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.
The Overseas Invasion Services Expedition (OISE) All Star baseball team (source: Baseball in Wartime).
With the dog days of summer and the elevating outside temperatures, one can sense the waning of the present baseball season. It will only be a matter of weeks before the minor league teams will be wrapping their schedules and the major league teams will expand their rosters, calling up the top performers from their respective farm systems.
During the 1940s, many of the major and minor league players received a call for service of a far greater nature from their teams. The armed forces had needs to fill on both the battlefield and the playing field. The need for service teams to spread good will and transport the service men and women, if only for a few innings, from the monotony and horrors they were facing each day. Some
professional ball players, rather than donning ODs (olive drab uniforms) and boondockers, sported spikes and flannel. Instead of M1 Garands and grenades as tools of the trade, these professionals picked up gloves, bats and horsehide balls.
Throughout the war, service teams played before crowds of GIs on fields in both the Pacific and European war theaters. Their rosters would feature names like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller, though “Rapid Robert” would volunteer for combat service early in the war, battling the Japanese aboard the USS Alabama (BB-60).
By August of 1945 with the war in Europe complete, the service teams began an elimination series to narrow the select group of teams to determine who would play in the final championship games. Ultimately, the 71st Infantry Division team, featuring St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harry Walker and Ewell Blackwell, pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds, would be be matched up with the Overseas Invasion Services Expedition (OISE) All Stars. The OISE team also included several professionals such as Negro Leaguers Leon Day and Willard Brown. Ultimately, the OISE All Stars would win the five game series, three games to two.
Collectors are fully aware aware of the scarcity of vintage major league baseball (and now, minor league) memorabilia. Items from the WWII service teams are even more difficult to locate. To find pieces from these historic games? Forget about it.
A few years ago, I was able to purchase a program and scoresheet from the championship games played at Nuremberg Stadium. The scoresheet was for the games that were played between the 71st and 76th Infantry Division teams in early August, sixty seven years ago. With that acquisition, I thought that would be the end of the availability of anything from these games.
Not too many months later, I was aghast to discover an online auction listing for a vintage autographed baseball that looked to be from one of these championship games. The ball, though lacking the typical “US” markings seemed to have some legitimacy with signatures from what I thought were familiar names. The auction description read:
It’s a REACH brand baseball, the logo readable. It has 9 signatures on it and on one side it looks as if it is written 1945 E. T. O Champs. The autographs I can make out are: Elmer J Madden, Joe Mattingly, Lou Mazaretta, Frankie Cato, Glenn Smith, Tony Mancini, Collins Haigler, and Bill something, could be Ayers, as he pitched a 2 hitter.
I checked several references including the extremely detailed Baseball in Wartime site (by WWII baseball historian, Gary Bedingfield) and my program and was not successful in matching a single name from the ball. Intuition dictated that the ball could still be authentic as the rosters could easily change from one series to the next due to the needs of the Army. In addition, I reasoned that there was little reason for anyone to fake such a ball as it could never attain the sort of money forgers typically try for with Hall of Fame-inductee signed balls.
I considered the facts and decided to place what I thought was a safe bid (at least for my budget), so if it turned out to be a forgery, the sting wouldn’t be so bad. The days ticked off until the auction close, and my snipe bid dropped in at the last seconds, which turned out to fall short. Another bidder felt that the value was (at least) a dollar greater than my bid amount. It wasn’t meant to be.
What are the odds of seeing anything else from the championship games?
Only time will tell.