The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds - Hank Gastright
Mon, 04/21/2014 - 08:41 RCN Newsdesk
In their new book, The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds, authors Joe and Jack Heffron — local boys themselves — tell the stories of the men who achieved the dream depicted in that sculpture, profiling over 100 local players using historical research and, for many, original interviews with the players or surviving family.
The Heffrons feature legends like Pete Rose, Ethan Allen, Don Zimmer, Dave Parker, Buddy Bell, Junior Griffey, and even Charlie “Bushel Basket” Gould, who made the first roster back in 1869.
Now, in an exclusive feature, the publisher has given RCN permission to highlight a few players featured in the book who hailed from Northern Kentucky's river cities.
(SEE PREVIOUSLY: The Local Boys feature on Covington native Don Neville)
(SEE PREVIOUSLY: The Local Boys feature on Covington native Bob Barton)
(SEE PREVIOUSLY: The Local Boys feature on Dayton native Jesse Tannehill)
Hank Gastright (1865-1937)
Major League Career: 1889-1896
Time as a Red: 1896
Either Hank Gastright had friends in local media or there was a genuine outcry for the Reds to sign him before heading to New Orleans for spring training in 1896. The Cincinnati Enquirer ran quite a few stories in January promoting his cause, especially to manager Buck Ewing, claiming, “Nine out of ten of the local enthusiasts want the Cincinnati Club to give Gastright a trial,” and simply, “Come, Buck, give Henry a chance.”
He’d already enjoyed success at the major league level. Born and raised in Newport, the son of Frederick, a German immigrant, and Catherine, Henry Carl Gastreich started out playing for an amateur team in Newport called the Favorites while working at a grain mill.
In 1887, he signed with Toledo in the TriState League and made his major league debut on April 19, 1889, with the Columbus Solons in the American Association. A big, hard-throwing righthander, he struggled with consistency, but the Solons recognized his potential, sending manager Al Buckenberger to Cincinnati to sign him in early January 1890, fearing Gastright would jump to the new Players League.
The Enquirer reported that they negotiated for hours before striking a deal in the reading room of the Grand Hotel at 4th and Central. The team didn’t regret its extra effort, as Gastright won 30 games that year with an ERA of 2.94 in 401.1 innings.
The heavy workload may have taken its toll, however, because he struggled the next season at Columbus and he pitched only 79.2 innings for Washington the following one.
“They wore him out,” says his great great-nephew Russ Gastright, who has done considerable research on his relative. “If he had promise, it was gone after that year.”
Gastright appeared to bounce back in 1893, posting a National League-leading .750 win percentage but wasn’t nearly as dominant as he’d been in 1890.
He later told the Enquirer that Boston wanted to cut his salary, so he refused to sign, spending 1894 in Brooklyn, where he threw only 93 innings. After sitting out the next year, he explained to the Enquirer, "I took the typhoid fever and that is the reason I did not succeed. I have entirely recovered, and I am sure that I am as good as I was before I took sick.”
The Reds were less sure, manager Ewing telling the press, “I have little faith in his ability to get back to what he was before he was injured.”
Gastright countered with, “It won’t take me long to find out whether I am a has-been or not.” Ewing finally agreed to take him to spring training, but after a few appearances in practice games Gastright hurt his back. The Enquirer reported he hurt it “slipping on a stone slab in the pitcher’s box.” The injury kept him off the field until early June, when, at last, he made his first appearance in a Reds uniform.
On June 5, the Reds were in third place and in the thick of the race, facing Brooklyn. When Frank Dwyer got bombed in the first inning, Ewing called on Gastright to open the third.
The Grooms hit him hard, but he kept them from scoring until the fifth, when they pounded him for four. The Reds lost 10-1. The game would be his last as a major leaguer.
Though disappointed, the Reds understood it was his first game in more than a year. But when he then got dysentery and had to be sent home, the team released him in late July. He signed with Hartford in the Atlantic League, where he played the following year, posting a 13–7 and a 2.37 ERA, and for several years afterward he made known his
availability, but either turned down offers or didn’t get any.
Gastright never married, living with his widowed mother, then with his brother Tony. He pitched for several amateur Covington teams for a few years, and after a short stint with the Newport Police Department, he worked as a miller for the Union Hay and Grain Company. In his last years, he suffered from poor health, living mostly at the Campbell County Infirmary.
According to family members, Hank changed the spelling and pronunciation of his last name to make it easier for announcers to say and writers to spell.
In the 1920s, the Gastrights formally followed his lead, and that's how he is remembered by baseball historians today.
Photo: Hank Gastright (provided)