In the spring of 1992 we PCS’d (Army speak for Permanent Change of Station) or moved from Ft. Campbell, KY to Ft. Huachuca, AZ. While there, my son and I discovered Mark Okkonen’s magnificent and wonderful book “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century.” Jacob and I checked it out of the library on numerous occasions until we finally bought our own copy (still much beloved and dog eared). One of the things we did with Okkonen’s book was to go back and forth about what we thought were the “coolest uniforms”. While we both had our favorites, we did find common ground in the “War Years” offerings. For both of us, the thing that caught our eye and favor were the patches.
From about 1998-2001, I built an initial data base of uniforms that had come to auction over the years. I did this so that I could begin to study them using information that would allow me to conduct rudimentary trend analysis. This was done in an Excel spreadsheet with entries for:
-Home or Road
-Source (Auction House/or Private Collection)
By 2001, that data base contained just over 1200 flannels. What I noticed then was that the “War Year’s” uniforms appeared to be in pretty short supply.
Uniform Examples by Year (pre-MEARS spreadsheet):
(*additional 6 jerseys dated to 1942-45 by War Years patches only)
(The current MEARS jersey census for this time frame you show the same trend with respect to scarcity)
Since jerseys from this time frame are highly sought after by collectors, I was curious as to why they hadn’t shown up in the same degree of frequency as jerseys from either before or after the 1942-1945 timeframe. At first blush, I thought of two reasons:
1. They are highly prized and folks just don’t want to part with them.
2. They exist in fewer numbers.
As I recently looked back over this initial data base, I noticed that many of the jerseys I saw and cataloged well over a decade ago have moved throughout the hobby in subsequent auctions. In fact, some of these jerseys sold on more than one occasion so folks aren’t hording them. The other thing I noticed is that while a few additional jerseys were added to the mix, the overall numbers with respect to those from the period of 1942-1945 remained lower than those from either before or after. This led me to begin to think these numbers or scarcity may be due to the fact that the actual supply or availability of these jerseys is in fact lower to begin with.
If these jerseys don’t exist today in the same number as those from before or after 1942-1945, then you have to consider two things:
-Initial Production Numbers
-External Survivability Factors
Let’s consider some factors that may have had an impact on the initial production numbers.
MLB Attendance Figures by Year:
All Star Game Attendance by Year vs Seating Capacity:
1940: 32,373 (Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis-30,611) 105%
1941: 54,674 (Briggs Stadium, Detroit-54,000) 101%
1942: 34,178 (Polo Grounds, New York-54,555) 66%
1943: 31,938 (Shibe Park, Philadelphia-33,000) 97%
1944: 29,589 (Forbes Field, Pittsburgh-35,000) 84%
1945: No Game: The 1945 All Star Game was cancelled by Major League Baseball as part of their self-imposed travel curtailment in support of priority travel for war related transportation requirements. Contemporary newspaper accounts began to lay all the cancellation of the 1945 All Star Game as early as February of 1945. Although by July of 1945 the Allies had already liberated Rome and where closing in on Paris, much was still unknown about the future of the conflict as the 1945 season got under way.
1946: 34,906 (Fenway Park, Boston-33,817) 103%
1947: 41,123 (Wrigley Field, Chicago-33,396) 123%
Note: Both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have increased seating capacity since these dates/numbers offered.
According to “The Commercialization of Sport” by Trevor Slack, during World War II, some 65 raw materials used to manufacturer various sporting goods products came under the control of the War Production Board. I also found one internet site that features information on various sporting goods companies had this to say about Wilson Sporting Goods. “The war effort seriously affected Wilson’s manufacture of athletic equipment and uniforms, since almost all of the company’s production facilities were retooled to make war material such as duffel bags, tents, and helmets to be used by American soldiers fighting overseas”.
With this in mind, consider the impact on major league baseball uniforms when wool and cotton became controlled commodities. Furthermore, commodities that the priority went to manufacturers that were consuming them in direct support of war effort.
What all of this suggests to me is that owners were making less money and production/purchasing of uniforms may have been curtailed by external factors as well. This also suggests clubs may have ordered fewer uniforms and or made extended use of the ones they had. Combined, this might help to account for fewer surviving examples as compared to what we begin to see in 1946 and 1947.
What is also interesting to note is what was done with major/minor league uniforms during the “War Years” themselves:
25 February 1943: Minor league teams were asked to donate old uniforms for use by servicemen as seen in an article published in the Tucson Daily Citizen. What I can help but ponder is that if is those clubs had obtained uniforms from a parent big league club, then those donations would also have had an negative impact on the availability/survivability of major league uniforms from the period as well.
9 May 1943: Cincinnati Reds print a thank you letter from LT. J.M. Crowley from the U.S. Naval Air Station, Glenview Illinois thanking them for the 12 uniforms that arrived on April 30th. LT. Crowley went to say that “our boys, two of whom ever played professional baseball, got a big kick out of looking over uniforms worn in the 1940 World Series by such world champions as Walters, McCormick, Frey, Derringer, etc…”
1 July 1945: The Ogden Standard-Examiner ran a story providing some insights into the demand and volume of sporting goods and baseball related materials being consumed by the war effort. A snapshot of the annual requirements included 1,000,000 baseballs and 15,000 baseball uniforms.
When trying to wrap your head around what 15,000 baseball uniforms a year really means, consider that between 1942 and 1945 there were only 16 major league teams. Figure in a notional requirement for say 120 uniforms per club per year (30 players/coaches per team; 2 home and 2 road uniforms) and you still only come up with 1,920 uniforms per year for major league baseball. Baseball Reference.com provides data on the number, location, and affiliation of minor league teams from the period of 1942-1945. The approximate number of minor league affiliates per season during this period were:
If you apply the same metric for uniform ordering for each of these minor league teams each year and then add them to the major league total (Teams x 120 uniforms per team):
1942: 13,440 + 1,920 = 15,360 annual uniform requirement for professional baseball
1943: 5,520+ 1,920 = 7,440 annual uniform requirement for professional baseball
1944: 7,080 + 1,920 = 9,000 annual uniform requirement for professional baseball
1945: 8,160 + 1,920 = 10,080 annual uniform requirement for professional baseball
Bottom line is that the number and priority for uniforms for professional baseball did not even begin to rival on an annual basis the requirement of those supporting the war effort. The other thing you have to realize is that even at 15,000 uniforms per year, this would not begin to have come close to putting a uniform on every service member (roughly 9-10 million folks would have been serving at some point time during this period). Why does this matter? You have a lot of folks trying to get a lot a use out of a comparatively few uniforms and this effects likely survivability.
So what does all of this suggest to me when looked at in some sort of combined context? I offer that it is very possible that the reason why uniforms from the period of 1942-1945 show up (or don’t show up) in the numbers they do may be a function of fewer being made for professional baseball to begin with. Additionally, the ones that were produced may have been consumed through extended use and wear and thus have not survived today.
For the collector, this means that if you’re looking for uniforms from this time frame to add to your collection, you may want to buy what comes up when it does since your options are likely to be limited to begin with as a function surviving examples to choose from. Far too often I find uniform collectors getting caught up in “the grade of the jersey.” I find this particularly disheartening as their attention is almost exclusively focused on the grade and not the work done to establish an opinion as to the actual authenticity. What further frustrates me is the fact that they don’t realize the population of actual authentic vintage uniforms has in fact declined in recent years as a result of detailed and objective work.
In other words, the jersey they had graded as an A4 a few years back may in fact be worth more today since other comparable jerseys that folks thought would have “graded out” at a higher level have been shown to be fakes or ones with objective authenticity issues. Folks it’s as simple as supply and demand. As a collector myself, I prioritize my purchases along these lines:
-Objective authenticity (Is it what I think it is and why).
-Do I want it (Desirability as it fits my collecting goals).
-Do I need to buy it now (Scarcity/Rarity).
But then again, that’s just me. As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect…and I for one enjoy those “War Years” uniforms.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments about this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.