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November 27, 2020: The First Pitch

To celebrate Thanksgiving from a baseball perspective, we thought we’d look up ballplayers who, for various reasons, were nicknamed “Turkey.” We found four of them—we already knew of two on this list, the first two—and we thus present you with four Turkeys from the National Pastime.

Only 27 players who’ve played in the majors have a higher career batting average than Turkey Mike Donlin, who checked in at .333 when he played for the final time, in 1914, to yet again pursue his dreams of becoming star of stage and screen. Donlin was a tremendously gifted but difficult player to keep chained to a roster, frequently running off with starlets to perform in plays and, later, silent movies. As for the nickname, Donlin attracted the “turkey” label for the way he walked.

While Donlin could have made it to Cooperstown had he not kept bolting the ballyard for the stage, Turkey Stearnes did make it there after an excellent 24-year career in the Negro Leagues. And whereas Donlin walked his way to the “turkey” brand, Stearnes, with arms flopping wildly, ran his way into it. This Turkey twice topped .400 and was said to be powerful with the bat. Alas, the stats to prove it are sketchy, so we only have the eyewitness accounts of those who played alongside him. Granted, Negro League players often hyped up the hyperbole when praising their fellow players, but you had to think Stearnes was something special when Satchel Paige called him a better player than Josh Gibson. The Hall of Fame certainly thought he was pretty damn good; it inducted him in 2000.

A terrific shortstop with an awful name, Turkey Gross was good enough to start for a very bad (47-105) Red Sox team to start the 1925 season after impressing in spring training. His major league debut was highly promising; he tripled, walked, was hit by a pitch and scored twice against Lefty Grove, the future Hall of Famer making his first big-league appearance, and four other A’s relievers in Philadelphia. And that’s as good as it got for Gross, who earned the nickname because…well, we don’t know. After nine games and just three hits in 32 at-bats, Gross was back in the minors, a place he’d hang around for at least 14 years. He didn’t hang around long after his playing days were over; just a month before his 40th birthday, he died of a kidney infection.

Turkey Tyson is not be confused for Tyson Foods’ Turkey, but a player whose major league career was even more fleeting than that of Turkey Gross. In fact, Tyson registered just one at-bat—an unsuccessful pinch-hitting appearance for the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of a 5-0, one-hit loss to the Boston Braves and Jim Tobin on April 23, 1944. Even as World War II gave opportunity for more minor league-level players to get a shot in the bigs while veterans were plucked into military service, Tyson—a consistent .300 hitter in the minors—couldn’t stick with the Phillies. He remained pinned down deep in the farm system through the late 1940s, making news more for his attitude; back in the D-League in 1947, he was ejected 13 times. Maybe it’s because he liked to needle opponents and umpires by “gobbling” at him. And that’s how he earned the nickname “Turkey.”

Happy Thanksgiving; please stay safe and sane.


It Was Whatever-Something Years Ago Today

1947: For the second time in six seasons, Ted Williams is denied the AL MVP despite winning the hitters’ triple crown by leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. The Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio wins the award instead by a single point—because a sportswriter apparently at odds with Williams refuses to list him on the ballot at all.


Shameless Link of the Day

On this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to the 10 people who, more than anyone else, made the game of baseball what it is today.


You Say It’s Your Birthday

Young White Sox slugger Eloy Jimenez is 24; 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins is 42; Hall-of-Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez is 49; former catcher and ex-Angels skipper Mike Scioscia is 62; Astros starter/Pirates reliever Dave Giusti is 81. Born on this date is 1940s Cubs pitcher Johnny Schmitz (1920) and World Series winner for three teams (A’s, Red Sox and Yankees) Bullet Joe Bush (1892).


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