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Editorial: Local baseball hero's legacy lives on

Last Modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 6:09 PM

Now that the All-Star game has ended and Major League Baseball turns to the second half of its season, it’s time to pause and reflect on a more serene era in our national pastime when the love of the sport motivated players.

Gone are those days that are chronicled in black-and-white photos and grainy film. Too few memories honor the stars and everyday gentlemen who played the game.

Theodore Amar Lyons fit both categories. He left a legacy worth not only noting, but emulating by young ball players who dream of one day fielding grounders in Wrigley, flagging down flies in Fenway or punching out a batter with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth in Camden Yards.

Born in Lake Charles and raised in Vinton, Ted Lyons heard the cheers and basked in the adulation.

And yet, by all accounts from teammates, rivals, family and friends, fame never altered him.

After graduating from Vinton High School, Lyons became Mr. All-Around at Baylor University, earning all-conference honors in baseball and basketball, running track, playing the trombone in the band and being elected class president.

After graduating from Baylor, he signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent on June 1, 1923. He’s one of a smattering of major leaguers who never spent a day in the minors.

His marvelous career spanned three decades. Simply put, Ted Lyons became a great pitcher for a notoriously bad baseball team.

Following his rookie season, he used his blistering fastball and pinpoint control to post a 124-101 record over the next seven seasons, winning at least 20 games in three of those years. In 1926, he no-hit the Boston Red Sox 6-0 in a game that took 67 minutes to complete. In 1927, the year that Babe Ruth would hit 60 home runs, Lyons finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting behind Lou Gehrig and Harry Heilmann.

Two years later, he pitched all 21 innings in a 6-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Lyons’ career wasn’t without travails. After posting a 22-15 record in 1930, he hurt his arm and back. As a result, his fearsome fastball abandoned him.

Lyons reinvented himself, mastering curves and knuckleballs. After struggling to produce only four victories in 1931, he bounced back to win at least 10 games in each of the next 11 seasons.

Shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Lyons, at age 41, enlisted in the Marine Corps, went to Officer Training School, then was stationed at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Pitching nearly exclusively on Sundays to help the White Sox turnstile count, he compiled a 14-6 record in 1942, completing all 20 of his starts while notching a league-leading 2.10 earned run average.

Lyons ultimately served overseas in the Marshall Islands, rising to the rank of captain.

After the war, he returned to baseball at age 46 and pitched one more year for the White Sox, going 1-4 with a 2.32 ERA.

Former New York Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy once said that Lyons would have won 400 games had he pitched in the famed pinstripes. That might be hyperbole, but with a better cast around him, Lyons would have surely joined the exclusive 300-victory pitchers’ club.

“Ted Lyons was one of the toughest I ever hit at,” offered Doc Cramer, a five-time all-star centerfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. “Great stuff, great control.”

Cooperstown called in 1955, immortalizing Lyons with the greats of the game.

Luke Appling described his White Sox teammate for 14 seasons as a “grand person.”

“He had a heart as big as Stone Mountain (Georgia),” said Appling, also a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Once retired, Lyons came home to Vinton, where he was revered for his kindness and civility. He died in 1986.

Ted Lyons never made more than $13,000 in a season. But he played the game of his youth for all the right reasons.

Ninety years after first putting on a White Sox uniform, Ted Lyons’ story deserves to be told to new generations of ball players who have fields of dreams of their own.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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