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WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away

I created this site as a vehicle for me to write about and discuss the military baseball artifacts that I have or am adding to my collection. Rather than to be simplistic in describing the items and sharing photographs of each piece, I prefer to research and capture the history (when possible) in order to provide context surrounding the items as a means to educate readers. I find that I often return to my articles and incorporate their elements or entirety for use in subsequent articles or as a means to authenticate artifacts that I am interested in purchasing.  Another activity that I enjoy participating in is to document those artifacts that I have discovered either too late or was incapable of purchasing due to being outbid, a missed opportunity, too many unanswered questions, cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable for purchase. Losing out on acquiring somethings doesn’t necessarily translate to letting these pieces pass into oblivion simply because they are not part of my collection.

Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets sporting their wonderful flannel uniforms.
Left to right: Walter Masterson, Fred Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Tom Early (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

Left to right: Charlie Welchel, Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey of the Norfolk Naval Air Station Airmen baseball team, wearing wings on their uniforms (source: Virginian-Pilot).

I have a soft spot for vintage jerseys and I am constantly on the prowl for anything that would help to make my collection more diverse with uniform pieces from all service teams such as Navy and Army Air Forces teams. In my collection, I now have three different World War II jerseys (two of which include the trousers) from Marine Corps ball teams. This past summer, I was able to locate ball caps that seem to accompany two of those Marines jerseys. In addition to the USMC items, I have two uniforms (jerseys and trousers) from WWII Army teams: one from the 399th Infantry Regiment and the other, a colorful, tropical-weight red-on-blue (cotton duck) uniform from the Fifth Army headquarters ball team (which reminds me that I still need to write an article about this uniform group).  Two years ago, I was able to find another uniform set (jersey and trousers) that I am almost certain was from a Navy ball team, due to the blue and gold colors of the soutache and that the plackard reads in flannel script, “Aviation Squadron” adorning the jersey.

In my pursuit of military baseball uniforms, I have been working to document the ones that got away (or simply were not available for purchase) in order to create a record for comparative analysis in support of research or to assist in authentication of other uniforms. Unlike professional baseball, the major leagues in particular, there are very few surviving examples of uniform artifacts from the 1940s and earlier. By creating an archive, I am hoping that not only will I have a resource available for my own efforts but will also help others in understanding more about what our armed forces players wore on the field during their service.

This close-up of Ted Williams shows him in the Navy baseball uniform that he wore while attending naval aviation training and playing for the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters ball team.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by an author who was seeking information on what became of the baseball uniforms that were used by the naval aviation cadets who were attending U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School (The V-5 Program) at Chapel Hill. The cadet baseball team (the Cloudbusters) at the V-5 school included some professional ballplayers (such as two Boston Red Sox greats, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams, Boston Braves’ Johnny Sain to name a few). In addition to the baseball team, Chapel Hill also fielded a cadet football team whose coaching roster included college legends Jim Crowley,  Frank Kimbrough, Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught and even a future president, Gerald Ford. The uniforms worn by the Cloudbusters baseball team were trimmed with a double soutache surrounding the collar and the plackard that matched what was worn on the cuffs of the sleeves. Across the front in block lettering was N A V Y reminiscent of baseball uniforms worn by the Naval Academy ball teams at that time. In my response to the person who contacted me, I told her that I had not seen anything resembling the Cloudbusters uniforms nor did I have any knowledge of what became of them after the War. I can imagine that a team with a roster filled with professional ballplayers that they would have multiple uniforms (a few sets each for both away and home use), similar to what the Norfolk Naval Station Bluejackets ball team had.

Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky entertain a group of youngsters while in their Navy baseball uniforms of the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters team (source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

See Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot video series regarding the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team featuring an interview with former major leaguer, Eddie Robinson:

 

The left sleeve of the Navy baseball jersey is adorned with patch bearing crossed flags. The U.S. flag shows the pre-1959 48 stars. The British-esque flag might help to identify where, when or who wore this uniform (Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

While looking through my photo archives for images of artifacts in support of another article that I was writing, I discovered images of a Navy baseball jersey that had been for sale at some point by a small, regional business that specializes in vintage sports equipment. I saved the image of the jersey for future reference due to the unique patch on the left sleeve. The patch bears two crossed flags – one is the U.S. flag and the other, a red flag with the British Union Jack in the left corner and an indistinguishable symbol in the red field. The jersey has a singular blue soutache trim and possesses the same block-lettering (as seen on the Cloudbusters jerseys – which have no sleeve patches). In searching through extensive volumes of historical Navy baseball photographs, no image has surfaced showing this uniform in use, keeping it a mystery for the time-being.

This Navy baseball uniform is unique with the zippered front and single, navy-blue soutache on the sleeve cuffs and the uniform front. The well-known Chapel Hill Cloudbusters uniforms had button-fronts and double-soutache trim (source: Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

Wool flannel numerals in navy blue adorn the back of the jersey (source Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

I am hopeful that I can continue to gather a useful archive of uniform artifacts in order to provide a sufficient military baseball uniform research resource. Aside from articles such as this, I think that I will organize the uniform images into a proper archive that will be organized and searchable. By capturing and cataloging the artifacts that do not make it into my collection, I can still maintain a “collection” of artifacts that will be helpful to me and other collectors and researchers.

 

 

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Satin on Diamonds: a Rare WWII Army Baseball Uniform

Uniforms are perhaps the most visually appealing connection to baseball’s history and I consider it an honor to have a few vintage examples in my collection. From the most mundane and ordinary to the ornately appointed and trimmed-out jerseys, viewing and touching the material of a piece of baseball history is a very gratifying experience.

Throughout the past several decades, uniforms have experienced a significant amount of change en route to the breathable (and sterile) double-knit polyester togs that are seen on today’s diamonds. Some of the most interesting aspects of jerseys and trousers, as seen on major and minor league fields, have also been found to have been employed within the ranks for armed forces service teams.

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

Dodgers in satin; left to right: Roy Campanella, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider (source: The Design Morgue).

I am always vigilant with regards to baseball uniforms that I would love to add to my collection and in the last eight months, a uniform set surfaced at auction that really piqued my interest. The group consisted of a two-color (white with burgundy sleeves and lettering) jersey and ball cap; a white, six-panel crown (with burgundy piping between each panel) that is capped by a color-matching button and bill. What set this uniform apart from every other offering that I have ever seen? This jersey and cap set was made of satin material.

While many of the game’s current fans are familiar with baseball’s past wool uniform materials (there several combinations; wool flannel, wool-cotton, wool-poly blends, etc.), collectively referred to as “flannels,” few have knowledge that a handful of teams experimented with satin as a base material.  When teams began to install lights for night games (the first artificially illuminated major league game took place on May 24, 1935 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field), they sought to shake tradition up by employing a different uniform for these select games. According to Marc Okkonen in his 1991 work, Baseball Uniforms of The 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide, the Reds were the first also to experiment with satin in conjuction with games played under the lights:

“The Cincinnati Reds introduced night baseball in 1935 and in the following year they commissioned the Goldsmith Company to produce a special uniform for occasional game use in 1936 and 1937. It is not clear what inspired this so-called “Palm Beach” version (possibly, it was the advent of baseball under the arc lights) but it presented some interesting departures from long standing Reds’ uniform tradition. In place of the standard C-REDS logo, the name REDS appeared in the now-fashionable red script lettering on the left breast. And the real shocker was the combination of white jersey and BRIGHT RED pants, which was only one version of the new Palm Beach ensemble.”

Other teams followed suit with their own renditions of satin uniforms starting with Cardinals in 1941 (and again in ’46), the Dodgers (with at least three different examples) in 1944 and ’45 and the Braves in 1946. Jackie Robinson would wear the handed-down Dodgers satins during his stint with the organizations farm club, the Montreal Royals. There are no references that I could find to the employment of satin uniforms later than the 1940s.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin Jersey and ball cap made by Spalding.

What makes the military baseball uniform unique beyond it being the only one that I have found is that it is directly associated to a specific Army installation. Camp Hunter Liggett and that it is made of the rarely seen satin material.  The uniform jersey’s manufacturer tag that shows it was made by A. G. Spalding & Brothers. The design of the tag indicates that the uniform dates to the early years of the fort; between 1941 and ’42 (the tag was used by Spalding from ’34-’42).  Though it is difficult to discern from the photos, the block lettering on the chest (“ARMY”) and back (“Camp Hunter Liggett”) appears to be made from a burgundy-colored wool.

Camp Hunter Liggett - 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

Camp Hunter Liggett – 1940s Satin ball cap made by Spalding.

The accompanying ball cap has a shorter, more-rounded bill and a leather sweatband that is indicative of being manufactured during the early 1940s. Unfortunately, there was no label or tag visible in the photos that accompanied the auction listing yet it is likely that it was also manufactured by Spalding.

Like most other vintage satin uniforms that can be seen in private collections or at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Liggett uniform group has significantly yellowed with age and shows signs of use – typical sweat stains surrounding the collar and (possibly) infield dirt stains on the chest (from sliding into second base, perhaps?). The overall condition of this group is remarkably good and would have been a fantastic addition to my collection.

The buy-it-now auction closed in June of 2016 with the buyer getting it for a steal at $249 (plus a few dollars for shipping). Sadly, this one slipped away due to the auction price exceeding my (then) budget. It pays to have a few dollars set aside for emergencies such as these.

References:

 

 

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