Grave Story: Frank Betcher (1888-1981)

Frank Bettger was successful in several careers, but baseball was not one of them. As Frank Betcher, he was a light-hitting infielder who played with the 1910 St. Louis Cardinals. Using his birth name, he went on to write best-selling business books and was considered one of the best salesmen in the country by no less an authority than Dale Carnegie.

Frank Betcher (he said his first baseball paycheck misspelled his name, so he kept it) was born in Philadelphia on February 15, 1888 and started playing as a 19-year old in 1907. He was cut by the Johnstown Johnnies, his first team, because he was lazy. At least, that’s what he claimed later on in life. The reality was that his .186 batting average probably didn’t do him any favors, but his version makes for a better story. Lesson learned, he said he learned to play with greater enthusiasm.

Betcher bounced around a few leagues and hit a solid .276 for Greenville in 1909 (his best career numbers by a long shot). He then spent 1910 as a backup infielder for the Cardinals. He didn’t hit particularly well (.202 batting average, 18 hits, 6 RBIs, and 2 doubles as his only extra base hits), but he played all the infield positions except first base, as well as a couple games in the outfield.

According to his SABR bio, he refused to report to the Cards for Spring Training in 1911 and ended up sitting out that entire season. His decision did not sit well with Cardinals manager Roger Bresnahan. In January, the skipper boasted that should any of his regular infielders falter, “I’ve got a little gentleman named Frank Betcher who can work acceptably at any position and will wallop the leather savagely.” By March, after the infielder had not reported to Spring Training, Bresnahan had his replacement ready with rookie Lee Magee. The Tacoma Times reported that when asked about the holdout, Bresnahan snorted and declared that “Magee is capable of jumping into any infield hole at the time, and that if Betcher does not want to report that he will not be missed.”

Betcher played a couple more years in the minors, but he never hit well enough to come close to the MLB again. Not all his statistics are available, but he hit .179 for Montreal in 1912 and .221 for Galveston in 1913. An arm injury ended his career when he was 26 years old. He hit .228 in his 5 years in the minors, given the numbers that are available.

Retired from baseball, newly wed and going under his birth name again, Bettger became an insurance salesman. He struggled at first and considered quitting after less than a year on the job. He remembered his lessons of playing with enthusiasm from his baseball days and, after rededicating himself to the job, became one of Fidelity Mutual’s best and highest-paid salesmen. He did so well for himself that he was able to retire at the age of 51 and took to the lecture circuit with Carnegie.

Full-page ads in newspapers touted Bettger’s books and his sales strategies. Source: The Boston Daily Globe, May 22, 1950.

Bettger wrote the best-seller How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling in 1949, and it’s still in print today. It contains many of the life lessons he learned in his careers, including the power of enthusiasm, how to conquer fear and several golden rules for closing a sale. His life story, of a failure at 29 to one of the top salesmen in the country in just over a decade, inspired a generation of business owners and salesmen. Carnegie referenced Bettger’s story in his syndicated column and praised the book. “I would gladly have walked from Chicago to New York to get a copy of this book, if it had been available when I started out to sell,” he wrote.

Bettger wrote several other books, including How I Multiplied My Income and Happiness in Selling, and lectured across the country through the 1960s before retiring again. He died on Nov. 27, 1981 at the age of 93. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

His son, Lyle Bettger, became an actor and made a name for himself on Broadway, in the movies and on television. He had guest appearances on Hawaii Five-O, Rawhide and Gunsmoke and was in numerous Hollywood westerns.

(Note: An earlier version of this article appeared at The Hall of Very Good.)

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