First, Middle Names: Claude Elliott
Date of Birth: July 21, 1915 Date and Place of Death: May 1, 1978, Cincinnati, OH
Burial: Arlington Memorial Gardens, Cincinnati
High School: Undetermined
College: Duke University, Durham, NC
Bats: R Throws: R Height and Weight: 5-10, 170
Debut Year: 1945 Final Year: 1949 Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1945; Cincinnati Reds, 1946. 1948-49
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
215 630 153 60 37 1 .243 .297 .286 1.3
Claude Corbitt may have given his baseball career to his country. Like many ballplayers of his generation, Corbitt put down his glove and bat to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Before enlisting in 1942, Corbitt was a slick-fielding shortstop who had been among the batting leaders at every stop in the minor leagues. The Brooklyn Dodgers thought he would compete with eventual Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese for the starting job. When he returned from war three years later and finally made his major-league debut, Corbitt was a 30-year-old with diminished skills. He would be no more than a utility player.
The youngest of three children, Corbitt grew up on a farm near Sunbury in Gates County. He entered Duke University in 1933 and came under the tutelage of Jack Coombs. The star major-league pitcher who had tossed a record 15 shutouts in 1910 had signed on as the Duke coach in 1929. He would be a fixture in Durham for the next 24 years, winning more than 400 games, picking up the nickname Mr. College Baseball and turning out more major-leaguers than any college coach.
Corbitt was one. He signed with the New York Yankees after graduating in 1937 and hit over .300 during his next three years in the minors while playing almost flawlessly at shortstop. The Yankees, though, traded him crosstown to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941. Corbitt was among the batting leaders in the International League while playing for the Montreal Royals that year, and Brooklyn Manager Leo Durocher intended to call him up in 1942 to compete with Reese for the starting shortstop job. After his second year with the Dodgers and hitting a pathetic .229, Reese offered little hint of the career to come.
Corbitt changed Durocher’s plans and assured Reese’s place in Dodgers’ history by enlisting in the Army Air Force. He was commissioned a lieutenant, earned his wings and was shipped to England. Corbitt was hoping for a short war and a quick return to the ballfield. “I’m only 27,” he told his local newspaper before departing. “I am still young and have several good playing years ahead of me.”[I]
He wouldn’t return until 1945. He appeared in two games for the Dodgers that season and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Corbitt would play a part-time role with the Reds over the next three years, never appearing in more than 87 games or hitting higher than .256.
Corbitt played a few more years in the minors before retiring in 1953. He settled in Cincinnati with his wife, Theodora, a champion track athlete from Quebec. Their son, Claude Jr., is a prominent dentist in Cincinnati. Corbitt worked for a local department store chain for 23 years. He died in 1978.
[I] Fullerton, Hugh Jr. “Sports Roundup.” Rocky Mount (NC) Telegram, July 3, 1943.