Lots of players throughout history had Camp Skinner’s career arc. He played 34 major league games across two seasons, didn’t do much, and continued on in the minors for a couple years but could never make it back.
However, Skinner has one thing on his résumé that most of that player type don’t: a pennant-saving hit. Well...sort of.
Skinner began his professional baseball career in 1920 with the Cedartown Cedars in his native Georgia. His season there was good enough that the Yankees brought him to spring training the following season. He was impressive, but the Yankees sent him to Dallas in the Texas League. He had a good season there, and then made the big league team out of spring training the following season.
Nearly exclusively, Skinner was used as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement early on in the 1922 season. He was hit by a pitch in his first ever at-bat, before recording his first hit on May 6th. It was his third career plate appearance in his third game. He was very much a bench player. The first time he got more than one at-bat in a game was June 18th, and the first time he played a full game was two days after that. However, let’s go back about a month to look back at Skinner’s two most important moments.
On May 9th, he came up as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the tenth. With two outs and two runners on, Skinner hit a walk-off single to give the Yankees a win over the White Sox.
The Yankees were in the midst of a four-game series against the St. Louis Browns on May 22nd. The two teams were battling for first place in the American League, and split the first two games. That gave the Yankees a two-game lead going into the third of the set. However in that game, the Browns looked on the verge of cutting that lead down to one, as they went into the bottom of the ninth up 3-1.
In the ninth, the Yankees rallied. A couple singles and a throwing error got one of those runs back. At that point, the pitcher’s spot was due up. Starter Bob Shawkey was not much of a hitter, even for a pitcher, so Skinner was sent up to pinch hit.
After a long at-bat where Skinner was said to have “fouled about a dozen balls into the stands,” he once again delivered, singling to tie the game at three. The game went to extras where the Yankees eventually won in the 13th inning.
Flash forward to the end of the season. The Yankees and Browns traded the lead back and forth for most of the year, but by September 23rd, New York were up 4.5 games and seemed safe. Except, they then lost four of their last five. A win on the penultimate day of the season clinched the AL, but the Browns won their last four to make it close. In the end, the Yankees won the American League by just one game.
Were it not for Skinner’s hit on May 22nd, the Yankees lose the AL. Turning that win into a loss is a straight up two-game swing that would have caused the Browns to win the AL by a game. No one would have known it at the time, but that hit saved the Yankees’ season.
Skinner would be on the roster when the Yankees played in the World Series later that year, but he did not participate. After that May 22nd hit, he went 3-for-26 for the rest of the season. Those two RBI in May described above were the only two he had all year. He finished the year with an OPS+ of 1. The Yankees lost the 1922 World Series to the Giants, but Skinner was not called upon at any point.
In January 1923, the Yankees acquired pitcher Herb Pennock from the Red Sox. Skinner was one of the players sent the other way in the deal. He played on Opening Day for Boston, but appeared in just six games after that in 1923. That would be it for Camp Skinner in the major leagues.
Every close pennant race inevitably has close games that happen early in the season that could have changed everything had one at-bat gone differently. Most will be forgotten because there’s just so much season still left after they happen, and no one knows what the final standings will look like in May. However in retrospect, it’s fair to say that Camp Skinner (and his nine career hits) was responsible for two very important moments for the 1922 Yankees.