Each year, Bakersfield, California honors its star high-school athletes with the Jim Tyack Award. Although the grandparents of most of the recent recipients were born long after Tyack excelled in baseball, football, basketball, and track at Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield Junior College, the award is a lasting testament to the legendary records and achievement by the former Philadelphia Athletics outfielder and his lasting impact on the community.
In the second half of the 19th century, Jim Tyack I, a tin miner from Cornwall in England, migrated to Virginia City, Nevada during that region’s silver rush. At about the same time, William H. Smith, a member of Troop D, Third Regiment was fighting in the Indian Wars. During that time, he was on the train that escorted Geronimo after he was captured. Tyack’s son, also named Jim, was born in Virginia City and migrated to Butte, Montana’s copper mines during the 1890’s. There, he met and married Smith’s daughter Addie, who had been born in Missoula, Montana. A child Isabelle was born to them in 1899 followed by a son Frederick in 1904. Tragedy struck the family in 1908. A neighbor, to ward off rats, had laced cookies with arsenic. Young Frederick and two of his friends, not knowing that the cookies were poisoned, ate them, and he eventually died (the other two boys survived). Three years later, Jim Tyack III was born in Florence, Montana on January 9, 1911. Some sources list his year of birth as 1913. Jim shaved a couple of years off his age when he was in the minor leagues.
When he was a youngster, Jim’s family made its way west to California. His dad had worked in housing construction in Montana, and as the copper mines became less profitable, the housing market suffered. Jim’s mom had family in California and to California the family went in 1919. His father made a living homesteading property in the community of Weed Patch, not far from Bakersfield, and grew vegetables on a ranch.
At Bakersfield High School (it was known as Kern County Union High School in those days), Jim was coached in football and baseball by Dwight M. “Goldie” Griffith. He didn’t play football until his junior year of high school because his mom Addie feared injury. Coach Griffith paid a visit to the family homestead in Weed Patch and persuaded Addie that football would make a better man out of Jim. Coach Griffith’s recruitment visit proved successful and in 1927 the Kern County Drillers, with Tyack leading the way, won the California state championship, soundly defeating Stockton, 28-0, for the title. Tyack also lettered in basketball and track while in high school. In his high school yearbook, it was noted that, as a fullback, he “made many a defense shudder with his fast, powerful line smashes.”
After completing high school, he enrolled at Fresno State Teachers College and played football there during the fall of 1929. The team played against UCLA that season and was overmatched, losing 56-6. Tyack accounted for all of his team’s points with a second-quarter touchdown.
He transferred to Bakersfield Junior College in the fall of 1930, where he excelled in track for the Bakersfield Junior College Renegades, earning the nickname “Jack Rabbit” Jim Tyack. In 1931, he set school records of 9.6 seconds and 21.5 seconds in the 100 and 220 yard dashes. The records stood for 19 and 30 years, respectively. In 1932, it was customary for him to win both dashes, as well as the long jump in many of his team’s meets. On April 2, 1932, he set a track record at UCLA, running the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. Coach “Spud” Harder used his “one-man team” in many events during the season, and Tyack won the javelin throw in a meet on April 9, 1932.
On the eve of the West Coast relays, a writer in the Bakersfield Californian commented that “the Bakersfield coach has entered his chief star, Jim Tyack, in the 100-yard-dash, broad jump, shot put, javelin throw, 880 relay, and as a possible alternate in one of the 440 yard laps of the mile relay. While Tyack is doing none of these things, he will probably be watching the carnival and eating hot dogs and ice cream.”
During the summer of 1932 he played semipro baseball for the Cardiff and Peacock club in the Bakersfield Night League, leading his team in batting with a .352 average, as they finished second in the league with a 13-5 record. No sooner had he finished the season in the Night League, than he joined Lamont of the Recreation Park League.
On February 7, 1933, Tyack was signed by the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. He was unable to survive the cut at the end of spring training. The following season, he went to spring training with the Seattle Indians of the PCL, but once again did not make the squad.
He wound up playing semipro softball in California, and caught the eye of a St. Louis Cardinals scout. The Cardinals signed him in 1936 and he got his first opportunity to play in Organized Baseball. After spending some time with Springfield, Illinois in the Class C Western Association , where he did not play, he was sent to Asheville (North Carolina) in the Class B Piedmont League, where he homered in his first at-bat on May 7, part of a 2-for-4,four-RBI day in a 10-2 win over Rocky Mount. He batted .296 for the season. However, his play in the field was erratic, and he led the league’s outfielders with 22 errors. The poor fielder tag was one that he would never lose, regardless of how hard he tried, and how many sparkling plays he made.
Tyack and his high school sweetheart Margaret Goodrich were married in Tijuana, Mexico in January, 1933, although some records list the date of their marriage as September 11, 1936 when a second ceremony was performed in Bakersfield. They had three sons. Their first son James IV was born on January 30, 1939. A year later, when Jim was playing in Little Rock, William Robert Tyack came along, and Thomas Albert Tyack was born in 1949, by which time Jim was no longer in baseball. Their sons would present them with eight grandchildren.
Margaret accompanied Jim to Asheville and it was their first experience in the South and with Southern ways. Their son Jim remembers a story about a time when Margaret was planning to take the bus to the ballpark. She arrived very late and joined the other wives. When asked what caused her to be late, she mentioned that she had allowed a Negro woman with a couple of children on the bus ahead of her. The bus driver, aghast that she would show such courtesy, slammed the door in Margaret’s face and she had to wait for the next bus.
In 1937, Tyack started the season with Decatur\(Illinois) in the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, where he batted .264 in 26 games. But he found himself back with Asheville by early June, batting .246 over the balance of the season. One of his better efforts came on June 9, when he went 3-for-5, with a game-winning home run as Ashville defeated Richmond, 6-5.
In 1938, Tyack was with Bellingham (Washington) in the Class B Western International League. The team finished second in the league and defeated Yakima in the postseason playoffs for the league championship. He batted .314 with 32 doubles, 14 triples, and 15 homers, all career highs to that point, and led the league in triples, homers, and total bases. He also, unfortunately, led the league’s outfielders in errors with 14. He was acquired by the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and began the season with them in 1939.
Early on, manager Red Killefer said, “The boy really can hit, and he’s fast as lightning. We’ve got a flock of outfielders, but I’m going to give him a thorough trial.” Tyack did well during spring training, a highlight coming when he connected for a single and double in a 7-4 win over the Chicago White Sox in the first game played at Hollywood’s Gilmore Stadium. (Actually, Gilmore Stadium was a temporary venue for the team, its main purpose being to host football games and car races. The team moved into its permanent home, Gilmore Field, in May.)
On the eve of the season, Tyack exclaimed to Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times that “The toughest thing in baseball is to get a decent break. I’ve been waiting all my life for this chance and you can bet I’ll give ‘em all I got from the first gun.”
He showed off his speed on Opening Day, singling and scoring from first base on a double in the fifth inning as the Stars overcame a four-run deficit and defeated the Angels, 10-9.
In his team’s second game of the season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 2, he went 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs in a 10-6 Stars’ win in the first game of the doubleheader.
In two games, he had acquired as many nicknames. Teammates were calling him Kayak Nyack for his display of speed akin to a kayak’s racing through the water, and the Los Angeles Times had a picture of him on April 3 with the caption “Stars boast another ‘Ty’: Introducing Jim (Ty) Tyack, not Cobb, who banged a homer and single yesterday and also made a spectacular catch to help Hollywood win opener from Angels, 10-6.”
The surging Stars took their fourth win in five games on April 5 as Tyack played the hero, doubling with the bases loaded to drive in two runs in his squad’s four-run third inning, en route to a 4-3 win over Portland.
Through 10 games, Tyack was batting .350, but his hitting began to deteriorate and he found himself on the bench. Going into the doubleheader on May 28, he had appeared on only 35 of his team’s 56 games, and his average had plummeted to .247.
At the conclusion of the doubleheader loss at Oakland on May 28, the Stars had fallen off the pace and were in sixth place (in the eight-team league) with a record of 26-32. On that day, Tyack went 3-for-8, including a double and a triple but was knocked unconscious in a collision at second base in the sixth inning of the second game, when his head smashed into the knee of the Oakland shortstop. He had reached base on an infield hit and on the subsequent play was hurt. The injured Tyack was carried from the field and taken to the local hospital for observation, as it was feared that he had suffered a concussion. His injury kept him sidelined and, on June 24, he was farmed out to Little Rock of the ClassA-1 Southern Association, where he stayed through July 30. He batted .354 in 39 games with Little Rock, earning a recall to Hollywood on August 4, much to the disappointment of the fans in Little Rock. With the Travelers, he fashioned a 19-game hitting streak, during which he batted .380. The team escaped the cellar in the eight-team league and by the time he left had climbed into sixth place. The move back to Hollywood was expedited by injuries to three key Stars outfielders.
All healed, the speedster was once again getting notices in the Los Angeles Times. On August 11, writer Bob Ray noted that “A positive fielding sensation is Jim Tyack, the fleet-footed Hollywooder who has replaced George Puccinelli in right field for the Stars. Tyack has made spectacular catches in practically every game he has played for the Twinks since his recall from Little Rock. He covers more territory than an R. F. D. mailman.” He was put in match races against players from other teams. On August 6, between games of a doubleheader, he defeated Bill Sweeney of the Portland Beavers, rounding the bases in 14.0 seconds. That same day, he doubled in each game as the Stars defeated Portland by identical 8-6 scores.
By that point, however, the Stars were out of contention despite their success at the beginning of the season. The following Sunday, he was to be pitted against Ted Jennings of the San Francisco Seals, but, on August 11, Tyack sprained his ankle when he ran into the bleacher railing chasing a fly ball and was out of the starting lineup for almost three weeks. When he returned, he went on a tear, raising his average with the Stars from .252 to .284. Nevertheless, the team couldn’t escape the second division and finished in fifth place. As predicted in The Sporting News in its September 7 issue, the team underwent significant changes during the offseason and Tyack was sold outright to Little Rock.
He batted .306 for the Travelers in 1940, but, except for a couple of late-season pinch-hitting appearances, did not play after June 20. He broke his arm on June 20 in a collision at second base, trying to break up a double play, in the second inning of a 6-2 loss to Chattanooga. He only played in 58 games for Little Rock. Before his season came to an unfortunate halt, he had tripled in the decisive run in a 12-inning 6-5 win over Nashville on May 21.
For the first time in three years, Tyack was completely healthy in 1941 and batted .335 for Little Rock. In a slugfest on July 20, the Travelers defeated Knoxville 11-10 in 10 innings, as he hit a first-inning grand slam. But there were few highlights for Little Rock in 1941 as they finished sixth in the eight-team Southern Association. Tyack continued to have problems in the field. Although he did gun down 15 runners, he led the league’s outfielders in errors with 17.
Tyack was still in Little Rock in 1942, and following their showing in 1941, not much was expected in 1942. Surprisingly, the team was in contention all season and Tyack played a major role in their success, especially during the latter part of the season. On August 16, in a doubleheader sweep of Birmingham, he went 2-for-4 in the opener, scoring each of his team’s two runs. He homered to lead off the game and doubled and scored the decisive tally in the ninth inning. In the nightcap, he went 2-for-3, knocking in both of Little Rock’s runs with a fifth-inning triple. On August 30, in the nightcap of a doubleheader sweep, he also starred, hitting a home run to give his team a 3-2 win in the bottom of the 14th inning. The fans were so appreciative that they took up an impromptu collection for Tyack and pitcher Frank Papish, who had pitcher the entire game. Each player received $51.07, a cigar, and a streetcar fare token.
Down the stretch, the Travelers won 13 straight games to capture the Southern Association pennant after being given a one in 100 chance of winning at the beginning of the season. For the season, Tyack batted .309 with 12 homers, his best home run output since 1938, and a league-leading 19 triples.
By the time the United States entered World War II, Jim and Margaret had two children and he was not among the ballplayers called to serve in the military. In 1942 he had done well enough with Little Rock that Connie Mack purchased his contract at the end of the season and he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943.
A letter from Mr. Mack arrived at the Tyack household instructing him to report to the A’s immediately. In 1943, that meant reporting to an armory in Wilmington, Delaware, where the A’s were training for the upcoming season.
Jim Tyack, at age 32 and after three years of college, another three years playing softball and semipro ball in California, and seven years in the minors, was thrilled at the opportunity to play in the major leagues, regardless of the circumstances. People around the country woke up on April 15 to read the story that first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was picked up by the Associated Press. They learned all about “lanky, raw-boned, Jim Tyack, who looks more like a railroad engineer than a rookie,” and his long journey to his opportunity to play in the big leagues. He said, “Golly, I’ve heard ballplayers say, ‘Let them send me back to the bushes just so I can get the same money.’ [his major-league salary was less than his minor-league salary.] Well, let them cut [my salary] if they want to, just so I can stay up here.”
He began the 1943 season in the A’s Opening Day lineup, after beating out Roberto Estalella for the left-field job and played in each of the team’s first 11 games. On Opening Day in Washington, he had two hits, a double and single, with two RBIs, but the A’s lost to the Senators 7-5. His third-inning double off Dutch Leonard was his first major-league hit and keyed a three-run rally. He went 2-for-4 and 3-for-5 in consecutive wins over the Red Sox on April 23-24; he was batting .389. However, this success was short-lived, and he went into a slump that saw his average drop to .236 by the end of May.
On April 27, despite going 0-for-7, he sparkled in the field with two spectacular plays in a 16-inning 2-1 win over Washington. In the second inning, he speared a bases-loaded line drive of the bat of Early Wynn to snuff out a rally, and in the ninth inning he cut off a double by Mickey Vernon andgunned the ball to the cutoff man Dick Siebert who relayed the throw home in time to nail Washington’s Bob Johnson and send the game into extra innings.
June arrived and Tyack’s bat reawakened. His highlight of the month came on June 13 when he went 5-for-7 with four RBIs in a doubleheader sweep of the first-place Yankees, ending New York’s five-game winning streak. The sweep evened the A’s record at 24-24. In the first game, he singled in the tying run, and in the second game he knocked in each of the A’s three runs, two of them with his first and only major-league triple. As noted in the New York Times, “[Yankees pitcher] Bill Zuber found that he was playing with fire every time Jim Tyack swung a bat with men on the bases.” Tyack’s average stood at .287. However, his fielding was suspect. Although he had made only two errors, he lacked the range necessary to play regularly in the major leagues.
In all, he appeared in 54 games with the A’s and batted .258 with eight doubles, one triple, and no home runs. He had 23 RBIs. His last game was on August 1. On August 2, he was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League in exchange for Jimmy Ripple.
He first appeared with Toronto in a doubleheader on August 5, hitting two doubles and a triple for the Maple Leafs as they swept Syracuse 1-0 and 4-2. He spent the balance of 1943 with Toronto, batting .253 in 41 games and returned to the Maple Leafs for the entire 1944 season. He batted .314 for the Maple Leafs in 1944, and his 15 stolen bases included a steal of home on May 8 against Syracuse. He moved on to the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1945, batting .326, with career highs in RBIs (69) and stolen bases (19), but as more players returned from the war, his playing time and productivity decreased in 1946. In his second and last season with Los Angeles, he got into only 100 games and batted .244.
Tyack spent his final two seasons in the low minors. In 1947, the 36-year-old Tyack served as the player-manager of the Pocatello (Idaho) Cardinals of the Class C Pioneer League. His family in tow, he found an apartment that was adjacent to an area nightclub. This made for some noisy nights. He had family in the area and was able to visit with cousins when the team travelled to Boise. He batted .342 for the season. While at Pocatello, he stirred the wrath of league president Jack Halliwell. Each time he was fined, he would pay off the fine at home plate – with a sack full of pennies, which Halliwell had to count. After a while, Halliwell insisted that the fines be paid with paper money. The following season, he started the season with Willows (California) in the Class D Far West League, where he was the player-manager. He was let go in early July and finished up playing in his hometown for Bakersfield in the Class C California League.
His playing days over, it was time to get on with the rest of his life. Tyack had five cousins in the tire business in Los Angeles. They were the grandchildren of that old Indian fighter, William Smith. They operated an outlet called Five Brothers Tires in Montebello, near Los Angeles. However, there were no recapping and treading facilities in Los Angeles. There was a recapping and treading facility in Bakersfield at the Oil Field Trucking Company, and Tyack joined in the business as a partner. Two of the cousins joined him and the business proved quite profitable. Each Wednesday, a truck filled with used bald tires would arrive in Bakersfield from Los Angeles, and Jim and the two cousins would recap the tires and send them back to Los Angeles to be sold at the Five Brothers store.. Tyack eventually proceeded to buy out his partners (all of whom by then were back in Los Angeles) and opened and operated a successful tire distributorship in Bakersfield. He continued to play semipro ball after leaving Organized Baseball.
In 1974, he was inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in Bakersfield. His wife Margaret passed away in 1994. Tyack suffered two heart attacks about a month apart and died on January 3, 1995. He was posthumously honored in 2014 as being one of only two players to letter in four sports at Bakersfield Junior College.
Dawson, James P. “Yankees Bow Twice to the Athletics after Running Streak to Five Victories,” The New York Times, June 14, 1943, 22.
Dyer, Braven. “The Sports Parade: Jim Tyack Gets a Break at Last and will Open the Season in Right Field for Hollywood Club,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1939, A-15.
Press, Larry. “Uhalt, Tyack, Culver Enter Bob Elias Hall,” The Bakersfield Californian, January 29, 1974, 12.
Smith, Red. “These are Bad Times for the Big Dreams of Young and Old Who Don’t Make Majors,” Milwaukee Sentinel, March 26, 1956, 2, 14.
Wiley, Tom. “Tyack Belts Home Run to Defeat Mooersmen,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 30, 1937, 16.
The Bakersfield Californian
Los Angeles Times
The New York Times
The Sporting News
Interviews with James Tyack IV on August 4, 2014 and S