Category Archives: General Baseball Militaria Collecting
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
Now that the regular season of baseball has ended and the postseason is underway, the ballparks have fallen silent as players pack their personal effects and head off to their off-season activities. For curators and collectors alike, there is no down time as artifacts require attention whether for care and maintenance or for acquisitions and research. Earlier this year, we spotlighted the maintenance program which we use to care for and preserve the leather fielding equipment in our collection (see: Maintenance Stop: Caring for 75 Year-Old Fielding Leather) and also planned to document preservation processes used for other artifacts in our collection
Baseball bats, like gloves, are a highly tangible and tactile part of baseball history and represent one of the most significant aspects of collecting. To most collectors, a wooden implement that has been turned on a lathe, sanded smooth and applied with a finish, would not appear to require much, if any, preservation. For a substantial percentage of collectible bats, limited intervention is all that is required. However, many of the military-used bats have been subjected to years of use and improper storage, resulting in destabilized wood cells, grain separation and even decay (rot).
World War II bats, while not entirely scarce, can be quite a challenge to source. When they do surface on the market, they are typically well-used and replete with more than their share of battle scars, cracks, divots and other signs of long-term abuse. Often stored for decades in harsh environs and exposed to moisture, paints and solvents, service-marked baseball bats tend to have hardly any aesthetically pleasing traits that would make them display-worthy. Our U.S.N-marked Ted Williams signature model bat was in such poor condition when we acquired it that it appeared to have been used to smack line drives with crushed stones (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved); however, with cautious preservation it is now displayed among our rarest baseball artifacts.
With retail or store-model bats, the brand and model markings are lightly applied with stamps and colored foil (most often black) to simulate the burned brands seen on professional bat models. Through normal use, the foil flakes away, leaving a faint indentation that is barely discernible. One of our earliest non-military bat acquisitions, an early-1950s, Ferris Fain signature, store-model bat, was completely devoid of the black foil. After cleaning and reconditioning the wood, we carefully restored the brand, model markings and Fain’s facsimile autograph with display-worthy results (see: Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat).
In May, we provided guidance on Hillerich and Bradsby store-model bats that were stamped and distributed throughout the armed forces during World War II (see: Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market). In focusing attention on the two levels of “H&B” store models, player-endorsed (which feature facsimiles of player autographs) and player models (marked with the catalog number “No. 14” and the “Safe Hit” brand), we spotlighted the most prevalent of service-used bats. Offerings in these two lines are pursued by collectors who focus on specific players and include the potential of acquiring two different bats associated with a favorite player.
We have several service-marked, store-mode bats in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection with player endorsements, such as those of Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller and the aforementioned Ted Williams. While we prefer to source bats with endorsements from players who served, we take pieces as they become available, regardless of the player’s name stamped onto the barrel. A fair amount of these wartime service bats tends to be associated with the game’s legends, such as Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth and others who did not serve during WWII, if at all. Yet other bats endorsed by players who served, including Charlie Gehringer, Joe DiMaggio, Musial and Williams, are of great interest to military-focused curators and collectors. In some instances, drawing correlations between players and the armed forces in order to satisfy an unwritten acquisition rule can make for an enjoyable exercise in the exploration of the notion of “six degrees of separation.” Perhaps it is more honestly stated that stretching facts in order to justify an accession of a non-veteran-associated bat came into play with two specific pieces within our collection.
By the fall of 1944, 34-year-old Mel Ott, longtime right fielder for the New York Giants, achieved his twelfth All-Star selection and finished his third season as the manager of the team that finished fifth in the National League. With a lengthy list of Giants players serving in the armed forces, including Johnny Mize, Morrie Arnovich, Buddy Blattner, Ken Trinkle, Harry Danning and Willard Marshall, Ott signed on with the USO to visit the troops and provide a morale boost to the men who were engaged in pushing German forces out of the nations they occupied. Joining Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bucky Walters, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Frankie Frisch, and Washington Senators pitcher Dutch Leonard, Mel Ott and the rest of the men traveled to the European combat theater.
The men saw the war in ways that Americans could not comprehend as their tour put them in front of GIs whom they addressed from makeshift stages in precarious conditions. These included being on flimsy platforms in shambles that were once buildings during some of the worst winter weather conditions on European record. Their tour took them into Belgium as the Wehrmacht began their massive offensive that would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Wearing Army combat uniforms, the ballplayers toured areas that were, at times, within a half-mile of the enemy lines. Dutch Leonard recalled the following spring, “I’ve gone through some bad winters around my home in Illinois, but what we had on the trip around the front beat anything I’d ever experienced. No matter how much I put on, I never felt warm.” The players witnessed the horrors of combat just hours after an appearance. Leonard continued, “…and the boys who listened to us at night would be in action the next morning.” Ott and the rest of the men did not back out of their mission despite the harsh and dangerous conditions and instead pressed on to finish the tour. Appearing before more than 300,000 GIs, the men took the time to engage with the service members after the shows, signing autographs and talking baseball.
Recognizing Mel Ott’s Hall of Fame playing career along with his time spent with the troops, we acquired a “U.S.” marked Melvin Ott Model H&B Safe Hit bat that had some condition issues but would make an aesthetically pleasing display once meticulously cleaned and conditioned. Just weeks after receiving the Safe Hit Ott model, a “U.S.N.” marked, Mel Ott signature model became available, which we did not hesitate to add to the collection. The condition of the U.S.N. bat was as close to “poor” as could be without being worthless in terms of collectability.
In assessing the condition of each Ott bats once in hand, it became quite apparent that both would require considerable reconditioning effort to stabilize and make them presentable among the other pieces in our collection. Our approach to conditioning is to preserve as much of the original wear and natural aging as possible while removing the decades of accumulated dirt and foreign substances. Once the surfaces are prepared, we assess the condition of the brand marks to determine if additional intervention should be taken and restoration work done. One of the challenges in collecting service bats in particular is that they have seen a lot of use after the war.
In the post-war years, the armed forces began to sell off outmoded or aged equipment that was considered surplus as each branch of the military contracted to significantly reduced manpower sizes. Baseball equipment was sold as inexpensive alternatives for industrial and Little League teams and advertisements proliferated in periodicals such as The Sporting News, featuring military-marked mitts, gloves and bats. Though some equipment sold was in new condition, having never made it to the GIs, much of it was used before beginning another cycle of game activity.
Both of our Mel Ott bats showed significant use, including breakage and field repairs in order to extend their usefulness. Broken bat handles complicated our rejuvenation process, adding multiple steps as we strove to maintain the aged appearance. After gluing a break, the removal of excess glue and the smoothing of the wood surface required abrasives such as sandpaper which easily cleared away the oxidized top surfaces and left behind a new, lighter surface.
The Ott Couple
The condition of our Safe Hit, Melvin Ott Model, H&B (catalog) No. 14 bat was fair. The crack extending from the upper reach of the handle towards the backside of the center brand was not obvious when viewing the stamped markings, which meant that the bat could be left as it was and displayed to conceal the most severe damage. However, with paint and what appeared to be tape residue on the barrel, restorative work had to be done, including closing and stabilizing the crack. Working through the process, we worked to remove the paint and soften the discoloration left behind by the tape. Desiring to retain the original patina of the wood, our crack repair did not conceal the crack, but when we completed our efforts, the crack appeared less obvious than it was when we acquired the bat.
Describing our second Mel Ott bat as a basket-case would be a mild description. With nearly all of the black foil worn or flaked off, little remained of the contrasting markings. Fortunately, the impressions were quite deep, leaving the brand, model number and signature somewhat visible. The upper third of the handle was wrapped in grip tape, leaving a rather unusual appearance. Applied decades ago, the tackiness was long gone, having left behind an almost shell-like covering over the handle. To properly preserve and revitalize this piece, the tape was removed, revealing a sizeable crack. As with the Safe Hit Ott bat, the ensuing crack repair was minimal in order to preserve much of the aged and worn appearance while providing stability to the bat.
Considering that both bats required cleaning and removal of layers of dirt, grime and other foreign substances, we employed a safe and very mild adhesive remover (Goo Gone) possessing subtle solvent properties and, with light application, is safe for wood finishes. With stubborn substances such as paint, we combined the solution with .000 fine steel wool and a light pressured motion moving with the woodgrain to begin stripping away the surface buildup. To preserve the original finish of the bat, we took our time with the most difficult areas. Once we were satisfied with the results, we removed all the loosened material with a clean cloth that was lightly soaked in the solvent. Once the Goo Gone had fully evaporated, the next step was to address the cracks.
Our process for repairing cracks was rather lengthy. Two essential elements that we used were carpenter’s glue and enough clamps to provide enough compression to squeeze the crack tightly. After carefully and generously applying glue into the full extent of the crack, pressure needed to be applied so that it forced the excess to emerge. Wiping away the excess, we allowed each bat to sit for 12 hours before releasing the clamps.
With the glue hardened, the next step was to use an abrasive to smooth away any remaining excess glue while limiting removal of the aged finish from the surrounding areas. Inevitably, some of the surrounding wood surface would be impacted and could be addressed in a subsequent step. For each of our bats, we briefly employed 240-grit sandpaper to wear down the heaviest glue deposits before switching to 800-grit to remove the majority of what remained. To ensure a smooth surface, .000 steel wool removed the last remnants of the excess glue.
With the crack repairs complete, the area surrounding the crack was lightened due to excessive material removal and it almost screamed of repair work. Since the wood of both bats was hickory, the aged finish darkened to a reddish-brown hue. Applying a rub of wet coffee grounds directly to the area provided a subtle stain to soften the brightness of the fresh wood surface.
Evaluating the brand stamps and lettering applied to each bat, we determined two separate paths to address the dulled appearances. With the Safe Hit Ott bat, the brands were applied deep enough that they were quite visible and merely needed to have the dirt and dust deposits carefully removed. We determined that the signature Ott bat would be negatively impacted by any attempts to manually restore the center brand as it remained somewhat visible. However, the signature and the U.S.N. stamp were candidates for restoration.
Restoration of black foil stampings can be a challenge. In assessing the impressions, some first-time restorers may be inclined to use a black art ink pen with a fine tip. Considering the porous nature of the wood, the cellular structure is absorbent and will draw the ink away from carefully applied lines and leave an unsightly and amateurish appearance, regardless of the careful hand-applied markings. We recommend using fine tipped acrylic paint pens. The black paint does get absorbed into the wood and mistakes can be easily corrected (wiping with a paper towel). Once the marks have dried, the black paint is easily aged. With careful and precise application, the “U.S.N.” stamp and the impression of Mel Ott’s signature were filled with black paint however, some excess extended beyond the lines which we opted to address once the paint cured. After the paint dried overnight, the appearance did not align with the markings of a worn and battered bat. Using a fresh piece of steel wool, we began to remove the excess paint. The result of the synthetic distressing resulted in an aged appearance of the markings.
Utilizing toothpicks to remove crusted dust and dirt from the Safe Hit Ott bat’s stampings revealed a much more crisp and dark impression for both the barrel and center brand markings. After preparing the stamps and marks, each bat was ready for a final cleaning before applying the surface-conditioning linseed oil.
Before applying the conditioning, the surfaces of the bats required one final surface cleaning to remove the debris and dust and to ensure a clean surface to receive the oil finish. Using a clean cloth or fresh paper towels generously saturated with the gentle solvent, we thoroughly wiped down each bat, ensuring that all substances were removed. With another 24 hours of drying, we undertook the last step of coating the wood with linseed oil. This final step might have taken a few applications over the course of multiple days. We allowed the bats to absorb the oil and to dry coats. When the wood no longer absorbed the oil, the excess was wiped away and the bats were staged to provide for complete drying.
The ultimate step of our process was to gently buff the wood with a clean and dry cloth, which brought a dull shine to the wood, revealing its natural beauty, emphasizing the years of use and providing a visually pleasing artifact for display.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Articles
- Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market – May 11, 2021
- “Game Used” Lumber: Wartime Service Adds Meaning for Collectors – October 31, 2020
- Tools of the Trade: Wartime Equipment used by (Former) Professional Ballplayers – July 9, 2020
- Charlie “King Kong” Keller Rattles the Woodshed ending a Yearlong Silence – May 8, 2020
- Bat Restoration: New Life for Ferris Fain’s Signature lumber – August 8, 2019
- Hard to Find Military Sticks: “Double-X” Joins Our World War II Baseball Lumber Pile – April 9, 2019
- Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved – February 7, 2019
- Close to Completion: Restoring a 1950s Ferris Fain Signature Model Bat – July 10, 2018
- KeyMan Collectible Louisville Slugger Dating Guide
- WWII Professional Equipment Fund (KeyMan Collectibles)
Equipment Fund Raising Events
- A Passion for the Troops: Joe E. Brown’s All Pacific Recreation Fund – October 17, 2019
- Service All-Stars Raising Funds on the Diamond for their Comrades in the Trenches – October 2, 2019
*- Hubler, David, and Joshua H. Drazen. 2015. “The Nats and the Grays: how baseball in the Nation’s Capital survived WWII and changed the game forever.”