October 16, 2019

Gene Dellinger: 138th Former Pro Dead in WWII

February 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Eugene L. “Gene” Dellinger was born on June 30, 1926 in the small town of Bahama, North Carolina, about 14 miles north of Durham. Dellinger loved baseball and played the game every opportunity he had while growing up.

“Eugene and I grew up in Bahama, and we lived within 150 yards of each other,” recalls his boyhood friend Alton P. Mangum. “We played together from the time we could walk. We were both in the Boy Scouts, and we hiked and camped with our Scout troop, and we were as close as brothers.

“When Eugene was about 10 years old, his daddy helped him in changing his swing from the right side to the left. He had a very natural swing left handed, and he reminded me of Ted Williams in the way he snapped his wrist when he swung at a ball.

“We both played baseball at every opportunity as we grew up. If we weren’t playing in a game, we were throwing the ball to each other. His dad had broad shoulders, and Eugene took after him.”

Dellinger played shortstop in high school; Mangum played first base, and the two of them regularly attended ballgames at Durham Athletic Park, home of the Durham Bulls who were a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club at the time.

“When the Bulls held a tryout day, Eugene attended,” says Mangum. “After displaying his baseball skills, they talked to him and signed him after he graduated from high school.”

Joining the club in 1943, and playing for former St. Louis Cardinals infielder Bruno Betzel and alongside future Brooklynites Gene Hermanski, Rex Barney and Gene Mauch, Dellinger appeared in 10 games as an outfielder and batted .293 before being assigned to the Olean Oilers of the Class D PONY League. At Olean, Dellinger played for former Pirates second baseman Jake Pitler and had Ralph Branca and future American League infielder Billy DeMars as teammates. In 80 games (46 in the outfield, 14 at first base and 13 at shortstop), the 17-year-old batted .257 with 35 RBIs and led the team with 300 at-bats, 77 hits and 14 doubles.

In 1944, he advanced to the Montreal Royals of the Class AA International League – one level below the majors – and appeared in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers on July 11.

“After the game,” recalls Mangum, “Leo Durocher went to Eugene and talked with him, and Eugene told him it looked like he was going to be drafted in the Army. Leo told him if he went into the Army to call him after the war and that he wanted him with the Dodgers.”

Playing again for Bruno Betzel, Dellinger batted .185 in 28 games for the Royals and was assigned to the Newport News Dodgers of the Class B Piedmont League where he was reunited with another former manager, Jake Pitler. Playing first base, third base and the outfield, Dellinger batted .304 in 85 games and drove in 56, while his teammate, future Hall of Famer Duke Snider drove in 50 runs and batted .294.

In November 1944, Dellinger was drafted by the Buffalo Bisons of the American Association but he would never get to play a game for them because he entered military service with the Army the same month.

Dellinger, who attained the rank of sergeant, spent much of his military service playing baseball; first in the United States and later in France. It was while traveling with his Army team in Belgium that tragedy struck. “The ball team was riding in the back of an Army truck when it struck a train,” remembers Mangum. “He was burned badly and was transferred to the Veterans hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”

Dellinger survived a few months before succumbing to his injuries on January 31, 1946. He was 21 years old.

Eugene Dellinger’s body was returned to Bahama, North Carolina. He now rests at the Mount Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery in Bahama.

Alton Mangum will never forget his childhood friend: “Eugene was a great athlete – playing baseball, basketball and football. He was extremely well liked, and his death was certainly a shock to our small community.”

Gene Dellinger's Grave at Mt. Bethel UMC in Bahama, NC

Thanks to Alton P. Mangum and Toni Garrett, Secretary at Mt. Bethel UMC for their assistance with this biography.

Link to Gene Dellinger’s biography on the Baseball in Wartime website

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