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My First Military Baseball: the “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group

A few decades ago, I was a baseball autograph seeker. Being a Dodgers and Red Sox fan, my pursuits centered upon players from both of these teams. However as a dyed-in-the wool fan of the game, the Golden Age of the game in particular, I also sought out autographs from players who played the game before 1970. My autographs were either obtained from the players predominantly in person with a few of them I received via corresponding with the retired players directly. During the few years that I dabbled in this, I accumulated a modest collection of autographed baseballs.

When houseguests view my autograph collection, they will see nothing but pristine baseballs – all of which were new-in-the-box prior to having the player place their signature as clean, white balls display signatures quite nicely. Never once while I was collecting did I pursue signatures on a game used baseball (I have never so much as caught a foul ball at any games that I have attended, making the discussion moot). Signed game-used baseballs, especially those that came from a noteworthy game or a notable team, are sought by many collectors. Within my own collection, I have a few team-signed balls (I obtained every signature) yet they are not game-used. Verifiable game use adds value to a ball but provenance is key in terms of determining value.

On this Wilson Official League, 1950s baseball, the inscription, “36th FA. GP. 1956 ‘Rammers'” on the sweet spot.

With nearly a decade of collecting military baseball artifacts, I was never successful in locating any baseballs that were connected to the game. I have written a few times (see here and here) regarding the fakery and outright fraud that is being foisted upon potential military baseball collectors and one seller in particular has been quite successful and absolutely unchecked as he has racked up several thousands of dollars as he cheats people who have no understanding of the balls that were actually used by military service teams. There have been a smattering of authentic military baseballs but I have always missed out when presented with the opportunities.

The search military sports equipment can be rather fruitful in terms of gloves and bats as these are commonly listed for sale online. Perhaps a testament to the durability of the horsehide, leather and wood, these items have held up quite well to the ravages of time which means that collectors will have little difficulty in locating many items for their collections. Uniform items are a bit more of a challenge to acquire, especially ball caps and stockings. The item that has eluded me since my entry into the military version of the game has been the ball itself.

This original listing dating back to June of 2017 shows the price as I first began to take notice, set at $74.99 with three other potential buyers watching (eBay screenshot).

For the past several months, I have been watching an auction listing that, while outside of what I am normally interested in (World War II-era and older), this ball from the 36th Field Artillery Group dating from 1956 is still very much a candidate to be the first ball for my collection. Due to the timing of the listing and the starting bid for the ball, I simply set a watch to see what would happen. After the six days of the listing lapsed without a bid, the seller re-listed at the same price. Six days later, the cycle repeated and did so for the next several weeks with only slight reductions in price. Finally, the seller decided to re-list the ball with a minimum bid requirement for little more than a few dollars.

Cursory research of the ball and the 21 visible signatures shows that it originates from a team of service members who were part of a large field artillery command that was based in Germany. The 36th Field Artillery Group was the headquarters for all of the subordinate commands which, in 1956 were:

UNIT DESIGNATION LOCATION
18th Field Artillery Battalion  Babenhausen
517th Armored Field Artillery Battalion  Büdingen
519th Field Artillery Battalion  Babenhausen
593rd Field Artillery Battalion  Babenhausen
594th Field Artillery Battalion  Giessen
597th Armored Field Artillery Battalion  Hanau
465th Field Artillery Battalion  Darmstadt
816th Field Artillery Battalion  Darmstadt

The “Rammers” squad could have been assembled from players who were assigned either the headquarters group or drawn from these battalions or battery commands.

With my bid set based upon what I could honestly afford, I set a rather low maximum bid and prepared to be outbid by one of the five others who were watching or that had already placed nominal bids. When the auction closed, I was shocked that the sale price was less than $13 (inclusive of shipping) and swiftly paid for my winning bid. Just days later, the 36th Artillery ball arrived.

Confirmed Questionable Indistinguishable
Bob A. Puso Han [A] Leavini ? Jack Ho*****
Loyd Harper Leo Hipler
Russell Miller
Art Savage
Marion Carter
Doug Campbell
Frank Mione
Ron Bales
Chuck Halterman
Bill Schifario
Rudy Denzer
Ken Murray
Herb Brown
Ray Klubrik
Bob Stabler
Chuck (Chuckles) Emerick

 

This view gives a better perspective of the ball’s model number stamping.

While I have been able to clearly read 15 of the signatures, there are four others that are difficult to discern and still one more that is severely faded and entirely illegible. With the ball in hand, I have another research project (similar to the effort that I experienced with a WWII presentation cigarette box) to determine if any of the signatures on the baseball are from men who might have played professionally or, perhaps to find if one or more are still alive. I can imagine how fulfilling it would be to interview these men about their time in the Army and their ball-playing experiences.

 

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