Patkin was the third “officially” crowned Clown Prince of Baseball, after Al Schacht and Jackie Price, though that sobriquet has also been applied to St. Louis Browns third baseman Arlie Latham among others. Patkin performed for 51 years as a baseball clown.
After an arm injury curtailed his minor league career, Patkin joined the Navy during World War II.
Stationed in Hawaii in 1944, Patkin was pitching for a service team, and Joe DiMaggio homered off the lanky right-hander. In mock anger, Patkin threw his glove down then followed DiMaggio around the bases, much to the delight of the fans—and a career was born.
As a barnstormer, Patkin played minor league stadiums throughout the United States and Canada. He had a face seemingly made of rubber that could make a thousand shapes and launch a thousand ships. He was rail thin and wore a baggy uniform with a question mark (?) on the back in place of a number, and a ballcap that was always askew. While some derided his act as corny, he became a beloved figure in baseball circles, further enhanced by an appearance (as himself) in the film Bull Durham.
Patkin estimated he made more than 4,000 appearances. On July 20, 1969, he played to a crowd of four in Great Falls, Montana as most fans were home watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon. Between 1944 and 1993, he did not miss an appearance.
Chuck Brodsky, the folksinger and Baseball balladeer, has written a song, “Gone to Heaven”, about Max. It appeared on his 2000 release, “Last of the Old Time”, and was later collected on his 2002 album, “The Baseball Ballads”.
The bluesman Watermelon Slim (William P. Homans) wrote and released the song Max The Baseball Clown on his 2008 CD, No Paid Holidays (NorthernBlues Music Inc, Ottawa ON). Homans, who grew up in the minor-league town of Asheville, NC, watched Max Patkin do two shows in successive years in the early 1960s, and wrote a reminiscence of him more than 40 years later.