Happy Birthday, Claral Gillenwater!

As suggested by his SABR biographer, Bill Lamb, the writers in the various cities never seemed to get Claral Gillenwater’s first name right.  At various times, he was called Claude, Claire, and other odder names – like Al or Alton.  Not once – until his obituary – was he called Claral in the newspaper.

Claral Lewis Gillenwater was born on 20 May 1900 to Robert and Nellie (Albright) Gillenwater in Sims, Indiana.  He was the second child, trailing his sister Ora by three years.  His mother later died during childbirth (septic shock and internal hemorrhaging) and his father remarried and moved to Ohio.  Over the next seven years, he and his next wife, Myrtle McCammon Gillenwater died in 1919, and then he and Stella Shoemaker married and had three more kids.  And he paid for all of this as the owner of a family barbershop.

Claral left school around the eighth grade and learned the family trade – he became a barber.  On the side, he played baseball and became a locally famous pitcher.  The tall, thin kid with light brown hair and blue eyes earned a tryout with Columbus in the American Association and, while he didn’t stick, he did get a job pitching for Peoria in 1920.  When not pitching league games, he’d occasionally make starts in exhibition games against the Decatur Staleys, featuring outfielder and football legend George Halas (name dropping on his behalf).  He then showed off his improving skills with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, finishing the 1921 season and then playing winter ball.  He moved to Saginaw in 1922 and Nashville and then the Greenville Spinners in 1923.   By mid-summer, he was pitching for Muskegon.

Pitcher Claude Gillenwater, leading hurler of the local Michigan-Ontario League team, has been purchased by the Chicago Americans and will report to the White Sox tomorrow, it was announced today. The purchase price is said to have been $5,000.”

“Sox Purchase Young Pitcher”, Chicago Tribune, 16 August 1923, Page 13.

He made his debut appearance with the White Sox against Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees.  It didn’t go well…

(Gillenwater) was greeted in the fourth with a single, two triples, and a two bagger. In the sixth, the Yanks started on another rampage, and after the first three men and notched doubles, (Kid) Gleason decided it was time to yank the Muskegon, Mich., kid.”

“Yanks Bingle As Sox Bungle; Sad Figures Are 16 – 5”, Chicago Tribune, 21 August 1923, Page 13.

However, at least one writer thought he might have a future.

“If Claude’s service in the upper strata of baseball circles is as long as his handle he ought to draw pay from the White Sox management far into the future.”

“Tigers Tighten Hold on Third”, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

Anyway – Gillenwater was given a second chance against the Boston Red Sox.  In this game, Gillenwater was brilliant and he pitched a four-hit shutout.

“He is a side-arm twirler and starts his ball rather low. It was evident that his peculiar delivery would be to his advantage, as his style differs from the majority of pitchers. Gillenwater delivers the ball much after the manner of Howard Ehmke, who it so happened was the Boston pitcher that day… He has a fairly good fast ball… He also had on tap a fairly good curve.”

“Billy Evans Says-“, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

Glaral Gillenwater - TSN 1928Unfortunately, his three other appearances – two starts and one relief outing – were more like his first one – and his stay with the White Sox was short.  Gillenwater became a minor league nomad, but never making a whole lot of headway back to the majors.  The next spring, he was pitching for Norfolk.  In 1925, it was Terre Haute and a year later, he played for Ollie Pickering and the Quincy Reds.  In 1927, he had a fine season with the Wheeling Stogies – good enough to get his picture in The Sporting News.  While he stayed in a Wheeling a second season, his days of professional baseball were few – he’d head back closer to home and play some semi-professional ball before spending the rest of his working days as a barber.

During the depression, the Claral Gillenwater lived with his mother-in-law while working as the proprietor of a barber shop in Saginaw, MI. He and his wife, the former Rachel Phillips, had a daughter, Gloria.

Glaral Gillenwater - Cropped from 1954“Funeral Services for Mr. Claral L. Gillenwater, 77, of Chula Vista Trailer Park, Ruskin, who passed away in a Bradenton hospital Sunday, will be held from the Lewers & Shannon Funeral Home Chapel Wednesday afternoon… Survived by his wife Rachael Gillenwater, Ruskin; 1 daughter Mrs. Gloria Walsh; 1 brother John Gillenwater, and 1 sister Mrs. John Nevins…”

“GILLENWATER (Obit)”, Tampa Times, 28 February 1978, Page 5.

Gillenwater passed to the next league on 27 February 1978 in Bradenton, FL, leaving behind a wife, sister, brother, and daughter.

Sources

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
Indiana Death Records
Michigan Marriage Records, 1922.

SABR Biography by Bill Lamb
Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com

Image of Gillenwater fishing cropped from photo uploaded to Ancestry.com and found here:

https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/23820383/person/1435752118/media/cc185ee5-e794-4476-9d73-120579eed22a?_phsrc=RJg274&_phstart=successSource

“Peoria Buys Player”, Decatur Herald, 29 February 1920, Page 9.

Bertz, George. “Seals Play Beavers And Increase Lead”, 26 September 1921, Page 10.

“Bees Trounce Seals In Fast Diamond Event”, 26 April 1922, Page 10.

Bousdog, Ray. “Judd in Rare Form Saturday, Aces Lose 7 – 3”, Port Huron Times Herald, 17 July 1922, Page 9.

“Pirates Hit Snag in Southern Town, But Nose Out Game”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, 11 April 1923, Page 9.

Heads to Greenville Spinners for 04 May 1923, Page 12.

“Spinners Lose Opening Game To Spartans, 5 to 2”, Greenville News, 04 May 1923, Page 12.

“Sox Purchase Young Pitcher”, Chicago Tribune, 16 August 1923, Page 13.

“Yanks Bingle As Sox Bungle; Sad Figures Are 16 – 5”, Chicago Tribune, 21 August 1923, Page 13.

“Tigers Tighten Hold on Third”, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

“Billy Evans Says-“, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

“What Former Sally Leaguers Are Doing In Other Fields”, Greenville News, 07 May 1924, Page 6.

“Terre Haute Bunches Hits and Ruins Springfield’s Opening Day Program”, Decatur Herald, 13 May 1925, page 17.

“Commodores Split Double Header With Quincy, 9-10, 10-0.”, Decatur Herald, 12 July 1926, Page 4.

“He Had Good Year in Good Company”, The Sporting News, 26 January 1928, Page 8.

Box Score, Pittsburgh Press, 06 May 1928, Page 55.

“GILLENWATER (Obit)”, Tampa Times, 28 February 1978, Page 5.

“Obituaries”, Sporting News, 01 Apriil 1978, Page 61.

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1 thought on “Happy Birthday, Claral Gillenwater!

  1. Pingback: Baseball History for May 20th | Mighty Casey Baseball

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