•baseball goes to war
Text written by Albert Kilchesty
Patriot Game Brand
One can’t attend a major league baseball game today without being bombarded by displays of naked patriotism, usually in the form of American military might. This is not a recent development. During the hoopla surrounding America’s entry into The Great War, baseball players conducted mock drills on the field, with baseball bats subbing for rifles. That practice is reflected here as members of the Chicago White Sox, 1917 World Series victors, resplendent in sparkling new uniforms, parade in Comiskey Park. Close order bat drills were repeated in every ballpark during World War I.
All American Boy Brand (private collection)
The great Christy Mathewson, nonpareil Christian gentleman and mound ace for the New York Giants in the early twentieth century, is the subject of this painting. Mathewson was another casualty of WWI, although his premature death did not occur on the battlefield. As a captain in the U.S. Army, he was gassed by his own troops during a military exercise in France and subsequently contracted tuberculosis, dying at a sanitarium in 1925. America nearly came to a stop when news of the death of “Big Six” circulated. Other players, such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, returned from the war horribly scarred emotionally, bearers of invisible wounds.
Harvard Eddie Brand
Eddie Grant—Harvard graduate, attorney and major league third baseman—was the only big league player killed in action during WWI. Harvard Eddie is seen here against the background of the Polo Grounds, which for years had a plaque in deep centerfield commemorating Eddie’s sacrifice. The plaque mysteriously disappeared after the Giants’ last home game in New York, and was just as mysteriously discovered by The Baseball Reliquary’s Albert Kilchesty in 1999. A major thoroughfare in New York City now bears his name.
Peg Leg Pitcher Brand (Baseball Reliquary collection)
Left-handed pitcher Bert Shepard is the subject of Peg Leg Pitcher Brand. Shepard, a career minor leaguer, served as a fighter pilot in the ETO and was shot down over Germany. After his capture, he received rather excellent medical care from German doctors. He lost his right leg as a result, but he never lost his competitive fire. He was signed by the Washington Senators in 1945 as a pitching coach, but appeared in one game for the Nats during the season, becoming the only man ever to play baseball on an artificial leg. Two other pitchers, Phil Marchildon, a Canadian pilot and POW, and Lou Brissie, an American, also saw their careers jeopardized. Brissie endured 26 separate leg surgeries, which forced him to pitch while wearing constricting braces on his leg. Both of these men turned in solid seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics after the war.
As the late comedian George Carlin observed, “The object of baseball is to reach home. Home, I’m safe at home!” Many enlisted men during World War II wanted nothing more than the same, to be safe at home. Unfortunately, many never made it back, but their yearnings for a safe return were expressed everywhere, as the nose painting on this plane illustrates. The nine members of a bomber crew pose before their home in the air, expressing triumph and ease after completing twenty-five successful bombing runs. The Army Air Force had originally set the maximum number of missions a bomber crew could emotionally endure at twenty, later pushing that number back as the war continued. That this crew successfully carried out twenty-five missions is a bit of a miracle.
Baby Ruth Brand
Many Americans erroneously believe that the Baby Ruth brand of candy bar was named after the Sultan of Swat. The original baby Ruth was the daughter of President Grover Cleveland. The candy’s maker claims that when the confection was first marketed in 1921, the name of Babe Ruth was in ascendance, so the confusion as to the origin of the name is understandable. During the war, nothing said “America” more than Babe Ruth, chocolate, Lucky Strikes and Brooklynese. The inset photo is a confabulation—Ruth Cleveland died in 1904. For four decades an illuminated sign advertising Baby Ruth candy bars loomed over the bleachers in Wrigley Field, at the approximate site where the Babe’s famous 1932 World Series “called shot” landed.
Capt. Ted Williams Brand (Baseball Reliquary collection)
World War II seriously depleted the game’s talent pool, as such stars as Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio left for military service. Some did little more than play baseball for the entertainment of enlisted men, but others, like The Splendid Splinter, saw combat duty. Williams served as a bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater during WWII and later in Korea, one of very few players to serve in both conflicts. This painting celebrates his heroics both on the field and in the air: the San Diego native was the last player to hit .400 or better in The Show.
Nam Ball Brand
Roy Gleason is the only Vietnam combat veteran and former Major League Baseball player to receive special Congressional recognition for being awarded a Purple Heart, a World Series ring, and for holding a perfect 1.000 major league batting average. Gleason (b. 1943) appeared in eight games for the 1963 Dodgers, primarily as a pinch-runner. He hit a double in his only at-bat, resulting in the perfect average. He also received a coveted World Series ring after the Dodgers dispatched the Yankees in ’63, but it was lost in Vietnam. Drafted in 1967, Gleason was wounded in action during the conflict. He played again for the Dodgers’ farm system after the war, but injuries sustained in combat put an end to his comeback. Many ballplayers during the Vietnam Era chose service in local National Guard units to skirt the draft. And while other Major League Baseball players served in Vietnam, Gleason was the only one to engage in combat.
Korean Aces Brand
Playing on the duel meanings of ace as a hot-shot pilot and a top-notch pitcher, the artist presents two of each in this painting. At top left is Chan Ho Park, the first South Korean-born player in Major League Baseball history. The pitcher starred for several teams after debuting with the Dodgers in 1994, amassing more wins than any other Asian-born pitcher in history. The pitcher at bottom right is Hyun-jin Ryu, a contemporary South Korean southpaw with the Dodgers who posted a nifty 28‒15 record over his first two big league seasons. The other aces here are Major Freddie J. Chen (top right), a World War II Army Air Force pilot who racked up six victories, one more than required for the designation of ace; and Colonel Jeff Hwang (bottom left), a Korean American who was credited with knocking out two MiG-29s in combat missions for NATO forces during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.