Player Name: Young, Pep
Position: Second base
First, Middle Names: Lemuel Floyd Nicknames: Pep, Whitey
Date of Birth: Aug. 29, 1907 Date and Place of Death: Jan. 14, 1962, Jamestown
Burial: Guilford Memorial Park, Greensboro, NC
High School: Jamestown High School, Jamestown
College: Did not attend
Bats: R Throws: R Height and Weight: 5-9, 162
Debut Year: 1933 Final Year: 1945 Years Played: 10
Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933-40; Cincinnati Reds, 1941; St. Louis Browns, 1945
Awards: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 2000
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
730 2466 645 274 347 32 .262 .308 .380 6.0
For most of baseball’s history, players like Pep Young were the epitome of middle infielders. No one expected them to hit balls out of the park or drive in many runs. They had to field their positions with aplomb, expertly turn the double play and hit just well enough and at the right times. During his four years as a Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter, Young was considered the best defensive second baseman in the National League, while hitting a respectable .260. He teamed with Hall-of-Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan to give the Pirates the best double-play combination in the league.
Born in 1907 in Jamestown, a Quaker settlement in Guilford County, Young was the second of John, a mill worker, and Bertie Young’s six children. He pitched on area sandlot teams and then for old Jamestown High School.
Young signed with Fayetteville, North Carolina, of the Class D Eastern League as an outfielder in 1928 and batted .307. He moved up a rung the following season to the Class C Piedmont League where he played second and the outfield for teams in Greensboro and High Point, North Carolina, and hit 22 home runs.
The Pirates, who bought his contract after the season, invited him to train with the big-league team in 1930, but Young spent most of the spring at home with an illness. He played three infield positions and everywhere in the outfield in the Pirate farm system during the next three years and was called to Pittsburgh late in the 1933 season. He was used as an utility infielder for the next two years until starting second baseman Cookie Lavagetto pulled a leg tendon in May 1935.
Manager Pie Traynor inserted his 27-year-old reserve into the lineup on May 18. Young hit .429 over the next month with six doubles, three triples and a homer. He endeared himself to fans at Forbes Field after collecting two triples and a pair of singles against Carl Hubbell in a home game against the hated New York Giants. “So enthusiastically did Pep fling himself into his work that it now appears nothing short of a broken leg will cause the erstwhile utility man and pinch hitter to vacate the newly won position in favor of Lavagetto’s return,” the Sporting News, baseball’s bible, gushed.[I]
His slick, acrobatic fielding was also turning heads. Dizzy Dean, the St. Louis Cardinal’s Hall-of-Fame pitcher, became an baseball announcer after his retirement who was known for his colorful use of fractured English. He once had this to say about Young, “Pep scampers all around and eats up them grounders like a little old owl picking up mice, and he don’t never drop none.”[II]
All that scampering impressed the great Honus Wagner, a Pirates’ coach when Young joined the team. He said he never saw anyone play with such hustle and pep. The name stuck. Young had been called Whitey in the minors because of his light, blonde hair.[III]
He and Vaughan anchored the Pirates’ infield through much of the late 1930s. They turned 120 doubles plays in 1938 to lead the league. The Giants tried to trade for Young that season to shore up their infield for a pennant run. The deal went through until the Pirates had second thoughts and called if off. “We owned Pep Young for a few hours one night last June,” said Horace Stoneman, the Giants’ owner. “Young would have made the difference in the pennant race. The deal would have made us and ruined them.”[IV]
The Pirates released Young at the end of the 1940 season after he suffered through a couple of injury-plagued, lackluster years. The Brooklyn Dodgers picked him up in October and traded him to the Cincinnati Reds two months later. Young appeared in four games in 1941 and was released after the season. He pinch hit in two games for the St. Louis Cardinals late that season. He spent three years in the minors before returning briefly to St. Louis in 1945. He left baseball the following year after another season in the minors.
He returned to Jamestown where he had driven trucks and worked in the area mills during the offseasons and where he and his wife, Mabel, had raised their two children. He was working as a shipping clerk in one of those mills in 1962 when he died of a heart attack. He was only 54.
Young was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Also known as Jamestown Public School, the historic school building was built in 1915. It is a 2 1/2-story, Classical Revival style brick building with cast stone detailing. It features a full-height tetrastyle entrance portico supported by Ionic order columns and pilasters. The building underwent a major rehabilitation in 1986 and 1987 and now houses the public library. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
[I] “Floyd Linwell (sp.) (Pep) Young.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), June 13, 1935.
[II] Firesheets, Tina. “Pep Young\Jamestown Resident Steve Crichfield Shares Story About Baseball Star From the 1930s.” News & Records (Greensboro, NC), October 18, 2003.
[IV] Russell, Fred. “Sideline Sidelights.” Nashville (TN) Banner, August 29, 1938.