Collecting original baseball militaria vintage photographs can be very rewarding, especially when the subjects in the images are of major leaguers (past or future). My collection has grown over the years to not only include ballplayers who reach the highest level of the game but also play their way into Cooperstown while having given away a portion of their career to the armed forces when their nation needed them at the most critical time in history.
In the early months of 1942, the mood of the people of the United States was a myriad of emotions ranging from outrage and anger, fear, great sorrow and loss and of unity. Suffering the tragic loss of thousands of armed forces personnel and a handful of citizens at Pearl Harbor and in the surrounding bases on the Island of Oahu and news of the battles raging on the Bataan Peninsula combined with the surrender of American military forces on Guam and Wake Island, Americans at home had every reason to be concerned about what was taking place and how it would impact the future of our nation. It seemed as though the world was falling under a dark cloud of evil both in the Pacific and across Europe as both German and Japanese militaries were laying waste to every nation they invaded and every military force that attempted to oppose them.
Historians have experience a measure of success in documenting and communicating about the impacts on the game of baseball within hours of the news of the Pearl Harbor attacks reaching the mainland of the United States. For most baseball fans, the knowledge of the quick responses by stars of the game such as Cleveland Indians’ ace pitcher, Bob Feller (enlisted into the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941) and Hank Greenberg (who made his return to the Army on February 1, 1942, having been discharged two days before the Pearl Harbor attack). Besides these two stars of the game heading off to fight, most players from the major and minor leagues did not rush to join en masse, but rather waited to learn what was going to happen with baseball and the military draft. The two most significant stars of the game in the 1941 season, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had no intentions of rushing into the fight as both reported to spring training for the 1942 season though each player would face criticism for avoiding service (Ted Williams was skewered for his III-A deferment status regardless of being his mother’s sole provider) and ultimately succumb to the vocal disappointment and enlist, joining the throng of young Americans entering the ranks in the waning months of 1942 and early 1943.
Major and minor league baseball experienced an outflow of personnel that reached a critical mass by the middle of the 1944 season that forced many lower level leagues to shutdown operations. Those players who could not serve in the armed forces moved to the higher level leagues to fill their vacated positions. Though the game helped to sustain many Americans by providing them with an escape from rationing, scrap drives and working in the war effort, the quality of play was nothing close to what was seen when the greats of the game was at its pinnacle in 1941 with DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and William’s .406 season.
On May 17, 1942, White Sox starter Johnny Rigney pitched his last game before departing for basic training a few miles north of Chicago at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Facing the Washington Senators that day, the Oak Park, Illinois native tossed a three-hit, complete game (he surrendered a double to Bobby Estalella and a single each to Bob Repass and Mike Chartak), in the 4-3 win in front of 16,229 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. While the White Sox roster still was still full with most of their star players on that mid-May day, they were already 13-2 and 11.5 games out of contention. Rigney, one of the bright spots on the pitching staff since his arrival to the big league club in 1937. By the time of his induction, he had a 56-56 record with an era of 3.63 and was 3-3, having appeared in seven games in ’42.
After completion of Navy basic training, Johnny Rigney (no relation to fellow ballplayer and Navy man, Bill Rigney) was recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane to pitch for the service team that he managed for 1942. Cochrane, a former American League star catcher for Philadelphia and Detroit, following his enlistment into the Navy and assignment to Great Lakes as an athletics director took on the management of the baseball team and quickly began reaching out to draft-eligible major leaguers to encourage them to join up and to get them assigned to fill roster spots on the Bluejackets squad. Rigney followed several big leaguers to the Navy and joined Cochrane’s team which already consisted of Sam Harshaney (St. Louis Browns), Benny McCoy (Detroit Tigers/Philadelphia Athletics), Russell Meers (Chicago Cubs), Donald Padgett (St. Louis Cardinals), Frank Pytlak (Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox), James Reninger (Philadelphia Athletics), Joe Grace (St. Louis Browns), Chet Hajduk (Chicago White Sox) and Johnny Lucadello (St. Louis Browns).
Billed by many baseball historians as the greatest team of WWII, the Great Lakes squads were dominant among all of the service teams. The 1942 squad was considered the weakest among the war years squads, finishing the year with a 52-10-1 record (a whopping .800 winning percentage) which included a 17-game winning streak and not suffering any losses to opposing military teams. Where the ’42 Bluejackets struggled was in exhibition games (fundraising events for Navy Relief and other service member needs) against major league clubs posting a 4-6 record in the 10 games they played that year. Former White Sox hurler was considered the ace of Cochrane’s staff and taking the mound against the most difficult and formidable opponents. Coach Cochrane would also tag Rigney for service in a fund-raising game played between the 1942 American League All-Stars and the Service All-Stars at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on July 7, 1942 (the American League squad defeated the service team, 5-0 after Bob Feller’s abysmal pitching performance, surrendering three runs before being relieved by Rigney in the 2nd Inning).
One of the type-1 press photographs in my collection depicts Johnny Rigney visiting his former White Sox teammates at Comiskey Park on July 3, 1942. The image is a high-contrast photograph that is in fantastic condition. One of the more interesting aspects of this print, aside from some minimal surface damage due to the seven decades of aging and decay, is the presence of editing marks made directly onto the surface. Most discernible on the print are the handmade enhancements to Rigney’s uniform in order to distinguish his dress blues from the surrounding features. Other edits on the image surround the upper left portion behind the three players’ heads, extending to the center around Rigney’s dixie cup hat. It is very likely that the wall behind the players was covered with distracting elements taking the focus away from what was happening with the personalities within the main framed area.
A large percentage of the vintage images in my baseball militaria photograph archive depict game action or show players on the field in various manners. However this photo captures an interlude away from the field of play between Rigney and fellow White Sox personalities. Besides Rigney, two of the White Sox players shown in the image would soon be serving: third baseman Dario Lodigiani would enlist into the U.S. Army Air Forces and would eventually be assigned the 7th AAF team in Hawaii along with his fellow San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Coast League (PCL) alumnus Joe DiMaggio and Ferris Fain; Ted Lyons, the (then) 20 year veteran that had pitched himself into eligibility for Cooperstown enshrinement, joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the youthful age of 42.
The two other White Sox shown in the vintage photo are Rigney’s fellow pitchers Orval Grove and “Lefty” Lee, neither of whom would serve in the armed forces and George “Mule” Haas, the 12-year veteran outfielder (with the Pirates, Athletics and White Sox from 1925-38) who was part of manager Jimmy Dykes‘ coaching staff from 1940 to ’46.
The photo itself is a large, non-standard size (8.25 x 7 -inches), silver-gelatin print that is borderless. It is possible that the newspaper photo editor (who prepped the image for publication) trimmed the borders off as part of the editing process. One element of this image that adds to the interest is that the White Sox players are wearing their (home) white uniforms with red and blue trim marking the first season in which “White Sox” appeared in script lettering across the chest and the only use of such a design until 1987.
Photos of professional ballplayers in their armed forces uniforms (whether their flannels or military) are getting increasingly difficult to find but I keep scouring my sources to further build my archive.
How does one follow-up such an amazing acquisition of an historic photographic baseball artifact as the original, Type-1 image of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio posing in his 7th Army Air Force uniform at at Honolulu Stadium? Considering that I touched upon Ted Williams’ impressive 1941 performance in concert with that of DiMaggio and his 56-game streak, landing an original type-1 of the Splendid Splinter in his service team uniform would seem to be an appropriate, yet nearly impossible accomplishment. As unbelievable as it may seem, that is exactly what happened.
In Ben Bradlee, Jr.‘s fantastic biography, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, Ted’s military service is thoroughly examined including his reluctance (and near boredom) from being called upon to play on the base teams (following his tenure with the Cloudbusters of Chapel Hill in early 1943 while he was still a Naval Air Cadet in the V-5 training program) once he earned his gold aviator’s wings. Williams entered the naval aviation training with his Red Sox team mate, Johnny Pesky at the Navy’s Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Following the completion of their first few months of training Williams, Pesky and others from their class continued training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School where both were tapped to play baseball on Navy’s local team, joining forces with other major leaguers such as Johnny Sain, Louis “Buddy” Gremp, Joe Coleman, John “Buddy” Hassett, Joe Cusick and Pete Appleton.
In Bradlee’s book, he delves into a notable exhibition game played between Williams, Johnny Pesky (and other major leaguers that were currently serving) in Boston versus the National League’s Braves. The service all stars were coached by Babe Ruth with a pre-game home run hitting contest between the Babe and the Kid which was a disappointment due to Ruth’s first swing resulting him fouling a ball off his leg, forcing him to withdraw. The Cloudbusters would compete against collegiate and other military teams (such as the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets) during Williams’ and Pesky’s tenure.
Ted Williams, after serving as a flight instructor for nearly a year in Florida, was in transit to Hawaii as the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompting the Japanese to accept an unconditional surrender. Upon his arrival at Pearl Harbor, the Splendid Splinter was added to the all-star Navy roster of major leaguers to play in the September-October, seven-game Navy World Series (not to be confused with the 1943 series played at Naval Station Norfolk’s McClure Field). Navy players, originating from National League teams before WWII, defeated their American League counterparts, four games to two despite the AL’s composite tally outscoring the NL, 30-24 total runs (the AL, led in part with a home run by Pesky, took the fourth game by a 12-1 margin). Though he was on the roster, Williams was a non-factor, perhaps distracted by thoughts of shedding his Marine Corps uniform, not having been sent to fight after more than three years of service. Though the rosters were stocked with major league ball players there were only a handful of stars from the big leagues. Culled together from multiple sources (in the absence viewing the program shown above) are the rosters of Navy ballplayers from each of the major leagues (the asterisk denotes election to the Hall of Fame). There is name on the American League roster who I was not able to narrow down (there were multiple players named Harris).
|National League||American League|
|Charley Gilbert||CF||Jack Conway||2B|
|Jim Carlin||3B||Johnny Pesky||SS|
|Billy Herman *||2B||Chet Hajduk||1B|
|Stan Musial *||RF||Ted Williams *||RF|
|Whitey Platt||LF||Dick Wakefield||LF|
|Wimpy Quinn||1B||Jack Phillips||CF|
|Ray Lamanno||CF||Bob Kennedy||3B|
|Ray Hamrick||SS||Rollie Hemsley||CF|
|Clyde Shoun||P||Freddie Hutchinson||P|
|Hugh Casey||P||Bob Lemon *||P|
|Louis Tost||P||Hank Feimster||P|
|Henry Schenz||2B||Jack Hallett||P|
|Gilbert “Gibby” Brack||OF||Edwin “Ed” Wieland||P|
|James “Jim” Carlin||OF||Ken Sears||C|
|Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn||P||Joe Lutz||1B|
|Bob Scheffing||C||Joe Glenn||C|
|Richard “Dick” West||C||Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe||P|
The series was in hand for the National League team following their 4-1 victory in the 6th game but as the games were being played for the enjoyment of the ticket-holding service members, the seventh game was played.
|26-Sep-45||6||5||Pesky knocked in the 5th AL run in the bottom of the 9th, Williams was hit-less after popping up for the 2nd out with 2-on.|
|29-Sep-45||6||3||Williams 2-run HR helped end the shutout in the bottom of the 9th.|
|3-Oct-45||1||12||Pesky was 3-3 with a single, double and 2 run HR.|
|5-Oct-45||1||4||Williams was scratched from the line-up due to illness and did not play the remainder of the series.|
|6-Oct-45||4||1||Pesky got a hit and scored a run in the victory.|
Johnny Pesky finished the series batting .346 (9 for 26) with three runs batted in (RBI) and one home run. Pesky’s team mate, Ted Williams batted .272 (3 for 11) with 2 RBI and one home run.
When I discovered the DiMaggio Type-1 photograph (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I was taken by surprise and was ecstatic to win the auction, virtually unopposed. Less than a week later, lighting struck (me) twice resulting in me discovering a collection of photographs of the Red Sox legends (Williams and Pesky) from their wartime service, wearing their Navy flannels. One of the images, a larger print (roughly 11″ x 17″) shows Pesky in his Cloudbusters uniform, speaking to an apparently delighted nine year old James Raugh* (the Coudbusters’ batboy and mascot) seated on the ballplayer’s lap. Though the image of Pesky posing with Williams is what initially drew my attention, the photo from the 1945 Navy World Series game truly stands out as the showcase photograph of the group. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the collection of photos is that all three of them originated from Johnny Pesky’s collection – these were owned by him.
Johnny passed away in 2012, leaving behind an incredible collection of baseball history. His artifacts stemmed from a career in the game that spanned more than 60 years and consisting of trophies, photographs, balls, gloves, bats, cleats, awards, baseball uniforms and even his 2004 Red Sox World Series Ring. Hunt Auctions, LLC was selected by Pesky’s son (David) to facilitate the liquidation of the baseball treasures. As an aside to the baseball memorabilia listed and sold, being the militaria (especially navy items) collector, I was in awe to see Lieutenant (junior grade) Pesky’s military uniform items while the selling price ($2,000) wasn’t at all a surprise.
The mailer arrived without any issues and upon unpacking everything, I noted that I was provided with a copy of the auctioneer’s certificate from the lots that contained the photographs now in my collection, indicating their origination from the Pesky collection. The enormous size of the package caught me off guard though I knew that one of the photos was larger than any that I had ever acquired. The reason for the larger shipping container was that the photo was mounted on a large, card-stock backing and probably set into a frame, years ago. The two other photos are more reasonably sized.
The second photograph in the group was a great image of both Pesky and Williams (with, as of yet, another naval aviation cadet) in a kneeling pose at the UNC Chapel Hill’s Emerson Field. All three players are wearing their Cloudbusters home flannels. I was able to locate this print among on of the Hunt Auction listings. As with my DiMaggio photo, this is an image that is not widely distributed across the internet; in fact, it has not been seen elsewhere. It’s uniqueness leaves me wondering what became of the original negatives and how Pesky came to be the one to possess it (and the others) rather than any of the other Cloudbusters team members or if everyone on the team was provided prints and only Johnny managed to keep them throughout his life.
The last photo of the three is as significant in terms of the historical content, who is pictured, and what is written on the print’s back. Rather than to simply scan the image and capture every detail, I decided to additionally scan it at the highest resolution possible and break the image into segments in order to capture the most important details that can be seen. This photo, taken at the 1945 Navy World Series shows the full rosters of each team, lined up on Furlong Field down each base line with Pesky at the image’s center.
I thought that it would be interesting to see who (among my readers) can identify any of the major leaguers in these photos:
When I turned the image over, I noticed a hand-written note that detailed Pesky’s return home from the War. At first glance, I thought that the handwriting might be Johnny’s but then I compared the way his name is written with various examples of his autograph (some dating back to the 1940s).
My analysis ruled Pesky out as the scribe, however there is a possibility that the note was written by his wife (whom he met in 1944). Finding photos from these historic games is very rewarding as there are but a handful that exist (cameras were a rarity among the GIs in attendance) and the press photos (there had to be many) have yet to surface from the newspaper archives.
I am glad to have these photos for several reasons: historical significance, rare glimpses into the military service of some big names from the game and that they were part of the collection of a legend from one of my favorite teams.
*James Raugh would pursue his own baseball dreams, following in the footsteps of Williams and Pesky and playing his collegiate years on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill team before signing with the Detroit Tigers organization as right-handed pitcher. Raugh and Pesky would cross paths seventeen years later when the young pitcher, in the fourth season of his professional career with the Victoria Rosebuds (AA – Texas League). Johnny Pesky was in his fifth season managing in the minor leagues and was in his only season with the Rosebuds when he had his former batboy had a dominating season as a starting pitcher (11-4, record with a 3.33 era, 102 strikeouts against 45 walks). Raugh is the subject of 2018 book, The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II (published May 1, 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing), written by his daughter, Anne Keene (foreword by Claudia Williams, daughter of Ted Williams).
- United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection, 1942-1945
- When Cadet Ted Williams Came to Chapel Hill
- Ted Williams At War (by Bill Nowlin)
- SABR | The National Pastime # 26: The 1945 All-Star Game The Baseball Navy World Series at Furlong Field, Hawaii (pg. 111)
Missing out on pieces that would fit perfectly with what I collect is becoming too common of an occurrence for me lately. I am not one who spends my weekends scouring garage and estate sales in search of these precious artifacts but perhaps there might be something to that activity. The problem with taking that approach is that there is a considerable time commitment required just to make it worthwhile and to afford chances to find such treasures. Another challenge is that these military baseball artifacts are so hard to find due to the small population of service members who played the game during their time in the armed forces. I find that it is best to take my chances with the collections, personal items – pieces that are listed by veterans, family members, collectors and pickers.
It is not secret that my tendencies in collecting, both with militaria and in military baseball are towards the Navy and I work harder to land those related items that surface within the marketplace. Often, there are pieces that are of little interest to other collectors or they are listed in such a manner that they elude people who might be using a few different (yet limited or too specific) search criterion or formulas. Even I have missed out on pieces because I was too lazy to search beyond my normal, standby perfunctory methods.
Sometimes, I make discoveries of items that perfectly fit my collection and line up with everything that interest me but are discovered because I was exploring a tangential interest. One example of this was when I was seeking a specific rating badge (a WWII-era bullion Radarman version), I discovered a binder filled with shipyard modernization work orders that belonged to a Chief Electrician (a warrant officer) who used for the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) that would later be sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August of 1942.
My collection of Navy baseball artifacts, despite my best efforts, are scantily few. It seems that besides the there being so few pieces in existence, the competition for those items can be quite fierce.
Vintage military photographs are something that I collect. In addition to my naval ship and military baseball photograph archive, I also have several images that were part of a veteran’s photo scrapbook from his service in the 20th Air Force. Among those images of ground activities, bombing missions, wrecked aircraft and airmen enjoying downtown between missions, there are images of several B-29s and their nose art.
Nose art, especially what was seen on B-17 an B-29 bombers, has considerable following for collectors and historians alike. When the number of just these two types of aircraft (12,731 B-17 and 3,970 B-29 bombers) are considered coupled with the notion that the majority of them (that were deployed to their respective theaters of the war), there would be thousands of differing paintings and illustrations to be documented. In recent years, there have been several undertakings by historians who are seeking to locate photographs of every example of nose art for each aircraft. If the photograph exists, these folks want to have it.
In terms of collectors, those who pursue painted bomber jackets in particular, to possess both the jacket and photographic artifacts from the same ship help to make a great display. I have never actually purchased a vintage photo of a bomber or other Air Force aircraft.
A few days ago, while I was browsing through some listings of B-29 photographs taken on Tinian and Saipan (the two principle bases of operation for bombing missions to the Japanese homelands during the latter years of the War), I spotted a vintage photograph that was listed as a “nose art” image. In the thumbnail of the photo in the listing, I could see that there was a large gathering of men posed beneath the aircraft, which wasn’t unusual. What was out of the norm from what I have seen in other images was the sheer number of people lined up in multiple rows. Something about the men also caught my eye as it appeared different from all the photos that I had seen. The Superfortress looked normal though the nose art, from what I could tell, was quite diminutive compared to what was commonly applied to these massive planes.
I decided to open the auction listing and I was immediately astounded. There, in the formation ranks were a few recognizable faces – Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Fred Hutchinson to name a few – among the 43 visible service members. Twelve of the men in baseball uniforms were wearing the road gray navy flannels while 14 were decked out in the pinstripes and blue home togs. Other men posing in the image are in the Army Air Forces and Navy military uniforms. The image appears to be a type-1 (defined as first generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period – within approximately two years of when the picture was taken) and the clarity is impeccable. It is obvious that the photograph was snapped by a professional war correspondent, judging by the exposure and composition, regardless of the cropping out of men on the edges of the group.
I really wanted to land this photograph. Not wanting to risk being outbid, I set my amount for more than twice the highest price that I have ever paid for a vintage photograph. I could see that there were some new-to-eBay folks (those who place bids very early after an item is listed) which gave me a little bit of concern as these people tend to drive prices unnecessarily high (my bid won’t show until just prior to the close of the auction). I waited the remaining five days for the close of the bidding and hoped for the best.
I wish that I could say that my bid amount was enough to bring this photograph home to me but someone else with deeper pockets and, very obviously in possession of the knowledge of the significance of this rare photograph took the same actions as I did and placed a higher bid at the same time (just seconds before the auction’s close) that mine was made. Losing and missing out on this image was a painful lesson to learn. If the item matters this much, I had better step up to the plate and take a real swing.
At least I was able to grab a digital copy (albeit, low resolution) for posterity.
When the confetti drops on the victors of the Super Bowl it is a signal that, rather than just the curtain falling on the football season, pitchers and catchers have less than two weeks to pack their bags.
Though much of the nation, at least the Northern states, may be crippled by the biting wind and traffic-snarling snow, indications of the impending spring are apparent, regardless of the vision of a certain Pennsylvania woodchuck…er…land-beaver…I mean…whistlepig (you might refer to him as “Phil” of Punxsutawney, PA). For many fans of America’s pastime, the day after Valentine’s day is the the first day of spring as the holiday marks the impending reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training in both Florida and Arizona.
For militaria collectors who are interested in the game of baseball, there are no beginnings or endings to the season. No spring training, cuts, mid-season call-ups, playoffs or championships are components of collecting military baseball. Fortunately trades and wins (and sadly, losses) come occur between the lines, on the field of play.
Many collectors who play the game of baseball collecting spend their time focusing on artifacts pertaining to specific players-turned soldier (or sailor). Some seek scorecards or programs from the notable service team championship games while still others pursue artifacts from the games – worn or used by the players themselves. But in some cases, it is less important (for collectors) to seek items documenting or connected to star athletes, as the game itself is central to their pursuit.
Photographs of ordinary baseball teams fielded by individual military units, to some, may seem a bit mundane and boring. However, these images are quite riveting as they reveal the pageantry of the game. From action shots of games being played to group photos of the team dressed in their uniforms, moments in both baseball and military history are captured, forever bound together.
One of the most compelling photographs for me is one that reveals historical information in the surrounding area or background. I seek out context – what was happening on the base or aboard the ship when the film was exposed?
My motivation for this particular interest was sparked when I inherited a photo album from my grandmother that contained a collection of snapshots of her sailor-brother who played for his ship’s ballclub in the 1930s. Present among the images of my grand-uncle aboard ship and in his navy attire were two team shots featuring him (and the rest of the club) dressed in a simple baseball uniform (not the standard flannel of the era) with the ship’s name emblazoned across the chest.
Some of the earliest images dating to the late nineteenth century are (obviously) the most difficult to find due to their rarity. But rarity doesn’t solely fuel the collectors’ interest. One image of the USS Maine’s ball club, taken in the late 1890s (prior to the ship’s fateful end) shows that the game was integrated, like the professional game was, prior to the enacting of the oppressive Jim Crow laws.
In the game of baseball, hope springs eternal as February runs into March and opening day looms on the horizon. But why wait until the first pitch to step up to the plate?