Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

Click Here to Review Earl Rapp's Stats on Baseball Almanac
“Where what happened yesterday is being preserved today.”


Purple Heart

Silver Star
Earl Rapp


Date and Place of Birth: May 20, 1921 Corunna, Michigan

Died: February 13, 1992 Swedesboro, New Jersey

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Outfield
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: Company B, 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations


Earl W Rapp was born on May 20, 1921 in Corunna, Michigan, about 90 miles northwest of Detroit. At a young age his family moved to Swedesboro, New Jersey, where he lettered at high school in baseball, basketball, football and track.


Rapp was originally signed by Phillies’ scout Jocko Collins in 1940 and played for the pennant-winning Ottawa-Ogdensburg Senators in the Canadian-American League. The following year he was sent to the Detroit Tigers’ organization and played for the Jamestown Falcons, league champions of the PONY League.


In 1942, Rapp moved up the ladder to the Tigers’ International League affiliation at Buffalo. However, the competition was too stiff for the youngster and he spent the bulk of the year with the Hagerstown Owls of the InterState League whwre he hit .284 in 137 games. For the third successive year Rapp was with a team that reached the playoffs but tragedy almost struck on September 17. Rapp, manager Dutch Dorman and four other Hagerstown players were hurt when their station wagon overturned after a tire blew out. They were returning from Wilmington, Delaware where they played a playoff series with the runner-up in the pennant race. The accident occurred near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and all six players suffered lacerations and brush burns.


On September 28, 1942, Rapp entered military service with the Army in Baltimore, Maryland. He initially served near Huntsville, Alabama then trained with the 83rd Chemical (Motorized) Battalion at Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. While at Camp Gordon, he continued to display his athletic abilities in baseball, basketball, football, track, boxing and table tennis.


Late in 1943, Rapp embarked for Europe where he served 556 days as a sergeant. In early 1945, Sergeant Rapp earned the Silver Star for his part in the battle of the Colmar Pocket - a three-week battle where Allied forces overwhelmed the German Nineteenth Army in bitter, extremely cold winter fighting over terrain that offered practically no cover for attacking forces. Rapp's platoon of 48 men had been cutoff near the little French town of Riquewihr. The lieutenant in command ordered them to dig fox holes and lie low until early dawn to make a break for their own lines but almost immediately a German sniper killed the officer with a bullet through the temple. That put Sergeant Rapp in command.


"The only way we had a chance was to jump out of our holes, one man at a time, run like mad for ten yards, then hit the ground before the SS sharpshooters got the range," he told The Sporting News on August 28, 1946. One by one the young American soldiers made a run for safety as his mates offered covering fire. "Strange what thoughts run through your mind when you're hugging the ground and just waiting for the hour. I thought about baseball, and how hard I'd work and go all-out if I ever had the opportunity to go to spring training again."


The last GI to leave his foxhole was Rapp. No one covered him. "I never ran so hard in my life. You never know how hard you can run until your life is at stake. I thought that night that I'd never play baseball again … and that's what I thought mostly about… I said 'Rapper, if you ever get through this, you'll play baseball like you never played it … hustle … and fight every pitcher … and learn to hit lefthanders.'” Only seven men made it back to safety.


In addition to the Silver Star, Sergeant Rapp also earned the Purple Heart when he was wounded in the tendons behind the knee, which would hamper his running ability and affect his baseball career.


Rapp returned home in November 1945. He joined Buffalo in 1946 but was out of condition after serving in the military for three years and in May was optioned to Detroit’s farm team in the Eastern League – the Williamsport Grays where he hit .332 in 64 games. It didn’t take long for Rapp to find his stride. He was recalled by Buffalo and in August hit one of the International League's most dramatic home runs of 1946 when he unloaded a fence-clearing shot into Woodlawn Avenue with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth to defeat Jersey City 4-3.


Rapp remained with Buffalo in 1947, batting .294 with 16 home runs and 80 RBIs. He played for the Seattle Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League in 1948, and made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 28, 1949 with one plate appearance against the St Louis Browns in which he drew a walk. On May 7, Rapp was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Don Kolloway. He played 19 games for the White Sox and batted .259 before being sent as part of a deal to the Oakland Oaks back in the Pacific Coast League.


The 6-foot-2 outfielder remained with Oakland in 1950, batting .314 with 24 home runs and 145 RBIs, and a trade to the New York Giants on July 1, 1951 marked Rapp’s return to the major leagues. He played 13 games with the Giants until being selected off waivers by the St Louis Browns in September. Rapp came alive with the Browns and hit .327 in 26 games.


Despite a promising end to his 1951 season, Rapp got off to a slow start with the Browns in 1952. He hit just .143 over 30 games and was traded to the Senators in June. He played a career-high 46 games with Washington and batted a respectable .284 to end his major league career, leading the American League with 54 pinch-hit appearances and 10 pinch-hits.


Rapp was far from done with professional baseball, however. He was back in the Pacific Coast League in 1953 – this time with the San Diego Padres and remained with that club until 1957. He hit .311 in 1953 with 24 home runs and 108 RBIs; following that with a .337 average in 1954 and another 24 homers. In 1955, he hit 30 home runs with 133 RBIs and hit an even .300 in 1956.

Rapp coached in the minors in 1958 and was hired as a scout for Houston from 1960 to 1977. For the next five years he scouted for the Kansas City Royals and and was responsible for the signing of pitcher Mark Gubicza. He was a scout with the Montreal Expos from 1983 to 1987, and the Cincinnati Reds the following two years. He retired after undergoing heart surgery, but later worked as a consultant for the Toronto Blue Jays, a position he held at the time of his passing, aged 70, on February 13, 1992.

Earl Rapp was inducted in the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2004.


Thanks to Bill Swank for the statistics and photos of Earl Rapp with the San Diego Padres, and thanks to Terry Lowry, official historian of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion for sharing information from his forthcoming book entitled Bastard Battalion: A History of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion in World War II.


Created August 24, 2007. Updated August 29, 2007.


Copyright © 2007 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.