Each month, we post an update to notify our readers about the latest archival collections to be processed and some highlights of our print material acquisitions. These resources are primed for research and are just a sampling of the many resources to be found at The Texas Collection!Continue Reading
By Adina Johnson, graduate assistant
It is every young Little League pitcher’s dream: to lead a college baseball team to a conference championship, try out for a major league team, and pitch in the majors in the very same month. But for Baylor star pitcher Ted Lyons, this scenario was not just a dream, but a happy reality. The Theodore “Ted” Amar Lyons papers, held at The Texas Collection, tell the story of Lyons’ mercurial rise to fame as a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, the only Baylor baseball player to have such great success at the professional level.
Admitted to Baylor on a baseball scholarship in 1919, Ted Lyons was also the starting center for the Baylor basketball team. After his coach convinced him to try pitching, Lyons’ career took off. His Baylor baseball years culminated in a victory over the Texas Longhorns in 1923, where Lyons pitched a 6-2 game to claim the Southwest Conference Championship. On July 2 of that same year, Lyons signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox and pitched in his first major league game the very same day.
According to Chicago newspapers, Ted Lyons quickly became the most popular player on the White Sox team. His career would span 21 years, winning 260 games with a not-so-successful team that never finished higher than third in their division. His career included three 20-win seasons, and he led the league in wins twice. Amazingly, Lyons pitched an entire 21-inning game on May 4, 1929. Lyons was so reliable and popular that from 1939-1942 he pitched almost exclusively on Sundays, the day of highest park attendance. Thus Ted Lyons became known in baseball as “The Sunday Pitcher.”
In 1942, after a season where he posted an exceptional 2.10 ERA, Lyons left baseball to join the war effort. As a Marine, Lyons served primarily in the South Pacific, notably organizing a baseball camp in the Marshall Islands to spread goodwill with America’s national pastime. After returning to the White Sox in 1946, Lyons pitched one more season before becoming the Sox manager for three years. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
Ted Lyons never married and spent the rest of his life back home in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Even as late as 1981, he was receiving hundreds of autograph requests each year. He died on July 25, 1986. His legacy and career as a Baylor Bear and White Sox pitcher are an indelible part of Baylor’s history. His small collection of papers at The Texas Collection, consisting of letters, clippings, and photos, will preserve his memory and fuel baseball dreams for generations of Little Leaguers to come.
More on Ted Lyons:
Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for December:
- Theodore “Ted” Amar Lyons papers, 1925-1996, undated: The Lyons papers consist of correspondence, literary productions, and photographic materials relating to the Baylor University and Major League Baseball career of Hall of Famer Ted Lyons.
- BU records: Tidwell Bible Building Campaign Committee, 1934-1963, undated: Meeting minutes, correspondence, financial and legal records, as well as other documentation regarding fundraising efforts for and construction of the Tidwell Bible Building on the campus of Baylor University.
- Waco University collection, 1861-1958, undated: Materials created by and about Waco University, which existed in Waco, Texas, from 1861 to 1886, before being combined with Baylor University.
My knowledge of baseball largely comes from six years of watching my brother’s Little League team. I’m not an authority by any means, but I’ve been surprised at how much lingo I managed to soak up. But when I set out to learn more about Denney Wilie, Baylor’s first baseball player to make it to the majors, I was stumped by repeated references to the “twirlers” and their role in winning games.
To me, a Baylor twirler is a Golden Girl, but it turns out that pitchers are “twirlers” too! The term makes sense, especially since when Denney was “twirling,” baseball was in its Deadball Era. Baseballs were used till they were soft, and spitballs were legal—so connecting with the ball, let alone hitting a home run, was difficult. A powerful pitcher who had some tricks up his sleeve would be a great asset to his team as he “twirled” the ball across the plate.
And Denney certainly was a strong member of the Baylor team—in 1911, before he left Baylor to join the St. Louis Cardinals, Denney captained his team to the state championship! Of course, he had some help—the athletics program was growing and there were many strong players at Baylor. (Baylor baseball started in 1902.) Denney also came from an athletically inclined family—his brother, Charles Lee “Cap” Wilie attended Baylor from 1904-08 and was a baseball star in his own right. Both brothers played and excelled in football at Baylor too. But it was Ernest Dennis “Denney” Wilie who would turn his baseball talent into a career.
And the Round-Up yearbook is nothing short of adulating of that talent. In the 1909 Round-Up: “Possessing a cool head, a strong left arm, perfect control, and a world of speed, he has easily succeeded in baffling his strongest opponents. Not only can he deliver the goods on the firing-line, but his ability to hit with men on bases has brought more than one victory to the Green and Gold.” (This was before Baylor became the Bears!)
The 1910 Round-Up: “His fast ones were so seldom connected with, his curves so puzzling, his control so perfect, his head-work so superb, his hitting so timely, that he last season gained a State-wide reputation as one of the best college pitchers in the State.” (This Round-Up does make note of his quick temper too, but also calls his work worthy of a “Big-Leaguer.”)
And by the 1911 Round-Up: “‘Dennis’ Wilie, now known as ‘Captain Dennis,’ has sustained his rep as being one of the best little ball-players that has ever faced a college pitcher. He formerly pitched, but on account of his hard, regular hitting Coach placed him in left field, and there too he has starred. On long flies he is at his best, frequently robbing the opponents of well-deserved hits. His hitting has won most of our games, and in a pinch he can always be depended upon to do his duty.”
After Baylor’s 1911 state championship, Denney left the university to join the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was an outfielder in 1911 and 1912. According to Baseball-Reference.com, in 1915 he played for the Cleveland Indians, then went on to play for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League from 1915-23.
Oddly, the Lariat didn’t cover the momentous event of Baylor’s first student to play major league baseball—maybe they were disappointed that he didn’t return to complete his time at Baylor. Nevertheless, Denney Wilie holds the distinction of being the first of 39 (to date) Baylor athletes to compete in Major League Baseball. This year’s draft picks and current athletes in the majors uphold a proud history of excellence in baseball at Baylor!
Read more about Denney Wilie: http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Denney_Wilie
See his baseball card: http://www.rainfall.com/posters/baseballcards/18061.htm
Learn about Baylor in the majors: http://www.baylorathleticsexperience.com/baseball_mlb.php
And enjoy a slideshow of photos (and a few baseballs) from the early years of Baylor baseball: