By then Tyler had pitched so well at two Atlanta Brave fantasy camps that he'd earned MVP and best pitcher awards. Before attending the first camp, Tyler, already in shape from years of swimming and lifting weights, limbered up by throwing a hard rubber ball against a wall near his home and by throwing a baseball to his son, Earl, and to longtime friend Orbin Howell.
Pitching in the Atlanta senior men's league posed one difficulty, because it meant making a 180-mile round-trip drive each week from Macon during the season. Tyler came up with a solution: He recruited Earl, then 42 and a pretty good ballplayer, to join the Braves as an outfielder and to serve as his designated driver. After two seasons, though, Earl gave it up because the traveling was keeping him away from the cleaning business he had taken over from his father. Now Jim is accompanied to Atlanta by Evelyn, who usually spends the afternoon at a shopping mall.
Before agreeing to play, Jim got Coleman's assurance that he would get to pitch at least a few innings each week. "I wasn't going to drive 180 miles to sit on the bench," he says.
Tyler needn't have worried. Over the last five seasons he has been one of Coleman's most consistent pitchers in a highly competitive league. Starting five of the 13 games the Braves played in 1991 and relieving in most of the others, Tyler helped pitch the team to the Greater Atlanta title and to the championship game again in '92. During one game this season an opposing batter, after striking out against Tyler, told Coleman, "That was the best damn curveball I ever saw."
Others have felt the same way. Three former big leaguers also marveled at Tyler's stuff after he whiffed them in an Atlanta Brave fantasy camp game in West Palm Beach, Fla., in February 1993. Pitching against a team of former big-league Braves, Tyler fanned Johnson, Rod Gilbreath and Pat Jarvis. True, Johnson and Jarvis were pitchers, but having played before the designated-hitter era, they had had plenty of batting experience. Then, too, Jarvis had a nominal claim to fame as a hitter; he was Nolan Ryan's first major league strikeout victim. "Now I can say that I got Pat Jarvis too," says Tyler, who flew to Arlington, Texas, three years ago to meet Ryan in the Texas Ranger clubhouse. ("Nolan was so interested in how I was able to keep on pitching that I didn't get to ask him too many questions," Tyler recalls.)
What made that strikeout trifecta all the more remarkable was that the day before, Tyler had pitched, and won, a doubleheader. "Mr. Tyler pitched a two-hit shutout in the morning, which put us into the championship game in the afternoon," says former Brave outfielder Ralph Garr, who managed Tyler's team. "He was the best pitcher I had, so I asked him if he could also pitch the second game. He said, 'I'm going to take a little rest, but I'll be ready.' "
An hour later Tyler was back on the mound in the 85� Florida heat, pitching against players in their 30's and 40's. Again he went the seven-inning distance, yielding only four hits and pitching his team to a 2-1 victory and the camp championship. "After I got the last batter, I just flopped down on the grass in front of the mound," Tyler says. "Some of the guys thought I'd had a heart attack, but I was just real tired."
Garr was amazed. "It was unreal," he says. "Mr. Tyler was outstanding." So much so that Tyler, who had pitched 33 innings in five days, was given a special "Cy Old" award at the camp's closing ceremonies.
Remarkably, Tyler has never had a sore arm. "Maybe it's because I gave it a 37-year rest," he says with a laugh. But he has had other ailments. His right knee was replaced in 1984, 31 years after cartilage in it was torn, and in 1988 a steel plate and screws were put in his left knee to keep it functioning. "They might hurt the next day, but never when I'm on the mound," he says of the knees that first got him onto the field as a professional in 1941.
That was the year Tyler began his rookie season with the Danville-Schoolfield (Va.) Leafs of the Bi-State League after signing with the Red Sox. He then spent four years in the Army during World War II, much of the time with an artillery unit in Panama, where he played ball with several big leaguers stationed there.