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Baseball Inductions: Transitioning from Diamonds to the Ranks

Being sworn into the armed forces for most Americans is a personal and individual event that typically follows a lengthy process of testing, medical evaluation and paperwork which includes signing an enlistment contract that guarantees military occupation or specialty that the enlistee will perform throughout the duration of their obligation. For some families, the swearing-in ceremony is a proud and solemn moment to witness as their son or daughter takes the oath that has been repeated for 244 years. When I enlisted nearly four decades ago, I stood in a room filled with candidates for all branches of service as we, together, recited the oath in unison. After the conclusion, I was whisked away to the airport as I headed off to basic training.

My departure into the armed forces was wholly without fanfare as it was during a time of peace. When my son recited his oath a few years ago, my wife and I observed with pride mixed with a healthy dose of trepidation due to the current, perpetual conflicts that our nation is involved with. Looking back 77 years to when my maternal grandfather followed thousands of young American men to their local recruiters’ offices, there were no cameras or reporters (let alone family or friends) present to document the occasion as it these enlistments were taking place by the thousands throughout the country. I can’t fault him for waiting a few weeks to tie-up loose ends, before he left for the Navy in January of 1942, and to spend the holidays with his family. In the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the national response to the attacks on American forces throughout the Island of Oahu was outrage, sadness and the desire pursue the enemy to the ends of the earth prompted young men to action. For some professional athletes, the call to take up arms was received loudly and clearly.

January 23, 1942: Chapman Joins Feller. Chapman and Feller leave their barracks for a tour of inspection of the Naval Training Station here after Chapman reported for duty today. Both are Chief Specialists in the Physical Fitness Program, just weeks after enlisting (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Rather than to report to Indians management in Cleveland, star pitcher, 23-year-old Bob Feller made his way to Chicago to join the Navy. As the battleships that were once moored to their Ford Island quays still smoldered, resting in the muck of Pearl Harbor’s shallow bottom, Bob Feller was sworn into the United States Naval service by another sports legend, Lieutenant Commander Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight boxing champion (and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of World War I) who was heading up the Navy’s athletics training program. With newspapermen and photographers present at the Chicago courthouse, Feller became the first professional athlete to join the armed forces for service during World War II. The timing of Feller’s enlistment, while certainly linked to the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the pitcher arrived at the decision (on December 6) to enlist into the armed forces ahead of his inevitable draft (see From Army Front(column), Sporting News, December 11, 1941, page 14).

August 9, 1942: Bob Kennedy, White Sox third baseman (hand upraised) is inducted into the Naval Air Force Friday between games of the Chicago-Cleveland doubleheader by Lieutenant Commander J. Russell Cook, Great Lake Naval Training Station Athletic Officer. At left is James Dykes, manager of the White Sox, and at right is Lieutenant Jay Berwanger, former football star, member naval aviation cadet selection board. Kennedy probably will not report for training until the end of the baseball season (AP Wirephoto/Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

A few days after Feller’s enlistment, Detroit Tigers outfielder Hank Greenberg, fresh from being discharged from ending his six-month Army obligation (peacetime draft) enlisted into the Army Air Forces for the duration of the war. Others followed suit as Connie Mack’s Athletics roster was depleted with the departure of two of its young rising stars; Al Brancato and Sam Champan. As more athletes joined, the press was notified and present for the induction process. In some instance, the press or military public affairs photographers chronicled the events. Professional athletes, entertainers and other notable citizens enlisting to serve was newsworthy as the publicizing demonstrated to all citizens that people from all walks of life making sacrifices and risking life itself to eradicate fascism and secure peace for the world.

Taking stock of our vintage baseball photo archive, I observed numerous images in the collection that were taken during World War II as the major leaguers were in the process of entering the armed forces.  Despite not truly knowing their future disposition regarding where their wartime service might take them, each of the players outward appearance seemed to be stoic if not joyful in these tenuous moments.

Each of these photos in the collection offer a peak into a significant day in the lives of these baseball players at a time when the future of our nation and the world was very much in doubt. As insignificant as baseball is in terms of human survival and freedom, the game was an important diversion for American citizens and service members as they worked to and fought for victory. Some of the men in these photos, along with hundreds of fellow major leaguers, served in combat theaters seeing action against the enemy on the sea, in the air and on the ground.

 

Nothing To Write? I Think I’ll Just Restore a Vintage Bat, Instead

With the changes in my employment, my pursuit of artifacts must also change as I am actively seeking a new position to bring my expertise, knowledge and experience to bear for a new employer. After contracting for for the last several months, I believe that I am ready to settle down with an employer and to give them my undivided attention (seeking follow-on employment while working is not something that I want to be a part of my daily routine). In terms of my research and writing, I believe that I will be able to commit some of my free time to work on some of my outstanding projects and perhaps bring some of them to a close.

What is odd is that when I sat down to write an article about military baseball, I drew a blank as I searched for a subject. I looked back at my previous articles and saw that I was following the influx of artifacts and as the mailbox grew silent, a mental block appeared and cut me off from the ideas that had previously been swirling around within my mind. Oddly, I am incapable of coming up with a topic even at this very point. Imagine writing a 2400+ word essay one week and having literally nothing to discuss the next.

While preparing for an upcoming public showing of part of my militaria collection over the last few days, I have been gathering all of the World War I pieces that I own, some of which were inherited from two of my uncles who served during the Great War. While sorting through containers of stored century-old artifacts, I have viewed several pieces of my military baseball collection and was reminded (at each encounter with a piece) that there was yet another opportunity for researching, writing and photographing a piece for this site. Yet today, I can’t recall a single item.

Even as I was discussing a possible public showing of my military baseball artifacts (in conjunction with an upcoming Armed Forces Day event) with a representative from our local Pacific Coast League team, I recalled that there was a specific piece that I wanted to document and photograph for an article to be published here. That idea has also faded from my consciousness.

While it isnt in terrible shape, this store-model Ferris Fain signature Louisville Slugger should make for a nice display. Fain bats are not very prevalent due to his brief, yet fantastic major league career (Image source: eBay).

As I recall each of these situations where ideas were stirring within my mind over the last week and yet the ideas have long since dissolved, I suppose that the best option for me today is to take a momentary pause and spend time with my wife and children, watch a ballgame or two and continue my job search. I even have some artifact preservation and restoration work that has been in the queue for quite some time. I have been meaning to breathe new life into a 1950s Ferris Fain signature Louisville Slugger bat that was used (and abused). While I am not a bat collector, per se, I do like to have pieces that have some correlation to what I do collect. Since Fain was such a prominent figure on the U.S. Seventh Army Air Force team (a team mate of Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon) during World War II prior to his nine-season major league career (with the Athletics, White Sox, Tigers and Indians) crushing two back-to-back batting titles (1951 and ’52) before ending his career following a string of injuries.

Due to the grime, Fains signature and part of the “Louisville Slugger” stamp is visible despite the black foil in the signature and lettering having long-since faded (Image source: eBay).

This bat, produced by Hillerich and Bradsby (famous bat makers notable for the Louisville Slugger bats that are commonplace throughout the sport), was made in the 1950s during the height of Fain’s career. Based upon the Hillerich & Bradsby oval center brand design, my Fain signature bat dates from a period between 1948-1964 as indicated by the very faint yet visible “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.” that is centered beneath the oval. It is through deductive reasoning and speculation that I am dating the bat to the early 1950s.

By 1955, Fain’s production was dramatically tailing off along with his playing time. Ferris was an All-Star for five consecutive seasons (1950-54), only to be traded to Detroit in the off-season of 1954. By mid-season of 1955, he was released and signed by the Indians eight days later. He was released by Cleveland in November of 1955, signaling the end of his major league career. Fain found himself back in the Pacific Coast League in 1956 with the Sacramento Solons appearing in only 70 of the team’s 168 games. Based upon Ferris Fain’s career trajectory, I may be stating the obvious in suggesting that no further Louisville Slugger bats bore his name after the 1955 season (it is my assumption but it is possible that they continued manufacturing his bats for an additional season).

The Hillerich and Bradsby oval brand is very faint due to the typical shallow impressions seen on store model bats. The years of use have worn away the black foil that helped the lettering versus the burned branding seen on pro-model bats) to stand out (Image source: eBay).

Though this artifact has only an associative connection to military baseball (due to Fain’s service before he had his own signature bat), it is still a piece that I enjoy having in the collection. I am taking some steps to restore certain aspects without removing the signs of age in order to make the bat more display-friendly. With that, I am pushing the keyboard aside, taking out some cleaning cloths, steel wool and a bottle of Goo Gone and begin to carefully remove the grime and dried paint to see what I can uncover for the next restoration steps.

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