Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Minor League Baseball

Boots Zelasko


Date and Place of Birth: June 13, 1916 Chicago, Illinois

Died: November 1994 Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Baseball Experience: Minor League
Military Unit:
63rd Infantry Division US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Bruno S “Boots” Zelasko was born on June 13, 1916 in Chicago, Illinois, and signed with the Davenport Blue Sox of the Class A Western League in 1937. Zelasko – a shortstop – played 23 games and batted just .127 but made only three errors on the infield.

In 1938, he was briefly with the Durham Bulls of the Class B Piedmont League but failed to hit well and spent the rest of the season with the Columbia Reds of the Class B South Atlantic League, where he batted .237 in 121 games. One of his teammates in 1938 was Junior Thompson who would win 13 games with the Cincinnati Reds the following year.

Still with Columbia in 1939, Zelasko raised his average to .263 in 132 games and had 58 RBIs. Zelasko was batting .232 after 54 games into the 1940 season with Columbia when he rejoined the Durham Bulls and played a further 60 games before the year was out.

San Antonio Light July 22, 1941

The young infielder found himself with the independent Pensacola Pilots of the Class B Southeastern League in 1941, playing 88 games and batting .252 before being purchased in July by the Tulsa Oilers of the Class A1 Texas League, who were owned by the Chicago Cubs. He would be the team’s fifth shortstop of the season and it was hoped his defensive skills would help the club earn a place in the Texas League playoffs. “Although he isn’t a consistent hitter,” reported The Sporting News on July 31, 1941, “Zelasko will help the Oilers in more ways than one. He covers plenty of ground, gets rid of the ball fast on double plays and has helped pep up the entire infield.”

Playing alongside future major leaguers Dixie Howell, Don Johnson, Whitey Platt, Marv Rickert, Eddie Waitkus and Emil Kush, Zelasko played 58 games for the Oilers and batted .220. Of his 38 hits, 11 were doubles.

Madison Capital Times June 2, 1942
Box score from the game Boots Zelasko played for
Camp Grant against the Chicago Cubs

At the peak of his baseball career, military service beckoned and the 25-year-old entered military service with the Army on May 1, 1942. He served at Camp Grant, on the southern outskirts of Rockford, Illinois, and on June 1, 1942, helped the Camp Grant baseball team defeat the Chicago Cubs, 4 to 3. Zelasko was the shortstop and leadoff hitter that day, collecting one hit in four at-bats in front of 14,000 soldiers.

Zelasko later served in Europe with the 63rd Infantry Division, and following the Nazi surrender, he played baseball for the 63rd Infantry Division ball team in Germany during the summer of 1945.

Zelasko received his discharge from the Army in December 1945. He attended the Chicago Cubs’ advanced training camp for former servicemen at Lake Worth, Florida, in January 1946, and was assigned to the Davenport Cubs of the Class B Three-I League for the season. He played well at Davenport, batting .267 and helping the team to a dead heat with Danville for first place at the end of the season. Davenport then clinched the crown by defeating Danville, 4 to 2, in the playoff.

Davenport Cubs 1946
The 1946 Davenport Cubs - champions of the Three-I League
Boots Zelasko is front row, second right

Zelasko advanced to the Class A Des Moines Bruins of the Western League in 1947, but hit only .229 and was released by the Cubs’ organization at the end of the season. He joined the independent West Palm Beach Indians of the Class C Florida State League in 1948 and remained with the club for two seasons before joining the Fort Lauderdale Braves of the same league in 1950. Zelasko retired from baseball after the 1951 season, aged 35.

Boots Zelasko passed away in November 1994 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 83.

Created May 14, 2008.

Copyright © 2013 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved. 

Year Team League Batting Avg HR RBI
1937 Davenport Western League .127 0 5
1938 Durham Piedmont League .179 0 1
1938 Columbia S Atlantic League .237 2 38
1939 Columbia S Atlantic League .263 2 58
1940 Durham Piedmont League .206 0 14
1940 Columbia S Atlantic League .232 0 22
1941 Pensacola Southeastern League .252 2 28
1941 Tulsa Texas League .220 0 11
1946 Davenport Three-I League .267 0 35
1947 Des Moines Western League .229 0 14
1948 West Palm Beach Florida International League .250 2 36
1949 West Palm Beach Florida International League .196 0 32
1950 Fort Lauderdale Florida International League .242 1 38
1951 Fort Lauderdale Florida International League .214 2 28