By Marty Appel
In 1974 I was writing my first book, Baseball’s Best, with biographies of all the Hall of Famers, and I decided to interview Roger Peckinpaugh, who in 1914 became, and remains, the youngest manager in Major League history. He was 23.
I was the Yankees PR director at the time, and we were training in Fort Lauderdale. Peckinpaugh was spending the winter just north, in Deerfield Beach, and he said, “Sure, c’mon over.” He was 83, sharp of mind, but bothered by a nagging cough.
“Say hello to ol’ Lantern Jaw for me,” said my mentor Bob Fishel, who had grown up in Cleveland. After Peckinpaugh’s stint as player-manager with the Yankees in 1914, and the rest of his New York playing days from 1915 to 1921, he became famous for his play with Washington and Cleveland, and then for managing Cleveland before becoming the Tribe’s general manager.
On March 21, I arrived with my cassette recorder, with the agenda being my list of all the Hall of Famers I thought he might be able to comment on. It wasn’t long before I realized my list was just pissing him off. These guys were in, and he wasn’t? He couldn’t believe it.
“Manush? Kelly? Cuyler? Hafey? Appling? Boudreau? Medwick? For crissakes!” Trying to ease the evening’s mood, I agreed with him, telling him he certainly did belong. At that point he said, “Whaddya mean?! I am in!”
He rose from the sofa and went to the bedroom, returning with a folded and yellowed newspaper from his bureau drawer.
“OUR MAN PECK; A HALL OF FAMER FOR SURE,” it said. This was published long before there was a Hall of Fame, but it was good enough for him. Besides, he told me, his 1925 MVP Award also said “Hall of Fame” on it. So there.
When we got to Waite Hoyt, he sort of laughed and said, “Hoyt would never vote for me cause I blew a World Series game for him.” (Hoyt was on the Veterans Committee.) In 1921, the Yankees’ first World Series, Peckinpaugh made a first-inning error in the final game that allowed Dave Bancroft to score, and that was the only run of the game. Hoyt lost 1–0, and the Yankees lost the Series.
The 1921 World Series featured the New York Giants and the New York Yankees in a best-of-nine series with, for the first time, all games played at one site — the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. With the Giants leading the series four games to three, George Kelly hit a grounder past Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh in the first inning of Game 8, allowing Dave Bancroft to score the only run needed for the Giants to clinch the championship.
“Awww, they said I didn’t run the ball down to keep him from scoring,” said Peck. He was traded to Washington soon after.
“That wasn’t the reason I was traded,” he recalled. “Babe Ruth hated (Miller) Huggins and wanted me to manage. Once we were leaving Boston after a tough loss, and Babe was drunk, and he said he was gonna throw Huggins off the train! He was heading for his drawing room. On the way he stopped in the men’s room and punched this huge mirror. It fell into a million pieces. Me and Ernie Shore and Truck Hannah pulled him down to the ground and sat on him until he passed out. Truck—a big guy—puts him over his shoulder and moves him to the next car. I got traded soon after to get me out of the picture.”
With Washington, Peckinpaugh won the 1925 MVP Award but made eight errors in the World Series, including a costly bad throw in Game 7 with the game tied that blew the game for Walter Johnson and let the Pirates win the Series. Peckinpaugh just wasn’t meant to be the original Mr. October.
When we got to Frank Chance, ah, here was a little gold. Chance was the man Peckinpaugh succeeded as Yankees manager in 1914.
“Well, he liked me, and he made me captain when I was traded to the Yankees from Cleveland the year before. But in September he came to me and said he’d had a run-in with the owners and he was going to quit and go home. The owners (Frank Farrell and Bill Devery), what did they know, they took the gate receipts and put them in a safe. They didn’t know baseball. Anyway, Chance says he was going to recommend me to run the club for the rest of the season.
“‘Maybe you can get a little extra dough out of it,’ he told me.
“The next day, Farrell says, ‘We want you to take charge of the team for the rest of the season.’ So I say, ‘Yeah? What’s in it for me?’ So they offered me a little extra dough. And that’s how I became the youngest manager in the big leagues at 23.”
As a player with Washington, Peckinpaugh helped the Senators to their only World Series championship in 1924, and in 1925 he became the first shortstop to be honored with the AL Most Valuable Player award. Following the 1926 season, Peckinpaugh was traded to the Chicago White Sox where he was hampered by leg injuries and would retire following the 1927 season. In 1928, Peckinpaugh was hired by the Cleveland Indians where he served as manager through 1933 and again in 1941.
The interview had its moments. Peckinpaugh wasn’t a big fan of Negro League players getting into the Hall of Fame. “So they go to him and say, ‘Hey Satch, how many would you have won in the big leagues?’ And Paige says, ‘Oh, 30.’ ‘Great! You’re in!’”
His take on Jackie Robinson’s signing was that it was a grand scheme by Branch Rickey and his Montreal manager Clay Hopper to pick the best player available—Robinson—change his position, and have him fail. That way they could say, “Well, we tried, but even the best one couldn’t make it.” (to hear Roger Peckinpaugh tell this story click here)
This version of history does differ from generally accepted accounts. Peck had memories of the spitball days and said the decision to ban the spitball was a way to ban the emory ball, the shine ball, and other pitches along with it. But his memories are unique.
“Ed Walsh—he had a great spitball . . . but you would know it was coming if you watched his Adam’s apple. If it moved, that meant he was swallowing his spit and the ball wouldn’t break.
“You know, those spitballs were tough on us infielders. The gob of spit would still be on the ball when it was hit to us—it was hard to throw!”
I saved the best for last, even if it does offend modern sensibilities.
“Dazzy Vance, what a helluva guy . . . he was my Yankees teammate before he got famous in Brooklyn, y’know. One day I’m sitting on the can taking a crap, and he’s gotta go. So he comes in with a REVOLVER and BAM, BAM—he fired two shots on the floor right in front of me and says it’s his turn. Scared the hell out of me! Helluva guy, Dazzy, helluva guy.”
My interview with a man born in 1891 was over. He’s not that well remembered today, but he was the shortstop and the captain of the first Yankees team to go to the World Series, and he remains the youngest manager in history. To talk to him was to “talk baseball” the way it was spoken a century ago. A great evening.