Camp Skinner

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Camp Skinner played in 1922 for the first-place New York Yankees. The next year, he played for the last-place Boston Red Sox. That was the sum total of his major-league experience.

He didn't play long for either team – 27 games for the Yankees and just seven for the Red Sox – and even though he played better for Boston, they didn't keep him past May 6.

Skinner was an outfielder. Bats left, throws right. He was 5-feet-11 and listed at 165 pounds. He never made an error playing major-league ball – but, then again, he had only 11 chances. He was primarily used as a pinch-hitter – in 28 of his 34 games, that was his role. But Skinner really didn't hit all that well. His career batting average was .196. That wasn't an average improved by his patience in drawing bases on balls; in 47 plate appearances, he never walked once. The only reason that Skinner’s on-base percentage (.213) was slightly higher than his batting average was that he was hit by a pitch once – in his very first time at the plate.

He was born E.H. Camp Skinner on June 25, 1897, in Douglasville, Georgia. He spent his whole life in Douglasville, died there, and is buried there. One could visit his grave at the Douglasville City Cemetery.

Skinner's parents were James R. Skinner, a farmer, and Ina B. Skinner. The 1900 census suggests that Ina was known as Birk and James was known as Sherdie. They had four sons – Greer, Ennis, Harry, and E.H. Camp Skinner. Some baseball databases have mistakenly listed Camp’s full name as Elisha Harrison Skinner, as though Camp had been a nickname. It was not. A sister, later Mrs. W.E. Hewitt, wrote baseball researcher Joe Simenic (one of the founding members of the Society for American Baseball Research) in 1969, “He was named for our mother’s father, who’s (sic) full name was Elisha Harrison Camp, but Camp’s name was E.H. Camp Skinner – not Elisha Harrison Camp Skinner. So please just make it Camp or E.H. Camp.”1

Before making his way into baseball, Skinner had previously served for a month in the United States Army. He was inducted on November 6, 1918, and assigned to Battery D of the 26th Artillery, but with the World War coming to conclusion and Armistice Day arriving on November 11 (Skinner was literally at the port of embarkation at Savannah when the armistice was signed),2 his continued service was apparently deemed unnecessary and he was honorably discharged as a private on December 6 – back home to the farm in Douglasville in time for Christmas.

Skinner’s first year in professional baseball came at age 23, with Cedartown in the Georgia State League. Ike Boone was on the Class D Cedartown Cedars, too, and he is listed as having hit .403 that year. We have no statistics for anyone else on the team.

Skinner went to Shreveport for spring training with the New York Yankees in 1921, and showed some skills – particularly in an early intrasquad game when he was 4-for-5. The Chicago Tribune called him “an impressive kid.”3 But he was optioned to Dallas in the Texas League. Though Dallas is far from the sea, in 1920 and 1921 the club was called the Dallas Submarines. In 1922 it became known as the now more-familiar Dallas Steers.

Spending the entire season with Dallas, Skinner played in 138 games and hit for a .327 average, with one home run. He doubled 29 times and tripled 10. He drove in 76 runs and stole eight bases. He committed eight errors in the outfield, in 308 chances (for a .974 fielding percentage) but had 22 assists to his credit. On September 13, the Dallas Morning News reported that he had been recalled to the Yankees for spring 1922.

Skinner made the 1922 team as a backup. He wasn’t going to take Babe Ruth’s place in the outfield, nor Bob Meusel’s, nor Whitey Witt’s. But Ruth and Meusel were serving suspensions for barnstorming after the 1921 season, and neither was permitted to play at all for the first five weeks of the campaign. Several stories showed Skinner performing well in spring training, but on March 24 he was released to New Orleans. Something unusual happened; “he rebelled at a sentence to any such place as New Orleans. He allowed that he wanted to stick with the team and drop off at Dallas, his old haunts, if he had to do any dropping at all. Somehow Camp managed to trail along and also develop a strange and unseemly liking for right-handed pitching.”4 The New Orleans States newspaper sniffed at the “Yankee moguls changing their minds and taking Camp Skinner away with them.”5

Elmer Miller, Chick Fewster, and Elmer Smith got more outfield play, but Skinner stuck with the team all season and was called upon to pinch-hit some 23 times.

Skinner actually started off fairly well. Initially, he was mostly “browsing around the Yankee bench for weeks without doing much of anything.”6 After being hit by a Rip Collins pitch in his first time up, he went 4-for-8 in May. On May 9, his 10th-inning pinch hit won the game for New York. With two outs, Everett Scott singled and Witt walked. Skinner hit for Norm McMillan and singled up the middle, out of the reach of Philadelphia’s Eddie Collins. In the May 22 game, the Yanks were down by two runs to the Browns entering the bottom of the ninth. Scott singled and so did Wally Schang, Scott scoring on a throwing error. With Schang on second, manager Miller Huggins had Skinner pinch-hit for Bob Shawkey and he “fouled about a dozen balls into the stand just to keep the fans on the anxious seat. After getting all the batting practice he wanted, Camp very coolly and leisurely slammed a beautiful single between third and short.”7 He tied the game, which New York won 4-3 in the 13th.

But Skinner was just 1-for-8 in June and, after a single on the Fourth of July, he never got another hit in any of his final 10 at-bats. An amusing note in the Greensboro, North Carolina, paper at one point said that Skinner had never been issued a Yankee sweater and that the brown one he was wearing “comes from the Cotton league and looks as though it had suffered a severe attack of boll weevils.”8

The Yankees won the pennant but were swept in the World Series by the New York Giants (not counting a 3-3 tie in Game Two). Skinner was on the roster, but left on the bench. He was not called to participate.

On January 30, 1923, the Yankees put together a big package to get Herb Pennock from the Red Sox: Norm McMillan, George Murray, Camp Skinner, and $50,000. Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was said to be “delighted” and allowed that “in Murray alone I got a better player than Pennock.” He also praised McMillan but seemed to have nothing to say about Skinner. (For the record, Murray was 9-20 with a 5.48 ERA in his two seasons with the Red Sox. Pennock was 162-90 for the Yankees and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.)

Red Sox manager Frank Chance foresaw a hustling club and expressed some encouraging words, but what he said came across quite convoluted: “For me to make a statement at this time that I can see no hope for anything better than the bottom of the pile, would be at variance with what I really see.”9

Skinner played center field on Opening Day, April 18, and was the third batter to come to the plate in the first regulation game ever played at brand-new Yankee Stadium. He was 0-for-4 in front of a reported 74,200 fans. The Yankees beat Boston, 4-1.

Skinner got a single the next day, 1-for-4. In the other five games for which he appeared for the Red Sox, he was 2-for-5 as a pinch-hitter. Both hits were doubles. He drove in one run. The Red Sox lost every one of the seven games in which Skinner played. They finished in last place (61-91), but Skinner was gone after he was optioned to Atlanta on May 10. A lengthy story in the May 13 Boston Herald said that Chance had been impressed with his talents, but Skinner “did not seem to be interested in his work.” When Chance sat down to talk with him, he repeated what he had told Chance at the start of spring training – he thought he needed more experience and wanted to be sent to Atlanta. Chance was mystified at a player not wanting to fight to stay in the majors, but told him, “You have the ability to make good and I will give you every opportunity. One thing I require is that you hustle for me. If you do and I find you cannot make good, I will send you to Atlanta, but if you do not try, I will send you to some city far away from Atlanta.”10

Assignment to Atlanta would have suited Skinner reasonably well, in that Douglasville is about 20 miles away. However, on May 17, Atlanta returned Skinner to the Red Sox (at least on paper.) It’s not clear what happened next, but he played out the year in Shreveport, taking part in 76 games and hitting .257.

And then Skinner played for four different teams in 1924, two in the Western League and two in the Texas League. He was on a San Antonio roster, but on March 8 his purchase was announced by Beaumont. A May 19 news clipping shows him playing for Dallas.11 And the Omaha World Herald reported on June 27 that the Lincoln team in the Western League had bought his contract outright from the Boston Red Sox, adding “He played with Des Moines for a time earlier in the season, on an optional agreement with Boston.”12 He was still playing for Lincoln in late August. He shows in Texas League stats for Dallas and Beaumont with 31 games and a .294 average, and in Western League stats with Des Moines and Lincoln with 85 games and .280.

Skinner was on a Chattanooga roster during the spring of 1925, but was released back to Boston in April, though nothing further was reported.13 He played for Bloomington (Illinois) in the Three-I League in 1926, though we have no statistics. As in 1926, we have no information as to where he may have played in 1927. In 1928 Skinner played in the Mississippi Valley League for the Moline Plowboys and the Ottumwa Packers. He hit .290 in 122 games; 1928 seems to have been his last year in Organized Baseball.

Skinner married Opal Giles of Douglasville, but they separated.14 In 1940 the census showed him living in Douglasville with his mother. Skinner was working at a laborer for an electrical power company. He died of a heart attack at age 47 on August 4, 1944.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Skinner’s player file 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 Letter from Mrs. W.E. Hewitt to Joe Simenic, dated February 3, 1969, located in Skinner’s player file at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

2 Letter from Mrs. W.E. Hewitt, op. cit.

3 Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1921.

4 New York Times, May 10, 1922.

5 New Orleans States, March 28, 1922.

6 New York Times, May 10, 1922.

7 New York Times, May 23, 1922.

8 Greensboro Daily News, July 11, 1922.

9 Boston Globe, April 5, 1923.

10 Boston Herald, May 13, 1923.

11 Dallas Morning News, May 19, 1924.

12 Omaha World Herald, June 27, 1924. The headline got it backwards: “LINCOLN OUTFIELDER GOES TO HUB RED SOX.”

13 New Orleans Times Picayune, April 2, 1925.

14 Letter from Mrs. W.E. Hewitt, op. cit. “They just went to preacher’s home for marriage,” she wrote. She was not sure of the date, or even the year.