Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice


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Those Who Died That Others Might Be Free

 

Purple HeartErnie Holbrook

 

Date and Place of Birth: 1912 Los Angeles, California
Date and Place of Death: December 16, 1944 Luxembourg
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: First Base
Rank: Private
Military Unit: 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

 

Ernie Holbrook, former University of Southern California star athlete ... has been missing in action in Belgium since December 16, according to word received from the War Department, by his father in Los Angeles.

The Sporting News February 1, 1945

 

Ernest J. Holbrook was a star athlete in basketball and baseball at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He enrolled at the University of Southern California in 1932, and was a high-scoring forward on the first undefeated USC freshman basketball team, before starring for the varsity team for three years. In March 1935, Holbrook was the hero of the Pacific Coast Conference play-off series against Oregon State, looping his only field goal of the game in the last 30 seconds to give the Trojans a 32–31 win. As a rangy first baseman with the Trojans, he batted over .300 each season, and helped coach Sam Berry clinch the championship in 1935.

On May 6, 1935, amid much publicity, Holbrook traveled to Cleveland for a tryout with the visiting Boston Red Sox. He signed a professional contract the following week and joined the Charlotte Hornets of the Class B Piedmont League, where he batted .284 with 70 RBIs in 125 games. In 1936, the Charlotte Hornets left the Piedmont League and joined the independent Carolina League, so Boston began a working agreement with the replacement team, Rocky Mount, and great things were expected of Holbrook. However, his batting average nose-dived to .214 in 50 games, and on June 17, he was assigned to the Canton Terriers of the Class C Mid-Atlantic League, where he was used sparingly before the season was over.

Holbrook retired from baseball after the 1936 season and returned to California, where he coached basketball at George Washington High School. He took over coaching duties of the court team at USC in 1943–1944, and led the team to a 31–17 record to clinch the Pacific Coast Conference’s Southern Division title.

On January 17, 1944, and after being rejected on three previous occasions, Holbrook relinquished his coaching position to enter military service with the Army. As a replacement infantryman, he left his wife Melva, and young son Ronnie, at home in Hermosa Beach, California, and served with the 109th Infantry Regiment of the 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division in Europe. On December 16, 1944, snow, ground fog and freezing weather engulfed the Ardennes in Luxembourg, where Private Holbrook was stationed.

An early morning enemy artillery and mortar barrage ripped into the division’s line as the Fifth Panzer Army launched an attack in what later became known as the Battle of the Bulge. Holbrook was reported missing in action that first day. It was later confirmed he had died during the opening salvos of the Ardennes offensive. He is buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

“Ernie was a fighter, but at all times a sportsman,” reported the Los Angeles Times, after his death was announced. “He played to win—he hated to lose, no matter how small the stake—yet he never belittled the opposition. His spirit was contagious.”

The University of Southern California annually presents the Ernie Holbrook Memorial Award to the school’s most inspirational basketball player.

 

Year

Team

League

Class

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

AVG

1935

Charlotte

Piedmont

B

125

472

52

134

24

4

6

70

.284

1936

Rocky Mount

Piedmont

B

50

201

16

43

12

1

2

19

.214

1936

Canton

Mid-Atlantic

C

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

 

 

Minor League BaseballThanks to Davis O Barker for help with this biography.

 

Added September 19, 2006. Updated February 28, 2011.

 

Copyright © 2011 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.