This column is about three pinbacks of the Boston Red Sox. All are 1.75″. They are from the late 1940s or early 1950s. All three have the same inscription: “Boston Red Sox” on top and “American League” on the bottom. Two of the pins present a group photo of players, while the third just lists names. I often say many baseball pinback buttons are of uncertain origin. These three pins are among the best exemplars of baseball pins whose uncertainty produces frustration in trying to ascertain their meaning.
The Boston Red Sox hosted the 1946 All-Star game. I believe all three pins refer to players on the Red Sox who were named to the American League All-Star team in subsequent years. But that interpretation is both speculative and incomplete, as will be revealed.
I begin with the “names only” pin. The pin lists the first and last name of four players: “Walt Dropo, Vern Stevens, Dom DiMaggio, (and) Johnny Pesky.” Dropo appeared in one All-Star game, in 1950. As such, one might conclude this is an easy pin to identify. Not so. First, “Stevens” is a misspelling of “Stephens.” Second, Pesky was not named to the 1950 All-Star team. Third, while Dropo, DiMaggio, and Stephens were on the 1950 All-Star team, so too were Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams. The omission of these two players, especially perennial All-Star Williams (a starter), is most baffling.
The confusion does not abate with the picture pins. The first shows three players. Even with magnification, I cannot definitively establish the identity of the third player. Pictured are Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and a third player. In no year did only three Red Sox get named to the American League All-Star team in the four years adjacent to 1950. Here are the number of Red Sox players who made the All-Star team in those years: 1946 (8), 1947 (2), 1948 (5), 1949 (6), 1951 (5), 1952 (2), 1953 (3), and 1954 (2). Williams and Doerr both made the All-Star team in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, and 1951. The third player excludes 1947, and the “names only” pin presumably excludes 1950. My best guess is this pin is from 1948, and the third player (from the All-Star roster) is either Stephens, Pat Dobson, or Birdie Tebbets.
The third pin shows four players. The player to the far right is not holding a bat, suggesting a pitcher. Mel Parnell made the All-Star team in 1949 and 1951. Because Doerr did not make the All-Star team in 1949, 1951 becomes the more likely year for this pin. In 1951 five Red Sox made the All-Star team. Besides Doerr, Parnell, and Williams, the fourth player would be either DiMaggio or Stephens.
So maybe these three pins are from 1948, 1950, and 1951. Perhaps there is an undiscovered pin from 1949. The connection to the All-Star team is based on the players named and pictured, plus the inscription “American League” on the pins. A pin that identifies a league is usually limited to World Series and All-Star games. However, perhaps my reasoning is off-base. None of the three pins make any reference to All-Star game participants. Maybe these pins are of Red Sox players who were just having good years. Dropo was named to the 1950 All-Star team (his only All-Star year), and Pesky was named to the 1946 All-Star team (his only All-Star year). Yet both names appear on the “names only” pin. In addition to misspelling “Stephens” and omitting Williams, perhaps the pinmaker confused Pesky with Doerr. That is quite an interpretive stretch, in my opinion. If we abandon the All-Star team connection to these pins, we are left with a less confusing but also less comforting explanation of their origin.
Next Up: Some Intriguing PM10 Pinbacks