In 1870 Francois Dieudonné Gingras left his native Canada for Manhattan where he met and married Mary Roohan. By 1896, now with three children and another on the way, this couple had settled in Saratoga Springs where they opened a grocery store.
Their oldest son, Frank, was soon brought into the family business and the store was renamed, F. D. Gingras & Son. Their youngest son, whom they had named Joseph Elzead John Gingras, was looking to pursue a far different life: baseball.
Joseph Gingras, born in 1894, grew up in Saratoga Springs at 17 Warren Street. This building at the corner of York Avenue was both the family home and the neighborhood grocery store owned by his father. By 1912, 18-year-old Gingras, already six foot two inches, was playing left field for the semi-pro Saratoga Athletic Club in Saratoga Springs. The next summer Joe was invited to training camp by the Athletics, Philadelphia’s major league ball team.
Philly’s manager Connie Mack saw potential in the young man, drafted him into the Athletics’ organization, and converted him to a side arm & underhand pitcher. Soon Joe was added to Mack’s recruit pitching squad. With this change, Joe would continue as a pitcher for the rest of his baseball career. Gingras began pitching for Saratoga when he returned from Philadelphia in September, striking out sixteen in a four-to-one loss to a team of professionals from Newburgh, New York.
In the spring of 1914, Gingras was sent to the Winston-Salem Twins of the North Carolina League. That year he played in thirty-six games, pitching 222 innings, winning eight games, and losing fourteen. Between seasons, Gingras came home to Saratoga Springs. Here he kept in shape by pitching for the local Saratoga all-star team. In an announcement for a game against Jim Ronin’s All-Star Indoor Baseball Team, February 4th, 1915, the Albany Argus noted that Gingras was considered one of the greatest indoor pitchers of the time and was already famous for his underhand toss.
To begin the 1915 season Joe started with the semi-professional Bronx Stars, staying with them until June when he was called to Baltimore for a tryout for George Stovall, the manager of the major league Kansas City Packers of the Federal League. After days of pitching against batters in practice, he was brought in to pitch at the end of a game against Baltimore. As a result of this performance, Stovall offered him a contract, though at the same time putting him in his place by saying “I don’t need another pitcher, but you look like you had the stuff” (Winston-Salem Sentinel June 12, 1915).
Unfortunately, Joe Gingras’ major league career was short-lived, in his two outings for Kansas City, on June 15th and then the 26th, he only pitched a total of four innings, with two strikeouts and one walk. He was soon sent down to Knoxville of the North Carolina League for the rest of the season.
Without Gingras, the Packers finished fourth in 1915, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, with an 81-72 record. Kansas City would not see as high a finish by a major league team for another 56 years. 1915 was the last year for both the Kansas City Packers and the Federal League, with the league being absorbed by the American and National Leagues. At that time the Kansas City franchise was declared bankrupt and closed out with no owners willing to take it over.
By autumn of 1915, Joe was back living at the family home on Warren Street and pitching for the local Saratoga Springs team. At the start of 1916, Joe pitched in Pennsylvania for the Warren Pennsylvania Warriors. Gingras compiled a record of six wins and seven losses with the Warriors. The Warriors were a minor league team in the Inter-State League that ended the 1916 season with a record of twenty-four wins and nineteen losses.
In April it was announced that Class B Elmira Colonels of the New York State League signed Joe Gingras. His work as a pitcher started with the first game of the season when he was brought in as relief in the third inning of a game that his team would go on to lose 11 to 3. During his time that year with the Colonels, he was in twenty-one games with a record of seven wins and fourteen losses.
Gingras started 1917 the season with Elmira but was acquired by the Bridgeport Connecticut Americans in April. With the Americans, Joe had his best semi-pro season, winning eleven games in twenty-nine outings for the team. With Bridgeport, he was called on to close out games, with one example being a six-to-five win over Portland in June when he not only shut the opposing team out for the last three innings of a 12-inning contest, but also contributed two hits, and was driven home to score the winning run.
The June 16th, 1917, Bridgeport Evening Farmer gave this assessment after the game, “Gingras is getting to be a good relief pitcher. The tall twirler has rescued several games for Bridgeport by holding the enemy down in the final innings.” As Joe Gingras was still a hometown favorite, the Saratogian newspaper even carried details of his success with a headline that read “Gingras Scores Winning Run.”
The next year Gingras moved on to another division 3 club, the Binghamton, New York Bingos of the International League. In early May of 1918, Joe Gingras was the starting pitcher in the first home game of the season against Toronto. Leading the game in the third inning he was pulled to permit a substitute to bat, a move that sparked a rally tying the score and leading to a win for the team. Little did he realize that day what the changes soon coming to his life.
He went on the win three more games that Spring when he received a World War I draft notice with orders to report to the Saratoga County Exemption Board on Monday, May 27th. The next day he was on a train with numerous other draftees from Warren and Saratoga Counties on the way to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
At Camp Wadsworth Gingras was assigned to the 52nd Pioneer Infantry and on August 3rd boarded the troop ship Great Northern bound for Europe. The 52nd was one of several regiments attached to Army headquarters that were created for deployment on special work including construction and combat and available without diminishing the tactical strength of the Army.
Only weeks after entering the Army, Joe Gingras was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and on July 5th, 1918, his rank was raised to Mess Sergeant. During the war, the 52nd Pioneer Infantry was deployed to St. Mihiel, France in August of 1918, a month before the Battle of St. Mihiel, the first large-scale offensive by the United States Army in the war. In late September, the regiment took part in the September 26th – November 11th Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It was one of the attacks that brought an end to the War.
Meuse-Argonne was the largest operation of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, with over a million American soldiers participating. It was also the deadliest campaign in American history, resulting in over 26,000 soldiers being killed in action and over 120,000 total casualties.
In March of 1919, the 52nd Pioneer Infantry Regiment was demobilized in France and the troops headed home. Joe boarded the troop ship USS Walter A. Luckenbach on March 31st, 1919, at Brest, France, and landed in Brooklyn, New York three weeks later. Amazingly, Joe picked up with baseball where he had left off almost exactly a year before, and on May 8th he pitched the second game of a doubleheader against Newark bringing home an 11 to 6 victory.
Despite the fast start, questions quickly emerged about the Gingras’ abilities to continue to play at a semi-pro level. By mid-June, though a favorite with the fans, the Bings’ manager Frank Schulte was openly questioning Joe’s ability to take his best pitches from practice into a game.
In the Union New York News and Dispatch of June 19th, 1919, Schulte said that on the mound he has no sense of direction and “the plate looks like a ten-cent piece.
Despite the Johnson City Record putting a picture of Gingras putting a fastball over the plate on their front page two days after his manager’s words, Joe did not pitch again that year for the Bings. The Binghamton Bingos of the International League ended the 1919 season with a record of seventy-five wins and seventy-one losses, finishing fourth in the International League.
The end of 1919 marked seven years of nearly year-round baseball for Gingras with a year of overseas military service sandwiched in as well. For the twenty-seven-year-old Joe Gingras, 1920 marked a new era of his life, the biggest change being his marriage to twenty-eight-year-old New Jersey native Catherine Margaret Kobel.
His baseball career continued for one more year with Joe pitching for the Doherty Silk Sox of the Paterson, New Jersey Industrial League. His statistics for the season are not available and it was his last full season of baseball. By 1922, Joe and his wife had settled in Jersey City, New Jersey, parents of one-year-old twins, and he was working as an engineer at the local school. Joe and his family stayed in Jersey City where he and his wife had another daughter in 1930. Joe Gingras passed away at the age of 53 in 1947 and was brought back to Saratoga Springs and interred in the family plot in St. Peters Cemetery.
I will end this article with these thoughts: Before his change to pitching, Joe Gingras had been widely known as a long ball hitter, even nicknamed “Homerun” by his fellow players. As a pitcher, while he sometimes showed talent, he was often plagued with inconsistent control. Joe certainly had the drive and motivation to excel at professional baseball, and one has to wonder if Connie Mack had left him as an outfielder that his career might have taken a different and more successful path.
Illustrations, from above: newspaper article announcing Joe’s signing with Kansas City is from the June 12, 1915, Winston-Salem Twin City Daily Sentinel; the 1919 Binghamton Bingos courtesy Binghamton Press Bulletin, May 13, 1919; image of Joe Gingras pitching courtesy the June 21, 1919, Johnson City, New York Record.