Roger Peckinpaugh was known as a sure-handed fielder and a level-headed leader during his 17 years in the major leagues. He was called the calmest man in baseball and became the youngest manager in MLB history at age 23 years, 7 months, when he went 10-10 with the New York Yankees at the end of the 1914 season.
“They said he had a good demeanor,” his grandson and namesake, Roger Peckinpaugh said from his home in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “He was very calm, very quiet. I never saw him get angry.”
Peckinpaugh’s baseball career spanned the dead ball and lively ball eras, and some of his teammates included Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Napoleon Lajoie, Walter Johnson and Bucky Harris. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1925 and played in three World Series, including back-to-back Fall Classics with the Washington Senators in 1924-25.
Ten memorabilia items from Peckinpaugh’s career have been consigned to an upcoming spring sale by RR Auction. They include a 1918 New York Yankees road jersey, a 1924 watch fob commemorating the Washington Senators’ only World Series title, a $1,000 check written to Babe Ruth by Peckinpaugh, and a 1935 “American League” jersey Peckinpaugh used during a promotional tour with Lew Fonseca.
Six of the items are team-signed baseballs, including the 1929 Cleveland Indians, a squad Peckinpaugh managed to a third-place finish; the 1925 Washington Senators, which would win its second American League pennant; the 1928 Philadelphia Athletics, which included future Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove; and the 1928 New York Yankees, with signatures from future Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon and Red Ruffing.
Some of the balls have Peckinpaugh’s signature, written as “R.T. Peckinpaugh,” as in Roger Thorpe Peckinpaugh.
Besides the Peckinpaugh memorabilia, the RR Auction catalog will include a pair of Mickey Mantle cards — a 1952 Topps that is graded SGC 5 and a 1955 Bowman graded PSA 8, high-grade baseball sets and pre-War baseball cards. There will also be a 1932 Olympic gold medal and “race-worn” hair from Secretariat after Big Red won the Belmont Stakes in 1973 to complete horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Roger, 76, said he thought the time was right to sell some of his grandfather’s items, rather than trying to split them up among family members.
“The problem becomes, how do you display the uniforms? Then, who do you give them to in the family?” Roger said. “So, we decided to put them up for sale, and if someone from the family wants to buy them, great. But if the price goes really high and someone else gets them, well, bless them.”
Roger is keeping the MVP award won by his grandfather. His sister, Janet Pry, is keeping the sterling silver flatware set that was given to Peckinpaugh after winning MVP honors.
But the items in the RR Auction sale are fair game.
The Peckinpaugh family chose RR Auction because of the longstanding business relationship between Roger’s brother-in-law, Jim Pry, and RR President/CEO Bob Eaton.
The most intriguing item in the RR Auction might be the check Peckinpaugh wrote to Ruth on Aug. 4, 1921. The check, drawn on the Bank of Washington Heights in Manhattan, was made out to “Geo. H. Ruth” and was endorsed that way on the back by the Bambino.
There are plenty of “Babe Ruth” signatures on the market, but far fewer with his given name. Peckinpaugh signs the check as he signed the baseballs, as “R.T. Peckinpaugh.”
Roger is not sure why his grandfather wrote out a check to Ruth, who routinely lent cash to teammates. The canceled check was in the possession of Roger’s brother, Dave Peckinpaugh, who found it when it fell out of a book owned by his grandfather.
“Dave was looking at a book about fielding statistics,” Roger said. “He was flipping through it and the check fell out.
“I’m not sure any of his sons knew about it (the check).”
Peckinpaugh owned a cottage in Crowe Lake, two miles northwest of Marmora, Ontario. Family members believed he might have borrowed the money in 1921 to buy the property in Canada but cannot be certain. They may never know.
Peckinpaugh bought the land with E.F. Becker and bought out his partner in 1933, Roger said. During the summer, Peckinpaugh’s wife and children would stay at the cottage, and he would join them to hunt and fish. Mostly fish. Teammates like Aaron Ward usually tagged along.
“He loved to fish,” Roger said. “He enjoyed the solitude of the boat, and he knew the bottom of the lake like the palm of his hand.”
The fob in the RR Auction is in nice condition and exhibits plenty of colorful detail. It measures 1.25 inches by 2 inches and weighs 23.9 grams. The front features the U.S. Capitol flanked by bald eagles and above a pair of crossed bats. The pendant calls the Senators “World 1924 Champions.”
“They gave those out prior to the 1925 season,” Roger said. “This was before World Series rings.”
A shortstop with great range and a strong throwing arm, Peckinpaugh was a barrel-chested, bowlegged infielder with large hands, a less-stockier version of Honus Wagner. Peckinpaugh led the American League in assists four times and double plays six times.
The most he ever made as a player was $12,000, during the final two seasons of his 17-year career.
Peckinpaugh never received more than three votes for Hall of Fame consideration between 1937 and 1955. His grandson believes the baseball writers overlooked him because of his performance in the 1925 World Series. Peckinpaugh made a record eight errors, including two key miscues late in Game 7.
Despite Peckinpaugh’s home run in the eighth inning of Game 7 that gave the Senators a 7-6 lead, Pittsburgh tied the game and kept its rally alive after Peckinpaugh’s two-out throwing error. Kiki Cuyler then hit a long drive that literally stuck in the mud down the right-field line. The two-run double was the difference as the Pirates won 9-7.
Newspapers mocked Peckinpaugh, calling him the Pirates’ MVP of the Series. Peckinpaugh always believed that hurt his chances for Cooperstown. Baseball writers have long memories.
“He thought he was better than some of the players who got in the Hall,” Roger said. “That frustrated him.
“He’d say, ‘I’d field the ball and it had more mud than ball,’” referring to the terrible weather in Pittsburgh for Game 7. The groundskeepers at Forbes Field used gasoline to try to dry the soaked field, but to no avail.
The Yankees road uniform from the 1918 season features a red, white, and blue silk World War I memorial armband on the left sleeve. Peckinpaugh’s name was incorrectly stitched as “Peckingpaugh” in the collar.
Peckinpaugh was the Yankees’ second-ever captain, succeeding Hal Chase and holding the post from 1914 to 1921.
According to authors Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz, when Yankees manager Miller Huggins got blood poisoning in July 1921, Peckinpaugh ran the club, winning nine straight games. When Huggins returned to the dugout on July 21, the Yankees lost 17-8, fueling more speculation.
“Unlimited credit goes to Roger Peckinpaugh for the way he handled the club during the absence of Miller Huggins,” Babe Ruth wrote in his syndicated column on July 28, 1921.
“Ruth was not a fan of Huggins,” Roger said.
Huggins, perhaps correctly sensing that Peckinpaugh was a rival for his job, had his shortstop traded to Boston after the 1921 season. The Red Sox shipped him to the Senators a month later, and Peckinpaugh would excel in Washington.
Being traded from the Yankees was “an absolute shock” to Peckinpaugh, Spatz wrote in his 2009 book, “Yankees Coming, Yankees Going.”
“I am too stunned to make any statement,” Peckinpaugh said. “The deal is entirely news to me, but it seems that no matter how good a player is or how loyal service he gives the New York team, his position is never safe.”
The American League jersey was worn by Peckinpaugh after his first stint managing the Indians. From 1928 to 1933, Peckinpaugh managed in Cleveland, finishing as high as third before he was fired in June 1933. He was replaced by Johnson, his former teammate in Washington. Peckinpaugh returned to manage the Indians to a fifth-place finish in 1941 before moving into the front office from 1942 to 1946.
In 1935, Peckinpaugh traveled with Fonseca’s group to promote the game by showing films, hosting coaching clinics and participating in on-field demonstrations.
“He became an ambassador to the American League and went around promoting baseball,” Roger said. “One of his prized possessions was a gold pass that got him into American League games with another person.”
Peckinpaugh left baseball after the 1946 season, lasting one year with maverick owner Bill Veeck.
“He was old school,” Roger said. “He didn’t like Veeck’s promotions.”
Peckinpaugh would work as a manufacturer’s representative for the Oak Belting Company in Cleveland and retired in 1976, when he was 85.
Roger remembers playing catch with his grandfather but added that Peckinpaugh rarely talked about his career or his teammates.
“One of his favorites was Mel Harder,” Roger said. “He really liked him because he was calm and gentlemanly.
“He told a lot of stories about Bob Feller, too.”
Roger said his grandfather would sometimes talk about his baseball road trips.
“He’d talk about the train trips, the card games,” Roger said. “He was a pretty good gin and poker player.”
In retirement, Peckinpaugh enjoyed golf and could shoot his age up to the age of 81.
He died on Nov. 17, 1977, in Cleveland.
Roger is hoping that his grandfather’s memorabilia will interest baseball fans.
“I hope the items go somewhere where they can be displayed,” he said.
Bidding begins March 11 and runs through March 25.