Category Archives: Equipment

A Hall of Fame Softball Greeting

The impetus behind Chevrons and Diamonds and our curatorial pursuits has always centered on baseball. That term, for us, is quite specific in that it simply refers to the game that was founded in the mid-nineteenth century and is centered upon a 9 to 9-1/4-inch, hide-wrapped and stitched sphere. All the artifacts that we pursue are connected to the history of the game. Some would argue that baseball’s younger brother, softball, is the same game. The debate is an interesting one but in terms of artifacts, the two are distinctly different.

Aside from a handful of artifacts acquired through gifts/donations, the Chevrons and Diamonds collection consists largely of baseball pieces. With the current market trends, pursuits of new items require greater diligence and patience as prices and competition have increased dramatically. Until recently, corresponding softball militaria remained conversely inexpensive, quite literally valued at pennies on the baseball-comparative dollar.

Softball bat, ball and glove prices have risen to a point of being cost-prohibitive. When listed at auction, the bidding can be fierce for pieces that six months ago sold for less than $25 but are now 10 or more times that price. Watching the bidding wars at such auctions is new for us as we were not previously interested in such pieces. When a colleague who shares a similar interest in the absurdity of the bidding sent a link to an auction listing for a wartime softball, I was prepared to follow it for the next several days to see how high the price would climb.

Wartime softball equipment is as diverse in terms of origins and manufacturers as that of baseball material. Pursuing such artifacts requires an amount of due diligence equal to what we spend when we find a prospective baseball artifact. The ball that was shown in the aforementioned auction listing matched what we had seen in the past dozen years; so there was no cause for concern as to the ball’s wartime authenticity. Based upon the $10 starting price, we knew that there would be a significant amount of interest and thus numerous bids. There was something odd about the listing that caught our attention as we were about to click the button to set a “watch.” An option to buy the ball outright was also provided and the price was the same as the starting bid. Without further consideration, we purchased the softball. 

Within moments of submitting the payment, a sense of remorse set in, prompting a second look at the already purchased softball. In addition to the clear indications of use were what appeared to be three signatures on two of the ball’s panels. A closer inspection showed one to be that of former New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey. The other legible autograph was quite clearly that of former Cubs and Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman. The third was not distinguishable and would have to wait for further examination.

The sweet spot of the ball is marked with the specific model information: Day and Night, Official Softball, Kapok Center, 12-inch (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the ball literally in hand, utilizing proper handling techniques to avoid introducing substances such as oils from skin that could accelerate deterioration of the signatures or stamps, we examined the various markings. Paying close attention to the decayed signatures and comparing them against known, authentic autographs from Dickey and Herman that were signed in the corresponding 1940s era, we were able to determine that both were genuine. What was believed to be another player’s signature above Dickey’s looked to be a birthday greeting from the Cooperstown-enshrined Yankees catcher.

Three panels of the ball included manufacturer’s stamped markings including the brand, model and material composition. The maker’s mark, “Universal Sports Co., Empire State Building” was one that is seen on numerous balls; however, we were unsuccessful in locating a definitively matched company.

“This ball built expressly for U.S. Armed Forces” stamp was applied after manufacturing and with long, flat-surfaced rubber stamp. Note the smudged, heavy ink deposits that indicate a rocking motion over the ball (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 The “Day and Night” feature for softballs was common across softball makers. It enhanced visibility regardless of the lighting conditions. Unlike cork-center baseballs, many softballs had a center of kapok that absorbed the energy when hit, which limited the velocity and trajectory, helped to keep the orb within the field of play and thus made it more challenging to put it over the outfield fence.

The stamping on the ball that truly captured our attention was the one that indicated service use.  Quite obviously applied with a flat rubber stamp (as noted by the heavier ink on the extremities), “THIS BALL BUILT EXPRESSLY FOR U.S. ARMED FORCES” was a departure from the more commonly used “U.S.”, “U.S.N.”, “Special Services U.S. Army” and “U.S. Army.”

With a fair amount of loss, former Yankee catcher Bill Dickey’s autograph is still legible (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The ball’s covering was quite obviously aging and the signatures had significantly faded. In-person analysis of the signatures removed any doubts that remained at the time of purchase. Confirming both Dickey’s and Herman’s writing, we started on the line directly above Dickey’s autograph and realized that it was not only applied using the same pen as Bill’s, but it was written by the same person. Rather than the writing being a signature, instead we noted that it was a birthday greeting that was also written by Dickey.

Who wouldn’t want an autographed ball signed by Bill Dickey and Billy Herman for their birthday? The birthday greeting was obviously written by the Hall of Fame catcher (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the absence of provenance, it is our belief that this ball originates from World War II and can be further pinpointed to 1945 or as early as the last quarter of 1944 after Herman arrived at Pearl Harbor. In addition, we suspect that the signatures were applied while the two were serving in the Navy together on the island of Oahu.

Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman entered the Navy in early March 1944 after being reclassified as 1A by his draft board in early February. Rather than to face the draft, Herman joined the Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (GLNTS) for indoctrination and instruction. Soon after his arrival, Herman was added to the station’s Bluejackets baseball team by manager Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane (see: No Amount of Winning Could Ever Offset a Harsh Loss for Mickey Cochrane). Without missing a beat, Billy Herman found himself at home playing second base for the team whose roster included Schoolboy Rowe, Virgil Trucks, and Gene Woodling as well as his 1943 Brooklyn teammate, infielder Al Glossop. In June of that season, Joe Cronin led his Red Sox onto the Station to face the Bluejackets on their home field and walked away with a 3-1 loss. In addition to Virgil Trucks’ masterful 12-strikeout pitching performance, Billy Herman drove Trucks across the plate in the bottom of the eighth to leave the Bluejackets up by two runs heading into the ninth.

Signed in 1945, former Chicago Cub and Brooklyn Dodger Billy Herman’s signature is easily distinguishable despite years of aging (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Many of Herman’s Bluejackets teammates were dispatched to Oahu in the summer ahead of the Service World Series against the Army squad. The future Hall of Fame second baseman remained with Cochrane and finished the GLNTS season. By mid-October, Herman was aboard a ship that was bound for Oahu but would arrive well after the 11th and final game of the Series.

Soon after arriving in Hawaii, Billy Herman (right) is posed with former Dodgers teammate, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese at Furlong Field at Pearl Harbor (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Herman was not the only ballplayer making his way to the islands at this time. Arriving with the Dodgers second baseman were 33 players ranging in experience from major and minor leagues to semi-professional and amateur baseball. The talent included catchers Manny Fernandez (Dayton Wings), Bennie Huffman (Browns) and Frank Wolf. Pitchers included Johnny Rigney (White Sox), Bob Klinger (Pirates), Hal White (Tigers), Lou Tost (Braves), Lou Ciola (Athletics), Jim Trexler (Indianapolis Indians), Mike Budnick (Seattle Rainiers), Max Wilson (Phillies) and Frank Marino (Tulsa Oilers). The islands were getting a fresh stock of Infielders that consisted of Elbie Fletcher (Pirates), Connie Ryan (Braves), Al Glossop (Dodgers), Merrill “Pinky” May (Phillies), Johnny McCarthy (Braves), Frank Juliano, Gibby Brack (Montreal Royals), Tom Carey (Red Sox), Fred Chapman (Athletics), Sherry Robertson (Senators), Eddie Robinson (Indians), Mickey Vernon (Senators), Buddy Blattner (Cardinals) and Pete Pavlick (Erie Sailors). The outfielder contingent included Red McQuillen (Browns), Dick West (Reds), Gene Woodling (Indians), Red Tramback (Oklahoma City Indians), Barney Lutz (Elmira Pioneers) and Del Ennis (Trenton Packers).

Lieutenant Bill Dickey, manager of the Navy All-Stars poses with “Long” Tom Winsett, manager of the Army All-Stars at Furlong Field before the start of the 1944 Service World Series (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

By January of 1945, Lieutenant Bill Dickey had assumed duties as the 14th Naval District’s Athletic Director and was charged with assembling two teams of Navy ballplayers that would tour the Western Pacific for the purpose of entertaining the troops and boosting their morale. It was initially reported that Bill Dickey would be leading the tours, “One of the greatest collections of baseball stars ever gathered will leave the Fourteenth Naval District soon to take baseball, America’s No. 1 sport, directly to the fighting men in the forward fighting zones,” the February 5, 1945, Honolulu Advertiser reported. “The group, headed by Lt. Bill Dickey, USNR, former catching star of the New York Yankees,” the story continued, “heads out on a 14,000-mile trip which is intended to supply the best possible sports entertainment for thousands of men in the Pacific.” However, when the rosters were finalized and the men departed, Bill Dickey, according to Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. in his 1984 book, Athletes Away, “saw to it that he (Dickey) and two other veterans, Billy Herman and Schoolboy Rowe, were excused from going.”

Dickey continued to run the Fourteenth Naval District’s athletic department, which included the baseball league, and aside from umpiring a few early season games, Herman was assigned to the Aiea Naval Receiving Barracks team and played his familiar second base position with the club for the entire 1945 season.

In attempting to validate the softball and the signatures, we must consider several factors. We are certain that the softball is genuine, based upon the materials, construction and markings. We are also convinced that both signatures are genuine, leaving us to speculate on the circumstances that brought those two particular players together to sign the ball.

Since both Dickey and Herman were in Hawaii and serving in the Navy together from October of 1944 through the end of the war, we can easily place them together on Oahu. However, we further speculate that the two men had some sort of bond that went beyond the basic factors. Considering Dickey ensured that Herman was excused from the Pacific tours, we surmise that the two had some sort of a friendship that transcended the obvious. Herman and Dickey faced each other in the 1932 (Cubs versus Yankees) and 1941 (Dodgers versus Yankees) World Series and both men were in their early-to-mid 30s in age and were nearing the end of their professional careers by 1945. Perhaps the ball was signed for a mutual friend of Herman and Dickey.

Displayed with a wartime U.S.N. marked bat and a U.S. marked bat, the wartime softball makes for a simple and tasteful display of authentic artifacts (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Based upon the visible details, it Is our belief that the softball dates from 1945 and was most likely signed in Hawaii by the two future Hall of Famers. Displaying it alongside the Navy-marked bats and gloves only enhances the ball’s visual aesthetic, making it a fantastic addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.

Bluejacket Ink – Professional Base Ball Fund Signatures

Perhaps the most significant artifact or the flagship piece that baseball memorabilia collectors can pursue is the ball. The name of the game is derived from the principal piece of equipment. The orb is thrown, caught, pitched and hit. All facets of the game are centered on interactions with the 9-inch cowhide, or prior to 1974, horsehide.

Longtime Chevrons and Diamonds readers are aware of our quest to source and acquire service-marked baseballs for our collection. Since we made the transition from collecting militaria to focus entirely on baseball militaria, we have been seeking baseballs for the collection. In the last dozen years, we have been successful in locating a few pieces that not only date to World War II but are also signed by members of wartime service teams. Locating service-marked baseballs has always been a principal goal and yet it is one that we have been unsuccessful in achieving.

On the ball’s sweet spot lies one of the rarest of all wartime stamped markings. The Professional Base Ball Fund was established and managed by Hall of Fame team owner (and one of the founders of the American League) during both world wars (Chevrons and Diamonds).

One of the specific markings that we have been seeking for our collection stems from the wartime charity that was headed by Washington Senator owner and president Clark Griffith. A reprise of the original that was founded in 1917 following the United States’ entry into World War I, the Baseball Equipment Fund raised money for the purpose of purchasing baseball equipment to provide to troops. Baseballs that were purchased with these funds were prominently stamped with “Professional Base Ball Fund” on the sweet spot (see: Is My WWII Baseball Real?). Vintage baseballs are a challenge to source as survivors tend to be considerably worn with the markings significantly obscured or faded from use.

Finding any service-marked baseball can be a challenge. The World War II era team-signed pieces that we have in our collection are all official American or National League baseballs that were, no doubt, donated or purchased (by other recreational funds) for use by GIs and service teams.

When we found in the spring of 2020 a 1944 Official American League baseball that was signed by the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station (NNTS) Bluejackets, it helped to make a dreary year seem a little bit better (see: Dominating Their League (and our Collection): The 1944 Norfolk NTS Bluejackets). The manufacturer’s stampings and several of the autographs are faded, which seems to indicate that the ball was displayed in such a way that it was exposed to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays for a lengthy period of time. Nevertheless, all of the signatures are still very discernible.

Our 1944 Norfolk NTS team signed ball features signature from Eddie Robinson, Jeff Conway and Hank Schenz (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The 1944 NNTS Bluejackets team was a powerhouse that managed a won/lost/tied record of 83-22-2. As incredible as that record is, the star-studded 1943 team was even more competitive. With players such as Fred Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Eddie Robinson, Benny McCoy, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto, it is no wonder that they dominated the Eastern Service League and defeated the American League’s Senators and Red Sox as well as the star-studded Cloudbusters of Navy Pre-Flight, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Locating a “Professional Base Ball Fund” baseball with signatures from the 1943 Bluejackets is no easy feat. However, we managed to find a ball that includes signatures from some of the key Norfolk NTS Bluejackets players. As with our 1944 NNTS ball, the 1943 signed baseball has unfortunately been exposed to excessive UV that caused significant fading. Photos of the ball as it was listed in an online auction showed one prominent autograph from former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and outfielder Don Padgett along with heavily faded ink marks from other players. Due to the deterioration of the autographs, the baseball was very affordable. Because we were in pursuit of the ball with our primary motivation being the “Professional Base Ball Fund” stamp, we reached a deal with the seller. Once in our hands, we were able to discern several of the many more details that were not visible in the auction photographs.

The 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station played 91 regular season games, posted a 68-22 record and had an 11-inning, 1-1 tie (called due to venue scheduling requirements) against a highly competitive field that included military teams such as Fort Belvoir, Langley Field, Fort Story, Camp Pendleton (Virginia), New Cumberland and Curtis Bay Coast Guard. They faced local professional teams including Portsmouth and Norfolk of the Piedmont League, Baltimore of the International League and Washington and Boston of the American League. However, the largest challenge the team faced was with their cross-base rivals, the Norfolk Naval Air Station Fliers, that boasted a major league talent-laden roster that featured Crash Davis, Chet Hadjuk, Sal Recca, Eddie Shokes, Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese.

When the ball arrived, we able to take a closer look at the manufacturer’s markings as well as the Professional Base Ball Fund stamp. Made by GoldSmith, the stamps on the ball were used by the company from 1940 to 1944. After inspecting both the manufacturer’s and the Professional Base Ball Fund stamps, the ball was easily confirmed to have been used by or issued to the 1943 Norfolk NTS ball club.

This stamped logo mark corresponds with GoldSmith during the 1940 to 1944 time period (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

A close examination of the signatures revealed that there were at least ten autographs present on the ball; however, only a few of them were discernible. On the panel with the most prevalent autograph of Don Padgett, three other significant signatures were discovered. In order, ascending from Padgett’s ink are Benny McCoy, Charlie Wagner and Phil Rizzuto. Of the players on the Bluejackets, Rizzuto is the only one to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 13-year veteran shortstop played his entire career with the Yankees and was voted in by his peers (the Veterans Committee) in 1994. There is another signature between Wagner’s and Rizzuto’s that we were unable to see well enough to identify. All four of these visible signatures can be seen not just with the ink but also their pen impressions in the horsehide.

With the ball in soft lighting and slightly turned on angle, the signatures that are visible on this panel are: 1-Phil Rizzuto, 2-Charlie Wagner, 3-Benny McCoy and 4-Don Padgett (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On the panel opposite the “Padgett” panel, another autograph is visible that is not nearly as faded as those above Don’s. After examining the signature, it was obvious that the first letter of the three-letter first name was an “A.” The first letter of the last name is clearly a “P,” which corresponds to Ensign Clarence McKay “Ace” Parker, the 1937-1938 Philadelphia Athletics infielder. Parker’s baseball career was just getting started when the U.S. was drawn into World War II. Parker was a star tailback, defensive back and quarterback at Duke University in addition to playing baseball for the school. He was drafted by the National Football League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937. From 1937 until 1941, Parker was a two-sport athlete and played in both the major leagues and NFL long before such actions impressed the sporting world when Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders drew spotlights. In the fall of 1945, Parker returned to the NFL with the Boston Yanks and played through the season’s end of 1946, finishing with the New York Yankees. Ace Parker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1972 along with Ollie Matson and Gino Marchetti. After comparing the signature on our ball with several verified examples, it was easy to confirm the ink as being placed by the Hall of Fame tailback.

An alternate perspective of the for visible signatures on this panel show; 1-Phil Rizzuto, 2-Charlie Wagner, 3-Benny McCoy and 4-Don Padgett (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Only one other signature was visible. Located beneath the stamping that details the construction and size of the baseball, the autograph of Dominic DiMaggio, the star center fielder of the Boston Red Sox, could be made out. There are a few other signatures that are so badly faded that we were unable to determine who the signatures were placed by.

In the encircled area of this panel, the signature from former Red Sox outfielder, Dom DiMaggio is faintly visible (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the unfortunate condition of the autographs, this ball can no longer be displayed without further deterioration and fading of the ink and stamps. We will place the ball into a breathable, non-plastic container and store it in a location that will provide consistent temperature and no exposure to light, especially UV from the sun. With such precautions, the ink that remains should stabilize, greatly slowing its rate of decay.

It is a boon to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection to acquire a Professional Base Ball Fund-marked ball from the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets that has signatures of some of the team’s most significant ball players including two Hall of Fame inductees.

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Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market

Whether it is the love of sports history or the nostalgic desire to reconnect with youth, memorabilia collecting satisfies many needs for those who partake in the endeavors of artifact hunting. Since the first quarter of 2020, several collector markets have seen astronomical surges in market pricing that have caused many to question the driving factors as well as to wonder when it will come crashing to a halt.

Some analysts speculate that the pandemic is largely to blame for the surge in prices. Sports fans have been trapped at home allegedly facing boredom with cancellations and abbreviated seasons which prompt a turn to sports collectibles. The trend started in the two years preceding the virus scare. In August of 2019, a 1931 Lou Gehrig game-used jersey obliterated the generous pre-auction $1.5-million-dollar estimate as the winning bid pushed the final sale price to just under $2.6M. This sale was a follow-up to the record $5.64M sale price for a 1928-1930 Babe Ruth game-worn jersey sold two-months earlier.

One indication that the market was beginning to outpace expectations was when Heritage Auctions sold one of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 rookie-year jerseys for $2.05M on November 19, 2017.  Four months later, the jersey sold again for $2.6M in a private-party transaction.

Since the Robinson jersey sale, the entire sports memorabilia market has been rapidly gaining valuations that have short-term investors salivating and searching for treasures to flip for quick profit.

While the market has yielded incredible paydays for flippers and for collectors divesting their collections, negative impacts are being levied upon collectors who are in the game for the long haul.

Baseball Memorabilia Market Trends:

The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection was born more than a decade ago from our passion for military history and militaria collecting. At that time, a large segment of collectors was pushing heavily for 101st Airborne Division militaria on the heels of the airing of the highly popular HBO television miniseries Band of Brothers. When Band of Brothers creators and producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg collaborated to create the WWII Marine Corps-focused series The Pacific, a new crop of militaria collectors arrived in search of WWII artifacts from Marine Corps veterans. The two series seemed to have an impact upon militaria prices as the competition increased.

Baseball militaria is an intersection between baseball and the military that until recently saw light traffic. Aside from militaria collectors seeking unit-specific baseball artifacts to complete their collections, few militaria collectors took notice or gave much thought to flannels, bats, gloves, baseballs or ephemera from the armed forces. Similarly, very few baseball memorabilia collectors did more than dabble beyond seeking artifacts that had ties to favorite players.

We purchased our first baseball militaria artifact in 2009, commencing our slow transition into this area of focus over the course of a few years. The need for due diligence prompted a rapid quest for knowledge as we began to research and document in earnest while acquiring artifacts. For more than a decade, prices for baseball militaria remained consistent. Occasionally, we encountered a seller who would list a piece at 2-3 times the comparative market price and later retreat to a more realistic and reasonable value after a long period with no buyer interest.

The Chevrons and Diamonds collection holds a sizeable group of field equipment including uniforms, caps, gloves, mitts, baseballs and bats. These game-used pieces were largely overlooked by collectors until the markets began to increase. The high-dollar artifacts seemed to create a gravitational pull for items that were previously ignored by mainstream hobbyists.

It is unsurprising to see the increases in vintage game-used professional baseball pieces that are attributed to specific, notable players. For artifacts from lesser-known players, the market has remained consistent with regard to valuations. For player-endorsed retail equipment such as bats and gloves, values have nominally increased depending upon the player’s name and the model of the piece.

Curiously, military baseball equipment is the focus of a dramatic surge in both interest and demand that is fostering competitive bidding and escalating prices by factors of 10 or more. Our speculation is that deep-pocketed militaria collectors have recently discovered this genre, judging by the specific artifacts that are prompting the increases.

A common misconception regarding GI-used sports equipment is that all of it was marked with stamps to indicate the branch of service  that each item was distributed to. The marked equipment is what draws collectors into the genre, with the majority of the new hobbyists focusing their pursuits on a very specific marking. However, significant evidence indicates that bats, balls, gloves, catchers’ and umpires’ protective gear, bases and even uniforms were distributed to the troops without markings. The unmarked equipment, yet appropriate for militaria collections, is largely ignored.

Hillerich & Bradsby low-end retail bats center brand examples. Not the middle bat features the “No. 14” which indicates that it is a “Safe Hit” model (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the areas of baseball militaria that we research and about which we have written extensively is service-marked baseball bats.

Service-marked baseball bats can be a bit confusing for veteran sports memorabilia collectors let alone novices. Aside from the service markings, collectors need to understand the variants of bats that were sent to the troops. Although there were several manufacturers providing bats to GIs, we will limit our discussion to those pieces made by the largest WWII manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby in Louisville, Kentucky because they comprise the majority of items seen on the market.

This well-used Special Services U.S. Army stamped Safe Hit bat is the Babe Ruth endorsed model (eBay image).

The preponderance of the Hillerich & Bradsby bats provided for troops through the bat and ball funds were retail models (known by bat collectors as “store models”).

There are a few ways to distinguish between professional store models made in that era. Professional models are quite literally branded with a red-hot die that burns the oval center mark, the model and the player endorsement into the barrel of the bat. The deep and dark markings are the result of the wood being burned in this process. Store model bats feature very similar style markings but rather than being burned, the dies are pressed into the wood. A layer of black “foil” is set in place between the wood and the die that fills the imprinted recess and simulates the charred markings of the pro bat.

Wartime Hillerich and Bradsby professional model bats, according to the Louisville Slugger Bat Dating Guide by KeyMan Collectibles, all feature the same center brand, with a “125” catalog number marked consistently across bats made between 1934 and 1949. To the right of the center brand, pro models are also marked with “Powerized.” The barrel ends are marked with the player’s signature. Player-ordered models also feature specific markings on the knob, which we won’t spend time examining as they were likely not used by GIs.

There are four levels of retail bats that were manufactured during the war by Hillerich and Bradsby and many of them found their way into the hands of service members. Bats with the professional specifications and marking were available to purchase through retail outlets and though they appear to be exact matches to the ones the players used, they lack the markings found in player-ordered bats. A secondary level of bat that was nearly identical to the pro model featured lower quality wood that was denoted by a “40” catalog number in the center brand. There are few examples of these two types of retail level bats that were stamped for service use and were likely sent to the professional players serving in the armed forces.

Five of the bats pictured are wartime U.S.N.- stamped H&B model bats The Jimmie Foxx endorsed bat is part of Hillerich and Bradsby’s lowest retail product line, “Safe Hit.” The “NAVY” marked bat dates from the 1960s and was used at the Naval Academy (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).
A wartime H&B “Safe Hit” stamped with “U.S. Army.” (eBay image)

The balance of Hillerich and Bradsby bats are inexpensive store models that were set apart from the professional-style line and featured a very different foil-stamped center brand marking. Instead of the “Louisville Slugger” mark, the inexpensive bats were imprinted with “H&B” and “Made in the USA” along with a catalog number. The H&B product line had an upper and lower level with corresponding price points. The upper level featured varying catalog numbers and included a player endorsement consisting of a black foil-stamped autograph in the barrel end while the lower-level bat was part of a specific product line known as the “H&B Safe Hit Professional Model.” Though they included lettering to indicate player endorsement, these bats lacked stamped foil autographs. All wartime Safe Hit model bats carried a “No. 14” catalog number in the center brand. Another indication that the Safe Hit bats were cheap was that they were available for under $1.50 each.

Collectors seeking service bats typically seek specific branch-indicative marks that were usually impressed at the time of manufacturing, though there are no data available that would shed light upon the numbers of armed forces-bound bats that left the factory with markings. There is plenty of photographic evidence to show that a significant amount of sports equipment was delivered to military units without service markings; however, in the absence of provenance, these pieces are not as desirable in this genre of collecting.

All of the H&B Safe Hit line bats by Hillerich and Bradsby, such as the Special Services U.S. Army Babe Ruth example. feature the “No. 14” catalog number (eBay image).

While we suspect the existence of four distinct markings, there are three confirmed markings that are seen on these bats. Easily identifiable are two specific markings: “U.S.N.” for Navy pieces, “Special Services U.S. Army” and “U.S. Army” for those distributed to Army units. A third, more generic marking is a simple “U.S.” which could be used for all pieces distributed throughout all branches.

Until eight months ago, service marked Safe Hit model bats maintained their value on the collecting market. Collectors saw steady pricing in the $40-60 range for bats in excellent to near-mint condition, with certain player endorsements such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams commanding double the value or more. The H&B signature bats commanded slightly higher prices ($50-70) due to the presence of the player autograph.  However, the valuations have changed dramatically.

Prices for all service bats have increased in the past nine months. Those marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” have experienced a considerable uptick in demand. In the last month alone, we observed four separate auctions (listed by the same seller) that featured H&B Safe Hit Special Services U.S. Army-marked bats with Hall of Fame Yankees player endorsements. Each bat showed some indications storage wear rather than game use. The bats that were sold were endorsed by Yankee legends Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. The prices realized for each bat far exceeded the values of comparable pieces. Of the four, the lowest price attained was for the Bill Dickey (who served in the Navy during WWII) model, selling for a mere $216.50.  One of the player endorsements that typically garners greater values, Lou Gehrig, did not seem to wow the bidders as that particular bat closed at $286.  With a significant step up from the first two bats, the Joe DiMaggio (who served in the Army Air Forces during the war) model listing closed at $668.00. Not to be outdone by the younger Yankee outfielder, Babe Ruth’s H&B Safe Hit model was the final of the four, garnering 16 bids and closing at $710.00.

Four Special Services U.S. Army bat sales, while eye-catching, are not necessarily indicative of a trend. However, in the past few months, we have seen other equipment bearing that mark such as gloves, mitts and a uniform garnering considerably greater attention than similar items bearing the other service marks. Gloves that sold for $40-50 a year ago are now pushing $200 even with severe condition issues while values of beautifully preserved U.S.N. or U.S. marked pieces remain constant or sell for slightly higher sums.

Historically inexpensive wartime softball bats bearing the Special Services U.S. Army stamps in excellent condition used to sell for $25-$40 but are now achieving similar attention with prices approaching nearly $300.

The new attention, in our opinion, indicates that a different collector audience has recently discovered service baseball equipment and is unaware of the normal. pre-pandemic market trends. This new segment appears to be an influx of militaria collectors who are augmenting their displays with recreational pieces in order to demonstrate what life was like for wartime servicemen and women who found baseball to be a significant recreational outlet. As with militaria collectors, areas of collecting outside of combat regiments such as airborne and armor divisions, Ranger battalions, 8th and 20th Air Force or other historically-popular units are not nearly as interesting. Navy uniforms, decorations and other artifacts tend to have less competition and thus are comparatively more affordable. The newcomers have carried this mindset with them infusing it into how they pursue baseball militaria.

As with all rapidly increasing markets, the bubble will eventually burst, leaving behind a large number of losers and some winners. For the patient and studious collector, affordable pieces can still be found.

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Visual Traces of a Wartime Service Career

The year 2020 was one of considerable growth for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection as many artifacts with historical significance were sourced and added. While we apply very specific guidelines that ensure that each piece has a direct military correlation, not every piece that found its way into our archives last year adhered to our stringent criteria.

When we discovered an online listing that featured a team-signed Reach (Spalding) Official American League baseball, intrigue set in as many of the autographs were from ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II. Due diligence soon confirmed that the ball, listed as a Washington Senators team baseball, was as advertised.

In our quest to secure vintage photos of service baseball, wartime or otherwise, we find that some players received better coverage than others, resulting in more market-available photographs. With the (then) recent arrival of a beautiful press photo depicting Boston Red Sox pitcher Mickey Harris with his parents and his wartime flannel jersey, inspiration led me to see if any other artifacts related to the player were available.  Searches in online auctions yielded nothing more than a handful of autograph cuts, early 1950s baseball cards (issued by Bowman, Leaf and Topps) and photographs from his professional career (vintage and reproduction). However, on a popular social media platform, the Washington Senators baseball surfaced as a recommendation, obviously due to the Mickey Harris-related search we had been performing.

Mickey Harris was traded to the Washington Senators in June of 1949 along with Sam Mele in exchange for Walt Masterson. This panel shows autographs from:
Al Evans (C)
Sherry Robertson (IF)
Mark Christman (3B)
Mickey Harris (P)
Sam Mele (OF)
Jake Early (C)
Gil Coan (OF)
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Upon opening the link, we discovered that the ball was not only signed by Harris but also by a number of players who, just a few years before placing their autographs on the ball, were serving domestically and around the world in the armed forces. The manufacturer’s stamping with the official league marks indicated that the ball was made for use during the 1948-49 seasons.  Mickey Harris was traded by Boston (along with Sam Mele) to the Senators following his third loss of the 1949 season on June 7.  The presence of Enrique Gonzalez’ signature narrowed the date range of the signing between August 9 and September 25.

Harris’ career was all downhill following the 1946 season when he was part of a decent pitching staff that was headlined by Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ 25-6 record. Tex Hughson, another 20-game winner on the ’46 club, led the team in earned run average, leaving  Harris’ 17-9 record and 3.64 ERA overshadowed. He was clearly one of the reasons for the Red Sox’ ascension to the 1946 World Series and despite his losses in games 2 (3-0) and 6 (4-1), he pitched well. Harris was not the only pitcher to suffer from a lack of run support in the Series, which was shocking, considering the Sox’ top ranking in average, runs, hits on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Red Sox batters ranked second for home runs, fourth for triples and led the American League in doubles. Their Series opponent, the Saint Louis Cardinals, were similar in their offensive statistical categories. The difference was a combination of Cardinal pitching holding Boston at bay combined with the Red Sox’ lackluster defense (10 total errors to St. Louis’ four).

Following the ’46 season, Harris’ pitching was in decline as he struggled with injuries and more than likely his confidence, which led to his trade to Washington. At the end of Harris’ 1941 campaign, his career situation was much different. Mickey was in his first full season on an above average second-place team that saw the last season in which a player hit for an average of .400 or better. The young Red Sox team had a bright future ahead of it until Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a global war. Coming off an 8-14, 3.25 ERA season, Harris found himself answering his draft board’s call and was inducted on October 14, 1941, just 17 days after pitching Boston to a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.  Following in-processing at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris was assigned to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, for additional training.

In a published letter (The Boston Globe, January 30, 1942: Pitching for the Balboa Nine, by Harold Kaese) that Harris wrote to Joe Cronin, his former manager in Boston, Harris detailed his pitching exploits as he played for his Army command’s team.  Pitching for the 83rd Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) at Fort Kobbe in the Panama Canal Zone, Harris described his team’s lack of talent. “The current club I play with hasn’t any hitting power and no defense whatsoever,” Harris decried. In his first game, he dropped a 1-0 decision that was followed with a 4-2 loss in which the team’s third baseman allowed the go-ahead run to score.  Perhaps he was attempting to downplay the two losses in his communication to Cronin, hoping to restart his Red Sox career with the club after the war ended. Harris continued, “I was hoping I would be sent down here, if any place, so I could try to stay in shape.” While not playing baseball for his command’s team. Harris worked as a mail clerk at headquarters. “I sort all incoming and outgoing mail,” he wrote to Cronin.

“March 2, 1942: Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox hurler now assigned to an anti-aircraft jungle outpost defending the Panama Canal is hard at work lining up the game of war while his former buddies warm up for another baseball season at Sarasota, Florida. Mickey and his new buddy, Austin Hawkhurst (left) of New York City, study a rifle, including the art of making it shine.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Duty in the Canal Zone was not relaxed despite how Harris described it in his letter to Cronin. The canal was of vital strategic importance, providing expedited transits of shipping between the two major oceans. American military personnel stationed in the region peaked at 65,000, with civilian support staff numbering in the tens of thousands. it was clear to Harris that his duties, including playing baseball to boost morale, were important. Both the Germans and Japanese developed plans to destroy or seize control of the canal, though neither nation’s forces made any attempt to carry them out.

Harris worked on his control and attempted to develop his change-up pitch. “I throw quite a few changes,” he told Cronin, “and I get them over.”  Harris was committed to being prepared to return to the big league club. “I will keep working on things that need correcting and will profit by mistakes I make while playing down here,” Harris continued, “so that I won’t let it happen to me when I am back playing with the Sox again.”

March 2, 1942 – Panama Canal Zone: Private Mickey Harris awaits the signal to pen fire at his anti-aircraft battery assignment in the Panama Canal Zone. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Every pitcher has ambitions for wins, inducing batters to make outs in high stress situations as they employ their skills and experience to dominate opponents’ offenses. However, not allowing a single batter to reach base in a game is in another realm of accomplishments that so few pitchers allow themselves to dream about. Harris took his outing to such a level as he not only retired all 27 batters he faced on April 12, 1942 but used only 67 pitches to achieve the feat. Facing an all-star roster from the Canal Zone league in the first game of the Isthmus “Little World Series”, Private Harris commented on the opposition. “It was a good team of pros, with (Leo) Eastham and (Otto) Huber, who played for Hartford, on it, but I would have beaten any team with the stuff I had that day.” More than 2,000 spectators, including several hundred servicemen, watched as Harris struck out five and even made a spectacular defensive play on a slow roller to preserve the perfecto. It was not until later in the game that Harris was clued into what he was doing on the mound. “I didn’t realize I was pitching a no-reach game until the seventh inning, when a morale officer started to speak to me and the manager put his finger to his lips,” Harris told the Boston Globe. “Then I figured it out. Well, I just poured it to ’em the rest of the way. I struck out a pinch hitter on three pitched balls.” Harris’ club won the game, 9-0.

In the Canal Zone’s winter league play, Harris finished with a win-loss record of 11-4. In addition to his perfect game, Mickey fanned 17 in a contest and tossed two one-hit games. Aside from his correspondence with his Red Sox manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former Detroit Tigers catcher and manager who was leading the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets club, was taking notice of Harris’ success on the Army club in Panama. Cochrane was charged with assembling a roster of ballplayers who were serving in the armed forces to take on the winner of the 1942 major league baseball All-Star game. With a significant push to raise funds in support of the Army and Navy Relief organizations, the game was scheduled for July 7 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

“June 26, 1942, New York: Mickey Harris, Red Sox pitcher now serving with the Coast Artillery in Panama, arrives at his home in New York on 3-day furlough and his mother, with his father helping, arranges to fit the uniform he will wear at Cleveland on July 7, when he pitches for a service team in an all-star game.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Cochrane’s Service All-Star roster featured a nucleus of 10 Great Lakes NTS Bluejacket players that were augmented by three from Norfolk NTS and seven Army ballplayers. Seeking to bolster his pitching staff, Cochrane pulled the strings to have Private Mickey Harris recalled from Panama to join Bob Feller, Johnny Rigney and John Grodzicki. As part of his travel from the Panamanian Isthmus, Harris was granted 30-days of leave in conjunction with the event and the practices leading up to the game.

One of the first photos of Harris that we acquired was captured at one of the Service All-Stars’ practices on July 3 at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.  Harris is pictured with 12 All-Star teammates. The image was acquired with a large group of military baseball images that centered on Sam Chapman’s career in the Navy.

July 3, 1942 – Service All-Stars at the Great Lakes Training Station – Here are stars whose names appear on the roster pf the Service All-Stars at Great Lakes Training Station. Left to right: Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia-infielder; Morrie Arnovich, N.Y. Giants-outfielder; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox-pitcher; John Sturm, Yankees-infielder; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals-Pitcher; Cecil Travis, Washington-outfielder; Ken Silvestri, Yankees-catcher; Pat Mullin, Detroit-outfielder; Lieutenant George Earnshaw, coach; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit-pitcher; Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh-catcher; Bob Feller, Cleveland-pitcher; Sam Chapman, Athletics-infielder.

The talented American League roster tallied three runs in the top of the first and never looked back as they secured the right to travel to Cleveland on the evening of July 6 to face Cochrane’s squad of service ballplayers.  Harris told a Boston Globe reporter, “I’m in good shape and I hope that I get to pitch in a part of the All-Star game. When Mickey told me I would be on the squad he said he couldn’t promise me that I would get into the game, but I don’t guess they would bring me all the way up from Panama for nothing.”

Harris was correct. Cochrane started Bob Feller, who struggled with control out of the gate. Feller, who could not retire a batter in the second inning, left the game after having surrendered three runs on four hits and walking five. Trailing 3-0, Cochrane sent Harris to spell Johnny Rigney in the seventh and was immediately tagged by Yankee Phil Rizzuto for a double. Rizzuto followed his hit by stealing third. Harris coaxed Senators’ right fielder Stan Spence to tap a slow roller back to the pitcher for an easy play. But then his former Red Sox teammate, Ted Williams, powered a deep fly to left center, resulting in an RBI triple. With a run in and one out, Harris induced a Joe DiMaggio pop fly for the second out, but Browns’ first baseman George McQuinn stroked a two-out triple to right center that scored Williams. Harris finished the seventh by retiring another former Red Sox teammate, second baseman Bobby Doerr. Aside from the American League, the winners of the game were the Army and Navy Relief organizations, which split the $75,000 pot raised in the game.

The 1942 Service All-Stars in posed in their service uniforms, left to right are:
Front: Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates; Don Padgett, Brooklyn Dodgers; Ernest Andres, Louisville Colonels; Herman Fishman; Frank Pytlak, Boston Red Sox; Fred Shaffer, Louisville Colonels; Russell Meers, Milwaukee Brewers.
Center: LCDR J. Russell Cook, Athletic Office – Great Lakes; Don Dunker; O.V. Mulkey; Cecil Travis, Washington Senators; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit Tigers; Sam Chapman, Philadelphia Athletics; Bob Feller, Clevaland Indians; George Earnshaw; Mickey Cochrane; Hank Gowdy, Cincinnati Reds (coach); Joe Grace, St. Louis Browns; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox; John Rigney, Chicago White Sox.
Back: Ken Silvestri, New York Yankees; Pat Mullin, Detroit Tigers; Chester Hadjuk, Chicago White Sox; Johnny Sturm, New York Yankees; Sam Harshany, Toldeo Mud Hens; Johnny Lacadello, St. Louis Browns; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals; Benny McCoy, Philadelphia Athletics; Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia Phillies, Morris Arnovich, New York Giants. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Despite originally being slated to return to Panama (by way of Texas) on July 14, the September 4, 1942 edition of The Berkshire Eagle reported that Harris had been reassigned. “Private Mickey Harris, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, flew from his Army station in the Panama Canal Zone to join the service all-star squad that met the AL All-Stars in Cleveland on July 7 but didn’t return to that assignment. He is now stationed at Pine Camp, NY, where he pitches for the camp team, which has won 23 games in a Tri-State service league.” Though further research has not yet confirmed his reassignment, it was temporary.

Once again pitching in the Canal Zone winter league, Harris’ Balboa Brewers struggled out of the gate, dropping eight of their first 10 games. The ship was righted with the arrival of former Holy Cross pitcher Al Jarlett as the cub posted a seven-game win streak. The Brewers, facing the Cuban All-Stars, were bolstered with a 1942 World Series hero, Terry Moore, (2-4 in the game) as Balboa captured a 6-1 victory on September 12. A month later, Moore was present in St. Louis to see the Yankees defeat his Cardinals in the 1943 World Series as Harris continued with his Panama assignment.

Harris spent nearly four years in the Army, serving almost the entire time in Panama. In the 1945 Pacific Championship, Harris struck out twenty Canal Zone All-Star batters in leading Balboa to a 1-0 victory on July 21. On the opposing roster was his former Brewers teammate, Private Terry Moore, whom Harris had previously never fanned. However, three of Harris’ strikeouts came at the expense of Moore as the season wound to a close.

With the surrender of Japan in the Pacific, Harris wrote home that he was hopeful of being able to join the Red Sox during their final series of the 1945 season, four games against New York at Yankee Stadium; however, he didn’t leave the Panamanian isthmus until October.

Our most recent Mickey Harris photo discovery shows Mickey Harris in his Balboa Brewers uniform warming up in May 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As he wrote to Cronin in 1942, Harris dedicated himself to maturing and perfecting his pitching, making Joe Cronin’s 1946 spring training decision to keep him easy.  Harris opened the season winning eight decisions before losing his first game on May 26 to the Yankees.  In his two World Series losses to the Cardinals, Harris failed to strike out his former Canal Zone league teammate and later opponent, Terry Moore, until the bottom of the first inning in Game Six.

Our most recent Harris addition shows the Balboa Brewer in mid-windup as he appears to be warming up prior to entering a game in May, 1945. It can be a challenge to source a single image of a professional ballplayer during his wartime service let alone five.  It is rather unique to be able to visually chronicle Harris’ four years in the Army.

Maintenance Stop: Caring for 75 Year-Old Fielding Leather

Proactively managing a collection of artifacts that are decades old is necessary in maintaining and stabilizing pieces from decay and deterioration. Proper storage is required in order to prevent deterioration caused by environmental conditions; however, most collectors lack climate-controlled storage, the financial capacity for preservation and the required space to provide museum-grade protection for these treasures. Perhaps the baseball memorabilia most vulnerable to environmental harm are those made from animal hide such as baseballs and gloves.

The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection houses numerous gloves and mitts that either are associated with service teams or were used by service members during World War II. When each glove is acquired, its present condition is analyzed in order to determine immediate preservation steps and prepare for an ongoing plan.

Cleaning 75-year-old (and older) leather is not an undertaking for the faint of heart and must be done with the utmost care. Each glove must be analyzed for its condition and the approach to cleaning and conditioning must be uniquely tailored to mitigate damage to an age-compromised artifact. In some situations, leaving the glove as is may be the best option. Products used for the Chevrons and Diamonds collection are devoid of petroleum-based substances. Anecdotes describing the oiling of gloves (to include a wide array such as olive, vegetable and even motor oil) may have been applicable decades ago; however, time has proven that such substances should be avoided.  Our products of choice for cleaning include Horseman’s One Step (for basic cleaning), Fiebing’s Saddle Soap (for intermediate soiling) and Fast Orange Smooth (for heavy, stubborn grime accumulation). It is important to remember that following the application of the cleaning product, it must be lifted away with a dampened clean cloth, rinsing frequently as the cloth becomes soiled.

1943 GoldSmith “DW” Elmer Riddle model U.S.N. fielder’s glove (before):

We have received gloves in many different states, ranging from dry rot, stiff and brittle and caked with filth up to clean, hardly used and pliable soft leather. The condition of each piece dictates the steps that we take prior to adding it to our collection for display or storage. The first glove in our collection remains the worst one we have seen. Covered with mold spots and horribly brittle, the U.S.N.-stamped GoldSmith piece lacked its webbing and the lacing was disintegrating inside the zip-seal bag that it arrived in. It smelled horrible and took weeks of airing out to mitigate the odor enough to handle it (see: A War Veteran Who Never Served). While we were able to reduce the impact of the damage and stabilize the deterioration, the glove could not be restored as the horsehide was too heavily damaged.

1943 GoldSmith “DW” Elmer Riddle model U.S.N. fielder’s glove (after treating):

 

Another piece that we acquired a little more than a year ago was an early 1940s Rawlings “MO” model Mickey Owen signature catcher’s mitt bearing the “U.S.” stamp, indicating its use in the armed forces. The condition at arrival was quite good, with the cowhide being soft and very pliable; however, it was very dry and in need of conditioning. One troublesome region on the mitt was a small area of water damage located in the palm. Black staining surrounded the portion of the hide that had tissue separation, with the surface of the hide having eroded away. While unsightly, the damage didn’t dramatically reduce the aesthetic qualities of the mitt. After a round of cleaning and conditioning, the mitt was stabilized (see: Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt).

These two gloves are at opposite ends of the condition spectrum, each requiring an individual approach to preservation and stabilization. The water-damaged U.S.N. GoldSmith glove, once it was ready to be handled, required a delicate and deliberately methodical approach to re-hydration and removal of the soiling and some of the more severe mildew and mold. In addition to the initial treatment, the pre-existing water exposure necessitated multiple reapplications of the conditioner as the hide continued to absorb it. At present, the glove is far better and requires only an annual conditioning as the horsehide has become much more stable. In the year since we cleaned and conditioned the Mickey Owen mitt, the leather dried out once again, though not to the degree that it had when it arrived, though it was notable.

To re-treat the Owen mitt, we did a brief cleaning with Horseman’s One Step to remove dust and any debris that had settled onto the leather. With the surfaces being quite stable, a soft and damp terrycloth towel was used to apply the Horseman’s, with methodical attention focused from one small area to the next until the entire surface of the glove was addressed. The cleaning was followed by a generous application of Nokona Glove Conditioner applied directly, using a finger while gently massaging it into the hide and leaving the surface with a shiny, “wet” appearance until it was fully absorbed.

Our management plan includes scheduled intervals with reminders for visual inspection of each glove. While some gloves, such as the aforementioned U.S.N. Goldsmith glove, require quarterly inspection and the potential for subsequent treatments, most of our gloves are relegated to annual evaluation.

1945 MacGregor GoldSmith “DW” Joe Cronin signature model fielder’s glove:

With the end of the first month of 2021, we have competed the reconditioning of three gloves and one mitt from our 10-piece service collection. (In addition, we also have several non-service, vintage gloves.) In the coming months, the remainder of the collection will be checked as part of the normal preservation cycle. The end of the year also prompted us to address any deficiencies in preservation supplies with necessary reordering. With ample cleaners and conditioners, we won’t miss any intervals and we will be able to tend to any additions to the collection as they arrive.

Glove Cleaners:

Glove Conditioner:

Sea also these Chevrons and Diamonds related stories:

 

 

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