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Seeing Stars Through the Clouds: 1943-44 Navy Team Autographed Baseball

Writing about baseball artifacts is a pleasure and tedious considering the volume of research that is poured into each artifact and subsequent article that is published on ChevronsAndDiamonds.org and that is beginning to show with the backlog of posts that is growing (inside of my head, at least) with the recent additions to my collection. With my last article (My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I spent a few weeks researching; gathering details about the DiMaggio photograph, comparing it with others, delving into other aspects of his time in the Army Air Force and then committing it to more than 3,400 words. I often ask myself, “How does one manage a full-time career, a marriage and family (an active life) and still maintain a research and authoring schedule like this?” in the midst of a research project.

Several weeks ago, I was able to acquire my second military baseball (my first, a 1956-dated, team-signed ball from the 36th Field Artillery Group) after it was listed in conjunction with among a spate of items (originating from the same collection) that were all related to military baseball teams the Central Pacific area, in and around the Hawaiian Islands during World War II. Judging by the number of bids and potential buyers who were watching the three other auctions compared to a few who were watching (and had submitted bids on) what was listed as an autographed Navy-team baseball from the 1940s. The ball (aside from the signatures) is a easily datable, official National League (“Ford C. Frick”) Spalding baseball from 1943. With a glance at the auction listing’s photos, (aside from the obvious coating of shellac covering the ball) I recognized a few names on the ball though several were hard to discern.I decided since the bid amount was so low that it was worth risking (based solely on the verifiable age of the ball). With only a few hours remaining, I set my bid amount and waited.

The two stars flanking “Official”denote that this ball dates from 1943. The golden toning of the ball is due to  (image source: eBay image).

I wanted to spend time investigating all of the signatures on the ball – to delve into each one to make an attempt to identify the names and thus, determine which team the ball was associated with but with so little time remaining, I moved ahead with submitting my bid with the hope that if I was unsuccessful with my plan to identify that I could turn around and re-list the ball. Hours later, the notification came that I was the highest bidder, much to my surprise. Hours following payment, I received notification from the seller that the ball was shipped and a tracking number was provided. Two days later, the ball was in my hands and that’s when it struck me that I was holding something that was connected to the players who participated in the legendary (at least, to me) games in the Hawaiian Islands during the War, that until now, was limited to scorecards and photographs.

I was elated to have a chance at this ball even though it was lacking signatures from the stars of the major leagues such as Pee Wee Reese, the DiMaggio brothers, Vander Meer, Hutchinson or my favorite, Ferris Fain. I wasn’t able to positively identify all of the signatures and two of them are almost completely faded or entirely illegible.  There are a few major league ball players and several minor leaguers that have been identified. Those with an asterisk (*) were located on the Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944 score book (the double asterisk indicates a possible correlation between the signature and a name listed on the score book).

Panel 1 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 1:

The first panel of signatures shows one name that I cannot positively identify (Charlie, the second from the top) and the one at the bottom is so heavily faded that I can’t make out a single character. Three of these players (Signalman and pitcher Anderson, Electrician’s Mate 2/c and shortstop Bishop and Chief Specialist and pitcher Masterson) all played in the major leagues. Catcher and Coxswain McCorkle and Torpedoman 1/c and pitcher Mozzali had minor league careers with the latter serving as a scout in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for 18 years followed by two seasons (1977-78) as a coach with the big league club. John Powell, listed on the April 19, 1944 program for the game between the Navy and the Major League All-Stars as a center fielder and an MS 1/c is still being researched.

Panel 2 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 2

  • Raymond Keim
  • Dutch Raffeis
  • Karl Gresowski
  • Jim Brennan*
  • Bob Tomkins
  • Ed Quinn

This panel is one of the more challenging of the four with three names that either illegible in part or entirely. While Jim Brennan shows also on the April 19, 1944 program (listed as “J. D. Brennen,” EM2/c, pitcher), the other players require further research. My efforts to date have been unfruitful but it is possible that searching military records via Fold3 or Ancestry might yield positive results. Combing through the various rosters (on the known printed scorecards and throughout those online at Baseball in Wartime) is a seemingly futile venture but at present, it is all that is available. I hold out hope that in the months and year ahead, that there more artifacts will surface.

Panel 3 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 3

  • Gene Rengel
  • Bob White**
  • Frank Snider*
  • Emil Patrick
  • Ray Volpi

The third panel held signatures that were far more legible and hadn’t suffered fading though I didn’t fare much better in determining who the men are who signed this side of the ball. Two of the names, Snider (right fielder and signalman) and Simione (a center fielder and boatswain’s mate, 2nd class), are also listed on the April 19, 1944 scorecard (linked in the previous paragraph). Rengel, White and Patrick are still to be determined. In revisiting this article after discovering more names while conducting research for an upcoming article, I stumbled across Ray Volpi (previously thought to have been “Volp.” as an abbreviation of his name), a minor league pitcher in the Yankees organization. Ray last pitched professionally with the double-A Kansas City Blues (of the American Association) during the 1942 season. By 1943, Volpi was in the United States Navy and stationed at Norfolk and hurling for the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) alongside Fred Hutchinson, Walt Masterson and Dutch Leonard. Chief Specialist Volpi would be in the South Pacific, playing in the Hawaii Leagues with several of his Bluejackets teammates by 1944. Five of these six names will have to be researched as service members while I believe that Snider went on to play four seasons of class “D” professional baseball, having played in 1942 with the Dothan Browns (of the Georgia-Florida League).

Panel 4 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 4

The last panel (which, in this case consists predominantly of the “sweet spot” of the ball) contains four very legible signatures and three of them are located on printed rosters within scorecards from the Central Pacific wartime baseball leagues. Also, (potentially) three of the men all had professional baseball careers following their service. One of these men, James J. “Jim” Gleeson, an outfielder who spent five seasons in the major leagues (1936 with Cleveland, 1939-40 with the Cubs and 1941-42 with Cincinnati) before joining the Navy. Following his war service, Gleeson returned to the game he loved, playing for six more seasons, but only at the minor league level. After 1951, his playing days were done, Jim continued his baseball career, serving as a scout, coach, and manager in the minors and spent many years as a coach with the Yankees on fellow Navy veteran, Yogi Berra’s 1964 Yankees-pennant-winning staff. Third baseman and Pharmacists’ Mate 3/c John “Hubie” Jeandron  recommenced his professional career in 1946 at the class A level, bouncing around through class C and B levels until finishing his baseball career after the 1953 season. Gunner’s Mate 3/c and first baseman Frank T. Hecklinger (incorrectly listed as “E. T.” on the scorecard roster) also restarted his professional career but played in only 234 total games between the 1946 and 1947 seasons at the class C and B levels in the minors.

The prominent Spalding logo with Jim Gleeson’s signature easily discernible (image source: eBay image).

To many collectors, having a ball with signatures from a handful of minor leaguers and three non-star major leaguers wouldn’t merit much interest or be featured in a collection. Nevertheless, this ball is significant as it originates from games that were, to many men and women serving during WWII, distractions from the rigors and monotony of war giving them a fun departure from the harsh reality and a taste of the normalcy of home. This ball is a cherished addition to my collection and will serve to demonstrate how men from the highest levels of the game competed alongside of average Joes demonstrating unity in the fight against a common enemy in the cause of freedom from tyrants and oppression.

Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944

Baseball is and has been played on every surface imaginable, gravel, dirt, tarmac, turf (both natural and artificial) and even concrete. The locations can be almost anywhere: in the middle of a palatial stadium, encircled with 45,000 spectators or in a Midwestern cornfield with a lone bleacher stand enough for 10 viewers.

The opening game of the 1943 baseball season at Furlong Field. This diamond would see dozens of baseballs brightest and best don their spikes and military-team flannels to entertain the troops stationed in Hawaii during WWII.

The opening game of the 1943 baseball season at Furlong Field. This diamond would see dozens of baseballs brightest and best don their spikes and military-team flannels to entertain the troops stationed in Hawaii during WWII.

Picture yourself seated in a wooden bleacher with the fragrance of fresh cut grass blending with aviation engine exhaust from the nearby flight-line of a major U.S. Army Air Force Base, nestled among the swaying palm trees. In the not-so-far-off distance, the sound of ship’s bells and whistles could be heard emanating from the ships in Pearl Harbor. Under the warm tropical sun, you begin to look at your blank scorecard, in awe of what is before you. The lineups are about to be announced, but without prompting, you already recognize the faces.

There were many professional ball players stationed within the military in Hawaii during the World War II years. By 1944, The Navy’s Central Pacific Area Service League and Fourteenth District League had over 30 major leaguers. Playing in the six-team Central League were the Kaneohe Klippers (Johnny “Big Cat” Mize from the NY Giants) and the Aiea Hospital Team (featuring Harold Pee Wee Reese from the Brooklyn Dodgers). By mid-spring, the Seventh Army Air Force team’s roster was bolstered with the arrival of the New York Yankees star outfielder, the Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

At the beginning of that Autumn, what was known by the locals as “The Real World Series” was scheduled for play between the Army and Navy teams (each roster, essentially made up of all stars from these leagues). With all of the stars of the game filling out both rosters, the draw would be substantial fields throughout Oahu and the surrounding islands. In the first four games alone, a total of 64,000 all-service member audience filled the bleachers and lined the fields to watch the Navy team take a four game lead over the Army squad.

9/22 – Navy 5-0 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/23 – Navy 8-2 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/25 – Navy 4-3 (Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks)
9/26 – Navy 10-5 (Kaneohe Bay NAS)
9/28 – Navy 12-2 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
9/30 – Navy 6-4 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
10/1 – Army 5-3 (Furlong Field, Hickam)
10/4 – Navy 11-0 (Maui)
10/5 – Army 6-5 (Maui)
10/6 – Tie (14 innings) 6-6 (Hilo)
10/15 – Navy 6-5 (Kukuiolono Park, Kaui)

Navy took the series 8-2-1  (read more about this series)

I have been in the baseball militaria collecting game for a few years. I watch for pieces to surface that would be great additions or that are connected to some of the more well-known events and players. These more significant pieces seldom present themselves and when they do, I try my best to acquire them. Though my ultimate desire would be to land a uniform from one of the players who participated in these games, they might be cost-prohibitive (provided the piece has provenance connecting it to one of the famous players).

Score card from Game 4 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Hickam Army Army Air Force Base at Furlong Field.

Score card from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Hickam Army Air Force Base at Furlong Field.

Last week, I was able to locate a piece that is directly tied to this championship series. When I first truly began searching for items, one of these scorecards surfaced and I had so little time to respond – to research provenance and what was an appropriate price to pay. I wanted the scorecard but I didn’t want to get caught in a bidding war, trying to out-duel another buyer who was more inclined to win the auction rather that to be intelligent with his money. My lack of bidding meant that I would be waiting more than three years to see another example come onto the market. In this instance, there would be two.

With my winning bid, I paid and awaited the arrival of the scorecard. The auction photos showed it to have been folded and the original owner did not use it to keep score (I wish that he had). My example was dated for the October 1, 1944 game (#7) in which the Army squad etched their first victory of the dominant Navy team.

Lt Tom Winsett finally tasted the sweetness of revenge as his khakimen outscored Lt Bill Dickey’s champions, 5 to 3, at Furlong Field, Oahu, October 1. The soldiers made five runs on the six hits allowed by Virgil Trucks. Homers by Lang in the second, Dillinger in the sixth with DeCarlo on base and Fain in the ninth, with Judnich resting on first, accounted for all Army runs. Trucks doubled home Reese in the second. Singles by DiMaggio, Brancato and Shokes, sandwiched between DiMaggio’s stolen base and Reese’s walk, tallied a brace of runs for the Tars in the third. Bill Schmidt, former Sacramento pitcher, who spelled DeRose in the third frame, was credited with the victory.

The defeat was the first one of the year for Trucks. The Detroiter had won ten tilts for the Great Lakes Blue Jackets before copping two series games. In losing, Trucks struck out nine, walked four. Big Bill allowed only two hits and no runs, walked nobody and struck out four in four innings. Reese, brilliant on the bases and in the field, led the batters with three for four.

 – Source: Baseball in Wartime

The scorecard is nothing fancy (by comparison to others in my collection). The cover is simple and quite bold with the unmistakable text. The interior bi-fold holds generic box score cards for each team. What truly makes this piece of ephemera is the composition of the team rosters. Listed among the names are nearly 40 major league players; five of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown:

  • Joe Gordon
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Pee Wee Reese
  • Bill Dickey
  • Phil Rizzuto

Also listed among the names are players from what was then considered to be the third major league, the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Having these rosters in hand is great and helps to tell a more inclusive story.

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