Category Archives: Era

WWII Veterans Honored on the Diamond: Ruptured Duck Patches for Baseball Uniforms

In the midst of researching for an article I was writing, I noticed search results that had a recurrent theme that pulled me away from the subject of my study and onto something that I knew nothing about. It isn’t saying much in regards to experiencing discoveries in terms of militaria or baseball as I am a relative newcomer to this area of collecting. What caught my attention was an image of three Chicago Cubs players wearing uniforms with a patch bearing a familiar military design that is affectionately known as the “Ruptured Duck.”

Like many returning World War II veterans, this sailor’s uniform was adorned with a ruptured duck patch (the small yellow patch located on the right breast) indicating that he had been discharged from active duty.

The patch emblem, for a collector of WWII military uniforms is one that is very familiar. However, unlike the regulation sized patch that was sewn onto the uniforms of discharged veterans returning from war service, this patch was several times larger and was sewn onto the players’ baseball uniform sleeves (on the left). My first encounter with the Ruptured Duck insignia was when my grandfather showed me his navy uniform when I asked about his time in the service during the war. I remember him smiling as he dragged it out from the closet and recalled some of the good, light-hearted stories. Having seen my grandparents’ wedding photos, I knew that he wore it on their wedding day. The first time I heard the Ruptured Duck term from him while describing the rating insignia and ribbons, for some reason, I never questioned why something that clearly looked like an eagle carried such a disparate nomenclature.

War-weary veterans returning home from service had only their uniforms (and any souvenirs they may have acquired) in their duffle bags. Upon their discharge, veterans were issued the Ruptured Duck patch to sew onto their uniforms which afforded an easily recognizable mark to indicate that they were no longer on active duty. Recalling my own time in service, a sailor, marine, soldier or airman is always on duty and therefor available for any ad hoc work detail that may arise. Imagine waiting for a standby seat aboard a military transport when a sergeant happens by to collect men to carry out a task and draws upon the idle men in the waiting room. Those wearing the Ruptured Duck could (if they chose) disregard the orders of the sergeant as they were no longer service members. There were other, more administrative reasons for the patch.

Veteran Ballplayers. Three Chicago Cubs catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston and Paul Gillespie wearing their ruptured duck patches in 1945. This photo clearly shows blue-backed version #2)

Upon seeing to photo of (a significantly larger version of) the patch sewn to a Chicago Cubs player’s uniform I was intrigued by what it could possibly indicate. I was intrigued to discover that the patch was an acknowledgement of the veteran status of this player – that he had served his country during the war to bring about an end to global fascism and tyranny – was authorized by Major League Baseball for wear on the field.

Through some tedious and careful searching, it appears that very view returning veterans opted to don the Ruptured Duck on their uniforms. According to The Story of the Ruptured Duck (on MLB.com) only four men (all Chicago Cubs) chose to display the patch: Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey (3b/OF) and three catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston, and Paul Gillespie. Further searching also reveals that a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers (of the AA International League) also donned the patch. “Each player returning from a stint in the armed service in 1945 received the Ruptured Duck patch on his jersey’s left sleeve,” Authors Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler wrote in The American Association Milwaukee Brewers (Images of Baseball). “

Notice the players in his 1945 image of the Milwaukee Brewers club with the ruptured duck patch affixed to their left sleeves.

There is some speculation as to why more players did not wear the patch on their sleeves. One prevailing notion is that by virtue of veterans wearing the patch, those who did not serve (either by choice or not being qualified for service) might have faced ostracization by the fans or even teammates or opposing players.  In a July 17, 1945 letter from the American League president that was sent to representatives of the four western American League ballclubs, Will Harridge wrote, “(the patch) may attract too much attention to players who, through no fault of their own, did not enter the service.” Harridge made mention that the Chicago Cubs had already moved forward with having players wear the emblem while leaving the decision to do so in the hands of each team.

Regarding the patch itself, there has been a lot of preliminary discussion among collectors surrounding what was initially thought to be an existence of a few versions. My oft-repeated caution regarding collectibles that lacking provenance, one should never take a seller’s word as truth or fact (even if you trust that person). In the absence of supporting evidence, sellers may make whatever claims they want in order to sell the piece. In regards to these large ruptured duck patches, the same guidance applies.

Baseball Ruptured Duck Versions and Variations

  • White-backed
    • Version 1 – The white wool base is embroidered with gold stitching. The features of the design appear to be more flattened and the patch’s backing seems to be of a canvas material. The width of these patches measures 5-1/2 inches.
    • Version 2 – This patch also has a white wool base however the backing material consists of a broad cheesecloth. The base material extends well beyond the gold embroidered outline and the details of the ruptured duck pattern appear more raised and contoured.
  • Yellow-backed

    • Version 1 – This patch is smaller (2-1/4 inches tall by 3 inches in width) than the three other versions. The overall design consists of a yellow canvas with a large-opening, cheesecloth backing. The image is embroidered in navy blue thread.
  • Blue-backed

    • Version 1 – The blue canvas base shares the same dimensions as the white-backed versions and has a white cheesecloth backing. The embroidery is a combination of both navy blue and gold thread forming the familiar eagle-shape and outline. The gold embroidery is employed as the base pattern with the blue embroidery providing the detail in the feathers and edges. This is THE ONLY version that has photographic evidence of major and minor league use following the end of WWII.
    • Version 2 – This patch is very similar to the previous blue version with the most apparent differences being most discernible when comparing them side-by-side. The fronts of each has very similar embroidery work. However this second variation seems to be slightly more rudimentary as if it is an overseas-made copy. In my opinion, it this is a knock-off of the very rare version one of the blue (read: most-authentic) baseball ruptured duck patch.
  • Cooperstown Collection – This patch is about 25% smaller than the other patch variations and is fully-embroidered (rather than embroidered onto a backing material); by computer-aided embroidery equipment. It was made for the commemoration of the original (blue-backed) patch that was worn on major league baseball uniforms in 1945. The patch bears very few similarities to the original. They were affixed to the information cards when they were distributed.

    Beware that there are, on occasion, online action listings of these reproduction patches that have been separated from the collector card. The accompanying printed card provides a history of the insignia.

The availability of these large (baseball uniform) patches varies but the most commonly listed (online auction) are the white-backed version 2 ruptured duck patches.

One of my militaria collector colleagues worked relentlessly to research and document the history (manufacture, usage, etc.) of these over-sized ruptured duck patches reaching out to the Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, NY) and to a manufacturer that was making these patches at the end of the war. In his conversation with the Hall, the archivists there indicated that the only type of the “baseball ruptured duck” in the collection was the blue-backed version. It is speculated that the white versions were made to be worn on the home (white) uniforms as the blue version was designed for the road (gray). However, photos show the ball players in their home whites with the blue ruptured duck.

Others (including my colleague) have concluded that the white patch has nothing to do with baseball due to the evidence at hand. I, however, do believe that the white version was manufactured for the home white uniforms if, for nothing else, in anticipation of major league baseball requesting home and road differentiation.  Perhaps the idea was set aside as the patches were unpopular and some clubs were not in support of their war veteran players standing out from those who didn’t or couldn’t serve?

My colleague had a conversation with one of the online sellers of the white version 2 patches who disclosed an interesting fact regarding their stockpile of ruptured duck patches, “the box that they came in was an original World War II issue box with the original stock number.” However, the box has since been thrown out so I cannot get any manufacturer information from it.” The presence of a war department stock number indicates that they were most-likely made for the armed forces rather than for professional baseball.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the other versions as having ties to the game.

In the absence of conclusive research and documentation, the questions surrounding the variations will continue in perpetuity. In my own pursuit of these elements of military baseball history, I will acquire what I believe to be authentic and make every attempt to provide evidence as to the validity of the artifacts. At present, I only have a single version

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Progression From Cards to Photos; Seeking Imagery of those with Service

Gil Hodges’ 1957 Topps card. Following the ’56 set, these seemed a bit more plane but they included the player’s full major league statistics.

Many years ago, before I discovered the enjoyment of gathering and researching baseball artifacts that were used by ball-playing service members, I was very interested in baseball cards from the 1950s and early 1960s. For some reason, I was taken by the 1956 Topps cards in particular due to the landscape-orientation of the images and the hand-tinting of the players’ photograph and the “comic strip” artwork and factoids that were presented on the card backs (above the individual’s playing stats which included the previous season and the career totals). Even at that time, these cards were already highly collectible and commanded significantly higher prices than their contemporary counterparts. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to take a more “affordable” approach and collect the cards of the Brooklyn Dodgers as that team was the reigning world champion and whose roster was still stocked with the core players who helped bring their organization its very first title (and last, in that city).

 

The 1957 Topps card for Gil Hodges shows his service in the Marine Corps in 1944-45 before resuming his career with the Dodgers after the war.

While pursuing the ’56 Brooklyn set, I began widen my interests for certain players and purchased their cards from other years (cards issued previous and subsequent to 1956).  When I landed a few players’ cards from the 1957 Topps set, I noticed that the player’s statistics encompassed their full career, broken out by each year on separate lines and totaled at the bottom. Though I owned a Major League Baseball (MLB) Encyclopedia and was thoroughly familiar with many of my favorite players’ career statistics, it wasn’t until I held a card in my hand that a particular statistic stood out to me. In 1957, Gilbert “Gil” Raymond Hodges played a single game of major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 which was reflected by a single line; he had only two at-bats* and did not get a hit. For the next two seasons, his ’57 card lists that though he was still a Brooklyn Dodgers player, he did not play for the team as he was “In U.S. Marine Corps.” As I looked through other cards, I saw similar statistics for other players. Dodgers Hall of Fame shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese had the same information though he was “In U.S. Navy” but he had three previous seasons in a Dodgers uniform. When I began to pay attention to the information pertaining to players’ service during the war, I was past the mid-way point of my own military career.

My interest in collecting baseball memorabilia waned after the 1994 strike shortened the season and for the first time in MLB history, stripped fans of a World Series (which was ultimately cancelled). Admittedly, I was excited by the Seattle Mariners magical 1995 season and their first appearance into the playoffs and being there for their clinching game of the American League Division Series followed by Game 1 of the Mariners’ first American League Championship Series. Despite the excitement that I personally experienced, I still discontinued all collecting interests until I was reignited with a passion for military history more than a decade later.

Pictured here with a few unrelated artifacts is my very first military baseball piece, a 1943-44 USMC baseball uniform.

Fast forward to 2009-2010 when I acquired my first military baseball artifact (a 1943-44 Marine Corps red-trimmed, road gray wool flannel baseball uniform) which re-ignited my baseball collecting interest, focusing entirely upon those who served in the armed forces and played the game. Not long after obtaining the first uniform, I discovered a second Marines jersey (made of red-canvas, yellow-trimmed from the same WWII-period) that I added to my collection. I recalled one of my favorite players (the aforementioned Gil Hodges) and that he served in the Marines during WWII and couldn’t help but imagine him wearing one of the two uniforms that I had in my collection. When I started searching the internet in hopes of locating any photographs of him during the war, I stumbled upon auction listings photos of Marines wearing baseball uniforms. I began to pursue and started collecting these and similar vintage photos of service members playing the game, posed in team settings or just having a catch while away from the hazardous duties of armed conflict.

This is most-likely a domestic USMC team that played in the Government League in 1915.

Regardless of the branch of service, I continued to expand my collection of uniforms, ephemera (such as scorecards and programs from service team games) and photographs. After several years of collecting, I am seeing an unintended trend within my collection. The majority of my pieces are Marine Corps-centric which is somewhat humorous considering my naval service and the nature of the intra-service rivalry (and brotherhood) shared between personnel within both branches. Aside from the two iterations of the jerseys/uniforms previously mentioned, I subsequently located a third wartime USMC jersey and two Marines ball caps. The photos that have found their way into my collection date as far back as 1915 (some in Latin America) through China in the 1920s and 30s and into World War II.

Some speculate that the Marines introduced the game to the locals while they were in country on Santo Domingo in 1916. If they didn’t bring the game there, the Marines certainly influenced the locals with their own gameplay.

Collecting vintage photography can be both rewarding and frustrating. When one can connect an unidentified photograph to a location, time or event, shedding new light on history brings a measure of satisfaction, especially when the photo has never been seen by the public. However, when photos lack any means of identification, they are relegated to merely being an enjoyable, visual artifact. A few of my images were sourced from a veteran’s scrapbook (no doubt, broken apart to maximize the picker’s profits) that after two years of attempting to locate any sort of context, I was able to discover that the game depicted in the images was played by the visiting U.S. Marines in 1943 in Wellington, New Zealand.

In addition to veterans’ scrapbook and snapshot photos, I have added images that were taken by news photographers or public relations personnel for the purpose of sharing positive news to the home front to offset the lists of KIA/WIA/MIA that would dominate local newspapers during the war.  These images are typically larger images (some as large as 10-inches) were professionally enlarged (snapshots are normally tiny contact-prints) that are printed on glossy photo paper (specifically during the 1940s). While my photo archive is not extensive by any measure, it does provide a decent perspective on the historical depth of the intertwining of the game within the Marine Corps.

This team photo is inscribed “1916 Mare Island” which seems to align well with the uniforms’ design.

My card collection has been tucked away since the early-to-mid 1990s until the last few weeks when I dug the 1950s cards in light of the (“my”) Dodgers entry into the 2017 post-season and finally reaching the World Series. Connecting my two collections (military baseball and card collections) has only served to reveal to me that my early interests (card collecting) in the men who also served has transcended to my present collecting focus.

USMC intra-squad game held in 1945 on Okinawa. No other details or inscription was provide with this photograph leaving me with no idea if this was before during or after the cessation of combat activities on the island.

Thinking back to that set of 1956 Topps cards and the team that was fielded in the 1955 World Championship, it is difficult to imagine the challenging road each player took to get to that point in their professional careers, especially after seeing the horrors of war. Unlike today’s Dodgers roster that does not contain a single military veteran (which holds true for all of MLB), the 1955 World Champion-team from Brooklyn had the following members who also wore the uniform of their nation.

World Champion Dodgers who served in or during WWII:

  • Carl Erskine (Navy)
  • Carl Furillo (Army) – Carl served in combat in the Pacific Theater, received three battle stars, and was wounded. Peter Golenbock says in his book Bums that Furillo turned down a Purple Heart medal for his wounds, stating that he hadn’t been sufficiently valiant.
  • Don Hoak (Navy) Hoak enlisted in the US Navy during World War II, on February 27, 1945 towards the end of World War II and only a short time after he turned 17 years of age. On February 21, 1946 as Hoak serving at Pensacola, Florida, his father was crushed when the tractor he was operating overturned, killing him and leaving Don’s mother a widow at home with his 3-year-old brother. That summer, Don was discharged from the Navy.
  • Gilbert “Gil” Hodges (USMC)
  • Dixie Howell (Army) – in November 1943, Howell entered military service with the U.S. Army. He served in France and Belgium during World War II and was taken prisoner by the German troops in September 1944, being liberated by advancing Allied forces six months later. He returned to the United States and was discharged from military service late in 1945.
  • Clem Labine (Army) – Labine  enlisted Army on December 14, 1944 and volunteered to serve as a paratrooper.
  • Jackie Robinson (Army)
  • Harold “Pee Wee” Reese (Navy)
  • Edwin “Duke” Snider (Navy)

Other 1955 Dodgers with Military Service:

  • Roger Craig (Army 1951-52)
  • Billy Loes (Army 1951)
  • Don Newcombe (Korean War)
  • Johnny Podres (Navy 1956) – Podres became a sailor in the United States Navy, yet serving his country did not, in any way, diminish his baseball skills — he pitched for Bainbridge Naval Station and Glenview Air Station. The Navy released Podres in October because his back issues made him “physically unfit for further military service.” It was “a form of arthritis of the spinal column.

 

*On the last game of the 1943 season against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, October 3rd, Gil Hodges had three plate appearances. He entered the game as a pinch hitter, eighth in the order, taking over for catcher Mickey Owen (who didn’t have a plate appearance). Hodges coaxed a walk from Cincinnati starting pitcher (and future Navy veteran) Johnny Vander Meer and he subsequently stole second base.

 

WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away

I created this site as a vehicle for me to write about and discuss the military baseball artifacts that I have or am adding to my collection. Rather than to be simplistic in describing the items and sharing photographs of each piece, I prefer to research and capture the history (when possible) in order to provide context surrounding the items as a means to educate readers. I find that I often return to my articles and incorporate their elements or entirety for use in subsequent articles or as a means to authenticate artifacts that I am interested in purchasing.  Another activity that I enjoy participating in is to document those artifacts that I have discovered either too late or was incapable of purchasing due to being outbid, a missed opportunity, too many unanswered questions, cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable for purchase. Losing out on acquiring somethings doesn’t necessarily translate to letting these pieces pass into oblivion simply because they are not part of my collection.

Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets sporting their wonderful flannel uniforms.
Left to right: Walter Masterson, Fred Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Tom Early (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

Left to right: Charlie Welchel, Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey of the Norfolk Naval Air Station Airmen baseball team, wearing wings on their uniforms (source: Virginian-Pilot).

I have a soft spot for vintage jerseys and I am constantly on the prowl for anything that would help to make my collection more diverse with uniform pieces from all service teams such as Navy and Army Air Forces teams. In my collection, I now have three different World War II jerseys (two of which include the trousers) from Marine Corps ball teams. This past summer, I was able to locate ball caps that seem to accompany two of those Marines jerseys. In addition to the USMC items, I have two uniforms (jerseys and trousers) from WWII Army teams: one from the 399th Infantry Regiment and the other, a colorful, tropical-weight red-on-blue (cotton duck) uniform from the Fifth Army headquarters ball team (which reminds me that I still need to write an article about this uniform group).  Two years ago, I was able to find another uniform set (jersey and trousers) that I am almost certain was from a Navy ball team, due to the blue and gold colors of the soutache and that the plackard reads in flannel script, “Aviation Squadron” adorning the jersey.

In my pursuit of military baseball uniforms, I have been working to document the ones that got away (or simply were not available for purchase) in order to create a record for comparative analysis in support of research or to assist in authentication of other uniforms. Unlike professional baseball, the major leagues in particular, there are very few surviving examples of uniform artifacts from the 1940s and earlier. By creating an archive, I am hoping that not only will I have a resource available for my own efforts but will also help others in understanding more about what our armed forces players wore on the field during their service.

This close-up of Ted Williams shows him in the Navy baseball uniform that he wore while attending naval aviation training and playing for the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters ball team.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by an author who was seeking information on what became of the baseball uniforms that were used by the naval aviation cadets who were attending U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School (The V-5 Program) at Chapel Hill. The cadet baseball team (the Cloudbusters) at the V-5 school included some professional ballplayers (such as two Boston Red Sox greats, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams, Boston Braves’ Johnny Sain to name a few). In addition to the baseball team, Chapel Hill also fielded a cadet football team whose coaching roster included college legends Jim Crowley,  Frank Kimbrough, Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught and even a future president, Gerald Ford. The uniforms worn by the Cloudbusters baseball team were trimmed with a double soutache surrounding the collar and the plackard that matched what was worn on the cuffs of the sleeves. Across the front in block lettering was N A V Y reminiscent of baseball uniforms worn by the Naval Academy ball teams at that time. In my response to the person who contacted me, I told her that I had not seen anything resembling the Cloudbusters uniforms nor did I have any knowledge of what became of them after the War. I can imagine that a team with a roster filled with professional ballplayers that they would have multiple uniforms (a few sets each for both away and home use), similar to what the Norfolk Naval Station Bluejackets ball team had.

Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky entertain a group of youngsters while in their Navy baseball uniforms of the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters team (source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

See Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot video series regarding the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team featuring an interview with former major leaguer, Eddie Robinson:

 

The left sleeve of the Navy baseball jersey is adorned with patch bearing crossed flags. The U.S. flag shows the pre-1959 48 stars. The British-esque flag might help to identify where, when or who wore this uniform (Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

While looking through my photo archives for images of artifacts in support of another article that I was writing, I discovered images of a Navy baseball jersey that had been for sale at some point by a small, regional business that specializes in vintage sports equipment. I saved the image of the jersey for future reference due to the unique patch on the left sleeve. The patch bears two crossed flags – one is the U.S. flag and the other, a red flag with the British Union Jack in the left corner and an indistinguishable symbol in the red field. The jersey has a singular blue soutache trim and possesses the same block-lettering (as seen on the Cloudbusters jerseys – which have no sleeve patches). In searching through extensive volumes of historical Navy baseball photographs, no image has surfaced showing this uniform in use, keeping it a mystery for the time-being.

This Navy baseball uniform is unique with the zippered front and single, navy-blue soutache on the sleeve cuffs and the uniform front. The well-known Chapel Hill Cloudbusters uniforms had button-fronts and double-soutache trim (source: Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

Wool flannel numerals in navy blue adorn the back of the jersey (source Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

I am hopeful that I can continue to gather a useful archive of uniform artifacts in order to provide a sufficient military baseball uniform research resource. Aside from articles such as this, I think that I will organize the uniform images into a proper archive that will be organized and searchable. By capturing and cataloging the artifacts that do not make it into my collection, I can still maintain a “collection” of artifacts that will be helpful to me and other collectors and researchers.

 

 

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Factoring When and When NOT to Buy: Vintage Hale America HEALTH Patches on Baseball Uniforms

Not long ago, my wife asked me what my goal was in terms of militaria and baseball collecting. I know that she asked this question with the utmost sincerity and respect for this interest that I have in these areas of history. The question is not something that I haven’t already asked myself in some manner or fashion as I try to understand what, within myself, causes me to look at different artifacts that become available. I often ask myself, “Is this piece in line with what you have been acquiring and researching?” I spend time analyzing what it is driving my interest in a piece before I start to consider the expense, space to preserve and house it or if the item is authentic.

Space is at a premium in our home. We live in a modest (not small, but not large) and we have kids who also require space for their various activities which translates to not having an area for displaying artifacts. I have seen some incredible mini-museums that other collectors (both in the militaria and baseball collection areas of focus) that rival some of the best museums around the country. These collectors are so incredibly diligent, resourceful, patient and meticulous in acquiring the right balance of artifacts to create complete displays that convey the story while not overwhelming the viewer with sensory overload.  Even if we had the space within our home, I am not certain that I would take this tack with my collection.

In attempting to collect my thoughts to respond to my wife’s question, I wanted to convey to her (an myself) that what I focus my interest in is very specialized and that while the mailbox and front porch (at times) is barraged with a stream of packages (“is that ANOTHER piece for your collect?”), I don’t really have much coming to the house. This thinking could be construed as justification which is not what I want to convey to her. As I analyzed my thoughts, I wanted to mention that in terms of my highly selective focus leaves me wanting to preserve those artifacts that fit the narratives of my collection but also, if I didn’t purchase them, could be relegated to sitting in a plastic bin, long forgotten for decades. That too, sounds like an excuse.

This past summer as I prepared to display a selection of my U.S. Navy uniform artifacts, I selected specific pieces to demonstrate the overall theme of the display. I chose to be limited in what would be shown, taking the less-is-more mindset. I could have filled the display case from top to bottom but instead, I wanted viewers to see each piece and enjoy them individually and as a whole.  As I continue with my interests, this is the approach that I have been and will continue to take. That each piece that is added to my collection will be thoughtfully considered, individually as well as how it fits into what I already have.

From the estate of a WWII veteran, this patch was thought to have been part of a military baseball uniform. I was unable to locate any visual reference to confirm that a patch like this was worn on any armed forces service team uniforms (source: US Militaria Forum).

A few weeks ago, a patch was listed for sale (shown above) by a fellow militaria collector that received it from the son of a WWII veteran. Another collector suggested that the patch was worn on a baseball uniform as it resembled one that was common on major and minor league baseball uniforms, starting in 1942.

Three variations of the Hale – American HEALTH patches in use from 1942 (Source: Uni-Watch.com).

With the War in full swing and after suffering some substantial challenges (Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, the USS Houston, etc.) the United States was still ramping up to get onto the offensive against the Axis powers. Following the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, young men flocked to the armed forces recruitment offices, including in their numbers, several stars from the ranks of professional baseball. Leaders within all spheres of our nation (political, business, entertainment, churches, etc.) were almost unanimously patriotic and working together to hold our citizens and service men and women together for the common goal of defeating the fascist enemies. Aside from the rationing (food, textiles, gasoline, electricity) and recycling (predominantly metals) campaigns that commenced, recognizing the need for Americans to be physically fit and health-conscious in order to fight, build and farm – in other words, produce – for the War effort. Professional Baseball, in response to the call, embraced the physical fitness message and began to share it on their uniforms with the Hale – America Initiative Health patch.

During WWII, major and minor league teams wore the Hale – America HEALTH patch on their uniforms (Source: MLB).

This close-up of the NAS Jacksonville team photograph shows the shield patch with the obscured, smaller inset shield over the top of the vertical stripes.

This close-up of the NAS Jacksonville team photograph shows the shield patch with the obscured, smaller inset shield over the top of the vertical stripes.

While I have found a handful of photographs depicting variations of the Health patch (a shield shape with stars and stripes) on wartime uniforms, I have only found one image with a variation of the patriot patch in place.  In my growing archive of vintage military baseball photographs (numbering  over a hundred) contains only a single image with players wearing a shield patch. The baseball uniform of the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville ball club, in addition to the beautiful chenille logo on the left breast, has one of the patches affixed to the left sleeve. Due to the high contrast exposure of the photograph, it is impossible to distinguish the variation – there is an unrecognizable inset shield-shaped (white) field that is centered, superimposed over the vertical stripes.

This stars and stripes shield patch seems to indicate that the amateur baseball team uniform that it is affixed to dates from WWII (source: Mears Auctions).

While it is certainly possible that the patch that was being sold was worn on a military baseball uniform during WWII, I didn’t want to commit the financial or storage space resources to something that I would have a hard time authenticating. Without photographic evidence to back up the assertion of usage on service team uniforms, this patch is nothing more than a (seemingly) vintage patriotic, multi-layered wool-flannel constructed emblem (which I actually find visually appealing). Without practicing a measure of restraint, caution and requiring (of myself) provenance, I would have committed to purchasing the patch and adding it t

o my short list of to-be-researched militaria. However, I needed to be more discerning with my interests and, in answering the question in regards to my collecting goals, I passed on the opportunity to add the patch to my collection.

I am still attempting to answer my wife’s question regarding my collecting goals with a well-thought out response however, I would assert that my actions just might speak more clearly than any words could offer.

Barbary Wars, Naval Heroes and…Baseball?

Baseball history is perhaps one of the most fascinating studies in that the sport has been played in some form or fashion within the United States since the colonial times if not earlier. Some aspects of history shared between the two can be directly connected while others are more Baconesque (I am showing my age with that reference) in their degrees of separation. I suppose that today’s article is in the spirit of the latter in terms of connection but there are certain specific details that are decidedly of the former. Bear with me…

The bonds shared between the U.S. Armed Forces and the game might have been formed well before the pre-American Civil War as noted in the writings of Henry Dearborn, a major general in the Continental Army (having served under General Benedict Arnold), made mention of what some baseball historians as the earliest military-baseball reference:

“In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north central Pennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd, Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare. — “ Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.”

– Excerpt from “A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic by John Thorn from his blog, Our Game.

Reuben James saving the life of Stephen Decatur, engraving by Alonzo Chappel, 1858 (public domain).

With early baseball and Town Ball being played within the newly-established United States (which also included the English game, Rounders), it isn’t too difficult to imagine young American boys embracing the game in the late 18th century in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York or Delaware, the home state of the Reuben James. History looks back on this man, who enlisted into the U.S. Navy aboard several ships, including the USS Constellation (one of the Navy’s first six frigates). Some readers may recall this sailor’s name as three American warships have carried his name in the 20th Century. The Navy chose to honor James for his service during the Barbary Wars while he was under the command of Stephen Decatur. The action that the young boatswain’s mate is honored for took place during a gunboat battle on August 3, 1804 and Decatur led a boarding party aboard the enemy vessel. The hand-to-hand combat that ensued was a bloody affair as sabers and edged weapons clashed. Decatur was engaged with an enemy sailor when James, seeing his commander about to receive a deadly blow from the Barbary sailor, heroically placed his own body in the way, allowing the blade to strike him and sparing the intended target. Decatur was spared and though the blade struck James, he would survive the battle, living into his 60s before passing away in Washington D.C. in 1838.

USS Reuben James (DD-245) on the Hudson River, New York (USA), on 29 April 1939 (U.S. Navy photo).

The first USS Reuben James (DD-245), a four-pipe Clemons Class destroyer, was commissioned 97 years ago on September 24, 1920. The Reuben James spent the majority of her career serving in the Atlantic Fleet. One of the most notable events of her service was as the USS Olympia‘s (Admiral Dewey’s Spanish American War flagship) escort in returning the Unknown Soldier home from France in March of 1921.  In 1939, Germany, having commenced with hostilities in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt having agreed to supporting the allies by supplying the British against the forces of the Third Reich. Reuben James had been engaged in protecting the supply ships in the early convoys from the Eastern Seaboard to England. On Halloween morning, 1939 while escorting Convoy HX-156, Reuben James was torpedoed by U-552.

A few years ago, while searching for vintage photographs depicting baseball in the armed forces, I found a pair of images that depicted a game being played in Europe in 1921, featuring sailors from the USS Reuben James (DD-245). These two images (one of the actual game and the other a posed team photo) bore handwritten inscriptions on the reverse of each.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

It was my hope that with the specific information contained within the inscriptions that I would be able to discover details of at least their port visit in Italy or to uncover operations in connection with the dates and service within the Mediterranean Sea. Considering the DD-245’s escort service with the USS Olympia in March of 1921, it is possible that this game was played prior to the James’ participation in the return of the Unknown Soldier to the United States.

In February of 1921, the USS Gilmer (DD-233), was undergoing emergency repairs to her starboard screw and shaft having suffered damage from an unseen, submerged object. Their ship in drydock in Pola, Italy, it seems that the crew could most-likely be available for a game against a team from a sister ship. However, according to the inscriptions on my photos, the game was held in Briolini which is nearly 400 kilometers away from where the Gilmer was being repaired. Given the timeline of both ships, it seems that the game would have been held between February and March of 1921.

This photo shows sailors from the USS Rueben James (DD-245) in their team baseball uniforms along with sailors in nondescript baseball uniforms as well as sailors in service dress whites.
The image caption mentions a game played against the USS Gilmer (DD-233) a sister ship of the Clemson class.
The game was played in Brioni, Italy (about 76km from Venice) with Rueben James downing the Gilmer, 27-14. — at Brioni, Italy.

If I am afforded the opportunity to access records within the National Archives, perhaps I can better document this game between these two ships.

 

 

 

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.

*UPDATE: These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors

Since I published my article, These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors a few weeks ago, the eBay seller, giscootterjoe who has an endless supply of the baseballs in question, has listed two more auctions with one closing with a final bid price of $422.00 by the unsuspecting “winner,” of 17 total bidders. The current in-play auction has nine bidders and the price has exceeded $60.

Pay particular attention to the timing of the sales. Go back as far as eBay’s history will allow in order to discern the full extent of the fraudulent baseballs (eBay screenshot)

While fraudulent listings are allegedly taken seriously by eBay, they are incapable of authenticating a seller’s assertions. It is incumbent upon bidders to be educated and to challenge the veracity of sellers’ claims and to not take them at face-value solely because they present a good story. Over the course of the past twelve months, this seller has nearly 40 transactions in which he/she is selling the same faked baseball, presenting it with the auction title, “ORIGINAL WW2 US ARMY SPECIAL SERVICES BASEBALL MUST SEE L@@K !!!” There is not one shred of supporting evidence to validate the seller’s claims:

“Up for bids here today we have a nice original US Army special services baseball. This auction is for one (1) baseball, the gloves are shown for reference only. These balls where found in a cloth army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown. One glove is dated 1945 and stamped US Army, and the other glove is stamped “special services US Army”. The special services where greatly different in WW2 than the special forces of today, back then they where in charge of recreation, and other “special items” for the troops. You will receive the ball pictured alone in the pics. All in all a nice little unique item and a must have for all military collectors!!! Don’t forget to check our other auctions for more great military items from giscootterjoe as we gladly combine shipping!!!

Items to be sold as is so see pics and feel free to e-mail with any questions, Buyer to pay shipping and handling, Bid High, Bid Now !!!”

Pay attention to the language this seller uses. He makes not a single reference to the validity of the baseballs, “These balls where found in a cloth army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown.” His statement is that because they are shown (in an accompanying photograph) in an olive drab bag that, according to the seller, has a 1944-date, somewhere on the bag. Again, the seller shows no such evidence. What the seller is doing is displaying a glove that bears some stampings that indicates it is a valid WWII Special Services, US Army issue. Conveniently, the glove is not for sale.

In the near 40 transactions, in the past year alone, the seller has generated more than $2,700 in sales. Sadly, this seller has been in the business of misleading buyers for at least five years (since I first noticed him). One area that I’d like to explore a bit more is with the other bidders in these transactions. Another collector has suggested that there is the potential of shill bidders at play with giscootterjoe’s auctions and I will begin diving into some of the bidding history to see if anything stands out.

I sincerely hope that potential bidders find these posts and use them to gain some insights and to save their money. I have no skin in the eBay game. As these buyers are seeking, I too would love to find authentic baseballs to round out my collection.

Buyers beware.

These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors

Before I begin this post, let me first provide a bit of a disclaimer. I would not characterize myself as an expert in military baseball. I have been acquiring a significant amount of information in the past 5-6 years that I have been more heavily focused on this particular genre of collecting.

With the scarcity of military baseball items that surface in online auctions, estate and garage sales, antique stores and from other collectors, I am left with very few options when it comes to building out a well-rounded collection. I now have several vintage uniforms and jerseys, a few gloves, a ball cap, dozens of photographs, a few pieces of ephemera, spikes and a (U.S. Navy softball) bat.  Throughout my time collecting, I have been searching for the one item that one would imagine to be prevalent in a baseball collector’s cache. However, due to their seemingly non-existence, I do not own an authentic military baseball.

In the past few days, a fellow collector posted a question in one of the online discussion forums, where I am a member, regarding the veracity of a baseball in an eBay auction listing.  The listing purports the baseball to be from the Special Services, U.S. Army, used during World War II. The collector who posted about the listing has obvious concerns about the veracity of the seller’s assertions.  His concerns are absolutely warranted.

Reiterating my level of expertise, I do possess a certain measure of reason and the ability to observe. Besides being a collector, I also played the game as a kid, service member and civilian. I have held more baseballs in my hands than I could begin to count. I know what normal wear and tear looks like on a baseball. The scuffs, grass stains, bat imprints, dirt marks, etc. all present themselves on a ball in the same way with game use or just in throwing and catching between a couple guys. I have a bag with balls that were used during batting practice at my local AAA minor league ball park that I gathered from the stands and parking lot from when I moonlighted there in the early 1990s. Also, I have a collection of pristine signed baseballs along with a few other game-used balls that were signed by players (at the same stadium) in the 1960s and ‘70s.  Furthermore, I have watched and bid on baseballs that had rock-solid provenance – game-used and autographed – that came from the collection of an umpire who officiated the championship games between the Army and Navy and between the American League and National League military players in Hawaii.  There has been a smattering of other signed game-used balls that I have watched or bid on.

Considering my experience, I have a very solid comfort level in discernment and my ability to spot a ball that is anything but authentic.  Considering my confidence, I know that I am lacking in many other facets of being able to authenticate baseballs and I have been taking steps to reinforce my knowledge through education. One source that has been invaluable is a treasure trove of knowledge, documentation, illustrations and photographs of baseballs produced and used by the major leagues, minor leagues, little leagues and even within the ranks of the military. As with any manufactured item, the manufacturer’s marks are a great tool for researching the item. With baseballs, one needs to pay attention to the manufacturer’s logos, word marks, trademarks and date (if present) in the imprinting on the ball. With game used balls, these marks can be difficult to discern but there is usually some portion of them visible with close inspection.

The “U.S.” is clear and crisp. Not one scuff or bat mark is visible on the ball. The dark brown dye is evenly applied (eBay image).

Regarding the auction in the question posed by my collector colleague. Certain aspects of the ball are quite glaring and should immediately cause concern for even a layman (like me). In this auction, the ball has an extremely dark caste that is very evenly distributed around the entire ball. The coloring bears no resemblance to any game used ball that I have seen. The ball has a very clear and crisp stamping of a large block lettered “U.S.” that shows no signs of wear – another oddity considering that the ball is being presented as game-used. Lastly, the high-gloss sheen present on all of the ball’s surfaces indicate that it has been varnished or shellacked. This practice was a common method for preservation of autographs on balls but, but today is a highly frowned-upon practice.

Other aspects one must consider:

  1. A lack of manufacturer’s marks
  2. Absence of bat marks or scuffs
  3. Low-quality photographs that do not show any close-in details of the ball
  4. The repeated auction listings for these balls spanning a half-decade indicating an endless supply of WWII baseballs.

There are several sellers attempting to cash in on collectors who lack experience and knowledge of these baseballs. As with any substantial purchase, research and knowledge are the best tools that one can use to save money. One other tool that people should rely upon is “gut instinct.” You have that for a reason. If you have a doubt at all, research to either allay or validate it. If you can do neither, let someone else waste their money. Wait for the ball that gives you a sense of authenticity. Ask the seller for provenance. Perform your due diligence and make sound decisions.

Now that I have provided you with a number of auctions that (in my opinion) are at worst fraudulent or simply misleading, I am sharing some listings of balls that I believe to be genuine (post WWII) military baseballs (although they are lacking official stampings on the balls).

As with the game, patience at the plate will serve you best. That fat and juicy-looking fastball might just break and fall out of the strike zone. If you’re swinging for the fences, you will strike out. These shady sellers are tossing garbage across the plate and you would be best served to take a walk to first (I have used far too many allegoric baseball references).

To demonstrate that I too had some thoughts as to the veracity of these “coffee scuffballs” and the idea that they were authentic, I am sharing an article that I wrote a few years ago, “Skimming” Your Way to Overpaying for Militaria in which I lent a measure of credibility to the seller “giscootterjoe” and his endless bag-o-balls. Since I wrote that piece in 2012 (republished, here in 2016), I have been watching this seller with his continuous sales of these balls.

“giscootterjoe” has been selling these balls for years. He sold four in the past 30 days for nearly $350.00. Business is booming! (eBay screenshot). Closer scrutiny of his eBay account shows that he sold 36 of these baseballs for a whopping $2,349.19 – that is an average of more than $65 per baseball. Please scrutinize every aspect of these scammers’ listings and past sales.

I wrote this piece in hopes that my fellow collectors avoid spending their money on fakes. I want to be careful with regards to the sellers who have these listings that are, in my educated opinion, faked military baseballs. They may very well be victims of a fraudster, themselves and are merely eBay sellers trying to earn a living. However, the end result is the same. Trusting collectors are still purchasing fraudulent baseballs.

Buyer beware seems to be the most applicable measure of caution that I can provide to you.

Republic Baseball Mystery Medallion

This blog has been dominated by some fairly traditional examples of baseball memorabilia – jerseys and uniforms, gloves, scorecards and vintage photography (depicting baseball) – but I keep my eyes open for the unusual and unique items that would serve to tell a more complete story of the game and its inseparable connection to the U.S. armed forces.

While the war was being fought on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific islands and upon the high seas, the American home-front was a hotbed of activity as citizens worked tirelessly and in unity to keep the troops equipped with the hardware and ammunition to take the fight to the enemy. With President Roosevelt’s January 15, 1942 “Green Light” letter to Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the game would continue despite the commencement of the players’ exodus to enlist in order to serve. Baseball equipment manufacturers got in the war-game in manufacturing for the effort – some making equipment to fight the war (such as Hillerich and Bradsby’s manufacturing of M1 Rifle stocks) while continuing to outfit players of the game. In addition to the supporting the domestic professional, collegiate, recreational and scholastic leagues, manufacturers supplied the troops with baseball equipment to use during periods of R&R and in conjunction with their training and fitness.

With so many Americans taking leave of their employment in order to take up arms against the enemy, factories were scrambling to fill the shortages of workers as they ramped up from their slow, depression-era production into full-scale war manufacturing. The president wrote that Major League Baseball must continue because workers, “ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.” In addition to being able to attend professional ballgames, recreational leagues were formed among the manufactures and some companies even fielded teams that competed at the semi-professional level. One such team was the Boeing Bombers of Wichita, Kansas.

The Boeing Wichita plant began turning out these Waco CG-4A gliders in 1942 under a subcontract from Cessna (US Air Force Image).

Beginning in 1942, the Boeing plant in Wichita, KS began construction (under a sub-contract from Cessna) of 750 model CG-4 towed gliders in preparation for a future invasion of Europe. Around the same time, the Boeing company of Wichita formed the Boeing Bombers team that competed as semi-professionals and was comprised of solid athletes who also worked for the company. In 1942, the team won the National Semipro Championship defeating the Waco Dons in 12 innings by a score of 2-1. Boeing would continue to field the Bombers into the 1950s. One of the Boeing team alum, Daryl Spencer, went on to play for the New York and San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and finished his career in 1963 with the Cincinnati Reds.

The ‘5″ and “4” above the Air Force wings appear to be an indication of the date this medallion was awarded to its recipient (eBay image).

Close examination of the medallion, the Republic Aviation logo (sans the word-mark) is superimposed over set of Air Force pilots’ wings.

While reviewing the results of one of my online auction searches, I saw a listing for a sterling silver medallion that was associated with Republic Aviation and prominently featured a baseball player on the face along with what appeared to be a two-digit year (54). The medallion is approximately two inches in diameter and features a machined hole for a suspension. Across the bottom is a set of USAAC/USAAF/USAF pilot’s wings with the Republic Aviation superimposed over the center. I performed some cursory, fruitless searches for anything related to the now-defunct aircraft manufacture having fielded a baseball club, perhaps similar to the aforementioned Boeing Bombers. I decided that being in possession of the artifact was far more interesting then to let it pass by and I could conduct the research once I have the medallion in hand.

Clarence “Buster” Bray of the 1941 Boston Braves worked for Republic Aviation early in the war prior to serving in the armed forces.

After the package arrived, I took out my loupe for a close-up examination hoping to find any detail that might help with research. Other than what was visible in the seller’s photographs, there was nothing hidden. I decided to spend some time researching Republic Aviation’s history to no avail regarding anything related to a baseball team. I did manage to find Clarence Wilber “Buster” Bray, a four-game-centerfielder (with 11 at-bats and an .091 batting average) for the 1941 Boston Braves who spent part of the war working for Republic Aviation before serving, himself.

Republic was absorbed into Fairchild in 1965. I found a June 2013 article in Air & Space (Smithsonian) Magazine by Joshua Stoff (curator for the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, in which he describes having peek into the archives of Republic Aviation in 1987 just prior to the Fairchild management’s decision to destroy every item. From that article, I was led to the American Airpower Museum’s website on which I submitted a request for assistance in researching baseball at Republic Aviation.

Within a day, Jacky Clyman responded and directed me to Ken Neubeck, president of the Long Island Republic Airport Historical Society (LIRAHS). Mr. Neubuck was a former employee of Fairchild Republic and recalled that the company, “fielded a team for several years, up to the point when the company closed in 1987.”  This was the first positive news that I had received since I began my investigation. Ken asked, “Is there any particular significance for the 1954 team?”

I informed Ken about the medallion and that I was seeking anything at all regarding a company team, what their record was for that season and why they might have been given the medallion. I also sent him an image to give him a visual reference.

The next day, Mr. Neubeck replied that he had spent time searching through his collection of Republic Aviation’s newspapers from 1954 in search of anything pertaining to baseball.  He stated, “Unfortunately, your medallion makes no reference to whether it is softball or baseball,” and provided me with two images of the newspapers for me to review. The articles mentioned the Republic Aviation Corporation’s (RAC) sponsorship of a local little league baseball team which had some on-field success as well as an RAC varsity intramural softball team. Ken was unsuccessful in uncovering anything relating to a baseball team and then stated, “I have to believe that it must be a RAC varsity softball participation medallion to the softball team members.”

This medallion from 1949 was sold in an earlier auction listing.

As I was writing this article, I did discover an older auction listing of the same medallion dated, 1949 that provided no history or provenance – another dead end. While there is nothing conclusive or definitive in what was provided to me by Ken Nuebeck, it is a safe to agree with his assessment.

The medallion, if nothing else, displays nicely with my baseball collection and has a direct link to military history with Republic’s rich heritage of warplane manufacturing.

Baseball’s American Indian Heritage Should Not be About Wrong vs Right

Cleveland Indians Earl Averill and Odell Hale c.1937 (source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

Now that all of the Major League teams have held their home-opening games and festivities and the 2017 season is well underway, the return of the so-called ant-racism protests against certain symbolism and iconography (that is represented within sports – baseball in particular) is infiltrating the enjoyable aspects of the game. There is a smattering of protests that occur annually (sometimes persisting throughout entire sports seasons) by small groups of people who find ways to be offended by the names and logos that represent professional teams. In the National Hockey League, the “offensive” teams are the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Eskimos. The National Football League has the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. Major League Baseball’s hot-button teams are the Atlanta Braves and the 2016 American League Champion Cleveland Indians.

A close-up of Odell Hale’s (of the Cleveland Indians) left sleeve showing an older “Chief Wahoo” logo patch in 1937 (source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

Opening day in Cleveland last week, fans were subjected to a handful of people of various ethnic origins (including American Indian) who assailed (verbally and physically) with their disdain for both the team name and logo. Being a traditionalist, changes to team names and logos – especially historic ones –  driven by contrived offense, stir up negative reactions within me. To avoid the tiresome debate about the honoring origins of the team name and logo (and the detractors who persist in suggesting both to be racist despite the history surrounding the Cleveland players – such as Louis Sockalexis and Al Bender), I will try, instead to highlight an aspect of baseball history that has a military connection.

When I talk to my children about history and how racism is an ill that has existed within man almost since creation, I try to take them away from present-day and infuse context into the discussion. It is far too easy to condemn people, when looking back from present-day and current situations, as racists solely based upon behaviors, activities or geography. The written word from other eras is often mistaken as racist due to the lost meanings of terms and phrases as they existed in time. Just listening to my kids interact with their friends can lead to a wealth of misinterpretation as their language lexicon is far different from that of my generation. Rather than to open ourselves up and apply understanding of that time, it is far simpler to judge a person for their skin color and gender and demonize them accordingly. How ironic that we employ racism as a means to eradicate racism. It can only be seen as a shifting of (perceived) power rather than seeking equality and balance and a harmonious society.

Apache baseball team that beat the U.S. Cavalry team in the 1890s.

I recently began watching Ken Burns’ fantastic Public Broadcasting series, Baseball which I haven’t seen since the series originally aired in the early 1990s. As I was watching the first episode, Inning One: Our Game which covered the origins of the game from the mid-19th century leading up to the 1880s, a small snippet of the show covered a game that took place at a western fort in Oklahoma. What caught my attention was the mention of a baseball game that was played between the Army and an Apache team (who were considered prisoners of war and were detained at the fort) who featured a former warrior and chief of note, the great Geronimo. As I have written previously, the game transcends all bounds; time, generations, geography and even former combatant foes.

The great Apache, Geronimo, circa 1898.

When considering the ramifications former adversaries from two vastly different cultures engaging in a game, it is hard to imagine that there was anything but bitter feelings between the two opposing sides. Racially-charged epithets could have been exchanged between the two teams and it is possible that neither was aware of what was said due to the language barriers. In the years following this game and the wider adoption of the game within the American Indian communities, baseball stars would rise from the reservations and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Indian children were taken from their families to educate and assimilate them to Western culture). As Indians made their way onto professional rosters and they proved successful and even garnered fan-followings, depictions of the players and their on-field actions could be perceived (by today’s standards) as derogatory (as noted by Royse Parr in his article, American Indians in Major League Baseball: Now and Then).  Not to diminish the Parr’s assertions that Indian players detested nicknames of “chief” which detracted from the term’s cultural significance and belied the ignorance of the people who casually expressed them. These were the times and society has progressed since those days.

When looking at the root issue of the protests at Progressive Field, we must also acknowledge that there is a significant portion (90%) of the American Indian community who do not find the team names, mascots and logos offensive, according to the 1994 Annenberg Public Policy Center and 2016 Washington Post polls. In a span of nearly a decade and a half, nothing has changed in terms of finding the names offensive. In fact, outside of the handful of people in Cleveland, there are several Indian groups and tribes who support the allegedly derogative team names.

Guy W. Green’s Nebraska Indians (source: Dispatches from the LP-OP)

American Indians have been substantial contributors to the game almost since they were introduced to it. Considering the likes of the modern game’s early stars:

  • Louis Sockalexis – a Penobscot from Maine who played three seasons for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League (who would eventually, in a very round-about way transition to become the present-day Cleveland Indians who were so-named to honor the team’s former star from Maine).
  • Al Bender – an Ojibwe (Chippewa) from Minnesota, Bender was a favorite of his Philadelphia Athletics manager, Connie Mack. In one World Series, he pitched three shutouts and would retire with a mere 2.46 earned run average. He would spend his post-playing days as a coach in the minors and major leagues and even had a stint as the Naval Academy’s manager, posting a 42-34-2 record with the Midshipmen. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, a year before his death.
  • Zack Wheat – a Cherokee outfielder who starred for Brooklyn for 18 seasons in the early 1900s and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1959. He still holds many of the Dodgers team batting records.
  • Jim Thorpe – a Sac/Fox from Oklahoma and direct descendant of the warrior Black Hawk who played for the Giants, Reds and Braves from 1913-19. Thorpe also played in the NFL and won gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon.
  • Rudy York – a Cherokee who as a rookie catcher with the Detroit Tigers in 1937 broke Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in a month, hitting 18 in August, and also drove in 49 runs that month to break Lou Gehrig’s record by one. York finished his career with 277 home runs, 1,152 RBIs and a .275 batting average.
  • Pepper Martin – an Osage who starred at third base and the outfield for the Cardinals’ famed “Gashouse Gang” of the 1930s, and in 1931 was named the first Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
  • Allie Reynolds – a hard-throwing right-hander of Creek descent who went 131-60 in eight years with the Yankees and finished his 13-year major league career in 1954 with a 182-107 record.

 

Negro and Major League star (and WWII Navy Veteran), Larry Doby’s uniform showing the current Chief Wahoo caricature.

As an American with Cherokee ancestry, I am not offended in the slightest by the names. I prefer to consider that the Native American men who played the game during Baseball’s terrible decades of exclusionary policies (against African Americans) ultimately served to pave the way for societal change. In the process of introducing baseball to Indians on reservations and with re-education centers (like Carlisle), the game worked against the establishment to dismantle systematic prejudices. I can’t help but think that Geronimo and his fellow Apache ballplayers from those Fort Sill games are smiling with the progress they brought to this land.

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