifacts ever become available beyond photographs (which are predominantly snapshots that are removed from personal photo albums). I have seen the occasional uniforms (two in the past three years come to mind) and a bat (that seemed to be dated closer, if not during WWII) outside of the smattering of ephemera and pictures.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pull the trigger on a group of press photographs of an army baseball team dating from World War II. The auction listing was titled,

“6 WWII FORT SILL OK US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS 70TH INFANTRY BASEBALL TEAM PHOTOS

This auction is for six World War II Fort Sill, Oklahoma US Army Signal Corps 70th Infantry Baseball Team Photographs. You will receive a photograph of the whole team and five team members in various fielding positions. Photos are stamped on the back:

‘FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA
NO OBJECTION TO REPRODUCING OR PUBLISHING THIS PICTURE PROVIDED CREDIT LINE PHOTO BY US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS APPEARS ON THE PHOTOGRAPH OR PAGE, EXCEPT THAT PERMISSION MUST BE OBTAINED FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT IF IT IS DESIRED FOR USE IN COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING.’

Each measures 8″ by 10″ and other than some minor wear they are in excellent condition.”

The auction listing showed an array of posed photos and the coveted team picture. (Source: eBay)

The auction listing showed an array of posed photos and the coveted team picture. (Source: eBay)

The auction’s images showed that there were at least five photographs (the sixth was mostly obscured by the other photos) of various subjects – ballplayers in different staged action poses and a team picture.  I submitted my best offer which was accepted. When the package arrived a few days later, I was excited see the quality of the (what appeared to be professional) photos.

Extracting the large, silver gelatin prints from the plastic sleeve, I noted that there appeared to be more than the six as was described in the auction listing. As soon as I began to sort through the eight prints, I realized that the seller sent me four copies each of two of the staged action-poses. The image that I truly wanted – the anchor to this set – was absent.

I sent a message to the seller about the discrepancy and was given the bad news.  I wrote, “What happened? There are multiple copies of two poses. No team photo. No batting photo. I am not happy with this.”

The seller responded, “Hi. I’m so sorry about this. We are returning your money to your PayPal account.” She provided no clarification or details about what happened or where the missing photos were. I truly wanted that photo so I followed up in another message, “I still wanted the photos. What happened?”

I was hopeful that the other four photos were still sitting somewhere among the hundreds of other (currently for sale) articles in the seller’s house. Accordingly, she replied, “Hi. I goofed, we had two sets and I assumed they were identical. You know what that makes me. Please accept my apology.”

I was not happy with the bad news. I did recall watching the same auction for several weeks before I decided to pull the trigger. What I didn’t realize is that the earlier listing was most-likely a different set from what I received. The seller, I am assuming, acquired a set of photographs from an estate and divided it in to two groups to be sold. The set that I purchased was merely a group of extras.

Granted, the seller refunded the entire auction amount but I was without the photograph that I wanted. As of writing this, I haven’t left feedback on the transaction. If I let my frustration rule, I would leave negative feedback. However, the seller was polite and extremely prompt in taking corrective action. I have (four copies of) two professionally produced photographs that I didn’t pay a cent to acquire.

In the end, evaluating this transaction in terms of the hot stove league, it is akin to inviting (to spring training) a washed-up player who has been out of the league for a few seasons only to return to win a roster spot.

 

Major League Flannel in the Foxhole?

As we draw to a close of what has been an exciting baseball season at both the major league and minor league level (at least it has been for me and the teams that I follow), I am reminded that I have experienced some success of my own in acquiring selected military baseball items. I have been fairly silent with regards to writing (on this blog) and I thought that today would be a great time to pick things back up.

Overall, my collection has experienced growth, mostly with vintage photographs, since I last posted and a few of my subsequent post will be dedicated to discussing the various acquisitions. I was also successful in obtaining one uniform set while missing out on another, very special (and very complete) baseball uniform (still another post will be forthcoming to discuss these).

I have yet to dive down into the researching (the subjects of today’s post) beyond some cursory investigations. One (or both) of the photographs that I acquired recently tell a bit of a story about the connection between the major leaguers and their transition into the ranks.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and "M" jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and “M” jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

When the (first) photo of the Army Air Force team arrived, I carefully examined it and noted that one of the players in the team was wearing a uniform with “CINCINNATI” stitched across his chest. The uniform was a dark shade of wool flannel (obviously gray) and piped in a darker contrasting material. This man’s uniform stood out against the others as it was one of two that was not a simple, plain gray flannel ensemble.

I wanted to see if I could pinpoint the uniform as the National League team, the Reds or rule it out as, perhaps, one from the University of Cincinnati. I turned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Dressed to the Nines (uniform database) to search Reds’ uniforms from the 1930s and 1940s to find a match. Keeping in mind the features of the Air Force player’s uniform (block letters, single thick piping on the edges, sleeves and around the collar), I was unable to match the uniform. Cincinnati’s 1930s road uniforms had letters that had serifs and the piping appears to be thin lines. The block lettered jerseys from the 1940s and war years had the correct lettering and yet lacked piping altogether.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Paying close attention to the details of the photo, one must scan each player for specific elements that can help to identify where and when the photograph was taken which may give more research guidance when attempting determine facts (such as the identity of the two notable jerseys). In this photo, I can see the chalk-lines of the baseball diamond (in front of the team), the flat landscape along with a heavy bomber in the back ground. The close proximity of the aircraft to the ball field leads me to believe that the location of the photo is England (experience scouring a lot of photos helps to recognize familiar features).

Matching the facts of the photo, I may now attempt to identify one or more of the players. Scouring Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime site (which has an extensive database of players), cross-referencing names and searching for player photographs (using Google). It is tedious work but the payoff is rewarding. So far, I have had no such success in identifying anyone, let alone the “Cincinnati” player.

The second photo that I acquired is also something of a mystery. When I purchased it, the seller listed the image as being from World War II. When I saw the listing, I knew that the photo and the uniforms (worn by the players) were from 1910-1920.  The handwritten information on the reverse identified the players as being from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation (which would have been based in Washington D.C.; specifically, at the Washington Navy Yard).

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

Close inspection of the background of the image failed to reveal (to me, at least) anything that would indicate or confirm a specific location. In viewing the main subjects of the image, I focused on the players and their uniforms. Jerseys were dark and pinstriped possessing a darker trim along the button edge, collar and sleeve cuffs. The sleeves are all 3/4 length (some players have them pulled above their elbows). Their caps are short billed, low crown and appear to have eight panels (versus the normal six of later years) and a small white “W” on the front panel. One player stands out from the rest in that his uniform is significantly lighter in color (with the same construction features) yet different in that it has a large “C” on the left chest and a small white “C” on the front panel of a six-panel cap that is trimmed in white piping.

My first reaction to the odd uniformed player was that he is wearing a Cleveland Indians (or Cleveland “Naps” as they were named from 1903-1914) uniform. Again I went back to the HoF uniform database and conducted a broad search (1910-1925) in hopes to narrow this uniform down. The results were close but not definitive. Clearly the ball cap is very much the same as the 1917 Cleveland road cap, but the uniform more resembled the home uniform of the same vintage with the exception of the trim on the sleeves. In some of the photographic examples, I have discovered that in 1916, the Indians wore the dark cap (with white piping) with the pinstriped white home uniforms. My “Cleveland” player lacks the player-number on the left sleeve as seen in the 1916 photo above.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

Regarding the rest of the team’s uniforms. the white “W” appears to vary from cap to cap in size and placement and, since doesn’t directly correlate to what is written on the back of the photo (“U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation”), it could stand for the unknown team name or simply, “Washington.”

Since this photo is very clearly earlier than World War II, there is no reason to search (as with the above photo) for any correlation to MLB players going to the military (times were different) from the their professional careers and there is some data available to pour through on the Baseball Reference site. Turning to Baseball in Wartime, Bedingfield has, for WWI, a list of ball players who were killed or died during their service. Of those, five served in the Navy, none of which were major leaguers.

In both photographs, the (seemingly) major league uniforms could be the result of major (or minor) league teams donating uniforms to the armed forces for recreation use as they are past their serviceable, professional lives. I will continue to research both of these photos and hopefully uncover details as they become available or surfaces in the coming years.

Heading Home: Raimondi’s Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day has come and gone and while I focused my attention on the meaning of this day (on my other blog, The Veteran’s Collection), I wasn’t overlooking the men who set aside their gloves and spikes and ultimately lost their lives in the service of our country, in doing so. According to Gary Bedingfield’s research of baseball players (see his two sites: Baseball in Wartime and Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice) who served during the second world war, more than 400 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers stepped away from the game to serve their country. Of those, two major league players were killed in action during WWII along with 116 other professional ball players (who lost their lives as a result of combat) with still more who died while serving (non-combat-related deaths). One ballplayer in particular has held my attention since I first learned about him in Gary’s book, Baseball’s Dead of World War II.

My first passion for sports began as a youth and my earliest memories began with T-ball in my local park league. I began watching baseball on television and became aware of the local minor league team (which, at that time, was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs). As I grew and got more immersed in the game, I remember seeing a few minor league games and seeing that team’s affiliation change through the years to the Twins, Yankees and Indians before beginning a long-term connection with the Athletics. The longtime Pacific Coast League Tacoma franchise drew on local baseball history when it changed its name to become the Tacoma Tigers*.

I first learned about third baseman Ernie Raimondi (from Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Dead of WWII book) and his time with the local ballclub several years ago. The 16-year-old Raimondi was signed by and played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (which, at the time was nearly rivaling the American and National Leagues in popularity and attendance) in 1936. In the 14 games with the Seals that season, Ernie had 14 putouts, eight assists and committed three errors while at third; he made 38 plate appearances batting .263 (nine singles and one double) which wasn’t a bad showing for a high school-aged kid, playing at the highest minor league level. Manager Lefty O’Doul wanted Raimondi to gain experience and to hone his craft and sent him to the Tacoma Tigers for the entire 1937 season.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers (source: Tacoma Public Library).

The move north was beneficial to Raimondi for both fielding and hitting which carried him through into the 1938 season before being recalled to San Francisco.

Ernie Raimondi's tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the '38 season.

Ernie Raimondi’s tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the ’38 season.

Ernie’s career would fade in the following years and he would be out of baseball in 1941. He was drafted in April of 1944 and entered service on the eve of the D-Day landings at Normandy. He would see his share of combat service (with the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division) from the time he arrived in the European Theater and 218 days after his Army infantry career began, he was mortally wounded on January 9, 1945 and would fight for his life for 17 days until he would succumb.

Private Ernie Raimondi in 1939 with the San Francisco Seals between Brooks Holder (at left) and Dom DiMaggio.

Private Ernie Raimondi’s baseball career was short and his time with the Tigers was very brief. For a military baseball collector, locating anything from his time in Tacoma has proved to be an impossible venture. The closest that I’ve come is when I acquired an original 1939 Associated Press photo of Raimondi along with fellow Seals and WWII veteran Dom DiMaggio (and Brooks Holder) with bats crossed.

See: Ernie Raimondi’s biography at Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice

*Tacoma Tigers Baseball Club(s)

  • Western International League: 1922, 1937-1951
  • Pacific Coast International League: 1920-1921
  • Northwest International League: 1919
  • Pacific Coast International League: 1918
  • Northwestern League: 1906-1917
  • Pacific Coast League: 1904-1905
  • Pacific Northwest League: 1901-1902
  • Pacific National League: 1903

“The One Constant Through all the Years…has been Baseball”

USMC or US Navy ballplayers on Guadalcanal during WWII.

Ballplayers (probably USMC or USN) take in instruction from Bestwick, their catcher. I acquired this vintage photo of military ballplayers – obviously dirty from game-action on Guadalcanal in September of 1943. The image was a veteran’s snapshot that had to be approved by the Naval Censor (stamped and signed on the reverse). Author’s collection: dated September, 1943.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.

People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.

At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 1-4

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 2-3 showing the rosters of the All Stars.

Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.

Ernie Lombardi and Dom DiMaggio - Professional Baseball Players-turned Service Members

Ernie Raimondi (center) and Dom DiMaggio both volunteered for service in the armed forces during WWII. Raimondi was fatally wounded near Strasbourg, Germany in January, 1945. This vintage press release image shows the two future service members with the (now) defunct San Francisco Seals in 1939.

One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.

J. F. Scwendemen WWII Baseball Collection

WWII umpire, J. F. Scwendemen WWII military service team baseball collection with dozens of autographs of MLB stars and Hall of Famers (source: eBay image).

In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.

Hugh Casey, Pee Wee Reese - Norfolk Naval Air Station, 1943

Another recent acquisition for me is this September 11, 1943 image. The original Associated Press caption attached to back reads: “Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA.”

In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.

“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts

Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.

See also:

Stars, Stripes and Diamonds: Photographs of America’s Pastime in Uniform

Baseball game between Frederick Army Air Field and Pampa Army Air Field, 7 July, 1945.

Baseball game between Frederick Army Air Field and Pampa Army Air Field, 7 July, 1945.

When the confetti drops on the victors of the Super Bowl it is a signal that, rather than just the curtain falling on the football season, pitchers and catchers have less than two weeks to pack their bags.

Though much of the nation, at least the Northern states, may be crippled by the biting wind and traffic-snarling snow, indications of the impending spring are apparent, regardless of the vision of a certain Pennsylvania woodchuck…er…land-beaver…I mean…whistlepig (you might refer to him as “Phil” of Punxsutawney, PA). For many fans of America’s pastime, the day after Valentine’s day is the the first day of spring as the holiday marks the impending reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training in both Florida and Arizona.

For militaria collectors who are interested in the game of baseball, there are no beginnings or endings to the season. No spring training, cuts, mid-season call-ups, playoffs or championships are components of collecting military baseball. Fortunately trades and wins (and sadly, losses) come occur between the lines, on the field of play.

Many collectors who play the game of baseball collecting spend their time focusing on artifacts pertaining to specific players-turned soldier (or sailor). Some seek scorecards or programs from the notable service team championship games while still others pursue artifacts from the games – worn or used by the players themselves. But in some cases, it is less important (for collectors) to seek items documenting or connected to star athletes, as the game itself is central to their pursuit.

GI Baseball team in the South Pacific. More than likely, these men are either USMC or Navy personnel. The reverse of this image has hand-inscribed list of names of the players pictured.

This GI Baseball team  was photographed on Guadalcanal in early 1943. More than likely, these men are either USMC or Navy personnel. The reverse of this image has hand-inscribed list of names of the players pictured.

Photographs of ordinary baseball teams fielded by individual military units, to some, may seem a bit mundane and boring. However, these images are quite riveting as they reveal the pageantry of the game. From action shots of games being played to group photos of the team dressed in their uniforms, moments in both baseball and military history are captured, forever bound together.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

One of the most compelling photographs for me is one that reveals historical information in the surrounding area or background. I seek out context – what was happening on the base or aboard the ship when the film was exposed?

My motivation for this particular interest was sparked when I inherited a photo album from my grandmother that contained a collection of snapshots of her sailor-brother who played for his ship’s ballclub in the 1930s. Present among the images of my grand-uncle aboard ship and in his navy attire were two team shots featuring him (and the rest of the club) dressed in a simple baseball uniform (not the standard flannel of the era) with the ship’s name emblazoned across the chest.

The USS Maine's baseball team from 1898 was photographed just days before the ship was destroyed by an overpowering explosion that left 266 of her 375 men, and invariably many of these ballplayers, dead.

The USS Maine’s baseball team from 1898 was photographed just days before the ship was destroyed by an overpowering explosion that left 266 of her 350 men, and invariably many of these ballplayers, dead.

Some of the earliest images dating to the late nineteenth century are (obviously) the most difficult to find due to their rarity. But rarity doesn’t solely fuel the collectors’ interest. One image of the USS Maine’s ball club, taken in the late 1890s (prior to the ship’s fateful end) shows that the game was integrated, like the professional game was, prior to the enacting of the oppressive Jim Crow laws.

In the game of baseball, hope springs eternal as February runs into March and opening day looms on the horizon. But why wait until the first pitch to step up to the plate?

 

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