SABR

Tom Jenkins

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Over the course of six major-league seasons, Tom Jenkins appeared in a little more than one year’s worth of games. He broke in with the Boston Red Sox in September of 1925 and last played for the St. Louis Browns in June 1932. By the time his time in the big leagues was done, he had appeared in 171 games, with a .259 batting average, three home runs, and 44 RBIs. Bats left, throws right – he played outfield (all three positions) in 109 of his 171 games, pinch-hitting in the rest.

Jenkins was an Alabaman, born in the town of Camden on April 10, 1898. Camden is about 75 miles southwest of Montgomery. The 1900 census shows Jenkins in in Mount Hope, some 200 miles due north, at the age of 2, living with his grandfather Thomas G. Jenkins Jr., a 78-year-old physician who was head of a household that included his daughter Emma; two sons (both farmers) named James and Percy; Percy’s wife, Olive (Young) Jenkins; and their young son, Tom. The 1910 census has Percy living in Camden and working as the town marshal, with Olive and four children: Tom, Columbus (9), Carrie (6), and Louise (1½).

Tom graduated from Camden Grammar School after eight years of education, and later from Wilcox County High School, located in the county seat, Camden. He did not attend college. At the age of 21 he began his time in baseball, signing on with the Mobile Bears in the Southern Association. He may not have seen action; he doesn’t appear in such records as we have for Mobile in 1921. In both 1921 and 1922 he played for an independent team in Camden. Jenkins himself dated his start in organized baseball as with the Paris (Tennessee) Parisians in the Kitty League in 1923.[1] We were unable to find records for that team, but a report in The Sporting News credits Red Sox scout Rudy Hulswitt with recommending Jenkins and left-hander Buster Ross to team owner Bob Quinn.[2]

Jenkins did play in Class B for most of the summer (101 games) for the South Atlantic League’s Charleston Pals/Macon Peaches (Charleston moved to Macon on June 5), managed by former Red Sox player Jack Coffey. Jenkins played outfield, batting .268.

In 1924 Jenkins headed north to play in the Class B New York/Pennsylvania League for the Wilkes-Barre Barons. He enjoyed an excellent year, batting an even .333 with 12 home runs in 111 games. He also played in some 20 games for the Eastern League’s Waterbury Brasscos, a Class A team, and hit .263. 

It was 1925 that was his breakout year; he had turned 27 not long before the season began. He played for the Danville Veterans in the Class B Three-I League for a league-leading .360 average, with 7 homers, 13 triples, 9 stolen bases and 25 doubles.[3] Jenkins also led the league in hits (192).[4] An unidentified clipping found in Jenkins’ player file at the Hall of Fame says that on September 11, he circled the bases in 13 3/5 seconds, reporting that the world’s record was 13 2/5 seconds.

 The Red Sox seem to have still had a string on him, and he was elevated to the big-league club in time to debut on September 15. He was 0-for-3 with a base on balls, but collected his first hits in the major leagues – four of them – in a doubleheader against the visiting Browns on September 17, 2-for-4 in each game. The Boston Globe called his play “conspicuous” both on offense and defense. The two games were the start of a modest seven-game hitting streak. He played in 15 games for the Red Sox, batting .297 with five RBIs and nine runs scored. He didn’t try to steal even one base. In fact, despite his vaunted speed in the minor leagues, he attempted only four steals in the majors (all in 1931, and was caught in three of the four attempts). After the season, the Red Sox simply released their best hitter, Ike Boone, and one might have thought Jenkins would get more of a shot (he was called “promising outfield timber”) but he did not perform that well in the early going.[5]

“Tut” Jenkins played in April and May 1926 for the Red Sox but hit only .180 in 50 at-bats. He did drive in six runs. On June 15, 1926, about three weeks after he eloped (to the Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston) and married Margaret “Rita” Graham, a stenographer from Springfield, Massachusetts, he was packaged in a big trade to the Philadelphia Athletics, sent with pitcher Howard Ehmke for pitchers Slim Harriss and Fred Heimach and outfielder Baby Doll Jacobson. Most of the year was spent in the Texas League, playing for the Wichita Falls Spudders. He excelled, hitting 17 homers in 116 games and for a .374 batting average – more than enough to lead the league. The Athletics brought him north at the end of the year, and in just six late-September games and 24 at-bats, he hit.174 and scored three times, but didn’t drive in a run.

Wichita Falls was home for both 1927 and 1928. The Spudders won the pennant in 1927 and fell just one game short in 1928. Jenkins led the league in runs scored both years, but was beaten out by Waco’s Del Pratt in all three Triple Crown categories the first year. Jenkins’s 27 homers and 122 RBIs led the league in 1928. That September the St. Louis Browns purchased his contract from Wichita Falls.

The Browns kept him from Opening Day 1929 through the trading deadline day of June 15, mostly using him as a pinch hitter (22 at-bats in 21 games). He wasn’t that productive (.182 without a run batted in and scoring just once), so was asked to finish the year in Double-A with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. He hit .329 in the 105 games he played. It was more Milwaukee and less St. Louis in 1930. For the Brewers, it was 154 games, 24 homers, and a .345 average. For the Browns, it was one day – both halves of the September 21 doubleheader. He was 2-for-8 on the day.

The Browns kept Jenkins in the big leagues for the full 1931 season. He appeared in 81 games and hit .265, with the only three home runs of his major-league career and with 25 of his career total of 44 RBIs.

Jenkins played the first half of the season for St. Louis in 1932, his final game coming on June 26. He hit well (.323) in 62 at-bats over 25 games. He drove in five runs.

On the last day of June he was traded to the other team that shared Sportsman’s Park – the St. Louis Cardinals for Showboat Fisher. Fisher was another left-handed pinch-hitter and outfielder who hit for a little more than half what Jenkins had been hitting, and then concluded his own major-league career.

Tom Jenkins split the year between Houston and Rochester, hitting a combined .299. And he ended his last year in pro ball playing for three teams in 1933, hitting a combined .297. He played for Dallas and then Fort Worth in the Texas League, and then wrapped it up after 50 games (hitting .309) for the Omaha Packers in the Western League.

As the 1934 season began, Jenkins was running a beer tap in Quincy, Massachusetts.[6] He did shop work for Allis Chalmers for most of his post-baseball livelihood, retired, and died of heart disease at 81 in the South Shore Hospital at Weymouth, Massachusetts, on May 3, 1979.

September 11, 2011

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Jenkins’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.


[1] Jenkins player questionnaire on file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

[2] The Sporting News, September 13, 1923.

[3] Baseball-Reference.com has his average at .347; contemporary sources and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball both have it at .360. Either way, he led the league.

[4] The Sporting News, January 7, 1926.

[5] Boston Globe, March 17, 1926.

[6] The Sporting News, April 5, 1934.

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