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“The One Constant Through all the Years…has been Baseball”

USMC or US Navy ballplayers on Guadalcanal during WWII.

Ballplayers (probably USMC or USN) take in instruction from Bestwick, their catcher. I acquired this vintage photo of military ballplayers – obviously dirty from game-action on Guadalcanal in September of 1943. The image was a veteran’s snapshot that had to be approved by the Naval Censor (stamped and signed on the reverse). Author’s collection: dated September, 1943.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.

People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.

At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 1-4

Program for the Air Force General Depot No. 5 All Star Classic held on 30 May 1945. Pages 2-3 showing the rosters of the All Stars.

Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.

Ernie Lombardi and Dom DiMaggio - Professional Baseball Players-turned Service Members

Ernie Raimondi (center) and Dom DiMaggio both volunteered for service in the armed forces during WWII. Raimondi was fatally wounded near Strasbourg, Germany in January, 1945. This vintage press release image shows the two future service members with the (now) defunct San Francisco Seals in 1939.

One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.

J. F. Scwendemen WWII Baseball Collection

WWII umpire, J. F. Scwendemen WWII military service team baseball collection with dozens of autographs of MLB stars and Hall of Famers (source: eBay image).

In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.

Hugh Casey, Pee Wee Reese - Norfolk Naval Air Station, 1943

Another recent acquisition for me is this September 11, 1943 image. The original Associated Press caption attached to back reads: “Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA.”

In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.

“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts

Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.

See also:

Wearable Nostalgia: Military Baseball T-shirts from EFF

Want to wear your passion for military baseball without spending $200 for a reproduction jersey? These military Tees from Ebbets Field Flannels are the perfect solution.

Want to wear your passion for military baseball without spending $200 for a reproduction jersey? These military Tees from Ebbets Field Flannels are the perfect solution.

Almost a full month of the 2016 baseball season has elapsed and we are beginning to see the alignments taking shape within the standings. My family knows that I follow three Major League Baseball teams; LA, Boston and Seattle. When I was a kid, I discovered the Blue Wrecking Crew of LA during the Cey, Lopes, Russell and Garvey era (“The Penguin,” Ron Cey was from my hometown and my favorite Dodger) watching the NBC Saturday Game of the Week which the Dodgers and my other favorite team of that time, the Red Sox, seemed to dominate the recurring programming. My passion for the Mariners didn’t materialize until the later 1970s with they came into being. Seeing these three teams perched atop their respective division standings as I write this gives me hope for an entertaining season. Heartbreak is certain to follow as the season wears on when one or all three teams will fall back to earth.

As the season continues, my collecting interest presses onward. A few weeks ago, a package arrived from my favorite clothing manufacturer bearing five wonderfully nostalgic garments that fit directly into my area of interest and the subject of this blog. While I have referenced Ebbets Field Flannels in a few postings regarding their jerseys and caps (see: Replicating Military Baseball Style, US Marines Baseball Uniforms) and how this company does fantastic work in recreating this forgotten part of the game’s history. The five garments that arrived are part of EFF’s vintage T-shirt product line that borrows from various elements of history (logos, graphics, patches and other visual cues). The visuals from select teams are tastefully nostalgic and classic designs that are imprinted onto high-quality, domestically sourced jersey-cotton T-shirts.

When I saw the 71st Infantry Division (the “Red Circlers”) shirt, I immediately recognized the graphic from my original 1945 Third Army Baseball Championship scorecard

I owned a T-shirt (of the Vincennes (IN) Velvets) from EFF years ago that I wore so often that it was quite literally reduced to rags after years of use (please reissue this one again, Mr. Cohen!) so I was familiar with the quality of the shirts. The very tastefully executed graphics are over-layed onto the corresponding colors creating a visually appealing garment that will make you want to wear it as often as possible. Buying the 5-pack was an obvious choice so that I can enjoy wearing a bit of history without donning a heavier wool flannel jersey.

For a short time, EFF has introductory pricing (20% off the $30.00 price) on these Military Baseball T-shirts that would make it worth the $24 to give one a try.

Replicating Military Baseball Style

I recall the very first professional sports team jersey that I was given as a child was a Los Angeles Rams (the classic blue with white trim) that came as part of a uniform set (which included trousers, shoulder pads and a helmet) for Christmas in the early 1970s. In the middle of that decade, my father gave me a fitted San Francisco Giants ball cap that I wore until it no longer fit  – even though I was, by then, I die-hard Dodgers fan. By the time that my hometown received NFL and MLB teams of our own, I was fully entrenched as a Los Angeles football and baseball fan.

My original Los Angeles Rams football uniform kit was very similar to these, dating back to 1971.

My original Los Angeles Rams football uniform kit was very similar to these made by Rawlings, dating back to 1971.

When I was twelve, my grandmother gave me a beautiful Los Angeles Rams jersey (#84) for my birthday that I wore for a few years. I remember the first jersey that I bought for myself a few years later, an on-field Seahawks #80 (Steve Largent) mesh shirt that I still have today. I was always a bigger fan of baseball and yet I still never owned a jersey from my favorite team(s). I wouldn’t have a baseball jersey for years to come.

When I was at my last duty station, I read an article about a company that recently started operations, using old stock wool flannel to recreate replicas of vintage baseball jerseys from the minor league teams of decades long since passed. When I discovered that the company, Ebbets Field Flannels was local, I paid them a visit that same day. I saved up for a few weeks and managed to purchase my first (of what would become nearly twenty) of their line of jerseys, a 1939 San Francisco Seals design.

Over the ensuing years as EFF expanded their product line, they began to incorporate jerseys from the Armed Forces service teams from World War II, beginning with Joe DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Forces design. Later, they would add Bob Feller’s Great Lakes home and road designs. It is plain to see that EFF’s ownership has a passion for military baseball and the service team uniform items as the catalog of designs continues to expand. For collectors like me who would never don a 70+ year old garment for daily wear, acquiring an honest reproduction of the for my personal enjoyment is a great substitute as I leave my collection to be preserved for posterity.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to display my collection and though I was quite pleased with what I had to display, I felt that a few other items would fill in some gaps where my items were insufficient in conveying the narrative of the connection between baseball and the armed forces. I was a little reluctant at first, but as I began to prepare for the event and arrange my display, I found that adding in one of my reproduction jerseys and ballcaps was a nice augmentation to the original uniforms and artifacts that would be shown. I placed a 1943 Great Lakes Naval Station home jersey (as worn by Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller) and a 1957 Naval Academy ball cap, both from Ebbets Field Flannels.

If you are seeking your own military baseball items, I have provided a list and images of the EFF current catalog:

Jerseys

 

Caps 

 

Jackets

For those who treasure historical commentaries on the game and its uniforms, I encourage you to follow Ebbets Field Flannel’s blog.

My Jersey and The Duke

What better way to throw out the first pitch for this blog than to start out with an anecdote about baseball. This story is 20-plus years in the making and came full-circle this past Saturday.

I first discovered Ebbets Field Flannels (EFF) in 1989-90 while I was still serving on active duty. By 1991, I had made my first visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and was bitten by the vintage baseball memorabilia-bug after having viewed the relics of the past 150 years of the game that were on full display at the museum.

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1946 Montreal Royals road gray jersey (EFF).

At that time, I read an article in the local paper about a business that was specializing in recreating vintage baseball jerseys from the Pacific Coast League – having amassed a library of images and some examples of the uniforms from that league in it’s heyday. They had been expanding to other minor leagues of the bygone era creating reproductions from historic (and now, defunct) teams and their star players. being the Dodgers fan that I am, I pursued for my first EFF purchase, a 1946 Montreal Royals road jersey.

A few months later, I learned of one of my favorite Dodgers players, the Duke of Flatbush, Edwin “Duke” Snider, was appearing at a local autograph session along with a host of other legends of the diamond. Wanting to proudly display my Dodgers pride, I decided to don my Royals jersey rather than blend in with the typical double-knit clad baseball fans also in attendance.

While waiting in line for my moment with The Duke, I observed his fairly limited interactions with each autograph seeker. He would ask how they wanted their item signed and then follow-suit with his Sharpie. There were so many people in line, he began to move quickly while still seemingly enjoying the oft-repeated words from each fan. When it was my turn, he looked at me and before he could say anything, he did a double-take with his eyes locking onto the gray flannel and blue “Montreal” script emblazoned across my chest.

In seconds, a massive smile spread across his face. “Where did you get THAT?” he asked, excitedly. “I wore that jersey before I made it to the Dodgers!!” he continued. I told him that I was fully aware of his minor league record and then of Ebbets Field Flannels and what they make and sell.

Fast forward twenty four years.

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The Duke of Flatbush makes a leaping grab against the Bulova ad in right field.

This past weekend, my wife and I were enjoying the morning following our overnight date. Since we were in the city (over an hour’s drive from our home), I asked my beautiful wife if she would indulge me (it was my birthday, after all) with a visit to Ebbets Field Flannels.  Throughout the years, I have unhesitatingly surrendered a considerable amount of my income to fill my closet with jerseys, ball caps and t-shirts from this treasured establishment. Upon entrance, one is greeted by the larger-than-life photograph of Duke Snider making a leaping catch against the outfield wall of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

united-states-navy-1918-ballcap

1918 Great Lakes Naval Station (EFF).

After shopping and selecting a ball cap (1918 Great Lakes Naval Station) to buy, I approached the counter to pay. As the gentleman was ringing me up, I re-told my Duke story to him. As he listened, he smiled and was compelled to tell me a story of Snider and EFF. He went on to relay an encounter (as told to him by another long-standing employee) when a call was received by a man who went by the name, Duke Snider. Apparently, this employee was unfamiliar with ballplayers and responded to the caller, “your name sounds a lot like a ‘baseball name.'” Apparently, the caller nonchalantly agreed and went on to place an order for a jersey. After the call, the employee told another colleague about the call to which that person responded with a face-palm (at the notion that someone associated with this company doesn’t know a legendary Dodgers player).

The employee went on to tell me that this encounter with Mr. Snider occurred sometime in 1991. He felt that it was entirely possible that my encounter with The Duke had prompted him to call and order his own EFF jersey.  This is merely speculation, but it is fun to consider.

I do have other such encounters that don’t quite fit the primary topic of this blog, but I might be so inclined to share them at some point.

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