Baseball fans know that scouting is an inexact science. The Detroit Tigers’ scout who signed Frank Naleway out of Class D in 1923 said, “What do I think of Naleway? He’s a great little fielder. He handles himself well in the field, stands properly at the plate, shows a knowledge of baseball – in fact does everything well. There isn’t any reason why he shouldn’t play as a good ball [sic] in the American League as he does here.”1
It didn’t turn out that way. Naleway didn’t hit enough to impress Detroit manager Ty Cobb, so he never made the Tigers’ roster. He talked the Chicago White Sox into a tryout the following year but played in just one game for them, the extent of his major-league career. The once promising prospect saw his last action in Organized Baseball at age 27. Following brief stints in the semipro ranks, he was back in his hometown driving a truck for a living before he turned 30.
Yet Naleway may have indirectly had a more significant impact on baseball. The Tigers initially signed Charlie Gehringer as a third baseman in 1924.2 When they sent him to the Class B Michigan-Ontario League to learn to play second base, Naleway was one of his shortstops and double play partners. 3 It’s reasonable to assume that Naleway helped the rookie acclimate to his new position, which in turn helped Gehringer launch his Hall of Fame career.
Frank Naleway was born on July 5, 1901, in Chicago to Michael and Margeretha (Wisz) Nalewaj,4 His parents were both immigrants from Germany of Polish descent, and Frank was the sixth of their seven children. He grew up with older sisters Mary and Sophie; older brothers Charles, John, and Walter; and younger brother Aloysius. At the time of the 1910 census his father was a laborer in a packing house. The household’s primary language was Polish.
Virtually nothing is known about Naleway’s childhood other than that he completed the eighth grade. By 1920, when he turned 19, he was a steamfitter in one of Chicago’s stockyards. He likely played sandlot baseball with neighborhood friends and possibly with local organized amateur teams.
Frank’s older brother, John Naleway, appeared in 10 games as infielder for the Regina (Saskatchewan) Senators of the Class C Western Canada League in 1919.5 Frank’s opportunity arrived the following year through a tryout with Sioux Falls of the Class D South Dakota League.6 The 5-foot-9, 165-pound righty hitter stuck as a shortstop for the next four seasons (1920-1923). Sioux Falls was also where he – for some unknown reason – picked up the nickname “Chick,” which followed him for the rest of his playing career.
Naleway married Blanche Kolakowski on January 14, 1920, in Chicago. They had a daughter, Felice, on March 18, 1922, but evidence suggests that the couple also had a previous child: a nine-pound boy born at a Sioux Falls hospital on June 29, 1920.7 One month later, a game report mentioned, “Frankie ‘Chick’ Naleway… demonstrated to his wife and Frankie, Jr., sitting in the stands.”8 Naleway’s teammates took up a collection and presented a baby buggy to Frank and Blanche.9 However, Frankie Jr. was not listed as part of the their household in the 1930 or 1940 censuses or other public records, suggesting that he may have died in early childhood.
Naleway didn’t hit much in his first two seasons (.227 in 1920 and .233 in 1921, in 191 total games). Yet he was called “the fastest fielding and throwing shortstop in the Dakota League.”10 He improved his average to .291 in 99 games in 1922, and he was hitting a league-leading .337 on July 13, 1923 – when the Dakota League disbanded.11 All of the league’s players were declared free agents, so the Detroit Tigers signed Naleway along with his teammates Willie Ludolph and Hi Bell. Detroit immediately optioned Naleway to the St. Joseph (Missouri) Saints of the Class A Western League, where he hit .198 in 56 games to finish the 1923 season.12
In 1924, Naleway went to spring training with the Tigers in Augusta, Georgia. There he faced keen competition for one of Detroit’s backup infielder positions. Lu Blue would get most of the playing time at first, Del Pratt at second, Topper Rigney at short, and Bob Jones at third. Fred Haney was also in the mix and Johnny Kerr and Les Burke were the favorites for utility roles. This left Naleway competing with another rookie infielder, Charlie Gehringer, for a roster spot.13
At the time, Naleway’s former Sioux Falls skipper, Fred Carisch, was on Tigers manager Ty Cobb’s coaching staff. That might have given Naleway a leg up, but it was not to be. At cutdown time in early April, Detroit sent both Naleway and Gehringer to the London Tecumsehs of the Class B Michigan-Ontario League. There, the latter gained needed experience at second base alongside Naleway at shortstop.
By mid-June, though, Naleway was under the impression that he had been released. Thus, he signed with – and played at least one game for – the league rival Saginaw Aces. But the Tigers still held his contract rights under an agreement that called for Detroit to pay the London club $300 should Naleway be called up to the majors. When the Tecumsehs’ management realized that they could be out $300, they welcomed Naleway back.14 A month later, however, he was sent to Kalamazoo Kazoos in the same circuit.15
After Kalamazoo’s season ended in September, Naleway’s second chance to play in the major leagues came about in an unusual way. “Young Naleway walked into the [White] Sox park yesterday morning [the 15th] during practice and asked for a tryout.”16 Lo and behold, the White Sox – who wore black crepe arm bands in remembrance of the recently deceased Frank Chance – put him in the lineup at shortstop on September 16 against the visiting Boston Red Sox. Naleway failed to hit safely in two official at-bats but he walked once and “laid down a perfect bunt in the third inning” which led to two runs in Chicago’s 8-4 win. His one error in four chances, a low throw, was excused: “it seemed as though the runner had it beaten anyway.17 But that was Naleway’s only major-league game.
No transaction between the Tigers and White Sox was reported but Naleway was listed as an eligible player for Detroit should they reach the World Series.18 Nonetheless, that fall it was reported that Naleway would accompany the White Sox to training camp the following spring in Shreveport, Louisiana, albeit with the understanding that he would then be left behind to play for the Class A Texas League club based there.19 He competed for a utility role with the Shreveport Sports but was released before the 1925 season began.20
Preferring to be nearer to his Chicago home and in a more northerly climate, Naleway hooked on with the Sheboygan Chairmakers – members of the independent Wisconsin State League – in April. He batted .260 in 52 games.21
Naleway returned to Sheboygan in 1926. After converting to center field, “he performed in an unsurpassable manner.”22 His play helped lead the team to the league championship.
Still just 25, Naleway re-entered Organized Baseball by signing with Des Moines Demons of the Western League in spring 1927.23 He was released before the season began but hooked on with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees of the Class D Mississippi Valley League in May. Splitting his time between second and third base, Naleway had a strong season, batting .305 in 124 games. His nine home runs led the club.
In March 1928 there was a report that Naleway had decided to retire from baseball.24 He was playing for the Famous Krutckoffs in the Chicago City League in May but caught on with another Mississippi Valley League team in June, the Ottumwa (Iowa) Packers.25 In 85 games, he batted .296. That offseason the Ottumwa franchise was transferred to Burlington, where he had played earlier, but Naleway was released by the Bees in spring 1929 without appearing in any league games.26
Having been cut by a Class D team, Naleway’s prospects in Organized Baseball were dim. He returned to the Wisconsin State League, this time with the Racine Belles.27 He got off to a good start in 1929, with 16 hits in his first 41 at-bats for the Belles.28 He returned to Racine for at least part of the 1930 season, the final one of his baseball career.
After baseball, Naleway found work driving a furniture truck in Chicago, but no occupation was listed for him in the 1940 census. A questionnaire completed by Naleway’s widow after his death offers a potential explanation. She noted that he “suffered crippling injuries in an auto accident and was unable to work for many years.”29
Frank Naleway died on January 28, 1949, in a Chicago infirmary institution where he had been living for the past four and a half years. He was 47. His death certificate indicated that he was employed as a truck driver and that his cause of death was multiple sclerosis, duration “Prior to 1944.” No additional information about his illness – or if it was related to his earlier auto accident – could be found. He was survived by his wife Blanche; daughter Felicia; brothers John, Walter, and Aloysius; and sister Sophie. Naleway is buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleums in Justice, Illinois.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Malcolm Allen and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Naleway’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com. The author also used information from clippings in Naleway’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 “Detroit’s Scout Gets 4 Players,” Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus-Leader, July 20, 1923: 16.
2 Ruth Sadler, “Charlie Gehringer,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/charlie-gehringer/.
3 “Gehringer is Sent to London Minters,” Detroit Free Press, May 23, 1924: 15.
4 No middle name is known. The original Polish spelling of the family surname was Nalewaj. It was later changed to Naleway, but Frank still went by Nalewaj when he married in 1920. Although some sources record Naleway’s birth year as 1902, 1901 appears on his tombstone, the military registration card that he signed in 1942, and a questionnaire that his widow filled out for the National Baseball Hall of Fame after his death.
5 “Senators Start Training Today at Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” Regina (Saskatchewan) Leader-Post, April 25, 1919: 5.
6 After the 1920 season, the circuit became known as the Dakota League.
7 “Frank Naleway Jr. is Latest Addition to S. F. Ball Club,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, June 30, 1920: 2.
8 “Naleway’s Hitting, Fielding Features Exciting Conflict,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, July 29, 1920: 2.
9 “Present Buggy to Shortstop,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, July 31, 1920: 12.
10 “Nelson and Naleway Sign 1922 Baseball Contracts,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, March 20, 1922: 9.
11 Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Third Edition), (Durham, North Carolina, Baseball America, 2007): 290.
12 “New Shortstop Coming,” St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, August 1, 1923: 7.
13 “Stoner and Ludolph Seem Sure of Jobs,” Detroit Times, March 16, 1924: 85.
14 “Mint-Julep,” Bay City (Michigan) Times-Tribune, June 15, 1924: 30.
15 Gehringer was recalled by Detroit from Ontario late in September. Two years later he established himself as a regular.
16 Ames Cruisenberry, “Sox Slam Ehmke to Beat Boston, 8 to 4,” Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1924: 18.
17 “Chick Naleway Plays His First Game with Sox,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, September 17, 1924: 2.
18 “Eligible Players of Six Leading Major League Teams to be Named for Landis Previous to Series,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram, September 20, 1924: 3.
19 “White Sox Send Three to Local Baseball Squad,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Times, October 17, 1924: 10.
20 “Five Released”, Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, March 29, 1925: 9.
21 “State Loop Finals,” Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin), October 17, 1925: 16
22 “Naleway a Good Addition,” Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, March 1, 1926: 8.
23 “Three Demon Rookies,” Des Moines Register, April 3, 1927: 71.
24 “Many New Faces Will be Seen on Burlington Club,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) March 3, 1928: 20.
25 He is listed as Naleway? on the Ottumwa roster in Baseball-reference.
26 “Reichle Will Release Four Veteran Players,” Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, May 24, 1929: 15.
27 “Belles Play Two Weekend battles,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-Times, June 13, 1929: 6.
28 “Naleway Leads Racine Hitters,” Racine Journal-Times, July 27, 1929: 16.
29 Frank Naleway file accessed from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.