How does one follow-up such an amazing acquisition of an historic photographic baseball artifact as the original, Type-1 image of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio posing in his 7th Army Air Force uniform at at Honolulu Stadium? Considering that I touched upon Ted Williams’ impressive 1941 performance in concert with that of DiMaggio and his 56-game streak, landing an original type-1 of the Splendid Splinter in his service team uniform would seem to be an appropriate, yet nearly impossible accomplishment. As unbelievable as it may seem, that is exactly what happened.
In Ben Bradlee, Jr.‘s fantastic biography, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, Ted’s military service is thoroughly examined including his reluctance (and near boredom) from being called upon to play on the base teams (following his tenure with the Cloudbusters of Chapel Hill in early 1943 while he was still a Naval Air Cadet in the V-5 training program) once he earned his gold aviator’s wings. Williams entered the naval aviation training with his Red Sox team mate, Johnny Pesky at the Navy’s Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Following the completion of their first few months of training Williams, Pesky and others from their class continued training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School where both were tapped to play baseball on Navy’s local team, joining forces with other major leaguers such as Johnny Sain, Louis “Buddy” Gremp, Joe Coleman, John “Buddy” Hassett, Joe Cusick and Pete Appleton.
In Bradlee’s book, he delves into a notable exhibition game played between Williams, Johnny Pesky (and other major leaguers that were currently serving) in Boston versus the National League’s Braves. The service all stars were coached by Babe Ruth with a pre-game home run hitting contest between the Babe and the Kid which was a disappointment due to Ruth’s first swing resulting him fouling a ball off his leg, forcing him to withdraw. The Cloudbusters would compete against collegiate and other military teams (such as the star-studded Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets) during Williams’ and Pesky’s tenure.
Ted Williams, after serving as a flight instructor for nearly a year in Florida, was in transit to Hawaii as the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompting the Japanese to accept an unconditional surrender. Upon his arrival at Pearl Harbor, the Splendid Splinter was added to the all-star Navy roster of major leaguers to play in the September-October, seven-game Navy World Series (not to be confused with the 1943 series played at Naval Station Norfolk’s McClure Field). Navy players, originating from National League teams before WWII, defeated their American League counterparts, four games to two despite the AL’s composite tally outscoring the NL, 30-24 total runs (the AL, led in part with a home run by Pesky, took the fourth game by a 12-1 margin). Though he was on the roster, Williams was a non-factor, perhaps distracted by thoughts of shedding his Marine Corps uniform, not having been sent to fight after more than three years of service. Though the rosters were stocked with major league ball players there were only a handful of stars from the big leagues. Culled together from multiple sources (in the absence viewing the program shown above) are the rosters of Navy ballplayers from each of the major leagues (the asterisk denotes election to the Hall of Fame). There are two names on the American League roster who I was not able to narrow down (there were multiple players named Harris and Lyons).
|National League||American League|
|Charley Gilbert||CF||Jack Conway||2B|
|Jim Carlin||3B||Johnny Pesky||SS|
|Billy Herman *||2B||Chet Hajduk||1B|
|Stan Musial *||RF||Ted Williams *||RF|
|Whitey Platt||LF||Dick Wakefield||LF|
|Wimpy Quinn||1B||Jack Phillips||CF|
|Ray Lamanno||CF||Bob Kennedy||3B|
|Ray Hamrick||SS||Rollie Hemsley||CF|
|Clyde Shoun||P||Freddie Hutchinson||P|
|Hugh Casey||P||Bob Lemon *||P|
|Louis Tost||P||Hank Feimster||P|
|Henry Schenz||2B||Jack Hallett||P|
|Gilbert “Gibby” Brack||OF||Edwin “Ed” Wieland||P|
|James “Jim” Carlin||OF||Ken Sears||C|
|Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn||P||Joe Lutz||1B|
|Bob Scheffing||C||Joe Glenn||C|
|Richard “Dick” West||C||Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe||P|
The series was in hand for the National League team following their 4-1 victory in the 6th game but as the games were being played for the enjoyment of the ticket-holding service members, the seventh game was played.
|26-Sep-45||6||5||Pesky knocked in the 5th AL run in the bottom of the 9th, Williams was hit-less after popping up for the 2nd out with 2-on.|
|29-Sep-45||6||3||Williams 2-run HR helped end the shutout in the bottom of the 9th.|
|3-Oct-45||1||12||Pesky was 3-3 with a single, double and 2 run HR.|
|5-Oct-45||1||4||Williams was scratched from the line-up due to illness and did not play the remainder of the series.|
|6-Oct-45||4||1||Pesky got a hit and scored a run in the victory.|
Johnny Pesky finished the series batting .346 (9 for 26) with three runs batted in (RBI) and one home run. Pesky’s team mate, Ted Williams batted .272 (3 for 11) with 2 RBI and one home run.
When I discovered the DiMaggio Type-1 photograph (see: My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts), I was taken by surprise and was ecstatic to win the auction, virtually unopposed. Less than a week later, lighting struck (me) twice resulting in me discovering a collection of photographs of the Red Sox legends (Williams and Pesky) from their wartime service, wearing their Navy flannels. One of the images, a larger print (roughly 11″ x 17″) shows Pesky in his Cloudbusters uniform, speaking to an apparently delighted nine year old James Raugh* (the Coudbusters’ batboy and mascot) seated on the ballplayer’s lap. Though the image of Pesky posing with Williams is what initially drew my attention, the photo from the 1945 Navy World Series game truly stands out as the showcase photograph of the group. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the collection of photos is that all three of them originated from Johnny Pesky’s collection – these were owned by him.
Johnny passed away in 2012, leaving behind an incredible collection of baseball history. His artifacts stemmed from a career in the game that spanned more than 60 years and consisting of trophies, photographs, balls, gloves, bats, cleats, awards, baseball uniforms and even his 2004 Red Sox World Series Ring. Hunt Auctions, LLC was selected by Pesky’s son (David) to facilitate the liquidation of the baseball treasures. As an aside to the baseball memorabilia listed and sold, being the militaria (especially navy items) collector, I was in awe to see Lieutenant (junior grade) Pesky’s military uniform items while the selling price ($2,000) wasn’t at all a surprise.
The mailer arrived without any issues and upon unpacking everything, I noted that I was provided with a copy of the auctioneer’s certificate from the lots that contained the photographs now in my collection, indicating their origination from the Pesky collection. The enormous size of the package caught me off guard though I knew that one of the photos was larger than any that I had ever acquired. The reason for the larger shipping container was that the photo was mounted on a large, card-stock backing and probably set into a frame, years ago. The two other photos are more reasonably sized.
The second photograph in the group was a great image of both Pesky and Williams (with, as of yet, another naval aviation cadet) in a kneeling pose at the UNC Chapel Hill’s Emerson Field. All three players are wearing their Cloudbusters home flannels. I was able to locate this print among on of the Hunt Auction listings. As with my DiMaggio photo, this is an image that is not widely distributed across the internet; in fact, it has not been seen elsewhere. It’s uniqueness leaves me wondering what became of the original negatives and how Pesky came to be the one to possess it (and the others) rather than any of the other Cloudbusters team members or if everyone on the team was provided prints and only Johnny managed to keep them throughout his life.
The last photo of the three is as significant in terms of the historical content, who is pictured, and what is written on the print’s back. Rather than to simply scan the image and capture every detail, I decided to additionally scan it at the highest resolution possible and break the image into segments in order to capture the most important details that can be seen. This photo, taken at the 1945 Navy World Series shows the full rosters of each team, lined up on Furlong Field down each base line with Pesky at the image’s center.
I thought that it would be interesting to see who (among my readers) can identify any of the major leaguers in these photos:
When I turned the image over, I noticed a hand-written note that detailed Pesky’s return home from the War. At first glance, I thought that the handwriting might be Johnny’s but then I compared the way his name is written with various examples of his autograph (some dating back to the 1940s).
My analysis ruled Pesky out as the scribe, however there is a possibility that the note was written by his wife (whom he met in 1944). Finding photos from these historic games is very rewarding as there are but a handful that exist (cameras were a rarity among the GIs in attendance) and the press photos (there had to be many) have yet to surface from the newspaper archives.
I am glad to have these photos for several reasons: historical significance, rare glimpses into the military service of some big names from the game and that they were part of the collection of a legend from one of my favorite teams.
*James Raugh would pursue his own baseball dreams, following in the footsteps of Williams and Pesky and playing his collegiate years on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill team before signing with the Detroit Tigers organization as right-handed pitcher. Raugh and Pesky would cross paths seventeen years later when the young pitcher, in the fourth season of his professional career with the Victoria Rosebuds (AA – Texas League). Johnny Pesky was in his fifth season managing in the minor leagues and was in his only season with the Rosebuds when he had his former batboy had a dominating season as a starting pitcher (11-4, record with a 3.33 era, 102 strikeouts against 45 walks). Raugh is the subject of 2018 book, The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II (published May 1, 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing), written by his daughter, Anne Keene (foreword by Claudia Williams, daughter of Ted Williams).
- United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection, 1942-1945
- When Cadet Ted Williams Came to Chapel Hill
- Ted Williams At War (by Bill Nowlin)
- SABR | The National Pastime # 26: The 1945 All-Star Game The Baseball Navy World Series at Furlong Field, Hawaii (pg. 111)
In looking at my article writing and publishing patterns of the last twelve months, I can see that I have been merely sporadic and entirely lacking consistency. Since the beginning of April, 2017 until my latest article (at the time of writing this), Seals at War, I have only managed to create 20 articles (a 1.67/month average). A simple scan of the titles reminds me of the reason for such inconsistency: this genre of the baseball or militaria hobby is very sparse in terms of the availability of artifacts. I also suspect that with the steady increase of readership of my articles, I am potentially my own worst enemy as my stories are fueling others’ interest in this area of collecting.
Adding only a handful of artifacts to my collection had a direct correlative impact on providing me with my preferred inspirational subject-matter. In the last several weeks, my bank account of inspiration has received some fantastic credits that are changing the year-long, stagnant trend. In addition to landing the 1944 Seals scorebook, the Waldron NAAF Jersey, a magnificent 1920s baseball medal, and my very first military-related baseball which is getting (my) 2018 off to a very bright start…and there is much more to come!
As with baseball, we can’t win every game and that was the case with the auction of the circa-1944 photograph of the U.S. Navy baseball team on Tinian on which my meager bid was summarily beaten, a few short weeks ago. Missed opportunities are a part of life, the game and so go hand-in-hand with collecting. Whiffing on an artifact that would be an absolutely perfect fit for my collection can be frustrating and yet these occurrences are positive in that I gain understanding on those pieces that are in greater demand and thus have more competitors to land them.
In the article I wrote about the 1944 Seals score book, I made reference to the two WWII service teams pieces that I previously purchased. The first one that I acquired, a Program and score card from the Third Army Championship games, hosted in early August of 1945 at Nuremberg Stadium in Germany opened my eyes to how invaluable these pieces are as records of men who played as they served. The second piece that came home was a battered Scorecard from Game 7 of the 1944 Army vs Navy Championship Series played at Furlong Field on Hickam Army Air Force Base. Both of these game are have been well-documented. There is one additional scorecard (article forthcoming) for a USAAF all-star game that I have in my collection.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a few listings from a person who was selling some fantastic pieces of military baseball memorabilia (purportedly acquired from a hobbyist). In seeing how the bidding was proceeding on the three pieces that I was very interested in (two scorecards and a score book) were from World War II and related to specific games that were played between all-star service teams whose teams consisted primarily of professional baseball players.
- Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
- Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi
Friday October 6, 1944
- Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
Each piece already has numerous bids on them when I first saw them and I realized within a short period of time that each one was going to exceed not only what I was willing to pay for any of them but also their market value. The italicized text is intentional as what a particular piece is worth can be highly subjective. With these items having been produced in small numbers (that is my speculation due to the audiences that are believed to have attended the games), there are so few of them and transaction histories are difficult to obtain (I manually track them) which further complicates the discussion surrounding valuation. In the end, the price that one person is willing to pay essentially establishes the value of an item. For each of these pieces of military baseball ephemera, the excitement of the bidding and the desire to win an auction resulted, in my opinion, inflated final bid prices.
As an aside, less attention was given to a signed team baseball (one of the Navy teams on the rosters contained withing the scorecards) resulting in a very low price and facilitating my ability to land my second military baseball in less than two weeks.
The three items are considerable pieces that shine more light on these little-known games by providing rosters with the names of players, positions, their former teams, branches and, on one roster, the ranks of the ball players.
1. Navy versus Major League All-Stars: Weaver Field, Submarine Base, April 19, 1944
Though my research has yielded no information regarding this specific game, I am confident that in time, I will be able to locate a Stars and Stripes article, at the very least. Some facts that stand out to me in viewing this artifact lie within the rosters themselves. While the major league all-stars team consisted of mostly major leaguers who were serving in the Navy, one player, Tom Winsett, was serving in the Army. I am didn’t quite conclude my research to determine which of the Dickey brothers (Bill or George) was suited up for the Major League team however I do know that both served in and played on the Navy teams. Considering this roster, one would suspect that the odds of a team of naval personnel could pose any sort of a challenge to be rather slim.
Major League All-Stars Roster
|Grace||Joe||3B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Navy||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||Navy||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Navy||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||Navy||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Pellagrini||Eddie||SS||Navy||San Diego Padres|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Navy||Brooklyn Dodgers|
(Major League players in italics)
The Navy All-Stars team wasn’t simply stocked with neophytes and amateur ball players. Present on the roster for the Navy were five veterans hailing from the Athletics and Senators of the American League. At least two of the amateurs (Mo Mozzali and John Jeandron) went on to play professional baseball and perhaps continued research will yield more confirmations of post-War athletic careers of these men.
|Atkinson||Norman E. “Gene”||C||TM2/c||Semi-Pro|
|Brass||T. H.||P||C Sp|
|Harris||Bob||P||SP 1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||3B||PhM3/c||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||YN1/c||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||C Sp||Washington Senators|
The fact that a few items surfaced as I was watching this scorecard, I didn’t bother to submit a bid as the price seemed to be capable of exceeding (in my experience) the prices that these pieces normally garner. When the bidding closed, the final price was less than $51.00 but I suspect that the winning bidder had significant bid that would preclude prospective buyers from submitting a reasonable price that would be capable of toppling.
2. Army All-stars versus Navy All-stars: Hoolulu Park, Hilo, Hi | Friday, October 6, 1944
The second of the three scorecards that was sold garnered considerably greater interest (16 bids) as it sold for more than double of the preceding card and that was undoubtedly due to the sheer star power contained within both teams’ the rosters. Though the Army team for this game was fully-stocked with veritable stars taken from the ranks of the majors and minor leagues, the Navy team carried far more stars with major league experience. One of the Army’s star hitters, Ferris Fain, was building a name for himself and taking advantage of the opportunity as he demonstrated his abilities with his Army Air Force team, playing on the team at Hickam Air Field on Oahu. Fain had played four seasons of professional baseball with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League but was making a name for himself prior to enlisting following the 1942 season. Nine of Fain’s teammates on this Army All-Star team were major leaguers, headlined by seven-time American League All-Star and two-time league MVP, Joe DiMaggio who had also been playing for the Army Air Force team with Fain.
|Ardizoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|DiMaggio||Joe||OF||New York Yankees|
|Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|Judnich||Walter||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
The Navy team, in addition to being considerably larger (37), outnumbered the Army’s major leaugers (9) by more than three-to-one and one could assume that such a talent disparity would result in their dominance in this particular game.
Unlike today’s game in which players routinely migrate from one major league team and league to another, these men were subject to Baseball’s Reserve Clause making them perpetual “property” of their respective teams, indefinitely (until being released or traded). Noting that within these rosters, several major league teammates oppose each other with their respective service teams. It wasn’t until 1947 with Major League Baseball was integrated with the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ roster (having played the 1946 season at AA Montreal), but in 1944, the Army team featured pitcher Hal Hairston, formerly of the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.
|Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|Berry||John||OF||University of Oregon|
|Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|DiMaggio||Dominick||OF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|Grace||Joe||OF||St. Louis Browns|
|Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||OF||Louisville, KY|
|Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Rizzuto||Phil||3B||New York Yankees|
|Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr||Boston Red Sox|
|Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
This scorecard was printed and distributed for on of the games in what was known as the Army-Navy World Series that was held throughout the Hawaiian Islands from September 22 to October 15, 1944. The Navy bested the Army, eight games to two (in this series) with the ninth game concluding in a 10-inning, 6-6 tie. This scorecard is specific to game 9.
3. Navy vs Army All-Stars| Fourth game in the Central Pacific Championship Series
The last of the scorecards also originates from the 1944 Army vs Navy World Series. This particular game (the fourth of 11) was played at Redlander Field, Schofield Barracks, September 25, 1944. According to Baseball in Wartime, the game was filled with excitement but would wind up with a fourth consecutive victory for the Navy All-Stars.
“The Navy took an early lead over the Army in the fourth game, witnessed by 10,000, as it jumped on four hurlers for 11 hits. Johnny Mize, ex-Giant first baseman, poled a 360-foot homer in the first inning after Barney McCosky walked, and the Navy scored one in the third and fourth, four in the fifth and single runs in the sixth and seventh to win, 10 to 5. The Army could not get its sights set up til the sixth frame, when five runs rolled over the plate, during which rally Ferris Fain, from the San Francisco Seals, and Joe Gordon, former New York Yankee second baseman, homered, knocking out Virgil Trucks and bringing Schoolboy Rowe, last with the Phillies, to the rescue.
Johnny Beazley, who was the victim in the first game, was hit freely by the Navy and retired in the fifth inning in favour of Ed Erautt, property of the Hollywood Pacific Coast League club, who, in turn, was succeeded by Carl DeRose, New York Yankee farmhand, in the sixth. Hairston finished up on the mound for the Army.”
This scorebook is, by far, the most desirable of the three that were sold. Complete with player photos of the star players, the book consists of multiple pages and, like the previous two scorecards, is unused. Topping out in both the number of bids (19) and selling price ($122.68), the most desired piece of the three didn’t fail to draw the most attention among the three auctions.
The Rosters for both of these last championship series games are nearly identical with the same combination of major and minor leaguers along with a few semi-professionals and a collegiate ball player.
|13||Ardozoia||Rugger||P||Kansas City Blues|
|16||Beazley||Johnny||P||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1||Dillinger||Bob||3B||Toledo Mud Hens|
|4||DiMaggio||Joe||CF||New York Yankees|
|19||Erautt||Eddie “Ace”||P||Hollywood Stars|
|7||Fain||Ferris||1B||San Francisco Seals|
|6||Gordon||Joe||SS||New York Yankees|
|3||Judnich||Walter||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|25||Lien||Al||P||San Francisco Seals|
|2||Lodigiani||Dario||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|8||Silvera||Charley||C||Kansas City Blues|
|20||Winsett||Tom Winsett||Mgr.||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|26||Anderson||Arne R.||P||Washington Senators|
|9||Berry||John||RF||University of Oregon|
|28||Dickey||Bill||Mgr.||New York Yankees|
|15||Dickey||George||C||Chicago White Sox|
|11||DiMaggio||Dominick||CF||Boston Red Sox|
|Feimster||Hank||P||Boston Red Sox|
|28||Grace||Joe||RF||St. Louis Browns|
|24||Harris||Robert A.||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|20||Jeandron||John Hubert||2B||Port Arthur Tarpons|
|23||Johnson||A. Rankin||P||Philadelphia Athletics|
|5||Lucadello||John||2B||St. Louis Browns|
|26||Masterson||Walter E.||P||Washington Senators|
|32||Mize||Johnny||1B||St. Louis Cardinals|
|13||Mozzali||Mo Mozzali||CF||Louisville, KY|
|34||Reese||Pee Wee||SS||Brooklyn Dodgers|
|2||Rizzuto||Phil||SS||New York Yankees|
|26||Rowe||Lynn “Schoolboy”||P||Detroit Tigers|
|30||Schulmerich||Wes||Asst. Mgr.||Boston Red Sox|
|14||Sears||Ken “Ziggy”||C||New York Yankees|
|27||Vander Meer||Johnny||P||Cincinnati Reds|
Though the series was billed as a best seven of the eleven games, the Navy had the series nailed shut well ahead of completing all eleven. The military brass wanted to ensure that the service members throughout the Islands had full opportunity to see the baseball legends taking the field with some 10,000 spectators in attendance at each game.
The 1944 Army/Navy All-Star Championship Series in Hawaii
- September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0)
- September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0)
- September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3)
- September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5)
- September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2)
- September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4)
- October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3)
- October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0)
- October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5)
- October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)
- October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5)
These two scorecards (or scorebooks) from the 1944 Championship Series (also billed as the Army vs Navy World Series) are unique to their respective games. Combining the two (above) with the one scorecard that I possess tells me that there is a good possibility that there is a potential for seven others to be on the lookout for.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not long ago, my wife asked me what my goal was in terms of militaria and baseball collecting. I know that she asked this question with the utmost sincerity and respect for this interest that I have in these areas of history. The question is not something that I haven’t already asked myself in some manner or fashion as I try to understand what, within myself, causes me to look at different artifacts that become available. I often ask myself, “Is this piece in line with what you have been acquiring and researching?” I spend time analyzing what it is driving my interest in a piece before I start to consider the expense, space to preserve and house it or if the item is authentic.
Space is at a premium in our home. We live in a modest (not small, but not large) and we have kids who also require space for their various activities which translates to not having an area for displaying artifacts. I have seen some incredible mini-museums that other collectors (both in the militaria and baseball collection areas of focus) that rival some of the best museums around the country. These collectors are so incredibly diligent, resourceful, patient and meticulous in acquiring the right balance of artifacts to create complete displays that convey the story while not overwhelming the viewer with sensory overload. Even if we had the space within our home, I am not certain that I would take this tack with my collection.
In attempting to collect my thoughts to respond to my wife’s question, I wanted to convey to her (an myself) that what I focus my interest in is very specialized and that while the mailbox and front porch (at times) is barraged with a stream of packages (“is that ANOTHER piece for your collect?”), I don’t really have much coming to the house. This thinking could be construed as justification which is not what I want to convey to her. As I analyzed my thoughts, I wanted to mention that in terms of my highly selective focus leaves me wanting to preserve those artifacts that fit the narratives of my collection but also, if I didn’t purchase them, could be relegated to sitting in a plastic bin, long forgotten for decades. That too, sounds like an excuse.
This past summer as I prepared to display a selection of my U.S. Navy uniform artifacts, I selected specific pieces to demonstrate the overall theme of the display. I chose to be limited in what would be shown, taking the less-is-more mindset. I could have filled the display case from top to bottom but instead, I wanted viewers to see each piece and enjoy them individually and as a whole. As I continue with my interests, this is the approach that I have been and will continue to take. That each piece that is added to my collection will be thoughtfully considered, individually as well as how it fits into what I already have.
A few weeks ago, a patch was listed for sale (shown above) by a fellow militaria collector that received it from the son of a WWII veteran. Another collector suggested that the patch was worn on a baseball uniform as it resembled one that was common on major and minor league baseball uniforms, starting in 1942.
With the War in full swing and after suffering some substantial challenges (Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, the USS Houston, etc.) the United States was still ramping up to get onto the offensive against the Axis powers. Following the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, young men flocked to the armed forces recruitment offices, including in their numbers, several stars from the ranks of professional baseball. Leaders within all spheres of our nation (political, business, entertainment, churches, etc.) were almost unanimously patriotic and working together to hold our citizens and service men and women together for the common goal of defeating the fascist enemies. Aside from the rationing (food, textiles, gasoline, electricity) and recycling (predominantly metals) campaigns that commenced, recognizing the need for Americans to be physically fit and health-conscious in order to fight, build and farm – in other words, produce – for the War effort. Professional Baseball, in response to the call, embraced the physical fitness message and began to share it on their uniforms with the Hale – America Initiative Health patch.
While I have found a handful of photographs depicting variations of the Health patch (a shield shape with stars and stripes) on wartime uniforms, I have only found one image with a variation of the patriot patch in place. In my growing archive of vintage military baseball photographs (numbering over a hundred) contains only a single image with players wearing a shield patch. The baseball uniform of the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville ball club, in addition to the beautiful chenille logo on the left breast, has one of the patches affixed to the left sleeve. Due to the high contrast exposure of the photograph, it is impossible to distinguish the variation – there is an unrecognizable inset shield-shaped (white) field that is centered, superimposed over the vertical stripes.
While it is certainly possible that the patch that was being sold was worn on a military baseball uniform during WWII, I didn’t want to commit the financial or storage space resources to something that I would have a hard time authenticating. Without photographic evidence to back up the assertion of usage on service team uniforms, this patch is nothing more than a (seemingly) vintage patriotic, multi-layered wool-flannel constructed emblem (which I actually find visually appealing). Without practicing a measure of restraint, caution and requiring (of myself) provenance, I would have committed to purchasing the patch and adding it t
o my short list of to-be-researched militaria. However, I needed to be more discerning with my interests and, in answering the question in regards to my collecting goals, I passed on the opportunity to add the patch to my collection.
I am still attempting to answer my wife’s question regarding my collecting goals with a well-thought out response however, I would assert that my actions just might speak more clearly than any words could offer.
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.