|Tom Jenkins of Camden, Ala.|
By the time this week’s Wilcox Progressive Era newspaper hits the streets, the 2017 Major League Baseball season will be well underway. Opening Day was this past Sunday, and this time of the year it’s hard not to think about the great baseball players that Wilcox County has produced.
In fact, this coming Monday – April 10 – will mark 119 years since the birth of one of the greatest professional baseball players to ever call Camden home, Major League outfielder and pinch hitter Tom Jenkins.
Jenkins, who was the older brother of longtime Wilcox County Sheriff Lummie Jenkins, was born Thomas Griffin Jenkins in Camden on April 10, 1898. Those who knew him best called him by his nickname, “Sut,” which was a reference to his soot-black hair.
Sources say that Jenkins graduated from Camden Grammar School and Wilcox County High School, and in his early years he was a standout athlete with a rare talent for baseball. Jenkins turned pro in 1921 when he signed with the Mobile Bears, and he went on to play for minor league teams in Waterbury, Conn. and Wilkes-Barre, Pa. During this time, Jenkins caught the eye of Boston Red Sox scouts, who were attracted by his hitting abilities and speed on the base paths.
Jenkins, who batted left but threw right, made his Major League debut with the Red Sox on Sept. 15, 1925 in a game against the St. Louis Browns at Fenway Park. Jenkins played left field in that game in front of Fenway’s famous “Green Monster” and reached base on a walk, but the Red Sox came up short, 2-1. Jenkins remained with the Red Sox through 1925 and part of the 1926 season before being sent back down to the minors.
Later in 1926, Jenkins joined the Philadelphia Athletics (now known as the Oakland Athletics) for the final six games of the season. From there, he played two seasons for the minor league Wichita Falls Spudders, before signing with the St. Louis Browns (now known as the Baltimore Orioles), where he played from 1929 through 1932, mostly as a pinch-hitter. He appeared in his final Major League game on June 26, 1932, a 10-5 road loss to the Cleveland Indians in which Jenkins went 1-for-1 at the plate.
Perhaps his finest baseball moment occurred during his time with the Browns when on Aug. 13, 1931 in St. Louis, Jenkins hit a rare pinch-hit home run that drove in three runs in a 9-6 win over his former team, the Boston Red Sox.
Jenkins was sent back down to the minors in the summer of 1932, and he bounced around after that with several teams, including teams in Rochester, Omaha, Dallas and Fort Worth. He eventually hung up his spikes after the 1934 season, having appeared in a total of 171 Major League games. His career Major League batting average was a respectable .259, and he recorded three career homers, drove in 44 runs, scored 42 runs and hit 14 doubles and six triples.
Shortly after leaving the Red Sox in the summer of 1926, Jenkins married a young office worker from Springfield, Mass. named Rita Graham. After baseball, Jenkins and his wife put down roots in Massachusetts, where he worked out the remainder of his days as a shop worker for the Allis-Chalmers Co., which is best known for making tractors and other heavy industrial machinery.
Jenkins lived to the ripe old age of 81 before passing away unexpectedly in Weymouth, Mass. on May 3, 1979. He is buried in Pine Hill Cemetery in Quincy, Mass., right outside of Boston, about 1,300 miles from his hometown of Camden. In the end, there is little doubt that Jenkins was one of the finest baseball players to ever call Wilcox County home.