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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #57 Roger Peckinpaugh

One of the Deadball Era’s finest glovemen, Peck held down shortstop for the Yankees for almost a decade.

Bain News Service via Library of Congress (WikiCommons, public domain)

Name: Roger Thorpe Peckinpaugh
Position: Shortstop
Born: February 5, 1891 (Wooster, OH)
Died: November 17, 1977 (Cleveland, OH)
Yankee Years: 1913-21
Yankee statistics: 1,219 G, 5,269 PA, 670 R, 428 RBI, 94 wRC+, 143 SB, 32.2 rWAR, 29.7 fWAR

Biography

The youngest man to ever manage the Yankees, Roger “Peck” Peckinpaugh came to the Yankees in an early-season 1913 trade. A somewhat-forgotten man in team history, he capably held down the starting shortstop job for his entire tenure in New York.

One of the finest defensive players of his era, Peckinpaugh was also one of the first men to wear the mantle of Yankees captain. After the Yankees traded him away, he went on to manage in the big leagues for more than a decade. Peck died in November 1977, a month after the Yankees won that year’s World Series, a feat they sadly never matched during his time with the club.

Early Life

The son of John and Cora Peckinpaugh, Roger was born in Wooster, Ohio in February of 1891. Sometime in his early childhood, the family moved to Cleveland and ended up living in the same neighborhood as future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, Roger’s idol.

Following Peckinpaugh’s graduation from high school, Lajoie offered the attention-grabbing youngster a contract to play pro ball. After consulting with his father and his high school principal, Benjamin Rannels, Peck eventually signed with the Cleveland Naps (named for Lajoie himself), better known today as the Guardians.

Path to the Majors

Peckinpaugh started off his baseball career in 1910 with the New Haven Prairie Hens in the Connecticut State League before getting called up to Cleveland for a cup of coffee at the end of the season. The then-19-year-old might have been just a tad wet behind the ears. In 15 games he struck out a third of the time and managed a paltry (even by his later standards) .200 batting average. He did drive in six runs and snag three bases, so it wasn’t a total disappointment.

Perhaps because of what they saw from Peck at the end of 1910, Cleveland sent him back to the minor leagues for more seasoning. Peckinpaugh spent the entire 1911 campaign toiling in the Pacific Coast League for the Portland Beavers, where he hit .258 in 702 at-bats.

That was Peck’s last season of minor league ball. Cleveland brought him back up for 1912 and dropped him in at shortstop. The bat was marginally better in 70 games in 1912 than it had been in his brief 1910 cameo (44 OPS+ versus 35 OPS+), but there were already glimmers of his skill with the glove.

Peckinpaugh’s glovework was not enough to help him keep his hold on the starting shortstop job, however, and he soon found himself behind Ray Chapman in the pecking order at short. The next season, he would find himself in entirely new environs.

Welcome to New York

“YANKS MAY GET PECKINPAUGH,” blared a New York Times headline on May 12, 1913. The one-paragraph story briefly detailed the preliminary talks between New York and Cleveland. In short order, the trade talks paid off and Peck was headed to the Big Apple. The Yankees, meanwhile, sent Bill Stumpf and Jack Lelivelt to the Naps in exchange for the young shortstop.

Peck played 93 games for the Yanks that season, logging over 800 innings at shortstop. When the dust settled, his .931 fielding percentage was mere points below the league average of .935 for shortstops. It was the first, last, and only time as a Yankee that he finished a campaign with a fielding percentage below the league average, and even still, he earned praise from manager Frank Chance for his excellent throwing arm.

From Captain to Skipper

In 1914, Peckinpaugh found himself at the heart of the ballclub. Though only 23 years old, he had already become a calming influence and an important leader for a club that struggled to put together a winning tradition.

Bain News Service via Library of Congress (WikiCommons, public domain)

The Yankee skipper Chance named the young shortstop his team captain early in 1914, a season that saw Peckinpaugh swipe a career-high 38 bases and earn down-ballot votes for American League MVP. In mid-September, Chance resigned amid a dispute with owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery over the poor work of business manager Arthur Irwin and what Chance felt was insufficient support in player discipline. Farrell and Devery suddenly needed an interim skipper for the final weeks of the season. So Roger Peckinpaugh, captain of the New York Yankees, now found himself the ballclub’s manager.

The late 19th century saw a pair of 20-year-olds manage clubs, so technically Peckinpaugh is not the youngest manager in baseball history. But at 24 years old, the only other player-manager I can find at that age since the calendar turned to 1900 is Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, who was also 24 when he played and managed Cleveland in 1942. Back in 1914, Peck saw his team go 10-10 to finish out the campaign, so it was at least a respectable conclusion to another forgettable season for pre-Ruth Yankees.

“FEDS AFTER PECKINPAUGH”

It’s sometimes easy to forget that old-timey baseball had its share of chicanery and skullduggery. After the 1914 season, it was entirely possible that Peck could have left the Yankees. As of late December, he had yet to sign a contract for the upcoming season, and the New York Times reported that Peckinpaugh was dissatisfied with the Yankee organization. The organization was undergoing a change in ownership from Farrell and Devery to Col. Jacob Ruppert and Capt. Til Huston.

Perhaps due to those factors, two Federal League clubs, Buffalo and Indianapolis, tried to poach Peckinpaugh away from New York. Executives from both teams made the trek to Cleveland, where Peck lived, to try and entice the shortstop to leave New York. Ultimately, he chose to remain a Yankee, though Buffalo offered him a sum of money that reportedly topped “the Yankees figure by several large and useful ‘beans.’”

Shortly after signing, Peckinpaugh disputed reports that he was unhappy that Ruppert and Huston chose not to keep him on as manager for the 1915 season (going with Providence’s minor league skipper, Bill Donovan, instead). Considering he accepted less money to remain in New York, it seems he could not have been too aggrieved about the decision. If he’d been that unhappy, Buffalo had given him a way out — one he chose to ignore.

Peck Hits His Peak

The next few seasons saw Peckinpaugh at his best, as his bat caught up, at least to some extent, to his phenomenal glove work. In 1916, for the first time, he was above average at the dish, hitting to a 102 OPS+ in 145 games. Combined with his stellar defense, his offensive output enabled him to finish the season with 4.4 rWAR, to that point a career-best.

He continued apace the next few years, culminating in his 1919 season, inarguably the best performance of his career. That year, Peck set career bests in runs scored (89), home runs (7), batting average (.305), on-base percentage (.390), slugging percentage (.404), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.794), and rWAR (6.3).

1920 and 1921 were Peck’s final seasons in New York. Although his bat dropped to slightly below average, he hit at the top of the order. In 1920, for example, he either led off or hit second in 130 of 139 games. This was a pretty sweet place to be hitting, as a fellow named George Herman Ruth now loomed in the middle of the Yankee lineup.

For Peck, this resulted in new career bests in runs scored as he eclipsed the century mark in both 1920 (109) and 1921 (128). His ability to get on base (.356 OBP in 1920 and .380 in 1921) meant there was often at least one duck on the pond when the Bambino came to the plate.

Wally Pipp, Ruth, Peckinpaugh, Bob Meusel, and Frank Baker

1921 also marked the first time Peckinpaugh got to taste playoff baseball. The ’21 Yankees won the pennant, delivering them into a Fall Classic at last. They would face their landlords at the Polo Grounds, John McGraw’s Giants. Unfortunately, it was not Peck’s finest hour. At the dish, he managed a paltry five hits in 28 at-bats.

Even worse, Peckinpaugh’s stellar glove, the calling card that he’s still best known for today, deserted him at the worst possible moment. The Fall Classic that year was a best-of-nine, and the Yankees entered Game 8 down in the series 4-3, facing elimination.

In the first inning of what ended up as the deciding game, with runners on first and second with one out, Peck booted a routine groundball to short off the bat of High Pockets Kelly. Instead of a shot at a double play, the ball trickled into left field. Dave Bancroft came around to score the unearned run. The first run of the game. The only run of the game. The last run of the 1921 World Series.

An Unhappy Exit

After the season, Ruth made his feelings known about skipper Miller Huggins. They were not positive. Moreover, Ruth openly advocated for Peckinpaugh to take over managing the club. Perhaps to cut the turmoil off at the knees, the Yankees acted.

In December, they dealt Peckinpaugh to Boston. Can’t manage the Yankees if you’re playing for the Red Sox, I guess. Peck was flabbergasted by the move when he first heard.

“I am too stunned to make any definite statement,” he told a reporter. “The deal is entirely news to me, but it seems that no matter how good a player one is or how loyal service he gives the New York team his position is never safe.”

An amicable parting this was not. Peckinpaugh lamented leaving the Yankees, a championship-caliber team, to play for Boston, a “second-division club,” in his estimation. Ultimately, Boston pivoted and dealt him to Washington before he ever set foot on the field for the BoSox.

Although Peck left the Yankees, he did eventually get his ring. In 1924, the Senators defeated the Giants in a dramatic seven-game set that also helped deliver a championship to long-suffering teammate Walter Johnson.

Portrait of Roger Peckinpaugh Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Along with the “Big Train,” Peckinpaugh exorcised some ghosts in that Fall Classic, going 5-for-12 at the dish and earning his first and only title against the club that had defeated his 1921 Yankees (partially due to his error in the deciding game).

Peckinpaugh’s Senators won another pennant in 1925, and despite hitting a seemingly normal .294/.367/.379 with a 91 OPS+ in 126 games, he was a surprising choice for AL MVP. Per his SABR bio, the sportswriters back then just really respected his “leadership and fielding abilities.” A terrible Fall Classic with a record eight errors led to the Pirates emerging victorious over Washington though, and before long, Peck’s 17-year career would be over.

Post-Playing Career

Peckinpaugh and the Senators both stumbled in 1926, and after a trade to play the ‘27 campaign with the White Sox, he hung up his cleats. The next year, he was in the dugout managing Cleveland. He spent six years as their manager, never finishing higher than third in the American League. Cleveland fired him after the 1933 season, though he returned for one last hurrah in 1941.

After retiring from baseball for good, Peck went to work for the Cleveland Oak Belting Company, where he stayed until the age of 85. Peckinpaugh died in Cleveland, his longtime home, in November 1977. He was 86 years old.

You’re not going to find Roger Peckinpaugh’s name at the top of Yankee career offensive records. He came up in the Deadball Era and never hit more than eight home runs in a single season.

But from a young age, the Yankees valued his exceptional defense and equally impressive leadership skills, even making him the team’s temporary player-manager at the age of 24. Babe Ruth himself advocated for Peckinpaugh, viewing him as an upgrade over Miller Huggins. Unfortunately, that may have expedited Peck’s departure from New York. Thankfully, he went on to win a championship before he retired from the game, capping off an impressive career that included a long stint as captain of the New York Yankees.

Staff rank: 56
Community rank: 82
Stats rank: 39
2013 rank: 36

References

Baseball Reference

BR Bullpen

FanGraphs

Flynn, T.S. “October 13, 1921: Giants beat Yankees 1-0 to clinch World Series championship.” SABR.

Gordon, Peter M. SABR Bio.

The New York Times

Reisler, Jim. Before They Were the Bombers: The New York Yankees’ Early Years, 1903-1915. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2005.

Wexler, Sarah. “The Youngest Managers in Major League History.” FanGraphs.

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58. Snuffy Stirnweiss
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