Ted Lyons: Master of the Complete Game

Ted Lyons

Houston Astros President Tal Smith reminded us of him yesterday in a comment on our “amazing baseball records” topic. “I still marvel at Ted Lyons at the age of 41 completing all his starts (20) in 1942 and leading the A.L. with a 2.10 ERA,” Tal Smith wrote. “For his career Lyons completed 356 of 484 GS (73.6%).”

Tal Smith’s statement is right on the sweet spot of correct.

Ted Lyons possessed a bundle of pitching talent and a whole full measure of resiliency, working his entire 23-year pitching history (1923-1942, 1946) with the Chicago White Sox and, even though he played for the Pale Hose during their long “snowball in hell” stretch as serious pennant challengers, he still managed to pull off three twenty game winner seasons (1925, 1927, 1930) on his way to career record of 260 wins, 230 losses and an ERA of 3.67.

The Lake Charles, Louisiana native (DOB: 12/28/1900) joined the White Sox straight out of Baylor University and he never pitched a day in the minors or worked for any other big league club. Once he finally retired, he returned to his native Louisiana, where he le lived until age 85 before finally passing away at his home in Sulphur, Louisiana on July 25, 1986.

“Crafty” is the word most writers from his era use to describe Ted Lyons – and some of that gear-shifting was prompted by an arm injury he suffered in 1931. Prior to the 1931 incident, Lyon’s weaponry pitches included a “sailer” (better known today as a cut-fastball), a knuckleball, a curve ball, and a change-up. After the 1931 injury, Ted’s pitches included a fastball, a slow curve, knuckleball, and an even slower curve that he used as a change-up.

New York manager Joe McCarthy once paid Ted Lyons his supreme, but honest backhanded compliment. He said that Lyons could have won 400 games, had he played for the Yankees and not the White Sox. And Marse Joe was probably right. As the Yankees were establishing their brand as the “killer corps” of baseball during the 1920s and 1930, Lyons was pitching downstream for the neer-do-well bottom-feeding White Sox and still winning 260 times.

Late in his career, 1939 manager Jimmie Dykes started using the aging Lyons only as his Sunday pitcher. Lyons responded by finishing 16 of his 21 starts for a 14-6 record and a 2.76 ERA. By 1942, Lyons was well prepared for that amazing year that Tal Smith has noted. At age 41, Lyons completed all 20 of his starts for a 14-6 mark and a league-leading 2.10 ERA.

1942 was supposed to Lyons’ last year, but he came back for one more whack in 1946, the first season following the end of WWII. Then age 45, Lyons completed all five of his 1946 starts, finishing 1-4, but still registering a 2.32 ERA to complete his active business as an all big league, all White Sox pitcher.

Lyons stayed with the Sox as a coach through 1948. Then he moved on to Detroit as a coach for the Tigers from 1949 to 1952 and then to the Brooklyn Dodgers for a coaching season in 1954. After the Dodger year, it was to Louisiana and full retirement for the man who came to be known as “Sunday Teddy” for is exclusive use on that one day from 1939 to 1942.

Ted Lyons was inducted nto the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. The Chicago White Sox later retired his uniform number 16 in 1987. Ted Lyons will always be remembered as one of the masters of the complete game. Because of the “evolution” that has transpired in baseball toward the use of starter pitch counts and relief inning specialists, it is highly improbable that we shall ever see his likes again.

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3 Responses to “Ted Lyons: Master of the Complete Game”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    I really like that phrase, “right on the sweet spot of correct”.

    Ted Williams wrote in his autobiography about how tough Lyons was for him to hit.

    Anyhow, Lyons didn’t pitch exclusively on Sundays. 11 of his 21 games in 1939, 17 of 22 in 1941 and 13 of his 20 1942 starts were on Sundays. But he came close in 1940: 21 out of 22! Usually early in the season he was used on other days for some reason.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Cliff:

      Thanks for clarifying the limitations on :”Sunday Ted” Lyons’ special pitching day pattern from 1939 forward. I hate wrong or incomplete factual statements that leave wrong impressions of the bedrock truth in history. As a man who seeks “the sweet spot of correct” when the truth is available in objectively measurable terms, you are someone I value more than words can express. Thanks for your contributions here and everywhere else you choose to express them.

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