SABR

John Lyston

This article was written by Jimmy Keenan.

John Lyston was a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher from Baltimore, Maryland, who played professionally in the late 19th century. The talented tosser possessed an outstanding curveball that complemented his powerful fastball. Early on, John was a standout hurler in the amateur and semi-pro ranks in and around the Baltimore area. Word of his pitching prowess soon spread, and in 1887, he signed his first professional contract with the American Association Baltimore Orioles. John would later pitch for a variety of ball clubs in minor and semi-professional leagues all over the country. His stellar accomplishments in the pitcher’s box netted him trials with four different major league teams during the course of his career. Throughout his professional days on the diamond, John remained steadfast in regard to what he should be paid as a player. He firmly stood his ground with numerous ball clubs on many occasions concerning salary negotiations. Indeed, contract problems were a recurrent factor throughout his career.     

Two of John’s brothers were also professional baseball players, and years later, his two sons John and Jimmy would take up our national game.

John Michael (Jack) Lyston was born on May 28, 1867, in the Waverly section of Baltimore County, Maryland. Waverly would become part of Baltimore when the city boundary was extended in 1888. John’s parents James and Bridget (Brassell) Lyston were Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America in the 1850s to escape the horrific famine that had enveloped their homeland.

By 1880, the Lyston family was living at 606 Oxford Avenue in Waverly. At this time, the Lyston family had expanded to six children. There were five boys, James, William, John, Morty (Marty), Joseph and one girl, Katherine.

John graduated from St. Ann’s Grammar School at 528 E. 22nd Street in Baltimore in 1882. A year later, the first mention of John playing baseball appeared in a Baltimore newspaper. The fifteen-year-old tosser was the winning pitcher for a team called the Oriole Juniors in a game against another local nine labeled the Athletics. The contest was played at the newly opened Oriole Park I, located at the southwest corner of Barclay and 25th Streets.

The next mention in print of John’s baseball career appeared in an 1886 article in Sporting Life magazine. John and his brother Bill were mentioned in regard to a team that had been formed in the Waverly section of Baltimore. This team was called the Oxfords, and over the years many of its players graduated to the professional ranks. John was also pitching for another amateur team in Baltimore, the Saratogas, during the 1886 season.  

John was employed at the Baltimore City Post Office at this time and in 1887 pitched for their baseball team. According to the Baltimore Sun, he compiled a pitching record of 12 wins to go with just one loss that season. The post office team committed 22 errors in the only game he lost that year.

John was also working out with the major league Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at this time. Birds manager Billie Barnie was impressed with John and eventually signed him to a contract. According to the Baltimore Sun, John, who was still employed by the post office, was scheduled to start for the Orioles on Saturday, September 11,1887, against the Louisville Colonels. John arrived at Oriole Park that day ready to pitch, but Barnie decided to go with left-hander Phenomenal Smith instead. The southpaw twirler had been pitching good ball for Baltimore all season, but had recently been experiencing arm problems. Smith, who had now recovered from his arm woes, was in fine form that day, eventually besting Louisville ace Guy Hecker 3-2 in ten innings. Phenomenal Smith finished the 1887 season with 25 wins and 30 losses.

John Lyston continued to practice with the club at Oriole Park for the remainder of the season. However, because positions at the Baltimore Post Office were by appointment only, John did not want to resign from his highly sought-after job. Due to his inability to commit full time to the team, he did not get a chance to pitch in any other regular season games for Baltimore that year.

The following season, John and his brother Bill played for the Baltimore Reserves, an early form of a farm club for the major league Orioles. Baltimore’s owner Harry Von der Horst paid the Reserves’ salaries, and the members of the club were hand-picked by Oriole team president and manager Billie Barnie. The team served as an extra source of players in case anyone on the major league Orioles roster was injured. Baltimore newspapers provided little coverage of Reserves games. However, a report of a game played July 6 at Oriole Park I, a Reserves 11-3 win over a team from Frederick, Maryland, shows the Lyston brothers as the victorious battery.

On March 13, 1889, Sporting Life magazine printed a request from John and his brother Bill, offering their services to minor league teams around the country. The article read, “There is a moderately good battery here that would do fair service in a minor club. It is in the Lyston brothers battery. One of them has had some experience in a professional club. They have for years been serving in amateur teams in and about the city and are highly thought of and recommended by President Barnie and ex-manager [Bill] Henderson. The battery makes a formidable appearance, the members being 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and 5 feet 10 inches tall respectively, and weighing 190 and 174 pounds. The business end – John M. Lyston is a clerk at the Post Office here and can be communicated with at that address. The brothers say they are willing to play the ’89 season without much regard to getting a large salary, and will try to make a reputation that will commend good wages thereafter. They talk like sensible young men, and no doubt will please anyone wanting their services.”

A short time later, the Uniontown team of the Western Pennsylvania League took them up on their offer.

In early May, John and Bill signed with Uniontown, with the former taking a leave of absence from the Baltimore City Post Office. John performed admirably for his new club and played the outfield on the days he was not in the pitcher’s box. Bill distinguished himself as well with his outstanding play in the infield. Everything was working out fine for the Lyston brothers in Uniontown until a tragedy of biblical proportions struck the western part of Pennsylvania.

On May 31,1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, one of Uniontown’s rival teams, was ravaged by a cataclysmic flood that took the lives of over 2,200 people. Western Pennsylvania had been inundated with heavy rains for weeks; this, combined with the heavy spring thaw, would spell disaster for the residents of the Conemaugh Valley. The ill-constructed South Fork Dam, which was adjacent to Lake Conemaugh, finally gave way from the pressure and an estimated forty-foot wall of water, a half mile wide, descended upon the unsuspecting residents of Johnstown and neighboring towns. The flood swept away everything in its path, and this area of the Keystone State would take months and years to recover from the effects of this national catastrophe.

The Uniontown team, which had already been experiencing financial difficulties before the flood, dropped out of the Western Pennsylvania League a short time later. Uniontown would reorganize as an independent club in the weeks to come, with Bill Lyston staying with the team and John returning to his job at the Post Office.

In the spring of 1890, Washington Senators manager Ted Sullivan gave John a trial. The Senators were playing in the Atlantic League at this time. John pitched well in the preseason exhibition games but apparently not good enough to garner a permanent contract offer from Sullivan.

A short time later, John went to Oriole Park and tried out for the Worcester Grays of the Atlantic League who were in town playing the Orioles. Worcester’s player-manager James Cudworth was impressed with John’s pitching ability and inked a deal with the Baltimore hurler on April 29, 1890. The Baltimore Sun of April 30, 1890, noted the signing, “Manager Cudworth of the Worcester team has signed Pitcher Lyston of Baltimore and the latter will probably don a Worcester uniform in Friday’s game or early next week. Ted Sullivan gave Lyston a trial early in the season in which he showed a good deal of speed but was exceedingly wild. It was generally supposed that Sullivan was thinking of signing Lyston for the Washington team but he stated tonight that he had not made any efforts to secure his services.”

John evidently felt confident enough in his new position to resign from his lucrative position at the Baltimore City Post Office. Worcester’s latest pitching acquisition made his first appearance in the box in an exhibition game against Harvard University. The game was played on Harvard’s home grounds at Holmes field in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Twenty-four-year-old John Lyston twirled a gem against the Harvard nine that day allowing the University men just three hits. The 5’11”, 190-pound hurler helped his cause by rapping out two singles and stealing a base for the victorious Worcester club.

The Worcester Daily Spy of May 15, 1890, observed, “The college boys have a reputation as hard hitters but they could do nothing with Lyston, the new pitcher of Worcester. He showed great speed, deceptive curves and good control of the ball.”

John’s first start in a regular season game was against the Wilmington Blue Hens at Worcester’s home gounds. John tossed a complete game, leading the Worcesters to a

17–7 victory. All seven of Wilmington’s runs were unearned.

A short time later, the Worcester team released John, presumably due to the financial trouble that the club was experiencing.

A few days later, the Hartford Nutmegs of the same league gave John a trial. His first appearance in the box came in an exhibition game against the Harvard University team at Holmes field in Cambridge. John was the starting pitcher and he allowed just three runs in six innings of work. He played the last three innings in centerfield. Hartford won by the score of 14–13.

John signed with the Hartford club a few days later. During his tenure with the team he got a chance to pitch against his hometown Baltimore Orioles on three different occasions. The Baltimore Orioles played in the American Association, which was a major league from 1882, until the beginning of the 1890 season. The Orioles dropped out of the American Association in 1890 due to a disagreement with league officials. The Baltimore team then joined the minor Atlantic League for the 1890 season. It was during this time that John Lyston had the opportunity to pitch against Baltimore. John lost all three decisions against his hometown nine but managed to acquit himself respectably in all of the contests. The Orioles rejoined the American Association in August of 1890, after the Brooklyn franchise dropped out of the league. The Nutmegs released John Lyston on July 15, 1890. The Reach Official Baseball Guide listed his record for Hartford at 2 wins, 12 losses and a 3.97 earned run average.

In August of 1890, Washington Senators manager and part owner Ted Sullivan traveled to Baltimore in an effort to rebuild his recently disbanded club. Sullivan signed Pitcher Lyston, and a few other Baltimore players, to his new Senators squad. Unfortunately, the Washington magnate couldn’t find any willing investors to back his club, so his plan for fielding a new Senators team was abandoned.                                                                                  

In May of 1891, the St. Louis Browns of the American Association gave John a trial. In regard to John’s signing with future Hall of Famer’s Charles Comiskey’s team, Sporting Life magazine of May 16, 1891, noted, “St. Louis is always on the lookout for players – and there are none too humble for a trial. Many an ambitious youngster has applied to Commie, in Baltimore, in the past, and even this trip of the club has been as usual in that respect. A young man by the name of Lyston, who used to pitch for the Post Office team, is the latest, and Comiskey might be able to make something of him.” 

It appears that John couldn’t reach a financial agreement with the St. Louis club, and his stay with the team was a short one. A few weeks later, John and his brother Morty, sometimes written as Marty (depending on the newspaper article) were playing for the semi-professional Winston Blues. In late May, the Blues traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to play the Columbia Mechanics. The two teams met in a Series that was advertised in the newspapers of the day as the “Championship of the South.” The Blues won the first game 16–2 behind the solid pitching of Andrew McCann. The Blues also came out on top of the second tilt, 9-5. John, his brother Morty and Andrew McCann pitched for the victorious Winston club. The Blues won the third and final game of the series, 4-3. John worked all nine innings while earning the win in the deciding contest of the “Championship of the South” series. In regard to John’s work in the box during the series, The Charlotte Observer noted, “Lyston J, Winston’s pitcher, is one of the finest twirlers even seen here.”

A few weeks later, John signed with the New Haven Nutmegs of the Eastern League. John pitched one game for New Haven, defeating the Lebanon Cedars 5-1. The Baltimore native allowed just four hits and no earned runs in nine innings of work. John left the New Haven club shortly after this game, presumably due to his inability to reach financial terms with the team. He then signed with the Providence Grays of the same league. John pitched for the Grays until the team dropped out of the Eastern League in early August. John Lyston’s overall record in the Eastern League that year was 7 wins, 7 losses to go along with a stellar 1.93 earned run average.

In late August, the major league Columbus Solons of the American Association signed John to a contract. On August 28, 1891, John pitched the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics on the latter’s home grounds at Forepaugh Park. The Athletics won the game 8–2. John tossed a complete game in the loss. Although various local and national newspapers stated that he signed a permanent contract with Columbus, he did not appear in any other games with the Solons that season.

In 1892, John started out the year with the Winston Blues in their short-lived stay in the South Atlantic League. He then returned home to Baltimore, where he finished out the season with the Oxfords in the Baltimore amateur leagues.

The following spring, John Lyston was one of the coaches of the Johns Hopkins University baseball team. He also served as a college umpire, arbitrating the games between Swarthmore and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and Yale. 

John left Baltimore in the middle of April to join the Altoona Mud Turtles of the Pennsylvania State League. John pitched great ball for Altoona in their pre- season exhibition games. One of his victories was a 20–0 white washing of the well-respected Tarentum team from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He also umpired some of Altoona’s exhibition games when he was not pitching.

John was the opening day starter for the Mud Turtles and defeated the Johnstown Terrors 20-10. The hard throwing Baltimorean continued to pitch well in his next few appearances with the club. A few weeks into the season, John asked for and was given his release by Altoona manager Alexander Donahue. The Altoona team made 13 errors in John’s last start, and one can assume he felt a bit of frustration over his lack of defensive support. When John left the Altoona club, he had a pitching record of 3 wins, 1 loss and a 1.75 earned run average.

John then traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he was given a one-game trial by the hometown Senators. On May 23, 1893, John was the starting pitcher for the Harrisburg Senators against the Danville Wanderers in a game that was played in a heavy rainstorm. Danville ended up winning that day by the score of 14-13. Harrisburg scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth, which would have given them the lead. However, the game was called at this time because of the rain, and the score reverted back to the last complete inning. Only one of the 14 runs that Danville scored against John Lyston was earned. John also connected for two hits and scored two runs in the hard-fought contest. The Harrisburg Senators did not sign him to a contract, so he returned home to Baltimore by train after the game. 

A few weeks later, John signed with the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League.

Unfortunately, he came down with a debilitating fever that incapacitated him for the rest of the 1893 season.                

In February of 1894, Sporting Life magazine noted that the Providence Grays of the Eastern League were trying to secure John’s services. John and the Grays couldn’t agree on a deal, and a short time later John and his brother Morty signed with the Peoria Distillers of the Western Association.

   John pitched well for Peoria in the early season exhibition games. As opening day drew near, he was slated to be on the mainstays of the Distillers’ pitching staff. When the season started, John continued to perform well in the pitcher’s box for the Peoria club.               Unfortunately, John and manager George Washington Brackett began to have problems. Brackett was a notoriously tough man to deal with, and his troubles with players and league officials were well documented in the Midwest newspapers. Lyston came down with a sore arm from being overworked in the cold rainy games during Peoria’s 1894 exhibition season. The daily newspapers and national publications noted John’s arm injury, but Brackett continued to use him anyway. Brackett was also stating privately that he was going to lay John off without pay even though he was aware of the injury. The bad feelings between the two men culminated in John’s leaving the Peoria club in early June. Brackett went public in the national press with his displeasure over John Lyston’s leaving his team. In addition, Brackett noted the failure of John’s brother Morty, who was injured, to report to the Peoria club. John responded with an eloquent letter of rebuttal that was published in the national press.

John’s letter appeared in the Sporting Life of June 23, 1894:

“The Lyston Brothers Reply to Manager Brackett’s Charges, New York, June 15.- Editor “Sporting Life:

“The letter of George W. Brackett of the Peoria Club, does me and my brother, Mortimer Lyston, a great injustice, as it is all composed of lies. ’Tis true, myself and brother signed with Peoria, and the reason M. Lyston never reported is because he sprained his ankle in the middle of April and is still lame from it. Brackett knew this very well, I having kept him informed right along as to how he was getting along. Now, anybody knows a club has no use for a man at third base hopping around on one leg. What did Mr. Brackett do with shortstop Ryan who got his ankle sprained in a game but work him with his sore leg. Of course, as Ryan could cover no ground, he was let go, and dead cold and broke at that. Where was his 10-day clause there? He kept a man at short who is about 90% Ryan’s inferior. It would have been a nice how-de-do for my brother to have gone out there and gotten the same dose as Ryan.

As to myself being no use to the club – well I can say right here I can give any pitcher he has cards, spades and big casino and beat him out. And about me being a disorganizer- anyone who knows me knows differently. I am a hard worker for any team I am on and he lies when he accuses me of disorganizing. And, about him thinking I could pitch, and was deceived – why, he could not tell a pitcher when he sees one. He worked me in the cold rainy spring days when the thermometer was pretty far down, and, besides pitching my own games, he put me in to finish some of the games his ‘good pitchers’ were knocked out of. Consequently I got cold in my arm and could hardly raise my hand to my face. Then he went around telling people I was pitching indifferent ball, and, he would lay me off without pay. I had no heart to play for such a man. Why, if I would salute him ‘Good morning’ he would look daggers at me. He acted like he was warden of some prison instead of managing a ball club. What he don’t know about baseball would fill a big book. You will do two honest hard-working ball players a big favor by letting the public hear our side of the story. Yours very truly, John M. Lyston. ”

The disgruntled pitcher, disappointed in Brackett’s treatment, took the train back to  Baltimore and went about looking for work.

The Cleveland Spiders of the National League were just arriving in town at this time to play a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles. John went to Union Park and tried out for Spiders player-manager Patsy Tebeau. Cleveland’s skipper liked what he saw and signed him to a contract, complete with a $150 bonus. 

John Lyston was the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Spiders on June 15,1894, against the Brooklyn Bridegrooms at their home grounds at Eastern Park. The Brooklyn club won the game 9-8. John pitched into the fourth inning and was relieved by future Hall of Fame pitcher John Clarkson. Baseball immortal Cy Young came in for Clarkson and pitched the last inning for Cleveland in the tough loss.     

At this time Cleveland’s management became aware of John’s previous contract situation with the Peoria club. Due to possible ramifications from National League president Nick Young, Cleveland removed John from their roster until the matter could be resolved.                         

John left the Cleveland team a few days after the Brooklyn game and signed with an independent semi professional team from Cumberland, Maryland. The team was scheduled to play in a series of games against a rival club from Homestead, Pennsylvania. On July 12th, John was the winning pitcher against Homestead in a game that was played at Narrows Park in Cumberland. The final score was 8–3. In regard to the game, the Cumberland Evening Times of July 13,1894, noted, “In the ninth inning two balls were batted to Lyston as if fired out of a cannon, and he reached up and pulled both in with only his right-hand and caught both men. The new pitcher on the home team is splendid; he is a quick mover and accurate in his pitching.”

On July 14th, the visiting Homestead club defeated Cumberland by the score of 10 to 6. John was the losing pitcher. He struck out eight batters and allowed 10 hits. The Cumberland club committed nine errors in the loss. 

Three days later, John was the winning pitcher against Homestead at Narrows Park. The final score was Cumberland 21, Homestead 12. Pitcher Lyston scattered 15 hits in nine innings of work. John also chipped in with two hits at the plate and he scored two runs.

On July 20th, John was the winning pitcher for Cumberland in a game against the Hagerstown team at Narrows Park. John struck out eight batters while allowing seven hits in the 7-3 victory.

The following day, John played right field for Cumberland against Hagerstown. Cumberland won the game by the score of 12–1. John had one hit and he scored two runs.        

In late July, the Peoria and Cleveland team finally reached an agreement in regard to John’s contract situation. The Cumberland Evening Times of July 27, 1894, noted, “The Cleveland League team have perfected their arrangements with Peoria and have called on Pitcher Lyston to be ready for service.”

It appears both player and team had already moved on by then, because John doesn’t appear to have played in any more games for Cleveland that season.                    

In early December of 1894, manager Ted Sullivan of the Houston Magnolias in the Texas League announced that he had signed pitchers John Lyston and Stubbs Brown to contracts. However, Brown was on the National League Orioles Reserve List and was still considered the property of the Baltimore team. John didn’t sign with Houston for a different reason. Although his contract problems with Peoria had been straightened out, John and Sullivan were unable to come to financial terms on a contract.      

In the spring of 1895, John and his brother Morty were tendered contracts by the Albany Senators of the New York State League. John could not come to a monetary agreement with the Senators management and instead signed with the Gloversville Glovers in the same league. The well-traveled right-handed hurler stayed with the financially troubled Gloversville team for a short time before leaving the club and signing with Martinsburg of the newly formed Cumberland Valley League.     

On July 2, 1895, Martinsburg played a doubleheader against the St. Mary’s College team at the former’s home grounds. John Lyston was the starting pitcher in the opener, defeating the College nine, 12–11. St. Mary’s won the nightcap 9-8. Two days later, John was the opening day pitcher for Martinsburg against the highly touted Hagerstown team. The game was played at Hagerstown’s home grounds. A large crowd of Martinsburg fans traveled to Hagerstown in carriages and by train to cheer their hometown heroes on to victory. John started out well, but the Hagerstown bats eventually came alive, winning the contest 9-0. The veteran right-hander left the Martinsburg club soon after this game.

It was at this time that John Lyston became a U.S.Customs Inspector at the Port of Baltimore. He also married Kate Concannon a short time later. Kate was from Tuam in County Galway, Ireland, and was one of eight daughters born to Martin and Mary (Donahue) Concannon. The newly married Lystons moved into a house at 527 Oxford Avenue in north Baltimore and eventually had four children: Mary, Kathleen, John and James (Jimmy).      

John M. Lyston served as a Customs Inspector at the Port of Baltimore from 1895 until his untimely death at age 42 from Bright’s Disease on October 29,1909. His funeral Mass was held at St. Ann’s Church in Waverly, and he was laid to rest at New Cathedral Cemetery in West Baltimore.

Numerous floral arrangements were sent to the church for the funeral, which included flowers sent by the Baltimore Baseball Club, the Baltimore Post Office, the U.S. Custom House and the children in his Waverly neighborhood.

Years later, John’s two sons would follow in their father’s footsteps. John C. Lyston signed with the Frederick Club of the Blue Ridge League in 1923. John M.’s youngest son, Jimmy, would sign with the Baltimore Orioles in 1921 and play professionally until 1931.  

Sources

Keenan, Jimmy. The Lystons: A Story of One Baltimore Family and Our National Pastime. Self-published 2009

Sporting Life

Baltimore Sun

Charlotte Observer

Cumberland Evening Times

Notes

John M. Lyston is the great-grandfather of the biographer                             

Thanks to John M.Taylor for contributing the photograph of our great-grandfather John M. Lyston

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