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A Growing Backlog of Baseball History to Share

Following a considerable run of authoring and publishing weekly articles with a measure of consistency for most of 2018, I have encountered a new, and quite beneficial hurdle in order to continue with my passion with Chevrons and Diamonds. Over the course of the last 17 months, I have endured a significant amount of change to my professional and personal life which, for much of the time, has contributed to my ability to sustain a normal publishing cycle. With the latest round of changes in the last two weeks, the most precious resource – time – needed to author and publish, has been severely and negatively impacted.

Most authors, especially those who find themselves tasked with creating content for a periodical venture, struggle with story ideas and the lack of topics to cover. Oddly, I have a plethora of story ideas and material that I desperately want to cover and because of the audience growth of Chevrons and Diamonds over the last two years, each story that does get published, seemingly opens a door to either greater detail for a particular topic or leads to a tangential discovery. To that point, my article, My First Military Baseball: the “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group, published in early 2018 led to me being contacted by the grandson of one of the players who signed the ball and the flurry of ensuing conversation and exploration of the player resulted in a follow-up story, Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why. The story of the 36th Field Artillery baseball and Chuck Emerick is just one example of the rewards of publicly sharing these artifacts.

One of my most favorite additions to my collection surrounded the acquisition of former minor leaguer, Earl Ghelf’s grouping of photos, letters, programs and other artifacts from his time with the 29th Infantry Division. The subsequent article that I published (European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)) was just an overview of the contents, predominantly focusing on the team history, Nuremburg Stadium and a cursory focus on Ghelf. In the months since I published, I have been contacted a few times: the first was another collector seeking to purchase the Ghelf group as he managed to land one of his other auction groupings; the second contact was far more substantive and provided me with a wealth of information regarding the unit and team, a few of the players and additional details regarding the 29th Infantry Division’s leadership and, perhaps the reason why the team was assembled with the talent that they had.

German sporting fields were devoid of proper dugouts which forced teams to set up benches along the baselines. Here, the 29th Infantry Division team awaits the call to take the field (major leaguer, Don Kolloway is seated at center).

What better source is there for research assistance and authoritative insight than from folks in leadership with the Maryland Museum of Military History who are passionate about documenting the storied past of one of their state’s units? For the folks at the Maryland Museum, my collection of Ghelf’s photos were the first images that they had seen that showed any depictions of the 29th‘s post-VE Day baseball competition. The museum’s collection is quite extensive, including the wartime morning reports, division newsletters, etc. And yet contains no photographs of the baseball team. Upon discovery of this site, one of the board members reached out to me and we began to discuss the baseball team’s history and how best to transfer high resolution scans of the photographs to provide the museum with the imagery.

In a recent conversation with a collector colleague whose interests have led him to venture into baseball militaria (vintage photographs, programs, scorecards and baseballs), we talked about the importance of preserving these artifacts. I mentioned that I not only collect and properly store ephemera and photographs, but I also scan, catalog and share the pieces in my collection. The purpose of sharing the artifacts along with the results of my research are to not only enlighten other collectors but more so to bring to light items that have not seen the light of day in more than a half-century or, in many cases, have never been seen by the interested public. Since I made much of the Ghelf grouping available for the public, folks are gaining visual insights into the games that were otherwise only captured in a few published articles, as told by those who were present.

Prior to being added to the 29th ID team roster, Ghelf played for the 69th ID team. This photo shows the men seated on the “dugout” bench during their half of an inning.

In nearly a decade of pursuing military baseball artifacts (dominated by vintage photographs), the majority of pieces that have surfaced throughout that time have either been at domestic or Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) locations. Following VE-Day (May 8, 1945), the mission of the American and Allied forces in Europe changed from combat operations to occupation and reconstruction. War was still raging in the Pacific and would continue for four more months and many of the troops in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) would begin to either be sent home or, possibly sent to the Pacific as leaders were preparing for a full-scale invasion force for the Japanese home islands. My theory as to why we do not see photos of ETO baseball leagues and subsequent World Series is that the photographers had already been reassigned or discharge. Combat correspondents, prior to the German surrender, had been embedded within frontline units to document and provide coverage of the action, would have been sent to the PTO to cover the war against Japan.

This press photo shows a game in progress, played by (what appears to be) U.S. Army paratroopers. The original caption read, “Infantrymen enjoy a game of baseball in a field “somewhere in France” during a rest period between action in the front lines, 19 August 1944 (Signal Corps Photo, author’s collection).

 

The importance of the Earl Ghelf group was further underscored following a series of conversations with a professor and passionate baseball historian reached out seeking photographs of ETO World Series games ahead of his presentation regarding Sam Nahem (and his insistence in adding black baseball players to his OISE All Stars roster, leading to the team’s eventual championship in the ETO) at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Symposium this past May. Sadly, Mr. Ghelf’s personal photographs did not contain any images of the OISE team as he only focused on the unit teams that he was playing for.

It is painfully obvious that I have so many more stories to share in future published articles and so little time with which to give them the proper attention (research, writing, etc.). I am not without motivation to press on with this work – the rewards are substantial for me as more people discover Chevrons and Diamonds.

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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