Category Archives: Uniforms

Marine Corps Baseball Caps: The End of My Drought?

Baseball is overwrought with comparisons and associations in terms of sayings, phrases and figures of speech. Listen to any radio broadcast or televised baseball game and you will invariably hear a plethora of soliloquies by the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator that are filled with analogies that help to illustrate points or, if you were born anytime after 2000, will leave you baffled as to the point being made. I find that I am guilty when it comes to infusing my articles with such comparisons and today’s will not fail to insert at least one such analogy.

My WWII Road Gray Marines Baseball Uniform includes the trousers. Some variations or trousers also have the red soutache running down the side of each pants leg. This was my first military baseball acquisition (source: eBay image).

Since I started actively collecting military baseball memorabilia, I have found myself alternating between the tortoise and the hare. There have been times that it seemed that I was grabbing up every photograph or piece of ephemera that surfaces – especially since they were pieces that were on the money in relation to the sort of items that interest me which felt as though I was sprinting through my sourcing and acquiring. However, finding (and being able to afford) uniforms and jerseys left me feeling much more like the tortoise as I was patient with the slowness of these items’ availability. I have a handful of jerseys at the moment and it has taken me more than a half-dozen years to accumulate them.

From the outset of my interest in this arena, there have been a few categories that have eluded me all together. One, being the aforementioned hunt for honest military baseballs (vice the frauds that dominate eBay such as these) and the other, vintage military baseball uniform caps. Throughout my years sifting throughout virtually every listing of anything remotely connected to military baseball, I have yet to see a listing for a baseball cap. I have nearly 100 vintage photographs detailing baseball play, team photos, GIs’ snapshots and press photos of games (ranging from just off the front line pick-up games to organized league and championships). Throughout my photo archive and those that are viewable online, I am very familiar with the caps worn by service members during WWII (and prior).  I have seen dozens of auction listings of baseball uniforms and not a single one was ever with a ball cap.

As time went on, I began to extrapolate from the absence of vintage military ball caps that these servicemen either wore them until they became tatters or the caps just didn’t make it home from The War. I likened the lack of caps to a severe drought – one like California suffered through for almost a decade. Last fall and winter, California’s landscape began to change. Aside from the devastating landslides suffered by many areas throughout the state during the massive rains that fell, green foliage began to fill the surrounding areas. Driving southbound from the Siskiyou Mountain Pass on Interstate 5 this spring, we noticed the green vegetation and the fullness of Lake Shasta. The green followed us down through the central part of the state. It was amazing to see that the drought had seemingly ended. Spring marked an end to another dry season for me, too!

In early spring, a military jersey was listed online that I had never seen before. Though it was a Marines jersey, the colors were far different from the two that I already have in my collection.  This one, instead of being a wool-flannel road gray with red trim and letter, was a home-white wool flannel with blue trim and lettering that was like a carbon-copy. I quickly submitted a bid and ended up winning it. When I got it home and professionally cleaned, I placed it with the gray/red jersey and they were clearly made to be used as home and road versions for the Marines team. On the red uniform, the button that is on the letter “I” is red to match. On the home uniform, the “I” button is blue to match. It was a fantastic find and one that I think caught other potential collectors off guard. What does this have to do with the end of dry season?

This wool flannel jersey shares design and construction with the grey and red uniform that launched my military baseball collecting. The blue cap with yellow “M” is seen the jersey.

Later in the spring, another auction caused me to pause and spend a lot of time pouring over countless photographs in order perform due diligence prior to making a decision. This particular listing was of a ball cap that the seller listed and described as being from the estate of a WWII USMC veteran. After asking the seller for specific information pertaining to the veteran in an effort to validate his claims, he was unable to give anything that would help me pursue identifying the original owner. He stated that the estate sale was facilitated by a third-party and that any personal information was unavailable. This meant that I had to place little value upon the seller’s claim and pursue another avenue. I turned to the photograph research that I had performed and took a chance based upon what I found.

This navy blue wool cap has seen better days (there is some damage to the middle of the bill). Note the wool yellow “M” and how it matches the blue lettering on the accompanying photograph.

There are several photographs of the “Marines” uniform being worn by men various settings. It is very difficult to discern which darker shade of gray is red or blue (considering the blue of my latest Marines uniform) is essentially indistinguishable, due to all of the WWII images being black-and-white. However, I can tell that the road gray Marines jersey is the most prevalent in photographs. There are at least two photos that could show Marines wearing the home white/blue uniform but it is impossible to confirm. There are a few different caps being worn – the most common appearing to be a road gray with a darker “M” and matching bill color (assumed to be red).  What is consistent across the photos is that the font of the “M” matches the same lettering on the jerseys. The auction cap, navy blue wool, has the same font lettering “M” as is seen on all three of my jerseys. My thought is that the color yellow was used as it contrasts the navy blue and is also a prevalent USMC color used in insignia and emblems. This cap very well could be what was worn with my home white/blue uniform but sadly, I have no definitive proof and no provenance. With the matching letter and matching navy blue, I pulled the trigger and added it to my collection.

As it has certainly rained in California over the course of their drought, one or two days of rain over such an expanse of dryness did not mark an end to their misery. Similarly, one cap over more than six years of searching does not signify an end to my ball cap dry season.

This Marines jersey is constructed from a cotton canvas material (known as “duck” or twill) and is more lightweight and breathable than the wool counterpart uniforms.

Another indication of the lettering material are the visible moth nips. The cotton material is flawless.

The design is very reminiscent of ball caps of the 1940s and 50s. (source: eBay image)

In the last few weeks, two more caps were listed (by different sellers) that caught my attention. Both were clearly Marine corps caps (red with yellow lettering) but they were different from each other. One of them is wool with the letters “M” and “B” and could refer to a few different USMC commands or team-centric organizations (perhaps, “Marine Barracks”). I watched this cap listed and go unsold now a few times (it is still for sale). It was the second cap that stood out like a sore thumb for me.

As I wrote earlier, I have three Marines baseball jerseys. The third one is very different from the home and road wool variants and is constructed from a light-weight cotton canvas material and red in color. The yellow soutache (trim) applied to the placard and on the sleeves appears to be rayon. What drew me to the second (of the two red ball caps) was the base material – also lightweight cotton canvas. The yellow letter “M” on he front panels is in the same font as the uniform lettering and also appears to be wool felt (which is consistent with the jersey). In my opinion, these similarities eliminates almost all of doubt and I couldn’t help but place the winning bid.

When this cap arrives, it will be the second military baseball cap added to my collection in less than three months. Should I declare that my cap-drought has officially ended? Perhaps it has concluded but there is still the matter of the lack of available vintage military baseballs.

Patching Up the Game: Baseball Uniform Embroidery

Militaria enthusiasts have long enjoyed collecting embroidered insignia – patches – since they began to emerge on the uniforms of soldiers, sailors and marines and airmen. From the earliest times when embroidered rank began to be a part of the uniform, someone has collected them. By the Great War when unit insignia began to propagate onto the olive drab wool uniforms (at the war’s end), collectors on the homefront were awaiting to fill their collections with the dozens upon dozens of colorful patches.

This WWI Marine Uniform has a beautiful shoulder patch of the 11th Marine Regiment, 5TH Marine Brigade.

I can imagine the young boy admiring his father’s old doughboy WWI uniform that he discovered tucked away in a trunk in the attic or perhaps even his father’s few spare (unused) unit insignia kept safely in a wooden box on the dresser. The young boy asks his father for one and dad lovingly agrees to hand one or two over to the interested son. The young son then shows the patches to his friend who also has a veteran father with a similar cache of insignia and a trade is made, igniting the popular aspect of the militaria hobby that continues to this day. It may just be my perception, but a seemingly smaller segment of patch collecting centers on patches that adorn professional baseball uniforms.

In the 19th century, baseball uniforms were sparse in adornments. Some bore no indication at all that would lend to their team names or home cities. Uniforms in the earliest days might even lack color. As the game matured, uniforms began to be trimmed with piping, pinstripes and adorned with soutache (braiding encircling the collar, sleeves and the edged of the button-faces). Player numbers made an experimental appearance on the 1916 Cleveland uniforms (and again with the 1923 Cardinals) but wouldn’t begin to be widely adopted until the 1929 Yankees. Numbers on the uniform fronts started in 1953 with Brooklyn and though other teams have dabbled in this practice, only the Dodgers have remained consistent (the smaller red numerals remain on the lower right, at present).

Another uniform decoration that has become common-place with the modern game; a practice that is widely accepted as a means to commemorate special occasions, significant events and anniversaries is the affixing of patches to the jersey sleeves. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first appearance of a commemorative patch first appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century, “Uniform patches have long been used to commemorate or promote special events. The first such patch used on a major league uniform was worn by the 1907 Chicago White Sox on the left sleeve of their road jerseys. The circular patch commemorated the club’s 1906 World Series victory over their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Cubs.”

Rabbit Maranville of the Boston Braves, 1930 with the Boston 300th anniversary patch (image source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

When the United States was drawn into WWI, Major League Baseball answered the call. Some teams began to visibly demonstrate their patriotism and support of the citizens (that were being called up to serve) by decorating their players’ uniforms with embroidered emblems stitched to their jerseys. Brooklyn and Chicago of the National League along with Chicago, Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland of the American League participated in 1917-18 with patriotic sleeve patches that were attached either to the chest or sleeves. With the start of the 1925 season, the National League set out to commemorate their 50th season with a patch to be worn by all of the NL’s teams. In 1930, both of Boston’s major league teams wore sleeve patches to pay tribute to the city’s 300th anniversary. In the season preceding when New York City would play host to the 1939 World’s Fair, all of the city’s teams (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) wore a patch to recognize the event throughout that year. To mark the sport’s alleged centennial, all major and many minor league clubs wore a patch to mark the occasion.

With the United States fully immersed in World War II and her citizens weary from the want of more than a decade of a depressed economy, promoting healthy living. In a period news article, an officer of the Ft. Des Moines WAAC training center emphasized the role of each American, “you’re big job now,“ said the WAAC lieutenant, “is to train yourself to be of worth to the government; first, train yourself physically to withstand the terrific strain which we must all endure; second, you must be mentally stable.” This was the message of the Hale American Health program that was promoted by many sports organizations, most-notably throughout all levels of baseball. Beginning in 1942, the HALE American “Health” shield patch began showing up on all major and many minor league teams’ uniforms. As the war progressed, the “HEALTH” lettering was dropped in favor of red and white stripes.

The Health patch found its way onto military team uniforms during the war in different variations. In researching photographs, most of the patches adorning military baseball team uniforms were with the red and white vertical stripes. One variation that I have, as yet, been unsuccessful in locating a real-world example of has “U.S.” superimposed over the vertical stripes.

This 1955 jacket or sweater patch originates from an Air Force team from the Kunsan (Korea) Air Base and was most-likely, locally made.

My Kunsan Air Base baseball team patch is fully-embroidered and appears (by the construction) to have been made locally in Korea.

The practice of patching military baseball uniforms continues much in the same way today as with professional teams. Collectors need to be savvy to discern what is authentic or reproduction or to distinguish the difference between military and civilian baseball patches. Photographic evidence helps to provide some measure of provenance (photo albums from the veteran who wore the original baseball uniform; the source of the patch) and should be paired with the patch, if at all possible.  Unlike military uniform adornments, patches from service uniforms are rather scarce. Though I have been searching, I have only successfully landed one such patch for my collection.

In an upcoming article that I am presently researching, I will be focusing on another armed force patch that was worn on a handful of major league uniforms by veterans who returned from WWII. Stay tuned.

 

Resources:

 

Powderhorn Baseball: Seeking on-the-Diamond Photos of the 399th

As seen in the Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit (for the 2001 All Star Game festivities), Lou Gehrig’s and Babe Ruth’s jerseys are on display.

One visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY will pique even an average fan’s interest in viewing or handling game-used equipment. My first visit to Cooperstown was an eye-opening experience as I took my time, completely absorbing each exhibit and the artifacts that were displayed as they told the stories of the players, teams, cities and record exploits on the field. To see a uniform on display that was worn by a legendary player from the early years of the game gives a sense of connection to the game, bridging a decades-long gap the moment it comes into view.

I spent an entire day at the Hall of Fame museum; countless hours standing and staring as I viewed the artifacts and the associated photographs of the players. Though I already owned a few ball contemporary caps that I would occasionally wear, after seeing the vintage baseball uniforms and caps, I wanted to have something of my own (yes, I am a bit of a sucker) which led me to purchase a pseudo replica of an old Brooklyn Dodgers cap. After leaving the museum, I strolled through a few of the sports collectible shops along Main Street that were in close proximity of The Hall and viewed a few vintage game-worn jerseys and autographed balls that were listed for sale (albeit out of range of my budget).  Ever since that trip and the subsequent visit a few years later with my wife, I have been fascinated by the old uniforms and jerseys of the game.

One of the “Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams’ jerseys as displayed by the Baseball Hall of Fame traveling exhibit in 2001.

Better than simply viewing a vintage baseball jersey is to actually touch and hold and manipulate one. Most of my game-worn jerseys show signs of wear and use: dirt stains from sliding into base or sweat stains from the player’s repeated game-use (yes, this isn’t the most appealing visual) which conveys their usage.  A well-known collector of game-used jerseys, Stephen Wong, has jerseys that were worn by legendary and notable players and has authored two books that feature selections from his collection. In his first work, Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections, Wong demonstrates how he employs period and player-specific photography as an effective tool as a means to authenticate a jersey by verifying unique traits (alignment of pinstripes, lettering, wear, repairs, etc.) that can be cross-referenced. In his second book, Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments, Mr. Wong showcases his jerseys (or full uniforms) along with photographs of the player wearing the same or similar garment. The pairing of vintage photos alongside the visually stunning photography of the uniforms as they currently exist is lends to the connection. As an aside, both books are a must for baseball memorabilia collectors and fans of the game from its golden era.

It is far easier to locate images of professional ballplayers wearing their uniforms than it is to obtain photos of military ballplayers. Of the uniforms that I own, the road gray (and red trim/lettering) Marines uniform is the only one that I have found representative photographs of (unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to identify an individual jersey and the Marines appear to have supplied a considerable quantity to their men in theater). As for the other four jerseys, no photographs have yet to surface that would visually connect them to game use or ball players wearing them.

Other than being in need of dry-cleaning (if for no other reason than to remove the wrinkles), the overall condition of this baseball uniform is good (eBay image).

Distinctive unit insignia (DUI) for the 399th Infantry Regiment.

While I failed earlier this year to acquire the (possible) Nisei relocation camp uniform, my most recent baseball uniform acquisition occurred nearly a year ago. Listed on eBay, the road gray jersey and trousers (with red rayon soutache and flannel lettering) that once belonged to a soldier from the 399th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Powderhorns” due to their distinctive unit insignia), 100th Infantry Division. Across the front of the jersey in red wool flannel block letters, “399 INF” with the numerals to the right and the letters to the left of the placard. For nearly a year, I have been watching for any photographs to surface that might show this uniform in action. Many of the photos that I have purchased over the years depict games being played late in the war in the European Theater but most of the players’ uniforms lack any unit identification markings.

Showing a close-up of the convex two-hole buttons (which “could” indicate that this jersey was made by MacGregor-Goldsmith) and the soutache that encircles them (eBay image).

Further inspection of the uniform fails to reveal anything that would identify the veteran or even the manufacturer. The tag in the collar of the jersey was printed in ink with any manufacturer’s markings, if they were ever present are long-since worn off or faded into obscurity. What is visible in the tag in d simple block lettering, “STYLE” and “union made” and a very faint place for the veteran to print his name. I have been diligently searching other jersey listings in an attempt to match the label to possibly identify the manufacturer. One clue that might hint at a manufacturer are the buttons. According to Stephen Wong’s research, the two-hole, convex buttons (that are present on my uniform) are unique to jerseys manufactured by Goldsmith MacGregor.

“Button whose surface curves outward. These buttons are typically associated with Cincinnati uniform manufacturer P. Goldsmith & Sons, later MacGregor-Goldsmith and later MacGregor. Because of their unique style, convex buttons in particular the two-hole variant, can be used to identify a jersey’s manufacturer in period images.” – excerpt from Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments

As far as accurately dating the uniform, the unit lettering and the design of the jersey and trousers indicate that it can only be from World War II. Thought the 399th was formed and officially activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in November of 1942 and the boys deployed to the European Theater of Operations in October of 1944 and would serve until the war’s end.

The 399th Infantry Regiment History

Considering the unit’s war service and deactivation in January of 1946, I have no doubts that this baseball uniform most-likely dates from 1943 to 1945 and was predominately used while the 399th was in overseas service.

I hold out hope that I will be able to locate a photograph showing servicemen from the 399th playing a game while wearing their uniforms if only to have the visual connection.

Nisei Relocation Camp Baseball: Authenticating a Uniform

This WWII blue cotton duck Fifth Army uniform dates from WWII and is in pristine condition. The Great Lakes Naval Training station jersey is a reproduction (made by Ebbets Field Flannels).

I am a bit of a jersey-nut. If I tallied all of my wearable sports jerseys, I think they would number somewhere in the 40s. The majority of that number consists of baseball jerseys – the most significant percentage of those are flannel reproductions of vintage minor league, negro league and WWII military baseball versions. Since I started to actively pursue militaria (beyond what I have inherited from family members), I have searched for and acquired a few baseball jerseys (three of which also included the accompanying trousers). For my military baseball collecting, landing jerseys (especially those with provenance) is the ultimate in my collecting quest.

I will be focusing some of my future posts on the vintage uniforms that are currently in my collection. Though a few of them are in need of more thorough research (in order to determine when and where they might have been used), forcing myself to write about them and share them on this blog will compel me to press further into locating any sort of data that can help me to connect them more specifically with history. In previous posts, I have documented some of the military baseball uniforms that eluded my pursuits (Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform, Obscure Military Baseball Jerseys – Rare Finds or Fabrications)) though in writing about them, helps me to preserve a record of what exists in order to have a resource for analysis.

I have seen several vintage baseball uniforms (specifically jerseys) that have been listed at auction that would be fantastic to add to my collection but they don’t truly fit in with my narrow military focus. Last year, one uniform came to market that I really wanted to pull the trigger on as it was very closely aligned with my interest but still fell outside of the military. It went unsold and was relisted three times with price reductions that were inching the grouping closer to a reasonable price range for me and had it gotten a bit lower (before it sold), this article would be covering my sixth vintage jersey (uniform) rather than another one that got away.

This autographed Nisei team photo shows several of the players wearing (what appears to be) the same uniform that is listed within an auction for a purported Nisei baseball uniform that was used in one of the War Relocation Center camps (eBay image).

There are volumes upon volumes of books and personal narratives of one of our nation’s darkest actions ever perpetrated upon its own citizenry; Executive Order 9066 which called for and executed the Internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Internment of Italian Americans was signed by Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order authorized the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort and was able to accomplish this by withholding due process to those subjected to the terms of the order. On the United States’ West Coast, all Americans of Japanese Ancestry were removed from their businesses, property and homes (many, forcibly) and ultimately relocated to large camps that were hastily created by the War Department within the interior of the United States (away from the sensitive military areas) and greatly lacked in necessities and most comforts afforded to even the poorest of the poor.

Baseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943. (Source: Library of Congress: Ansel Adams)

To counter the effects of the isolation and monotony of incarcerated camp-life, these Americans engaged in as many normal activities as possible. Baseball teams were formed and, in some of the camps, substantial leagues were formed (at the Gila camp, a 32-team league) and competed against each other. One ball-playing internee (George Omachi) noted, ”It was demeaning and humiliating to be incarcerated in your own country. Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable.” I can’t help but consider that many of the young military-aged men who played on the camp teams opted to also serve their country, leaving behind their imprisoned families to serve the nation that stripped them of their Constitutionally-protected rights.

This three-piece baseball uniform set could have been originally used by a professional team as noted by the ghosted lettering across the jersey front (eBay image).

The uniform sold for less than $400 which, if it truly is from a Nisei and minor league team, is worth the selling price (eBay screenshot).

In terms of collecting and possessing a uniform worn by a camp ballplayer who could have also served in the armed forces, it would have been a nice addition to accompany my other items. Further justification that the uniform bears military historical significance is that the camps were all administered and secured by the U.S. military (predominantly, the U.S. Army). This particular uniform may also have possessed other baseball historical importance. Close examination of the jersey shows ghosting of lettering on the chest that could indicate prior use before it found its way into the camp. Accompanying the uniform was an autographed team photo showing players wearing (what appears to be) the same jersey and trousers as was listed in the online auction. The listing description didn’t provide anything in terms of provenance or any details surrounding how the seller obtained the items or who they came from. Had the auction gone unsold and relisted at yet a lower price, I would have pressed for information to help support the claims made within the listing.

What is challenging about the uniform is the lack of readily available analytics to validate the claims made by the uniform’s seller. In researching the uniform, one can only utilize what is visible within the auction photographs while placing very little weight upon the descriptive text. What can be seen:

  • The material and construction of the uniform (wool flannel)
  • Ghosting of lettering across the chest (though what the lettering was is indistinguishable in the photos)
  • The uniform has matching manufacturer’s tags in the collar of the jersey and inside the trousers (Powers Athletic Wear; Waterloo, Iowa)
  • The uniform’s design and appointments (the soutache on the jersey front and trouser legs)
  • The matching cap design: six panel with leather sweatband and soft bill

Without a database of labels for the manufacturer, specifically dating the uniform inside of a broad range (1940s to 1960s) is difficult. At the very least, the uniform was made after the 1930s (comparing it to other known uniform designs within these eras).  I unsuccessfully scoured the internet for anything related to Nisei baseball in search of photographs that could support the seller’s claims. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount to wade through but nothing like this uniform could be located.

Relaxing behind the lines: members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) take in a game in France in 1945 (source: Oregon Nikkei Endowment on Flickr).

The seller claimed that the uniform was previously used by a minor-league team, stating “It was a uniform from the California Fresno Bees/Minor League team.”  He or she mentioned the (then) common practice of handing down old uniforms, often removing the names and number prior to giving them to the new team(s). There are no records that identify the name or location of a professional team fitting the one provided within the auction details serving to increase doubt as to the veracity of the listing as presented. Without the provided photo, there is virtually nothing to corroborate the story that this uniform had been used by a Nisei team, however the photo is very convincing.

Though I was unconvinced, had the price been a bit lower, I probably would have pulled the trigger and made the purchase. I remain mixed, however that I would be celebrating or left disappointed with the purchase of an overpriced vintage adult baseball uniform that lacked the purported history. I am genuinely hopeful that the person who ended up buying the uniform was able to fully research and validate that it truly is what it was listed as.

I would be truly honored to have one of these uniforms from the 442nd RCT baseball team in my collection (source: Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice).

Nisei Military and Baseball Resources:

 

Navy Major League Uniform Insignia – Ratings for Ballplayers

One of the areas I spend time focusing my collecting in is with the navy enlisted rating insignia. For those of you who are neck-deep strictly in baseball memorabilia collecting, rating insignia are the embroidered badges that are affixed to the left sleeve of the navy enlisted uniform and indicate the individual sailor’s job specialty and his or her pay-grade.  I have been collecting this embroidery since I joined the Navy more than 30 years ago – by default, I purchased multiple rating insignia when I was promoted so that I would have enough on hand for all of my uniforms. Once I got out of the service, I merely stored all of my uniforms and accouterments, thereby inadvertently starting my rating badge collection.

September 18, 1943 - 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 (author's collection).

September 18, 1943 – Hugh Casey (at left with boatswain’s mate 1/c rating), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, donned different uniforms for the war but were still playing top notch ball at that time. They formed the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA (author’s collection).

When I started to specialize in the older badges (the most recently made rating badges in my collection dating to World War II), I focused on some specific ratings due to their history or correlation to the job that I held when I served. It was around this time that I began to pay more attention to baseball in the armed forces and the close link shared between the two (dating as far back as the American Civil War), especially in terms of collecting. I recalled years ago when I met a few of the game’s legends (specifically, Bob Feller and Duke Snider) and that I had the opportunity to talk about our common experience in serving in the U.S. Navy. I took stock of the autographs that I have obtained and noted that I had signatures from other major leaguers who also had served.

 

Harold "Pee Wee" Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station's Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees' shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates.

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station’s Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees’ shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

When the U.S. was catapulted into World War II, the Navy was not prepared to fully manage the influx of volunteers that began to respond to the attack by rushing to recruiting stations around the country. The Navy Department had been engaged in new ship construction and modernization of the fleet as war raged in Europe and the far east.  So, too was the anticipation of the swelling of the  Navy’s ranks. In a November 21, 1941 letter from the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (responsible for personnel management) to create an undefined specialist rating (to provide new enlisted ratings that would be needed in wartime but didn’t fall within the established navy enlisted rating structure) to accommodate the needs (though it is unknown the actual date the rating was created). When it was established, the first four specialists — designated on the rating badge the letters A, I, S and P, bordered by a diamond outline — were authorized in February 1942. Specialists could be appointed directly from civilian life to any petty officer grade depending upon their skill level.

Cleveland Indians pitching ace, Bob Feller had been in the league for nearly six years by the end of the 1941 season. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, he was driving from his home to meet with the Indians management to discuss his new contract for the 1942 season hearing of the attack on his car radio while en route and felt compelled to serve, instead.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walter Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walker Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center (source: National Baseball Hall of Fame) .

 

Looking back fondly on his naval service, Feller talked of when he enlisted, “After my basic training, the Navy made me a chief petty officer and assigned me as a physical training instructor (the insignia as denoted with an “A” in the center of a diamond – one of the Navy’s new specialist ratings). It was valuable in its way, but I wanted to go into combat. I’d had a lot of experience with guns as a kid, so I applied for gunnery school and sea duty. After four months of naval gunnery school in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to a battleship, the USS Alabama (BB-60), as a gun-captain on a 40-mm antiaircraft mount that had a crew of 24.

After serving in combat aboard the Alabama, Feller was sent to the Great Lakes naval training center in March of 1945 where he played for and managed the base’s ball club until the end of the war.

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy's inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA — 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy’s inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a rising star for the club’s middle infield as a short stop having just finished his third season and first as an All Star in late 1942. With WWII fully raging in both theaters, the twenty-four-year-old Dodger enlisted and was accepted into the Navy on January 18, 1943 to serve, like Feller, as a physical training instructor. Reese would spend much of his time in this capacity both domestically (commencing with his first duty station at the Norfolk, VA navy base) and in the South Pacific (with the Sea Bees).

Specialist “A” rating badges while not rare are still somewhat difficult to locate. If you are seeking to add any of the specialist badges to your collection, be prepared to pay as much as $40-50 depending upon the rate (petty officer 3/c to chief petty officer). I have seen both the dress blue and dress white variants. It is possible that there are some reproductions being passed due to the higher prices these rating badges command so pay attention to the embroidery work and the patterns used for the eagle.

References:

Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform

Uniforms are perhaps the most visually appealing connection to baseball’s history and I consider it an honor to have a few vintage examples in my collection. From the most mundane and ordinary to the ornately appointed and trimmed-out jerseys, viewing and touching the material of a piece of baseball history is a very gratifying experience.

Throughout the past several decades, uniforms have experienced a significant amount of change en route to the breathable (and sterile) double-knit polyester togs that are seen on today’s diamonds. Some of the most interesting aspects of jerseys and trousers, as seen on major and minor league fields, have also been found to have been employed within the ranks for armed forces service teams.

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

I am always vigilant with regards to baseball uniforms that I would love to add to my collection and in the last eight months, a uniform set surfaced at auction that really piqued my interest. The group consisted of a two-color (white with burgundy sleeves and lettering) jersey and ball cap; a white, six-panel crown (with burgundy piping between each panel) that is capped by a color-matching button and bill. What set this uniform apart from every other offering that I have ever seen? This jersey and cap set was made of satin material.

While many of the game’s current fans are familiar with baseball’s past wool uniform materials (there several combinations; wool flannel, wool-cotton, wool-poly blends, etc.), collectively referred to as “flannels,” few have knowledge that a handful of teams experimented with satin as a base material.  When teams began to install lights for night games (the first artificially illuminated major league game took place on May 24, 1935 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field), they sought to shake tradition up by employing a different uniform for these select games. According to Marc Okkonen in his 1991 work, Baseball Uniforms of The 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide, the Reds were the first also to experiment with satin in conjuction with games played under the lights:

“The Cincinnati Reds introduced night baseball in 1935 and in the following year they commissioned the Goldsmith Company to produce a special uniform for occasional game use in 1936 and 1937. It is not clear what inspired this so-called “Palm Beach” version (possibly, it was the advent of baseball under the arc lights) but it presented some interesting departures from long standing Reds’ uniform tradition. In place of the standard C-REDS logo, the name REDS appeared in the now-fashionable red script lettering on the left breast. And the real shocker was the combination of white jersey and BRIGHT RED pants, which was only one version of the new Palm Beach ensemble.”

Other teams followed suit with their own renditions of satin uniforms starting with Cardinals in 1941 (and again in ’46), the Dodgers (with at least three different examples) in 1944 and ’45 and the Braves in 1946. Jackie Robinson would wear the handed-down Dodgers satins during his stint with the organizations farm club, the Montreal Royals. There are no references that I could find to the employment of satin uniforms later than the 1940s.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

What makes the military baseball uniform unique beyond it being the only one that I have found is that it is directly associated to a specific Army installation. Camp Hunter Liggett and that it is made of the rarely seen satin material.  The uniform jersey’s manufacturer tag that shows it was made by A. G. Spalding & Brothers. The design of the tag indicates that the uniform dates to the early years of the fort; between 1941 and ’42 (the tag was used by Spalding from ’34-’42).  Though it is difficult to discern from the photos, the block lettering on the chest (“ARMY”) and back (“Camp Hunter Liggett”) appears to be made from a burgundy-colored wool.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

The accompanying ball cap has a shorter, more-rounded bill and a leather sweatband that is indicative of being manufactured during the early 1940s. Unfortunately, there was no label or tag visible in the photos that accompanied the auction listing yet it is likely that it was also manufactured by Spalding.

Like most other vintage satin uniforms that can be seen in private collections or at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Liggett uniform group has significantly yellowed with age and shows signs of use – typical sweat stains surrounding the collar and (possibly) infield dirt stains on the chest (from sliding into second base, perhaps?). The overall condition of this group is remarkably good and would have been a fantastic addition to my collection.

The buy-it-now auction closed in June of 2016 with the buyer getting it for a steal at $249 (plus a few dollars for shipping). Sadly, this one slipped away due to the auction price exceeding my (then) budget. It pays to have a few dollars set aside for emergencies such as these.

References:

 

 

Major League Flannel in the Foxhole?

As we draw to a close of what has been an exciting baseball season at both the major league and minor league level (at least it has been for me and the teams that I follow), I am reminded that I have experienced some success of my own in acquiring selected military baseball items. I have been fairly silent with regards to writing (on this blog) and I thought that today would be a great time to pick things back up.

Overall, my collection has experienced growth, mostly with vintage photographs, since I last posted and a few of my subsequent post will be dedicated to discussing the various acquisitions. I was also successful in obtaining one uniform set while missing out on another, very special (and very complete) baseball uniform (still another post will be forthcoming to discuss these).

I have yet to dive down into the researching (the subjects of today’s post) beyond some cursory investigations. One (or both) of the photographs that I acquired recently tell a bit of a story about the connection between the major leaguers and their transition into the ranks.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and "M" jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and “M” jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

When the (first) photo of the Army Air Force team arrived, I carefully examined it and noted that one of the players in the team was wearing a uniform with “CINCINNATI” stitched across his chest. The uniform was a dark shade of wool flannel (obviously gray) and piped in a darker contrasting material. This man’s uniform stood out against the others as it was one of two that was not a simple, plain gray flannel ensemble.

I wanted to see if I could pinpoint the uniform as the National League team, the Reds or rule it out as, perhaps, one from the University of Cincinnati. I turned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Dressed to the Nines (uniform database) to search Reds’ uniforms from the 1930s and 1940s to find a match. Keeping in mind the features of the Air Force player’s uniform (block letters, single thick piping on the edges, sleeves and around the collar), I was unable to match the uniform. Cincinnati’s 1930s road uniforms had letters that had serifs and the piping appears to be thin lines. The block lettered jerseys from the 1940s and war years had the correct lettering and yet lacked piping altogether.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Paying close attention to the details of the photo, one must scan each player for specific elements that can help to identify where and when the photograph was taken which may give more research guidance when attempting determine facts (such as the identity of the two notable jerseys). In this photo, I can see the chalk-lines of the baseball diamond (in front of the team), the flat landscape along with a heavy bomber in the back ground. The close proximity of the aircraft to the ball field leads me to believe that the location of the photo is England (experience scouring a lot of photos helps to recognize familiar features).

Matching the facts of the photo, I may now attempt to identify one or more of the players. Scouring Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime site (which has an extensive database of players), cross-referencing names and searching for player photographs (using Google). It is tedious work but the payoff is rewarding. So far, I have had no such success in identifying anyone, let alone the “Cincinnati” player.

The second photo that I acquired is also something of a mystery. When I purchased it, the seller listed the image as being from World War II. When I saw the listing, I knew that the photo and the uniforms (worn by the players) were from 1910-1920.  The handwritten information on the reverse identified the players as being from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation (which would have been based in Washington D.C.; specifically, at the Washington Navy Yard).

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

Close inspection of the background of the image failed to reveal (to me, at least) anything that would indicate or confirm a specific location. In viewing the main subjects of the image, I focused on the players and their uniforms. Jerseys were dark and pinstriped possessing a darker trim along the button edge, collar and sleeve cuffs. The sleeves are all 3/4 length (some players have them pulled above their elbows). Their caps are short billed, low crown and appear to have eight panels (versus the normal six of later years) and a small white “W” on the front panel. One player stands out from the rest in that his uniform is significantly lighter in color (with the same construction features) yet different in that it has a large “C” on the left chest and a small white “C” on the front panel of a six-panel cap that is trimmed in white piping.

My first reaction to the odd uniformed player was that he is wearing a Cleveland Indians (or Cleveland “Naps” as they were named from 1903-1914) uniform. Again I went back to the HoF uniform database and conducted a broad search (1910-1925) in hopes to narrow this uniform down. The results were close but not definitive. Clearly the ball cap is very much the same as the 1917 Cleveland road cap, but the uniform more resembled the home uniform of the same vintage with the exception of the trim on the sleeves. In some of the photographic examples, I have discovered that in 1916, the Indians wore the dark cap (with white piping) with the pinstriped white home uniforms. My “Cleveland” player lacks the player-number on the left sleeve as seen in the 1916 photo above.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

Regarding the rest of the team’s uniforms. the white “W” appears to vary from cap to cap in size and placement and, since doesn’t directly correlate to what is written on the back of the photo (“U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation”), it could stand for the unknown team name or simply, “Washington.”

Since this photo is very clearly earlier than World War II, there is no reason to search (as with the above photo) for any correlation to MLB players going to the military (times were different) from the their professional careers and there is some data available to pour through on the Baseball Reference site. Turning to Baseball in Wartime, Bedingfield has, for WWI, a list of ball players who were killed or died during their service. Of those, five served in the Navy, none of which were major leaguers.

In both photographs, the (seemingly) major league uniforms could be the result of major (or minor) league teams donating uniforms to the armed forces for recreation use as they are past their serviceable, professional lives. I will continue to research both of these photos and hopefully uncover details as they become available or surfaces in the coming years.

Obscure Military Baseball Jerseys – Rare Finds or Fabrications

Spring is here and with it comes a spark of freshness. Newness.  The long, cold winter has faded from our memory (at least for some of us) and we look to the colorful spring to fill us with the hopefulness of warmer and brighter days. However spring isn’t just about young and supple flowers and the trees bursting forth with new foliage. This season is about the commencement of another six-plus months of ash and maple tree trunks being flung into the speeding paths of horsehide-covered rubber. The sounds of snapping leather and cracking wood are pronounced on sand lots and stadiums across the country as March rolls into April. It seems that nothing, not even war, can get in the way of baseball.

With the advent of free agency and sports talk radio, baseball’s off-season has been virtually eliminated for the fans of the game. For baseball memorabilia collectors, off seasons are only measured by the distances between paydays and the cache of available…cash with which to acquire the next collectible. For collectors (like me) who are much more interested in the extremely finite military baseball genre, the off-season can be varying due to the increasingly limited number of available pieces which we pursue.

For me, the off-season has been more of a spectator sport as I witnessed two vintage military baseball uniforms listed at auction (online) only to pass by virtually unnoticed, only to be re-listed with incrementally decreasing opening bid amounts with each iteration. Had the timing been more in line with my budget, one (or both) would have found their way into my meager collection. In addition to the two listings I was focusing on, there were several uniforms (all USMC baseball uniform sets and jerseys from an array of eras)  that seemed to be gobbled up by hungry collectors. These uniform listings (and sales) were entertaining to watch though I had no committed interest.

Engineers Group

“ENG GP” lettering references the Engineers Group – of the 116h Infantry Regiment (source: eBay image).

The first real gem that caught my attention was a World War II-era road gray baseball jersey from an engineer group that appeared (due to the “116” numerals on the left sleeve) to be part of the 116th Infantry Regiment. The appointments of the jersey were very similar to those of the road gray USMC jersey in my collection. The aside from the lettering on the front and sleeve, the differences between the two are the thickness of the piping the presence of a manufacturer’s tag (the USMC jerseys are limited to a size tag). The Engineers Group jersey also lacks the red button – which isn’t required due to the alignment with the lettering. With this auction listing ending only a few short weeks following the Christmas shopping season and the damage my financial resources sustained, I had to let the auction pass me by.

Samoa Baseball Uniform

This auction generated a fair amount of interest when it was listed for $79 at auction – selling for less that $150. The uniform appears to date from the 1920s (source: eBay image).

More recently, a very intriguing baseball uniform online auction listing made its way through the e-bidding circuit having been listed and re-listed several times before it finally sold. Clearly an early piece, the jersey was constructed with long sleeves and a collar and sported dark blue pinstripes. The styling is consistent with uniforms of the 1920s. The seller’s supposition that the “SAMOA” lettering sewn across the chest correlates to a U.S. Navy team (consisting of active duty personnel stationed at the Navy base in American Samoa). One can certainly deduce that the jersey is indeed military, but there is no hard evidence to prove or disprove this idea.

Guam 1918 US Naval Station Baseball Team Anigua

I’ve scoured my resources in search of any information regarding a Samoa team connected to U.S. naval station at Pago Pago. This photo postcard of the 1918 U.S. Navy team from Guam shows uniforms that clearly pre-date the Samoa jersey. Note the full-collared jerseys and the stovepipe ball caps.

The “Samoa” jersey certainly possesses features and design elements that lend credibility to the idea that the jersey is authentic and for a sub-$100 investment, it would be well-worth the risk.
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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.

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