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.
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.