SABR

Frank Truesdale

This article was written by James Elfers.

Frank Truesdale was the classic journeyman player. Generally a weak hitting switch hitter, he was also something of a stone hand around second base, his usual position. Truesdale possessed enough talent to latch on to several major league teams, yet not enough to stick around long.   Lacking in physical prowess, Truesdale stood 5’ 8” and weighed just 145 pounds. The minor leagues are where Frank made his name and established his reputation. His long minor league career took him everywhere from the Texas prairies to the Pacific Coast, to the shores of the Great Lakes, playing at every level of the game.

Frank Day Truesdale was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 31, 1884 and grew up playing ball on the city’s sandlots. Like many in that city, Frank was a first generation resident. His father had been born in New Jersey and moved to St. Louis to better his position in the world. Getting his start in the professional game a bit late, Frank was assigned, at age 21, to Houston in the South Texas League in 1905. Like so many minor leaguers Frank worked his way steadily up the ladder.

He spent four years with Houston, usually as a second baseman. In both 1905 and 1906 Truesdale led all second sackers in the league in games played. In 1907, Houston tried him at shortstop and Frank responded by leading the league’s shortstops in assists. But the move was only temporary; in 1908 Frank was back at second base and compiling his first minor league hitting season of note.

Placed in the role of leadoff hitter, Frank responded marvelously. He set tongues wagging and was voted the best player in the Texas League by the fans. The Dallas Morning News wrote: “Notwithstanding near every baseball fan has his individual preference among the various baseball players, most of them will agree that Frank Truesdale stands out head and shoulders above the other men of the Texas League when it comes to native ability, baseball prowess and execution.” [i] After appearing in 113 games he was batting .278 with 44 stolen bases when his contract was purchased by the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League for $750.

After a respectable final 60 games of the 1908 season with the Oaks, Truesdale’s skills took a noticeable nosedive the following season. In 26 games he was hitting .284 but lacking in most other offensive categories. He scored only seven runs and stole just seven bases. The Pacific Coast simply did not agree with Frank. Unused to the chilly Oakland Bay weather he lost according to the Oakland Tribune “between twenty and thirty pounds”[ii] off his already slim frame. Because of his weight loss and subsequent evaporation of his skills, Frank was reduced to a part time role with the Oaks in 1909. His prior performance in Texas was recalled fondly, though. When the Dallas franchise of the Texas League noticed that Truesdale’s name was not appearing in the Oaks box scores, they sent telegraphic inquiries about his status. As a result the Oaks gave him his release and in May 1909, Frank reported for duty on his old stomping grounds.        

The results were dramatic yet mixed. While his batting average dropped 30 points to .255, the move to Texas seemed to do him good. Certainly it was a boon to his professional career. Playing every day in Texas, he caught the eye of St. Louis Browns scout Charley Barrett who signed him for the upcoming season. The Browns, under manager Jack O’Conner, went with almost an entirely new lineup for 1910.  The changes were largely for naught. As the Washington Post bluntly stated, the “Browns Are Not Strong” [iii] Frank was invited to spring training with the Browns and he impressed O’Conner.  Frank made the club as the Brownies made their way northward. This first season in the big leagues is the closest Frank Truesdale ever came to being a star.

Given the starting job at second, Frank showed some speed on the base paths, stealing 29 bags. His noticeable lack of skill at the plate however, resulted in an anemic by today’s standards average of .219. That average was actually not too bad for the Deadball era; in fact, it was one point higher than the entire Browns team averaged in 1910. His lack of power also was not a concern in 1910. He did have occasions to put his good speed to use. On August 23, 1910, he hit a three-run inside-the-park home run off the Red Sox' Ed Karger at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. It would be his only major league home run. The Browns as a team netted only 12 homers that season. In the Deadball era, teams took their runs wherever they could get them. His propensity for errors however drew considerable fire and even put him in the record books.

Frank fielded an abysmal .914, poor even for the error-laden Deadball era. In the history of major league baseball, his .914 is the lowest fielding average ever compiled by a second baseman who appeared in more than 100 games. Frank amassed a dizzying 56 errors to lead the league. So notably poor was his fielding that four years later columnist John J. Ward singled out Truesdale in an article he wrote for BaseBall Magazine. The title of the article said it all, “The Kings of Error Makers.” [iv] Truesdale was selected as starting second baseman for the bad fielding team. Selected as a counterpoint for “A Great Fielding Team” was the Athletics’ Dave Shean, who fielded a nifty .981.

Apart from his disastrous fielding Frank did make another mark in the record books, this one considerably better. When brand new Comiskey Park opened on July 1, 1910, the Browns faced the White Sox. Frank recorded the first single (not the first hit) ever in that fabled park as the Browns spoiled the Pale Hoses’ home opener, 2-0. In all, Truesdale appeared in 123 games for the Browns. The high points aside from his lone home run were his 29 steals and 35 RBIs.

In 1911, Frank appeared in just one game for the Browns as a pinch runner before he was shipped off to Buffalo of the International League. Frank would spend the next three seasons with the Bisons. While playing in the shadow of Lake Erie, he, as usual, put up mixed numbers, although in 1912 he did lead the league in runs scored with 120. In 1914, after the first game of the season the Bisons traded Truesdale to the New York Yankees.

The Yankees gave the Bisons outfielders Frank “Flash” Gilhooley and Lester Channell. The deal turned out to be a steal for the Bisons, as both players they obtained for Truesdale brought them huge benefits. Gilhooley led the club in hitting, runs scored, hits, triples, and walks. Channell placed second in most of these same categories. Together the duo led the Bisons to the International League title in 1915 and 1916, while the Yankees got a .212 hitter with an alarming fielding average of .947 for 77 games.

The Yankees cut their losses and sold Frank to the International League’s Jersey City franchise for the 1915 season. Instead of becoming despondent, Frank responded with his best professional season to date. He hit .303, breaking .300 for the first time in his professional career. The next two seasons found him in Toronto playing for the fabled Maple Leafs. He was only with the Maple Leafs for a grand total of 15 games in 1917 before he disappeared from their roster. Apparently the Leafs gave him his outright release. There are no notations in his minor league file describing his departure as being caused by injury, so the Leafs must have been unhappy with him. 

Out of professional baseball for the first time since 1905, Frank Truesdale made his way to New Mexico. The 47th state had joined the union just six years earlier, in 1912. Frank settled in St. Rita, New Mexico, a town that is notable because it no longer exists. The site of a copper mine which is still active, St. Rita was completely devoured by the company’s mining operations in the 1920s. Since St. Rita was a company town, all of its inhabitants were employed by the mine in some capacity. Frank was no exception. According to the 1920 Federal census of the town, Truesdale was employed in the none-too-strenuous position of mechanic’s helper. By this time he had a young family to support. His wife, Willie, was a native of Alabama but the two had met in Texas while Frank was playing in the minors. Texas is also where their only child, a daughter named Elaine, was born.

Apparently the pay and the work in the mines were not enough to kill his passion for baseball. On April 29, 1918, he got a call to join the Red Sox; his signing was announced the following day. Frank was given a week to report to the team. He arrived in time to witness the Yankees sweep a three game series from the Red Sox. The Sox manager at the time, Ed Barrow, had probably seen Frank play many times while he served as president of the International League. He may have recalled Frank and put in the request for him to join the team. The manpower drain occurring as a consequence of World War I may also have been a factor in Frank’s recruitment.

Frank spent nearly all of his time on the Red Sox bench, getting into just 15 games. Only one of his appearances was of note: his debut.  He was the last batter to face Red Faber before Faber departed for military service on June 11, in Chicago. Future Hall of Famer Faber had enlisted in the Navy and signed up for submarine duty as the United States involvement with the Great War escalated. Faber left for duty with Uncle Sam with a bang, surrendering just a single run while scattering seven hits in a 4-1 win over the Red Sox. Truesdale was sent to the plate in the ninth as a pinch hitter for pitcher Dick McCabe and never came close to breaking up Red’s party. He struck out giving Red a great going away present. Truesdale got a rare start on June 19, playing without distinction in a 5-0 loss to the A’s in Boston.

Typical of his time in Boston was a doubleheader against the A’s on July 4. He had perhaps his best game with the Sox in the first game, collecting four hits in five at- bats, including a double as his team clawed out a 9-7 victory. However, Truesdale cost the Red Sox the nightcap when his error at second base allowed the A’s to plate the decisive run in a 2-1 victory.

On July 9, he scored the winning run, however, in a 12-inning 1-0 win over Cleveland. He pinch-hit, bounding the ball back to Jim Bagby, reaching base on a fielder’s choice and making second on the play. He scored on Mayer’s walkoff single. 

On July 14 the Red Sox sent a team of scrubs to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, to play for the town against the Queen Quality team from Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, a section of Boston. At the time, in-season exhibitions against local industrial and town teams were quite common and lucrative events for major league teams. The Sox sent no one of note to defend the honor of Woonsocket. The Queen Quality men were no slouches. Several major leaguers played for Jamaica Plain under aliases. The Sox defeated Queen Quality, 5-2, in front of 2,000 fans, a quite respectable crowd. Truesdale batted leadoff and scored a run in the winning effort.

Frank Truesdale found himself mentioned in virtually every newspaper in the country a few days later. On July 19, Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker issued his famous “work or fight order.” The edict declared that every major leaguer 30 years old or younger would either have to work in a military-related industry or face induction into the military. Newspapers all across the country listed the members of the various teams who were exempt from the order. Frank Truesdale, Dave Shean, Heinie Wagner, and George Whiteman were the only members of the Sox over the age limit and thus exempt.

Despite this, Truesdale’s days with the Sox were numbered. His last major league game came on July 30, 1918. His final numbers: 36 at-bats, 10 hits, six runs scored, and a fielding average of .913, a point below even his record-setting standard for abysmal fielding. With little fanfare he was shipped off to Jersey City of the International League, but he played only a single game for his new club. 

Frank did not depart the Sox on good terms. Apparently believing that he had a verbal contract with the team to be on salary for the last two months of the season, Truesdale sued the Red Sox for the money he felt he was owed. The end result of the lawsuit was not especially satisfactory to Frank. On January 10, 1919, the National Commission declared him a free agent but said he was not entitled to the two months’ additional salary. [v]

1919 found Frank back in familiar Texas where he would play out the rest of his professional life. He was with both Dallas and San Antonio, appearing in 98 games and hitting a nightmarish .196. Among the mysteries about Truesdale is where he spent 1920. The 1920 federal census places him in St. Rita but at the same time a Truesdale was playing for a semipro team in the tiny hamlet of Elmo, Texas. Was it Frank? He popped up again for sure in 1921 with the San Angelo Broncos of the Class-D West Texas League. He hit .249 in 101 games and this time led the league in fielding.

1922 could be best summed up with the phrase “downward spiral.” He began the season with the Red Snappers of the Texas-Oklahoma League as their starting second baseman. At midseason the Red Snappers cut him and he latched onto Ardmore in the same league. In early August, Ardmore dropped him as well so it was on to Clovis of the West Texas League. At Clovis, Frank was able to gain some consolation in having fallen so far down baseball’s professional ladder by having the best two weeks of his life. He hit .358 in 19 games. Unfortunately, on August 30, Frank’s season came to an end when he suffered a sliding injury. He never fully recovered from it and the injury would dog him for the rest of his life.

The end of Truesdale’s baseball career neared. In 1923 he traveled to Paris, Texas, and spent spring training with the Paris Grays of the Class-D East Texas League. It is unknown whether he appeared in any games with the Grays as stats for that league have not been compiled.

Frank Truesdale’s last contact with professional baseball came in 1924. He turned up for spring training with the Terrell Terrors of the Class-D Texas Association. He had reached rock bottom. Although he trained with the team, Frank was not on the Terrors’ opening day roster. After parts of 19 years in the professional game, Frank Truesdale was out of baseball at the age of 40.

A real mystery is why he never joined the managerial ranks. He certainly knew the Texas leagues inside and out. But instead of managing, he returned to New Mexico for another go at the mining industry. Frank Truesdale is probably the only major leaguer in history who lived in not one, but two ghost towns. He settled in the small community of Gamerco, New Mexico, just north of Gallup. Gamerco began and ended life as a coal mining boom town. The Gallup American Coal Company began sinking shafts and setting up the town in 1920. Gamerco was a model company town complete with company store, meat market, a hotel, and a clubhouse. For the residents, use of the coal company also made available a shower house, a golf course, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a feature that Frank especially liked, a baseball field. The company had its own doctor and nurse and, unlike some coal mining companies, the emphasis in Gamerco was on safety.

Gamerco was a happy company town until the mine went bust in the 1960s. With the shuttering of the mines, Gamerco was gradually absorbed by the New Mexico wilderness. Today only a few of the old buildings remain.

Although Truesdale spent most of his final years in Gamerco, it was not where he died. He spent his last year in ill health being tended to by his daughter, Elaine, in Albuquerque. He died on August 27, 1943, at the young age of 59. Survived by his wife and only daughter, Frank was buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Albuquerque.

Sources

Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004)
www.retrosheet.com

www.baseball-almanac.com

http://www.southernnewmexico.com/Articles/Southwest/Grant/SantaRita-Thet...
http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/nm/gamerco.html
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/HC-McKinleyCounty2.html
SABR members Howard W. Henry and Davis O. Barker supplied useful information about Frank Truesdale’s minor league career in Buffalo and Texas

Notes




[i] Frank Truesdale Rated as Greatest Player in the Texas League by the Fans quoted in the Oakland Tribune, July 23, 1908 p. 14

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Browns Are Not Strong, Washington Post, April 10, 1910 p. MS8

[iv] The Kings Of Error Makers, BaseBall Magazine, August 1914, p. 79.

[v] Players Lose Suit Against Two Clubs, Washington Post, January, 11, 1920 p.14

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