Category Archives: Bats

Bat and Ball Fund Bat: A Very Rare Babe Ruth Model Bat

Perhaps one of the most highly sought-after categories of baseball militaria is bats that were provided to and used by troops during World War II. Capping off the collection of a complete combat uniform on a mannequin, including all the soldier’s carried equipment, a Special Services U.S. Army-stamped baseball bat and glove provide the arrangement with an honest representation of what would have been seen in Europe when the soldier was between campaigns. Such baseball equipment provides exhibits with authenticity as baseball was an essential element among the troops in more ways than just recreation. For Navy and Marine Corps displays, the same holds true with U.S.N.-marked baseball lumber.

The game derives its name from the one piece of equipment that has the potential to be touched by every player on the field regardless of the participant being on the offensive or defensive side: the ball. However, the bat is the instrument that is used to put the ball into play, sending each player into motion once the ball makes contact with it. Runners on base and fielders spring into action following the crack of the bat against the hide-covered ball. “If you go to the New York Metropolitan Museum, you will see the knights of the old days with their spears, their weapons of choice. Baseball’s weapon of choice is the bat,” esteemed baseball collector Marshall Fogel stated in an interview for Episode 1 of Collectable TV’s The Greatest Collectors series.[1]

Johnny Pesky (right) of the NAS Honolulu “Crossroaders,” wielded a Babe Ruth model bat in 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds collection).

The connection between a weapon and a piece of game equipment is perhaps closest in the realm of the baseball militaria genre of collecting. With its obvious hobby crossovers between militaria and baseball memorabilia, baseball equipment stamped with military markings draws considerable collector interest. Baseball’s weapon of choice can bear an array of markings, including “U.S.,” “U. S. Army,” “Special Services U.S. Army,” and “U.S.N” to signify the branch of service in which the bat was distributed during WWII. While a variety of bat manufacturers provided bats to the armed forces, the overwhelming majority of the lumber seen on domestic and combat theater diamonds was made by Hillerich and Bradsby (H&B). While the War Department’s acquisition focus centered on acquiring ships, aircraft, munitions and personnel, baseballs, gloves, bats, and other sporting equipment were provided to troops through means outside of normal governmental funding and requisitioning. As the war-fighting funding was sourced through tax revenue and war bonds, recreation equipment money was generated through external programs.

In the midst of the Great War, Washington Senators players Eddie Cicotte and Nick Altrock flank Chicago White Sox’s Ray Schalk with ball-shaped buckets used to accept donations from fans attending their game as they raise money for the Professional Base Ball Fund, raising money to provide baseball equipment for American troops (image source: Leland’s).

“Baseball’s contribution to the soldier boys will not cease until the war is over,” Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith said in the days following the United States’ entry into World War II.  Griffith, who during the first World War established and oversaw the Bat and Ball Fund to provide overseas-deployed American troops with baseball equipment, commented about the efforts begun by mid-December, 1941. “That was my own effort,” Griffith said of the WWI fund, “but this time, all of organized baseball is supporting the plan.”[2] Baseball did indeed take an active step in directly supporting members of the armed forces at the war’s onset. On December 16, 1941, major league baseball announced that it was committing $125,000 for a bat-and-ball fund to provide equipment to men in armed forces training camps and had already paid $25,000 into the program.[3]

The Professional Base Ball Fund stamp on a wartime Rawlings baseball. This ball that was signed by former major leaguers who played on Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the summer of 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

During the major league winter meetings, as the Giants negotiated a trade to obtain the Cardinals’ power-hitting first baseman Johnny Mize, the owners proposed doubling the prices of the 1942 All-Star Game, scheduled to be hosted at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, with all receipts to be directed to the Bat and Ball Fund.[4]  With seating limited to 35,000 fans, Dodgers president Larry McPhail planned to expand capacity in order to meet his goal of raising $100,000 for the Bat and Ball Fund during the “mid-summer classic.” McPhail also predicted that the fund would collect $500,000 from major league baseball by the end of 1942.[5] Joining the fund-raising effort, the International League announced its first-ever all-star game to be played on July 8 in Buffalo, New York, with 75 percent of the proceeds slated for the U.S. Army [relief] Fund. With two of the league’s clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals, based in Canada, 25 percent of the proceeds were to be directed to the Canadian Army Fund.

By the war’s end, the armed forces had received an abundance of equipment, including millions of baseballs and also bats and gloves numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately for collectors, specifics regarding production numbers and distribution across the branches of the armed forces are not available. With the considerable number of bats produced by H&B for the armed forces, it is reasonable to assume that more pieces were delivered lacking branch markings than the number of those bearing stamps. Production and distribution data provide collectors with a baseline in gauging the potential for scarcity of surviving numbers and yet demand for specific markings drives the values of those pieces.

Market interest in wartime bats began to pick up late in 2019 and mirrored the trends of the baseball memorabilia market. Of the service-marked lumber, those marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” garnered the most attention, which drove values to between $200-700 depending upon condition and player endorsement.[6] While scarcity is often a factor in driving values, in the absence of demand, it can have little influence on the price of an item. There are a handful of smaller bat manufacturers who supplied the armed forces with equipment in smaller numbers than H&B. They attract marginal interest from collectors and leave prices consistently below the $50 threshold. After years of searching, a scarce H&B wartime-marked bat finally surfaced.

In early March, a reader published a comment that immediately grabbed our attention. “Hello. I recently acquired a Louisville Slugger 40 BR Babe Ruth bat marked Professional Baseball Fund,” the comment began. “I assume it was produced for military personnel (based on reading a post on baseballs),” he continued. “Any ideas?” he asked.

The Professional Base Ball Fund stamp up the barrel from the center brand mark (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Could this be one of the marked bats that we had been seeking? Uncertain if any of these survived nearly eight decades, an email was promptly dispatched, seeking photographs of the piece in question. The response answered the question. Since our collection already featured two of the scarce Professional Base Ball Fund-marked baseballs, the marking on the bat clearly matched and confirmed suspicions. The photos included close-in captures of the center brand and the player endorsement stamps. The model 40BR was a retail or “store-model” bat and was lightly stamped with black foil instead of the burned-in, deep impressions featured on professional models. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the black foil was worn, which commonly occurs with game use, handling, and decades of oxidation. Other condition issues included considerable wear on the knob and barrel ends and a crack extending from high on the handle towards the barrel.

As the bat was an obvious candidate for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to secure it rather than to see it hit the open market and risk seeing it fall prey to well-heeled collectors entangled in a bidding war. Entrusting the bat into the hands of a cross-country carrier, we awaited the arrival with considerable anxiety, hoping against loss or damage. The package arrived safely after more than a week in transit. After a thorough and careful examination, we decided against any intervening measures with the crack or the loss of foil in the brand markings and stamps. Preservation and stabilization are always a function of accepting artifacts into the collection, and so the next steps to be taken included a thorough surface cleaning and an application of linseed oil to prevent subsequent decay.

A Professional Base Ball Fund trifecta – Displayed with our Hillerich & Bradsby model 40 BR Babe Ruth bat are two WWII team signed balls also bearing the stamp of the Professional Base Ball Fund. On the left is a Rawlings-made ball next to one from GoldSmith (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Baseball memorabilia and militaria collectors alike pursue the offensive weapon for numerous reasons. Fogel’s characterization of the bat as a figurative weapon resonates with those interested in pursuing them to highlight the game’s history with a very tactile, tangible artifact. “So, I knew from the beginning, doesn’t it make sense to collect the weapon that makes these guys great?” “That’s what got me interested in the war club, the bat.”[7]

More like an arbalest in that it propels the ball into play, these vintage wartime weapons continue to command considerable interest and subsequently increase values on the collector market. It is difficult to gauge a value for our Professional Base Ball Fund-stamped model 40 BR George “Babe” Ruth bat. However, recent sales of the more common models (absent military markings) have been for prices consistently above $500. Special Services U.S. Army-stamped pieces have seen highly competitive bidding, with auction close-values being more than $800. The Professional Base Ball Fund-marked bats are the scarcest of the Hillerich & Bradsby wartime bats. They could drive an appraised value in excess of $1,000.

(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Our bat has found a home in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection for the foreseeable future and will be part of our public exhibition schedule in the local area for this year and in the future.


[1] The Greatest Collectors: Episode 1: Marshall Fogel, Collectable TV, February 24, 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWgcyOxSnHk&t=11s

[2] Profits of Star Game, The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), December 18, 1941: 38

[3] Now a Rose Bowl Game for Durham, N.C., The Birmingham News (AL), December 17, 1941: 16

[4] Bat, Ball Fund Voted $25,000, Chattanooga Times, December 12, 1941: 20

[5] Kease, Harold, The Cracker Barrel, The Boston Globe, January 19, 1942: 18

[6] Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, Chevrons and Diamonds, May 11, 2021: https://bit.ly/3M1tkl8

[7] The Greatest Collectors: Episode 1: Marshall Fogel, Collectable TV, February 24, 2022: https://bit.ly/3JHYlZE

Navy Slugger, Army Lumber

We often discuss items that have been on our “want” lists for extended periods of time and when such items are located, there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment. In some instances, we have merely speculated that an item, such as a game program or scorecard, must have been created for a game and then we hold out hope to find one (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). In other areas of baseball militaria curating, we are fully aware of the existence of artifacts but have fallen victim to limited budgets or poor timing. With the highly competitive market for military-marked World War II baseball bats, we have found specific examples to be entirely elusive. 

A selection of our service bats, left to right: Yogi Berra (1960s Naval Academy index bat), U.S.N. marked Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, two Melvin Ott (U.S. and U.S.N. marked) and Jimmie Foxx models (U.S.N. and U.S. marked), and U.S.N. stamped Charlie Keller signature (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the past few years, we have been able to curate an assortment of wartime baseball bats; however, we have been limited to sourcing just two of the four known branch markings. In our May 11, 2021 article. Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, we spotlighted military markings found on wartime bats along with factors that influence collector competition and valuation. Aside from player endorsements found on military-marked bats, bats marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” are by far the most heavily sought. Bats marked with “U.S. Army” (sans “Special Services”) are a close second in terms of desirability, while “U.S.N.” and “U.S.”- marked pieces bring up the rear. The Chevrons and Diamonds bat collection has consisted entirely of bats marked with the latter stamps.  

Our first U.S. Army-stamped wartime service bat is this 36″ H&B Safe Hit Johnny Mize model made by Hillerich & Bradsby. Its condition, while showing signs of use, is outstanding (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Condition has also been a factor that has allowed us to acquire the pieces in our collection. Often purchasing items that have been abused or neglected and show substantial signs of decay and wear, we have taken on bats that collectors would not consider acquiring as firewood, let alone displaying as a prized artifact. If we determine that a piece can be reconditioned and repaired while preserving the aesthetics, we will take pieces with such efforts in mind. To date, we have experienced success with a handful of pieces. 

Searching for pieces endorsed by 1930s and ‘40s legends and marked with the elusive service stamps has proven to be a source of frustration. Our previous experience leads us to keep our expectations extremely low when a prospective item becomes available at auction. We bid amounts that are within budget only to watch the prices reach 200 percent or more above our bid and well above reason. Service-marked bats that are in excellent or better condition attract bidding that goes far beyond our top price and we watch them pass by. 

In the last quarter of 2021, one seller listed in succession six or seven wartime service-marked bats with endorsements, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and others, each featuring some of the most sought-after branch stampings. It was obvious that the group of auction listings pointed to a collector’s carefully curated collection that was in the process of being liquidated and the market responded accordingly. Each listing was highly contested by several bidders, driving prices to several hundred dollars for each piece. By the end of November, all the listings closed and we were unable to compete for any of them.  

All of the factory stamps are crisp and dark (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

During the holiday season, a few individual auction listings for wartime service bats surfaced. One of the items was a Hillerich & Bradsby Safe Hit Johnny Mize Model bat marked with “U.S. Army” on the barrel. Viewing the accompanying photos, it was clear that the condition of the bat was excellent despite indications of game use. All the branded stamps were deep, dark and very visible and the wood surface still held the manufacturer’s original finish. A subtle irony regarding the service stamp was that Mize served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. 

September 28, 1943: Lieutenant Gordon (Mickey) Cochrane (center) gives his 1943 Great Lakes baseball squad a sendoff as 10 more members leave for advanced training in the East. Left to right: Glenn McQuillen, St. Louis Browns; Lt. Cmdr. J,. Russell Cook, station athletic officer; Johnny Mize, New York Giants; Eddie Pellagrini, Louisville Colonels; Bob Harris, Philadelphia Athletics; LT. Cochrane; George Dickey, Chicago White Sox; Barney McCosky, Detroit Tigers; Johnny Schmitz, Chicago Cubs; Leo Nonnenkamp, Kansas City Blues; Vern Olsen, Cubs and Joe Grace, St. Louis Browns (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Athletic Specialist First Class Mize enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March, 1943 as his New York Giant teammates were weeks-deep into spring training. The manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane, had an established pipeline serving as a feeder to keep his team’s roster stocked with pro ballplayers when they entered the Navy. Cochrane’s Bluejackets landed a true power hitter in Mize as he joined a team that included several former major leaguers, including Frank Biscan, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace, Johnny Lucadello, Barney McCosky, Red McQuillen and Johnny Schmitz

Johnny Mize was transferred to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was slated to play for the base team while in a training program. Unfortunately, baseball was not an option for the slugger as an illness kept him on light duty, excluding all physical exertion as he convalesced.  

By the spring of 1944, Mize was on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and assigned to the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay. He was promptly assigned to the base’s baseball team, the Klippers. In addition to his playing for the Klippers club, Mize also played for various All-Star teams and on the Navy’s Service World Series team that defeated their Army counterparts in four straight games in the autumn of 1944. In early 1945, Mize joined an assemblage of Navy ballplayers for a weeks-long tour of the western Pacific, playing exhibition games to boost the morale of troops stationed on the islands (see Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature). 

Athletics Specialist 1/c Johnny Mize pose before a game at Honolulu Stadium in 1944. The slugger holds his own U.S. Navy-stamped signature model bat at his side (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As 2021 was winding to a close, it became apparent that the bid we placed was going to succeed and deliver to our collection its first U.S. Army marked piece. Perhaps it was the timing of the holidays and the pre-payday-post-Christmas financial crunch many people face that led to the limited competition at the auction that afforded us this win. The well-packed Johnny Mize model bat arrived safely and without any complications. Upon close examination of the wood grain, knob, barrel and brand marks, we were quite pleased to note that the condition was better than was discernible in the auction images. 

The measured length of this Mize model is 36-inches though the knob is lacking the typical measurement stamp (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the addition of this bat and several other items that we have curated for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the new year is off to an incredible start! 

Wartime Service Bats

 
See also

Vintage Lumber Academics: Pro Model Bats from Annapolis

Our collection, while diverse in its artifacts, is still narrowly focused on a spectrum that we have labeled “baseball militaria.” From uniforms, scorecards and programs, vintage photographs to on-field equipment, we have curated a broad range of items to shed light on the game’s lengthy, intertwined history with the armed forces and the people who played and served. 

Without conducting a detailed inventory and employing a proper taxonomic, categorical and dating scheme, we can only approximate statistical data regarding the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection. Somewhere between 85 and 95 percent of our artifacts originate from the World War II period, with a handful dating to before or after that time frame.  

Standing in the batter’s box and staring down a major league pitcher while attempting to determine the type and location of the pitch about to be thrown requires steel nerves and concentration. Prior to that moment, batters will have seen hundreds if not thousands of pitches, with considerable success in putting the ball in play. The sensation of leveling a bat and solidly connecting with a baseball is a feeling that is indescribable, especially if one is swinging a wood bat. While wooden bats are a mainstay of the professional game, college players employ aluminum “lumber” at the plate. 

The switch to aluminum bats in the NCAA addressed two significant issues in the college game: the lack of offense (and thus, low fan interest and poor ticket sales for games) and increasing equipment costs to replace bats due to breakage. Aluminum bats were advantageous due to their significant reduction in weight, which allowed batters to increase bat speed and provide an increased energy transfer to the ball. The velocity at which the ball left the bat dramatically increased, allowing batters to hit for better power and average.  

While college players are still permitted to use wooden bats, doing so would put hitters at a competitive disadvantage. Rather than the crack of the wood connecting with a pitch, fans attending college baseball games hear only the “tink” of aluminum from coast to coast, including at the armed forces service academies. 

Though we are on the lookout for other service academy bats, these two are welcomed additions to the collection (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Our collection has a modest gathering of baseball artifacts from both West Point and Annapolis; however, two pieces of note are bats used by Annapolis’ baseball team. They stand out when compared to our WWII service lumber. From the center brands and barrel markings to the imprints on the knobs, the two bats differ from the 1940’s retail pieces commonly distributed to troops during the war. 

Based upon the tight wood grain, weight and length along with the markings, it is quite apparent that these bats were manufactured for players who possessed greater strength, talent and skills. Properly identifying the bats provides data for cataloging as well as establishing an approximate value. 

The two Naval Academy bats in our collection were manufactured with specific characteristics, including weight, length and proportional dimensions that were customized to meet the desires of professional ballplayers. These specifications were catalogued and assigned model numbers which could be ordered from Hillerich & Bradsby (H&B) by other players and teams. 

N A V Y is branded along with the signatures of the pro ballplayers’ names indicating that these were purchased by the Naval Academy from H&B (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Many professional model bats are marked with college or university names beneath the player signature on the barrel. In some instances, locating a professional model bat with a notable name and a correlating college can add significance to a collection as is the case with a Jackie Robinson model purchased by Ohio Wesleyan University, the alma mater of Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey. Located below the players’ signatures on the barrel of each bat are stamps spelling out the team name; N A V Y, indicating that our two examples were purchased by the Naval Academy.

Each N A V Y-marked bat in our collection is team-purchased and known in the sphere of collecting as “Team Index Bats” or TIB. Baseball artifact expert Dave Grob wrote an excellent piece (Team Index Bats | MEARSONLINE.com, April 29, 2007) documenting TIBs for individual players. He stated “Team Index Bats provided the team with the ability to make orders for: 

  1. General, At-Large Team or Organizational Use. 
  1. Specific Specialized Team Use for items like Fungoes, Weighted Bats, and Generic Pitchers’ Bats. 
  1. Special Events such as World Series and Old Timers Games. 
  1. Bulk specific orders to facilitate spring training. 
  1. And yes, possible individual player orders.” 

The first point in Grob’s list is most applicable regarding collegiate use of professional bats and directly pertains to our two examples.  

Showing the knobs of both bats, the stamped model numbers are visible. Yogi Berra’s R43 is visible in addition to the Naval Academy player’s handwritten jersey number an possibly his initials are also visible (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The first NAVY professional bat that we acquired was an “R43” Yogi Berra model (coincidentally, Berra served in the Navy during WWII). The measured length of this bat is 35 inches, which corresponds to the bats that the Yankee catcher ordered from H&B starting in 1947. Prior to Berra adopting the R43, the model was a Babe Ruth Model. 

Stamped into the knob of this bat is “C12” which corresponds to the model number of the H& B bats used by Nelson “Nellie” Fox during his career (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Chicago White Sox second baseman Nelson “Nellie” Fox, who starred with the club from 1950 to 1963 after three seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, used an H&B model “C12” throughout his career. However, in researching Fox’s C12 bat lineage, an interesting and likely speculative historical bat lineage surfaced on a few different bat collectors’ forums. Unfortunately, the following is not attributable and unverified yet is fascinating. 

In June 1932, Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer ordered a ” [Rogers] Hornsby model bat with a Billy Rhiel (Gehringer’s Tiger teammate) handle.” The Rhiel handle was thicker than the Hornsby model cited. After additional orders in May 1934, that model was designated as “Gehringer’s 5-26-34,” and subsequently, in the early 1940’s was assigned H&B model number “G7.” 

In April 1951 Nellie Fox ordered a bat that had likely been crafted to the dimensions of a player identified as R. Kramer that had been apparently designated model C12. The dimensions were apparently the same as Gehringer’s G7 model, as the entry in Fox’ H & B records reads “4-13-51 R Kramer C12 use G7.” A similar notation “C12 use G7” appears several more times in Fox’s records in 1951, and finally, when Fox signed an endorsement contract with H&B on 7/11/51, his signature was put on a Model C12 which also became his Pro Stock model and, due to the somewhat unique dimensions of the bat, became forever linked with Nellie Fox. 

Theory — There is no Major League player of the period named R. Kramer. Although the R. Kramer notation in Fox’s records may refer to a minor league player, it is also possible that the name was misspelled in Fox’s records and actually refers to Roger “Doc” Cramer who played with the Tigers throughout the 1940s and who would have been in a position to see and try out Rhiel’s and Gehringer’s bats and request the same model for his own use. Later, when bats were pulled from the H&B vault to be assigned numbers, the bat was designated C12, which would be consistent with H&B’s system of the first letter of the model number reflecting the bin from which it came, in this, the C (Doc Cramer) bin…. 

Thus, it is possible that Billy Rhiel’s model bat (Hornsby with thick handle), Charlie Gehringer’s model bat (Hornsby with Rhiel handle designated G7), Doc Cramer’s model bat (designated C12) and Nellie Fox’ model bat (C12) all share the same dimensions, with the lineage of Hornsby to Rhiel to Gehringer to Cramer to Fox. 
 

Unattributed commentary published in multiple locations.

Setting the Nelson Fox C12 model heritage aside, our more pressing desire was to properly date the two bats. Referring to the Keyman Collectibles’ Louisville Slugger Bat Dating Guide, we can narrow down the age of each bat to a range of years by focusing on details in the center brand. 

Despite the varied depth of the impressions, these center brands reflect the 1965-79 period. However, closer inspection of the details provides specificity as to the age of each bat (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).
The R43 Berra bat’s Powerized wordmark has a serif on the “d” which, combined with the center brand iteration, indicates year of manufacture range of 1964-66 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Both of our bats are marked with the same center brand that was used by Hillerich and Bradsby from 1965 to 1979. We focused attention on the registered trademark symbol, the circled “R” located adjacent to the “R” at the end of SLUGGER

With the era established and seeking to further narrow down the age of the bats, we referred to the POWERIZED wordmark to the right of the center brand. The absence of the registered trademark over the “d” on the Yogi Berra model narrows the age of the bat to 1965-1972. However, the unusual font-style of the wordmark (which includes a serif on the end of the “d”) was employed by H&B from 1964-66 along with our specific center brand. Based on these details, our “R43” Yogi Berra model bat dates to the above three-year period in the mid-1960s. 

The Powerized wordmark on the C12 Nelson Fox model has the registered trademark symbol over the “d” dating the bat to post-1972. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The Powerized wordmark on the Nelson Fox bat includes the registered trademark symbol above the “d,” indicating a date range of 1973-1979. However, H&B relocated model numbers from the knob to the barrel in 1976. Since the “C12” is located on the knob, we can further narrow the range to 1973-1975. 

With the NCAA’s approval of aluminum bats ahead of the 1974 season, it is unlikely that colleges continued ordering wood bats. Because of the shift in materials, it is our assertion that our Nelson Fox bat dates to the last year of the wood bat regulation for collegiate baseball, pinpointing the year to 1973. 

Baseball bat research resources:

Healing Battle Scars: Double-Ott Rejuvenation

 
Now that the regular season of baseball has ended and the postseason is underway, the ballparks have fallen silent as players pack their personal effects and head off to their off-season activities. For curators and collectors alike, there is no down time as artifacts require attention whether for care and maintenance or for acquisitions and research. Earlier this year, we spotlighted the maintenance program which we use to care for and preserve the leather fielding equipment in our collection (see: Maintenance Stop: Caring for 75 Year-Old Fielding Leather) and also planned to document preservation processes used for other artifacts in our collection 

Baseball bats, like gloves, are a highly tangible and tactile part of baseball history and represent one of the most significant aspects of collecting. To most collectors, a wooden implement that has been turned on a lathe, sanded smooth and applied with a finish, would not appear to require much, if any, preservation. For a substantial percentage of collectible bats, limited intervention is all that is required. However, many of the military-used bats have been subjected to years of use and improper storage, resulting in destabilized wood cells, grain separation and even decay (rot). 

World War II bats, while not entirely scarce, can be quite a challenge to source. When they do surface on the market, they are typically well-used and replete with more than their share of battle scars, cracks, divots and other signs of long-term abuse. Often stored for decades in harsh environs and exposed to moisture, paints and solvents, service-marked baseball bats tend to have hardly any aesthetically pleasing traits that would make them display-worthy. Our U.S.N-marked Ted Williams signature model bat was in such poor condition when we acquired it that it appeared to have been used to smack line drives with crushed stones (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved); however, with cautious preservation it is now displayed among our rarest baseball artifacts. 

With retail or store-model bats, the brand and model markings are lightly applied with stamps and colored foil (most often black) to simulate the burned brands seen on professional bat models. Through normal use, the foil flakes away, leaving a faint indentation that is barely discernible. One of our earliest non-military bat acquisitions, an early-1950s, Ferris Fain signature, store-model bat, was completely devoid of the black foil. After cleaning and reconditioning the wood, we carefully restored the brand, model markings and Fain’s facsimile autograph with display-worthy results (see: Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat). 

In May, we provided guidance on Hillerich and Bradsby store-model bats that were stamped and distributed throughout the armed forces during World War II (see: Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market). In focusing attention on the two levels of “H&B” store models, player-endorsed (which feature facsimiles of player autographs) and player models (marked with the catalog number “No. 14” and the “Safe Hit” brand), we spotlighted the most prevalent of service-used bats. Offerings in these two lines are pursued by collectors who focus on specific players and include the potential of acquiring two different bats associated with a favorite player.  

We have several service-marked, store-mode bats in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection with player endorsements, such as those of Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller and the aforementioned Ted Williams. While we prefer to source bats with endorsements from players who served, we take pieces as they become available, regardless of the player’s name stamped onto the barrel. A fair amount of these wartime service bats tends to be associated with the game’s legends, such as Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth and others who did not serve during WWII, if at all. Yet other bats endorsed by players who served, including Charlie Gehringer, Joe DiMaggio, Musial and Williams, are of great interest to military-focused curators and collectors. In some instances, drawing correlations between players and the armed forces in order to satisfy an unwritten acquisition rule can make for an enjoyable exercise in the exploration of the notion of “six degrees of separation.” Perhaps it is more honestly stated that stretching facts in order to justify an accession of a non-veteran-associated bat came into play with two specific pieces within our collection.  

By the fall of 1944, 34-year-old Mel Ott, longtime right fielder for the New York Giants, achieved his twelfth All-Star selection and finished his third season as the manager of the team that finished fifth in the National League. With a lengthy list of Giants players serving in the armed forces, including Johnny Mize, Morrie Arnovich, Buddy Blattner, Ken Trinkle, Harry Danning and Willard Marshall, Ott signed on with the USO to visit the troops and provide a morale boost to the men who were engaged in pushing German forces out of the nations they occupied. Joining Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bucky Walters, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Frankie Frisch, and Washington Senators pitcher Dutch Leonard, Mel Ott and the rest of the men traveled to the European combat theater. 

December 27, 1944 – European War Front: Manager of the New York Giants, and an outstanding major league batter, is shown autographing a baseball for a grinning Yank when Ott and a group of famous ball players visited a rest center near the front. The boys got quite a thrill upon meeting their diamond favorites (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The men saw the war in ways that Americans could not comprehend as their tour put them in front of GIs whom they addressed from makeshift stages in precarious conditions. These included being on flimsy platforms in shambles that were once buildings during some of the worst winter weather conditions on European record. Their tour took them into Belgium as the Wehrmacht began their massive offensive that would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Wearing Army combat uniforms, the ballplayers toured areas that were, at times, within a half-mile of the enemy lines. Dutch Leonard recalled the following spring, “I’ve gone through some bad winters around my home in Illinois, but what we had on the trip around the front beat anything I’d ever experienced. No matter how much I put on, I never felt warm.” The players witnessed the horrors of combat just hours after an appearance. Leonard continued, “…and the boys who listened to us at night would be in action the next morning.” Ott and the rest of the men did not back out of their mission despite the harsh and dangerous conditions and instead pressed on to finish the tour. Appearing before more than 300,000 GIs, the men took the time to engage with the service members after the shows, signing autographs and talking baseball.  

Recognizing Mel Ott’s Hall of Fame playing career along with his time spent with the troops, we acquired a “U.S.” marked Melvin Ott Model H&B Safe Hit bat that had some condition issues but would make an aesthetically pleasing display once meticulously cleaned and conditioned. Just weeks after receiving the Safe Hit Ott model, a “U.S.N.” marked, Mel Ott signature model became available, which we did not hesitate to add to the collection. The condition of the U.S.N. bat was as close to “poor” as could be without being worthless in terms of collectability.  

In assessing the condition of each Ott bats once in hand, it became quite apparent that both would require considerable reconditioning effort to stabilize and make them presentable among the other pieces in our collection. Our approach to conditioning is to preserve as much of the original wear and natural aging as possible while removing the decades of accumulated dirt and foreign substances. Once the surfaces are prepared, we assess the condition of the brand marks to determine if additional intervention should be taken and restoration work done. One of the challenges in collecting service bats in particular is that they have seen a lot of use after the war.  

In the post-war years, the armed forces began to sell off outmoded or aged equipment that was considered surplus as each branch of the military contracted to significantly reduced manpower sizes. Baseball equipment was sold as inexpensive alternatives for industrial and Little League teams and advertisements proliferated in periodicals such as The Sporting News, featuring military-marked mitts, gloves and bats. Though some equipment sold was in new condition, having never made it to the GIs, much of it was used before beginning another cycle of game activity.  

Both of our Mel Ott bats showed significant use, including breakage and field repairs in order to extend their usefulness. Broken bat handles complicated our rejuvenation process, adding multiple steps as we strove to maintain the aged appearance. After gluing a break, the removal of excess glue and the smoothing of the wood surface required abrasives such as sandpaper which easily cleared away the oxidized top surfaces and left behind a new, lighter surface.  

The Ott Couple 
The condition of our Safe Hit, Melvin Ott Model, H&B (catalog) No. 14 bat was fair. The crack extending from the upper reach of the handle towards the backside of the center brand was not obvious when viewing the stamped markings, which meant that the bat could be left as it was and displayed to conceal the most severe damage. However, with paint and what appeared to be tape residue on the barrel, restorative work had to be done, including closing and stabilizing the crack. Working through the process, we worked to remove the paint and soften the discoloration left behind by the tape. Desiring to retain the original patina of the wood, our crack repair did not conceal the crack, but when we completed our efforts, the crack appeared less obvious than it was when we acquired the bat. 

Describing our second Mel Ott bat as a basket-case would be a mild description. With nearly all of the black foil worn or flaked off, little remained of the contrasting markings. Fortunately, the impressions were quite deep, leaving the brand, model number and signature somewhat visible. The upper third of the handle was wrapped in grip tape, leaving a rather unusual appearance. Applied decades ago, the tackiness was long gone, having left behind an almost shell-like covering over the handle. To properly preserve and revitalize this piece, the tape was removed, revealing a sizeable crack. As with the Safe Hit Ott bat, the ensuing crack repair was minimal in order to preserve much of the aged and worn appearance while providing stability to the bat.  

Revitalizing Methodology 
Considering that both bats required cleaning and removal of layers of dirt, grime and other foreign substances, we employed a safe and very mild adhesive remover (Goo Gone) possessing subtle solvent properties and, with light application, is safe for wood finishes. With stubborn substances such as paint, we combined the solution with .000 fine steel wool and a light pressured motion moving with the woodgrain to begin stripping away the surface buildup. To preserve the original finish of the bat, we took our time with the most difficult areas. Once we were satisfied with the results, we removed all the loosened material with a clean cloth that was lightly soaked in the solvent. Once the Goo Gone had fully evaporated, the next step was to address the cracks. 

Our process for repairing cracks was rather lengthy. Two essential elements that we used were carpenter’s glue and enough clamps to provide enough compression to squeeze the crack tightly. After carefully and generously applying glue into the full extent of the crack, pressure needed to be applied so that it forced the excess to emerge. Wiping away the excess, we allowed each bat to sit for 12 hours before releasing the clamps.  

With the glue hardened, the next step was to use an abrasive to smooth away any remaining excess glue while limiting removal of the aged finish from the surrounding areas. Inevitably, some of the surrounding wood surface would be impacted and could be addressed in a subsequent step. For each of our bats, we briefly employed 240-grit sandpaper to wear down the heaviest glue deposits before switching to 800-grit to remove the majority of what remained. To ensure a smooth surface, .000 steel wool removed the last remnants of the excess glue.  

With the crack repairs complete, the area surrounding the crack was lightened due to excessive material removal and it almost screamed of repair work. Since the wood of both bats was hickory, the aged finish darkened to a reddish-brown hue. Applying a rub of wet coffee grounds directly to the area provided a subtle stain to soften the brightness of the fresh wood surface. 

Filling in the lettering is not as simple as it seems. The “n” impression was very shallow-to-nonexistent making replication a challenge. This shows the markings after a round of synthetic aging (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Evaluating the brand stamps and lettering applied to each bat, we determined two separate paths to address the dulled appearances. With the Safe Hit Ott bat, the brands were applied deep enough that they were quite visible and merely needed to have the dirt and dust deposits carefully removed. We determined that the signature Ott bat would be negatively impacted by any attempts to manually restore the center brand as it remained somewhat visible. However, the signature and the U.S.N. stamp were candidates for restoration. 

Restoration of black foil stampings can be a challenge. In assessing the impressions, some first-time restorers may be inclined to use a black art ink pen with a fine tip. Considering the porous nature of the wood, the cellular structure is absorbent and will draw the ink away from carefully applied lines and leave an unsightly and amateurish appearance, regardless of the careful hand-applied markings. We recommend using fine tipped acrylic paint pens. The black paint does get absorbed into the wood and mistakes can be easily corrected (wiping with a paper towel). Once the marks have dried, the black paint is easily aged. With careful and precise application, the “U.S.N.” stamp and the impression of Mel Ott’s signature were filled with black paint however, some excess extended beyond the lines which we opted to address once the paint cured. After the paint dried overnight, the appearance did not align with the markings of a worn and battered bat. Using a fresh piece of steel wool, we began to remove the excess paint. The result of the synthetic distressing resulted in an aged appearance of the markings. 

Utilizing toothpicks to remove crusted dust and dirt from the Safe Hit Ott bat’s stampings revealed a much more crisp and dark impression for both the barrel and center brand markings. After preparing the stamps and marks, each bat was ready for a final cleaning before applying the surface-conditioning linseed oil.  

Before applying the conditioning, the surfaces of the bats required one final surface cleaning to remove the debris and dust and to ensure a clean surface to receive the oil finish. Using a clean cloth or fresh paper towels generously saturated with the gentle solvent, we thoroughly wiped down each bat, ensuring that all substances were removed. With another 24 hours of drying, we undertook the last step of coating the wood with linseed oil. This final step might have taken a few applications over the course of multiple days. We allowed the bats to absorb the oil and to dry coats. When the wood no longer absorbed the oil, the excess was wiped away and the bats were staged to provide for complete drying.  


 
The ultimate step of our process was to gently buff the wood with a clean and dry cloth, which brought a dull shine to the wood, revealing its natural beauty, emphasizing the years of use and providing a visually pleasing artifact for display. 

Our efforts to preserve these two bats resulted in two display-worthy artifacts. (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Related Chevrons and Diamonds Articles 

Vintage Bats 

 
References

Equipment Fund Raising Events 

*- Hubler, David, and Joshua H. Drazen. 2015. “The Nats and the Grays: how baseball in the Nation’s Capital survived WWII and changed the game forever.” 

A Hall of Fame Softball Greeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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