Category Archives: Interwar Period

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:

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