Roy Akin: A Man among Lesser Men

AHB_(1)                            Roy Akin: A Man among Lesser Men

In an era when the public considered professional baseball players, particularly minor leaguers, as anything other than gentlemen, Roy Akin stood out from the crowd. While former Texas Leaguers like Pearce “No Use” Chiles, Ned Garvin, and Frank Quigg made as many headlines in the crime blotter as on the sports page, had Akin played in an era with widespread media coverage, he may well have been a true role model, a ballplayer any parent wouldn’t mind their son looking up to.

Roy Benjamin Akin was born in 1882 to William Akin and Ida Jordan Akin of Columbia, Tennessee. William, who lost his mother at the age of thirteen, moved to Mount Pleasant, Texas, in the late 1870s with his father, staying only briefly before returning to Tennessee. His father soon remarried and operated a family farm along with his ten children and step-children, including Ida Jordan, his fifteen year old step-daughter. Only a year later, William and Ida married and had three children including Roy, born in 1882. Like William, Roy soon found himself in a single-parent household, as his father died unexpectedly in 1888. For reasons unknown, during the 1890s, Ida Akin and her three children moved a few miles southwest of Waxhachie, Texas, where she began a farm of her own. By 1900, Ida and all three children worked the farm, her oldest son William deciding to make a career of it. All the while, Ida kept the family spiritually-grounded ensuring they attended Methodist services on a regular basis.

By 1902, Roy Akin left the family farm, his eyes set on a career in professional baseball. First joining the Texas League’s Paris franchise, Akin was sold to the Dallas Giants late in the season. Although a light-hitter with only nine extra-base hits on the year, Roy ended 1902 with a highly-respectable .313 batting average, somewhat atoning for his lack of fielding skills as a third baseman. In 1903, Roy signed with the Galveston Sand Crabs of the South Texas League, remaining there as player-manager in 1904. Briefly leaving Texas for Kansas City of the American Association at season’s end, he returned home in 1905, playing in both the South Texas and Texas Leagues for Galveston and Doak Roberts’ franchise, the Temple Boll Weevils. All the while, his batting average steadily declined into the mid-.200s, as Akin couldn’t rekindle the success of his rookie season at the plate.

In 1906, Doak Roberts moved his team northward to Cleburne, and Akin tagged along as the Railroaders’ third baseman. Although batting only .217 on the season and committing an error once every ten attempts, Akin remained a regular in the lineup. But, neither offense nor defense carried the Railroaders. Rather, Cleburne rode the pitching of “Hickory” Dickson and Lamar County’s Rick Adams and Dode Criss all the way to the Texas League Championship. Over a century later, the trio arguably remains the greatest pitching staff in league history. But, despite their success, the Railroaders lasted only one season, and in 1907 Roy once again found himself in a new city, this time following Doak Roberts to Houston as a member of the Buffaloes. Although Akin had spent the first several years of his career bouncing between franchises, his friendship with Roberts provided some stability, and he remained with Houston in 1908. It was here he truly left his mark, though not on the baseball field.

During an early season road trip to Dallas and Fort Worth, the Buffaloes met a young mother on the train and began playing with her two year-old son. At a stop along the way, the young lady exited the train without the boy. Authorities searched for the mother, but it soon became obvious she had abandoned the child among a group of men she believed she could trust. Apparently, she was unaware of the reputation ballplayers of the early 1900s carried; yet, on the other hand, maybe she knew of Roy Akin’s nature, growing up fatherless and toiling to keep his mother and siblings alive on a small farm. Regardless, while authorities searched for the mother, the Buffaloes took in the child as a mascot of sorts, carrying him on road trips and sharing parenting duties between games. Despite having a dozen or more fatherly figures to choose from, the young boy seemed to take a particular liking to Roy. When the unnamed child was about to made a ward of the state, Roy Akin and his wife Carrie stepped up and adopted the boy, offering him the two-parent household neither Roy nor his father enjoyed.

Over the next several seasons, Akin continued to play baseball, leaving Houston for three seasons on the west coast. His most notable accomplishment during this period was hitting into an unassisted triple play while with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League in 1911. Apparently he took being on the wrong end of the rarest of all baseball feats as an omen and returned to Texas in 1912 to play with the Waco Navigators. Less than a month into the season, Roy returned the favor to the baseball gods, catching a line-drive bunt and tagging two baserunners out in turning the first unassisted triple play in Texas League history. Considering the odds of a single unassisted triple play occurring in any one game as nearly 1 in 12,000, Roy’s being on each end of such a play in consecutive seasons must rank as one of baseball’s all-time most unlikely accomplishments.

After his stint on the west coast, Roy didn’t leave Texas again, playing for Waco, Houston, and Fort Worth through the 1914 season, after which he seemingly retired from baseball. Entering the cotton business as a buyer, a position frequently held by retired ballplayers, Roy kept a close eye on local baseball happenings in Mexia, where he, Carrie, and Roy Benjamin Akin, Jr had settled. In the meantime, his wife carried on Ida Akin’s spiritual ways, playing piano in the Mexia Methodist Church and teaching music to children throughout the area. She had no better student than her son, Roy Jr., who developed into an outstanding vocalist and musician as an adolescent. But in 1917, Roy Jr, like his adoptive father and grandfather, was left with a single parent when Carrie passed away at the age of 32. Roy Sr. became a widower with a son and five year-old daughter.

Eight years after his retirement, the new Texas-Oklahoma League located the Mexia Gushers franchise too close to Roy for him to resist a return to baseball. He signed on as manager, placing himself in the lineup sporadically and posting his highest average since his rookie season—at the age of 40. A year later, Mexia moved onto the Texas Association, and Roy hired on as one of three umpires on the circuit consisting of six teams based along the railroad corridor between Sherman and Austin. Akin gained great notoriety as an umpire, firmly controlling all aspects of the game to the point managers, players, and fans seldom questioned his calls. Adding to his reputation, Akin was among the first umpires to use hand signals to explain balls and strikes, placing his hand at the position the ball crossed the plate as he made his rulings.

By 1925 Roy had become known far and wide as a baseball man of unmistakable integrity, and when the Presbyterian college of Trinity University in Waxahachie asked him to become their baseball coach, Akin jumped at the opportunity and led the Tigers to the Texas Intercollegiate championship in his only season. The following spring, the Cleveland Indians signed him on as a scout for the Texas area, and he later returned to the Texas League to scout part-time for the newly-formed Galveston franchise in 1931. All the while, he kept his day job as a cotton buyer in Mexia.

Late at night on November 3, 1933, Roy Akin became violently ill at the Mexia home he shared with his mother, daughter, and sister’s family and was rushed to the emergency room in nearby Teague, Texas. Diagnosed with a ruptured appendix, surgeons quickly operated to save Roy’s life, and it appeared they had succeeded. A week later, though, he took a turn for the worse, and Roy Benjamn Akin Sr. died on November 10 at the age of 51, never having returned home from the hospital.

Word of Roy’s death made footnotes in the sports pages of some Texas League cities, but outside of Mexia, few noted his passing. Roy Jr. remained in Mexia for a number of years before moving on to Dallas, passing on a musical career for a job as a foreman with the Dallas Water Department. Regardless, there is little doubt Roy Sr. would have looked proudly at the son who, by a fate of circumstance, he saved from an orphanage in 1908.

Despite a fourteen year career, Roy Akin never made a lasting impression as a ballplayer, but he truly impressed as a selfless humanitarian in a time when some less-respectable players sealed their fates in barroom brawls, bank robberies, and other crimes most often ending with them on either end of a pistol. For some, that pistol offered a direct ride to the nearest cemetery, while the more fortunate simply went to prison. Roy Akin, though, never strayed from his Methodist upbringing, and in the end, the light-hitting, poor-fielding first baseman spent three decades in the sport he loved and in the place he loved—Texas.

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