SABR

Fred Bratschi

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Rather little is known about the background of Fred Bratschi. He reported himself of Swiss nationality in the player questionnaire he mailed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961. He let the Hall know that he’d been born in Alliance, Ohio, on January 16, 1892, but he doesn’t turn up in any United States census until 1930. By that time, he’d already finished playing baseball and moved on to work in the automobile business. Details provided the census enumerator indicated that both parents (Samuel Bratschi and the former Louise Tritten) were natives of Switzerland.

Bratschi was a right-handed outfielder who appeared in 89 major-league games over parts of three seasons. He stood 5-feet-10 and is listed at 170 pounds. His full name was Frederick Oscar Bratschi, and he was known by a common nickname of the day, Fritz. Eight years of grade school in Alliance constituted his formal education, and what he did before signing in 1913 with the Fort Wayne Champs is not known. Likewise, we do not know what his parents did to earn a living.

Fort Wayne was a Class B team in the Central League. He hit .291 in 53 games for Ft. Wayne and played an unknown number of games for Steubenville as well. Bratschi played well enough for them that he was brought back again in 1914, hitting .281 in 132 games (with eight homers.) The team changed its name from the Champs to the Railroaders in 1914 reverting to the name by which they’d previously been known before winning the 1912 championship in the 12-team league. The newly named had Champs finished second in 1913 to the Grand Rapids Bill-Eds, who in turn named themselves the “Champs” for the 1914 season (when they finished fifth, and the short-lived practice of renaming winners as “Champs” was abandoned.)

The Fort Wayne Cubs hired Fritz in 1915, and had an even better season, advancing to Double A in time to play 25 games for the Columbus Senators (American Association). In 1916, it was Columbus again, but he faltered a bit and so returned back to the Central League, this time with the Muskegon Reds, hitting .319 in 68 games. In 1917, he appeared in 140 games playing outfield for the Memphis Chickasaws (Southern Association.) He hit .264 with 14 homers, a year in which the American League leader was Wally Pipp with nine home runs. The National League had two hitters tied with 12 homers: Dave Robertson and Gavvy Cravath. No one else hit more than Rogers Hornsby’s eight. His fielding was far from stellar, a .920 fielding percentage based on his 21 errors.

Bratschi had registered for the draft in the First World War, listing himself as both a machinist and a ball player with Memphis. He was married, with no children. He never served in the military, though perhaps his talents were put to use in defense work. The year 1918 was a war-shortened season for everyone. Fritz spent hit .216 with seven homers in 73 games, slugging at a somewhat lower pace (seven home runs), but also spent time on the roster of the Indianapolis Indians (again producing no surviving statistics.) In 1919, he was in the Southern Association once more, both with the Atlanta Crackers and the Chattanooga Lookouts. His 513 at-bats over a full 143 games saw him with a .246 average but with only two home runs and fewer doubles and triples as well than in the comparable 1917 campaign. He spent two years with Chattanooga in 1920 (.288 with nine homers) and 1921 (pretty evenly split between the Lookouts and Joplin of the Western League; he hit .336 for Joplin.)

He finally made the major leagues in July that year, debuting with the Chicago White Sox on July 24, 1921 in a pinch-hit role. Batting for the pitcher in the bottom of the ninth during a futile five-run rally, Bratchi (sic?) flied out. Throughout the decade of the 1920s, his name was invariably spelled Bratchi in game accounts and box scores. After his death, the Massillon Evening Independent reported that his name at birth had been spelled Bratchi. Complicating matters a bit, the paper used the spelling Bratche in his obituary and gave the name of his business at the time as Bratche’s Central Service. [1]

Bratschi’s first start, batting seventh and playing in right field, came two days later in Griffith Stadium; he singled once in four at-bats. The next day, he was 2-for-3, his only multi-hit game of his first year. In 1921, he appeared in 16 games and hit .286 in 28 at-bats, driving in three runs. The next four seasons were spent outside of organized baseball. If he kept a scrapbook, the clipping for the year may have been in the August 19 New York Times which bore the headline “BRATCHI’S PINCH HIT IS YANKS’ UNDOING.” His two-run, bases-loaded pinch hit off Carl Mays in the bottom of the eight catapulted Chicago over New York for a 7-6 victory. The Times said he “holds the none too delightful position as pinch-hitter for the frequently hitless White Sox.” [2]

Fred played independent league (“outlaw”) baseball from 1922 through 1925, and was banned from organized ball for a period of time. In 1922 he led the Massillon Agathons with 13 home runs. According to statistics published in the Evening Independent,  he batted .324 in 395 at-bats and also had 20 Doubles and 18 triples. The Agathons were managed by Fred’s former Muskegon teammate George Textor and featured a former major leaguer at nearly every position. The following season, the Agathons joined the Midwest League. Both the team and Bratschi struggled offensively. The season’s final stats listing Fred with a .243 average in 72 league games. He spent 1924 and the first part of the 1925 season with Hazleton, Pennsylvania of the Pennsylvania Coal League before returning to the Agathons in late June. He batted well for the Agathons posting a .358 average in his first six weeks with the team.   That winter, the Agathons and the Ohio Pennsylvania League of which they were a member wanted to get back in the good graces of Organized Ball and almost all the league’s veteran players were forced to return to their previous minor league team.

Fred appeared on the scene in early 1926, with the Boston Red Sox. [3] It was a season in which no Red Sox played more than 98 games in the outfield. Bratschi appeared in 72 games, hitting .275 (20 points above team average) and driving in 19 runs. Four of those RBIs came in one game, when his former White Sox came to Fenway on May 19. The White Sox still won the game.  In 1927, he appeared in only one game – Opening Day in Washington. He went up to pinch hit, made an out, and that turned out to be his last big-league at-bat. He played with three other teams in 1927: the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New Haven Profs, and the Baltimore Orioles, all in the minors. In 1928, he played for a while with the Erie Sailors but was having trouble with his throwing arm and in late June took a position as an umpire.   

Fred Bratschi had played in 89 major-league games with a very respectable .276 batting average, and driven in 22 runs.

The 1930 census found him living as a roomer in Massillon, Ohio, working as an automobile salesman. On March 2, 1932 he married Irene Knesbeck and worked as owner and operator of a SOHIO station, the Central Service Garage in Massillon, until January 10, 1962, less than a week before his 70th birthday. He had been despondent over ongoing ill health and while at work that day, his death certificate reports, Bratschi “drank battery acid from his regular drinking cup at his gasoline station.” The Massillon Evening Independent indicated that it may not have been a suicide, however, quoting a friend who was an eyewitness, William Heckman: “Heckman said today that Bratche mentioned his coffee was hot and drank some liquid in a nearby cup supposedly to cool his throat.  Bratche mentioned that the second liquid tasted funny and was taken to the hospital according to police reports.” [4] He died a little over 30 hours after being admitted. He was survived by his wife Irene.  

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also consulted Bratschi’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Craig Lammers for tracking down information from Massillon.






1 Massillon Evening Independent, January 10, 1962.

2 New York Times, August 19, 1921



3 The Sporting News, May 13, 1926

4 Massillon Evening Independent, January 10, 1962.

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