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Billy Seal, Jr.: From the Diamonds of the South to the Battlefields of Germany

One of the Chevrons and Diamonds projects that is presently underway centers on researching and documenting the history of one of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series championship contending teams; the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division (ID). Fueled by the acquisition of an artifacts grouping from a veteran of the 29th ID’s baseball team (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), the primary goal of this (multi-part) project will be to discover and present the personalities that comprised the team that found itself just two series wins away from facing the Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) All-Stars in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series in the fall of 1945.

The ultimate objective of this effort is to fully identify the players on the roster of the Blue and Greys of the 29th to properly illuminate both the wartime service and baseball-playing contributions of the men faced the 71st Red Circlers in the 1945 U.S. Army Ground Forces Championship Series that was played at Nuremberg Stadium. As was the situation with many other teams in the semi-final rounds of the post-season competition, the 29th was a conglomeration of players from opposition 29th Infantry Divisions teams that were homogenized as they were defeated by the Blue and Greys.

Though the Blue and Gray roster was populated with many average Joe ball players, several of the team’s positions were filled by former professional ball players. One of those former pro players was Billy Seal. William Allen Seal, Jr. was born in Danita, Oklahoma and played his way into a solid third baseman prospect and found himself in the Dodgers farm system by 1938.  Though he would never ascend above the AA level, Billy Seal, Jr.  was solid hitter early in his career and would sustain a .314 average in his twelve minor league seasons.  In his first professional season, Seal bounced between the Fayetteville Angels (of the class-D Arkansas-Missouri League) and the Greenville Buckshots (class-C Cotton States League) maintaining consistency at the plate.  The following season Billy Seal split time between Greenville and the Bowling Green Barons (class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League), nearly repeating his 1938 offensive output which the Dodgers didn’t recognize as notable enough to promote him. Midway through the ‘39 season, the Brooklyn was handed a gift from the Red Sox system as they acquired a Louisville Colonels infielder named Harold G. “Pee Wee” Reese.

For the 1940 season, Pee Wee Reese was promoted to the big-league club and Seal would with Greenville for the duration, hitting .323 for the year while legging-out 41 doubles and five triples and pushing his slugging percentage to .451 (in later years, one of Seal’s regimental comrades, George Phillips, recalled, “Billy Seal was a great soldier and served his country with honor. Bill was a professional baseball player who made it all the way to the old Brooklyn Dodgers as a shortstop. Having been in the National Guard he got called up for service and a fellow by the name of Pee Wee Reese took his place,” though some of his details were a bit inaccurate).

At the season’s end, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (on September 16). One month later, on October 16, 1940, William Allen Seal registered for the draft and continued with his normal off-season work as he awaited spring training. Seal began the year with the Vicksburg Hill Billies (Cotton States League) and was having a career year through the first three months of the season (batting .365 with a .536 slugging percentage in just 67 games) but took his leave from the club to enlist. On July 7, 1941, baseball player Seal began his transformation to become Private William Seal as he enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army, ending his chances at being promoted to the upper levels.

Following his completion of basic training, Private Seal was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas (home of the 2nd Cavalry Division) where he was tapped to play baseball with one of the base teams. Service in the peacetime armed forces for a baseball player could be easy and it was for Seal until everything changed on December 7,1941.

Billy Seal Jr. is pictured here among his brothers in G-Company, 271st Infantry Regiment/69th Infantry Division. This photo was taken on November 14,1944, at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey just prior to the unit’s combat deployment to the European Theater (image source: 69th-infantry-division.com).

In mid-May, 1943, the 271st Infantry Regiment was constituted at Camp Shelby, Mississippi as part of the 69th Infantry Division. After extensive training and preparation, the division departed Mississippi by rail on Halloween bound for Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On November 14, 1944, the 69th ID departed New York Harbor by ship en route for Southampton on a 10-day Atlantic crossing. After a few months and a channel crossing, the 271st Infantry Regiment began their combat tour in Western Europe having landed at LeHavre following an uneventful Channel crossing.  After twenty days of travel in vehicles and on foot, Company “G,” along with the entire 271st crossed into Germany and were met with fierce enemy resistance near the town of Hollerath (which lies on the Siegfried Line and is 100 kilometers northeast of Bastogne and where the anti-tank barrier known as “dragon’s teeth” is still very much intact) after just a few days in the “Fatherland.” Baseball was, perhaps the furthest from the minds of the men engaged in their first fight of the war.

As the Germans continued their retreat, Seal’s regiment crossed the Rhine River on March 28, 1945. The month of April found the 271st engaged in fierce fighting with enemy forces in the Battle of Weissenfels on the 12th And the Battle for Leipzig commencing on the 18th. When the combat came to an end by the end of the month, the “Fighting 69th” had been engaged with the enemy nearly continuously since crossing into Germany in late February.

The end of hostilities and combat operations in Europe with the surrender of the Third Reich in May 7, 1945 transformed the massive Allied fighting force to an occupation military that would be left searching for activities and functions for the troops to participate in.  Aside from facilitating the deactivation of a defeated military coupled with investigations and the search for war criminals, occupying the occupation force with such matters left a large percentage of soldiers with very little to do save for basic military drill and instruction.  One activity that Military leadership in the ETO decided upon was in the realm of competitive sports of which, the national pastime was the premier game.

Troops were dispersed throughout the European Theater in accordance with the needs of the occupation functions. Teams were formed within the various commands and leagues were formed. Regional play commenced in the early part of the summer of 1945.

Somewhere in Germany, 1945: Member of the 69th ID squad pose for a photo during a game. Chicago White Sox infielder, Don Kolloway is seated closest to the camera. Though it is difficult to see the other faces, it is possible that Billy Seal is seated among the men (author’s collection).

Following the German surrender, he played for the 69th’s team in the ETO baseball league as they worked their way into the Seventh Army Championship Series, facing the Blue and Grays of the 29th ID, the eventual Seventh Army Champions who would lose in the 1945 ETO World Series in the Fall of 1945.

A combat weary veteran. Former minor league infielder, Billy Seal, Jr. poses for his buddy and fellow minor leaguer, Earl Ghelf in a German village (author’s collection).

Billy Seal, Don Kolloway and Earl Ghelf would all depart the Fighting 69th to fill roster spots on the Blue and Grays as they faced the Red Circlers of the 71st ID in the US Army Ground Forces Championship Series. The 71st would defeat Seal and the 29th ID team heading to and winning the Third Army Championship as they ultimately faced and were defeated by the Sam Nahem, Leon Day and the OISE All Stars in the ETO World Series.

Billy Seal returned to the pro game in 1946 with the Chicks and bounced throughout various teams in the South until retiring following the 1953 season. In 12 pro seasons, Seal played 1550 games, 5,810 ABs for 10 different teams and managed a .310 average with a .492 SLG and 165 HRs.

 

Year Age Team League Lev Aff G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BA SLG TB
1938 20 Fayetteville ARMO D 107 431 158 28 10 13 .367 .568 245
1939 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs D-C BRO 140 602 602 193 35 17 9 .321 .48 289
1939 21 Greenville CSTL C BRO 55 237 72 9 5 5 .304 .447 106
1939 21 Bowling Green KITL D 85 365 121 26 12 4 .332 .501 183
1940 22 Greenville CSTL C 138 561 181 41 5 7 .323 .451 253
1941 23 Vicksburg CSTL C 67 274 100 17 6 6 .365 .536 147
1942 24 Fort Riley US Army Army Service – Service Team Baseball
1943 25 Camp Shelby US Army Army Service – Service Team Baseball
1944 26 Camp Shelby US Army Army Service – Training
1945 27 ETO US Army Army Service – Combat Operations (through May 6)
1945 27 69th/29th ID US Army Army Service -Occupation/Service Team Baseball
1946 28 2 Teams 2 Lgs B-AA 141 534 534 156 24 9 10 .292 .427 228
1946 28 Memphis SOUA AA 43 153 42 5 0 0 .275 .307 47
1946 28 Anniston SEAL B PIT 98 381 114 19 9 10 .299 .475 181
1947 29 Vicksburg SEAL B 143 533 185 48 6 21 .347 .578 308
1948 30 Vicksburg SEAL B 136 519 144 38 5 19 .277 .480 249
1949 31 2 Teams 2 Lgs D-B 115 391 391 132 24 2 27 .338 .616 241
1949 31 Anniston SEAL B 30 98 32 2 0 4 .327 .469 46
1949 31 Carrollton GAAL D 85 293 100 22 2 23 .341 .666 195
1950 32 2 Teams 2 Lgs B-D 137 464 464 165 41 7 13 .356 .558 259
1950 32 Gadsden SEAL B 99 333 118 31 4 9 .354 .553 184
1950 32 Dublin GASL D 38 131 47 10 3 4 .359 .573 75
1951 33 St. Petersburg FLIN B 138 485 150 34 4 11 .309 .464 225
1952 34 St. Petersburg FLIN B 153 554 141 33 4 9 .255 0.377 209
1953 35 St. Petersburg FLIN B 135 462 121 17 4 20 .262 .446 206

 

Two of the three photos in this article were part of a grouping that originated from minor leaguer and veteran pitcher of the 69th/29th Infantry division baseball teams, Earl Ghelf. The Ghelf collection was covered in A Growing Backlog of Baseball History to Share and European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) in 2018.

Resources:

Navy Wartime Leather: Extracting History From a Vintage Glove

If you are fortunate enough to be treated to a behind the scenes tour of a museum to see their archives of artifacts that are not on display, you would be hard-pressed to avoid touching an object with unprotected hands. I have had the honor of such tours in a few local area museums and was able to handle some artifacts. Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoy collecting is that the onus is upon me to care for and preserve the pieces which allows me the tactile interaction with history.

Collecting and researching baseball militaria-related artifacts for the last decade has been quite a slow process in terms of locating and acquiring verifiable pieces. It has been the mission my mission to share this collection of artifacts with the public through Chevrons and Diamonds, publications and with public displays. Allowing fans of the game to have a glimpse of pieces that were worn or used by service members (possibly professional ball players) during a time of national crisis while sharing the story of how this nation pulled together against a common enemy (even through the game) is fulfilling and solidifies many of the reasons for this pursuit.

One area of collecting baseball militaria that affords the need and ability to handle the artifacts lies within the equipment from the game. In this collection are a smattering of pieces (besides jerseys and uniform items) such as bats, balls and even spikes. One area that has been particularly slow in development for this collection has been surrounding the most common element – gloves. With millions of gloves and mitts being provided to troops both within the combat theaters and domestically, it would stand to reason that there would be an overwhelming supply of surviving artifacts that permeate the baseball memorabilia market. However, scouring online venues and antique stores reveals a contradicting story…or does it?

How can one determine if a glove was issued to and used by service members during wartime service? Aside from the small percentage of equipment that was marked with proper military branch designations (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S.M.C., U. S. Special Services, U.S.A.) or possess rock-solid provenance from the original owner, there is no real way to accurately associate a piece. Collectors must perform due diligence in researching the markings applied to gloves prior to accepting a piece as an authentic wartime piece. Research the manufacturer’s markings, the model number and the logos to determine when the glove was made. Does the patent number (often stamped into some makers’ gloves) correspond with the other information? There are many resources available for researching nearly every aspect of a glove.

The handwritten “CPO” and “USS Savannah” markings are of the most easily discernible inscriptions on the glove.

Several months ago, I came across a rather unique glove, purportedly tied to wartime service. The information associated with the item noted that it was from the USS Savannah and that it dated from World War II. The accompanying photographs shows that the glove was stamped with the ship’s name (ink markings) and had what appeared to be signatures in several places. The glove design, hand-shaped, single-tunnel and split fingers, dates it to the late 1930s through into the early 1950s. In the absence of a glove model database (I have yet to find one), I have not been able to verify the model number (322-14) for this Wilson-made glove.The ink stamps and markings are the only remaining elements that I can use to make verifying attempts.

One of three locations marked with the USS Savannah ink stamp.

Reaching out to the BaseballGloveCollector.com, I sent photos of this glove in a last ditch effort to determine the age. I was little surprised to learn that Spalding model numbering, configuration (###-##) that is present on my glove, concluded after the 1938 model year, having been in use for most of the 1930s. The expert that reviewed my inquiry determined that the USS Savannah-marked glove dates from 1938, corresponding with the year in which the ship was commissioned.

Nearly every aspect of the glove is in fantastic condition with only some degradation of the lacing that holds the tunnel in place between the thumb and the index finger. The leather is very soft and supple and lacks cracking or the commonly present musty odors that exist with my other 60-75 year-old gloves.

Showing the maker’s logo and the model number (322-14) of the Spalding softball glove.

The glove is stamped (using rubber ink-stamp) in a few places with the ship’s name. Due to era of the glove, the only possible vessel that aligns is the light cruiser (CL-42) that was commissioned in 1938 and served through World War II, decommissioning in 1947. Six navy warships have born the Georgia city’s name with the immediately preceding vessel, a submarine tender (AS-8) that was decommissioned in 1933 and the fleet refueling oiler (AOR-4) that was commissioned in 1970 narrowing the possibilities down to the Brooklyn-class cruiser.

The USS Savannah’s war record in the Atlantic commenced with neutrality patrols in 1941, prior to the United States’ entry into WWII. She saw action in support of the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno. She was struck by a radio-guided German bomb, killing 35 men. In all. Savannah lost 197 of her crew from German counter attacks as she provided gunfire support of the allied forces landing at Salerno. requiring extensive repairs lasting from December 1943 through July of 1944 when she returned to operations in the North Atlantic.

Turning to the inscriptions on the glove, I searched through U.S. Navy muster sheets for the USS Savannah for the names that were legible. Despite the derivations of the inscribed names and the subsequent searches, I was unsuccessful in cross-referencing anyone to the USS Savannah. As disappointing as these results are, the lack of positive results doesn’t necessarily equate to disproving the glove as an artifact from the cruiser. Over the 45 months of WWII, there would have been a few thousand men who served aboard the ship and not all of the muster sheets are available in the online and searchable resources…yet.

I am deferring the dating of the glove to experts in the field of vintage glove collecting. As I await a verdict from an authority, I am very certain that the piece was part of the morale, welfare and recreational equipment that was used by USS Savannah (CL-42) crew members in the 1940s. True to many shipboard items (that tended to “grow legs” and disappear – sailors will be sailors, after all), the glove was marked in several locations with the ship’s name as a feeble theft deterrent. In my best judgment, this glove is authentic and is a great addition to the collection.

A slight restoration such as restringing the tunnel may be in order for this beautiful wartime piece and ensuring that it remains free from moisture and extreme environmental fluctuations will help to keep this glove in great condition for years to come.

Seeing Stars Through the Clouds: 1943-44 Navy Team Autographed Baseball

Writing about baseball artifacts is a pleasure and tedious considering the volume of research that is poured into each artifact and subsequent article that is published on ChevronsAndDiamonds.org and that is beginning to show with the backlog of posts that is growing (inside of my head, at least) with the recent additions to my collection. With my last article (My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I spent a few weeks researching; gathering details about the DiMaggio photograph, comparing it with others, delving into other aspects of his time in the Army Air Force and then committing it to more than 3,400 words. I often ask myself, “How does one manage a full-time career, a marriage and family (an active life) and still maintain a research and authoring schedule like this?” in the midst of a research project.

Several weeks ago, I was able to acquire my second military baseball (my first, a 1956-dated, team-signed ball from the 36th Field Artillery Group) after it was listed in conjunction with among a spate of items (originating from the same collection) that were all related to military baseball teams the Central Pacific area, in and around the Hawaiian Islands during World War II. Judging by the number of bids and potential buyers who were watching the three other auctions compared to a few who were watching (and had submitted bids on) what was listed as an autographed Navy-team baseball from the 1940s. The ball (aside from the signatures) is a easily datable, official National League (“Ford C. Frick”) Spalding baseball from 1943. With a glance at the auction listing’s photos, (aside from the obvious coating of shellac covering the ball) I recognized a few names on the ball though several were hard to discern.I decided since the bid amount was so low that it was worth risking (based solely on the verifiable age of the ball). With only a few hours remaining, I set my bid amount and waited.

The two stars flanking “Official”denote that this ball dates from 1943. The golden toning of the ball is due to  (image source: eBay image).

I wanted to spend time investigating all of the signatures on the ball – to delve into each one to make an attempt to identify the names and thus, determine which team the ball was associated with but with so little time remaining, I moved ahead with submitting my bid with the hope that if I was unsuccessful with my plan to identify that I could turn around and re-list the ball. Hours later, the notification came that I was the highest bidder, much to my surprise. Hours following payment, I received notification from the seller that the ball was shipped and a tracking number was provided. Two days later, the ball was in my hands and that’s when it struck me that I was holding something that was connected to the players who participated in the legendary (at least, to me) games in the Hawaiian Islands during the War, that until now, was limited to scorecards and photographs.

I was elated to have a chance at this ball even though it was lacking signatures from the stars of the major leagues such as Pee Wee Reese, the DiMaggio brothers, Vander Meer, Hutchinson or my favorite, Ferris Fain. I wasn’t able to positively identify all of the signatures and two of them are almost completely faded or entirely illegible.  There are a few major league ball players and several minor leaguers that have been identified. Those with an asterisk (*) were located on the Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944 score book (the double asterisk indicates a possible correlation between the signature and a name listed on the score book).

Panel 1 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 1:

The first panel of signatures shows one name that I cannot positively identify (Charlie, the second from the top) and the one at the bottom is so heavily faded that I can’t make out a single character. Three of these players (Signalman and pitcher Anderson, Electrician’s Mate 2/c and shortstop Bishop and Chief Specialist and pitcher Masterson) all played in the major leagues. Catcher and Coxswain McCorkle and Torpedoman 1/c and pitcher Mozzali had minor league careers with the latter serving as a scout in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for 18 years followed by two seasons (1977-78) as a coach with the big league club. John Powell, listed on the April 19, 1944 program for the game between the Navy and the Major League All-Stars as a center fielder and an MS 1/c is still being researched.

Panel 2 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 2

  • Raymond Keim
  • Dutch Raffeis
  • Carl Gresowski
  • Jim Brennan*
  • Bob Tomkins
  • Ed Quinn

This panel is one of the more challenging of the four with three names that either illegible in part or entirely. While Jim Brennan shows also on the April 19, 1944 program (listed as “J. D. Brennen,” EM2/c, pitcher), the other players require further research. My efforts to date have been unfruitful but it is possible that searching military records via Fold3 or Ancestry might yield positive results. Combing through the various rosters (on the known printed scorecards and throughout those online at Baseball in Wartime) is a seemingly futile venture but at present, it is all that is available. I hold out hope that in the months and year ahead, that there more artifacts will surface.

Panel 3 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 3

  • Gene Rengel
  • Bob White**
  • Frank Snider*
  • Emil Patrick
  • Ray Volpi

The third panel held signatures that were far more legible and hadn’t suffered fading though I didn’t fare much better in determining who the men are who signed this side of the ball. Two of the names, Snider (right fielder and signalman) and Simione (a center fielder and boatswain’s mate, 2nd class), are also listed on the April 19, 1944 scorecard (linked in the previous paragraph). Rengel, White and Patrick are still to be determined. In revisiting this article after discovering more names while conducting research for an upcoming article, I stumbled across Ray Volpi (previously thought to have been “Volp.” as an abbreviation of his name), a minor league pitcher in the Yankees organization. Ray last pitched professionally with the double-A Kansas City Blues (of the American Association) during the 1942 season. By 1943, Volpi was in the United States Navy and stationed at Norfolk and hurling for the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets (see: WWII Navy Baseball Uniforms: Preserving the Ones That Got Away) alongside Fred Hutchinson, Walt Masterson and Dutch Leonard. Chief Specialist Volpi would be in the South Pacific, playing in the Hawaii Leagues with several of his Bluejackets teammates by 1944. Five of these six names will have to be researched as service members while I believe that Snider went on to play four seasons of class “D” professional baseball, having played in 1942 with the Dothan Browns (of the Georgia-Florida League).

Panel 4 (image source: eBay image).

Panel 4

The last panel (which, in this case consists predominantly of the “sweet spot” of the ball) contains four very legible signatures and three of them are located on printed rosters within scorecards from the Central Pacific wartime baseball leagues. Also, (potentially) three of the men all had professional baseball careers following their service. One of these men, James J. “Jim” Gleeson, an outfielder who spent five seasons in the major leagues (1936 with Cleveland, 1939-40 with the Cubs and 1941-42 with Cincinnati) before joining the Navy. Following his war service, Gleeson returned to the game he loved, playing for six more seasons, but only at the minor league level. After 1951, his playing days were done, Jim continued his baseball career, serving as a scout, coach, and manager in the minors and spent many years as a coach with the Yankees on fellow Navy veteran, Yogi Berra’s 1964 Yankees-pennant-winning staff. Third baseman and Pharmacists’ Mate 3/c John “Hubie” Jeandron  recommenced his professional career in 1946 at the class A level, bouncing around through class C and B levels until finishing his baseball career after the 1953 season. Gunner’s Mate 3/c and first baseman Frank T. Hecklinger (incorrectly listed as “E. T.” on the scorecard roster) also restarted his professional career but played in only 234 total games between the 1946 and 1947 seasons at the class C and B levels in the minors.

The prominent Spalding logo with Jim Gleeson’s signature easily discernible (image source: eBay image).

To many collectors, having a ball with signatures from a handful of minor leaguers and three non-star major leaguers wouldn’t merit much interest or be featured in a collection. Nevertheless, this ball is significant as it originates from games that were, to many men and women serving during WWII, distractions from the rigors and monotony of war giving them a fun departure from the harsh reality and a taste of the normalcy of home. This ball is a cherished addition to my collection and will serve to demonstrate how men from the highest levels of the game competed alongside of average Joes demonstrating unity in the fight against a common enemy in the cause of freedom from tyrants and oppression.

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.

Struck Out Swinging: Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize and Fred Hutchinson on Tinian

Missing out on pieces that would fit perfectly with what I collect is becoming too common of an occurrence for me lately. I am not one who spends my weekends scouring garage and estate sales in search of these precious artifacts but perhaps there might be something to that activity. The problem with taking that approach is that there is a considerable time commitment required just to make it worthwhile and to afford chances to find such treasures. Another challenge is that these military baseball artifacts are so hard to find due to the small population of service members who played the game during their time in the armed forces. I find that it is best to take my chances with the collections, personal items – pieces that are listed by veterans, family members, collectors and pickers.

It is not secret that my tendencies in collecting, both with militaria and in military baseball are towards the Navy and I work harder to land those related items that surface within the marketplace. Often, there are pieces that are of little interest to other collectors or they are listed in such a manner that they elude people who might be using a few different (yet limited or too specific) search criterion or formulas. Even I have missed out on pieces because I was too lazy to search beyond my normal, standby perfunctory methods.

Sometimes, I make discoveries of items that perfectly fit my collection and line up with everything that interest me but are discovered because I was exploring a tangential interest. One example of this was when I was seeking a specific rating badge (a WWII-era bullion Radarman version), I discovered a binder filled with shipyard modernization work orders that belonged to a Chief Electrician (a warrant officer) who used for the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) that would later be sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August of 1942.

My collection of Navy baseball artifacts, despite my best efforts, are scantily few. It seems that besides the there being so few pieces in existence, the competition for those items can be quite fierce.

Vintage military photographs are something that I collect. In addition to my naval ship and military baseball photograph archive, I also have several images that were part of a veteran’s photo scrapbook from his service in the 20th Air Force. Among those images of ground activities, bombing missions, wrecked aircraft and airmen enjoying downtown between missions, there are images of several B-29s and their nose art.

This rare color photograph of the B-17 “Going My Way” with Bugs Bunny is very typical of what was seen on many WWI bomber aircraft.

Nose art, especially what was seen on B-17 an B-29 bombers, has considerable following for collectors and historians alike. When the number of just these two types of aircraft (12,731 B-17 and 3,970 B-29 bombers) are considered coupled with the notion that the majority of them (that were deployed to their respective theaters of the war), there would be thousands of differing paintings and illustrations to be documented. In recent years, there have been several undertakings by historians who are seeking to locate photographs of every example of nose art for each aircraft. If the photograph exists, these folks want to have it.

This jacket, combined with the above image of the Goin’ My Way nose art photo would work together for a fantastic display.

In terms of collectors, those who pursue painted bomber jackets in particular, to possess both the jacket and photographic artifacts from the same ship help to make a great display. I have never actually purchased a vintage photo of a bomber or other Air Force aircraft.

A few days ago, while I was browsing through some listings of B-29 photographs taken on Tinian and Saipan (the two principle bases of operation for bombing missions to the Japanese homelands during the latter years of the War), I spotted a vintage photograph that was listed as a “nose art” image. In the thumbnail of the photo in the listing, I could see that there was a large gathering of men posed beneath the aircraft, which wasn’t unusual. What was out of the norm from what I have seen in other images was the sheer number of people lined up in multiple rows. Something about the men also caught my eye as it appeared different from all the photos that I had seen. The Superfortress looked normal though the nose art, from what I could tell, was quite diminutive compared to what was commonly applied to these massive planes.

In this undated photo, the U.S. Navy team poses with airmen in front of the Superfortress known as “Flag Ship” (serial number BA 42-63504). Among the players in the image are Pee Wee Reese, Fred Hutchinson and Johnny Mize. Flag Ship would be damaged on July 24, 1944 by a crashing “Thunderin’ Loretta”(serial number 42-24913) when she went down on take-off, killing 10 men. The crash damaged seven other parked B-29 bombers (serial numbers 44-69841, 42-63506, 42-93992, 44-69844, 44-69972, 42-63504, and 44-69859).
Flag Ship has the distinction of being the first B-29 to land on the Island of Tinian (source: eBay image).

I decided to open the auction listing and I was immediately astounded. There, in the formation ranks were a few recognizable faces – Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Fred Hutchinson to name a few – among the 43 visible service members. Twelve of the men in baseball uniforms were wearing the road gray navy flannels while 14 were decked out in the pinstripes and blue home togs. Other men posing in the image are in the Army Air Forces and Navy military uniforms. The image appears to be a type-1 (defined as first generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period – within approximately two years of when the picture was taken) and the clarity is impeccable. It is obvious that the photograph was snapped by a professional war correspondent, judging by the exposure and composition, regardless of the cropping out of men on the edges of the group.

I really wanted to land this photograph. Not wanting to risk being outbid, I set my amount for more than twice the highest price that I have ever paid for a vintage photograph. I could see that there were some new-to-eBay folks (those who place bids very early after an item is listed) which gave me a little bit of concern as these people tend to drive prices unnecessarily high (my bid won’t show until just prior to the close of the auction). I waited the remaining five days for the close of the bidding and hoped for the best.

I wish that I could say that my bid amount was enough to bring this photograph home to me but someone else with deeper pockets and, very obviously in possession of the knowledge of the significance of this rare photograph took the same actions as I did and placed a higher bid at the same time (just seconds before the auction’s close) that mine was made. Losing and missing out on this image was a painful lesson to learn. If the item matters this much, I had better step up to the plate and take a real swing.

At least I was able to grab a digital copy (albeit, low resolution) for posterity.

 

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