Blog Archives

A Propeller, Wings and a Baseball: A Diamond from Bolling Field

Brick walls. Dead ends. Regardless of the term one employs to describe fruitless research, the end result will always be disappointment.

A while ago, I located a fantastic jersey for a very reasonable price and despite the cursory research and due diligence not yielding specific results, I moved ahead with making a bid to purchase the artifact. What initially drew my attention to this jersey was that it was a departure from my norm in terms of the armed forces branches that were already represented within my collection (which, at the time, consisted of one Navy, two Army and three Marines baseball uniforms or jerseys).  In nearly ten years of actively searching for military baseball items, I hadn’t yet seen anything from the Army Air Forces (or Air Corps).

World War II or earlier) Bolling Field, US Army Air Force jersey. This uniform jersey is made of gray road) wool flannel with athletic felt lettering. The soutache is black rayon.

The online listing showed a rather simple, road gray wool flannel jersey with thin black soutache on the placket, around the collar and located about one inch from the edge of each sleeve. What sets this jersey apart from others is the the application of the lettering. Spelling out “BOLLING FIELD” are athletic felt, two color (gold over navy blue), large block characters. Each letter consists of a gold piece of felt centered over a larger one of blue felt with color-matched stitching that give a illusion of three-dimensional appearance. The careful placement of the “E” (in FIELD) ensured that the button hole alignment wouldn’t interfere with a tasteful alignment of the team name.

Though it is difficult to discern in this image, the base material has become brittle and is separating at the top of the propeller, leaving a break in the gray flannel.

On the left sleeve, a two-piece athletic felt (similar to the lettering) winged-propeller emblem, complete with accenting embroidery (adding feathers to the wing and a baseball at the center of the prop) denoting the Air Forces mission of the base. The back of the jersey is plain and without numerals. The style of the jersey and the overall design is representative of those from the early 1940s which coincides with the what the seller described as being a World War II baseball jersey.

Attempting to determine the age of the jersey or when it was made isn’t necessarily an easy task however there isn’t really anything substantive that can be used to pinpoint the age. The team name provides an era (1918-1948) when the base existed as an airfield (rather than an Air Force Base following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force). Bolling Field was established after the Defense Department’s property was divided between the army and the navy for each branch’s aviation operations in the Washington D.C. area. Named for Ranar C. Bolling, a colonel who, having been recently appointed (by General Pershing) as the chief of air service for II Corps when he was killed (on  March 26, 1918), during Operation Michael while he was scouting in the early days of the offensive. A thirty-year window of age possibilities hardly provided me with specificity so I had to look at the jersey’s other elements.

A commonality among the majority of the military jerseys that I have seen and certainly within my collection is the absence of manufacturer’s tags. Most of the uniforms and jerseys worn by service-member ball players have just a lone size tag. the Bolling jersey has a tag that until I acquired this jersey, I had not seen before.

This jersey was most-likely made by Wilson but sold through their wholesaler and retailer, Lowe and Campbell, as indicated by the tag. Also present in the collar are hand-written digits that could be the a portion of the airman’s laundry number.

If the jersey was made by Spalding or Goldsmith, the tag would be very useful in determining the age (see: Early Baseball Uniforms Manufacturer Tags Database: 1890 – 1942). These two manufacturers employed a measure of consistency (even as the logo changed, it did so in specific periods) over the course of manufacturing an immeasurable volume of baseball uniforms for professional and amateur teams. However, the manufacturer of the Bolling jersey, Lowe & Campbell, has a more murky history in terms of label usage and available, pinpoint-dated examples to draw comparisons. I was able to find a handful of L & C label examples but when attempting to use them as a basis for dating, there is considerable challenge, especially considering the company’s history.

Lowe and Campbell (L&C) was founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1912 by George C. Lowe and Keedy Campbell during a period of massive growth in the sporting goods industry that was already being dominated by companies (Spalding, Rawlings and Wilson) that, today remain the leading manufacturers and suppliers of sports equipment. L&C’s early years in the industry found their principle customers in schools, colleges and universities and within the the realm of athletic teams sponsored by private industry. Throughout their first decade, the company experience growth, opening up offices throughout the Midwest but by the early 1930s, had become a target of one of the larger sporting goods giants who were seeking to rapidly expand into markets via acquisitions, as was the common practice, rather than expending effort and resources to develop into these areas. Wilson Sporting Goods entered into a merger agreement with L & C in 1931, but rather than to absorb the smaller company, Wilson positioned themselves as the wholesale supplier and retained their acquisition, L&C became a division of the giant as retailers of their products.

Maintaining this corporate alignment well into the next few decades, Wilson expanded the L&C offices into new markets and continued to produce products that carried the company’s logos. The catalogs throughout this era reveal that Lowe and Campbell expanded their product lines to include a greater variety of sport. As with the practices of many sporting goods retailers, their product offerings were predominantly manufactured by different sporting good companies with L&C adding their own tags and company markings. Even prior to the merger, Lowe and Campbell sold re-branded products supplied by manufacturers such as Hillerich and Bradsby, the makers of Louisville Slugger bats.

“After the merger the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats disappear from the catalogs. Wilson baseball bats are added to the catalog by 1940, but they continue to sell Louisville Slugger bats, which dominate the catalogs. Wilson continued to manufacture baseball gloves under the private Branded Lowe & Campbell name. Because of the lack of catalog information it is not clear when Louisville Slugger began to make the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats They do appear in the 1922 Lowe & Campbell catalog along side Louisville Slugger.” – KeyMan Collectibles

Following World War II, Wilson’s growth had continued as they acquired additional small sporting goods companies. Lowe and Campbell’s retail operation was eliminated as they were transformed into a wholesale operation their parent, Wilson functioning as both the manufacturer and wholesaler. The shift away from retail diminished the L&C brand and by 1960, Wilson eliminated it all together, shuttering the division and even closing down the Kansas City facility where Lowe and Campbell began.

Today, the remnants of the sporting goods brand exist via collectors who preserve the artifacts that produced and sold by Lowe and Campbell. However, a re-birth of the L&C brand is in process and the owner, Thomas Martin, whom acquired the brand, shared with me (via the company’s Facebook page) that Lowe and Campbell‘s 2018 fall launch will be headlined with American manufactured sports apparel.

Attempting to chronologically trace the progression of the company’s label history seems to be a futile attempt, especially in determining the of date the Bolling Field jersey. I found various (dates known) L&C branded garments and checked the labels in an effort to piece together a timeline and was unsuccessful at narrowing down transitional patterns.

 

Desiring to tap into the expertise of the new owner of the Lowe and Campbell brand, I asked Thomas Martin about the logos and tags, sharing some of the samples (shown above) in an effort to gain some insight. “No one,” Martin stated, “kept historical dated records of the brand,” but, in his experience with the vintage garments themselves, is able to determine the age, having seen countless products that were made and sold by Lowe and Campbell during the company’s first incarnation. Mr. Martin’s assessment of the label in the Bolling jersey was that it dated from the 1930s, “L&C only used  two logos,” Martin wrote, “the one you have was used in the 30’s.” Martin discussed the logo change as a result of being acquired (in 1931 by Wilson). Garments made by the company in the 1940s began to receive a new logo (see the two bottom-right examples, above) on their tags.

My next research step will be to search through newspaper archives from WWII in the Washington D.C. area seeking any box scores or news articles regarding the Bolling Field team’s game-play. My hope is that the Army Air Force public relations personnel was as open in terms of publicizing the competitiveness of their base team. In my estimation, this team had to have competed against other service teams within the region including the Norfolk Naval Training Station and Norfolk Naval Air Station teams. The only baseball-specific lead (with a possible connection) that I have discovered regarding Bolling centers on Hank Greenberg.

In Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, author John Rosengren states, “A friend of Hank’s, Sam Edelman, wrote on his behalf to have Hank promoted to the rank of captain and assigned as an athletic director in the Air Corps (sic) at Bolling Field. Two brigadier generals carried the request to the War Department, lobbying for the educational qualifications (for an officer’s commission) to be waived for Greenberg. The Adjutant General denied the request on the grounds that it was ‘contrary to the policies of the Secretary of War.'” No mention is made (within the book) regarding Sergeant Greenberg’s ball-playing at Bolling Field. However, according to Rosengren, Greenberg would eventually be assigned as a director of the physical training program at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida and would subsequently be assigned to the Orlando Air Base baseball team for an exhibition game against the Washington Senators at Tinker Field. I would love to discover anything that would connect such a legend to the Bolling team.

A recurring statement often read on Chevrons and Diamonds is that further research and time are required to break through the mystery, pushing beyond the dead-ends and brick walls that I have reached with my efforts up to this point.

Resources:

Lowe and Campbell vintage sports uniform examples:

 

Theresa Dischler and her WAAC baseball team at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. Dischler is in the back row, second from the left image source: Wisconsin Veterans Museum).

(Postscript: Sometimes, my research uncovers fascinating facts that while contextual with my interests, further energy would take me into a different direction. What I discovered appears to be the only piece of Bolling Field baseball history that is available online. This fantastic snippet regarding a Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps veteran, Sergeant Theresa M. Dischler, who also played for the WAAC baseball team at the air field during her time in the service of her country.

Moving Past Last Year’s Wins and Losses: Goals for 2018

With nearly a month already completed for this new year of 2018 and 84 days since the heartbreaking end to “my” Dodgers amazing season with their loss to Houston in a subpar performance in Game Seven of the World Series. The offseason has been decidedly quiet following the sweepstakes for several teams vying for Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins (there had been talks of bringing the slugger to the confines of Chavez Ravine). Alas, the Yankees and their wild-spending, wheeling and dealing as they continue their trend of pillaging the rosters of the “have-nots” (the teams with pittances of budgets, incapable of keeping their home-grown talent once those initial player contracts are fulfilled) and stocking their roster with the biggest names in the game, the winter months have been somewhat quiet. The player-transaction-silence for this Dodgers fan is somewhat golden as the Los Angeles talent pool is full, requiring minimal free-agent transactions in order to field a contending team for 2018.

In looking back on 2017 and not just the articles that I wrote, but also the pieces that I was able to add to my military baseball collection (not every new acquisition of 2017 made it into an article).  I have been very selective and cautious to ensure that I what I acquire is genuine. Regardless of whether I am able to validate the artifact against a specific service member (ball-player), I want to be certain that the piece is correct. This isn’t to say that sellers are intentionally misleading with their listings of their family heirlooms but rather they make assumptions that because the item was in that veteran’s home (and he was a war veteran), it’s very existence is the authentication that is used when they draw their conclusions.

This heavily soiled baseball uniform dates from the early 1950s and is lacking any supporting documentation or photos. The lone black felt “A” could legitimately be from an Army team (source: eBay image).

In reading a recent article in the San Jose Mercury regarding the current issues many people of my generation are dealing with: households (predominantly belonging to our aging parents) filled with a lifetime of treasures (and not-so-treasured items) and being in a position to liquidate the contents that we aren’t keeping for ourselves. Some people are shocked by the prices that people are wiling to pay (which is usually significantly lower than expectations):

What matters hardly at all in valuations are: how much you paid for the item; how much you love it; how much it is selling for on eBay. “There’s a lot of sentimental value out there,” says Neiheisel. “People get really upset when something they treasure isn’t worth much. … When everyone wants that one thing, that is where the … power is.”

Other people turn to listing items within online auctions, believing that the artifacts are priceless while they are also charged with raising money to care for their elderly family members (as was the case with this post-war baseball uniform group listed last fall). Sentimentality doesn’t translate into intrinsic value. As a collector and someone who strives to educate others, I sometimes try provide sellers with knowledge in attempt to reset their expectations…yes, I am that bad guy.

There were several listings over the course of the year of uniforms (or just simply, jerseys) that were listed as being from World War II or that they were connected to the U.S. armed forces when there was no evidence to support the sellers’ claims. One uniform in particular was clearly from the 1960s (my assessment based upon the materials, design and construction) and the team name seemed to indicate that it was from a high school (I can’t recall the specifics). I contacted the seller asking for markings, photographs or anything that could prove that it was used by a service member as part of a service team. The seller responded that he was merely a “picker” and didn’t recall where he got it and that he assumed it was WWII military. I provided the seller with some of my expertise and references to show what it was and he never responded. Of course the seller never changed his auction and some unsuspecting buyer overpaid for a school jersey believing it to be from WWII and a service team.

This wool flannel jersey shares design and construction with the grey and red uniform that launched my military baseball collecting. The blue cap with yellow “M” is seen the jersey.

The items that did come home and subsequently I did cover in articles were some of the most significant discoveries since I have been collecting baseball artifacts from the armed forces. From the only white home Marines baseball jersey that I have seen in a decade to the two Marines baseball caps that landed here within a month of each other and then the Midshipman Fenno naval academy baseball medal, some of my favorite pieces were all acquired in 2017.

As for this site and whether it is worth the effort for me to continue to write and share my discoveries the endorsement seems to come from the nearly 500% increase in visitors and page views over the previous year. Considering that I launched this site in December of 2015, the increase in viewership is relative. So few people visited in 2016 which suggests that the readership growth is nothing to get too excited about.

One accomplishment that I was proud of was in creating the uniform and jersey archive for this site. I still have more work to get it to where it needs to be (in order for me to call it a successful launch) but it is off to a great start and it seems, judging by the visitor-analytics, that the information is valued by readers. I promise that I will get the remainder of the uniforms that I have come across added to the archive.

In just the first few weeks of this year, a few pieces have landed (that will be covered in upcoming posts) that are wonderful additions to the photos and ephemera areas of my collecting. Sadly, one that I was working diligently to land before the holidays didn’t materialize as I had hoped leaving me wondering if the seller changed his mind or sold it offline to another collector. I am refraining from providing details about the artifact in hopes that another opportunity arises with this seller so that I can bring it home (where it truly belongs) and preserve it in my “museum.” I am always seeking materials that are connected to players who served or servicemen who played (while serving) and both of the additions fit into these categories. Stay tuned for these and other articles regarding some other pieces that I am, at present, working on adding to my collection.

Now that I am back in the swing of things with this new year, I am ready to pursue, albeit with caution, patience and purpose, my collecting will be hyper-focused keeping me away from distracting pieces and locked in on those that truly align with my interests. I am also going to be better at curating, organizing, documenting and properly storing my collection along with rotating what I have on display.

What are your goals and objectives for 2018? I’d love to hear from you (comment below).

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.

 

 

cc

 

A Passion for the (Military) Game

In my younger days, I dabbled in baseball card collecting and focused primarily on cards from the 1950s and 60s. Being a lifelong Dodgers fan, I sought out specific cards from “my” team. I was myopic with the cards that I pursued. This hyper focus was in direct alignment with my limited budget as I had to take into account that the cards of my favorite ballplayers were also some of the most valuable and sought after by collectors. For example, I couldn’t attempt to acquire an entire 1956 Topps set, opting instead to pursue the 1956 Topps cards of the Brooklyn Dodgers (which included Hall of Famers, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella).

Over those years, I pieced together “team sets” from 1955 and 1956 of my beloved Bums from Brooklyn landing some very nice examples (though none have been graded) of the likes of Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, “The Duke” and many more. Acquiring Sandy Kofax and Don Drysdale rookie cards we crowning achievements from those days.  My interest in the cards tapered off and I put it all away when I realized that the money I invested would not yield a return should I decide to divest it. I also started a family which further reduced my disposable income. I moved away from collecting all together.

Years later, I received two groups of military treasures that belonged to my grandfather and grand uncle, sparking an interest in researching and learning about military history and my family connection to history.  My interest in military baseball was piqued when I received my paternal grandmother’s photo album from the 1930s and saw the images of her little brother in his navy ship’s baseball uniform, posed for team photographs. I was reminded of my own participation with my ship’s baseball (and football) teams when I served in the Navy. I was hooked but only did I slowly begin to research America’s Pastime and how it is intertwined with the military.

When I was contacted by Gary Bedingfield regarding research that he was conducting for his (then) book project (that would become Baseball’s Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service) as he searched for a sailor who was lost in the Battle of Savo Island, August 8-9, 1942. I was fascinated by his amazing online resource, Baseball in Wartime that primarily focused on professional ball players who traded their spikes for combat boots to fight for our nation.  I was able to complete his research, locating Ensign Norman K. Smith who was killed in action aboard the USS Quincy (CA-39). Through spending time immersed in Gary’s site, I noted several of my favorite players who also served in uniform. I was hooked!

received_10205679805687521.jpeg

The road gray Marines baseball jersey in the back of this display was my very first item that I purchased for this collection.

My entrance into military baseball collecting was through a purchase of a 1943-44 US Marines road gray wool flannel baseball uniform (jersey and trousers) that was in immaculate, yet game-worn condition. My interest expanded from there as I began gathering vintage photos, scorecards or anything that is associated with men who played ball during their serving this country, dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. Years later, my collection has grown to the point where I was asked to share it with the general public, displaying it my state’s largest fair (which is also ranked in the top 10 largest in the nation) with the potential of as many as 1.4 million visitors viewing this unique baseball collection.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: