Frank Gleich

This article was written by Kevin Barwin

In the wee hours of July 7, 1920, near Wawa, Pennsylvania, George Herman “Babe” Ruth, prodigious New York Yankees baseball slugger and notorious automobile speeder, careened his $10,000 Packard around a tight corner, lost control, and overturned. Ruth’s passengers were his wife Helen, Yankees coach Charlie O’Leary, and two teammates: backup catcher Fred Hofmann and Frank “Inch” Gleich. Gleich, a reserve outfielder, played in just 29 big-league games during 1919 and 1920. Yet his association with the swashbuckling Babe in this episode won him a lasting spot in baseball lore.

Francis Elmer Gleich was born to Henry and Mary Kelly Gleich on March 7, 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. He grew up around his father’s blacksmith shop with his older twin sisters Agnes and Marie, older brother John, and younger brother Harry. Frank’s brother John (Jack) had a penchant for baseball and played for several of the local Columbus nines. Jack played the infield and soon he had his brother Frank interested in the sport and both performed for the fast semiprofessional Columbus Shoe Company team in 1914 in the Capital City League.1  The following year they played for the Columbus Korn Hatters where Frank or “Inch,” a possible phonetic variation of his surname, developed into a fleet-footed outfielder with a strong arm and a lethal bat.2

There is no known record of Gleich playing professional baseball in 1915. His first professional experience was in 1916 with the Erie Sailors of Erie, Pennsylvania in the newly formed Interstate League (Class D). There he hit .242 in 65 games. After the Erie team disbanded on August 9 due to lack of fan support and undercapitalization, Gleich finished the baseball season back in his hometown with the semipro Columbus Shannons.3 The Coshocton Morning Times reported that  Gleich (described as 20 years old, rather than his true age of 22) received a good offer for next season from Memphis of the Southern League. The story also noted that Frank needed to discuss the opportunity with his family, as a brief professional experience the previous season left him with a bitter taste. Nervous, with stage fright, he muffed a fly ball and struck out and was unceremoniously fired by the manager.4 A reputation for inept fielding plagued him throughout his career.

In 1917 the Fort Wayne Chiefs of the Central League (Class B) picked up Gleich’s contract. They seemed to be satisfied with his effort up until they released him on July 16, even though he was one of only five players on the Chiefs who was hitting above .250.5 Within days he caught on with the Richmond Quakers and eventually finished the campaign with the Dayton Veterans of the same league.6 Gleich’s batting statistics for the season are sketchy but he did commit 12 errors in 80 games in the outfield. The numerous miscues could explain the reason behind his releases. His playing for three teams in one year was also a preview to his future nomadic hardball career.

On October 6, 1917, Gleich enlisted in the United States Army and served his country in World War I. He was assigned to the Battery E 324 Field Artillery with the American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse-Argonne theatre until his honorable discharge on June 4, 1919. Then 25 years old, Gleich signed with the Saginaw Aces of the Michigan-Ontario League and proceeded to become one of the league’s home run leaders, belting eight four-baggers in 79 games in this deadball era. Yankees scout Bob Connery spotted the young slugger and signed him to a contract with the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League, who immediately sold Gleich to the Yankees for $500 on September 3.7 Connery either overlooked or did not care that Gleich had committed 14 errors in Saginaw’s 79 games. Connery is credited with discovering and signing baseball greats Rogers Hornsby, Bob Meusel, and Lefty Gomez and he was one of Yankees manager Miller Huggins’ closest friends. Vernon Tigers owner Ed Maier and team manager Bill Essick had a close working relationship with the Yankees and many of the 1919-1920 Tigers were either owned outright by the New Yorkers under player options or indirectly owned by the Yanks in under the table transactions.

Huggins initially liked what he saw in Gleich, stating, “Frank Gleich is another Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker rolled into one.”8 He prepped the youngster as his reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter, a role Huggins had been trying to fill all summer with George Halas, Chick Fewster, Al Wickland, Bill Lamar, and Lefty O’Doul. Regular Yankee outfielders Ping Bodie and Duffy Lewis were aging and required periodic relief; in addition the Yankees needed a power-hitting bat off the bench.

As the season wound down Gleich appeared in only five games for the Yankees, going-1-for-4 at the plate and muffing his only chance in the field. His month’s salary was prorated based on $1,500 for the season.

Over the winter the Yanks acquired budding superstar Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox and future star Bob Meusel from the Vernon Tigers. Still, despite the overabundance of flychasers in camp, Gleich impressed in spring training and became the only Yankee left-handed batter off the bench. He was paid $1,950, more than he would make 10 years later as a railroad detective.

Gleich played in 24 games for the Yankees in 1920, including six starting assignments. One of those was on Opening Day at Philadelphia, when he batted leadoff and played right field, next to center fielder Ruth, who was playing in his first game for New York.

On the afternoon of July 6, 1920, the Yankees destroyed the Washington Senators, 17-0, in Washington. After celebrating the New York victory, Ruth and company boarded Ruth’s automobile to return home to New York. However, Route 1 in Pennsylvania apparently was too narrow for the Babe’s fast driving and the accident occurred at approximately 2:00 A.M. Initial reports had Ruth, his wife Helen, Charlie O’Leary, and his two teammates pinned under the auto. Later newsprint had O’Leary and Mrs. Ruth thrown from the vehicle. In any case, the group miraculously suffered only slight injuries and found refuge in the nearby home of Coates and Eliza Coleman, cigar merchants. At 3:00 A.M., after having their wounds dressed, the entourage was motored to Philadelphia, where they got hotel accommodations for the remainder of the night. The Yanks had a game scheduled against Detroit on July 8 at the Polo Grounds in New York, so expediency in getting home was not at issue. Mrs. Coleman reported that when the Babe left her home he had a bruised knee and limped badly.9

From Philadelphia the five were able to catch a train to New York and arrived in the big city later on the evening of July 7. Ruth played left field the next afternoon, belting a triple, and scoring a run as the Yanks lost 4-3 to the Tigers. The big guy showed no sign of his recent injury. Hofmann and Gleich did not appear in the game.

On August 31, 1920, a little over a month after his near-death experience with Ruth’s off-road mishap in Wawa, the Yankees bade Gleich farewell. Newspapers of the day honored Gleich’s foot speed but noted that he apparently could not stoop over enough for grounders and could not judge fly balls.10 “Inch” had made three errors in 22 chances. He batted only .122 with no extra-base hits.

Traded back to the Vernon Tigers by the Yankees as part of the Johnny Mitchell deal in the spring of 1921, Gleich reported to the Pacific Coast League team. But before the season began, he was transferred to the Dallas Submarines of the Texas League. After appearing in only seven contests with Dallas, Gleich, as reported by the Olean Evening Herald, “is to join Joplin of the Western League making the Miners the fourth team in a month Gleich will have played for,” the Yankees, Vernon, and Dallas being the other three.11 However, there is no record that Gleich ever played a game for Joplin. Some publications have him listed as being ill for the 1921 season. The Sporting News reported that Gleich did not report to Joplin because he was in the hospital with pneumonia and when able to get up and about he went home.12 The infamous Nelson “Chicken” Hawks took Gleich’s place on the Yankee bench in 1921. Chicken made only one error in 33 chances and hit .288 with two home runs; a big improvement over “Inch.”

Convalescing at home, Gleich made good use of his time; on September 27, 1921, Frank married Grace Fitzsimmons, a stenographer, in Columbus, Ohio. They would have two children, Robert and Joann.

On January 6, 1922, Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis declared Frank Gleich a free agent from the Yankees. Although the circumstances of the situation are murky, apparently Gleich had appealed to the Commissioner for his release, possibly because the Yankees had moved him around so much and possibly because of the Yankees’ questionable transactions with the Vernon Tigers.

There is no evidence at this time that Gleich played any professional baseball in 1922. In a quest to return to the major leagues, Gleich signed on with the Zanesville Greys of the Eastern Ohio League in 1923 and returned to the Michigan-Ontario League with the Hamilton Clippers in 1924. The cool weather of Canada and northern Michigan agreed with “Inch,” who stroked 16 home runs and batted .316 in 512 at-bats for the fourth-place Clippers. In the offseason Gleich worked as a salesman for the Capital Cigar Company of Columbus.

Despite his fine 1924 season, Gleich was then 30 and no major league team offered to buy his contract. Thus, he returned home to patrol the outfield in 1925 for the Coshocton Regulars of the Eastern Ohio League. The Zanesville Signal reported in January 1926 that after indifferent success with Coshocton the previous summer, Gleich would be signing with the Clarksburg West Virginia Generals of the Mid-Atlantic League. The Signal noted that Gleich “…should be a great outfielder. He can hit, field, throw and is fast but for various reasons has not made best use of his talents.”13 After the 1926 campaign with Clarksburg Gleich played in some autumn baseball exhibitions with Coshocton, one against the American League All-Stars, a team run by Earle Mack (Connie Mack’s son and coach with the Philadelphia Athletics).14

In April 1927, Gleich signed on to play with the Cambridge Red Sox of the Eastern Ohio League. However, the team suspended him at the end of the month upon discovering that Clarksburg had traded him to the Cumberland Colts of the Mid-Atlantic League and that he would report there.15 This was not the first time Gleich ran afoul of baseball administrators; in 1923 he and teammate Ray Fenner were released by the Zanesville Greys for playing semipro ball on a Sunday when they were supposed to be on the field with the Greys. The Zanesville Sabbath contest was a makeup game and Gleich and Fenner decided they could make more money playing with another team.16

While his former teammate Ruth was belting 60 round-trippers for the Yankees and defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, Gleich was playing his final year in professional baseball, batting .301 for the Colts. In the winter Gleich returned his Colts contract for 1928 unsigned because it was for only $250 a month, same as the prior year.17

In 1928 and 1929 Gleich played semipro ball for the Columbus Pan Handles and in 1930 for the Columbus All-Stars. The Pan Handles won the Capital City Industrial League championship in 1928. In 1932 he joined the Columbus Safety Cubs, formerly the Pennsylvania Railroad team.18 Around this time, Gleich started working full-time as a railroad detective. He held this position until shortly before his death of a cerebral hemorrhage, brought on by Buerger’s disease, on March 27, 1949.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Rob Wood.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Retrosheet.org, Baseball- Reference.com, Ancestry.com and a number of other newspapers including: Erie Times News,

Galveston Daily News, Morning Herald (Clarksburg, West Virginia), New York Times,

Ogden Standard, San Antonio News, Uniontown Morning Herald, and Zanesville Times.

 

Notes

1 “Heisey’s Lose Again to Club From Columbus,” Newark Advocate, May 4, 1914: 8.

2 “Feds Nosed Out in Fatal Eighth By The Korn Hatters,” Coshocton Morning Tribune (Coshocton, Ohio) May 25, 1915: 2.

3 “Erie Team Disbanded Yesterday,” Warren Evening News (Warren, Pennsylvania), August 10, 1916: 7. “Lima Wins From Shannon’s Third Time This Year,” Lima Times Democrat, August 14, 1916: 6.

4 “Gleich Gets Good Offer,” Coshocton Morning Times, August 13, 1916: 8.

5 “Gleich Released,” Fort Wayne News, July 16, 1917: 8.

6 “Brace of Double Headers,” Fort Wayne News, July 25, 1917: 6. “The Chiefs Are on The Trail,” Fort Wayne Daily News, July 27, 1917: 11.

7 “Goes to Yanks,” Fort Wayne News and Sentinel, September 3, 1919: 10.

8 Al Demaree, “Major Fade-outs Not an Exclusive Rookie Fad,” The Sporting News, February 28, 1935: 5.

9 “Babe Ruth Injured in Auto Accident,” Sacramento Union, July 8, 1920: 8.

10 Henry L. Farrell, “Youngsters Make Good,” Lima Daily News, May 11, 1920: 8.

11 “Baseball Gossip,” Olean Evening Herald (Olean, New York), May 16, 1921: 3.

12 Addington, “Joplin’s Tale of an Ever-Active Jinx,” The Sporting News,” June 2, 1921: 3.

13“Eastern Ohio League Sends Many Youths to Big Leagues,” Zanesville Signal (Zanesville, Ohio), January 10, 1926: 9.

14 “Regs to Battle American League Traveling Club,” Zanesville Signal, October 10, 1926: 11.

15 “Gleich Suspended By Cambridge; to Go to Cumberland,” Coshocton Tribune, April 30, 1927: 8.

16 “Gleich, Fenner Are Let Go Bv Grey’s Manager,” Coshocton Tribune, April 20, 1923: 4.

17 “Dave Black Signs; Named Colt Captain,” Charleroi Mail (Charleroi, Pennsylvania), March 8, 1928: 5.

18 “Tourney Game Brings Stars to Lima Sunday,” Lima News, August 14, 1932: 15.