Score-Keeping: 1944 6th Ferrying Group versus Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field

The 6th Ferrying Group baseball team, managed by Corporal Charles “Red” Ruffing (image source: “Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California | USAAF Air Transport Command Ferrying Division” retrospective book, 1944).

Following the June, 1942 American victory at the Battle of Midway that resulted in the loss of four principle aircraft carriers, the Empire of Japan was reeling from a resounding defeat that was only the beginning of the the Japanese forces contracting from the extent of their territorial gains. The United States was still ramping up with the construction of machines and the transformation of civilian young men into a fighting force and the demand for more of both was still increasing to meet the needs in multiple theaters against three distinct enemies. Though many professional ballplayers had already begun to enlist or were drafted into service, still many more were continuing to play, providing Americans with an inexpensive form of recreation.

“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.

Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” – Excerpt of letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Kenesaw M. Landis, January 15, 1942

Under heavy public scrutiny, two of the game’s biggest stars, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, relented and entered the service following the conclusion of the 1942 season (Williams enlisted in May but was inducted into wartime duty after the season’s end while the the Yankee Clipper enlisted on February 17th, 1943). Still many more ball players would continue to join or wait until their selective service boards decided their fate. With the influx of ballplayers into the armed forces, many were not fit to serve in combat capacities due to residuals from injuries or other maladies that would have otherwise exempted them from service. Recognizing the value that professional athletes brought to the armed forces (aside from the men who served in combat units), War Department leadership pulled professional baseball players into athletic and physical fitness instructor roles along with service on base or unit baseball teams that met the needs as both morale boosts and as a fund-raising force used to finance sending athletic equipment to deployed GIs.

With the successful service team baseball campaigns in 1942 by such teams as the Norfolk and Great Lakes Naval Training Station teams, command staff personnel from other domestic bases, camps, forts and training facilitates followed suit, establishing their own teams of former professional ballplayers. Also in 1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces began transforming the air logistics arm of their branch, establishing the Air Transport Command (ATC) and placed the former Air Corps Ferrying Command as the ATC’s subordinate. With a new agreement between the City of Long Beach, California, the USAAF established the Long Beach Army Airfield (LBAA) at Long Beach Airport creating a civilian-military joint use facility. The USAAF placed LBAA under their Technical Services Command with the 348th Army Air Force Base Unit as a principle unit. Considering the close proximity to the Douglas Aircraft Company the USAAF assigned a unit to manage taking delivery of C-47, A-26 and B-17 aircraft that were being manufactured for the Army Air Force: The 6th Ferrying Group.

Los Angeles, December 29, 1942 – Charles “Red” Ruffing, New York Yankee pitcher, is X-rayed by Pvt. Jack Levey during his physical examination for induction into the Army here today. The 37-year-old ball player has been working for the Vultee Aircraft Company until he was called up by his draft board (Associated Press Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

With the arrival of the 1943 new year, more players were setting their baseball careers aside to take up arms, many of which landed in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). One of the most recognizable names to enlist into the USAAF was Charles “Red” Ruffing who only months previously, helped the Yankees secure their only win in the 1942 World Series (no-hitting the St. Louis Cardinals through seven and 2/3 innings when Terry Moore singled to right field). In that series, Ruffing Set a record for starting a sixth opening game and for seven World Series victories (Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford would eclipse both marks in the early 1960s).

On January 5, 1943, 37-year-old Ruffing was inducted into the army for non-combatant duty; due to his age and the absence of four toes on one of his feet (he lost his toes in an accident while working at an Illinois mine years earlier – the same mine in which his cousin was killed and his father suffered a broken back). Once into the Army Air Forces, Ruffing was assigned to the 348th Air Base Squadron, under the Sixth Ferrying Group where he was part of the Athletics and Recreation (A. & R.) Department as a physical fitness instructor and would take on the management of the air base’s baseball team.

As additional former major and minor league players joined the USAAF, some were assigned to the 348th creating a pool of talent from which Ruffing began to assemble a baseball team, representing the Sixth Ferrying Group. Major leaguers Chuck Stevens (St. Louis Browns) and Max West (Braves) were inducted in March followed by “Nanny” Fernandez (Braves) and Harry Danning (Giants) in April, were subsequently assigned to the 348th with Ruffing as the future Hall of Fame pitcher assembled the team for which he would both pitch and manage. Aside from providing the service men and women in the region with entertainment, the Sixth also played a rigorous schedule with Pacific Coast League opponents. The five former major leaguers (plus one former minor leaguer) on the roster were joined by such stars as Johnny Pesky and Joe DiMaggio as the area’s Service All-Stars were pitted against the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars in a charity game for the All Pacific Recreation Fund.

The 1943 team would dominate the Southern California Service League, securing the championship. As the season wound down in September, the Ferrymen sustained a 23-game winning streak that was ended by the reigning 11th Naval District champions, the San Diego Marines, led by former St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitcher, Ray Yochim. The Sixth would exact revenge on a different team of Marines, defeating the leathernecks of Camp Pendleton on Ruffing’s pitching in the 4-1 league championship contest.

6th Ferrying Group battery-mates, Harry “the Horse” Danning, former New York Giants catcher (left) and former New York Yankees pitcher Charles “Red” Ruffing” discuss strategy and signs ahead of a game (Chuck Stevens/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The following year saw the Sixth Ferrying Group team, with a roster that was practically unchanged, picking up where they left off with 1943. As they did in the previous season, members from the Sixth reprised the All Pacific Recreation game against the two Pacific Coast League teams in August. Aside from their league schedule in the Southern California Service League, the Sixth Ferrying Group played a number of exhibition games against defense industrial teams and regional PCL franchises to raise funds for various charities including the Relief organizations including both Army and Navy as well as for the bat and ball funds.

1944 6th Ferrying Group Roster (bold indicates prior major league service):

Player Position Former Team
Art Lilly 2B Hollywood
Chuck Stevens 1B St. Louis Browns
Nanny Fernandez SS Boston Braves
Max West 3B Boston Braves
Ed Nulty LF Montreal
Red Ruffing P NY Yankees
Ollie Olsen P San Diego
Willie Werbowski P Semi-Pro
Woody Bell* CF San Antonio
Harry Beardo U
Wilbur Wise 3B
Thomas Fouts RF
Harry Danning C NY Giants
Swede Jensen RF San Diego
Roy Pitter P Newark
(Note: All of the above service profile images obtained from the “Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California | USAAF Air Transport Command Ferrying Division” retrospective book, 1944)

Former St. Louis Browns first baseman, Private Chuck Stevens steps prepares for batting practice ahead of a game at the Long Beach Army Air Field. Steven’s 6th Ferrying Command manager and teammate, former Yankees star pitcher, Corporal Charles “Red” Ruffing confers with Corporal Joe DiMaggio of the opposing Santa Ana Air Base squad, behind Stevens.

Corporal Chuck Stevens sprints to first base after driving the ball for his 6th Ferrying Group team.

Over the course of this year, Chevrons and Diamonds has been acquiring artifacts from the estate of a former professional ballplayer who enjoyed a 17-year career with a three-year pause to serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. During his wartime service, the former St. Louis Browns first baseman, Chuck Stevens was an airman in the USAAF and was tapped to play baseball along with his duties. Judging by the volume and diversity of the artifacts that Stevens preserved throughout his playing career (and his lengthy service as an executive with the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America), he quite obviously loved the game and his part in its history. Among the many artifacts that we acquired was the bulk of his wartime pieces that includes original photographs (some, published in this article), scorecards and programs.

Ruffing gets a rub-down following a pitching outing for the 6th Ferrying Group.

Two of the programs that were part of Steven’s estate were from separate exhibition games hosted by the 1944 Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field. Each program shares several components including the patriotic front and radio station advertisement on the back. What differentiates the books are some of the internal pages including the scoring sheets (all unused), rosters and season analysis commentaries. Using the information, I was able to determine that one of them was created for the June 19th game in which the Sixth dominated the Stars on Ruffing’s pitching and a bevy of singles by the batsmen.

Both 1944 Stars program covers are identical with Uncle Sam batting and Stars’ manager, Charlie Root in the beautifully-patriotic two-color printed image.

Ruffing and Mates Win Bond Game
Hollywood, California – Sgt. Red Ruffing, former New York Yankee ace, and his big league helpers of the Sixth Ferrying Group, Long Beach, California, breezed to a 7 to 1 victory over the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League here the night of June 19, boosting the Fifth War Loan Drive approximately $1,750,000.

Ruffing hurled the three-hit ball for five innings and struck out seven before finishing in right field, to share honors with Comedians Abbott and Costello and Screen Lovely Jinx Falkenberg, who entertained in pre-game ceremonies. It was a “no-expense” game, with the Hollywood club donating the park, while players gave their services, as did all Gilmore Field attendants.

Ruffing was nicked for the lone Hollywood run in the fourth. Roy Pitter, Ruffing’s successor, was touched for a single by the first man facing him, then pitched hitless ball. Rookie Earl Embree went the route for the Stars and was raked for 12 hits, all singles.

Three singles sent the Ferriers off to a two-run lead in the first inning. Two walks, a sacrifice and single game them another pair in the fourth, and three singles and a passed ball produced the final trio of markers in the sixth.” – John B. Old, The Sporting News (June 22, 1944)

Player Position AB H O A
Art Lilly 2B 5 2 1 1
Chuck Stevens 1B 5 2 8 4
Nanny Fernandez SS 3 1 3 2
Max West CF-3B 4 2 2 2
Harry Danning C 5 1 10 1
Swede Jensen LF-CF 5 3 1 0
Ed Nulty RF-LF 3 0 2 0
Red Ruffing P-RF 3 0 0 0
Roy Pitter P 2 0 0 2
Fauts RF 0 0 0 0
Wise 3B 2 1 0 0
Totals 37 12 27 12

The excellent condition of both programs is due to Stevens’ meticulous care in storing his baseball artifacts, though there are some visible indications of usage and handling. The covers are heavier weight paper with a slight coating lending to a lustre finish. The internal pages are similar to newsprint showing some yellowing and oxidizing. Rather than black ink, all of the monochromatic printing is done using a navy-blue. Each book features 20 pages (including the front and back covers) of text, photographs, illustrations and advertisements.

*Lt. Col. Woodrow “Woody” M. Bell
Following his professional baseball career, Woody M. Bell’s path in the the armed forces differed from those of his Sixth Ferrying Group teammates, extending well beyond the war. His service to the United States spanned more than three decades (31 years in total). The Bellville, Texas native and graduate of Texas A&M signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1939 and was in their farm system starting that season with the Springfield Browns of the Three-I League. as he progressed upward through the Browns’ minor leagues, he was assigned to his hometown San Antonio Missions playing alongside his future Sixth Ferrying Group teammate, first baseman Chuck Stevens in 1940.

After spending the 1940-41 seasons with the Missions, Woody Bell enlisted into the U. S. Army Air Forces and was commissioned a 2nd LT and was assigned to the Ninth Ferrying Squadron (part of the Sixth Ferrying Group), serving as the squadron operations officer and advancing to the rank of captain.

Woody Bell retired from the Air Force having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and returned to the San Antonio area. Bell would spend some of his retirement years serving as the San Antonio Missions as general manager of the team having come full circle with his love for the game. According to his obituary, Bell passed away on February 28, 2009.

Dutch Raffeis: the “Flying Dutchman” of U.S. Navy Service-Team Baseball

Baseball researchers face many hurdles and challenges in their pursuits of deeper and greater knowledge of professional baseball players. In the past 150 years of Major League Baseball, nearly 20,000 people have donned a uniform and signed to a roster (according to researcher and author, Jeremy Frank in 2016) and the members of the Society of American Baseball Researchers have an ongoing project to author biographies for every one of these players (see the Baseball Biography Project at SABR.org). Specifically stated (on the SABR site), the endeavor is an “effort to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.” The lion’s share of the completed biographies encompasses the names that even the most passively interested fans will easily recognize and the volume of accessible research for these players is considerable, affording researchers with, in many cases, the ability to be selective in documenting facts. Researching lesser-known players is a far greater challenge.

In a July 10, 1962 Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News article spotlighting the batting prowess of the (then) leading hitter (of the Naval AIr Station Quonset “Airbees”), Norman Teague who was (then) leading the Sunset League’s hitters with a .531 average, a reference was made to another utterly dominant batter from the league, 35 years earlier. “Teague is by no means the first lead-off hitter to punish Sunset League pitching. One of the best was Raffeis, ‘the Flying Dutchman’ of the champion 1927 Torpedo-Hospital club” the article stated. In describing this star of the Newport league player, the “militant ‘Dutch’ Raffeis, a shortstop, batted .460, scored 33 runs and stole 24 bases in 16 games. The Torpedo-Hospital combination lost only one game that season.”  Of the two ball players mentioned, one name stands out among service team baseball history.

On this panel of the signed 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins team-autographed ball is the signature of long-time Navy Chief Torpedoman, Henry A. “Dutch” Raffeis who was a force with his bat, glove and feet on the diamond throughout his naval career that spanned more than three decades (image source: eBay image).

Inscribed among the signatures on a 1943 baseball, several of whom were signed by major league ballplayers (including Walt Masterson and Arne “Red” Anderson), is a very-legible autograph from Dutch Raffeis. Though a concerted and lengthy effort ensued in the process of researching the names on this baseball, the team it wasn’t until several months later that we were able to determine which team these men played for and positively identify each player. Armed with the Dutch’s first name following an assist from fellow military baseball historian, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, a wealth of research surrounding Raffeis, his naval career and baseball prowess was unlocked. Henry Raffeis’ life would otherwise be insignificant in the sphere of baseball history and probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of any SABR researcher, statistician or author, but he nevertheless had an impact upon the game as well as the U.S. Navy.

Who is “Dutch” Raffeis and why should anyone care? Henry A. Raffeis was born (on November 14, 1897) five-and-a-half months before Commodore George Dewey’s nine-ship flotilla engaged and defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo’s 13-ship fleet (on May 1, 1898) in Manilla Bay. Depending upon which census record one reviews, Dutch was the son of immigrants: his father originates from Austria (1910) or France (1920, 1930) while his mother hails from Holland (1910), Vienna (1920) or France (1930) making him a first-generation American. In possession of only a seventh-grade education, Henry Raffeis enlisted into the Navy at the age of 17 on January 22, 1915 as war raged in Europe and just 100-days before the RMS Lusitania was blasted by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on May 1 of that year.

Apprentice seaman Raffeis has only a few months of naval experience when he found himself playing baseball at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, though details are considerably ambiguous. However, his level of baseball play must have been quite notable and reminiscent of one of the stars of the era, Honus Wagner (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman” due to his German Heritage and prowess on the diamond) whose Hall of Fame career was waning. By 1920, Dutch was assigned to the U.S. Submarine Base Los Angeles (at San Pedro), the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast where he played at the hot corner (third base) for installation’s league championship team.  Raffeis was rated as a gunner’s mate (torpedo) which all but guaranteed his service in the Navy’s silent service. During the 1920s, Raffeis was assigned to submarine bases (in addition to San Pedro and the aforementioned Quonset Point) at Coco Solo (Panama Canal Zone) and Pearl Harbor where he helped his teams secure championships (Coco Solo – 1925, Honolulu City League – 1926, the Battle Fleet Championships 1927-28).

“The Torpedo Station, battled-scarred veteran of 16 campaigns, has won the most titles, four, although it had to share the laurels with the Richmonds in its first conquering season of 1922. But the ‘Torps’ won in convincing style the following year when their battlefront was manned by such doughty players as Eddie Harrington, B.J. Smith, Stubbs, Witherspoon, Brewster, Holly and Hart. They won 32 out of 40 games in two seasons.

Combined with the Naval Hospital, the Station captured the bunting going away in 1927, harpooning 15 victories against only one defeat. Jarvos, Chief Horace Davis, Charley Mitchell, “Dutch” Raffeis, and Templeton were some of the figures who engineered that steamrolling junket. In 1935, a fence-denting, courageous Station array, managed by Charley Mitchell bagged the tars’ fourth pennant, despite a porous defense.” – Brief History of the (Sunset) League

Though details are a bit scarcer for Raffeis during the decade of the 1930s, there are still some great discoveries regarding both his navy career and his baseball exploits. In April of 1930, Raffeis, now a chief petty officer (torpedoman), arrived in San Francisco having detached from the submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone but where he subsequently served is unknown until his name appears on the May 29, 1933 Honolulu Star Bulletin’s sports page. A box score from the paper details a game between the Navy and a local city league team comprised of men of Chinese ancestry.  In the 12-6 win for the Gobs, Dutch was still a force at the dish at the ripe “old” age of 36 as he batted 4-for-6 with two doubles and scoring two of the team’s 12 runs.

Navy (vs Chinese): May 29, 1933: Line-up/Box score:

Name Pos AB R H PO A E
Raffeis LF 6 2 4 1 0 0
Rose 2B 3 1 1 2 0 0
Bench SS 4 1 0 1 3 0
Halloran 1B 4 1 2 11 0 0
Henry P 5 0 0 0 2 0
Cerillo 3B 5 1 2 1 2 0
Meagher CF-2B 5 2 1 3 1 2
D’Uva CF-2B 4 2 1 6 3 0
Johnson RF-CF 4 2 3 2 0 1
Reed RF 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scherruble 2 0 0 0 0 0
42 12 14 27 11 3

Following a year-long assignment on the Big Island (at Hilo), Raffeis was again transferred back to the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, rejoining the team. Leading the already strong team of players, LT. Frank (Max) Leslie, who at the time, was serving with VP-4F, flying patrol aircraft (note: at the Naval Academy, Leslie played for the midshipmen baseball squad under team manager, Chief Bender in 1926). LT Leslie would later lead the dive bombers of VB-3 in their highly successful attack on the Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway.

No further data is available detailing Henry Raffeis’ service or his activities on the diamond for the remainder of the decade though his active duty naval career concluded, having spent at least 20 years in uniform. By April of 1940, Raffeis was working as the superintendent of traffic for a Honolulu, Hawaii taxicab company. Dutch was a resident of the Terada Hotel (on Westervelt Street) that was owned and operated by Jukichi and Sen Terada who also lived on site with their two daughters (Kinue and Doris).

In the summer of 1940, 46-year-old Raffeis was recalled from his inactive reserve status (on August 10, 1940) and assigned to the Porpoise-Class submarine, USS Pompano (SS-181) for the next six months (note: Pompano’s first combat patrol commenced 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and she would be lost with all hands in September of 1943).

Seemingly picking up where his Navy baseball career left off, Raffeis reported to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base (from the Pompano) on February 9, 1942 and re-joined the team that he spent many years manning the Dolphins’ infield and taking on duties as an assistant head coach, backing up Lieutenant O. D. “Doc” Yarborough. After the conclusion of the 1942 season, Doc Yarborough was reassigned to the mainland leaving Dutch Raffeis to assume the helm of the team for 1943.

1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Baseball Team

Easily recognizable among the 1943 Sub Base team are Walt Masterson (4th row, 2nd from left). Arnie “Red” Anderson (4th row, 3rd from left) and Jimmy Gleeson (3rd row, far right). Combat veteran Oscar “Chicken Hawk” Sessions is seated in the front row, far left. Chief Torpedoman Henry “Dutch” Raffeis is seated in the second row, 5th from the left.

1943 Rosters: Pearl Harbor Navy Sub Base

The team is listed as Pearl Harbor Navy (vs Schofield Barracks Red Landers) though, due to the team members listed, it is quite easily determined that this is the 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine base team. Dutch Raffeis is listed as the team’s manager and coach.

Under the “Flying Dutchman’s” helm, the Navy team competed heavily in the Hawaii League and faced stiff competition from city teams that were well-stocked with talent (the “Athletics” team featured former minor league pitcher, Eddie Funk who would be part of the 1944 7th AAF juggernaut team that dominated the Islands, winning the championship) . By July of the 1942 season, Dutch’s boys were already eliminated from contention. As the armed forces were expanding with the influx of young men, Raffeis was beginning to see an influx of talent into the area commands and so, he began to bolster his team, however it was not in time to salvage the season.

With the 1943 season in full swing for the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins, Raffeis continued to see professional ballplayers-turned-sailors arrive as he continued to bolster his team’s roster with baseball talent and experience. By late Spring, Dutch saw the arrival of Jimmy Gleeson, Walt Masterson and Ray Volpi following their brief tenure with the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets earlier in the season. Winning the 1943 season championship would be the “Flying Dutchman’s” swansong as management of the team was taken over by former Senators pitcher, Chief Athletic Specialist Walt Masterson.

Henry “Dutch” Raffeis, seated at the center of his league champion, 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins team.

With the service team rosters in Hawaii being flooded with formerly professional level baseball talent, it is remarkable to see positions still maintained by career sailors such as Raffeis or Oscar Sessions  (see: Sub-Hunting: Uncovering the Pearl Harbor Sub Base Nine) who was included by the Navy for the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series).

Following the 1943 Sub Base Pearl Harbor Championship, Army brass on Oahu cherry-picked top baseball talent from domestic air bases and transferred them to Hawaii, forming a veritable all-star team under the command of the Seventh Air Force (7th AAF) led by Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Mike McCormack, Walt Judnich, Dario Lodigiani and Ferris Fain. The 7th AAF won the Hawaii League championship going away while the stalwart Navy ballplayer, coach and manager, Raffeis slipped behind the scenes for the 1944 season. Forty-seven-year-old Henry Raffeis was transferred to sea to finish out his naval career, serving aboard the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) for his last few months of service. A few months shy of his 48th birthday, Henry “Dutch” Raffaies was transferred from the USS Holland back to the continental United States. He was released from active duty on June 11, 1945, 35 days after German surrendered to the Allied forces.

Between June 11, 1945 and sometime in 1968 no records are available regarding Raffeis’ post-Navy life nor are there any indications of what he may have done as a Navy retiree. In 1968, California voter registration shows the 71-year-old’s home address to be in San Diego, a “Navy town,”  in a neighborhood populated by an abundance of World War II veterans. Less than three years later, Henry “Dutch” Raffeis passed away at Frente Cooperativa Las Cabanas, San Rafael de Santa Ana, Costa Rica on December 10, 1971 and was laid to rest in that city’s Central Cemetery.

Dugout Art? Hand-crafted Baseball Militaria Created by Tennessee Historian and Artist

Not all of the Chevrons and Diamonds artifacts and treasures fall neatly into traditional collecting categories. One of the most collected areas of the militaria hobby centers on artifacts (trench art) made by GIs in the field.  For our baseball memorabilia collectors who are unfamiliar with soldier or sailor-made artifacts, we have published a few articles that discuss this very common GI practice (see: Following the Flag and Researching After You Buy – Sometimes it is the Better Option). “How could trench art possibly tie into baseball memorabilia (or baseball militaria),” one might ask?

This 19th Century-vintage “lemon peel” baseball was purportedly retrieved from the Shiloh Battlefield in 1862 (image source: TheNationalPastime.com).

The game of baseball has a long and storied history and was spawned from games that were played in the American Colonies. Perhaps the seminal establishment as the game played by members of the armed forces occurred during the American Civil War with soldiers forming teams and competing on either side of conflict (though there are no accounts of opposing forces facing off on the diamond). Short on recreational equipment during the Civil War, troops had to improvise in order to have a ball or bat to play the game.  While baseballs weren’t mass-produced nor did there exists sporting goods manufacturers, the rules of the era dictated the construction of the small orb.

“The ball must weigh not less than five and three-fourths, nor more than six ounces avoirdupois. It must measure not less than nine and three-fourths, nor more than ten inches in circumference. It must be composed of india-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become the property of the winning club, as a trophy of victory.” – The Rules of 1860, as adopted by the National Association of Base-Ball Players.

Commonly referred to as the “lemon peel” ball, these baseballs were created following a specific pattern using standard materials.  However, what was used by troops in the field might vary depending upon the resources that were available. A soldier of that era who crafted a baseball would have been forced to improvise the materials and the results would have born little resemblance to what we see on today’s diamonds (to get glimpse of a baseball purportedly retrieved from the Shiloh (April, 1862) Battlefield, see: A Baseball Salvaged From A Civil War Battlefield).

The unique patchwork and stitching of the U.S. Army Special Services baseball is reminiscent of balls made during the Civil War.

In the tight-knit community of baseball memorabilia collectors, we have encountered some incredible people who are leaving their indelible marks upon the hobby with their attention to history and passion for sharing their knowledge and love of this game. Some of these folks have knowledge that transcends authoritative publications. Among this group are highly knowledgeable (if not experts) in player autographs, identifying equipment such as bats, gloves, mitts and catchers’ equipment. One can gain insights in how to stabilize the leather of 70-100-year-old glove or mitt or how to clean a player’s game-used bat without removing the game-wear. Breathing new life into a glove by re-lacing according to the original manufacturer’s specifications is an art form that only a handful of craftsmen and women possess and one will find such talent among this group.

True craftsmanship is revealed within small segments of collector groups among those who merge the skills of artifact preservation with history and creativity. One such innovator has taken a step into a different direction. The East Tennessee craftsman, a passionate Civil War reenactor and former assistant baseball coach organically developed the skills necessary to accurately restore vintage gloves to their former glory. Having restored more than 500 vintage gloves as he strives to maintain the historical integrity, Don Droke has encountered a considerable share of baseball leather that were beyond saving only to begin to see an accumulation of battered and decayed vintage gloves and mitts.

“’This all came about by a fluke,” Droke said. “My wife and I are Civil War reenactors, and all of the sudden out in the middle of a field, (other reenactors) were playing baseball, so I walked over, looked at their baseball and thought, ‘I can make that.’”  – Piney Flats man has unique way of re-purposing old baseball gloves

Don Droke approached me with the idea of creating a handmade baseball from the salvageable leather remnants of a wartime service glove that was stamped with “U.S. Special Services” markings. The ball that Don created is an amalgamation of Civil War ingenuity, necessity and World War II history. As with all of his projects, Droke began mine with a dilapidated WWII- glove that was issued to and used by soldiers. Working around the glove’s damage and decay, Droke sought out the best areas to cut usable material taking caution to preserve the stampings (including model number, maker, player endorsement signature, etc.) as possible before he applies the sections over the re-purposed windings of a donor baseball. The pieces are cut and pulled tightly so that they lay flat against the inner surface of the ball (picture a globe-shaped, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle) finishing the work off by stitching them together. The end-result is a one-of-a-kind work of art that showcases the features of the former military-veteran glove.

After spending nearly a year with the McClellan Field (Sacramento, CA) Army Air Forces Team and winning the area championship, Ferris Fain was re-assigned to Hickam Field (Pearl Harborm, Hawaii) forming a dominant squad of former professional ball-players. Droke matched the 7th’s insignia onto one of the ball’s panels.

Over the next several months, Mr. Droke’s artistry and skills evolved as word got out to other collectors. As demand increased for his work, so did his ideas which further inspired creativity. Don reached out to me about doing another ball however, this time it was to pay homage to one of my favorite players, Ferris Fain, former American League first baseman (1947-1955 for the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians) who won back—to-back batting titles in 1951 and ‘52. The basis for the ball would be a Ferris Fain signature model (MacGregor brand) first baseman’s glove (Trapper design) from the mid-1950s that was worse-for-wear. What made this project even more unique was the addition of tooling to some of the panels to honor Fain’s battle crowns, his first major league team and his World War II service.

When the ball arrived, I was overwhelmed not only by the craftsmanship in the fitment of the leather and stitching but also by his skills in illustrations on the leather.  Among all of the vintage jerseys, gloves, bats, scorecards and programs, vintage photographs and medals, Mr. Droke’s creations are some of my favorite pieces in our collection.

Baseball Inductions: Transitioning from Diamonds to the Ranks

Being sworn into the armed forces for most Americans is a personal and individual event that typically follows a lengthy process of testing, medical evaluation and paperwork which includes signing an enlistment contract that guarantees military occupation or specialty that the enlistee will perform throughout the duration of their obligation. For some families, the swearing-in ceremony is a proud and solemn moment to witness as their son or daughter takes the oath that has been repeated for 244 years. When I enlisted nearly four decades ago, I stood in a room filled with candidates for all branches of service as we, together, recited the oath in unison. After the conclusion, I was whisked away to the airport as I headed off to basic training.

My departure into the armed forces was wholly without fanfare as it was during a time of peace. When my son recited his oath a few years ago, my wife and I observed with pride mixed with a healthy dose of trepidation due to the current, perpetual conflicts that our nation is involved with. Looking back 77 years to when my maternal grandfather followed thousands of young American men to their local recruiters’ offices, there were no cameras or reporters (let alone family or friends) present to document the occasion as it these enlistments were taking place by the thousands throughout the country. I can’t fault him for waiting a few weeks to tie-up loose ends, before he left for the Navy in January of 1942, and to spend the holidays with his family. In the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the national response to the attacks on American forces throughout the Island of Oahu was outrage, sadness and the desire pursue the enemy to the ends of the earth prompted young men to action. For some professional athletes, the call to take up arms was received loudly and clearly.

January 23, 1942: Chapman Joins Feller. Chapman and Feller leave their barracks for a tour of inspection of the Naval Training Station here after Chapman reported for duty today. Both are Chief Specialists in the Physical Fitness Program, just weeks after enlisting (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Rather than to report to Indians management in Cleveland, star pitcher, 23-year-old Bob Feller made his way to Chicago to join the Navy. As the battleships that were once moored to their Ford Island quays still smoldered, resting in the muck of Pearl Harbor’s shallow bottom, Bob Feller was sworn into the United States Naval service by another sports legend, Lieutenant Commander Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight boxing champion (and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of World War I) who was heading up the Navy’s athletics training program. With newspapermen and photographers present at the Chicago courthouse, Feller became the first professional athlete to join the armed forces for service during World War II. The timing of Feller’s enlistment, while certainly linked to the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the pitcher arrived at the decision (on December 6) to enlist into the armed forces ahead of his inevitable draft (see From Army Front(column), Sporting News, December 11, 1941, page 14).

August 9, 1942: Bob Kennedy, White Sox third baseman (hand upraised) is inducted into the Naval Air Force Friday between games of the Chicago-Cleveland doubleheader by Lieutenant Commander J. Russell Cook, Great Lake Naval Training Station Athletic Officer. At left is James Dykes, manager of the White Sox, and at right is Lieutenant Jay Berwanger, former football star, member naval aviation cadet selection board. Kennedy probably will not report for training until the end of the baseball season (AP Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

A few days after Feller’s enlistment, Detroit Tigers outfielder Hank Greenberg, fresh from being discharged from ending his six-month Army obligation (peacetime draft) enlisted into the Army Air Forces for the duration of the war. Others followed suit as Connie Mack’s Athletics roster was depleted with the departure of two of its young rising stars; Al Brancato and Sam Champan. As more athletes joined, the press was notified and present for the induction process. In some instance, the press or military public affairs photographers chronicled the events. Professional athletes, entertainers and other notable citizens enlisting to serve was newsworthy as the publicizing demonstrated to all citizens that people from all walks of life making sacrifices and risking life itself to eradicate fascism and secure peace for the world.

Taking stock of our vintage baseball photo archive, I observed numerous images in the collection that were taken during World War II as the major leaguers were in the process of entering the armed forces.  Despite not truly knowing their future disposition regarding where their wartime service might take them, each of the players outward appearance seemed to be stoic if not joyful in these tenuous moments.

Each of these photos in the collection offer a peak into a significant day in the lives of these baseball players at a time when the future of our nation and the world was very much in doubt. As insignificant as baseball is in terms of human survival and freedom, the game was an important diversion for American citizens and service members as they worked to and fought for victory. Some of the men in these photos, along with hundreds of fellow major leaguers, served in combat theaters seeing action against the enemy on the sea, in the air and on the ground.

 

Photography Class: On the Wire

The Chevrons and Diamonds vintage and antique photo archive has grown over the past decade. While in our estimation, it is far from complete and there are always “new” prints and transparencies to add that further enhance the collection while providing incredible visual glimpses into the military game, its people and the locations.  Despite the size and scope of the collection, it seems that we can frequently source a new image that adds previously unseen perspectives.

Regardless of the sphere of collecting around which a given collector orbits, one of the most common challenges to understand lies within the realm of terminology. Photography collecting has its own set of terms that folks apply as they attempt to classify images causing a considerable confusion. Even with those regarded as experts, terminology can and often does encroach upon the realm of perspective rather than to classify unique, yet related classifications. Many colleagues who have only recently become interested in the area of vintage photography collecting may interchange terminology that sound similar but truly have different and specific meanings and usage.

Aside from the faintly discernible wire transmission imperfections in this 1942 AP Wirephoto, a photo editor was heavy-handed with his art brush in creating a suitable base image for subsequent half-toning as the image of these four Norfolk Naval Training Station team members listen to pitcher Bob Feller provides a lesson (left to right: Sam Chapman, Feller, Fred Hutchinson and Ace Parker).

Perhaps the majority of confusion with collecting vintage baseball photography lies within the realm of photographs that were created and used within the printed periodical arena. As press technology advanced in the first part of the Twentieth Century, the shift from illustrations (by way of woodcuts and other printing techniques) to photographs was a rapid transition. The preeminent sports photographers in this period were George Grantham Bain, George Burke and Charles Conlon. Bain’s career began with the United Press but he established his own business (Bain News Service) that sold his photos to all media outlets in the New York area.  Chicago’s George Burke also established himself both as a syndicated photographer and by selling his baseball image reprints to baseball fans seeking images of their favorite players. Conlon is perhaps the most well-known baseball photographer of these early years. Working as an editor for the Sporting News, he was an amateur photog who packed his equipment to the ballparks, capturing some of the most iconic images in the game’s history. Newspaper editors took note of the images being captured by Conlon, Bain and Burke and began to add photographers to their news desk staff.

The back of this 1945 press photo (Joe Gordon arguing with umpire Vinnie Smith) from the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) shows the typical arrangement of markings and the affixed paper caption.

The demand for baseball photographs across the breadth of the United States and Canada for newspaper publication was rapid and increasing. Americans in cities and towns far removed from the majors and minor leagues were soon seeing photos in their sports sections of Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Warren Johnson, Tris Speaker and Cy Young and others though due to the distances away from those games, the depictions could be as old as a week following the games. These photographs, known to collectors as Press Photos (or News Photos) were darkroom-printed enlargements that were marked and distributed through manual means (U.S. Mail, air parcel or hand-carried) to hundreds of newspaper destinations.

Demand for near-real-time images created necessity which in turn led to inventiveness. Though facsimile technology had been advancing since the early-mid-1840s when Alexander Bain (no relation to the aforementioned George) developed the first facsimile machine, it took more than 70 years before the first image was transmitted using the technology.  In 1921, Western Union transmitted its first halftone photograph across the telephone and telegraph lines followed by AT&T in 1924. RCA transmitted a photograph (wirelessly) over the air (known as a Radiophoto) in 1926.

A close-up of the Norfolk Naval Training Station “N” on Fred Hutchinson’s jersey shows the jagged lines in this 1942 AP Wirephoto.

In the present-day digital age of in-home wireless networks, “smart” phones and digital cameras, it is almost inconceivable that the instant gratification of sharing a photograph was a multi-step process a little more than two decades ago. Processing an image captured on film could be done in an hour followed by scanning (digitizing) the print or negative to create an electronic file that could then be disseminated required significant effort and, by present standards, time. However, On January 1, 1935 when the Associated Press successfully transmitted an aerial photograph of an airplane crash site in upstate New York, a standard for rapid news photography dissemination was established along with the creation of the trademarked AP Wirephoto (for a detailed explanation of the technology, watch the 1937 film, Wire Photo Technology: “Spot News”, below).


Wire Photo Technology: “Spot News” 1937 GM

For collectors of vintage sports photographs, transmitted photos are considerably less desirable (and in turn, garner a lower financial investment to acquire) than an original type-1 press photo due to a number of reasons.

  1. Abundant copies. With the advent of wire technology, copies of a transmitted photo are so numerous by comparison to the numbers of press photo copies.
  2. Low image resolution and reduced quality. The wire technology used to transmit the data poses a considerable reduction to the image clarity giving the photographs a somewhat foggy appearance.
  3. Muddy appearance. Aside from a loss of image clarity from the original photograph during the scanning and transmission, wire photos suffer from a reduction of contrast. A side-by-side comparison (original and transmitted photos) reveal the significant difference between the two with the wire image having an abundance of gray tones rather than distinct whites and blacks.

Since the Associated Press trademarked their transmitted photos as AP Wirephoto, their competitors followed suit. The ACME Newspictures (also known as ACME News Photos) which operated from 1923 to 1952, comparable product, ACME Telephoto. The United Press Associations (more widely known as the United Press) which operated from 1907 to 2000, had a similarly named product, United Press Telephoto. Though each of the three organizations used proprietary technology, the resulting photos transmitted are virtually indistinguishable to the naked eye.

AP Wirephoto, ACME Telephoto and UP Telephotos are usually back-marked with their trademarks along with captions, source, dates and other back markings common with newspaper-used photos. Earlier images (1940s or earlier) more commonly have paper captions affixed to the backs similar to press photos. The later years, these photos will have captions printed directly onto the margin of the photograph face.

Wirephotos and Telephotos can be good additions to a photo collection especially in the absence of locating an original or press photo when the subject matter is of particular interest.

See also: Photography Class: Vintage Photograph Collecting Tips

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