American tradition has long been defined by baseball. And while baseball is the theme on this priceless keepsake, additional elements and patriotic mores (some of them sadly, never to return) combine to trump perhaps any other memento from the World War II era. This 1939 “National Amateur Baseball Tournament” mini-bat autographed by (16) contemporary icons. Upon examining (14) of the signatures, it’s readily apparent that the bat was signed at a Detroit Tigers vs. Washington Senators contest at Griffith Stadium. Black-ink signatures maintain (“8”) potency on the average and are headlined by: Averill, Gehringer, Griffith, Harris and the sparingly seen penning of Elmer Gedeon (d.1944) who was one of only two Major League players to be killed during World War II. Full photo LOA from JSA. More on our website.
The vintage souvenir measures 17-7/8” and features the experimental “cork grip” handle introduced during the 1910s. Vintage lumber components don’t stop there, however, as the “Hanna Batrite” center brand was the proud proclamation of the Athens, Georgia upstart plant whose clients included none other than Lou Gehrig. The barrel stampings read: “NATIONAL AMATUEUR BASEBALL TOURNAMENT WASHINGTON, D.C. SEPT 9-16 1939.” An accompanying photocopy of a recap from the September 18, 1939 New York Times reveals that the "Detroit Nine" capped off an unbeaten run with a 14-12 triumph in the previous day's title game as Clarence Fuller, a mail carrier by trade, earned the mound decision. As for amateur baseball that year, the time-honored "Little League" institution was introduced. The irony of Hanna Batrite’s and amateur baseball’s “coming out” is that they coincided with Gehrig’s tragic diagnosis and premature end to his selfless career.
As for the signatures, they have been rendered on a wooden surface that remains remarkably clean, with no restoration of any kind. In regard to the aforementioned dates listed on the mini-bat, that week (Sept. 9-16, 1939) marked a mere formality for the New York Yankees, who had long-since clinched an unprecedented fourth straight pennant. American League also-rans Detroit and Washington, meanwhile, were wrapping up their respective campaigns. As play ended on September 16, the Tigers found themselves in 5th place, 26-1/2 games off the pace. The Senators, meanwhile, were in 6th, a full 38 games back. The two squads met in the Nation’s Capital for a two-game series on September 17 and 18. It is with high probability that the signatures on this bat were gathered at Griffith Stadium during that brief series. Executed in black-ink steel tip fountain pen, the scriptings include: Pete Appleton (“7-8” strength); Earl Averill (“5-6” strength); Beau Bell ("5-6" strength); Elmer Gedeon (d.1944; “9” strength), Chas Gehringer (“7-8” strength); Angelo Giuliani (“8” strength); Clark Griffith (Senators owner; “5-6” strength); Bucky Harris (“7” strength); Pinky Higgins (“8” strength), Archie McKain (“6” strength); Bobo Newsome (signed “Buck Newsome”; “7-8” strength, d.1962); Al Pitko (“7-8” strength); Johnny Stone (d.1955; “8-9” strength); and Mickey Vernon ("8" strength). While Stone had played his final Major League game in 1938, it’s possible that he was summoned by the Senators for the waning stages of the 1939 season and simply never got into a game. Two signatures of unknown origin include: Charlie Boyer and an unidentified scripting (first name “Johnny”).
Of note, of course, is the signature of Gedeon. A late-season call-up by the Senators, the 22-year-old center fielder made his Major League debut on September 18, 1939 (in the second game of the above-mentioned Tigers/Senators series during which these signatures were likely collected). Gedeon would only play in five Major League contests (all during a one-week span in 1939). He played the entire 1940 season with the Piedmont League’s Charlotte Hornets. He was called up by the Senators again in 1940, but did not appear in any games. After enlisting in the military in January, 1941, Gedeon saw combat duty in World War II and was ultimately killed in an airplane bombing missing in Saint-Pol, France on April 20, 1944. So as he endorsed this incredible heirloom, his bright future lie ahead on an endless horizon, only to have it all snuffed out in answering the call of duty and honor: an endeavor which so many Americans will never come to embrace and appreciate. His fleeting autograph is one of three exemplars known to JSA.