It probably shouldn’t seem strange to us after more than a decade dedicated to the pursuit of baseball militaria but 2020 has been a surprising year in terms of the scarcity and rarity of artifacts that have arrived at the Chevrons and Diamonds collection: treasures such as bats, gloves and baseballs that have left us stunned and four wartime flannel uniforms (all Navy) that began to trickle in early in the year. Keeping with that trend, another treasure that had previously seemed unobtainable for well over half a decade became available.
Collecting baseball militaria is a far different endeavor than what baseball or militaria collectors experience. We often find ourselves seeking the unknown as so much of what we uncover has not been documented in previous sales or auction listings. One such occurrence toward the end of 2019 was the acquisition of the only known example of a scorecard from the first game of the 1945 ETO World Series (see: Keeping Score at Nuremberg: A Rare 1945 GI World Series Scorecard). Though we had been in search of a scorecard or program from this series, exactly what was used to keep score was unknown.. When the ETO piece surfaced, there were several elements that helped us to quickly determine that it was from the series and that we had finally found the Nuremburg-used piece that we had been seeking. (We also discovered that there was another scorecard used for the games hosted at HQ Command’s Athletic Field, located at Reims in France.)
Ephemera such as scorecards, programs and scorebooks from service team games or fundraiser exhibitions (games played between service and professional teams) can pose quite a challenge to locate due to numerous factors. Some of the games were played in front of small audiences, which resulted in a small number of scorecards or programs being distributed among the attendees. Of those who kept their paper items after the game, how many survived travel, moves and the elements during the last 70+ years?
On October 3, 1943, a fundraising game was played at Stockton Field, which was home to the Army’s West Coast Training Center and the Air Corps Advanced Flying School, before a capacity crowd of 6,000. Similar to many other fund-raising service exhibition baseball games, this contest pitted the San Francisco Seals against an All-Star conglomeration of West Coast-based service personnel who were formerly professional ballplayers.
All eyes were focused upon the two stars, future Hall of Famers, who were playing for the service team.. Charlie Gehringer, the Detroit Tigers’ “Mechanical Man” second baseman who retired after a 19-year major league career, enlisted in the U.S. Navy and attended instructor’s school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the Navy Pre-Flight program. After graduating from the program, Lieutenant Gehringer was assigned as an instructor at the Navy Pre-Flight School, St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and was named the head coach (he also played) of the school’s baseball team. During the 1943 season, Gehringer’s club posted a 24-5 record, including defeats handed to San Francisco and Oakland of the Pacific Coast League as well as Stanford and University of California, and claimed the All-Service League’s championship (see: Discovering New Research Avenues: SABR and The U.S. Navy Pre-flight School at St. Mary’s). The other star under the spotlight, Joe DiMaggio, entered the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, despite his 3A draft deferment status, just as his Yankee teammates were starting spring training. Recognizing the public attention that DiMaggio would bring to fund raising efforts, the USAAF leadership assigned him to the Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) in Southern California following basic training at Fort Ord, CA, which was the headquarters for the West Coast Army Air Corps Training Command Center. The Yankee Clipper’s new squad had modest success. The Rosebel Plumbers, a civilian industrial league club, and the 6th Ferrying Group team bested the SAAAB nine in 1943 league play, despite DiMaggio’s 20-game hitting streak.
With combat in the Pacific raging on and around the Solomon Islands ashore, on the seas and in the air, the physical toll on service members required more medical care facilities on the West Coast. Three months after Pearl Harbor, the Army Corps of Engineers purchased acreage from Stanislaus County and immediately began construction on a 2,500-bed facility. One year after the initial land acquisition, the new Army medical facility, Hammond General Hospital, was designated as one of only five thoracic surgical centers on the West Coast and could treat the most severe combat traumas. When combat wounded arrived at Hammond, it was clear for most of them due to the severity of their injuries that the treatment they received was for stabilization and for their return to society. Troops would receive neurological care, general and orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery and psychiatry as well as rehabilitation during their stay at Hammond.
Recreation at Hammond General Hospital was needed for patients and staff alike. Baseball was a universal activity that could be incorporated into the rehabilitation process for recovering wounded troops (Phil Rizzuto formed a league for wounded Marines and Sailors recovering in Brisbane, Australia, in 1944. See: Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game). With the regular California service league play completed in September, the Hammond charity game was scheduled for Sunday, October 3, allowing time for the teams to be assembled. The game was promoted as a fund raiser “for the benefit of wounded veterans at Hammond General Hospital” (“Joe DiMaggio Will Be Feature of Game” – The Spokesman Review, September 28, 1943) in West Coast newspapers, with DiMaggio as the “main attraction.”
Several years ago, a program was listed at auction showing only the cover of a program from the charity game played on October 3, 1943, between a “Service All-Stars” team and the San Francisco Seals. The price was considerably steep ($299.00) for the piece and yet the listing was scant in detail and only mentioned Joe DiMaggio as one of the players on the service team. Considering the price and the lack of detail, we decided not to pursue the piece. As we researched the game with hopes of finding another available copy of the program, we discovered that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s museum also had a copy of the program in their archives (see: Baseball Enlists: Uncle Sam’s Teams). Their site, as with the auction listing, showed only the cover and mentioned an additional star player on the service team.
The program and scorecard consists of front and back covers with six interior pages. Constructed from a sheet of cardstock (covers) and lightweight paper (interior pages), the piece succinctly describes the reason for the game and provides the lineups for each team on separate pages, along with scoring grids. Advertising occupies the two interior pages opposite the front and back covers and the centerfold page features head shots of DiMaggio and Gehringer.
“The U.S. Army Air Forces and Stockton Field take this opportunity to express their appreciation to the San Francisco Seals, 1943 Pacific Coast League baseball champions, for their cooperation in making today’s game possible.
Victors over Portland and Seattle in successive Shaughnessy playoffs, the Seals come here today to meet one of the best all-service nines assembled in the West to play in a benefit game dedicated to a great cause – the athletic and recreation fund of the Hammond General Hospital at Modesto. Our thanks, therefore, also are extended to the commanding officers of the various army posts who released their all-star players to make this contest a reality.
Today’s tilt not only helps a worthy cause but also marks the realization of every baseball fan’s dream – a game between two great teams. Stockton is fortunate to play host to such an outstanding assembly of baseball greats.”
Despite his central billing in the game’s promotion, DiMaggio’s bat was not a factor. In his first appearance, the Yankee Clipper reached on an error and his three subsequent at-bats resulted in outs. Gehringer was 1-for-4 with a single in the third inning. The offensive star for the service team was catcher Ray Lamanno with a 3-for-4 showing (two doubles and a single). Former San Francisco Seals first baseman Ferris Fain was the only other service member with a multiple-hit game (two singles). DiMaggio did display his defensive skills with four putouts from center field. On the mound for the Service All-Stars were Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia and Tony Freitas (Athletics, Reds), both of whom hailed from Northern California.
Service All-Stars Roster (bold names indicate former major league experience):
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Rugger Ardizoia||P||Yankees|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Bob Dillinger||2B||Toledo (AA)|
|USAAF||Santa Ana Army Air Base||Joe DiMaggio||CF||Yankees|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Ferris Fain||1B||San Francisco Seals (PCL)|
|USAAF||Mather Field Fliers||Tony Freitas||P||Sacramento Solons (PCL)|
|Navy||Navy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air Devils||Charlie Gehringer||2B||Tigers|
|USAAF||Hammer Field||Harry Goorabian||SS||San Francisco Seals (PCL)|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Walter Judnich||RF||Browns|
|Navy||Naval Air Station Livermore||Ray Lamanno||C||Reds|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Dario Lodigiani||3B||White Sox|
|USAAF||Mather Field Fliers||Joe Marty||LF||Phillies|
|USAAF||McClellan Field Commanders||Mike McCormick||RF||Reds|
|USAAF||Stockton Air Base||Hal Quick||LF||Williamsport Grays (EL)|
|Navy||Navy Pre-Flight St. Mary’s Air Devils||Bill Rigney||SS||Oakland Oaks (PCL)|
Though the scorecard lists the opponents as the San Francisco Seals, the actual team was a conglomeration of players from the Pacific Coast League and from California. The “Seals” team featured five former major leaguers (pitchers Tom Seats and Bob Joyce, catchers Joe Sprinz and Bruce Ogrodowski and left fielder Hank Steinbacher) who were on the Seals’ 1943 roster along with two others. Former Athletics hurler Joyce went the distance on the mound in the losing effort, surrendering six runs. Sprinz, formerly with the Cleveland Indians, served as Joyce’s receiver. Anderson was the leading batsman for the so-called Seals with three hits and centerfielder Vias stroked a pair of singles, though only two runs were plated in the loss to the service team.
“San Francisco Seals” (West Coast All-Stars) Roster:
|Willis Enos||LF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bob Joyce||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bruce Ogrodowski||C||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Tom Seats||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Joe Sprinz||C||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Hank Steinbacher||LF||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Bill Werle||P||San Francisco (PCL)|
|Manny Vias||CF||Sacramento (PCL)|
|Carl Anderson||2B||Portland (PCL)|
|Harry Clements||SS||Hollywood (PCL)|
|Steve Barath||CF||Louisville (AA)|
Scorecards from service team games are scarce and pose considerable challenges to locate, let alone acquire. The Hammond General Hospital charity game program eluded our reach until a much more reasonably priced copy surfaced a few weeks ago at auction. Our winning bid secured the piece at a fraction of the aforementioned copy and after years of waiting, we finally landed our own copy. Aside from rust stains surrounding the two staples that secure the lightweight internal pages to the cover, the condition of our artifact is excellent, with no dog-eared pages or creases.
Until we saw the initial copy of this scorecard, we had no idea that it existed. Not knowing what to look for poses perhaps the most significant challenge in collecting baseball militaria. Once we knew about the Hammond piece, it took several years to find one within our reach.
Perhaps the title of this article is a bit misleading as you soon will discover or maybe you might think that this writer (me) doesn’t realize that the United States Navy’s special warfare operators, known as SEa Air Land and that I failed to properly type the acronym? You might be wondering if the subject of this article is touching on the armed forces’ use of a species of sea mammal for war? Please allow me to begin with a personal background regarding my interests and passions and then I will conclude this story with the artifact that, in my opinion, required more elaboration and attention.
Since the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been “my” team. I have followed them through each season as long as I can recall. I was born in the same year as one of the Dodgers’ greatest championship seasons. I remember watching the Blue Crew drop three straight games after evening the 1974 World Series with Oakland on Don Sutton’s and Mike Marshall’s combined 11-strikeout dominance of the Athletics. Steve Garvey’s performance (.381 average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) in that series was just the beginning as he established himself as the anchor of the record-setting infield for the next seven seasons (ending with the departure of Davy Lopes). Seeing the Dodgers take the National League flag two more times only to lose the World Series in both appearances in that decade was heart-breaking but it was also synonymous with their history. Like those Brooklyn fans of the 1940s and 1950s, I learned the true meaning of, “wait ’til next year,” which came for me in 1981.
I grew up 1,107 miles from Dodger Stadium which meant that I watched every one of their games on television until 1999. Though my hometown didn’t have a major league team, it was still very much a baseball town with a rich minor league history. The eight Pacific Coast League (PCL) titles alone makes my town the third best since the league was established in 1903, though there were several decades of our principal team’s membership in other leagues also with considerable success (six titles combined among the different lower-level leagues). However, the standout team of the PCL’s history hailed from the City by the Bay; the San Francisco Seals posted fourteen league titles in 55 seasons (the Seals success ranks them 10th in 1925, 44th in 1922, 50th in 1928 and 71st in 1909 in the 2001 Minor League Baseball’s Best 100 Teams).
In 1957 with the relocation of the New York Giants baseball club to San Francisco, the Seals franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Giants). Through a succession of moves and strange minor-league arrangements, the franchise moved to Tacoma, WA (Tacoma Giants), again to Phoenix (Firebirds), Tucson (Sidewinders) and finally to their present location, Reno, Nevada (Aces). During the team’s existence in San Francisco, they were largely an independent team (not affiliated with a major league club) save for six seasons:
|1936; 1945||New York Giants|
|1951||New York Yankees|
|1956–57||Boston Red Sox|
For most of the PCL’s early decades of operation, the league was detached from the rest of professional baseball on the right-half of the United States which served to effectively isolate the ‘Coast League allowing for growth and development and essentially becoming (what many would consider) a third major league (along with the National and American leagues). The PCL’s success and high level of on-field action resulted in the league drawing comparative attendance numbers, and in some cases outperforming many clubs of the PCL’s “big brother” leagues. With their teams’ rosters populated with a significant amount of home-grown talent combined with major-leaguers seeking to extend their careers (after having been released from their major league contracts), fans enjoyed exciting games and a high-level of competition. The PCL’s success also meant that the young stars on their rosters were primary targets of the “big leagues” and were often signed away as the youngters sought more lucrative contracts and the lure of major league play.
The San Francisco Seals saw several of their players move on to greater success with a few ending up in Cooperstown:
Others passed through San Francisco as they approached their final games as players. Aside from O’Doul who was a Seal before and after his major league career, San Francisco-native, Hall of Fame infielder and O’Doul’s Yankees teammate, Tony Lazzeri played the 1941 season for his hometown ballclub in the twilight of his career.
Following the Seals’ fifth place finish in 1941, team management was faced with questions as to whether a 1942 season would be played and if so, how many current players would be available? All professional ballclubs faced the same concerns and were scrambling to fill roster vacancies as soon as they were notified of a player’s enlistment into the armed forces. Harry Goorabian, a sure-handed short-stop who was new to the team in 1941, clubbed his way to the Seals following his outstanding 1940 season with both the Springfield Browns (class B, Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League) and the San Antonio Missions (class A, Texas League) with a .310 average, would be one of the first to leave San Francisco for the service. Goorabian enlisted into the Army Air Force as a private on January 16, 1942.
San Francisco would see another Seal head to war as right-handed relief-pitcher Bob Jensen enlisted into the Navy on April 23, 1942 without making an appearance in the young 1942 PCL season. Jensen spent 1941 making 32 appearances (197 innings) and amassing a 10-12 record and a 3.88 earned run average as he worked himself back to the Seals roster from the Salt Lake City Bees (class C, Pioneer League). With San Francisco in 1941, Bob Jensen made two appearances, losing them both. Jensen, a San Francisco native, was signed by the Seals and played his first professional baseball season was with the club in 1940, making 34 appearances (he started four). His record, predominantly as a relief pitcher was 2-3 with an ERA of 5.13 before heading to war.
Another Seal infielder, second baseman Al Steele, finished the 1941 season working his way into a part-time role, making 105 plate appearances in 32 of San Francisco’s 176 games. The twenty year-old right-handed middle-infielder batted .242 at during his split season (he also appeared in 20 games with the class B Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League, hitting .228). On April 13, 1942, Steele was inducted at NRS San Francisco as a seaman second class, commencing training as an aviation machinist’s mate at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland Airport. Steel would spend the war working with the scout float planes aboard the USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS Witchita (CA-45) in the Pacific Theater.
Losing three from the roster to service in the war may be insignificant to some, but 1942 (and the war) was only the beginning. As the United States went on the offensive against the Axis powers in two global theaters, the demand for men (and women) continued to increase. President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision and request to keep the game going was delivered by a (January 15, 1942) letter to Judge Kennesaw Landis. “Baseball provides a recreation,” President Roosevelt wrote, “which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.” However, the drain on the rosters continued throughout the war.
As WWII raged on, the Seals’ roster of men who were away serving their country could have been enough to field a baseball team of active duty players. In addition to Goorbian, Jensen and Steele, (through my research) I was already aware of the following Seals players who served on active duty. Listed here are those men (including their pre- or post-war major league club assignments):
- Ferris Fain (ML Experience: Athletics, White Sox, Tigers, Indians)
- Charley Henson
- John Hernandez (signed by the Seals but never played for the team)
- John Johnson
- Don White (ML Experience: Athletics)
- Joe Brovia (ML Experience: Reds)
- Ted Jennings
- Babe Paul
- Don Trower
- Wally Carroll
- Logan Hooper
- Dee Miles (ML Experience: Senators, Athletics, Red Sox)
- Dino Restelli (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Hank Steinbacker (ML Experience: White Sox)
- Sal Taormina
- Milt Cadinha
- Bob Chesnes (ML Experience: Pirates)
- Frank Cvitanich
- Al Lien
- Eddie Stutz
- Bill Werle (ML Experience: Pirates, Cardinals, Red Sox)
Towards the end of August of 1945, just ten days prior to the Japanese signing of the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), teams were already thinking ahead to the boys returning home. Some of the professional players would return in time to finish out the current baseball season. However, most of the team owners began to plan for 1946.
“The Pacific Coast League will have so many players of major league talent next spring that we will be playing very close to major league baseball,” said Jack McDonald, sportscaster and publicity chief for the San Francisco Seals in 1945. These boys,” said MacDonald, “have been playing ball quite regularly while in uniform. Some of them are big leaguers right now.”
“Ferris Fain, for instance, is being hailed as the finest first sacker in the Pacific Ocean area, where he competes regularly against the top talent in the world. Al Lien, the pitcher, has been winning regularly while opposing all-star lineups,” McDonald continued. “If you will recall, Dino Ristelli was the outfielder who led the league in hitting before being called into service in 1944. Restelli is now serving in Italy.” (August 23, 1945 excerpt from the Nevada State Journal. By Hal Wood, UPI correspondent)
I have been a fan (if one can say that regarding a team that has not existed since 1958) of the San Francisco Seals for a few decades. The very first vintage reproduction items that I purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels were a 1939 Seals jersey and a 1940s ball cap (I have a total of four repro Seals caps, now). In addition to the reproduction uniform items, one of the first type-1 vintage photographs that I added to my military baseball image archive was of three Seals players, (two of which served during WWII) Brooks Holder, Ernie Raimondi and Dom DiMaggio. Since then, my Seals collection has remained unchanged until…
I was scouring auction listings for military baseball-related artifacts when I noticed a piece of ephemera that was colorful and overwhelmingly patriotic and it was associated with the Seals. Without hesitation I submitted an offer and a few days later, it arrived. The piece, a 20-page program and scorebook from the 1944 Seals season, was loaded with stories, features and spotlights on the War and the impacts on the game and the Seals players.
Towards the center of the booklet is a two-page spread that covers specific people from the organization who were serving. Also included among those serving are men who were either killed in action (*KIA) or were taken as a prisoner of war (#POW). The list included more players who served than were previously known (the new names are noted by links):
- John Bowen*
- Joseph Brovia
- Robert Chesnes
- Frank Cvitanich
- Ferris Fain
- Harry Goorabian
- Charles Henson
- John Hernandez
- Theodore Jennings
- Robert Jenson
- John Johnson
- Kermit Lewis
- Alfred Lein
- Edward Markham
- Elmer Orella
- Ray Perry
- Edward Stutz
- Salvadore Taormina
- Don Trower
- Don White
- Walter “Duster” Mails (ML Experience: Dodgers, Indians, Cardinals)
- Charles J. Graham Jr. – Son of Charles J. Graham (former long-term Seals Manager and team owner), LT COL, USAAF, 96th Bomb Group (WWII) would go on to own the Sacramento Solons of the PCL
Aside from simply enjoying the addition to my collection, I am compelled to learn more about these men that were called out for their war service. My research into the military careers of these men has only just commenced and I am driven by the sentiment that each veteran is due a written (and published) summary of their service (at the very least) in order to preserve their sacrifices made during our national crisis.
The total number of Seals players to serve in the armed forces during World War II (that I have been able to ascertain) is 31 with two being killed in action (Ernie Raimondi and John “Jack” Bowen). The third KIA (the second one noted in the scorebook) and the lone POW (Andrew Shubin and Ted Spaulding, respectively) were both Seals employees. From 1941 through the end of the 1945 season, a total of 91 players filled roster spots for the Seals which (when considering the 31 service members) means nearly 33% of the team served in the Armed forces at some point during the war.
Aside from the content regarding the players and personnel who served, the program also contains many advertisements and other patriotic subject matter that lends considerable insight to the national conscious and how we were once a unified country in pursuit of a common goal.
Purchasing this program was a great choice in that it helps me to shed new light more professional ballplayers who served and revealed yet another man who gave his life for his country that could be honored among his peers at Gary Bedingfield’s fantastic site, Baseball’s Dead of World War II (I have passed my discovery along to Mr. Bedingfield for further research and inclusion). Along with my two in-theater military baseball scorecards (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Settling the Score Between the Army and Navy, Hawaii 1944), the 1944 Seals booklet, these pieces of ephemera illustrates the game on both the home front and in theater, how united our nation was in its fight against global tyranny and oppression and the need to find respite (through baseball) as the world was coming apart.
Memorial Day has come and gone and while I focused my attention on the meaning of this day (on my other blog, The Veteran’s Collection), I wasn’t overlooking the men who set aside their gloves and spikes and ultimately lost their lives in the service of our country, in doing so. According to Gary Bedingfield’s research of baseball players (see his two sites: Baseball in Wartime and Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice) who served during the second world war, more than 400 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers stepped away from the game to serve their country. Of those, two major league players were killed in action during WWII along with 116 other professional ball players (who lost their lives as a result of combat) with still more who died while serving (non-combat-related deaths). One ballplayer in particular has held my attention since I first learned about him in Gary’s book, Baseball’s Dead of World War II.
My first passion for sports began as a youth and my earliest memories began with T-ball in my local park league. I began watching baseball on television and became aware of the local minor league team (which, at that time, was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs). As I grew and got more immersed in the game, I remember seeing a few minor league games and seeing that team’s affiliation change through the years to the Twins, Yankees and Indians before beginning a long-term connection with the Athletics. The longtime Pacific Coast League Tacoma franchise drew on local baseball history when it changed its name to become the Tacoma Tigers*.
I first learned about third baseman Ernie Raimondi (from Bedingfield’s Baseball’s Dead of WWII book) and his time with the local ballclub several years ago. The 16-year-old Raimondi was signed by and played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (which, at the time was nearly rivaling the American and National Leagues in popularity and attendance) in 1936. In the 14 games with the Seals that season, Ernie had 14 putouts, eight assists and committed three errors while at third; he made 38 plate appearances batting .263 (nine singles and one double) which wasn’t a bad showing for a high school-aged kid, playing at the highest minor league level. Manager Lefty O’Doul wanted Raimondi to gain experience and to hone his craft and sent him to the Tacoma Tigers for the entire 1937 season.
The move north was beneficial to Raimondi for both fielding and hitting which carried him through into the 1938 season before being recalled to San Francisco.
Ernie’s career would fade in the following years and he would be out of baseball in 1941. He was drafted in April of 1944 and entered service on the eve of the D-Day landings at Normandy. He would see his share of combat service (with the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division) from the time he arrived in the European Theater and 218 days after his Army infantry career began, he was mortally wounded on January 9, 1945 and would fight for his life for 17 days until he would succumb.
Private Ernie Raimondi’s baseball career was short and his time with the Tigers was very brief. For a military baseball collector, locating anything from his time in Tacoma has proved to be an impossible venture. The closest that I’ve come is when I acquired an original 1939 Associated Press photo of Raimondi along with fellow Seals and WWII veteran Dom DiMaggio (and Brooks Holder) with bats crossed.
*Tacoma Tigers Baseball Club(s)
- Western International League: 1922, 1937-1951
- Pacific Coast International League: 1920-1921
- Northwest International League: 1919
- Pacific Coast International League: 1918
- Northwestern League: 1906-1917
- Pacific Coast League: 1904-1905
- Pacific Northwest League: 1901-1902
- Pacific National League: 1903
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray.
People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”
Over the course of the 2013 National Football League season, I was captivated by the successful run made by my team, the Seattle Seahawks, champions of Super Bowl XLVIII. I didn’t miss a single game as I was captivated with each win and by all of the individual stories that flooded the local media about the players and the fans. It has never been more evident that the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks represent today’s national pastime. However, I must confess that I am still, first and foremost, a fan of baseball. No other American sport has such a storied history and consistent, lasting traditions. No other professional sport has filled the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the extent that major and minor league baseball has.
At the war’s outset, several of the game’s greats headed to recruiting offices to enlist (in response to the Dec. 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor) prompting Major League Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to seek guidance from President Roosevelt as to whether to suspend play until the end of the war. In FDR’s (January 15, 1942) reply, he wrote “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”
Throughout the war, the ranks continued to swell with men who traded their flannels and spikes for OD green and navy blue regardless if they were the games biggest stars or utility players from class “D” ball. Baseball historian Gary Bedingfield lists (on his Baseball in Wartime site) more than 1,360 (known) professional ballplayers who served in the armed forces during World War II.
For a collector like me, the crossover collecting – joining baseball and military history together – adds such a enjoyable aspect to the pursuit both common and unusual artifacts. Some of my most recent baseball militaria acquisitions are in the realm of ephemera (one piece) and vintage photographs (three images) and, though I haven’t started to, pose some interesting research challenges in determining who (if any) might have suited up at the professional level before or after the war.
One (recently pulled) online auction for a set of eight autographed baseballs was the stuff of dreams for a collector like me. However, being on a shoestring budget, the asking price was well outside of my financial means and I had to watch it go unsold though the progressively improved with each re-listing of the item. The signatures on each ball had been obtained by a man who umpired service games in Hawaii in 1945. Each ball was filled with autographs from major and minor league stars (some future Hall of Famers) and had been part of a larger lot of balls from a 2008 estate sale.
In the past few months, I have observed a few auction listings for service team uniforms, specifically USMC, that were in considerably bad condition and yet sold for more than I paid for my pristine uniform set, demonstrating that I am not the only collector interested in the baseball-military connection. I do love to wear a jersey on occasion and fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a beautifully-made wool flannel replica of my 1940s Marines baseball jersey. My original is now safe from me potentially failing to keep it safely tucked away in my collection.
In conducting a few online searches for baseball-related militaria, I could easily spend a few hundred dollars and have a small collection of items that would provide significant enhancement (to my existing collection) and help to tell the story of the indelible impact that the game has had on our service members, especially in time of war.
“From the frozen tundra of Iceland to the jungles of the South Pacific; from the deserts of North Africa to the Nazi stadium in Nuremberg, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines played baseball whenever, and wherever, they could.” – James C. Roberts
Dating from the Civil War through to present day, baseball has been constant and unchanging, especially for our service men and women. The game is a part of the American past, present and hopefully for the future and collectors will be there to preserve that history.