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WWII Veterans Honored on the Diamond: Ruptured Duck Patches for Baseball Uniforms

In the midst of researching for an article I was writing, I noticed search results that had a recurrent theme that pulled me away from the subject of my study and onto something that I knew nothing about. It isn’t saying much in regards to experiencing discoveries in terms of militaria or baseball as I am a relative newcomer to this area of collecting. What caught my attention was an image of three Chicago Cubs players wearing uniforms with a patch bearing a familiar military design that is affectionately known as the “Ruptured Duck.”

Like many returning World War II veterans, this sailor’s uniform was adorned with a ruptured duck patch (the small yellow patch located on the right breast) indicating that he had been discharged from active duty.

The patch emblem, for a collector of WWII military uniforms is one that is very familiar. However, unlike the regulation sized patch that was sewn onto the uniforms of discharged veterans returning from war service, this patch was several times larger and was sewn onto the players’ baseball uniform sleeves (on the left). My first encounter with the Ruptured Duck insignia was when my grandfather showed me his navy uniform when I asked about his time in the service during the war. I remember him smiling as he dragged it out from the closet and recalled some of the good, light-hearted stories. Having seen my grandparents’ wedding photos, I knew that he wore it on their wedding day. The first time I heard the Ruptured Duck term from him while describing the rating insignia and ribbons, for some reason, I never questioned why something that clearly looked like an eagle carried such a disparate nomenclature.

War-weary veterans returning home from service had only their uniforms (and any souvenirs they may have acquired) in their duffle bags. Upon their discharge, veterans were issued the Ruptured Duck patch to sew onto their uniforms which afforded an easily recognizable mark to indicate that they were no longer on active duty. Recalling my own time in service, a sailor, marine, soldier or airman is always on duty and therefor available for any ad hoc work detail that may arise. Imagine waiting for a standby seat aboard a military transport when a sergeant happens by to collect men to carry out a task and draws upon the idle men in the waiting room. Those wearing the Ruptured Duck could (if they chose) disregard the orders of the sergeant as they were no longer service members. There were other, more administrative reasons for the patch.

Veteran Ballplayers. Three Chicago Cubs catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston and Paul Gillespie wearing their ruptured duck patches in 1945. This photo clearly shows blue-backed version #2)

Upon seeing to photo of (a significantly larger version of) the patch sewn to a Chicago Cubs player’s uniform I was intrigued by what it could possibly indicate. I was intrigued to discover that the patch was an acknowledgement of the veteran status of this player – that he had served his country during the war to bring about an end to global fascism and tyranny – was authorized by Major League Baseball for wear on the field.

Through some tedious and careful searching, it appears that very view returning veterans opted to don the Ruptured Duck on their uniforms. According to The Story of the Ruptured Duck (on MLB.com) only four men (all Chicago Cubs) chose to display the patch: Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey (3b/OF) and three catchers, Aaron Robinson, Mickey Livingston, and Paul Gillespie. Further searching also reveals that a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers (of the AA International League) also donned the patch. “Each player returning from a stint in the armed service in 1945 received the Ruptured Duck patch on his jersey’s left sleeve,” Authors Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler wrote in The American Association Milwaukee Brewers (Images of Baseball). “

Notice the players in his 1945 image of the Milwaukee Brewers club with the ruptured duck patch affixed to their left sleeves.

There is some speculation as to why more players did not wear the patch on their sleeves. One prevailing notion is that by virtue of veterans wearing the patch, those who did not serve (either by choice or not being qualified for service) might have faced ostracization by the fans or even teammates or opposing players.  In a July 17, 1945 letter from the American League president that was sent to representatives of the four western American League ballclubs, Will Harridge wrote, “(the patch) may attract too much attention to players who, through no fault of their own, did not enter the service.” Harridge made mention that the Chicago Cubs had already moved forward with having players wear the emblem while leaving the decision to do so in the hands of each team.

Regarding the patch itself, there has been a lot of preliminary discussion among collectors surrounding what was initially thought to be an existence of a few versions. My oft-repeated caution regarding collectibles that lacking provenance, one should never take a seller’s word as truth or fact (even if you trust that person). In the absence of supporting evidence, sellers may make whatever claims they want in order to sell the piece. In regards to these large ruptured duck patches, the same guidance applies.

Baseball Ruptured Duck Versions and Variations

  • White-backed
    • Version 1 – The white wool base is embroidered with gold stitching. The features of the design appear to be more flattened and the patch’s backing seems to be of a canvas material. The width of these patches measures 5-1/2 inches.
    • Version 2 – This patch also has a white wool base however the backing material consists of a broad cheesecloth. The base material extends well beyond the gold embroidered outline and the details of the ruptured duck pattern appear more raised and contoured.
  • Yellow-backed

    • Version 1 – This patch is smaller (2-1/4 inches tall by 3 inches in width) than the three other versions. The overall design consists of a yellow canvas with a large-opening, cheesecloth backing. The image is embroidered in navy blue thread.
  • Blue-backed

    • Version 1 – The blue canvas base shares the same dimensions as the white-backed versions and has a white cheesecloth backing. The embroidery is a combination of both navy blue and gold thread forming the familiar eagle-shape and outline. The gold embroidery is employed as the base pattern with the blue embroidery providing the detail in the feathers and edges. This is THE ONLY version that has photographic evidence of major and minor league use following the end of WWII.
    • Version 2 – This patch is very similar to the previous blue version with the most apparent differences being most discernible when comparing them side-by-side. The fronts of each has very similar embroidery work. However this second variation seems to be slightly more rudimentary as if it is an overseas-made copy. In my opinion, it this is a knock-off of the very rare version one of the blue (read: most-authentic) baseball ruptured duck patch.
  • Cooperstown Collection – This patch is about 25% smaller than the other patch variations and is fully-embroidered (rather than embroidered onto a backing material); by computer-aided embroidery equipment. It was made for the commemoration of the original (blue-backed) patch that was worn on major league baseball uniforms in 1945. The patch bears very few similarities to the original. They were affixed to the information cards when they were distributed.

    Beware that there are, on occasion, online action listings of these reproduction patches that have been separated from the collector card. The accompanying printed card provides a history of the insignia.

The availability of these large (baseball uniform) patches varies but the most commonly listed (online auction) are the white-backed version 2 ruptured duck patches.

One of my militaria collector colleagues worked relentlessly to research and document the history (manufacture, usage, etc.) of these over-sized ruptured duck patches reaching out to the Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, NY) and to a manufacturer that was making these patches at the end of the war. In his conversation with the Hall, the archivists there indicated that the only type of the “baseball ruptured duck” in the collection was the blue-backed version. It is speculated that the white versions were made to be worn on the home (white) uniforms as the blue version was designed for the road (gray). However, photos show the ball players in their home whites with the blue ruptured duck.

Others (including my colleague) have concluded that the white patch has nothing to do with baseball due to the evidence at hand. I, however, do believe that the white version was manufactured for the home white uniforms if, for nothing else, in anticipation of major league baseball requesting home and road differentiation.  Perhaps the idea was set aside as the patches were unpopular and some clubs were not in support of their war veteran players standing out from those who didn’t or couldn’t serve?

My colleague had a conversation with one of the online sellers of the white version 2 patches who disclosed an interesting fact regarding their stockpile of ruptured duck patches, “the box that they came in was an original World War II issue box with the original stock number.” However, the box has since been thrown out so I cannot get any manufacturer information from it.” The presence of a war department stock number indicates that they were most-likely made for the armed forces rather than for professional baseball.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the other versions as having ties to the game.

In the absence of conclusive research and documentation, the questions surrounding the variations will continue in perpetuity. In my own pursuit of these elements of military baseball history, I will acquire what I believe to be authentic and make every attempt to provide evidence as to the validity of the artifacts. At present, I only have a single version

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