Blog Archives

His Best Baseball Seasons While Serving: Bobby Hornig’s Unrealized Potential as a Pro

Researching local service team baseball history is a task that has been put off for years with the justification that it should be relatively easy to draw upon area sources and institutions in such an effort.  With much of our research work being focused upon baseball in wartime combat theaters such as Europe and the Pacific along with the more well-known domestic service teams, our local area has been an afterthought, save for a few pieces researched and published in recent months

As our research continues for several projects surrounding a handful of artifacts, we continue to make new discoveries. The discovery of one treasure seems to lead to others.

While researching our piece detailing Lefty Chambers, Tony Saso and Bill Brenner, another player’s name was continually surfacing. After several occasions of viewing the name Bobby Hornig, we were prompted to perform a cursory check on the player’s profile (on Baseball Reference), which revealed that he was a local product and played for regional ball clubs. Shortly after the publication of the Chambers, Saso and Brenner article, Hornig’s name surfaced again during a vintage photo search. This time there was a face to go with his name. Without much thought, we made arrangements to acquire the photo of Bobby Hornig, thinking that the player was captured during his time as pro ball player. It wasn’t until the photo arrived that we saw the service team details in the image.  Other than the snippets we had discovered, we had no knowledge of who Hornig was as a man or as a baseball player.

Bobby Hornig, formerly of the Tacoma Tigers, Spokane Hawks/Indians and Salem Senators of the Western International League, August 3, 1942 (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

In the Seattle Times’ May 19, 2003 article, “Bob Hornig, local baseball-outfield star, dies at 87,” reporter Emily Heffter described Hornig as an All-City baseball star while attending Seattle’s Queen Anne High School. The Tacoma, Washington-born Hornig graduated in 1935, turning down a college scholarship to remain close to his (then) girlfriend, Ruth Totten.  Prior to his 21st birthday, Hornig signed his first professional baseball contract with the class “B” Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League (WIL) in March of 1937, playing with the club for manager Hollis “Sloppy” Thurston until June of that season when he was released. The speedy, hard-hitting outfielder was promptly signed by the cross-state rival Spokane Hawks, where he starred in the outfield and was among the league’s top hitters. Heffter’s piece regarding Hornig mentioned some of the newspaper accolades during his time with the Hawks, calling him the “speedburner with lots of class.”

Fascinated by the glowing review of Hornig’s play in the minor leagues, questions began to arise as to why he never progressed during his brief career (1937-1941) that was played entirely in the WIL. With several articles published during his career documenting his batting and fielding as being among the league’s best, Hornig seemed to be primed to move upwards in the game, if not to the major leagues, then at least to the upper minor leagues. Injuries have always been a part of the game and Hornig suffered what appears to be more than a normal number of them, though they didn’t seem to slow him down once he was back on the diamond. Instead of a series of injuries, another trend appeared to emerge in his professional career that, at least on the surface, contributed to the abrupt end of it.

Almost from the beginning of his tenure with Spokane in 1937, Hornig gave his manager cause to discipline him. Having signed with the team on June 16, just a week later manager Bernie DeViveiros suspended Hornig for going AWOL when the youngster left the team to spend time with his parents in Seattle. Following reinstatement, Hornig was on track and among the top hitters in the league and by late August, he was batting .297 (in 90 games with 392 plate appearances).

Bobby Hornig was spotlighted in the June 26, 1943 edition of the Spokane Chronicle (clipping, Newspapers.com)

On September 13, 1937, the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks visited Spokane for their last game of the season. The roster of the Yankee affiliate was filled with past and future major leaguers along with stars of the Coast League such as Walter Judnich, Dario Lodigiani, Pinky May, Hal Haid and Billy Raimondi. On the mound for the Hawks was Leo Fitter. whose spotty career spanned 13 seasons (1926-1938) but who had only six professional years to his credit. Fitter was opposed by 21-year-old Nick Radunich, who was just getting his career started. Hornig got the offense started in the bottom of the first inning, reaching base on an error and then using his speed to score from first on single by Joe Abreu, putting the Hawks on top by a run. In the third, Oakland plated three runs, putting the Hawks down by two. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Hornig knocked a double off Radunich and was driven in on a single by Frank Volpi. The Oaks won the game, 3-2, but Hornig accounted for all of the Hawks’ runs while facing a much more experienced and talented team. Despite the way his season commenced with Spokane in 1937, his showing against the league was punctuated by his performance against the Oaks at the close of it.

The 1938 season should have been a year of moving upward for Hornig and apparently he saw his 1937 success as grounds for an increase in salary with Spokane. Rather than signing his contract after the new year began, he returned it without a signature and demanded higher compensation. His contract holdout lasted into April but he did report to camp with acceptable contract terms. Hornig’s season did not start well. He struggled at the plate and saw some defensive woes that included a May 10 three-error game. On June 6, he suffered a broken bone in his ankle that sidelined him through the end of August. Along with being out of the line-up due to an injury, Hornig was again suspended by DeViveiros for an undisclosed infraction. Just as the 1938 season was winding down, Hornig returned to the lineup on August 31, though too late to help Spokane climb in the standings.

Troubles continued to follow Bobby Hornig in 1939. At spring training in Anaheim, California, progressed, Hornig was experiencing difficulties with the ankle that he had injured in June of the previous season. His speed in the outfield and on the base paths escaped him and manager DeViveiros ordered him to take it easy , sending him back to Spokane for rest. During an April pre-season game against Washington State College, Hornig injured one of his big toes. Despite his physical challenges, Hornig’s bat returned to form and he found his .290 batting average ranked fourth on the Spokane roster behind Dwight Aden (.386), Theodore Clawitter (.333) and Levi McCormack (.304). Hornig was also leading the WIL in sacrifices (14) and was ranked third with stolen bases (21) by the last week of July.

In June, Hornig married his high school sweetheart, Ruth H. Totten, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. According to the 2003 Seattle Times article, Hornig’s future bride resided across the street from a ball field in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.  Ruth would walk her dog through the park “trying to get noticed” by the boys (including Hornig) playing baseball. Bobby did notice her and they dated throughout high school.

In her article, Times reporter Emily Heffter quotes Hornig’s widow, Ruth, as she commented about her husband’s baseball career. “He could have made it in the ‘big leagues,’” Ruth Hornig said, but “romance interfered with him, I think.” Perhaps his romantic life was behind some of his challenges in baseball. Just a few weeks after his wedding, Hornig was again suspended by Spokane and removed from the team’s roster entirely. In need of consistency, new manager Eddie Leishman (DeViveiros was fired on July 3 due to developing friction with the team’s business manager), recently promoted from the class “C” Twin Falls Cowboys (Pioneer League), called up 37-year-old former major league veteran Wes “Two Gun” Schulmerich, who was previously playing for him at Twin Falls. According to articles in the Spokane Spokesman Review between July 27-29, Hornig was refusing his assignment and faced being declared ineligible to play professional baseball that season. Three days after suspending Hornig, Spokane owner Bill Ulrich delivered an ultimatum, directing the outfielder to report to Twin Falls in seven days. Ulrich guaranteed the player’s salary at Twin Falls, stating that despite the Pioneer League rules limiting pay, he would provide Hornig with a bonus to make up the difference. Ulrich also offered Hornig a chance to work his way back to the Hawks’ roster. Hornig was instead hoping to obtain his release from the club in an attempt to sign with another Western International League team and did not comply with the reassignment.

Out of baseball since late July, 1939, and without a 1940 season contract, Hornig remained the property of the Spokane Hawks due to baseball’s Reserve Clause and in mid-February sought a return to the game. He sent a letter to the club requesting reinstatement. Hornig’s exit from the game seemingly burned bridges with the team’s field manager, Leishman, who criticized the fallen outfielder as being more interested in his paycheck than the game itself. Such a trait was directly at odds with Leishman’s managerial style. On March 23, Spokane began shopping Hornig following the player’s month-long contract holdout.  The outfielder dispatched a letter to the club requesting a salary increase or his release, despite being reinstated by Spokane in February at his request. Branded a “problem child” by the Spokane Chronicle, the Hawks unsuccessfully shopped Hornig to other Western International League clubs, prompting Hornig to apply for voluntary retirement.  In Hornig’s letter to the club he stated that he was considering giving up baseball in favor of a job in Seattle that would provide a better income than he was getting playing the game. His 1940 season was finished before it ever got started and at this point, his baseball career appeared to have ended.

Despite his injuries and disciplinary challenges, the 24-year-old outfielder still had a lot of baseball left in him. Ahead of the 1941 season’s spring training, Hornig again sent a mid-February letter to the Spokane Hawks team and to Judge William G. Branham, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, seeking reinstatement. Spokane was required to tender a professional baseball contract following reinstatement but they had no plans beyond evaluating Hornig’s viability for the 1941 season. With the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 affecting baseball clubs at all levels, the Hawks, like all other clubs, were in need of players. The Hawks’ management determined that if Hornig was not a good fit for Spokane, he could have value to other Western International League clubs. Instead of accepting the terms of his contract, Hornig infuriated team management with another holdout. Spokane eventually found a taker in the league and dealt Hornig to the Salem (Oregon) Senators. Having appeared in only four games for Salem since his trade, Hornig was granted his outright release.  His professional baseball career was over.

The Pacific Coast League featured talent drawn from the sandlots, high schools, colleges and semi-professional teams within the neighborhoods surrounding each franchise. With the popularity of the hometown Seattle Rainiers (a founding club of the league) and the game itself, it is no wonder that the region incubated some of the best talent, such as Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Charley Schanz, Mike Budnick, Don White, Levi McCormack and Edo Vanni all of whom saw time in the Coast League. Lower minor leagues such as the Western International and Pioneer leagues farmed talent almost exclusively from their own backyards. During his time as a professional, Hornig played alongside or against some of these men. After December 7, 1941, baseball changed and Hornig’s baseball fortunes were about to change.

After being released by Salem, Hornig went to work operating a printing press for Tacoma-based Pioneer, Inc. and supported his wife. Hornig was working not too far from where his baseball career began with the Tacoma Tigers. His post-season occupation in 1941 became his post-baseball occupation. With the U.S. drawn into the war with Japan and Germany, there was no doubt that Hornig would be called to duty at some point, having registered for the draft in October of 1940. Rather than making another attempt at a baseball career, Hornig instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 18, 1942, as a Seaman 1/c in the V-6 program (Naval Reserve) and was assigned to Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point.

In addition to NAS Seattle/Pasco’s Edo Vanni, the 1941 Seattle Rainiers squad had several players who served during the War. Shown are (front row, left to right): Al Niemic, Ned Stickle, Edo Vanni, Jo-Jo White, Bill Skiff (manger), Taylor, Lynn King, Dick Barrett, Spence Harris. Middle row: Richards (trainer), Charles Fallon, Hal Turpin, George Farrell, Earl Averill, Les Scarsella, Ed Cole, Lloyd Brown, Bill Matheson. Back row: Paul Gregory, Boze Berger, Costello, Dewey Soriano, Bill Lawrence, Les Webber, Bob Collins, Ira Scribner, Syl Johnson. Seated:  Jimmy Arcorace, bat boy (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

It was known that former major league great and manager of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane, was known for reaching out to his fellow major leaguers to recruit them for wartime naval service and the potential to play for his team. Perhaps this happened in Seattle as former Rainier star Edo Vanni was designated as the manager or the Naval Air Station (NAS) Seattle “Flyers” baseball team in early 1942. Vanni enlisted on February 11, 1942, as a seaman first class and was attached to the U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base command at Naval Air Station Seattle (located at Sand Point). In a similar fashion to Mickey Cochrane at Great Lakes, Vanni began building a baseball team of former professionals who enlisted in the local Puget Sound region. With players from the Pacific Coast League (Hollywood, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle), Western International League (Lewiston, Spokane, and Tacoma) and from Augusta, Mobile, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Tucson, Tulsa and Winston-Salem, a former professional baseball player filled all but one NAS Seattle Flyer roster spot. One of Vanni’s Flyer outfielders was “Chief” Levi McCormack, his former teammate with the 1938 Seattle Rainiers. McCormack had also been in the Spokane Hawks’ outfield with Hornig, and thus he might have   been a factor in Hornig landing a roster spot. Two years his junior, Vanni most likely remembered Hornig from their time together at Queen Anne High School.

1942 Naval Air Station Seattle/Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Bob Alf (NWL)
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
S1/c Francis J. Bellows SS Spokane (WIL)
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar 1B/OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig OF Spokane (WIL)
Paul Irvin LHP Portland (PCL)
Bob Kahle 3B Hollywood (PCL)
Henry Martinez 3B/2B Portland (PCL)
S1/c “Chief” Levi McCormack OF/P Spokane (WIL)
Elmer “Ole” Olsen OF Bakersfield (CALL)
Ens. Kenneth Peters Coach/2B Mobile (SL)
Stan Riedle C Lewiston (WIL)
Barney Saffle Semi-Pro
Rube Sandstrom P Tacoma (WIL)
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone OF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Joe Spadafore 1B Tacoma (WIL)
Harvey Storey OF Tulsa (TL)
S1/c Edo Vanni Mgr/ OF/P Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF San Francisco (PCL)
Al Wright 2B Portland (PCL)

With the 1942 season well underway for the Northwest Region, NAS Seattle began to emerge as the league leader. The Flyers dominated the competition by breaking out with a 25-game win streak. It cemented them for the post-season by placing them out in front as the team to beat.  Not only did the Flyers face service teams such as Coast Guard Repair Yard Seattle, Fort Lewis Warriors and McChord Bombers, they matched up against professional clubs such as the Tacoma Tigers and Spokane Chiefs (WIL) and the San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers (PCL). On Sunday, July 12, the Flyers’ 25-game win streak was halted when they were downed 7-6 by the hometown Seattle Rainiers, who were on their way to securing their third consecutive Pacific Coast League crown. No doubt seeking to outperform his former team, NAS Seattle Flyers’ manager Edo Vanni, a member of the Rainiers championship clubs in 1940 and ’41, was managing from the visitor’s dugout. Vanni was joined by “Chief” Levi McCormack, who began his professional career with the Seattle club in 1936 when they were still named “Indians.” McCormack’s moniker, which today would seem to be derogatory, was truly fitting considering the former Washington State Cougar player was actually Nez Perce Indian royalty:

You ball fans have become accustomed to calling Levi, “Chief” McCormick,” said Abel Grant, uncle of the ball star, yesterday. “While you are referring to him with that title, you fans don’t know how true the appellation is. Levi is my nephew, a son of my sister. His father is a direct descendant of Chief Timothy of the Nez Perces, one of the best friends of the early white settlers. On his mother’s side he is a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, in fact Levi is a member of the fourth generation descended from the old chief. He goes to the Coast league with our best wishes.” – Lewiston Morning Tribune, Monday, July 20, 1936

The Flyers were in control of the 1942 season with pitching and offense.  Through July, the Flyers team batting average was .406, led by outfielder Edo Vanni (.516) first baseman Danny Escobar (.482), second baseman Mel Cole (.470), catcher Steve Ananicz (.435), outfielders Bobby Hornig (.425) Levi McCormack (.425), shortstop Francis Bellows (.410), and third baseman Don White (.406).

In early August, the Navy packed up and relocated the entire Naval Air Station Seattle Flyers squad 220 miles southeast to the small town of Pasco, Washington, to be based at the newly commissioned Naval Air Station situated at the Pasco Airport (known today as the Tri-Cities Airport). The move and added travel distance to away games on the west side of the Cascades didn’t diminish their abilities. Later that month, the Seattle Rainiers hosted the Flyers for a fund-raising exhibition game to outfit the sailors with athletic equipment at their new station.

At the end of the 1942 season, two teams were standing at the top of the Northwest Service League and vying for the title. In the best of three series scheduled to be played at Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle (if necessary), the NAS Pasco Flyers were set to face the Warriors of Fort Lewis, led by former major leaguer, Morrie Arnovich.  Game one turned out to be an offensive showdown with a game-winning home run by McCormack to cap the 11-8 victory. The second game turned out to be the decider as Vanni started John Bittner, who pitched a nine-inning, 7-hit shutout against the Warriors. All but two of the 10 Flyers batters managed hits against Fort Lewis’ former Vancouver Capilanos (WIL) pitcher and Tacoma native, Cy Greenlaw. Bobby Hornig spelled starting right fielder Don White in the eighth inning, copped a base hit and made a spectacular running catch in the top of the ninth to rob Arnovich of his third hit of the game. With the 8-0 win, the Flyers claimed the first Northwest Service League championship.

With the NAS Pasco Flyers’ roster relatively unchanged, there was no reason to expect anything different from the 1942 season to 1943. The addition of local pitching product and veteran of the Spokane Indians (WIL) and Seattle Rainiers, Mike Budnick, helped the Flyers to resume their dominance from the previous season. “Pasco’s club is generally rated as one of the toughest service aggregations in the west,” the Spokane Spokesman Review published June 24, 1943, “and has been dumping some of the best teams available this year including the San Diego Padres (PCL). On June 6, the Flyers downed the Ephrata Army Air Base team, 21-2. The “fleet-footed” Bobby Hornig was the subject of a Spokane Chronicle feature touting his return to the area’s Ferris Field as the Flyers visited to take on the Army’s Geiger Field Indians. He was clearly a favorite of the local fans.

1943 Naval Air Station Pasco Flyers:

Rank Name Position Former
Dan “Danny” Amaral OF Portland (PCL)
Steve Ananicz C Sherbrooke (QUPL)
Harold V. “Hunk” Anderson P Spokane (WIL)
Edson “Ed” Bahr P Augusta (SALL)
 Baker RF
Johnny Bittner P Hollywood (PCL)
Lindsay Brown SS Portland (PCL)
Mike Budnick P Seattle (PCL)
Mel Cole 2B, C Tacoma (WIL)
Danny Escobar OF Portland (PCL)
Fred Gay P Hollywood (PCL)
Marv Harshman 1B PLU
S1/c Bobby “Bob” Hornig CF Spokane (WIL)
Bob Kahle IF Hollywood (PCL)
Matry Martinez 2B Spokane (WIL)
“Chief” Levi McCormack OF Spokane (WIL)
 Pesky P
Ens. Ken Peters OIC Cardinals
 Peters 2B
Bill “Scoppy” Scoppatone RF Winston-Salem (PIED)
Harvey Storey SS Tulsa (TL)
Edo Vanni OF/MGR Seattle (PCL)
Don White OF/3B WIL/PCL

Pasco was unmatched in the A.W.O.L. league as the Flyers dispatched the competition with relative ease. On June 30, former Hollywood Stars pitcher Fred Gay pitched as the club administered a 12-2 drubbing of an Army All-Star team in Walla Walla. For Independence Day, Pasco faced a hand-picked squad of the region’s top Army ball players, led by former Browns, White Sox and Athletics pitcher, Camp Adair’s Sergeant Jack Knott (up from the Corvallis, Oregon Army base), at the Seattle Rainiers’ home field, Sick’s Stadium, dropping them 3-1. Pasco posed fierce competition to professional clubs.

The Pasco Flyers were steamrolling the competition in their league and in the region. By July 9, the team had a two-season combined record of 62-7. The war was still progressing and the needs of the Navy intervened, ending the Pasco Flyer’s 1943 campaign. The order was immediate and the players were reassigned to various naval units to prepare for sea service duties and to vacate base facilities as NAS Pasco was being transformed into a naval station predominantly for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service).

Many of the Pasco Flyers saw overseas duty. “Hunk” Anderson saw action in the Philippines. Chief Levi McCormack served in the South Pacific. Manager Edo Vanni was sent to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where he played centerfield for another “Flyers” team (along with his former Pasco pitcher, Johnny Bittner) before completing his Navy career playing for the Hellcats of the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  After a stint with the Bainbridge Naval Training Station Commodores   baseball team,  Mike Budnick found his way to Hawaii and was tagged by Bill Dickey to join the 1945 Western Pacific baseball tour, playing with such stars as Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, Barney McCosky, Elbie Fletcher, Joe Grace, Johnny Vander Meer, Virgil Trucks, Al Brancato and Mickey Vernon.

According to Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter’s article, Bobby Hornig was reassigned to the South Pacific and served “as a picket-boat commander from 1941-1945.” With the reporter’s dates being inaccurate, the potential exists for other inaccuracies surrounding Hornig’s post -NAS Pasco duty assignment. Unfortunately, research sources could not be located to pinpoint Hornig’s service from July of 1943 until the end of the war.

Following the Japanese surrender and VJ-Day, troops began to return to the States to be separated from the service. With all of the adaptations, adjustments and roster moves that occurred within the major and minor leagues, the returning ballplayers had some guarantees for earning their positions back but were faced with new challenges in resuming their baseball careers. For men like Hornig who had already retired well before the United States’ entry into the war, there were no guarantees. Hornig returned home with baseball behind him. His professional baseball career was behind him as he pursued a worthwhile career with Pacific Bell instead.

However, in 1946 baseball turned tragic for some of Hornig’s former NAS Pasco teammates and for his former professional club, the Spokane Indians. In the worst accident in professional baseball history, eight members of the Spokane team were killed, including the team’s manager, Mel Cole (who played second base and caught for the NAS Pasco Flyers), when their team bus was sideswiped by an oncoming sedan four miles west of Snoqualmie Pass summit. The bus rolled 350 feet down the mountainside, ejecting many of the men before resting on a large rock outcropping, where the vehicle caught fire. Five of the eight players perished at the scene. Hornig’s Spokane and Navy teammate, “Chief” Levi McCormack, was injured but survived.

 

See: Wayback Machine: Baseball Hero Pride of Nez Perce

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.

%d bloggers like this: