Category Archives: Baseballs
Last week I mentioned (see: My First Baseball Militaria At-bat; I Lead-off with the Marine Corps) that I was preparing for a public showing of my collection of baseball militaria at a local minor league ballpark. As a brief follow-up (ahead of an upcoming article about that experience) I should say that the experience and reception was incredible and a great success! Since I am on the subject of reviewing my recent open ended articles that may have left some readers wondering, I did have a great experience with my first restoration of a vintage baseball bat (read: Nothing To Write? I Think I’ll Just Restore a Vintage Bat, Instead).
In recent years, I connected with a few groups of fellow baseball memorabilia collectors with the idea that I wanted to learn from and share my own information among a gathering of others who have a wealth of knowledge. Sharing with and drawing from others who have been collecting for decades longer and in areas that I hadn’t previously committed much energy has served me well and opened my eyes to the extent of passion that others possess. In terms of collecting bats, I only had a smattering of pieces of lumber that I either acquired in anticipation of obtaining a player’s signature or that I landed while working at the aforementioned minor league ballpark, decades ago. Though my scant collection included some game-used wood from players who never went far with their professional careers, it was fun to have their bats (which were signed at one point since I obtained them). The other sticks in my collection were vintage store-model (they look very similar to what professional players receive from manufacturers but are sold in sporting goods stores for amateur use or autographs) bats.
Last year, I obtained an early 1950s store model, Ferris Fain signature bat that had seen a lot of use and abuse. In addition to the heavy wear, accumulation of dirty grime and house paint spills, the bat had extremely faint manufacturer’s stamps and the player’s signature mark was nearly impossible to see. Professional model bats (for game use) have deep and distinct, burned-in markings that are quite difficult to obscure with use and time but the same is untrue for these lightly-marked store-purchased pieces of lumber. Rather than the burned-brands, thes Louisville Sluggers have foil-stamped (the stamps are subtle) marks that get worn or rubbed off with use. By no means am I a vintage bat expert but I have some excellent resources to draw from. In terms of Hillerich and Bradsby (maker of the most famous brand, Louisville Slugger), this reference is very detailed in providing information to discern age and models of ‘Slugger bats.
Store model bats, though sought after by collectors, are quite affordable and can be great display pieces when shown with other items (jerseys, caps, gloves, autographed photos, cards, etc.) when costly game-used bats are unavailable or unobtainable. Player-signature store model bats were made bearing the autographs of the more prevalent stars of the game. Some signature models were continued far beyond the career years of players that transcended the game. However, with some of the more mercurial stars like Fain whose career burned brightly and faded quickly due to his all-out style of play and propensity for injuries (and fighting), signature bats are considerably more scarce. Scarcity doesn’t necessarily drive demand or values upward as they do for well-knowns such as Mantle or Williams (with store-model bat production in orders of magnitude far above Fain models) however, for collectors like me, landing one of his bats in any condition is a bit of a boon. In terms of baseball militaria, a Fain signature (store model) bat would not be a part of any collection as he wouldn’t have had such a bat made for him until he was established in the major leagues in the years following his wartime service in the Army Air Force.
When I brought this bat home and shared it among my fellow collectors, the reception for such a beat-up old stick was mixed with one collector (whom I greatly respect) offering the suggestion of unloading it in favor of one in better condition. The recommendation was that my bat wasn’t worth any restorative effort. Taking this input with a grain of salt, the collector also gave me guidance on how I should proceed and the careful steps that I should take along with the products that I should use in order to protect the patina and signs of use while cleaning it up.
Removing the grime
This bat was quite darkened by usage and years of handling and storage (no doubt in someone’s garage among the paints and garden tools). The surface was heavily oxidized to a dirty gray hue and had a variety of stains and markings from various objects that made contact with the bat. Soaking a small area of a paper towel with Goo Gone, I began to gently massage the handle of the bat exercising a bit of caution and hesitancy as the dirt began to slightly dissipate on the wood’s surface. Moving around the handle and downward (towards the barrel), I continued to wet the paper towel and lift away the dirt a little bit at a time. After nearly an hour, I completed the entire surface and noted that very little was removed despite the appearance of the nearly blackened paper towels that I had been using. After a few more hours of working the bat and noting only slight improvements (while absolutely none of the paint was removed), I decided that something more aggressive than paper was required to cut through the years of soiling.
Needing something with a bit more abrasive power, I grabbed a section of 0000 steel wool, wetted it with the Goo Gone and repeated the cleaning cycle. The steel wool began to peel away the layers of dirt with relative ease leaving a warm, aged color to the wood while retaining the usage markings and indentations in tact. The paint required a bit more attention but was no match for the fine grit of the steel pad.
Restoring the Foil Stamps
Fortunately with store-model Louisville Slugger bats, the brand and signature markings can be distinguishable even if the black foil (which resembles the burned-in brand has faded or been worn off. Since none of the black foil remained on my bat, I decided to replace it with something indelible and that would hold up to the final step in the restoration process (reconditioning the wood surface with oil). Any novice restorer might be convinced that locating an extra fine tipped pen (to re-trace the near-needle-thin lines) would be well-suited for such a task. However, ink would be problematic when met with linseed oil. If one were to forego the oil-reconditioning, the ink would be subject to oxidation and fading with time. What my fellow collector recommended was to use a pen that, instead of paint as its medium, acrylic black paint would be used to fill in the stamps and markings. The challenge that I faced in seeking a paint pen marker was to locate one with an extra-fine head and unfortunately, the best option was a 1.5mm tip. I used the Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Marker, 1.5mm and a boatload of patience.
At my age, free-hand tracing of fine lines required the use of ample light and magnification to be able to see the original markings. Using a jeweler’s magnifying lamp afforded me with the best opportunity to carefully guide the pen through each stamped indentation. For those who are not familiar with the mechanics of paint pens, they can be quite a challenge as they require depressing of the tip (in order to draw the paint downward) which can be a bit messy and cause more paint to flow onto the bat’s surface than intended. I recommend using a newspaper to press the tip of the pen to the desired paint-saturation. I spent a few hours, stopping to rest my eyes and hand at intervals and to allow the paint to dry and avoid transferring it to my hand and to other areas of the bat.
Once the painting was done on both the brand and the signature stampings, I didn’t like the crispness of the paint. I also had a few spots where I was unable to keep the pen tip within the lines. I followed the painting with careful and deliberate application of dry steel wool removing the over-painted areas and the shiny paint surface to match the used and aged condition of the bat.
All that remains with the restoration of the Ferris Fain bat is to carefully apply linseed oil to properly treat the surface of the wood. Looking through my wood finishing supplies I see that I am lacking in linseed oil which will leave this Fain bat unfinished at present.
Writing about baseball artifacts is a pleasure and tedious considering the volume of research that is poured into each artifact and subsequent article that is published on ChevronsAndDiamonds.org and that is beginning to show with the backlog of posts that is growing (inside of my head, at least) with the recent additions to my collection. With my last article (My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I spent a few weeks researching; gathering details about the DiMaggio photograph, comparing it with others, delving into other aspects of his time in the Army Air Force and then committing it to more than 3,400 words. I often ask myself, “How does one manage a full-time career, a marriage and family (an active life) and still maintain a research and authoring schedule like this?” in the midst of a research project.
Several weeks ago, I was able to acquire my second military baseball (my first, a 1956-dated, team-signed ball from the 36th Field Artillery Group) after it was listed in conjunction with among a spate of items (originating from the same collection) that were all related to military baseball teams the Central Pacific area, in and around the Hawaiian Islands during World War II. Judging by the number of bids and potential buyers who were watching the three other auctions compared to a few who were watching (and had submitted bids on) what was listed as an autographed Navy-team baseball from the 1940s. The ball (aside from the signatures) is a easily datable, official National League (“Ford C. Frick”) Spalding baseball from 1943. With a glance at the auction listing’s photos, (aside from the obvious coating of shellac covering the ball) I recognized a few names on the ball though several were hard to discern.I decided since the bid amount was so low that it was worth risking (based solely on the verifiable age of the ball). With only a few hours remaining, I set my bid amount and waited.
I wanted to spend time investigating all of the signatures on the ball – to delve into each one to make an attempt to identify the names and thus, determine which team the ball was associated with but with so little time remaining, I moved ahead with submitting my bid with the hope that if I was unsuccessful with my plan to identify that I could turn around and re-list the ball. Hours later, the notification came that I was the highest bidder, much to my surprise. Hours following payment, I received notification from the seller that the ball was shipped and a tracking number was provided. Two days later, the ball was in my hands and that’s when it struck me that I was holding something that was connected to the players who participated in the legendary (at least, to me) games in the Hawaiian Islands during the War, that until now, was limited to scorecards and photographs.
I was elated to have a chance at this ball even though it was lacking signatures from the stars of the major leagues such as Pee Wee Reese, the DiMaggio brothers, Vander Meer, Hutchinson or my favorite, Ferris Fain. I wasn’t able to positively identify all of the signatures and two of them are almost completely faded or entirely illegible. There are a few major league ball players and several minor leaguers that have been identified. Those with an asterisk (*) were located on the Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944 score book (the double asterisk indicates a possible correlation between the signature and a name listed on the score book).
- Arne “Red” Anderson*
- Charlie Medlop (?)
- Maurice Mozzali*
- John Powell*
- Charlie Bishop**
- Bob McCorkle*
- Walter Masterson*
The first panel of signatures shows one name that I cannot positively identify (Charlie, the second from the top) and the one at the bottom is so heavily faded that I can’t make out a single character. Three of these players (Signalman and pitcher Anderson, Electrician’s Mate 2/c and shortstop Bishop and Chief Specialist and pitcher Masterson) all played in the major leagues. Catcher and Coxswain McCorkle and Torpedoman 1/c and pitcher Mozzali had minor league careers with the latter serving as a scout in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for 18 years followed by two seasons (1977-78) as a coach with the big league club. John Powell, listed on the April 19, 1944 program for the game between the Navy and the Major League All-Stars as a center fielder and an MS 1/c is still being researched.
- Raymond Kerin (?)
- Dutch Raffeis (?)
- Illegible ….ski
- Jim Brennen*
- Bob Tomkins
- Ed Quinn
This panel is one of the more challenging of the four with three names that either illegible in part or entirely. While Jim Brennen shows also on the April 19, 1944 program (listed as “J. D. Brennen,” EM2/c, pitcher), the other players require further research. My efforts to date have been unfruitful but it is possible that searching military records via Fold3 or Ancestry might yield positive results. Combing through the various rosters (on the known printed scorecards and throughout those online at Baseball in Wartime) is a seemingly futile venture but at present, it is all that is available. I hold out hope that in the months and year ahead, that there more artifacts will surface.
- Gene Rengel
- Bob White**
- Floyd Snider*
- Phil Simione*
- E. Patrick
- Ray Volp.
The third panel held signatures that were far more legible and hadn’t suffered fading though I didn’t fare much better in determining who the men are who signed this side of the ball. Two of the names, Snider (right fielder and signalman) and Simione (a center fielder and boatswain’s mate, 2nd class), are also listed on the April 19, 1944 scorecard (linked in the previous paragraph). Rengel, White and Patrick are still to be determined. Ray “Volp.” added the period at the end of his name leaving me to wonder if he abbreviated his signature. Five of these six names will have to be researched as service members while I believe that Snider went on to play four seasons of class “D” professional baseball, having played in 1942 with the Dothan Browns (of the
The last panel (which, in this case consists predominantly of the “sweet spot” of the ball) contains four very legible signatures and three of them are located on printed rosters within scorecards from the Central Pacific wartime baseball leagues. Also, (potentially) three of the men all had professional baseball careers following their service. One of these men, James J. “Jim” Gleeson, an outfielder who spent five seasons in the major leagues (1936 with Cleveland, 1939-40 with the Cubs and 1941-42 with Cincinnati) before joining the Navy. Following his war service, Gleeson returned to the game he loved, playing for six more seasons, but only at the minor league level. After 1951, his playing days were done, Jim continued his baseball career, serving as a scout, coach, and manager in the minors and spent many years as a coach with the Yankees on fellow Navy veteran, Yogi Berra’s 1964 Yankees-pennant-winning staff. Third baseman and Pharmacists’ Mate 3/c John “Hubie” Jeandron recommenced his professional career in 1946 at the class A level, bouncing around through class C and B levels until finishing his baseball career after the 1953 season. Gunner’s Mate 3/c and first baseman Frank T. Hecklinger (incorrectly listed as “E. T.” on the scorecard roster) also restarted his professional career but played in only 234 total games between the 1946 and 1947 seasons at the class C and B levels in the minors.
To many collectors, having a ball with signatures from a handful of minor leaguers and three non-star major leaguers wouldn’t merit much interest or be featured in a collection. Nevertheless, this ball is significant as it originates from games that were, to many men and women serving during WWII, distractions from the rigors and monotony of war giving them a fun departure from the harsh reality and a taste of the normalcy of home. This ball is a cherished addition to my collection and will serve to demonstrate how men from the highest levels of the game competed alongside of average Joes demonstrating unity in the fight against a common enemy in the cause of freedom from tyrants and oppression.
So many of my articles and much of my artifact-seeking has been focused upon uniforms and photographs yet, the principle object of the sport that I am keenly interested in, the ball itself, has all but eluded my pursuit since I entered into this endeavor nearly a decade ago. The first breakthrough in my searching for authentic baseballs came at the beginning of this year with my successful acquisition of the team-signed 36th Field Artillery baseball from 1956 and still my archive of artifacts would be well-suited if it included a few more leather-clad, stitched orbs.
Roughly nine-inches in circumference and weighing roughly five ounces, baseballs have been been consistent in their size for more than a century. Until 1974, the animal skin covering of most balls (including those used by both major leagues) consisted of horsehide when the change to cowhide was made. With the exception of wartime military issued (italics for emphasis as baseballs were not government-provided) balls used by service members in league play or pick-up games could vary widely in their origins. Though I have not been able to verify alternative sources, balls (along with other equipment such as gloves, bats, catchers’ gear and uniforms) used by service members were sourced through many different means. Aside from the Baseball Fund during both world wars, balls could be obtained directly from sporting goods stores, government procurement or sent to the players from family members on the homefront.
The balls that were provided during WWII via the Baseball Equipment Fund ( commencing with fund-raising via the 1942 season’s Major League All-Star Game held at New York’s Polo Grounds) were manufactured by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company and marked accordingly with the manufacturer’s standard stampings along with the unique and easily recognizable Baseball Fund stamps. Unsurprisingly with game usage, the stamps would be diminished as they were rubbed off from continued contact with glove-leather, bat-impact along with striking and skidding across various types of field surfaces. Locating a ball with the markings intact is not unheard of however I have only ever seen one listing of a ball that had been sold.
I am certain that many prospective collectors of military baseballs are seeking (but are unfortunately not available) irrefutable methods to authenticate and validate a ball that has been listed for sale as or is purported to be a service team or military-used piece. Due to the many sources that provided baseballs (including official Reach/Spalding-made American and National League balls) to military personnel, authentication can be a considerable challenge with a ball that lacks identifiable markings or that is without substantiated provenance from the service-member whopreviously owned the ball.
Throughout my years studying this subject and these artifacts along with collaboration with long-time experts in vintage baseballs (including major and minor leagues, collegiate, little leagues and balls sold through various sporting goods and department stores). There are no doubts as to one particular method of ruling out balls that are being sold as genuine military-used item. No evidence exists (documented, photographic or veteran recollection) that substantiates any baseballs being stamped with bold “U.S.” or “Special Services” markings. Sadly, despite the best efforts of several experts, the fraudulent sales are rampant and thriving in spaces such as eBay. Since I published These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors and the update, more than two-dozen new victims have purchased from the most-prominent online fraudster, “giscootterjoe” to the tune of more than $1,000.00. There are a handful of other folks who sell the faked U.S.-marked balls, capitalizing on giscotterjoe’s cottage industry but he is consistent in his listings, following the same, weekly pattern.
Authentication of these baseballs doesn’t require decades of research and comparative analysis to get a sense (even through photographs) of its authenticity. If one played baseball, recalling the damage that is inflicted upon a ball from being batted, bouncing off certain field surfaces (who can forget the scarring balls receive from sandlot gravel or even pavement?), then applying those memories to supposed game-used balls should provide prospective buyers with a strong authentication starting point. Soiling, field stains and bat-marks are random on genuine baseballs. With careful examination, one should be able to see remnants of the manufacturer’s stamps, despite the game use.
As with my recent acquisition, autographed baseballs will require additional scrutinizing. The signatures of soldiers, sailors or airmen are nearly impossible to verify as comparative examples typically do not exist. Researching the names against unit rosters (from the National Archives, unit or base museums or even unit historical publications such as ship cruise-books) which could take time. Common sense tells me that highly unlikely for a fraudster to create a specific unit baseball (such as the “Rammers” ball team of the 36th Field Artillery from 1956) with signatures.
Further examination of the signatures to determine if the age of the ink fits the purported date of the ball (60 years of oxidation, ultraviolet deterioration will fade the ink) requires very little expertise and with my ball, the aging appears appropriate. By 1956 the Professional Baseball Fund was eleven years in the past leaving armed forces teams to source their baseballs through normal channels. Though the 36th team-signed ball is a Wilson Official League ball, the model number indicates that it was made for use in little leagues but the stamps verify that it was made in the early-to-mid 1950s. Judging by the stains on all of the panels, the ball doesn’t appear to have been game-used. At most the ball might have made impact contact with gloves but I suspect that the soiling is due to handling.
In last week’s post, I indicated that I landed my second military baseball (a military-team signed 1943 Spalding, Ford C. Fricke National League ball) which is the subject of a forth-coming article. With two balls added to my collection in the last few months, I am only inspired to continue my quest to land at least one of the Baseball Fund-marked balls from the second World War.
A few decades ago, I was a baseball autograph seeker. Being a Dodgers and Red Sox fan, my pursuits centered upon players from both of these teams. However as a dyed-in-the wool fan of the game, the Golden Age of the game in particular, I also sought out autographs from players who played the game before 1970. My autographs were either obtained from the players predominantly in person with a few of them I received via corresponding with the retired players directly. During the few years that I dabbled in this, I accumulated a modest collection of autographed baseballs.
When houseguests view my autograph collection, they will see nothing but pristine baseballs – all of which were new-in-the-box prior to having the player place their signature as clean, white balls display signatures quite nicely. Never once while I was collecting did I pursue signatures on a game used baseball (I have never so much as caught a foul ball at any games that I have attended, making the discussion moot). Signed game-used baseballs, especially those that came from a noteworthy game or a notable team, are sought by many collectors. Within my own collection, I have a few team-signed balls (I obtained every signature) yet they are not game-used. Verifiable game use adds value to a ball but provenance is key in terms of determining value.
With nearly a decade of collecting military baseball artifacts, I was never successful in locating any baseballs that were connected to the game. I have written a few times (see here and here) regarding the fakery and outright fraud that is being foisted upon potential military baseball collectors and one seller in particular has been quite successful and absolutely unchecked as he has racked up several thousands of dollars as he cheats people who have no understanding of the balls that were actually used by military service teams. There have been a smattering of authentic military baseballs but I have always missed out when presented with the opportunities.
The search military sports equipment can be rather fruitful in terms of gloves and bats as these are commonly listed for sale online. Perhaps a testament to the durability of the horsehide, leather and wood, these items have held up quite well to the ravages of time which means that collectors will have little difficulty in locating many items for their collections. Uniform items are a bit more of a challenge to acquire, especially ball caps and stockings. The item that has eluded me since my entry into the military version of the game has been the ball itself.
For the past several months, I have been watching an auction listing that, while outside of what I am normally interested in (World War II-era and older), this ball from the 36th Field Artillery Group dating from 1956 is still very much a candidate to be the first ball for my collection. Due to the timing of the listing and the starting bid for the ball, I simply set a watch to see what would happen. After the six days of the listing lapsed without a bid, the seller re-listed at the same price. Six days later, the cycle repeated and did so for the next several weeks with only slight reductions in price. Finally, the seller decided to re-list the ball with a minimum bid requirement for little more than a few dollars.
Cursory research of the ball and the 21 visible signatures shows that it originates from a team of service members who were part of a large field artillery command that was based in Germany. The 36th Field Artillery Group was the headquarters for all of the subordinate commands which, in 1956 were:
|18th Field Artillery Battalion||Babenhausen|
|517th Armored Field Artillery Battalion||Büdingen|
|519th Field Artillery Battalion||Babenhausen|
|593rd Field Artillery Battalion||Babenhausen|
|594th Field Artillery Battalion||Giessen|
|597th Armored Field Artillery Battalion||Hanau|
|465th Field Artillery Battalion||Darmstadt|
|816th Field Artillery Battalion||Darmstadt|
The “Rammers” squad could have been assembled from players who were assigned either the headquarters group or drawn from these battalions or battery commands.
With my bid set based upon what I could honestly afford, I set a rather low maximum bid and prepared to be outbid by one of the five others who were watching or that had already placed nominal bids. When the auction closed, I was shocked that the sale price was less than $13 (inclusive of shipping) and swiftly paid for my winning bid. Just days later, the 36th Artillery ball arrived.
|Bob A Puso||Han [A] Leavini ?||Jack Hoxxxxx|
|Loyd Harper||Chuck (???) Emerich|
|Russell Miller||Leo Hipler|
While I have been able to clearly read 15 of the signatures, there are four others that are difficult to discern and still one more that is severely faded and entirely illegible. With the ball in hand, I have another research project (similar to the effort that I experienced with a WWII presentation cigarette box) to determine if any of the signatures on the baseball are from men who might have played professionally or, perhaps to find if one or more are still alive. I can imagine how fulfilling it would be to interview these men about their time in the Army and their ball-playing experiences.
The history of the game for players of Japanese origin and descent is considerably more recent than it is for African American players. Japanese ball players have seen great success since they were allowed to take to the fields of the Major Leagues.
After more than 29 years of waiting for my beloved Dodgers to return to the World Series, I was in awe to watch the boys in blue march through the end of September and both rounds of the playoffs (against the Diamondbacks and Cubs) with relative ease. Seeing the likes of Turner, Bellinger, Seager, Taylor, Forsythe and Puig inflicting damage in the playoffs and continuing into the Series was an absolute thrill. However, it wasn’t until the World Series that the Dodgers unhittable pitching began to fade. Kershaw’s start in game one wasn’t spectacular but the bullpen bailed him out, holding on for the win. The seesaw battle of exchanging wins with the Houston Astros was both exciting and difficult to watch. What brought particular discomfort was to see Yu Darvish relegated to a batting practice pitcher by the Astros’ batters.
Yu Darvish arrived late in the season and was brought in to help carry the Dodgers into the post-season. At the time of the trade, Los Angeles was reeling from the loss of their ace, Clayton Kershaw, from an injury. When their protracted losing streak came to an end, the Japanese pitcher Darvish was one of the reasons for helping to turn things around. Yu Darvish’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) career was nothing short of spectacular prior to his arrival to the Texas Rangers (the team who traded him to Los Angeles) and the subsequent four-time All Star, had moments of greatness mixed with modest performances in the Major Leagues during his first three seasons (he missed the entire 2025 season following “Tommy John” surgery). However in his post-season appearances with the Rangers, he failed to deliver, yielding two losses (one in the 2012 American League Wild Card and the other in Game 2 of the 2016 American League Division Series). Yu seemed to have turned the post-season victory corner with the Dodgers as he claimed victories against Arizona and Chicago in his 2017 playoffs appearances.
NPB players have experienced success in the American Major Leagues and the Dodgers have been the recipients of considerable talent from these exciting overseas veteran ballplayers, beginning with Hideo Nomo in 1995 (not including Masanori Murakami, a relief pitcher who was the first, signing with the San Francisco Giants in 1963 and appeared in 54 games between 1964-65). In total, 56 players (three on active rosters while five are current free agents, including Darvish) from Japan have served on major league rosters, many of which have dominated in their positions. Besides Nomo and Darvish, the Dodgers rosters since 1995 have been dotted with the following NPB veterans:
The 2017 Dodgers pitching staff has another NPB veteran pitcher, right-hander Kenta Maeda has been a bright-spot since he was signed to their major league roster in 2016, posting win/loss records of 16-11 and 13-6 in his two full seasons as a starter. During the post-season, Maeda was used only as a reliever, notching two victories in the NLDS and NLCS and appearing in four of the World Series games. For “my” Dodgers, the short-term future looks bright for another run at the championship. As the “hot stove league” starts to heat up with yet another of the NPB star hitters is looking to find fortune on a major league roster (Shohei Otani) and Los Angeles is one of the teams in contention to bid for his talents, the 2018 season could be filled with highlights from a Japanese star player. Horace Wilson’s 19th Century exporting of the sport to Japan continues to yield returns for the game in the United States. Within our own shores, the history of the game for Japanese Americans experienced a similar past as did African American players, being excluded entirely from major league rosters. Much of the focus of civil rights equality in the game has centered on the color barrier being broken with Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson. As the integration of the big leagues wasn’t completed until 1960 (with the Boston Red Sox’s addition of Pumpsie Green to their roster) for players of African descent, the unspoken and unwritten line of segregation (of Japanese American ballplayers from MLB) was still very much intact for a few more years. In 1967 (20 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut), outfielder Mike Lum became the first American-born Japanese person to take the field in major league baseball, commencing his 15-year career with the Atlanta Braves.
For most American kids growing up in the 1920s-40s during baseball’s “golden era,” the game was an integral part of the experiences of youth in sandlots and streets of cities and towns across the United States. Regardless of ethnicities or the color of skin, kids were passionate about the game. When the U.S. was drawn into World War II and the ensuing internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans into camps throughout the Western half of the country, the game went with them into captivity.
As a collector of military baseball, artifacts from the internment camps have special consideration from me due to the impacts of these Americans, their love for country and the game and that many of the young men who were interned, volunteered to serve the nation who stripped away from them, everything except for their dignity. Many of these men went on to serve with distinction throughout the armed forces and including within the legendary 442nd RCT (the most decorated unit of WWII). When baseball artifacts surface for sale, I take particular interest. Earlier this year, a Nisei baseball uniform was listed at auction, purported to be from a player from an internment camp baseball team (see: Nisei Relocation Camp Baseball: Authenticating a Uniform). Though I was very interested and even willing to take a gamble on the uniform, the bidding went above my budget (the closing price was $370), even with questions surrounding its authenticity. For the second time this year, another Nisei baseball item (again, from the internment camps) was listed and sold at auction.
The listing’s description read, “This ball is signed by the ‘Young Men from Block 74’ to their coach, Mr. Shintaku.” The seller mentioned some researching of the players’ signatures that are distinguishable on the ball. “I was able to pick out one of the names, George Kurashige,” he wrote, “it turns out within the database there was only one in all of the camps. He was born in 1929 and in 1945 he would have been 16 which did fit for the ‘young men’s team.” The seller’s research showed that this player was interned at the Gila River camp in Arizona and that the camp was large enough to have been subdivided. The description continued, “(sic) the Butte camp division housed the 74th block among many others. There was also four Mr. Shintakus also stationed at the camp,” which seems to convince the seller that the Gila/Butte camp is where the ball originates. Constructed within this camp was a 6,000-seat baseball venue.
The softball includes a period-correct box (which is missing the top) with the GoldSmith Official label. The label shows the 12-inch softball to be “Concealed Stitch” model (the very faint stamping on the ball itself corresponds to the box). A cursory search for online listings shows an abundance of this model of softball (inclusive of boxes) with very little interest and low listing prices. However, with the history and the signatures on the Nisei ball, it garnered considerable interest, selling for nearly $300.
My interest in the ball was more from an historical perspective rather than wanting to add it to my collection. Softball, though very similar to baseball, has nominal value for me in terms of collecting. I decided not to pursue this artifact and hope that it ended up with someone who is preserving the history from the Japanese American experience or, more specifically from the internment camps to ensure that the history is preserved and shared with following generations.
As fall passes into winter and major league baseball rosters begin to settle following the free agency moves, I will grow increasingly hopeful for the 2018 season to see what the Dodgers do for the coming year. I am left wondering where Yu Darvish and Shohei Otani wind up, hoping to see the boys in blue landing one (or both) of these young Japanese players.
To learn more about people with Japanese origins or ancestry in Major League Baseball, see: