Category Archives: WWI
So many of my articles and much of my artifact-seeking has been focused upon uniforms and photographs yet, the principle object of the sport that I am keenly interested in, the ball itself, has all but eluded my pursuit since I entered into this endeavor nearly a decade ago. The first breakthrough in my searching for authentic baseballs came at the beginning of this year with my successful acquisition of the team-signed 36th Field Artillery baseball from 1956 and still my archive of artifacts would be well-suited if it included a few more leather-clad, stitched orbs.
Roughly nine-inches in circumference and weighing roughly five ounces, baseballs have been been consistent in their size for more than a century. Until 1974, the animal skin covering of most balls (including those used by both major leagues) consisted of horsehide when the change to cowhide was made. With the exception of wartime military issued (italics for emphasis as baseballs were not government-provided) balls used by service members in league play or pick-up games could vary widely in their origins. Though I have not been able to verify alternative sources, balls (along with other equipment such as gloves, bats, catchers’ gear and uniforms) used by service members were sourced through many different means. Aside from the Baseball Fund during both world wars, balls could be obtained directly from sporting goods stores, government procurement or sent to the players from family members on the homefront.
The balls that were provided during WWII via the Baseball Equipment Fund ( commencing with fund-raising via the 1942 season’s Major League All-Star Game held at New York’s Polo Grounds) were manufactured by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company and marked accordingly with the manufacturer’s standard stampings along with the unique and easily recognizable Baseball Fund stamps. Unsurprisingly with game usage, the stamps would be diminished as they were rubbed off from continued contact with glove-leather, bat-impact along with striking and skidding across various types of field surfaces. Locating a ball with the markings intact is not unheard of however I have only ever seen one listing of a ball that had been sold.
I am certain that many prospective collectors of military baseballs are seeking (but are unfortunately not available) irrefutable methods to authenticate and validate a ball that has been listed for sale as or is purported to be a service team or military-used piece. Due to the many sources that provided baseballs (including official Reach/Spalding-made American and National League balls) to military personnel, authentication can be a considerable challenge with a ball that lacks identifiable markings or that is without substantiated provenance from the service-member whopreviously owned the ball.
Throughout my years studying this subject and these artifacts along with collaboration with long-time experts in vintage baseballs (including major and minor leagues, collegiate, little leagues and balls sold through various sporting goods and department stores). There are no doubts as to one particular method of ruling out balls that are being sold as genuine military-used item. No evidence exists (documented, photographic or veteran recollection) that substantiates any baseballs being stamped with bold “U.S.” or “Special Services” markings. Sadly, despite the best efforts of several experts, the fraudulent sales are rampant and thriving in spaces such as eBay. Since I published These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors and the update, more than two-dozen new victims have purchased from the most-prominent online fraudster, “giscootterjoe” to the tune of more than $1,000.00. There are a handful of other folks who sell the faked U.S.-marked balls, capitalizing on giscotterjoe’s cottage industry but he is consistent in his listings, following the same, weekly pattern.
Authentication of these baseballs doesn’t require decades of research and comparative analysis to get a sense (even through photographs) of its authenticity. If one played baseball, recalling the damage that is inflicted upon a ball from being batted, bouncing off certain field surfaces (who can forget the scarring balls receive from sandlot gravel or even pavement?), then applying those memories to supposed game-used balls should provide prospective buyers with a strong authentication starting point. Soiling, field stains and bat-marks are random on genuine baseballs. With careful examination, one should be able to see remnants of the manufacturer’s stamps, despite the game use.
As with my recent acquisition, autographed baseballs will require additional scrutinizing. The signatures of soldiers, sailors or airmen are nearly impossible to verify as comparative examples typically do not exist. Researching the names against unit rosters (from the National Archives, unit or base museums or even unit historical publications such as ship cruise-books) which could take time. Common sense tells me that highly unlikely for a fraudster to create a specific unit baseball (such as the “Rammers” ball team of the 36th Field Artillery from 1956) with signatures.
Further examination of the signatures to determine if the age of the ink fits the purported date of the ball (60 years of oxidation, ultraviolet deterioration will fade the ink) requires very little expertise and with my ball, the aging appears appropriate. By 1956 the Professional Baseball Fund was eleven years in the past leaving armed forces teams to source their baseballs through normal channels. Though the 36th team-signed ball is a Wilson Official League ball, the model number indicates that it was made for use in little leagues but the stamps verify that it was made in the early-to-mid 1950s. Judging by the stains on all of the panels, the ball doesn’t appear to have been game-used. At most the ball might have made impact contact with gloves but I suspect that the soiling is due to handling.
In last week’s post, I indicated that I landed my second military baseball (a military-team signed 1943 Spalding, Ford C. Fricke National League ball) which is the subject of a forth-coming article. With two balls added to my collection in the last few months, I am only inspired to continue my quest to land at least one of the Baseball Fund-marked balls from the second World War.
Still in the throws of the euphoria of bringing home such a unique baseball-militaria discovery in the Midshipman Frank Fenno Naval Academy medal (which I acquired early in 2017), I was excited to see another military-centric award listed at auction. The quality of the carving in the minting-strike coupled with the engraving and the suspension along with the original box, I didn’t hesitate to set a snipe-bid with hopes of doubling my military-baseball medal collection. It is getting to be a more familiar action that I have been taking – pulling the trigger prior performing due diligence, let alone some cursory research. It wouldn’t have required much effort – the medal’s surfaces were rich with researchable information.
A few days after the close of the auction with my winning bid, the medal arrived in my mailbox and that’s when I decided to research what this artifact represented.
The obverse of the medal contained a relive of the figure of Lady Victory holding a laurel branch in her outstretched right hand with Pegasus at her side. Text encircles the figures that reads, “THIRD CORPS AREA | UNITED STATES ARMY” which seemed to be a great data point with which to begin my research. However, the reverse possesses even better, more specific details that made a basic internet search all that was required to pinpoint the medal’s information. Unlike the front, the back of the medal lacks artwork. There is a combination of lettering done in relief (C.M.T.C. and FT. HOWARD M.D. 1928) and text that is engraved, post-stamping that reads “CHAMPION BASEBALL.” Unlike so many items within my collection, this medal provides almost everything that is needed to understand why it exists. Note that I wrote, “almost;” which I will attempt to explain with a brief walk through early 20th century military history.
A lack of preparedness for the defense of a nation, let alone being ready to launch any offensive, has been a norm for the United States since the dawn of the 20th Century When the U.S. Congress formally declared war on April 6, 1917, the nation was ill-prepared to send troops to fight though it was glaringly obvious that the nation would eventually be drawn into Europe’s bloody war of attrition.
With the war raging in Europe and the United States’ involvement in supplying its allies with materials to sustain them in the fight, a groundswell of planning was started in in 1915 to commence making preparations in terms of man-power, despite the isolationist’s loud opposition to any and all involvement in Europe’s (seemingly) continual wars. However, by mid-May of that same year, the tide began to turn following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania (near Ireland by the German U-boat, U-20) and the Preparedness Movement was ignited. Born from this movement was the basis for bolstering the Army with new troops (including filling the need for officer and enlisted leadership) which segued into a national conscription once the congressional war declaration was made, nearly two years later. Even with the Preparedness Movement, the armed forces were grossly undermanned which resulted in a protracted time-period (more than seven months: from April to December) before a significant contingent of trained and outfitted troops could be sent into combat. By July of 1918, the Allied Expeditionary Forces (known simply as the AEF) was established with American troops (comprised of predominantly U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps personnel) to fight in alliance with (rather than individual augmentation of) French and British units.
Following conclusion of WWI, forces were again reduced, however military leadership and their congressional supporters saw the need to continue facets of the Preparedness Movement. In 1921, the Citizens Military Training Camps (CMTC) military training programs commenced which would provide young men with basic military training without any obligation to serve. This program was a voluntary four-year-cycle summer camp that, upon successful completion of all four camps (a progression from The Basic camp through The Red, The White and graduating following The Blue camp) the participants (ages 17-24) could receive a reserve officer commission as a second lieutenant.
According to the 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry organization, “The government paid for all expenses, including transportation, uniforms, food, quarters and medical care. There was no service obligation. The camp schedule called for elementary infantry drill in the beginning and later for special training in the different branches of the service. A large part of the training day was devoted to physical training and athletic sports. Army Chaplains saw to the religious needs of the trainees. Many who enrolled in the CMTC were inclined thereafter to join the National Guard or Organized Reserve.” Organized baseball was an integral part of the athletic aspects of the training these students which meant that competition between camps within the Corps Areas was a part of the program: my medal was presented to a trainee who played on the Fort Howard (Maryland) team within the Third Corps area (which consisted of Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia with headquarters at either Fort McHenry or Fort Howard).
- First Corps Area-New England.
- Second Corps Area-New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.
- Third Corps Area-Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
- Fourth Corps Area-South of Virginia to Mississippi.
- Fifth Corps Area-Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia.
- Sixth Corps Area-Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
- Seventh Corps Area-Minnesota, N. Dakota and south to include Arkansas and Kansas.
- Eighth Corps Area-Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
- Ninth Corps Area-Montana and south and west, plus Alaska.
“Every effort was made to instill in the trainees, a devotion to country, a sense of civic responsibility, and an ideal of individual development toward physical, mental and moral excellence. Basic military training and discipline were taught, and the students were expected to conduct themselves like soldiers for the time they were in the camp. Heavy emphasis was placed on physical training, and organized sports were considered part of the training program.” – Citizens’ Military Training Camp – 1-22infantry.org
The CMTC was at its peak during the 1920s though the organization continued to train young men until it was discontinued with the United States’ entry into WWII.
My research did not yield enough results to help me determine for certain the specific occasion that my new (1928)medal was awarded. My best guess is that the medal was awarded to one of the baseball teams within the Third Corps for securing the 1928 championship among the CMTC camp teams.
Athletic competition was integral in the Citizens Military training programs. In addition to baseball, other sports played a significant role in developing team cohesiveness such as track and field and swimming events. As with baseball, medals were also presented to victorious trainees. According to research (see Citizens’ Military Training Camps and Commonly Used Citizens’ Military Training Camps Medals) by collector colleague and Vietnam veteran, William K. Emerson (U.S. Army Insignia), there were several different types of medals throughout the existence of the CMTC program that were awarded, including those awarded for academic and military excellence.
Little by little, my collection of baseball militaria is growing and this medal, while adding diversity to the items that I already possess, it demonstrates how much more interwoven the game is within the fabric of the military than I had previously known.
Baseball history is perhaps one of the most fascinating studies in that the sport has been played in some form or fashion within the United States since the colonial times if not earlier. Some aspects of history shared between the two can be directly connected while others are more Baconesque (I am showing my age with that reference) in their degrees of separation. I suppose that today’s article is in the spirit of the latter in terms of connection but there are certain specific details that are decidedly of the former. Bear with me…
The bonds shared between the U.S. Armed Forces and the game might have been formed well before the pre-American Civil War as noted in the writings of Henry Dearborn, a major general in the Continental Army (having served under General Benedict Arnold), made mention of what some baseball historians as the earliest military-baseball reference:
“In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north central Pennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd, Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare. — “ Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.”
With early baseball and Town Ball being played within the newly-established United States (which also included the English game, Rounders), it isn’t too difficult to imagine young American boys embracing the game in the late 18th century in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York or Delaware, the home state of the Reuben James. History looks back on this man, who enlisted into the U.S. Navy aboard several ships, including the USS Constellation (one of the Navy’s first six frigates). Some readers may recall this sailor’s name as three American warships have carried his name in the 20th Century. The Navy chose to honor James for his service during the Barbary Wars while he was under the command of Stephen Decatur. The action that the young boatswain’s mate is honored for took place during a gunboat battle on August 3, 1804 and Decatur led a boarding party aboard the enemy vessel. The hand-to-hand combat that ensued was a bloody affair as sabers and edged weapons clashed. Decatur was engaged with an enemy sailor when James, seeing his commander about to receive a deadly blow from the Barbary sailor, heroically placed his own body in the way, allowing the blade to strike him and sparing the intended target. Decatur was spared and though the blade struck James, he would survive the battle, living into his 60s before passing away in Washington D.C. in 1838.
The first USS Reuben James (DD-245), a four-pipe Clemons Class destroyer, was commissioned 97 years ago on September 24, 1920. The Reuben James spent the majority of her career serving in the Atlantic Fleet. One of the most notable events of her service was as the USS Olympia‘s (Admiral Dewey’s Spanish American War flagship) escort in returning the Unknown Soldier home from France in March of 1921. In 1939, Germany, having commenced with hostilities in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt having agreed to supporting the allies by supplying the British against the forces of the Third Reich. Reuben James had been engaged in protecting the supply ships in the early convoys from the Eastern Seaboard to England. On Halloween morning, 1939 while escorting Convoy HX-156, Reuben James was torpedoed by U-552.
A few years ago, while searching for vintage photographs depicting baseball in the armed forces, I found a pair of images that depicted a game being played in Europe in 1921, featuring sailors from the USS Reuben James (DD-245). These two images (one of the actual game and the other a posed team photo) bore handwritten inscriptions on the reverse of each.
It was my hope that with the specific information contained within the inscriptions that I would be able to discover details of at least their port visit in Italy or to uncover operations in connection with the dates and service within the Mediterranean Sea. Considering the DD-245’s escort service with the USS Olympia in March of 1921, it is possible that this game was played prior to the James’ participation in the return of the Unknown Soldier to the United States.
In February of 1921, the USS Gilmer (DD-233), was undergoing emergency repairs to her starboard screw and shaft having suffered damage from an unseen, submerged object. Their ship in drydock in Pola, Italy, it seems that the crew could most-likely be available for a game against a team from a sister ship. However, according to the inscriptions on my photos, the game was held in Briolini which is nearly 400 kilometers away from where the Gilmer was being repaired. Given the timeline of both ships, it seems that the game would have been held between February and March of 1921.
If I am afforded the opportunity to access records within the National Archives, perhaps I can better document this game between these two ships.
Spring is here and with it comes a spark of freshness. Newness. The long, cold winter has faded from our memory (at least for some of us) and we look to the colorful spring to fill us with the hopefulness of warmer and brighter days. However spring isn’t just about young and supple flowers and the trees bursting forth with new foliage. This season is about the commencement of another six-plus months of ash and maple tree trunks being flung into the speeding paths of horsehide-covered rubber. The sounds of snapping leather and cracking wood are pronounced on sand lots and stadiums across the country as March rolls into April. It seems that nothing, not even war, can get in the way of baseball.
With the advent of free agency and sports talk radio, baseball’s off-season has been virtually eliminated for the fans of the game. For baseball memorabilia collectors, off seasons are only measured by the distances between paydays and the cache of available…cash with which to acquire the next collectible. For collectors (like me) who are much more interested in the extremely finite military baseball genre, the off-season can be varying due to the increasingly limited number of available pieces which we pursue.
For me, the off-season has been more of a spectator sport as I witnessed two vintage military baseball uniforms listed at auction (online) only to pass by virtually unnoticed, only to be re-listed with incrementally decreasing opening bid amounts with each iteration. Had the timing been more in line with my budget, one (or both) would have found their way into my meager collection. In addition to the two listings I was focusing on, there were several uniforms (all USMC baseball uniform sets and jerseys from an array of eras) that seemed to be gobbled up by hungry collectors. These uniform listings (and sales) were entertaining to watch though I had no committed interest.
The first real gem that caught my attention was a late 1950s road gray baseball jersey from an engineer group that appeared (due to the “116” numerals on the left sleeve) to be part of the 116th Infantry Regiment. The appointments of the jersey were very similar to those of the road gray USMC jersey in my collection. The aside from the lettering on the front and sleeve, the differences between the two are the thickness of the soutache and the presence of a manufacturer’s tag (the USMC jerseys are limited to a size tag). The Engineers Group jersey also lacks the color-matched button (aligned over the “I”) – which isn’t required due to the alignment with the lettering. With this auction listing ending only a few short weeks following the Christmas shopping season and the damage my financial resources sustained, I had to let the auction pass me by (for more details, see the 116th Infantry Engineers Group jersey on the Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms and Jerseys.
More recently, a very intriguing baseball uniform online auction listing made its way through the e-bidding circuit having been listed and re-listed several times before it finally sold. Clearly an early piece, the jersey was constructed with long sleeves and a collar and sported dark blue pinstripes. The styling is consistent with uniforms of the 1920s. The seller’s supposition that the “SAMOA” lettering sewn across the chest correlates to a U.S. Navy team (consisting of active duty personnel stationed at the Navy base in American Samoa). One can certainly deduce that the jersey is indeed military, but there is no hard evidence to prove or disprove this idea.
The “Samoa” jersey certainly possesses features and design elements that lend credibility to the idea that the jersey is authentic and for a sub-$100 investment, it would be well-worth the risk.
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