Category Archives: Equipment
Baseball gloves are, perhaps the most personal piece of equipment that a ball player owns. Compared with bats, uniforms and even caps, a baseball player could use multiple sets in a season. Bats are a little bit more uniquely associated to players however they may work their way through countless examples throughout a season due to breakage. In contrast, a player could use the same glove for several seasons or even span an entire career with the same leather due to the very individuality, tailoring and customizing and breaking in that fuels the players’ need to hold onto their gloves and mitts, indefinitely.
There are a few different types of baseball glove collectors. Some may pursue specific eras, brands and even player-endorsed signature models (all retail) just to have examples of such. There are also those who focus on seeking out professional players’ game-used gloves in order to own both a piece of the game and the player’s blood, sweat and tears. For militaria collectors, there is a similar aspect of owning a piece that has an historic connection or association. To be a caretaker of a uniform, boots or even a weapon that was carried by a soldier into a known battle is not only an honor but awe-inspiring. As I noted in An Intercontinental Wartime Veteran – S/SGT “Chick” McRoberts’ Rawlings “Bill Doak” Model Glove, the idea of being not only a steward of a military-used baseball glove but one that was carried with a veteran as he traveled through one combat theater to another.
With a handful of these leather baseball tools in my collection, the pursuit has been focused more on sourcing marked gloves (such as the two armed forces branch-marked GoldSmith Elmer Riddle DW model gloves that are already in my collection), I have stumbled upon an area of the glove hobby that I hadn’t considered until acquiring the USS Savannah glove (see: Navy Wartime Leather: Extracting History From a Vintage Glove) from World War II.
Ironically, glove collectors expend considerable effort to remove indelible ink markings in order to “restore” a vintage glove’s appearance. However, preservation of these individual marks is more preferable as they tie the glove to both their history and the veteran who owned it. Similar to military uniform marks, what a service member inscribes on their gloves is varied. With the Savannah glove, it is difficult to narrow down the inscribed information to a single person. With the 5th Army glove, the opposite is true in that S/Sgt McRoberts was more detailed with his pen on the glove’s wrist strap.
The 2018 auction listing for the vintage catcher’s mitt was rather vague. Absent from the accompanying photos were details that demonstrated the most important aspect of the glove. The title of the listing was almost ambiguous save for the the mention of “military” leaving it up to the bidder to decide to take the risk or to move on. What was shown in the photos was the adjustable wrist strap decay showing the dry-rotten leather and heavily oxidized buckle yet the rest of the mitt’s condition was quite good. The listing’s opening bid was incredibly low prompting me to take a chance due to the low-financial risk, should my bid top all others.
With a sniped bid and my low-expectation (as to the outcome) set, I let the auction ride for the next few days to countdown without a second thought. The notification email that indicated my auction win (at the opening bid price) left me stunned (and a little concerned as I thought, “what did I just buy that no one else even offered up a bid?”). When the mitt arrived in the mail from Georgia, I checked it for any signs of military stamps or markings, completely overlooking the most glaringly obvious indication. “G. W. Benninghoff PhM3/c” was clearly marked in (faded) ink on one of the edges of the back side. Immediately, Considering that the Navy pharmacist’s mate rating had a large number of their ranks assigned to Fleet Marine Forces (FMF), embedded directly with Marine platoons, serving as the assigned combat medical personnel, rendering aid and care in the midst of combat. In addition to the sailor’s name, a closer inspection of the wrist strap showed that it was in far worse condition than was discernible from the photos.
I began my search in earnest hoping that Benninghoff’s name would, as I suspected, be unique enough to locate the veteran’s information among the millions or records. The small number of search results instantly provided the veteran’s full name, dates of birth, death, enlistment and discharge and more. Not only had I found Petty Officer Benninghoff, but also his command assignment (albeit only his last one of World War II).
Gerald Wesley Benninghoff was born and raised in Indiana. By 1930, he was 23 years old, married and providing for his household, working as a grocery store manager. By 1940, Benninghoff was divorced and living in Michigan still managing a grocery store. In response to the newly enacted peacetime selective service, Benninghoff registered in mid-October as he was working in Gary, Indiana for the National Tea Company (which would later be one of the companies that would become The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company that was better known as A & P stores – defunct since 2016). It wasn’t until December 15, 1942 that Gerald Benninghoff enlisted into the U.S. Navy.
Without requesting (and hopefully obtaining) Benninghoff’s service history (through a National Archives Freedom of Information Act submission), locating his service history prior to May, 1945 is a fruitless effort. On May 12, Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Benninghoff reported for duty to the escort carrier, USS Kula Gulf (CVE-108) for duty. The 12th corresponds with the date that the aircraft carrier was commissioned which means that Benninghoff was assigned to a pre-commissioning command as the ship was nearing the end of its construction at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Tacoma, Washington.
Benninghoff served aboard the Kula Gulf for the duration of the war, being transferred off 47 days after VJ-Day (he served just 160 days on the ship), he was discharged by December 17th of that same year. For his 36 months of service, not a single shred of documentation regarding his service or even playing the game while on active duty is available. Though I am satisfied with the research results so far, patience must prevail in hopes that more data is added to online research resources in the coming months.
The availability of authentic military baseball equipment can vary depending upon what one is seeking for their collection. For me, bats and balls have posed the greatest challenge in locating. To date, only one confirmed wartime sphere has been secured. When it comes to glove leather, I have managed to secure two stamped WWII gloves – both of which are GoldSmith Elmer Riddle signature models (one marked, “U.S. Army” and the other, “U.S. Navy”). As a collector of militaria (in addition to baseball-specific military artifacts), locating personally-used and identifiable pieces is far more interesting and lends to greater satisfaction when the results of researching the veteran that is associated with or connected to the piece.
Last year, I located a glove that came close to being personally-associated to an individual service-member (see: Navy Wartime Leather: Extracting History From a Vintage Glove). The glove, ink-stamped with command (the light cruiser, USS Savannah) and several individuals’ names was quite a find for my collection in that it provided a taste of personal connection or at least that of a naval combatant warship. Since acquiring the USS Savannah glove, two more leather pieces have arrived but with each glove, individual attribution was part of what drew me to them.
Perhaps the subject of a series of articles that encompasses the range of gloves that were acquired (by the Bat and Ball or Professional Base Ball fund) for and distributed throughout the armed forces ranks during World War II is fast-becoming a necessity for this site as there is very little information available in any one location. Many glove and military collectors have, in recent years (myself included) in wartime baseball gloves and mitts, seeking out the tools of the trade that were used by service team ball-players and troops on R&R. Aside from the highly sought after stamped gloves (with markings such as “U.S.,” U.S. Army,” “U.S. Navy,” “U.S.M.C.” or “U.S. Special Services”), there are glove makes and models that collectors, in particular, seek out.
In the last few years of researching military-used gloves, I inevitably touched on and subsequently absorbed details regarding the development and progression of baseball gloves and mitts. Through that self-educating process, I opened myself up to the possibilities for my collection and how to be a bit more discerning in what to pursue. Researching an article about Rawlings gloves (see: Besides Their Gloves, Rawlings had Another Significant WWII Veteran) – those that found their way into World War II military service (along with glove designer Harry Latina’s son, Rolle), I have been seeking a Bill Doak model.
A few weeks ago, a glove surfaced at auction that grabbed my attention featured a 1940s-era Bill Doak model glove. While it lacked any official stampings, what was marked onto both sides of the wrist strap motivated me to pursue it.
My heart leaped with excitement as I was immediately reminded of my Fifth Army Headquarters uniform set and how fantastic it would be to display the two together. Considering my upcoming public showing at a local AAA (Pacific Coast League) ballpark, I was even more motivated to pursue this glove.
The condition was almost an afterthought for me as I zeroed my sights in on the possibility of not only having a 5th Army glove but one that is named to a veteran. \AS few days after closing the deal, the glove arrived and I was not disappointed. Opening the box, I was shocked to detect the scent of leather (albeit with an aged overtone) was prevalent, rather than being overpowered by a musty, moldy odor that a few of my other gloves arrived with.
The one photo that I previewed that showed the original owner’s personalized markings wasn’t clear enough to reveal all the details that the veteran marked onto the inside of the wrist strap. The largest part of the inscription showed the soldier’s name and rank, “S/SGT Nick McRoberts” along with an eight digit series of numerals, “36053528.” Since WWII army serial numbers were alpha numeric (formatted as “A-100123”), the digits are lacking any context to correlate to something that could be researched. However, the name is unique enough that a simple search for him produced a few results.
Nicholas C. McRoberts, born on December 24, 1915 in Curran, Illinois (in the central part of the state) and was living in Springfield, working in the Department of Public Health in 1940. One month (to the day) after the peacetime Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was signed on September 16th, McRoberts registered. It wasn’t until November 14, 1941 that McRoberts entered the U.S. Army.
As he noted on the wrist strap of the Rawlings glove, McRoberts found himself with the U.S. Fifth Army in (French Morocco) providing defensive stabilization for the area following the Allies success with Operation Torch that unseated the Pro-Nazi forces of both Vichy France and their local Algerian and Moroccan supporting forces. Despite my best efforts to uncover any further information surrounding McRoberts’ service in North Africa. As the Fifth Army prepared for the invasion of mainland Italy, it is possible that McRoberts saw playing time with a team in one of former major leaguer, Master Sergeant Zeke Bonura‘s North African baseball leagues. According to Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice, Bonura established “baseball leagues as well as softball leagues for male and female service personnel. By the end of the summer, Bonura had set-up 20 baseball diamonds with salvaged materials and supervised 150 teams in six leagues, involving nearly 1,000 players. The culmination of the season was the World Series of North Africa between the Casablanca Yankees and the Algiers Streetwalkers. The Yankees were crowned North African champions.”
On September 9, 1943, the landings on the beaches near Salerno commenced and McRoberts’ Fifth Army comprised much of the main American force. According to what is inscribed on S/SGT McRobert’s glove, he was a part of the operations. Whether or not he found opportunity to place baseball that fall is undetermined with the intense resistance that the German’s committed against the Allied forces.
Where the glove’s story takes a twist is with what is inscribed on the extreme inside end and at the bottom middle area of the strap. Immediately below the “S/SGT” marking appears to be written, “Leonard” (the characters that follow to the right are indecipherable) with “1944.” Over towards the middle of the strap is inscribed “956 Eng.” which does not correlate to anything within the Fifth Army order of battle history. The only unit with this designation that I have located is the “956th Engineer Topographic Company” which is most-likely U.S. Army Air Forces unit (more research forthcoming). Did the glove change hands? Did McRoberts get reassigned to a the Army Air Forces branch following the Italian invasion? These questions will probably remain unanswered.
Nicholas C. “Chick” McRoberts made it home from the War and lived a full life. Absent access to an old obituary, no determination can be made as to whether he played baseball following World War II. He passed away on May 5, 2003 at the age of 88 years. He is buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery near his life-long home in Springfield, Illinois.
I am left to ponder the idea that Staff Sergeant McRoberts possibly carried this glove from the United States to the African Continent, on to Italy and then back home leaving it soiled with Algerian and Italian dirt to co-mingle with the soil of Central Illinois.
Time and patience. Patience and perseverance. Perseverance and a keen eye. These are the basic tenets of building a collection or group of related or connected artifacts which when wielded with due diligence, the right pieces begin to emerge presenting the opportunity to assemble a more complete accumulation of pieces. Other times, it is just by sheer accident that pieces come together, forming a logical grouping of artifacts that tell a clear story or shed light on previously forgotten historical details.
Over the last two years, I have been able to acquire three individual pieces on separate occasions that independently are intriguing baseball artifacts. Of those three, the item that truly stands out that after more than eight years of pursuing baseball militaria, I was finally able to land an autographed WWII service team game ball. In Seeing Stars Through the Clouds: 1943-44 Navy Team Autographed Baseball, the 1943 Spalding Official National League baseball (often referred to as a “Ford Frick ball” due to presence of the stamped signature of the National League president, Ford C. Frick) I have documented all of the autographs on each of the orb’s panels (several of which were from former major league players). Obtaining this ball propelled me down the path of research in an attempt to not only identify the signatures but to determine which team the players were assigned to.
Utilizing only online resources (which I was limited to at the time) and a few publications related to wartime baseball in the Pacific Theater, I successfully identified most of the signatures and validated that their signers actively served in the Navy during World War II. However, at that time I was still unable to find a team roster that aligned with the combination of names on the ball.
For me, one of the pleasures of researching vintage treasures as more rise to the surface and become available (and find their way into my collection), is the occasional discoveries (with the new piece) that unlock secrets such as those surrounding this baseball.
When four vintage snapshots of navy baseball players found their way into my collection towards the end of last year, my quest to reveal the unknown faces resulted in both the identification of the players (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and established a new connection with a colleague ( Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.) who is an authority in the arena of WWII Navy baseball.
Through correspondence with Mr. Crissey and reviewing the visible information, we deduced that the 1943 baseball was signed by players from the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team yet the specific year still eluded us. In addition to recognizing the team, Mr. Crissey shed some light on a few of the indistinguishable signatures, narrowing them down to specific players. As “Kit” and I exchanged subsequent emails as we exchanged knowledge and research details, I invited him to review my military baseball photo archive leading to additional discoveries. One Navy team photo in particular spawned discussion, friendly debate and an ultimate identification of the subjects along with team’s home location. Initially, Mr. Crissey suggested that the team (in the photo below) was one of the New London Submarine Base teams from 1944-45 but when the visible players were compared with the names on the baseball, we arrived at the conclusion (a surprising revelation to him) that the photo aligned with the baseball in my collection; the 1943 Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor.
1943 Submarine Base Roster (names in bold indicate player signature on the ball while not on the program):
|Player||Position||Signature on Ball?|
|Arnie “Red” Anderson||Pitcher||Yes|
|Fenton (Dick Trenton)||Pitcher|
|George (Nig) Henry||Pitcher|
|Raymond (Ray) Keim||Pitcher||Yes|
|Maurice “Mo” Mozzali||LF||Yes|
|Gene “Pee Wee” Atkinson||C|
As Kit and I conversed over the course of several weeks, a 1943 program and scorecard from the Hawaii Leagues surfaced at (online) auction. This intriguing piece showed signs of considerable wear (most-likely from being folded and stuffed into a GI’s uniform pocket) on the faded green cover and for some reason, went entirely unnoticed by other collectors either due to the excessive wear and the non-baseball event title and the lack of a team listed on the cover. The event, “4th of July, 1943 Independence Day Program, Recreation Center, Schofield Barracks” almost rendered the artifact as uninteresting due to the apparent lack of baseball content. When I turned my attention to the photographs of the inner pages and the rosters of the baseball teams listed therein, my sights were set on landing this piece. I was astounded to find the entire roster for the 1943 Pearl Harbor “Navy” team listed which also included nearly every name that was listed on my baseball. The 1943 roster facilitated in identifying the baseball’s few remaining unknown signatures. After securing the auction win and the program was safely delivered in the post, I scanned and shared the rosters with Kit and to his delight there were revelations regarding the team and the rosters giving him new insights as to the naval career progressions of several professional ball players throughout the war.
Researching the artifacts themselves is an automatic activity for many baseball historians and archivists. Most of the names inscribed on my 1943 ball have (since the associated article was published last year) been identified as professional ball players either before or after the war. While it is significantly easier to delve into the personal and professional histories of pro ball players, investigating average “Joes,” especially those who served in the armed forces, is a more challenging endeavor and yet can be quite rewarding when discoveries are made that connect these everyday people to historical events.
One such “average Joe” found on the 1943 baseball as it was signed stands out from the rest of the autographed names: “Chicken Hawk” Sessions (which corresponds to Navy pitcher, Oscar M. Sessions on the 1943 Sub Base roster) autographed the ball with a rather catchy nickname. With a name like “Chicken Hawk,” it is an easy assumption to suspect that Oscar Sessions would fall in line with the fraternity of professionals, research proved otherwise. Rather than having played a few seasons of organized baseball leading up to his assignment with the Sub Base team (like many of his teammates), Sessions instead was just a seven-year veteran Navy-man having enlisted on December 8, 1936 as a 20-year-old apprentice seaman.
By early 1941, Oscar Marion Sessions was rated as an electrician’s mate, third class petty officer (EM3/c) after more than five years of active duty. On April 29, 1941, Sessions reported aboard the New Orleans class heavy cruiser, USS Minneapolis (CA-36) in the South Pacific with war looming on the horizon and coinciding with the beginning of one of the most historic seasons in major league baseball history. Sixteen days later, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak would commence as Ted Williams was well on his way to his record-setting torrent, pushing for the last .400 batting season (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts). By the year’s end, the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in the World Series, the United States was drawn into war against the Axis powers and the exodus of major league ballplayers into the ranks began with the most notable (of baseball veterans to join) Bob Feller’s December 9, enlistment.
Protecting the Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast of the U.S. mainland from subsequent Japanese attack was paramount duty for Navy ships including Sessions’ USS Minneapolis. By May of 1942, the “Minny” was meeting the enemy in the Battle of the Coral Sea and would again see action a month later the Midway Battle, sending the Japanese on the retreating defensive for the remainder of the war. To break free the enemy strongholds in the Solomons, the Navy began landing the 1st Marine Division onto the beachhead at Guadalcanal on August 7th and the Minneapolis found herself engaging the Japanese air strike forces, protecting the Marines as they moved to the shore. The heavy cruiser saw further action through the next few days as the Navy sustained heavy losses with the sinking of the Minneapolis’ sister ships, Astoria (CA-34), Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44) along with the Australian cruiser, HMAS Canberra (D33) and nearly 1,100 men.
Sessions continued to see action in the Eastern Solomons in late August and by November of 1942 with the waters surrounding the islands near Guadalcanal earning the nickname, “Iron Bottom Sound” due to inordinate numbers of ships being sunk by both allied and Japanese forces, the Battle of Tassafaronga would mark the painful end of the Minneapolis’ service in the area. During the battle, the “Minny” was engaging the Japanese destroyer Takanami (crippling her) that was part of a group of six enemy combatants when a second group surprised the American ship’s crew. The Minneapolis sustained two Long Lance torpedo hits: one on the port bow and the other in her number two fire room, causing loss of power and severe damage. Her bow collapsed, her port side badly ruptured, and two fire rooms open to the sea, the American cruiser was out of the battle as her crew battled fires and flooding to keep their ship afloat. Thirty seven of Sessions’ shipmates were killed in the attack.
The USS Minneapolis was saved by the heroic efforts of her crew (including, no doubt, those by the young electrician’s mate, Oscar Sessions) enabling her to make her way to safety where temporary repairs could be made. Her damaged bow removed and her #2 fireroom open to the sea and completely flooded, the ship began her perilous journey to Pearl Harbor as she suffered propulsion casualties, massive flooding and a very slow speed, Minneapolis departed Tulagi on December 13, 1942 arriving in Hawaii on March 2, 1943 after a harrowing cross-Pacific journey. With the ship out of action for more than a year as she underwent repairs in Hawaii and at Mare Island (in San Francisco Bay), many of her crew were transferred to other ships and shore commands. Electrician’s Mate First Class Sessions was assigned to Submarine Base Pearl Harbor on March 22nd, less than three weeks after the ship arrived in port.
Research has yet to reveal how a seven-year navy man who lacked so much as an inning of professional baseball (at any level) landed on a roster that was filled with major and minor league stars as Sessions suited up for the Sub Base team. EM1/c Sessions’ harrowing experience aboard the “Minny” combined with his natural baseball abilities must have endeared him to both his commanding officer and the men on the team.
By early January 1944, Sessions was back at sea again however this time he was aboard the USS Intrepid (CV-11) as she departed to begin her war service having completed her shakedown and transit to the Pacific theater. Assigned to Task Force 58, Session returned to action with the carrier as she commenced her island-hopping campaign begging with the Gilbert and Marshall atolls. By late June, Sessions was pulled back to Pearl Harbor, rejoining the Sub Base squad and was subsequently selected to be a part of Navy leadership’s quest to take down the star-studded Army squad in an Army versus Navy World Series. It seems that the electrician’s mate’s pitching was noteworthy enough during hist 1943 season with the Sub Base team that he became invaluable enough to be a part of the dominant Navy All-Star team. Counting the legends among his Navy All Stars teammates such as Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Dom DiMaggio, “School Boy” Rowe, Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Walt Masterson and Bill Dickey was pitcher Oscar “Chicken Hawk” Sessions, a true naval combat veteran. One has to wonder how Sessions acquired the nickname, “Chicken Hawk?” Perhaps this was a reference to the Looney Tunes character that made his first and only wartime appearance in the 1942 animated short film entitled, “The Squawkin’ Hawk” which debuted on August 8, 1942 (as Sessions’ USS Minneapolis was engaging Japanese air forces near Guadalcanal).
Having Sessions identified and uncovering his story makes the autographed baseball that much more special. Not only did the stars take the field and compete while entertaining the troops in throughout the Hawaiian Islands, but so did a combat veteran who served through some of the most difficult and challenging naval battles.
The roster of the 1943 Submarine Base squad combined with Kit Crissey’s expert-knowledge helped to identify all of the signatures on my baseball and shined a spotlight on the professional ball players who served on this team. A handful of these players began their Navy baseball careers with the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets team earlier in 1943 (Gleeson, Masterson and Volpi were on the April 1-3 season opening roster versus the Washington Senators). The balance of the Sub Base team was filled out by sailors and ballplayers who entered the service following the December 7th winding up on the roster perhaps in similar fashion to what Sessions experienced. Leading the Sub Base group was Henry “Dutch” Raffeis, a Chief Torpedoman who enlisted into the U.S. Navy in January, 1915. Not only was Dutch an old salt, he was also a name that was synonymous with Pearl Harbor and Honolulu baseball for decades. Raffeis was born in Toledo, Ohio to immigrant parents (depending upon which federal census one queries, his parents arrived in the U.S. from Germany, Austria or France) on November 14, 1897. By 1915, Dutch Raffeis was stationed at Submarine Base, Los Angeles (San Pedro, CA). By 1926, the Chief Torpedoman (CTM) was transferred to the Naval Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor (in the Territory of Hawaii) where he worked his way onto the command’s baseball team as a left fielder, shortstop and third base. Dutch was know for his hitting as his batting was often the deciding factor in many of the team’s games. According to the Sunset Baseball League Record Book (1919-1940) Dutch Raffeis’ hitting led to the team (a combination of the former Naval Hospital and Torpedo Station rosters) to capture the title as they posted a record of 15-1.
Raffeis’ career saw him have periodic assignments away from the Hawaiian Islands which broke up his baseball tenure there. After a year’s service in the Canal Zone, Dutch returned to Pearl, picking up where he left off with his playing throughout the early 1930s. After retiring from the Navy with more than 20 years of service, Raffeis was hired as a superintendent of a Honolulu taxi company until war began to seem eminent. The demand for experienced technicians in many of the Navy’s ratings to provide training with increased manning and shipbuilding. On August 5, 1940, 42 year-old Raffeis was recalled to active service and was assigned to the USS Pompano (SS-181), a Porpoise-class submarine, based in Pearl Harbor where he served for six months before returning to his “home” at Sub Base Pearl on February 9, 1941. Dutch took on a new role as player-coach under Lt. O.D “Doc” Yarbrough for the balance of the 1941 season. By early September, Lt. Yarbrough was transferred to the mainland leaving the Sub Base team in Raffeis’ hands for the next four years.
Under Chief Raffeis’ leadership, the team would face talent within the Honolulu City League with teams that included the Braves, Hawaiis, Athletics, Tigers and Wanderers, teams that would be part of the expanded competition for the service teams as the armed forces ranks expanded in the Hawaiian Islands. As Chief Warrant Officer Gary Bodie was empowered to build a powerhouse Norfolk NTS Bluejackets team with the influx of professional ball players, Dutch Raffeis was fielding a competitive team on the other side of the globe utilizing active duty sailors. It wasn’t until 1943 that professional talent began to trickle out to Hawaii where Navy brass dispersed them among the various naval base teams. Dutch Raffeis’ 1943 squad was one of the better teams in the eight team league that included the Aiea Hospital Hilltoppers, Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station Klippers, Aiea Barracks Maroons, Seventh Army Air Force Flyers, Schofield Barracks Redlanders along with two other army squads. 1944 saw the Sub Base Dolphins were further enhanced with the additions of Joe Grace (previously of Mickey Cochrane‘s Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets) and Al Brancato however, Chief Raffeis time at the helm came to a close as Walt Masterson took the reins. In January of 1945, “Dutch” Raffeis was transferred to the old submarine tender, USS Holland (AS-3) where he would wind down his career. In early April, Chief Torpedoman Henry “Dutch” Raffeis was transferred to the mainland where he subsequently retired in June, leaving both the Navy and baseball behind.
It may seem short-sighted to limit shining the spotlight onto just two of the Sub Base team members however there is no doubt that as my baseball militaria collection grows, there will be countless opportunities to illuminate other ball players from this and other military and service teams. Locating each of these pieces associated with the 1943 Submarine Base Pearl Harbor Dolphins team happened purely by chance however in doing so, created not only a fantastic link to one of the more noteworthy WWII service teams but also helped to surface details about the team and its rosters that had otherwise been lost to time.
Resources and Recommended Reading:
- 1944 Hawaii League Scorecard: Pearl Harbor Submarine Base vs 7th Army Air Force
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: Vol. 1; The National League – 1981, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: 2; The American League – 1982, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II – 1984, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
- Baseball and the Armed Services, Part Two – Jim Thorn
Baseball memorabilia is a highly specialized sub-category of militaria collecting that poses many challenges ranging from availability of artifacts to resources that can be used to facilitate authentication. The two most challenging types of baseball militaria that pose considerable struggles for sourcing are with baseballs and bats. Though a handful of game-used military bats have surfaced over the years, I have only been successful in securing a small number of them for my collection.
In a few collectors circles, discussions surrounding methods for determining factors and features for what constitutes military or service team equipment. Unlike issued military gear (uniforms, weapons, tools and equipment) that has procurement markings that are applied either via labeling, stenciling or engraving, sports equipment can be and often is unmarked. Considering that during World War II sports equipment wasn’t procured through government contracts or appropriations, a large and unknown percentage of the gear was distributed and disseminated to the troops without being marked. It is highly likely that gloves, balls, catchers’ protective equipment and bats were commonly lacking indicative military (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S.M.C, etc.) or government marks (U.S.). As this was the case, aside from provenance directly connected to a piece, all of this equipment is relegated to simply being specific-period sports equipment.
Much of the equipment sent to the troops did receive markings that are can be a bit of a challenge to understand (especially in the area of gloves). Regarding baseball bats, inconsistencies abound in terms of both applied military or government-esque markings and with the varying brands and models that were distributed. Although bats made by Hillerich & Bradsby dominated the market during the 1940s, their brand wasn’t the only one finding its way to the combat-theater diamonds and domestic-base fields as examples of other makers could be seen in the hands of ball-playing GIs from makers such as A. J. Reach, Wilson, Goldsmith and Spalding. Other considerations must also be made for brand subsets as Hillerich & Bradsby catered to different markets such as professionals, collegiate, little leagues and amateurs for their products. Aside from the well-known Louisville Slugger models (which had both professional and consumer variants), Hillerich & Bradsby also manufactured the H&B branded bats which were a lower grade and inexpensive offering (see: Louisville Slugger Bat Dating Guide at KeyManCollectibles.com). Considering that equipment originated from various sources (purchased on behalf of the troops through the Professional Baseball Fund, the Bat and Ball Fund, the USO, etc., donated by minor league teams or even produced and donated by the equipment manufacturers themselves), collecting and verifying military-use (without the aforementioned military markings) can pose an authentication challenge for collectors.
For my own collection, military-used bats have been difficult to acquire due to the limited numbers that have come to market since I have been on the hunt. The first piece that I was able to acquire wasn’t a BASEball bat but rather a WWII H&B model 102 Soft-Ball bat with a U.S.N. stamp (1940s softball bats had significantly smaller barrel diameters than their baseball counterparts) with a taped handle. The condition, though used is excellent showing no signs of rot or grain separation. After a minor cleaning and coating the bat with linseed oil, the bat looks fantastic. It took several years before I was able to land my second bat, this time an actual baseball model, which turned out to be a rather rare Ted Williams signature H&B version (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved) which is a welcome addition to the collection, especially after giving it a slight restoration.
Recently, another bat that came by way of a fellow baseball and (new) militaria collector is a Louisville Slugger Model 102 Soft Ball bat with a simple U.S. stamp. This particular bat arrived with a fairly heavy-handed in-process restoration (the finish was removed and the wood had been sanded smooth). Thankfully, the stamped brands were still very apparent (if not slightly softened from the finish removal and resurfacing) prompting me to apply a few liberal coats of linseed oil. With the new finish applied, the grain of the wood was intensified and the appearance was greatly enhanced. Within the span of a few months, my military baseball bats collection tripled though two of the three were softball pieces.
In the last few weeks, yet another piece surfaced that looked to be a fantastic fit in several aspects: condition, player endorsement, military markings and bat model. Similar to the Ted Williams bat already in my collection, this piece also carried the H&B brand but with a Model 14 designation. The best part of all was that the price was right. Aside from the lengthy shipping time, I was elated when the package arrived intact. When I removed the stick from the box, I observed that the condition was in a bit worse state than had appeared in the seller’s photos. On the face of the barrel (opposite the brand and markings), there is some grain separation with a layer of the wood pulling away leaving a very apparent crevice. Also not visible in the photos is a missing wedge section from the knob which, for a 75 year-old and well-used bat is fairly minor. The brand and the stampings are somewhat shallow and appear to be either worn or perhaps sanded during an older restoration attempt. Despite these minor aesthetics issues, the bat will clean-up nicely and look exceptional with a liberal coating of linseed oil.
Having mentioned in a smattering of articles over the years that my teams are the Dodgers and Red Sox, it should make sense that the endorsement on this new acquisition (as with the Ted Williams bat) features a prominent Boston slugger who was nearing the end of his storied career during World War II. By the start of the 1942 season, 34 year-old Jimmie “Double X” Foxx was suffering from a broken rib that he sustained during spring training which nagged him throughout the season. By June 1, “The Beast” (as he was also known) sold to the Chicago Cubs by the Red Sox much to the disappointment of the Boston faithful. Foxx appeared in 70 games for the Cubs but his production was greatly diminished (as compared to his career) prompting him to announce his retirement at season’s end. In 1943, Foxx spent the year away from the game, spending time with his new wife and her two children before volunteering for military service only to be rejected due to a medical condition. Instead of Jimmie Foxx finding his way into an armed forces uniform and serving overseas, his name traveled the globe to far away diamonds on signature gloves and endorsed bats such as this one.
With the Red Sox represented in my collection with two endorsed models from these legendary (and Hall of Fame) hitters, the hunt is on for a WWII service team Dodgers bat.
Under the darkened late-January skies in a prototypical winter downpour, the for putting pen to paper for this article was taking shape as the anticipation of the day’s impending announcement of the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame voting results was swirling in my head. This off-season’s hot stove league has been relatively cool in terms of the big names that had become available following the commencement of free agent market. With so much to write about, I am wondering why today’s topic kept rising to the surface.
Several weeks ago, a fellow baseball memorabilia collector discovered bat that he would otherwise have ignored (for his own collection) until he looked closely through the grime and extensive wear and abuse to discover three black-foil stamped letters positioned just above the imprint of a ball-player’s signature. With consideration of the bat’s abused state and a previous bat restoration project in mind, my friend chose to send this particular piece of lumber my way. Additionally, the vintage bat that my colleague found had significance and would be a perfect augmentation to the baseball militaria that I collect.
During World War II, there was an incredible undertaking by several organizations to raise money in order to provide special services to give the troops basic creature comforts that would otherwise have been unavailable. United States citizens (taxpayers) were financially responsible to properly train and outfit soldiers, sailors Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen with uniforms, weapons, toiletries and to feed them while they performed the duties of defeating enemy forces. Utilizing precious resources for recreation or entertainment was not part of the financial responsibilities of the American people though such activities were truly needed in order to maintain the morale and well-being of the troops.
From December 7, 1941 through September 2, 1945 (VJ-Day), more than 16 million Americans served in the United States armed forces (Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) which accounted for more than 11-percent of the nation’s population (73 percent of those served overseas). The need for morale-boosting and recreation of the troops was considerable. World War II was entering into its golden era during which the game was reaching its pinnacle as the pastime of Americans. Though other sports were certainly part of the recreation offerings, baseball was central. GIs could carry gloves and a ball in their rucksack or sea bags, have bats and other equipment stored aboard their ships, inside their tanks or aircraft and have them accessible for a pickup game or just to have a catch between operations or training cycles.
The numbers of bats, balls, gloves, mitts, catcher’s protective kits and bases distributed throughout the European and Pacific Theaters and domestically is staggering. Washington Senators owner, Clark Griffith reprised his WWI efforts in fund raising (“The Base Ball Fund” used to purchase baseball equipment for the troops). Just four Pearl Harbor was attacked, Griffith rekindled the program and began fund raising and negotiating for discounted equipment pricing with Spalding, Wilson and Goldsmith makers of balls and gloves and with Hillerich & Bradsby (makers of Louisville Slugger bats). By the end of that December, Griffith raised $25,000 from the American and National Leagues, the Baseball Writers Association and from Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis’ MLB discretionary fund and a subsequent order for 18,000 balls and 4,500 gloves and mitts was placed. The “Baseball Equipment Fund” (also often referred to as the “Professional Baseball Fund”) raised enough money to purchase more than 280,000 baseballs and nearly 45,000 bats by the end of 1943. Griffith’s effort wasn’t the only game in town. Aside from funds being raised by professional athletes, celebrities, companies and even civic leaders donated both money and privately sourced baseball equipment. Sporting Goods manufacturers donated equipment and uniforms to the armed forces as did dozens of minor league teams.
By the war’s end, the numbers of balls, bats and other related equipment would reach into the millions. Unfortunately, not all of the pieces used by GIs were specifically marked beyond the original brands or stamps placed by the manufacturer. Those that did receiving some sort of imprinting make connecting these pieces to the armed forces quite simple (save for the counterfeiters that have flooded the market with doctored baseballs. See: Faked Military Baseballs). With 45,000 bats shipped overseas through 1943, one can easily extrapolate that upwards of 100,000 bats (of not more) were used across both combat theaters and domestically throughout the war. One would imagine that the availability of game-used military bats to be significant and yet, marked examples are somewhat scarce.
In the world of sports memorabilia collecting, game used item are obtained at a premium value as opposed to the more traditional pieces. With auction prices being realized for baseball memorabilia that are attributed to the game’s greats yielding dollar figures with six and seven digits, the idea of obtaining such treasures is but a passing thought or a fantasy for most collectors. In a few instances, baseball militaria memorabilia (with player attribution and provenance) is experiencing a similar, though less significant, effect. In the last 24 months, a post-World War II baseball uniform group that was attributed to Herb Bremer, a three-season utility infielder and catcher for the legendary “Gashouse Gang” of the St. Louis Cardinals, sold for at auction for more than $2,500. A little more than three years earlier, the Navy jersey that belonged to Bremer’s Cardinals teammate, netted nearly $17,000 proving that Hall of Fame provenance garners greater interest and value.
As mentioned previously, in early 2018, I received a 1950s Louisville Slugger store model (I.e. non-professional) bat that bore the endorsement (I.e. facsimile signature) from one of my favorite ball players who also happened to have served during WWII, Ferris Fain. The bat was heavily worn and virtually all of the black foil had been worn out of the shallow stamped markings (professional models have a burned-in brand). Since the bat wasn’t a particularly valuable piece, I opted take the route of restoration so that the wood and the stampings would display well and so that people could discern the specific model of bat. The Fain bat looks fantastic and will look great with any baseball memorabilia showing. Regardless of my efforts with the Fain lumber, the pursuit of a game-used military baseball bat continues.
In the arena of game used bats, there is a substantial line of demarcation between what professional ball players use (within the professional game) and what was seen on diamonds during World War II for service members playing on unit teams or in recreational games. Unfortunately, there is no documentation available to shed light on the models of bats that were distributed to troops. It is very possible that professional ball players found themselves withdrawing store model bats from the dugout bat racks during games played in overseas and combat theaters. However, it is just as likely that the stars of the game (such as DiMaggio or Ted Williams) were still able to receive their preferred bat models while serving during the war.
When I opened and retrieved from the box that shipping box this most recent treasure, I was astonished to see this wretched and predominantly disfigured piece of lumber that, more than 70 years ago resembled a bat. Though the black foil markings were heavily worn, the signature of the bat’s endorser, belonging to Navy Pre-flight Chapel Hill Cloudbusters’ left fielder, Ted Williams practically leapt off the tattered surface of the wood at me. Rather than bearing Hillerich and Bradsby’s markings of a Louisville Slugger brand model, this particular bat was marked with the “H & B” center brand indicating that it was an inexpensive store model of lower grade than the aforementioned Ferris Fain bat in my collection. Not only did the H&B models carry a lower retail price but they were made with lower grade materials. Based upon specifics within the brand markings that were used on these models for a 20-year span beginning in 1932, it is easy to assume that the bat was used during WWII with the additional “U. S. N.”
As I assessed the dozens upon dozens of gauges, cracks and the grain separation due to moisture damage (with a bit of rot), it was very apparent why my colleague sent this bat to me rather than to retain it within his own collection. In examining the battle scars one can draw the conclusion this bat was used to swing at sizable rocks (rather than baseballs) that created dents and divots in the bat’s surface. At the end of the barrel, the wood blackened as the result to prolonged exposure to water which also resulted in the decay and erosion of the softer cellulose material between the wood-grains. The center brand was in acceptable condition despite all of the wear and damage but the player’s endorsement signature had been severely and negatively impacted.
Understanding the scarcity of these bats, the decision to stabilize and preserve the bat in its present condition was simple. Taking into account the bat’s game use and historic value (in the context of use during WWII), the approach of doing no harm during the restorative process kept the effort minimal. There would be no sanding or wood filling and no attempts to mask any of the damage. The goal was to decrease the wood decay while working to make the bat a little more presentable. Incorporating grade #0000 super fine steel wool (as the only abrasive material) combined with judicious amounts of Goo Gone and elbow grease, my work began to cut through the years of grime (and some spilled paint) revealing the beauty of the dark wood as it began to emerge.
Moving slowly while taking care to avoid removing any of the remaining black foil markings in the brand, a few hours had elapsed and I began wiping off the steel wool and Goo Gone residue. The rough areas had been rendered smooth and the bat looked considerably improved. For nearly two weeks, the residue from the cleaner dried which showed that the wood was in serious need of preservation with the wood grain revealing a significant need for some sort of sealing. Seeking to maintain the natural look of the wood and to avoid detracting from the aged aesthetics, I opted to apply linseed oil to the entire surface. For the first two applications, the bat absorbed the oil like a thirsting man in the desert in desperate need of water. After the third linseed oil application, I left the bat to dry for a few hours before rubbing down with a soft cloth to remove any unabsorbed residue and to bring out a little bit of a shine. While the results of the preservation are were pleasing, the bat would never be the centerpiece of a collection.
- KeyMan Collectible Louisville Slugger Dating Guide
- WWII Professional Equipment Fund (KeyMan Collectibles)