SABR

Hank Gehring

This article was written by Rex Hamann.

Henry “Hank” Gehring wasn’t a household word around the neighborhoods of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1900, but in the coming years the right-handed pitcher made a name for himself while leaving a distinctive mark or two upon baseball history.

Gehring called St. Paul home during his entire career in organized ball. He made the climb to the big leagues in 1907, but his most prominent seasons were spent in the high minors where he became an accomplished hurler who was well known for steadiness on the hill, an even-tempered demeanor, and prowess with the stick.

In 1901 St. Paul was also home to the Class A Western League Saints, locally known as the Apostles or the Marquettes. Led by long-time Chicago Nationals outfielder Jimmy Ryan, the club was a strong assemblage of promising young players, including Germany Schaefer and future Hall of Famer Miller Huggins, both of whom were active on September 3 when Gehring made his first start in organized ball.

The 20-year-old Gehring was known as a junk-balling spitball pitcher, but his shoots weren’t fooling the visiting Minneapolis Millers at Lexington Park that day. The Millers posted four runs during their first crack at the youthful curve tosser, and the score was 5-0 before the Saints could take their ups in the second frame. However, he showed veteran composure the rest of the way, and the St. Paul offense swung into gear, enabling Gehring to pick up a complete-game victory with an 11-5 win. The St. Paul native aided his own cause with a pair of base hits, including a triple. 

How Gehring learned the art of the spitter isn’t known, but Hall of Fame hurler Burleigh Grimes claimed he picked up the pitch from Gehring. Grimes, who hailed from Emerald, Wisconsin (roughly 50 miles northeast of St. Paul), mastered the spitball on his way to earning 270 wins in the major leagues from 1916 to 1934, taking advantage of a grandfather clause to carry on the “slippery” tradition beyond its 1920 banishment. In attending his first pro game, a young Grimes witnessed an American Association St. Paul Saints contest at Lexington Park with his uncle on a day when Gehring was in the box. Showing an instinct for competitiveness, Grimes was a careful observer at an early age. He became intrigued by Gehring’s effectiveness and was introduced to the use of the spitball as a direct result.

According to The Sporting News (verbatim; undated): “One day, Uncle Bird [Burleigh’s uncle who played semipro ball] took Burleigh, then a 15-year-old schoolboy, with him to the South St. Paul, Minn., stockyards with a load of cattle. Being interested in baseball, the youngster suggested both go to Lexington Park, where St. Paul of the American Association was playing. Uncle Bird proved easy victim of this lure and off they went. The late Hank Gehring, little spitball pitcher, was on mound for St. Paul and young Burleigh watched him closely. Back home, he began experimenting with delivery. It worked and before long, Grimes was pitching for Clear Lake [Wisconsin] against much older players.”

Gehring would never know the enormous impact he had on Grimes, who was just an anonymous kid in the stands watching him pitch. Grimes expanded on the story: “Mike Kelley, then manager of the St. Paul club of the American Association, was a friend of my father. In 1909, I visited St. Paul and Mike took me to see a game in which Hank Gehring, the old spit-baller, was pitching. I was so impressed with his delivery that when I returned home, I immediately started practicing on a spitball delivery.”

“Little” Hank Gehring’s height and weight are unknown, but he had a big career in the minors before being called up by the Washington Senators in 1907. One report indicates he was one of owner Charles Comiskey’s original Chicago White Sox in 1901, but he never saw action that year and was likely never an official rosteree. By the time Washington Senators skipper “Pongo” Joe Cantillon invited him to return to the majors, the St. Paul native may have been entering his prime as a ballplayer.

The eighth of nine children, Henry Gehring (no middle name) was born January 24, 1881. His father, John, a shoemaker, and John’s wife, Annie (nee Meier), were natives of Switzerland. The Gehrings immigrated to the United States sometime before June of 1879 along with four sons (John, Jacob, Albert, and Conrad) and two daughters (Annie and Susan). Their third daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1880 and was the family’s first U.S.-born child. Hank was the couple’s first U.S.-born son. Another daughter, Rosa, was born in 1883; all of the American-born Gehrings were St. Paul natives.

After playing amateur ball for a St. Paul clothier, Gehring joined the Western League Saints for four games at the end of the 1901 season. After his Western League baptism, against the Millers, he was impressive in his next start when he shut out league-leading Kansas City 7-0 in another complete-game performance, holding the Blues to four hits. Gehring finished his short stint with St. Paul with two wins, two losses. His professional career was underway.

After his debut with St. Paul, Gehring went north in 1902 to pitch in 18 games for Ned Egan’s Winnipeg Maroons of the Northern League (which was an independent league at the time), where he compiled a won-lost record of 10-8 in 152 innings while posting a .296 batting average. His impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio (SO/BB) of 50-25 was an indication of the control he showed throughout his 11-year career.

The 1903 season found Gehring again in the Northern League (now Class D) as a pitcher and outfielder for the Duluth (Minnesota) Cardinals under Leonard Van Praugh (or Praagh). Appearing in 44 games, Gehring suffered at the plate, hitting a meager .197, but he pitched 24 games, each a complete game, while achieving a record of 15-9. His excellent SO/BB ratio of 101-39 stands out as one of the best of his career. But Hank was just getting going.

Duluth, by then known as the White Sox, was again Gehring’s home for the 1904 season under Van Praugh. Posting a 13-2 record, the diminutive righty entered the record books with a no-hitter against the Superior Longshoremen on June 21, winning by a score of 5-0. According to one report, “ . . . [Gehring] allowed nothing which resembled a hit.”

Gehring’s 102-25 SO/BB in 1904 was remarkable, a display of his developing stature as a dominating control artist. He used his finesse to tie for the league lead in wins with 13 and led the league in winning percentage with a mark of .867.

In 1905 Gehring set the bar high for minor-league pitchers as a member of the Wichita Jobbers of the Class C Western Association under Bill Kimmel. A phenomenal hurler, he won 32 games, a performance that, in part, earned him a spot on the Minor League Roll of Honor for greatest performances in a single season as established by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues in 1952.

In addition, the St. Paul spitballer was an asset at the plate, hitting .235 in 200 at-bats (65 games) while slapping a league-leading nine long balls. Rounding out his superlative 1905 season, Gehring led the Western Association with 10 shutouts and a winning percentage of .865 (32-5 according to the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, but 30-8, or .789, in an unpublished report). With 264 strikeouts he topped Western Association pitchers while walking only 82 for a SO/BB ratio of 3.22. Gehring was ready to advance.

Gehring’s new club in 1906, the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, was a team with problems. Manager Mike Kelley was at the helm for most of the season, but second-baseman and team-captain Billy Fox took his place during his mid-season suspension delivered by league president Joseph O’Brien. Kelley was involved in a collusion scheme against American Association umpire Clarence “Brick” Owens. In a nutshell, Kelley was part of a group that conspired to allege that Owens bet on games he officiated, but Owens was exonerated shortly after the allegations came to light.

Posting a record of 12-13 during his initial American Association season, Gehring struck out 108 while walking 66 in at least 222 innings. (Some confusion exists because one source reports 222 innings while another reports 227.) During his starting appearances, Gehring’s record was 12-11 with 20 complete games and three shutouts. He had a dual role on the club, as a pitcher and an outfielder.

Hank copped his first American Association victory on April 28, a five-hit shutout against the Toledo Mud Hens at Armory Park during the club’s first road swing to start the season. Toledo had a solid-hitting nine led by club-president and field-general J. Edward Grillo. The offense was fully behind Gehring that Saturday in Toledo, bunching its hits and runs en route to an 8-0 victory. The Minneapolis Journal for April 29 led with this: “Pitcher Gehring came near being the whole hero of yesterday’s game, for so mysterious were his shoots that the Toledo bunch wobbled over them like a lot of rustics at a spelling bee. In addition to the spell, which he threw over the local batters, he was the first man to do damage to Eddie Minnehan [sic; Minahan], and he started a batting onslaught with his home run in the second [sic; third inning] . . . ” The homer was Gehring’s first of two that year. Such strong backing would become increasingly rare as the season went on, as the Millers scored eight or more runs during his starts on only two additional occasions.

Statistical scrutiny of his 1906 performance indicates a lack of run support, the bane of any pitcher, characterized many of his outings as a Miller. A glance at the record shows that Gehring, when in the starting role, received what could be called “barely adequate coverage” as Minneapolis scored 104 runs to 99 for the opponents. In reality the odds were against him. Perhaps the most egregious example of this took place at Indianapolis on August 13 when Gehring allowed only two hits against the Indians at West Washington Street Park and lost 1-0 in a classic contest during which he was opposed by fellow Minnesotan Jake Thielman.

In Hank’s victories as a starter, the Millers outscored their opponents by an average 5.5 runs per game to 1.9 runs per game. But it was during Gehring’s shutouts that the offense seemed to really click as he enjoyed his greatest run support during the three occasions when he blanked the competition (by 8, 6, and 5 runs). During the other nine wins the margins were much slimmer, as the Millers outscored their counterparts by a margin of 3.1 runs on average, Gehring had to show some guts to fight off opposing batsmen.

Gehring’s three shutouts were remarkable in the sense that, of the 33 American Association pitchers throwing at least one runless game, only 10 tossed more than three. The Millers righty was one of five hurlers with three shutouts to their credit in 1906, according to data published at the time in the Minneapolis Journal. League data for shutouts in the minor leagues were not widely published, so this report relies upon original sources that have proven to be inaccurate on occasion.

The whitewashing of St. Paul on September 16 was Hank’s final, and perhaps his most impressive, of the three. Facing his hometown team during the first game of a doubleheader, Hank was up against a disciplined Saints club that could break out at a moment’s notice. They were low in the standings but hitting a league second .274. But on that late summer Sunday afternoon, St. Paul was stymied by the spitballer on only a pair of hits on the home turf as the Millers captured their 78th win of the year, Gehring posting his 12th.

In his second shutout of the season, on August 18 at Nicollet Park against Toledo, the Millers took the contest 5-0 on a three-hitter. Gehring walked no batters that day, struck out five, and won his 10th game of the year. Sporting Life declared that the “pitching of Gehring was a feature.” He defeated Howie Camnitz, one of the premier hurlers in the league (22-17, 217 strikeouts that season) as the Millers and Hens continued to vie for third place. Hank led the Association with three two-hit games in 1906.

Gehring had made a good showing among the 27 top pitchers (200-plus innings) in the league in 1906. He ranked 12th among them with a hits-per-game mark of 8.21. Opponents batted .247 against him, ranking him 11th in a three-way tie. In the category that counts most, runs-per-nine innings, Gehring ranked 15th with a 3.95 mark (this was before the days of earned-run average). A strikeouts-per-game ratio of 4.43 was where he excelled, ranking fifth. Gehring’s ranking within each of these vital categories demonstrates rapid maturation among fast company. He seemed to be rising to each new challenge.

Known for his swatting in previous seasons, Gehring was an enigmatic batsman during his lone season with the Millers. A look at his hitting during the games in which he appeared as a pitcher reveals that he was more comfortable in the batter’s box on the road than at home, knocking 15 safeties in 50 at-bats for a .300 clip. At home he was only 6-for-40 (.150). Combined he hit .233, .211 during contests in which he appeared as the starting pitcher.

After spending spring training with the Millers in 1907, Gehring elected to bunk with the Des Moines Champs, now managed by Mike Kelley, of the Class A Western League, where he would see more regular action. He put up numbers on both sides of the box that would boost anyone’s confidence.

Meanwhile, Pongo Joe Cantillon’s 1907 debut piloting a major-league team wasn’t going well in Washington. The team’s mixture of veterans and youth may have, perhaps, been a smart way to put together a ball club, but those elder Senators weren’t as healthy as they could have been. The result was a hospital list that left them floundering, prompting the Washington Post to refer to the ailing club as “Cantillon’s Cripples.”

Cantillon began a youth movement of unprecedented proportions. Using his broad reach across the horsehide network, he had access to a variety of upscale players who were ready for action. One was Bill Shipke, an infielder with the Des Moines team, one of the stars for Kelley’s contending champs. Pongo Joe made another significant move less than a month later when he called up Gehring.

In the July 14 issue of the Washington Post, Hank was described as a “crack twirler” who was doing “good work” in the Western League. In fact, he was performing exceptionally, hitting .407 with 10 doubles and four home runs in 118 at-bats as he again juggled outfield and pitching roles. In 21 games on the hill Gehring was 13-7 through mid-July.

Days later at Detroit, Gehring made his major-league debut against Hughie Jennings’s Tigers at Bennett Park when he pinch-hit for catcher Ed Heydon in the eighth. The neophyte fanned against a former American Association star, southpaw Eddie Siever, as the high-flying Tigers blanked the Cantillonites, 3-0. The last-place Senators now had a record of 24-48 with the road loss.

Hank’s big day on the mound came July 18 at Detroit when he started his first game. Gehring pitched a complete game and struck out three but, he allowed 10 hits and walked four. His defensive support that day was less than stellar, and the Tigers beat him 5-2.

The Senators were still losing ground in the standings after picking up Gehring, but on July 31 the newcomer made an impression against the world-champion Chicago White Sox. In his first start on the home grounds, he opposed future Hall of Famer Big Ed Walsh, four months Gehring’s junior, in a battle of spitball shooters. Gehring kept the sacks Sox-free until he walked Ed Hahn in the fourth, holding Chicago hitless until the fifth. The Post reported that Gehring performed like a “veteran” and that his one poor inning against the White Sox was due to poor support in the seventh: “There is nothing green about the young man’s work. He pitched like a veteran yesterday. Of the five hits made off his delivery only two were clean cut, and they were made by George Davis, who doubled and tripled in the seventh and ninth, respectively. It was Davis’ hitting, in fact, which gave the White Sox the victory.” A superb player throughout his career, Davis entered the Hall of Fame in 1998.

Although he lost the game 3-0, Gehring got his first major-league hit in the eighth inning, a single off Walsh, who would wind up with a won-lost record that season of 24-18 with a 1.60 earned-run average (ERA) in 422-1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, the buzz around town was the expected arrival of a 19-year-old pitcher from the West by the name of Walter Johnson. Pitching for Weiser of the semipro Southern Idaho League, he was given his first real chance to show his stuff. During his second year there in 1907 he’d posted a 0.55 ERA and struck out 214 batters in 146 innings. Joe Cantillon put a lame Cliff Blankenship on a train west to scout the pitcher, and before long Johnson had been persuaded to accept Cantillon’s invitation to join the Senators. That he did, and on August 2, 1907, he debuted against Detroit at National Park, Johnson losing 3-2. Gehring appeared in the game, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning. Suddenly the Senators’ youth movement took on an intriguing angle with the addition of the “Weiser Wonder,” later to become known as “Big Train.” It was on that day that the two trains ran parallel, as the St. Paul & Spitball Limited chugged side by side the Sidearm Slinger Express, which just happened to be heading for a depot called the Hall of Fame. A few weeks later, on August 31, Hank earned his first major-league victory, beating Boston 1-0.

On Friday, September 13 as the Senators were visiting the third-place New York Highlanders at Hilltop Park, Gehring had a singular moment in a 10-2 romp. With Washington leading 8-2 in the eighth inning, Hank approached the plate with his trusty bludgeon with a runner aboard and drove a pitch into the center-field stands, some 410 feet distant. A mighty blow, it was Hank’s first and only major-league home run. For Gehring, Friday the 13th was a lucky day.

The wrap-up on Gehring’s introductory season as a major leaguer: three wins, seven losses in 15 games, including nine starts. His season was marked by an ERA of 3.31 with eight complete games and two shutouts in 87 innings of work. He allowed but one home run, facing 371 batters, had only one hit batter, and had a strikeouts-to-walks mark of 31 to 14. Hank posted a .205 batting average through 44 at-bats.

While not wildly successful, Hank’s first shot at the majors was good enough to instill confidence in Cantillon. The Washington manager brought him back for a second look in 1908, but in five innings of work across three appearances Gehring’s major-league career was finished. His final appearance in the bigs was Wednesday, May 13, when he left the nation’s capital with a record of no wins, one loss.

Gehring returned home as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the American Association in 1908. Despite his status as a late arrival, he was welcomed as a hero, and he performed as one, at least in his first outing on May 26, 1908. As reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “Gehring Wins Game for Saints—Pitches Fine Ball and Gets Timely Two-Bagger—Hank Comes Home to Lead St. Paul to a Nice Victory—Gets Himself Into Some Tight Places, but Always Pulls Himself Out—Brewers Lose by Score of 2 to 0.”

Two weeks of inactivity can disrupt an athlete’s timing. But Hank had kept himself in good form after his final outing with Washington as shown by the stellar performance he provided for Saints fans in attendance that day at what was known as the Pillbox, also referred to as the Downtown Park, in St. Paul.

The Saints were struggling, having opened the season with a dismal record of 8-25 before manager Tim Flood entered Gehring’s name on the lineup card against visiting Milwaukee. Hank struck out eight in his Association return, walked three, and gave up six hits. He was “especially effective in pinches” and nailed the Brewers’ lid shut during three separate threats. Twice he whiffed Brewer batters with a Milwaukeean perched at third.  With the bat, Gehring drove in the first run of the game, doubling home second-baseman Terry McKune. Three innings earlier, Gehring had nearly driven in McKune with a ringing two-bagger to the corner of the lot in center. However, McKune was cut down at the plate.

Perhaps it was the grand reception he received upon his return to a St. Paul ball field, or perhaps it was just the presence of Lady Luck, but it was enough to propel Hank to a modestly successful season. Gehring won 12 battles, losing 14 for a St. Paul team that put up its worst record since the inception of the Association, 48-104. His principal mound mate was Wisconsinite Louis LaRoy (incorrectly spelled Leroy in many published records), a Native American hurler who had flirted with greatness in the American Association, winning 20 games in 1909. But in 1908 LaRoy went 16-21 with a SO/BB of 144-69, or 2.1, testimony to his overall ability as a hurler. Gehring did well alongside him, with his 112-76 ratio (1.5), but “Chief” or “Little Chief” LaRoy, two years Gehring’s senior, was the true master of the staff with his 332 innings of work. The Saints had a rare “Chief-to-Chief” battery with LaRoy on the hill and John “Chief” Meyers behind the plate.

Again playing the outfield alongside his mound duties, Gehring hit .282, proof that his talent as a stick wielder was as strong as ever. His 51 safeties in 181 at-bats included 13 doubles and a pair of long balls; he also stole a career-high five bases in 1908.

In the end, Gehring’s return to the Saints was fortuitous in one important way. At the time of his arrival, 21-year-old Frank Farris of Denton, Texas, was a member of St. Paul’s pitching staff. He contracted appendicitis in July and died at a hospital after undergoing surgery for his condition. The physical and emotional void left by the passing of Farris would have made it important for the team to have a leader like Gehring to help the team heal, and move on, from its untimely and grievous loss.

Hank’s performance as a Saint slipped somewhat during St. Paul’s 1909 campaign when the team climbed to fifth in the standings (80-83) under Mike Kelley. Hank posted a 14-17 record in 36 games, and his control wasn’t as sharp, as evidenced by his lower SO/BB of 106-88 (1.2). Playing in only 11 games in the outfield, Hank’s stick work declined markedly from the previous season, as he hit .212 in 151 at-bats, although he hit three long balls.

One of Gehring’s principal mound mates in 1909 was another Badger State ballplayer, Orville Peter Kilroy (14-10, 207 innings, 31 games), who would make the ultimate sacrifice during the World War as a member of a North Dakota machine gun battalion. Kilroy was killed in action at the Argonne Forest of France on October 9, 1918. An enlistee, Kilroy was cited for “for gallantry in action and especially meritorious services.”

The 1910 American Association season saw the Saints continue to increase their worth, climbing to fourth place with a record of 88-80, again under the leadership of Kelley. Gehring’s stock went up as he led the mound staff in strikeouts with 137 and a SO/BB ratio of 1.4 in 54 games through a team- (and career-) high 343 innings, allowing 300 hits, on his way to establishing 18 wins, his best in the high minors, against a career high 20 losses. Hank’s multi-position days were over, as Kelley used him only rarely as a pinch-hitter and never as a position player.

Gehring made his American Association swan song in 1911 as a member of his hometown St. Paul Saints on September 9 in a start against the third-place Kansas City Blues. Kansas City won 5-2, as Gehring singled for one of his team’s nine hits.

Appearing in 36 games as a pitcher, Gehring won 10 games while losing 12 in 216 innings, but his hits per inning allowed exceeded his number of innings pitched for the first time since 1907 with Washington when he allowed 92 hits in 87 frames. St. Paul was about to say good bye forever to its local hero, Gehring, who labored through 226 innings while striking out 55 against 51 walks, and allowing 233 hits. A .192 batting average was his lowest since 1906 with Minneapolis when he hit .184.

At 79-85 under Kelley the Saints managed to cling to fourth place but were nearly 20 games behind their arch rivals, the front-running Minneapolis Millers.

Gehring’s career had ebbed, but it wasn’t for a lack of wisdom. Gehring was likely becoming a truly mature ballplayer at this point in time, one who was likely to make substantial contributions to the game in the future. But fate intervened.

The Kansas City Blues picked up Gehring for the 1912 season. Under manager Dan Shay the Blues had finished only 4½ games behind the Millers in 1911 and were hoping to make a run at the pennant under Charlie Carr in 1912. Hank spent the entire spring active in the Blues camp until the team’s final trip during the second week of April. But he was conspicuously absent from the traveling squad when Kaysee played its final spring exhibition game on the road.

Then, on April 16, the Kansas City Times reported that Gehring was gravely ill. He experienced a uremia convulsion while sitting in the lobby of the Densmore Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, at around 4 p.m. of Monday, April 15, and was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital where he was reportedly “critically ill,” suffering from “uremic poisoning,” more commonly known as kidney failure. After the initial convulsion, the 31-year-old ballplayer experienced three more of the same variety. His attending physician, Dr. O. J. Cunningham, indicated that Gehring had a “fighting chance” to recover from his condition, according to the Tuesday Times.

On Wednesday, Gehring was no better. The doctor informed reporters that he might not live through the evening. Meanwhile, Gehring’s wife Bertha (nee Horman) had departed St. Paul by train and was expected to arrive in Kansas City that afternoon. 

The Blues were in Toledo playing the Mud Hens for the first series of the new season. The grim news would put a damper on the excitement of the early season, and the entire league was affected, as reported in the Times article for April 18, 1912, headed “Henry Gehring is Dead.” The report explained how the St. Paul pitcher “died at 1:30 o’clock this morning at St. Mary’s Hospital.” There was scant coverage of the event in the paper that day, owing to a catastrophic event which was taking place in the North Atlantic Ocean. Thousands had just perished in the sinking of the Titanic.

According to Gehring’s death certificate, his premature demise was the result of a combination of factors, primarily uremia, a condition marked by excessive urea in the blood. In Hank’s case, his condition was compounded by pyelitis, an infection of the kidneys, possibly caused by high urea levels. Numerous factors can contribute to such a uremia, including dehydration, urinary tract blockage, even a high protein diet which could stimulate the liver to produce more urea than needed. What is remarkable in Gehring’s case is the rapid onset of the condition which was strong enough to debilitate an outwardly healthy, athletic male in his prime. One week he’s playing professional baseball, the next week he’s on his death bed. The tragedy of such an event is rare enough in life, let alone in professional sports.

A few weeks after Hank’s passing, Sporting Life published an article containing the following:

The Passing of this Fine Young Pitcher, in the Flower of Youth, a Shock to American Association Cities.

. . . Henry Gehring was a product of the St. Paul corner lots in base ball and was born and reared in [that] city. He learned the game playing with amateur teams. Gehring first came into prominence as a pitcher on St. Paul semiprofessional clubs in 1899 and 1900. R. F. Malone, president of the I.B.A. and a lifelong base ball fan, introduced him into base ball. . . . While with the Saints Gehring pitched some great ball, but for the last two seasons he worked erratically, winning few games. His slowing up is believed to have been due to the disease which resulted in his death. Gehring was noted for his ability as a hitting pitcher. He frequently was used as a pinch hitter on this account and broke up more than one game with timely bingles. . . . While with Des Moines, he led the regular batters of the Western League. He was a favorite among the players and fans for his quiet and unassuming manner on and off the field. His death will be regretted by Twin Cities fans who have in years gone by cheered him from grand stand and bleachers.

Even the men in blue grieved over Gehring’s death. American Association umpire Gerald Hayes made it clear when he publicly announced, “He was one of the most even-tempered and likeable men that ever stepped upon a ball field. No matter how things went, he was always trying to help his team along. American Association umpires have lost a man always their friend.”       

The effect of Gehring’s death on his baseball family was profound, and it isn’t difficult to comprehend what a young woman with an eight-year-old child would have gone through. The St. Paul Saints were cognizant of the weight of Bertha’s sudden precarious financial situation, so the club scheduled a “Henry Gehring benefit game” and dedicated the entire Lexington Park gate proceeds to Florence (his daughter) and Bertha, an effort which was likely the result of collaboration with the Kansas City club. The game took place between the fourth-place Blues and fifth-place Saints on Monday, May 27, 1912. 

A prominent announcement topped the sports section for the May 27 edition of the Pioneer Press. In a large bold font, the headline ran: “Gehring Benefit Today.” The article described Hank as a man who “always deported himself on the ball field in a manner that earned the respect and friendship of the fans, and did his duty in the game of ball the best he knew how. He was called out of the game of life before his duty was fulfilled, and it is to help along the work he set out to do that the St. Paul fans are asked to contribute today.”

In the benefit game, Kansas City beat St. Paul 5-4, but, ultimately, St. Paul was the winner, as 2,000 fans came out in support of the family, and a hefty sum in the neighborhood of $1,500 was collected on behalf of the Gehrings. It was reportedly the largest weekday crowd of the season at Lexington.

Years later Gehring was still being talked about in St. Paul diamond circles. The St. Paul Dispatch published a question from a reader described as “an old time fan of the St. Paul Saints.” It asked, “Who was the only Saint ever to hit a ball over the Lexington avenue fence when home plate was in the corner where the clubhouse now stands in Lexington park?” The answer was provided by St. Paul’s “Mr. Baseball,” John W. Norton, who claimed Hank Gehring had performed the feat.

Such performances were rare, but an accumulation of various noteworthy accomplishments studded Gehring’s otherwise modest career in organized baseball.

Hank is buried on a hillside at St. Paul’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The beautiful cast concrete plant stand marking his grave reads, simply, “Gehring.” His mother, Anna Gehring, and only daughter Florence are interred at the nearby Elmhurst Cemetery in St. Paul.

While never a flashy player, Hank Gehring had a fascinating career in professional baseball, rubbing shoulders with some great players, performing in dynamic, growing cities, and enjoying extraordinary success at the minor-league level.  Brought up in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of central St. Paul during the late 19th century, he made a substantial mark on his profession, another Minnesotan who sparkled on diamonds across the country. His early departure adds poignancy to the tale of his well-lived life, as if to highlight the days he spent perfecting his game. Gehring had become a seasoned ballplayer with a variety of talents, but the sportsman’s class he showed in 11 seasons as a professional ballplayer put him in a distinctive class of his own.   

Note

A version of this biography appeared in the book Minnesotans in Baseball, edited by Stew Thornley (Nodin, 2009).

Sources

Benson, Michael. Ballparks of North America, 1989.

Berchem, Florence. Hand-written notes on her father (undated).

Berchem, Maurie and Connie. Interviews of August 16, 2007 and June 2, 2008

Columbus Dispatch, July 13, 1908

Fink, Gary. E-mail correspondence February 9 and June 9, 2008

Filichia, Peter. Professional Baseball Franchises, 1993

Finch, Robert L. Story of Minor League Baseball, 1953.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association, letter dated December 18, 2006

Johnson, Lloyd and Miles Wolff, Eds. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. 1997

Lowry, Philip. Green Cathedrals, 2006.

Minneapolis Journal: various issues 1906.

Nemec, Ray, unpublished player data record.

St. Paul Pioneer Press: various issues, 1901-1912.

St. Paul Dispatch: undated (1936).

Sporting Life: various issues, 1906-1912.

The Sporting News: undated photocopy from Baseball Hall of Fame.

Steinberg, Steve. E-mail correspondence November 6, 2007.

Washington Post, various issues 1906.

Wright, Marshall. The American Association, Year-by-Year Statistics for the Baseball Minor League, 1902-1952, 1997.

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When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.