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Diamond Score: Major League Baseball’s First Service Relief Game

In the weeks that followed December 7, 1941, the nation began a massive effort to build up troop and equipment levels to effectively take the fight to the declared enemies in the global war.  The considerable influx of manpower into the various branches, combined with the considerable losses suffered at Pearl Harbor, underscored the enormity of the present and subsequent needs that would be faced by families of actively -serving naval personnel.

The overwhelming percentage of naval personnel killed at Pearl Harbor was enlisted and the United States Government Life Insurance program (USGLI), established in 1919, provided a nominal amount for their beneficiaries.. The Navy Relief Society addressed a myriad of needs beyond the reach of the insurance payout for families by stepping in and filling the gap.

Commencing with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Greenlight Letter,” a response to a letter from Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, major league baseball’s commissioner, regarding the future state of the game during World War II, baseball experienced a monumental shift in manpower and objectives. With professional ballplayers heading into the armed forces, leaders within the Navy Relief Society recognized the coming needs and the opportunity to make a greater impact. On March 30, 1942, it introduced its new director of the national special events committee fund-raising campaign. Stanton Griffis, a World War I Army captain who served on the General Staff during the war, was chairman of the executive committee of Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was already involved in early war bond drives, starting in January. After the sudden, February 12 death of his wife, Dorothea, following a brief illness during a winter stay in Tucson, Arizona, Griffis propelled his efforts and attention into his role with the Navy Relief Society.

Formally incorporated by prominent society folks in 1904 in Washington D.C., the Navy Relief Society’s stated purpose was, “to afford relief to the widows and orphans of deceased officers, sailors and Marines of the United States Navy.” What set Navy Relief apart from previous endeavors was that the Society was formed with enlisted sailors in mind. Until the early twentieth century, enlisted personnel were managed under the Navy’s Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair, established in 1862, while officers were managed under the Bureau of Navigation. Enlisted personnel throughout the Navy’s existence until the 1920s were considered as mere equipment while officers were the backbone of the Navy and highly regarded in long-term planning and daily operations.. The Navy Relief Society’s move to recognize the needs of enlisted personnel along with officers was a ground breaking step, as stated in the organization’s incorporating mission statement. “It is also its purpose to aid in obtaining pensions for those entitled to them; to obtain employment for those deserving it, and to solicit and create scholarships and supervise educational opportunities for orphan children.”

“Sports leaders are giving wholesale support to Navy Relief fund-raising activities, it was announced today by Stanton Griffis, who heads the special events division of the Navy Relief Society’s $5,000,000 campaign. “Virtually every sport is represented in the drive,” Griffis said.” – The Casper Tribune-Herald, April 16, 1943

The significance of the game was not lost on the scorecard’s original owner as the twilight start time of the first service relief game was played in support of the Navy Relief Society. This note is inscribed on the top of the scorecard (Chevrons and Diamonds collection)

Navy Relief fund-raising games were commonplace in major and minor league parks during World War II. Whether the games were exhibition events involving service teams or regular season contests, the Relief games were highly successful in their fund-raising objectives. Stanton Griffis quickly established himself in his role. In a May 15 New York Daily News piece covering Griffis’ work, he was touted for his planning and organizing prowess, “The biggest promoter and supervisor of sports events in the country today is a chunky, hard-punching, ball of fire named Stanton Griffis, chairman of the special events committee of the Navy Relief Society’s fund-raising campaign,” the Daily News article described his efforts. “Among the sport programs planned by Griffis are Navy Relief baseball games in every minor league park in the country, all-star games, professional football games, and a comprehensive setup that will have practically every “name” boxer, footballer and baseballer performing in a mammoth drive that is expected to net close to $2,000,000 for the wives, widows, mothers and children of our Navy heroes.”

Recognizing the fund-raising campaign’s need for those who had a greater stake in the program as well as people who possessed name recognition and could shine an even brighter spotlight on the effort, Griffis enlisted assistance from the biggest name under the Navy’s sports banner: the “Fighting Marine” himself, Commander Gene Tunney. “The Navy thinks so highly of Mr. Griffis’ work that Commander Tunney has been temporarily assigned to the new sports program,” the New York Daily News described. “Gene has his famous physical education program flourishing now with 3,000 hand-selected specialists on the job from coast-to-coast hardening our Navy personnel. Griffis is a great admirer of the Tunney thoroughness technique.”

Despite some corner wear and a few nicks on the cover, this May 8, 1942 this Giants versus Dodgers Navy Relief game scorecard turned out to be a fantastic find (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

 

In collecting service game ephemera such as ticket stubs, programs, scorebooks and scorecards, one will assuredly encounter a piece that was used for a Navy Relief  fund-raising event. The Chevrons and Diamonds ephemera collection features a few Navy Relief scorecards from exhibition baseball games that were played for the direct benefit of the charity, such as this piece from the July 15, 1942 game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets); however, the opportunity to acquire one from a major league regular season game had yet to arise for us.

Beautifully and meticulously scored, this grid details the Giants’ progress throughout the Game (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

One of the earliest Navy Relief fund-raiser games took place on May 8, 1942 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, with the Dodgers playing host to their crosstown National League rivals, the Giants. Brooklyn, the reigning champions of the National League, held a 1.5-game lead in the league over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The visiting Giants were already 5.5 games behind, sitting in fifth place after 22 games in the new season. When the game was played, it was one of 16 scheduled events to raise money benefiting the service relief organizations. The game at Ebbets was arranged by Brooklyn’s former team president, Leland “Larry” MacPhail, who had resigned his position at the end of September, 1941 and returned to the Army after an absence of more than 20 years, following his service during the Great War.

The pregame festivities set the tone for subsequent charity games with pageantry and pomp and circumstance on the field, with 450 recent graduates from the Naval Academy along with 500 enlisted sailors from the Navy’s receiving ship unit and officers from the recently commissioned Dixie-class destroyer tender, USS Prairie (AD-15), all in attendance. Commander Tunney addressed the crowd with gratitude directed towards those in attendance, along with the players and the Giants and Dodgers organizations, as every person in the ballpark required a ticket to gain access, including players, umpires, security, concessionaires, ground crew and press. Even the active duty personnel required tickets to enter the park, though their tickets were paid for through donations from the ball clubs or other contributors (including 1,000 tickets purchased by a contractor in Trinidad). Though the ballpark’s seating capacity in 1942 was 35,000, 42,822 tickets were sold for the game.

The game netted Navy Relief more than $60,000, which included $1,000 from the scorecard vendor, the Davis Brothers. When one of those scorecards was listed for sale in an online auction, we didn’t hesitate to make a reasonable offer to acquire the piece as it aligned well with the overall direction of our collection of baseball militaria ephemera.

Brooklyn native, Joel Williams served in the Army Air Forces during the war flying patrols on the eastern seaboard. He was present at the May 8, 1942 Navy Relief game and kept score (courtesy of Michael Williams).

Seated in the stands along with countless active duty personnel was Army Air Forces pilot, Joel Williams, who meticulously kept score of his baseball heroes on that Friday afternoon, taking in  major league baseball’s first ever twilight game ( the first pitch was at 4:50 pm) in its history. No stranger to Ebbets Field, Williams attended games as a youth and saw some of the “daffy” Dodgers of old, despite his family not being able to afford the price of tickets. “As a kid, they had no money, so he used to sweep the stands at Ebbets Field for free bleacher seats,” Michael Williams wrote. Joel Williams’ duties saw him patrolling the Eastern Seaboard, scouting for approaching enemy units during the war. “He flew guard planes on the East Coast and did not serve overseas,” his son wrote. Williams joined hundreds of fellow uniformed comrades at the game on this day, no doubt as a guest of the Dodgers (or Giants), which purchased many of the troops’ tickets for the game.

Williams remained a true blue Dodgers fan and suffered the indignation of seeing his beloved “Bums” follow the Giants to the opposite coast. “Dad tried to be a Mets fan but was never completely satisfied with that,” Michael stated. “And the Yankees were from the Bronx and that was not for a Brooklyn boy.” Joel Williams never ceased his love for the old Brooklyn Dodgers. After reaching an amicable agreement and a few days of shipping, the scorecard arrived safely.

Opening up to the scorecard’s centerfold, the details of the game’s progress feature fantastically detailed hand notations that align with the historic record of the game showing that this airman’s attention was focused on the field (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

On the field, the game was exciting as the Giants got ahead of Brooklyn’s Whit Wyatt, 2-0, with a single and a run scored by Johnny Mize (driven in by Buster Maynard) in the top of the second inning and single and run scored by Giants pitcher Cliff Melton to lead off the top of the third (driven in on a sacrifice fly by Mel Ott).

Dodger bats came to life in the bottom of the third with singles by Wyatt, Billy Herman and Arky Vaughn (Wyatt was tagged out stretching for third base). Pete Reiser singled to load the bases, followed by a two-RBI double by Johnny Rizzo leaving Reiser at third. Joe Medwick reached on an error which also scored Reiser and Rizzo. Melton was relieved by Bill McGee, who coaxed Dolph Camilli into a comebacker, igniting a double play to end the Dodger feast and the third inning.

Wyatt’s pitching wasn’t as much of a story as was his bat. The Brooklyn starter followed Pee Wee Reese’s lead-off fly-out with another single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Herman singled and another Giants miscue plated Wyatt as Herman arrived at second. Vaughn flew out but Reiser singled to score Herman, putting the Dodgers up, 6-2, after four innings of play.

Wyatt struggled in the top half of the fifth inning after striking out the leadoff batter, pitcher McGee.  A single by Dick Bartell, two free passes to Billy Jurges and Mize and a hit batsman (Willard Marshall) plated Bartell and cut the Dodgers’ lead in half, leaving the score in Brooklyn’s favor, 6-3.

May 8, 1942 Giants Line up:

Batting Branch Entered
Dick Bartell 3B Navy 1943
Billy Jurges SS
Mel Ott RF
Johnny Mize 1B Navy 1943
Willard Marshall LF-CF USMC 1943
Harry Danning C USAAF 1943
Buster Maynard CF Army 1943
Babe Barna PH-LF
Mickey Witek 2B USCG 1944
Cliff Melton P
Bill McGee P
Babe Young PH USCG 1943
Ace Adams P

 

May 8, 1942 Dodgers Line up:

Batting Branch Entered
Billy Herman 2B Navy 1944
Arky Vaughan 3B
Pete Reiser CF Army 1943
Johnny Rizzo RF Navy 1943
Joe Medwick LF
Dolph Camilli 1B
Mickey Owen C Navy 1945
Pee Wee Reese SS Navy 1942
Whit Wyatt P
Bob Chipman P
Hugh Casey P Navy 1943

The Giants drove Wyatt from the hill in the top of the seventh after he struck out the leadoff batter, Bartell, and walked Jurges and Ott, bringing the tying run in power-hitting Mize to the batter’s box. Brooklyn’s Bob Chipman faced the challenge by walking Mize and loading the bases. Facing Willard Marshall with the sacks full, Chipman failed to deliver as the left fielder singled to score Jurges and Ott, though Mize was tagged out in his attempt to reach third base. Durocher had seen enough of Chipman and replaced him with Hugh Casey with two out, two runs in and Marshall at first. Casey coaxed Giants catcher Harry Danning into a long flyout to right field to preserve the one-run lead.

In the bottom half of the frame, Dodgers first sacker Camilli led off the inning by taking Bill McGee deep and putting Brooklyn up by two, driving in what would end up being the deciding run of the game. In the top of the 8th, Mickey Witek singled with one out. Babe Young pinch-hit for McGee, reaching on an error by second baseman Herman (his second of the game), allowing Witek to reach third.. Dick Bartell plated Witek with a 5-3 fielder’s choice. Jurges grounded out to Reese to end the inning. Hugh Casey allowed two hits to Mize and Danning in the top of the ninth but kept the Giants from scoring and preserved Wyatt’s first victory of the season.

The Dodgers struck back in the 3rd inning and never looked back though their opponents made a game of it, tallying six runs on Brooklyn’s pitching. Dolph Camilli’s 7th inning homerun proved to be the difference (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

For the 1941 National League champions, the 1942 season was shaping up to be a repeat performance and predictions for a Dodgers return to the World Series seemed to be coming to fruition until the St. Louis Cardinals overtook Brooklyn. With just fourteen games remaining in the season, the Dodgers were unable to retake first place and finished the season behind St. Louis by two games. Before the start of the 1943 season, the Dodgers lost Reese, Casey and Rizzo to the Navy and Reiser left for service in the Army. From the Giants, Bartell (Navy), Maynard (Army), Mize (Navy), Marshall (USMC) Danning (Army Air Forces) and Young (Coast Guard) were all in the service by spring training.

The game scorecard is two-color (red and blue), printed on thin cardstock and features 14 internal pages. Each interior page is predominated by advertisements for products and local businesses. The ads are positioned on either side of a one-inch band across the pages’ mid-sections that provides scoring instructions, the 1942 season schedule, divided into home and away games, and Brooklyn Dodgers historical details and records. New to baseball scorecards, located on page 12 are instructions and regulations in the event of an enemy air raid taking place during the game as well as the call for citizens to purchase “Defense Bonds.”

Of the 24 men who played in this first major league service relief game, thirteen served in the armed forces during the war, with several of them participating in other fund-raising games while playing for service teams.This further enhances the desirability of this scorecard as a baseball militaria piece. Considering all of the historic aspects of the game, this is one of the more special pieces of ephemera in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection.

 

TCMA’s Secret Gem: “Athletes Away” Navy Baseball Card Set

After the 1990s decade of overproduction, excesses in options and over-saturation of the sports card cardboard marketplace caused a mass exodus of collectors from one of the oldest collecting hobbies. The sports card business in the 1990s represented all that was bad within the hobby despite the aspects that made it fun, still existing yet getting lost in the noise. Corrupted by money and the pursuit of fast riches, the hobby turned from the sheer joy of chasing down and trading for cards that would complete a set, to one of financial investment and price guides. Instead of discussing stats and favorite players, hobbyists began watching prices for inserts and specialty cards rising to three and even four digits based upon speculation that an 18-year-old draft pick would rise to the stardom of the game’s best and brightest.

The card that turned sports card production and collecting on its side: 1989 Upper Deck #1: Ken Griffey Jr. (Chevrons and Diamonds archives)

Disillusioned by the greed of the hobbyists and card shops, not to mention the card manufacturers themselves, one can point fingers to a number of causes leading to the degradation of baseball card collecting. However, a common theme emerges from a large portion of collectors: over-saturation of the market which was spurred into action by the fervor surrounding the mercurial rise of a superstar player and the launch of a new generation of baseball cards that featured high gloss, crisp colors and graphics that awakened a stagnant industry.

The inaugural issuance of the once giant Upper Deck company was the 1989 baseball set that featured a rookie baseball player that was catching the attention of sportswriters and fans alike as he drew incredible interest due to his play while ascending through the minor leagues. The Seattle Mariners’ rookie prospect, Ken Griffey, Jr. adorned the front of 1989 Upper Deck Baseball, card #1 and created a stir like no other before or since.

“More than 1 million Griffey cards were printed. In Upper Deck’s original mailing to dealers, the company said it would sell 65,000 cases of card packs. With 20 boxes in a case, 520 cards in a box, and 700 different cards in the set, there would be about 965,000 of each card produced for the boxes. Combine that number with the amount of Griffeys in the untold number of “factory sets,” and you’d have your production run.

Given the number of Griffey cards in circulation, there have long been rumors of an illicit reason for the card’s ubiquity. Upper Deck, the legend goes, knew that printing the cards was just like printing money. As such, there was a sheet the company could run with 100 Griffey cards on it, instead of the standard sheet that had just one Griffey in the top corner along with 99 pictures of other players.”  – Junior Mint: The enduring popularity (and ubiquity) of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Card | By Darren Rovell

The 1989 Upper Deck #1 still garners the interest (though the card must be highly graded by an independent authentication and grading company, sealed into a plastic slab and labeled with the grade along with a unique identifier) and can generate sales transactions in the high three and sometimes four-digit ranges. As the 1990s wound down, there was a significant glut in the marketplace with the arrival of countless card manufacturers and the proliferation of products as businesses made a full-court-press for every consumer dollar. A Netflix film, Jack of All Trades, captured the reality of this dark era of card-collecting and the impacts still being felt by collectors (see: ‘Jack of All Trades’ on Netflix: A Baseball Card Documentary That Doubles as a Personal Father/Son Story).

While card collecting as a whole took a significant hit in interest levels in reaction to what happened prior to the turn of the new century and those cards manufactured during the 1990s were largely relegated to junk-status, cardboard manufactured prior to the 1970s remained stable in terms of perceived value (among collectors), attracting a new audience.

Baseball militaria collectors have few options available in terms of enhancing their collections with baseball cards. Two manufacturers, Tri-Star Obak (2011) and Panini (2012 and 2015) made military-themed cards as set inserts in the last few years that feature players who served during World War II, however they are of relatively limited production numbers.  In 1959, Fleer produced a special, 80-card set to commemorate the end of Ted Williams’ career (1939-1960). As part of the Williams set, Fleer produced 11 cards that recognized the ‘Splendid Splinter’s’ World War II and Korean War service (see: A Set to Honor Teddy Ballgame’s Military Service) however, they only scratch the surface in any attempt to satisfy the collectors’ desire for military-related cardboard. Apart from building “veteran” themed groups from vintage card sets featuring cards from players who served, the option for cards recognizing baseball during the war are virtually non-existent, or so was the perception.

One of the card manufacturers of the 1970s and ’80s that was a bit of a dark horse among the big names (Topps Fleer and later, Donruss) laid the groundwork in addressing collectors’ desires for new treatments of vintage cards.  The company’s founder, Michael Aronstein was ahead of his time with sets that turned younger generations’ attention to the game’s golden era, beginning with the reproduction of the 1936 Goudy cards in the 200-card 1972 TCMA 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Reprints set (see: Heritage before Heritage and Beautiful purple cards). Some speculate that TCMA’s popularity is what influenced makers such as Topps towards their re-issue and re-printing movement of the 1990s.

During TCMA’s 15-year-run, the company largely produced cards that paid homage to the game’s heyday directing attention to teams and stars from the 1920s through the 1950s. Some of the card sets that were produced centered on specific teams such as the 1927 Yankees (released in 1979), 1914 “Miracle” Braves and the 1959 Dodgers (both released in 1980). TCMA ventured into the minor leagues with sets such as the Rochester Red Wings and Wichita Aeros (1980) and into sets centered on the game’s greats with “Hitters,” “Pitchers” and “Sluggers” (1982).  Unlike what is commonly seen within the sets produced by the major sports card companies, checklist inserts and set production data are not readily available.

As we continue in our quest to locate and secure photography associated with the military game, over the last 10 years, we have encountered a smattering of images listed (in online auctions) as photos or real photo postcards (RPPC) that were clearly printed (half-toned and containing labels on the image faces). “Photographs” of this type tend to be clippings from books or periodicals and are always absent the characteristics (such as good resolution, exposure or clarity that are hallmarks of photos printed from negatives) of type-1 images.

Often listed among search results, this “vintage photo” of Pee Wee Reese flanked by Merrill May and Johnny Vander Meer wearing Navy baseball flannels went largely overlooked during our searches for vintage photographs (source: “Athletes Away,” TCMA 1976).

As we search and scour online sales and auctions for vintage military baseball photography, an occasional listing of a candid image (above) showing Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer and Merrill May in their Navy baseball flannels in front of a tropical vegetation backdrop. The image appears to have postcard dimensions and, due to it being a half-tone printed item, the exposure appears to be of a low and “muddy” contrast that is typical of such material. While the subject of the photograph would capture our attention, we would routinely dismiss the items. Having only seen the front of the postcard-like photo, there was no reason to suspect that the image should have captured our attention.

Oct. 11, 1943 – St. Louis: “New York: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Card #1 in the set shows NY Yankees SS, Phil Rizzuto and St. Louis Cardinals CF Terry Moore in their service uniforms attending Game 5 of the 1943 World Series at Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

In recent months, another listing of the Reese-Vander Meer-May photo appeared in a search however, this time, there were a few additional similarly themed postcard photographs included as part of a group. A closer examination of the additional auction listing images raised our eyebrows as we noted details printed on the backs of each card. The addition of the other cards drew attention to the presence of numerals on the face of each card along with the names of the players shown. Of the handful of cards, one of them truly stood out. On the front featured two men in their service uniforms – Phil Rizzuto (formerly of the New York Yankees) wearing his Navy service dress blues and Terry Moore (formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals) in his U.S. Army dress uniform – at the fifth and deciding game of the 1943 World Series at Sportsman’s Park. On the reverse of the card is what appears to be the introduction of an essay that was penned by Harrington Crissey, LT, USNR, entitled “Athletes Away.” Printed in smaller type in the lower right-hand corner of the card, “T.C.M.A” and a 1975 copyright date.  We immediately acquired the few pieces that were listed and subsequently reached out to Mr. Crissey with an inquiry.

In the year since I became acquainted with Mr. Crissey, we have collaborated on considerable research of wartime military baseball – predominantly focused upon his area of expertise, the game played by professional ball players who served (and played) in the U.S. Navy – we discussed his three books, Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s: Volume 1: The National League (published 1981), Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s, Vol. 2: The American League (1982) and Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II (1984) along with his extensive research, interviews and correspondence with the players and his incredible library of photographs, documents and personal items (obtained from the men who played and served). Despite all our conversations and correspondence, there was no mention of the cards until I shared my “discovery.”

#11 – Glenn “Red” McQuillen, veteran LF of the St. Louis Browns, gifted some of his personal WWII Navy photos to Harrington Crissey, becoming cornerstones in the Athletes Away card set (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

Without pause, Mr. Crissey explained how the set came into existence, mentioning how he came into contact with the founder of TCMA cards,  “Mike Aronstein was a young man about my age who had collected a very large number of glossy photos of players and was selling them at reasonable (for those days) prices, “ Crissey wrote in an email.  “I bought many of them from him both at card shows and later at his apartment in New York City,” Mr. Crissey continued.  Crissey explained that the 18-card set was the result of a collaboration with Aronstein with photos from their respective vintage image collections.

#12 – The combined 3rd and 5th Fleet teams pose on Tinian beneath the 20th Air Force’s B-29. “Flag Ship” (the first B-29 to land on Tinian) during the Navy Baseball Tour of the Western Pacific in 1945 (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

The “Athletes Away” TCMA 18-card set shines a spotlight upon baseball during World War II, specifically Navy baseball with seven of the cards depicting the players either in their service team flannels or in their navy service uniforms. “The photos of players in major league uniforms plus the one of Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore were from the Aronstein collection,” Crissey wrote. Aside from card #1 (showing the aforementioned Rizzuto/Moore photograph from Aronstein’s collection). Card number 2-6 and #12 were all made from Crissey’s photo collection. Most of the photos supplied by Crissey were given to him directly by former St. Louis Browns outfielder, Glenn “Red” McQuillen, one of the players featured on six of the TCMA cards, giving the set a more personal historical connection. The remainder of the set features photos of players who served in the Navy but are shown in their major league uniforms before they entered the service.

TCMA Athletes Away Set List:

    1. Phil Rizzuto and Terry Moore
    2. Action at Gab Gab, Guam
    3. Navy players warm the bench
    4. Merrill May, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer
    5. Navy players in working uniforms, Guam
    6. At Great Lakes with Manager Cochrane
    7. Del Ennis – Phillies
    8. Mace Brown – Pirates
    9. Reese, Gordon, Dickey – 1941 World Series
    10. Glenn McQuillen – Browns
    11. Mike Budnick – Giants
    12. Navy Pacific Tour Teams
    13. “Skeets” Dickey – White Sox
    14. Connie Ryan – Bees
    15. Hal White – Tigers
    16. Mickey Cochrane – Tigers
    17. Barney McCoskey – Tigers
    18. Ben Huffman – Browns

#3 Somewhere in the Marianas, several Navy ballplayers on the bench ready to get into the game are identified as: Vander Meer( Johnny), Lipton (actually Johnny Lipon), White (Hal), Rigney (Johnny), Becker (Joe), McQuillen (Glenn “Red”) and Grace (Joe) wearing their dungarees (source: TCMA Athletes Away, 1976).

As the dialogue between us continued, Mr. Crissey inquired as to the cards that I was missing from the Athletes Away set. A few days after our conversation, a package arrived with the pieces that brought my set to completion.  Mr. Crissey was unaware of the production size of the Athletes Away set nor was he familiar with the manner in which the cards were distributed to TCMA customers. If the present very limited availability is an indication, it appears that production was limited.

Aronstein, an avid collector of vintage photographs, ventured into other areas including the minor leagues before transitioning to his fully-licensed (through the MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and NFL) photographic reproduction business, selling frame-able, autograph-ready retail sports photographic prints. We attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to Mr. Aronstein for input.

Dominating Their League (and our Collection): The 1944 Norfolk NTS Bluejackets

In the sphere of baseball memorabilia collecting, there are certain artifacts that conjure deeply emotional responses when they are beheld. The jersey or uniform worn by one of the game’s greats, the glove used by a legend during a pivotal World Series game, or the bat that hit the game-winning home-run in a contest in which the score was knotted in a tie; these treasures seem to engender jaw-drops and sheer awe by folks when their eyes fall upon the items.  In no other sport is the history of autographs more ingrained and deep-rooted than it is within baseball’s storied past. One of the most-telling indications of the value placed upon signatures from the people who played the game lies with the monetary-worth associated with specific items, such as autographed baseballs.

There are many examples of the considerably-high appraisal values associated with such treasures. To underscore the consistent high-prices, this 2017 Antiques Roadshow segment demonstrates the sort of financial interest the most-desired signatures can generate. Certainly inheriting a treasure such as a team-signed 1927 Yankees baseball is a windfall in terms of monetary value but for those who enjoy such treasures for their historical significance, it is invaluable.

The Chevrons and Diamonds collection features a handful of military service team-signed baseballs from World War II and into the 1950s. Starting with our first, a sphere that was autographed by the 1956 “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group based in Germany, we slowly began to source, acquire and receive treasures that brought a personal connection to service teams from more than a half-century ago. When we shined a spotlight upon the “Rammers” ball, life was breathed into the artifact as the descendant of one of the signers, a man who turned down the potential for a professional career within the Chicago Cubs organization, saw his grandfather’s autograph in the (story’s accompanying) photos of the ball (see: Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why) which fueled a family’s renewed interest in the veteran’s service and his love of baseball.  After being gifted with another signed piece, the 1949-dated ball from the “Stags” of the 25th Infantry Division, the significance of the everyday veteran who also played baseball during their time in uniform was further cemented in seeing infantrymen’s names encircling the ball.

To baseball fans and collectors of baseball memorabilia, these two signed pieces are understandably insignificant and rather undesirable due the lack of recognizable names inscribed on either ball. However, to Chevrons and Diamonds, such treasures underscore the game’s long-standing connection to the armed forces. Owning a baseball that was signed by professional ballplayers that made notable or significant contributions to the game gives a sense of connection to the game’s history.

While acquiring a ball signed by the 1927 Yankees is certainly the pinnacle of baseball autograph collecting, for those who focus on baseball militaria, a piece such as our 1943 Pearl Harbor Submarine Base “Dolphins” team ball (signed by four major and six minor leaguers), can elicit a greater sense of connection to the professional side of the game.

When we first acquired the P.H. Submarine Base signed ball, we lacked the research resources necessary to properly identify the signatures or associate them to a specific team. In the months that followed, every autograph was subsequently identified and correlated to a matching name on a scorecard or roster, narrowing the ball down to the 1943 team that dominated three separate leagues (securing the championships) in the Hawaiian Islands during that season. The success of the ’43 “Dolphins” prompted Army leadership to respond in kind by building a championship caliber team of their own for the 1944 season.  The result of that response was the assemblage of the Seventh Army Air Force squad whose roster was populated almost entirely by major leaguers and top-level minor leaguers that in turn, dominated the 1944 season, relegating the Pearl Harbor Sub Base “Dolphins” to a distant second place.

We are always on the lookout for similarly significant autographed baseballs and in the course of nearly 20 months, we have seen a few significant signed balls from noteworthy wartime service games and teams but were entirely unsuccessful in securing them for our collection. In the past few weeks, the situation changed when a colleague shared some photos of a signed baseball (purportedly from the 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets”) that he acquired and was seeking assistance in identifying the signatures that were present. After reviewing a few of the names that were easily discernible, we matched them against the rosters from the 1942, 1943 and 1945 teams (obtained from supporting documentation in the form of scorecards, newspaper clippings and books), I was able to confirm the baseball came from the 1944 team.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets.

I asked the colleague how he determined the baseball bore signatures from the ’43 Norfolk Bluejackets and he responded that the information came from “the person I got it [the ball] from. He got a [different] ball from the last game of the 1943 [season] Red Sox vs White Sox [series] and [had it] signed by the White Sox,” our colleague continued,” and later got the navy players [to sign the Norfolk ball] the same year as he remembered.”  Understanding how some timing details can grow foggy as the decades pass, we didn’t press for more information. Our colleague closed the conversation, writing, “He (the veteran) also was in the navy.  Each of these guys played for navy and specifically 1943.” Sharing some of our research that validated the actual iteration of the Norfolk team, our colleague responded that the ball was available, messaging that the ball, “needs to go to a place where it can be appreciated for its history and am glad you found it.”

Beneath the Reach logo stamp is Tommy Byrne’s lone signature.

Indeed, we were glad to have found this baseball. Once we had it in hand, a closer examination of the autographs showed that the ball contained inscriptions from nine major leaguers and three minor league players. Twelve players from the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station “Bluejackets” roster of 20 signed the period-correct William Harridge Reach Official American League baseball (used by the American League from 1943-1947).

1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Roster (names present on the ball are in bold):

Player Position 1944 Stats
Sig Broskie C, PH 0.368
Jack Conway SS 0.280
Jeff Cross 3B 0.314
Bill Deininger C 0.319
Hooks Devaurs CF 0.288
Benny Huffman C, LF 0.329
Clyde McCullough C 0.390
Red McQuillen RF 0.367
George Meyer INF 0.224
Mel Preibisch LF 0.321
Eddie Robinson** 1B 0.282
Hank Schenz 2B 0.369
Tommy Byrne LHP 16-6
Herb Chmiel** LHP 4-1
Frank Marino RHP 15-3
Russ Meers LHP 17-5
Tom Nisbet RHP 0-1
Johnny Rigney RHP 22-4
Jack Robinson RHP 9-2

Bluejackets Staff:

Gary Bodie Manager
Mush Esler** Trainer
Chuck  Reinecker Batboy

As the season was getting started, the press had concerns as to the capabilities of the new faces on the roster and how the manager, Gary Bodie will address the seemingly gaping holes left by the departed stars of the 1943 season.

Gone are many members of last year’s championship club, but true to Navy tradition, a winning club is in the offing at the NNTS.

Coach Bodie won’t have some of the stars of the brilliant infield at his command this year. They’re scattered about the four corners of the earth. When the umps called, “Play Ball” in the first game of the season, Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, Second Baseman Benny McCoy, Third Baseman Jim Carlin, and Pitchers Tom Earley, Freddie Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Hank Feimster and Maxie Wilson were conspicuously missing. So were Vinnie Smith and Dom DiMaggio – all transferred to other bases. 

But veteran Bodie has come up with another rip-snortin‘ combination that promises to be a whirlwind in Navy competition this year. The swashbuckling Bluejackets will eagerly watch the work of big Eddie Robinson, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, one of last year’s mainstays. Jeff Cross, a St. Louis farm hand at Houston, will be back at third. 

Bodie plans to use Jack Conway at Phil Rizzuto’s post, while George Meyer, ex-Texas League veteran, is slated to see service at second base, and will have as his understudy, Henry Schenz, former Portsmouth Cub infielder. 

Hailing from Sheboygan in the Wisconsin League is Bill Deininger, second-string catcher on the 1943, who will bear the brunt of the catching duties this year. Benny Huffman, formerly with the St. Louis Browns, will divide the receiving chores with Deininger. 

Bodie has a battery of six hurlers to choose from – three righthanders and a trio of southpaws. The lefties are Tommy (Yankees) Byrnes, Russ (Cubs) Meers and Herb (Tulsa) Chmiel, while the righthanders include Johnny (White Sox) Rigney, Frank (Tulsa) Marino and Jack (Binghamton) Robinson.” – Sporting News, April 27, 1944

Out of the gate, the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station dominated their competition.

Seven thousand sailors and officers overflowed the naval base stadium, Easter Sunday, April 9, to watch Gary Bodie’s NTS team open the season with a 12-2 decision over the Portsmouth Cubs, defending Piedmont League champions. 

After Capt. H. A. McClure, commanding officer of the NST, start things rolling by throwing out the first ball, the Bluejackets pounded three Portsmouth pitchers for 16 hits, including a homer by Bennie Huffman, formerly of the St. Louis Browns. 

The Piedmont Leaguers collected eight hits off Russ Meers (Chicago Cubs) and Frank Marino (Tulsa), and a two-base smash by Rayon Couto, veteran Cuban catcher, was one of the longest blows of the game. 

Eddie Robinson (Baltimore), of the NTS, and Francisco Campos, 19-year-old Cuban Cub, set the pace in the hitting with three safeties apiece.” – Sporting News, April 13, 1944

The 1944 Norfolk team, though not as competitive in their league and exhibition play the 1942 Bluejackets, still managed to notch 83 wins against 22 losses (and two ties), pulling them ahead of the noteworthy 1943 Norfolk squad.  Mirroring the previous season’s opening series against a major league opponent (against the Washington Senators), the Norfolk team faced St. Louis, that season’s eventual American League Champions, defeating them by a 6-3 margin as browns closed out their spring training season. Norfolk NTS closed out their 1944 year by playing host to the Senators, dominating Washington by a score of 9-4.

The Norfolk Naval Training Station team swept two games from the Quantico Marines, August 19-20, winning the first 11-5, and the second, 16-4. Johnny Rigney yielded only four hits for his nineteenth victory of the season in the second tilt. The win was the seventy-third for NTS, topping the 72-mark compiled by the strong Bluejacket club of last year.” – Sporting News, August 31, 1944

In the 1942 and 1943 campaigns, the Bluejackets closed out their seasons with a seven-game championship, facing off with their cross-base rivals, the Naval Air Station “Fliers.” However, on September 7, 1944, Norfolk NTS commanding officer, Captain H. A. McClure announced that the “Little World’s Series” had been cancelled, marking the end of the of the season

1944 Bluejackets team leaders:

  • Batting average – Hank Schenz – .369
  • Home runs – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 11
  • RBI’s – Eddie Robinson – 99
  • Doubles – Eddie Robinson and Red McQuillen – 26
  • Hits – Red McQuillen – 160
  • Triples – Red McQuillen – 11
  • Runs – Jeff Cross – 109
  • Stolen bases – Jeff Cross – 50
  • Winning Percentage – Johnny Rigney – .850%
  • Wins – Johnny Rigney – 22

Even the club trainer, Myron John “Mush” Esler, had professional experience serving as the trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers (American Association) for 1938.*

In terms of the collectible aspects of the Norfolk NTS autographed baseball, consideration aside from the significance of the team and the autographs present on the ball, must be given to the condition of the ink of the signatures and ball itself. With regards to the heavily faded condition of the ink and the manufacturer’s markings, it is apparent that the baseball has received a considerable amount of ultra-violet exposure over the past seven decades.  The nearly pristine white appearance of the hide covering and stitching are demonstrate both an absence of shellac and exposure to human oils and soiling from handling.

Showing signatures from Eddie Robinson, Jeff Cross, Benny Huffman, Jack Conway and Henry “Hank” Schenz.

The 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets didn’t have the “star-power” that was present on the ‘43 squad but the results of Bosun’ Bodie’s formulaic mixture of talented and highly capable former major and minor leaguers mirrored what was seen in previous seasons. Although our team-signed baseball lacks the entire roster, the presence of autographs from the Bluejackets’ stars makes this treasure a home run acquisition.

**Notes:

  • Of the signatures present on this ball, first baseman Eddie Robinson who had just eight major league games (with nine plate appearances) to his credit before entering the U.S. Navy following the 1942 season, is currently the oldest living major league baseball player having surpassed his 99th year on December 15, 2019.  After three years of Navy service, Robinson spent 12 more seasons in the majors with the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators,, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Yankees, Kansas City Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles. Robinson played in 10 World Series games (six with the 1948 Indians and four with the 1955 Yankees) and proved to be a substantial contributor with his bat. In 23 total at-bats, Eddie has a .348 batting average and a .423 on-base percentage.
  • Without evidence to the contrary, one other of the 1944 Norfolk Bluejackets whose autograph graces our ball’s surface is left-handed pitcher, Herbert Chmiel who turned 98-years-old on September 22, 2019. Chmiel’s five professional baseball seasons (1941-42, 1946-48) were spent with seven minor league clubs that straddled his three years in a Navy uniform (1942-1945). Herb Chmiel’s last season as a pro-ball player saw him with the 1948 Los Angeles Angels (Pacific Coast League) where he saw action as a relief pitcher with 14 innings in six appearances.
  • “Mush Esler served as a trainer for the University of Toledo from 1939-1940 and in the same capacity for the Cleveland Rams (National Football League) for 1941. Chief Athletic Specialist Mush served in the Navy from March 1942 through December 1945. After the war, Mush served as the trainer for the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals before spending the remaining years of his life as the Chicago White Sox trainer from 1951 until his premature death in 1955 at the age of 44.

 

 

Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature

The Dodgers were and still are my all-time favorite baseball team if not of all professional sports. With the Red Sox being a close second to the “Blue Crew,” I experienced a bit of a dream (and nightmare) World Series in 2018 where it was a difficulty for me choose the team that I wanted to win the most between the two clubs as they faced each other in  the championship. In 1991 when I made made my first trip to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was astounded to artifacts from my favorite teams including items from men who played in the first World Series meeting (in 1916) between my two favorite teams. That visit to the Hall of Fame also stirred within me a desire to pursue other facets (besides sports cards) of the collecting hobby, namely autographs.

After visiting the Hall of Fame Museum, I walked around the small village and patronized a small shop that seemed more like an extension of the museum than a store as it was filled with antique baseball memorabilia ranging from autographed baseballs, photographs, bats and other artifacts dating from the 1920s through the 1950s and up to (then) present day. Clearly this business’ clientele was more well-heeled than an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy as I could scarcely afford to make a purchase of a baseball artifact. Motivated by the overwhelming inventory of autographed memorabilia, one piece in the store did manage to catch and hold my attention, hatching an idea for me to pursue an area of collecting that I never previously gave much thought. Without any sort of hesitation, I purchased a copy of The Sport Americana Series Baseball Address List by R. J. Smalling and started to make a list of players from the “golden era” of the game that I would target for signatures.

My visit to Cooperstown left a lasting impact on me that punched a few holes in my Dodger-blue colored glasses, leaving me with a significant reduction in my hatred for the Giants. I was able to see beyond the rivalry and recognize the contributions of the players from the game rather than to be limited by the myopia influenced by my passion for a team. This transformation translated into an activity that included writing to veteran players (Hall of Famers, included) and requesting their autographs on various piece that I would send to them. One such player was a big first baseman from Demorest, Georgia (where he was born and raised and returned to after his baseball career ended) who spent his entire career crushing Dodgers (and all other National League) pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants carrying a .324 batting average, an on base percentage of .409 while slugging .588 with and OPS of .997 and almost 300 home runs in ten seasons. His prowess against Brooklyn didn’t cease when he left the National League and donned the pinstripes of the Yankees. Mize faced the Dodgers in 10 World Series games making 23 plate appearances and batted .400 with a .600 slugging percentage and an OBP of .478 and was approaching the end of his career. It goes without mentioning that (as a Dodgers fan) I shouldn’t care for Johnny Mize or his signature.

Mize’s career was one that caught my attention both at the Hall of Fame and as I scoured my copy of the massive Baseball Almanac book (which I still have). What stood out to me among his impressive statistics was the absence of playing time (and stats) from 1943 through 1945. Admittedly, I didn’t know that Mize left his player salary and the life of sport for the uncertainty of life itself in order to don the uniform of the United States Navy. But that is what Mize did in March of 1943 following being notified of a change of status from 3-A (registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents) to 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) – at the time, Mize was the sole provider to one of his aunts however by 1943, the draft boards underwent a change in the way hardships were viewed, especially since fathers (sole providers for their families) were being drafted.

Listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 215 lbs., Johnny Mize was well above the normal sized sailors who served during WWII. Here, the former Cardinals and Giants slugger is being fitted for his undress blue uniform at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in late March, 1943.

This Navy publicity photo was taken in 1944 and used in promotional materials and game programs in the Hawaii Leagues. Mize is shown in his pinstriped Navy home uniform.

The Giants first baseman was purported to have a blood coagulation issue that precluded him from Army service. Reported by the Sporting News, March 18, 1943, Giants manager, Mel Ott mentioned that “he had heard something about John being listed clinically as a bleeder, “meaning that Mize suffered from a form of hemophilia. Cleared for military service, Johnny Mize’s eligibility was transferred from the Army and he opted to join the Navy. While undergoing basic training, Mize was picked up by the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets manager, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane, the former catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. By the end of May, 1943, Johnny Mize was appearing in the Bluejackets’ lineup as they competed against regional ball clubs and service teams. Mize remained at Great Lakes and on Cochrane’s Bluejackets roster until being transferred to Naval Training Center Bainbridge (Maryland).  While he was playing for the Bainbridge squad, Mize fell ill requiring a break from physical exertion resulting in significant weight-gain during his convalescence. When he returned to duty, Mize was transferred to the West Coast.

In February of 1944, Athletic Specialist 2nd Class Mize departed San Francisco Bay aboard the fleet minelayer, USS Terror (CM-5) and by late Spring, Mize was suiting up for the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Klippers under manager Lieutenant Wes Schulmerich, previously of the Navy Pre-Flight Training program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see: Navy Pre-Flight Round-up: The Growth of the Cloudbusters Collection Takes Flight). Though Mize’s impact would be felt, he battled injury for a fair portion of the 1944 season which led to his omission, along with that of the 7th Army Air Force’s Joe DiMaggio, from the Central Pacific All-Stars team due to reduced playing time. Both Mize and DiMaggio joined their respective branch’s All Stars team for the Army-Navy World Series held throughout the Hawaiian Island from September 22 to October 15, 1944 (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific and Game 7 – Navy vs Army All-Stars Championship Series, October 1, 1944).

 

In his first two seasons of service team baseball (with the Bluejackets of Great Lakes and the Klippers), Mize didn’t slack off with his offensive production. In 1944 Mize was limited in his plate appearances at NAS Kaneohe due to a lingering injury.*

Year Club AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg
1943 Great Lakes 251 68 105 8 11 103 .418
1944 Kaneohe 70 11 22 4 0 6 19 .314
Totals 321 79 127 4 8 17 122 .396

In early 1945, LT. Bill Dickey tabbed Mize for duty in the Western Pacific participating with other professional ball players (serving in the Navy) in a goodwill and morale-boosting tour. Servicemen on at Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea and Peleliu would be able to enjoy games being played between teams from the “Third” and “Fifth” Fleets (see: 1945 3rd Fleet vs 5th Fleet – Pacific Tour).  With the main thrust of the Pacific offensive being fought in places such as Iwo Jima, Mize and his teammates found themselves on islands that still had an enemy presence. It was not uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of a ball field.

In this Navy Department photo, Johnny Mize is seen in the back row, just to the left of center, posing among the members of both the Third and Fifth Fleet teams. This image was taken during the Tour of the Pacific in the Spring of 1945.

This very rare and rudimentary scorecard was distributed for a March, 1945 game that featured the the two teams (“3rd” and “5th Fleet”) from the Navy’s Pacific Tour. The game was played at Valor Field on the island of Peleliu.

Within a few weeks following the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, Mize was making his way back to the United States mainland and would be discharged from active duty in time to make an appearance as a spectator at the 1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. It was noted by several reporters, ball players and coaches that Mize had dropped a significant amount of weight and appeared to be in top physical condition. Questioned about his health, Mize recounted his 1945 season of playing baseball five days a week for several months leading up to his separation from the Navy. Mize settled back into the routine of baseball with the Giants for the 1946 season, resuming his Hall of Fame career with a productive season despite his production drop from his 1942 season. In 1947, Mize led the National League in runs scored (137), runs batted in (138) and home runs (51), tying Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner. Despite Mize’s offensive prowess, his Giants finished in third place behind St. Louis and 13 games behind the National League Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.

Johnny Mize poses for a fan’s candid snapshot following a game in Hawaii in 1944.

While seated at my desk during a night shift at my last Navy duty station, I finished the letter that I wrote to the retired 80-year-old Hall of Famer, folded it and inserted the self-addressed and stamped envelope along with a few items for Mize to sign. I had no thoughts to the mortality of the immortal greats of the game until a few weeks later I learned that Johnny Mize had passed away and soon after, the envelope that I sent arrived in my mailbox was marked, “return to sender.”

Twenty five years later, I discovered a photo of Mize that, despite several flaws, caught my interest. The image was overexposed (either when the photo was captured or when it was printed in the darkroom) and has a discoloration blemish that is the result of improper darkroom chemical baths (the “stopbath” wasn’t fully removed in the rinse) leaving a residue that resulted in a dark patch on the surface of the print. The photo was captured by George Burke and might have been a cast-off print. Regardless of the condition, Mize, a prolific autograph signer, placed his mark on this vintage photo. It only took me a quarter of a century to finish what I set out to obtain.

Twenty five years after my attempt to get Mr. Mize’s autograph, I found this vintage photograph, clearly a cast-off of darkroom imperfection (underexposed and a dark spot on the top right is due to the chemicals not being fully washed at the time the print was developed), I was happy to add this signed print to my collection. That Mize is shown in his St. Louis uniform in his last season, there makes this much more palatable.

About the Johnny Mize artifacts
In addition to the signed photo, the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection has gained other Johnny Mize-related artifacts that include multiple WWII scorecards from games that he played while serving in the U.S. Navy. Also, we acquired three photos of Mize during his time in the Navy starting off with him being fitted for his service uniform (undress blues), a navy-veteran’s snapshot of the slugger in Hawaii in 1944 (see: Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars) and an official Navy publicity photo that came from the estate of Philadelphia Athletics and WWII Navy infielder, Al Brancato. Two other photographs shown here (copies of the originals) were provided to Chevrons and Diamonds from our collecting colleague, Mark Southerland who obtained the original vintage prints (many of which are signed) as part of a substantial group of photographs from the Bill Dickey estate. Lastly, the photograph of the Navy team posed in front of the B-29 is a Navy Department publicity print.

*Mize’s Navy playing stats compiled and provided by Mr. Harrington “Kit” Crissey

Discovering the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Through Two Scarce Artifacts

While Major League Baseball celebrates their 150th anniversary (which coincides with the establishment of the first all-professional baseball team in Cincinnati) on this 2019 opening day, 76 years ago a different opening day was taking place at a tiny and exclusive ball park, well inside of the secured confines of the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia. Opening day in baseball is appropriately connected to the renewal of spring with the budding leaves of the deciduous trees and the impending blooms of perennials, daffodils and tulips. Rosters are renewed with player changes, season statistics are reset to zero and all teams are tied in the standings. In 1943, our nation’s armed forces were on the offensive in the Pacific and Northern Africa (days earlier, General Patton’s tank forces defeated General Jürgen von Arnim Afrika Korps at El Guettar, Tunisia).

A trend has been in development for the last few years in terms of the baseball militaria ephemera market in the last few years and while it has been a pleasant surprise, it gives me reason to suspect that there is an imbalance in this particular area of interest. Regardless of the explanations, it has been quite a pleasant turn of events after so many years with scant few pieces.

The very first military baseball program that I was able to secure into my collection was discovered just as my interest in baseball militaria was burgeoning. With just a few pieces already within the collection, the 1945 Third Army Championship Series scorecard and program grabbed my attention and I was able to win the auction with a very minimal bid. It seemed a fitting piece to pursue and though my knowledge surrounding the WWII service team games at the time. A tangible piece of baseball history that included names of some professional baseball players-turned-soldiers-turned-ball players was a great addition and just the beginning.

Over the years, so few of these vintage paper pieces surfaced onto the market. I managed to land my second piece inside of a year. This time, the scorecard was from a Pacific Theater game in 1944 and the names on each of the teams’ rosters was absolutely filled with some of the biggest names from the major league ranks. Rather than this scorecard being solely from an Army game, the contest was part of an (eventual) eleven game Army-Navy All Stars World Series (the program from the fourth game billed the contests as the Central Pacific Area Championship Series). With names on the rosters such as Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, George and Bill Dickey, Hugh Casey, Johnny Mize and Pee Wee Reese, it became a centerpiece in my collection and the motivation for future pursuits.

Since those first two pieces landed into the collection, it has been slow going overall in finding additional pieces. However, overall the trend for available pieces is decidedly in favor of scorecards from the Navy service team games from World War II.

Aside from the Bluejackets teams of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station from 1942-1945, perhaps the service team that has received the most contemporary coverage across multiple forms of media (news, books, blogs and collectors’ online forums) is that of the Norfolk Training Station (NTS) ballclub; also known as the Bluejackets. Even on Chevrons and Diamonds, we have covered the NTS Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) but until now, nothing has been available to acquire – at least not for this collector. Aside from sharing a team name, both installations fielded teams stocked with former professional ballplayers throughout the war.

In similar fashion to the teams recruited and assembled by Lieutenant Commander Mickey Cochrane at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Captain Henry McClure and Chief Signalman (and later Boatswain/Bos’n) Gary Bodie began assembling some of the top talent in baseball, inviting veterans (including a few who played in the previous year’s World Series) to enlist into the Navy in order to secure their assignments to the Norfolk training station. Two of the game’s best middle infielders and 1941 World Series opponents, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto (of the Yankees) and Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Dodgers joined the Navy in early 1943 and landed on the NTS Bluejackets (Reese would be transferred to the Norfolk Naval Air Station team in order to spread some of the wealth of talent) ahead of opening day.

With former major leaguers such as Ben McCoy, Phil Rizzuto, Eddie Robinson, Jim Gleeson, Dominick DiMaggio, Fred Hutchinson, Walter Masterson, Henry Feimster and Charles Wagner were keys to the immense success of Bos’n Bodie and Captain McClure’s Naval Training Station Bluejackets in 1943 (author’s collection).

Naval Historical Foundation’s Norfolk NTS Bluejackets series:

The first Norfolk NTS-associated piece that I landed was a type-1 photograph featuring the entire 1943 team in uniform along with Captain McClure and other officers. The quality of the exposure combined with the deterioration and fading that has taken place in the last 76 years has left the players’ faces more of a challenge to identify. After considerable restoration work on the digital scan of the image (in Photoshop), greater detail is discernible and more of the players have become recognizable.

Showing all four panels of the April 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station vs Washington Senators program.

Completing the assembled, two-piece group is a 1943 program from the first three season-opening games that were played at the Norfolk NTS Field (later re-named McClure Field to honor Captain Henry McClure) before a 5,000-person capacity audience.

The cover of the Norfolk NTS vs Washington Senators season opener baseball program shows some minor creasing.

When I first saw the listing for the Norfolk NTS program, I immediately performed my due diligence in order to determine which year it was used. Since the early April dates lacked days of the week, I had to resort to focusing on the names listed on each of the team’s rosters. Understanding that two central players on the Norfolk Roster, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio were both serving in the Navy elsewhere in 1944 and each was on their major league club rosters for 1942. In addition, two players who were previously on the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team, Ben McCoy and Don Padgett, which easily intersects with Mickey Cochrane’s 1942 Bluejackets roster. One last point of reference lies with the Senators roster: Jerry Priddy having just been traded to the Senators in the 1942-43 off-season, played for Washington only in 1943 before he was inducted into the Army on January 4, 1944. With the date of the program decidedly dated from early April, 1943, I placed my winning (sniped) bid and a few days later, it arrived.

1943 Norfold Naval Training Station Bluejackets: Opening Day Roster (bold indicates pre-war major league service)

No. Name Position 1942 Club
2 Ben McCoy Inf Great Lakes
7 Jim Carlin Inf NTS Norfolk
8 Jack Conway Inf Baltimore/NTS Norfolk
13 Phil Rizzuto Inf New York Yankees
16 Eddie Robinson Inf Baltimore
19 Jeff Cross Inf Rochester/Houston
3 Ernest DeVaurs OF NTS Norfolk
21 Don Padgett OF St. Louis/Great Lakes
11 Jim Gleeson OF Cincinnati/Columbus
9 Dominick DiMaggio OF Boston Red Sox
20 Mel Preibisch, CSp OF/Asst. NTS Norfolk
1 Fred Hutchinson P NTS Norfolk
5 Walter Masterson P Washington
6 Henry Feimster P NTS Norfolk
10 Tom Earley P Boston Braves
12 Max Wilson P NTS Norfolk
14 Charles Wagner P Boston Red Sox
15 Ray Volpi P Kansas City
17 Carl Ray P NTS Norfolk
4 Vincent Smith C NTS Norfolk
18 Bill Deininger C Sheboygan Wis.
G. R. Bodie, Bos’n Head Coach NTS Norfolk
C. M. Parker, Ensign Assistant NTS Norfolk

Though the program shows the opening series as being three days (April 1, 2, 3), only two games were scheduled and played, commencing on Saturday, April 2nd (also scheduled were two games with Naval Air Station Norfolk immediately following the NTS games).

According to the April 8, 1943 Sporting News’ Shirley Povich, the four games were part of the Senators’ Grapefruit League play just ahead of their regular season opener later that month (Thursday, April 2oth as they played host for a single game with the Philadelphia Athletics). Norfolk’s lineup was formidable as the roster consisted predominantly of ballplayers with major league experience. The two-game series was split with each team securing a win. The Bluejackets pounded the Nats 10-5 in the opener as they tallied seven unanswered runs against Washington pitchers Emil “Dutch” Leonard, Milo Candini and Clyde “Mickey” Haefner. Norfolk batters punished the visitors as they tallied 13 hits which included a pair of homeruns by Benny McCoy and “Scooter” Rizzuto while Fred Hutchinson held his opposing hitters scoreless through five innings, limiting them to a lone hit. Tom Earley was on the mound in relief when the Senators erased the shutout.

April 2, 1943 Washington Senators visit the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (game photos):

The program itself is in very good condition. With some creasing, it is obvious that document was folded and probably placed into the original owner’s uniform pocket for safe-keeping. Though the creases are prominent and visible (the more substantial crease extends from the top to the bottom edges and nearly at the center of the page), they don’t detract from the overall aesthetics. The paper is a card stock (much heavier than what is used on most of the wartime scorecards and programs) giving it a substantive feel when handled. What makes this program even more special is the addition of the coaches’ photos across the top of each team’s rosters. Seeing Chief Bos’n Bodie’s face in his photo helps to spot him in the team photograph (above).

The back cover of the Norfolk Naval Training Station vs Washington Senators program includes the April schedule and a message from Captain Henry McClure.

Three months after the season opener, three men from this roster, Gleeson, Masterson and Volpi would find themselves in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Submarine Base ball team. Late in 1944, Masterson reconnected with McCoy, Carlin, Feimster, Smith, Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio on the roster Navy’s All-Star roster to take on the Army’s All-Stars in the Central Pacific World Series Championships played throughout the Hawaiian Islands (see: Keeping Score of Major Leaguers Serving in the Pacific). In 1945, Vincent Smith was assigned to the Third Fleet vs Fifth Fleet All Stars tour of the Western Pacific.

As the war progressed with Allied victories as Axis-held territories were liberated, Army and Navy leadership began concentrating talent into the Pacific Theater to increase competitiveness between service teams and creating an inevitable gravitational pull towards inter-service championship that would lift the spirits of of war-weary service members who flocked to the games.

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