SABR

Charlie Perkins

This article was written by Rory Costello.

Redheaded lefty pitcher Charlie Perkins got into just 19 major-league games in 1930 and 1934. His record was an uninspiring 0-3, with a 7.50 ERA. Yet he was still influential. When he was at his best for the International League Buffalo Bisons in 1933, a 12-year-old boy named Warren Spahn was often in the stands and shagging balls in practice with the team. Warren’s father, Ed Spahn, told him, “Now if you want to be a pitcher, watch every move Charlie Perkins makes.”[1]  Of course there was a lot more to his success, but Warren Spahn went on to win 363 games in the majors, tops all-time among southpaws.

As of 2011, Perkins was also the last man who went to Williams College to play in The Show. He attended Williams from 1924 through early 1926, but did not graduate. His last appearance in the majors came with the Brooklyn Dodgers on May 27, 1934. Manager Casey Stengel sent him down to finish the 1934 season in Buffalo, and in 1935 Perkins returned to semipro ball, where he had played before coming to the majors. He also worked as a golf pro, which became his occupation in later life too. He came back for a final seven games in the minors in 1937.

Charles Sullivan Perkins (who may also have had an additional middle name, Sebastian) was born in Ensley, Alabama, on September 9, 1905. His parents were James Monroe Perkins and Jennie Albro Sullivan. From the time Charlie was a small boy, though, he lived in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. He and his siblings were raised by their maternal aunt, Lulie Sullivan, and her husband, Herbert Winslow Collingwood. According to family-tree information, Jennie Perkins allegedly died in Suffolk County, New York, about 1910. James M. Perkins was living in Birmingham, Alabama, as of the 1910 census, and he died sometime between then and the 1920 census.

Herbert Collingwood was a fairly prominent man in his time. For many years until his death in 1927, he was editor of a magazine called Rural New Yorker (“The Business Farmer’s Paper”). Collingwood was part of the audience for his practical publication; he raised apples, berries, and other fruits on his property, Hope Farm. In 1906 the New York Times wrote that the “ninety-acre farm near Woodcliff, N.J., fairly teems with choice apples of countless varieties.”[2] Collingwood also wrote farming-oriented books, but as a younger man, he turned his hand to fiction as well.

The Collingwoods were kindly people. Their credo was “The homeless child and the childless farm should be brought together.”[3] Although they had a daughter of their own, they took in neglected children, temporarily in some cases, or even adopting them, as the 1910 census shows. At that time, they had three Perkins children with them too, including Charlie, his older brother, Thurston, and his older sister, Louise. As of the 1920 census, Thurston and Louise had reached adulthood and moved away, but another older brother, James M. Perkins, Jr., was there, along with Charlie’s little sisters, Cathleen and Ava.

The Rural New Yorker offices were actually in New York City. Each morning Collingwood rose early and walked two miles to the Woodcliff train station to start his 60-mile round-trip commute. Yet, as The Forum magazine wrote in 1916, “All the time that Mr. Collingwood can spare from his busy editorial life is spent on the farm with his protégés.”[4] Thus the young Charlie Perkins grew up playing ball in a happy environment with a good instructor.

For “The Hope Farm Man” also loved baseball. In the early 1880s Collingwood had spent two years in Starkville, Mississippi, aiding in the Reconstruction effort and writing for a farm journal there. Some 37 years later, he returned to deliver a college commencement address, as he recalled in one of his self-effacing columns, Hope Farm Notes. To his slight chagrin, Collingwood’s legacy was neither his “soul-inspiring editorial work” nor his effort to “uplift the South.” Rather, he “was remembered with affection because I played baseball with skill and taught that community how to pitch a curved ball!”[5] That collection also included a chapter called “The Baseball Game,” devoted to Collingwood’s account of the opening game of the 1911 World Series between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics. The central theme was “the common language of baseball” and how it brought Americans from many different ethnic backgrounds together.[6]

James Perkins, Jr. went to Williams College, in northwestern Massachusetts, starting in 1920. Charlie followed in 1924 and pitched for the baseball team as a freshman in 1925.[7] Early in the spring of 1926, however, he left the college. It was a blow to the Ephmen, since he was regarded as the team’s best remaining pitcher.[8]

Perkins turned pro, but he had to scuffle. According to a 1933 sketch in The Sporting News, he started in 1926 with Parksley (Virginia) of the Class D Eastern Shore League. He then pitched with Alexandria and Vicksburg of the Cotton States League (also Class D) in 1927. The following spring, he got a trial with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association, but was released before the season started. Later in 1928 he joined the Scottdale (Pennsylvania) Scotties of the Middle Atlantic League (Class C).[9]

Perkins went to spring training in 1929 with Albany of the Eastern League. The Senators sent him to Wilkes-Barre in the New York-Pennsylvania League, but the Barons returned him. In May he joined Canton in the Central League.[10] He went 19-9 for the Terriers, with a 3.72 ERA. After that, though, he came back close to home. He joined the Paterson Silk Sox, a high-level semipro team based in Paterson, New Jersey (nicknamed Silk City). This club was also known as the Doherty Silk Sox for the mill that sponsored it. It sent a number of other men to the majors; perhaps the most notable was Milt Gaston, who signed with the Yankees in late 1923 and went on to pitch in 355 games over 11 seasons from 1924 to 1934.

On June 27, 1930, Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack released first baseman Jim Keesey to Jersey City of the International League. He decided to bring Perkins in from the Silk Sox. The Associated Press reported that according to Mack, the new man (no relation to veteran catcher Cy Perkins), was “quite a lefthander.”

Over the remainder of the 1930 season, Perkins got into eight games for the A’s, starting once for the American League champions. He got no decisions and posted a 6.46 ERA, fueled in part by the 15 walks he allowed in 23 2/3 innings pitched. In something of a surprise, he was on the Philadelphia roster for the World Series. Charlie was not needed to pitch, though, as the A’s starters threw four complete games in the six-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Possibly Mack kept him around as a red herring. The year before, The Tall Tactician had pulled a surprise by naming Howard Ehmke to open the World Series, and there was speculation that he might try it again. The Brooklyn Eagle wrote, “The Cards, for instance, are looking for something of the sort and wouldn’t be taken unawares if Connie started his young Hoboken semi-pro, Charlie Perkins.”[11]

In March 1931 the Eagle ran a short but colorful feature on Perkins, who enjoyed hunting alligators in Florida during his spring-training leisure time. The lefty boasted, “My greatest kick is blowing ’em past the Babe. Ruth has made only one single in the five times he has faced me, and that other home run buster of the Yanks, Gehrig, hasn’t made a hit of any kind and has struck out three times.”

Among other things, the article also observed, “Perkins rivals Mickey Cochrane on the saxophone, and is the third best golfer on the Athletics. . . .  He does about everything with his right hand but pitch, even unto golf playing. . . . The claim made for him that he has a fastball that shoots off more sparks than Lefty Grove’s fast one should be taken with the tongue in a cheek. But he has the self-confidence to make good.”[12]

The Mackmen were at the height of their last cyclical peak, however, and they were loaded with pitching. There was something else, though, as Jimmy Dykes recalled in 1961. Dykes, by then the manager of the Cleveland Indians, was on that A’s team. He thought the year was 1929, but he said, “Perkins . . . was kind of cocky. He liked to talk things up against the regulars. Well, Mr. Mack scheduled a squad game and named the kid to pitch against the regulars. It was quite a hitting team. Those hitters got together and decided to teach the kid a lesson. They did just that. You never saw so many line drives. Before Mr. Mack got the kid out of there, he was talking to himself. You could see the change in him. He was never the same. That squad game ruined him.”[13]

Philadelphia released Perkins to Jersey City that April, and he spent roughly the next 2½ seasons there. The 1931 season was undistinguished (4-9, 3.55); a 1943 report said that he injured his arm.[14] Yet another story, however, states that Mack, “who had a great liking for Perkins,” lost interest because illness was affecting the lefty’s performance. “Perkins had his appendix removed and he was as good as new.” That story also mentioned the tutelage of former Yankees star pitcher Bob Shawkey, Jersey City’s manager in 1931.[15] Yet Charlie’s mouth got him in trouble again, as Montreal outfielder Johnny Conlan got in a fistfight with “the talkative Jersey City pitcher. . . . Conlan is reported to have outpointed Perkins to such an extent he had to be carried from the field.”[16]

In 1932 Charlie emerged as the club’s leading winner with a 14-11 record, although 129 walks fattened his 5.03 ERA. After one April game, the Rochester Evening Journal noted that his side-wheeling motion was effective against the Red Wings’ lineup, which featured five lefty swingers.[17] That year the Brooklyn Dodgers operated the Skeeters with an option to buy the financially troubled club (which moved to Syracuse in 1934).

Perkins began the 1933 season with the Skeeters once more. He was one of the few fixtures in a roster that was in constant turnover – some 56 players (including 19 pitchers) went through “a parade of major league castoffs, players loaned by other teams in the league and ‘just a lot of guys named Joe.’ ”[18] But then in July, he joined the parade as part of what newspapers labeled a “temporary trade.” Jersey City sent him and third baseman Joe Brown to Buffalo in return for third baseman Gil English and an unnamed amount of cash.[19]

The deal helped Perkins and it helped the Bisons. Although he finished the season with a mediocre overall record of 12-13, 3.88 (with a league-leading 128 walks), he pitched far better down the stretch. Under manager Ray Schalk, the Bisons became the first team to finish below .500 and in fourth place – and then go on to win a championship. They got into the playoffs on the season’s final day, as “the angular southpaw” beat Rochester for the second time in that series.[20] They went on to sweep Baltimore in three games in the first round. “The Herd” then beat Rochester in six games to take the Governor’s Cup, in the first year that this award went to the IL champions. However, Buffalo lost to the American Association champs, Columbus, in the Little World Series.

Perkins was a big part of the postseason success too. He finished the elimination of Baltimore with a 3-0 shutout; “although occasionally wild, [he] pitched himself out of every clinch.”[21] He also won Game Two and the clincher against Rochester, going all the way in both outings and allowing just three runs total. The Rochester Evening Journal wrote, “Charles Sullivan Sebastian Perkins, owned by the Brooklyn Dodgers and resident of New Jersey, near New York, lost his front teeth a few years back but the handicap didn’t keep him from biting out Wings.”[22] Against Columbus, Charlie lost Game Four, and the Bisons fell behind in the series, three games to one. He returned in Game Six with a win, though – which brought his record as a Bison to 11-3[23] – only to see Columbus win the finale.

The drawback of Buffalo’s playoff run was that it prevented Perkins from getting back to the majors that year. On September 11 the New York Times wrote, “Charley Perkins, southpaw, scheduled to don a Dodger uniform yesterday, was held over by Buffalo for a day and will join the club at Pittsburgh.”[24] (Note that newspapers spelled his name interchangeably, either –ie or –ey.)

The lefty eventually joined Brooklyn for spring training in Orlando, Florida, in 1934. That February manager Max Carey named Perkins as one of the “big, hard throwers” he had coming up and hoped to see develop.[25] The very next day, as had been rumored, “Scoops” was out as Dodgers skipper and Casey Stengel was in. Brooklyn was a second-division club; as the United Press wrote that April, “Stengel is desperately in need of pitchers, two good ones and southpaws if possible. Charles Perkins from Buffalo and Phil Page from Seattle are his only portsiders. Neither has shown starting ability yet.”[26]

Perkins had actually pitched rather well against his old team, the Athletics, on April 1. In eight innings, he allowed six hits and just two earned runs. He made the big club to open the season and appeared in 11 games, starting twice. On May 2 at the Polo Grounds, he took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, but weakened and put Bill Terry and Mel Ott on base. Van Lingle Mungo then gave up a three-run pinch-hit homer to Lefty O’Doul; Brooklyn wound up losing 6-5. In Charlie’s other start, at Ebbets Field on May 18, he was gone after one-third of an inning, charged with four earned runs. Perkins got into just one more game after that, pitching an inning in relief. On May 31 Brooklyn sold him outright to Buffalo. There he did not recapture his previous year’s form, going 6-8 with a 5.61 ERA.

March 1935 brought the news that the pitcher had decided to quit Organized Baseball in favor of either a return to semipro ball or a foray into golf.[27] It turned out to be both. In May the Yonkers Herald Statesman reported that Perkins was serving as assistant pro at the Blue Hill Golf club in the Rockland County town of Orangeburg, New York. He also pitched for the Brooklyn Bushwicks in 1935. As the Associated Press described the club that October, “The Bushwicks, composed largely of big-league castoffs, averaged 17,000 fans a game last season and several times outdrew the Dodgers.”

Perkins was the ace of the Bushwicks in 1935, winning 23 games and defeating opponents that included the New York Black Yankees. He returned to the team in 1936. The New York Post reported that April, “During the week days, Charley serves as assistant pro at the Riverdale Country Club and shoots morning and afternoon rounds each day. On Sundays, he packs his spikes and glove into a bag and drives down to Dexter Park, where he generally pitches the Bushwicks’ opening game.”[28] With him on that staff was a young lefty from Long Island University named Marius Russo, who later pitched several years for the Yankees. In one July doubleheader, they squared off against two excellent Negro Leaguers, Slim Jones and Webster McDonald of the Philadelphia Stars.[29] It’s unclear what happened that Sunday, but Perkins got the better of Jones later that month, shutting the Stars out for seven innings and winning 3-2. He modestly noted, though, that he’d heard the hard-throwing (and hard-drinking) Stars ace had been dealing with arm trouble. Perkins said, “Heaven help the club that finds him fit!”[30]

Not long before, Perkins had “clearly overshadowed” another great Negro League pitcher, future Hall of Famer Leon Day (then just 19 years old).[31] However, a hernia finished his 1936 season in August.[32] At age 31, though, he decided to give Organized Ball another shot in 1937. In addition to golf, he had apparently been operating a restaurant, but nothing else has surfaced on this venture.[33]

He rejoined Buffalo, where Ray Schalk was still manager. On April 10 the Rochester Evening Journal wrote (apparently unaware of his play with the Bushwicks), “In his first start April 3 against the Boston Bees, after the two-year layoff, Perkins proved faster than ever and he should be a winner again.”[34] It didn’t work out that way: he won no games and lost three in seven appearances, split between Buffalo and Baltimore (which picked him up as a free agent in May).[35]

During World War II Perkins sought to join the US Army, but he was rejected because of his dentures. The Canadian Army accepted him, and he became a sergeant. He also gave baseball another shot with the Canadian Army team in the Vancouver Senior Baseball League. He made two starts, found his arm was gone, and swore he would never try again.[36]

At some point, Perkins came to the Salem, Oregon, area, where he made his living by selling athletic equipment from a catalog, in particular knee braces for football players. In 1967 he became golf pro at the Salemtowne Golf and Country Club, a private course attached to a senior-citizen community in Salem. In 2011 Gary Schafer, retired grounds superintendent of Salemtowne, remembered those days. He and his father had been hired to develop the property from fruit orchards. “We built the course in the later part of ’67. I had met Charlie playing golf, and we offered him a position.”

Noted literary editor Gary Fisketjon met Charlie as a teenager around then. He wrote twice about the instruction he received for the travel and leisure website Departures.com. Fisketjon recalled how Perkins told of playing golf and carousing with Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen, an all-time great golfer who also led a flashy, free-spending lifestyle. Fisketjon added, “His distinctly old-school instruction stayed with me. . . . Under Charlie’s tutelage I learned not only the game but also the knack of dealing with unknown elders, and he served as my de facto parent during junior tournaments. Even though we eventually fell out over my long hair and ‘radical’ politics, having a close relationship with someone who could both play and teach was invaluable.”[37] In a curious twist, Fisketjon too wound up at Williams, graduating from there in 1976.

Gary Schafer said, “Charlie ran the pro shop at Salemtowne until we went into receivership around 1972. After we came out of that, I took over the position. Charlie’s leg also went bad and he couldn’t play. But his wife, Florence, was a pretty wealthy lady. Things were comfortable for him.”

Charlie Perkins died on May 25, 1988. Survivors included Florence (the available evidence does not indicate that they had children). His brief obituary in the Salem Statesman-Journal said that he had been living there for 18 years; before that, he lived in two small towns about 15 miles to the southeast, Aumsville and Mill City. The obit also mentioned that he was still associated with Salemtowne.[38] He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Willamette Valley.

As Gary Schafer also observed, Perkins was much the same in later life as he was in his playing days. “He loved to gamble on the golf course. And he was always telling his stories – he had a lot of stories. I wish I could remember them all.”

Continued thanks to Eric Costello for additional research. Thanks also to Gary Fisketjon, Gary Schafer, and SABR member Annie Russell in Salem, Oregon, for their assistance.

August 8, 2011

Sources

www.ancestry.com

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

www.fultonhistory.com (New York state papers online, including the Brooklyn Eagle and New York Post)

www.thebbnlive.com (The Baseball Necrology website)

http://www.salemtowne.us/History%20Nite2.html

Notes




[1] Kaplan, Jim. “Warren Spahn.” Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston’s (Almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948. Boston: Rounder Books, 2008.

[2] “In Praise of the Apple.” New York Times, October 21, 1906.

[3] The Forum, Volume 56: 1916, 209.

[4] Ibid.: 217.

[5] Collingwood, Herbert Winslow. Hope Farm Notes. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921: 197. This memory also appeared in the New York Herald, May 20, 1920. Also quoted in The M.A.C. Record (Michigan Agricultural College, later Michigan State University, Collingwood’s alma mater), April 15, 1921: 15.

[6] Collingwood, op. cit.: 45-50.

[7] “Seasoned Battery Basis of Williams Nine for This Year.” New York Evening Post, April 6, 1925: 13.

[8] “Purple Pitching Staff Given Crushing Blow.” New York Evening Post, April 12, 1926: 6.

[9] “Minors Coming Up to Majors in ’34.” The Sporting News, October 5, 1933: 5. Baseball-reference.com shows records for Vicksburg and Scottdale. New York Post (March 3, 1936) also mentioned stops in Fort Wayne and Scranton (which could be Wilkes-Barre, 1929) as well as New Orleans and Scottdale.

[10] Albany Evening News, May 17, 1929.  “Minors Coming Up to Majors in ’34” also mentions a stop in Danville in 1929.

[11] “Mack May Go Straight and Fool ’Em All.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 20, 1930: 12.

[12] “Perkins Likes to Pitch to Tough Ones.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 7, 1931: 14.

[13] “No Intra-Squad Games.” Associated Press, February 23, 1961.

[14] Edwards, Charles. “Sport Snapshots.” Calgary Herald, May 27, 1943.

[15] Reil, Frank. “Jersey City Only Hobble for Perkins.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 26, 1934.

[16] “Conlan Winner in First Fight.” Rochester Evening Journal, May 22, 1931: 33.

[17] Remington, Cray. “Little Eva Crosses the Ice.” Rochester Evening Journal, April 14, 1932.

[18] “Jersey City Combine Odd.” Associated Press, July 2, 1933.

[19] “Buffalo, Jersey City Make Temporary Trade.” Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1933.

[20] Paul, Gabriel. “Rochester Makes No Excuses.” The Sporting News, October 5, 1933: 3.

[21] “Herd Takes Third Straight Victory from Baltimore.” Associated Press, September 15, 1933.

[22] “Bisons Even Series; K.O. Blake.” Rochester Evening Journal, September 19, 1933.

[23] The Sporting News, October 12, 1933: 5.

[24] “Dodgers Win, 3-2, After Losing, 2-1.” New York Times, September 11, 1933.

[25] “Carey Believes Brooklyn Club Will Keep Him.” Miami News, February 20, 1934: 12.

[26] Cuddy, Jack. “Dodgers Are Weak Looking in Training.” United Press, April 7, 1934.

[27] “Bisons Lose Perkins.” Montreal Gazette, March 15, 1935: 16.

[28] “Bushwicks’ Hurler Solves Sport Worry.” New York Post, April 4, 1936: 19.

[29] “Lefties Due For Field Day.” New York Post, July 11, 1936: 18.

[30] “Bushies KO Negro Hurler.” New York Post, July 29, 1935: 12.

[31] “Cuban ‘Kid’ Wise Bird.” New York Post, June 29, 1936: 16.

[32] Parrott, Harold. “Sportpourri.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 14, 1936: 6.

[33] “Schalk Pins Hopes On Pitchers, Hitters.” Rochester Journal, April 10, 1937: 10.

[34] Ibid.

[35] The Sporting News, June 3, 1937: 7.

[36] Edwards, op. cit.

[37] Fisketjon, Gary. “Golfing in Aspen and Vail, Colorado.” www.departures.com, March-April 2009. “Driving Lessons.” www.departures.com, November-December 2006.

[38] “Charles S. Perkins.” Salem (Oregon) Statesman-Journal, May 26, 1988: 2B.

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