Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Jim Blackburn


Date and Place of Birth: June 19, 1924 Warsaw, Kentucky

Died: October 26, 1969 Cincinnati, Ohio

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: 7th Armored Infantry Battalion US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Major League Stats: Jim Blackburn on Baseball-Almanac


Despite being tortured as a prisoner-of-war in Germany in 1945, Blackburn fought the odds to reach the major leagues.


James R “Jim” Blackburn was born on June 19, 1924 in Warsaw, Kentucky. He was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in the spring of 1941, and began his professional career with Cordele in the Georgia-Florida League. After two seasons at Cordele he moved up to the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League for 1943, where he was 0-3 with a 5.31 ERA.


On March 7, 1944 he entered military service with the Army. Stationed at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he pitched and won 12 games for the Spokes before leaving for overseas duty with the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion in Europe. Blackburn was the squad leader of a light machine-gun outfit and was wounded on December 23, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge while his division was surrounded by German forces for four days.


Regaining consciousness after being hit by shrapnel, Blackburn found several Germans standing over him. He was taken prisoner in December, 1944. His wife was notified that he was “missing in action” in January 1945. It was not until April that she learned he was a prisoner-of-war.


Meanwhile, Blackburn was forced to live daily on a loaf of black bread at Stalag IVB in Muhlberg Sachsen, Germany. His weight dropped by 75 pounds as he was marched from one prison camp to another and eventually collapsed from weakness and malnutrition.


Hospitalized by his captors and too weak to move, an Allied bomber dropped its payload close to the hospital. This act so outraged a German guard that he obtained a pair of pliers and pulled out Blackburn’s toenails as a means of torture and retaliation.


He was liberated by the 69th Infantry Division in April 1945 and sent to a Paris hospital, then later flown to the United States. After a long stay in a Cleveland hospital Blackburn returned to the Syracuse Chiefs for spring training in 1946.


Despite the trauma of the previous year, Blackburn came back in style and beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, in a spring training game but was assigned to the Columbia Reds of the South Atlantic League for the next three seasons. When Cincinnati began to have pitching problems in July 1948, it was Blackburn they called upon for a helping hand. The 24-year-old responded by appearing in 16 games with a 4.18 ERA.


Blackburn spent spring training of 1949 with the Reds but was optioned to the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League for the regular season. Still with Tulsa in 1950, he had an exceptional season with a 21-7 record and 2.74 ERA, earning another visit to the Reds for the beginning of 1951. Blackburn made just two brief relief appearances for the Reds before returning to the Oilers where he would remain for the remainder of the season.


In 1952, Blackburn was purchased by the Kansas City Blues of the American Association and optioned the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League. He returned to the Syracuse Chiefs in 1953 but retired from the game to care for his ailing wife, Coral.


On October 26, 1969, Jim Blackburn passed away in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was just 45 years old and is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.


Created August 29, 2007. Updated January 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2015 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.