Many fans now in their 50s remember Roger Peckinpaugh as one of the finest shortstops in the days of Sisler, Cobb and Ruth. He won the American League's Most-Valuable-Player award in 1925 and retired two years later at 36, ending an 18-year playing career. Not many fans, however, will recall Roger's father, Frank. He also was a fine shortstop and he could hit better than his boy. Frank batted over .400 a couple of seasons in the 1940s (sic) when he was at his peak. He played for 10 years and finished as an active player at 85, more than 20 years after his son was washed up.
There's a catch here, of course. Old man Peckinpaugh played for the Kids, one of the two teams (the other is the Kubs) of the Three Quarter Century Softball Club of St. Petersburg, Fla.
This remarkable ball club, which played its 31st season this year, is the only one of its kind in the world. You have to be at least 75 years old to get on it, and you have to be a good ballplayer, too. A great many more men come out for the team at tryout time in November (the season runs from December 1 to early April) than there is room for. The active players' list of 34 is always full and there are no duds on it.
This is not to say that anyone looks like Stan Musial or Ernie Banks out there. But they run. They catch flies on the run and they run the bases and sometimes forget themselves and slide into them. They are not supposed to, but no one ever gets penalized for it. At the plate they take a full cut at the ball and often go down swinging. They scoop up grounders, bring down liners with one-handed stabs, make double plays and hit inside-the-park homers.
There has never been a major league ballplayer on the club but a number have played industrial and semipro ball. All the players have athletic histories or have been active out-of-doors men, and they look it. They are slim and alert and highly competitive. Most of them are holler guys. They sass the umpire and sass each other. Sometimes they have to be pulled apart, even members of the same team.
That happened in a game this year. A grounder was hit to Kub Shortstop Walter Lebengood (80), who played for Albright College in 1908. Lebengood, who wears a full beard and the standard uniform of peaked cap, bow tie, white shirt with long sleeves, white duck pants and tennis shoes, fielded the ball perfectly. But his throw was low. It pulled First Baseman John Eichhorn (77) off the bag and the runner was safe. The enraged Eichhorn slammed the ball hard into the dirt. Lebengood didn't like the gesture and advanced toward first, shedding his glove on the way, his beard bristling. Eichhorn walked forward and the boys met behind the pitcher's mound as 3,500 people in the stands rose to their feet. The Kubs catcher and captain, Bill Davis (78), flung himself between them. The rhubarb wound up as so many do—with the antagonists mad at the peacemaker.
High spirits have characterized the club ever since it was founded in 1930 by Mrs. Evelyn B. Rittenhouse, a former actress turned social worker. She was assisted by Dr. H. M. Emory, a St. Petersburg physician. Before the first game Dr. Emory, fearing that the codgers would keel over by the dozen if they ran, instructed them to walk the base paths and never to run after a ball in the field. His warning was soon discarded. Everybody ran, the doctor held his breath and nothing happened.
Mom sits on the bench
Mrs. Rittenhouse, who still sits on the bench at every game and is Mom to all the players, was not alarmed. "Let them run," she told the horrified doctor. "If they drop dead running the bases, they'll die happy, won't they?"
Since then the Kids and the Kubs have clashed more than 800 times and there has been only one casualty on the field due to a heart attack. In the stands the toll has been much heavier, though. At least 15 people have toppled over during the games, according to Dr. Charles S. Lincoln (91) the first-aid man for both teams, who wound up his eight-year playing career in 1953.