As of September 2020, when this story was originally published, the two oldest living major leaguers were Eddie Robinson and George Elder, both veterans of WWII. Robinson served in the Navy but because of a leg operation was never in a combat zone. Elder served as a Marine artilleryman in the Pacific theatre. He served in the battle of Iwo Jima, he told a reporter in 2019, but added, “I don’t like to talk about it. It was a mess.” Discharged in 1946, he enrolled at UCLA before turning to professional baseball from 1947-50. He played half of the 1949 season with the St. Louis Browns, which also made him the oldest living Browns player as well as MLB’s oldest surviving combat veteran.1
George Rezin Elder Jr. was born on March 10, 1921, in Lebanon, Kentucky, joining a family with his parents George Rezin and Mary Ellen (Lilly) Elder, his brother, and three sisters. Mary Ellen died in the summer of 1922 after a year-long bout with tuberculosis. In the mid-1920s the family moved to Louisville, where George’s father worked retail clothing sales. Sometime in the late 1930s the family moved to Chicago, where his father continued his career selling women’s clothing, moved to the Los Angeles area in the 1940s, and died there in 1957. 2
George was eight years old on November 30, 1929, when his brother, Jack, donned his Notre Dame football uniform and took the field at Yankee Stadium. The Irish were looking for a national championship and needed a victory over Army that day. In the second quarter Chris “Red” Cagle of Army dropped back and sent a pass towards the goal line. Elder, an indoor sprint champion who once held a world’s record, waited until the last second to cut in front of the receiver. Elder intercepted the pass and dashed 100 yards for the score. The Irish held on for the win, 7-0.3
From that moment on young George lived in his brother’s shadow. In newspapers in the 1940s the name George Elder was most often followed by “younger brother of Notre Dame star”. Undaunted, George became a star athlete in his own right at Chicago’s Fenwick High School, a Dominican brothers’ institution. He reportedly earned three letters in football, four in basketball, and two more in track at Fenwick and was named to numerous all-star teams by various newspapers. A serious bout of streptococcus sidelined him for the latter part of his senior year. He lost 35 pounds and took a year off to regain his strength.4
Nearly as fast as his sibling, Elder considered attending Notre Dame but opted for Fordham instead. He told reporters, “Notre Dame men might have expected too much of me. At Fordham I’m on my own.” The Elder family was quite athletic. Not only did Jack and George play college football, but a cousin — also named George Rezin Elder — was a running back for Xavier University in Cincinnati.5
As a freshman in 1941 George watched the Fordham Rams football team, led by All-American Steve Filipowicz, pile up an 8-1 regular-season record. Invited to the Sugar Bowl they defeated Missouri before 73,000 fans, 2-0. In 1942, Elder was regarded as an up-and-coming talent who could run, pass, and kick. He reportedly ran the 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.6
Elder saw action early in the season against Tennessee and Purdue before a nagging (undisclosed) injury sidelined him. The following spring found him at Dartmouth College as a member of the V-12 training program. He reportedly played baseball with that program’s team. The Fordham baseball media guide lists Elder as an alumnus who played in the majors. However, details from Rams’ games and his personal statistics with Rams’ baseball have proven elusive. Whether he ever actually played for Fordham is questionable .7
One of the purposes of the V-12 program was to find college men who could become commissioned officers. Elder did not progress to officer training but was sent instead to Parris Island Marine boot camp. From there he spent time at Camp Lejeune before being assigned to Battery B of the 11th 155mm Battalion. He is listed on numerous Marine muster rolls available on ancestry.com as a private, first class. They also show him with both the 11th and 12th Marine Regiments.
Elder’s Battalion was sent to the Pacific theatre and stationed in Hawaii until called upon to support the Army’s XXIV Corps in the Philippines. The unit’s first action came on the island of Leyte on October 21, 1944, the day after General Douglas MacArthur had waded ashore. Which other battles Elder participated in are uncertain: During the remaining 10 months of war in the Pacific, the 11th Marine Regiment saw action on Palau and Okinawa, while the 12th Marine Regiment fought at Iwo Jima.8
After hostilities ceased, Elder was able to play some baseball on base at the Marine staging area in American Samoa. He related that a Naval officer saw him play and suggested that he give up thoughts of football and “stick with baseball.” By January 1946 he had returned to the States and was in camp outside Chicago.9
Discharged from the Marines in February 1946, Elder did not return to Fordham, opting instead to join his father in California and enroll at UCLA. The UCLA Bruins in 1946 hired alum Art Reichle as baseball coach. A just discharged Army Air Corps major, Reichle built a team from college kids, like Gene “Skip” Rowland, and returning vets like Elder and Lynn “Buck” Compton, whose military service with the 101st Airborne has been chronicled in the Band of Brothers series.
Reichle assembled an ambitious 31-game schedule for the Bruins that featured 18 games in the four-team California Intercollegiate Baseball Association (CIBA)—UCLA, USC, California, Stanford—with practice games against the Los Angeles police team, various military bases, and city colleges.10 They opened the season on March 11 against the police team, which featured a number of players with minor-league experience. The police team slugged its way to a 13-10 win.11
UCLA went undefeated in the next 10 practice games. Elder starred in a 13-0 thumping of Santa Monica City College when he slugged two home runs. They opened their CIBA campaign with a victory over Stanford, 2-1. Against Stanford the next day Elder opened the scoring with a first-inning grand slam to lead the Bruins to a 17-10 win. It had been over 16 years since Jack Elder’s touchdown run, but the newspaper stories still identified George as “brother of the former Notre Dame halfback.”12
The Bruins struggled against the Cal Bears and eventual champion USC to finish in third place. Elder batted .286, not enough to attract any league recognition. Rowland, the team’s second baseman, was the only Bruin to make the all-CIBA team that featured seven USC Trojans.13
That summer Elder, Rowland, and pitcher Jim Daniel joined their coach on the roster of the semipro Bank of America team. Elder’s play with the team drew attention from managers in the Pacific Coast League and caught the eye of major-league scouts. As the 1947 college season approached, the St. Louis Browns organization offered Elder a contract. On Reichle’s advice, Elder accepted the offer. The Browns had beaten out the Chicago Cubs and the Hollywood Stars for his services.14 To acquire his services the Browns offered an undisclosed bonus reported to be “one of the highest ever paid by the Browns’ organization.” Scouts Jack Fournier and “Pug” Griffin orchestrated his signing, with the Toledo Mud Hens.15
Elder was 26 when he joined the Mud Hens, but with so many veterans back from the war, he was still the youngest of the team’s four main outfielders. He played the season opener in Toledo in center field and batting leadoff. An early-season slump dropped him to the eighth spot in the lineup, and eventually he was replaced by Fuzz White. Elder’s most dramatic moment came on June 11 when he drove home the winning run in the 14th inning for a 7-6 win over Columbus.16
Elder’s bat came alive with the heat of the summer, and he finished the season with a .312 average in 90 games. He played 64 games in the outfield, mostly in center field. Despite his speed, Elder was never used much as a base stealer. His five steals in 1947 were a career high, and three of those came in the first month of the season. The Mud Hens finished last in the AAA American Association.
Elder had grown to 5-foot-11 and weighed 180 pounds. He used his speed as a left-handed hitter but threw right-handed. He told a reporter that it wasn’t unusual for right field to be empty while he was growing up on the sandlots playing pick-up games. As a lefty this forced him to learn to hit the other way. His performance at UCLA showed he could turn on a pitch and pull it with power, but he was basically a singles hitter. He never broke .400 in slugging percentage.17
Elder joined the Mud Hens in Texas for spring training in 1948. He opened the season in centerfield, batting leadoff against St. Paul in the first two games (both losses). Butch Woyt replaced him in the third game, making Elder the fourth outfielder. After an opening game with two hits and two RBIs, he struggled at the plate. His average plunged to .184 following a doubleheader on May 9 when he went hitless in seven at-bats.. A few days later the San Antonio Light announced that “one of the fastest men in baseball” had been assigned to the San Antonio Missions in the Class-AA Texas League.18
Elder spent about 10 weeks with the Missions, mostly playing center field while batting leadoff. He hit well in Texas; his .297 average was the second-highest on the team for players with over 100 at-bats. In late July, the Missions sold infielder Sal Madrid to Toledo. For the next few games Elder was pressed into service at third base before he was returned to Toledo on July 28.19
The Texas heat had awakened Elder’s bat, and when he rejoined Toledo, he pounded the ball. The speedster closed out the season with a .283 average in 145 at bats, meaning he hit around .350 during his second stint in Toledo. On September 30, the Baltimore Orioles of the International League announced they had acquired three players from Toledo—Ellis Clary, Don Richmond, and Elder.20
In November, the St. Louis Browns announced they had made players available for the Panama Professional League (PPL). Elder was one of the 28 farmhands listed but did not sign with any of the four PPL franchises nor with any of the four in the Canal Zone League.21
Baltimore trained in Hollywood, Florida in 1949. Elder brought his wife (the former Helen Bennett) and his dog to camp and prepped for his third season in the pros. Early in camp manager Tommy Thomas penciled Elder in as a backup outfielder.. And despite a strong performance with both the bat and glove, Elder could not crack the everyday lineup. But he made the most of his few opportunities. On April 25 he drove home the winning run against Toronto in the ninth. But with just 10 hits, a .169 average, and 16 runs produced, he was demoted to Beaumont in the Double-A Texas League.22
Though Elder’s playing time increased slightly there, hitting still proved a struggle as he batted .223 in 27 games for the last-place squad. On July 19, the St. Louis Browns were mired in the second division. Management decided to test their prospects and announced that Elder was being recalled as a “pinch-runner.” The St. Louis Star and Times noted “he also plays outfield.”23
Elder made his debut in St. Louis on July 22 as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox. Les Moss had batted for pitcher Ned Garver and had drawn a walk. Elder ran for him, but the Browns were unable to plate him and lost, 4-2. Two days later Elder was sent in to pinch-hit for Eddie Pellagrini. The Browns had opened the inning down 8-7 but had tied the score when Elder came to the plate. He delivered a single against Ellis Kinder, scoring Paul Lehner. The Browns held on for the 9-8 win. One at-bat, one game-winning hit…not a bad beginning.
He first appeared in the starting lineup on July 29 in Washington. The Browns were down 2-0 entering the ninth when Elder led off with a double and scored on a double by Jerry Priddy. The Browns tied the score later in the frame. And in the 10th, in which Elder popped out in his at bat, they scored four runs for the win.
Elder played 41 games for the Browns, who lost 101 but managed to avoid the cellar because Washington lost 104. He made seven starts in left field, pinch-ran 11 times, and pinch-hit in 22 games. He also had one game where he entered as a defensive replacement. In 41 games he batted 44 times and hit .250. As a pinch-hitter he went 5-for-19.
When the St. Louis Browns sent out their initial contract offers for 1950, the players didn’t rush to sign. In fact, as spring training approached, 15 players, including Elder, had still not accepted terms, the highest number of potential holdouts in MLB. The Browns had seven outfielders on the roster, and four of them were looking for better pay.24
Elder eventually came to terms but was relegated to play with the “B” team in exhibitions. Playing mostly PCL teams he posted some impressive days at the plate, but these performances weren’t enough to earn a roster spot. When the Browns left their spring camp in Burbank, California, Elder was sent to the minor-league camp for assignment.25
He subsequently joined the Wichita Indians in the Class-A Western League. The franchise was new to the circuit under the guidance of former Browns catcher Joe Schultz in his first managerial job. The team finished in fourth place at 77-77. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to Sioux City. Elder batted leadoff for the first month but then was dropped to the middle of the order. He played in 144 games and posted career highs in all categories except batting average. He was second on the team in doubles with 28 and triples with 10. Pushing his 30th birthday, Elder decided it time to leave the game. He found employment in the Santa Monica, California area working as a deputy sheriff and a court bailiff. After 15 years in the system, he became the supervisor of bailiffs for the Santa Monica Court.26
Baseball continued as part of Elder’s life as he coached youth baseball in the Babe Ruth Leagues (ages 13-18). An avid golfer, he kept up with his baseball contacts by participating in players’ tournaments. He was proud to have played the course at Pebble Beach more than 50 times.
Elder’s other hobby was horseback riding. When he retired from the courts, he turned his attention to horse training and met his second wife, Mary Ann. The couple were wed in 1985. He specialized in western style horsemanship and competed as a rider as well as handler/trainer. “There’s nothing like training horses,” he told reporter Joe Vaccarelli. In 2005 he retired again, and the couple moved to Fruita, Colorado near Grand Junction in the western part of the state. Oddly, Elder had almost signed on with a Colorado school back in the 1940s.27
Elder’s health deteriorated to the point where he became wheelchair-bound. Mary Ann cared for him and found time to volunteer by making blankets for animals at the local shelter. She was honored for her service and caring in 2015.28
The 1949 Browns schedule called for the team to play each AL opponent 22 times. In Elder’s partial season he faced all seven teams, seeing the most action against Cleveland (nine appearances) and Washington (16 at-bats in seven games). In his 2019 newspaper interview he recalled striking out against Bob Feller but failed to mention he suffered a similar fate against Satchel Paige a month later.
The death of Eddie Robinson in October 2021 made George Elder the oldest living major-leaguer. He had that honor for just over nine months, until he in turn died at age 101 on July 7, 2022. With Elder’s passing, Art Schallock (98) became the oldest surviving big-leaguer. Just three living Browns remained at that time: Frank Saucier (96), Ed Mickelson (95), and Billy Hunter (94).
Thank you to SABR members C Paul Rogers, Bill Nowlin (Ted Williams in WWII), and Gary Bedingfield (SABR authority on WWII baseball) for their help with background info. Jama Watts at the Marion County, KY library provided important info to show George was indeed George, Jr. Reporter Joe Vaccarelli was kind enough to talk with me to confirm various aspects of Elder’s life.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin, edited by Tom E. Schott, and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
1 E-mail, C. Paul Rogers to author, June 10, 2020, in author’s possession; Joe Vaccarelli, “Stick With Baseball,” Grand Junction (Colorado) Daily Sentinel, April 14, 2019, https://www.gjsentinel.com/lifestyle/stick-with-baseball/article_27d24918-5e79-11e9-934a-20677ce06c14.html , accessed June 22,2020. Rogers teamed with Robinson on his autobiography Lucky Me.
2 Enterprise [Lebanon, Kentucky], July 7, 1922; Tommy Fitzgerald, “Elder Makes Bloomfield More Than a Speck on the Map,” Louisville Courier-Journal, December 1, 1929: 58. Elder’s mom was known as Nell or Nellie. Her obit also lists George as “G.R. Elder Jr.” He appears in the 1940 census with the “Jr.” and on some military records with it. Older brother Jack graduated from Lebanon High School and enrolled at Notre Dame in 1925. The move to Louisville came shortly after that.
3 Jack Elder Ties World’s Record,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald, March 18, 1928: 27; Brian Bell, “Jack Elder Intercepts Army Pass and Sprints 100 Yards to Victory in Great Intersectional Contest,” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), December 1, 1929: 17. Jack tied the indoor 75-yard dash mark in 1928. In 1930 he set a record in the 60-yard indoor dash.
4 Paul Gould, “Fordham’s Find is Jolt for N.D.,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 18, 1942: 10.
5 “George Elder Picks Fordham,” Olean (New York) Times Herald, April 9, 1942: 7 ; “Starring on Grid for Xavier U.,” Louisville Courier-Journal, October 30, 1933: 6.
6 Jack Guenther, “Sports Fans Looking Forward to Big Year, Despite War,” Freeport (Illinois) Journal-Standard, April 4, 1942: 7.
7 “Suffer Injuries,” Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror, October 20, 1943: 11.
8 John C. Chapin, “ ‘. . . And a Few Marines’: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines,” Marines in World War II Commemorative Series, https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/npswapa/extcontent/usmc/pcn-190-003140-01/sec2.htm, accessed August 1, 2020
9 Joe Vaccarelli, “Stick With Baseball;” the article suggested that the Naval officer was Ted Williams, but he did not reach Samoa in WWII.
10 “Uclans Slate 13 Ball Games,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1946: 18.
11 L.A. Police Trounce Bruin Nine, 13 to 10,” Los Angeles Times, Mach 12, 1946: 7.
12 “UCLA Bruins Win 10th Victory,” Pomona (California) Progress Bulletin, April 16, 1946:18; “Bruin Wins Again Whips Stanford, 17-10,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1946: 17.
13 “Bruin Baseball Men Out Today,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1947: 17; “Trojans Dominate C.I.B.A. Picks,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1946: 6
14 “Cubs Bosses, Kelly Confer,” Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), February 18, 1947: 7.
15 “Toledo Signs Elder for High Bonus,” Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, February 23, 1947: 24.
16 “Hen’s Take Long Game,” Kansas City Times, June 12, 1947: 18.
17 Joe Vaccarelli, “Stick With Baseball.”
18 “Missions Get George Elder from Toledo,” San Antonio Light, May 13, 1948: 23.
19 “Missions Sell Madrid to Toledo Club,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 24, 1948: 9.
20 “Orioles Buy Three Players from the Mud Hens,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 1, 1948: 21.
21 “28 Brownies Farmhands Offered to Panama Loop,” The Sporting News, November 10, 1948: 18.
22 C. M. Gibbs, “Gibberish,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1949: 22 ; “Oriole Pilot is Suspended,” Baltimore Sun, April 28, 1949: 21.
23 “Browns Recall Elder as Pinch-Runner,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 19, 1949: 11; Ray J. Gillespie, “Surging Browns, Slumping A’s in Season’s Twi-Night Debut,” St Louis Star and Times, July 19, 1949: 18.
24 “73 in Majors Still Holdout on Cash Front,” ibid., February 22, 1950: 22.
25 “Browns Break Camp Today,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 28, 1950: 21.
26 “Court Layout,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1966: 187.
27 Joe Vaccarelli, “Stick With Baseball.”
28 “Local Woman Makes a Difference for Fury Residents,” https://tinyurl.com/yy9k4plo, accessed August 1, 2020.
George Rezin Elder
March 10, 1921 at Lebanon, KY (USA)
July 7, 2022 at Grand Junction, CO (USA)
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