Category Archives: WWII

WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marine Corps Baseball Caps: The End of My Drought?

Baseball is overwrought with comparisons and associations in terms of sayings, phrases and figures of speech. Listen to any radio broadcast or televised baseball game and you will invariably hear a plethora of soliloquies by the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator that are filled with analogies that help to illustrate points or, if you were born anytime after 2000, will leave you baffled as to the point being made. I find that I am guilty when it comes to infusing my articles with such comparisons and today’s will not fail to insert at least one such analogy.

My WWII Road Gray Marines Baseball Uniform includes the trousers. Some variations or trousers also have the red soutache running down the side of each pants leg. This was my first military baseball acquisition (source: eBay image).

Since I started actively collecting military baseball memorabilia, I have found myself alternating between the tortoise and the hare. There have been times that it seemed that I was grabbing up every photograph or piece of ephemera that surfaces – especially since they were pieces that were on the money in relation to the sort of items that interest me which felt as though I was sprinting through my sourcing and acquiring. However, finding (and being able to afford) uniforms and jerseys left me feeling much more like the tortoise as I was patient with the slowness of these items’ availability. I have a handful of jerseys at the moment and it has taken me more than a half-dozen years to accumulate them.

From the outset of my interest in this arena, there have been a few categories that have eluded me all together. One, being the aforementioned hunt for honest military baseballs (vice the frauds that dominate eBay such as these) and the other, vintage military baseball uniform caps. Throughout my years sifting throughout virtually every listing of anything remotely connected to military baseball, I have yet to see a listing for a baseball cap. I have nearly 100 vintage photographs detailing baseball play, team photos, GIs’ snapshots and press photos of games (ranging from just off the front line pick-up games to organized league and championships). Throughout my photo archive and those that are viewable online, I am very familiar with the caps worn by service members during WWII (and prior).  I have seen dozens of auction listings of baseball uniforms and not a single one was ever with a ball cap.

As time went on, I began to extrapolate from the absence of vintage military ball caps that these servicemen either wore them until they became tatters or the caps just didn’t make it home from The War. I likened the lack of caps to a severe drought – one like California suffered through for almost a decade. Last fall and winter, California’s landscape began to change. Aside from the devastating landslides suffered by many areas throughout the state during the massive rains that fell, green foliage began to fill the surrounding areas. Driving southbound from the Siskiyou Mountain Pass on Interstate 5 this spring, we noticed the green vegetation and the fullness of Lake Shasta. The green followed us down through the central part of the state. It was amazing to see that the drought had seemingly ended. Spring marked an end to another dry season for me, too!

In early spring, a military jersey was listed online that I had never seen before. Though it was a Marines jersey, the colors were far different from the two that I already have in my collection.  This one, instead of being a wool-flannel road gray with red trim and letter, was a home-white wool flannel with blue trim and lettering that was like a carbon-copy. I quickly submitted a bid and ended up winning it. When I got it home and professionally cleaned, I placed it with the gray/red jersey and they were clearly made to be used as home and road versions for the Marines team. On the red uniform, the button that is on the letter “I” is red to match. On the home uniform, the “I” button is blue to match. It was a fantastic find and one that I think caught other potential collectors off guard. What does this have to do with the end of dry season?

This wool flannel jersey shares design and construction with the grey and red uniform that launched my military baseball collecting. The blue cap with yellow “M” is seen the jersey.

Later in the spring, another auction caused me to pause and spend a lot of time pouring over countless photographs in order perform due diligence prior to making a decision. This particular listing was of a ball cap that the seller listed and described as being from the estate of a WWII USMC veteran. After asking the seller for specific information pertaining to the veteran in an effort to validate his claims, he was unable to give anything that would help me pursue identifying the original owner. He stated that the estate sale was facilitated by a third-party and that any personal information was unavailable. This meant that I had to place little value upon the seller’s claim and pursue another avenue. I turned to the photograph research that I had performed and took a chance based upon what I found.

This navy blue wool cap has seen better days (there is some damage to the middle of the bill). Note the wool yellow “M” and how it matches the blue lettering on the accompanying photograph.

There are several photographs of the “Marines” uniform being worn by men various settings. It is very difficult to discern which darker shade of gray is red or blue (considering the blue of my latest Marines uniform) is essentially indistinguishable, due to all of the WWII images being black-and-white. However, I can tell that the road gray Marines jersey is the most prevalent in photographs. There are at least two photos that could show Marines wearing the home white/blue uniform but it is impossible to confirm. There are a few different caps being worn – the most common appearing to be a road gray with a darker “M” and matching bill color (assumed to be red).  What is consistent across the photos is that the font of the “M” matches the same lettering on the jerseys. The auction cap, navy blue wool, has the same font lettering “M” as is seen on all three of my jerseys. My thought is that the color yellow was used as it contrasts the navy blue and is also a prevalent USMC color used in insignia and emblems. This cap very well could be what was worn with my home white/blue uniform but sadly, I have no definitive proof and no provenance. With the matching letter and matching navy blue, I pulled the trigger and added it to my collection.

As it has certainly rained in California over the course of their drought, one or two days of rain over such an expanse of dryness did not mark an end to their misery. Similarly, one cap over more than six years of searching does not signify an end to my ball cap dry season.

This Marines jersey is constructed from a cotton canvas material (known as “duck” or twill) and is more lightweight and breathable than the wool counterpart uniforms.

Another indication of the lettering material are the visible moth nips. The cotton material is flawless.

The design is very reminiscent of ball caps of the 1940s and 50s. (source: eBay image)

In the last few weeks, two more caps were listed (by different sellers) that caught my attention. Both were clearly Marine corps caps (red with yellow lettering) but they were different from each other. One of them is wool with the letters “M” and “B” and could refer to a few different USMC commands or team-centric organizations (perhaps, “Marine Barracks”). I watched this cap listed and go unsold now a few times (it is still for sale). It was the second cap that stood out like a sore thumb for me.

As I wrote earlier, I have three Marines baseball jerseys. The third one is very different from the home and road wool variants and is constructed from a light-weight cotton canvas material and red in color. The yellow soutache (trim) applied to the placard and on the sleeves appears to be rayon. What drew me to the second (of the two red ball caps) was the base material – also lightweight cotton canvas. The yellow letter “M” on he front panels is in the same font as the uniform lettering and also appears to be wool felt (which is consistent with the jersey). In my opinion, these similarities eliminates almost all of doubt and I couldn’t help but place the winning bid.

When this cap arrives, it will be the second military baseball cap added to my collection in less than three months. Should I declare that my cap-drought has officially ended? Perhaps it has concluded but there is still the matter of the lack of available vintage military baseballs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers beware.

These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other aspects one must consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republic Baseball Mystery Medallion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powderhorn Baseball: Seeking on-the-Diamond Photos of the 399th

As seen in the Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit (for the 2001 All Star Game festivities), Lou Gehrig’s and Babe Ruth’s jerseys are on display.

One visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY will pique even an average fan’s interest in viewing or handling game-used equipment. My first visit to Cooperstown was an eye-opening experience as I took my time, completely absorbing each exhibit and the artifacts that were displayed as they told the stories of the players, teams, cities and record exploits on the field. To see a uniform on display that was worn by a legendary player from the early years of the game gives a sense of connection to the game, bridging a decades-long gap the moment it comes into view.

I spent an entire day at the Hall of Fame museum; countless hours standing and staring as I viewed the artifacts and the associated photographs of the players. Though I already owned a few ball contemporary caps that I would occasionally wear, after seeing the vintage baseball uniforms and caps, I wanted to have something of my own (yes, I am a bit of a sucker) which led me to purchase a pseudo replica of an old Brooklyn Dodgers cap. After leaving the museum, I strolled through a few of the sports collectible shops along Main Street that were in close proximity of The Hall and viewed a few vintage game-worn jerseys and autographed balls that were listed for sale (albeit out of range of my budget).  Ever since that trip and the subsequent visit a few years later with my wife, I have been fascinated by the old uniforms and jerseys of the game.

One of the “Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams’ jerseys as displayed by the Baseball Hall of Fame traveling exhibit in 2001.

Better than simply viewing a vintage baseball jersey is to actually touch and hold and manipulate one. Most of my game-worn jerseys show signs of wear and use: dirt stains from sliding into base or sweat stains from the player’s repeated game-use (yes, this isn’t the most appealing visual) which conveys their usage.  A well-known collector of game-used jerseys, Stephen Wong, has jerseys that were worn by legendary and notable players and has authored two books that feature selections from his collection. In his first work, Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections, Wong demonstrates how he employs period and player-specific photography as an effective tool as a means to authenticate a jersey by verifying unique traits (alignment of pinstripes, lettering, wear, repairs, etc.) that can be cross-referenced. In his second book, Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments, Mr. Wong showcases his jerseys (or full uniforms) along with photographs of the player wearing the same or similar garment. The pairing of vintage photos alongside the visually stunning photography of the uniforms as they currently exist is lends to the connection. As an aside, both books are a must for baseball memorabilia collectors and fans of the game from its golden era.

It is far easier to locate images of professional ballplayers wearing their uniforms than it is to obtain photos of military ballplayers. Of the uniforms that I own, the road gray (and red trim/lettering) Marines uniform is the only one that I have found representative photographs of (unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to identify an individual jersey and the Marines appear to have supplied a considerable quantity to their men in theater). As for the other four jerseys, no photographs have yet to surface that would visually connect them to game use or ball players wearing them.

Other than being in need of dry-cleaning (if for no other reason than to remove the wrinkles), the overall condition of this baseball uniform is good (eBay image).

Distinctive unit insignia (DUI) for the 399th Infantry Regiment.

While I failed earlier this year to acquire the (possible) Nisei relocation camp uniform, my most recent baseball uniform acquisition occurred nearly a year ago. Listed on eBay, the road gray jersey and trousers (with red rayon soutache and flannel lettering) that once belonged to a soldier from the 399th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Powderhorns” due to their distinctive unit insignia), 100th Infantry Division. Across the front of the jersey in red wool flannel block letters, “399 INF” with the numerals to the right and the letters to the left of the placard. For nearly a year, I have been watching for any photographs to surface that might show this uniform in action. Many of the photos that I have purchased over the years depict games being played late in the war in the European Theater but most of the players’ uniforms lack any unit identification markings.

Showing a close-up of the convex two-hole buttons (which “could” indicate that this jersey was made by MacGregor-Goldsmith) and the soutache that encircles them (eBay image).

Further inspection of the uniform fails to reveal anything that would identify the veteran or even the manufacturer. The tag in the collar of the jersey was printed in ink with any manufacturer’s markings, if they were ever present are long-since worn off or faded into obscurity. What is visible in the tag in d simple block lettering, “STYLE” and “union made” and a very faint place for the veteran to print his name. I have been diligently searching other jersey listings in an attempt to match the label to possibly identify the manufacturer. One clue that might hint at a manufacturer are the buttons. According to Stephen Wong’s research, the two-hole, convex buttons (that are present on my uniform) are unique to jerseys manufactured by Goldsmith MacGregor.

“Button whose surface curves outward. These buttons are typically associated with Cincinnati uniform manufacturer P. Goldsmith & Sons, later MacGregor-Goldsmith and later MacGregor. Because of their unique style, convex buttons in particular the two-hole variant, can be used to identify a jersey’s manufacturer in period images.” – excerpt from Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments

As far as accurately dating the uniform, the unit lettering and the design of the jersey and trousers indicate that it can only be from World War II. Thought the 399th was formed and officially activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in November of 1942 and the boys deployed to the European Theater of Operations in October of 1944 and would serve until the war’s end.

The 399th Infantry Regiment History

Considering the unit’s war service and deactivation in January of 1946, I have no doubts that this baseball uniform most-likely dates from 1943 to 1945 and was predominately used while the 399th was in overseas service.

I hold out hope that I will be able to locate a photograph showing servicemen from the 399th playing a game while wearing their uniforms if only to have the visual connection.

Nisei Relocation Camp Baseball: Authenticating a Uniform

This WWII blue cotton duck Fifth Army uniform dates from WWII and is in pristine condition. The Great Lakes Naval Training station jersey is a reproduction (made by Ebbets Field Flannels). The Naval Academy varsity letter is from 1944. The Third Army Championship scorecard lists rosters from a few teams and contains a mixture of major and minor league players among the regular service members who fill out the batting order.

I am a bit of a jersey-nut. If I tallied all of my wearable sports jerseys, I think they would number somewhere in the 40s. The majority of that number consists of baseball jerseys – the most significant percentage of those are flannel reproductions of vintage minor league, negro league and WWII military baseball versions. Since I started to actively pursue militaria (beyond what I have inherited from family members), I have searched for and acquired a few baseball jerseys (three of which also included the accompanying trousers). For my military baseball collecting, landing jerseys (especially those with provenance) is the ultimate in my collecting quest.

I will be focusing some of my future posts on the vintage uniforms that are currently in my collection. Though a few of them are in need of more thorough research (in order to determine when and where they might have been used), forcing myself to write about them and share them on this blog will compel me to press further into locating any sort of data that can help me to connect them more specifically with history. In previous posts, I have documented some of the military baseball uniforms that eluded my pursuits (Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform, Obscure Military Baseball Jerseys – Rare Finds or Fabrications)) though in writing about them, helps me to preserve a record of what exists in order to have a resource for analysis.

I have seen several vintage baseball uniforms (specifically jerseys) that have been listed at auction that would be fantastic to add to my collection but they don’t truly fit in with my narrow military focus. Last year, one uniform came to market that I really wanted to pull the trigger on as it was very closely aligned with my interest but still fell outside of the military. It went unsold and was relisted three times with price reductions that were inching the grouping closer to a reasonable price range for me and had it gotten a bit lower (before it sold), this article would be covering my sixth vintage jersey (uniform) rather than another one that got away.

This autographed Nisei team photo shows several of the players wearing (what appears to be) the same uniform that is listed within an auction for a purported Nisei baseball uniform that was used in one of the War Relocation Center camps (eBay image).

There are volumes upon volumes of books and personal narratives of one of our nation’s darkest actions ever perpetrated upon its own citizenry; Executive Order 9066 which called for and executed the Internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Internment of Italian Americans was signed by Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order authorized the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort and was able to accomplish this by withholding due process to those subjected to the terms of the order. On the United States’ West Coast, all Americans of Japanese Ancestry were removed from their businesses, property and homes (many, forcibly) and ultimately relocated to large camps that were hastily created by the War Department within the interior of the United States (away from the sensitive military areas) and greatly lacked in necessities and most comforts afforded to even the poorest of the poor.

Baseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943. (Source: Library of Congress: Ansel Adams)

To counter the effects of the isolation and monotony of incarcerated camp-life, these Americans engaged in as many normal activities as possible. Baseball teams were formed and, in some of the camps, substantial leagues were formed (at the Gila camp, a 32-team league) and competed against each other. One ball-playing internee (George Omachi) noted, ”It was demeaning and humiliating to be incarcerated in your own country. Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable.” I can’t help but consider that many of the young military-aged men who played on the camp teams opted to also serve their country, leaving behind their imprisoned families to serve the nation that stripped them of their Constitutionally-protected rights.

This three-piece baseball uniform set could have been originally used by a professional team as noted by the ghosted lettering across the jersey front (eBay image).

The uniform sold for less than $400 which, if it truly is from a Nisei and minor league team, is worth the selling price (eBay screenshot).

In terms of collecting and possessing a uniform worn by a camp ballplayer who could have also served in the armed forces, it would have been a nice addition to accompany my other items. Further justification that the uniform bears military historical significance is that the camps were all administered and secured by the U.S. military (predominantly, the U.S. Army). This particular uniform may also have possessed other baseball historical importance. Close examination of the jersey shows ghosting of lettering on the chest that could indicate prior use before it found its way into the camp. Accompanying the uniform was an autographed team photo showing players wearing (what appears to be) the same jersey and trousers as was listed in the online auction. The listing description didn’t provide anything in terms of provenance or any details surrounding how the seller obtained the items or who they came from. Had the auction gone unsold and relisted at yet a lower price, I would have pressed for information to help support the claims made within the listing.

What is challenging about the uniform is the lack of readily available analytics to validate the claims made by the uniform’s seller. In researching the uniform, one can only utilize what is visible within the auction photographs while placing very little weight upon the descriptive text. What can be seen:

  • The material and construction of the uniform (wool flannel)
  • Ghosting of lettering across the chest (though what the lettering was is indistinguishable in the photos)
  • The uniform has matching manufacturer’s tags in the collar of the jersey and inside the trousers (Powers Athletic Wear; Waterloo, Iowa)
  • The uniform’s design and appointments (the soutache on the jersey front and trouser legs)
  • The matching cap design: six panel with leather sweatband and soft bill

Without a database of labels for the manufacturer, specifically dating the uniform inside of a broad range (1940s to 1960s) is difficult. At the very least, the uniform was made after the 1930s (comparing it to other known uniform designs within these eras).  I unsuccessfully scoured the internet for anything related to Nisei baseball in search of photographs that could support the seller’s claims. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount to wade through but nothing like this uniform could be located.

Relaxing behind the lines: members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) take in a game in France in 1945 (source: Oregon Nikkei Endowment on Flickr).

The seller claimed that the uniform was previously used by a minor-league team, stating “It was a uniform from the California Fresno Bees/Minor League team.”  He or she mentioned the (then) common practice of handing down old uniforms, often removing the names and number prior to giving them to the new team(s). There are no records that identify the name or location of a professional team fitting the one provided within the auction details serving to increase doubt as to the veracity of the listing as presented. Without the provided photo, there is virtually nothing to corroborate the story that this uniform had been used by a Nisei team, however the photo is very convincing.

Though I was unconvinced, had the price been a bit lower, I probably would have pulled the trigger and made the purchase. I remain mixed, however that I would be celebrating or left disappointed with the purchase of an overpriced vintage adult baseball uniform that lacked the purported history. I am genuinely hopeful that the person who ended up buying the uniform was able to fully research and validate that it truly is what it was listed as.

I would be truly honored to have one of these uniforms from the 442nd RCT baseball team in my collection (source: Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice).

Nisei Military and Baseball Resources:

 

Introducing “My” Inaugural Class of the “Military Baseball Hall of Fame”

There exists the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and the National Museums of the United States Navy (in Washington, DC),  the National Museum of the USAF (in Dayton, OH) and the National Museum of the Marine Corps (in Triangle, VA). Someday, there will also be the National Museum of the United States Army (proposed to be constructed in Washington, DC). However, my Military Baseball Hall of Fame will only ever exist within the confines of the online world.

The Inaugural Class of 2017:

Recalling the induction ceremonies at Cooperstown, NY for the class of 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame (HoF) as I watched the punctuation marks placed firmly at the culmination of two of the game’s greats; both of whom I followed with considerably focused interest from before they waved lumber at their first professionally pitched baseball.

  • I recalled the 1988 draft when the Dodgers selected a community college first baseman with the last pick of 62nd Mike Piazza was the last player selected – the 1,390th overall – which meant that he was, to sports writers and fans alike, absolutely irrelevant in terms of having a chance at succeeding at any level of professional baseball. However, when the Dodgers expanded their rosters towards the end of the 1992 season, the converted (to) catcher had been proving his relevancy with hard work in his progression through organization’s minor league system. He finished that season by appearing in 21 games and hitting his first of 427 career home runs (setting the record at 396 for a catcher). He never returned to the minor leagues (other than for a few injury-rehabilitation appearances), retiring after 16 major league seasons in 2007. It took four trips to the HoF balloting to finally garner 83% of the votes as his career came full circle, 29 years after being drafted dead-last as his bronze bust has been placed among the game’s greatest players.
  • Opposite to the baseball draft “rags-to-riches” story of Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr. was drafted in the previous season by the Seattle Mariners with the first overall pick of the 1987 baseball amateur draft. While “Junior” was somewhat considered baseball royalty due to his father’s long-standing major league career, he was taken first solely on his own merits, accomplishments and sheer talent. From the moment that he started in the minor leagues, he established himself both in the outfield and at the plate as he made quick work of his 129-game career in the lower levels of professional ball (with three teams from 1987-1988). From the moment he arrived in Seattle, he could seemingly do no wrong (unless he crashed into an outfield wall and shattered his wrist) though I remember there was a groundswell of fans who vocalized their thoughts that he didn’t play hard enough. Griffey was so talented and worked tirelessly and did so behind the scenes. Junior’s efforts only appeared to look easy as the toll from going all-out wore him down in his latter years of his career with Cincinnati and Chicago before he returned home to finish his career with the Mariners. Closing the book on Ken Griffey Jr.’s career, he garnered the highest percentage of HoF votes for all inductees, earning 99.3% of the vote (only one sports writer did not cast a vote for his election), just shy of the first-ever unanimous selection.

Both of these men were absolutely enjoyable to watch throughout their careers and being an adult as they were just starting out leaves me with very detailed memories and the ability to contextualize them and compare them against my childhood favorites and those who preceded these two into the Hall. As an aging veteran and one who is captivated by military history – specifically, U.S. Navy history – I can’t help but consider the legendary men (and women) who wore the uniform and shaped our nation’s history while doing so. In combining the game and naval historical figures, I am able to assemble a bit of a Navy Hall of Fame of Annapolis midshipmen who plied their wares on the diamond with their arms, gloves and bats.

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is filled with the elite of the elite who played the game; their selection into this fraternity (while elected by either sports writers or HoF Eras Committee members) is predicated upon several tangible and theoretical criteria along with the immeasurable impact they had for the team’s success or the advancement of the game. To determine the legends of the Navy, it is both easier and more difficult to determine. One could suggest such aspects as length of career, rank achieved, technological or operational innovation, awards and decorations bestowed or conduct under fire or in battle.  For this fan of history, it is a combination of all the above that sets this Military Baseball Hall of Fame fraternity apart from the others.  For the baseball fan in me, I will look at this fraternity to see which of these men took to the baseball diamond before they embarked upon their legendary careers in the Navy.

This page from the 1910 Lucky Bag shows Daniel Callaghan holding his catcher’s mitt.

For the non-military fans (i.e. baseball aficionados) who read my blog, I will provide you with some resources to help you understand my thinking. In terms of the awards and decorations earned by my HoF-list members, I will focus on the top three valor medals (since my initial selections are all Navy, they are the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star). As far as rank achieved, I will limit the lowest rank to that of captain (unless the player was awarded a qualifying valor medal) and for this article, I will focus on Naval Academy graduates (which also include officers who served in the U.S. Marine Corps). When I researched the Admiral Fenno baseball medal that I acquired last fall, I found my eyes wandering throughout the pages of the Naval Academy’s yearbook, The Lucky Bag, taking note of the names and faces that were present on the various baseball teams each year (along with Fenno) for a veritable who’s who listed on the rosters.

  • Admiral Richmond K. Turner (USNA 1908) – Navy Cross
    • Midshipman Turner was the manager of the 1908 Annapolis club. Having to replace seven vacancies from the 1907 team’s starting roster, he managed to field a competitive team that finished with a 12-6-2 record. Unfortunately, the Cadets of West Point took the rivalry game, 6-5 at the culmination of the season.

      As a midshipman, Richmond K. Turner managed the 1908 Annapolis ball club.

    • Admiral Turner was responsible in planning and executing the initial landings (of the Marines) on the Solomon Islands (Tulagi, Gavutu–Tanambogo and Guadalcanal). Though some could argue as to the success of the initial invasions of these islands (the Navy suffered its worst surface engagement defeat in its entire history during the Battle of Savo Island, 8-9 August 1942), the Marines were successfully landed. Though entirely unsupported once the remainder of the naval vessels evacuated, the Marines’ tenacity and will helped them to advance and secure these islands helping to establish a foothold in the Solomons ultimately stopping the Japanese advancement to Australia and pushing the enemy out of the islands, entirely.
  • Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan (USNA 1911) Medal of Honor
    • At the beginning of his final season on the Academy ballclub, midshipman Callaghan switched from his natural position at first base to take over as the backstop. Dan would finish his stellar season behind the plate, earning his letter while the team concluded with a disappointing 7-9-1 record.

      The 1911 Midshipmen. Daniel J. Callaghan was the starting catcher for the team that posted a 7-9-1 record.

    • As commander of Task Group 67.4 aboard his flagship, USS San Francisco (CA-38), the ship he previously commanded, Rear Admiral Callaghan led his group into an engagement with Japanese Admiral Hiroaki Abe’s force on the night of 13 November 1942 in what would be known as the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Callaghan’s forces, while sustaining heavy damage, prevented Abe’s ships from reaching their intended target. Unfortunately, Callaghan himself would be lost when a Japanese shell exploded on the bridge, killing almost the entire command staff off the ship.
  • Admiral Joseph J. “Jocko” Clark (USNA 1917) – Navy Cross, Silver Star
    • Midshipman Clark’s athletic prowess in the naval academy (his baseball career) resonated throughout his time as an officer in the Navy. He would organize his ships’ teams and foster competition. During Captain Clark command of the USS Yorktown as he was getting his ship and crew prepared for battle, his navigator recommended that Clark read author Frank G. Graham’s book, The New York Yankees: An Informal History. No doubt, influenced by their nine World Series championships, Clark’s favorite team was the Yankees, he drew inspiration from Graham’s work, “That’s the way to do it! The way the New York Yankees do it: teamwork! They watch for every angle and fight for every inch. This is the way we’ll run this ship! This is the way we’ll run the war!” Jocko made the book required reading for all hands aboard the ship, including the air wing personnel and pilots.
    • As Marines were battling for control of Saipan during the summer of 1944, Admiral Clark was taking control of the air and sea lanes surrounding the Bonin Islands. He led his task force into strongly-held enemy waters in pursuit of a convoy heading for the Japanese home islands, intercepting and destroying several of their precious cargo ships, destroyer escorts and a destroyer. His carrier aircraft also located another destroyer and several patrol vessels and eradicated enemy aircraft, earning him recognition for his acting upon intelligence, devising and executing the attack.
  • Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (USNA 1925) – Navy Cross (3), Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star
    • Midshipman Frank Fenno’s baseball career at Annapolis was two-fold. Not only was he a prolific hitter, achieving a seasons’ best .410 average, he returned in the early 1930s to serve as the team’s manager, continuing his lifelong passion for the game. There was talk among his fellow midshipmen that had he not pursue a career in the navy, he might have donned spikes and found success at the major-league level of play. Perhaps LTJG Fenno was heavily influenced by the arrival (during his 3rd year) of Connie Mack’s retired star pitcher, Albert “Chief” Bender as the team’s manager during his playing days which prompted the young naval officer to assume the same leadership role of the team.
    • Over the course of Rear Admiral Fenno’s career as a submarine commander, he would see significant success in sinking and disrupting Japanese shipping and preventing more than twenty tons of gold and silver as well as sensitive diplomatic and national security documents from the besieged Philippine Islands after heroically delivering ammunition to the defenders of Corregidor.
  • Rear Admiral Maxwell Leslie (USNA 1926) Navy Cross
    • Midshipman Leslie anchored the 9-8 academy team’s outfield from the left side of the diamond. Not only was he a good hitter but he was clutch in sacrificing with his bat. Leslie’s last three seasons at Annapolis were under the tutelage of Hall of Fame pitcher, Chief Bender’s entire tenure as the team’s new manager.

      Two Hall of Famers: Max Leslie (front, row 4th from the right) and Chief Bender (front row, far right) led the 1926 Midshipmen

    • (Then) LCDR Leslie led his squadron of SBD Dauntless dive bombers (from VB-3, USS Yorktown) as they successfully attacked the Japanese carriers during the Midway battle. Leslie’s own SBD had accidentally released his bomb en route due to a faulty arming switch inside the bomber. He led the attack without a weapon, absorbing the onslaught of Japanese anti-aircraft fire to ensure that the other members of his squadron would have better chances in placing their ordnance on target.

I can’t help but consider Leslie’s skills on the diamond translating to his skills as a dive-bomber pilot.

With these five ball-playing heroes, I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the men who played the game during their military academic years following their prowess between the foul lines by serving valorously in the face of the enemy. Unlike their major league and Cooperstown counterparts, these men are seldom held up as heroes nor are their exploits compared to present day service members (and rightfully so). I would like to spend time researching the USNA’s newspaper archives (if I could ever gain access) to read of each of these men’s on-field records and provide some measure of an accounting of their baseball careers to accompany their military heroic deeds.

My collection of Naval Academy baseball memorabilia consists of three items:

  • A scorecard from the 1916 baseball season that features “Jocko” Clark on the roster (and pictured within the team photograph)
  • The aforementioned medal for the highest batting average for Frank W. Fenno
  • A Naval academy varsity “N” letter for baseball from 1944 (it accompanied a 1944 Lucky Bag book that sold in a separate auction).

The entirity of my Naval Academy baseball collection consists of the 1917 Army-Navy game scorecard, Admiral Frank W. Fenno’s highest batting average medal and the 1944 letterman’s winged-“N”.

Adding the Admiral Fenno medal to my collection increased my inventory of Annapolis baseball items by one third which prompted me to pen this article. In retrospect, I wish I had pursued the book that had been part of a group but at the time, the separate auction price exceeded what I could afford. At least two of the pieces in my collection have ties to my inaugural “military baseball hall of fame” class.

 

*Historic baseball-related photos are courtesy of their respective year’s Lucky Bag class annuals. The profile images of the inductees are courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Besides Their Gloves, Rawlings had Another Significant WWII Veteran

When I began my research for my lone World War II vintage U.S. Navy service glove, I inadvertently discovered an obituary for a man who passed away in 2002. In quickly reading the article, I noticed that he had a moniker, “the Glove Doctor” and I was interested in learning more about him as he was also mentioned as the glove designer for the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, a role (along with the moniker) he inherited from his father, Harry Latina. In my article about Elmer Riddle and his signature glove, I focused on the aspect that though the pitcher never served in the armed forces, gloves bearing his name saw service across the globe throughout both theaters of combat operations.

Rollie Latina’s 1967-patented Basket Web. An integral feature within most of Rawlings gloves for five decades (source: Epic Sports, Inc.)

To most non-ballplayers and non-collectors, a baseball glove is nothing more than a functional tool constructed of animal skin that is intended to assist the baseball player in receiving the (seemingly) rock-hard baseball from its flight having been batted or thrown. The soft leather and padding provide the fielder with more surface area for sure-handed catches and insulation to reduce pain from the impact of the fast-moving orb into their hand. It is purely a fundamentally functional object. However, to the ball player and collector, the glove has vastly more significance.

In the book, For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All, Stefan Fatsis wrote in his essay, My Glove: A Biography,“ that he had wanted to “write about my glove for years. Not only is it the single most personal object that I own – the one thing that I would be devastated to lose – it is my last, best connection to the baseball that defined my life as a kid. Not just playing the game incessantly, but being a crazy fan of it, too. My glove is a reminder that the innocence and thrill that made baseball so great and so important still exist in this thirty-year-old hunk of leather.”  The glove is the long-lasting personal interface between the individual and the game. One might argue that the same could be said of other equipment; bats, uniforms, spikes or even the ball itself; all of these items are either subject to wear or obsolescence during a season or even within a single game. A ballplayer’s glove will last for an entire career. In holding my own glove (that I have used since I was an adolescent) or my WWII vintage Elmer Riddle, I never once thought of the person who invested his time and expertise into the design or the significance of the imprinted patent numbers that can be found on many of them.

Harry “The Glove Doctor” Latina consults with two Athletics players regarding their Rawlings gloves (image source: Vintage Baseball Glove Forum).

With minimal research effort, one can easily see how Harry B. Latina had an incredible impact on the game beginning with his work immediately following World War I. According to The Fascinating History Of The Baseball Glove, “Rawlings came to the forefront of glove manufacturing in 1919, when St. Louis (Cardinals) pitcher Bill Doak went to the company with the idea of putting a web between the thumb and index finger. Known as the Bill Doak glove, it transformed the way a baseball glove was viewed: no longer as a means of protection, but as a tool.” The primary person at Rawlings who worked with Doak was Harry “The Glove Doctor” Latina who would be on the forefront of countless innovations and patents that would vault Rawlings to the forefront of glove manufacturers over the course of the Twentieth Century.

Aside from the many advancements in baseball glove design, perhaps Harry’s greatest contribution to baseball originated within his family. Harry and his wife, Florence had three children: Harry B. Jr., Roland and Carol Lee “Mimi.” In the 1940 federal census, Harry Jr is listed as an assemblyman with an electric motor manufacturer, heading in a different direction from his father as did Carol Lee. Roland, however took an interest in his father’s profession joining him at Rawlings a few years following the end of World War II (in 1947).

“What does all of this have to do with the military?” you might ask. I could stretch out the idea that Rollie worked with ballplayers returning to the major leagues from the war (he did) but that isn’t it. I could refer to Rollie’s father’s innovations appearing on the makeshift ballfields in the war theaters, but that isn’t it, either. No, Harry’s middle child contributed to the war effort of his own accord, enlisting to serve in the United States Navy soon after graduating from high school in East St. Louis, IL in 1942. In researching Rollie’s service, the Gunners’ Mate spent his time serving in the Pacific theater aboard a few ships as well as an amphibious landing group aboard a Landing Craft Tank (LCT).

Latina’s earlier ships, the Anthedon and Clytie were both part of the Navy’s auxiliary Forces –  submarine tenders (essentially, sea-going submarine repair, refit and refueling facilities) before he made his way to the front lines. Serving aboard landing craft – vessels that deliver U.S. Marines and SeaBees to enemy-held beaches while under fire could be considerably hazardous duty during the island-hopping allied offensive in the Pacific Theater. With further research, one might be able to determine more specifically the battles and engagements his units may have participated in.  Prior to his LCT service, GM3/c Latina detached from the Clytie and was assigned to serve under the Commander Seventh Amphibious Force, Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey for a few months before reporting aboard USS LST 881.

Shortly after WWII, Rollie watches his father Harry as he works with young outfielder, Johnny Groth of the Tigers. (source: Vintage Baseball Glove Forum)

During the next two years following Latina’s service during the war, he joined his father at Rawlings working alongside Harry as he learned the art of glove-making while listening to professional ballplayers to continue the advancement of designs. When Harry Latina retired, Rollie took over the role and soon became known by the same “glove doctor” moniker that was with his father for more than 40 years. Rollie would retire from Rawlings in 1986 having developed many of his own patented designs:

A Sampling of Rollie “The Glove Doctor” Latina’s Patents:

Rollie Latina’s Basket Web patent US3321771-1) from 1967..

As a collector of baseball militaria, I am constantly researching and educating myself about the men and the equipment, ephemera, documents and uniforms they used in and surrounding the game in association with military service. The more that I educate myself I discover that there is considerably more to learn and this mindset holds true with WWII gloves and their makers. Part of my education process is to capture and document as much information regarding gloves that were used by service members, focused primarily upon the WWII time-frame. I am hopeful that the result of this effort would be some form of a visual database that collectors can refer to when they acquire a military glove.

References:

In this late 1940s photo, a young Rollie Latina laces a glove for a Detroit Tigers player. (image source: Vintage Baseball Glove Forum)

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