This article was written by Craig Lammers
This article was published in the The National Pastime (Volume 26, 2006)
The year 1906 was one of change for minor league baseball in Ohio. The previous season, independent teams from Ohio and western Pennsylvania had joined organized ball as the Class C Ohio Pennsylvania League. By early spring, the unmanageable number of teams was reduced to eight, six of them in Ohio.
New Castle was one of two Pennsylvania cities represented in the O-P League for its first full season of play. 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.
Almost overshadowed in the excitement over opening day was a battle for the Nocks’ second base job. One candidate was Charles “Buster” Brown, a 23-year-old player on option from Buffalo of the Eastern (now International) League. Brown had left college and joined Buffalo after his play attracted the attention of Bisons manager George Stallings. He had also played for Augusta of the South Atlantic League, a team that included young Ty Cobb. After contracting malaria, Brown returned north and finished 1905 with an independent team in Warren, Ohio. He was expected to win the New Castle job easily.
Brown’s competition was a 17-year-old from the village of Collinwood, now a part of Cleveland. Charles Pinkney, the youngest son of a railroad engineer, was better than expected. Brown was in the lineup when the team opened on the road, but Pinkney soon won the job.
A 3-for-3 day with two doubles at Lancaster, Ohio on April 30 would turn out to be a key to Brown’s baseball future. When the Ohio team went to New Castle for the Nocks’ long-anticipated home opener, a shakeup was planned. After another infielder initially balked at joining the team, Brown was purchased by Lancaster management. He debuted with his new team on May 11, initially playing third base. After a few weeks the other infielder reported and Brown was benched.
Meanwhile after an impressive debut, Pinkney endured a slump. A late May report said he had been released. But the release, if it occurred, was short lived and Pinkney became a key to the success of the team. His role was even more important after the New Castle manager resigned in mid-season to take the job at East Liverpool, Ohio, taking some of the Nocks better players with him. At the time of the defections, Pinkney led New Castle batters with an average of .297. His play drew comparison with former Cleveland second baseman Clarence “Cupid” Childs, and Pinkney soon received the same nickname.
In mid-June, Charles Brown finally gained a regular job at Lancaster. After an injury to the Lanks first baseman, their second baseman shifted to first and Brown was able to play his strongest position. His defense immediately made a difference. Typical was a play described in the Lancaster Gazette. “Little Brown brought the crowd to a standstill in the 8th when he leaped into the air and pulled down a terrific line drive with two men on bases retiring the side.”
The Lancaster press in 1906 chronicled both the serious and not so serious moments in Brown’s season. In July he was hit by a flying bat and knocked unconscious, but after ten minutes he regained consciousness and stayed in the game.
That same week also offered a little comic relief and demonstrated Buster’s fondness for hats. A report in the Gazette said, “He entered a restaurant at suppertime, putting a new straw hat, which cost him a big price, on the rack. After supper he picked up a hat, which he supposed was his own, never noticing the difference until he had walked up the street when his attention was called to it by a fellow player. He looked and found the name W.W. McCoy written in lead pencil several times on the inside. He tried in vain to locate McCoy until Saturday evening when he learned that McCoy had left at 4:30 for Oklahoma with the hat.”
The Gazette related the story of another hat that Brown couldn’t give away. “[Brown] purchased a gray felt hat with a blue silk band. Almost immediately the team started down the toboggan. When Mansfield was here recently, Pitcher [Harvey] “Doc” Bailey was looking for a mascot. He espied the hat and asked Brown for it and got it. Since then he has lost a 15 inning battle with Lancaster and an 18 inning game with New Castle. Brown received word this morning that the hat had been shipped back. When it arrives it will be placed in a fiery furnace. Nobody can make Brown believe there is nothing in luck.”
By season’s end, both Brown and Pinkney had been keys to their teams’ successful seasons. New Castle finished third, just three percentage points ahead of Lancaster. Pinkney was sixth among league regulars in batting at .278. He played in 133 of his team’s 139 games and stole 35 bases. Brown hit .229, about average for the league, and stole 22 bases. Defensively Pinkney led regular second basemen with a .965 fielding percentage. Brown was fourth at .945.
A report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Drown had been drafted by the St. Louis Browns, and Bob Quinn of the American Association’s Columbus Senators was also impressed with his play. Brown for his part, expressed an interest in leaving Lancaster and playing farther east, closer to his home in Albion, New York. Nothing came of the rumors and Buffalo didn’t exercise its option, so both Brown and Pinkney returned to the Ohio Pennsylvania League for 1907.
Pinkney suffered through a sophomore slump in 1907, hitting .202 in 57 games. His fielding was strong and he stole 17 bases, but he sprained an ankle in July and didn’t return to New Castle. Brown played in all of Lancaster’s 134 games and hit .236. His .960 fielding percentage was second among O-P second basemen.
Much like 1906, 1908 was marked by changes in Ohio minor league baseball. A split occurred in the Ohio Pennsylvania League. The four western and southern teams-Lancaster, Mansfield, Marion, and Newark-left to form the Ohio State League. Lima and Springfield (soon to be replaced by Portsmouth) rounded out the new league.
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 Lakeview School in Collinwood. In the resulting panic 173 students and two teachers died at the school Pinkney had attended a few years before.
The season of 1908 was a good one for Charles “Buster” Brown, as Lancaster won the pennant. The Lanks’ pitching staff threw six no-hitters that season, and the team’s defense was key to the pitching success. Four of those no-hitters were thrown by Walter “Smoke” Justis, and the sports editor of the Newark American Tribune later said, Brown “more than anyone else [was] responsible for the splendid showing made by Justis for he alone could bring the Big Smoke back to earth after an ascension.” Brown played in 152 games for the league champs, hitting .258 and stealing 34 bases. He led Ohio State League second basemen with a .957 fielding percentage.
Cupid Pinkney was released by New Castle during the middle of 1908. The 19-year-old was signed by Newark as a utility player but soon took over the second base job, becoming a favorite of the fans in the Ohio State League’s roughest town. He hit .253 in 42 games and committed just four errors.
The 1909 season began as a year of promise in both Lancaster and Newark, but by season’s end both teams would fold, scattering their players to other teams. The two cities would return to organized ball the following season, but by opening day 1910, Charles “Buster” Brown and Charles “Cupid” Pinkney were dead.
The normally durable Brown missed almost half of Lancaster’s 1909 games with an injured ankle suffered in a game at Newark. According to the American Tribune, he was avoiding a play where he would have spiked Pinkney. After Lancaster folded in late August, he’d finish the season with York, Pennsylvania, of the Tri State League.
The financial situation in Newark was even more precarious. Cupid Pinkney and his teammates were sometimes not paid, and the team was taken over by the league, playing some of their home games in Columbus. A couple of weeks before the league gave up and disbanded the Newark team, Cupid Pinkney left the league.
Dayton of the Class B Central League was going through a miserable season, and was looking for players to plug major holes in the team. They’d already acquired a few players from the Ohio State League, and on August 7 the Dayton Journal announced that owner Elmer Redelle had acquired Pinkney “for a cash consideration said to be $300.” The Central League was a promotion for Pinkney, and at age 20 he was one of the league’s youngest players.
Pinkney joined Dayton during a road 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 Veterans lineup, and when the team returned home he soon made an impression on the fans. On the 16th, the one hand he grabbed the fleeting sphere and threw the batter out at first holding the runner at third.” The eighth-inning play helped save a 3-1 Dayton win.
In his first eight games with his new club, he hit .435, and the Journal said, “How the midget can get on base. If he does not slam the ball or beat out a bunt, he’s sure to be passed or else some fielder foozles the ball. He’s a regular little wizard.” The article was probably exaggerating only a little when it said that John J. McGraw and Connie Mack would soon be at Dayton’s Fairview Park scouting Pinkney.
After a game in which he had two doubles, a single, scored two runs, and stole two bases in four at-bats, the Journal dubbed him “Little Hans” after the great Pirate shortstop.
Although he slumped briefly at the plate, strong defensive play continued. On September 2, he went 3-for-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 (first baseman) Bunny (Pearce) and the game ended with a double play.”
September 14 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 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 Elmer 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 on September 15, 1909. Pinkney’s father, who fainted shortly after helping carry his son to the ambulance, remained at the hospital, and the Journal expressed concern about how the young player’s mother would react to the news. “Her whole life has been wrapped up in her children, and our youngest Charles was only a boy.” Charles “Cupid” Pinkney was buried in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery. A decade later, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman was buried in the same cemetery.
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 appeared in the major leagues with the Red Sox in 1911-12 and the Cardinals and Cubs in 1914, playing in 32 games, 11 as a pitcher.
Charles “Buster” Brown returned to his home in Albion, New York, after finishing the 1909 season. His sister later remembered that Brown was “rather nervous” when he returned home. Financial concerns were an apparent factor, as he was still owed money by the defunct Lancaster team. He was the primary support of a widowed mother and intended to spend the off-season in Albion.
Those plans changed when he was asked to come to Buffalo to work as a clerk for the Pullman Company. Family members said, “He wouldn’t leave his room in Buffalo after coming home from work. He said the fellows were standing on the corners talking about him.” His sister told a friend, “Every night he would tell me that he wanted to tell me something and then he wouldn’t. He said he hadn’t slept in three weeks.”
Just after Christmas 1909, Brown was persuaded to commit himself to a private hospital in Batavia, New York. In conversations with his family he expressed thoughts of suicide. Still, there were hopes of recovery and even talk he’d be offered the job as manager of Canton in the Ohio Pennsylvania League.
On Saturday March 12, 1910, Charles Brown left the hospital at three o’clock to mail a letter. His sister said he walked 20 miles to Albion including a walk through a swamp, arriving at eight o’clock Sunday evening. “No one being home he entered through a rear window and took off his wet clothes. About nine o’clock his brother came and found him shivering. He was wet up to his shoulders.” After putting on dry clothes, Brown remarked that “he wished he could die.” When asked how he’d gotten there, Brown remarked, “It doesn’t matter. I am home and that is all that is necessary.”
His sister described the events of March 14 to a friend in Lancaster. “On Monday morning early, I phoned over to the hotel in Albion and they said come over at once, as Charlie is very sick, and needs someone to take care of him. Charlie didn’t want his friends to know he was at a hospital, and I arrived at Albion just a few moments after he hung himself.”
Charles Brown was 27 years old when he committed suicide. A third second baseman from the 1909 Ohio State League also died young. Cincinnati native Ed McKernan had been a teammate of Brown’s in the South Atlantic League, and spent part of 1909 with the Ohio State League’s Portsmouth team. He later managed in the Kentucky-based Bluegrass League and at Battle Creek of the Southern Michigan League. McKernan had an eye for talent and soon reversed the fortunes of the Battle Creek club. He was thought to have a bright future as a manager and scout, but was taken seriously ill after leading his team to the 1913 pennant. It was initially thought that he had typhoid fever, but it turned out to be cancer and McKernan died in Cincinnati in May 1914.
CRAIG LAMMERS is country music director at WBGU radio in Bowling Green, Ohio. His main research interests are the Deadball Era and minor leagues of Ohio and Kansas. He also plays for the Wood County Infirmary Inmates Vintage Baseball team, and batted .333 last year.
Several Ohio newspapers were used to research this article: the Lancaster Eagle, 1906-1910; Lancaster Gazette, 1906-1910; Newark American Tribune, 1906-1908; Newark Advocate, 1909-1910; Dayton Journal, 1909; Zanesville Signal, 1909-1910; and the Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer, 1913-1914.