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A War Veteran Who Never Served

With a few of my earlier posts, I have covered some of the professional ball players who temporarily traded their professional flannels in exchange for a uniform of the armed forces. While some of these men filled the ranks both in combat and support units, others used their professional skills to provide the troops with a temporary escape from the harsh realities of the war by providing them with a taste of home that can be found within the lines of the baseball diamond.

According to Gary Bedingfield’s extensive research, more than 4,500 professional baseball players placed their careers on hold in order to serve in the effort to defeat fascism and tyranny that was sweeping across Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. There were more than 500 major league ball players who served in the armed forces throughout the more than four years of the war (including the last few weeks of December, 1941 when many players like Bob Feller rushed to enlist). Conversely, there were roughly 2,800 men who continued to play major league baseball during the same period, avoiding service for a myriad of reasons (age, unfit for duty, etc.). I have focused this blog on two over-arching subjects; baseball militaria – items used on the diamond (or in relation to it) by servicemen who may or may not have played the game professionally; the people who played the game during their time in uniform. Today’s post, while centered on a contextual (to this blog) object, it also addresses one of the nearly 3,000 MLB players who never served and yet was well-represented on the diamonds across both the European and Pacific theaters during WWII.

Before I delve into the subject matter of this article, I must first offer a disclaimer that I am decidedly not a baseball glove collector nor do I possess any measure of expertise on this very interesting area of baseball collecting. With this being the Chevrons and Diamonds blog where I provide research and insight pertaining to baseball militaria, my interest is more broad. As I researched this topic, I realize that expertise in military gloves and mitts are significantly more specialized and as with other areas of military baseball, is limited (at least that is my assertion) as compared to baseball gloves outside of what was used during the war.

As a Navy veteran, I tend to focus my collecting interest around naval-themed items and within the realm of military baseball, I remain consistent. When I began looking at obtaining a baseball glove for my collection, I found a World War II vintage model that was rather ragged and yet held my interest as it was stamped, “U.S.N.” across the wrist strap. Before making the purchase, I took note that the glove was also missing the web between the thumb and index finger and that there were fragments of the leather lacing remaining protruding from a few of the heavily-oxidized eyelets. I considered the condition and weighed it against the current pricing trends and decided to make the purchase, thinking that I would be able to get the glove into shape.

When the glove arrived a few days later, I unzipped the two-gallon sized zip-locked bag to find not only was it, at one point water-damaged with remnants of mildew or mold, but also that the leather was dried and cracking. It was in far worse shape than I anticipated. Perhaps this was the reason that I was able to acquire it for less than so many other of the scarcer Navy versions had been selling at premium prices in the months prior to me pulling the trigger on this one.  In the few years since, only a smattering have since been listed in online auctions. Regardless, this dried out, cracking and smelly glove is now in my possession and it is my desire to attempt to breathe new life into it with the hope that I leave it in better condition than when I received it.

I broke one of my self-established collecting rules; before I purchase it, I had virtually no understanding of vintage glove models, styles, manufacturers or the many details that a true glove collector can recite with ease. My extent of knowledge stems from examining vintage photographs and taking a peripheral view into what a fielder or position player may have on his catching hand. To me, the all generally appeared the same. Until I began researching for this article, I hadn’t spent any time attempting to understand how diverse and expansive vintage baseball glove field really is.  In the coming months, I hope to take some deeper dives into this area of collecting as it pertains to military service teams and the gloves that were issued to the members of the armed forces.

After a cursory pass in working over the dried leather of my Navy-issued glove (with Horseman’s One Step Leather Cleaner & Condition), I began to see some of the markings that might lead me to determine the manufacturer. One of the obvious markings was the “DW” stamped just above the heel. After nearly two weeks (following the treatment of the leather), more of the manufacturer’s stampings and markings began to emerge as the leather became supple and started to return to its previous shape.  Beneath the DW, “Hand Formed Pad” was discernible. Towards the pinky-finger side of the palm, remnants of a signature were visible – “Riddle” with “Trademark” centered directly below. A quick search of the web revealed that the glove was a GoldSmith Elmer Riddell fielder’s glove model.

Armed with details of the make and model of the glove, I spent some investigating the details in trying to confirm the age (I wanted to be certain that the glove, though marked as a U.S.N., that it was, in fact, from the WWII time-frame). I also wanted to gain a little bit of an understanding about the other information present on the glove:

  • Inside the glove on the heel pad:
    • Horesehide Lining
  • On the outer heel pad:
    • DW
    • Hand Formed Pad
  • On the pinky side-edge:
    • Elmer Riddle (signature)
    • Trademark
  • In the palm:
    • Inner Processed
    • GoldSmith (logo)
    • a Preferred Product (trademark)

The 1938-1944 P. GoldSmith company logo along with the “a Preferred Product” tagline as printed on a vintage baseball (image source: KeyManCollectibles.com).

To properly date the glove, the logo is the most revealing aspect (which, in the case of my glove is partially discernible). As with so many companies, logos changed during significant events (such as mergers, ownership changes, spin-offs, etc.). Noting that my glove has the GoldSmith logo along with the “A Preferred Product” trademark, it predates the merger with the golf brand, MacGregor which occurred between 1945-46 (in 1946, the company changed their name and logo to MacGregor-GoldSmith). By 1952, The company was known solely as MacGregor. Prior to 1938, the company logo was different and the name was P. GoldSmith (named for its founder, Phillip GoldSmith). Considering the company name and logo, I am able to determine that the manufacturing date of the glove lies somewhere in the 1938-44 range.  There is still more information that will narrow this date range down.

Elmer Riddle, pitcher (Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates; 1939-1949). Image source: Society of American Baseball Research (SABR)

The glove has a major-league pitcher’s endorsement (as indicated by the signature that is embossed), Elmer Riddle who played from 1939 to 1949 with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. His best years were 1941, 1943 and 1948 (his only all-star season).  Most likely, Riddle signed an endorsement deal with the P. GoldSmith Company during the early part of the war in 1942 following his ’41 19-2 season (he was the 4th runner-up in MVP balloting). With all of the information at my disposal I determined that my glove was made between 1942-44. Aside from my brilliant deduction skills, I am also fairly adept at tapping into available resources and knowledgeable experts. I reached out to a fellow collector who has a fantastic wealth of information in his site, KeyManCollectibles.com, specifically his Baseball Glove Dating Guide.

In viewing his archive of catalogs, the 1942 GoldSmith Preferred glove catalog shows the initial appearance within their Professional Model glove product line, sharing the page with the RL Model – with the Leo Durocher signature. The product description reads:

This page of the 1942 GoldSmith glove catalog shows the first year for the DW Elmer Riddle signature fielder’s glove (courtesy of KeyManCollectibles.com)

Compact, flexible, streamlined, “Natural Contour” Model (Licensed under Pat. No. 2231204) bearing signature of Elmer Riddle, of the Cincinnati “Reds”. Genuine horsehide with full horsehide lining, and hand formed asbestos felt pad. Inner processed greased palm, oiled back. Leather welted diverted finger seams and reinforced thumb seam. Roll leather bound edge, roll leather bound wrist, leather laced through metal eyelets. Improved double tunnel web with leather connector, laced through metal eyelets. Wide leather wrist strap.”

(Note: seeing that the glove is constructed with asbestos in the padding, I need to be careful in handling the glove as the leather is cracking and could open up enough to create an exposure risk.)

In the process of learning about this particular glove model, I made an interesting discovery. As war was taking hold across Europe, American citizens began to change their stance regarding the conscription (or draft) of young, able-bodied men into compulsory military training as a means of preparedness for what was seemingly inevitable; the United States being drawn into war. With President Roosevelt’s signing of the Selective Training and Service act of 1940, the first U.S. peacetime military conscription commenced requiring all men aged 21 to 35 to report for 12 months of service. By 1941, the age range was expanded, reducing the minimum age to 18 and the upper age to 37 and extended the length of service to 18 months.

As I viewed Mr. Riddle’s stats, I took note that he had no broken time during the war which stood out as a curiosity considering that he was a 27 year-old athlete who was actively playing baseball. While many of his peers were helping with the war effort (away from professional ball), Riddle continued to play the game. During the 1943 season, Elmer Riddle had a very productive season, making 36 appearances (starting 33 games) and winning 21 (he completed 19). In 260 innings, he only surrendered 6 homeruns. How could he have avoided the draft (provided he didn’t volunteer)? There are a number of deferments that were applied to a large number of men who fell into the age range of selective service. One thought that often arises when discovering a person who didn’t serve during WWII is the only son or only surviving son provision within the Selective Service Act (the premise of the fictionalized portrayal of retrieving a sole surviving son in the film, Saving Private Ryan). However, this provision only applies to peacetime conscription. During a national emergency or Congressionally declared war, even sole surviving and only sons will be called to serve. What is baffling is that even Riddle’s older half-brother, catcher Johnny Riddle, played along side Elmer in Cincinnati, avoiding service in the armed forces.

Prior to the 1944 season, he reported (in March) for and passed his pre-induction physical. According to Riddle’s bio at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website, “The Army advised him to report to spring training while awaiting induction. Apparently, he was never called up, because, according to United Press sportswriter Jack Cuddy, he started the season ‘like a burning haystack.’”

While Elmer Riddle never served his country in the armed forces, his name, affixed to a lot of baseball gloves, saw action wherever GIs took breaks from combat action. According to Vintage-Baseball-Gloves.com, the GoldSmith DW Elmer Riddle glove is, “THE (sic) classic wartime glove. More of these were issued than all other models combined.”  I can almost imagine players like Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese donning an Elmer Riddle glove as they took the field in one of their many service team ballgames. While most collectors might not enjoy it, I do see the lovely irony.

More details regarding the GoldSmith/MacGregor-Goldsmith DW Model Glove
GoldSmith (and MacGregor-Goldsmith) produced (at least) three DW models of the fielder’s glove:

  • GoldSmith DW – Elmer Riddle (years played: ’39-47 CIN; ’48-49 PIT)
  • MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Joe Cronin (years played: ’26-27 PIT; ’28-34 WAS; ’35-45 BOS [AL])
  • MacGregor-GoldSmith DW – Buddy Kerr (years played: ’43-49 NYG; ’50-51 BOS [NL])

A few collectors noted that the initials in reference to models pertain to the original player for whom the signature model was created.

  • MO – Mel Ott model
  • PD – Paul Derringer model
  • CG – Charlie Gehringer
  • RL – Red Lucas model (subsequently becoming a Leo Durocher endorsed model when the LD Durocher was dropped)
  • JC – Joe Cronin model (however the JCL model was a Pete Reiser signature model and yet Goldsmith never created PR model)
  • HC – Harold Craft model (which transitioned to a Dixie Walker endorsed model)

Consistency is king in helping archaeologists, archivists and researches to easily map out how companies conducted their businesses and yet seldom do we find that they were consistent.  As noted in the very brief sample of the GoldSmith/MacGregor-GoldSmith glove model list, the DW model did not have a ballplayer for whom the letters represented. It is assumed by collectors that it was created for Dixie Walker (most notable with his tenure in Brooklyn) and yet the glove he ended up endorsing was the (MacGregor-Goldsmith HC model (formerly the Harold Craft model). Why was the first player signature glove for Elmer Riddle the DW model rather than an ER?

Major League Flannel in the Foxhole?

As we draw to a close of what has been an exciting baseball season at both the major league and minor league level (at least it has been for me and the teams that I follow), I am reminded that I have experienced some success of my own in acquiring selected military baseball items. I have been fairly silent with regards to writing (on this blog) and I thought that today would be a great time to pick things back up.

Overall, my collection has experienced growth, mostly with vintage photographs, since I last posted and a few of my subsequent post will be dedicated to discussing the various acquisitions. I was also successful in obtaining one uniform set while missing out on another, very special (and very complete) baseball uniform (still another post will be forthcoming to discuss these).

I have yet to dive down into the researching (the subjects of today’s post) beyond some cursory investigations. One (or both) of the photographs that I acquired recently tell a bit of a story about the connection between the major leaguers and their transition into the ranks.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and "M" jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

United States Army Air Force ballplayers. There is a hodgepodge of uniforms on display in this image. In addition to the Cincinnati and “M” jerseys, the player in the front row (2nd from right) is wearing a uniform with thin, double-piping). The player in the bomber jacket (front row, far left) is wearing a 6 panel hat with piping outlining each panel.

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

The Cincinnati uniform in question. Is this from the MLB Reds team or, perhaps the University of Cincinnati Bearcats? Note the uniform features (lettering, lettering arch, piping trim placement and size).

When the (first) photo of the Army Air Force team arrived, I carefully examined it and noted that one of the players in the team was wearing a uniform with “CINCINNATI” stitched across his chest. The uniform was a dark shade of wool flannel (obviously gray) and piped in a darker contrasting material. This man’s uniform stood out against the others as it was one of two that was not a simple, plain gray flannel ensemble.

I wanted to see if I could pinpoint the uniform as the National League team, the Reds or rule it out as, perhaps, one from the University of Cincinnati. I turned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Dressed to the Nines (uniform database) to search Reds’ uniforms from the 1930s and 1940s to find a match. Keeping in mind the features of the Air Force player’s uniform (block letters, single thick piping on the edges, sleeves and around the collar), I was unable to match the uniform. Cincinnati’s 1930s road uniforms had letters that had serifs and the piping appears to be thin lines. The block lettered jerseys from the 1940s and war years had the correct lettering and yet lacked piping altogether.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Judging by the parked heavy bomber (perhaps a B-17) and the close proximity combined with the landscape, I am betting that this photo was taken somewhere in England in 1943-1945.

Paying close attention to the details of the photo, one must scan each player for specific elements that can help to identify where and when the photograph was taken which may give more research guidance when attempting determine facts (such as the identity of the two notable jerseys). In this photo, I can see the chalk-lines of the baseball diamond (in front of the team), the flat landscape along with a heavy bomber in the back ground. The close proximity of the aircraft to the ball field leads me to believe that the location of the photo is England (experience scouring a lot of photos helps to recognize familiar features).

Matching the facts of the photo, I may now attempt to identify one or more of the players. Scouring Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime site (which has an extensive database of players), cross-referencing names and searching for player photographs (using Google). It is tedious work but the payoff is rewarding. So far, I have had no such success in identifying anyone, let alone the “Cincinnati” player.

The second photo that I acquired is also something of a mystery. When I purchased it, the seller listed the image as being from World War II. When I saw the listing, I knew that the photo and the uniforms (worn by the players) were from 1910-1920.  The handwritten information on the reverse identified the players as being from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation (which would have been based in Washington D.C.; specifically, at the Washington Navy Yard).

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

This photo was most-likely shot during the Great War, if not a year or two earlier.

Close inspection of the background of the image failed to reveal (to me, at least) anything that would indicate or confirm a specific location. In viewing the main subjects of the image, I focused on the players and their uniforms. Jerseys were dark and pinstriped possessing a darker trim along the button edge, collar and sleeve cuffs. The sleeves are all 3/4 length (some players have them pulled above their elbows). Their caps are short billed, low crown and appear to have eight panels (versus the normal six of later years) and a small white “W” on the front panel. One player stands out from the rest in that his uniform is significantly lighter in color (with the same construction features) yet different in that it has a large “C” on the left chest and a small white “C” on the front panel of a six-panel cap that is trimmed in white piping.

My first reaction to the odd uniformed player was that he is wearing a Cleveland Indians (or Cleveland “Naps” as they were named from 1903-1914) uniform. Again I went back to the HoF uniform database and conducted a broad search (1910-1925) in hopes to narrow this uniform down. The results were close but not definitive. Clearly the ball cap is very much the same as the 1917 Cleveland road cap, but the uniform more resembled the home uniform of the same vintage with the exception of the trim on the sleeves. In some of the photographic examples, I have discovered that in 1916, the Indians wore the dark cap (with white piping) with the pinstriped white home uniforms. My “Cleveland” player lacks the player-number on the left sleeve as seen in the 1916 photo above.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

This style of collar began to appear with the New York Giants in 1906 and became more commonplace by 1911 across most teams. The 3/4 sleeve was a departure from the full-length long sleeves of the late 19th century. These uniforms also feature pinstripes and a darker material that follows the button strip and continues upward and around the collar.

Regarding the rest of the team’s uniforms. the white “W” appears to vary from cap to cap in size and placement and, since doesn’t directly correlate to what is written on the back of the photo (“U.S. Navy Bureau of Navigation”), it could stand for the unknown team name or simply, “Washington.”

Since this photo is very clearly earlier than World War II, there is no reason to search (as with the above photo) for any correlation to MLB players going to the military (times were different) from the their professional careers and there is some data available to pour through on the Baseball Reference site. Turning to Baseball in Wartime, Bedingfield has, for WWI, a list of ball players who were killed or died during their service. Of those, five served in the Navy, none of which were major leaguers.

In both photographs, the (seemingly) major league uniforms could be the result of major (or minor) league teams donating uniforms to the armed forces for recreation use as they are past their serviceable, professional lives. I will continue to research both of these photos and hopefully uncover details as they become available or surfaces in the coming years.

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