The Youngest “Boy Manager”

This article was written by Eugene C. Murdock

This article was published in 1975 Baseball Research Journal

Bucky Harris and Lou Boudreau have been traditionally acclaimed as baseball’s “boy managers.” Harris was elevated to lead the Washington Senators in 1924 at the age of 27, and guided them to two American League pennants and one World Series title, while Boudreau became Cleveland’s manager after the 1941 season. But what baseball history has forgotten is that there was another ballplayer who actually took over a major league club when only 23 years old, four years the junior of Harris and one year younger than Boudreau when they assumed command.

Yes, the youngest “boy manager” honor goes to Roger Peckinpaugh, who became mentor of the New York Yankees in mid-September 1914, and handled the team for the remainder of the season. He led the Yanks in 17 games, winning nine and losing eight. Although he was replaced by Bill Donovan in 1915 after the Ruppert-Huston group had purchased the club, his brief tenure assures him a page in baseball’s book of unique honors.

Living in comfortable retirement in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the 83-year-old former shortstop recalls with precision and humor the circumstances that led to his appointment. Frank Chance, the New York manager, had become irritated with the club ownership in 1914, and decided to quit. In the process of telling President Frank Farrell what he thought of the whole business, Chance said it might be a good idea to name young Peckinpaugh his successor.

Chance confided to Peck that he had recommended him and urged him to demand more money if they offered him the job. Farrell, too, had been impressed by his shortstop, and followed Chance’s advice, tendering him the post. No mention was made of money.

“I was tickled to death to be offered the position,” Peck recalled, “but I never would have thought of asking for more money if Frank hadn’t told me to. And they never would have volunteered to give me any more,” he chuckled. “But I finally asked for another $500, and after a little bargaining I got it.”

The only other time he ever demanded more money occurred after Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the brewery tycoon, had acquired the club. Peck wanted $1,000 above what the new contract called for. He was ordered to present himself in the colonel’s mammoth office at the brewery. First off Ruppert extolled him as one of the finest shortstops in baseball. “But then,” Peck laughed, “I brought up the $1,000, and suddenly I wasn’t such a good shortstop.”

Peck’s lengthy career embraced two of the most unusual games in baseball history. He signed with Cleveland in 1909, straight from the Cleveland sandlots, and was shipped to New Haven in the Connecticut League for the 1910 season. He was brought back to the parent club at the tail end of the 1910 season, just as the Indians’ Larry Lajoie and Detroit’s Ty Cobb were fighting for the American League batting title. The contest was accentuated that season because the Chalmers Automobile Company was awarding cars to the top hitters in the major leagues.

It came down to the last day of the season and Cobb had a small lead. Ty had taken himself out of the lineup for a few games, reluctant to risk a bad day or two which might give Lajoie a chance. Cobb was not the most popular player in the league to begin with, but his withdrawal from the lineup in order to win the title and the car heightened the feeling toward him.

Cleveland closed the season with a doubleheader at St. Louis and the 19-year-old Peckinpaugh played both games. Lajoie started out with three solid base hits. “It then occurred to somebody,” Peck recalled, “that if Larry could get four or five more hits he might win the batting championship from Cobb.” A small conspiracy then developed. The rookie St. Louis third baseman, Red Corriden, was playing back on the edge of the outfield grass, and Lajoie began dropping bunts along the third base line, and beating them out.

Well into the second game, it was discovered that one bunted ball which Corriden had thrown to second base in an unsuccessful force attempt had been ruled a fielder’s choice. “So,” Peck went on, “they arranged to walk a flock of Cleveland hitters so Larry could come to bat again, which he did, and he bunted for another hit. There was nothing at stake in all this, and it wasn’t like throwing a game, so no one seemed to think any harm would be done if Larry got all those hits.”

But in spite of eight hits by Lajoie in the double-header, Cobb still won the batting title, .385 to .384, although the Chalmers Company gave cars to both players. The aftermath was not so pleasant, however. When league president Ben Johnson learned that the slow-footed, 35-year-old Lajoie had beaten out a bunch of bunts he wanted to know why. Following an investigation, the St. Louis manager and a St. Louis coach were fired, and Corriden was severely reprimanded.

The other famous game in which Peckinpaugh participated occurred at the Polo Grounds on August 16, 1920, when the Indians were playing the Yankees. He was the Yankee shortstop and Ray Chapman was the Cleveland shortstop. Carl Mays, the celebrated submarine spitball pitcher, was on the mound for New York. “He didn’t throw half underhand,” said Peck, “he threw entirely underhand. His knuckles scraped the dirt many times during a game.”

Ray Chapman, a fine player — whose arrival as a rookie back in 1913 had caused Cleveland to trade Peck to New York — had a very unusual batting stance. He crowded the strike zone, body bent forward, and head directly over the plate. He stepped into the box to lead off the fifth inning that day, assumed his unorthodox position, and Mays fired.

“Chappie must have frozen,” Peck recalled. “That pitch was a strike, and had anyone else been batting, there would have been no problem. Instead of pulling back, he turned his head slightly away from the field, and the ball struck him with full force above the left ear. It made a terrific crack, and out there in the field we couldn’t tell if the ball had hit the bat or the batter. It bounded out to the third baseman, who, taking no chances, threw to first for an apparent out. (Muddy Ruel, who was catching, later claimed he fielded the ball.) But it was no out. Chappie was crumpled at the plate. After awhile several of his teammates picked him up and began walking him to the clubhouse, in centerfield at the Polo Grounds. Just as they got past me a tsecond base, Ray’s legs gave way, and he collapsed. He never regained consciousness.”

Cleveland won the American League crown and World Series in 1920 despite the loss of Chapman, but in 1921 the Yankees won their first pennant in history. It was a great year for Peck and his teammates, even though they lost the Series in eight games to the Giants. One can imagine Peckinpaugh’s chagrin, therefore, when he read in the newspaper that winter that he had been traded to Washington.

“That hurt,” he said, “and it hurt more because it was not my fault. We had just come off a beautiful year, and there was no reason to trade me. The trouble was that Babe Ruth had been openly knocking manager Miller Huggins and boosting me to be manager. Since they weren’t going to get rid of Ruth, baseball’s greatest drawing card, they had to get rid of me, even though I had nothing to do with the matter. Yes, that one hurt.”

Although Peck lost out on two pennants in New York in 1922 and 1923, he picked up two others in Washington in 1924 and 1925. The Senators won the World Series from the Giants in 1924, and Peck was the leading hitter with an average of .417. The 1925 season was his greatest, leading Washington to another pennant, and winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

But things did not go well in the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only did the Pirates win, but it was Peck’s darkest hour. “It is lucky they picked the Most Valuable Player before the World Series began,” he smiled, “or I might not have gotten it afterwards.” The reason was that he set a record which still stands — eight errors by a shortstop.

“It upset me then, and it still does today. Because after my long career, the first thing people ask is, `What about that 1925 World Series?’ They don’t ask about the 1924 World Series, or any of the other things that went well, but only that 1925 World Series. Well, to begin with, it was not nearly as bad as it sounds. We were playing on some pretty wet ball fields then and they used the same muddy, soggy ball until somebody knocked it out of the lot.”

“About four of those errors were low throws to first base which Joe Judge would normally have eaten up. Every time I see Max Carey (Pirate captain in the 1925 Series) at the Hall of Fame game in Bradenton, Florida, he tells me `how could they give you an error on that “fifth hit” of mine? They should have given me a hit, not you an error. Five hits off Walter Johnson could have meant thousands of dollars’.”

“I told Max,” Peck continued, “that the reason for it was simply that Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner held the World Series record of six errors by a shortstop, and that was one record the Pittsburgh scorers did not want Wagner to have. So I wound up with eight errors and broke Wagner’s record.”

Peckinpaugh finished his playing career with the White Sox in 1927, and was then brought to Cleveland to manage the Indians in 1928. He held that post until early in the 1933 season when Walter Johnson — a close friend from his Washington days — succeeded him. Peck was restored to the Cleveland spot in 1941 following the 1940 “cry baby” business, but managed for only that one year before moving upstairs to the vice presidency. He was succeeded by another “boy manager,” Lou Boudreau.

Peck remained vice president until 1946 when Bill Veeck bought the Indians and cleaned out the front office. Since leaving baseball, he has been a manufacturer’s representative a “peddler,” as he calls it — in Cleveland, and still works one account. Mrs. Peckinpaugh passed away over two years ago, while four sons are all successful attorneys and businessmen in Cleveland.