Category Archives: My Collection
Many years ago, before I discovered the enjoyment of gathering and researching baseball artifacts that were used by ball-playing service members, I was very interested in baseball cards from the 1950s and early 1960s. For some reason, I was taken by the 1956 Topps cards in particular due to the landscape-orientation of the images and the hand-tinting of the players’ photograph and the “comic strip” artwork and factoids that were presented on the card backs (above the individual’s playing stats which included the previous season and the career totals). Even at that time, these cards were already highly collectible and commanded significantly higher prices than their contemporary counterparts. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to take a more “affordable” approach and collect the cards of the Brooklyn Dodgers as that team was the reigning world champion and whose roster was still stocked with the core players who helped bring their organization its very first title (and last, in that city).
While pursuing the ’56 Brooklyn set, I began widen my interests for certain players and purchased their cards from other years (cards issued previous and subsequent to 1956). When I landed a few players’ cards from the 1957 Topps set, I noticed that the player’s statistics encompassed their full career, broken out by each year on separate lines and totaled at the bottom. Though I owned a Major League Baseball (MLB) Encyclopedia and was thoroughly familiar with many of my favorite players’ career statistics, it wasn’t until I held a card in my hand that a particular statistic stood out to me. In 1957, Gilbert “Gil” Raymond Hodges played a single game of major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 which was reflected by a single line; he had only two at-bats* and did not get a hit. For the next two seasons, his ’57 card lists that though he was still a Brooklyn Dodgers player, he did not play for the team as he was “In U.S. Marine Corps.” As I looked through other cards, I saw similar statistics for other players. Dodgers Hall of Fame shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese had the same information though he was “In U.S. Navy” but he had three previous seasons in a Dodgers uniform. When I began to pay attention to the information pertaining to players’ service during the war, I was past the mid-way point of my own military career.
My interest in collecting baseball memorabilia waned after the 1994 strike shortened the season and for the first time in MLB history, stripped fans of a World Series (which was ultimately cancelled). Admittedly, I was excited by the Seattle Mariners magical 1995 season and their first appearance into the playoffs and being there for their clinching game of the American League Division Series followed by Game 1 of the Mariners’ first American League Championship Series. Despite the excitement that I personally experienced, I still discontinued all collecting interests until I was reignited with a passion for military history more than a decade later.
Fast forward to 2009-2010 when I acquired my first military baseball artifact (a 1943-44 Marine Corps red-trimmed, road gray wool flannel baseball uniform) which re-ignited my baseball collecting interest, focusing entirely upon those who served in the armed forces and played the game. Not long after obtaining the first uniform, I discovered a second Marines jersey (made of red-canvas, yellow-trimmed from the same WWII-period) that I added to my collection. I recalled one of my favorite players (the aforementioned Gil Hodges) and that he served in the Marines during WWII and couldn’t help but imagine him wearing one of the two uniforms that I had in my collection. When I started searching the internet in hopes of locating any photographs of him during the war, I stumbled upon auction listings photos of Marines wearing baseball uniforms. I began to pursue and started collecting these and similar vintage photos of service members playing the game, posed in team settings or just having a catch while away from the hazardous duties of armed conflict.
Regardless of the branch of service, I continued to expand my collection of uniforms, ephemera (such as scorecards and programs from service team games) and photographs. After several years of collecting, I am seeing an unintended trend within my collection. The majority of my pieces are Marine Corps-centric which is somewhat humorous considering my naval service and the nature of the intra-service rivalry (and brotherhood) shared between personnel within both branches. Aside from the two iterations of the jerseys/uniforms previously mentioned, I subsequently located a third wartime USMC jersey and two Marines ball caps. The photos that have found their way into my collection date as far back as 1915 (some in Latin America) through China in the 1920s and 30s and into World War II.
Collecting vintage photography can be both rewarding and frustrating. When one can connect an unidentified photograph to a location, time or event, shedding new light on history brings a measure of satisfaction, especially when the photo has never been seen by the public. However, when photos lack any means of identification, they are relegated to merely being an enjoyable, visual artifact. A few of my images were sourced from a veteran’s scrapbook (no doubt, broken apart to maximize the picker’s profits) that after two years of attempting to locate any sort of context, I was able to discover that the game depicted in the images was played by the visiting U.S. Marines in 1943 in Wellington, New Zealand.
In addition to veterans’ scrapbook and snapshot photos, I have added images that were taken by news photographers or public relations personnel for the purpose of sharing positive news to the home front to offset the lists of KIA/WIA/MIA that would dominate local newspapers during the war. These images are typically larger images (some as large as 10-inches) were professionally enlarged (snapshots are normally tiny contact-prints) that are printed on glossy photo paper (specifically during the 1940s). While my photo archive is not extensive by any measure, it does provide a decent perspective on the historical depth of the intertwining of the game within the Marine Corps.
My card collection has been tucked away since the early-to-mid 1990s until the last few weeks when I dug the 1950s cards in light of the (“my”) Dodgers entry into the 2017 post-season and finally reaching the World Series. Connecting my two collections (military baseball and card collections) has only served to reveal to me that my early interests (card collecting) in the men who also served has transcended to my present collecting focus.
Thinking back to that set of 1956 Topps cards and the team that was fielded in the 1955 World Championship, it is difficult to imagine the challenging road each player took to get to that point in their professional careers, especially after seeing the horrors of war. Unlike today’s Dodgers roster that does not contain a single military veteran (which holds true for all of MLB), the 1955 World Champion-team from Brooklyn had the following members who also wore the uniform of their nation.
World Champion Dodgers who served in or during WWII:
- Carl Erskine (Navy)
- Carl Furillo (Army) – Carl served in combat in the Pacific Theater, received three battle stars, and was wounded. Peter Golenbock says in his book Bums that Furillo turned down a Purple Heart medal for his wounds, stating that he hadn’t been sufficiently valiant.
- Don Hoak (Navy) Hoak enlisted in the US Navy during World War II, on February 27, 1945 towards the end of World War II and only a short time after he turned 17 years of age. On February 21, 1946 as Hoak serving at Pensacola, Florida, his father was crushed when the tractor he was operating overturned, killing him and leaving Don’s mother a widow at home with his 3-year-old brother. That summer, Don was discharged from the Navy.
- Gilbert “Gil” Hodges (USMC)
- Dixie Howell (Army) – in November 1943, Howell entered military service with the U.S. Army. He served in France and Belgium during World War II and was taken prisoner by the German troops in September 1944, being liberated by advancing Allied forces six months later. He returned to the United States and was discharged from military service late in 1945.
- Clem Labine (Army) – Labine enlisted Army on December 14, 1944 and volunteered to serve as a paratrooper.
- Jackie Robinson (Army)
- Harold “Pee Wee” Reese (Navy)
- Edwin “Duke” Snider (Navy)
Other 1955 Dodgers with Military Service:
- Roger Craig (Army 1951-52)
- Billy Loes (Army 1951)
- Don Newcombe (Korean War)
- Johnny Podres (Navy 1956) – Podres became a sailor in the United States Navy, yet serving his country did not, in any way, diminish his baseball skills — he pitched for Bainbridge Naval Station and Glenview Air Station. The Navy released Podres in October because his back issues made him “physically unfit for further military service.” It was “a form of arthritis of the spinal column.
*On the last game of the 1943 season against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, October 3rd, Gil Hodges had three plate appearances. He entered the game as a pinch hitter, eighth in the order, taking over for catcher Mickey Owen (who didn’t have a plate appearance). Hodges coaxed a walk from Cincinnati starting pitcher (and future Navy veteran) Johnny Vander Meer and he subsequently stole second base.
I created this site as a vehicle for me to write about and discuss the military baseball artifacts that I have or am adding to my collection. Rather than to be simplistic in describing the items and sharing photographs of each piece, I prefer to research and capture the history (when possible) in order to provide context surrounding the items as a means to educate readers. I find that I often return to my articles and incorporate their elements or entirety for use in subsequent articles or as a means to authenticate artifacts that I am interested in purchasing. Another activity that I enjoy participating in is to document those artifacts that I have discovered either too late or was incapable of purchasing due to being outbid, a missed opportunity, too many unanswered questions, cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable for purchase. Losing out on acquiring somethings doesn’t necessarily translate to letting these pieces pass into oblivion simply because they are not part of my collection.
I have a soft spot for vintage jerseys and I am constantly on the prowl for anything that would help to make my collection more diverse with uniform pieces from all service teams such as Navy and Army Air Forces teams. In my collection, I now have three different World War II jerseys (two of which include the trousers) from Marine Corps ball teams. This past summer, I was able to locate ball caps that seem to accompany two of those Marines jerseys. In addition to the USMC items, I have two uniforms (jerseys and trousers) from WWII Army teams: one from the 399th Infantry Regiment and the other, a colorful, tropical-weight red-on-blue (cotton duck) uniform from the Fifth Army headquarters ball team (which reminds me that I still need to write an article about this uniform group). Two years ago, I was able to find another uniform set (jersey and trousers) that I am almost certain was from a Navy ball team, due to the blue and gold colors of the soutache and that the plackard reads in flannel script, “Aviation Squadron” adorning the jersey.
In my pursuit of military baseball uniforms, I have been working to document the ones that got away (or simply were not available for purchase) in order to create a record for comparative analysis in support of research or to assist in authentication of other uniforms. Unlike professional baseball, the major leagues in particular, there are very few surviving examples of uniform artifacts from the 1940s and earlier. By creating an archive, I am hoping that not only will I have a resource available for my own efforts but will also help others in understanding more about what our armed forces players wore on the field during their service.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by an author who was seeking information on what became of the baseball uniforms that were used by the naval aviation cadets who were attending U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School (The V-5 Program) at Chapel Hill. The cadet baseball team (the Cloudbusters) at the V-5 school included some professional ballplayers (such as two Boston Red Sox greats, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams, Boston Braves’ Johnny Sain to name a few). In addition to the baseball team, Chapel Hill also fielded a cadet football team whose coaching roster included college legends Jim Crowley, Frank Kimbrough, Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught and even a future president, Gerald Ford. The uniforms worn by the Cloudbusters baseball team were trimmed with a double soutache surrounding the collar and the plackard that matched what was worn on the cuffs of the sleeves. Across the front in block lettering was N A V Y reminiscent of baseball uniforms worn by the Naval Academy ball teams at that time. In my response to the person who contacted me, I told her that I had not seen anything resembling the Cloudbusters uniforms nor did I have any knowledge of what became of them after the War. I can imagine that a team with a roster filled with professional ballplayers that they would have multiple uniforms (a few sets each for both away and home use), similar to what the Norfolk Naval Station Bluejackets ball team had.
See Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot video series regarding the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team featuring an interview with former major leaguer, Eddie Robinson:
While looking through my photo archives for images of artifacts in support of another article that I was writing, I discovered images of a Navy baseball jersey that had been for sale at some point by a small, regional business that specializes in vintage sports equipment. I saved the image of the jersey for future reference due to the unique patch on the left sleeve. The patch bears two crossed flags – one is the U.S. flag and the other, a red flag with the British Union Jack in the left corner and an indistinguishable symbol in the red field. The jersey has a singular blue soutache trim and possesses the same block-lettering (as seen on the Cloudbusters jerseys – which have no sleeve patches). In searching through extensive volumes of historical Navy baseball photographs, no image has surfaced showing this uniform in use, keeping it a mystery for the time-being.
I am hopeful that I can continue to gather a useful archive of uniform artifacts in order to provide a sufficient military baseball uniform research resource. Aside from articles such as this, I think that I will organize the uniform images into a proper archive that will be organized and searchable. By capturing and cataloging the artifacts that do not make it into my collection, I can still maintain a “collection” of artifacts that will be helpful to me and other collectors and researchers.
Baseball is overwrought with comparisons and associations in terms of sayings, phrases and figures of speech. Listen to any radio broadcast or televised baseball game and you will invariably hear a plethora of soliloquies by the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator that are filled with analogies that help to illustrate points or, if you were born anytime after 2000, will leave you baffled as to the point being made. I find that I am guilty when it comes to infusing my articles with such comparisons and today’s will not fail to insert at least one such analogy.
Since I started actively collecting military baseball memorabilia, I have found myself alternating between the tortoise and the hare. There have been times that it seemed that I was grabbing up every photograph or piece of ephemera that surfaces – especially since they were pieces that were on the money in relation to the sort of items that interest me which felt as though I was sprinting through my sourcing and acquiring. However, finding (and being able to afford) uniforms and jerseys left me feeling much more like the tortoise as I was patient with the slowness of these items’ availability. I have a handful of jerseys at the moment and it has taken me more than a half-dozen years to accumulate them.
From the outset of my interest in this arena, there have been a few categories that have eluded me all together. One, being the aforementioned hunt for honest military baseballs (vice the frauds that dominate eBay such as these) and the other, vintage military baseball uniform caps. Throughout my years sifting throughout virtually every listing of anything remotely connected to military baseball, I have yet to see a listing for a baseball cap. I have nearly 100 vintage photographs detailing baseball play, team photos, GIs’ snapshots and press photos of games (ranging from just off the front line pick-up games to organized league and championships). Throughout my photo archive and those that are viewable online, I am very familiar with the caps worn by service members during WWII (and prior). I have seen dozens of auction listings of baseball uniforms and not a single one was ever with a ball cap.
As time went on, I began to extrapolate from the absence of vintage military ball caps that these servicemen either wore them until they became tatters or the caps just didn’t make it home from The War. I likened the lack of caps to a severe drought – one like California suffered through for almost a decade. Last fall and winter, California’s landscape began to change. Aside from the devastating landslides suffered by many areas throughout the state during the massive rains that fell, green foliage began to fill the surrounding areas. Driving southbound from the Siskiyou Mountain Pass on Interstate 5 this spring, we noticed the green vegetation and the fullness of Lake Shasta. The green followed us down through the central part of the state. It was amazing to see that the drought had seemingly ended. Spring marked an end to another dry season for me, too!
In early spring, a military jersey was listed online that I had never seen before. Though it was a Marines jersey, the colors were far different from the two that I already have in my collection. This one, instead of being a wool-flannel road gray with red trim and letter, was a home-white wool flannel with blue trim and lettering that was like a carbon-copy. I quickly submitted a bid and ended up winning it. When I got it home and professionally cleaned, I placed it with the gray/red jersey and they were clearly made to be used as home and road versions for the Marines team. On the red uniform, the button that is on the letter “I” is red to match. On the home uniform, the “I” button is blue to match. It was a fantastic find and one that I think caught other potential collectors off guard. What does this have to do with the end of dry season?
Later in the spring, another auction caused me to pause and spend a lot of time pouring over countless photographs in order perform due diligence prior to making a decision. This particular listing was of a ball cap that the seller listed and described as being from the estate of a WWII USMC veteran. After asking the seller for specific information pertaining to the veteran in an effort to validate his claims, he was unable to give anything that would help me pursue identifying the original owner. He stated that the estate sale was facilitated by a third-party and that any personal information was unavailable. This meant that I had to place little value upon the seller’s claim and pursue another avenue. I turned to the photograph research that I had performed and took a chance based upon what I found.
There are several photographs of the “Marines” uniform being worn by men various settings. It is very difficult to discern which darker shade of gray is red or blue (considering the blue of my latest Marines uniform) is essentially indistinguishable, due to all of the WWII images being black-and-white. However, I can tell that the road gray Marines jersey is the most prevalent in photographs. There are at least two photos that could show Marines wearing the home white/blue uniform but it is impossible to confirm. There are a few different caps being worn – the most common appearing to be a road gray with a darker “M” and matching bill color (assumed to be red). What is consistent across the photos is that the font of the “M” matches the same lettering on the jerseys. The auction cap, navy blue wool, has the same font lettering “M” as is seen on all three of my jerseys. My thought is that the color yellow was used as it contrasts the navy blue and is also a prevalent USMC color used in insignia and emblems. This cap very well could be what was worn with my home white/blue uniform but sadly, I have no definitive proof and no provenance. With the matching letter and matching navy blue, I pulled the trigger and added it to my collection.
As it has certainly rained in California over the course of their drought, one or two days of rain over such an expanse of dryness did not mark an end to their misery. Similarly, one cap over more than six years of searching does not signify an end to my ball cap dry season.
In the last few weeks, two more caps were listed (by different sellers) that caught my attention. Both were clearly Marine corps caps (red with yellow lettering) but they were different from each other. One of them is wool with the letters “M” and “B” and could refer to a few different USMC commands or team-centric organizations (perhaps, “Marine Barracks”). I watched this cap listed and go unsold now a few times (it is still for sale). It was the second cap that stood out like a sore thumb for me.
As I wrote earlier, I have three Marines baseball jerseys. The third one is very different from the home and road wool variants and is constructed from a light-weight cotton canvas material and red in color. The yellow soutache (trim) applied to the placard and on the sleeves appears to be rayon. What drew me to the second (of the two red ball caps) was the base material – also lightweight cotton canvas. The yellow letter “M” on he front panels is in the same font as the uniform lettering and also appears to be wool felt (which is consistent with the jersey). In my opinion, these similarities eliminates almost all of doubt and I couldn’t help but place the winning bid.
When this cap arrives, it will be the second military baseball cap added to my collection in less than three months. Should I declare that my cap-drought has officially ended? Perhaps it has concluded but there is still the matter of the lack of available vintage military baseballs.
One visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY will pique even an average fan’s interest in viewing or handling game-used equipment. My first visit to Cooperstown was an eye-opening experience as I took my time, completely absorbing each exhibit and the artifacts that were displayed as they told the stories of the players, teams, cities and record exploits on the field. To see a uniform on display that was worn by a legendary player from the early years of the game gives a sense of connection to the game, bridging a decades-long gap the moment it comes into view.
I spent an entire day at the Hall of Fame museum; countless hours standing and staring as I viewed the artifacts and the associated photographs of the players. Though I already owned a few ball contemporary caps that I would occasionally wear, after seeing the vintage baseball uniforms and caps, I wanted to have something of my own (yes, I am a bit of a sucker) which led me to purchase a pseudo replica of an old Brooklyn Dodgers cap. After leaving the museum, I strolled through a few of the sports collectible shops along Main Street that were in close proximity of The Hall and viewed a few vintage game-worn jerseys and autographed balls that were listed for sale (albeit out of range of my budget). Ever since that trip and the subsequent visit a few years later with my wife, I have been fascinated by the old uniforms and jerseys of the game.
Better than simply viewing a vintage baseball jersey is to actually touch and hold and manipulate one. Most of my game-worn jerseys show signs of wear and use: dirt stains from sliding into base or sweat stains from the player’s repeated game-use (yes, this isn’t the most appealing visual) which conveys their usage. A well-known collector of game-used jerseys, Stephen Wong, has jerseys that were worn by legendary and notable players and has authored two books that feature selections from his collection. In his first work, Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections, Wong demonstrates how he employs period and player-specific photography as an effective tool as a means to authenticate a jersey by verifying unique traits (alignment of pinstripes, lettering, wear, repairs, etc.) that can be cross-referenced. In his second book, Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments, Mr. Wong showcases his jerseys (or full uniforms) along with photographs of the player wearing the same or similar garment. The pairing of vintage photos alongside the visually stunning photography of the uniforms as they currently exist is lends to the connection. As an aside, both books are a must for baseball memorabilia collectors and fans of the game from its golden era.
It is far easier to locate images of professional ballplayers wearing their uniforms than it is to obtain photos of military ballplayers. Of the uniforms that I own, the road gray (and red trim/lettering) Marines uniform is the only one that I have found representative photographs of (unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to identify an individual jersey and the Marines appear to have supplied a considerable quantity to their men in theater). As for the other four jerseys, no photographs have yet to surface that would visually connect them to game use or ball players wearing them.
While I failed earlier this year to acquire the (possible) Nisei relocation camp uniform, my most recent baseball uniform acquisition occurred nearly a year ago. Listed on eBay, the road gray jersey and trousers (with red rayon soutache and flannel lettering) that once belonged to a soldier from the 399th Infantry Regiment (known as the “Powderhorns” due to their distinctive unit insignia), 100th Infantry Division. Across the front of the jersey in red wool flannel block letters, “399 INF” with the numerals to the right and the letters to the left of the placard. For nearly a year, I have been watching for any photographs to surface that might show this uniform in action. Many of the photos that I have purchased over the years depict games being played late in the war in the European Theater but most of the players’ uniforms lack any unit identification markings.
Further inspection of the uniform fails to reveal anything that would identify the veteran or even the manufacturer. The tag in the collar of the jersey was printed in ink with any manufacturer’s markings, if they were ever present are long-since worn off or faded into obscurity. What is visible in the tag in d simple block lettering, “STYLE” and “union made” and a very faint place for the veteran to print his name. I have been diligently searching other jersey listings in an attempt to match the label to possibly identify the manufacturer. One clue that might hint at a manufacturer are the buttons. According to Stephen Wong’s research, the two-hole, convex buttons (that are present on my uniform) are unique to jerseys manufactured by Goldsmith MacGregor.
“Button whose surface curves outward. These buttons are typically associated with Cincinnati uniform manufacturer P. Goldsmith & Sons, later MacGregor-Goldsmith and later MacGregor. Because of their unique style, convex buttons in particular the two-hole variant, can be used to identify a jersey’s manufacturer in period images.” – excerpt from Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments
As far as accurately dating the uniform, the unit lettering and the design of the jersey and trousers indicate that it can only be from World War II. Though the 399th was formed and officially activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in November of 1942 and the boys deployed to the European Theater of Operations in October of 1944 and would serve until the war’s end, the uniform could have been used after the War.
The 399th Infantry Regiment History
- 100th Infantry Division WWII History (Parent Division of the 399th)
- 399th In Action – Narrative of WWII Combat service
Considering the unit’s war service and deactivation in January of 1946, I have no doubts that this baseball uniform most-likely dates from 1943 to 1945 and was predominately used while the 399th was in overseas service.
I hold out hope that I will be able to locate a photograph showing servicemen from the 399th playing a game while wearing their uniforms if only to have the visual connection.
With a few of my earlier posts, I have covered some of the professional ball players who temporarily traded their professional flannels in exchange for a uniform of the armed forces. While some of these men filled the ranks both in combat and support units, others used their professional skills to provide the troops with a temporary escape from the harsh realities of the war by providing them with a taste of home that can be found within the lines of the baseball diamond.
According to Gary Bedingfield’s extensive research, more than 4,500 professional baseball players placed their careers on hold in order to serve in the effort to defeat fascism and tyranny that was sweeping across Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. There were more than 500 major league ball players who served in the armed forces throughout the more than four years of the war (including the last few weeks of December, 1941 when many players like Bob Feller rushed to enlist). Conversely, there were roughly 2,800 men who continued to play major league baseball during the same period, avoiding service for a myriad of reasons (age, unfit for duty, etc.). I have focused this blog on two over-arching subjects; baseball militaria – items used on the diamond (or in relation to it) by servicemen who may or may not have played the game professionally; the people who played the game during their time in uniform. Today’s post, while centered on a contextual (to this blog) object, it also addresses one of the nearly 3,000 MLB players who never served and yet was well-represented on the diamonds across both the European and Pacific theaters during WWII.
Before I delve into the subject matter of this article, I must first offer a disclaimer that I am decidedly not a baseball glove collector nor do I possess any measure of expertise on this very interesting area of baseball collecting. With this being the Chevrons and Diamonds blog where I provide research and insight pertaining to baseball militaria, my interest is more broad. As I researched this topic, I realize that expertise in military gloves and mitts are significantly more specialized and as with other areas of military baseball, is limited (at least that is my assertion) as compared to baseball gloves outside of what was used during the war.
As a Navy veteran, I tend to focus my collecting interest around naval-themed items and within the realm of military baseball, I remain consistent. When I began looking at obtaining a baseball glove for my collection, I found a World War II vintage model that was rather ragged and yet held my interest as it was stamped, “U.S.N.” across the wrist strap. Before making the purchase, I took note that the glove was also missing the web between the thumb and index finger and that there were fragments of the leather lacing remaining protruding from a few of the heavily-oxidized eyelets. I considered the condition and weighed it against the current pricing trends and decided to make the purchase, thinking that I would be able to get the glove into shape.
When the glove arrived a few days later, I unzipped the two-gallon sized zip-locked bag to find not only was it, at one point water-damaged with remnants of mildew or mold, but also that the leather was dried and cracking. It was in far worse shape than I anticipated. Perhaps this was the reason that I was able to acquire it for less than so many other of the scarcer Navy versions had been selling at premium prices in the months prior to me pulling the trigger on this one. In the few years since, only a smattering have since been listed in online auctions. Regardless, this dried out, cracking and smelly glove is now in my possession and it is my desire to attempt to breathe new life into it with the hope that I leave it in better condition than when I received it.
I broke one of my self-established collecting rules; before I purchase it, I had virtually no understanding of vintage glove models, styles, manufacturers or the many details that a true glove collector can recite with ease. My extent of knowledge stems from examining vintage photographs and taking a peripheral view into what a fielder or position player may have on his catching hand. To me, the all generally appeared the same. Until I began researching for this article, I hadn’t spent any time attempting to understand how diverse and expansive vintage baseball glove field really is. In the coming months, I hope to take some deeper dives into this area of collecting as it pertains to military service teams and the gloves that were issued to the members of the armed forces.
After a cursory pass in working over the dried leather of my Navy-issued glove (with Horseman’s One Step Leather Cleaner & Condition), I began to see some of the markings that might lead me to determine the manufacturer. One of the obvious markings was the “DW” stamped just above the heel. After nearly two weeks (following the treatment of the leather), more of the manufacturer’s stampings and markings began to emerge as the leather became supple and started to return to its previous shape. Beneath the DW, “Hand Formed Pad” was discernible. Towards the pinky-finger side of the palm, remnants of a signature were visible – “Riddle” with “Trademark” centered directly below. A quick search of the web revealed that the glove was a GoldSmith Elmer Riddell fielder’s glove model.
Armed with details of the make and model of the glove, I spent some investigating the details in trying to confirm the age (I wanted to be certain that the glove, though marked as a U.S.N., that it was, in fact, from the WWII time-frame). I also wanted to gain a little bit of an understanding about the other information present on the glove:
- Inside the glove on the heel pad:
- Horesehide Lining
- On the outer heel pad:
- Hand Formed Pad
- On the pinky side-edge:
- Elmer Riddle (signature)
- In the palm:
- Inner Processed
- GoldSmith (logo)
- a Preferred Product (trademark)
To properly date the glove, the logo is the most revealing aspect (which, in the case of my glove is partially discernible). As with so many companies, logos changed during significant events (such as mergers, ownership changes, spin-offs, etc.). Noting that my glove has the GoldSmith logo along with the “A Preferred Product” trademark, it predates the merger with the golf brand, MacGregor which occurred between 1945-46 (in 1946, the company changed their name and logo to MacGregor-GoldSmith). By 1952, The company was known solely as MacGregor. Prior to 1938, the company logo was different and the name was P. GoldSmith (named for its founder, Phillip GoldSmith). Considering the company name and logo, I am able to determine that the manufacturing date of the glove lies somewhere in the 1938-44 range. There is still more information that will narrow this date range down.
The glove has a major-league pitcher’s endorsement (as indicated by the signature that is embossed), Elmer Riddle who played from 1939 to 1949 with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. His best years were 1941, 1943 and 1948 (his only all-star season). Most likely, Riddle signed an endorsement deal with the P. GoldSmith Company during the early part of the war in 1942 following his ’41 19-2 season (he was the 4th runner-up in MVP balloting). With all of the information at my disposal I determined that my glove was made between 1942-44. Aside from my brilliant deduction skills, I am also fairly adept at tapping into available resources and knowledgeable experts. I reached out to a fellow collector who has a fantastic wealth of information in his site, KeyManCollectibles.com, specifically his Baseball Glove Dating Guide.
In viewing his archive of catalogs, the 1942 GoldSmith Preferred glove catalog shows the initial appearance within their Professional Model glove product line, sharing the page with the RL Model – with the Leo Durocher signature. The product description reads:
“Compact, flexible, streamlined, “Natural Contour” Model (Licensed under Pat. No. 2231204) bearing signature of Elmer Riddle, of the Cincinnati “Reds”. Genuine horsehide with full horsehide lining, and hand formed asbestos felt pad. Inner processed greased palm, oiled back. Leather welted diverted finger seams and reinforced thumb seam. Roll leather bound edge, roll leather bound wrist, leather laced through metal eyelets. Improved double tunnel web with leather connector, laced through metal eyelets. Wide leather wrist strap.”
(Note: seeing that the glove is constructed with asbestos in the padding, I need to be careful in handling the glove as the leather is cracking and could open up enough to create an exposure risk.)
In the process of learning about this particular glove model, I made an interesting discovery. As war was taking hold across Europe, American citizens began to change their stance regarding the conscription (or draft) of young, able-bodied men into compulsory military training as a means of preparedness for what was seemingly inevitable; the United States being drawn into war. With President Roosevelt’s signing of the Selective Training and Service act of 1940, the first U.S. peacetime military conscription commenced requiring all men aged 21 to 35 to report for 12 months of service. By 1941, the age range was expanded, reducing the minimum age to 18 and the upper age to 37 and extended the length of service to 18 months.
As I viewed Mr. Riddle’s stats, I took note that he had no broken time during the war which stood out as a curiosity considering that he was a 27 year-old athlete who was actively playing baseball. While many of his peers were helping with the war effort (away from professional ball), Riddle continued to play the game. During the 1943 season, Elmer Riddle had a very productive season, making 36 appearances (starting 33 games) and winning 21 (he completed 19). In 260 innings, he only surrendered 6 homeruns. How could he have avoided the draft (provided he didn’t volunteer)? There are a number of deferments that were applied to a large number of men who fell into the age range of selective service. One thought that often arises when discovering a person who didn’t serve during WWII is the only son or only surviving son provision within the Selective Service Act (the premise of the fictionalized portrayal of retrieving a sole surviving son in the film, Saving Private Ryan). However, this provision only applies to peacetime conscription. During a national emergency or Congressionally declared war, even sole surviving and only sons will be called to serve. What is baffling is that even Riddle’s older half-brother, catcher Johnny Riddle, played along side Elmer in Cincinnati, avoiding service in the armed forces.
Prior to the 1944 season, he reported (in March) for and passed his pre-induction physical. According to Riddle’s bio at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website, “The Army advised him to report to spring training while awaiting induction. Apparently, he was never called up, because, according to United Press sportswriter Jack Cuddy, he started the season ‘like a burning haystack.’”
While Elmer Riddle never served his country in the armed forces, his name, affixed to a lot of baseball gloves, saw action wherever GIs took breaks from combat action. According to Vintage-Baseball-Gloves.com, the GoldSmith DW Elmer Riddle glove is, “THE (sic) classic wartime glove. More of these were issued than all other models combined.” I can almost imagine players like Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese donning an Elmer Riddle glove as they took the field in one of their many service team ballgames. While most collectors might not enjoy it, I do see the lovely irony.
More details regarding the GoldSmith/MacGregor-Goldsmith DW Model Glove
GoldSmith (and MacGregor-Goldsmith) produced (at least) three DW models of the fielder’s glove:
- GoldSmith DW – Elmer Riddle (years played: ’39-47 CIN; ’48-49 PIT)
- MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Joe Cronin (years played: ’26-27 PIT; ’28-34 WAS; ’35-45 BOS [AL])
- MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Buddy Kerr (years played: ’43-49 NYG; ’50-51 BOS [NL])
A few collectors noted that the initials in reference to models pertain to the original player for whom the signature model was created.
- MO – Mel Ott model
- PD – Paul Derringer model
- CG – Charlie Gehringer
- RL – Red Lucas model (subsequently becoming a Leo Durocher endorsed model when the LD Durocher was dropped)
- JC – Joe Cronin model (however the JCL model was a Pete Reiser signature model and yet Goldsmith never created PR model)
- HC – Harold Craft model (which transitioned to a Dixie Walker endorsed model)
Consistency is king in helping archaeologists, archivists and researches to easily map out how companies conducted their businesses and yet seldom do we find that they were consistent. As noted in the very brief sample of the GoldSmith/MacGregor-GoldSmith glove model list, the DW model did not have a ballplayer for whom the letters represented. It is assumed by collectors that it was created for Dixie Walker (most notable with his tenure in Brooklyn) and yet the glove he ended up endorsing was the (MacGregor-Goldsmith HC model (formerly the Harold Craft model). Why was the first player signature glove for Elmer Riddle the DW model rather than an ER?
Now that the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 has been announced and the debates are raging on about which of the elected are truly worthy over those who were once again overlooked, I am looking forward to the upcoming season, hopeful for the Dodgers to overcome last season’s playoff fade. The Dodgers have won the last four consecutive NL West flags and have two NLCS and two NLDS defeats to show for their efforts. Fortunately, I can fall back upon my military baseball collecting where there are both victories and defeats and yet no off-season.
Until recently, I have focused attention on acquiring photographs with a keen eye trained for uniforms to add to my collection. I have been selective, landing some vintage photos from as early as prior to WWI and into WWII, a WWII-era Hillerich and Bradsby bat (stamped U.S. Navy) and a few other assorted pieces.
One piece that I landed a few years ago caught my eye due to its uniqueness and that I hadn’t seen anything like it before (or since). Not being very in tune with the service academy athletics (beyond attending college football games that included West Point and the Air Force Academy teams and watching the annual Army/Navy football game on television) or the history as it pertains to baseball, I took particular interest in what the seller described as an athletic varsity letter (think: letterman’s jacket) for baseball from the Naval Academy in 1944. The seller had two listings: one for the letter and the other for the 1944 Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ yearbook) from the naval officer for whom the letter was awarded. Landing this letter caused me to pay closer attention to anything that might be related to baseball within the service academies.
Not long ago, I spotted an auction listing that was very unusual and a departure from my typical baseball memorabilia. The listing mentioned a medal that was awarded to a naval officer (at the time, a midshipman) who also was the recipient of three Navy Cross and one Army Distinguished Service Cross medals. This particular medal was engraved with the sailor’s name and the date that it was presented to him and was more in keeping with a sports trophy than a medal awarded for valor or esteemed service in uniform.
Frank Wesley Fenno, Jr. came to the Naval Academy with aspirations of playing professional baseball. Fenneo’s classmates wrote of him in The Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ annual), “His life’s ambition was to play baseball, and when he didn’t get in a game, it was owing to academic interference. Center field was his position and when the little pill landed in that territory, it didn’t have a chance (a warped sense of modesty prevents our telling about that home run in the Army-Navy Game).” During his years there, Frank had a reputation for both his prowess in the outfield and consistency with his bat, as further noted in The Lucky Bag, “In the outfield Fenno, Leslie, and Ward appeared to be the strongest combination. Fenno, our 1925 captain, got anything that came within the range of possibility, and all three men were handy with the stick.”
The medal, presented to Midshipmen Fenno in 1924 by the Naval Academy’s Navy Atheletic Association in recognition of his .410 batting average for his junior year baseball season. Fenno would letter in the sport for all four years before graduating and being commissioned as an ensign in 1925. Admiral Fenno would have an illustrious career as a submariner receiving the Navy’s second highest valor award (subordinate to the Medal of Honor) three times during World War II. He also received the Army’s second highest award during his WWII service. In later years, the Admiral served as the chief of staff at the United States Taiwan Defense Command where his love for the game would continue:
“I’ve been looking through your website and came across a list of Chiefs of Staff for USTDC. I was there as a photographer from 1955 to 1956 and remember that Rear Admiral Frank. W. Fenno Jr. was the Chief of Staff under Vice Admiral Stewart H. Ingersoll, the first Commander of USTDC. Since Rear Admiral Fenno is not listed, his picture is attached along with a photo of him shipping over (re-enlisting) four of the photo lab staff in August 1956. Admiral Fenno also played on the TDC softball team.” (source: US TDC Blog)
I will sheepishly admit to bidding on the medal with no prior knowledge of the admiral nor these types of medals, beating out six other bidders. In communicating with the seller in trying to obtain any provenance and history as to how he obtained the medal, I learned that this it was most-likely sold some time after his other decorations were either sold or donated.
This piece checked a lot of militaria boxes in that it was engraved with the veteran’s name, had reasonable provenance and it was directly dated. When the medal arrived, it was in its original Bailey, Banks & Biddle box (though the it is a little worn). The pendant, ribbon and clasp are all in excellent condition though the metal surfaces show some reasonable tarnish.
- 1st Navy Cross Citation
- 2nd Navy Cross Citation
- 3rd Navy Cross Citation
- Distinguished Service Cross Citation
- Silver Star Citation
- 1st Legion of Merit Citation
- 2nd Legion of Merit Citation
WWII Commands Held:
- USS Trout (SS-202), 1941-1942
- USS Runner (SS-275), 1942 – 1943
- Commander Submarine Division 201, 1943-1945
- USS Pampanito (SS-383), 1944-1945
- Commander Submarine Division 24, 1945
- USS Pampanito: Killer Angel
- Manila Gold: Tales of the USS Trout and the War in the Pacific in World War II
The hot stove league is just ramping up throughout Major League Baseball with the beginnings of player movement discussions. The winter meetings will be upcoming and trades will be discussed as teams seek to create their 2017 rosters in hopes of playing for the championship in a little less than a year from now. Fans’ emotions cycle through the spectrum as hopes are raised with each announcement, often times met with disapproval and disappointment.
The hot stove league is an excellent analogy for collecting baseball militaria. Watching for items that meet certain criteria poses many similar challenges. Does the item fit my collection? Is the item worth the asking price? Is it authentic (with provenance) Is there any room to negotiate? What impact will the item have in terms of how the piece might display? So many questions to be answered.
After the transaction has been completed and the anticipation (waiting the piece’s arrival) has subsided, were expectations met, exceeded or dashed? Similar to how fans and front office people alike spend time evaluating the if the acquisition was a worthwhile expenditure, collectors also review what they buy.
Baseball militaria has, so far, proven to be a very narrow field of focus for my collecting with so few items being available. I am open to acquiring artifacts from most time periods with my strongest interest lying in the 20 year-period leading up to the second World War. Very few artifacts ever become available beyond photographs (which are predominantly snapshots that are removed from personal photo albums). I have seen the occasional uniforms (two in the past three years come to mind) and a bat (that seemed to be dated closer, if not during WWII) outside of the smattering of ephemera and pictures.
A few weeks ago, I decided to pull the trigger on a group of press photographs of an army baseball team dating from World War II. The auction listing was titled,
“6 WWII FORT SILL OK US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS 70TH INFANTRY BASEBALL TEAM PHOTOS
This auction is for six World War II Fort Sill, Oklahoma US Army Signal Corps 70th Infantry Baseball Team Photographs. You will receive a photograph of the whole team and five team members in various fielding positions. Photos are stamped on the back:
‘FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA
NO OBJECTION TO REPRODUCING OR PUBLISHING THIS PICTURE PROVIDED CREDIT LINE PHOTO BY US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS APPEARS ON THE PHOTOGRAPH OR PAGE, EXCEPT THAT PERMISSION MUST BE OBTAINED FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT IF IT IS DESIRED FOR USE IN COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING.’
Each measures 8″ by 10″ and other than some minor wear they are in excellent condition.”
The auction’s images showed that there were at least five photographs (the sixth was mostly obscured by the other photos) of various subjects – ballplayers in different staged action poses and a team picture. I submitted my best offer which was accepted. When the package arrived a few days later, I was excited see the quality of the (what appeared to be professional) photos.
Extracting the large, silver gelatin prints from the plastic sleeve, I noted that there appeared to be more than the six as was described in the auction listing. As soon as I began to sort through the eight prints, I realized that the seller sent me four copies each of two of the staged action-poses. The image that I truly wanted – the anchor to this set – was absent.
I sent a message to the seller about the discrepancy and was given the bad news. I wrote, “What happened? There are multiple copies of two poses. No team photo. No batting photo. I am not happy with this.”
The seller responded, “Hi. I’m so sorry about this. We are returning your money to your PayPal account.” She provided no clarification or details about what happened or where the missing photos were. I truly wanted that photo so I followed up in another message, “I still wanted the photos. What happened?”
I was hopeful that the other four photos were still sitting somewhere among the hundreds of other (currently for sale) articles in the seller’s house. Accordingly, she replied, “Hi. I goofed, we had two sets and I assumed they were identical. You know what that makes me. Please accept my apology.”
I was not happy with the bad news. I did recall watching the same auction for several weeks before I decided to pull the trigger. What I didn’t realize is that the earlier listing was most-likely a different set from what I received. The seller, I am assuming, acquired a set of photographs from an estate and divided it in to two groups to be sold. The set that I purchased was merely a group of extras.
Granted, the seller refunded the entire auction amount but I was without the photograph that I wanted. As of writing this, I haven’t left feedback on the transaction. If I let my frustration rule, I would leave negative feedback. However, the seller was polite and extremely prompt in taking corrective action. I have (four copies of) two professionally produced photographs that I didn’t pay a cent to acquire.
In the end, evaluating this transaction in terms of the hot stove league, it is akin to inviting (to spring training) a washed-up player who has been out of the league for a few seasons only to return to win a roster spot.
Memorial Day has come and gone and while I focused my attention on the meaning of this day (on my other blog, The Veteran’s Collection), I wasn’t overlooking the men who set aside their gloves and spikes and ultimately lost their lives in the service of our country, in doing so. According to Gary Bedingfield’s research of baseball players (see his two sites: Baseball in Wartime and Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice) who served during the second world war, more than 400 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers stepped away from the game to serve their country. Of those, two major league players were killed in action during WWII along with 116 other professional ball players (who lost their lives as a result of combat) with still more who died while serving (non-combat-related deaths). One ballplayer in particular has held my attention since I first learned about him in Gary’s book, Baseball’s Dead of World War II.
My first passion for sports began as a youth and my earliest memories began with T-ball in my local park league. I began watching baseball on television and became aware of the local minor league team (which, at that time, was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs). As I grew and got more immersed in the game, I remember seeing a few minor league games and seeing that team’s affiliation change through the years to the Twins, Yankees and Indians before beginning a long-term connection with the Athletics. The longtime Pacific Coast League Tacoma franchise drew on local baseball history when it changed its name to become the Tacoma Tigers*.
I first learned about third baseman Ernie Raimondi (from Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Dead of WWII book) and his time with the local ballclub several years ago. The 16-year-old Raimondi was signed by and played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (which, at the time was nearly rivaling the American and National Leagues in popularity and attendance) in 1936. In the 14 games with the Seals that season, Ernie had 14 putouts, eight assists and committed three errors while at third; he made 38 plate appearances batting .263 (nine singles and one double) which wasn’t a bad showing for a high school-aged kid, playing at the highest minor league level. Manager Lefty O’Doul wanted Raimondi to gain experience and to hone his craft and sent him to the Tacoma Tigers for the entire 1937 season.
The move north was beneficial to Raimondi for both fielding and hitting which carried him through into the 1938 season before being recalled to San Francisco.
Ernie’s career would fade in the following years and he would be out of baseball in 1941. He was drafted in April of 1944 and entered service on the eve of the D-Day landings at Normandy. He would see his share of combat service (with the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division) from the time he arrived in the European Theater and 218 days after his Army infantry career began, he was mortally wounded on January 9, 1945 and would fight for his life for 17 days until he would succumb.
Private Ernie Raimondi’s baseball career was short and his time with the Tigers was very brief. For a military baseball collector, locating anything from his time in Tacoma has proved to be an impossible venture. The closest that I’ve come is when I acquired an original 1939 Associated Press photo of Raimondi along with fellow Seals and WWII veteran Dom DiMaggio (and Brooks Holder) with bats crossed.
*Tacoma Tigers Baseball Club(s)
- Western International League: 1922, 1937-1951
- Pacific Coast International League: 1920-1921
- Northwest International League: 1919
- Pacific Coast International League: 1918
- Northwestern League: 1906-1917
- Pacific Coast League: 1904-1905
- Pacific Northwest League: 1901-1902
- Pacific National League: 1903
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.
People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”
Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.
At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”
Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.
For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.
One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.
In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.
In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.
“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts
Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.
In one of my favorite films, Field of Dreams, actor James Earl Jones (as fictitious author Terrence Mann) monologues about what (I think) most Americans feel about the game of baseball.
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field (the baseball diamond in the cornfield), this game, is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
These sentiments were applicable for Americans during World War II, when all of the world was shrouded in the darkness of the Axis powers and people were being killed by the thousands in Europe and Asia. Though the United States was abstaining from direct involvement when war erupted in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act (of 1940) into law, enacting the first peacetime draft in American history. The following month, in October, 16.5 million draft-eligible men registered for the draft.
In March of 1941, the first of several major league baseball players began reporting for duty following induction into the service. Though the game was being marginally impacted by the peacetime draft, the distant war was having very little impact. This would change with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following day, on December 8th, Cleveland Indians star-pitching ace, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller enlisted in the United States Navy and opened the floodgates of other major and minor league ball players volunteering to serve their country, leaving the 1942 season very much in doubt due to the sudden loss of manpower on their rosters.
As ball club owners grappled with how to field teams depleted by the draft, President Roosevelt and major league officials met to determine what to do with the upcoming season. FDR ultimately decided that for those supporting the war effort in the factories and on the home-front baseball games would be a good distraction and escape from the doubt and concern. For those in uniform and serving at training commands or spending time off the front lines, a mental diversion such as baseball proved to be a significant morale booster.
To outfit the players, the services adopted simple yet recognizable uniforms that tended to be representative of their services. Lettering was ordinary, making it easy for the spectators to recognize each of the opposing teams. Each service and unit team seemed to have unique uniform designs with the exception of the Marine Corps flannels. The service teams competed in relatively normal conditions on fields that were typically located well in the rear, away from the fighting, but it is not suggested that baseball wasn’t played near the front. In the Pacific, as the Navy and Marines were island-hopping in hot pursuit of the retreating Imperial Japanese forces, the men would face periods of dull and quiet boredom between campaigns. Army, Army Air Force, Marines and Navy personnel while on R & R (rest and relaxation on islands such as Pavuvu) would assemble baseball teams to compete against each other.
In my research, I have been successful in locating only a single variation: the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF) flannels seen in the accompanying photo, from the home (white flannel with red lettering and piping) or away (gray flannel with red lettering and piping) uniforms. From photos taken as early as 1943 and throughout World War II, we can consistently find this same uniform in use.
Though no photographs are available, one of the most legendary Brooklyn Dodgers players, Gilbert Ray Hodges donned the flannels of the Marine Corps on the diamond. Fresh from his first games as a rookie with the “Bums” in October of 1943, Hodges entered the war as a Marine ultimately assigned to the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 5th Amphibious Corps on the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. Months later, Gil would participate from April 1 through October 6, 1945 in the assault, occupation and defense of Okinawa Shima. Airing a few years ago on the History Channel’s American Pickers (episode: Mike’s Holy Grail – original air date: April 26, 2012) one of the show’s stars, Mike Wolfe, discovered a box filled with a dozen or so of the WWII-era Marines baseball uniforms in a warehouse belonging to the daughter of a former Army/Navy surplus store owner. The majority of the flannel sets were so dirty, worn, and in some cases tattered, that they appeared to have been packaged up immediately following the ninth inning of the last wartime game played.
Desiring to purchase the lot of baseball uniforms (the majority of which were the road gray version, complete with trousers), Mike negotiated a price of $200 for the lot, figuring to assemble at least three good uniform sets.
To learn more about the WWII USMC baseball uniforms, the first place I turned to was the garments themselves, seeking tags or stamps that might provide clues. However, upon inspection, both the jersey and trousers were devoid of these markings showing only size tags.
Sadly, In my research for this article, I was unable to uncover any specifics that would provide exact dates (for the WWII design) or who manufactured them, other than dated photographs of Marines wearing the gear from 1943 to 1949, the year prior to the Korean War.
Research is a ceaseless task and I continue to maintain a certain level of vigilance in pursuit of the facts to either refute or validate what I have previously learned about these uniforms. Over the course of owning this wonderful Marines baseball uniform is that the overall design may predate World War II by decades. One of my collector colleagues is (as I write this) digging through his photo archive collection in search of an image that could back up this claim. If that does happen, it could potentially muddy the waters to some extent as to pinning down the age of these uniforms, broadening the time-period of their use.
Regardless of my fact-finding pursuit, to possess an original vintage military baseball uniform (at least for this baseball and militaria collector) opens the door to speculation as to who wore it on the field of play. At 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds, there is that extremely slim possibility that my large-sized uniform set could have been issued to and worn by Gil Hodges, one of my all-time favorite players. It certainly is fun to dream.
Collectors seeking to fill a vacancy in their own collection with a solid placeholder or fans of military baseball don’t have to wait (or be subjected to the increasing prices) to locate one of these USMC baseball gems. Ebbets Field Flannels, makers of vintage minor league baseball jerseys and caps, released one of their latest military jersey reproductions this summer. The 1943 U.S. Marines jersey, modeled almost exactly after the road gray uniforms (such as those “picked” by Mike Wolfe), provides a fantastic alternative to the real thing. With the exception of the missing red button due to the non-standard button alignment of the originals, there is little to complain about on this repro jersey.
I did end up purchasing one EFF’s examples just to prevent me from wearing my original.