204. "Circus" John Byers

What have you done for the love of a sport or activity?


“Circus” John Byers clearly loved baseball. He was born sometime around 1870 in Tennessee and first played semi-pro baseball in 1893 for the Indianapolis Ben-Hurs. He played for several semi-pro teams through the years and also played for and coached many local teams in Kokomo. In his early years, he worked for circuses, which is where he picked up his nickname. He also spent some time working on steamboats on the Mississippi River. In the early 1900s, he returned to baseball, playing for teams in several Midwest states and New York. He came to Kokomo in 1919 and organized the Western Black Sox, serving as a pitcher.  


In the mid to late 1920s Byers played for several ball clubs in Ohio before returning permanently to Kokomo in 1929. He is also remembered for organizing youth teams to help young men “become good baseball players and good men.” Players on his teams were not allowed to smoke, drink or curse.


Many of the teams Byers played for were semi-professionals, traveling from place to place playing local ball clubs and other semi-pros. The H B Giants was a Kokomo business team. In a June 1920 box score, Byers is listed as playing left field with the H B Giants and collecting one hit in four at-bats.


It is unlikely that John Byers played for any of the professional Negro League teams that existed from 1920 to 1948, as he would have been 50 years old in 1920. However, Byers continued playing and coaching into the 1950s. He is documented as pitching a no-hitter in September 193 2 (age 62) and was featured in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel in October 1942 for “still pitching baseball at the age of 72.” He died in 1960 and was reportedly buried in his baseball uniform in Crown Hill Cemetery.


Where do you think Byers was more inspiring – as a player, as a coach, or as an athlete who didn’t let age stop him from playing?