SABR

Gary Fortune

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

An every-other-year major leaguer, Gary Fortune was a switch-hitting pitcher – a right-hander on the mound – who wound up 0-5 in his big-league career. He pitched for the Phillies in 1916 and 1918, and for the Red Sox in 1920. His 0-5 record reflected a 6.61 career earned run average. He wasn’t any better at bat, hitting .167 in 24 major-league at-bats. Perhaps he found his real calling working in Washington as a marketing expert with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Garrett Reese Fortune was born in High Point, North Carolina, on October 11, 1894. His father William was an attorney at law, a Virginia native who, shortly afterwards, built a practice in Asheville.[1] His mother, Marie (Scruggs) later gave birth to two more children, Virginia (1896) and Charles (1899). Expectations may have been a bit high for Gary; the 1900 census recorded that he could neither read nor write – he was only five years old at the time of the census. 

Gary graduated from Asheville High School and then attended Weaver College in Weaverville, North Carolina, and Bingham Military Academy in Asheville. It was in Asheville that he launched his professional baseball career playing for the Asheville Mountaineers in 1914. He was 5-5 that first year in the Class D North Carolina State League. In 1915, the team changed its name and became the Tourists. Fortune built on his experience from the year before, threw 309 innings, and recorded a 22-10 record, the first of his four 20-win minor-league seasons. He helped pull the team from worst to first, from last place in 1914 to top of the six-team league in 1915.

In 1916, Fortune jumped to Class B and pitched in the Eastern League for the New London Planters, just falling short of another 20-win year, 19-7, for manager Gene McCann. New London won first place. Fortune earned himself the opportunity to start a game in the major leagues, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies on October 5. It was the last game of the season; Fortune threw five innings, giving up just two runs, but coming up short in a 4-1 game, tagged with the loss. The Phillies finished second, 2 ½ games behind the Brooklyn Robins.

It was a deep staff, with Pete Alexander winning 33 and Eppa Rixey winning 22. Al Demaree won 19. Alexander won another 30 games in 1917, and the Phillies finished second once again, but they didn’t seek help from Fortune. He had an “off” year with New London, 5-10 despite his best ERA yet, 2.84, in only 146 innings during a season that started late for him due to illness. He was also in the North Carolina National Guard and subject to military call-up at any time. New London finished third.

In 1918, a war-shortened season, Fortune (and the Planters) had a resurgence and was 13-2 with first-place New London (Fortune posted the best percentage in the league), and got into five games for the Phillies, starting two and losing two. He’d contemplated taking some shipyard work, but signed again with Philadelphia on July 29, losing a 9-6 complete game on August 22 and losing to the Boston Braves on the 30th. Fortune threw 31 innings, burdened with an 8.13 ERA. He walked 19 and struck out 10.

It was the Phillies to the Hillies. Pittsfield, Massachusetts was his home team in 1919, pitching for manager Joe Birmingham and the Eastern League’s Pittsfield Hillies and putting up a strong 24-9 record, leading the league in wins (and strikeouts, with 182) and grabbing the attention of the Boston Red Sox as he won 16 consecutive games, beginning on July 11 and leading Pittsfield to the Eastern League pennant. The Red Sox signed him on September 8, and asked him to report for spring training in 1920. It was erroneously reported that he’d been sold to the Giants, but that mistake was caught almost immediately. 

Fortune made the team, and first appeared on the first of May. He got into 14 games, starting three and finishing nine (there was one complete game on July 7, a 1-0 loss to the Athletics at Shibe Park.) As in 1918, Fortune was 0-2. He posted a 5.83 ERA. At the plate, he singled twice, driving in the only run of his career on July 13 during a 10-4 loss to the Tigers. August 2 was his final appearance, though he was with the Sox until August 26, when he was sent to Springfield, Massachusetts. He took up where he’d left off in the Eastern League, with Pittsfield, winning six games in a row for a 6-0 finish. The Red Sox released him to Toronto in Ban Johnson’s first bulletin of the 1921 season.[2]

The Toronto Maple Leafs lured Fortune north of the border in 1921, and he was 14-15 in International League play (3.62 ERA). He apparently considered giving up baseball, and concentrating on a business he’d started in North Carolina, but turned up in Mobile, Alabama during spring training in 1922, wound up appearing in just one game for Toronto, and then was returned to the Eastern League where he pitched for the Springfield Ponies. [3] Fortune was 18-9 (2.51) in his second stint for Springfield, including winning (by the score of 3-1) a 16-inning game against Bridgeport on July 14. The Ponies benefitted from Fortune’s work for the next three years, too. He put up back-to-back 20-win records, 22-12 (1923) and 23-9 (1924), leading the league again in 1924. In 1925, he put up another 14-15 record, but with the best earned run average of the three years.

There were still five more seasons of minor-league baseball, and most of the next three were with Springfield, though there was a brief stint with Asheville in 1926 (5-2 there, under option from Springfield, then 5-5 with Springfield itself.) 12-16 and 19-12 were his records in ’27 and ’28. 1929 saw Fortune pitch for the last-place Hartford Senators (8-12) before a final season in 1930, 3-2 with the New Haven Profs, a team which withdrew from the league midseason. It was time to return to Asheville.

Fortune then retired, marrying Inez Edgerton in November 1934. It was his second marriage; the first one hadn’t ended well. After the 1929 season, home from Hartford, Fortune had found his wife Charlotte in an automobile with Charley Perkinson, a former county policeman. A fracas broke out, and Fortune had them both arrested. As The Sporting News explained, “A fist fight ensued and Mrs. Fortune is charged with aiding the former officer in assaulting her husband.” [4]

He died after 30 days in Georgetown University Hospital of peritonitis brought on by a ruptured appendix, on September 23, 1955, at the age of 60. His obituary in the Washington Post termed him a “marketing specialist” in the Grain Division of the Department of Agriculture. He’d been both a Mason and an Elk. [5]

He’d stood 5-feet-11 and is listed as weighing 176 pounds. Though 0-5 in the big leagues, his 17 minor-league seasons saw him 237-152 after 3,515 innings of work. Newspapers of the day often spelled his first name Garry, though his wife spelled it Gary, as did official documents such as the census and his death certificate. The couple had one son, Robert Gary Fortune.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.




[1] An article in the August 23, 1912 New York Times tells how Fortune’s father, rushed into Superior Court in Asheville, interrupting a murder trial to complain that his client had been “spirited…from jail to administer the third degree to make him confess that he committed the recent robbery of an express car near here.” The judge granted Fortune warrants for the arrest of three detectives.

[2] The Sporting News, February 24, 1921

[3] The Sporting News, March 16, 1922

[4] The Sporting News, October 31, 1929

[5] Washington Post, September 24, 1955

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

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.