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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.

 

 

75 Years Later, WWII Navy Baseball is Still Giving

The quest for baseball militaria quite often results in being outbid, a day late for a great deal or finding an artifact in a condition of utter disrepair and doesn’t warrant being added to a collection but would be better served with an unceremonious disposal. Finding a wool flannel jersey riddled with holes and decay from years of improper storage and being feasted upon by moths and silverfish is not a find at all. Locating a rare and vintage bat that has been used as gardening implement rather than properly stored should cause even the most carefree collector to pause. Some of these treasures are sadly too far gone to be kept and, in some cases (such as with a pest-infested and heavily damaged jersey), they need to be discarded.

This USN-marked ELmer Riddle DW Model glove was in rough shape when we acquired it.

The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is populated by many artifacts, some of which are in conditions that would have been avoided by memorabilia hobbyists and museum curators. One of the more challenging artifacts (in terms of preservation and stabilization efforts) was a wartime GoldSmith Elmer Riddle “DW” model glove that was marked with “U.S.N.” that was heavily damaged from water. The horsehide on the glove was rife with dry-rot, mold and extensive cracking and so malodorous that it required storage in a resealable bag. Despite the glove’s state, we were able to preserve what remained and save it from complete destruction. We question the expended effort to save the DW glove (documented in our story: A War Veteran Who Never Served) and have come to the conclusion that there are alternative solutions for heavily deteriorated artifacts.

In the last year, this site has been the beneficiary of a plethora or historical data, research and anecdotes from a baseball historian who, through his efforts and his books, shined a spotlight on Navy wartime baseball and established a foundation upon which all other military baseball historians have built upon.  My first contact with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr. followed a social media group posting that was a request for assistance in identifying three faces in a group of four World War II-era vintage snapshots that featured four Navy baseball players. A colleague in that group suggested that I reach out to Mr. Crissey and provided me with his contact information. In addition to Kit’s quick response to my inquiry, the ensuing email correspondence regarding his experiences, interviews and even friendships that he held with many of the major and minor leaguers (who donned Navy flannels during the War) was truly eye-opening. After the Chevrons and Diamonds article, Matching Faces to Names: Identifying Four 1945 Navy All-Stars was published, a friendship developed. In addition to our enlightening conversations and research collaboration on countless projects, Kit’s generosity in sharing precious and rare artifacts has opened the doors into so many areas of research and advanced our efforts (seemingly) by light-years.

This group of snapshots were part of a WWII Navy veteran’s collection and was the vehicle that led to establishing a friendship with Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey.

Crissey, aside from being a wealth of knowledge and research resources, has been a source of encouragement in this endeavor. To be able to respond in kind and enlighten our readers (including Mr. Crissey) in other aspects of wartime baseball; particularly in the area of baseball militaria artifacts. The delightful conversation that followed the publication of Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt (with Kit) set the idea-gears into motion.

Droke matched the 7th’s insignia onto one of our Ferris Fain glove-baseball’s panels – shown here with the 7th AAF patch and the same Fain model glove.

As we approach the anniversary of that initial contact, it seemed fitting that a very tangible gift that is representative of this game and the incredible history that is mutually appreciated between us, would be fitting to send to Kit.  During a phone conversation with Kit regarding our vintage wartime Mickey Owen catcher’s mitt and how his interest was piqued, he described the feeling of donning a vintage catcher’s mitt and how different they feel from their contemporary counterparts used in today’s game. The sheer weight of the mitt, the stiffness of the extensive padding and thick leather covering leaves one wondering how a catcher can securely close his hand around a pitched ball as it makes contact. A smile was discernible in his voice as Kit talked about the feel of a vintage catcher’s mitt.

Representative of what was made by Civil War soldiers (on both sides) and used between marches and battles. This ball (and the Confederate-wrapped box) were made by Don Droke in early 2018 (image source: Pam Henderson).

I glanced at my 7th Army Air Forces baseball that was handcrafted for me from leather salvaged from a deteriorated early 1950s Ferris Fain “Trapper” first baseman’s mitt and knew that I wanted to bring to a confluence three concepts; the feel of a vintage mitt, the tactile nature of holding a baseball and wartime Navy baseball history. Without hesitation, my mind set upon the artful hands of another baseball and military historian and craftsman, Mr. Don Droke of East Tennessee in hopes that he could draw upon his skills and experience to undertake this project. Taking hold of the Ferris Fain/7th Army Air Forces baseball, I began to search my mind for illustrations that would best embody the Navy game during WWII.

One of Don Droke’s earliest baseballs made from glove-sourced leather from a Mickey Mantle model glove (image source: Don Droke).

Since February of 2018, Don “the Drokester” Droke has been transforming tattered, worn, decayed and generally un-salvageable baseball gloves and mitts into treasured heirlooms. Leather and horsehide that used to absorb the energy and impact of a fast-moving orb is carefully removed, cut, trimmed and stitched over an old and de-skinned baseball. In nearly two years, Don has created several dozen unique baseballs from gloves bearing the stamped or tooled signatures or caricatures of legendary players, extracting their stamped signatures or embellishing the hide with enhancements to further honor and represent a player or significant accomplishment, depending upon what the artist or the customer commissions.

Droke is an historian with a passion for sharing living historical portrayals through reenacting, story-telling and artifacts, the baseball-making was born from his love of the game while serving as a Civil War Reenactor.  Some of Don’s earliest hand-made baseballs were replications of those made by troops (on both sides of the conflict) in the early 1860s. Civil War baseballs were hand-made with available materials such as canvas or leather from an old boot and, aside from being orbital in shape and bearing stitching, hardly represent what we see on today’s diamonds.

“Though the process of making the baseballs can be tedious, and takes some finesse, Droke is able to complete a new ball in about six to eight hours — granted, he does so while enjoying Cincinnati Reds games, as sitting down and making ball after ball would ‘suck the fun out of it.'” – Piney Flats man has unique way of repurposing old baseball gloves – Johnson City Press (Tennessee) | Jonathan Roberts • AUG 4, 2019

Despite the heavy wear and cracking from dry-rot, this Wartime Spalding “Marvel” Model 102 stamp is still discernible (source: eBay Image).

For this project, Don started with a well-worn Spalding “Marvel” model 102 catcher’s mitt that was used by naval personnel during WWII as indicated by the “U.S.N.”  stamp on the heel. Had the condition been better, this model of catcher’s mitt is truly worth preserving however, the water damage and wear on this particular example was extensive leaving it un-salvageable. According to Droke, the mitt’s condition did not leave much usable leather for making a ball due to the considerable dry rot and cracking and might have to supplement the project with hid from another sacrificed glove.

Once the glove was dismantled, Don located the primary areas on the glove that would surround the outer windings of the baseball, paying particular attention to the features that would tie into the project’s theme. Rather than attempting to match the two-piece, inter-locking shapes, each of Don Droke’s hand crafted baseballs feature panels that are cut to emphasize a feature extracted from the glove which results in unique stitching patters that are reminiscent of the field-made Civil War-used baseballs. Don isolated the “U.S.N.” stamp from the mitt’s heel area cutting out a circular shape and laying it in place on the donor baseball’s outer windings. Each subsequent piece was cut from the glove and trimmed to fit in concert with the adjacent pieces, much like fitting together a three-dimensional spherical puzzle.

Depending upon the project’s specifications, Don can spend several hours each day for three to four days which, besides cutting and assembling the baseball but also pre-conditioning the leather (as was done with this mitt) and thinning the hide (with a Dremmel tool) to ensure consistent material thickness. A more recent enhancement to Droke’s glove baseballs is the application of hand-tooled designs (such as team logos, player illustrations or player-statistics) which this particular project included.

This stamp was the primary material objective. Don shows how the wartime “U.S.N.” stamp-panel fits on the donor baseball (image source: Don Droke).

Note and sketches show how Don Droke was preparing for tooling the artwork directly into the re-purposed mitt leather (image source: Don Droke).

Don’s artistic creativity was brought to bear on this Navy-themed ball with the addition of the 1942 Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets team jersey applique (an “N” for Norfolk with “N” “T” “S” superimposed), the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets jersey script applique and an anchor design with N T S across the shank. Also added to the ball was the outcome of the 1944 Army versus Navy World Series held in the Hawaiian Islands (the Navy won with a record of eight wins against two losses and a tie).

The panels are coming together for fitting ahead of the final step, stitching the ball together (image source: Don Droke).

Over the course of four days, Don spent time meticulously cutting and fitting 75-year-old, heavily weathered and damaged leather to create both an aesthetically pleasing baseball but also to accommodate specific illustrations and the “U.S.N” stamp, fitting them all together. Each illustration was selected from vintage photographs of baseball uniform jersey and jacket emblems in order to capture the impact made by professional ballplayers who, like millions of Americans, left the comforts of their pre-war life behind in order to restore peace to the globe. Navy wartime baseball played a significant role in lifting morale and providing much needed sports equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and mitts (including the Spalding mitt used for this project) to troops in all combat theaters and at domestic bases.

After Don pulled and tied off the last stitches, he snapped a few quick photos of the finished baseball and then it sunk in that we would not be seeing or holding this treasure before it arrives to Kit Crissey’s door. Watching this project; the transformation from something that would otherwise have been discarded being made into a subtle, yet beautiful piece of folk art is satisfying.

Stitching is complete. The illustrations are beautifully framed by the ball’s stitching and are finished off by a hand-rubbed polish that makes the 75-year-old mitt leather truly shine (image source: Don Droke).

While it may seem counter-intuitive for this article’s featured image to be placed at the very end of the story, however we were truly saving the best part for last. The final punctuation for this story is to hear the reaction of this treasure’s recipient, Mr. Crissey.

During the making of our Navy Baseball, Don Droke was also tending to his cattle during a severe cold snap that struck East Tennessee. Despite his efforts in , this ailing little calf perished (image source: Don Droke).

Commission a Ball
For our readers who would like to commission their own baseball from Don “The Drokester” Droke, be prepared to provide your own glove or mitt and to pay his very reasonable fee and get in line behind Don’s customers. Feel free to contact Don via email (theglovester2000@yahoo.com), but please be patient in awaiting his response. Between Mr. Droke’s family, his career, farm, Civil War re-enacting, vintage baseball glove collecting, baseball-making or taking in a minor league game or just relaxing at home, watching his beloved Cincinnati Reds, Don will return your email and quite possibly converse with you about his favorite things in life as he takes note of your baseball project.

Resources and Recommended Reading:

  • Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: Vol. 1; The National League – 1981, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
  • Teenagers, Greybeards and 4-Fs: 2; The American League – 1982, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.
  • Athletes Away: A selective look at professional baseball players in the Navy during World War II – 1984, Harrington E. “Kit” Crissey, Jr.

 

A Pesky Group of Type-1 WWII Navy Baseball Photos

How does one follow-up such an amazing acquisition of an historic photographic baseball artifact as the original, Type-1 image of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio posing in his 7th Army Air Force uniform at at Honolulu Stadium? Considering that I touched upon Ted Williams’ impressive 1941 performance in concert with that of DiMaggio and his 56-game streak, landing an original type-1 of the Splendid Splinter in his service team uniform would seem to be an appropriate, yet nearly impossible accomplishment. As unbelievable as it may seem, that is exactly what happened.

In Ben Bradlee, Jr.‘s fantastic biography, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, Ted’s military service is thoroughly examined including his reluctance (and near boredom) from being called upon to play on the base teams (following his tenure with the Cloudbusters of Chapel Hill in early 1943 while he was still a Naval Air Cadet in the V-5 training program) once he earned his gold aviator’s wings. Williams entered the naval aviation training with his Red Sox team mate, Johnny Pesky at the Navy’s Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Following the completion of their first few months of training Williams, Pesky and others from their class continued training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School where both were tapped to play baseball on Navy’s local team, joining forces with other major leaguers such as Johnny Sain, Louis “Buddy” Gremp, Joe Coleman, John “Buddy” Hassett, Joe Cusick and Pete Appleton.

1945 Pearl Harbor American vs. National League All-Star Baseball Series program. Rare original program. This particular program belonged to Pesky and was sold at auction (image source: Hunt Auctions, LLC).

In Bradlee’s book, he delves into a notable exhibition game played between Williams, Johnny Pesky (and other major leaguers that were currently serving) in Boston versus the National League’s Braves. The service all stars were coached by Babe Ruth with a pre-game home run hitting contest between the Babe and the Kid which was a disappointment due to Ruth’s first swing resulting him fouling a ball off his leg, forcing him to withdraw. The Cloudbusters would compete against collegiate and other military teams (such as the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets) during Williams’ and Pesky’s tenure.

Ted Williams, after serving as a flight instructor for nearly a year in Florida, was in transit to Hawaii as the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompting the Japanese to accept an unconditional surrender. Upon his arrival at Pearl Harbor, the Splendid Splinter was added to the all-star Navy roster of major leaguers to play in the September-October, seven-game Navy World Series (not to be confused with the 1943 series played at Naval Station Norfolk’s McClure Field). Navy players, originating from National League teams before WWII, defeated their American League counterparts, four games to two despite the AL’s composite tally outscoring the NL, 30-24 total runs (the AL, led in part with a home run by Pesky, took the fourth game by a 12-1 margin). Though he was on the roster, Williams was a non-factor, perhaps distracted by thoughts of shedding his Marine Corps uniform, not having been sent to fight after more than three years of service.  Though the rosters were stocked with major league ball players there were only a handful of stars from the big leagues. Culled together from multiple sources (in the absence viewing the program shown above) are the rosters of Navy ballplayers from each of the major leagues (the asterisk denotes election to the Hall of Fame). There is name on the American League roster who I was not able to narrow down (there were multiple players named Harris).

National League   American League
Charley Gilbert CF Jack Conway 2B
Jim Carlin 3B Johnny Pesky SS
Billy Herman * 2B   Chet Hajduk 1B
Stan Musial * RF   Ted Williams * RF
Whitey Platt LF Dick Wakefield LF
Wimpy Quinn 1B Jack Phillips CF
Ray Lamanno CF Bob Kennedy 3B
Ray Hamrick SS Rollie Hemsley CF
Clyde Shoun P Freddie Hutchinson P
Hugh Casey P Bob Lemon * P
Max Wilson P Harris P
Louis Tost P Hank Feimster P
Henry Schenz 2B Jack Hallett P
Gilbert “Gibby” Brack OF Edwin “Ed” Wieland P
James “Jim” Carlin OF Ken Sears C
Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn P Joe Lutz 1B
Bob Scheffing C Joe Glenn C
Richard “Dick” West C Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe P
Ted Lyons*  P

The series was in hand for the National League team following their 4-1 victory in the 6th game but as the games were being played for the enjoyment of the ticket-holding service members, the seventh game was played.

Date NL AL Notes
26-Sep-45 6 5 Pesky knocked in the 5th AL run in the bottom of the 9th, Williams was hit-less after popping up for the 2nd out with 2-on.
28-Sep-45 4 0
29-Sep-45 6 3 Williams 2-run HR helped end the shutout in the bottom of the 9th.
3-Oct-45 1 12 Pesky was 3-3 with a single, double and 2 run HR.
5-Oct-45 1 4 Williams was scratched from the line-up due to illness and did not play the remainder of the series.
6-Oct-45 4 1 Pesky got a hit and scored a run in the victory.
7-Oct-45 2 5

Johnny Pesky finished the series batting .346 (9 for 26) with three runs batted in (RBI) and one home run. Pesky’s team mate, Ted Williams batted .272 (3 for 11) with 2 RBI and one home run.

This very large photograph shows Pesky in his Navy flannels with 9 year-old Jimmy Raugh seated on his lap, listening intently to the shortstop.

When I discovered the DiMaggio Type-1 photograph (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I was taken by surprise and was ecstatic to win the auction, virtually unopposed. Less than a week later, lighting struck (me) twice resulting in me discovering a collection of photographs of the Red Sox legends (Williams and Pesky) from their wartime service, wearing their Navy flannels. One of the images, a larger print (roughly 11″ x 17″) shows Pesky in his Cloudbusters uniform, speaking to an apparently delighted nine year old James Raugh* (the Coudbusters’ batboy and mascot) seated on the ballplayer’s lap. Though the image of Pesky posing with Williams is what initially drew my attention, the photo from the  1945 Navy World Series game truly stands out as the showcase photograph of the group. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the collection of photos is that all three of them originated from Johnny Pesky’s collection – these were owned by him.

The photo of Williams and Pesky (seen in the lower right corner) was sold with this small lot of photos and and a Navy enlisted crow (image source: Hunt Auctions).

Johnny passed away in 2012, leaving behind an incredible collection of baseball history. His artifacts stemmed from a career in the game that spanned more than 60 years and consisting of trophies, photographs, balls, gloves, bats, cleats, awards, baseball uniforms and even his 2004 Red Sox World Series Ring. Hunt Auctions, LLC was selected by Pesky’s son (David) to facilitate the liquidation of the baseball treasures. As an aside to the baseball memorabilia listed and sold, being the militaria (especially navy items) collector, I was in awe to see Lieutenant (junior grade) Pesky’s military uniform items while the selling price ($2,000) wasn’t at all a surprise.

The mailer arrived without any issues and upon unpacking everything, I noted that I was provided with a copy of the auctioneer’s certificate from the lots that contained the photographs now in my collection, indicating their origination from the Pesky collection. The enormous size of the package caught me off guard though I knew that one of the photos was larger than any that I had ever acquired. The reason for the larger shipping container was that the photo was mounted on a large, card-stock backing and probably set into a frame, years ago.  The two other photos are more reasonably sized.

The image clarity is so crisp that one can read the model numbers of the visible glove.

The second photograph in the group was a great image of both Pesky and Williams (along with Buddy Hassett, formerly of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Bees and New York Yankees) in a kneeling pose at the UNC Chapel Hill’s Emerson Field. All three players are wearing their Cloudbusters home flannels. I was able to locate this print among on of the Hunt Auction listings. As with my DiMaggio photo, this is an image that is not widely distributed across the internet; in fact, it has not been seen elsewhere. It’s uniqueness leaves me wondering what became of the original negatives and how Pesky came to be the one to possess it (and the others) rather than any of the other Cloudbusters team members or if everyone on the team was provided prints and only Johnny managed to keep them throughout his life.

The last photo of the three is as significant in terms of the historical content, who is pictured, and what is written on the print’s back. Rather than to simply scan the image and capture every detail, I decided to additionally scan it at the highest resolution possible and break the image into segments in order to capture the most important details that can be seen. This photo, taken at the 1945 Navy World Series shows the full rosters of each team, lined up on Furlong Field down each base line with Pesky at the image’s center.

I thought that it would be interesting to see who (among my readers) can identify any of the major leaguers in these photos:

From the third baseline, the National League players of the United States Navy at Furlong Field.

 

This team was loaded with major league talent. Johnny Pesky is the shorter player standing in the right batter’s box (just to the left of the image center).

 

How many major leaguers can you spot, starting with Ted Williams on the far left (with his hand to his face)? This photo could be from the first game (played on September 26, 1945). It certainly is from the first four games as Williams didn’t play beyond game four.

When I turned the image over, I noticed a hand-written note that detailed Pesky’s return home from the War. At first glance, I thought that the handwriting might be Johnny’s but then I compared the way his name is written with various examples of his autograph (some dating back to the 1940s).

“L..T. (j.g.) Johnny Pesky arrived home, Wednesday nite (sic), 9:45. Dece. 5-1945.”

My analysis ruled Pesky out as the scribe, however there is a possibility that the note was written by his wife (whom he met in 1944). Finding photos from these historic games is very rewarding as there are but a handful that exist (cameras were a rarity among the GIs in attendance) and the press photos (there had to be many) have yet to surface from the newspaper archives.

I am glad to have these photos for several reasons: historical significance, rare glimpses into the military service of some big names from the game and that they were part of the collection of a legend from one of my favorite teams.

*James Raugh would pursue his own baseball dreams, following in the footsteps of Williams and Pesky and playing his collegiate years on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill team before signing with the Detroit Tigers organization as right-handed pitcher. Raugh and Pesky would cross paths seventeen years later when the young pitcher, in the fourth season of his professional career with the Victoria Rosebuds (AA – Texas League). Johnny Pesky was in his fifth season managing in the minor leagues and was in his only season with the Rosebuds when he had his former batboy had a dominating season as a starting pitcher (11-4, record with a 3.33 era, 102 strikeouts against 45 walks). Raugh is the subject of 2018 book, The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II (published May 1, 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing), written by his daughter, Anne Keene (foreword by Claudia Williams, daughter of Ted Williams).

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WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away

I created this site as a vehicle for me to write about and discuss the military baseball artifacts that I have or am adding to my collection. Rather than to be simplistic in describing the items and sharing photographs of each piece, I prefer to research and capture the history (when possible) in order to provide context surrounding the items as a means to educate readers. I find that I often return to my articles and incorporate their elements or entirety for use in subsequent articles or as a means to authenticate artifacts that I am interested in purchasing.  Another activity that I enjoy participating in is to document those artifacts that I have discovered either too late or was incapable of purchasing due to being outbid, a missed opportunity, too many unanswered questions, cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable for purchase. Losing out on acquiring somethings doesn’t necessarily translate to letting these pieces pass into oblivion simply because they are not part of my collection.

Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets sporting their wonderful flannel uniforms.
Left to right: Walter Masterson, Fred Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Tom Early (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

Left to right: Charlie Welchel, Pee Wee Reese and Hugh Casey of the Norfolk Naval Air Station Airmen baseball team, wearing wings on their uniforms (source: Virginian-Pilot).

I have a soft spot for vintage jerseys and I am constantly on the prowl for anything that would help to make my collection more diverse with uniform pieces from all service teams such as Navy and Army Air Forces teams. In my collection, I now have three different World War II jerseys (two of which include the trousers) from Marine Corps ball teams. This past summer, I was able to locate ball caps that seem to accompany two of those Marines jerseys. In addition to the USMC items, I have two uniforms (jerseys and trousers) from WWII Army teams: one from the 399th Infantry Regiment and the other, a colorful, tropical-weight red-on-blue (cotton duck) uniform from the Fifth Army headquarters ball team (which reminds me that I still need to write an article about this uniform group).  Two years ago, I was able to find another uniform set (jersey and trousers) that I am almost certain was from a Navy ball team, due to the blue and gold colors of the soutache and that the plackard reads in flannel script, “Aviation Squadron” adorning the jersey.

In my pursuit of military baseball uniforms, I have been working to document the ones that got away (or simply were not available for purchase) in order to create a record for comparative analysis in support of research or to assist in authentication of other uniforms. Unlike professional baseball, the major leagues in particular, there are very few surviving examples of uniform artifacts from the 1940s and earlier. By creating an archive, I am hoping that not only will I have a resource available for my own efforts but will also help others in understanding more about what our armed forces players wore on the field during their service.

This close-up of Ted Williams shows him in the Navy baseball uniform that he wore while attending naval aviation training and playing for the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters ball team.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by an author who was seeking information on what became of the baseball uniforms that were used by the naval aviation cadets who were attending U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School (The V-5 Program) at Chapel Hill. The cadet baseball team (the Cloudbusters) at the V-5 school included some professional ballplayers (such as two Boston Red Sox greats, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams, Boston Braves’ Johnny Sain to name a few). In addition to the baseball team, Chapel Hill also fielded a cadet football team whose coaching roster included college legends Jim Crowley,  Frank Kimbrough, Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught and even a future president, Gerald Ford. The uniforms worn by the Cloudbusters baseball team were trimmed with a double soutache surrounding the collar and the plackard that matched what was worn on the cuffs of the sleeves. Across the front in block lettering was N A V Y reminiscent of baseball uniforms worn by the Naval Academy ball teams at that time. In my response to the person who contacted me, I told her that I had not seen anything resembling the Cloudbusters uniforms nor did I have any knowledge of what became of them after the War. I can imagine that a team with a roster filled with professional ballplayers that they would have multiple uniforms (a few sets each for both away and home use), similar to what the Norfolk Naval Station Bluejackets ball team had.

Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky entertain a group of youngsters while in their Navy baseball uniforms of the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters team (source: Baseball Hall of Fame).

See Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot video series regarding the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets baseball team featuring an interview with former major leaguer, Eddie Robinson:

 

The left sleeve of the Navy baseball jersey is adorned with patch bearing crossed flags. The U.S. flag shows the pre-1959 48 stars. The British-esque flag might help to identify where, when or who wore this uniform (Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

While looking through my photo archives for images of artifacts in support of another article that I was writing, I discovered images of a Navy baseball jersey that had been for sale at some point by a small, regional business that specializes in vintage sports equipment. I saved the image of the jersey for future reference due to the unique patch on the left sleeve. The patch bears two crossed flags – one is the U.S. flag and the other, a red flag with the British Union Jack in the left corner and an indistinguishable symbol in the red field. The jersey has a singular blue soutache trim and possesses the same block-lettering (as seen on the Cloudbusters jerseys – which have no sleeve patches). In searching through extensive volumes of historical Navy baseball photographs, no image has surfaced showing this uniform in use, keeping it a mystery for the time-being.

This Navy baseball uniform is unique with the zippered front and single, navy-blue soutache on the sleeve cuffs and the uniform front. The well-known Chapel Hill Cloudbusters uniforms had button-fronts and double-soutache trim (source: Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

Wool flannel numerals in navy blue adorn the back of the jersey (source Vintagesportsshoppe.com).

I am hopeful that I can continue to gather a useful archive of uniform artifacts in order to provide a sufficient military baseball uniform research resource. Aside from articles such as this, I think that I will organize the uniform images into a proper archive that will be organized and searchable. By capturing and cataloging the artifacts that do not make it into my collection, I can still maintain a “collection” of artifacts that will be helpful to me and other collectors and researchers.

 

 

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Navy Major League Uniform Insignia – Ratings for Ballplayers

One of the areas I spend time focusing my collecting in is with the navy enlisted rating insignia. For those of you who are neck-deep strictly in baseball memorabilia collecting, rating insignia are the embroidered badges that are affixed to the left sleeve of the navy enlisted uniform and indicate the individual sailor’s job specialty and his or her pay-grade.  I have been collecting this embroidery since I joined the Navy more than 30 years ago – by default, I purchased multiple rating insignia when I was promoted so that I would have enough on hand for all of my uniforms. Once I got out of the service, I merely stored all of my uniforms and accouterments, thereby inadvertently starting my rating badge collection.

September 18, 1943 - Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA (author's collection).

September 18, 1943 – Hugh Casey (at left with boatswain’s mate 1/c rating), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, donned different uniforms for the war but were still playing top notch ball at that time. They formed the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA (author’s collection).

When I started to specialize in the older badges (the most recently made rating badges in my collection dating to World War II), I focused on some specific ratings due to their history or correlation to the job that I held when I served. It was around this time that I began to pay more attention to baseball in the armed forces and the close link shared between the two (dating as far back as the American Civil War), especially in terms of collecting. I recalled years ago when I met a few of the game’s legends (specifically, Bob Feller and Duke Snider) and that I had the opportunity to talk about our common experience in serving in the U.S. Navy. I took stock of the autographs that I have obtained and noted that I had signatures from other major leaguers who also had served.

 

Harold "Pee Wee" Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station's Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees' shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates.

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station’s Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees’ shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

When the U.S. was catapulted into World War II, the Navy was not prepared to fully manage the influx of volunteers that began to respond to the attack by rushing to recruiting stations around the country. The Navy Department had been engaged in new ship construction and modernization of the fleet as war raged in Europe and the far east.  So, too was the anticipation of the swelling of the  Navy’s ranks. In a November 21, 1941 letter from the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (responsible for personnel management) to create an undefined specialist rating (to provide new enlisted ratings that would be needed in wartime but didn’t fall within the established navy enlisted rating structure) to accommodate the needs (though it is unknown the actual date the rating was created). When it was established, the first four specialists — designated on the rating badge the letters A, I, S and P, bordered by a diamond outline — were authorized in February 1942. Specialists could be appointed directly from civilian life to any petty officer grade depending upon their skill level.

Cleveland Indians pitching ace, Bob Feller had been in the league for nearly six years by the end of the 1941 season. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, he was driving from his home to meet with the Indians management to discuss his new contract for the 1942 season hearing of the attack on his car radio while en route and felt compelled to serve, instead.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walter Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walker Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center (source: National Baseball Hall of Fame) .

 

Looking back fondly on his naval service, Feller talked of when he enlisted, “After my basic training, the Navy made me a chief petty officer and assigned me as a physical training instructor (the insignia as denoted with an “A” in the center of a diamond – one of the Navy’s new specialist ratings). It was valuable in its way, but I wanted to go into combat. I’d had a lot of experience with guns as a kid, so I applied for gunnery school and sea duty. After four months of naval gunnery school in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to a battleship, the USS Alabama (BB-60), as a gun-captain on a 40-mm antiaircraft mount that had a crew of 24.

After serving in combat aboard the Alabama, Feller was sent to the Great Lakes naval training center in March of 1945 where he played for and managed the base’s ball club until the end of the war.

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy's inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA — 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy’s inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a rising star for the club’s middle infield as a short stop having just finished his third season and first as an All Star in late 1942. With WWII fully raging in both theaters, the twenty-four-year-old Dodger enlisted and was accepted into the Navy on January 18, 1943 to serve, like Feller, as a physical training instructor. Reese would spend much of his time in this capacity both domestically (commencing with his first duty station at the Norfolk, VA navy base) and in the South Pacific (with the Sea Bees).

Specialist “A” rating badges while not rare are still somewhat difficult to locate. If you are seeking to add any of the specialist badges to your collection, be prepared to pay as much as $40-50 depending upon the rate (petty officer 3/c to chief petty officer). I have seen both the dress blue and dress white variants. It is possible that there are some reproductions being passed due to the higher prices these rating badges command so pay attention to the embroidery work and the patterns used for the eagle.

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