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December 6, 1914: Turkey Tyson

Turkey Tyson is almost as cool a name as Moonlight Graham and he got one more at bat than the romanticized former New York Giant turned Field of Dreams star. Cecil Washington Tyson, also nicknamed "Slim" was born on this day 105 years ago in Elm City, North Carolina. It's unknown why friends and family called him "Turkey", but at 6' 5" and 225 pounds, the name stuck.

Tyson made his first appearance in organized baseball in 1938 when he was just 23 years old. He split that first pro season between the Greenwood Dodgers and Tallahassee Capitals. Tyson batted .308 across more than 400 plate appearances that season, but didn't hit for any power. The 1939 season again saw him with Tallahassee where he hit .322, but again with minimal power, clubbing 19 doubles, 14 triples and zero home runs.

He took a step up in 1940 as he split the season between two teams, the last of which played in Class-B, not too far from the majors. In 17 games with the Winston-Salem Twins, he hit .273 with just two extra base hits. The 1941 season was spent with the Hagerstown Owls, the Detroit Tigers' Class-B affiliate. Again, he topped the .300 mark, batting .316 across that season. It appeared he might be a hitter capable of cracking a big-league lineup one day.

Then, a couple months after the 1941 season, everything changed. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrust into war and the future of organized professional baseball was in serious doubt. While the country and the league decided to push on and avoid a work stoppage, many of the league's best players went off to fight in the Second World War. This left spots on major-league rosters normally reserved for more talented players.

By 1944 with the war still raging on, this is what helped Tyson ultimately get his shot. In just the fifth game of the season and the first game of a doubleheader, Tyson suited up for the Phillies against the Boston Braves in Beantown. At Braves Field, the crowd watched on as the game sped by. Less than an hour and a half into the game, it had moved to the top of the ninth with the Phillies trailing 5-0. Relief pitcher Chet Covington was replaced by Tyson, who would pinch hit to lead off the top of the final frame.

Squaring off against Boston's Jim Tobin, he took a mighty hack, but got under it and popped it to third baseman Connie Ryan. The Boston third baseman gloved it and with that, Tyson's couple seconds in the batter's box was up. Having pinch hit in the ninth in a game his team was losing, he never took the field. That one swing was the only one he would take in a big-league game. Despite the war opening up spots on rosters for the remainder of 1944 and nearly the entirety of 1945, Tyson was never given another chance in the box. The big lefty's one swing resulted in a fly out, giving him a career .000 batting average.

A consummate baseball lifer, Tyson played nine more seasons in the minor leagues after his lone appearance, literally appearing at every level A through D of farm systems of various major-league teams. His first couple years at Class-A showed promise he may return to an MLB team eventually, but his number was never called. Finally, after 15 years in professional baseball, the 1952 season was Tyson's last.

More than half of his life was lived after he retired from the sport he had loved for decades. Tyson moved back to where he grew up and it was there in 2000 at the age of 85 that Tyson's life ended right where it began in Elm City, North Carolina. He is buried there at Cedar Grove Cemetery where anyone visiting his grave will be able to look at it and say, "Here lies a former big-league ballplayer."


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