It was 1972 when Richard Reinhardt and his wife Barbara bought their first home in the borough, a two-family home on Gatzmer Avenue where a woman by the name of Elizabeth Hayes lived. The Reinhardts soon learned that the woman who they were now renting out the second floor of the house to was the mother of Frankie Hayes, a Jamesburg native who became a Major League Baseball star in the 1930s and ’40s.
Over time, Elizabeth Hayes relayed much information about her son, as well as possessions and mementos from his baseball days, and asked their help in keeping his name alive.
Frankie Hayes played catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1933 to 1942 and again from 1944 to ’45, the St. Louis Browns from 1942 to ’43, the Cleveland Indians from 1945 to ’46, the Chicago White Sox in 1946, and the Boston Red Sox in 1947. A six-time All-Star selection, his record of 312 consecutive games played by an American League catcher remains unbroken.
In 1936 he tied the all-time record for hitting four doubles in one game as a catcher, and in 1944 he was ranked the No. 14 most valuable player in the American League.
Born Frank Witman Hayes in Jamesburg to Lincoln and Elizabeth Hayes, “Frankie” graduated in 1932 from Jamesburg High School, which was located on Augusta Street, and enrolled in the Pennington Seminary for Boys in Pennington. Throughout his youth, he was involved with sports and continued to excel into adulthood. He would become the youngest player in the American League in 1933 when he got his start with Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics.
Hayes ultimately finished his 14-year career in the majors in 1947 after 1,364 games played and 1,164 hits for a career batting average of .259. He had 119 homeruns and 585 RBIs.
He moved to Point Pleasant, where he opened a small sporting goods store and worked with a larger company to produce a Frank Hayes model catcher’s mitt, with a no-hinge deep pocket that allowed the catcher to secure the ball without using the other hand. He also maintained contact with some of his old baseball mates and went deep-sea fishing with them.
In 1955, he became ill and passed away suddenly at the age of 40. He is buried at Fernwood Cemetery in Jamesburg.
To help keep her son’s memory alive, Elizabeth Hayes gave the Reinhardts items from a footlocker she kept in the house, and things she had stored in the barn out back. Among these was a trophy that was awarded to Frankie by the Newark Athletic Club in 1940, when he was named New Jersey’s Athlete of the Year. In 1974 the Reinhardts donated the trophy to the Jamesburg Historical Society.
As the owners of Barbara’s Unique Antique Boutique in Jamesburg, the Reinhardts travel frequently to search for items to stock their store. In the years that followed their discussions with Elizabeth Hayes, the couple made it a point to look for items that pertained to Frankie in their travels. From Texas to Maine, the shop owners managed to find numerous items that they could use to help restore the memory of Hayes in Jamesburg. Numerous items are in the collection — catchers’ mitts, baseball cards, game tickets, photos, baseballs, and even a seat from Connie Mack Stadium.
Years passed, however, and the effort began to fade. It was a chance meeting with another connection to baseball history that reignited the Reinhardts’work to keep Frankie’s memory alive. Richard met Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia, and learned that she had met Hayes when they were both in Japan during an All-Star Game in 1934. A teenager at the time, she went on two chaperoned dates with Hayes but lost contact with him upon their return to the states.
The Reinhardts have continued their friendship with Julia, who reminded them that Frankie Hayes was a great small-town success story that people should know about.
The Reinhardts said they plan to put their collection together in chronological order, starting with Frank’s childhood through his place of burial in Jamesburg. They hope to display the collection at local libraries and to work with the local alumni association. They would like the 2014 alumni celebration to be dedicated to Hayes, since he would have been 100 years old that year. Also, a portion of their antiques store will be dedicated to the display of Hayes memorabilia.
Reinhardt said he has truly enjoyed the experience of collecting items to remember Frankie, and learned a great deal about a man he never had the opportunity to meet.
“It’s like he is my brother now,” he said.