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Jimmie Lyons

James Lyons
Nickname: Jimmie

Career: 1910-1925
Positions: lf, cf, rf, p, manager
Teams: St. Louis Giants (1910-1912, 1915-1917, 1919), New York Lincoln Giants (1911), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1914), Indianapolis ABCs (1915-1918), Bowser's ABCs (1916), Jewell's ABCs (1917), Chicago Giants (1917), military service (1918-1919), Detroit Stars (1920), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1920), Chicago American Giants (1921-1925), Washington Potomacs (1924), Cleveland Browns (1924), Louisville Black Caps (1932)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 8''   Weight: 175
Born: Chicago, Illinois

One of the fastest men ever to wear a baseball uniform, Jimmie Lyons fit precisely into Rube Foster's style of play. A good hitter and an expert drag bunter, he utilized his speed at the plate as well as in the field and on the bases. He took an exceptionally long lead and, with speed comparable to that of Cool Papa Bell, he was rarely picked off or thrown out at second on attempted steals.

Finding his niche with the Chicago American Giants during the early 1920s, when the Giants were dominating black baseball, his all-around ability contributed heavily to their successive pennants in the first three years of the old Negro National League's existence. In 1920, the first year of the league, he hit .386 and stole a league-high 22 bases in 44 games. The next year he stole 28 bases, but his batting average dropped to .289, and in 1922, although he continued to bat in the third slot, his average dropped again, to .249. In 1923 the American Giants lost the title to the Kansas City Monarchs, with Lyons batting .251 for the season.

Prior to joining the American Giants, he played amateur ball in Chicago's Church League as a youngster, but began his professional career in 1910 with the St. Louis Giants. A year later he was playing left field and batting in the third slot while also taking an occasional turn on the mound. Late in the season he joined the top eastern club, the New York Lincoln Giants, and batted .452 in limited play. While with the Lincolns, he and Spot Poles formed the fastest outfield duo in the history of black baseball, and in one exhibition game against a major-league all-star team Lyons collected a pair of hits off Walter Johnson. During the ensuing winter, the youngster played in the Cuban League and hit for a .288 average, returning afterward to the St. Louis Giants for the 1912 season. The St. Louis franchise was not the most stable ballclub, and during his tenure with the team he would leave intermittently for stints with other ballclubs before finally leaving the team for good when he joined the American Giants.

In 1914 he joined the eastern champion Brooklyn Royal Giants and hit .375 in limited play. Returning to the St. Louis Giants in 1916, he was their center fielder and leadoff hitter, but when the team broke up in May of the following year, he joined the Indianapolis ABCs but encountered physical problems that curtailed his playing time. He had first joined the ABCs in the late fall of 1915, but his time with them was during a difficult time for the franchise. His tenure with the ABCs was a bit troubled, as he played with a splinter team for parts of two season (Bowser's ABCs in the early part of 1916 and Jewell's ABCs in late July 1917) before returning to manager C.I. Taylor's fold. In 1918 Lyons teamed with Oscar Charleston and George Shively to form one of the greatest outfields of all time.

Along with teammate Dave Malarcher, Lyons was drafted into the Army during World War I. He played baseball in the Allied Expeditionary Force League in Le Mans, France, against a team that included Ty Cobb's brother, who claimed that Lyons played better than the Tiger superstar. After his tour of duty was over, the outfield star remained in the East for a while before rejoining the St. Louis Giants in 1919 as their right fielder and leadoff batter.

When the Negro National League was formed in 1920, Lyons was assigned by Rube Foster to the Detroit Stars to provide better balance for the newly formed league. However, Lyons's stay with the Stars was short, and he left them during the season to join the Bacharachs in the East. A hard competitor and an aggressive base runner, Lyons always kept his spikes sharpened and would cut a fielder without compunction. After being added to the Bacharachs' roster in late August, he added John Beckwith to his list of victims when, on a steal attempt, he cut the big infielder.

After the end of the season, Rube Foster traded for him, and his talent and Rube's style of play proved to be a perfect marriage as the speedy outfielder's presence and performance helped the American Giants win Negro National League flags in 1921 and 1922. His stay with the team was not uneventful, however, as he suffered injuries in late July 1921 when he fell twenty-five feet down an open elevator shaft in Cincinnati. Lyons was among a large number of other veteran players who were unconditionally released by Foster in the spring of 1925 in a youth movement. After ending his active playing career, Lyons tried his hand with the managerial reins, managing the Louisville Black Caps in 1932.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.