Researching a WWII Army Baseball Team: 75th…What?


Dead end after dead end…Researching photographs that are scant in details poses challenges that amount to insurmountable barriers – no, these are chasms that I cannot bridge.

I have passion for vintage baseball photography and images produced by George Grantham Bain (see his Library of Congress images on Flickr or his LoC section), Charles M. Conlon and Barney Stein are some of the most iconic photographs taken in the first half of the 20th Century. The photographs by these men document the Golden Age of the game and, for some of the early players, are the only visual glimpses into their days on the diamond. These three photographers (there were plenty of other photogs around the country) are responsible for thousands upon thousands of photographs of nearly every player that took donned a major league uniform. The photographic coverage of the game massively expanded as photographic technology (cameras, film, processing) advanced.

One of my vintage, original baseball images shows WWII combat Marine veteran, Gil Hodges (of the Brooklyn Dodgers) tagging out Alvin Dark of the NY Giants as he attempts to get back to the bag at first base. This is an original Barney Stein photo.

While there is generally no shortage of beautiful images of the game at the major league level and while fewer images exist of minor leaguers and their games, it is the military game and players that are severely limited. One can certainly argue that during the times of war (WWI and WWII), the focus of coverage laid with the lens turned towards the battlefield, the people fighting in the conflicts and the support areas and personnel. By contrast, little attention was afforded to the rest, relaxation and morale-boosting activities that took place in the rear. Combat photographers and correspondents may have covered the occasional service team game but for the most part, the images that exist of military baseball games are predominantly the results of GIs taking snapshots of their units’ participation.

My collection has steadily grown over the years and yet I have been rather selective in the images that I have brought home. In particular, I pay attention to the quality of the image – subject matter, composition, clarity and exposure along with how well the image has been preserved. I am not opposed to buying an image that may be in poor condition or suffering from improper exposure (I have managed to salvage a few with some work using high resolution scans and editing within Photoshop). In the years that I have been working with these images, I have developed an eye for salvage-potential and typically shy away from images that are unworkable. My more recent acquisitions were the result of significantly more pre-purchase scrutiny than was used when I started buying vintage military baseball photos.

The players from the 75th gathered in an army encampment.

When I discovered an auction listing for a group of six snapshots of baseball players wearing their game uniforms, posing together around army tents, I had to submit a bid and hope for the best. For a minimal investment of a few dollars, these photos (obviously broken apart from a now-deceased GI’s photo album) found a home among my growing collection of similar images. Other than the army tents and one photograph in the group showing some of the players in the back of a deuce-and-a-half (a 2-1/2 ton truck), the only other element that might provide me with a research pathway are the uniforms worn by the players. Visible on most of the photos are the digits “75” located on the jersey fronts (right chest) which, in my opinion, indicate the military unit these players where assigned to.

Unfortunately, the numerals are not unique and do not allow my research to narrow down the field of potential commands that were in service during WWII:

US Army

  • 75th Infantry Division (1943-1945)
    • 75th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop
    • 75th Quartermaster Company
    • Headquarters, Special Troops, 75th Infantry Division
    • 75th Counterintelligence Corps Detachment

US Army Air Force

Ralph McLeod (source: Baseball Reference)

Some cursory research led me to Ralph McLeod, a Quincy, Massachusetts native who, in 1938 had a six-game cup of coffee with the hometown National League team, the Boston Braves. His professional career lasted from 1936 to finishing at the end of the 1940 season with a few stops at the highest levels of the minors. In February of 1941, instead of heading to spring training, he was drafted into the Army for a year of service which, after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor meant that his ball-playing career was put on hold for the duration of The War.

McLeod was assigned to the 75th Infantry Regiment after it was formed in 1943, heading to the European Theater with his unit late in 1944. McLeod’s first taste of real action came during German offensive that would come to be known as “The Battle of the Bulge” that began on Christmas Eve. After the Allies stymied the Germans in the Ardennes, the 75th saw action throughout Europe, connecting with “the French in the Colmar area,” according to McLeod in a 1995 interview (SABR.org). “Then we joined the British up in Holland. We got bounced around to different places. We ended up in Dortmund, Germany. We saw a lot of action. I lost a lot of good friends,” McLeod concluded.  Following the German surrender, McLeod donned flannels and “played baseball all over Europe. Not many of the guys played in the majors but there were a lot of guys who had played professionally in the minors. But I had missed almost four years of not touching a baseball. I remember playing a game against Blackwell, the old Cincinnati pitcher. He blew them by me so fast I couldn’t see them. That game was in France, just outside Paris. I think he was in the Air Corps. He made me look foolish.” I wondered if McLeod was among the men in my photos.

These four from the 75th are geared up and ready for the game.

I inconclusively compared the lone photo of Ralph McLeod to the faces in my photos, though one of the ball players bore some resemblance. With this uncertainty, I have nothing left to do but to shelf my research and simply be content with maintaining the photos within my photo archive.

Without anything significant (at least to my eyes) being revealed within the photographs, I am unable to narrow down which unit is represented by the “75” on the uniform jerseys of the ball players in these photos. As I do with researching artifacts within my collection, discontinuing my research at present could have positive results (which is what happened with this naval aviation cigarette box) and allow time for other information to surface or for knowledgeable people to discover this post and images and offer their expertise.

For now, I wait and simply enjoy the photos. Dead end, indeed.

About VetCollector

I have been blogging about Militaria since 2010 when I was hired to write for the A&E/History Channel-funded Collectors Quest (CQ) site. It was strange for me to have been asked as I was not, by any means, an expert on militaria nor had I ever written on a recurring basis beyond my scholastic newspaper experience (many MANY decades ago). After nearly two years, CQ was shut down and I discovered that I was enjoying the work and I had learned a lot about my subject matter over that period of time. I served for a decade in the U.S. Navy and descend from a long line of veterans who helped to forge this nation from its infancy all the way through all of the major conflicts to present day and have done so in every branch of the armed forces (except the USMC). I began to take an interest in militaria when I inherited uniforms, uniform items, decorations from my relatives. I also inherited some militaria of the vanquished of WWII that my relatives brought home, furthering my interest. Before my love of militaria, I was interested in baseball history. Beyond vintage baseball cards (early 1970s and back) and some assorted game-used items and autographs, I had a nominal collecting focus until I connected my militaria collecting with baseball. Since then, I have been selectively growing in each area and these two blogs are the result, Chevrons and Diamonds (https://chevronsanddiamonds.wordpress.com/) The Veterans Collection (https://veteranscollection.org/)

Posted on February 5, 2018, in My Collection, Vintage Baseball Photos, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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