, Derry, New Hampshire

September 26, 2013

Column: Pitcher learned the importance of good dental hygiene

Rick Holmes
Derry News

---- — It’s September, so its time for my annual baseball story. And once again I honor George “Lefty” Tyler. He was born in Derry in 1889 and attended Pinkerton Academy before being drafted into pro-baseball. In 1910, he began pitching for the Boston Braves of the National League. In 1914, he was part of a legendary three-pitcher rotation of the “Miracle Braves” that won the World Series in four straight games. All that biographical stuff you may have already known but here is something about Lefty’s life you probably never knew.

In 1918, he was pitching for the Chicago Cubs and was having a fantastic year. He won 19 games and lost only 9. That year in the league, he tied for first in shutouts, second in wins and fourth in winning percentage with an ERA of 2.0. He helped the Cubs win the pennant that year. Lefty pitched very well in the World Series but the Cubs (as usual) managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory and lost to the Red Sox, led by Babe Ruth.

The next year, Cub’s president William Veeck (it rhymes with “wreck”) wanted to do better and told his manager Fred Mitchell to push his players hard. In early April, the players were called to spring training in Pasadena, Calif. Lefty felt very confident that he would even top last year’s stellar pitching performance. After pitching a few innings he began to notice a sore spot at the top of his arm. He dismissed the pain as being nothing more then being out of shape after the winter’s off-season. Lefty was sure it’d go away in a few days.

As spring training progressed the pain grew worse. Lefty refused to let it stop him and he kept pitching. Tyler won his first game against St. Louis 4-1. Each pitch was torturous but he kept hurling without complaint. Five days later he pitched against the Pirates but had to walk off the mound after a few innings; the pain had become so bad he had to bench himself. Lefty was ordered by Mitchell to rest his arm for a couple of weeks. He pitched a few more games but in June he was mercifully benched for the rest of the season. Many fans wondered if he would ever come back to the mound.

The team doctor examined the Derry southpaw and diagnosed the pain as coming from neuritis. This condition, an inflammation of the nerves, may be brought about by a tumor or by scarred connective tissues. Even today with severe cases of neuritis the normal functioning of an arm may never be restored. The doctor told Lefty his career was over likely over. The Cubs’ management was particularly depressed. With Tyler’s departure, they had lost their best left-handed pitcher and who was expected to win at least 20 games that season.

Veeck decided he had to give it one last shot and sent a telegraph to Lefty ordering the pitcher to board the next train to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.. The doctors there were ordered to spare no expense in finding out what wrong with the superstar. Lefty was given every test the clinic’s doctors could think of. Finally, after days of prodding and poking, the physicians proclaimed Tyler (6 feet tall and weighing 175 pounds) to be a perfect specimen of manhood. They could find absolutely no sign of neuritis or even arthritis.

The only fault they could find with the mighty Lefty Tyler was that he had very bad teeth. A dozen X-rays of his jaw revealed that most of his jaw was suffering from a massive infection. The physicians theorized that if Lefty would have the bad teeth removed the pain in his arm would disappear. He agreed and soon George had only two teeth left in his jaw. He stayed at the clinic for a few days extra to “cleanse his blood of the poison” from the infected teeth.

The dental solution worked. Next February, Lefty Tyler reported to the Cubs’ spring training at Hot Springs, Ark. He seemed back to his old form. Newspapers across the nation reported that “Veeck and Mitchell are happier than they have been in a long time, for the verdict is that Tyler’s pitching days are not over.”

And so kids, the moral of this tale is that you should brush your teeth and have regular check-ups by skilled professionals like Doctors Banister, Dion and Ahern: Your success on the soccer field or basketball court may depend on it.

George “Lefty” Tyler would play for Chicago for the next couple of seasons. He retired in 1921. For the next several years he pitched for the Lawrence Independents, a semi-pro team, at the then fantastic sum of $750 a month. For decades afterwards he was an umpire in local amateur games in the Lowell-Lawrence area. Lefty’s post-baseball employment was as a leather cutter in a Lowell shoe factory. He died in 1953; he was only 63 years old.

Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.