SABR

Charles Pinkney

This article was written by Craig Lammers.

A decade before the Ray Chapman tragedy, another infielder from Cleveland met a similar fate. Charles "Cupid" Pinkney was playing for Dayton in the Central League, and just 21 years old, when a pitch from Casey Hageman of Grand Rapids struck him in the head. Pinkney died the next day and was buried in Cleveland's Lakeview Cemetery, the same place Chapman was buried in 1920. Pinkney was considered by many to have a future in the major leagues. That future was denied on a dark afternoon in Dayton, Ohio.

John Pinkney and his wife Julia were born in England and immigrated to the United States in the 1830s. Their first child was born in New York in 1836, but the family soon moved to Pennsylvania, where six more children were born. John worked as a carpenter, and moved his family further west just before the Civil War. Their third child and second son, Charles, was born in 1841.

Like most of the young men of his generation, Charles Pinkney Sr. entered the military during the Civil War. He joined the 84th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Chase near Columbus in May of 1862. Pinkney was luckier than most. The 84th was sent to Cumberland, Maryland, to prevent the transportation of supplies into Confederate lines. In September they went to western Virginia where an expected attack never occurred. On September 26, 1862, the 84th was mustered out at Camp Delaware in Central Ohio. Just two of the regiment's 1,033 men were killed.

The summer of 1862 was the extent of Charles Pinkney Sr.'s service, but not the end of his work in the war effort. He soon became a railroad engineer. By 1870, he was married and living in Dayton, Ohio. His first marriage ended in either death or divorce, and in 1880, he married Mabel Reed. The couple lived in Ashtabula, Ohio, and had four children. Their youngest, Charles Jr., was born there in December of 1887.

The family soon moved back to the Cleveland area, settling in the village of Collinwood, where Charles Jr. grew up and attended school. He also began to play baseball. Charles Sr. had probably played baseball, and offered his son encouragement and instruction. In the spring of 1906, Charles Pinkney Jr. received an opportunity to play professional baseball.

Independent teams in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania joined Organized Ball in 1905 as members of the Class C Ohio Pennsylvania League. After a major reorganization by league President Charlie Morton, eight cities remained.

One of those cities was New Castle, Pennsylvania. New Castle had a long history of baseball excellence, and recognition of that heritage was planned as part of the opening-day ceremonies. Charlie Bennett, one of the great catchers of the 19th century, was invited back to be honored as part of the 1878 team.

The New Castle manager was one of the most controversial yet successful baseball men in the region. The improbably named J. Percy Stetler had a reputation for finding talent and spending money. Charles Pinkney was one of the young players he found in the spring of 1906.

Pinkney wasn't expected to make the New Castle team that spring. His competitor for the second base job was Charles "Buster" Brown, a 23-year-old on option from Buffalo of the Eastern (now International) League. Brown had left college after attracting the attention of Bisons manager George Stallings. He had also played for Augusta of the South Atlantic League, a team that also included Ty Cobb. After contracting malaria, Brown returned north and finished 1905 with an independent team in Warren, Ohio. Brown was expected to win the job easily, but Pinkney impressed Stetler in workouts and exhibitions and began the season with New Castle.

Despite three hits in three at bats for Brown in New Castle's opener In Lancaster, Ohio, Pinkney soon won the job and his competitor was sold to Lancaster.

Pinkney made the most of the opportunity and his defense and speed were the talk of newspapers in Ohio Pennsylvania League cities. After a batting slump, he was reportedly released in late May. But the release if it occurred, was short lived and the teenage second baseman became a key to the Nocks success.

His strong play was even more remarkable because of his youth and lack of professional experience. Most of the league's best players were several years older. Two players -- one a year older and one a year younger than Pinkney -- were signed and quickly released by O-P League teams. Their names were Rube Marquard and Fred Merkle. Pinkney likely hastened Marquard's release by Lancaster. Marquard entered a game in relief against New Castle in early May, and Nock hitters were quick to exploit a fielding weakness. Marquard could not field a bunt, and five consecutive New Castle batters bunted for a base hit. Both Pinkney and Marquard had played semipro baseball in the Cleveland area, and the young second baseman (on the bench that day) might have tipped New Castle batters off.

Physically, Pinkney was short even for his era, though he was also solidly built. The physical characteristics and his play at second base drew comparison with former Cleveland second baseman Clarence "Cupid" Childs, and Pinkney soon received the same nickname. He was probably even shorter than Childs's listed height of 5'8".

At midseason 1906, he was hitting .297. All but one other New Castle regular was hitting under .245. One newspaper said he was "one of the smallest players in the league. He is also one of the best." The story got one fact wrong. It claimed Pinkney as a Yale graduate.

In early July the Nocks were contending for the pennant when a crisis developed. Stetler was always looking for the next opportunity, so he deserted the team to take the manager's job at East Liverpool, Ohio of the P.O.M. (Pennsylvania Ohio Maryland) League. He took several New Castle players with him, creating animosity between the two leagues. Stetler had a talent for creating animosity. The following spring after deserting East Liverpool for the job at rival Steubenville, Stetler was called before the National Association to explain his actions at New Castle. The East Liverpool Tribune gleefully headlined the story "J. Percy Stetler Is In Trouble Up To His Neck."

Despite the defections, New Castle remained in contention. The Nocks finished the 1906 season in third place and the play of Charles Pinkney was a key reason. He finished sixth among league regulars in batting at .278. He played in 133 of 139 games and stole 35 bases. Defensively he led regular second basemen with a .965 fielding percentage.

Harry Edwards of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said he was "faster [better] than many of the infielders working higher up." George Tebeau, owner of the Louisville American Association team expressed an interest in purchasing Pinkney. New Castle chose to retain their second baseman, and Tebeau decided not to draft the young infielder, so Pinkney returned to New Castle for the 1907 season.

1907 was a very forgettable season for Pinkney. He severely sprained an ankle in early July and didn't return to the New Castle lineup. The injury cost him an opportunity to impress an American Association manager. At the end of July, Ed Ashenback of St. Paul visited New Castle primarily to see Pinkney in action, but was unable to see him play. Pinkney was reportedly eager as well to get an opportunity elsewhere. In 57 games during his shortened 1907 season, he hit just .202 but stole 17 bases and played his usual strong defense.

For two seasons, there was discontent over the makeup of the minor leagues in the Ohio-Pennsylvania region. Realignment had been talked about often in this period. During the winter of 1907-08, that talk became reality. New Castle, Sharon, Youngstown and Akron believed Newark, Lancaster and Marion were too far south and west for the Ohio-Pennsylvania League to be profitable. An uncommonly rainy summer in 1907 had made the situation worse. At the January League meeting, the three southern cities along with Mansfield left to form a new league. They added Springfield recently dropped from the Class B Central League and Lima to form the Class D Ohio State League. Bob Quinn, Business Manager of the Columbus Senators of the American Association, was elected President of the new league, while still keeping his Columbus job.

The spring of 1908 also brought national attention to Charles Pinkney's hometown. On the morning of March 4, smoke was noticed under a stairway at the Lakewood School in Collinwood. In the resulting panic 173 students and two teachers died at the school Pinkney had attended a few years before.

Cupid Pinkney was released by New Castle in July of 1908. There are indications he was no longer happy playing there. Also the emergence of a popular player who lived in New Castle was a factor. Perhaps most of all, it may have been former New Castle manager Billy Smith. Smith's managerial career was described by one newspaper as "one series of mistakes". When Smith was fired, he was replaced by the very player who'd replaced Pinkney during his 1907 injury. It was certainly good for Pinkney financially. A report soon surfaced that the New Castle players hadn't been paid in a month.

During the early part of 1908, The Ohio State League's Newark team had struggled. A contender for the O-P League pennant in 1907, they'd lost several outstanding players including 1908 major leaguers Albert Schweitzer (St. Louis Browns) and Bunny Pearce (Cincinnati). Naturally attendance dwindled. There are indications that Cleveland, through Bill Armour, who managed the Toledo club with whom Cleveland had a working relationship, invested some money in the team. In any event, Armour sent pitcher Harry Eells to Newark as manager.

On August 8, the Newark Advocate reported Pinkney had been signed as a utility player due to an injury to another player. That night a meeting of the Newark team's board of directors was held. The Advocate reported: "The meeting, rather an impromptu one, was held late Saturday night and it proved a rather stormy affair." At the end of the meeting, the Newark second baseman was released because "he had not been playing up to his standard." Whether this move was at the direction of Armour is unclear, but in any event Charles Pinkney was the new second baseman for the Newark Molders.

* Favorable comment on Pinkney's hitting and defense was immediate. The Advocate said, "That man Pinkney is playing some ball right at the present time and the way he is eating them up is causing some comment in the towns he has been playing in." In mid-August, the Molders visited Portsmouth. Frank Sheridan of the Portsmouth Times said of a Pinkney extra base hit, "Pink was strong with a loo-loo and a two sacker was the result while [Bob] Williams chased [Pop] Smith home. The little second baseman wasn't satisfied so he stole third under the eye of [Portsmouth Catcher] Connolly." Sheridan believed the second baseman was a major reason for Newark's strong late season play. "Pinkney at second has turned the team into winner. He is a little sawed off sort of a chap, but he is certainly a ball player."

Pinkney was at the top of the Ohio State League averages for a week or two after joining the team, and was named second team All Star by one league newspaper. At season's end he was third among Newark hitters with a .253 average in 42 games. He committed just four errors, quickly becoming a fan favorite in the Ohio State League's roughest town. A couple years later, a Prohibition Agent was lynched in Newark. The team was at home and kept playing despite the rioting.

The next year, 1909, would be the last season of Charles Pinkney's career and the last year of his life. He reported to spring training with Newark in early April. The Newark American Tribune noted his April 7 arrival. "Cupid Pinkney arrived at last. He slipped in on a fast train last evening and began looking up 'de gang'. Pink has a new line of talk this season that proves highly entertaining to his many friends here, and he is looking to be in fit condition to go a good fast clip on the keystone position of the ball diamond. There never was a more popular man who ever played ball in Newark than 'Cupid'." The next day, the American Tribune commented, "Charley Pinkney says he is able to jump in now and play a game, and not notice it any. Pink don't like the practice season but wants to get into the real game." When he wasn't working out or playing in exhibition games, he was rapidly becoming the Willie Hoppe of the Newark team. The American Tribune said of his prowess with the cue, "Pinkney is some billiard player. He ran 14 and 10 on Kid Lofland last evening in a friendly game."

Once the baseball games started, his fielding again attracted notice. One report said, "Pinkney gave one of the most joyful exhibitions of fast fielding stunts that one would care to witness; the most impossible catches, stops and throws were pie for Cupid, and the faster they came to him the better he would like it."

He also hit well in the exhibition games, but slumped shortly after the regular season started. The American Tribune told how he broke the slump. "Charles Pinkney, senior, was the guest of his son Charles at Marion, Tuesday, and will remain here until after tomorrow's game. He complained to Charles, junior, that he didn't use the same stride at the bat that he did last season. Charles, junior, agreed with dad, and blamed the mud at Marion for his downfall." The advice helped. Pinkney doubled that day, and soon ranked among the top ten in the Ohio State League batting averages.

The rest of the team wasn't playing nearly as well. A managerial change was made but it didn't really help much. Soon the Newark papers were reporting on financial troubles. There was talk of moving the franchise. It might have been wishful thinking, but the Portsmouth Blade said, "Had the Newark team been transferred to Chillicothe or Huntington, Portsmouth would have secured Pinkney from the Molders. With this little aggressive chap cavorting around the keystone sack, President Quinn could take time by the forelock and order the pennant shipped to Portsmouth. Pinkney is a big favorite here because he is a gentleman and is always in the game. He is just 22 years old and is easily the star second baseman in the Ohio State league."

Baseball people outside the league were also taking notice. In early July, the American Tribune said, "Louis Heilbroner {Cincinnati Reds scout} will be here this month, and it is safe to say that he will see some talent that will be safe to gobble up. There are three men on the club in particular of whom he has written, and he is keeping a close tab on their work." Though not identified in the story, Pinkney was certainly one of those three.

His play was spectacular at times. In an early July doubleheader against Portsmouth, he went 4-7 and scored three runs. The American Tribune described his most spectacular play of the day. "Pink scored the first run of the game on a clean steal home, while Ludwig was winding up to deliver the ball, and with two strikes and two balls on the batter and two men out." By this time, the Newark paper felt he wasn't getting enough credit for his defensive play. "The sensational fielding of Cupid Pinkney, who has grown so accustomed to making the impossibles [sic] that he seldom gets the credit that is due him, but the fans appreciate the plays just the same."

In addition to his base running and fielding his hitting was also receiving positive comments. After a 3-2 victory over Marion, the American Tribune said "The day was a bright shining one for 'Cupid' Pinkney, for it was the 'Lost Kid' as Hank O'Day [minor league manager, not the umpire] calls him, that walloped the leather for one large healthy double and two terrific singles, and there was no fluke about any of the drives either, and his fourth try, or rather his first one, was a mighty swat on a line to Shields in center." Unfortunately just 500 fans witnessed the game, and the financial situation at Newark was becoming a crisis.

In mid July, Pinkney missed a week due to illness. Shortly after his return, a former Newark player returned to his former haunts. Catcher William "Bunny" Pearce had been sent to Dayton of the Central League after playing very little during a season and a half in Cincinnati. Injured in a game at Zanesville, he was sent on a scouting trip by Dayton manager William "Bade" Myers.

Meanwhile, things got worse financially for the team, and Newark ownership turned the franchise over to the league. The players who'd missed a paycheck were paid by the league in full. Briefly it looked as though a new owner in Newark had been found. That soon fell through, and the Molders played many of their home games at Columbus' Neil Park. When it became apparent that no buyer could be found, league President Bob Quinn, recouped some of the league's losses on the team by selling players. The Lancaster team suffering nearly as much, sold their shortstop to Dayton for $450 dollars. On August 7 the Dayton Journal announced that team President Elmer Redelle had acquired Pinkney "for a cash consideration said to be $300."

At the time of the sale, Pinkney was hitting .271 in 87 games. He committed just 16 errors in 485 chances for a .967 fielding average. When the league's final statistics were released, he was tenth among league regulars in batting and first among second basemen in fielding.

Dayton was going through a miserable season and a lot of players in 1909. Shortly after Pinkney joined the team, the Dayton Journal said only four players who'd started the season in Dayton were still with the team. Charles Pinkney wasn't even the first Pinkney to play for Dayton. Pitcher Frank Pinkney (no relation) had been with the team earlier in the season.

Cupid Pinkney joined the Veterans during a series at Evansville, Indiana. He first appeared for his new team on August 10 after an injury to the starting second baseman. He remained in the lineup and when the team returned home he soon made an impression on the fans. On the 16th, the Journal described a key play. "Dick Grefe sent a whisper to the right of first base. Pinkney is the only one of the numerous second basemen Dayton has had this summer who would have even looked at the ball. With one hand he grabbed the fleeting sphere and threw the batter out at first holding the runner on third." The eighth inning play helped save a 3-1 Dayton win.

His hitting was also attracting attention. He hit .409 over his first 18 games in the Central League. He also earned another nickname. After a doubleheader with Terre Haute, the Journal led the next day's account with a comparison to one of the game's greats. "P-i-n-k-n-e-y spells 'Little Hans Wagner' and, if you don't mind your p's and q's you'll chime in and say, 'that's right'. They call our new second baseman Cupid. No particular reason except that he grew up to it. Maybe it's because he's so in love with the ball, as the oftener [sic] he gets hep to it the happier he is. Unlike the celebrated Dan, Pinkney uses bats instead of darts and the way he shoots home after wielding them is a caution. Just wait till Muggsy McGraw and Connie Mack pick up today's Journal and connote this. We'll look for both of them at Fairview [Park] tomorrow. And how the midget can get on base! If he does not slam the ball or beat out a bunt, he is sure to be passed or else some fielder foozles the ball. He's a regular little wizard. We're saying nothing, mind you, about his fielding, for he has not made an error since he joined the Daytons. He's 'Little Hans' O.K."

Although he soon went into a batting slump, strong defensive play continued. On September 2, he went 3-4 with two runs scored, but a defensive play was the key. South Bend manager Angus Grant, according to the Journal, "was laughing wickedly as he went to the plate determined to break up the siesta then and there. And he smote the first offering over second with all his might and a little bit more. Up goes Little Pink, no one having any idea he would shake hands with the pellet. But the midget is bigger than he looks and when he descended from his aeroplane he was clutching the ball in his gloved hand. All he had to do was hurl it to Bunny [first baseman Pearce] and the game ended with a double play.

That was a rare single game among a string of doubleheaders. Dayton played seven twinbills between August 31 and September 12. Charles Pinkney appeared in 43 games during his first five weeks with the club.

September 14, 1909 must have been a day Cupid Pinkney looked forward to. Dayton was starting its final series of the season, hosting the Grand Rapids Stags. His father was on the way from Cleveland for a visit before the trip home and a planned welcoming party. Pinkney led off the first game of the day's doubleheader with his only home run of the season, off a 22-year-old right hander, Kurt "Casey" Hageman. Hageman allowed four runs and was removed in the second inning of Dayton's 10-0 win.

As was common in the Deadball Era, Hageman returned to start the second game. Charles Pinkney Sr. arrived at Fairview Park in the fifth inning, and between innings briefly visited with his son on the field. By that time it was rapidly growing dark, and the Journal's Julian Behr commented the game should have been called after five. It was decided the seventh would be the last inning. Grand Rapids led 5-3. Hageman walked the first batter and retired the next, bringing Pinkney to the plate. As the Journal described it, "Pitcher Hageman threw three balls to Pinkney and the fourth appeared to be a ball which would entitle the batter to his base. It was a swift shoot, which approached the home plate like a swift shot from a rifle. It was growing very dark and before Pinkney could dodge, the ball had hit him square in the head just back of and above the left ear. The report was so loud it was heard by practically all present. The athlete fell to the ground like one shot."

Pinkney's father was one of the first to reach his side after the beaning, and "players of both teams rushed to the side of the stricken young man and doctors who were hastily summoned by President Redelle worked over him."

The young second baseman was rushed to Dayton's St. Elizabeth Hospital, where reports were contradictory. The physician in charge was quoted that Pinkney would pull through, but it wasn't to be. He died shortly after noon the next day, Wednesday September 15. Charles Pinkney Sr. who fainted shortly after helping carry his son to the ambulance, remained at the hospital. The Journal said "The father at the hospital watched the life of his son ebb away. He was not thinking of his loss—he was thinking of a woman back in Collingwood. That woman is the mother of the boy who never more will return to her. He had written he would be home Thursday night, just as soon as the season closed." Charles Sr. told the Journal, "I fear mother will be a corpse when we arrive home with the body of our youngest boy. Her whole life has been wrapped up in her children, and our youngest Charles was only a boy."

The final game of the 1909 Central League season scheduled for the day Charles Pinkney died was never played. Players of both teams were allowed to leave the city and return to their homes.

No blame was placed on pitcher Hageman. The Journal said, "He deserves the sympathy of every person in the city. Since the accident proved to be a fatality he has refused to be comforted. He has been absolved from all blame, yet he seems to think he is branded for life." The following season Hageman refused an offer to play in the Central League, reportedly because he didn't want to return to the scene of the tragedy. He later appeared in 32 major league games for the Red Sox, Cardinals and Cubs between 1911 and 1914.

Charles "Cupid" Pinkney appeared in 45 games for Dayton in 1909. He batted .252 with five doubles, a triple and a home run. He stole nine bases. Defensively he made eight errors in 229 chances. His death was the third among active members of the team in five years. In 1904 Frank "Red" Herbert died a day after a collision with South Bend's first baseman Alva Spangler. In March of 1906, playing manager Julius "Hub" Knoll died of typhoid fever.

Sources

Columbus Ohio State Journal 1906-1907

Lancaster, (Ohio) Eagle 1906-09.

Lancaster, (Ohio) Gazette 1906-09

Newark, (Ohio) American Tribune 1906-1909

Newark, (Ohio) Advocate 1908-1909

Dayton, (Ohio) Journal 1909.

Zanesville, (Ohio) Signal 1909-1910

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