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Baseball's Last Turkey

There is more than one Turkey in MLB history. But this is the story of who we can only assume is baseball's last turkey.

Turkey Tyson is a trivia answer.

His MLB career consisted of one game with one plate appearance. (April 23, 1944 for the Philadelphia Phillies; bottom of the ninth, blowout loss, he popped up to third.) That puts him in the gloomily exclusive club of ballplayers who were lucky enough to make it the big leagues once and unlucky enough never to make it again. But, of course, this is not as memorable as the fact that he went by Turkey. This is what makes him the subject of a baseball tidbit on Thanksgiving. It is what lands him on the occasional “menu” of food-centric baseball player names. He is not baseball’s only Turkey (Turkey Gross played a few years prior, and, more notably, Negro League outfielder Turkey Stearnes has been inducted into the Hall of Fame), but he is its most recent Turkey, which, given the unfortunate lack of bird nicknames in modern baseball, suggests that he is also its last Turkey. Which is all to say that he is perfectly situated to exist as a trivia answer, a player whose one fun fact is his only apparent fact, period.

He is Turkey. That is all.

This is a man whose Baseball-Reference page includes only the barest few details. His Wikipedia page features no more. The Society of American Baseball Research’s player biography program has never covered him, he does not appear in either of the books written about players who appeared in only one game, and there is no photograph included on his official player page from MLB. The internet, with its infinite collective tentacles thrust into the strangest and most obscure corners of the human experience, does not have anything to share about him.

Which is a shame, because Turkey Tyson was a man who got his nickname from gobbling at his opponents. (Yes, literally, but more specifically: “a gobbler-like sound of derision he made when he pulled up at first after one of the frequent singles he poked through opposing infields.”) He gobbled through 18 years in the minor leagues and indy ball, with his MLB cameo coming right in the middle of his run. “That Turkey sure is a case,” a fan told the Rocky Mount Telegram when he was with the Class D Rocky Mount Leafs. “To be so funny at times, he can be the meanest, sorriest, most ornery guy in the world. But don’t get me wrong… we love him here.”

Portrait of Turkey Tyson

In addition to his gobbling, Turkey Tyson argued, constantly, with umpires and opponents and teammates alike. “That guy ain’t a ballplayer, he’s a three-ring circus,” one fan told the paper. In the offseason, he worked as a mule salesman, and he was said to be just as stubborn as his wares. He loved to pick fights. If you ejected him, he’d glower at you from just outside the park, “on the other side of the fence watching the game like a rookie who had just missed his train.” He forced the President of the Eastern League to hand out the toughest discipline of his entire tenure—15 games suspended with a $50 fine, in July 1945, for persistent arguing after he had already been ejected for it six times that season. (That had nothing on the record 13 ejections he got in the Carolina League in 1947: “I’m not doing the club any good when I can’t open my mouth,” he complained when it was suggested that perhaps he pipe down a little.) When he came to play near his hometown of Elm City, North Carolina, the headline read accordingly, The Problem Child Has A Homecoming.

He spent the last few years of his career as a player-manager in Rocky Mount. But he quit suddenly midseason—after getting in a fight with one of his players about a lack of hustle and then getting in a fight with the team owner about having been in the fight with the player. (He still claimed to be leaving on “completely friendly terms.”) As he left baseball to sell mules full-time, he’d “captured the hearts of one and all with a marvelous exhibition of clowning, umpire baiting, hitting and fielding,” the newspaper declared. His skills, presumably, were listed in order of importance.

Even without any opportunities for gobbling, Turkey Tyson kept his nickname, which would eventually lead his obituary. He’d been a “first baseman extraordinaire, mule trader deluxe, and a pretty good baseball clown.”

And, of course, a Turkey.