Prince, Don

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Clarkton

First, Middle Names:  Donald Mark

Date of Birth: April 5, 1938    Date and Place of Death: Nov. 8, 2017, Myrtle Beach, SC
Burial: Hammond Cemetery, Nichols, SC

High School: Floyds High School, Nichols, SC
College: Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC; East Carolina University, Greenville, NC

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-4, 200
Debut Year: 1962        Final Year: 1962          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Chicago Cubs, 1962

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0          0.00     1.0       0          0.0

Don Prince pitched one inning in the major leagues and seven years in the minors, but this really isn’t a story about his life in baseball. He was later a successful insurance agent and enthusiastic private pilot. This isn’t about annuities or aviation, either. This is, instead, a sad tale about how a brother’s fidelity – yes, some might bluntly call it his stupidity – led him down a dark path where federal agents posing as hit men lurked in the shadows. This is a story about how Don Prince, baseball pitcher, insurance salesman and pilot with a wife, children, a house at the beach, and all the trappings of a good life, turned to murder to save his brother.

Donald Mark Prince was born in 1938 in Clarkton, a small farming community in southern Bladen County. His brother, Roger DeWitt, who went by the name Bill, was born a year later. Their father, Woodrow, raised tobacco, first in Bladen and then on leased land in adjoining Columbus County.

On a rainy night in 1951, Woody went to out to the tobacco barn. He was wet and barefoot when he plugged in the heater. The resulting electrical shock killed him instantly. The consequences of the tragic accident were immediate and would ripple through the brothers’ lives for decades.

With no way to support herself and her children, the widowed Carrie Prince moved just across the state line to Nichols, South Carolina, to be closer to her family. That’s where Don played high-school baseball and basketball. After graduating in 1956, he played the same sports for two years at Campbell Junior College, now a university, in Buies Creek, North Carolina. He would be inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1968. Prince then went on to what’s now East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, for his teaching certificate. He would teach and coach in North Carolina high schools during the offseasons throughout his baseball career. His basketball team at Hoke High School in Raeford would go the state finals in 1966.

Prince signed his first professional contract in 1958 with the Chicago Cubs and spent all but a year of his career in their minor leagues. A career sub-.500 pitcher, he had his best year that first season when he was 11-6 with 3.76 earned-run average for the Cubs’ Class D club in Paris, Illinois. The Cubs summoned him to Chicago for the end of the 1962 season. He pitched a hitless ninth inning in a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets on Sept. 21 but was sent to the minors the following year. He finished his career in 1964 in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system.

Back in Raeford, Prince continued to teach and coach but began selling insurance on the side. Within a couple of years, he opened an agency that he moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1968. He apparently did quite well. He and his wife, Jill, bought a house in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where they raised their two children. Prince learned to fly small planes and became an avid aviator. Life threw him a curve in 1977 when Jill died, but Prince pressed on.

Dark clouds started gathering the day in 1955 when Billy E. Graham, a prominent and wealthy tobacco farmer in Olanta, South Carolina, met brother Bill at a tobacco warehouse, where the teenager was selling boiled peanuts. Impressed with the boy’s salesmanship, Graham, a bachelor, started looking out for Bill after learning that he came from a poor family and had no father. They were “really close,” the Florence County sheriff would later say. Graham, he said, “had practically raised” Prince.[i]

After graduating from high school, Bill moved into Graham’s handsome brick house with its velvet wallpaper and sunken bathtub. In the garage was the Cadillac Graham liked to drive around town. A million dollars in show horses grazed in the surrounding pastures. The two eventually started a business to farm the more than 3,000 acres of tobacco, and Bill was the beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy on Graham that he had bought from his brother.

The clouds thickened as the relationship slowly came apart when interest rates rose and commodity prices fell in the late 1970s. Crops failed during the drought of 1979-80, and Graham was bankrupt. He lost it all: the Cadillac, the show horses, the handsome brick house with its velvet wallpaper and sunken tub. By 1985, it was only the generosity of friends that kept him from becoming destitute. One bought the old house from the bank and allowed Graham to move back in. He had been living in a string of seedy motels.

Bill Prince, however, wasn’t among those who aided the broken man who had once treated him like a son. In fact, Graham by then thought that Prince was trying to steal his land. Untangling the byzantine financial arrangements between the two that fueled Graham’s suspicions and ultimately led to the ugly night of June 10, 1987 requires diving into the murk of federal crop loans and land-bank rules, an unsavory task not necessary for our purposes here. All we need to know is that Prince and several partners, who included Charlie Dorn Smith, the president of a bank in Olanta, formed a business in the early 1980s to lease and farm Graham’s land and pay off his substantial debt to federal agencies. It didn’t work out, and a jury in a civil lawsuit later brought by Graham determined that Prince and his partners owed the bankrupt farmer more than $200,000.

The storm broke on that June night when fire engulfed the handsome house on the edge of town. By the time the flames were quenched, the house was a charred ruin. Graham’s badly burned body was found in his second-floor bedroom. The coroner ruled that he had died of smoke inhalation. In other words, an accident. Prince paid the undertaker $3,500 to bury his former partner and benefactor.

Rumors about the death of the popular resident circulated quickly through the small farming town. “People were not satisfied with the results of the investigation,” said Mayor Kelton Floyd. “No names were called, but they did not believe that the man just burned.”[I]

New evidence persuaded authorities to exhume the body.  This time two .32-caliber bullets were found in its skull. Almost two years later, in 1989, Prince and Smith were charged with hiring a killer to execute Graham and set the fire. Prince, then 51, was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. Free on bond while his case was appealed, he fled two years later when the state supreme court refused to order a new trial.

This is where Don Prince re-appears. He would later admit that he helped his brother for the year that he was on the run. Diagnosed with cancer, Bill was hiding in Puerto Rico, but Don brought him home for treatments. He made sure he kept his doctor appointments, paid his medical bills, and helped run the farming business in Olanta. All the while, he urged his brother to turn himself in. Bill was captured in a motel in Knoxville, Tennessee, in August 1995 and began his life in prison.

Don was a frequent visitor. He continued to manage Bill’s affairs and worked with his lawyers. His talks with his brother soon turned from crop prices and family matters. To prepare for the new trial that they hoped the courts would order, the brothers discussed ways to persuade the two key witnesses to recant their testimony.  When neither seemed willing, Bill noted that one of his prison mates was getting out. He knew someone who would kill the witnesses, Bill said. That prisoner, though, was also an FBI informant.

That’s how it came to be that Don stepped out of his car at a rest stop on I-20 in South Carolina on Dec. 8, 1995. He had driven from Wrightsville Beach to pay the hit man who had killed one of the witnesses and to arrange for the murder of the other. The assassin showed Don a photograph of the dead man – doctored, it turned out — and Don handed him $5,000. The FBI undercover agent slapped the cuffs on Don. “The things you do for your brother,” he said disgustedly.[II]

The brothers were convicted the following year. Bill got 15 years added to his sentence. Don got 17. In a letter to his wife before their convictions, Bill asks about the wellbeing of his brother’s children. “I know that they are really hurt with everything that is going on,” he wrote. “But I hope they will understand that everything is my fault. I will never be able to forgive myself for the problems that I have caused everybody. But if it would be any consolation. I would have done the same for Don.”[III] Bill died in prison in 2003.

After his release, Don moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he died in 2017.

References
[I] “3 More Arrested for 1986 Olanta Murder.” The Item (Sumter, SC) April 7, 1989.
[II] United States v. Don Prince, No. 97-4329; United States v. Roger DeWitt Prince, a/k/a Bill, No. 97-4334 (4th Cir. 1999). https://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinions/Unpublished/974329.U.pdf.
[III] Ibid.

 

Fetzer, Bill

Primary Position: Pinch hitter
Birthplace: Concord

First, Middle Names:  William McKinnon
Date of Birth:  June 24, 1884  Date and Place of Death: May 3, 1959, Butner, NC
Burial: Oakwood Cemetery, Concord, NC

High School: Concord High School, Concord, NC
College: Davidson College, Davidson, NC

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 180
Debut Year: 1906        Final Year: 1906          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1906

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          1            0          0          0          0          .000     .000     .000     0.0

In college and down in the minors, Bill Fetzer was known for prodigious drives that bounced off church steeples. Though he stood only five-foot-ten inches and weighed no more than 180 pounds, he was called Big Bill because of his big blasts. It figures, then, that a slugger like that would appear in one major-league game as a pinch hitter and strike out.

He had much more success after baseball as a winning football and baseball coach at three, major North Carolina colleges.

The third of five children, William McKinnon Fetzer was born in 1884 in Concord, North Carolina. His mother, Zeta, was a doctor’s daughter. His father, Pendleton Bernard, or “P.B.,” owned a drugstore and popular general store in town.

The youngster took up baseball at an early age, as this item in an 1895 edition of his hometown newspaper would seem to attest. “While playing ball Tuesday evening in the yard of his home on Fetzer Avenue, Master Willie Fetzer let a ball pass through his hands, striking him on the upper lip, which cut a hole through it,” the paper reported. “His teeth were not loosened, however. The hurt was quite painful to the little fellow.”[I]

Fetzer continued his ball playing at the local high school and, starting in 1901, at nearby Davidson College, where he played second base and was an all-conference halfback on the football team.

He started his professional career four years later just up the road in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Class D Hornets and was considered one of the best players in the Virginia-Carolina League.

After the season, Fetzer got a job at Fishburne Military School, an all-boys boarding school in Waynesboro, Virginia. He would teach there in the offseasons for several years and eventually became the school’s athletics director.

He moved up a notch in 1906 to the Class C Red Sox in Danville, Virginia. He was hitting .262 and led the Virginia League in home runs with five when the Philadelphia Athletics bought his contract in September. Manager Connie Mack sent Fetzer in to pinch hit for Socks Siebold on Sept. 4 in a game that the Athletics would win 10-3. Fetzer struck out in his only major-league at bat.

He was back in Danville the following season and continued to hit long homers. One left fans and his teammates in awe. “The drive was more than 700 feet from the home plate when it hit a church steeple and thus stopped in its flight, which no doubt would have gone over 1,1,00 feet,” a newspaper reported. “The grandstand yelled for fully five minutes, playing had to be stopped by the umpire until the fans and the players on both teams regained their equilibrium.”[II]

Fetzer played or managed in the minor leagues until 1915 when he replaced his brother, Robert, as Davidson’s head football coach. He also managed the baseball team and was the school’s athletics director. Over five seasons, Fetzer’s football team compiled a 17-11 record, with three ties. Davidson adopted a nickname in 1917 that reflected the ferocity of Fetzer’s football squad. The school’s teams had been informally called the “preachers.” The football team fought with such tenacity against Georgia Tech that year that some Georgia newspapers reported that the undermanned opponents played like “wildcats.”

After two years at what’s now N.C. State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was the head football coach for two seasons and baseball skipper for one, Fetzer moved the short distance to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1921 to coach football and baseball at the University of North Carolina. He was joined by his brother, Bob, on the football team — they called themselves associate head coaches. Bob handled the paperwork and all administrative duties while Bill was the on-field coach.[1]

The brothers won 30 football games over the next five seasons and tied for first in the Southern Conference in 1922 with a team that went 19-1. It lost only to Yale University after the referees in the Yale Bowl recalled three UNC touchdowns. In protest, the Fetzers returned to Yale the following season with a team of scrubs and lost 53-0. An opposing team can’t win there anyway, Bill told the newspapers.

His UNC baseball teams were also successful. They won 70 games, while losing 37.

Fetzer and his wife, Dorothy, continued to live in Chapel Hill after his coaching days. They had a son there. Fetzer died of a heart attack in 1959.

Footnote
[1] Robert Allison Fetzer was known affectionately as “Coach Bob” to thousands of UNC students, alumni and Chapel Hill residents. He first coached track and was named athletics director when the position was created in 1923. He left in 1952 to become the executive director of the John Motley Morehead Foundation. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. He died three years later.

References
[I] A Hole Through His Lip.” Daily Standard (Concord, NC), April 3, 1895.
[II] Willy M. Fetzer Breaks Ball Record.” Concord (NC) Times, July 19, 1907.

Crowson, Woody

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Fuquay Springs

First, Middle Names:  Thomas Woodrow
Date of Birth:  Sept. 9, 1918   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 14, 1947, Greensboro, NC
Burial: Springfield Friends Meeting House Cemetery, High Point, NC

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 185
Debut Year: 1945        Final Year: 1945          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1945

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1           0          0          0        6.00     3          2           0.0

It had been a meaningless game – even in August — between two teams heading nowhere. The dismal, hometown A’s of Martinsville, Virginia, were destined for last place in that 1947 season of the Carolina League, a lowly Class C congregation of eight teams, most in North Carolina, that had formed two years earlier to compete in the subbasement of the minor leagues. The fifth-place Patriots of Greensboro, North Carolina, were little better. The A’s won 9-4 that night, but the outcome made little difference in the final league tally. A game of no athletic significance would however have tragic human consequences.

Long bus rides along dark, country roads were staples of life for minor leaguers back then. They were endured but rarely enjoyed by the 15 Patriots who boarded the team bus for the 50-mile trip back to Greensboro. Third baseman James “Sheepy” Lambe slipped behind the wheel, while the others settled into their seats. Some likely cracked open bottles of beer. A few played cards or read. Many tried to follow Woody Crowson’s example and take a nap. He chose the long seat at the back of the bus to stretch out. By all later accounts, he was fast asleep by the time the bus pulled out of town.

If a fifth-place team could claim a pitching ace, Crowson, with a 12-13 record and the lowest earned-run average among the starters (3.51), was it. At 28, he was also one of the oldest Patriots. He had pitched six years in the minors, preceded by several more seasons in the industrial leagues that flourished amid the textile plants near his home in High Point, North Carolina. He was also the only player on the team who had pitched in the big leagues. It was only a few innings in one game, but the big leagues all the same.

Thomas Woodrow was born in Fuquay Springs in southern Wake County in 1918 to Sam and Alberta Crowson.[1] The family, which included an older brother, Milton, moved to Sam’s family farm in adjacent Harnett County a couple of years later. By 1930, the Crowsons, which included an infant daughter, were living in High Point where Sam was a police officer.

Woody Crowson married Ruth Wood of High Point in 1938 and worked in area hosiery mills while pitching for their teams, once hurling 21 innings in a 6-5 loss. He signed his first professional contract with the Cleveland Indians in 1940 and spent the next five seasons in the low minors. Signed by the Athletics in 1945, he started the season in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Manager Connie Mack hoped he would bolster a pitching staff that had been depleted by World War II. He sent Crowson out on April 17 to start the sixth inning of a game against the Washington Senators that his team was already losing 10-2. Crowson gave up two more runs in three innings, and Mack shipped him back to the minors within days.

Steve Laney knew none of that history, of course. He very likely had never heard of Woody Crowson or the Greensboro Patriots for that matter. He was from Pageland, South Carolina, and worked for a trucking company owned by the town’s most-famous son, Van Lingle Mungo. A retired All-Star pitcher, he was a ballplayer most fans had heard of.[2]

Laney that night of August 13 was driving one of Mungo’s trucks loaded with watermelons to customers in Virginia. Sometime just before midnight on a curve in US 220 near the town of Mayodan, North Carolina, Laney and his watermelons heading north met the Greensboro Patriots on their bus going in the opposite direction. One of the vehicles strayed across the center line, which one would become a matter of dispute. They sideswiped each other. Metal crunched and glass broke before the bus and the truck came to jarring halts on the road’s shoulders. Laney was unhurt. The players filed out of the bus, some bruised, some cut by flying glass, but no one with serious injuries.

Woody Crowson wasn’t among the dazed players gathering outside the bus. He lay unconscious inside on the floor where his teammates tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Rushed by ambulance to Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro, Crowson died early the next morning of a compound head fracture, the only serious injury in an otherwise minor accident.

His widow later sued Mungo, claiming his driver caused her husband’s death by crossing the center line. Some writers claimed, but without offering evidence, that Mungo had never properly insured his trucks and was forced to close the trucking business because of legal claims arising from the accident.

Footnotes
[1] Named for one of its early settlers, Fuquay Springs was incorporated in 1909. It merged with the nearby town of Varina in 1963 to become the modern Fuquay-Varina.

[2] Van Lingle Mungo pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants from 1931-1945. The five-time All-Star led the National League in strikeouts in 1936. He achieved legendary status in Brooklyn where he was the most-colorful and most-talented pitcher on terrible teams. Many of the stories centered around his carousing after games or his sour disposition during them. One of his managers and a colorful character himself, Casey Stengel, once famously said of his combative pitcher: “Mungo and I got along just fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck.” (“Van Lingle Mungo” by David Frishberg, Baseball-Almanac.com, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/vanlinglemungo.shtml).

Chambers, Rome

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Weaverville

First, Middle Names: Richard Jerome       Nicknames: Rome
Date of Birth: Aug. 31, 1875   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 30, 1902
Burial: Chambers Family Cemetery, Weaverville

High School: Undetermined
College: Weaver College, Weaverville

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 173
Debut Year: 1900        Final Year: 1900          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Boston Beaneaters, 1900

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0          11.25   4.0       2          -0.2

Rome Chambers was the third North Carolinian to play in the major leagues and the first from the state’s mountains. His stay was brief, a mere four innings in one game in 1900, but his manager liked what he saw and thought he’d be back after a bit of seasoning in the minors. Chambers didn’t get the chance. Two years later, he was dead, a day shy of his 27th birthday.

Richard Jerome Chambers was born in 1875, the same year the small community of Reems Creek north of Asheville was incorporated and renamed Weaverville after a prominent local resident. His parents, Robert and Bathilda, raised five children on the family farm outside town. The oldest, Ogburn, would become a well-known dentist in Asheville whose passing would be deeply mourned in 1929 after he was struck by a bicycle on a city street.

There are a few tidbits here and there in the historical and genealogical records about Rome, the next in the family’s lineup of kids. Census reports indicate that he lived with his parents all his life, working on the family farm. It’s not known when he started playing baseball. We know he pitched a few innings for the Richmond, Virginia, Giants of the Atlantic League in 1897 and one season two years later for Weaver College, a local Methodist school.[1] He was described by his contemporaries at the time: “When the style for pitching balls with a steam engine or shooting them from a cannon to the batter comes in fashion, Mr. Chambers will lose his job, but not before. If he could write letters as nicely as he plays ball, he would doubtless hear from his sweetheart oftener than once a month.”[I]

Chambers traveled the 150 or so miles to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the spring of 1900 to attend a tryout camp sponsored by the Boston Beaneaters, one of the original members of the National League.[2] A few weeks later, on May 7, the “North Carolina mountaineer,” as the Boston’s newspapers called him, found himself on the mound at the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds for the 15th game of the new season. Manager Frank Selee sent the rookie in to start the fourth inning against the New York Giants. Chambers pitched four innings and gave up five runs in an 18-11 slugfest won by Boston, though he wasn’t credited with the victory.

A summation of his work that day resides in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York “He had speed and nerves but lacked control,” it says.[II] Selee was a bit more diplomatic three days later when he shipped Chambers to Toronto, Canada, in the Eastern League. He told the press that he had “great faith in Chambers becoming a good man after a year on a minor-league team.”[III]

Chambers never made it back. He died in Weaverville in 1902 of unknown causes. His will lists no heirs.

Footnotes
[1] Weaverville College was founded as a Methodist, coeducational academy in 1851 by the local Sons of Temperance. The school was renamed Weaver College in 1912 to honor Montraville Weaver who donated land for the first buildings. The Methodist Church merged it with Rutherford College in 1933 to create Brevard College in Brevard, NC. (Hill, Michael, “Weaver College.” NCPedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/weaver-college).
[2] The Boston Red Stockings were one of the charter franchises of the National League in 1876. Its name was changed to the Beaneaters seven years later. While colorful, the name always irked some Bostonians. After two  more changes, the “Braves” was adopted as the official name in 1912 when no one much cared about what Native Americans might think. Except for a brief sojourn as the Bees in the 1930s, the Braves name stuck. The team played in Boston until 1953 when it moved to Milwaukee. It now resides in Atlanta, where it’s been since 1966.

References
[i] Goode, Tyler Norris. “Rome’s Big Day.” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, May 7, 2006.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Rome J. Chambers Farmed Out to Toronto.” Boston (MA) Globe, May 10, 1900.

 

Tyson, Turkey

Primary Position: Pinch hitter
Birthplace: Elm City

First, Middle Names: Cecil Washington        Nicknames: Turkey
Date of Birth: Dec. 6, 1914     Date and Place of Death: Feb. 17, 2000
Burial: Cedar Grove Cemetery, Elm City

High School: Undetermined
College: Oak Ridge Military Institute, Oak Ridge, NC

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 225
Debut Year: 1944       Final Year: 1944          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Phillies, 1944

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          1          0          0          0          0        .000     .000     .000     0.0

Turkey Tyson had one day in the big leagues. He pinch hit in the ninth inning of a meaningless game and popped out to third. It was a brief interlude to a 15-year career down on the farms. Tyson bounced around minor-league clubs, from Tallahassee, Florida, to Utica, New York, accumulating a .300 career batting average and acquiring a reputation as a boisterous, fan favorite. After a very public feud with Cuban opponents that had a nasty, racial overtone, Tyson wore out his welcome up North and returned to North Carolina where he became a minor-league legend as a player and manager.

George and Jennie Tyson named the first of their two children Cecil when he was born in December 1914 in Elm City in Wilson County, but everybody called him Turkey most of his adult life. Some said it was because he once visited the country of that name with a baseball team. Others claimed it was the gobbling sound he made whenever he got a hit.[I]

Tyson began playing baseball at an early age on teams representing Elm City. “We would play teams from different communities, and a lot of times the teams would end up fighting among themselves,” he remembered many years later.[II]

The games certainly got more structured and less violent when he entered Oak Ridge Military Institute in Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1932, probably to finish high school and then to enter the junior-college program that the school offered. His real motivation, however, was to play ball. The private school was something of a baseball factory, having sent a number of its students to the major leagues.[1]

A year after graduating in 1936, Tyson was chosen to play and teach baseball in England.[2] The now-defunct U.S. Baseball Congress, which supported amateur baseball, sponsored the trip as a way to lobby for the sport’s addition to the Olympics

Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers when he returned home, Tyson played his first professional ball for Dodgers’ farm teams in Tallahassee and Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1938. They were the first of the nine different minor-league clubs that he would play first base and manage over the coming decade. His solid hitting, all that gobbling as he ran up the first base line, and his full-throated arguments with umpires made him a favorite of hometown fans wherever he went.

Tyson was in Utica in 1944, playing for the Phillies’ Class A Blue Sox, when he was called up to Philadelphia. The 29-year-old rookie had his one at bat on April 23 and was back in a Utica uniform a couple of days later.

The Blue Sox won the Eastern League pennant the following season but not without controversy. Many ballplayers were in military uniforms that year, America’s third in World War II. To fill rosters, the league had encouraged the signing of players from Cuba. Their numbers had increased dramatically since the start of the war, creating tension with some American players and coaches in the league. Resentment toward the Cubans was becoming a major problem, noted Louis Pickelner, the sports’ editor of the newspaper in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a league city. “Abuse of Cuban players is reaching a point which requires drastic action to save the game we reverently call our ‘National Pastime’ from being smeared by unsportsmanship ,” he wrote in July 1945.[III]

If the problem had a face, it would have looked a lot like Turkey Tyson’s. It’s hard to know how it all started and who should shoulder the burden of blame from 70-year-old newspaper accounts. Clearly, though, the Cubans were a bit brash. Maybe they thought they had something to prove to these Yanquis, but they played a brand of ball that Ty Cobb would have found familiar. They slid hard into bases, sometimes with spikes high. They barreled into catchers on plays at home and, when pitching, threw at batters.

Tyson seems to have been a favorite target, probably because he griped and complained to umpires and angrily confronted the offenders. The league’s owners fined and suspended him twice for his public displays. His second and longest suspension of 15 games came after he charged the mound with a bat during a game with Williamsport’s Rebels. Constrained by teammates, Tyson returned to the dugout without inflicting any physical harm, though he may have shouted the “N” word at the Cubans several times during the short journey. At the end of the inning, Dan Parra, a Rebels’ Cuban pitcher, charged across infield with two bats to confront Tyson. Again, teammates interceded and a truce was called with no one getting hurt.

Parra’s more lenient sentence from the league – a three-day suspension – triggered even more resentment among some of the league’s American players, coaches, and sportswriters who publicly proclaimed their support for Tyson, one of their own, while ridiculing the foreigners’ faulty English and even their food preferences. Pickelner, however, wasn’t among them. “A guy like Turkey Tyson, a double offender of the code of fair play, can very well wreck the entire structure of the Eastern League if not put in his place once and for all,” he wrote.[IV]

Little wonder, then, that Tyson expressed relief when he signed with the Durham, North Carolina, Bulls in 1947. The Class C club was a couple of steps down from the Blue Sox, but he was home again. “I didn’t like it up there, and I wanted to get back down home,” he said.[V]

He had his best year with the Bulls that season, hitting .349 and driving in 105 runs. He also set a Carolina League record with 74 assists at first base. It formed the foundation of a reputation Tyson would build over the next five years playing or managing four different minor-league clubs in North Carolina. He was colorful, quotable and considered a smart baseball man. At the end of his career when he was old enough to be the father of many of the youngsters he managed, Tyson was the wizened sage of the diamond.

He returned to Elm City in the offseasons where he was the most-famous man in the town of 800. He hawked tobacco as an auctioneer and swapped mules. “I’m a mule trader in the winter months,” he said in 1948. “I’ll buy mules and I’ll trade mules.” Most farmers around Elm City told reporters that Turkey could drive a hard bargain.[VI]

There was no reason to leave town after 1952, the year Tyson quit as manager of the local Leafs in Rocky Mount, a Class D team that occupied the lowest rung in the minor-league hierarchy. The team wasn’t very good and was going nowhere and the old mule trader couldn’t inspire them to do better. He abruptly quit in the middle of the season.

Tyson settled in with Hester, whom he had married in 1950, as Elm City’s famous son. He was elected as a town alderman in 1963 and served five terms. His brother, George, was mayor for much of that time.

He died in 2000 at age 85.


Footnotes
[1] What’s now called Oak Ridge Academy occupies an important place in the history of baseball in North Carolina.  The school, which traces its roots to the 1850s, was considered one of the best prep schools in the state in the late 19th century. Under coach Earl Holt, the school’s baseball program during the first decades of the 20th century developed more than a dozen major-league players, including Jackie Mayo, Dick Burrus, Al Evans, Pete Shields, Chubby Dean, Max Wilson, and the Hayworth brothers (Red and Ray).
[2] Pitcher Max Wilson of Haw River, North Carolina, also made the trip. He made brief appearances in the major leagues in 1940 and 1946. See his profile for a more information.

References
[I] Temple, Bob. “Elm City, 1,000 in Population, has many Distinguishing Features.” Sunday Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC), February 12, 1950.
[II] Cockrell, Bennett. “Cecil ‘Turkey’ Tyson Has Fond Memories.” Nashville (NC) Graphic, November 16, 1990.
[III] Pickelner, Louis, “A Little Extra.” Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette, July 20, 1945.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Quincy, Bob. “Leafs’ New Pilot Stopped Show at Coronation of Britain’s King.” Evening Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC), January 30, 1948.
[VI] Ibid.