Ted Lyons was a trombone player in the Baylor Bears band in 1919 when a brawl broke out during a Baylor-Texas A&M football game. Lyons carefully set down his trombone and joined the fight, but during the melee, his trombone was crushed, and he couldn't afford a new one. Lyons had been a good high school baseball player, so he decided, since he had no instrument to play and had lost his musical scholarship, to try to play baseball at Baylor. He still had no aspirations to play the game professionally until White Sox catcher Ray Schalk, who was on his way to spring training, visited the Baylor team, saw Lyons pitch and recommended him to his manager, Kid Gleason. Lyons signed with the White Sox, never spent a day in the minor leagues and wound up going to the Hall of Fame.
From trombone to Cooperstown, some players have taken strange routes to pro ball, even to the major leagues. The teenagers-turned-pitchers from India, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, the subjects of the movie "Million Dollar Arm," are indeed unique. They had never played baseball. They were the winners of a reality TV contest affording them a chance to play baseball in America, which they did in the Pirates organization. Singh is still playing but is recovering from Tommy John surgery. They were athletic, had played cricket and had thrown the javelin, so at least they understood the throwing motion.
"But when I gave them a glove," said Tom House, a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who worked with the two teenagers for seven months, "they put it on the wrong hand: They thought it was to keep their hand warm, not catch the ball. I wondered, 'What have I gotten myself into?' When they went out on the field, they asked through an interpreter, 'What did he [the shortstop] do to anger someone? Why doesn't he have a base?'"
From India to the Indians, or the Pirates, would be quite a leap, but baseball has provided many such stories, some of which are detailed in a wonderful book by Craig Wright called "Pages From Baseball's Past." Ron LeFlore was a thief, first arrested at age 15, and eventually sentenced from five to 15 years for armed robbery. The Tigers signed him out of Jackson State Penitentiary in Michigan, and gainful employment was a key condition of his parole. He played in 134 minor league games and went on to become an All-Star.
Mike "Doc" Powers was a medical doctor before he became a big leaguer at age 27 for 11 years, and worked as a doctor during the offseasons of his baseball career. George Moriarty, grandfather of actor Michael Moriarty, was 18, and worked at the Oliver Typewriter Company when its company team played an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs in 1903. He fielded a hard ground ball and started a triple play, and was signed by the Cubs off that single game. Hall of Famer Max Carey, at age 13, began a six-year program in pre-ministerial studies to become a Lutheran minister. In 1913, he watched a minor league game in which the visiting team had lost its shortstop because of injury. Carey persuaded the manager to give him a tryout by showing him a track medal he won; back then, speed was a huge component of the game. Carey would finish with 738 steals.