Category Archives: Interwar Period

Despite the Auction Loss, Victory is Found in the Discovery

It isn’t often that the sale price of an artifact leaves my mouth agape. More often than not, baseball-centric militaria garners little attention compared to counterparts originating with the professional game, leaving bidding at very reasonable level. Things can be a bit more interesting in terms of price and perceived value when the professional and military baseball worlds collide. While one might assume that having professional ballplayers’ names, photographs, signatures or other provenance associated with an artifact would influence prospective buyers and inflite prices, it isn’t always the case.

I have been involved in this market and collecting arena for the better part of a decade and when I discover an auction listing with a unique piece that I would love to add to my collection, I am nearly always accurate with my assessment of the level of bidding interest and the approximate value of the object. I do track the trends of auction sales and maintain the valuations. Unlike other areas of baseball memorabilia collecting, the military circle of participants is rather small due to the diversity of the artifacts that fall into this category. It is at the points of convergence between the different categories of collecting can draw additional interest and drive a prices away from reality. For example, to a baseball glove collector, a run-of-the-mill WWII-era baseball glove that just happens to be stamped with markings for one of the armed forces might have a slightly increased value (above the price of the exact non-military variant) but to a military collector, it may not generate the same level of interest and so, garner a lower price.

The piece that defied reason was one that I submitted a horrendously low (but entirely appropriate) bid for, was right in the area of my interests. In fact, the piece crossed a few more areas of focus – Navy, local history, local baseball and famous ships. The era of the piece was secondary but certainly within what I enjoy the most surrounding the game; the decades of 1930s and ’40s. Living in a Pacific Coast League town and being passionate about the ‘Coast League history, I truly wanted to land this piece but I was also going to be realistic with my bidding and not overspend for something that wasn’t worth a lot of money (to me, at least).

This flyer (or program, showing both sides) for an exhibition game played between the Seattle Indians (of the Pacific Coast League) and the baseball team from the visiting aircraft carrier, USS Lexington (CV-2), is in rough condition but possesses fantastic information  naval and baseball history (source: eBay images),

The item that was listed for sale, though very similar to a baseball program, was more of a single sheet flyer promoting a baseball game to be played between the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League and a baseball team from the USS Lexington (CV-2).

USS Lexington (CV-2) provides electrical power to the City of Tacoma (WA) during a severe drought and subsequent electricity shortage – December 1929 – January 1930 (Photo: Tacoma Public Library).

Lady Lex was firmly in the hearts of the local area, namely the citizens of the City of Tacoma, having helped the residents ride out blackout conditions in December of 1929. That winter, Tacoma City Light was hampered from providing electricity to the citizens due to a pro-longed drought that greatly reduced the hydroelectric power generation capabilities leaving citizens without light and in many cases, heat for their homes and businesses (one local manufacturer, Cascade Paper Company was forced to lay off 300 employees when the plant was shut down due to power shortages). At the request of the city, President Herbert Hoover directed Navy Secretary Charles Francis Adams III (a descendant of President John Adams) to deal with the matter. Secretary Adams dispatched the carrier to Tacoma here the ship tied up pierside and generated power for 30 days. When news of the Lex’s loss during the Battle of the Coral Sea reached Tacoma, it was as if a part of the city sank with her.

The Indians versus Lexington artifact shows considerable damage (much of it due to moisture) and aging with signs of being glued (probably to a scrapbook page) along with acidic-based discoloration from prolonged contact with other materials as if it was pressed between pages. The base paper of the document appears to be of a heavier cardstock that, perhaps helped to preserve it for the eight-plus decades. The printing itself is monochromatic (black) that includes an art-deco border design and a small photograph of the USS Lexington.

The June 6, 1932 game was held in Bremerton, while the ship was in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an extended overhaul period (which was completed in December of that year). While the roster of the ship’s crew will pose some difficulties in researching, the Seattle Indians roster is a different story. With the exception of a few Indians players (Mulligan, Wetzel and possibly Welch), all had decent professional careers (nine of the 18 played in the major leagues – shown in the table below in bold).

 

Seattle Indians USS Lexington
Name POS Last Name POS
Mulligan 3B Murdock 1B
Barberis 3B Lee 1B
Welch (Welsh?) CF House 2B
Burns 1B/Mgr Long CF
Cook 1B Berkery CF
Scott RF Sheats C
Almada, Mel RF Thatcher C
Cox C Mackey (James W. Macky) RF
Botterini C Razuk RF
Muller 2B Williams SS
Ellsworth SS Mitchell 3B
Page P Gowdy LF
Freitas P Gibson LF
Kallio P Mills P
Nelson P Bland P
Walters P Ford P
Haid P Williams P
Wetzel P Joyce P

The 1932 USS Lexington team that played the Seattle Indians were still with the squad in 1933 when they went undefeated and won the All Navy Championship (source: Naval History & Heritage Command).

In the early 1930s, the USS Lexington fielded a very competitive baseball team winning consecutive championships in 1933 and 1934 (research is ongoing). It was common for professional baseball clubs to play exhibition games with teams outside of their league to keep their rosters sharp and prepared. This game was played in early June which was close to the middle of Seattle’s season and possibly during a succession of off-days. For the men of the USS Lexington, this game offered a level of competition that pushed them to refine their skills and to play at their peak which seemingly carried them well into the next two seasons. In 1933, the squad from the Lady Lex, many of whom competed against the Indians in this 1932 game, went undefeated claiming the All Navy Championship.

Several of the men from the 1932 team continued to play competitive baseball into the 1934 season. Here, Captain C.A. Blakely and Admiral David F. Sellers present the team with their championship trophies on March 2, 1934. Pictured with the two senior officers are team members (left-right): F3c J.B. Williams, F1c H.E. Gardner, Coxswain B.N. Lee, TM3c J.W. Macky, GM2c R.D. Long (captain), Sea1c T.D. Mitchell, Sea1c S.E. Bond, GM3c C.C. Anderson, F2c C.E. Gibson, F3c G.L. Ford, WT1c J.E. Sheats, F2c W.E. Gowdy, Chief Gunner A.S. Fenton (coach). One man in group is not listed (source: Naval History & Heritage Command).

Bremerton, Washington’s Roosevelt Field in 1939 was the eventual home of the Bremerton Bluejackets – Western International League – from 1946-49 (image source: Kitsap County Historical Society Museum archives).

Researching the location of the location where this game was played has been a bit of an endeavor. Though no conclusive details have been discovered, I believe that the site has been pinpointed. Extensive online searching provided not a single result in determining details about Washington Ball Park. With the establishment of the navy yard at Bremerton, the town that grew into a city that provided support for the navy’s shipbuilding and repair facilities, became the largest municipality on the Kitsap Peninsula, away from the larger cities of Seattle and Tacoma. Though the city and surrounding region grew in size and population, professional baseball didn’t call Bremerton home until 1946 with the establishment of the Bremerton Bluejackets who were added to the Western International League along with the Wenatchee ChiefsSalem SenatorsTacoma TigersYakima StarsVancouver CapilanosSpokane Indians and the Victoria Athletics. The Bluejackets called old Roosevelt Field, the wooden ballpark located on 16th and Warren Avenue that opened in 1926, their home through their final season in 1949. Was the ballpark renamed (from Washington Ball Park) to honor President Roosevelt after his 1945 passing? I have expanded my research and will hopefully gain some insights as to the location of the game.

Roosevelt Park was located on the corner of 16th Street and Warren Avenue from 1926 until it was demolished in 1983. Was this stadium the site of the game?

While the name of this ballpark could have been to honor the very popular former Assistant Secretary of the Navy  and the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, adding to doubt as to a name change from Washington to Roosevelt, I turned to the local historical research sources. Bonnie Chrey, a volunteer researcher for the Kitsap Historical Society Museum, poured through records and artifacts seeking references to Washington Ball Park. On April 23, 1930, the Bremerton School District dedicated a new athletic field to be used by Bremerton High School’s sports teams which was adjacent to the then existing Washington (Junior High) School. The venue was dedicated that Wednesday as Washington Field. The school building, long since demolished, faced Burwell Street to the south and was bounded on its east and west by Bryan and Montgomery Avenues. The field was bounded to the north by 6th Street.

 

While several of the Seattle Indians players’ careers warrant deeper research, those with military service in particular, the life of Bottarini was one of a fulfilling baseball career, wartime service with a tragic ending.

Catcher John C. Bottarini with the Seattle Indians in 1936 (photo courtesy of UCLA’s Los Angeles Times Photographs Collection).

John Charles Bottarini, a catcher from Los Angeles, played for Seattle (from 1930-35) where he met and married his wife, the former Hazel Ernestine Morgan on October 10, 1936, in Seattle, Washington. John would work his way through the minor leagues and onto the Chicago Cubs roster on April 18, 1937, following injuries sustained by future Hall of Fame catcher,Gabby Hartnett. Chicago Cubs manager Charley Grimm brought Bottarini up from the Los Angeles Angels where the veteran minor leaguer would see action in 26 games that season before resuming his minor league career. Following four seasons (1939-42) with the Syracuse Chiefs (International League), the veteran catcher entered the U.S. Army Air Force on March 2, 1943 in Santa Fe, New Mexico and would subsequently be assigned to Kirtland Army Airfield (near Albuquerque, New Mexico) where he made his way to the base’s baseball club. It was during his duty at Kirtland that John’s wife gave birth to twin boys, John Charles Jr. and Robert Joseph. Corporal Bottarini was discharged on September 25, 1945 at Fort Bliss, Texas.  He returned to the game after the war, signing with the Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas-New Mexico League (class C) in 1946. In the last years of his career, Bottarini spent time as a player-manager before retiring from the game following the 1950 season.  In the 1960s Bottarini’s twin boys both entered the service (John Jr. went in to Army and Robert served in the Air Force) following in their father’s footsteps. The 1970s were difficult for the Bottarini family beginning with young Robert’s passing in 1971 and then with the tragic deaths of both John and John Jr., drowning on Fenton Lake in New Mexico when their boat overturned.

Not landing this artifact was a bit of a disappointment (offset greatly by the final selling price of $162.00), however the joy in researching the details has paid dividends in the joy of discovery, though there was some sadness in the findings.

 

 

 

GITMO and Battleship Baseball History

Though extremely scarce by comparison to items from the professional game, by far, the most prevalent baseball militaria that surfaces for sale in auctions and private sales originates from the World War II (1942-1945) era. My collection, while somewhat sizable and broad, it is still a relatively small grouping of artifacts ranging from uniforms and equipment to photographs and ephemera. During the course of a year, one might come across a handful of uniforms from the second world war and perhaps a few dozen vintage photographs. Besides actual issued-baseballs, the pieces that are truly hard to find, let alone land, are scorecards, scorebooks and programs.

Since I acquired my very first military baseball program/scorecard several years ago, I have been on the hunt for these treasured pieces of history. The information contained within the pages of each piece have provided significant research boosts for many of the articles published on this site. Though there are often inaccuracies within the printed details, misspellings and interesting variations of players’ names and personal data, the information found within the rosters, dates of games and even the names of the officials are significant in terms of verification – especially in determining signatures on autographed items. As much as I try to bring acquire one of these pieces, I do get outbid or I may miss a listing. Even though I have missed out, I have been diligent in capturing the photographs of the pieces that got away so that I can preserve the data for future research (see: Library of Military Baseball Scorecards, Score-books and Game Programs).

USS Maryland prior to her post-Pearl Harbor modernization (image source: WorldWarPhotos.org).

One of my uncles whose twin brother was a three-war veteran (WWI, WWII and the Korean War) decided to serve his adopted country (he immigrated to the US with his parents and brother from Newfoundland a few years after the turn of the 20th Century) and join the fight. The Great War was in its fourth year and the United States had only been involved for a few months when my uncle enlisted into the United States Navy – his rating was a musician. Rather than serving on a shore command, he was assigned to a sea-going unit and the only ships at that time that carried a band were battleships. Though the War was raging in Europe, my uncle never saw the Atlantic as his ship, the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) was based out of Long Beach, CA serving in the Pacific. After the way, he was assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Tennessee (BB-43) serving for a few years before transferring to the USS California (BB-44), the sister ship to the Tennessee. When the 1920s were winding down, so was my uncle’s career having contracted pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) while on active duty. A few years after his medical separation, TB would take his young life.

USS California as she appeared in the 1930s transiting the Panama Canal (image source: visitpearlharbor.org).

Since I began researching his career (I obtained a copy of his service records after a nearly three-year wait), I sought anything that I could find from any of the three ships that he served aboard. Being that all three of these vessels were present and heavily damaged during the December 7, 1941 attack, militaria that originate from the ships is heavily sought-after. In the recent weeks, I was astounded to see a listing for a baseball program for a March 20, 1930 baseball game that was played between my uncle’s last ship (about a year after he was discharged), USS California and another Pearl Harbor survivor, the USS Maryland (BB-46) and that there were (seemingly) no other folks interested in it. The program indicated the game between the two battleship baseball teams was part of a battle fleet tournament and was an elimination round. The condition, other than some discoloration due to aging and being handled, was in great shape. Also noticeable in the auction listing photographs was a strip of glue residue on the back cover running the length of the fold at the center. The glue seems to indicate that the program had been mounted – perhaps to a page of a scrapbook.

After completing some due diligence, I submitted a best offer price to the seller and hoped for the best. Within minutes, I received notification that my offer was accepted and I promptly paid for the program and awaited its arrival. Within a few days, the parcel arrived and, aside from a partial scorecard from a WWI-era West Point versus Annapolis game, this addition is a departure from my usual military baseball ephemera collection. As the auction photos showed, the condition of the program is fantastic.

Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this game between teams from the Maryland and California was played on March 20, 1930 (source: eBay image).

The three-color printing was done on paper stock that is very similar to newsprint. Fortunately, the program was stored away from exposure to direct sunlight and air (the two elements that possess the most destructive force on paper) which protected the paper from yellow and becoming brittle.

Inside the fold of the program are printed with state fight songs. What is baffling is that besides the Maryland’s song, the program also has the title, “On Wisconsin” printed over another Maryland fight song (source: eBay Image).

Live batting practice is held on the starboard quarter of the battleship, USS Tennessee (BB-43) in the late 1920s to early 1930s.

This programs is a single sheet of paper with a fold at the center of the long end. The full dimensions of the sheet are roughly ten-by-seven inches. The content is clearly favoring the USS Maryland which seems to indicate that it was produced for the crew of that ship. It is possible however, that this is a page from a more complete program that included the same information for both the Maryland and the California. Since the game was part of an elimination tournament held at the naval base in Cuba, the mis-printed “On Wisconsin” title could indicate the nature of the repeated production process of the programs. These are merely guessess that could be proven or dispelled should similar pieces surface in the future.

Baseball has been such an integral part of the armed forces since the inception of the game. It isn’t hard to imagine sailors finding creative methods and employing ingenuity to develop, maintain and enhance their ball-playing skills while aboard ship in anticipation of such a competition. While shoreside teams have easy access to fields and facilities to conduct full-scale practices, the shipboard teams are typically restricted while out to sea. However, when I discovered a vintage photograph from the late 1920s-30s, taken aboard the USS Tennessee (BB-43) listed for sale, I couldn’t let it pass me by. The image certain sheds a light on the handicap that shipboard teams faced when fielding a baseball team against shore-command teams. Besides helping to tell the story of the game for Navy ball teams, the photograph gives me a bit of a connection to my uncle’s ship.

It was a pleasant surprise to add this piece of Navy baseball history to my growing collection while giving me a touchpoint for my family’s naval heritage.

 

Competition Awards: Buckling Up Metal Baseball Treasure

One area that is a more recent development – awards and decorations – is becoming a nice addition to my collection. Adding breadth to my collection of military baseball artifacts (beyond uniforms, photographs and equipment) in the form of metal decorations helps to show the results of the competitive nature of the sport but in a more representative fashion. While traditionally, championship teams are awarded trophies and rings, the military has a different take on how to bestow victors’ hardware upon its champions.

I have authored several articles regarding U.S. armed forces decorations and awards (including Happen to Have $250k for a “Rare” 1775 Medal?) in which I touch on the the development and progression of medals that are awarded for personal valor; individual and unit achievements and accomplishments; participation and support of campaigns and conflicts; and qualifications in various military disciplines. Once a service member receives an official award or decoration, it becomes a permanent part of their uniform for the duration of their career. Certain decorations can be qualify veterans for benefits in post-military careers (such as added points to a civil service testing score) or with public recognition (valor medal recipients vehicle license plates, for example) and they are authorized to formally wear their issued decorations on civilian attire.

In the militaria side of my collecting and research passion, I don’t have a personal interest in acquiring awards and decorations presented to other veterans, though I have a few pieces in my collection. Most of what I have were inherited as part of my (now deceased) relatives and I am now honored to be the caretaker of their history.

Boston Red Sox legend and WWII veteran Johnny Pesky shows off the World Series ring presented to him by the team following their first championship since 1918 (image by “Hackhix”).

I have also acquired some medals and ribbons in my efforts to “rebuild” and recreate ancestors’ displays to represent their service in the armed forces. The idea of purchasing medals to own – especially those awarded posthumously (such as Purple Hearts) – doesn’t sit well with me due to the personal nature of the award and the familial grieving that is associated with the presentations made to the surviving family members. However, I recognize those collectors who go to great lengths to preserve and honor both the veteran and their history in their pursuits of these significant decorations.

The history of awarding medals for sporting proficiency dates (at least) as far back to the establishment of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 when victorious competitors were awarded a silver medal and, as was done in the ancient games, an olive wreath. Runners-up received a bronze medal and wreath (the three-tiered medals of gold, silver and bronze commenced with the 1904 St. Louis games). Today’s fans of the game of professional sports are familiar with the practice of championship team members being presented with rings commemorating their victorious season of competition, a practice that began in 1922 following the New York Giants World Series. In the years prior, individual team members were presented with varying jewelry; pocket watches, pins, watch fobs and medals.

Over the last year and a half, I have added three medals that were awarded to members of military baseball teams (not to mention a medallion presented to members of a ball club fielded by a military aviation contractor) ranging from a medal awarded (in 1944) to an American baseball team from the Army Post Office (APO 677) team based at Goose Bay, Labrador (which is awaiting my research efforts), to one awarded to a ball player on a Citizens’ Military Training Camp team, and finally the medal presented in 1924 to (then future rear admiral and three-time Navy Cross recipient), Naval Academy Midshipman Frank Fenno for his .410 single-season batting average. These pieces of hardware have been fantastic additions to my collection.

This Art Deco baseball themed design combined with the two-color “N” emblem caught my attention.

The baseball medals, with the exception of the Republic Aviation medallion, all possess inscriptions and details that afford a pathway for researching specifics regarding the manner in which they were earned. One of my most recent acquisitions is lacking such data and will, most certainly leave me with no such research trail to follow. I am admittedly a novice with many collecting focuses and though I have a handful of belt buckles, this is an area that where I have virtually no interest. The buckles that I own predominantly originate as part of the military uniform that I wore during my service, some of which were custom-made and commemorate the ships on which I served. However, this baseball-themed artifact, perhaps some manner of an award for a winning team, piqued my interest and was an appropriate fit with what I have been bringing home.

The weight of this small buckle perhaps stems from a nickel face plate and solid brass mechanism.

Motivated by the Art Deco design the two-color enamel of the emblem, the baseball theme and the low opening bid amount, I decided to set my maximum price (and ultimately, the winning bid amount) to see if I could land the small Naval Station Boston buckle. One area that had me questioning the history and accuracy was the name cast into the face of the buckle – “Naval Station Boston” – doesn’t exactly exist, nor did it ever in any official capacity. The photos accompanying the listing weren’t as detailed as I prefer, so I assumed that there might be a maker’s mark located within the clasping mechanism on the back of the buckle.

Of the naval installation that existed in the Boston area leading up to or during World War II, not one is referred to as Naval Station Boston:

  • Boston Navy Yard
  • Boston Naval Yard Fuel Depot Annex
  • Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot
  • Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex
  • Naval Air Station Squantum
  • Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Beverly
  • Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Hyannis
  • Naval Auxiliary Air Facility New Bedford
  • Naval Hospital Boston
  • Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center, Lawrence
  • Navy Operational Support Center Quincy
  • No Man’s Land Navy Airfield
  • South Boston Naval Annex
  • United States Naval Mine Test Facility, Provincetown
  • United States Navy Field Test Station, Fort Heath

The lack of such a reference is, in my opinion inconclusive based upon my understanding of how sailors can and often to morph the names of their duty stations. Another possibility for the unofficial name could be the result of a team comprised of players from numerous surrounding commands forming a conglomeration that was thus named, Naval Station Boston. The next step in researching will be to scour news article archives of the region within that time-period in hopes that there exists some coverage of the team’s competition.

The stamped markings read, “GIANT GRIP” and “PAT PEND” flanking the top of the locking mechanism with  “INVISIBLE” and MADE IN U.S.A. across the bottom.

When the buckle arrived, my initial action was to check the back for markings that would indicate a date of manufacture. Aside from the Art Deco-influenced design (which was at its zenith in the early 1930s), trying to pinpoint the date without an actual mark is nearly impossible with the visual influences of that period continued on into World War II. Cast into the buckle’s locking mechanism in very tiny lettering, was GIANT GRIP, PAT PEND, “INVISIBLE” and MADE IN U.S.A., none of which provided more assistance than to find other listings of similar buckles.

With my to-be-researched pile growing, this piece will have to remain prioritized towards the bottom.

Belt Buckle Collecting Resources:

%d bloggers like this: