Perhaps the most significant artifact or the flagship piece that baseball memorabilia collectors can pursue is the ball. The name of the game is derived from the principal piece of equipment. The orb is thrown, caught, pitched and hit. All facets of the game are centered on interactions with the 9-inch cowhide, or prior to 1974, horsehide.
Longtime Chevrons and Diamonds readers are aware of our quest to source and acquire service-marked baseballs for our collection. Since we made the transition from collecting militaria to focus entirely on baseball militaria, we have been seeking baseballs for the collection. In the last dozen years, we have been successful in locating a few pieces that not only date to World War II but are also signed by members of wartime service teams. Locating service-marked baseballs has always been a principal goal and yet it is one that we have been unsuccessful in achieving.
One of the specific markings that we have been seeking for our collection stems from the wartime charity that was headed by Washington Senator owner and president Clark Griffith. A reprise of the original that was founded in 1917 following the United States’ entry into World War I, the Baseball Equipment Fund raised money for the purpose of purchasing baseball equipment to provide to troops. Baseballs that were purchased with these funds were prominently stamped with “Professional Base Ball Fund” on the sweet spot (see: Is My WWII Baseball Real?). Vintage baseballs are a challenge to source as survivors tend to be considerably worn with the markings significantly obscured or faded from use.
Finding any service-marked baseball can be a challenge. The World War II era team-signed pieces that we have in our collection are all official American or National League baseballs that were, no doubt, donated or purchased (by other recreational funds) for use by GIs and service teams.
- Seeing Stars Through the Clouds: 1943-44 Navy Team Autographed Baseball
- Signature Search: The 1945 Hickam Bombers
When we found in the spring of 2020 a 1944 Official American League baseball that was signed by the 1944 Norfolk Naval Training Station (NNTS) Bluejackets, it helped to make a dreary year seem a little bit better (see: Dominating Their League (and our Collection): The 1944 Norfolk NTS Bluejackets). The manufacturer’s stampings and several of the autographs are faded, which seems to indicate that the ball was displayed in such a way that it was exposed to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays for a lengthy period of time. Nevertheless, all of the signatures are still very discernible.
The 1944 NNTS Bluejackets team was a powerhouse that managed a won/lost/tied record of 83-22-2. As incredible as that record is, the star-studded 1943 team was even more competitive. With players such as Fred Hutchinson, Charlie Wagner, Eddie Robinson, Benny McCoy, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto, it is no wonder that they dominated the Eastern Service League and defeated the American League’s Senators and Red Sox as well as the star-studded Cloudbusters of Navy Pre-Flight, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Locating a “Professional Base Ball Fund” baseball with signatures from the 1943 Bluejackets is no easy feat. However, we managed to find a ball that includes signatures from some of the key Norfolk NTS Bluejackets players. As with our 1944 NNTS ball, the 1943 signed baseball has unfortunately been exposed to excessive UV that caused significant fading. Photos of the ball as it was listed in an online auction showed one prominent autograph from former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and outfielder Don Padgett along with heavily faded ink marks from other players. Due to the deterioration of the autographs, the baseball was very affordable. Because we were in pursuit of the ball with our primary motivation being the “Professional Base Ball Fund” stamp, we reached a deal with the seller. Once in our hands, we were able to discern several of the many more details that were not visible in the auction photographs.
The 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station played 91 regular season games, posted a 68-22 record and had an 11-inning, 1-1 tie (called due to venue scheduling requirements) against a highly competitive field that included military teams such as Fort Belvoir, Langley Field, Fort Story, Camp Pendleton (Virginia), New Cumberland and Curtis Bay Coast Guard. They faced local professional teams including Portsmouth and Norfolk of the Piedmont League, Baltimore of the International League and Washington and Boston of the American League. However, the largest challenge the team faced was with their cross-base rivals, the Norfolk Naval Air Station Fliers, that boasted a major league talent-laden roster that featured Crash Davis, Chet Hadjuk, Sal Recca, Eddie Shokes, Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese.
When the ball arrived, we able to take a closer look at the manufacturer’s markings as well as the Professional Base Ball Fund stamp. Made by GoldSmith, the stamps on the ball were used by the company from 1940 to 1944. After inspecting both the manufacturer’s and the Professional Base Ball Fund stamps, the ball was easily confirmed to have been used by or issued to the 1943 Norfolk NTS ball club.
A close examination of the signatures revealed that there were at least ten autographs present on the ball; however, only a few of them were discernible. On the panel with the most prevalent autograph of Don Padgett, three other significant signatures were discovered. In order, ascending from Padgett’s ink are Benny McCoy, Charlie Wagner and Phil Rizzuto. Of the players on the Bluejackets, Rizzuto is the only one to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 13-year veteran shortstop played his entire career with the Yankees and was voted in by his peers (the Veterans Committee) in 1994. There is another signature between Wagner’s and Rizzuto’s that we were unable to see well enough to identify. All four of these visible signatures can be seen not just with the ink but also their pen impressions in the horsehide.
On the panel opposite the “Padgett” panel, another autograph is visible that is not nearly as faded as those above Don’s. After examining the signature, it was obvious that the first letter of the three-letter first name was an “A.” The first letter of the last name is clearly a “P,” which corresponds to Ensign Clarence McKay “Ace” Parker, the 1937-1938 Philadelphia Athletics infielder. Parker’s baseball career was just getting started when the U.S. was drawn into World War II. Parker was a star tailback, defensive back and quarterback at Duke University in addition to playing baseball for the school. He was drafted by the National Football League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937. From 1937 until 1941, Parker was a two-sport athlete and played in both the major leagues and NFL long before such actions impressed the sporting world when Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders drew spotlights. In the fall of 1945, Parker returned to the NFL with the Boston Yanks and played through the season’s end of 1946, finishing with the New York Yankees. Ace Parker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1972 along with Ollie Matson and Gino Marchetti. After comparing the signature on our ball with several verified examples, it was easy to confirm the ink as being placed by the Hall of Fame tailback.
Only one other signature was visible. Located beneath the stamping that details the construction and size of the baseball, the autograph of Dominic DiMaggio, the star center fielder of the Boston Red Sox, could be made out. There are a few other signatures that are so badly faded that we were unable to determine who the signatures were placed by.
With the unfortunate condition of the autographs, this ball can no longer be displayed without further deterioration and fading of the ink and stamps. We will place the ball into a breathable, non-plastic container and store it in a location that will provide consistent temperature and no exposure to light, especially UV from the sun. With such precautions, the ink that remains should stabilize, greatly slowing its rate of decay.
It is a boon to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection to acquire a Professional Base Ball Fund-marked ball from the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets that has signatures of some of the team’s most significant ball players including two Hall of Fame inductees.
So many of my articles and much of my artifact-seeking has been focused upon uniforms and photographs yet, the principle object of the sport that I am keenly interested in, the ball itself, has all but eluded my pursuit since I entered into this endeavor nearly a decade ago. The first breakthrough in my searching for authentic baseballs came at the beginning of this year with my successful acquisition of the team-signed 36th Field Artillery baseball from 1956 and still my archive of artifacts would be well-suited if it included a few more leather-clad, stitched orbs.
Roughly nine-inches in circumference and weighing roughly five ounces, baseballs have been been consistent in their size for more than a century. Until 1974, the animal skin covering of most balls (including those used by both major leagues) consisted of horsehide when the change to cowhide was made. With the exception of wartime military issued (italics for emphasis as baseballs were not government-provided) balls used by service members in league play or pick-up games could vary widely in their origins. Though I have not been able to verify alternative sources, balls (along with other equipment such as gloves, bats, catchers’ gear and uniforms) used by service members were sourced through many different means. Aside from the Baseball Fund during both world wars, balls could be obtained directly from sporting goods stores, government procurement or sent to the players from family members on the homefront.
The balls that were provided during WWII via the Baseball Equipment Fund ( commencing with fund-raising via the 1942 season’s Major League All-Star Game held at New York’s Polo Grounds) were manufactured by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company and marked accordingly with the manufacturer’s standard stampings along with the unique and easily recognizable Baseball Fund stamps. Unsurprisingly with game usage, the stamps would be diminished as they were rubbed off from continued contact with glove-leather, bat-impact along with striking and skidding across various types of field surfaces. Locating a ball with the markings intact is not unheard of however I have only ever seen one listing of a ball that had been sold.
I am certain that many prospective collectors of military baseballs are seeking (but are unfortunately not available) irrefutable methods to authenticate and validate a ball that has been listed for sale as or is purported to be a service team or military-used piece. Due to the many sources that provided baseballs (including official Reach/Spalding-made American and National League balls) to military personnel, authentication can be a considerable challenge with a ball that lacks identifiable markings or that is without substantiated provenance from the service-member whopreviously owned the ball.
Throughout my years studying this subject and these artifacts along with collaboration with long-time experts in vintage baseballs (including major and minor leagues, collegiate, little leagues and balls sold through various sporting goods and department stores). There are no doubts as to one particular method of ruling out balls that are being sold as genuine military-used item. No evidence exists (documented, photographic or veteran recollection) that substantiates any baseballs being stamped with bold “U.S.” or “Special Services” markings. Sadly, despite the best efforts of several experts, the fraudulent sales are rampant and thriving in spaces such as eBay. Since I published These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors and the update, more than two-dozen new victims have purchased from the most-prominent online fraudster, “giscootterjoe” to the tune of more than $1,000.00. There are a handful of other folks who sell the faked U.S.-marked balls, capitalizing on giscotterjoe’s cottage industry but he is consistent in his listings, following the same, weekly pattern.
Authentication of these baseballs doesn’t require decades of research and comparative analysis to get a sense (even through photographs) of its authenticity. If one played baseball, recalling the damage that is inflicted upon a ball from being batted, bouncing off certain field surfaces (who can forget the scarring balls receive from sandlot gravel or even pavement?), then applying those memories to supposed game-used balls should provide prospective buyers with a strong authentication starting point. Soiling, field stains and bat-marks are random on genuine baseballs. With careful examination, one should be able to see remnants of the manufacturer’s stamps, despite the game use.
As with my recent acquisition, autographed baseballs will require additional scrutinizing. The signatures of soldiers, sailors or airmen are nearly impossible to verify as comparative examples typically do not exist. Researching the names against unit rosters (from the National Archives, unit or base museums or even unit historical publications such as ship cruise-books) which could take time. Common sense tells me that highly unlikely for a fraudster to create a specific unit baseball (such as the “Rammers” ball team of the 36th Field Artillery from 1956) with signatures.
Further examination of the signatures to determine if the age of the ink fits the purported date of the ball (60 years of oxidation, ultraviolet deterioration will fade the ink) requires very little expertise and with my ball, the aging appears appropriate. By 1956 the Professional Baseball Fund was eleven years in the past leaving armed forces teams to source their baseballs through normal channels. Though the 36th team-signed ball is a Wilson Official League ball, the model number indicates that it was made for use in little leagues but the stamps verify that it was made in the early-to-mid 1950s. Judging by the stains on all of the panels, the ball doesn’t appear to have been game-used. At most the ball might have made impact contact with gloves but I suspect that the soiling is due to handling.
In last week’s post, I indicated that I landed my second military baseball (a military-team signed 1943 Spalding, Ford C. Fricke National League ball) which is the subject of a forth-coming article. With two balls added to my collection in the last few months, I am only inspired to continue my quest to land at least one of the Baseball Fund-marked balls from the second World War.