Steady Ted Lyons thrived as White Sox ace

Written by: Jonathan Coe

Ted Lyons spent most of his big league career playing for losing Chicago White Sox teams.

But that did not stop the durable right-hander from becoming the winningest pitcher in White Sox history – or from earning a place in the Hall of Fame.

Lyons, whose 260 wins remains the standard for Pale Hose pitchers, was born on Dec. 28, 1900 in Lake Charles, La. He attended Baylor University from 1919 to 1923, where he starred on the basketball and baseball teams, making All-Southwest Conference in both sports.

Scouted early on by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, Lyons chose instead to sign with the White Sox upon his graduation.

Lyons is unique among major league ballplayers in that he never played a single game in the minor leagues. As a young right-handed pitcher, Lyons primarily threw fastballs. In 1925, he led the American League with 21 wins and five shutouts.

He won 22 games in 1927, again leading the league. That year he also led with 30 complete games and more than 300 innings pitched. In 1930, he led the American League in complete games and innings pitched.

But between 1929 and 1931, Lyons suffered a series of arm and back injuries, which limited the effectiveness of his fastball.

He began to throw more slow curves and the knuckleball, and Lyons’ ability to modify his pitching strategy at this point in his career effectively made him a new pitcher. While he never reverted to his brilliance of 1925 to 1930, he remained very effective for the White Sox.

Toward the end of his career, the White Sox capitalized on Lyons’ brilliance by starting him mostly on Sundays at home – traditionally the day with the largest attendance. “Sunday Teddy” became a fan favorite, never appearing in more than 26 games a season from 1935-42 but winning 98 games against only 70 losses during that period. In 1942 at the age of 41, Lyons led the AL with a 2.10 ERA.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Lyons compiled a lifetime record of 260 wins and 230 losses. He pitched a total of 356 complete games.

He was known as a ferocious competitor but also as a gentleman and a quiet man. He stood out as an immortal pitcher in baseball’s golden age of hitting, when entire teams would sometimes bat .300. He pitched to both Ty Cobb and Ted Williams over the course of his long career.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.

“If I were managing a team in an important game on which the pennant hinged, and could pick any pitcher in baseball to pitch it, my choice would be Lyons,” said Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. “He can be as tough as anybody I know.”

Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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