Charlie Small

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Charlie Small's time in the major leagues consisted of 22 times he was asked to pinch-hit, twice he was asked to pinch-run, and once he was asked to play center field. He wasn't particularly successful hitting–he sacrificed twice, walked twice, and hit safely three times in 18 at-bats. One of the hits was for extra bases, a double. He never drove in a run. He did score one. During the game he played in center, he had one chance and caught the ball.

In the minor leagues, though, he played 10 seasons and hit for a very good .309 career batting average.

Small came from Maine. He was born as Charles Albert Small in Auburn, Maine, on October 24, 1905. Father Charles White Small was a shoemaker at the time of Charlie's birth. His mother was the former Lena May Yeaton. Auburn is situated across the Androscoggin River from Lewiston, Maine. The family lived about 10 miles south, in New Gloucester.

By the time Charlie was 5, his father was listed as a machinist for a shoe company. By 1920, Charlie had five siblings. Charlie went to New Gloucester High School before transferring to Edward Little High School of Auburn, graduating there in 1923.

Small attended Bates College in Lewiston and was named captain of the baseball team by the 1926 season. The Boston Herald acknowledged his work: "Charley Small of Bates is a first class college pitcher. He has a fast one with a hop and quite a curve ball. In addition he is a natural hitter. The scouts would do well to look him over."1 When not pitching, he typically played left field.

In the summers, he played semipro ball. In August 1926, the Boston Globe wrote of his play: "Small, the well-known Bates College pitcher, has been giving a splendid account of himself on the mound for the Millinocket Club of the Maine Coast League. One of his most recent achievements was over Penobscot Chemical Fibre when he allowed only four hits and won his game 4 to 1."2 Small graduated Bates after the 1927 season. He had also played some intramural basketball at Bates and later played some semipro basketball.3

His younger brother Elliott followed him to Bates. The two played on the same team in 1927. After Charlie graduated; third-baseman E. Small succeeded C. Small as captain of the Bates baseball team.4

Small began his professional career at age 22, signing with the Boston Red Sox and then being optioned to Pittsfield, playing for John “Shano” Collins' Pittsfield Hillies in the Class-A Eastern League. He had been highly recommended to Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan, a fellow native of the Pine Tree State, and was invited to spring training with the Boston team at Bradenton, Florida. Small was being considered as a pitcher, though not seen likely to make the majors in his first year. With Danny MacFayden and Pete Traynor, Small formed a trio of pitchers wearing eyeglasses in that year's spring training.5 By the time the Sox had sent him to Pittsfield, Carrigan had been impressed by his hitting and, for Small’s future development, switched him to the outfield.6 One such convincing moment may have been the March 11 game against Buffalo in which Small was 2-for-4 with a triple and single. On March 31, he was one of eight players who were sent north to Fenway Park, to work out under Collins with an eye toward some of them joining the Pittsfield club. By this time, the papers were referring to him as a fielder.7

In the first inning of his very first professional game, at Waterbury, Connecticut, Small homered. He was batting cleanup and came to the plate with one out and two men on, thanks to back-to-back singles. The Springfield paper told the story: "Then up to the plate ambled Charlie Small, former captain of the Bates College nine and now with the Hillies on option from the Boston Red Sox. Many fans, noting that Small wore glasses, wondered what he was doing batting in fourth position. The boy from Maine soon showed them. Small landed hard on one of Tansey's fast ones and sent the ball sailing several feet over the new barrier in right field."8

Small was a left-handed hitter, though he threw right. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.

The very next day, both teams traveled to Pittsfield's Waconah Park and Small delivered a triple to deep center field that might have gone for a home run had not the wind been blowing in. Small saw a chance for an inside-the-park home run but was cut down at the plate.

Small appeared in 149 games for the 1928 Hillies, batting for a team-leading .328 average and hitting 10 home runs, as well as an impressive 44 doubles. He trained with the big-league team again at Bradenton, but played in Pittsfield again in 1929, putting up very comparable stats: .322, 7 homers, 35 doubles. Small had also pitched in two games for Pittsfield in 1928 and three in 1929.

In 1930, Small started strong and already had 11 home runs (including a grand slam on May 13) by the end of June, batting .331. The stock market collapse in October 1929 had begun to take its toll and the ballclub experienced serious financial difficulties. Facing bankruptcy, it sold off its players and both the Hartford and Pittsfield franchises disbanded on June 30.9 Small's contract was sold to Albany for $500, but he refused to report, returning home to Lewiston instead–after filing a petition with the National Commission requesting that he be declared a free agent "owing to nonpayment of salary by the Pittsfield club."10

The Red Sox claimed him and brought him to Boston. Small's debut was in the July 7 game against the Washington Senators at Fenway Park. The Sox lost, 8-1. He pinch-hit for catcher Johnnie Heving in the seventh inning but without success. Another pinch-hitting appearance the next day similarly resulted in an out, but the third time paid off. It was in the first game of the July 9 doubleheader. Batting for Jack Russell in the eighth inning, while the Sox were losing 5-1, Small doubled, though Boston was unable to score a run.

The sole run Small did score came in the first game of the July 20 twin bill in Chicago. It was a game Boston lost, 16-4. He was used frequently enough–seven times in July, 11 in August, and seven times in September. That, as it turned out, was the end of his major-league career. Small had posted a .167 batting average and a .250 on-base percentage, with the one extra-base hit and the one run scored.

After the season was over, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled in Small's case that due to Pittsfield's failure to pay him, he was indeed a free agent. Landis also dismissed a $15,000 lawsuit that Albany team had brought against the Red Sox for refusing to turn him over to them in July.11

In 1931, Small played for four different ballclubs: the Wilkes-Barre Barons and the Hazelton Mountaineers in the New York/Penn League, the Des Moines Demons in the Western League, and the Albany Senators in the Eastern League. From 1932 through 1936, Small’s activities are undocumented, though he was out of baseball during the depths of the Depression. Small reemerged in 1937 in Nova Scotia playing for Sydney in the Cape Breton Colliery League, hitting .351 in 41 games. He pitched a bit for Sydney, but was 0-2. Then Small disappears from the historical record for 1938 and 1939, cropping up again in 1940 as player-manager for the Drummondville Tigers in the Class-B Quebec Provincial League. The team played poorly and disbanded on July 8 with a 6-26 record. He moved to the Trois-Rivieres Renards during the course of the season, under manager Wally Schang, hitting .285 overall in 78 games and found himself on the winning team in league playoffs.

In October 1940, Small married Mildred Mary Jepsen of Lewiston in the town of Jackson, New Hampshire.12 They may have met through the shoe trade; her father ran a shoe shop in Litchfield, Maine. The couple had one child, Constance Anne Small.

In 1941, Trois-Rivieres was in the Canadian-American League (Class C) and Small played for Schang again and batted a team-best .336 in 124 games. It was the same league, but a different team in 1942: Quebec. He played in 122 games but had an off-year, batting only .257. In 1943, 1944, and 1945, when the minor leagues contracted dramatically (there wasn't a single Class-C team in either '43 or '44), Small was employed by the Bath (Maine) Iron Works and managed their baseball team.

Small returned in 1946 to the Border League (Class C) and played in 108 games for the Granby Red Sox (no relation), with a .314 average. For the next four seasons, 1947-1950, he managed the Geneva Red Birds (Border League), finishing last (sixth place) in 1947 but improving to second place in 1948 (the team was renamed the Robins), and then taking first place (while winning the playoffs and finals, as well) in 1949, with a regular-season record of 81-49. Geneva fell to fifth place in 1950 and Clyde Theriault took over for Small during the season. Small had taken ill. (Small was at one point noted as manager for Geneva in 1951.13 But Humberto Baez was listed as manager when the season began.) It wasn't just Small who was ill. The team withdrew from the Border League on June 26. By July 1, four of the six teams had withdrawn, and on July 10 the last game was played, the league as a whole disbanding six days later.

Charlie Small played or managed in minor-league baseball from 1928 into the 1950 season until cancer rendered him unable to continue, and he retired in early 1951. He died at the Damon Nursing Home in Auburn on the afternoon of January 14, 1953. The cause of death was peripheral vascular failure attributable to sarcomatosis (which had first been indicated two years earlier by a mole on his neck). Small was survived by his mother, widow, daughter, two sisters, three brothers, an aunt, uncle, five nephews, and 10 nieces.

 

Sources

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


Notes

1 Boston Herald, May 20, 1926.

2 Boston Globe, August 4, 1926. His hometown paper called the league the Down East League. See the Auburn Daily Sun, January 15, 1953.

3 Auburn (Maine) Daily Sun, January 15, 1953.

4 Boston Globe, April 17, 1928.

5 Boston Herald, February 24, 1928.

6 Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, April 20, 1928. The April 15, 1928 Hartford Courant described him as a "lefthanded batter [who] hits with terrific power."

7 Hartford Courant, April 1, 1928. He apparently had suffered some form of arm injury as well, contributing to the decision to convert him to a position player. (Auburn Daily Sun, January 15, 1953.)

8 Springfield Republican, April 19, 1928.

9 Hartford Courant, July 1, 1930.

10 Springfield Republican, July 3, 1930.

11 Springfield Republican, November 8, 1930.

12 Oddly, Mildred Small reports the date of the marriage as July 3, 1938. She completed the Hall of Fame player questionnaire for her late husband.

13 The Sporting News, April 18, 1951.