by Jack Morris – Unknown date
On the surface, Harry Gleason’s career wasn’t noteworthy. He played a total of 274 major-league games over five seasons with a career batting average of.218. He was an everyday starter in only one of those seasons. But there’s so much more to Gleason’s story.
Gleason was almost killed by a beanball thrown by future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell. He fought with his team’s hometown fans during one game and was arrested after another game for defying New York’s Blue Laws. Despite his minuscule offensive output, he perpetually fought with ownership over pay, getting placed on Organized Baseball’s suspended list several times. Gleason was very short, even by Deadball Era standards. Reference books list him at 5-feet-6 and 160 pounds. However Alfred Spink, in his 1911 book, The National Game, listed him as 5-feet-3, 145 pounds. In describing him, the press often called him “midget” or “little” – sometimes both in the same sentence. He was also a dead ringer for his famous older brother, William, better known as Kid. “Harry is the very picture of his brother in every possible way and many address him for his brother,” wrote the Utica Herald-Dispatch. Early in his career, he earned the nickname Kid or Kidlet for this reason.
On the field Gleason was a fan favorite almost everywhere he played because of his hustle and baseball smarts. He was “one of the brainiest players in baseball” and was often described in the press as “heady” and “clever.”
He was forever looking for greener pastures. He jumped from team to team, from league to league with frequency. Trying to keep track of it was probably confusing for the fans during his career, let alone for historians of today.
Harry Gilbert Gleason was born on March 28, 1875, in Camden, New Jersey. He was the seventh of nine children born to William and Ellen (Ivins) Gleason. His father was a railroad man, working himself up from freight hand to superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s West Jersey & Seashore rail yard in Camden. Five of Gleason’s brothers eventually worked there as well.
Harry, however, followed in the footsteps of his brother Kid, who was nine years his senior. He played baseball at Camden High School for two years. After high school he played right field for the Camden town team. In 1897 the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Gleason “played a beautiful game in right field” and that he “promises to get in the push with his brother.”
With his brother’s recommendation, Tom Burns, former major leaguer and manager of the 1897 Springfield, Massachusetts, team in the Eastern League, signed Gleason to a contract for 1898.
The Springfield Republican called Gleason “a valuable acquisition” and said he had “showed to wonderfully good advantage” in training camp. He initially practiced at shortstop but when the regular season started he mostly played second base.
Springfield struggled throughout the season. Mired in last place at the end of May, the team suffered low attendance and ownership missed payment to some of the ballplayers as a result. Gleason, a utility fielder, left the team until he was paid.
Gleason wasn’t setting the world on fire either. His defense and versatility (in addition to second base, he also played 19 games at shortstop and three in right field) made him a popular player, but his hitting was terrible. He ended the season with a.199 batting average.
Still, Springfield brought him back the next season despite cleaning house on most of the 1898 team. New manager Tom Brown played Gleason solely at second base in 1899. But Gleason, unhappy with his pay, jumped his contract on June 14. The Springfield Republican implied that Gleason was dishonorable with respect to “baseball dealings.” The team placed him on the suspended list. In his 26 games with Springfield, Gleason did hit better, batting.230.
There is a Gleason who appears in box scores for the Mount Holly, New Jersey, town team after Gleason left Springfield. This may be where Harry played for the rest of the 1899 season.
Sporting Life reported that Springfield had reserved Gleason for the 1900 season for “disciplinary purposes.” If Gleason wished to play in Organized Baseball, he would have to work it out with the management. So in April 1900, Gleason signed with Springfield again.
This time he played third base for the Ponies. Instead of leaving the team in midseason, Gleason was sent down to Meriden in the Connecticut State League after he batted just.232 in 26 games. “He is a nice little fellow,” wrote Sporting Life, “but his stick work is poor.”
At Meriden, Gleason played shortstop and managed to hit a respectable.251 in 66 games. But the league was at the lowest rung of the Organized Baseball ladder. Gleason could not be demoted any lower. Remarkably, he was playing in the major leagues by the end of the following season.
In 1901, Gleason signed with the Utica Pentups of the New York State League. The Springfield Republican, after watching Gleason demand money but not perform for parts of three seasons, sarcastically wrote about the signing, “Those who know his record here and the high value he set upon his services will be surprised that he is not in one of the big leagues.”
Yet the Utica press welcomed Gleason with open arms. The Utica Daily Press wrote that Gleason was a “cracking good short stop” and that Utica manager Wally Taylor “thinks very highly of him.” For once, Gleason proved the predictions right. In what was easily the best hitting season of his career to that point, he batted.284 in 99 games.
In fact, he played so well in Utica that it was arranged that he would report to Boston to play for the Americans once the New York State League season ended. When Gleason finally reported to the team, he was inserted into just one game, on September 27, as a replacement for player-manager Jimmy Collins at third base in Boston’s 7–2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. He got his first major-league hit, a single off Ned Garvin, in his only official at-bat. He also stole a base and started a double play.
Boston held onto Gleason for spring training the next season. Utica wanted him back but Boston manager Jimmy Collins wouldn’t let him go. Gleason “has made a very favorable impression upon [Collins],” wrote the Utica Herald-Dispatch. Rumors also popped up that Connie Mack wanted Gleason for the Philadelphia Athletics.
Gleason, however, stayed with Boston and made the Opening Day roster as one of two utility infielders. In all, Gleason played in 71 games in 1902. Boston utilized him mostly at third base, where he played in 35 games. He also played 23 games in the outfield as well as four games as a second baseman. Though he batted only.225, on May 16 he hit the first of his three major-league home runs, off Philadelphia’s Snake Wiltse. He also led all American League pinch-hitters with three hits in eight at-bats, good for a.375 average. Additionally, for making the big leagues, he was rewarded with a pair of diamond-studded cuff buttons by his Camden friends during a July 11 game against the Philadelphia A’s.
All in all, things were going very well for Gleason. “Little Harry Gleason has established himself as a prime favorite here,” wrote the Boston Globe. “He is always in the game, is quick in all departments and never lets up. The crowd is quick to applaud such a player upon any provocations.”
In the offseason, rumors abounded that both the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia A’s wanted Gleason, but Gleason was in Macon, Georgia, with Boston when the 1903 training camp began. This marked one of the strangest periods of Gleason’s baseball life.
Boston had decided that Gleason wasn’t in its plans for the 1903 season. The Americans planned to audition John O’Brien and George Stone for the utility-player job. Essentially Boston gave Gleason to Charles Comiskey and his White Sox team for nothing. It was up to Gleason to work out his contract, but Gleason wasn’t going to go without a fight. In March the first reports of Gleason’s going to the White Sox hit the press. Yet he never left Macon despite assurances to Comiskey from Boston owner Henry Killilea, manager Collins, and Gleason himself that he would report to White Sox camp in Mobile, Alabama. The White Sox were desperate for a third baseman, having lost infielders George Davis, Sam Mertes, and Sammy Strang to the National League. Yet Gleason stayed with Boston, practicing with the Americans throughout camp.
American League president Ban Johnson weighed in finally, awarding Gleason to Chicago, but added, “He cannot be compelled to play in Chicago but if he consults his own interests he will do so. There is no room for him on the Boston team.” At some point, Gleason did report to the White Sox. He worked out for Comiskey and was offered a contract at “pretty steep terms.” But Comiskey balked when Gleason demanded that back pay be included in the contract.
So Gleason stayed with Boston, practicing with the team. When Hobe Ferris was hurt late in spring training, Gleason filled in at second base. He traveled north with the team and, despite persistent reports that he was going to Chicago, he played in six games at the opening of the regular season, two as a second baseman.
Finally, on May 16, Gleason was purchased for $1,000 by the Columbus (Ohio) Senators of the American Association. Columbus owner T. J. Bryce was trying to build a powerhouse and wasn’t averse to paying for it. Sporting Life called the move “another bold stroke” by Bryce to put together a championship team. The bold stroke didn’t pay off for Bryce, however. Gleason, in 70 games, hit but.143. It was by far the worse batting performance of his career.
After the season Columbus traded Gleason and “a bunch of cash” (one report mentioned $1,000) to the St. Louis Browns for Bill Friel, Benny Bowcock, and Joe Martin. Browns second baseman Dick Padden had injured his thumb toward the end of the season, and Gleason was seen as an insurance policy in case it didn’t heal in the offseason.
Padden’s thumb did heal in time for spring training but Gleason had such a good camp that the Browns kept him as a utility fielder. Gleason “is playing a great game at second,” wrote Sporting Life in March. “[Browns manager Jimmy] McAleer is well pleased.”
Gleason didn’t play much but when he did get into the starting lineup, he made the most of it. When shortstop Bobby Wallace went down with an injury, Gleason played so well that he was one of the “most popular players” on the Browns.
Gleason’s season came to an end on August 2. On that day, he replaced the injured Padden in the lineup against Philadelphia. Gleason was having a great day, lashing two hits including a triple against future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell. His third time up, he came to bat in the bottom of the sixth with no outs and a run in. Waddell threw one of his hard “inshoots” and hit Gleason in the back of the head, behind his left ear. When it struck his head, it sounded like it had hit the bat. Gleason “fell like a log, unconscious.”
The players rushed to Gleason’s side, Waddell being one of the first. Dr. Max C. Starkloft, the former St. Louis city health commissioner, was called out of the grandstand to attend to Gleason. Played was stopped for 10 minutes, while Gleason lay at home plate. “Father Tracey, who was in the grand stand, hurried to the side of his parishioner, and with a wide Panama, fanned the stricken gladiator.”
With Waddell carrying Gleason at the shoulders and the Browns’ Mike Kahoe taking his legs, Gleason was carried to the bench. Blood was running from his nose and ears. He was semiconscious. Two players tore a clubhouse door off its hinges and, using it as a makeshift stretcher, carried him into the clubhouse. An ambulance eventually arrived to transport Gleason to St. Louis’s Missouri Baptist Sanitarium.
The next day he was reported to be in “critical condition suffering from a concussion of the brain.” By chance, Gleason’s mother, Ellen, was traveling that day from Camden to St. Louis to visit him. It was a stopover on a cross-country trip to see her daughter, who was ill, in California. Another visitor to Gleason was Waddell. When the game had resumed that day, there was a noticeable difference in the level of play between the two teams. “Rube was completely unnerved.”
On August 5 Gleason was “rapidly recovering.” He spent almost two weeks in the hospital, eventually feeling good enough to leave. On August 15, thirteen days after the beaning, Gleason was in uniform for the Browns and practiced for 15 minutes. His only complaint was a “faintness at irregular intervals.”
But those proclamations were obviously a brave front because three days later Gleason announced his retirement from baseball. The left side of his head was in a “constant state of numbness” and his right arm and shoulder “were almost useless.” “I think my time on the diamond is over,” Gleason told the Philadelphia Inquirer. He added that the doctor had advised him to retire.
Despite his pronouncement, Gleason stayed with the team. And on October 3 he entered a game in the eighth inning in a 3–0 win over New York when Padden was thrown out of the game for arguing a call.
After the season Gleason moved to California for the winter, living with relatives in Oakland. The St. Louis Republican reported that he was playing second base for Portland in the Pacific Coast League. The PCL season ran into November that year.
When the 1905 spring training camps opened, Gleason was again a holdout. He and a group of his teammates were upset with the contracts that were offered them. “A mutiny is rife in the ranks” of the Browns, wrote the Washington Post. Eventually the Browns signed the disgruntled players with pay increases. Gleason signed for $1,500 with the provision that his pay would be increased if he could remain a regular all season.
Before he signed, there were rumors that Gleason might be traded to the White Sox, but that was quickly denied by Charles Comiskey. “I had one dose of Gleason when Boston gave him to me,” said Comiskey. “I do not want another.”
For the first time in his major-league career, Gleason was handed the starting job. The extremely popular player played third base for most of the season. But despite his hustle and defense, his batting left much to be desired. For the year, he batted only.217 in 150 games. On October 8, 1905, he played the last major-league game of his career.
The Browns were disappointed with Gleason. “Gleason is a fairly good player,” wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the season ended, “but did not come up to expectations at all times last year.”
Rumors swirled about Gleason’s next destination. Earlier in the season Hughie Jennings, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was supposedly interested in Gleason. In October the New York Highlanders expressed interest. Finally, the outlaw Tri-State League was reported to want Gleason.
In February 1906 the Browns sold Gleason, along with Joe Sugden, to the American Association’s St. Paul (Minnesota) Saints. St. Paul wanted Gleason to play shortstop for the team, but Gleason wasn’t about to take a pay cut just because he was sent down. He refused to report to St. Paul and signed with the Tri-State League, which played baseball outside the aegis of Organized Baseball. The league was paying top dollar for talent and Gleason was more than happy to play with them, even if it meant he was placed on Organized Baseball’s blacklist.
Before he reported to camp, he worked all winter for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Camden under his brother Walter, who was a yardmaster. An accident, though, almost cost him his life and he resigned immediately.
Gleason played the next four seasons in the Tri-State League and before almost every season there was a dispute over which team in the league owned his rights. Part of the fault belonged to the league, which was loose on its signing rules, but part of the blame belonged to Gleason, who was always trying to cut the best deal possible for himself, even if he had already had a deal in place.
Gleason played the next four seasons in the Tri-State League and before almost every season there was a dispute over which team in the league owned his rights. Part of the fault belonged to the league which was loose on its signing rules but part of the blame belonged to Gleason, who was always trying to cut the best deal possible for himself, even if he had already had a deal in place.
In all, he played with Williamsport (1906-1907), Trenton (1908), Wilmington (1908), Harrisburg (1909), and York (1909), with a 36-game stint in 1908 with the Jersey City Skeeters of the Eastern League. In 1907 the Tri-State League moved under Organized Baseball’s umbrella. That meant salaries would come down to the other minor leagues’ levels. There was much conjecture about players like Gleason, who were on Organized Baseball’s blacklist and whether they would be allowed to play. In the end, all the players were allowed to play but at reduced salaries.40 There were several other significant events for Gleason while he played in the Tri-State League
On the morning of May 12, 1906, Gleason was married to Christine Wilhemine Carstens of Philadelphia, at the parsonage at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Lancaster. He then played in a game that afternoon against Lancaster. According to newspaper accounts, he had “a great game.” After the game, he left with his bride on a “western trip.”
After the 1907 season a new outlaw league, the Union League, was being formed. The league organizers’ objective was to become a third major league. Rumors swirled that Gleason had signed a contract with the Washington team. He even attended the Union League’s spring meeting in Philadelphia. He was to play second base for the team in the coming season. But the league collapsed, leaving Gleason no choice but to go back to an Organized Baseball team.
In 1909, while playing for a terrible Harrisburg team, Gleason had an altercation with a Harrisburg fan. On July 13, in the middle of a game at Harrisburg that the home team would lose to Lancaster, 11–3, Gleason punched the fan, who was sitting in a car beyond the bleachers. The fan had been heckling all during the game and after the sixth inning Gleason had had enough. Two days later, Gleason left Harrisburg for good.
And soon after that incident, Gleason left the Tri-State League for good. After a short stint with a Hagerstown, Maryland, semipro team at the end of the 1909 season, Gleason moved on to New York State League. At the beginning of the 1910 season, he was with the Utica Utes but didn’t play well. By June 13, he was batting only.154, so Utica released him. However, an injury to Utica shortstop Louis Hartman kept Gleason on the team a little while longer. On June 28 he was sold to the Binghamton (New York) Bingoes.
In late August, after returning to the team after tending to his sick wife, Gleason was one of several players and coaches arrested after Binghamton and Albany attempted to play a Sunday game in Colonie, New York, in opposition to the Blue Laws in that city.
While with Binghamton, Gleason managed to pull his batting average up to.219 by season’s end. He returned for the 1911 season but batted only.218, playing in 123 games. With little prospects for a light-hitting 36-year-old in Organized Baseball, Gleason retired for good after the season.
Even before he retired, Gleason had worked in the winters at a shoe company. His maternal grandfather, Isaac H. Ivins, had been a shoemaker, and Gleason no doubt learned the trade from him. By 1911 Gleason was vice president of the Union Shoe Manufacturing and Repair Company of Philadelphia. According to his World War I draft card, which was filled out in 1918, he listed his occupation as shoe repairing and wrote that he was self-employed. He moved to Haddonfield, New Jersey, sometime in the 1910s, and in 1915 his wife, Christine, gave birth to their son, William Carstens Gleason. He and Christine later had a daughter, Pauline.
Tragically, Christine died in 1928. By 1930 Gleason was remarried to a widow, Ena Griffing, who was 15 years his junior. According to the 1930 US Census, he had become an undersheriff in the Camden Sheriff’s Department. He remained an undersheriff until he retired.
On October 21, 1961, after a three-day stay in West Jersey Hospital in Camden because of an infected appendix, Harry Gleason died at the age of 86. He is buried at Locustwood Memorial Park in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
This biography originally appeared in “New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans,” edited by Bill Nowlin (SABR, 2013).