Category Archives: General Baseball Militaria Collecting
In the weeks following the September 2, 1945, signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, the armed forces commenced the drawdown of forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) as combat troops transitioned into an occupation force. Baseball remained an activity as part of the morale-boosting functions for the troops stationed throughout the Western Pacific. Participating in the countless leagues were former professional baseball players serving among the troops in all branches of the armed forces.
Despite a large percentage of former major and minor leaguers having been returned to the United States for discharge, several did not yet qualify for separation and continued serving overseas. Baseball remained a central activity among troops in tropical climates including the Marianas and Guam. As Manila continued to address reconstruction and recovery from the heavy fighting in the city that had taken place throughout February, baseball was once again played at Rizal Stadium starting in April following extensive repair efforts.
“American soldiers have brought baseball back to the ruins of Rizal Stadium. Garrison troops are playing regular games before thousands of fans in what was once Manila’s most elaborate sports establishment,” Associate Press war correspondent Russell Brines wrote. “There are no uniforms, no hot dogs, but the playing is enthusiastic. It crowds the shell-ripped stands regularly with soldiers, sailors and Filipino citizens.”
Brines, a recently liberated prisoner of war, had been taken prisoner in early 1942 and held in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp until he was freed following General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines and the ensuing victory over Japanese forces occupying the city. The battle that raged in the city from February 3 to March 3 was fierce. Facing 35,000 American troops and 3,000 Filipino guerrillas, the enemy suffered tremendous losses but not without murdering Filipino civilians and allied prisoners.
The Rizal sports complex, consisting of both football and baseball stadiums, was the scene of heavy fighting. “The current battle in South Manila roared around the vicinity of Harrison Park after First Division cavalrymen seized the ground and grandstands of Rizal Stadium, where the enemy had set up heavy defenses, and the buildings of La Salle College.” The battle within the ballpark resulted in extensive damage to the facility. “Rizal Stadium was a Japanese entrenchment during the bitter fight for Manila and the marks of war are still on it. Mortar holes yawn between the feet of the spectators, sitting on concrete tiers, because benches are stripped away. The sun peaks through the roof of the stands perforated by machine gun bullets.” Wherever one looked, the damage from the wartime occupation and battle was extensive. “The dugouts are black from flame throwers and chipped by shells. Outfields are foreshortened by crumbled walls and Japanese bunkers.” Once the city was wrested from the enemy occupiers, work led by former Philadelphia Philly pitcher Hugh Mulcahy commenced to prepare the facility for baseball once more.
By the end of April, the facility was repaired enough to host baseball for the first time since 1941. “The former turf diamond is now dirt, carefully rolled by the doughboys.” Regardless of the preparation, the ballpark was still in need of considerable work as baseball play commenced, “the occasional stench of dead entombed deep within the concrete stadium. But baseball lives again in the Philippines.”
Indeed, baseball was alive again within the battered confines of Rizal with the inaugural tilt between the 145th Infantry Barracudas and the 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment, led by former Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Eddie Waitkus.
With more than 6,000 GIs filling the stands, the “Horsehide Inaugural” also included a game between the Eighth Army Base Force and the Signal Corps. Former Cardinals outfielder, Erv Dusak drove in two runs on two hits in the 11-4 victory for the Eighth. Despite Dusak’s plate performance, he was outpaced by former Louisville Colonels first baseman George Byam’s four-for-five batting performance. In addition, Byam tallied four of his squad’s 11 runs.
On the other side of the globe, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Private Kirby Higbe, a member of the 342nd Infantry Regiment of the 86th Infantry Division, had just crossed the Isar and reached the Mittel Isar Canal by the end of the April before moving on to Salzburg. By the end of May, the entire division was headed back to the States to resume preparations for service in the Pacific Theater. From late winter through May, the 86th Division, previously preparing for the Pacific, had been in Europe as a back-up division and ended up participating in the Allied push into the German homeland. “We cleaned out the Ruhr Pocket, then cut southeast,” said Higbe. “We went through Berchtesgaden and were in Austria when the war ended. From February 1 right up to the finish, we were fighting without a letup. The day was rare when we were not under fire.”
Once the combat-decorated Dodgers pitcher returned home, he was looking forward to decompressing for a month, “I’m going to rest,” Higbe told the Columbia (South Carolina) Record. Following his return to the states, PFC Higbe visited with the Dodgers while on furlough before he was reassigned to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma in preparation for assignment in the Pacific.
Higbe was assigned to occupation duties on Luzon in the Philippines with the Base-30 command in Manila and was tasked with building a baseball team to compete against other unit ball clubs for the purpose of boosting troop morale. Pulling together a roster that included former minor leaguers, semiprofessionals and collegiate athletes, Higbe’s Manila Dodgers were a tough squad to beat. By the end of November, the Manila Dodgers secured a championship, defeating a Navy team that featured Dom DiMaggio and Benny McCoy. Writing to his hometown newspaper, Sergeant George Goodall told of the Base 30 ball club’s exploits, “The Manila Dodgers, managed by Kirby Higbe, Brooklyn pitcher, are champions of the Far East, having beaten the Navy in a five-game series.”
|Vernon Bickford||P||Welch (MTNS)|
|Hal “Zig” Emery||2B||(Property of Phillies)|
|Joe Garagiola||C||Columbus (AA)|
|Joe Ginsberg||C||Jamestown (PONY)|
|Jim Hearn||P||Columbus (SALL)|
|Joe Janet||3B||Tulsa (TL)|
|Kent “Lefty” Peterson||P||Reds|
|Minor Scott||3B||Chattanooga (SOUA)|
|Gerry Staley||P||Boise (PION)|
|John Stowe||LF||Knoxville/Mobile (SOUA)|
While Higbe certainly drew attention due to his successful 1941 campaign with Brooklyn, leading the National League with 22 victories and helping to propel his club to the World Series, Goodall wrote of Manila’s young catcher. “Best of all [the Manila Dodgers], a 19-year-old catcher, Joe Garagiola, who will be with the Cardinals in ’46. In my opinion, Garagiola has everything. He is and excellent receiver, has a good arm, is fast and a guy who will hit any pitching.”
Eight players on the Manila roster had pre-war minor league experience. Pitcher Vernon Bickford pitched in the Mountain State League from 1939 to 1942 before entering the Army and would post a 66-57 major league record with the Braves and Orioles in the years following WWII. Joe Ginsburg, a 17-year-old catcher for the PONY League’s Jamestown Falcons, spent the 1944 season learning the ropes with teammate Nellie Fox before being drafted into the Army in September. Like Bickford, Ginsburg developed into a solid major leaguer with the Tigers, Indians, Athletics, Orioles, White Sox, and Red Sox before finishing with the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Jim Hearn and Gerry Staley also parlayed their minor league and wartime baseball experience into success in the big leagues. Hearn posted a 109-89 13-year career record with a 3.81 ERA and two World Series games while Staley had a decade-and-a-half career with the Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, White Sox, Athletics and Tigers and amassed a 134-111 won-loss record with a 3.70 ERA and four World Series appearances. John Stowe, Minor Scott, and Joe Janet were career minor leaguers.
Filling in the roster gaps were a Louisiana State University alumnus, center fielder Wally Borden; a Philadelphia Phillies prospect, second baseman Hal “Zig” Emery and a soldier with no professional or collegiate experience, right fielder Johnny Newman.
The Base-30 squad featured former Boston Braves pitcher and outfielder Frank “Hank” LaManna and pitcher Max Macon along with Reds pitcher Kent Peterson, Cardinals catching prospect Joe Garagiola and future Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn.
As the Manila Dodgers dominated service baseball in the Philippines, the United Services Organization (USO) was coordinating with team owners and officials in the National League, putting the finishing touches on arraignments to dispatch a contingent of 12 players from seven of league’s eight clubs to tour selected Pacific Theater bases for exhibition games. Assembled in Washington, DC, the team, led by Dodgers coach Charley Dressen, boarded a B-29 bomber en route to Honolulu on December 13.
|Player||Position||National League Club|
Of the twelve selected National Leaguers on the roster, six were Brooklyn Dodgers including coach Charley Dressen. Catcher Mike Sandlock was the only Dodger position player who, with just 80 games in 1945, was a starter before being added to the USO tour. Ralph Branca, a 19-year-old in his second season with the club, was 5-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts. Tom Seats appeared in 31 games of which he started 18 and posted a 10-7 record and a 4.36 ERA in his second and final major league season. Clyde King saw action in 31 games as a 21-year-old relief pitcher as the Dodgers finished third in their 1945 campaign.
Third baseman Whitey Kurowski was the regular Cardinals third baseman with some pop in his bat, hitting .323 with 21 home runs and a .521 slugging percentage. Kurowski’s “Red Bird” teammate, pitcher Red Barrett, was 21-9 and a 2.72 ERA in 1945 and the Cardinal’s number one starter. The Cincinnati Reds also provided the USO squad with two players: starters Al Lakeman, catcher; and eight-time All-Star first baseman Frank McCormick. The New York Giants supplied 1944 All-Star pitcher Bill Voiselle and the Braves backup catcher Mike Ulisney.
The National Leaguers arrived in Honolulu on December 18 and were scheduled for five contests against area All-Stars before departing for the Western Pacific. Just hours after stepping off the aircraft onto Hawaiian soil, the National League stars faced a Navy All-Star squad that included Ken Keltner, Sal Recca, and Stan Musial. With a disappointing, nominal-sized crowd in attendance, the Navy clobbered the major leaguers. Facing the Army’s “Olympics” the following day, the National Leaguers bounced back from their loss to the Navy with a 10-5 win over former Hollywood Stars pitcher, Ed Erautt.
USO National League Games on Oahu
- Wednesday, December 19: versus Navy at Furlong Field. Navy defeated the NL stars, 5-3. Attendance: 5,000.
- Thursday, December 20: versus Army Olympics at Schofield Barracks. The National League defeated the Army, 10-5. Attendance: 3,500.
- Friday, December 21: The National League defeated the Army Olympics at Hickam Field, 9-1.
- Saturday, December 22: The Army Olympics defeated the National League at Furlong Field, 5-3.
- Sunday, December 23: Navy defeated the National League at Furlong Field. Attendance: 10,000.
Likely suffering from travel fatigue during their Oahu series, which may have been a contributor to their 2-3 performance, the USO’s NL Stars club departed Hawaii, licking their wounds, bound for the Western Pacific. With stops in the Marshall Islands and Guam, the NL Stars faced local service clubs. On Saturday, December 29 on Kwajalein, the USO men defeated a service team, 4-2, as Voiselle surrendered nine hits while striking out 11. On Guam, the team faced an Army Air Force team at Harmon Field on Sunday, December 30, with Red Barrett on the mound. Barrett was less than sharp in his 7-2 victory, allowing 12 hits and striking out 4. The rigorous travel schedule took the NL Stars to the Philippines for a faceoff against Kirby Higbe’s red-hot Manila club, which had recently claimed the Philippine Olympics championship by defeating the Leyte Base-K team.
With repairs to the Rizal baseball stadium continuing throughout 1945, the battle damage was becoming less visible. The grandstand roof was undergoing restoration while rudimentary bleacher seating was installed onto the concrete risers. The once pristine outfield grass remained a sandlot-like dirt surface into 1946, when the USO’s National League Stars arrived.
Scheduled for a three-game series at Rizal, officials anticipated crowds between 25,000 and 30,000 for each contest. Whitey Kurowski took over at the NL helm as Dressen was hospitalized in Manila with bronchitis, leaving the team in capable hands.
On New Year’s Day, Bill Voiselle squared off against Kirby Higbe in a classic New York vs Brooklyn-style rivalry tilt. The two hurlers kept the game close into the late innings. With the score knotted at four runs apiece, National Leaguer Frank McCormick crushed a solo shot off Higbe, his second of the game, for the go-ahead-run in front of 25,000 GIs. Despite fanning 11 NL batters, Higbe took the loss, having surrendered five runs on eight hits.
After a day off, the series resumed on Thursday, January 3, with Jim Hearn taking the mound for Manila. Whitey Kurowski sent Brooklyn pitcher Tom Seats to the hill for the National Leaguers. The score was tied after nine when Kurowski replaced Seats with another Brooklynite hurler, Clyde King. King continued to keep Manila batters from reaching pay dirt as he mirrored Hearn, who continued through the 14th frame. With a runner aboard, Hal “Zig” Emery singled, allowing the game winning run to score in the 2-1 victory for the Army squad. McCormick was once again the big bat of the game, reaching four times with a single, two doubles and a triple, thus falling a four-bagger short of the cycle.
Friday evening, January 4, the third game in the series saw Manila’s Early Wynn face Tom Seats. With 30,000 in attendance, the Army’s Dodgers clung to a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning, when the National Leaguers touched Wynn for a game-tying run. The Manila Dodgers failed to score in the bottom of the frame as Higbe sent the future Cooperstown enshrinee out for the 10th frame. Despite holding the USO squad to a single tally, Wynn was anything but sharp as he had already been touched for 17 hits in the first nine innings. The NL batters touched Wynn for four runs to pull ahead, 7-3, while closing out the game without allowing another Manila score. Red Barrett and Frank McCormick accounted for two doubles and two singles each in the melee.
After the game with the Manila Dodgers, the National Leaguers boarded their aircraft to begin their return to the United States. Following a stopover in Guam, the team’s aircraft experienced an engine casualty, forcing an emergency return to the airfield after having been airborne for three hours. On January 22, the NL Stars arrived back in the States, having traveled 18,000 miles and having entertained more than 225,000 GIs in the Pacific Theater.
- A Combat and Baseball Story Uncovered: Discovery From a Lone Name on a Photo
- Southern Region Service Baseball Dominated by Former Pros: Mulcahy and Gee
- Following the Horrors of Battle in the Pacific, Baseball was a Welcomed Respite
 American Soldiers Bring Baseball Back to Manila, The Bee, Danville, Virginia, April 18, 1945.
 Nips Plans Upset by M’Arthur, by Lee Van Atta, International News Service, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, February 16, 1945.
 American Soldiers Bring Baseball Back to Manila, The Bee, Danville, Virginia, April 18, 1945.
 A Combat and Baseball Story Uncovered: Discovery From a Lone Name on a Photo, Chevrons and Diamonds, December 22, 2020.
 6000 GI’s Watch First Baseball Game on Leyte, Tampa Tribune, May 5, 1945.
 A Complete Report From Kirby Higbe, Tommy Holmes, The Brooklyn Eagle, June 29, 1945.
 Diamond Dust, New York Daily News, June 28, 1945.
 The Morning Call (Patterson, NJ), July 9, 1945.
 Sports Forum, Sgt. George Goodall, The Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat, November 27, 1945.
 Kirby Higbe Hurls Manila into Finals, The Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, December 28, 1945.
 Dressen’s Squad Won 17 and Lost Only Five Games on Tour, Gus Steiger, The Sporting News, January 31, 1946.
 All-Stars Beat Army, The Pittsburgh Press, January 2, 1946.
 Touring Ball Players Lose to Manila Team, Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press, January 4, 1946.
 Soldier’s personal correspondence, Unknown, January 5, 1946.
 National Stars Win in 10th, 7-3, The Des Moines Register, January 5, 1946.
 Dressen’s Squad Won 17 and Lost Only Five Games on Tour, Gus Steiger, The Sporting News, January 31, 1946.
Perhaps one of the most highly sought-after categories of baseball militaria is bats that were provided to and used by troops during World War II. Capping off the collection of a complete combat uniform on a mannequin, including all the soldier’s carried equipment, a Special Services U.S. Army-stamped baseball bat and glove provide the arrangement with an honest representation of what would have been seen in Europe when the soldier was between campaigns. Such baseball equipment provides exhibits with authenticity as baseball was an essential element among the troops in more ways than just recreation. For Navy and Marine Corps displays, the same holds true with U.S.N.-marked baseball lumber.
The game derives its name from the one piece of equipment that has the potential to be touched by every player on the field regardless of the participant being on the offensive or defensive side: the ball. However, the bat is the instrument that is used to put the ball into play, sending each player into motion once the ball makes contact with it. Runners on base and fielders spring into action following the crack of the bat against the hide-covered ball. “If you go to the New York Metropolitan Museum, you will see the knights of the old days with their spears, their weapons of choice. Baseball’s weapon of choice is the bat,” esteemed baseball collector Marshall Fogel stated in an interview for Episode 1 of Collectable TV’s The Greatest Collectors series.
The connection between a weapon and a piece of game equipment is perhaps closest in the realm of the baseball militaria genre of collecting. With its obvious hobby crossovers between militaria and baseball memorabilia, baseball equipment stamped with military markings draws considerable collector interest. Baseball’s weapon of choice can bear an array of markings, including “U.S.,” “U. S. Army,” “Special Services U.S. Army,” and “U.S.N” to signify the branch of service in which the bat was distributed during WWII. While a variety of bat manufacturers provided bats to the armed forces, the overwhelming majority of the lumber seen on domestic and combat theater diamonds was made by Hillerich and Bradsby (H&B). While the War Department’s acquisition focus centered on acquiring ships, aircraft, munitions and personnel, baseballs, gloves, bats, and other sporting equipment were provided to troops through means outside of normal governmental funding and requisitioning. As the war-fighting funding was sourced through tax revenue and war bonds, recreation equipment money was generated through external programs.
“Baseball’s contribution to the soldier boys will not cease until the war is over,” Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith said in the days following the United States’ entry into World War II. Griffith, who during the first World War established and oversaw the Bat and Ball Fund to provide overseas-deployed American troops with baseball equipment, commented about the efforts begun by mid-December, 1941. “That was my own effort,” Griffith said of the WWI fund, “but this time, all of organized baseball is supporting the plan.” Baseball did indeed take an active step in directly supporting members of the armed forces at the war’s onset. On December 16, 1941, major league baseball announced that it was committing $125,000 for a bat-and-ball fund to provide equipment to men in armed forces training camps and had already paid $25,000 into the program.
During the major league winter meetings, as the Giants negotiated a trade to obtain the Cardinals’ power-hitting first baseman Johnny Mize, the owners proposed doubling the prices of the 1942 All-Star Game, scheduled to be hosted at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, with all receipts to be directed to the Bat and Ball Fund. With seating limited to 35,000 fans, Dodgers president Larry McPhail planned to expand capacity in order to meet his goal of raising $100,000 for the Bat and Ball Fund during the “mid-summer classic.” McPhail also predicted that the fund would collect $500,000 from major league baseball by the end of 1942. Joining the fund-raising effort, the International League announced its first-ever all-star game to be played on July 8 in Buffalo, New York, with 75 percent of the proceeds slated for the U.S. Army [relief] Fund. With two of the league’s clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals, based in Canada, 25 percent of the proceeds were to be directed to the Canadian Army Fund.
By the war’s end, the armed forces had received an abundance of equipment, including millions of baseballs and also bats and gloves numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately for collectors, specifics regarding production numbers and distribution across the branches of the armed forces are not available. With the considerable number of bats produced by H&B for the armed forces, it is reasonable to assume that more pieces were delivered lacking branch markings than the number of those bearing stamps. Production and distribution data provide collectors with a baseline in gauging the potential for scarcity of surviving numbers and yet demand for specific markings drives the values of those pieces.
Market interest in wartime bats began to pick up late in 2019 and mirrored the trends of the baseball memorabilia market. Of the service-marked lumber, those marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” garnered the most attention, which drove values to between $200-700 depending upon condition and player endorsement. While scarcity is often a factor in driving values, in the absence of demand, it can have little influence on the price of an item. There are a handful of smaller bat manufacturers who supplied the armed forces with equipment in smaller numbers than H&B. They attract marginal interest from collectors and leave prices consistently below the $50 threshold. After years of searching, a scarce H&B wartime-marked bat finally surfaced.
In early March, a reader published a comment that immediately grabbed our attention. “Hello. I recently acquired a Louisville Slugger 40 BR Babe Ruth bat marked Professional Baseball Fund,” the comment began. “I assume it was produced for military personnel (based on reading a post on baseballs),” he continued. “Any ideas?” he asked.
Could this be one of the marked bats that we had been seeking? Uncertain if any of these survived nearly eight decades, an email was promptly dispatched, seeking photographs of the piece in question. The response answered the question. Since our collection already featured two of the scarce Professional Base Ball Fund-marked baseballs, the marking on the bat clearly matched and confirmed suspicions. The photos included close-in captures of the center brand and the player endorsement stamps. The model 40BR was a retail or “store-model” bat and was lightly stamped with black foil instead of the burned-in, deep impressions featured on professional models. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the black foil was worn, which commonly occurs with game use, handling, and decades of oxidation. Other condition issues included considerable wear on the knob and barrel ends and a crack extending from high on the handle towards the barrel.
As the bat was an obvious candidate for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to secure it rather than to see it hit the open market and risk seeing it fall prey to well-heeled collectors entangled in a bidding war. Entrusting the bat into the hands of a cross-country carrier, we awaited the arrival with considerable anxiety, hoping against loss or damage. The package arrived safely after more than a week in transit. After a thorough and careful examination, we decided against any intervening measures with the crack or the loss of foil in the brand markings and stamps. Preservation and stabilization are always a function of accepting artifacts into the collection, and so the next steps to be taken included a thorough surface cleaning and an application of linseed oil to prevent subsequent decay.
Baseball memorabilia and militaria collectors alike pursue the offensive weapon for numerous reasons. Fogel’s characterization of the bat as a figurative weapon resonates with those interested in pursuing them to highlight the game’s history with a very tactile, tangible artifact. “So, I knew from the beginning, doesn’t it make sense to collect the weapon that makes these guys great?” “That’s what got me interested in the war club, the bat.”
More like an arbalest in that it propels the ball into play, these vintage wartime weapons continue to command considerable interest and subsequently increase values on the collector market. It is difficult to gauge a value for our Professional Base Ball Fund-stamped model 40 BR George “Babe” Ruth bat. However, recent sales of the more common models (absent military markings) have been for prices consistently above $500. Special Services U.S. Army-stamped pieces have seen highly competitive bidding, with auction close-values being more than $800. The Professional Base Ball Fund-marked bats are the scarcest of the Hillerich & Bradsby wartime bats. They could drive an appraised value in excess of $1,000.
Our bat has found a home in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection for the foreseeable future and will be part of our public exhibition schedule in the local area for this year and in the future.
 Profits of Star Game, The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), December 18, 1941: 38
 Now a Rose Bowl Game for Durham, N.C., The Birmingham News (AL), December 17, 1941: 16
 Bat, Ball Fund Voted $25,000, Chattanooga Times, December 12, 1941: 20
 Kease, Harold, The Cracker Barrel, The Boston Globe, January 19, 1942: 18
After the final out was made in the 11th game of the 1944 Serviceman’s World Series on the Island of Kauai, the landscape of service baseball in Hawaii was drastically reformed for 1945 with respect to the spring and summer teams and leagues. When the season ended ahead of the Serviceman’s World Series, the Army’s 7th AAF team was standing alone atop the mountain of Hawaii Baseball by finishing first in the Central Pacific Area (CPA) League standings, sweeping the Hawaii League’s Cartwright Series and claiming the CPA League’s championship in a best-of-three series by sweeping the Aiea Naval Hospital club.
Following the holiday season, baseball on Oahu was set to recommence without the previous season’s champion. The powerhouse 7th Army Air Force squad, loaded with major league stars, including Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing, three Yankees and future members of the Hall of Fame, was dissolved. While Ruffing and DiMaggio were back in the States, the remainder of the team was distributed among other area Army teams.
The 1945 Hickam Field “Bombers” roster, when viewed as a cumulative total over the course of the season, appears as a sizeable aggregation of players. Numbering nearly 65 players in total, the roster was actually in flux with each passing month. The team that finished the season was quite different from the group that began play in the Honolulu League in January. During the middle months of their campaign, an influx of former major leaguers from Army airfield teams on the mainland resulted in the displacement of several players to other league teams. By August, many of the Bombers were starring on civilian rosters in Hawaii due to rule changes restricting service teams from playing in civilian leagues. Despite the season’s impacts due to military leadership decisions, the Hickam squad lived up to pre-season expectations.
Introduced to the public by the Honolulu Advertiser on January 28, the Hickam Bombers squad was built around a core of players from the 1944 7th AAF squad, including standouts Ferris Fain (San Francisco Seals), Dario Lodigiani (Chicago White Sox) and Eddie Funk (Federalsburg). Outfielder and pitcher Izzy Smith, a star semipro player hailing from Sacramento who was wrested from his centerfield position by Joe DiMaggio in June, 1944 and subsequently transferred to the Wheeler nine, was joined by James Hill (catcher), John Andres (outfield) and John Bialowarczuk (second base), thus rounding out the 7th AAF contingent. Former Detroit Tigers rookie Shortstop Billy Hitchcock arrived from Greenville Army Air Base to play third, with Martin “Luau” Pigg taking turns in the outfield with George Sprys.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Batboy|
|John Andre||OF||Honolulu League|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||2B||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Bill Dillon||Eqp Mgr|
|Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Eddie Funk||P||Federalsburg (ESHL)|
|Dario Lodigiani||SS/Coach||White Sox|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Melvin “Luau” Pigg||2B||Pampa (WTNM)|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
The 10-team league included service teams from Tripler General Hospital, Hawaiian Air Depot, Wheeler Airfield, Fort Shafter, and Bellows Field along with an Army Engineer nine and the Eagles, an all-colored ball club. Two area civilian clubs, Kaimuki and Waikiki, were also league participants. Hickam was off to a fast start from the outset of Honolulu League competition with Eddie Funk’s pitching setting the pace in his first appearance of the season for the Bombers. On February 1 against Tripler, the former Federalsburg Athletic turned in a masterpiece by striking out 15 Tripler men on his way to a two-walk no-hitter at home. Six days later against the Kaimukis, Funk surrendered seven hits while fanning 11 in the 13-3 victory. Fain led the Bomber attack by scoring two tallies and driving in four.
By the end of March 25, Hickam was firmly in second place in the Honolulu League standings. Wheeler was out in front with a won-lost record of 19-2 with the Bombers three games behind at 16-5. Fort Shafter (15-5) and Bellows Field (14-7) rounded out the top four clubs. Eddie Funk was carrying an eight-game win streak and Ferris Fain’s .448 batting average was good enough for second place in the league behind the .485 of Kaimuki’s Muramoto. Fain led all batters with 23 RBIs.
While the Honolulu League’s season was underway, the 15-team Central Pacific Base Command (CPBC) All-Army League competition commenced on April 1. Bellows, Wheeler, and Hickam were the premier clubs in the CPBC league and played games between contests in the Honolulu League.
As the Honolulu League season was winding to a close, Hickam trailed Wheeler by three games with three left to play heading into a matchup between the two teams on April 3. Wheeler needed only to beat Hickam to secure the championship. With only 3,500 on hand at Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen sent Carl DeRose to the mound to quell the Bomber bats; however, it was not to be. DeRose was assaulted by Hickam batters as he surrendered 10 hits and seven runs. His troubles with control made his outing even more troublesome as he issued six free passes. Hickam’s 7-3 advantage did not rest entirely on DeRose’s shoulders when he was pulled after 5-2/3 innings. His defense committed five errors along the way.
Despite plating eight runs in the game, Hickam stranded 16 base runners. Bomber starter Don Schmidt helped himself at the plate with two hits, driving in two runs while scoring one. Trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Wingmen staged a comeback attempt, exiting the game after getting three runs, with the Bombers’ Salveson entering in relief to close out the game. With the 8-6 victory, the Bombers pulled to within two games. The Bombers’ hopes were dashed as Wheeler closed out the season the following day with an easy 4-3 victory over Waikiki, giving the league title to the Wingmen.
The culmination of the three-month season resulted in the Hickam squad coming together as a well-oiled club. Manager Dario Lodigiani’s use of talent in the right situation resulted in a highly competitive Bombers team. Two of his players garnered post-season awards. Billy Hitchcock, who arrived on the island after the season started and missed several early games, claimed prizes of war bonds and fruit bowls for leading the league in runs scored (34) and tying teammate Ferris Fain in RBIs (29). In addition to his shared RBI champion award, Fain also claimed the prize for doubles (10). Eddie Funk, Fain, Lodigiani and Hitchcock were named Honolulu League All-Stars.
The lion’s share of hardware and accolades went to the Wheeler Wingmen along with the league pennant, much to the disappointment of Hickam brass as the Honolulu League championship playoffs, known as the Cronin Series, were set to commence on Wednesday, April 11. The teams that qualified for the Series in addition to Wheeler and Hickam were the Bellows Flyers, Fort Shafter Commandos and Honolulu League All-Stars.
On the opening day of the round-robin play, the Honolulu Advertiser wrote, “Manager Mike McCormick’s Wingmen, who won the Honolulu league pennant with 23 wins against three defeats, will be pressed hard for the Cronin Series championship,” in the article Wingmen, Shafter Open Cronin Series Tonite at Hon. Stadium. In the run up to the close of the regular season, the Bombers were playing their best as they fought to the end. “The most improved team in the circuit during the final stages of league play was Hickam, and Manager Dario Lodigiani’s Bombers are favored in many quarters to beat the other teams to the wire in this series,” the piece said. Despite having pitchers Rugger Ardizoia, who won 12 consecutive games to close out the season, and Carl DeRose, the Wingmen were lacking in starters to carry them to the title.
The Honolulu Advertiser’s predictions appeared to be accurate in the opening game of the series as Shafter dismantled Ardizoia with five hits and three runs in the first three frames on the way to a 5-1 win over the pennant-winning Wingmen. Hours later, news of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reached the islands, which compelled organizers to postpone the upcoming weekend games until the following weekdays out of respect for the President.
After the first week of play, Shafter was out in front with a won-lost record of 2-0. Hickam’s 2-1 record, after their series-opening loss to Bellows, placed them a half game behind. Wheeler also fell behind, dropping two games and winning just one. On April 20, fifteen Army baseball stars landed on Oahu. George “Birdie” Tebbetts, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Howie Pollett, George Gill, Stan Rojek, Roy Pitter and John Jensen were among the newly arrived contingent. They reported for duty with Hickam. Unfortunately for several of the seasoned Bomber players, the roster additions translated to reassignments to other teams. Among the transfers, two of the team’s stars, Paolo “Paul” Pancotto (C) and Isadore “Izzy” Smith (OF) were sent to the civilian Wanderers club of the Hawaii League along with Joe Sciurba (2B), Melvin “Luau” Pigg (OF) and James Hill (C).
|John “Johnny” Beazley||P||Cardinals|
|Johnny “Swede” Jensen||LF/CF||San Diego (PCL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Enos “Country” Slaughter||CF/LF||Cardinals|
|Geroge “Birdie” Tebbetts||C||Tigers|
As the second week progressed, Hickam pulled into a 5-1 tie with Shafter with the Wingmen behind at 3-3. The Bombers were experiencing a shot in the arm from the new stars. In a Tuesday, April 24 game against Fort Shafter, Enos Slaughter drilled a solo shot deep into the Honolulu stands to put Hickam ahead 2-0. Eddie Funk hurled all nine innings and survived to secure a 2-1 victory.
On April 29, Hickam and Wheeler found their roles reversed from the April 3, do-or-die game between the two clubs. The two teams faced off with the Bombers in the driver’s seat, needing to defeat the Wingmen to secure the series championship. In front of 10,000 fans at the wooden Honolulu Stadium, the Wingmen shelled Bomber pitchers Funk, Don Schmidt, and Bill Salveson for 14 hits while Ardizoia and Albert Olen held Hickam to eight safeties. Hickam was unable to quiet the bats of Wheeler first baseman Chuck Stevens, who crushed a home run to deep right field and singled, and catcher Charlie Silvera, who had three singles and two RBIs. Hickam’s power hitters – Slaughter, Fain, Hitchcock and Lodigiani – were a combined three-for-16 with two runs. Bomber right fielder George Sprys’ three-for-four and two runs scored led Hickam in the 7-4 loss.
On May 1, an order from the Army’s Pacific Base Command ruled that Army personnel could no longer participate in athletic events deemed unessential to war activities. In addition, Army teams were disallowed from participating in civilian professional leagues against all civilian clubs. The Army’s ruling forced the Honolulu League officials to coordinate with AAF-POA baseball officer Lt. Tom Winsett and Shafter Commandos business manager Vernon Holt to address the situation. With the cancellation of all remaining Cronin Series games, the decision was made to determine the series winner. Due to the standings as of April 30, with Hickam (6-2) leading Ft. Shafter by a half-game (5-2) coupled with the April 30 Bellows-Shafter game being called after three innings, a ruling was needed. With only three innings in the books, the Bellows-Ft. Shafter game could not be considered complete, and the Army’s decree precluded the game from being finished on May 1. The panel was forced to determine that Fort Shafter, with a six-run lead, would not have beaten Bellows, thus leaving Hickam alone at the top of the Cronin Series standings. Hickam was declared the champion.
With the Honolulu League and Cronin Series in the rearview mirror, there was no looking back. Hickam Army Air Field’s base commander, Colonel Malcolm S. Lawton, transferred the Bombers’ reins from manager Sergeant Lodigiani’s hands to those of Captain Birdie Tebbetts. “The 30-year-old receiver is a pepperbox behind the plate, keeping up a continuous line of chatter throughout the game,” the Honolulu Advertiser’s Al Sarles wrote of Tebbetts. Touting Birdie’s five big league seasons behind the plate with the Tigers and his time at the helm of the Waco Army Flying School’s club since 1942, Sarles penned “Tebbetts has a wealth of major league experience to bring to the managerial post,” in Ex-Tiger Catcher Succeeds Lodigiani (May 4, 1945).
The Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler Field clubs found a workable solution to continue competing in the civilian Hawaii League as several players from the three clubs were distributed among the civilian teams to augment rosters that suffered their own losses due to military inductions. With military players on the rosters of the Tigers, Hawaiis, Braves, Athletics and Wanderers, the league could continue.
Hawaii League competition opened for Hickam on May 2 with Tebbetts at the helm. Adding to his already stocked stable of pitchers, the ace of the 1942 World Series, former St. Louis Cardinals hurler Johnny Beazley, was added to the roster. The Hickams were a formidable club and decimated the “civilian teams.” In a May 21 match against the Wanderers, Bomber batters racked up 13 hits as they crushed the team that featured a handful of former Hickam players. Outfielder Enos Slaughter toed the rubber in the ninth inning for his second pitching outing of the season, though he was wild, walking one batter, plunking another and allowing two tallies as no Wanderer batter could touch his offerings. Perhaps showing his opponents a bit of mercy, Tebbetts pulled Lodigiani in favor of team mascot Joe “Moe” Ambrosio at second base in the seventh. Ambrosio went hitless in his lone at-bat.
By June 4, Hickam was in a three-way tie atop the Hawaii League with the other two USAAF teams at the end of the season’s first half. Once again, an Army ruling altered the course of service team play in Hawaiian civilian leagues. It forced Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler to withdraw from the league. As June was drawing to a close, the Hickam squad suffered a bomb blast of their own as most of the team’s stars were pulled for duty in the Western Pacific. Dario Lodigiani, Stan Rojek, Birdie Tebbetts, Howie Pollett, Ferris Fain, John Jensen, Billy Hitchcock, George Gill, Roy Pitter, and John Mazur were all pulled from the roster. The departed Hickam players joined a contingent of USAAF former major and minor leaguers to form a three-team league in the Marianas which played dozens of games on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan through August to entertain the troops.
Hickam continued to compete against service teams throughout the summer despite their withdrawal from the CPBC League after the conclusion of the first round of play on May 20. “In 14 consecutive contests, the Bombers have scored 100 runs, or better than seven per game,” Al Sarles wrote in his Hickam Sports Shorts column in the August 9 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser. “They have collected 144 hits for an average of better than 10 per game.” New manager Johnny Bialowarczuk had his team playing incredible baseball regardless of being outside league competition. “Hickam’s opponents have only been able to collect 45 runs in 14 contests,” Sarles wrote. Salveson and Schmidt had become a solid tandem of starting pitchers. As of August 9, Salveson had won three straight complete games while surrendering just six runs on 22 hits. He had walked five batters during the stretch but fanned 24.
By mid-September, the Bombers’ dominance was noteworthy, though they were not infallible. Wimpy Quinn’s Fleet Marines faced Hickam in a best-of-five series that came down to the final game. Quinn’s and Hal Hirschon’s bats were the bane of Bomber pitching as FMF downed Hickam in a 3-0 series- clinching game on September 15. With barely enough time to lick their wounds, the Bombers played host to former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams’s Marine Fliers the next day. Hickam bats laid waste to the Fliers’ pitching and opened a 10-run lead after the first few innings. Bill Salveson held a comfortable, 10-2 lead when the Fliers’ bats began to chip away at the deficit. The Marines tagged Bomber pitching for 14 hits in the last three innings and tallied three runs in each of the final frames before Saul stemmed the flow and Hickam walked away with a 13-11 victory.
When we acquired a team-signed ball with 26 autographs featuring Enos Slaughter, Birdie Tebbetts, Ferris Fain, and Dario Lodigiani in 2020, the seller listed it as originating from the USAAF Marianas games. However, analysis of the ball’s signatures and comparison with the three Marianas Rosters (58th Bombardment Wing “Wingmen,” 73rd Bombardment Wing “Bombers,” and 313th Bombardment Wing “Flyers”), our research led to investigating Hawaii service team rosters. With the exception of three names, all the players were members of the Hickam Bombers.
Once it was established that our signed ball was from the Hickam team, the fruitless pursuit of additional artifacts ensued. One of our colleagues, a noted St. Louis Cardinals historian, reached out that year and shared with us (in a social media chat) a team photo that he had in his possession that showed the Bombers posed on their home field. The photo, formerly in the possession of Enos Slaughter, was given to our colleague by his family following the passing of the Cardinal legend. Last month, we executed a trade to bring the Hickam photo into the fold after two years of infrequent discussions.
After further analysis of the 1945 Hickam roster, the identities of the players in the photo and the signatures present on the ball, it is apparent that both were captured during the first half of the Hawaii League season, between May 2 and late June. To some, it may seem inconsequential to locate two significant pieces from the same brief span of time in the context of Hickam’s 1945 season and the personnel churn the team experienced throughout the year.
After the stars were dispatched to the Marianas, the Hickam team, dubbed “Medium Bombers” by the Honolulu Advertiser on July 20, continued to be an impressive squad. With the departure of both Lodigiani and Tebbetts, second baseman Johnny “Murphy” Bialowarczuk was named as the Bomber manager on June 28 despite the questions surrounding the continuation of service team play.
Aside from the major leaguers who signed our ball, including two-time American League batting champion Ferris Fain, four-time All-Star catcher Birdie Tebbetts, and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, there are a few signatures from Hickam Bomber players that stand out.
Seton Hall basketball star Frank Saul, who left school after his freshman year to enter the service, joined the Bombers as a pitcher following the conclusion of the Hawaii basketball season in late April. “Pep” Saul remained with the baseball team through September and would return to college in 1946, when he became the school’s first career 1,000-point scorer before joining the National Basketball Association. During his professional career, he won four NBA titles with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and the Minneapolis Lakers (now in Los Angeles). Saul was inducted into Seton Hall’s hall of fame in 1973.
Baseball connects people in ways that are often overlooked. Saul’s Hickam teammate, pitcher Don Schmidt, was also a Seton Hall alum, with their college careers overlapping. It is unknown whether the two Pirates encountered each other on campus or if they met for the first time on the Hickam roster. In 1944, Schmidt was a member of the 7th AAF juggernaut that included three future members of the Hall of Fame, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Red Ruffing. His pitching was good enough to get him named to the Army All-Star team by Tom Winsett. Schmidt pitched two complete games in the Serviceman’s World Series but both resulted in losses (Game 3, 4-3 and Game 6, 6-4). He made relief appearances in Games 1 and 10. In 1949 Schmidt wrote that his ambition in baseball was to “win in the majors” but his career never took him higher than class AAA with Milwaukee of the American Association. Schmidt played seven minor league seasons from 1946 to 1953 before hanging up his spikes.
The University of Tulsa’s first team All-American quarterback, Glenn Dobbs, led his team to a perfect 10-0 1942 season that culminated in a Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech on January 1, 1943. Dobbs joined Hickam on May 9 and remained with the club through the summer as the starting second baseman. After his discharge, Dobbs played football professionally with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dons in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946 to1949 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League (CFL) from 1951 to 1954. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1946 and was a CFL All-Star in 1951. Dobbs was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. He returned to coach his alma mater from 1961 to 1968, leading the team to two first-place finishes and two Bluebonnet Bowl appearances (see: Glenn Dobbs Statue Unveiled At Tulsa University).
During a stint with an unknown professional baseball club, Carteret, New Jersey’s John P. Bialowarczuk wrote that his most interesting experience was hitting a home run off former Washington Senators pitcher Walt Masterson. The 1939 American Legion ball player had stints with the Perth Amboy club of the Metropolitan Semi-Pro league between 1940 to 1942 before joining the Army Air Force. Serving with the 7th Army Air Force in Hawaii for three years, Bialowarczuk shared the diamond with Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Pee Wee Reese, Schoolboy Rowe, and Hugh Casey. Manager Tom Winsett took notice of his talent and added him to the Army All-Stars for the Serviceman’s World Series in the fall of 1944.
The non-Hickam Bombers who signed our ball include former Cincinnati outfielder Mike McCormick, who carried a .288 batting average and a .302 on-base percentage in 14 World Series games with the Reds, Boston Braves and Brooklyn; and Walt Judnich, formerly with the Browns. One name we are still researching is “Bill Mosser.” Though we have found a corresponding minor leaguer who served in the armed forces from February, 1944 to May, 1946, we have yet to confirm or rule him out as the player who signed our ball.
|Joe “Moe” Ambrosio||Bat Boy|
|John (Murphy) Bialowarczuk||IF||Perth-Amboy (Semi-Pro)|
|Leonard Burton||P||Houston (TL)|
|Richard “Dick” Cattabiani||LF|
|Don “Pee Wee” Dwyer|
|Ray Edwards||Biz Mgr.|
|John Geilen||Ath. Dir.|
|Cornel George “Kearny” Kohlmyer||2B||St. Joseph (MICH)|
|Paul Pancotto||C||Sheboygan (WISL)|
|Roy Pitter||P||Binghamton (EL)|
|Frank Saul||P||Seton Hall College|
|Don Schmidt||P||Seton Hall College|
|Joseph “Joe” Sciruba||2B||Lynchburg (VIRL)|
|George Sprys||OF||Charleston (MATL)|
As we continue to identify each player in the team photo, we are more than pleased to unite these two incredible artifacts within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Articles:
- Service World Series, 1944 – Hawaiian Islands
- The Wartime Flight of a Cardinal: Sgt. Enos Slaughter
- George “Birdie” Tebbetts: From Waco to Tinian
- Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers
- The Navy’s Little Colonel: Chief Athletic Specialist Harold “Pee Wee” Reese
- Red Ruffing, an Airman’s Ace
- More Than Seven Decades in the Game From North Beach Sandlots to the Coral Fields of Guam, Saipan and Tinian
On June 25, 1950, the Communist Korean People’s Army (KPA) headed south, crossing the border, the 38th parallel, invading the southern part of the Korean Peninsula in open warfare against the free people of the Republic of Korea and igniting what would be known as the Korean War. That same day, lying at anchor in Hong Kong harbor, the commanding officer of the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CVA-45) received orders to weigh anchor and set a course for Okinawa after a stop at Naval Station Subic Bay for replenishment.
Eight days after pulling up anchor in Hong Kong, the first carrier strikes of the Korean War flew from the flight deck of the Valley Forge. Multiple waves of naval aircraft were launched from the carrier against ground targets in Pyongyang, including a military airfield, rail yards and fuel depots. The Valley Forge had prop aircraft, including the WWII Navy and Marine Corps fighter Vought F4U Corsair and the Douglas A-1 Skyraider that debuted following the end of that war. Another historic aspect of these first strikes was the first use of jet fighter aircraft as Valley Forge’s Grumman FPF Panthers downed Soviet-made Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters attempting to intercept the strikes.
USS Valley Forge remained on station for the next few months. The United States began landing troops at Inchon in late September with the ship’s aircraft providing cover. Valley Forge concluded her first wartime deployment and departed Korean waters in late November, having conducted more than 5,000 combat sorties. By the spring of 1953, USS Valley Forge was a veteran of four combat tours during the Korean War.
During arduous deployments, the intensity of a combat-focused operational pace without breaks can be a detriment for warship crews. Recreation is a requirement for crews to maintain focus and to keep skills sharp. Without intervals of rest and recreation, the forces of a ship can be vulnerable to complacency and accidents. During World War II, baseball was at its zenith in popularity both in the public and military spheres. Bases, units, ships and squadrons fielded teams whose rosters were often dotted with former professionals ranging from minor to major leaguers. Ships were not as fortunate as Navy shore commands in having multiple former pros in their ranks. This tended to level the playing field among seagoing commands.
During the Korean War, the selective service pulled many ballplayers into the armed forces, though few of those draftees made it onto shipboard crews. In addition, select WWII veteran baseball players (such as Marine Corps fighter pilots Ted Williams and Jerry Coleman) who were still in the military reserve were activated. Hundreds of ballplayers served during the Korean War, compared to nearly 5,000 during the previous war. At present, 24 players are known to have lost their lives in the service during the Korean War. Eighteen were either killed in action or died of wounds.
With one of the three New York major league teams in each World Series from 1950 through 1958 (the relocated Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the White Sox to close out the decade), the increased television audiences and the continued integration of the sport, the game of baseball was increasing in popularity. Though force levels were diminutive during the Korean War by comparison to manning during WWII, baseball was still the dominant sport in the military within organized leagues and ad hoc recreation.
When a colleague informed us of an available item of interest, it was a shock when we saw what was being offered. Though this group was not as historically awe-inspiring as some of the flannels in our collection, seeing the jersey and trouser set left us nearly frantic as we began to make acquisition arrangements. The simplistic road gray flannel is adorned with a subtle, four-piece emblem stitched to the jersey’s left breast. Spelling out the ship’s name, “Valley Forge,” the “V” and “F” are two-pie, red-over-navy athletic felt letters while the script lettering completing the wordmarks is chain stitched in dark navy directly onto the flannel. The back is adorned with “25” in the same two-color athletic felt as on the jersey’s front. Adorning the jersey’s sleeves and the out-seam of the trousers is a navy-red-navy rayon band of soutache.
The flannel set is excellent. There is some visible wear, such as the back numerals showing signs of separation. Visible on the legs and seat of the trousers are field stains with a small hole. All the buttons are present and the zipper on the jersey functions flawlessly.
Photos in the corresponding USS Valley Forge cruise book show both the home flannel baseball uniform (with the ship’s name spelled out in an arc across the chest) and an image of players wearing the road uniform.
The USS Valley Forge was authorized by Congress in June, 1943 and was the 24th of 26 Essex class aircraft carriers. Hull CV-37 was originally destined to carry the Valley Forge name; however, following the loss of the USS Princeton (CVL-23) during the battle of Leyte Gulf on October 24, 1944, the hull was renamed to honor the lost carrier. USS Valley Forge was christened more than two months after VJ–Day on November 5, 1945 and commissioned a year later. It served for more than 23 years.
With service in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Valley Forge earned eight battle stars. While four of her sisters (Yorktown, Intrepid, Hornet and Lexington) survive and presently serve as museum ships, groups were unsuccessful in raising funds to preserve Valley Forge for such service. The retired carrier was sold for scrap in 1971.
Originally in the collection of a veteran of the Valley Forge, this uniform was passed on to our colleague by the son of the veteran, who stated that his father did not play baseball. He was uncertain of the reason his father had the flannels in his possession. Regardless of the associated narrative, the group is a fantastic addition to the Chevrons and Diamonds baseball uniform collection.
Our collection, while diverse in its artifacts, is still narrowly focused on a spectrum that we have labeled “baseball militaria.” From uniforms, scorecards and programs, vintage photographs to on-field equipment, we have curated a broad range of items to shed light on the game’s lengthy, intertwined history with the armed forces and the people who played and served.
Without conducting a detailed inventory and employing a proper taxonomic, categorical and dating scheme, we can only approximate statistical data regarding the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection. Somewhere between 85 and 95 percent of our artifacts originate from the World War II period, with a handful dating to before or after that time frame.
Standing in the batter’s box and staring down a major league pitcher while attempting to determine the type and location of the pitch about to be thrown requires steel nerves and concentration. Prior to that moment, batters will have seen hundreds if not thousands of pitches, with considerable success in putting the ball in play. The sensation of leveling a bat and solidly connecting with a baseball is a feeling that is indescribable, especially if one is swinging a wood bat. While wooden bats are a mainstay of the professional game, college players employ aluminum “lumber” at the plate.
The switch to aluminum bats in the NCAA addressed two significant issues in the college game: the lack of offense (and thus, low fan interest and poor ticket sales for games) and increasing equipment costs to replace bats due to breakage. Aluminum bats were advantageous due to their significant reduction in weight, which allowed batters to increase bat speed and provide an increased energy transfer to the ball. The velocity at which the ball left the bat dramatically increased, allowing batters to hit for better power and average.
While college players are still permitted to use wooden bats, doing so would put hitters at a competitive disadvantage. Rather than the crack of the wood connecting with a pitch, fans attending college baseball games hear only the “tink” of aluminum from coast to coast, including at the armed forces service academies.
Our collection has a modest gathering of baseball artifacts from both West Point and Annapolis; however, two pieces of note are bats used by Annapolis’ baseball team. They stand out when compared to our WWII service lumber. From the center brands and barrel markings to the imprints on the knobs, the two bats differ from the 1940’s retail pieces commonly distributed to troops during the war.
Based upon the tight wood grain, weight and length along with the markings, it is quite apparent that these bats were manufactured for players who possessed greater strength, talent and skills. Properly identifying the bats provides data for cataloging as well as establishing an approximate value.
The two Naval Academy bats in our collection were manufactured with specific characteristics, including weight, length and proportional dimensions that were customized to meet the desires of professional ballplayers. These specifications were catalogued and assigned model numbers which could be ordered from Hillerich & Bradsby (H&B) by other players and teams.
Many professional model bats are marked with college or university names beneath the player signature on the barrel. In some instances, locating a professional model bat with a notable name and a correlating college can add significance to a collection as is the case with a Jackie Robinson model purchased by Ohio Wesleyan University, the alma mater of Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey. Located below the players’ signatures on the barrel of each bat are stamps spelling out the team name; N A V Y, indicating that our two examples were purchased by the Naval Academy.
Each N A V Y-marked bat in our collection is team-purchased and known in the sphere of collecting as “Team Index Bats” or TIB. Baseball artifact expert Dave Grob wrote an excellent piece (Team Index Bats | MEARSONLINE.com, April 29, 2007) documenting TIBs for individual players. He stated “Team Index Bats provided the team with the ability to make orders for:
- General, At-Large Team or Organizational Use.
- Specific Specialized Team Use for items like Fungoes, Weighted Bats, and Generic Pitchers’ Bats.
- Special Events such as World Series and Old Timers Games.
- Bulk specific orders to facilitate spring training.
- And yes, possible individual player orders.”
The first point in Grob’s list is most applicable regarding collegiate use of professional bats and directly pertains to our two examples.
The first NAVY professional bat that we acquired was an “R43” Yogi Berra model (coincidentally, Berra served in the Navy during WWII). The measured length of this bat is 35 inches, which corresponds to the bats that the Yankee catcher ordered from H&B starting in 1947. Prior to Berra adopting the R43, the model was a Babe Ruth Model.
Chicago White Sox second baseman Nelson “Nellie” Fox, who starred with the club from 1950 to 1963 after three seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, used an H&B model “C12” throughout his career. However, in researching Fox’s C12 bat lineage, an interesting and likely speculative historical bat lineage surfaced on a few different bat collectors’ forums. Unfortunately, the following is not attributable and unverified yet is fascinating.
In June 1932, Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer ordered a ” [Rogers] Hornsby model bat with a Billy Rhiel (Gehringer’s Tiger teammate) handle.” The Rhiel handle was thicker than the Hornsby model cited. After additional orders in May 1934, that model was designated as “Gehringer’s 5-26-34,” and subsequently, in the early 1940’s was assigned H&B model number “G7.”
In April 1951 Nellie Fox ordered a bat that had likely been crafted to the dimensions of a player identified as R. Kramer that had been apparently designated model C12. The dimensions were apparently the same as Gehringer’s G7 model, as the entry in Fox’ H & B records reads “4-13-51 R Kramer C12 use G7.” A similar notation “C12 use G7” appears several more times in Fox’s records in 1951, and finally, when Fox signed an endorsement contract with H&B on 7/11/51, his signature was put on a Model C12 which also became his Pro Stock model and, due to the somewhat unique dimensions of the bat, became forever linked with Nellie Fox.
Theory — There is no Major League player of the period named R. Kramer. Although the R. Kramer notation in Fox’s records may refer to a minor league player, it is also possible that the name was misspelled in Fox’s records and actually refers to Roger “Doc” Cramer who played with the Tigers throughout the 1940s and who would have been in a position to see and try out Rhiel’s and Gehringer’s bats and request the same model for his own use. Later, when bats were pulled from the H&B vault to be assigned numbers, the bat was designated C12, which would be consistent with H&B’s system of the first letter of the model number reflecting the bin from which it came, in this, the C (Doc Cramer) bin….
Thus, it is possible that Billy Rhiel’s model bat (Hornsby with thick handle), Charlie Gehringer’s model bat (Hornsby with Rhiel handle designated G7), Doc Cramer’s model bat (designated C12) and Nellie Fox’ model bat (C12) all share the same dimensions, with the lineage of Hornsby to Rhiel to Gehringer to Cramer to Fox.Unattributed commentary published in multiple locations.
Setting the Nelson Fox C12 model heritage aside, our more pressing desire was to properly date the two bats. Referring to the Keyman Collectibles’ Louisville Slugger Bat Dating Guide, we can narrow down the age of each bat to a range of years by focusing on details in the center brand.
Both of our bats are marked with the same center brand that was used by Hillerich and Bradsby from 1965 to 1979. We focused attention on the registered trademark symbol, the circled “R” located adjacent to the “R” at the end of SLUGGER.
With the era established and seeking to further narrow down the age of the bats, we referred to the POWERIZED wordmark to the right of the center brand. The absence of the registered trademark over the “d” on the Yogi Berra model narrows the age of the bat to 1965-1972. However, the unusual font-style of the wordmark (which includes a serif on the end of the “d”) was employed by H&B from 1964-66 along with our specific center brand. Based on these details, our “R43” Yogi Berra model bat dates to the above three-year period in the mid-1960s.
The Powerized wordmark on the Nelson Fox bat includes the registered trademark symbol above the “d,” indicating a date range of 1973-1979. However, H&B relocated model numbers from the knob to the barrel in 1976. Since the “C12” is located on the knob, we can further narrow the range to 1973-1975.
With the NCAA’s approval of aluminum bats ahead of the 1974 season, it is unlikely that colleges continued ordering wood bats. Because of the shift in materials, it is our assertion that our Nelson Fox bat dates to the last year of the wood bat regulation for collegiate baseball, pinpointing the year to 1973.
Baseball bat research resources:
- Louisville Slugger Knob Markings and Model Numbers – KeyMan Collectibles
- Mickey Mantle Louisville Slugger K55 College Baseball Bat – KeyMan Collectibles