So much has been written about players who have made an impact on the history of Major League Baseball. Sometimes there is a player who may not have accomplished very much that can bring light to things that did. In other words, accomplishments of great players bring memories back to the teams they played for, especially the teams that they accomplished said feats with. Occasionally, something that seems like a little side note (perhaps not even worthy of one) can open up a door to a team that has been forgotten about for over 100 plus years.
Thanks to baseball reference dot com, I stumbled over a random page of a one time third baseman for the Cleveland Naps in 1914. His name was Al Cypert (Alfred Boyd Cypert). Maybe his biggest accomplishment in the game of baseball was the fact that he was one of the less than 19,000 people who have existed in this world that can say they officially played in the major leagues. His major league career consisted of just one game, just one at bat, and that at bat resulting in a strike out in the eighth inning of a 16-4 victory against the St. Louis Browns. As a player getting into just one game, he was likely to remember every detail. He struck out against a pitcher named George Baumgardner, who pitched the last three innings of that lopsided contest for the Browns. The manager on the other side was none other than Branch Rickey, who would later become one of the most innovative executives the game has ever seen. April 15th has just passed, and major league baseball has once again celebrated the great Jackie Robinson, whom Rickey employed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African American ballplayer in the modern era of baseball.
Cypert later served the United States in World War I in 1918, one of the 775 former major league players to be able to stake that claim. “Al”, “Boyd”, or “Cy,” as he was often called all three, was the first major league player to come from the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. Since then, there have been a total of 21 other major league players to come from that city, among them Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, former San Diego Padres and New York Mets outfielder Kevin McReynolds as well as current Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Travis Wood. Former major league umpire Bill Valentine was born and died in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Before his death in 1973, Cypert could have discussed that game and that season in general. Why would he have not wanted to talk about being on a team that had two of the better hitters to ever put on a major league uniform? One of them was the namesake of that team, Nap Lajoie (Napoleon Lajoie), a no doubt Hall of Fame level player (inducted in 1937) who was finishing his last season with the team. Lajoie would get his 3,000th hit during that season and after 1914 would finish his career with two seasons on Connie Mack‘s Philadelphia Athletics.
He also got to play with the great Shoeless Joe Jackson, the soon to be legendary outfielder who managed to hit for a career batting average of .356, only topped by Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby in the history of the game. Of course, Jackson was better known as a member of the Chicago White Sox, the team Cleveland traded him to the following season. Jackson was better known for his role, albeit minimal, in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, which nearly destroyed the sport.
After that scandal, baseball hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be its first commissioner. Landis would be given full autonomy and the ability to use his judgement to set precedent over all law that had previously existed in the game to that point. Of course, Landis would rule that all eight players that had been proven to be involved in the fix of the 1919 World Series be banned from the game of baseball for life. However, it was Landis who had an even bigger impact on the game as it would go on for the next twenty plus years.
There has to be some correlation between the fact that Landis served as the Commissioner of Baseball for 24 years and there was never an African American player to play in the major leagues. There are conflicting reports over whether Landis ever “banned” blacks from playing in the major leagues, but, there was evidence that Landis was a noted bigot and never supported any movements made to integrate the game. In fact, it was not until his death in 1944 that it seemed there was even a chance for an African American player to play in the major leagues.
The 1919 Black Sox led to major league baseball hiring Landis as commissioner. Without Landis, there is a chance the game could have been integrated sooner. Hall of Fame outfielder Monte Irvin has said to me (reference, Passed Ball Show courtesy of www.johnpielli.com) that perhaps if it was not for the scandal leading to the hire of Landis, a black player would have had a better chance to play in the major leagues. Rickey, who managed a long time before coming a forever renowned executive, had a major role in the integration of the game.
Boyd Cypert had no role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, nor did he have anything to do with the appointment of Landis as commissioner or the integration of baseball in 1947. But he did play in a game with Jackson, who was involved in what became baseball’s black eye, something that was in need of serious attention. If it was true that Landis was a bigot, there is every reason to believe that he was holding African American players out of the game. Cypert also played his only major league game against Rickey, who served as the Browns manager. It is very fitting how one player who gained just one at bat in one game can connect to so much that happened over the course of major league history. Maybe he does not, but it makes for a very interesting story for those who enjoy the history of America’s past time. Like Landis, Cypert was a longtime judge.
Cypert could also tell the tale of that 1914 Cleveland team he played for, the one that lost 112 games. The Indians catcher was Steve O’Neil, a decent player who would later manage four major league teams and over 1800 games as well as have three brothers also play in the big leagues. The Indians had a shortstop by the name of Ray Chapman, known for being hit in the head in a game in 1920 by a pitch thrown by Boston Red Sox pitcher Carl Mays that would end up taking his life. The Indians of that season would later win their first World Series and dedicate it to their fallen player.