Category Archives: My Collection

Military Baseball Competition: Citizens’ Military Training Camps Baseball

Still in the throws of the euphoria of bringing home such a unique baseball-militaria discovery in the Midshipman Frank Fenno Naval Academy medal (which I acquired early in 2017), I was excited to see another military-centric award listed at auction. The quality of the carving in the minting-strike coupled with the engraving and the suspension along with the original box, I didn’t hesitate to set a snipe-bid with hopes of doubling my military-baseball medal collection. It is getting to be a more familiar action that I have been taking – pulling the trigger prior performing due diligence, let alone some cursory research. It wouldn’t have required much effort – the medal’s surfaces were rich with researchable information.

In looking at the photos of the medal and box in the auction listing, the box appears to have been damaged in transit. The seller didn’t protect the item from being crushed (it was bubble wrapped in a mailer envelope.

A few days after the close of the auction with my winning bid, the medal arrived in my mailbox and that’s when I decided to research what this artifact represented.

The obverse of the medal contained a relive of the figure of Lady Victory holding a laurel branch in her outstretched right hand with Pegasus at her side. Text encircles the figures that reads, “THIRD CORPS AREA | UNITED STATES ARMY” which seemed to be a great data point with which to begin my research. However, the reverse possesses even better, more specific details that made a basic internet search all that was required to pinpoint the medal’s information. Unlike the front, the back of the medal lacks artwork. There is a combination of lettering done in relief (C.M.T.C. and FT. HOWARD M.D. 1928) and text that is engraved, post-stamping that reads “CHAMPION BASEBALL.” Unlike so many items within my collection, this medal provides almost everything that is needed to understand why it exists. Note that I wrote, “almost;” which I will attempt to explain with a brief walk through early 20th century military history.

A lack of preparedness for the defense of a nation, let alone being ready to launch any offensive, has been a norm for the United States since the dawn of the 20th Century  When the U.S. Congress formally declared war on April 6, 1917, the nation was ill-prepared to send troops to fight though it was glaringly obvious that the nation would eventually be drawn into Europe’s bloody war of attrition.

With the war raging in Europe and the United States’ involvement in supplying its allies with materials to sustain them in the fight, a groundswell of planning was started in in 1915 to commence making preparations in terms of man-power, despite the isolationist’s loud opposition to any and all involvement in Europe’s (seemingly) continual wars. However, by mid-May of that same year, the tide began to turn following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania (near Ireland by the German U-boat, U-20) and the Preparedness Movement was ignited. Born from this movement was the basis for bolstering the Army with new troops (including filling the need for officer and enlisted leadership) which segued into a national conscription once the congressional war declaration was made, nearly two years later. Even with the Preparedness Movement, the armed forces were grossly undermanned which resulted in a protracted time-period (more than seven months: from April to December) before a significant contingent of trained and outfitted troops could be sent into combat. By July of 1918, the Allied Expeditionary Forces (known simply as the AEF) was established with American troops (comprised of predominantly U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps personnel) to fight in alliance with (rather than individual augmentation of) French and British units.

A component of the Army, the CMTC was part of the overall national defense program in conjunction with the National Guard and Army Reserves.

Following conclusion of WWI, forces were again reduced, however military leadership and their congressional supporters saw the need to continue facets of the Preparedness Movement. In 1921, the Citizens Military Training Camps (CMTC) military training programs commenced which would provide young men with basic military training without any obligation to serve. This program was a voluntary four-year-cycle summer camp that, upon successful completion of all four camps (a progression from The Basic camp through The Red, The White and graduating following The Blue camp) the participants (ages 17-24) could receive a reserve officer commission as a second lieutenant.

According to the 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry organization, “The government paid for all expenses, including transportation, uniforms, food, quarters and medical care. There was no service obligation. The camp schedule called for elementary infantry drill in the beginning and later for special training in the different branches of the service. A large part of the training day was devoted to physical training and athletic sports. Army Chaplains saw to the religious needs of the trainees. Many who enrolled in the CMTC were inclined thereafter to join the National Guard or Organized Reserve.”  Organized baseball was an integral part of the athletic aspects of the training these students which meant that competition between camps within the Corps Areas was a part of the program: my medal was presented to a trainee who played on the Fort Howard (Maryland) team within the Third Corps area (which consisted of Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia with headquarters at either Fort McHenry or Fort Howard).

  • First Corps Area-New England.
  • Second Corps Area-New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.
  • Third Corps Area-Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
  • Fourth Corps Area-South of Virginia to Mississippi.
  • Fifth Corps Area-Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia.
  • Sixth Corps Area-Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
  • Seventh Corps Area-Minnesota, N. Dakota and south to include Arkansas and Kansas.
  • Eighth Corps Area-Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
  • Ninth Corps Area-Montana and south and west, plus Alaska.

“Every effort was made to instill in the trainees, a devotion to country, a sense of civic responsibility, and an ideal of individual development toward physical, mental and moral excellence. Basic military training and discipline were taught, and the students were expected to conduct themselves like soldiers for the time they were in the camp. Heavy emphasis was placed on physical training, and organized sports were considered part of the training program.” – Citizens’ Military Training Camp – 1-22infantry.org

The CMTC was at its peak during the 1920s though the organization continued to train young men until it was discontinued with the United States’ entry into WWII.

My research did not yield enough results to help me determine for certain the specific occasion that my new (1928)medal was awarded. My best guess is that the medal was awarded to one of the baseball teams within the Third Corps for securing the 1928 championship among the CMTC camp teams.

Three athletic medals awarded to trainees at Plattsburg Training Center in Plattsburg, NY (image source: William K. Emerson | emersoninsignia.net).

The reverse of the Plattsburg medals: engravings show that they were awarded for (left to right:): 50-yd breaststroke (1927), 400-yd run m(1929) and the 1939 intercompany relay race (image source: William K. Emerson | emersoninsignia.net).

Athletic competition was integral in the Citizens Military training programs. In addition to baseball, other sports played a significant role in developing team cohesiveness such as track and field and swimming events. As with baseball, medals were also presented to victorious trainees. According to research (see Citizens’ Military Training Camps and Commonly Used Citizens’ Military Training Camps Medals) by collector colleague and Vietnam veteran, William K. Emerson (U.S. Army Insignia), there were several different types of medals throughout the existence of the CMTC program that were awarded, including those awarded for academic and military excellence.

Little by little, my collection of baseball militaria is growing and this medal, while adding diversity to the items that I already possess, it demonstrates how much more interwoven the game is within the fabric of the military than I had previously known.

 

 

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Researching a WWII Army Baseball Team: 75th…What?

Dead end after dead end…Researching photographs that are scant in details poses challenges that amount to insurmountable barriers – no, these are chasms that I cannot bridge.

I have passion for vintage baseball photography and images produced by George Grantham Bain (see his Library of Congress images on Flickr or his LoC section), Charles M. Conlon and Barney Stein are some of the most iconic photographs taken in the first half of the 20th Century. The photographs by these men document the Golden Age of the game and, for some of the early players, are the only visual glimpses into their days on the diamond. These three photographers (there were plenty of other photogs around the country) are responsible for thousands upon thousands of photographs of nearly every player that took donned a major league uniform. The photographic coverage of the game massively expanded as photographic technology (cameras, film, processing) advanced.

One of my vintage, original baseball images shows WWII combat Marine veteran, Gil Hodges (of the Brooklyn Dodgers) tagging out Alvin Dark of the NY Giants as he attempts to get back to the bag at first base. This is an original Barney Stein photo.

While there is generally no shortage of beautiful images of the game at the major league level and while fewer images exist of minor leaguers and their games, it is the military game and players that are severely limited. One can certainly argue that during the times of war (WWI and WWII), the focus of coverage laid with the lens turned towards the battlefield, the people fighting in the conflicts and the support areas and personnel. By contrast, little attention was afforded to the rest, relaxation and morale-boosting activities that took place in the rear. Combat photographers and correspondents may have covered the occasional service team game but for the most part, the images that exist of military baseball games are predominantly the results of GIs taking snapshots of their units’ participation.

My collection has steadily grown over the years and yet I have been rather selective in the images that I have brought home. In particular, I pay attention to the quality of the image – subject matter, composition, clarity and exposure along with how well the image has been preserved. I am not opposed to buying an image that may be in poor condition or suffering from improper exposure (I have managed to salvage a few with some work using high resolution scans and editing within Photoshop). In the years that I have been working with these images, I have developed an eye for salvage-potential and typically shy away from images that are unworkable. My more recent acquisitions were the result of significantly more pre-purchase scrutiny than was used when I started buying vintage military baseball photos.

The players from the 75th gathered in an army encampment.

When I discovered an auction listing for a group of six snapshots of baseball players wearing their game uniforms, posing together around army tents, I had to submit a bid and hope for the best. For a minimal investment of a few dollars, these photos (obviously broken apart from a now-deceased GI’s photo album) found a home among my growing collection of similar images. Other than the army tents and one photograph in the group showing some of the players in the back of a deuce-and-a-half (a 2-1/2 ton truck), the only other element that might provide me with a research pathway are the uniforms worn by the players. Visible on most of the photos are the digits “75” located on the jersey fronts (right chest) which, in my opinion, indicate the military unit these players where assigned to.

Unfortunately, the numerals are not unique and do not allow my research to narrow down the field of potential commands that were in service during WWII:

US Army

  • 75th Infantry Division (1943-1945)
    • 75th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop
    • 75th Quartermaster Company
    • Headquarters, Special Troops, 75th Infantry Division
    • 75th Counterintelligence Corps Detachment

US Army Air Force

Ralph McLeod (source: Baseball Reference)

Some cursory research led me to Ralph McLeod, a Quincy, Massachusetts native who, in 1938 had a six-game cup of coffee with the hometown National League team, the Boston Braves. His professional career lasted from 1936 to finishing at the end of the 1940 season with a few stops at the highest levels of the minors. In February of 1941, instead of heading to spring training, he was drafted into the Army for a year of service which, after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor meant that his ball-playing career was put on hold for the duration of The War.

McLeod was assigned to the 75th Infantry Regiment after it was formed in 1943, heading to the European Theater with his unit late in 1944. McLeod’s first taste of real action came during German offensive that would come to be known as “The Battle of the Bulge” that began on Christmas Eve. After the Allies stymied the Germans in the Ardennes, the 75th saw action throughout Europe, connecting with “the French in the Colmar area,” according to McLeod in a 1995 interview (SABR.org). “Then we joined the British up in Holland. We got bounced around to different places. We ended up in Dortmund, Germany. We saw a lot of action. I lost a lot of good friends,” McLeod concluded.  Following the German surrender, McLeod donned flannels and “played baseball all over Europe. Not many of the guys played in the majors but there were a lot of guys who had played professionally in the minors. But I had missed almost four years of not touching a baseball. I remember playing a game against Blackwell, the old Cincinnati pitcher. He blew them by me so fast I couldn’t see them. That game was in France, just outside Paris. I think he was in the Air Corps. He made me look foolish.” I wondered if McLeod was among the men in my photos.

These four from the 75th are geared up and ready for the game.

I inconclusively compared the lone photo of Ralph McLeod to the faces in my photos, though one of the ball players bore some resemblance. With this uncertainty, I have nothing left to do but to shelf my research and simply be content with maintaining the photos within my photo archive.

Without anything significant (at least to my eyes) being revealed within the photographs, I am unable to narrow down which unit is represented by the “75” on the uniform jerseys of the ball players in these photos. As I do with researching artifacts within my collection, discontinuing my research at present could have positive results (which is what happened with this naval aviation cigarette box) and allow time for other information to surface or for knowledgeable people to discover this post and images and offer their expertise.

For now, I wait and simply enjoy the photos. Dead end, indeed.

Progression From Cards to Photos; Seeking Imagery of those with Service

Gil Hodges’ 1957 Topps card. Following the ’56 set, these seemed a bit more plane but they included the player’s full major league statistics.

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).

 

The 1957 Topps card for Gil Hodges shows his service in the Marine Corps in 1944-45 before resuming his career with the Dodgers after the war.

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.

Pictured here with a few unrelated artifacts is my very first military baseball piece, a 1943-44 USMC baseball uniform.

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.

This is most-likely a domestic USMC team that played in the Government League in 1915.

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.

Some speculate that the Marines introduced the game to the locals while they were in country on Santo Domingo in 1916. If they didn’t bring the game there, the Marines certainly influenced the locals with their own gameplay.

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.

This team photo is inscribed “1916 Mare Island” which seems to align well with the uniforms’ design.

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.

USMC intra-squad game held in 1945 on Okinawa. No other details or inscription was provide with this photograph leaving me with no idea if this was before during or after the cessation of combat activities on the island.

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.

 

WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Marine Corps Baseball Caps: The End of My Drought?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as accurately dating the uniform, the unit lettering and the design of the jersey and trousers indicate that it can only be from World War II. 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

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.

A War Veteran Who Never Served

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:
    • DW
    • Hand Formed Pad
  • On the pinky side-edge:
    • Elmer Riddle (signature)
    • Trademark
  • In the palm:
    • Inner Processed
    • GoldSmith (logo)
    • a Preferred Product (trademark)

The 1938-1944 P. GoldSmith company logo along with the “a Preferred Product” tagline as printed on a vintage baseball (image source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

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.

Elmer Riddle, pitcher (Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates; 1939-1949). Image source: Society of American Baseball Research (SABR)

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:

This page of the 1942 GoldSmith glove catalog shows the first year for the DW Elmer Riddle signature fielder’s glove (courtesy of KeyManCollectibles.com)

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?

Academic Baseball Award: Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno’s Baseball Career

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.

Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno

Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno

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.”

This medal was awarded to Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (class of 1925) for carrying the Naval Academy team's highest batting average (.410) for the 1924 season.

This medal was awarded to Frank W. Fenno, Jr. (class of 1925) for carrying the Naval Academy team’s highest batting average (.410) for the 1924 season.

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)

Admiral Frank Fenno re-enlists three sailors, circa 1955-56 at the US Taiwan Defense Command (source: http://ustdc.blogspot.com/)

Admiral Frank Fenno re-enlists three sailors, circa 1955-56 at the US Taiwan Defense Command (source: http://ustdc.blogspot.com/)

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.

RADM Frank W. Fenno’s Valor Awards:

  • 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:

Publications

Other References:

Hot Stove League Winners and Losers

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 listing showed an array of posed photos and the coveted team picture. (Source: eBay)

The auction listing showed an array of posed photos and the coveted team picture. (Source: eBay)

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.

 

Heading Home: Raimondi’s Ultimate Sacrifice

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.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers.

Third baseman, Ernie Raimondi (front row, second from left) with the 1938 Tacoma Tigers (source: Tacoma Public Library).

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 Raimondi's tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the '38 season.

Ernie Raimondi’s tenure with the Tigers was favorable and landed him back with the Seals to finish out the ’38 season.

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 in 1939 with the San Francisco Seals between Brooks Holder (at left) and Dom DiMaggio.

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.

See: Ernie Raimondi’s biography at Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice

*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
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