Ignatz Baranowski and Frances Tazebski married and produced a major-league ballplayer who played under the name Frank Fuller. Frank Edward Fuller, to be precise. He was born in Detroit on the first day of January in 1894. Probably.1 Fuller was a right-handed second baseman, a switch-hitter, who played in 40 games in the majors and 1,147 games in the minor leagues.
Fuller is listed as 5-feet-7 and 150 pounds. He first turns up in a search of Michigan newspapers in February 1914, as “a semipro player of Detroit” for Frank Skelink’s semipro team at Euclid Park. He signed with the Adrian (Michigan) Fencevilles of the Class C Southern Michigan League. The Fencevilles finished first in the league standings.2
Apparently, Fuller had taken himself to Dubuque to try out for the team there, but was told he was too small and was there for only one day. Someone recommended him to Tigers owner Frank Navin, however, and when Fuller returned to Detroit, Navin saw him play at Euclid Park and was impressed.
The Detroit Tigers signed the hometown player for 1915, and on February 27 the “recruit infielder” took the train from Detroit to Gulfport, Mississippi, for spring training.3 He made the team and debuted on April 14, had one at-bat pinch-hitting for pitcher Harry Coveleskie, and struck out. On the 16th, he played his first full game and was 0-for-3, with the game temperature close to freezing, but walked twice and scored once. In his third game, on the 21st, he singled – his first major-league hit. He didn’t get many hits in 1915 – just five – and the last of his 14 games was on May 15. His stats for 1915 included a .156 batting average but, thanks to nine bases on balls, a .341 on-base percentage. In 41 plate appearances, Fuller scored six times and is credited with two runs batted in.
Fuller played for the Ottawa Senators for the rest of the season. In 93 games he hit for a .320 batting average. The July 27 Boston Globe noted, “Frank Fuller, the Detroit sand-lot product who was loaned to Ottawa of the Canadian League by the Tigers, is doing some great hitting these days. In five games recently he made four home runs, six triples, three doubles and two singles.”
The Tigers trained in Waxahachie, Texas, in 1916, and Fuller made the team again, this time staying with them throughout the season as a utility infielder. He played in more games in 1916 – 22 games – but only had 12 plate appearances and drove in just one run. He hit .100. His on-base percentage was .182.
It was not until seven years later – 1923 – that Fuller next appeared in a big-league ballgame.
In early February 1917, he was optioned to the Newark Bears (International League), with the stipulation that they try to develop him as a second baseman. He played in 157 games and batted .252. He stole 20 bases.
Fuller went into the US Army in 1918 and lost a year of baseball (he did play some ball with the 86th Division team at Camp Custer, in Michigan.)4 The Tigers did a deal with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League – Fuller was one of eight players released to Portland on March 3, 1919 – and the “diminutive but peppery infielder” was seen by Portland as a “real find.”5 He didn’t have a good season, and appears to be the “Charley Fuller” listed in some databases, batting .165.
From 1920 through 1925, Fuller played in the Texas League. The first five of those six seasons were with the San Antonio Missions. The Texas League was a Class B league in 1920. Fuller hit .301 in 153 games (with 31 stolen bases), following that up with 155 games in 1921 (the league was upgraded to Class A) and a slightly better .308 average. The Bears finished in last place. In 1922 he hit .291 in 156 games. He was widely considered to be one of the best fielding second basemen in the league.6
Then Fuller made a “grave mistake.” The New York Times explained: “Life’s sweet young dream was completely shattered yesterday as far as infielder Frank Fuller is concerned. Up until yesterday Fuller was a promising player who was to receive a tryout with the Giants. He was to graduate into fast company, get this pay raised, hobnob with world’s champions and maybe reach the heights of glory and fame.
“But Mr. Fuller made one trifling mistake. He attempted to hold the Giants up for more money. He sent his contract back unsigned, and so yesterday the Giants sent Fuller himself back – clear back to San Antone and the Alamo.”7 The paper explained that John McGraw had seen him play second base in the spring of 1922.
Thus Fuller found himself looking forward to a fourth season with the Missions. He hit .280 in 123 games. On September 10, not long after new principal owner Bob Quinn had taken charge of the Boston Red Sox (from Harry Frazee), the Sox purchased five players, all at once, from San Antonio. Fuller was among the five. Ike Boone, Turkey Gross, Dewey Marshall, and Phil Todt were the others.
Why had Fuller been dubbed “the double play king” of the Texas League? In his first 116 games in the field, he had taken part in 66 double plays.
For manager Frank Chance and the 1923 Red Sox, Fuller appeared in six late-season games. He accumulated 22 plate appearances, with five hits. He didn’t drive in any runs, but he scored three runs. The last-place Red Sox lost five of the six games.
The Red Sox held their 1924 spring training in San Antonio, so Fuller reported to a quite familiar place. He was a newly married man, having wed Martha Eland in February. Both of her parents were, like his, natives of Poland.
Unfortunately for Fuller, the Red Sox left him there. The Missions had their second baseman back and he played in 149 games, but batted only .232.
In 1926 Fuller played in the Eastern League, for the Bridgeport Bears even though he was under contract to the Eastern League rival team in New Haven. Business transactions in these days were sometimes a little hard to follow. In March 1927 the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican offered this history on Fuller for 1926-27: “Fuller played with Bridgeport last year. He belonged to Memphis, was brought here on option and sent to Bridgeport. During the winter, he was traded to Albany, but it is understood he did not wish to play there.”8 The paper was explaining the background to the trade that Albany made, sending Fuller to New Haven.
For most of 1927, Fuller played for the New Haven Profs, but on August 1 his contract was sold outright to Bridgeport and he returned there. His combined Eastern League stats for the year showed him hitting .279 in 141 games.
In 1927 Fuller was one of the members of the 1916 and 1917 Tigers called by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to testify regarding the alleged fixing of 1917’s September 2 and 3 games against the White Sox, so that the White Sox would win the pennant.9
His Sporting News obituary said that he had also played with Waterbury (Connecticut) and Houston “and several other clubs before retiring after playing with Pueblo (Western) in 1928.”10 He is almost certainly the “Fuller” listed in SABR’s Minor League Database, who played in 164 games and hit .283.
The 1930 census showed Fuller living in Detroit with his wife, Martha, and their two children, Frederick and Frank Jr., aged 2 and 2 months. Frank worked as a laborer in a Detroit auto-body firm. Ten years later, in 1940, the Fullers had five children in the household: Alfred, Thomas, Edward, Joan Marie, and Barbara. If there had been a Frank Jr., and he was not actually Thomas, he may perhaps have died. Frank Fuller himself was a fireman working for the fire department. It appears he worked as a fireman for the Ford Motor Company (which may indeed have been where he was doing auto body work in 1930.)
Another 25 years passed before Fuller died, on October 29, 1965, in Warren, Michigan. He was listed as retired from Ford. The cause of death given was a coronary thrombosis.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Fuller’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 The birth year of 1894 is as stated both on his draft registration card in 1919, and the Social Security Death Index. He gave a July 1 birthdate when registering for the draft, though Social Security shows 1/1. When he registered during World War II, he put his birthdate as January 1, 1896.
2 The characterization of Fuller comes from the Kalamazoo Gazette, February 1, 1914. The information about Skelink comes from The Oregonian, March 27, 1919.
3 New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 28, 1915.
4 Ann Arbor News, April 16, 1918.
5 The Oregonian, March 27, 1919.
6 Boston Globe, September 23, 1923.
7 New York Times, February 6, 1923.
8 Springfield Republican, March 19, 1927.
9 Boston Globe, January 4, 1927.
10 The Sporting News, November 12, 1965.