Category Archives: Replicas and Reproduction Vintage Baseball Uniforms

Seals at War

When WWII ended and the players returned from serving, the Seals roster was full of veterans (noted in capitals): Bottom row: EDDIE STUTZ, Neill Sheridan, Bruce Ogrodowski, DON TROWER, FERRIS FAIN, Morris (batboy), Hal Luby, Frank Rosso, Vince DiMaggio, Matzen (ball boy). 2nd Row: Lefty O’Doul (manager), Frenchy Uhalt, DON WHITE, SAL TAORMINA, TED JENNINGS, Roy Nicely, Joe Hoover, Mel Ivy, Del Young (coach). Top Row: Cliff Melton, DINO RESTELLI, Joe Sprinz, AL LIEN, BILL WERLE, Malone Saunders, Larry Jansen, Frank Seward, Ray Harrell, Douglas Loane, Jim Tobin, Emmett O’Neill, Hughes (trainer).  Four (in bold) of these war veterans would reach the majors in the following years,

Perhaps the title of this article is a bit misleading as you soon will discover or maybe you might think that this writer (me) doesn’t realize that the United States Navy’s special warfare operators, known as SEa Air Land and that I failed to properly type the acronym? You might be wondering if the subject of this article is touching on the armed forces’ use of a species of sea mammal for war? Please allow me to begin with a personal background regarding my interests and passions and then I will conclude this story with the artifact that, in my opinion, required more elaboration and attention.

Since the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been “my” team. I have followed them through each season as long as I can recall. I was born in the same year as one of the Dodgers’ greatest championship seasons. I remember watching the Blue Crew drop three straight games after evening the 1974 World Series with Oakland on Don Sutton’s and Mike Marshall’s combined 11-strikeout dominance of the Athletics. Steve Garvey’s performance (.381 average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) in that series was just the beginning as he established himself as the anchor of the record-setting infield for the next seven seasons (ending with the departure of Davy Lopes). Seeing the Dodgers take the National League flag two more times only to lose the World Series in both appearances in that decade was heart-breaking but it was also synonymous with their history. Like those Brooklyn fans of the 1940s and 1950s, I learned the true meaning of, “wait ’til next year,” which came for me in 1981.

I grew up 1,107 miles from Dodger Stadium which meant that I watched every one of their games on television until 1999. Though my hometown didn’t have a major league team, it was still very much a baseball town with a rich minor league history. The eight Pacific Coast League (PCL) titles alone makes my town the third best since the league was established in 1903, though there were several decades of our principal team’s membership in other leagues also with considerable success (six titles combined among the different lower-level leagues). However, the standout team of the PCL’s history hailed from the City by the Bay; the San Francisco Seals posted fourteen league titles in 55 seasons (the Seals success ranks them 10th in 1925, 44th in 1922, 50th in 1928 and 71st in 1909 in the 2001 Minor League Baseball’s Best 100 Teams).

In 1957 with the relocation of the New York Giants baseball club to San Francisco, the Seals franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Giants). Through a succession of moves and strange minor-league arrangements, the franchise moved to Tacoma, WA (Tacoma Giants), again to Phoenix (Firebirds), Tucson (Sidewinders) and finally to their present location, Reno, Nevada (Aces). During the team’s existence in San Francisco, they were largely an independent team (not affiliated with a major league club) save for six seasons:

Year Affiliation(s)
1936; 1945 New York Giants
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers
1951 New York Yankees
1956–57 Boston Red Sox

For most of the PCL’s early decades of operation, the league was detached from the rest of professional baseball on the right-half of the United States which served to effectively isolate the ‘Coast League allowing for growth and development and essentially becoming (what many would consider) a third major league (along with the National and American leagues). The PCL’s success and high level of on-field action resulted in the league drawing comparative attendance numbers, and in some cases outperforming many clubs of the PCL’s “big brother” leagues. With their teams’ rosters populated with a significant amount of home-grown talent combined with major-leaguers seeking to extend their careers (after having been released from their major league contracts), fans enjoyed exciting games and a high-level of competition. The PCL’s success also meant that the young stars on their rosters were primary targets of the “big leagues” and were often signed away as the youngters sought more lucrative contracts and the lure of major league play.

The San Francisco Seals saw several of their players move on to greater success with a few ending up in Cooperstown:

Earl Averill, outfielder
Joe DiMaggio, outfielder
Vernon “Lefty” Gomez, pitcher
Lefty O’Doul, outfielder
Paul Waner, outfielder

Others passed through San Francisco as they approached their final games as players. Aside from O’Doul who was a Seal before and after his major league career, San Francisco-native, Hall of Fame infielder and O’Doul’s Yankees teammate, Tony Lazzeri played the 1941 season for his hometown ballclub in the twilight of his career.

Following the Seals’ fifth place finish in 1941, team management was faced with questions as to whether a 1942 season would be played and if so, how many current players would be available? All professional ballclubs faced the same concerns and were scrambling to fill roster vacancies as soon as they were notified of a player’s enlistment into the armed forces. Harry Goorabian, a sure-handed short-stop who was new to the team in 1941, clubbed his way to the Seals following his outstanding 1940 season with both the Springfield Browns (class B, Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League) and the San Antonio Missions (class A, Texas League) with a .310 average, would be one of the first to leave San Francisco for the service. Goorabian enlisted into the Army Air Force as a private on January 16, 1942.

San Francisco would see another Seal head to war as right-handed relief-pitcher Bob Jensen enlisted into the Navy on April 23, 1942 without making an appearance in the young 1942 PCL season. Jensen spent 1941 making 32 appearances (197 innings) and amassing a 10-12 record and a 3.88 earned run average as he worked himself back to the Seals roster from the Salt Lake City Bees (class C, Pioneer League). With San Francisco in 1941, Bob Jensen made two appearances, losing them both. Jensen, a San Francisco native, was signed by the Seals and played his first professional baseball season was with the club in 1940, making 34 appearances (he started four). His record, predominantly as a relief pitcher was 2-3 with an ERA of 5.13 before heading to war.

Another Seal infielder, second baseman Al Steele, finished the 1941 season working his way into a part-time role, making 105 plate appearances in 32 of San Francisco’s 176 games. The twenty year-old right-handed middle-infielder batted .242 at during his split season (he also appeared in 20 games with the class B Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League, hitting .228). On April 13, 1942, Steele was inducted at NRS San Francisco as a seaman second class, commencing training as an aviation machinist’s mate at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland Airport. Steel would spend the war working with the scout float planes aboard the USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS Witchita (CA-45) in the Pacific Theater.

Losing three from the roster to service in the war may be insignificant to some, but 1942 (and the war) was only the beginning. As the United States went on the offensive against the Axis powers in two global theaters, the demand for men (and women) continued to increase. President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision and request to keep the game going was delivered by a (January 15, 1942) letter to Judge Kennesaw Landis. “Baseball provides a recreation,” President Roosevelt wrote, “which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.” However, the drain on the rosters continued throughout the war.

As WWII raged on, the Seals’ roster of men who were away serving their country could have been enough to field a baseball team of active duty players. In addition to Goorbian, Jensen and Steele, (through my research) I was already aware of the following Seals players who served on active duty.  Listed here are those men (including their pre- or post-war major league club assignments):

Donald William White enlisted into the U.S. Navy on 15 April, 1942 and served until his discharge on September 13, 1945 (source: OpenSFHistory.org).

Infielders

Outfielders

Pitchers

Duster Mails spent 22 years playing professional baseball, finishing his career with the Seals in 1936. When the US entered WWII, Mails, employed by the Seals in public relations at the time, enlisted into the Marines at the age of 48 in 1942.

Towards the end of August of 1945, just ten days prior to the Japanese signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), teams were already thinking ahead to the boys returning home. Some of the professional players would return in time to finish out the current baseball season. However, most of the team owners began to plan for 1946.

“The Pacific Coast League will have so many players of major league talent next spring that we will be playing very close to major league baseball,” said Jack McDonald, sportscaster and publicity chief for the San Francisco Seals in 1945. These boys,” said MacDonald, “have been playing ball quite regularly while in uniform. Some of them are big leaguers right now.”

“Ferris Fain, for instance, is being hailed as the finest first sacker in the Pacific Ocean area, where he competes regularly against the top talent in the world. Al Lien, the pitcher, has been winning regularly while opposing all-star lineups,” McDonald continued. “If you will recall, Dino Ristelli was the outfielder who led the league in hitting before being called into service in 1944. Restelli is now serving in Italy.” (August 23, 1945 excerpt from the Nevada State Journal. By Hal Wood, UPI correspondent)

I have been a fan (if one can say that regarding a team that has not existed since 1958) of the San Francisco Seals for a few decades. The very first vintage reproduction items that I purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels were a 1939 Seals jersey and a 1940s ball cap (I have a total of four repro Seals caps, now). In addition to the reproduction uniform items, one of the first type-1 vintage photographs that I added to my military baseball image archive was of three Seals players, (two of which served during WWII) Brooks Holder, Ernie Raimondi and Dom DiMaggio. Since then, my Seals collection has remained unchanged until…

The very patriotic wartime cover of the 1944 SF Seals score book motivated me to purchase.

I was scouring auction listings for military baseball-related artifacts when I noticed a piece of ephemera that was colorful and overwhelmingly patriotic and it was associated with the Seals. Without hesitation I submitted an offer and a few days later, it arrived. The piece, a 20-page program and scorebook from the 1944 Seals season, was loaded with stories, features and spotlights on the War and the impacts on the game and the Seals players.

Towards the center of the booklet is a two-page spread that covers specific people from the organization who were serving. Also included among those serving are men who were either killed in action (*KIA) or were taken as a prisoner of war (#POW). The list included more players who served than were previously known (the new names are noted by links):

“I believe that playing service ball made the difference in me going to the major leagues. That’s because I got a chance to play against and with all these guys,” – Ferris Fain, SGT, USAAF WWII

  • Charles J. Graham Jr. – Son of Charles J. Graham (former long-term Seals Manager and team owner), LT COL, USAAF, 96th Bomb Group (WWII) would go on to own the Sacramento Solons of the PCL

Aside from simply enjoying the addition to my collection, I am compelled to learn more about these men that were called out for their war service. My research into the military careers of these men has only just commenced and I am driven by the sentiment that each veteran is due a written (and published) summary of their service (at the very least) in order to preserve their sacrifices made during our national crisis.

The total number of Seals players to serve in the armed forces during World War II (that I have been able to ascertain) is 31 with two being killed in action (Ernie Raimondi and John “Jack” Bowen). The third KIA (the second one noted in the scorebook) and the lone POW (Andrew Shubin and Ted Spaulding, respectively) were both Seals employees. From 1941 through the end of the 1945 season, a total of 91 players filled roster spots for the Seals which (when considering the 31 service members) means nearly 33% of the team served in the Armed forces at some point during the war.

Aside from the content regarding the players and personnel who served, the program also contains many advertisements and other patriotic subject matter that lends considerable insight to the national conscious and how we were once a unified country in pursuit of a common goal.

Purchasing this program was a great choice in that it helps me to shed new light more professional ballplayers who served and revealed yet another man who gave his life for his country that could be honored among his peers at Gary Bedingfield’s fantastic site, Baseball’s Dead of World War II (I have passed my discovery along to Mr. Bedingfield for further research and inclusion). Along with my two in-theater military baseball scorecards (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944), the 1944 Seals booklet, these pieces of ephemera illustrates the game on both the home front and in theater, how united our nation was in its fight against global tyranny and oppression and the need to find respite (through baseball) as the world was coming apart.

“The One Constant Through all the Years…has been Baseball”

USMC or US Navy ballplayers on Guadalcanal during WWII.

Ballplayers (probably USMC or USN) take in instruction from Bestwick, their catcher. I acquired this vintage photo of military ballplayers – obviously dirty from game-action on Guadalcanal in September of 1943. The image was a veteran’s snapshot that had to be approved by the Naval Censor (stamped and signed on the reverse). Author’s collection: dated September, 1943.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.

People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.

At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 1-4

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 2-3 showing the rosters of the All Stars.

Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.

Ernie Lombardi and Dom DiMaggio - Professional Baseball Players-turned Service Members

Ernie Raimondi (center) and Dom DiMaggio both volunteered for service in the armed forces during WWII. Raimondi was fatally wounded near Strasbourg, Germany in January, 1945. This vintage press release image shows the two future service members with the (now) defunct San Francisco Seals in 1939.

One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.

J. F. Scwendemen WWII Baseball Collection

WWII umpire, J. F. Scwendemen WWII military service team baseball collection with dozens of autographs of MLB stars and Hall of Famers (source: eBay image).

In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.

Hugh Casey, Pee Wee Reese - Norfolk Naval Air Station, 1943

Another recent acquisition for me is this September 11, 1943 image. The original Associated Press caption attached to back reads: “Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA.”

In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.

“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts

Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.

See also:

Wearable Nostalgia: Military Baseball T-shirts from EFF

Want to wear your passion for military baseball without spending $200 for a reproduction jersey? These military Tees from Ebbets Field Flannels are the perfect solution.

Want to wear your passion for military baseball without spending $200 for a reproduction jersey? These military Tees from Ebbets Field Flannels are the perfect solution.

Almost a full month of the 2016 baseball season has elapsed and we are beginning to see the alignments taking shape within the standings. My family knows that I follow three Major League Baseball teams; LA, Boston and Seattle. When I was a kid, I discovered the Blue Wrecking Crew of LA during the Cey, Lopes, Russell and Garvey era (“The Penguin,” Ron Cey was from my hometown and my favorite Dodger) watching the NBC Saturday Game of the Week which the Dodgers and my other favorite team of that time, the Red Sox, seemed to dominate the recurring programming. My passion for the Mariners didn’t materialize until the later 1970s with they came into being. Seeing these three teams perched atop their respective division standings as I write this gives me hope for an entertaining season. Heartbreak is certain to follow as the season wears on when one or all three teams will fall back to earth.

As the season continues, my collecting interest presses onward. A few weeks ago, a package arrived from my favorite clothing manufacturer bearing five wonderfully nostalgic garments that fit directly into my area of interest and the subject of this blog. While I have referenced Ebbets Field Flannels in a few postings regarding their jerseys and caps (see: Replicating Military Baseball Style, US Marines Baseball Uniforms) and how this company does fantastic work in recreating this forgotten part of the game’s history. The five garments that arrived are part of EFF’s vintage T-shirt product line that borrows from various elements of history (logos, graphics, patches and other visual cues). The visuals from select teams are tastefully nostalgic and classic designs that are imprinted onto high-quality, domestically sourced jersey-cotton T-shirts.

When I saw the 71st Infantry Division (the “Red Circlers”) shirt, I immediately recognized the graphic from my original 1945 Third Army Baseball Championship scorecard

I owned a T-shirt (of the Vincennes (IN) Velvets) from EFF years ago that I wore so often that it was quite literally reduced to rags after years of use (please reissue this one again, Mr. Cohen!) so I was familiar with the quality of the shirts. The very tastefully executed graphics are over-layed onto the corresponding colors creating a visually appealing garment that will make you want to wear it as often as possible. Buying the 5-pack was an obvious choice so that I can enjoy wearing a bit of history without donning a heavier wool flannel jersey.

For a short time, EFF has introductory pricing (20% off the $30.00 price) on these Military Baseball T-shirts that would make it worth the $24 to give one a try.

The Corps on the Diamond: US Marines Baseball Uniforms

The service teams, though segregated (like the wartime U.S.armed forces) also featured African-American teams and the Marines were no different. This team from Montford Point (at Camp Lejune, NC) featured a star of the Negro Leagues (Dan Bankhead) who would go on to be the first pitcher in the major leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Note the two squads of players – those on the left are wearing the road gray and the players on the right are in white.

The service teams, though segregated (like the wartime U.S.armed forces) also featured African-American teams and the Marines were no different. This team from Montford Point (at Camp Lejune, NC) featured a star of the Negro Leagues (Dan Bankhead) who would go on to be the first pitcher in the major leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Note the two squads of players – those on the left are wearing the road gray and the players on the right are in white.

In one of my favorite films, Field of Dreams, actor James Earl Jones (as fictitious author Terrence Mann) monologues about what (I think) most Americans feel about the game of baseball.

The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field (the baseball diamond in the cornfield), this game, is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.

These sentiments were applicable for Americans during World War II, when all of the world was shrouded in the darkness of the Axis powers and people were being killed by the thousands in Europe and Asia. Though the United States was abstaining from direct involvement when war erupted in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act (of 1940) into law, enacting the first peacetime draft in American history. The following month, in October, 16.5 million draft-eligible men registered for the draft.

Brooklyn Dodgers and U.S. Marines pitcher, Boots Poffenberger demonstrates his wind-up (source: Gary Cieradkowski)

In March of 1941, the first of several major league baseball players began reporting for duty following induction into the service. Though the game was being marginally impacted by the peacetime draft, the distant war was having very little impact. This would change with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following day, on December 8th, Cleveland Indians star-pitching ace, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller enlisted in the United States Navy and opened the floodgates of other major and minor league ball players volunteering to serve their country, leaving the 1942 season very much in doubt due to the sudden loss of manpower on their rosters.

As ball club owners grappled with how to field teams depleted by the draft, President Roosevelt and major league officials met to determine what to do with the upcoming season. FDR ultimately decided that for those supporting the war effort in the factories and on the home-front baseball games would be a good distraction and escape from the doubt and concern. For those in uniform and serving at training commands or spending time off the front lines, a mental diversion such as baseball proved to be a significant morale booster.

Big Leaguers Jim Bivin (left) and Cal Dorsett (right), playing for the 2nd Marine Division team in the Pacific in 1945, are visited by former Braves outfielder-turned USAAF 1st Lt. Tom Winsett at center (source: baseballinwartime.com).

Big Leaguers Jim Bivin (left) and Cal Dorsett (right), playing for the 2nd Marine Division team in the Pacific in 1945, are visited by former Braves outfielder-turned USAAF 1st Lt. Tom Winsett at center (source: baseballinwartime.com).

Showing pitchers (at left) Hugh Casey and Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger, this photo was snapped in 1945 prior to match between Casey and Poffenberger’s teams. Poffenberger’s Marines defeated Casey’s squad from the Aiea Naval Hospital, 2-0.

To outfit the players, the services adopted simple yet recognizable uniforms that tended to be representative of their services. Lettering was ordinary, making it easy for the spectators to recognize each of the opposing teams. Each service and unit team seemed to have unique uniform designs with the exception of the Marine Corps flannels. The service teams competed in relatively normal conditions on fields that were typically located well in the rear, away from the fighting, but it is not suggested that baseball wasn’t played near the front. In the Pacific, as the Navy and Marines were island-hopping in hot pursuit of the retreating Imperial Japanese forces, the men would face periods of dull and quiet boredom between campaigns. Army, Army Air Force, Marines and Navy personnel while on R & R (rest and relaxation on islands such as Pavuvu) would assemble baseball teams to compete against each other.

This photo taken in 1945 on Kwajalein Island shows “Nevil’s devils” who were runners-up in the Island championship. The team was coached by. LTCOL Nevils (photographer – Thorpe, Clell – source: VMB613.com).

This photo taken in 1945 on Kwajalein Island shows “Nevil’s devils” who were runners-up in the Island championship. The team was coached by. LTCOL Nevils (photographer – Thorpe, Clell – source: VMB613.com).

In my research, I have been successful in locating only a single variation: the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF) flannels seen in the accompanying photo, from the home (white flannel with red lettering and piping) or away (gray flannel with red lettering and piping) uniforms. From photos taken as early as 1943 and throughout World War II, we can consistently find this same uniform in use.

Marine Bombing 611′s squadron baseball team in 1945 at Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao, Philippines, late in the war (source: VMB611.com).

Marine Bombing 611′s squadron baseball team in 1945 at Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao, Philippines, late in the war (source: VMB611.com).

Though no photographs are available, one of the most legendary Brooklyn Dodgers players, Gilbert Ray Hodges donned the flannels of the Marine Corps on the diamond. Fresh from his first games as a rookie with the “Bums” in October of 1943, Hodges entered the war as a Marine ultimately assigned to the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 5th Amphibious Corps on the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. Months later, Gil would participate from April 1 through October 6, 1945 in the assault, occupation and defense of Okinawa Shima. Airing a few years ago on the History Channel’s American Pickers (episode: Mike’s Holy Grail – original air date: April 26, 2012) one of the show’s stars, Mike Wolfe, discovered a box filled with a dozen or so of the WWII-era Marines baseball uniforms in a warehouse belonging to the daughter of a former Army/Navy surplus store owner. The majority of the flannel sets were so dirty, worn, and in some cases tattered, that they appeared to have been packaged up immediately following the ninth inning of the last wartime game played.

This Fleet Marine Force (FMF) featured Vernal Leroy “Nippy” Jones (standing, far right) who played parts of seven seasons in the major leagues between 1946 and 1957, seeing action on two World Series champion teams (’48 Cardinals, ’57 Braves). (source: Gary Cieradkowsk)

Desiring to purchase the lot of baseball uniforms (the majority of which were the road gray version, complete with trousers), Mike negotiated a price of $200 for the lot, figuring to assemble at least three good uniform sets.

To learn more about the WWII USMC baseball uniforms, the first place I turned to was the garments themselves, seeking tags or stamps that might provide clues. However, upon inspection, both the jersey and trousers were devoid of these markings showing only size tags.

Sadly, In my research for this article, I was unable to uncover any specifics that would provide exact dates (for the WWII design) or who manufactured them, other than dated photographs of Marines wearing the gear from 1943 to 1949, the year prior to the Korean War.

Research is a ceaseless task and I continue to maintain a certain level of vigilance in pursuit of the facts to either refute or validate what I have previously learned about these uniforms. Over the course of owning this wonderful Marines baseball uniform is that the overall design may predate World War II by decades. One of my collector colleagues is (as I write this) digging through his photo archive collection in search of an image that could back up this claim. If that does happen, it could potentially muddy the waters to some extent as to pinning down the age of these uniforms, broadening the time-period of their use.

Regardless of my fact-finding pursuit, to possess an original vintage military baseball uniform (at least for this baseball and militaria collector) opens the door to speculation as to who wore it on the field of play. At 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds, there is that extremely slim possibility that my large-sized uniform set could have been issued to and worn by Gil Hodges, one of my all-time favorite players. It certainly is fun to dream.

Collectors seeking to fill a vacancy in their own collection with a solid placeholder or fans of military baseball don’t have to wait (or be subjected to the increasing prices) to locate one of these USMC baseball gems. Ebbets Field Flannels, makers of vintage minor league baseball jerseys and caps, released one of their latest military jersey reproductions this summer. The 1943 U.S. Marines jersey, modeled almost exactly after the road gray uniforms (such as those “picked” by Mike Wolfe), provides a fantastic alternative to the real thing. With the exception of the missing red button due to the non-standard button alignment of the originals, there is little to complain about on this repro jersey.

I did end up purchasing one EFF’s examples just to prevent me from wearing my original.

Replicating Military Baseball Style

I recall the very first professional sports team jersey that I was given as a child was a Los Angeles Rams (the classic blue with white trim) that came as part of a uniform set (which included trousers, shoulder pads and a helmet) for Christmas in the early 1970s. In the middle of that decade, my father gave me a fitted San Francisco Giants ball cap that I wore until it no longer fit  – even though I was, by then, I die-hard Dodgers fan. By the time that my hometown received NFL and MLB teams of our own, I was fully entrenched as a Los Angeles football and baseball fan.

My original Los Angeles Rams football uniform kit was very similar to these, dating back to 1971.

My original Los Angeles Rams football uniform kit was very similar to these made by Rawlings, dating back to 1971.

When I was twelve, my grandmother gave me a beautiful Los Angeles Rams jersey (#84) for my birthday that I wore for a few years. I remember the first jersey that I bought for myself a few years later, an on-field Seahawks #80 (Steve Largent) mesh shirt that I still have today. I was always a bigger fan of baseball and yet I still never owned a jersey from my favorite team(s). I wouldn’t have a baseball jersey for years to come.

When I was at my last duty station, I read an article about a company that recently started operations, using old stock wool flannel to recreate replicas of vintage baseball jerseys from the minor league teams of decades long since passed. When I discovered that the company, Ebbets Field Flannels was local, I paid them a visit that same day. I saved up for a few weeks and managed to purchase my first (of what would become nearly twenty) of their line of jerseys, a 1939 San Francisco Seals design.

Over the ensuing years as EFF expanded their product line, they began to incorporate jerseys from the Armed Forces service teams from World War II, beginning with Joe DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Forces design. Later, they would add Bob Feller’s Great Lakes home and road designs. It is plain to see that EFF’s ownership has a passion for military baseball and the service team uniform items as the catalog of designs continues to expand. For collectors like me who would never don a 70+ year old garment for daily wear, acquiring an honest reproduction of the for my personal enjoyment is a great substitute as I leave my collection to be preserved for posterity.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to display my collection and though I was quite pleased with what I had to display, I felt that a few other items would fill in some gaps where my items were insufficient in conveying the narrative of the connection between baseball and the armed forces. I was a little reluctant at first, but as I began to prepare for the event and arrange my display, I found that adding in one of my reproduction jerseys and ballcaps was a nice augmentation to the original uniforms and artifacts that would be shown. I placed a 1943 Great Lakes Naval Station home jersey (as worn by Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller) and a 1957 Naval Academy ball cap, both from Ebbets Field Flannels.

If you are seeking your own military baseball items, I have provided a list and images of the EFF current catalog:

Jerseys

 

Caps 

 

Jackets

For those who treasure historical commentaries on the game and its uniforms, I encourage you to follow Ebbets Field Flannel’s blog.

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