The year the Senators won the pennant, the first ever, they had this baggypants old pro playing shortstop. At the same time, Roger Peckinpaugh was playing a little bit of third base, and some of second base, too. He was wearing three caps in that 1924 Washington infield, so extraordinary was his range.
Ossie Bluege, who was the team's third baseman, and is now 77, remembered yesterday that "Peck" would tell him, "Get your tail back toward the line, kid. I'll handle the staff around here." When the situation demanded, there were also instructions from "Peck" to Bucky Harris, who was playing on the other side of the bag. No irreverence intended toward manager Harris. In the Washington infield, it was simply agreed that "Peck" could call the shots because he knew best.
"Peck" died Thursday at 86, in his native Cleveland.There would have been no 1924 pennant for Washington without him, or in 1925, either. And without him making that play on Irish Meusel in the sixth World Series game against the Giants, there may not have been any seventh game for Walter Johnson to win. If Bucky Harris was Hero No. 1 in that World Series and Walter Johnson was Hero No. 2, Peckinpaugh was not only Hero No. 3, but crowded them both for the top spot.
He was recognized as the best shortstop in the American League before he came to the Senators in 1922 after two years at Cleveland and nine with the Yankees. The spectacle of Peckinpaugh, slinging himself after ground balls, throwing from out of position and nailing his man by a half step was an American League commonplace.
He helped give a new expression to baseball immediately on joining the Senators. "Peck-to-Harris-to-Judge," was the clickety-click description of the double plays he started. The three of them, with Joe Judge covering first base, kayoed all Major League doubleplay records in 1922 and gave them a new mark of 168 to shoot at. "Peck-to-Harris-to-Judge" . . . was Washington's proud boast, a song with a lilt that the school children were singing.
The late Clark Griffith divined Peckinbaugh's value to the Senators when he signed him, with an ingenious three-cornered deal engineered by the Senator's owner. "Peck" in 1922 was the property of the Red Sox after having been traded by the Yankees, but he never wore a Boston uniform. Griffith, during the winter, devised a deal that sent three Washington players and $50,000 in cash to Connie Mack at Philadelphia. In turn, Mack sent his third baseman, Joe Dugan, to the Red Sox, who released Peck to Washington. Griffith's gudgment of "Peck's" value is measured by the fact that he never before gave $50,000 for any player.
Washington's pitchers were grateful to Peck for a reason other than his fielding. "Peck" always left his home chewing gum. Mrs. Peckinpaugh was was never aware that at the ball park her husband swapped his gum for a plug of tobacco. The gum went to the button on his cap, and the plug into his mouth. He wuitably applied enough tobacco juice to the ball to render it stickly after the ball had journeyed around the Washington infield.
Bucky Harris was so appreciative of "Peck's" value to the team that he originated the title of assistant manager and gave it to "Peck" in 1924. No team ever had an assistant manager before, or since. The year Bluege joined the Senators, in 1922, a rookie infielder out of Peoria, was the same year "Peck" came to the team.
"I was thrilled to be with the Senators," Bluege said. "But I knew I wasn't going to play shortstop for that team. The summer before, I saw the Yankees play in Comiskey Park in Chicago and watched Peckinpaugh playing short. I switched to third base."
In the 1924 World Series, "Peck" sent the first game into extra innings with a nine-inning two-bagger that scored the tieing run. In the second game, "Peck" singled to left, drove home Joe Judge with the winning run.
The Senators won the sixth Series game because "Peck" saved it with the most heroic play of them all. This happened in the Giants' ninth with the Senators leading, 2-1, but with the tieing run on first, nobody out and slugger Irish Meusel up.
In the book, "the Washington Senators," it was written: "And then Meusel connected. His swat tore through the pitching mound and streaked toward center field. But behind second base the figure of Peckinpaugh, far out of his normal position, flung itself on the ball, and with a glove-hand flip he got it to Harris for a force play on (George) Kelly.
It was "Peck's" last play of the Series.
The old (23) shortstop's left leg collapsed beneath him even as he made the play . . . Muscles that had been contained only by his bandages were torn anew, and the blood soaked through his uniform, but the tieing run was not on third base with one out.
In the moving language of the times, Norman W. Baxter, the sports editor of The Washington Post, wrote it better: "If 'Peck' should never play another game as he lay mute and suffering in the clubhouse after the game, he has done enough. He has written a story which time cannot erase from the tablet of the playing field where his gallant stand was made as long as time exists.
"Judge this man by any standard and he rose to greatness by them all. He was a man who fought and conquered halting flesh and suffered pain with almost every step.
"he batted a thousand against two pitchers that his team-mates could solve for but two additional hits.
"He accepted four chances under the severest handicaps without an error. One was the starting gun of a double play. The last a stop almost unbelievable. To get the ball this cripped veteran raced to his left almost behind second base in the ninth and cut off what looked to be a certain hit and assuredly a run.
"It was a last great effort. Tortured muscles that had groaned and cried through eight long innings could stand no more. The reflex action of a great arm and agreater brain sped the ball to Harris at second and the curtain.Peckinpaugh had reached the pinnacle. He was carried from his stage, supported on either side by his comrades, and President and Mrs. Coolidge and the 35,000 stood and wept."
But now the sadness is that "Peck" will be remembered also, for the eight errors he committed in the 1925 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And that it will be little remembered that he was a wounded man trying to play shortstop at 34 with his bruised legs bandaged from ankle to thigh. Or that after one of his misplays had put the Pirates in the lead in the decisive second game Peck hit an eighth-inning homer that reclaimed the lead for the Senators.
Ironically, that season, 1925, could have been Peckinpaugh's finest. Until World Series time found him lame and sore, he'd had his greatest year. His fielding, even at 34, was vintage Peckinpaugh. His .294 batting average was his best in six seasons, and he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League, the fourth to gain the newly established award. The others before him were George Sister, Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson. The companies he joined tells most about the ballplayer he was.