Category Archives: Baseballs

Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why

Most of my friends either do not know about this site, the research and writing that I conduct for this interest or they don’t understand why I do it. My reasons for not verbally promoting Chevrons and Diamonds or my passion for history surrounding the game (in particular with its connection to the armed forces) is the confirmation that I am wasting my breath when after uttering one or more sentences, eyes glaze over and gazes becomes vacant. Writing about this history is decidedly an outlet for assembling the research and artifacts, establishing the connections and discovering the stories that need to be told even if there isn’t an audience to read it when it is published. Occasionally, the stories are read and someone benefits from these efforts.

Acquired earlier this year for my collection was this 1950s Wilson Official League, baseball, bearing the inscription, “36th FA. GP. 1956 ‘Rammers'” on the sweet spot along with signatures of the team.

Earlier this year, I published an article (see: My First Military Baseball: the “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group) about finally landing a military baseball for my collection after years of seeking a verifiable piece. The research that I was able to conduct yielded sparse results in that I was unable to identify a single soldier on the ball leaving me incapable of telling a personal story regarding the team members who signed it. All eighteen names (three are illegible) were just signatures on a baseball with the team name, year and the military unit. Though my research had reached the distance that I could attain with the resources at my disposal, I published the article content with the information I had.

Last month, a comment was posted to the “Rammers” baseball article that indicated that the story about the ball had some reach beyond the collecting world, right into a personal connection with a family.

“Mr. VetCollector,

My grandfather played for the Rammers baseball team. My grandfather was Chuck Emerick (one of the questionable signatures). I have a photo of the baseball team in my office as well. My grandfather passed away a few years back and I have been trying to track down some of the players in the photo. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about this signed baseball. I can also send you a photo of the team.”

Without hesitating for a moment, I replied back to the comment and followed that up with an email to its author. Though it took four-and-a-half months, it was worth the wait for such a breakthrough and I awaited a response, hoping for detailed information, not only about Mr. Emerick but perhaps for other team members, as well.

The majority of the articles published on this site focus on veterans who played professional baseball before and/or after their service in the armed forces. It is very simple to peer into the lives of players such as Ted Williams, Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Johnny Mize or Ted Lyons and analyze any number of personal or professional characteristics of their lives. Professional baseball careers are well documented (especially at the major and upper minor league levels) with statistics and comparative analysis. Baseball enthusiasts, journalists and researchers have even taken the time to research and publish scores of books and write incredibly detailed essays delving into various angles of players. There is a wealth of information available, especially if those players made significant contributions to the game. Considering the countless numbers of players who stepped onto the diamond at any professional level, the volume of information available online is staggering. One of the best baseball statistical sites, Baseball Reference, has very detailed stats for nearly 19,500 people who played in the majors which makes me wonder how many untold thousands are documented in their minor leagues databases.

Researching the 1956 36th Field Artillery Group baseball and a few of my other artifacts, it becomes readily apparent that while there were some impressive athletes who plied their trade on the military diamond, these men didn’t earn a dime in the professional game but still had considerable impact within their communities and their families. As I was soon to learn over the course of my conversation with Emerick’s grandson and my ensuing research, the talent for the major leagues was apparent to major league scouts and Charles’ athletic skills and knowledge was not lost on the man’s high school classmates, teammates or coaches, either. After exchanging a few introductory conversational emails with Emerick’s grandson, we moved our dialogue to the telephone and spoke for quite awhile about “Chuck” and what could have been had Mr. Emerick moved forward with his emerging baseball career right after high school.

Along the right side of this panel shows the signature of Charles (Chuckles) Emerick who set aside a chance at a professional baseball career and joined the army.

Charles E. Emerick was born in 1935 and raised in the small town of Geneseo, Illinois. which is approximately 30 miles due east of Davenport, Iowa on Interstate 80. In Geneseo, Chuck (also known by many as “Chuckles”) excelled in athletics, lettering in track, basketball and football. Mr. Emerick’s grandson, Josh Birmingham, told me that his family knew very little about their patriarch’s sports and military experiences, “My uncle (my grandfather’s son) told me he never talked about playing or his time in the service.” Chuck’s generation wasn’t much for self-promotion or regaling people with grand stories. Even my own grandfather didn’t share details about his WWII service. Most of what I learned about my grandfather was from my grandmother, my own research and through one of his shipmates. Mr. Birmingham’s comment wasn’t a shock at all. Men who were raised during this era were no-nonsense and were instilled with such work ethics that regardless of what they did or achieved, it was part of their character which to them was unremarkable.

While it is uncertain if this photo is showing the 1954 or 1955 Rammers team, it does show that it is signed by all members of the 36th FA GP squad, except for one – Charles “Chuckles” Emerick, 2nd row, far left (image source: Joshua Birmingham).

Charles Emerick enlisted into the U. S. Army in 1954 soon after graduating from high school. After completing training, Mr. Emerick was assigned to the 36th Field Artillery Group under the V Corps Artillery, part of the Seventh Army. The 36th’s base (Babenhausen Kaserne which was closed in 2007) was located near Babenhausen, Hesse which is approximately 35 kilometers southeast of Frankfort, Germany. While stationed at Babenhausen, Emerick’s athletic experience and abilities were obviously discovered by his command resulting in his assignments to the 36th’s teams. Just one year removed from the 1953 armistice that brought about the cessation of open combat on the Korean Peninsula, it might have been a source of discomfort for Chuck in light of the potential for him to be serving alongside combat veterans. “Some of my family believed he kept quiet about his time in the service because he was embarrassed.” Mr. Birmingham continued his thoughts about his grandfather, “He was embarrassed because all he did was play sports while in the Army.”

And play sports, Chuck Emerick certainly did. Joshua noted, “He played both baseball and football while in Germany.” Besides the team photo of the Rammers baseball team, Birmingham said, “We have his football picture as well.” Not unlike my own time in uniform, GIs will do nearly anything to avoid the boring, mundane and dirty jobs that come with serving in the armed forces. “My uncle said he did ask him why he played baseball in Germany,” continued Josh, “he told him it was because it got him out of doing guard duty or working a night shift.” At Geneseo High School, Chuck Emerick was the captain of his football team and was a force on the school’s basketball and track teams, participating in all four years with each during his high school career. Peering into The Sphinx, the school’s annual, one can find no mention of a baseball team within its pages leaving one to assume that Emerick’s baseball skills were developed within little league or with other local sports leagues. Though football was clearly the sport in which he excelled, Chuck was no slouch on the diamond and, though no research as of yet supports this, his baseball talents were noticed by his superiors in his chain of command.

Framed neatly with the Rammers team photo is the letter inviting Charles Emerick to a workout with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (image source: Joshua Birmingham).

When Chuck Emerick’s grandson sent me the team photo of the Rammers, he also included views of the document and envelope that was framed with the image. Mr. Birmingham mentioned that while Chuck was still in high school, his baseball talents were observed by professionals. “In 1954 the Chicago Cubs saw him play in high school and asked him to go to Wrigley Field for tryout camp.” Birmingham continued, “He was only 17 or 18 when he tried out. He traveled to Chicago by himself and tried out the summer of 1954.” Mr. Emerick’s workout at Wrigley must have had mixed reception with team management as his skills were good enough to warrant an offer to sign but showed indications of lingering pain. Joshua, speaking about his grandfather’s potential pro baseball career wrote, “Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury in football so they were hesitant on signing him.” Being a diehard fan of Chicago’s National League team, Emerick’s dream of playing Cubs was laser-focused on that one club. Mr. Birmingham spoke of his grandfather’s sole desire play at Wrigley, “They (the Cubs organization) asked him to play for one of their farm league teams to see how his shoulder would hold up, but he didn’t want to do that.”

Showing Emerick’s tryout invitation from the Cubs organization with a handwritten not from the teams scout. The envelope is displayed beneath the invitation (image source: Joshua Birmingham).

In the 1950s, the life of a minor league player even at the highest level was arduous with endless road trips aboard buses after lengthy games, double-headers and for little pay. The odds of making it to the majors is slim at best. “From what my family said he was really hurt that he didn’t make the team.” Mr. Birmingham wrote. “Someone approached him afterwards about trying out for the Cardinals because they had some sort of connections with them. He told them ‘if I’m not good enough for the Cubs then I won’t be good enough for the Cardinals.'” Rather than toiling away in the minor leagues, possibly at a C or D league level, Charles Emerick enlisted into the U.S. Army and was soon after wearing the flannels of his artillery unit and competing against other service teams throughout Western Europe.

After a serving and playing ball for a few years in the army, Charles Emerick was discharged and returned to Geneseo, Illinois, where he lived a full life, marrying his wife, Beverly and raising their family together and serving in his community. Joshua Birmingham wrote of his grandfather’s love for his wife, “I know he knew Morse Code. He would tap on my grandmother’s leg “I Love You” in Morse Code while at church or in public.”

Mr. Emerick worked in law enforcement with the Geneseo Police Department, and with the Geneseo Telephone Company before embarking on a 31-year career with the Geneseo Municipal Light Plant, retiring in 1994. In the 1954 senior class copy of The Sphinx, the “prophecy,” a 25-year look into the future finds “Coach Chuck Emerick eyeing a Big Ten Conference title and a trip (with his team) to the Rose Bowl.” Coach Emerick didn’t land the high-level collegiate job with any Big Ten Conference schools but one can certainly imagine the positive impact this man had on the youth of his hometown. According to his 2014 obituary, “Chuck was one of the four original coaches of Geneseo Youth Football. He also coached Little League baseball.”

It was rewarding as a collector and a caretaker of history to be able to learn about “Chuckles” Emerick and to have his grandson share a sampling of the character of this man with me. I can imagine that seeing this baseball and catching a glimpse of his grandfather’s autograph along with the rest of the 1956 Rammer team’s signatures was exciting as it spurred him into action in an attempt to pull together as much of his grandfather’s baseball story as possible. He was able to get his family to recall details and stories and begin to reflect upon the man who never drew comparisons to himself or his experiences. Joshua summed up how special his grandfather truly was, “It’s kind of sad that he would feel embarrassed about his time in the service and not thinking he was good enough for the major league. However, he excelled being a father and grandfather. He could have easily held his baseball career over our heads or boasted about his talent. But, he never did that. He had a way of making you feel special no matter what you did. It’s cool to tell people he went to Wrigley Field to try out for the Cubs and show them the letter.”

Unbeknownst to Joshua Birmingham, his uncle inherited (from his father, Mr. Emerick) a 1955-dated Rammers team-signed baseball in his possession – though it lacked his grandfather’s autograph (image source: Joshua Birmingham).

Mr. Birmingham’s activities in getting his family together yielded another discovery. His uncle (his mother’s brother) revealed that he too had an autographed baseball from the Rammers team. Aside from the presence of different signatures than are present on my ball, one signature is missing; that of a truly great man, Charles “Chuckles” Emerick. People of great character are seemingly more challenging to find among the men that surround us. Charles Emerick was certainly such a man. Aside from his remarkable accomplishments on the baseball diamond that were worthy enough to garner major league interest, Mr. Birmingham knew what was most important about his grandfather, “I am more impressed about how he served the Lord. And that’s what makes me most proud of him.”

If I am asked again why I take the time with this ongoing project and the effort that it takes to bring these stories to light, I will direct them here, to learn about people like Charles Emerick and a grandson’s love for his grandfather.

Vintage Military Baseball Fakery: Straight Deception or a Picker’s Ignorance?

Taken at face value, this would appear to be a vintage, game-used baseball from the Marine Corps however, this ball is anything but a military-used item (source: eBay image).

Once again, fraud being perpetrated upon the unsuspecting collectors is pushing me to expose the deed and provide a measure of awareness for those who are unfamiliar with collecting baseball militaria. Online sellers, predominantly within the liar-laden sphere of auctions in what is known as eBay. Fraud and deception are so rampant and blatant that the company that facilitates criminals and deceivers also has in place a substantial program to thwart them after the transactions have been completed. With an item, such as the subject of this article is addressing, is listed for sale, it is incumbent upon the buyer to perform due diligence before pulling the trigger to bid or click the “buy it now” (BIN) button as the folks at eBay lack the expertise to discern fakes from real artifacts.

This screen grab of the auction shows the price gouging for the fake “USMC” baseball.

I have written several pieces regarding fraudulent military baseballs being sold online (see: Fake Military Baseballs) where I have covered many features that are consistent among faked balls. The sellers, hoping to capitalize upon the emotions of the prospective buyers by listing one of the most difficult-to-find artifacts from this time in baseball history, love to capitalize on the understanding that there are so few authentic items with which to perform comparative analysis. In the absence of genuine artifacts for verification, common sense should prevail as one analyzes the artifact using the details presented in the listing.

The latest example of a fraudulent military baseball is listed by a seller with nearly 5,000 transactions and 100% rating which certainly lends a certain measure of credence to the listing. However, one cannot rely solely upon the seller’s positive sales history to lend credibility any item that is listed. Not to disparage the seller and accuse them of intentional fraud as it is quite possible that the item was obtained from a reputable source.

WWII
Rare-World-War-2–
STAMPED U S M C
Used-Baseball
FROM ESTATE OF VETERANS MARINE
IN WELL PLAYED CONDITION BALL

The description indicates that the seller obtained the ball from a veteran’s estate. One can only assume that the ball was either given to the veteran or he purchased it from a source that was in the business of faking baseballs for profit. What the eBay seller is guilty of doing, at the very least, is perpetuating deception by pushing the bad ball back onto the market and validating it by associating the listing alongside his lengthy, credible sales history.

Remnants of the ball’s manufacturer’s stamp are faint through the staninging and wear leaving one to wonder how the “U.S.M.C” stamp fared so much better during the years (source: eBay image)?

As with all of the other faked examples that have been on the market over the last decade, this baseball does nothing to set itself apart from the fraud-field, aside from the use of “U. S. M. C.” stamped on one of the panels. On the surface, this might seem to be a legitimate mark as the unsuspecting buyer would assume that the Marine Corps applied this stamp to every piece of issued gear. In giving the benefit of doubt and accepting this marking at face-value, one would have to ignore that the baseball has two diverging planes of use and aging. In addition, the USMC stamp itself would not have made an appearance on the baseball as these were not “issued” by the Corps or sourced by the War Department for the military supply system.

Visible above (and to the left) of the USMC stamping are faint markings that are residual from the manufacturer’s marks (also stamped onto the baseball with an ink stamp) – though the mark is indistinguishable for identification purposes. Due to wear (either from game-use or synthetic as part of the faking process), the manufacturer’s mark is nearly eliminated which then calls into question the Marine Corps stamp. With such heavy usage and staining, how is the Marines stamp so vivid and showing very minimal wear?

Not the crisp lines on the partial “C” in the stamping. Also note the recent wear marks that pass beneath the tail of the C indicating that the stamp was added after the aging (source: eBay image).

It is quite obvious that the USMC lettering was applied after most of the original wear. Aside from the aging (it has been roughed up after the stamp was applied), the stamp shows that it was applied twice, possibly in an attempt to obtain better coverage for the letter “C” while leaving a sloppy, unprofessional marking.

The issues with the ball are substantial and call into question the validity of the seller’s claims. Besides the concerns regarding the apparent synthetic aging and that there are no existing valid examples of any baseballs bearing the USMC marking, the seller’s actions displayed within the listing are enough to steer anyone away from submitting a bid.  Authentic military baseballs (such as those provided to the troops by the Professional Base Ball Fund that were marked accordingly) are valued in the $40-70 range, condition-dependent. This seller has this faked ball listed with a starting bid of $150. Along with the price gouging, the exorbitant shipping costs coupled with the seller’s no-returns policy are both red flags.

Had the ball been authentic, the $150 opening bid price is still far above what it should be for a military baseball. The seller is also gouging on the shipping ($10 for a baseball as is shown in this screenshot) however the red flag for this listing is that the seller does not accept returns. This policy alone is an indicator that he does not stand behind his claims.

It is difficult to determine where the deception lies with this auction listing. What is certain is that potential buyers need to perform their due diligence before they decide to pursue such purported artifacts – especially when they are as overly-priced as this one.  As an aside, I did reach out to the seller to provide the reasons supporting my recommendations that the auction listing be discontinued and the ball destroyed. Expecting to receive some sort of pushback in response to the message, I was surprised that the seller considered the information that I provided. In addition to the reasons that I listed in my message as to the why the ball is not genuine, I also recommended that it not be sold to prevent it from being used to defraud another interested party. The seller’s response was to merely reduce the opening bid amount by $100 and to cherry-pick some of the details from my email.

 

Breaking the Color Barrier in the Ranks and on the Diamond

A few months ago, I was contacted by a college professor, Peter Dreier of Occidental College, who was seeking information, documents, data or photographs that would be beneficial to his research pertaining to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series games played between the 71st Infantry Division Red Circlers and the OISE All-Stars teams at Nuremberg Stadium. Sadly, I didn’t have a single shred in terms of new details or insight that could be of assistance in his effort to create a presentation (for the Baseball Hall of Fame Symposium) or to his book project regarding Sam Nahem and his decision to fill his Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars roster with the best baseball players he could find.

At a time when Jim Crow laws and sentiments were still very pervasive in our country, the sting of segregation faced by people of color was also very prevalent in the armed forces. When I served in the 1980s and 90s, all signs of segregation were effectively eliminated and everyone whom I had the honor to serve with was and remains a brother. While I do not deny that there existed (during my time in uniform) residual-yet-waning effects of racism within the ranks, I personally witnessed hearts and minds transformed as we pulled together as a team. It is difficult to fathom what existed during World War II in that Americans couldn’t serve together. Segregated units (for both African Americans and Japanese Americans) was the standard for the armed forces – with ground and aviation troops in particular. It was a terribly irony that any American would enlist to fight against tyrannical and horribly racist nations only to face returning home to racial separation and bigotry. As was with Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson pioneering change within professional baseball, so too was were men like Nahem and others with the game within the ranks.

In respecting Mr. Dreier’s work and efforts and not to steal the thunder surrounding his book regarding Nahem, I will do my best to avoid giving anything away regarding his project. One facet of Peter’s work will center on Sam Nahem’s pulling together of the team which including the potentially controversial decision to include African American servicemen onto the team. Though some would assert that adding the likes of Willard Brown and Leon Day to the OISE rosters was the first instance of an integrated ballclub, instead it was part of the beginning of turning the tide for integration (Jackie Robinson, a WWII veteran and former U.S. Army officer and star of the negro leagues would sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers after the end of the 1945 major league baseball season). In the summer of 1944, Hal Harrison would join major leaguers the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Dario Lodigiani, Walter JudnichMyron McCormick, Charles Silvera, and John Winsett on the 7th Army Air Forces baseball and Army All Star teams in the Hawaiian Central Pacific League.

The OISE All-Stars featuring Willard Brown (front row, 2nd from right) and Leon Day (far right, front row), both of whom are Cooperstown Enshrinees. Sam Nahem is in the back, far left (image source: Baseball in Wartime).

The ETO Series was a best three of five games that went the distance. The OISE All Stars were, by comparison to their competition, a cobbled together group of semi-pro, minor and negro league talent that faced off against the formidable Red Circlers who were stocked with two former major leaguers, Johnny Wyrostek and Herb Bremer along with six veteran minor leaguers (the 71st was so talented that the roster featured fifteen players who possessed professional league talent and played on minor or major league teams either before or/and after the war). Following the game 1 blowout of the OISE men, the series could have easily appeared to be a lopsided sweep with the Red Circlers plowing through their second consecutive serious, effortlessly (the 71st swept the champions of the 7th Army, the Blue and Greys of the 29th Infantry Division in three games, just a few weeks prior).

Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars

Name Position
Emmet Altenberg LF
Russ Bauers P
Willard Brown LF
Leon Day P
Mervin Gluckson P
Joe Hermann CF
Harold High 2B
Tony Jaros 1B
Robert Keane P
Nick Macone CF
Roy Marion 3B
Sam Nahem Manager/P
Lew Richardson C

Leon Day (image source: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

On the heels of the 9-2 rout on September 2, 1945, starting pitcher, Leon Day was given the task to turn the tide and did so tossing a complete game, 2-1 four-hit victory to even the series at a game a piece on September 3rd. The OISE team would claim the ETO championship before heading to Leghorn, Italy to take on the Mediterranean Theater champs, the 92nd Division. The Nahem, Brown and Day’s squad swept the 92nd routing them in three games, 19-6, 20-5 and 13-3. Day was a 10-year veteran of the Negro National League before entering the Army in 1943. Leon Day had compiled a 24-14 record with Baltimore, Brooklyn, Homestead and Newark before donning his OISE flannels after hostilities ended in Germany. By the time Day hung his spikes, he began a long wait from Cooperstown that would come 42 years later following veterans committee vote. Just seven days later, Day would pass away on March 14, 1995. Day’s OISE teammate and fellow Negro League veteran, Willard Brown would join him in Cooperstown eleven years later though Brown didn’t live long enough to see his election having passed a little more than a year after Leon.

For a collector of baseball militaria for the past decade, finding pieces pertaining to African Americans who donned the uniform of their nation and their unit’s flannels is beyond difficult and more towards the realm of impossible. In my collection are exactly two pieces and yet only one of them, a photograph, is a vintage artifact.

This PSA-authenticated signature of Leon Day is on an Official American League baseball with the Bobby Brown stamp. Since Day passed in 1995, this ball was signed, in my estimation, sometime in the early 1990s coinciding with the baseball memorabilia boom at that time.

Recently, I was able to obtain a signature of one of these two war veterans and members of Cooperstown. I received the authenticated Leon Day autographed ball much to my elation. Though the ball isn’t in line with what I collect in terms of uniforms, photographs, equipment and ephemera, it does fit well in that this veteran served as a member of the 818th Amphibian Battalion.

When I saw an auction listing for a group of two or three small snapshots that were seemingly removed from a veteran’s wartime photo album, I jumped at the chance to add it to my collection as one of the images showed a group of African American soldiers wearing flannels and army uniforms. The photo, though out of focus and poorly exposed, is (to me) an invaluable piece of history. When I shared the photo with a group of baseball collector colleagues, one of them called attention to who he suspected was a notable professional ballplayer in both the Negro and Major leagues.

When I acquired this nondescript snapshot of WWII African American servicemen ballplayers, I was excited just to have it in my collection. After learning that the image possibly depicted the first black pitcher to toss a no hitter in the major leagues, my excitement only increased.

Usually when I acquire vintage photographs, my first action is to clean and scan (at the highest resolution as is possible) them to create a digital copy of the image. From the initial scan, I begin to adjust and correct any exposure issues and then begin to repair damaged areas that may be present on the image’s surface. The most common repairs are the removal of foxing and cracks that occur with the aging of the silver oxide emulsion due to exposure to air and light. Since the scans are substantially detailed, I am afforded the opportunity to inspect the details in hopes of uncovering additional information that wasn’t previously known regarding the subject of the image. With this particular image, the lack of crisp focus and poor exposure settings, I was unable to discern anything that would lend to identifying the units, location or identities of the men pictured.

A close-up of the tall, lean ball player only seems to confirm the suspicion that he is “Toothpick” Jones.

When I read my collector colleagues remarks regarding the very tall, light skinned man (pictured second from the left) and that he suspected him to be “Sad Sam” or “Toothpick” Jones, a ball player who served in the Army Air Forces and went on to play in the Negro and Major Leagues. Jones was a latecomer to baseball having played football and basketball as a youth athlete. While stationed stateside in Florida, he began playing baseball for small tenant unit team due to the segregation that existed with his command’s team. As it turns out, his team was actually the more competitive squad on which he played at first base and catcher, pitching occasionally.  Jones would pitch for 12 seasons in the major leagues (from 1951-1964) with six teams amassing a 102-101 win-loss record with a career ERA of 3.59. He led the league in strikeouts three times (1955 and ’56 with the Cubs and in 1958 with the Cardinals) and earned two trips to the Mid-summer Classic (1955 and in 1959 with San Francisco). His best season in the majors was with the Giants in 1959 when he posted a 21-15 record and 2.83 ERA, leading the National league in both wins and earned run average.

The likelihood that the man in my vintage photograph actually being “Toothpick” Jones seems to be considerable though there is no way for me to authenticate it as such. Regardless of the identities of the men in the image, the photograph is a cherished addition to my photo archive and will serve as a testament to the invaluable dedication and contribution these men made to their country and to the game. It is an honor for me to be a caretaker of such a treasure.

See also:

Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat

Recognizing Sgt. Ferris Fain’s Army Air Force service, I stanged this photo with his restored bat, a singed baseball (modern) that Fain inscribed his American League batting championship years (1951 and ’52) along with a 1943 U.S. Army-stamped Goldsmith glove and a 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (Fain’s unit and team during the war).

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.

The grit and grime on this poor old (60-plus years) stick was not going to easily give way. (Image source: eBay).

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.

The Hillerich and Bradsby oval brand is very faint due to the typical shallow impressions seen on store model bats. The years of use have worn away the black foil that helped the lettering versus the burned branding seen on pro-model bats) to stand out (Image source: eBay).

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.

Ferris Fain’s faint signature and the Louisville Slugger trademark are barely discernible among the filth (Image source: eBay).

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.

The restoration nearly completed (save for the linseed oil finish), the bat already displays nicely with the signed baseball, original type-1 print, the glove and the two Hillerich & Bradsby pieces of advertising ephemera.

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.

 

 

 

Seeing Stars Through the Clouds: 1943-44 Navy Team Autographed Baseball

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.

The two stars flanking “Official”denote that this ball dates from 1943. The golden toning of the ball is due to  (image source: eBay image).

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).

Panel 1 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 1:

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.

Panel 2 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 2

  • 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.

Panel 3 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 3

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. In revisiting this article after discovering more names while conducting research for an upcoming article, I stumbled across Ray Volpi (previously thought to have been “Volp.” as an abbreviation of his name), a minor league pitcher in the Yankees organization. Ray last pitched professionally with the double-A Kansas City Blues (of the American Association) during the 1942 season. By 1943, Volpi was in the United States Navy and stationed at Norfolk and hurling for the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) alongside Fred Hutchinson, Walt Masterson and Dutch Leonard. Chief Specialist Volpi would be in the South Pacific, playing in the Hawaii Leagues with several of his Bluejackets teammates by 1944. 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
Georgia-Florida League).

Panel 4 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 4

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.

The prominent Spalding logo with Jim Gleeson’s signature easily discernible (image source: eBay image).

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.

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