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.
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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
In looking at my article writing and publishing patterns of the last twelve months, I can see that I have been merely sporadic and entirely lacking consistency. Since the beginning of April, 2017 until my latest article (at the time of writing this), Seals at War, I have only managed to create 20 articles (a 1.67/month average). A simple scan of the titles reminds me of the reason for such inconsistency: this genre of the baseball or militaria hobby is very sparse in terms of the availability of artifacts. I also suspect that with the steady increase of readership of my articles, I am potentially my own worst enemy as my stories are fueling others’ interest in this area of collecting.
Adding only a handful of artifacts to my collection had a direct correlative impact on providing me with my preferred inspirational subject-matter. In the last several weeks, my bank account of inspiration has received some fantastic credits that are changing the year-long, stagnant trend. In addition to landing the 1944 Seals scorebook, the Waldron NAAF Jersey, a magnificent 1920s baseball medal, and my very first military-related baseball which is getting (my) 2018 off to a very bright start…and there is much more to come!
As with baseball, we can’t win every game and that was the case with the auction of the circa-1944 photograph of the U.S. Navy baseball team on Tinian on which my meager bid was summarily beaten, a few short weeks ago. Missed opportunities are a part of life, the game and so go hand-in-hand with collecting. Whiffing on an artifact that would be an absolutely perfect fit for my collection can be frustrating and yet these occurrences are positive in that I gain understanding on those pieces that are in greater demand and thus have more competitors to land them.
In the article I wrote about the 1944 Seals score book, I made reference to the two WWII service teams pieces that I previously purchased. The first one that I acquired, a Program and score card from the Third Army Championship games, hosted in early August of 1945 at Nuremberg Stadium in Germany opened my eyes to how invaluable these pieces are as records of men who played as they served. The second piece that came home was a battered Scorecard from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Furlong Field on Hickam Army Air Force Base. Both of these game are have been well-documented. There is one additional scorecard (article forthcoming) for a USAAF all-star game that I have in my collection.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a few listings from a person who was selling some fantastic pieces of military baseball memorabilia (purportedly acquired from a hobbyist). In seeing how the bidding was proceeding on the three pieces that I was very interested in (two scorecards and a score book) were from World War II and related to specific games that were played between all-star service teams whose teams consisted primarily of professional baseball players.
- Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
- Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi
Friday October 6, 1944
- Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
Each piece already has numerous bids on them when I first saw them and I realized within a short period of time that each one was going to exceed not only what I was willing to pay for any of them but also their market value. The italicized text is intentional as what a particular piece is worth can be highly subjective. With these items having been produced in small numbers (that is my speculation due to the audiences that are believed to have attended the games), there are so few of them and transaction histories are difficult to obtain (I manually track them) which further complicates the discussion surrounding valuation. In the end, the price that one person is willing to pay essentially establishes the value of an item. For each of these pieces of military baseball ephemera, the excitement of the bidding and the desire to win an auction resulted, in my opinion, inflated final bid prices.
As an aside, less attention was given to a signed team baseball (one of the Navy teams on the rosters contained withing the scorecards) resulting in a very low price and facilitating my ability to land my second military baseball in less than two weeks.
The three items are considerable pieces that shine more light on these little-known games by providing rosters with the names of players, positions, their former teams, branches and, on one roster, the ranks of the ball players.
1. Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
Though my research has yielded no information regarding this specific game, I am confident that in time, I will be able to locate a Stars and Stripes article, at the very least. Some facts that stand out to me in viewing this artifact lie within the rosters themselves. While the major league all-stars team consisted of mostly major leaguers who were serving in the Navy, one player, Tom Winsett, was serving in the Army. I am didn’t quite conclude my research to determine which of the Dickey brothers (Bill or George) was suited up for the Major League team however I do know that both served in and played on the Navy teams. Considering this roster, one would suspect that the odds of a team of naval personnel could pose any sort of a challenge to be rather slim.
Major League All-Stars Roster
|Grace||Joe||3B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Navy||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Navy||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||Navy||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Pellagrini||Eddie||SS||Navy||San Diego Padres|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Navy||Brooklyn Dodgers|
(Major League players in italics)
The Navy All-Stars team wasn’t simply stocked with neophytes and amateur ball players. Present on the roster for the Navy were five veterans hailing from the Athletics and Senators of the American League. At least two of the amateurs (Mo Mozzali and John Jeandron) went on to play professional baseball and perhaps continued research will yield more confirmations of post-War athletic careers of these men.
|Atkinson||Norman E. “Gene”||C||TM2/c||Semi-Pro|
|Brass||T. H.||P||C Sp|
|Harris||Bob||P||SP 1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||3B||PhM3/c||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||YN1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||C Sp||Washington Senators|
The fact that a few items surfaced as I was watching this scorecard, I didn’t bother to submit a bid as the price seemed to be capable of exceeding (in my experience) the prices that these pieces normally garner. When the bidding closed, the final price was less than $51.00 but I suspect that the winning bidder had significant bid that would preclude prospective buyers from submitting a reasonable price that would be capable of toppling.
2. Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi | Friday, October 6, 1944
The second of the three scorecards that was sold garnered considerably greater interest (16 bids) as it sold for more than double of the preceding card and that was undoubtedly due to the sheer star power contained within both teams’ the rosters. Though the Army team for this game was fully-stocked with veritable stars taken from the ranks of the majors and minor leagues, the Navy team carried far more stars with major league experience. One of the Army’s star hitters, Ferris Fain, was building a name for himself and taking advantage of the opportunity as he demonstrated his abilities with his Army Air Force team, playing on the team at Hickam Air Field on Oahu. Fain had played four seasons of professional baseball with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League but was making a name for himself prior to enlisting following the 1942 season. Nine of Fain’s teammates on this Army All-Star team were major leaguers, headlined by seven-time American League All-Star and two-time league MVP, Joe DiMaggio who had also been playing for the Army Air Force team with Fain.
|Ardizoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|DiMaggio||Joe||OF||New York Yankees|
|Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|Judnich||Walter||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
The Navy team, in addition to being considerably larger (37), outnumbered the Army’s major leaugers (9) by more than three-to-one and one could assume that such a talent disparity would result in their dominance in this particular game.
Unlike today’s game in which players routinely migrate from one major league team and league to another, these men were subject to Baseball’s Reserve Clause making them perpetual “property” of their respective teams, indefinitely (until being released or traded). Noting that within these rosters, several major league teammates oppose each other with their respective service teams. It wasn’t until 1947 with Major League Baseball was integrated with the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ roster (having played the 1946 season at AA Montreal), but in 1944, the Army team featured pitcher Hal Hairston, formerly of the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.
|Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|Berry||John||OF||University of Oregon|
|Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|DiMaggio||Dominick||OF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|Grace||Joe||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||OF||Louisville, KY|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Rizzuto||Phil||3B||New York Yankees|
|Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr||Boston Red Sox|
|Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
This scorecard was printed and distributed for on of the games in what was known as the Army-Navy World Series that was held throughout the Hawaiian Islands from September 22 to October 15, 1944. The Navy bested the Army, eight games to two (in this series) with the ninth game concluding in a 10-inning, 6-6 tie. This scorecard is specific to game 9.
3. Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
The last of the scorecards also originates from the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series. This particular game (the fourth of 11) was played at Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks, September 25, 1944. According to Baseball in Wartime, the game was filled with excitement but would wind up with a fourth consecutive victory for the Navy All-Stars.
“The Navy took an early lead over the Army in the fourth game, witnessed by 10,000, as it jumped on four hurlers for 11 hits. Johnny Mize, ex-Giant first baseman, poled a 360-foot homer in the first inning after Barney McCosky walked, and the Navy scored one in the third and fourth, four in the fifth and single runs in the sixth and seventh to win, 10 to 5. The Army could not get its sights set up til the sixth frame, when five runs rolled over the plate, during which rally Ferris Fain, from the San Francisco Seals, and Joe Gordon, former New York Yankee second baseman, homered, knocking out Virgil Trucks and bringing Schoolboy Rowe, last with the Phillies, to the rescue.
Johnny Beazley, who was the victim in the first game, was hit freely by the Navy and retired in the fifth inning in favour of Ed Erautt, property of the Hollywood Pacific Coast League club, who, in turn, was succeeded by Carl DeRose, New York Yankee farmhand, in the sixth. Hairston finished up on the mound for the Army.”
This scorebook is, by far, the most desirable of the three that were sold. Complete with player photos of the star players, the book consists of multiple pages and, like the previous two scorecards, is unused. Topping out in both the number of bids (19) and selling price ($122.68), the most desired piece of the three didn’t fail to draw the most attention among the three auctions.
The Rosters for both of these last championship series games are nearly identical with the same combination of major and minor leaguers along with a few semi-professionals and a collegiate ball player.
|13||Ardozoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|16||Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1||Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|4||DiMaggio||Joe||CF||New York Yankees|
|19||Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|7||Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|6||Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|3||Judnich||Walter||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|25||Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|2||Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|8||Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|20||Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|26||Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|9||Berry||John||RF||University of Oregon|
|28||Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|15||Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|11||DiMaggio||Dominick||CF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|28||Grace||Joe||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|24||Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|20||Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|23||Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|5||Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|26||Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|32||Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|13||Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||CF||Louisville, KY|
|34||Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|2||Rizzuto||Phil||SS||New York Yankees|
|26||Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|30||Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr.||Boston Red Sox|
|14||Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|27||Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
Though the series was billed as a best seven of the eleven games, the Navy had the series nailed shut well ahead of completing all eleven. The military brass wanted to ensure that the service members throughout the Islands had full opportunity to see the baseball legends taking the field with some 10,000 spectators in attendance at each game.
The 1944 Army/Navy All-Star Championship Series in Hawaii
- September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0)
- September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0)
- September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3)
- September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5)
- September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2)
- September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4)
- October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3)
- October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0)
- October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5)
- October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)
- October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5)
These two scorecards (or scorebooks) from the 1944 Championship Series (also billed as the Army vs Navy World Series) are unique to their respective games. Combining the two (above) with the one scorecard that I possess tells me that there is a good possibility that there is a potential for seven others to be on the lookout for.
Missing out on pieces that would fit perfectly with what I collect is becoming too common of an occurrence for me lately. I am not one who spends my weekends scouring garage and estate sales in search of these precious artifacts but perhaps there might be something to that activity. The problem with taking that approach is that there is a considerable time commitment required just to make it worthwhile and to afford chances to find such treasures. Another challenge is that these military baseball artifacts are so hard to find due to the small population of service members who played the game during their time in the armed forces. I find that it is best to take my chances with the collections, personal items – pieces that are listed by veterans, family members, collectors and pickers.
It is not secret that my tendencies in collecting, both with militaria and in military baseball are towards the Navy and I work harder to land those related items that surface within the marketplace. Often, there are pieces that are of little interest to other collectors or they are listed in such a manner that they elude people who might be using a few different (yet limited or too specific) search criterion or formulas. Even I have missed out on pieces because I was too lazy to search beyond my normal, standby perfunctory methods.
Sometimes, I make discoveries of items that perfectly fit my collection and line up with everything that interest me but are discovered because I was exploring a tangential interest. One example of this was when I was seeking a specific rating badge (a WWII-era bullion Radarman version), I discovered a binder filled with shipyard modernization work orders that belonged to a Chief Electrician (a warrant officer) who used for the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) that would later be sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August of 1942.
My collection of Navy baseball artifacts, despite my best efforts, are scantily few. It seems that besides the there being so few pieces in existence, the competition for those items can be quite fierce.
Vintage military photographs are something that I collect. In addition to my naval ship and military baseball photograph archive, I also have several images that were part of a veteran’s photo scrapbook from his service in the 20th Air Force. Among those images of ground activities, bombing missions, wrecked aircraft and airmen enjoying downtown between missions, there are images of several B-29s and their nose art.
Nose art, especially what was seen on B-17 an B-29 bombers, has considerable following for collectors and historians alike. When the number of just these two types of aircraft (12,731 B-17 and 3,970 B-29 bombers) are considered coupled with the notion that the majority of them (that were deployed to their respective theaters of the war), there would be thousands of differing paintings and illustrations to be documented. In recent years, there have been several undertakings by historians who are seeking to locate photographs of every example of nose art for each aircraft. If the photograph exists, these folks want to have it.
In terms of collectors, those who pursue painted bomber jackets in particular, to possess both the jacket and photographic artifacts from the same ship help to make a great display. I have never actually purchased a vintage photo of a bomber or other Air Force aircraft.
A few days ago, while I was browsing through some listings of B-29 photographs taken on Tinian and Saipan (the two principle bases of operation for bombing missions to the Japanese homelands during the latter years of the War), I spotted a vintage photograph that was listed as a “nose art” image. In the thumbnail of the photo in the listing, I could see that there was a large gathering of men posed beneath the aircraft, which wasn’t unusual. What was out of the norm from what I have seen in other images was the sheer number of people lined up in multiple rows. Something about the men also caught my eye as it appeared different from all the photos that I had seen. The Superfortress looked normal though the nose art, from what I could tell, was quite diminutive compared to what was commonly applied to these massive planes.
I decided to open the auction listing and I was immediately astounded. There, in the formation ranks were a few recognizable faces – Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Fred Hutchinson to name a few – among the 43 visible service members. Twelve of the men in baseball uniforms were wearing the road gray navy flannels while 14 were decked out in the pinstripes and blue home togs. Other men posing in the image are in the Army Air Forces and Navy military uniforms. The image appears to be a type-1 (defined as first generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period – within approximately two years of when the picture was taken) and the clarity is impeccable. It is obvious that the photograph was snapped by a professional war correspondent, judging by the exposure and composition, regardless of the cropping out of men on the edges of the group.
I really wanted to land this photograph. Not wanting to risk being outbid, I set my amount for more than twice the highest price that I have ever paid for a vintage photograph. I could see that there were some new-to-eBay folks (those who place bids very early after an item is listed) which gave me a little bit of concern as these people tend to drive prices unnecessarily high (my bid won’t show until just prior to the close of the auction). I waited the remaining five days for the close of the bidding and hoped for the best.
I wish that I could say that my bid amount was enough to bring this photograph home to me but someone else with deeper pockets and, very obviously in possession of the knowledge of the significance of this rare photograph took the same actions as I did and placed a higher bid at the same time (just seconds before the auction’s close) that mine was made. Losing and missing out on this image was a painful lesson to learn. If the item matters this much, I had better step up to the plate and take a real swing.
At least I was able to grab a digital copy (albeit, low resolution) for posterity.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.