Category Archives: Equipment

(Tropic) Lightning on a Ball: 25th Infantry Division Stags Baseball

With the signed baseballs that have landed into the Chevrons and Diamonds collection to date, we have enjoyed much success (albeit delayed) with research breakthroughs as we have identified names on each one. Though it took more than a year to fully identify all of the signatures, the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base team signed baseball has become a highly treasured piece in the collection. Though the research bear significantly fewer resulting details, the first autographed service team baseball that we acquired, the 1956 36th Field Artillery Group Rammers netted a series of friendly exchanges with one of the relatives of a team member and a subsequent news article (Chuck Emerick is remembered as a great baseball player but an even better husband, father and grandfather) from that player’s hometown paper (the Rock Island Dispatch – Argus).

Autograph collectors wouldn’t give either of the two signed balls in this collection much of a look as neither of them has the signature from a superstar ball player. To a baseball militaria collector, a baseball signed by a team of no-name GIs is invaluable.

The 1949 team baseball, signed be the members of the 25th Infantry Divisions team, the Stags.

The past several months have been an absolute boom to the Chevrons and Diamonds museum with a steady stream of artifacts ranging from uniforms (three fantastic uniforms including a WWII Coast Guard and a 1955 USAF set) to photographs and other ephemera. The arrivals have been nothing short of overwhelming. When a colleague contacted me to gauge my interest in an item that he had just purchased (it had yet to be shipped to him). When the photographs of the item began to populate my private messenger window, there was no hesitation on my part to affirmatively respond. When he offered it for the price of shipping, I couldn’t type., “I’ll take it” fast enough.

Though the ball is yellowed and faded, the makers stamp is visible on this panel.

Viewing each photograph of the yellowed horsehide, Wilson “Official League” baseball, not one panel was left free from signatures or writing. The inscriptions and signatures appear to have been signed using the same pen as the brown-faded ink (most-likely, originally black). Aside from the heavy fading, the ink has dissipated into the horsehide surface and rendered the signatures and inscriptions challenging to read. The most legible markings on the ball (besides the manufacturer’s stamps) read, “25th Div ‘Stags.’”

  • Manufacturer: Wilson (“Made in U.S.A.“)
  • Model: “Official League
  • Manufacture Date: Unknown
  • Additional Markings:
    • AX – (?)”
    • RUBBER CENTER

Four years removed from VJ-Day, the 25 Infantry Division was an occupying force in Japan. Established well before Pearl Harbor in 1941, the “Tropic Lightning” Division began engaging the enemy forces on Guadalcanal in late 1942 after relieving the First Marine Division and fought against Imperial Japanese forces at Cape Esperance, New Georgia, Vella Lavella and Luzon, sustaining over 5,400 casualties by War’s end.  Inscribed with the date of 1949, which means that the ball was used during the last summer of occupation and months prior to the Division being transferred to the Korean Peninsula in July of 1950 as hostilities were breaking out.

I am only just beginning to research the details of the 25th Division baseball. A handful of cursory searches have not yielded anything of substance regarding the division’s team (the “Stags”) as of yet. It is my hope that I can source a unit or veteran group newsletter that might mention the team and players who filled the roster and perhaps, that might happen if this article is discovered by 25th ID historians or unit veterans (or their descendants) who might still be living.

Perhaps “Tropic Lightning” will strike for this baseball and spur the mysteries to unfold

Bat Restoration: New Life for Ferris Fain’s Signature lumber

When more than a year creeps by before one realizes that a two-part article was left unfinished (with just the initial piece published), it is a commentary on one or more of the following issues: I am aging and my memory is taking a beating; I have too many irons in the fire and my memory is lagging; I am completely disorganized and distracted by too many activities and my memory failing. The reality is that all three are true.

Last July (the one that occurred in 2018), I published an article about restoring a 60+ year old chunk of Louisville lumber that bears the name of one of my favorite ball players and former WWII U.S. Army Air Forces airman, Ferris Fain (seeClose to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat). The article in question has been one of Chevrons and Diamonds more popular pieces as it seems that there are many collectors who are seeking to rejuvenate their aging, decaying and damaged vintage bats. Fortunately for me, the condition of the Ferris Fain signature model Louisville Slugger bat wasn’t bad and it was absent any damage.

In the absence of vintage baseball bat restoration manuals or step-by-step guides, I had to tap into the resources available to me. Turning to my bat-collecting colleagues, I gathered tips from those who have touched on certain aspects of revitalizing the wood, slowing progress of wood rot and breathing new life into the black foil brand marks. It was also helpful that I spent time in doing extracurricular work many years ago (in high school) at the invitation of my high school principal to perform some restoration work on several vintage wood administration chairs (I was a very giving person with my advice for certain teachers) over the course of a week at the end of my sophomore year.

The finished restoration project: The Ferris Fain bat is pictured here with an untouched 1953-dated Fain mini bat (a stadium giveaway from June 3rd of that year) giving a color and tone reference point.

Despite removing very little wood material with the steel wool (sanding would have removed the patina and usage markings entirely), the surface of the bat had a fairly fresh appearance once all of the cleaner had dried. Also, my free-hand restoration of the brand (with an ultra-fine black paint pen) looked a little sloppy and too vibrant in places. Since the goal was to retain as much of the original patina and scars, I first took the steel wool over the fresh brands to remove some of the material before applying the linseed oil treatment. I also left the bat to sit untreated for a few months to allow for some oxidation and darkening of the wood before sealing it with the oil, which is where I left off in early July of 2018.

By winter, the wood of the bat darkened quite a bit. After wiping the bat down with a cloth to remove any dust or particulates that settled onto the surface over the previous several months, I cracked open the linseed oil, soaked a wad of paper towels and began to cover the bat from the bottom, working my way upward towards the handle and knob, leaving the bat saturated with the material. Leaving the bat to stand (vertically, with the handle up) for an hour allowing for the wood grain to absorb the oil. When I returned, I reapplied the oil as before and again left the bat to stand in order to allow for absorption.

Another perspective shows that the colors of the two bats are not that dissimilar. The trapper model first baseman’s mitt is an early 1950s MacGregor signature Ferris Fain model.

After a few days of standing in the garage, the bat’s surface was dry and felt as though it needed to be rubbed out with a terry shop cloth.  Through this process, excess oil was lifted and the bat’s surface responded with a satin shine that enhanced the aged patina. The oil naturally darkened and drew out the wood-grain while providing a true vintage aesthetic to the finished product.

Since completing the Fain bat, I faced a more daunting challenge when a 1940s U.S. Navy stamped Ted Williams endorsed Hillerich & Bradsby bat arrived (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved). Drawing upon the Fain bat experience, the Williams and subsequent bat restorations have become a fairly simple process.

“Talk to me, Goose!” A 1950s-Vintage U.S.A.F. Uniform Touches Down

Five Marines flannels (one uniform set and four additional jerseys) dominate the Chevrons and Diamonds uniform collection which, for a veteran of the U.S. Navy can be a point of contention.  Taking further stock of the flannels, three U.S. Army, two U.S. Navy and now one U.S. Coast Guard baseball jerseys are also part of the collection.

Personalizing or associating the pieces with my family’s legacy of service shows an imbalance or disparity of representation. Looking at the service history of my family, my father is an Army combat veteran (Vietnam); maternal grandfather was a WWII Navy combat veteran; three uncles who served in the Navy (WWI, WWII), another uncle (WWI, WWII, Korean War) in the Army and not a single, solitary veteran of the U.S.M.C. or the Coast Guard.  I also have a relative who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Army Air Forces and was a guest of the Empire of Japan (for the entire duration of WWII – a Corregidor Defender) and, to represent him, there is an early 1940s jersey in my collection (Bolling Field). As to those post- September 18, 1947 (the date that the U.S. Air Force was established as its own branch of the U.S. Armed Forces) jerseys? Zilch.  Having USAF veterans in my family including my son and my father-in-law (who, having played collegiate baseball for the University of Oregon and Portland State College as a southpaw pitcher, donned flannels for the USAF and chucked against a few Bay Area Pacific Coast League teams in the late 1950s), the absence of this branch’s baseball threads from my museum truly stood out.

Made from lightweight cotton, this 1955 USAF Goose Air Base (Labrador, Canada) jersey (and accompanying trousers) is a great addition to the collection and represents our first from this armed forces branch.

From the USAF team at Goose Air Base, this brightly colored jersey is in great condition for being nearly 65 years old.

The stark red script athletic felt lettering, “Goose AB” stood out against the creamy white material like a vintage neon sign against a pitch-black sky. It took just a second to register.  With one other item in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection originating from the Goose Bay Air Base (see: Competition Awards: Buckling Up Metal Baseball Treasure), I realized quickly that the red and white baseball uniform was used at the U.S. Air Force base in Labrador, Canada. Established in 1941 as part of the Lend Lease agreement between the United States and Great Britain, the airfield was constructed and readied for use a base of operations for ferrying aircraft to England and to provide long-range air cover for convoys between the U.S. and the British Isles. While the baseball championship medal (referenced in the story linked above) in this collection was awarded during WWII (in 1944, specifically), it was immediately clear that the Goose AB baseball uniform was from a later time-period.

Without any hesitation, a deal was struck with the seller and in just a few short days, the package arrived. Aside from being considerably wrinkled, the condition of the garments was fantastic yet it is readily apparent that the uniform saw action on the diamond. In hopes of discovering identifying marks left by the Air Force veteran who owned it, the only means of determining the age was with the MacGregor-brand manufacturer’s tag. Using the Chevrons and Diamonds tag-history as a reference, it was easy to determine that the jersey was made between 1955 and ‘56. During these years, Goose Air Base was part of Strategic Air Command and Northeast Air Command becoming the site of the first nuclear weapons within Canada’s borders.

Apart from determining the age of the uniform, there were no marks that would indicate who the veteran was that originally owned it.  My last attempt to identify the airman sent me directly to the seller with my inquiry. The response deflated all hope as the seller stated, “I found these tucked in an B4 garment bag which I picked up an estate sale.” The message continued, “There was also an Air Force handbook dated 1951 and several field caps,” and yet no markings or stenciled names were present. This airman, at least for the present time, will remain unknown.

The Goose AB uniform itself is constructed from lightweight cotton. The base shell is cream-white with red raglan sleeves and a broad red placket and collar. There are five white, two-hole buttons down the placket face.  The color-matched red athletic felt lettering on the front and numeral on the back are affixed with a machine-serge-stitch surrounding each character. Aside from the heavy wrinkling of the fabric, the overall condition of this uniform is excellent.

Showcasing the 1944 U.S. Army Air Forces baseball championship medal awarded to a team from the air base at Goose Bay, Labrador.

Sharing this uniform with my father-in-law would have been special, especially since it dates from close to the same era during which he served.  His passion for the game never ceased until his passing several years ago.

As this uniform was part of a grouping that contained two separate USAF baseball uniforms, the second one will be part of an upcoming article.

 

 

Always Prepared: Landing a WWII U.S. Coast Guard Baseball Uniform

I have ridden long bicycle rides that drain every ounce of energy from my body – riding 100 miles while climbing a combined 8,000 feet of elevation saps me of every measure of strength. If I was a few decades younger, I probably would bounce back within a few hours but at my present age, the recovery take a bit longer. In the sphere of writing, a marathon of research, documentation and story-forming has a similar effect on my mind. As with a lengthy ride, the enjoyment that I experience over the course of the event keeps me going but once the final punctuation mark is placed and the piece is published, I am intellectually exhausted.

The two-part feature (Part I and Part II) that focused on Sam Chapman that published nearly two weeks ago left me somewhat vacant of the motivation to pick up the keyboard and begin working on one of the many story ideas that are in my mental queue. In fact, my mind is somewhat scattered as to which direction to take as the baseball militaria pieces have been arriving with an unprecedented frequency and rapidity leaving me considerably overwhelmed and awestruck. In addition to the influx of artifacts, our recent public-display event was nothing short of an incredible experience.

Two Coast Guard players, Doyle Lade and Jimmie Cooper of St. Augustine Coast Guards discuss the game with an officer. Lade pitched in 12 professional seasons (5 with the Chicago Cubs).

The artifact that truly catapulted this endeavor a decade ago was the Inquisition of a  1943-vintage Marine Corps baseball uniform. The gray wool flannel, accented with red wool athletic felt lettering and the red rayon soutache stirred me to research and to investigate what else may be available. Throughout the past ten years, I have documented every uniform that I have seen (some of that effort has resulted in articles and additions to the online uniform archive) regardless of my success or failure in adding them to our museum. This documentation assists me in properly dating pieces as well as providing a means with which to gauge market availability.

During a public display event in 2018, one of the constant questions asked by viewers of the Chevrons and Diamonds mobile museum of baseball militaria artifacts was, “why isn’t the Coast Guard represented” or, “what, no Coast Guard?” among the vintage jerseys and uniforms depicting the Army, Navy, Marines and Army Air Forces. My constant refrain to those inquiries was that in the many years spent researching and acquiring artifacts, I hadn’t seen a single baseball uniform item from the Coast Guard. The absence of one of these uniforms from the market continued well in to 2019 when, not just one, but two vintage Coast Guard baseball pieces came to market on the same day in early June.

The U.S. Coast Guard baseball militaria listings depicted two vastly different uniforms. The first one that drew my interest was one that appeared to be a home (white) wool flannel uniform set (jersey and trousers) that was considerably discolored from both use and aging. Both pieces were trimmed in what appears (from the auction’s accompanying photos) to be a Kelly green thin line of soutache. The jersey is adorned with athletic felt lettering and numerals in the same color which. One might question the colors due to the USCG’s traditional blue and white scheme but it isn’t unusual, especially during WWII when textiles were in high demand for the war-effort. The second listing had a more conventionally-styled uniform set. The lightweight white cotton jersey was trimmed with a thin line of navy blue soutache with color-matched small, athletic felt block lettering spelling out C O A S T  G U A R D across the chest. On the back of the jersey is a single, large color-matched numeral. The trousers were a bit of a departure – while the material appeared to be the same as that of the jersey (save for the color – blue versus white), they lacked the continuation of the souatche theme (which, should have been at thin line of white on the trousers’ outer seam). The thick band of white was an inconsistency for the trousers as was a lack of any manufacturer’s labels.

This tale of two jerseys is one of extremes within the realm of realistic valuation and pricing on the parts of the sellers. The white and blue cotton uniform was on the low side of the normal price range (less than $100) while the white and green set was priced at $50 south of $1,000. Both uniforms possessed nothing in terms of provenance and only the white and blue set could be positively dated due to the presence of a manufacturer’s tag in the collar area. Sewn into the inside of the collar was the familiar GoldSmith Preferred Products tag that dates it between 1940 and 1945 (in 1946, the company began to transition toward the MacGregor brand, the name obtained from the prestigious sporting goods company, Crawford McGregor & Canby Co. which Goldsmith acquired in 1936). The other set bore no tags, leaving the approximate age to be determined by the design and cut of the uniform.

This beautiful 1941-45 U.S. Coast Guard jersey was one of only two that have come to market in a decade.

What is the difference between the terms “scarce” and “rare” when they are applied to vintage artifacts or collectibles? While many might consider the two terms to be subjective or even synonymous, they do bear different meanings. The seller of the white and green uniform added the adjective to “rare” in order to provide justification for the highly unrealistic auction listing price “Extremely rare, especially in its amazing condition, USCG baseball uniform.” The term, “rare” was used but not in the manner that was desired. The jersey is truly infrequently-occurring and uncommon in the marketplace. What the seller meant to say was that it was scarce and in exceedingly high demand.

scarce: Hard to find; absent or rare. (Websters: “deficient in quantity or number compared with the demand not plentiful or abundant”)

rare: Infrequently occurring; uncommon, (Websters: “marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal”)

However, the initial $950.00 asking price along with the current and greatly-reduced and still tremendously over-priced figure ($550.00) over a month later coupled with the caveat, “This is the last price reduction.  If it doesn’t sell for $550, I will try a different venue” has yet to generate the interest that would validate the “Extremely” qualifier.  While the uniform is decidedly rare, lacking provenance from a known ballplayer, it is merely vintage clothing and worth less than $100 on the market.

I turned my attention entirely towards the white and blue uniform set as it was solidly a wartime item. I set my snipe amount and waited for the the auction to close. The lone bidding competition was showing the minimum bid amount but I had to set my snipe for the amount that I was willing to pay and hope that the competition had a lower bid. Inside of the last 10 seconds of the auction, my bid was automatically placed which secured the win. The only question that I had at that point was whether or not the jersey could transit from one coast to the other in time to add it to the mobile museum display that coming weekend. I reached out to the seller (after completing the swift payment in hopes that it would be sent as soon as possible) regarding the upcoming showing and without any hesitation, shipped the uniform with priority.

Our 2019 Armed Forces Recognition Day public showing of the Chevrons and Diamonds collection

This year’s display had it all – uniforms represented from each branch and yet we still encountered a veteran who didn’t see their branch represented until we were able to direct their attention to the two naval aviation branch jerseys prominently displayed. Along with the other baseball militaria artifacts, the Coast Guard jersey was prominently displayed and several USCG veterans were amazed that such a vintage flannel existed. Most viewers of the exhibit had no idea that baseball was played by service members during the war or that professionals joined the ranks, leaving their careers either on hold or ended, completely when they joined.

After nearly 1,500 words, I can see that I have returned to ride yet again. My writer’s exhaustion is now clearly behind me and I am on my way, once again.

 

 

Catching Corpsman: The Search for a Ball-Playing WWII Pharmacist’s Mate

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.

Early 1940s Wilson catcher’s mitt.

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.

Researching such a unique name is much more simple than it is for a common surname. That Benninghoff provided his navy rating and rate (pharmacist’s mate, third class) led my research directly to him.

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.

 

%d bloggers like this: