Baseball is overwrought with comparisons and associations in terms of sayings, phrases and figures of speech. Listen to any radio broadcast or televised baseball game and you will invariably hear a plethora of soliloquies by the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator that are filled with analogies that help to illustrate points or, if you were born anytime after 2000, will leave you baffled as to the point being made. I find that I am guilty when it comes to infusing my articles with such comparisons and today’s will not fail to insert at least one such analogy.
Since I started actively collecting military baseball memorabilia, I have found myself alternating between the tortoise and the hare. There have been times that it seemed that I was grabbing up every photograph or piece of ephemera that surfaces – especially since they were pieces that were on the money in relation to the sort of items that interest me which felt as though I was sprinting through my sourcing and acquiring. However, finding (and being able to afford) uniforms and jerseys left me feeling much more like the tortoise as I was patient with the slowness of these items’ availability. I have a handful of jerseys at the moment and it has taken me more than a half-dozen years to accumulate them.
From the outset of my interest in this arena, there have been a few categories that have eluded me all together. One, being the aforementioned hunt for honest military baseballs (vice the frauds that dominate eBay such as these) and the other, vintage military baseball uniform caps. Throughout my years sifting throughout virtually every listing of anything remotely connected to military baseball, I have yet to see a listing for a baseball cap. I have nearly 100 vintage photographs detailing baseball play, team photos, GIs’ snapshots and press photos of games (ranging from just off the front line pick-up games to organized league and championships). Throughout my photo archive and those that are viewable online, I am very familiar with the caps worn by service members during WWII (and prior). I have seen dozens of auction listings of baseball uniforms and not a single one was ever with a ball cap.
As time went on, I began to extrapolate from the absence of vintage military ball caps that these servicemen either wore them until they became tatters or the caps just didn’t make it home from The War. I likened the lack of caps to a severe drought – one like California suffered through for almost a decade. Last fall and winter, California’s landscape began to change. Aside from the devastating landslides suffered by many areas throughout the state during the massive rains that fell, green foliage began to fill the surrounding areas. Driving southbound from the Siskiyou Mountain Pass on Interstate 5 this spring, we noticed the green vegetation and the fullness of Lake Shasta. The green followed us down through the central part of the state. It was amazing to see that the drought had seemingly ended. Spring marked an end to another dry season for me, too!
In early spring, a military jersey was listed online that I had never seen before. Though it was a Marines jersey, the colors were far different from the two that I already have in my collection. This one, instead of being a wool-flannel road gray with red trim and letter, was a home-white wool flannel with blue trim and lettering that was like a carbon-copy. I quickly submitted a bid and ended up winning it. When I got it home and professionally cleaned, I placed it with the gray/red jersey and they were clearly made to be used as home and road versions for the Marines team. On the red uniform, the button that is on the letter “I” is red to match. On the home uniform, the “I” button is blue to match. It was a fantastic find and one that I think caught other potential collectors off guard. What does this have to do with the end of dry season?
Later in the spring, another auction caused me to pause and spend a lot of time pouring over countless photographs in order perform due diligence prior to making a decision. This particular listing was of a ball cap that the seller listed and described as being from the estate of a WWII USMC veteran. After asking the seller for specific information pertaining to the veteran in an effort to validate his claims, he was unable to give anything that would help me pursue identifying the original owner. He stated that the estate sale was facilitated by a third-party and that any personal information was unavailable. This meant that I had to place little value upon the seller’s claim and pursue another avenue. I turned to the photograph research that I had performed and took a chance based upon what I found.
There are several photographs of the “Marines” uniform being worn by men various settings. It is very difficult to discern which darker shade of gray is red or blue (considering the blue of my latest Marines uniform) is essentially indistinguishable, due to all of the WWII images being black-and-white. However, I can tell that the road gray Marines jersey is the most prevalent in photographs. There are at least two photos that could show Marines wearing the home white/blue uniform but it is impossible to confirm. There are a few different caps being worn – the most common appearing to be a road gray with a darker “M” and matching bill color (assumed to be red). What is consistent across the photos is that the font of the “M” matches the same lettering on the jerseys. The auction cap, navy blue wool, has the same font lettering “M” as is seen on all three of my jerseys. My thought is that the color yellow was used as it contrasts the navy blue and is also a prevalent USMC color used in insignia and emblems. This cap very well could be what was worn with my home white/blue uniform but sadly, I have no definitive proof and no provenance. With the matching letter and matching navy blue, I pulled the trigger and added it to my collection.
As it has certainly rained in California over the course of their drought, one or two days of rain over such an expanse of dryness did not mark an end to their misery. Similarly, one cap over more than six years of searching does not signify an end to my ball cap dry season.
In the last few weeks, two more caps were listed (by different sellers) that caught my attention. Both were clearly Marine corps caps (red with yellow lettering) but they were different from each other. One of them is wool with the letters “M” and “B” and could refer to a few different USMC commands or team-centric organizations (perhaps, “Marine Barracks”). I watched this cap listed and go unsold now a few times (it is still for sale). It was the second cap that stood out like a sore thumb for me.
As I wrote earlier, I have three Marines baseball jerseys. The third one is very different from the home and road wool variants and is constructed from a light-weight cotton canvas material and red in color. The yellow soutache (trim) applied to the placard and on the sleeves appears to be rayon. What drew me to the second (of the two red ball caps) was the base material – also lightweight cotton canvas. The yellow letter “M” on he front panels is in the same font as the uniform lettering and also appears to be wool felt (which is consistent with the jersey). In my opinion, these similarities eliminates almost all of doubt and I couldn’t help but place the winning bid.
When this cap arrives, it will be the second military baseball cap added to my collection in less than three months. Should I declare that my cap-drought has officially ended? Perhaps it has concluded but there is still the matter of the lack of available vintage military baseballs.
The hot stove league is just ramping up throughout Major League Baseball with the beginnings of player movement discussions. The winter meetings will be upcoming and trades will be discussed as teams seek to create their 2017 rosters in hopes of playing for the championship in a little less than a year from now. Fans’ emotions cycle through the spectrum as hopes are raised with each announcement, often times met with disapproval and disappointment.
The hot stove league is an excellent analogy for collecting baseball militaria. Watching for items that meet certain criteria poses many similar challenges. Does the item fit my collection? Is the item worth the asking price? Is it authentic (with provenance) Is there any room to negotiate? What impact will the item have in terms of how the piece might display? So many questions to be answered.
After the transaction has been completed and the anticipation (waiting the piece’s arrival) has subsided, were expectations met, exceeded or dashed? Similar to how fans and front office people alike spend time evaluating the if the acquisition was a worthwhile expenditure, collectors also review what they buy.
Baseball militaria has, so far, proven to be a very narrow field of focus for my collecting with so few items being available. I am open to acquiring artifacts from most time periods with my strongest interest lying in the 20 year-period leading up to the second World War. Very few artifacts ever become available beyond photographs (which are predominantly snapshots that are removed from personal photo albums). I have seen the occasional uniforms (two in the past three years come to mind) and a bat (that seemed to be dated closer, if not during WWII) outside of the smattering of ephemera and pictures.
A few weeks ago, I decided to pull the trigger on a group of press photographs of an army baseball team dating from World War II. The auction listing was titled,
“6 WWII FORT SILL OK US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS 70TH INFANTRY BASEBALL TEAM PHOTOS
This auction is for six World War II Fort Sill, Oklahoma US Army Signal Corps 70th Infantry Baseball Team Photographs. You will receive a photograph of the whole team and five team members in various fielding positions. Photos are stamped on the back:
‘FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA
NO OBJECTION TO REPRODUCING OR PUBLISHING THIS PICTURE PROVIDED CREDIT LINE PHOTO BY US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS APPEARS ON THE PHOTOGRAPH OR PAGE, EXCEPT THAT PERMISSION MUST BE OBTAINED FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT IF IT IS DESIRED FOR USE IN COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING.’
Each measures 8″ by 10″ and other than some minor wear they are in excellent condition.”
The auction’s images showed that there were at least five photographs (the sixth was mostly obscured by the other photos) of various subjects – ballplayers in different staged action poses and a team picture. I submitted my best offer which was accepted. When the package arrived a few days later, I was excited see the quality of the (what appeared to be professional) photos.
Extracting the large, silver gelatin prints from the plastic sleeve, I noted that there appeared to be more than the six as was described in the auction listing. As soon as I began to sort through the eight prints, I realized that the seller sent me four copies each of two of the staged action-poses. The image that I truly wanted – the anchor to this set – was absent.
I sent a message to the seller about the discrepancy and was given the bad news. I wrote, “What happened? There are multiple copies of two poses. No team photo. No batting photo. I am not happy with this.”
The seller responded, “Hi. I’m so sorry about this. We are returning your money to your PayPal account.” She provided no clarification or details about what happened or where the missing photos were. I truly wanted that photo so I followed up in another message, “I still wanted the photos. What happened?”
I was hopeful that the other four photos were still sitting somewhere among the hundreds of other (currently for sale) articles in the seller’s house. Accordingly, she replied, “Hi. I goofed, we had two sets and I assumed they were identical. You know what that makes me. Please accept my apology.”
I was not happy with the bad news. I did recall watching the same auction for several weeks before I decided to pull the trigger. What I didn’t realize is that the earlier listing was most-likely a different set from what I received. The seller, I am assuming, acquired a set of photographs from an estate and divided it in to two groups to be sold. The set that I purchased was merely a group of extras.
Granted, the seller refunded the entire auction amount but I was without the photograph that I wanted. As of writing this, I haven’t left feedback on the transaction. If I let my frustration rule, I would leave negative feedback. However, the seller was polite and extremely prompt in taking corrective action. I have (four copies of) two professionally produced photographs that I didn’t pay a cent to acquire.
In the end, evaluating this transaction in terms of the hot stove league, it is akin to inviting (to spring training) a washed-up player who has been out of the league for a few seasons only to return to win a roster spot.