Ivey Tevis: Knowing when it’s never too late

Even though Ivey Tevis began his professional baseball career in North Texas in 1902, it didn’t take long for the native of South Texas to return home. Upon his return, Tevis spent six years in the South Texas League when the state divided its professional circuit into two separately operating leagues. He also became among the best pitchers in South Texas, but his won-loss record doesn’t tell the whole story.

Iva Tevis was born June 20, 1873, to Randolph and Susan Wingate Tevis in either Beaumont or Jefferson. Randolph, a wagoner by trade, and his wife had both been born in Jefferson, and in 1880 the family resided in the important East Texas city providing the nearest navigable water way to Dallas. So contrary to some suggesting Tevis to be a native of Beaumont, it is more likely Jefferson was where he spent his youth. In 1893, Ivey Tevis married Belle Blanchette Merritt, and by 1900 the couple had indeed moved to Beaumont where Ivey worked in a saw mill. Whether he spent any of his time cutting blanks to be turned as bats is unknown, but somewhere along the way, Tevis became involved in baseball, playing in Beaumont’s amateur ranks before 1900. At the same time, he also competed on the local rodeo circuit.

In 1902, at the age of 29, a fellow South Texas baseball enthusiast, Charles  Eisenfelder of Galveston, convinced Ivey Tevis to pitch for his new Texas League franchise in Paris, far north of Galveston. Eisenfelder was a bit of a bungling businessman, but he had been involved on the Galveston sports scene for some time, serving as boxing commissioner for the city, as well as owning a feed and grain business. Apparently, Tevis either didn’t know Eisenfelder well enough to avoid his business shenanigans or at his advanced age assumed he would only get one chance to play professional baseball. He did make the trip north, if only briefly, and played eight games with the Paris Parisians. As a pitcher, Tevis went 2-3 and walked twice as many batters as he struck out. But considering his teammates finished the season 40 games out of first place, he wasn’t much worse than anyone else on the pitching staff.

The southern cities were left out of the Texas League in 1902, and a year later San Antonio, Houston, Galveston, and Beaumont formed the South Texas League. Ivey Tevis, not satisfied with his brief taste of professional baseball, signed with the Houston Buffaloes before finishing the season with the last place Beaumont Oil Gushers.  Ivey wasn’t particularly overpowering with any team, combining for a 6-11 record in 1903. A year later, he spent the entire season with the Houston Wanderers and continued his mediocrity with a 2-4 record.

At 32 years old, one might have expected Tevis to hang up his spikes, but someone still saw something in him as a pitcher. Early in 1904, Ivey played for the Beaumont Millionaires, but when the team relocated to Brenham, he moved to Galveston and joined the long-time Texas League franchise, the Sand Crabs. It was in Galveston where Tevis experienced his greatest success to date.  In 42 appearances on the season, Tevis posted a 15-18 record. But he also led the South Texas League in strikeouts with 201. He also led the league in walks with 79. He returned to Galveston in 1906, tying for the team lead with 11 wins; however, he also led the league in losses with 17.

In 1907, the North Texas and South Texas Leagues reunited, and Ivey signed with the Houston Buffaloes. While Houston finished in fourth place, Tevis was surrounded by the best lineup he had played with to date, most notably the second-year outfielder Tris Speaker.  The Buffaloes posted a 79-60 record, finishing just 8.5 games behind league champion Austin. As for Tevis, he was phenomenal in Houston, posting a 24-17 record while leading all eight teams in wins. A year later, Tevis returned, but he couldn’t match his 1907 performance, posting a 12-13 record on the third place Buffaloes. At season’s end, Tevis was signed to play in the American Association for the Indianapolis Indians. The Indians were the class of the American Association in 1908, taking the championship with a team including 20 future major league players. No record of Ivey Tevis actually appearing in a game with the Indians exists.

With the 1908 season over and Ivey Tevis beyond his 35th birthday, Ivey decided it was time to give up his unlikely foray into professional baseball. In a span of eight seasons, he managed to work his way from the ranks of an amateur ballplayer to one step shy of the major leagues.  Playing on few competitive teams, he managed to post a record of 72-83, far better than many Texas League pitchers playing far more seasons in the league. Yet, Tevis’ most notable success as a pitcher was with Galveston when he won four games in two days, pitching both ends of doubleheaders on consecutive days.

With his baseball career behind him, Ivey returned to the ranks of the regular working class. But with a little fame behind his name, Tevis no longer labored in a saw mill; instead, he returned to Beaumont and took a job with the city, first as superintendent of streets and bridges and later as a county commissioner and constable. He still held the position of constable on May 12, 1942, when he suffered a stroke and died in Beaumont’s hospital. His wife lived another five years, dying of a pulmonary embolism following a fall in which she broke several ribs. The two are buried in Beaumont’s Magnolia Cemetery.

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