Willis Eldon Johnson returned to The St. Louis Globe-Democrat after serving as the traveling secretary for the Federal League St. Louis Terriers during the 1914 and 1915 seasons.
Upon his return, he told a story about the Terriers popular catcher Grover Hartley—what Johnson called the “small incident” that led him to a career in baseball:
“Grover first saw the light of day in Osgood, a nice, quiet town in Indiana. Hartley was educated in one of those dear little country schools…After graduation, Mr. Hartley put Grover to work on the big farm and there Grover plugged and plowed for quite some time-saving every cent he could.”
According to Johnson, Hartley used the money he earned on his father’s farm to buy a small barber shop.
“Grover (stuck) to the barber shop for one whole year…In small towns, deaths are few and far between. Generally, the residents of the country live to a ripe old age, not having to worry about being killed by automobiles, street cars, late hours, etc…All of which explains the reason for Grover sticking to the barber shop for one whole year…until one day he was asked to shave a dead man. No sooner had Grover been requested to perform upon the face of the corpse then he decided it was time to quit the business”
That, said Johnson, caused Hartley, already a member of the local amateur club, to focus on baseball:
“(Hartley) was considered a good shortstop. Just think of that. A ballplayer who admits that he began the game not as a pitcher but a shortstop. It is really difficult to believe. Most every American boy who has ever picked up a baseball was fully possessed of the idea that he was a pitcher and would someday become a great hurler.”
Johnson said in July of 1909,a barnstorming club, the Chickasaw Indians came to Osgood “to pay the town boys,” and “The manager of the Indians, after watching Hartley work, offered him a job at $40 per month. Hartley accepted and departed with the Indians on a tour of the little towns in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.”
His transformation from barber to professional ballplayer was complete, said Johnson, when the Indians regular catcher “had his finger broken” and “Ever since that day Hartley has been playing behind the bat.”
Not comfortable shaving the dead, Hartley did attempt to sell life insurance during the offseason when he was in St. Louis—with no more success than barbering. He told The Globe:
“Say, I’d rather see a guy diving at me feet first with his bright, sharp spikes gleaming than try to open up a possible policy buyer…I’ve gone into a dozen offices to see fellows I’d been tipped off to. I walk into the office, see a bunch of men and girls banging away at typewriters, and away I go. Me for the door. I get excited and feel myself getting red in the face.”
The paper said Hartley needed to sell $50,000 worth of policies, “If he does, he will get an automobile. He sold $32,000 worth to friends and now he thinks he will see street cars the rest of his life.”
His failure as a barber and an insurance man helped keep Hartley in professional baseball as a player, coach, and manager until 1949.