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Bat and Ball Fund Bat: A Very Rare Babe Ruth Model Bat

Perhaps one of the most highly sought-after categories of baseball militaria is bats that were provided to and used by troops during World War II. Capping off the collection of a complete combat uniform on a mannequin, including all the soldier’s carried equipment, a Special Services U.S. Army-stamped baseball bat and glove provide the arrangement with an honest representation of what would have been seen in Europe when the soldier was between campaigns. Such baseball equipment provides exhibits with authenticity as baseball was an essential element among the troops in more ways than just recreation. For Navy and Marine Corps displays, the same holds true with U.S.N.-marked baseball lumber.

The game derives its name from the one piece of equipment that has the potential to be touched by every player on the field regardless of the participant being on the offensive or defensive side: the ball. However, the bat is the instrument that is used to put the ball into play, sending each player into motion once the ball makes contact with it. Runners on base and fielders spring into action following the crack of the bat against the hide-covered ball. “If you go to the New York Metropolitan Museum, you will see the knights of the old days with their spears, their weapons of choice. Baseball’s weapon of choice is the bat,” esteemed baseball collector Marshall Fogel stated in an interview for Episode 1 of Collectable TV’s The Greatest Collectors series.[1]

Johnny Pesky (right) of the NAS Honolulu “Crossroaders,” wielded a Babe Ruth model bat in 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds collection).

The connection between a weapon and a piece of game equipment is perhaps closest in the realm of the baseball militaria genre of collecting. With its obvious hobby crossovers between militaria and baseball memorabilia, baseball equipment stamped with military markings draws considerable collector interest. Baseball’s weapon of choice can bear an array of markings, including “U.S.,” “U. S. Army,” “Special Services U.S. Army,” and “U.S.N” to signify the branch of service in which the bat was distributed during WWII. While a variety of bat manufacturers provided bats to the armed forces, the overwhelming majority of the lumber seen on domestic and combat theater diamonds was made by Hillerich and Bradsby (H&B). While the War Department’s acquisition focus centered on acquiring ships, aircraft, munitions and personnel, baseballs, gloves, bats, and other sporting equipment were provided to troops through means outside of normal governmental funding and requisitioning. As the war-fighting funding was sourced through tax revenue and war bonds, recreation equipment money was generated through external programs.

In the midst of the Great War, Washington Senators players Eddie Cicotte and Nick Altrock flank Chicago White Sox’s Ray Schalk with ball-shaped buckets used to accept donations from fans attending their game as they raise money for the Professional Base Ball Fund, raising money to provide baseball equipment for American troops (image source: Leland’s).

“Baseball’s contribution to the soldier boys will not cease until the war is over,” Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith said in the days following the United States’ entry into World War II.  Griffith, who during the first World War established and oversaw the Bat and Ball Fund to provide overseas-deployed American troops with baseball equipment, commented about the efforts begun by mid-December, 1941. “That was my own effort,” Griffith said of the WWI fund, “but this time, all of organized baseball is supporting the plan.”[2] Baseball did indeed take an active step in directly supporting members of the armed forces at the war’s onset. On December 16, 1941, major league baseball announced that it was committing $125,000 for a bat-and-ball fund to provide equipment to men in armed forces training camps and had already paid $25,000 into the program.[3]

The Professional Base Ball Fund stamp on a wartime Rawlings baseball. This ball that was signed by former major leaguers who played on Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the summer of 1945 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

During the major league winter meetings, as the Giants negotiated a trade to obtain the Cardinals’ power-hitting first baseman Johnny Mize, the owners proposed doubling the prices of the 1942 All-Star Game, scheduled to be hosted at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, with all receipts to be directed to the Bat and Ball Fund.[4]  With seating limited to 35,000 fans, Dodgers president Larry McPhail planned to expand capacity in order to meet his goal of raising $100,000 for the Bat and Ball Fund during the “mid-summer classic.” McPhail also predicted that the fund would collect $500,000 from major league baseball by the end of 1942.[5] Joining the fund-raising effort, the International League announced its first-ever all-star game to be played on July 8 in Buffalo, New York, with 75 percent of the proceeds slated for the U.S. Army [relief] Fund. With two of the league’s clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals, based in Canada, 25 percent of the proceeds were to be directed to the Canadian Army Fund.

By the war’s end, the armed forces had received an abundance of equipment, including millions of baseballs and also bats and gloves numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately for collectors, specifics regarding production numbers and distribution across the branches of the armed forces are not available. With the considerable number of bats produced by H&B for the armed forces, it is reasonable to assume that more pieces were delivered lacking branch markings than the number of those bearing stamps. Production and distribution data provide collectors with a baseline in gauging the potential for scarcity of surviving numbers and yet demand for specific markings drives the values of those pieces.

Market interest in wartime bats began to pick up late in 2019 and mirrored the trends of the baseball memorabilia market. Of the service-marked lumber, those marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” garnered the most attention, which drove values to between $200-700 depending upon condition and player endorsement.[6] While scarcity is often a factor in driving values, in the absence of demand, it can have little influence on the price of an item. There are a handful of smaller bat manufacturers who supplied the armed forces with equipment in smaller numbers than H&B. They attract marginal interest from collectors and leave prices consistently below the $50 threshold. After years of searching, a scarce H&B wartime-marked bat finally surfaced.

In early March, a reader published a comment that immediately grabbed our attention. “Hello. I recently acquired a Louisville Slugger 40 BR Babe Ruth bat marked Professional Baseball Fund,” the comment began. “I assume it was produced for military personnel (based on reading a post on baseballs),” he continued. “Any ideas?” he asked.

The Professional Base Ball Fund stamp up the barrel from the center brand mark (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Could this be one of the marked bats that we had been seeking? Uncertain if any of these survived nearly eight decades, an email was promptly dispatched, seeking photographs of the piece in question. The response answered the question. Since our collection already featured two of the scarce Professional Base Ball Fund-marked baseballs, the marking on the bat clearly matched and confirmed suspicions. The photos included close-in captures of the center brand and the player endorsement stamps. The model 40BR was a retail or “store-model” bat and was lightly stamped with black foil instead of the burned-in, deep impressions featured on professional models. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the black foil was worn, which commonly occurs with game use, handling, and decades of oxidation. Other condition issues included considerable wear on the knob and barrel ends and a crack extending from high on the handle towards the barrel.

As the bat was an obvious candidate for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to secure it rather than to see it hit the open market and risk seeing it fall prey to well-heeled collectors entangled in a bidding war. Entrusting the bat into the hands of a cross-country carrier, we awaited the arrival with considerable anxiety, hoping against loss or damage. The package arrived safely after more than a week in transit. After a thorough and careful examination, we decided against any intervening measures with the crack or the loss of foil in the brand markings and stamps. Preservation and stabilization are always a function of accepting artifacts into the collection, and so the next steps to be taken included a thorough surface cleaning and an application of linseed oil to prevent subsequent decay.

A Professional Base Ball Fund trifecta – Displayed with our Hillerich & Bradsby model 40 BR Babe Ruth bat are two WWII team signed balls also bearing the stamp of the Professional Base Ball Fund. On the left is a Rawlings-made ball next to one from GoldSmith (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Baseball memorabilia and militaria collectors alike pursue the offensive weapon for numerous reasons. Fogel’s characterization of the bat as a figurative weapon resonates with those interested in pursuing them to highlight the game’s history with a very tactile, tangible artifact. “So, I knew from the beginning, doesn’t it make sense to collect the weapon that makes these guys great?” “That’s what got me interested in the war club, the bat.”[7]

More like an arbalest in that it propels the ball into play, these vintage wartime weapons continue to command considerable interest and subsequently increase values on the collector market. It is difficult to gauge a value for our Professional Base Ball Fund-stamped model 40 BR George “Babe” Ruth bat. However, recent sales of the more common models (absent military markings) have been for prices consistently above $500. Special Services U.S. Army-stamped pieces have seen highly competitive bidding, with auction close-values being more than $800. The Professional Base Ball Fund-marked bats are the scarcest of the Hillerich & Bradsby wartime bats. They could drive an appraised value in excess of $1,000.

(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Our bat has found a home in the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection for the foreseeable future and will be part of our public exhibition schedule in the local area for this year and in the future.


[1] The Greatest Collectors: Episode 1: Marshall Fogel, Collectable TV, February 24, 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWgcyOxSnHk&t=11s

[2] Profits of Star Game, The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), December 18, 1941: 38

[3] Now a Rose Bowl Game for Durham, N.C., The Birmingham News (AL), December 17, 1941: 16

[4] Bat, Ball Fund Voted $25,000, Chattanooga Times, December 12, 1941: 20

[5] Kease, Harold, The Cracker Barrel, The Boston Globe, January 19, 1942: 18

[6] Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, Chevrons and Diamonds, May 11, 2021: https://bit.ly/3M1tkl8

[7] The Greatest Collectors: Episode 1: Marshall Fogel, Collectable TV, February 24, 2022: https://bit.ly/3JHYlZE

Navy Slugger, Army Lumber

We often discuss items that have been on our “want” lists for extended periods of time and when such items are located, there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment. In some instances, we have merely speculated that an item, such as a game program or scorecard, must have been created for a game and then we hold out hope to find one (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). In other areas of baseball militaria curating, we are fully aware of the existence of artifacts but have fallen victim to limited budgets or poor timing. With the highly competitive market for military-marked World War II baseball bats, we have found specific examples to be entirely elusive. 

A selection of our service bats, left to right: Yogi Berra (1960s Naval Academy index bat), U.S.N. marked Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, two Melvin Ott (U.S. and U.S.N. marked) and Jimmie Foxx models (U.S.N. and U.S. marked), and U.S.N. stamped Charlie Keller signature (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the past few years, we have been able to curate an assortment of wartime baseball bats; however, we have been limited to sourcing just two of the four known branch markings. In our May 11, 2021 article. Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market, we spotlighted military markings found on wartime bats along with factors that influence collector competition and valuation. Aside from player endorsements found on military-marked bats, bats marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” are by far the most heavily sought. Bats marked with “U.S. Army” (sans “Special Services”) are a close second in terms of desirability, while “U.S.N.” and “U.S.”- marked pieces bring up the rear. The Chevrons and Diamonds bat collection has consisted entirely of bats marked with the latter stamps.  

Our first U.S. Army-stamped wartime service bat is this 36″ H&B Safe Hit Johnny Mize model made by Hillerich & Bradsby. Its condition, while showing signs of use, is outstanding (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Condition has also been a factor that has allowed us to acquire the pieces in our collection. Often purchasing items that have been abused or neglected and show substantial signs of decay and wear, we have taken on bats that collectors would not consider acquiring as firewood, let alone displaying as a prized artifact. If we determine that a piece can be reconditioned and repaired while preserving the aesthetics, we will take pieces with such efforts in mind. To date, we have experienced success with a handful of pieces. 

Searching for pieces endorsed by 1930s and ‘40s legends and marked with the elusive service stamps has proven to be a source of frustration. Our previous experience leads us to keep our expectations extremely low when a prospective item becomes available at auction. We bid amounts that are within budget only to watch the prices reach 200 percent or more above our bid and well above reason. Service-marked bats that are in excellent or better condition attract bidding that goes far beyond our top price and we watch them pass by. 

In the last quarter of 2021, one seller listed in succession six or seven wartime service-marked bats with endorsements, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and others, each featuring some of the most sought-after branch stampings. It was obvious that the group of auction listings pointed to a collector’s carefully curated collection that was in the process of being liquidated and the market responded accordingly. Each listing was highly contested by several bidders, driving prices to several hundred dollars for each piece. By the end of November, all the listings closed and we were unable to compete for any of them.  

All of the factory stamps are crisp and dark (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

During the holiday season, a few individual auction listings for wartime service bats surfaced. One of the items was a Hillerich & Bradsby Safe Hit Johnny Mize Model bat marked with “U.S. Army” on the barrel. Viewing the accompanying photos, it was clear that the condition of the bat was excellent despite indications of game use. All the branded stamps were deep, dark and very visible and the wood surface still held the manufacturer’s original finish. A subtle irony regarding the service stamp was that Mize served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. 

September 28, 1943: Lieutenant Gordon (Mickey) Cochrane (center) gives his 1943 Great Lakes baseball squad a sendoff as 10 more members leave for advanced training in the East. Left to right: Glenn McQuillen, St. Louis Browns; Lt. Cmdr. J,. Russell Cook, station athletic officer; Johnny Mize, New York Giants; Eddie Pellagrini, Louisville Colonels; Bob Harris, Philadelphia Athletics; LT. Cochrane; George Dickey, Chicago White Sox; Barney McCosky, Detroit Tigers; Johnny Schmitz, Chicago Cubs; Leo Nonnenkamp, Kansas City Blues; Vern Olsen, Cubs and Joe Grace, St. Louis Browns (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Athletic Specialist First Class Mize enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March, 1943 as his New York Giant teammates were weeks-deep into spring training. The manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Lieutenant Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane, had an established pipeline serving as a feeder to keep his team’s roster stocked with pro ballplayers when they entered the Navy. Cochrane’s Bluejackets landed a true power hitter in Mize as he joined a team that included several former major leaguers, including Frank Biscan, Tom Ferrick, Joe Grace, Johnny Lucadello, Barney McCosky, Red McQuillen and Johnny Schmitz

Johnny Mize was transferred to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was slated to play for the base team while in a training program. Unfortunately, baseball was not an option for the slugger as an illness kept him on light duty, excluding all physical exertion as he convalesced.  

By the spring of 1944, Mize was on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and assigned to the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay. He was promptly assigned to the base’s baseball team, the Klippers. In addition to his playing for the Klippers club, Mize also played for various All-Star teams and on the Navy’s Service World Series team that defeated their Army counterparts in four straight games in the autumn of 1944. In early 1945, Mize joined an assemblage of Navy ballplayers for a weeks-long tour of the western Pacific, playing exhibition games to boost the morale of troops stationed on the islands (see Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature). 

Athletics Specialist 1/c Johnny Mize pose before a game at Honolulu Stadium in 1944. The slugger holds his own U.S. Navy-stamped signature model bat at his side (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

As 2021 was winding to a close, it became apparent that the bid we placed was going to succeed and deliver to our collection its first U.S. Army marked piece. Perhaps it was the timing of the holidays and the pre-payday-post-Christmas financial crunch many people face that led to the limited competition at the auction that afforded us this win. The well-packed Johnny Mize model bat arrived safely and without any complications. Upon close examination of the wood grain, knob, barrel and brand marks, we were quite pleased to note that the condition was better than was discernible in the auction images. 

The measured length of this Mize model is 36-inches though the knob is lacking the typical measurement stamp (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With the addition of this bat and several other items that we have curated for the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection, the new year is off to an incredible start! 

Wartime Service Bats

 
See also

Batting Around: Special Services U.S. Army Equipment Drives the Military Baseball Market

Whether it is the love of sports history or the nostalgic desire to reconnect with youth, memorabilia collecting satisfies many needs for those who partake in the endeavors of artifact hunting. Since the first quarter of 2020, several collector markets have seen astronomical surges in market pricing that have caused many to question the driving factors as well as to wonder when it will come crashing to a halt.

Some analysts speculate that the pandemic is largely to blame for the surge in prices. Sports fans have been trapped at home allegedly facing boredom with cancellations and abbreviated seasons which prompt a turn to sports collectibles. The trend started in the two years preceding the virus scare. In August of 2019, a 1931 Lou Gehrig game-used jersey obliterated the generous pre-auction $1.5-million-dollar estimate as the winning bid pushed the final sale price to just under $2.6M. This sale was a follow-up to the record $5.64M sale price for a 1928-1930 Babe Ruth game-worn jersey sold two-months earlier.

One indication that the market was beginning to outpace expectations was when Heritage Auctions sold one of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 rookie-year jerseys for $2.05M on November 19, 2017.  Four months later, the jersey sold again for $2.6M in a private-party transaction.

Since the Robinson jersey sale, the entire sports memorabilia market has been rapidly gaining valuations that have short-term investors salivating and searching for treasures to flip for quick profit.

While the market has yielded incredible paydays for flippers and for collectors divesting their collections, negative impacts are being levied upon collectors who are in the game for the long haul.

Baseball Memorabilia Market Trends:

The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection was born more than a decade ago from our passion for military history and militaria collecting. At that time, a large segment of collectors was pushing heavily for 101st Airborne Division militaria on the heels of the airing of the highly popular HBO television miniseries Band of Brothers. When Band of Brothers creators and producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg collaborated to create the WWII Marine Corps-focused series The Pacific, a new crop of militaria collectors arrived in search of WWII artifacts from Marine Corps veterans. The two series seemed to have an impact upon militaria prices as the competition increased.

Baseball militaria is an intersection between baseball and the military that until recently saw light traffic. Aside from militaria collectors seeking unit-specific baseball artifacts to complete their collections, few militaria collectors took notice or gave much thought to flannels, bats, gloves, baseballs or ephemera from the armed forces. Similarly, very few baseball memorabilia collectors did more than dabble beyond seeking artifacts that had ties to favorite players.

We purchased our first baseball militaria artifact in 2009, commencing our slow transition into this area of focus over the course of a few years. The need for due diligence prompted a rapid quest for knowledge as we began to research and document in earnest while acquiring artifacts. For more than a decade, prices for baseball militaria remained consistent. Occasionally, we encountered a seller who would list a piece at 2-3 times the comparative market price and later retreat to a more realistic and reasonable value after a long period with no buyer interest.

The Chevrons and Diamonds collection holds a sizeable group of field equipment including uniforms, caps, gloves, mitts, baseballs and bats. These game-used pieces were largely overlooked by collectors until the markets began to increase. The high-dollar artifacts seemed to create a gravitational pull for items that were previously ignored by mainstream hobbyists.

It is unsurprising to see the increases in vintage game-used professional baseball pieces that are attributed to specific, notable players. For artifacts from lesser-known players, the market has remained consistent with regard to valuations. For player-endorsed retail equipment such as bats and gloves, values have nominally increased depending upon the player’s name and the model of the piece.

Curiously, military baseball equipment is the focus of a dramatic surge in both interest and demand that is fostering competitive bidding and escalating prices by factors of 10 or more. Our speculation is that deep-pocketed militaria collectors have recently discovered this genre, judging by the specific artifacts that are prompting the increases.

A common misconception regarding GI-used sports equipment is that all of it was marked with stamps to indicate the branch of service  that each item was distributed to. The marked equipment is what draws collectors into the genre, with the majority of the new hobbyists focusing their pursuits on a very specific marking. However, significant evidence indicates that bats, balls, gloves, catchers’ and umpires’ protective gear, bases and even uniforms were distributed to the troops without markings. The unmarked equipment, yet appropriate for militaria collections, is largely ignored.

Hillerich & Bradsby low-end retail bats center brand examples. Not the middle bat features the “No. 14” which indicates that it is a “Safe Hit” model (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the areas of baseball militaria that we research and about which we have written extensively is service-marked baseball bats.

Service-marked baseball bats can be a bit confusing for veteran sports memorabilia collectors let alone novices. Aside from the service markings, collectors need to understand the variants of bats that were sent to the troops. Although there were several manufacturers providing bats to GIs, we will limit our discussion to those pieces made by the largest WWII manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby in Louisville, Kentucky because they comprise the majority of items seen on the market.

This well-used Special Services U.S. Army stamped Safe Hit bat is the Babe Ruth endorsed model (eBay image).

The preponderance of the Hillerich & Bradsby bats provided for troops through the bat and ball funds were retail models (known by bat collectors as “store models”).

There are a few ways to distinguish between professional store models made in that era. Professional models are quite literally branded with a red-hot die that burns the oval center mark, the model and the player endorsement into the barrel of the bat. The deep and dark markings are the result of the wood being burned in this process. Store model bats feature very similar style markings but rather than being burned, the dies are pressed into the wood. A layer of black “foil” is set in place between the wood and the die that fills the imprinted recess and simulates the charred markings of the pro bat.

Wartime Hillerich and Bradsby professional model bats, according to the Louisville Slugger Bat Dating Guide by KeyMan Collectibles, all feature the same center brand, with a “125” catalog number marked consistently across bats made between 1934 and 1949. To the right of the center brand, pro models are also marked with “Powerized.” The barrel ends are marked with the player’s signature. Player-ordered models also feature specific markings on the knob, which we won’t spend time examining as they were likely not used by GIs.

There are four levels of retail bats that were manufactured during the war by Hillerich and Bradsby and many of them found their way into the hands of service members. Bats with the professional specifications and marking were available to purchase through retail outlets and though they appear to be exact matches to the ones the players used, they lack the markings found in player-ordered bats. A secondary level of bat that was nearly identical to the pro model featured lower quality wood that was denoted by a “40” catalog number in the center brand. There are few examples of these two types of retail level bats that were stamped for service use and were likely sent to the professional players serving in the armed forces.

Five of the bats pictured are wartime U.S.N.- stamped H&B model bats The Jimmie Foxx endorsed bat is part of Hillerich and Bradsby’s lowest retail product line, “Safe Hit.” The “NAVY” marked bat dates from the 1960s and was used at the Naval Academy (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).
A wartime H&B “Safe Hit” stamped with “U.S. Army.” (eBay image)

The balance of Hillerich and Bradsby bats are inexpensive store models that were set apart from the professional-style line and featured a very different foil-stamped center brand marking. Instead of the “Louisville Slugger” mark, the inexpensive bats were imprinted with “H&B” and “Made in the USA” along with a catalog number. The H&B product line had an upper and lower level with corresponding price points. The upper level featured varying catalog numbers and included a player endorsement consisting of a black foil-stamped autograph in the barrel end while the lower-level bat was part of a specific product line known as the “H&B Safe Hit Professional Model.” Though they included lettering to indicate player endorsement, these bats lacked stamped foil autographs. All wartime Safe Hit model bats carried a “No. 14” catalog number in the center brand. Another indication that the Safe Hit bats were cheap was that they were available for under $1.50 each.

Collectors seeking service bats typically seek specific branch-indicative marks that were usually impressed at the time of manufacturing, though there are no data available that would shed light upon the numbers of armed forces-bound bats that left the factory with markings. There is plenty of photographic evidence to show that a significant amount of sports equipment was delivered to military units without service markings; however, in the absence of provenance, these pieces are not as desirable in this genre of collecting.

All of the H&B Safe Hit line bats by Hillerich and Bradsby, such as the Special Services U.S. Army Babe Ruth example. feature the “No. 14” catalog number (eBay image).

While we suspect the existence of four distinct markings, there are three confirmed markings that are seen on these bats. Easily identifiable are two specific markings: “U.S.N.” for Navy pieces, “Special Services U.S. Army” and “U.S. Army” for those distributed to Army units. A third, more generic marking is a simple “U.S.” which could be used for all pieces distributed throughout all branches.

Until eight months ago, service marked Safe Hit model bats maintained their value on the collecting market. Collectors saw steady pricing in the $40-60 range for bats in excellent to near-mint condition, with certain player endorsements such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams commanding double the value or more. The H&B signature bats commanded slightly higher prices ($50-70) due to the presence of the player autograph.  However, the valuations have changed dramatically.

Prices for all service bats have increased in the past nine months. Those marked with “Special Services U.S. Army” have experienced a considerable uptick in demand. In the last month alone, we observed four separate auctions (listed by the same seller) that featured H&B Safe Hit Special Services U.S. Army-marked bats with Hall of Fame Yankees player endorsements. Each bat showed some indications storage wear rather than game use. The bats that were sold were endorsed by Yankee legends Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. The prices realized for each bat far exceeded the values of comparable pieces. Of the four, the lowest price attained was for the Bill Dickey (who served in the Navy during WWII) model, selling for a mere $216.50.  One of the player endorsements that typically garners greater values, Lou Gehrig, did not seem to wow the bidders as that particular bat closed at $286.  With a significant step up from the first two bats, the Joe DiMaggio (who served in the Army Air Forces during the war) model listing closed at $668.00. Not to be outdone by the younger Yankee outfielder, Babe Ruth’s H&B Safe Hit model was the final of the four, garnering 16 bids and closing at $710.00.

Four Special Services U.S. Army bat sales, while eye-catching, are not necessarily indicative of a trend. However, in the past few months, we have seen other equipment bearing that mark such as gloves, mitts and a uniform garnering considerably greater attention than similar items bearing the other service marks. Gloves that sold for $40-50 a year ago are now pushing $200 even with severe condition issues while values of beautifully preserved U.S.N. or U.S. marked pieces remain constant or sell for slightly higher sums.

Historically inexpensive wartime softball bats bearing the Special Services U.S. Army stamps in excellent condition used to sell for $25-$40 but are now achieving similar attention with prices approaching nearly $300.

The new attention, in our opinion, indicates that a different collector audience has recently discovered service baseball equipment and is unaware of the normal. pre-pandemic market trends. This new segment appears to be an influx of militaria collectors who are augmenting their displays with recreational pieces in order to demonstrate what life was like for wartime servicemen and women who found baseball to be a significant recreational outlet. As with militaria collectors, areas of collecting outside of combat regiments such as airborne and armor divisions, Ranger battalions, 8th and 20th Air Force or other historically-popular units are not nearly as interesting. Navy uniforms, decorations and other artifacts tend to have less competition and thus are comparatively more affordable. The newcomers have carried this mindset with them infusing it into how they pursue baseball militaria.

As with all rapidly increasing markets, the bubble will eventually burst, leaving behind a large number of losers and some winners. For the patient and studious collector, affordable pieces can still be found.

See also:

Resources:

“Game Used” Lumber: Wartime Service Adds Meaning for Collectors

Collecting vintage baseball bats is an interesting venture and those who (nearly) exclusively pursue these old pieces of wood (and for some people, aluminum) can be quite rewarding. Understanding the nuances within this part of the baseball memorabilia hobby requires substantial knowledge of all of the manufacturers, models, market levels, brands, marks and other differentiators in order to make informed investment decisions. The arena of bat collecting has many specializations, ranging from those who pursue game-used bats (meaning those used by major or minor leaguers in their games) and those who collect at-game, stadium giveaways for special events. Still, there are individuals who chase down baseball bats from obscure or defunct manufacturers that can date back into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Clearly, baseball bats are a central component within the realm of collecting baseball militaria as they were a component of the kits that were shipped throughout the combat theaters to troops during the war. As athletic equipment was non-essential to the war-fighting effort, tax dollars could not be used to appropriate sporting goods for the troops to use during recreation. Recognizing the physical and mental benefits that playing sports had for GIs in boosting their morale and well-being, considerable fund-raising efforts were taken on by notable Americans to provide the necessary equipment (see: Ted Williams: BATtered, Abused and Loved). In addition to the sports equipment purchased through fundraising events, manufacturers such as Rawlings, GoldSmith, Spalding and Hillerich & Bradsby donated their wares directly to the War Department for distribution to the ranks.

The game-used market can be an eye-opening experience when one discovers the prices and values of bats from journeyman players, let alone those from stars and legends of the game. A 1934 game-used bat from Philadelphia Athletics first baseman Jimmie Foxx sold at auction in 2018 for a paltry $90,000 while a 1939-1942 Ted Williams piece sold for $24,000.  Contemporary game- used bats can sell for far less than the aforementioned examples yet one could easily see four-digit selling prices.

In the realm of military-used wartime bats, collector interest is significantly reduced and so the prices for these artifacts follow suit. Service-used bats we have seen were manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby (maker of the famed Louisville Slugger brand) yet bats from other makers were also used. In terms of market availability, most of the examples of military baseball bats were made by the historic company that remains in the city where it was founded, Louisville, Kentucky. Our pursuit of vintage bats is nearly entirely focused upon military-used (or issued) examples.

The lack of finish on the barrel and the smoothed-over usage marks reveal an incomplete refinish attempt (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Service or military baseball bats are by no means rare and they command prices that are mere fractions of their professional game -used counterparts. One of our most recent acquisitions, a Hillerich & Bradsby “Safe Hit,” U.S.N.-stamped, Stan Musial signature model, is one of the nicest examples that we have seen in recent years. Often referred to as a “store” or “consumer” model bat, this “H&B”- brand bat was sold as an inexpensive product geared towards entry-level players. The bats are typically marked with a different (from that of the Louisville Slugger line) center-brand stamp that features a catalog number. The barrels of the bats are limited to the player endorsement signature unless they were also marked with a service branch stamp above or below the autograph (Stan Musial served in the Navy from January 22, 1945 until March 1, 1946, playing baseball for Navy teams at Bainbridge, Maryland, Fleet City (Shoemaker), California and Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. See: 1945 US Navy Road Gray Uniform: Stan Musial).

The top of the center brand is as crisp as the bottom. The H&B line received a black-foil stamp rather than a burned-in brand (as with the higher-end product lines). Typical examples from this show excessive loss of the black foil (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The markings of the center brand are consistent with Hillerich & Bradsby’s H&B-line, 1932 – 1952 bat label manufacturing period, which includes bats used during the war years. Considering that Stan Musial’s major league debut was at the end of the 1941 season and he didn’t establish himself as an everyday player until the 1942 season, it is reasonable to think that he would not have seen a consumer product endorsement until well into the 1943 season,  the year of his first All-Star appearance and his being named the National League Most Valuable Player. With Musial’s ascension to star status,, it is most likely that Hillerich and Bradsby began to capitalize on his name recognition with signature model bats in their 1944 catalog. Based upon this timeline, it is safe to assume that our Stan Musial bat dates from 1944 or 1945.

The H&B center brand is in near-pristine condition as is the bat’s original finish from this point, upward toward the handle. Note the Hillerich & Bradsby “60S” catalog number (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

It is safe to assume that service-marked bats are game-used by definition though it is impossible to trace them to a specific player (as can be done with major league game-used examples). The service bats in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection are all game-used and are in varying states of condition. While a spotless, near-new condition bat displays incredibly well in a collection, we prefer to preserve the signs of play (ball marks, dings and dents) that serve as reminders of service members’ wartime use. “Game used” to a baseball militaria collector is a common factor within our collections as practically all (marked) uniforms, gloves, bats and other tools of the diamond saw action by veterans.

Slightly longer than many of the standard H&B models (typically 34″), this U.S.N. stamped Musial signature bat is 35-inches (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Our Stan Musical model is made from the darker hickory wood (rather than the typical ash wood) and the knob is stamped 35”, indicating the overall length. The condition of our Musial bat shows some game use and also appears to have been subjected to a restoration attempt. A significant portion of the bat’s finish has been removed through a very light sanding process, predominantly on the barrel. Fortunately, the stamps are still very much intact. The surface of the barrel end is considerably worn, most likely from the bat being stored for years standing on end in continuous contact with a hard surface, perhaps a concrete floor in a basement or garage.

To return our H&B Stan Musial signature model bat to a more original state, surface cleaning followed by a simple coating of linseed oil will provide a consistent appearance across the entire surface of the bat while also providing a measure of preservation and protection from oxidation and decay.

A key function of Chevrons and Diamonds’ mission is to provide an in-person and hands-on educational experience through artifacts. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the reaction of a youth or elderly veteran when he holds a bat or glove that was used by veterans who served nearly eight decades ago.

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