SABR

Boyd Cypert

This article was written by Chris Rainey.

Boyd Cypert was one of 988 players who had a “cup of coffee” (played a single game) in the majors before 2014, according to Baseball-Reference. What sets him apart from others in that group is his law degree from Harvard. He attended Harvard and earned his degree before embarking on a brief three-month, 65-game career in professional baseball in 1914.

Alfred Boyd Cypert was the first child of Thomas Jefferson Cypert and Elizabeth “Bessie” (Williford) Cypert of Little Rock, Arkansas. He was born on August 8, 1889, and was joined two years later by another son, Tom. The boys went to school in Little Rock. Their father worked as a grocery clerk before becoming a real-estate dealer. The elder Cypert would continue in that profession well into his 70s. Boyd enrolled at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville after high-school graduation.

The 1909 Arkansas football team had gone undefeated. Cypert joined the team in 1910 and at 5-feet-10 and 150 pounds he became a quarterback and kick returner. His most memorable football game came on October 7, 1911, against Missouri Normal (now called Missouri State). He returned two kicks for touchdowns before sitting out much of the 100-0 victory. Cypert earned letters in football and baseball at Arkansas, playing for future College Football Hall of Fame coach and Pittsburgh Pirates manager Hugh Bezdek. He became part of Bezdek’s coaching legacy by unwittingly inventing a play that the coach would later add to his playbook. In a 1911 game a tackle-around play was called, but when Boyd went to hand off, the tackle was out of reach. Cypert spun and headed the opposite direction for a touchdown.1 Nowadays a variation of the play is called the naked bootleg.

On the diamond Cypert played third base alongside future Pirate/Nap outfielder Roy Wood and pitcher Charles Tompkins, who had a cup of coffee with the Reds. Cypert first lettered in baseball in 1911, gaining praise for his hitting talent. In 1912 Tompkins’ graduation weakened the squad and it turned in a 7-8 record. That was Bezdek’s only losing season in a career that featured an 81-37 record at Arkansas. That summer Boyd played third base and frequently batted leadoff for a semipro team in Dillon, Montana. He was regarded as an excellent fielder, showed his quickness as a base thief, and hit well. The Dillon team was an independent squad that gathered players from all over the nation. They played similar semipro teams and also Butte and Helena from the Class D Union Association. The season ran from June until early September. Cypert appeared as Seifert in some of the box scores and articles. This was possibly a ploy to hide his identity and maintain his college eligibility. In the fall he played football for the Razorbacks, but did not play baseball in the spring of 1913.

Upon graduation from Arkansas in 1913, Cypert enrolled in the Harvard Law School and received a law degree the following spring. Most aspiring lawyers would have attempted to join a prestigious firm. Cypert appeared to be in no rush and took the summer of 1914 to play baseball. It is uncertain how Cleveland learned of him. Two possible sources were former Arkansas teammate Roy Wood, then with the Naps, and former Nap player Jesse Stovall, who managed in the Union Association when Cypert played for Dillon . The Cleveland Plain Dealer first mentioned Boyd on June 27 and made no indication as to how Cleveland had heard of him. The Naps were scheduled for a June 27 doubleheader with the Browns in St. Louis and added Cypert to the roster.

The first game got out of hand and the Naps won 16-4. Manager Joe Birmingham sent Boyd in to replace Terry Turner in the seventh or eighth inning. Cypert struck out in his lone plate appearance, against George Baumgardner. Cypert stayed with the Naps for about ten days and then was optioned to Grand Rapids in the Class B Central League. With the Champs, he made two hitless appearances as a pinch-hitter and scored a run as a pinch-runner. On July 20 the Muskegon Chronicle reported that he had been secured from Grand Rapids by the Muskegon Speeders of the Class D Michigan State League. Seeing action in center field and third base, Boyd played in 60 games and batted .251 with one home run, a blast at Manistee that went through the screen above the fence. The Speeders won the league title and took on the Class C Southern Michigan Association champions from Saginaw. The Saginaw Ducks, featuring future Hall of Famer Jesse Haines, took four out of five contests. In the only Muskegon victory, Cypert had three doubles and a single. Sporting Life commented on a couple of occasions about Cypert’s promise, but he chose to halt his playing career after one season.

Cypert returned to Arkansas and entered into the practice of law. He served in the US Army during World War I with the 87th Infantry Division. The division was sent to Europe, but never saw combat. Cypert was discharged as a first lieutenant in 1919 and returned to his law practice. He was active in University of Arkansas alumni affairs and played in many alumni-varsity baseball games. He took up officiating at high-school and college football games. In 1921 he was appointed city prosecutor for Little Rock. In 1924 Cypert married Blanche Dickinson, who was raised in Howard County, Arkansas. She had briefly attended school in Fayetteville and it may have been where they met. They had one daughter, Betty Lou, born in 1925.

In 1926 Cypert was elected prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’ 6th Judicial District in 1926, . His district covered Pulaski County (Little Rock) and Perry County. It was a highly volatile time in the area. Cypert became involved in some notable cases, including a joy killing of a black man by two young whites. The jury acquitted the two men and Boyd opined that “the verdict was worse than the crime and showed the hopelessness of bringing any kind of justice where race issue is involved.” His efforts earned him support as a “fair-minded man with a decent and reasonable attitude.”2

On the heels of the Scopes trial, Arkansas passed an anti-evolution law in 1928. It banned the teaching of evolution in the state’s schools. Cypert made headlines around the country by proclaiming, “I shall not hunt any violations, nor will I attempt to interpret the law until officially called upon to do so.”3 His office would only prosecute if someone came to it with proof. The controversy over evolution, religion, and the schools attracted noted atheist Charles Smith, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism. Even before the law was passed, Smith set up shop in Little Rock and began disseminating literature claiming God was dead and extolling the virtues of atheism. Boyd took exception to Smith’s efforts and invoked English common law barring blasphemy because there was no Arkansas statute that applied. The case dragged on into 1929. Smith gained headlines by staging a hunger strike, even though he was free on bond. Eventually Smith was acquitted and left the city. The evolution law stayed on the books until the Supreme Court struck it down in Epperson v.Arkansas on November 12, 1968.

In 1929 Cypert charged a member of the Arkansas Railroad Commission with bribery. The case further enhanced his image as an honest and reasonable politician. The Democratic Party placed him on the ballot in 1932 to run against the five-term incumbent attorney general. Boyd garnered large vote totals in Little Rock and Fayetteville, but these were balanced out by voters in eastern Arkansas and he lost by a small margin. He remained prosecuting attorney until April 1933, when he was appointed business manager for the University of Arkansas athletic department. He also served as freshman athletic director and freshman football coach under head coach Fred C. Thomsen.4

The job of business manager was part treasurer and part athletic events coordinator. Cypert became involved in the scheduling of games, especially football opponents. He also worked to increase the support for the university teams, organizing booster groups throughout the state. He pushed for more games to be played in Little Rock instrad of Fayetteville. In essence Cypert became the father of the University of Arkansas Booster Association. Throughout the 1930s there did not seem to be a football-related event anywhere in the state at which he did not make an appearance. He seldom missed an opportunity to speak. Though he had made a name for himself as a prosecuting attorney, he became even more prominent in his job at the university. Newspapers covered his life in detail, going so far as to mention it when daughter Betty Lou had the mumps.

The family purchased a home in Fayetteville, where Betty Lou attended school. Blanche was active in the Parent-Teacher Association and served in numerous social/charity endeavors. Boyd served as a vice commander in the American Legion and was active in the Masonic temple. The Democrats tried to coax Cypert into running for attorney general again in 1936, but he fortuitously declined. In August 1936 Blanche was on vacation in Montana with her father and other relatives when their car was struck by a gravel truck going in the wrong direction. Her father was killed and she was seriously injured. It would be three weeks before she could be transferred back to Arkansas. There she convalesced in Little Rock. She made an excellent recovery and was able to return to a normal lifestyle by October.

Cypert returned to his duties promoting Arkansas athletics and spearheaded the effort to get a $300,000 loan/grant from the Public Works Administration to build a dormitory and field house on campus, and to improve the grandstand at the stadium. In 1937 new university president J. William Fulbright added Boyd to the law-school faculty as a lecturer in addition to his other duties. Arkansas football teams struggled in the next few years. Cypert’s tougher schedule and competition in the Southwest Conference may have been too much for Coach Thomsen. The team went 2-7-1 in 1938, then 4-5-1 and 4-6. A new set of trustees was elected in 1941 and they decided to do some house cleaning. In June they informed Cypert, Coach Thomsen, and President Fulbright that their services were no longer needed.

For nearly 20 years Cypert had led a very public and at times stressful life. Upon leaving the university he and his family returned to Little Rock briefly before leaving for Washington, D.C. There he became part of the war effort, helping to raise funds for Arkansas soldiers by serving on the executive committee of the Arkansas State Society. Otherwise he kept a low profile and avoided the political limelight in the nation’s capital. Cypert worked with the Federal Power Commission and later the US Tax Court until he retired in 1963.5 In 1972 he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Cypert died on January 9, 1973, and was buried in a private ceremony at the National Memorial Park in Falls Church, Virginia.

 

Sources

Anaconda (Montana) Standard

Atlanta Constitution

Chicago Tribune

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)

Dallas Morning Star

Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press

Jonesboro (Arkansas) Daily Tribune

Kansas City Star

Kingsport (Tennessee) Times

Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville)

Richmond (Virginia) Times Dispatch

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Washington Herald

Washington Post

Ancestry.com

arkansasrazorbacks.com

Baseball-Reference.com

encyclopediaofarkansas.net

nrs.harvard.edu (Harvard Law School)

Thanks to Gail Hennigan at Ouachita Baptist University for searching files for information on Cypert.

Thanks to the Arkansas History Commission for data from its collection on Cypert’s Washington duties and life.

 

Notes

1 Omaha World Herald, November 27, 1948.

2 Jay Jennings, Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of the American City (Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Publishing, 2010), 48. Excerpts available as a Google e-book.

3 Associated Press, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, December 7, 1928.

4 Fayetteville Daily Democrat, April 18, 1933.

5 Information on Cypert’s days in Washington was provided by the State Archives of the Arkansas History Commission.

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