Not long ago, my wife asked me what my goal was in terms of militaria and baseball collecting. I know that she asked this question with the utmost sincerity and respect for this interest that I have in these areas of history. The question is not something that I haven’t already asked myself in some manner or fashion as I try to understand what, within myself, causes me to look at different artifacts that become available. I often ask myself, “Is this piece in line with what you have been acquiring and researching?” I spend time analyzing what it is driving my interest in a piece before I start to consider the expense, space to preserve and house it or if the item is authentic.
Space is at a premium in our home. We live in a modest (not small, but not large) and we have kids who also require space for their various activities which translates to not having an area for displaying artifacts. I have seen some incredible mini-museums that other collectors (both in the militaria and baseball collection areas of focus) that rival some of the best museums around the country. These collectors are so incredibly diligent, resourceful, patient and meticulous in acquiring the right balance of artifacts to create complete displays that convey the story while not overwhelming the viewer with sensory overload. Even if we had the space within our home, I am not certain that I would take this tack with my collection.
In attempting to collect my thoughts to respond to my wife’s question, I wanted to convey to her (an myself) that what I focus my interest in is very specialized and that while the mailbox and front porch (at times) is barraged with a stream of packages (“is that ANOTHER piece for your collect?”), I don’t really have much coming to the house. This thinking could be construed as justification which is not what I want to convey to her. As I analyzed my thoughts, I wanted to mention that in terms of my highly selective focus leaves me wanting to preserve those artifacts that fit the narratives of my collection but also, if I didn’t purchase them, could be relegated to sitting in a plastic bin, long forgotten for decades. That too, sounds like an excuse.
This past summer as I prepared to display a selection of my U.S. Navy uniform artifacts, I selected specific pieces to demonstrate the overall theme of the display. I chose to be limited in what would be shown, taking the less-is-more mindset. I could have filled the display case from top to bottom but instead, I wanted viewers to see each piece and enjoy them individually and as a whole. As I continue with my interests, this is the approach that I have been and will continue to take. That each piece that is added to my collection will be thoughtfully considered, individually as well as how it fits into what I already have.
A few weeks ago, a patch was listed for sale (shown above) by a fellow militaria collector that received it from the son of a WWII veteran. Another collector suggested that the patch was worn on a baseball uniform as it resembled one that was common on major and minor league baseball uniforms, starting in 1942.
With the War in full swing and after suffering some substantial challenges (Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, the USS Houston, etc.) the United States was still ramping up to get onto the offensive against the Axis powers. Following the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, young men flocked to the armed forces recruitment offices, including in their numbers, several stars from the ranks of professional baseball. Leaders within all spheres of our nation (political, business, entertainment, churches, etc.) were almost unanimously patriotic and working together to hold our citizens and service men and women together for the common goal of defeating the fascist enemies. Aside from the rationing (food, textiles, gasoline, electricity) and recycling (predominantly metals) campaigns that commenced, recognizing the need for Americans to be physically fit and health-conscious in order to fight, build and farm – in other words, produce – for the War effort. Professional Baseball, in response to the call, embraced the physical fitness message and began to share it on their uniforms with the Hale – America Initiative Health patch.
While I have found a handful of photographs depicting variations of the Health patch (a shield shape with stars and stripes) on wartime uniforms, I have only found one image with a variation of the patriot patch in place. In my growing archive of vintage military baseball photographs (numbering over a hundred) contains only a single image with players wearing a shield patch. The baseball uniform of the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville ball club, in addition to the beautiful chenille logo on the left breast, has one of the patches affixed to the left sleeve. Due to the high contrast exposure of the photograph, it is impossible to distinguish the variation – there is an unrecognizable inset shield-shaped (white) field that is centered, superimposed over the vertical stripes.
While it is certainly possible that the patch that was being sold was worn on a military baseball uniform during WWII, I didn’t want to commit the financial or storage space resources to something that I would have a hard time authenticating. Without photographic evidence to back up the assertion of usage on service team uniforms, this patch is nothing more than a (seemingly) vintage patriotic, multi-layered wool-flannel constructed emblem (which I actually find visually appealing). Without practicing a measure of restraint, caution and requiring (of myself) provenance, I would have committed to purchasing the patch and adding it t
o my short list of to-be-researched militaria. However, I needed to be more discerning with my interests and, in answering the question in regards to my collecting goals, I passed on the opportunity to add the patch to my collection.
I am still attempting to answer my wife’s question regarding my collecting goals with a well-thought out response however, I would assert that my actions just might speak more clearly than any words could offer.
Militaria enthusiasts have long enjoyed collecting embroidered insignia – patches – since they began to emerge on the uniforms of soldiers, sailors and marines and airmen. From the earliest times when embroidered rank began to be a part of the uniform, someone has collected them. By the Great War when unit insignia began to propagate onto the olive drab wool uniforms (at the war’s end), collectors on the homefront were awaiting to fill their collections with the dozens upon dozens of colorful patches.
I can imagine the young boy admiring his father’s old doughboy WWI uniform that he discovered tucked away in a trunk in the attic or perhaps even his father’s few spare (unused) unit insignia kept safely in a wooden box on the dresser. The young boy asks his father for one and dad lovingly agrees to hand one or two over to the interested son. The young son then shows the patches to his friend who also has a veteran father with a similar cache of insignia and a trade is made, igniting the popular aspect of the militaria hobby that continues to this day. It may just be my perception, but a seemingly smaller segment of patch collecting centers on patches that adorn professional baseball uniforms.
In the 19th century, baseball uniforms were sparse in adornments. Some bore no indication at all that would lend to their team names or home cities. Uniforms in the earliest days might even lack color. As the game matured, uniforms began to be trimmed with piping, pinstripes and adorned with soutache (braiding encircling the collar, sleeves and the edged of the button-faces). Player numbers made an experimental appearance on the 1916 Cleveland uniforms (and again with the 1923 Cardinals) but wouldn’t begin to be widely adopted until the 1929 Yankees. Numbers on the uniform fronts started in 1953 with Brooklyn and though other teams have dabbled in this practice, only the Dodgers have remained consistent (the smaller red numerals remain on the lower right, at present).
Another uniform decoration that has become common-place with the modern game; a practice that is widely accepted as a means to commemorate special occasions, significant events and anniversaries is the affixing of patches to the jersey sleeves. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first appearance of a commemorative patch first appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century, “Uniform patches have long been used to commemorate or promote special events. The first such patch used on a major league uniform was worn by the 1907 Chicago White Sox on the left sleeve of their road jerseys. The circular patch commemorated the club’s 1906 World Series victory over their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Cubs.”
When the United States was drawn into WWI, Major League Baseball answered the call. Some teams began to visibly demonstrate their patriotism and support of the citizens (that were being called up to serve) by decorating their players’ uniforms with embroidered emblems stitched to their jerseys. Brooklyn and Chicago of the National League along with Chicago, Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland of the American League participated in 1917-18 with patriotic sleeve patches that were attached either to the chest or sleeves. With the start of the 1925 season, the National League set out to commemorate their 50th season with a patch to be worn by all of the NL’s teams. In 1930, both of Boston’s major league teams wore sleeve patches to pay tribute to the city’s 300th anniversary. In the season preceding when New York City would play host to the 1939 World’s Fair, all of the city’s teams (Dodgers, Giants and Yankees) wore a patch to recognize the event throughout that year. To mark the sport’s alleged centennial, all major and many minor league clubs wore a patch to mark the occasion.
With the United States fully immersed in World War II and her citizens weary from the want of more than a decade of a depressed economy, promoting healthy living. In a period news article, an officer of the Ft. Des Moines WAAC training center emphasized the role of each American, “you’re big job now,“ said the WAAC lieutenant, “is to train yourself to be of worth to the government; first, train yourself physically to withstand the terrific strain which we must all endure; second, you must be mentally stable.” This was the message of the Hale American Health program that was promoted by many sports organizations, most-notably throughout all levels of baseball. Beginning in 1942, the HALE American “Health” shield patch began showing up on all major and many minor league teams’ uniforms. As the war progressed, the “HEALTH” lettering was dropped in favor of red and white stripes.
The Health patch found its way onto military team uniforms during the war in different variations. In researching photographs, most of the patches adorning military baseball team uniforms were with the red and white vertical stripes. One variation that I have, as yet, been unsuccessful in locating a real-world example of has “U.S.” superimposed over the vertical stripes.
The practice of patching military baseball uniforms continues much in the same way today as with professional teams. Collectors need to be savvy to discern what is authentic or reproduction or to distinguish the difference between military and civilian baseball patches. Photographic evidence helps to provide some measure of provenance (photo albums from the veteran who wore the original baseball uniform; the source of the patch) and should be paired with the patch, if at all possible. Unlike military uniform adornments, patches from service uniforms are rather scarce. Though I have been searching, I have only successfully landed one such patch for my collection.
In an upcoming article that I am presently researching, I will be focusing on another armed force patch that was worn on a handful of major league uniforms by veterans who returned from WWII. Stay tuned.
- A Look at Some Old HALE America Patches
- Uni-Watch: Best Sleeve Patches in Baseball History
- Baseball Hall of Fame – Dressed to the Nines: 1942
- Baseball Hall of Fame – Dressed to the Nines: Patches
- MLB Health Patch
- Baseball Almanac: Uniforms
- Collecting Military Patches