Category Archives: Interwar Period
While baseball history is a central aspect of our on-going project (uncovering and sharing the history of baseball within the armed forces), it is in the dovetailing with the history of the armed forces that is of the utmost importance in our work. When we acquire historical pieces, the research efforts can be rather lengthy or stalled depending upon the availability of resources and the information that can be extracted from a piece. Often, our projects are stalled and subsequently relegated to the back-burner to keep warm as we await a key piece of information to unblock our efforts.
Acquiring the vintage photo of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team was certainly a cause celebration in how the door was opened for a truly rewarding research project that culminated in last week’s story (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move). Diving into the team’s coach, former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants’ outfielder, Morrie Arnovich along with shining a spotlight on the team’s early integration in 1942 (five years ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson and six years before the armed forces were desegregated) with ace hurler Ford Smith (1942) and middle infielder, George Handy, was certainly a lot of information to consume. In focusing on the aforementioned three men, we left little room to talk about the other men who played on the ground-breaking squad. The 1943 image of the Warriors was not our first Fort Lewis baseball photograph.
For nearly a decade, our searches for baseball-related artifacts from our local region have been unproductive. Regardless of the search terms we used or the areas in which we focused our efforts, the results were the same. When breakthroughs have occurred in previous expeditions, what would surface seemed to meet a consistent standard. Whether the artifacts were equipment, uniform or photography-related, the item would generally be something impressive (at least to us). Admittedly, the first Pacific Northwest-centric baseball item we were able to locate, if taken at face-value, would underwhelm nearly any collector.
The otherwise innocuous, and apparently staged photograph showed an older man, a coach perhaps, hanging a flannel jersey with bearing the number “8” on the back, on a bar inside the locker. Wearing Army dress uniform trousers, a sleeveless tee shirt and a ball cap., the older gentleman is holding a fielder’s love in his opposite hand. On the photo’s reverse, a brown-paper caption slug is affixed. Rather than a photo of a posed team or one that spotlights a former professional ballplayer (now serving), this image is one of an aged warrior hanging up his flannels for the last time.
“Retiring Army Athlete: LTCOL Ronald D. Johnson Retiring – October 2, 1943: FORT LEWIS, WASH. – Completing a colorful 34-year career as U.S. Army Officer and active participant in Army athletics, Col. Ronald D. Johnson, executive officer, Fort Lewis, Washington, and star moundsman on the Fort’s ball club, now turns in his baseball uniform and cleats. War Department retires Col. Johnson under edict retiring officers up to colonels of statutory age limit.”
A 59-year-old Colonel who was still pitching for a service baseball team? Who was this man and why was he being retired in the middle of an active war that was, at that time, still very much in question with nearly 250-days before D-Day? It was decided that there was enough interest in the subject, especially since this man was serving and playing baseball for the Fort Lewis team up until the moment that the photograph was captured.
Like we typically do with the arrival of vintage photographs, the image is scanned to obtain a workable digital copy that is then edited for exposure correction, surface repair and any enhancement that is needed to reveal the details of the subject. After completing the work on this photo and saving it to our cloud library, we moved onto preparations for a public showing of our artifacts (see: Always Prepared: Landing a WWII U.S. Coast Guard Baseball Uniform). Largely forgotten and entirely un-researched, the image of Colonel Johnson didn’t return to the forefront of our research until the arrival of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo.
As we began our research project for the ‘43 Warriors, one of the first players that was recognizable besides the team’s manager, Private Morrie Arnovich, was Colonel Ronald D. Johnson.
Ronald DeVore Johnson was born and raised on the banks of the Willamette River, south of Portland in Oregon City, Oregon on November 1, 1883. His father, W. Cary Johnson, an attorney who was born in Ohio while his mother, Josephine Johnson (nee DeVore) originated in Illinois, were married in 1868 in Multnomah, Oregon. Ronald was the youngest of five children and an athlete as a youth, playing football and baseball from an early age. Ronald Played for the Portland Academy (starting in 1901) and for the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club before taking his skills to Stanford University for a semester (where he also played baseball) before accepting his 1905 appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
From 1905 through 1909, Ronald D. Johnson excelled at West Point. He was the starting quarterback for the Cadets for three seasons (1906-08) as well as the starting catcher (he also pitched). In 1908, Johnson established himself as an end and earn recognition among college football’s nine best in the position among the 1908 Walter Camp All Americans.
In 1909, Johnson switched to the fullback position blocking and carrying the ball, moving to the backfield on the West Point gridiron. One of Johnson’s gridiron teammates (and fellow ‘09 classmates) was George Smith Patton, a stellar athlete in his own right (see: Military Veterans Aiming for Gold: Collecting Olympics Militaria). On the diamond, Johnson set aside the tools of ignorance anchoring a spot in the outfield of the Cadet baseball team. With his athletic prominence, Johnson earned honors as a “Wearer of the ‘A’” in 1907, ‘08 and ‘09, lettering in football and baseball. He was graduated on June 11, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry.
Following his commissioning, Johnson was stationed in various locations including Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston (he played football for the Fort Sam Houston team) in Texas as well as the Presidio and the Disciplinary Barracks (Alcatraz Island) in California as war broke out in Europe. During his first assignment with the Third Cavalry Regiment, he was married to the former Mabelle F. Osborn (of Colorado) in 1909 (they had two children, Frances, born April 13, 1913 and Ronald D., Jr. born February 24, 1915).
In 1917, First Lieutenant Johnson transferred to field artillery and was promoted to the rank of captain as the United States entered World War I. Serving as part of the American Expeditionary Force in France, with the 18th Field Artillery (seeing action at The Second Battle of the Marne, Vesle and the Argonne, Johnson’s wartime promotions were rapid as he was advanced to the rank of major and again (temporarily) to lieutenant colonel. During his WWI service, Johnson was decorated with the Silver Star medal (his accompanying citation has not yet been uncovered).
After the war, Johnson returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, in January of 1920. Months prior to Johnson’s arrival, the Army Department invested in the construction of athletic facilities to improve the morale of the soldier-prisoners who were incarcerated (numbering well over 1,500 during WWI). With Lt. Col. Johnson’s love for sports, it can be safely assumed that he had a hand in baseball activities on “The Rock.” After his brief tour at Alcatraz, Johnson was honorably discharged but rejoined the army with the rank of major and was assigned to the 16th Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, where he would make his home for many years.
During the 1920s, Johnson and his wife, Mabelle divorced. The Army officer was not alone for long as he married Camille Justvig Branham and was reassigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Johnson’s new marriage increased the size of his family as Camille had a son and a daughter from her previous marriage and they added another son and daughter of their own to the mix Not too long after his tour at Fort Sill, Lt. Colonel Johnson retired from the Army with nearly 25 years of service, on February 24, 1934, relocating back to Washington State to their home on the shores of Steilacoom Lake in the Interlaken neighborhood.
As Europe was once again gripped with war, leadership within the U.S. War Department was making what preparations they could as they were attempting to rebuild the depleted ranks and equipment while being handcuffed by the Neutrality Acts. With President Roosevelt’s signature on the Selective Service Act of 1940, the ranks began to swell in the late fall of that year. What the armed forces was greatly lacking was experienced officers. Though he had been retired for more than seven years, Lt. Colonel Ronald D. Johnson was recalled to active duty on March 5, 1941.
In 1943, Ronald D. Johnson, now a colonel, was assigned to Fort Lewis as the executive officer, the base’s second in command behind Colonel Ralph Rigby Glass, a veteran of the 1904-05 Philippine Insurrection and World War I. Throughout his army career, Johnson was an active athlete playing football since the days of his youth. When former New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies leftfielder, Private Morrie Arnovich was tapped to manage the Fort Lewis baseball team in 1943 for his second season at the base, the major leaguer added Colonel Johnson to his pitching staff having lost hist two 1942-season pitching aces, Ford Smith and Cy Greenlaw after they were both transferred.
Was Johnson added to the team out of respect for his position on the base? Did the colonel use his position to force Private Arnovich to open a roster spot? The questions are certainly fair to ask and unfortunately, the people who could have responded to them have long since passed away. Turning to the available research resources, the answer to this inquiry began to emerge.
The Fort Lewis Warriors were a highly competitive baseball team that faced teams with rosters that were similarly stocked with former major and minor league talent intermixed among former semi-professionals, collegiate and scholastic stars. The Lewis Warriors’ season schedule included playing within multiple leagues such as the Northwest Service League (consisting of regional military teams) and an area semi-pro league. Arnovich’s men also faced challenges from Pacific Coast League clubs such as the local Seattle Rainiers on several occasions and the league’s visitors including the San Diego Padres, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks and Portland Beavers. Manager Morrie Arnovich’s 1942 squad fell just shy of taking all of their championship crowns and he built a team in ‘43 to ensure victory.
As Colonel Johnson’s forced retirement was announced in the fall of 1943, his story was carried in newspapers across the United States spotlighting the 59-year-old’s career in the Army and as an athlete. Not only did the story tell of his early exploits on the gridiron and diamond, it spotlighted his final season performance. As the Warriors vied for their titles, Johnson was racking up victories as a starting pitcher. Facing tough competition, Johnson who was nearing his 60th birthday, strung together 12-consecutive victories. The great Satchel Paige made his final appearance in 1966 with the Peninsula Grays (class “A,” Carolina League) when he was 59 years old, pitching two innings of a no-decision game and surrendering two runs on five hits. When Paige was 51 in the 1958 season (the last in which he was an effective pitcher), he made 28 starts for a 10-10 record and an incredible 2.95 ERA with the Miami Marlins (class “AAA” International League), but he was still eight years younger than Johnson. Two of Johnson’s 1943 victories garnered the attention of the press including his August 11, 13-5 victory over the Army Air Forces team at Paine Field (he also drove in two runs, collecting two base hits and scoring two runs). On September 27, Johnson faced an Army Quartermaster baseball club, the “Mighty D” securing an 8-4 victory, his final of his career. Twenty-seven days later, Colonel Johnson was a civilian.
Though our research cannot account for Colonel Johnson’s baseball career in the years between his 1934 retirement and 1941 recall to active duty, it is safe to assume, based upon his performance during the 1943 season that he maintained his baseball acumen and abilities actively on the diamond. In the years following his retirement from the Army, Johnson and his wife Camille relocated to the Washington D.C. area, settling in Falls Church, Virginia. Eighteen years after his last pitch for the Fort Lewis Warriors, Colonel Ronald DeVore Johnson passed away in 1961 at the age of 78.
Aside from his athletic legacy, Colonel Johnson demonstrated a life of service to his children. His adopted son Walter Johnson graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy and served a career in the United States Coast Guard serving in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring at the rank of Commander. Colonel Johnson’s grandson, Charles Edward Brown, Jr., graduated from West Point in 1965 and was killed in a combat-related accident on November 2, 1966, the day after what would have been his grandfather’s 83rd birthday. 1st Lt. Brown’s father, was Colonel Charles Edward Brown, Sr., a highly decorated combat veteran who served in the 6th Armored Division. Colonel Brown was married to Johnson’s adopted daughter, Lorraine Johnson. Colonel Johnson’s oldest son, Ronald DeVore Johnson, Jr., was a journalist working as a reporter for the Shanghai Evening Post and the Philadelphia Bulletin before moving back to his hometown where he served as the political editor of the San Francisco Examiner and for the American Broadcasting Company’s news department.
While researching Colonel Johnson and seeking consultation from a colleague, our discussion surrounding Johnson’s career progression, more specifically, the appearance of a slow ascension through the ranks following his World War I service suggested that his forte was not as a combat arms officer (like his aforementioned 1909 classmate) . However, with 33 years of combined active duty service, it is apparent that Colonel Johnson had much to offer the Army, even as an administrator. His physical fitness and athletic abilities clearly sustained him in his career and indicating that he was an outstanding baseball player.
Baseball researchers face many hurdles and challenges in their pursuits of deeper and greater knowledge of professional baseball players. In the past 150 years of Major League Baseball, nearly 20,000 people have donned a uniform and signed to a roster (according to researcher and author, Jeremy Frank in 2016) and the members of the Society of American Baseball Researchers have an ongoing project to author biographies for every one of these players (see the Baseball Biography Project at SABR.org). Specifically stated (on the SABR site), the endeavor is an “effort to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.” The lion’s share of the completed biographies encompasses the names that even the most passively interested fans will easily recognize and the volume of accessible research for these players is considerable, affording researchers with, in many cases, the ability to be selective in documenting facts. Researching lesser-known players is a far greater challenge.
In a July 10, 1962 Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News article spotlighting the batting prowess of the (then) leading hitter (of the Naval AIr Station Quonset “Airbees”), Norman Teague who was (then) leading the Sunset League’s hitters with a .531 average, a reference was made to another utterly dominant batter from the league, 35 years earlier. “Teague is by no means the first lead-off hitter to punish Sunset League pitching. One of the best was Raffeis, ‘the Flying Dutchman’ of the champion 1927 Torpedo-Hospital club” the article stated. In describing this star of the Newport league player, the “militant ‘Dutch’ Raffeis, a shortstop, batted .460, scored 33 runs and stole 24 bases in 16 games. The Torpedo-Hospital combination lost only one game that season.” Of the two ball players mentioned, one name stands out among service team baseball history.
Inscribed among the signatures on a 1943 baseball, several of whom were signed by major league ballplayers (including Walt Masterson and Arne “Red” Anderson), is a very-legible autograph from Dutch Raffeis. Though a concerted and lengthy effort ensued in the process of researching the names on this baseball, the team it wasn’t until several months later that we were able to determine which team these men played for and positively identify each player. Armed with the Dutch’s first name following an assist from fellow military baseball historian, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, a wealth of research surrounding Raffeis, his naval career and baseball prowess was unlocked. Henry Raffeis’ life would otherwise be insignificant in the sphere of baseball history and probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of any SABR researcher, statistician or author, but he nevertheless had an impact upon the game as well as the U.S. Navy.
Who is “Dutch” Raffeis and why should anyone care? Henry A. Raffeis was born (on November 14, 1897) five-and-a-half months before Commodore George Dewey’s nine-ship flotilla engaged and defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo’s 13-ship fleet (on May 1, 1898) in Manilla Bay. Depending upon which census record one reviews, Dutch was the son of immigrants: his father originates from Austria (1910) or France (1920, 1930) while his mother hails from Holland (1910), Vienna (1920) or France (1930) making him a first-generation American. In possession of only a seventh-grade education, Henry Raffeis enlisted into the Navy at the age of 17 on January 22, 1915 as war raged in Europe and just 100-days before the RMS Lusitania was blasted by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on May 1 of that year.
Apprentice seaman Raffeis has only a few months of naval experience when he found himself playing baseball at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, though details are considerably ambiguous. However, his level of baseball play must have been quite notable and reminiscent of one of the stars of the era, Honus Wagner (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman” due to his German Heritage and prowess on the diamond) whose Hall of Fame career was waning. By 1920, Dutch was assigned to the U.S. Submarine Base Los Angeles (at San Pedro), the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast where he played at the hot corner (third base) for installation’s league championship team. Raffeis was rated as a gunner’s mate (torpedo) which all but guaranteed his service in the Navy’s silent service. During the 1920s, Raffeis was assigned to submarine bases (in addition to San Pedro and the aforementioned Quonset Point) at Coco Solo (Panama Canal Zone) and Pearl Harbor where he helped his teams secure championships (Coco Solo – 1925, Honolulu City League – 1926, the Battle Fleet Championships 1927-28).
“The Torpedo Station, battled-scarred veteran of 16 campaigns, has won the most titles, four, although it had to share the laurels with the Richmonds in its first conquering season of 1922. But the ‘Torps’ won in convincing style the following year when their battlefront was manned by such doughty players as Eddie Harrington, B.J. Smith, Stubbs, Witherspoon, Brewster, Holly and Hart. They won 32 out of 40 games in two seasons.
Combined with the Naval Hospital, the Station captured the bunting going away in 1927, harpooning 15 victories against only one defeat. Jarvos, Chief Horace Davis, Charley Mitchell, “Dutch” Raffeis, and Templeton were some of the figures who engineered that steamrolling junket. In 1935, a fence-denting, courageous Station array, managed by Charley Mitchell bagged the tars’ fourth pennant, despite a porous defense.” – Brief History of the (Sunset) League
Though details are a bit scarcer for Raffeis during the decade of the 1930s, there are still some great discoveries regarding both his navy career and his baseball exploits. In April of 1930, Raffeis, now a chief petty officer (torpedoman), arrived in San Francisco having detached from the submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone but where he subsequently served is unknown until his name appears on the May 29, 1933 Honolulu Star Bulletin’s sports page. A box score from the paper details a game between the Navy and a local city league team comprised of men of Chinese ancestry. In the 12-6 win for the Gobs, Dutch was still a force at the dish at the ripe “old” age of 36 as he batted 4-for-6 with two doubles and scoring two of the team’s 12 runs.
Navy (vs Chinese): May 29, 1933: Line-up/Box score:
Following a year-long assignment on the Big Island (at Hilo), Raffeis was again transferred back to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, rejoining the team. Leading the already strong team of players, LT. Frank (Max) Leslie, who at the time, was serving with VP-4F, flying patrol aircraft (note: at the Naval Academy, Leslie played for the midshipmen baseball squad under team manager, Chief Bender in 1926). LT Leslie would later lead the dive bombers of VB-3 in their highly successful attack on the Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway.
No further data is available detailing Henry Raffeis’ service or his activities on the diamond for the remainder of the decade though his active duty naval career concluded, having spent at least 20 years in uniform. By April of 1940, Raffeis was working as the superintendent of traffic for a Honolulu, Hawaii taxicab company. Dutch was a resident of the Terada Hotel (on Westervelt Street) that was owned and operated by Jukichi and Sen Terada who also lived on site with their two daughters (Kinue and Doris).
In the summer of 1940, 46-year-old Raffeis was recalled from his inactive reserve status (on August 10, 1940) and assigned to the Porpoise-Class submarine, USS Pompano (SS-181) for the next six months (note: Pompano’s first combat patrol commenced 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and she would be lost with all hands in September of 1943).
Seemingly picking up where his Navy baseball career left off, Raffeis reported to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base (from the Pompano) on February 9, 1942 and re-joined the team that he spent many years manning the Dolphins’ infield and taking on duties as an assistant head coach, backing up Lieutenant O. D. “Doc” Yarborough. After the conclusion of the 1942 season, Doc Yarborough was reassigned to the mainland leaving Dutch Raffeis to assume the helm of the team for 1943.
Under the “Flying Dutchman’s” helm, the Navy team competed heavily in the Hawaii League and faced stiff competition from city teams that were well-stocked with talent (the “Athletics” team featured former minor league pitcher, Eddie Funk who would be part of the 1944 7th AAF juggernaut team that dominated the Islands, winning the championship) . By July of the 1942 season, Dutch’s boys were already eliminated from contention. As the armed forces were expanding with the influx of young men, Raffeis was beginning to see an influx of talent into the area commands and so, he began to bolster his team, however it was not in time to salvage the season.
With the 1943 season in full swing for the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, Raffeis continued to see professional ballplayers-turned-sailors arrive as he continued to bolster his team’s roster with baseball talent and experience. By late Spring, Dutch saw the arrival of Jimmy Gleeson, Walt Masterson and Ray Volpi following their brief tenure with the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets earlier in the season. Winning the 1943 season championship would be the “Flying Dutchman’s” swansong as management of the team was taken over by former Senators pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Walt Masterson.
With the service team rosters in Hawaii being flooded with formerly professional level baseball talent, it is remarkable to see positions still maintained by career sailors such as Raffeis or Oscar Sessions (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) who was included by the Navy for the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series).
Following the 1943 Sub Base Pearl Harbor Championship, Army brass on Oahu cherry-picked top baseball talent from domestic air bases and transferred them to Hawaii, forming a veritable all-star team under the command of the Seventh Air Force (7th AAF) led by Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Mike McCormack, Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Ferris Fain. The 7th AAF won the Hawaii League championship going away while the stalwart Navy ballplayer, coach and manager, Raffeis slipped behind the scenes for the 1944 season. Forty-seven-year-old Henry Raffeis was transferred to sea to finish out his naval career, serving aboard the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) for his last few months of service. A few months shy of his 48th birthday, Henry “Dutch” Raffaies was transferred from the USS Holland back to the continental United States. He was released from active duty on June 11, 1945, 35 days after German surrendered to the Allied forces.
Between June 11, 1945 and sometime in 1968 no records are available regarding Raffeis’ post-Navy life nor are there any indications of what he may have done as a Navy retiree. In 1968, California voter registration shows the 71-year-old’s home address to be in San Diego, a “Navy town,” in a neighborhood populated by an abundance of World War II veterans. Less than three years later, Henry “Dutch” Raffeis passed away at Frente Cooperativa Las Cabanas, San Rafael de Santa Ana, Costa Rica on December 10, 1971 and was laid to rest in that city’s Central Cemetery.
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).
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).
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|
|Cox||C||Mackey (James W. Macky)||RF|
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.
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 Chiefs, Salem Senators, Tacoma Tigers, Yakima Stars, Vancouver Capilanos, Spokane 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: