Wednesday, November 24, 2010

James "Pee Wee" Jenkins

As I mentioned a few days ago when posted this mother lode of in-person autographs, I met the late James "Pee Wee" Jenkins of the 1947 Negro League Champion New York Cubans at the same time that I first met Robert Scott, and got an autographed (hand-cut, no less!) card from him as well. Let's take a closer look.

This is the back of the "Pee Wee" card. You can see a little more evidence of the hand-cutting job here. You can also see evidence of what great company he was in during his playing career. Mays. Aaron. Robinson. Paige. Josh Gibson, even. I've met one of those guys (Aaron), seen another around at card shows and such (Mays), and learned a bunch about Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige over the years, but Josh Gibson's more of a mythical figure than a human being, and this guy played on the same field as him.

Alas, I barely remember meeting "Pee Wee", even though it was a little less than a decade ago, and hardly talked to him. Robert Scott's left more of a lasting impression on me, because I've seen him around or talked to him every time I've been up there, but "Pee Wee" had passed before the next induction weekend happened. In fairness, this was also my first time in Cooperstown, and there were literally ballplayers in every conceivable direction. If I'm remembering correctly, George Shuba was down the autograph table to the right of Bob and "Pee Wee". The table to their left had a revolving door of former major leaguers, some Hall of Famers, signing, so it could've been anyone from Bob Gibson to Duke Snider to Jim Rice to Juan Marichal to Paul Blair to Rollie Fingers (all regulars at the card shop they were signing at). It was, and still is a lot to take in, being on Main Street during the last weekend in July.

That having been said, I have to admit that I still feel pretty bad about not taking an extra minute to talk to "Pee Wee" Jenkins when I had my only chance. Every one of those guys I named in the last paragraph, who caught my eye at the time simply because they were more familiar to me, owes a debt of gratitude to guys like "Pee Wee" Jenkins and Bob Scott, either because they helped pave the way for people of color to play in the big leagues or because their teams achieved great success because they were able to have guys like Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and later, Reggie Jackson as teammates. I know that I said "thank you" to "Pee Wee" for the signature, but I don't think I said "thank you" to him for what I should have.

It's a set of lessons life tries to teach us over and over again, but one that's pretty much the hardest to stay fresh on because of how quickly everything moves: every opportunity you have to spend time with someone, whether it's your first or your thousandth, could be your last, so make the most of it.

Addendum: in my digging around for info about "Pee Wee" Jenkins, I did find a link to an auction held in 2004 with a bunch of his memorabilia in it. Cool stuff, including jerseys and a picture of "Pee Wee" and teammates with Jesse Owens. Yes, that Jesse Owens. Worth a look. I also wrote to the auction company to see if they had any further information about the auction, including more pictures, so maybe we'll hear and/or see more from them.

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