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A Set to Honor Teddy Ballgame’s Military Service

I am in no hurry to make a return to collecting cardboard – the passion that I had decades ago for this particular hobby is no longer within me. I have never sold or disposed of any of the cards that I previously collected. I still possess all of the 1950s, 60s and 70s cards and I recently retrieved them from my storage location when I was writing an article a few months ago (see: Progression From Cards to Photos; Seeking Imagery of those with Service).

With the direction that my interest in ballplayers who served in the armed forces (including service members who played the game while the served), I have been acquiring artifacts ranging from uniform elements, game equipment, scorecards and programs, baseball-specific medals and awards as well as vintage photographs. Needless to mention, I love the imagery of the game itself.

My baseball roots have lengthy reach – in my youth, I would enjoy the nationally-televised Game of the Week (on Saturday) or the prime-time games televised on Monday Night Baseball (recalling Curt Gowdy‘s broadcasts with part-time announcer, Maury Wills for the NBC offerings and baseball broadcasting legend, Bob Uecker‘s calls leading ABC’s three-man television team), rarely missing a Red Sox or Dodgers game when they were featured. In the absence of local major league baseball, these two highly successful franchises and the players filling their rosters were intriguing to me. Perhaps post-season futility or their propensity to be underdogs to the juggernauts of the Athletics, Reds and Yankees of those eras are what drew me to being a fan of the Los Angeles and Boston teams and those allegiances remain nearly 50 years hence.

My Pesky-estate photograph-find landed three fantastic original type-1 photographs into my collection. Owning a photo with both Pesky and Ted Williams in their Navy baseball uniforms satisfies my desire to possess a well-rounded archive that includes the stars of the game who served and played along side the men who joined who came from other (than sports) walks of life to serve the country.

When I collected cards back in the old days, I wasn’t one for attempting to complete an entire set by a maker (with numbers in some years exceeding 3-400, that challenge can get quite expensive depending upon the set and the ball players’ cards it contains) but would be more inclined to obtain to create my own sub-set (of cards from a specific year and manufacturer) from one of my favorite teams. One such sub-set (my 1956 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set) posed a bit of a challenge as it we was filled with stars who were in the prime or just beginning their Hall-of-Fame careers.

Interestingly, my pursuit of cards back in those early collecting years didn’t include many featuring Ted Williams. Even in those days, the “Splendid Splinter” seemed to be in high demand and his cards were expensive. My limited financial means would drive me down the path of least resistance and source only what was (then) affordable. Considering that when I discovered the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams card set, I was at the tail-end of my collecting focus, I managed to acquire a few of the very inexpensive cards that depicted Williams’ military service.

Motivated by the recent string of acquisitions and the emphasis that has unintentionally been centered upon Navy baseball (including within the Pacific Theater), I started to check on availability and the prices of the Williams 80-card set. Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) describes the Williams set as telling “the story of one of the more interesting individuals to ever walk onto the field. From fishing to military duty, the cards cover a variety of subjects.” I zeroed in on the eleven cards that deal specifically with William’s military service (card numbers 20-25 center on his WWII training and service while his return to fight in the Korean War are covered in numbers 44-48).

The eleven-card subset features color-toned black and white images taken from various moments in Williams’ military service on each obverse and a brief, contextual description on the reverse. Of these cards, I already owned numbers 23, 25 and 46. As the cards (in similar, ungraded condition) are relatively inexpensive, I moved ahead with purchasing a few more (20-22, 24, 47, and 48)  in order to get closer to completing this subset. With only two outstanding cards, I am certain that I will have no challenges in landing the final two, thereby concluding my non-return to baseball card collecting.

Learn more about the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams Set:

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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