Given future Hall of Famer Ray Schalk’s mastery of the catcher’s position with the Chicago White Sox for nearly two decades, Byrd Lynn had little chance to land the starting job during his short major-league career. His prospects likely became even slimmer once the 1919 Black Sox Scandal episode went public.
Although no evidence has yet emerged that links Lynn’s name to any possible wrongdoing in the fix, his close associations with Joe Jackson and Claude “Lefty” Williams might have sealed his fate with the White Sox.1 In the winter of 1921, only months before the Black Sox criminal trial began in Chicago, he was shipped off to the Salt Lake City Bees and never played another game in the major leagues.
Byrd Lynn was born in Unionville, Illinois, on March 13, 1889. (Some contemporary sources say it was 1890.)2 His father, William, was at different times a farmer and a grocer.3 After William married Esther Dye in 1874, six children ensured that the household would not remain calm for long. Byrd was third in line, with two older brothers, Anson and Clarence, and three younger sisters, True, Grace, and Kate.4 Young Byrd and his brothers helped out with their father’s grocery business.5
Around 1908 or 1909, Byrd Lynn relocated to the West Coast and met Ethel Powell. The teenage couple both worked as attendants at the Western Washington Insane Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, and were wed at the First Presbyterian Church in that city on October 12, 1910.6 They had three children together: Vernon, Byrd Jr., and Dorothy.
Lynn signed his first contract in professional baseball with the San Jose Bears of the low-level California State League in 1913.7 The 24-year-old Lynn appeared in 71 games and batted .294 in 235 at-bats under manager Walter “Judge” Nagle. The performance earned him a promotion to the Sacramento Sacts of the Pacific Coast League. He struggled at first, hitting .188 in 11 games. In 1914 his hitting improved to .292 in limited action, but his fielding was a concern.8 Among Lynn’s teammates with Sacramento was 21-year-old Lefty Williams.
In the offseason, while the Sacts were being sold to a Salt Lake City businessman who moved the team to Utah, Lynn played for Van Nuys (California) in a winter league and honed his batting skills in the cleanup slot.9
The Chicago White Sox got their first glimpse of the 5-foot-11-inch, 165-pound Salt Lake City Bees catcher10 in an exhibition game under adverse playing conditions on February 28, 1915: “Everybody is talking about Byrd Lynn. … The way he shoots the ball around the bases is something good to see. In practice he had all the basemen begging for mercy.”11
A couple of weeks later, Lynn arranged for a special exhibition game between the Bees and staff and patients from Agnews State Hospital for the Insane12 in Santa Clara, where he worked in the offseason:
[Bees manager Cliff] Blankenship tonight accepted an invitation to play the ball club of the Agnew state hospital for the insane. Afterward the Salt Lake players will be the guests of the hospital staff at luncheon. They will remain over during the evening for a dance to be given by the hospital staff. The Agnew hospital is one of the show institutions of California. The invitation was extended to the training squad through the instrumentality of Byrd Lynn, who is an attendant in one of the hospital wards. The hospital team is made up of attendants and some of the patients who are only mildly deranged mentally.13
Lynn no doubt saw the transformative power of the game on some of the patients and staff that he and Ethel had come to know personally.
In May 1915 Lynn was released by the Bees and signed by the Phoenix Senators of the Rio Grande Association. In a June 20 game at Albuquerque, Lynn broke umpire Harry Kane’s toe with his bat and earned a suspension – and even a few hours in the city jail after the game.14 Less than two weeks later, the league folded for lack of financial support, and Lynn returned to Salt Lake City.15
Lynn finished the 1915 season at Salt Lake with one of his best offensive performances, a .311 average in 55 games. It earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox, who purchased his contract from the Bees for $2,500.16 In the offseason Lynn returned to California to resume his work at the Agnews State Hospital.17
In spring training at Mineral Wells, Texas, Lynn made a positive impression: “The veteran pitchers on the club say that Lynn is almost sure of becoming a regular.”18 But with Ray Schalk entrenched behind the plate, there was no spot in the lineup for Lynn. He played in 31 games as a rookie and batted .225 in 40 at-bats. In 1917 his results were similar: he hit .222 in 72 at-bats (35 games). In the World Series against the New York Giants, Lynn struck out in one pinch-hit appearance. The White Sox were victorious in six games.
After playing in only five games in 1918, Lynn responded to the US government’s “work or fight” order by going to work in the shipyards with his teammates and friends Lefty Williams and Joe Jackson. White Sox officials found this decision to be insufficiently patriotic:
Williams and Lynn informed Manager [Pants] Rowland they would stick around awhile to help him out if he needed them, but they admitted they were headed soon for the ship yards. … Rowland told the boys he didn’t want to see them around the park any longer. They were ordered to hand in their uniforms and told to leave, and the quicker the better. … [Owner Charles Comiskey said] “There is no room on my ball club for players who wish to evade the Army draft by entering the employ of ship concerns.”19
In reality, Lynn’s situation was more complicated, as The Sporting News explained:
Lynn undoubtedly had a real grievance. He had been placed in Class Two-A … despite the fact he has two children and a wife. … Friends of Lynn had taken it up with legal talent of his home county and an appeal in the case was under consideration. Lynn said the day of his departure from the Sox that he expected to succeed in his appeal and be reclassified, but sooner or later he would be called and he might as well start work in the shipyards at once.20
The stance of the White Sox was typical during the World War I era. Lynn’s decision to work in the shipyards instead of enlisting in the military was also quite common for professional ballplayers. Whether his case merited reclassification is a detail that has often been overlooked. The moment he headed to the shipyards, that point became forever moot.
Choosing profit over his thoughts regarding their patriotism, Comiskey allowed Lynn, Williams, and Jackson to return to the team in 1919. Lynn’s fielding improved with a .982 fielding percentage in 28 games, but his batting was still subpar (.227 in 66 at-bats.) Lynn’s only appearance in the tainted World Series against the Cincinnati Reds was in Game Five, after Schalk was ejected for arguing a play at home plate. Lynn caught the final three innings and flied out in his only at-bat as the White Sox lost, 5-0.
In 1920, with a livelier ball and offense up across the major leagues, Lynn recorded a .320 batting average in only 25 at-bats (16 games) and did not make an error in the field. When the Black Sox scandal exploded near the end of the season, Lynn went on record with charges that some of his teammates had thrown regular-season games on purpose:
“We soon noticed how carefully they studied the scoreboard – more than even the average player does in a pennant race – and that they always made errors when Cleveland and New York were losing. If Cleveland won – we won. If Cleveland lost – we lost. The idea was to keep up the betting odds, but not let us win the pennant.”21
The next day, Lynn was one of 10 players who signed a public thank-you note to owner Comiskey, who had sent each of the “clean Sox” a $1,500 check to make up the difference between the winning and losing players’ shares from the 1919 World Series.22
It was the final paycheck Lynn received from the White Sox. He was sent back to Salt Lake City, along with Ted Jourdan, in exchange for promising first baseman Earl Sheely. As Chicago newspaperman Harry Neily explained, “Lynn certainly was out of luck when he was drafted on a ball club that has a complete catching staff consisting of one man [Schalk].”23 Lynn’s major-league career ended with a .237 batting average in 116 games over five seasons.
After returning to the Bees in 1921, Lynn played in 91 games and batted .247 with 23 doubles and four home runs.24 On July 15 he suffered a dislocated shoulder in a collision with Los Angeles Angels catcher Earl Baldwin that sidelined him for six weeks.25 When he returned, his effectiveness apparently was diminished: “He is back in the game now, but his throwing is yet nothing like a catcher’s should be or as Lynn’s was before his injury.”26
In the days before specialized sports medicine, a player had to choose between sitting out, typically without pay, or playing through the pain. Lynn initially chose the latter but he apparently changed his mind, since there is no record of him playing professional ball in 1922 (presumably to rest his shoulder).
By 1923 Salt Lake was unwilling to keep Lynn on the roster. The club attempted to sell him to the Reading (Pennsylvania) Keystones in May to replace Frank Kohlbecker, who had been optioned to Memphis from the St. Louis Cardinals. Since Kohlbecker was subject to recall by the Cardinals and Reading could not honor such a provision according to International League guidelines, Lynn was sent instead to the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern Association.27
After 17 games, in which Lynn hit poorly (.235) but fielded well (.988), Reading worked out a new deal to obtain his services. He played well in the International League, hitting .306 in 373 at-bats, the most plate appearances he would get in any professional season.28
In 1924 Lynn’s batting average plummeted to .222 and the following year Reading traded him to the Newark Bears, who moved to Providence in midseason then sent him back to Reading. In 1926 Lynn was named interim manager of Reading for one month, but the team continued to struggle and he was replaced by former New York Giants star Hooks Wiltse. Lynn closed his 13-year professional career with a disappointing .217 average in 345 at-bats.29
Lynn stayed involved with the sport after his days in Organized Baseball were over.
In January 1927 he answered Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s call to come to Chicago and tell what he knew about charges by Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg that a 1917 regular-season series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox had been fixed for the Tigers to win. Lynn, like most of the players from both teams, didn’t corroborate Gandil and Risberg’s accusations, testifying that he didn’t think the games were fixed. Judge Landis agreed and dismissed the charges.30
In 1927 and 1928 Lynn managed an amateur team at Dam 52 on the Ohio River near Brookport, Illinois,31 possibly to be closer to his father, William. In 1932, after resettling in Northern California, he tried his hand at scouting by referring a San Jose player to the El Paso Texans club.32
Lynn never strayed too far from the diamond, making appearances in an old-timer’s game (as a representative of the 1913 Sacramento team) in 1935 at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium33 and as an umpire in Napa a few years later.34
Throughout his adult life, Lynn worked as a hospital attendant at various state hospitals for the mentally ill in Northern California and Washington state. The first documented instance of this work is at the Western Washington Hospital for the Insane in 1911. During the same decade, he also worked at Agnews State Hospital for the Insane in Santa Clara and continued there off and on until 1936, when he moved north to Imola in Napa County. In 1937 he worked at Napa State Hospital,35 where he was employed until his death.
Lynn’s wife, Ethel, died in 1934. He died on February 5, 1940, in Napa, California. His ashes were interred next to Ethel at Mission City Memorial Park in Santa Clara.
1 During the Cook County grand jury proceedings in 1920, Jackson was asked, “Who was your best chum on the team, who did you go with on the club?” and his answer was, “Williams and Lind. I hardly ever pal with any of them there except those two.” It is clear that the court stenographer made a mistake when spelling Lynn’s name. (There was no one on the team named Lind or anything close to that.) Lynn also formed a friendship with Williams while they were teammates at Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League in 1913 and 1914 and at Salt Lake in 1915. Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out (pages 77-78) describes Lynn and Williams as longtime roommates who knew each other well and rarely talked, with a more pronounced silence occurring after the Black Sox Scandal broke publicly. Asinof also writes (page 188) that Williams ran into Lynn right after testifying before the grand jury. “In an emotional encounter,” Asinof writes, “the two shook hands without uttering any words and then never saw each other again.” The Joe Jackson biography, Shoeless, by David Fleitz, the claim is made (pages 170 and 214) that Lynn’s best friend on the White Sox, Williams, succeeded in hiding all the details of the 1919 World Series fix from Lynn by freezing him out of conversations with Williams and Jackson. The exact sources for Asinof’s and Fleitz’s intriguing observations are unknown.
2 While Lynn’s tombstone and most baseball reference sources list his birth year as 1889, his World War I draft registration card and the 1900 US Census both list 1890.
3 William was listed as a farmer on the death certificate from April 1938, but he was described as a grocer in the 1900 US Census.
4 1900 United States Census, accessed online at Ancestry.com.
6 Washington Marriage Records 1865-2004, accessed online at Ancestry.com; 1911 Tacoma City Directory by R.L. Polk and Company.
7 Reading Times, March 7, 1921.
8 He reportedly compiled a .950 fielding percentage in 1914; Salt Lake Tribune, March 14, 1915.
9 Van Nuys News: October 23, 1914; November 6, 1914; November 13, 1914; and November 20, 1914.
10 Salt Lake Tribune, March 14, 1915.
11 The source of the quote is Salt Lake Bees business manager Bill O’Connor. Salt Lake Tribune, March 3, 1915.
12 The official name was Agnews State Hospital for the Insane, though it was commonly referred to as Agnew State Hospital.
13 Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 1915.
14 El Paso Herald, June 21, 1915; Arizona Republican, June 21, 1915. Lynn was jailed for the rest of the afternoon on an assault charge, but was released on his own recognizance.
15 Santa Fe New Mexican, July 6, 1915.
16 Arizona Republican, November 10, 1915.
17 Arizona Republican, September 27, 1915; Salt Lake Tribune, November 1, 1915.
18 Decatur Review, March 27, 1916.
19 The Sporting News, June 20, 1918.
21 New York Times, October 4, 1920.
22 Chicago Tribune, October 5, 1920.
23 Washington Times, December 17, 1920.
24 1922 Reach Official American League Baseball Guide, 294, 296.
25 Salt Lake Tribune, July 16, 1921; Reno Evening Gazette, July 18, 1921.
26 Salt Lake Tribune, September 11, 1921.
27 The Sporting News, May 17 and May 24, 1923.
28 1923 stats are from 1924 Reach Official American League Baseball Guide.
29 The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida), October 16, 1926; Syracuse Herald, February 13, 1927.
30 Salt Lake Tribune, January 8, 1927.
31 Decatur Review, April 8, 1928; Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Illinois), August 22, 1971.
32 El Paso Herald Post, May 31, 1932.
33 Oakland Tribune, July 28, 1935.
34 Oakland Tribune, June 21, 1935.
35 A note in The Sporting News on June 15, 1933 reports that Byrd was working at Napa State Hospital. Byrd was listed in the directory for Agnews State Hospital that year (where voter records also place him in 1932 and 1934). If Byrd was actually at Napa State Hospital in 1933, then he might have had a more complex employment arrangement than originally thought, possibly shuttling back and forth between the different hospitals in the region.)