Baseball is overwrought with comparisons and associations in terms of sayings, phrases and figures of speech. Listen to any radio broadcast or televised baseball game and you will invariably hear a plethora of soliloquies by the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator that are filled with analogies that help to illustrate points or, if you were born anytime after 2000, will leave you baffled as to the point being made. I find that I am guilty when it comes to infusing my articles with such comparisons and today’s will not fail to insert at least one such analogy.
Since I started actively collecting military baseball memorabilia, I have found myself alternating between the tortoise and the hare. There have been times that it seemed that I was grabbing up every photograph or piece of ephemera that surfaces – especially since they were pieces that were on the money in relation to the sort of items that interest me which felt as though I was sprinting through my sourcing and acquiring. However, finding (and being able to afford) uniforms and jerseys left me feeling much more like the tortoise as I was patient with the slowness of these items’ availability. I have a handful of jerseys at the moment and it has taken me more than a half-dozen years to accumulate them.
From the outset of my interest in this arena, there have been a few categories that have eluded me all together. One, being the aforementioned hunt for honest military baseballs (vice the frauds that dominate eBay such as these) and the other, vintage military baseball uniform caps. Throughout my years sifting throughout virtually every listing of anything remotely connected to military baseball, I have yet to see a listing for a baseball cap. I have nearly 100 vintage photographs detailing baseball play, team photos, GIs’ snapshots and press photos of games (ranging from just off the front line pick-up games to organized league and championships). Throughout my photo archive and those that are viewable online, I am very familiar with the caps worn by service members during WWII (and prior). I have seen dozens of auction listings of baseball uniforms and not a single one was ever with a ball cap.
As time went on, I began to extrapolate from the absence of vintage military ball caps that these servicemen either wore them until they became tatters or the caps just didn’t make it home from The War. I likened the lack of caps to a severe drought – one like California suffered through for almost a decade. Last fall and winter, California’s landscape began to change. Aside from the devastating landslides suffered by many areas throughout the state during the massive rains that fell, green foliage began to fill the surrounding areas. Driving southbound from the Siskiyou Mountain Pass on Interstate 5 this spring, we noticed the green vegetation and the fullness of Lake Shasta. The green followed us down through the central part of the state. It was amazing to see that the drought had seemingly ended. Spring marked an end to another dry season for me, too!
In early spring, a military jersey was listed online that I had never seen before. Though it was a Marines jersey, the colors were far different from the two that I already have in my collection. This one, instead of being a wool-flannel road gray with red trim and letter, was a home-white wool flannel with blue trim and lettering that was like a carbon-copy. I quickly submitted a bid and ended up winning it. When I got it home and professionally cleaned, I placed it with the gray/red jersey and they were clearly made to be used as home and road versions for the Marines team. On the red uniform, the button that is on the letter “I” is red to match. On the home uniform, the “I” button is blue to match. It was a fantastic find and one that I think caught other potential collectors off guard. What does this have to do with the end of dry season?
Later in the spring, another auction caused me to pause and spend a lot of time pouring over countless photographs in order perform due diligence prior to making a decision. This particular listing was of a ball cap that the seller listed and described as being from the estate of a WWII USMC veteran. After asking the seller for specific information pertaining to the veteran in an effort to validate his claims, he was unable to give anything that would help me pursue identifying the original owner. He stated that the estate sale was facilitated by a third-party and that any personal information was unavailable. This meant that I had to place little value upon the seller’s claim and pursue another avenue. I turned to the photograph research that I had performed and took a chance based upon what I found.
There are several photographs of the “Marines” uniform being worn by men various settings. It is very difficult to discern which darker shade of gray is red or blue (considering the blue of my latest Marines uniform) is essentially indistinguishable, due to all of the WWII images being black-and-white. However, I can tell that the road gray Marines jersey is the most prevalent in photographs. There are at least two photos that could show Marines wearing the home white/blue uniform but it is impossible to confirm. There are a few different caps being worn – the most common appearing to be a road gray with a darker “M” and matching bill color (assumed to be red). What is consistent across the photos is that the font of the “M” matches the same lettering on the jerseys. The auction cap, navy blue wool, has the same font lettering “M” as is seen on all three of my jerseys. My thought is that the color yellow was used as it contrasts the navy blue and is also a prevalent USMC color used in insignia and emblems. This cap very well could be what was worn with my home white/blue uniform but sadly, I have no definitive proof and no provenance. With the matching letter and matching navy blue, I pulled the trigger and added it to my collection.
As it has certainly rained in California over the course of their drought, one or two days of rain over such an expanse of dryness did not mark an end to their misery. Similarly, one cap over more than six years of searching does not signify an end to my ball cap dry season.
In the last few weeks, two more caps were listed (by different sellers) that caught my attention. Both were clearly Marine corps caps (red with yellow lettering) but they were different from each other. One of them is wool with the letters “M” and “B” and could refer to a few different USMC commands or team-centric organizations (perhaps, “Marine Barracks”). I watched this cap listed and go unsold now a few times (it is still for sale). It was the second cap that stood out like a sore thumb for me.
As I wrote earlier, I have three Marines baseball jerseys. The third one is very different from the home and road wool variants and is constructed from a light-weight cotton canvas material and red in color. The yellow soutache (trim) applied to the placard and on the sleeves appears to be rayon. What drew me to the second (of the two red ball caps) was the base material – also lightweight cotton canvas. The yellow letter “M” on he front panels is in the same font as the uniform lettering and also appears to be wool felt (which is consistent with the jersey). In my opinion, these similarities eliminates almost all of doubt and I couldn’t help but place the winning bid.
When this cap arrives, it will be the second military baseball cap added to my collection in less than three months. Should I declare that my cap-drought has officially ended? Perhaps it has concluded but there is still the matter of the lack of available vintage military baseballs.
Before I begin this post, let me first provide a bit of a disclaimer. I would not characterize myself as an expert in military baseball. I have been acquiring a significant amount of information in the past 5-6 years that I have been more heavily focused on this particular genre of collecting.
With the scarcity of military baseball items that surface in online auctions, estate and garage sales, antique stores and from other collectors, I am left with very few options when it comes to building out a well-rounded collection. I now have several vintage uniforms and jerseys, a few gloves, a ball cap, dozens of photographs, a few pieces of ephemera, spikes and a (U.S. Navy softball) bat. Throughout my time collecting, I have been searching for the one item that one would imagine to be prevalent in a baseball collector’s cache. However, due to their seemingly non-existence, I do not own an authentic military baseball.
In the past few days, a fellow collector posted a question in one of the online discussion forums, where I am a member, regarding the veracity of a baseball in an eBay auction listing. The listing purports the baseball to be from the Special Services, U.S. Army, used during World War II. The collector who posted about the listing has obvious concerns about the veracity of the seller’s assertions. His concerns are absolutely warranted.
Reiterating my level of expertise, I do possess a certain measure of reason and the ability to observe. Besides being a collector, I also played the game as a kid, service member and civilian. I have held more baseballs in my hands than I could begin to count. I know what normal wear and tear looks like on a baseball. The scuffs, grass stains, bat imprints, dirt marks, etc. all present themselves on a ball in the same way with game use or just in throwing and catching between a couple guys. I have a bag with balls that were used during batting practice at my local AAA minor league ball park that I gathered from the stands and parking lot from when I moonlighted there in the early 1990s. Also, I have a collection of pristine signed baseballs along with a few other game-used balls that were signed by players (at the same stadium) in the 1960s and ‘70s. Furthermore, I have watched and bid on baseballs that had rock-solid provenance – game-used and autographed – that came from the collection of an umpire who officiated the championship games between the Army and Navy and between the American League and National League military players in Hawaii. There has been a smattering of other signed game-used balls that I have watched or bid on.
Considering my experience, I have a very solid comfort level in discernment and my ability to spot a ball that is anything but authentic. Considering my confidence, I know that I am lacking in many other facets of being able to authenticate baseballs and I have been taking steps to reinforce my knowledge through education. One source that has been invaluable is a treasure trove of knowledge, documentation, illustrations and photographs of baseballs produced and used by the major leagues, minor leagues, little leagues and even within the ranks of the military. As with any manufactured item, the manufacturer’s marks are a great tool for researching the item. With baseballs, one needs to pay attention to the manufacturer’s logos, word marks, trademarks and date (if present) in the imprinting on the ball. With game used balls, these marks can be difficult to discern but there is usually some portion of them visible with close inspection.
Regarding the auction in the question posed by my collector colleague. Certain aspects of the ball are quite glaring and should immediately cause concern for even a layman (like me). In this auction, the ball has an extremely dark caste that is very evenly distributed around the entire ball. The coloring bears no resemblance to any game used ball that I have seen. The ball has a very clear and crisp stamping of a large block lettered “U.S.” that shows no signs of wear – another oddity considering that the ball is being presented as game-used. Lastly, the high-gloss sheen present on all of the ball’s surfaces indicate that it has been varnished or shellacked. This practice was a common method for preservation of autographs on balls but, but today is a highly frowned-upon practice.
Other aspects one must consider:
- A lack of manufacturer’s marks
- Absence of bat marks or scuffs
- Low-quality photographs that do not show any close-in details of the ball
- The repeated auction listings for these balls spanning a half-decade indicating an endless supply of WWII baseballs.
There are several sellers attempting to cash in on collectors who lack experience and knowledge of these baseballs. As with any substantial purchase, research and knowledge are the best tools that one can use to save money. One other tool that people should rely upon is “gut instinct.” You have that for a reason. If you have a doubt at all, research to either allay or validate it. If you can do neither, let someone else waste their money. Wait for the ball that gives you a sense of authenticity. Ask the seller for provenance. Perform your due diligence and make sound decisions.
Now that I have provided you with a number of auctions that (in my opinion) are at worst fraudulent or simply misleading, I am sharing some listings of balls that I believe to be genuine (post WWII) military baseballs (although they are lacking official stampings on the balls).
As with the game, patience at the plate will serve you best. That fat and juicy-looking fastball might just break and fall out of the strike zone. If you’re swinging for the fences, you will strike out. These shady sellers are tossing garbage across the plate and you would be best served to take a walk to first (I have used far too many allegoric baseball references).
To demonstrate that I too had some thoughts as to the veracity of these “coffee scuffballs” and the idea that they were authentic, I am sharing an article that I wrote a few years ago, “Skimming” Your Way to Overpaying for Militaria in which I lent a measure of credibility to the seller “giscootterjoe” and his endless bag-o-balls. Since I wrote that piece in 2012 (republished, here in 2016), I have been watching this seller with his continuous sales of these balls.
I wrote this piece in hopes that my fellow collectors avoid spending their money on fakes. I want to be careful with regards to the sellers who have these listings that are, in my educated opinion, faked military baseballs. They may very well be victims of a fraudster, themselves and are merely eBay sellers trying to earn a living. However, the end result is the same. Trusting collectors are still purchasing fraudulent baseballs.
Buyer beware seems to be the most applicable measure of caution that I can provide to you.
The hot stove league is just ramping up throughout Major League Baseball with the beginnings of player movement discussions. The winter meetings will be upcoming and trades will be discussed as teams seek to create their 2017 rosters in hopes of playing for the championship in a little less than a year from now. Fans’ emotions cycle through the spectrum as hopes are raised with each announcement, often times met with disapproval and disappointment.
The hot stove league is an excellent analogy for collecting baseball militaria. Watching for items that meet certain criteria poses many similar challenges. Does the item fit my collection? Is the item worth the asking price? Is it authentic (with provenance) Is there any room to negotiate? What impact will the item have in terms of how the piece might display? So many questions to be answered.
After the transaction has been completed and the anticipation (waiting the piece’s arrival) has subsided, were expectations met, exceeded or dashed? Similar to how fans and front office people alike spend time evaluating the if the acquisition was a worthwhile expenditure, collectors also review what they buy.
Baseball militaria has, so far, proven to be a very narrow field of focus for my collecting with so few items being available. I am open to acquiring artifacts from most time periods with my strongest interest lying in the 20 year-period leading up to the second World War. Very few artifacts ever become available beyond photographs (which are predominantly snapshots that are removed from personal photo albums). I have seen the occasional uniforms (two in the past three years come to mind) and a bat (that seemed to be dated closer, if not during WWII) outside of the smattering of ephemera and pictures.
A few weeks ago, I decided to pull the trigger on a group of press photographs of an army baseball team dating from World War II. The auction listing was titled,
“6 WWII FORT SILL OK US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS 70TH INFANTRY BASEBALL TEAM PHOTOS
This auction is for six World War II Fort Sill, Oklahoma US Army Signal Corps 70th Infantry Baseball Team Photographs. You will receive a photograph of the whole team and five team members in various fielding positions. Photos are stamped on the back:
‘FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA
NO OBJECTION TO REPRODUCING OR PUBLISHING THIS PICTURE PROVIDED CREDIT LINE PHOTO BY US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS APPEARS ON THE PHOTOGRAPH OR PAGE, EXCEPT THAT PERMISSION MUST BE OBTAINED FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT IF IT IS DESIRED FOR USE IN COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING.’
Each measures 8″ by 10″ and other than some minor wear they are in excellent condition.”
The auction’s images showed that there were at least five photographs (the sixth was mostly obscured by the other photos) of various subjects – ballplayers in different staged action poses and a team picture. I submitted my best offer which was accepted. When the package arrived a few days later, I was excited see the quality of the (what appeared to be professional) photos.
Extracting the large, silver gelatin prints from the plastic sleeve, I noted that there appeared to be more than the six as was described in the auction listing. As soon as I began to sort through the eight prints, I realized that the seller sent me four copies each of two of the staged action-poses. The image that I truly wanted – the anchor to this set – was absent.
I sent a message to the seller about the discrepancy and was given the bad news. I wrote, “What happened? There are multiple copies of two poses. No team photo. No batting photo. I am not happy with this.”
The seller responded, “Hi. I’m so sorry about this. We are returning your money to your PayPal account.” She provided no clarification or details about what happened or where the missing photos were. I truly wanted that photo so I followed up in another message, “I still wanted the photos. What happened?”
I was hopeful that the other four photos were still sitting somewhere among the hundreds of other (currently for sale) articles in the seller’s house. Accordingly, she replied, “Hi. I goofed, we had two sets and I assumed they were identical. You know what that makes me. Please accept my apology.”
I was not happy with the bad news. I did recall watching the same auction for several weeks before I decided to pull the trigger. What I didn’t realize is that the earlier listing was most-likely a different set from what I received. The seller, I am assuming, acquired a set of photographs from an estate and divided it in to two groups to be sold. The set that I purchased was merely a group of extras.
Granted, the seller refunded the entire auction amount but I was without the photograph that I wanted. As of writing this, I haven’t left feedback on the transaction. If I let my frustration rule, I would leave negative feedback. However, the seller was polite and extremely prompt in taking corrective action. I have (four copies of) two professionally produced photographs that I didn’t pay a cent to acquire.
In the end, evaluating this transaction in terms of the hot stove league, it is akin to inviting (to spring training) a washed-up player who has been out of the league for a few seasons only to return to win a roster spot.
After spending more than two decades working in some capacity in a career field in the Internet industry, I have gained a considerable amount of understanding of user behaviors and tendencies. One of the most challenging user behaviors (for online content providers) to overcome is how to motivate them to actually read written content.
Countless usability studies conducted over the last decade (see UXMyths.com’s article: Myth #1: People read on the web) reveal that internet users seldom read text on the computer, tablet or smart phone screen. News media and some shady business tend to rely on this fact spending more effort on hooking audiences with headlines or product names (and photos) with the idea that the facts and details will be left unread.
Another facet of audiences not reading text is the unintended consequences. I bet this has happened to most, if not all of my readers. You search Google for an item that you want or need and hundreds of results are displayed. You see scroll through the countless listings, skimming through each blurb (abbreviated description) until you find the one that interests you the most. In a matter of seconds, confirming that the item meets your approval, credit card in hand, you quickly walk through the buying process and click the “purchase” button. After several days of tracking the shipment, it finally arrives. Excite13d, you tear into the box, rifle through the packaging to get hold of your eagerly anticipated item. Within a few milliseconds you discover that a mistake has been made and frustration begins to build. After a 20-minute search through your 85 gigabytes of emails, you find the order confirmation and you are ready to contact the company to confront them on their mistake. Then you realize that you are the one who didn’t read the entire product description. Sound familiar?
In the last few days as I was looking through my eBay searches, I noticed a listing for a U.S. Special Services WWII-era baseball. The listing seemed to be fairly straight forward and the $22.00 opening bid amount was consistent with what these balls routinely sell for ($20-$40), dependent upon whether they are Army, Navy or USMC variations. When I clicked on the link to view the entire auction, I noticed that the seller had included some contextual images of the ball along with other items that were not part of the auction.
The description, in part reads:
This auction is for one (1) baseball, the gloves are shown for reference only. These balls where found in an old canvas US Army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown. One glove is dated 1945 and stamped US Army, and the other glove is stamped special services US Army. The special services where greatly different in WW2 than they are today, back then they where in charge of recreation, and other “special items” for the troops. You will receive the ball pictured alone in the pics.
I clicked through the series of photos that showed the canvas bucket filled with baseballs and three WWII-era baseball gloves. Then, I looked at the current bid amount and my jaw hit the floor. With four days left for the auction, the current bid (of five bids from four bidders) was $275.00! How could the bids be so exorbitant; so high for a single, common WWII baseball? I re-read the description and paid close attention to the images of the ball. There was absolutely nothing that out of the ordinary about this ball. Then, it occurred to me that the bidders failed to read the full text of the auction or the auction title. When the auction closes and the highest bidder pays for the auction, he will eagerly anticipate the arrival of the ball, the canvas bucket, three vintage gloves and several other baseballs. When the diminutive package arrives, the reality will set in along with a massive pile of anger and frustration. The auction winner will either blast the seller for deception or feel like a complete idiot for not reading the auction description.
With two days left (at the time of writing this article), there are five bidders that have placed 10 bids. The current highest bid is $535.00 for an ordinary (lone) WWII baseball that is now, $490.00 overvalued.
A costly lesson is about to be learned.
Spring is here and with it comes a spark of freshness. Newness. The long, cold winter has faded from our memory (at least for some of us) and we look to the colorful spring to fill us with the hopefulness of warmer and brighter days. However spring isn’t just about young and supple flowers and the trees bursting forth with new foliage. This season is about the commencement of another six-plus months of ash and maple tree trunks being flung into the speeding paths of horsehide-covered rubber. The sounds of snapping leather and cracking wood are pronounced on sand lots and stadiums across the country as March rolls into April. It seems that nothing, not even war, can get in the way of baseball.
With the advent of free agency and sports talk radio, baseball’s off-season has been virtually eliminated for the fans of the game. For baseball memorabilia collectors, off seasons are only measured by the distances between paydays and the cache of available…cash with which to acquire the next collectible. For collectors (like me) who are much more interested in the extremely finite military baseball genre, the off-season can be varying due to the increasingly limited number of available pieces which we pursue.
For me, the off-season has been more of a spectator sport as I witnessed two vintage military baseball uniforms listed at auction (online) only to pass by virtually unnoticed, only to be re-listed with incrementally decreasing opening bid amounts with each iteration. Had the timing been more in line with my budget, one (or both) would have found their way into my meager collection. In addition to the two listings I was focusing on, there were several uniforms (all USMC baseball uniform sets and jerseys from an array of eras) that seemed to be gobbled up by hungry collectors. These uniform listings (and sales) were entertaining to watch though I had no committed interest.
The first real gem that caught my attention was a World War II-era road gray baseball jersey from an engineer group that appeared (due to the “116” numerals on the left sleeve) to be part of the 116th Infantry Regiment. The appointments of the jersey were very similar to those of the road gray USMC jersey in my collection. The aside from the lettering on the front and sleeve, the differences between the two are the thickness of the piping the presence of a manufacturer’s tag (the USMC jerseys are limited to a size tag). The Engineers Group jersey also lacks the red button – which isn’t required due to the alignment with the lettering. With this auction listing ending only a few short weeks following the Christmas shopping season and the damage my financial resources sustained, I had to let the auction pass me by.
More recently, a very intriguing baseball uniform online auction listing made its way through the e-bidding circuit having been listed and re-listed several times before it finally sold. Clearly an early piece, the jersey was constructed with long sleeves and a collar and sported dark blue pinstripes. The styling is consistent with uniforms of the 1920s. The seller’s supposition that the “SAMOA” lettering sewn across the chest correlates to a U.S. Navy team (consisting of active duty personnel stationed at the Navy base in American Samoa). One can certainly deduce that the jersey is indeed military, but there is no hard evidence to prove or disprove this idea.
The “Samoa” jersey certainly possesses features and design elements that lend credibility to the idea that the jersey is authentic and for a sub-$100 investment, it would be well-worth the risk.
- America’s Pastime During Wartime: Collecting Military Baseball Memorabilia
- The Corps on the Diamond
- Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball