Bill Shettsline must have been delighted. Peering through a knothole in a fence around a baseball park, the Philadelphia Phillies business manager was getting a chance to scout a left-handed pitcher who was making headlines in the semipro leagues around Philadelphia. And he was doing it without leaving the confines of the city. The only problem was that the pitcher, Ray “Eph” Hartranft, was under contract to another team.i
But that didn’t stop Shettsline. Hartranft was trying out for the Philadelphia team of the United States League. The USL was an “outlaw” league that had lasted but a month in 1912. Now, in 1913, it was attempting a revival. Since the league wasn’t part of Organized Baseball, all the players within it were, for the most part, free agents to Organized Baseball teams.
Shettsline must have liked what he saw because he signed Hartranft to a contract with the Phillies. By June, without playing in the minor leagues, the 23-year-old pitched in relief for the Phillies, spelling the great Grover Cleveland Alexander. It was the only game of Hartranft’s major-league career.
Raymond Joseph Hartranft was born on September 19, 1890, in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, to William and Agnes (Wasser) Hartranft, the fourth of nine children. William Hartranft supported the family by being a molder at a local foundry.
When Ray was 17 years old the family moved to Royersford, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Three years later, in the 1910 census, William was still working as a molder while Ray was listed as a laborer.ii
Ray was also playing semipro baseball, pitching for the Royersford town team. His older brother, Charles, was a good player in his own right and earned a tryout with the Lancaster Red Roses of the Tri-State League in 1910.iii
By 1913 Hartranft’s pitching had caught the eye of Organized Baseball. Winston-Salem of the Class D North Carolina State League signed him. But before he reported, Philadelphia of the United States League came calling, offering him a chance to stay close to home and possibly make more money. Hartranft bought his release from Winston-Salem and signed with the USL team.iv
Hartranft was practicing with the USL Philadelphia team when Shettsline watched him pitch. Phillies manager Red Dooin also went over for a look. When the USL collapsed after only two days of play (the Philadelphia team never played a game because its schedule hadn’t started yet), Hartranft was left without a team to play for.v
Not long after, in June, Dooin decided he needed another left-handed pitcher for the first-place Phillies, so he signed the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Hartranft. On June 16 he was called on to pitch.vi
Before the game started, Hartranft doubtless thought there was no chance he would pitch on that day. Starting the game was Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was unbeaten in the ten games he had started that season. But the Chicago Cubs hit the future Hall of Famer around so much that after five innings, Dooin pulled him in favor of Hartranft.vii
Hartranft entered the game with the Cubs leading 5-1. He didn’t acquit himself well. He gave up singles to pitcher Larry Cheney, second baseman Johnny Evers, and right fielder Frank Schulte. He also walked a batter. He did manage to keep the scoring down though, giving up only one run. Hartranft was replaced by Rube Marshall in the seventh. That was the sum total of his major-league career.viii
The Phillies held onto Hartranft for another month before releasing him conditionally to Allentown of the Class-B Tri-State League. There Hartranft pitched in three games with a record of 1-1 before Allentown unconditionally released him on August 1. Four days later, the Phillies also unconditionally released him.ix
Hartranft pitched the rest of the season with the Riverside, New Jersey, team in the semipro Delaware River League.x In 1914 he was back in the Tri-State League, this time with the Wilmington Chicks. He didn’t fare well and was back pitching semipro ball, this time with the St. Mary’s club of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. That seemed to be the end of his Organized Baseball career.xi
For the next few years, he pitched semipro ball. He took a job with the Reading Railroad as a policeman and played in the Pennsylvania & Reading Railway League. He also played semipro basketball.xii
Sometime in this time period, Hartranft was married to Bessie Grater. In 1915 Bessie gave birth to their first and only child, Pauline. In 1918 he wasn’t drafted into World War military service because of the number of dependents he had, including his parents, wife, and daughter.
In the 1920 census Hartranft was listed as a laborer at a steel works. Undoubtedly he was working for Bethlehem Steel because in April he was pitching for Lebanon in the Bethlehem Steel League. The Lebanon Daily News noted that “he had been out of the game some time as a result of throwing out his arm several years ago.”xiii
The time off helped Hartranft’s pitching. In May 1920 he caught the eye of Charles “Pop” Kelchner, one of Branch Rickey’s scouts for the St. Louis Cardinals. On June 7 he was signed to a contract and told to report to the Syracuse Stars of the Double-A International League in Jersey City, where the Stars were playing. After six years, he was back in Organized Baseball and only one step away from the major leagues.xiv
But instead of reporting to the Syracuse team, he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs when they came to Jersey City. “Nobody, least of all the Syracuse office, knows why Hartranft failed to report,” wrote the Syracuse Herald. It was later guessed that Hartranft wanted a bonus but Syracuse was unwilling to pay it.xv
Whatever the reason, Hartranft pitched for Toronto against Baltimore on June 18. The following day, Dave Fultz, president of the International League, ordered him to report to Syracuse. Hartranft then obtained a release from Syracuse president Ernest Landgraf and headed to Frederick, Maryland, to play for the Hustlers of the Class D Blue Ridge League.xvi
For the first couple of weeks confusion about his status ensued so that every time Hartranft played, the opposing team protested. It finally ended when John Farrell, secretary of the minors, wired Frederick manager Buck Ramsey an official notice that he was free to play.xvii
Hartranft pitched well for the Hustlers. He pitched in seven games, going 6-1. He played as an outfielder or pinch-hitter in 14 other games. But in late August, when his friend Bill Phoenix was traded to Hanover, Hartranft quit the team. It was explained that he had only played for Frederick as a favor to manager Buck Ramsey and hadn’t meant to stay that long. When his good friend was traded, it was the impetus for him to leave.xviii
Hartranft never returned to Organized Baseball but he continued to pitch semipro ball for the next few years. Later in life he became a laborer in a stove shop and at the time of his death he was a taxi driver.xix
On August 30, 1952, Hartranft was operated on to remove cancer from his lower lip. It eventually led to his death. The cancer spread throughout his body, and on February 10, 1955, he died in the home of his daughter and son-in-law in Spring City, Pennsylvania, at the age of 64. He was survived by his wife and daughter. He was buried in Fernwood Cemetery, in Royersford, Pennsylvania.xx
i Sporting Life, June 14, 1913.
ii Phoenixville (Pennsylvania) Daily Republican, February 11, 1955.
iii Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1910; Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, January 15, 1910.
iv Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 1913; Sporting Life, June 14, 1913.
v Sporting Life, June 14, 1913.
vi Sporting Life, June 14, 1913.
vii Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1913.
viii Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1913.
ix Sporting Life, July 26, August 9, August 16, and November 1, 1913.
x Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, August 11, 1913.
xi Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, May 15, 1914; Philadelphia Inquirer, August 3, 1914.
xii World War I Draft Registration Card; Philadelphia Inquirer, June 25, 1916; Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, July 19, 1920.
xiii Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, April 23, 1920.
xiv Syracuse Herald, June 3 and June 8, 1920.
xv Syracuse Herald, June 15, 1920; Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, July 8, 1920.
xvi Baltimore American, June 19, 1920; Syracuse Herald, June 20, 1920; Frederick (Maryland) News-Post, July 12, 1920.
xvii Frederick (Maryland) News-Post, July 6, 1920; Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, July 19, 1920.
xviii Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, July 20 and August 21, 1920; Frederick (Maryland) News-Post, August 23, 1920.
xix Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Mercury, August 28, 1948; Pennsylvania Death Certificate.
xx Phoenixville (Pennsylvania) Daily Republican, February 11, 1955; Pennsylvania Death Certificate.