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A look back at the career of Lindy McDaniel

Three decade legend

Lindy McDaniel. The name alone never really inspired fear but make no mistake, in his time, Lyndall Dale McDaniel could pitch with the best of them. By the time he got to Kansas City, in 1974, he was already 38 years old and entering his 20th year as a major league player. His age almost certainly worked against him, as the Royals were supposedly trying to build a young team. Lindy, at 38, looked like he was 50. Plus, he came to the Royals in a trade for Lou Piniella and pitcher Ken Wright. Wright was an afterthought, but Piniella, who in addition to being a fine player, was also a fan favorite. If that weren’t enough, the trade was with the Yankees and older Kansas City fans still hated the idea of any trade involving New York.

Lindy McDaniel was born December 13th, 1935, in Hollis, Oklahoma, a one-stoplight town in the extreme southwest corner of the state. His parents named him after famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. He was an outstanding athlete, having played basketball and baseball in his one year at the University of Oklahoma. His brother Von pitched briefly for the Cardinals and another brother, Kerry Don, pitched in the minor leagues. Their cousin was famed Texas football coach Darrell Royal.

There must have been something in the water in Hollis. For a town of 2,900 people, they produced many high-profile athletes and coaches. Royal was born there in 1924. Professional football players Willie Manley (1926) and Leon Heath (1928) were both from Hollis. Legendary Kansas basketball coach Ted Owens was born in Hollis in 1929. The three McDaniel boys came along in 1935, 1938, and 1943. To top it off, former Kansas City and Oakland Athletic radio man Monte Moore was also from Hollis, born in 1930. That’s an impressive output of talent for a small town.

Lindy took his job seriously. He was one of the first baseball players to work out year-round and that certainly played a part in his longevity. He was also a deeply religious man, attending Abilene Christian College and Florida Christian College during off-seasons. He later became a minister for the Church of Christ and was the editor of a religious newsletter called “Pitching for the Master”.

McDaniel originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $50,000 in August of 1955 after wrangling with owner August Busch, which qualified him as a Bonus Baby. Among the bonus baby pitchers of the era, only Sandy Koufax ended with more wins. McDaniel appeared in four games at the tail end of 1955 as the Cardinals were going nowhere on their way to a 68-86 season. The 19-year-old Lindy pitched 19 innings, giving up 10 runs on 22 hits. Not a great start.

Things went much better for him in 1956 as he appeared in 39 games and recorded a 3.40 ERA. He won 15 games for the Cards in 1957 before the team figured out that he would be more effective in the bullpen. McDaniel threw primarily a fastball, slider, forkball trio, and the move to the pen worked. McDaniel always liked a lot of work, and the Cards gave it to him. He led the National League in saves in 1959 and 1960. He made his only All-Star team in 1960 while finishing third in the Cy Young voting and 5th in the MVP tally. He appeared in 336 games for St. Louis, going 66 and 54 with 66 saves, before they traded him to the Chicago Cubs in October of 1962. It was bad timing for Lindy, going from a rising Cardinal team to the Cubs, who were perennial losers.

By 1964, the Cardinals were World Series champions. That was a theme that followed McDaniel everywhere. Pitch well for a losing team. Losing team starts to win. Team trades him to another loser right as they get good. He still holds the major league record for most regular season appearances (987) without ever reaching the post-season. It’s a record that might never be broken. He pitched on the northside for three seasons, before the Cubs traded him to the San Francisco Giants. After three seasons in San Fran, the Giants sent him to the Yankees, where he spent six productive years while the Yankees retooled. Then came the Piniella trade and the final two seasons in Kansas City. The Royals released him after the 1975 season and his long and illustrious career was over. Of course, as was his luck, the Royals made their first playoff appearance in 1976.

Despite never making the playoffs, McDaniel never complained. He kept taking the ball when called upon and pitched very well. At times he was brilliant. In August of 1968, he retired 32 consecutive batters in a four-game span. In one of those games, he pitched seven perfect innings of relief against the Tigers.

In a 1973 game against Detroit, he came into the game to start the second inning and proceeded to pitch 13 marvelous innings, only giving up one run on six hits in a 2-to-1 victory. What’s amazing about that game, is both teams only used two pitchers apiece. Fritz Peterson pitched one inning for the Yanks with McDaniel covering the other 13. For the Tigers, Woody Fryman threw 8 1/3 with John Hiller pitching the other 5 2/3 innings. Four pitchers in a 14-inning game. That’ll never happen again. McDaniel was also terrific with the glove, once pitching in 225 consecutive games without committing an error. He won Fireman of the Year in 1960 and 1963. While playing for the Yankees in 1972, he was their last pitcher to hit a home run prior to the introduction of the Designated Hitter. That long ball was also the last home run hit by a pitcher in Tiger Stadium. McDaniel hit three home runs in his career in 412 plate appearances. The first came in 1957 off Roger Craig in Ebbets Field.

The second in 1963 was a 10th-inning walk-off shot off Billy Pierce at Wrigley Field which gave Lindy and the Cubs a 3 to 2 victory over Juan Marichal and the Giants. That had to be special. That Giant team was loaded: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Matty, and Felipe Alou, and Orlando Cepeda. Those are some serious hitters. The final home run, in 1972, came off Mickey Lolich in Tiger Stadium. Two things jump out at me about these home runs. First, they all came in historic ballparks. Second, he hit home runs in three different decades. Not bad for a relief pitcher.

At the time of his retirement, McDaniel’s name was near the top of several pitching categories. He was second to Hoyt Wilhelm in relief victories, and third in career saves. He was also second to Wilhelm in all-time appearances with 987. He spent his entire career in the major leagues, save for a six-game stint in AAA Omaha (then a Cardinal farm team) in 1958. He was a terrific pitcher, finishing with a 141 and 119 record and a 3.45 ERA, and 174 saves in 2,139 innings of work.

His Kansas City numbers were reasonable. In 78 games over two seasons, he went 6 and 5 with a 3.75 ERA over almost 185 innings. The trade, most certainly the worst trade ever made by Cedric Tallis, has been panned over the years, usually by me. Had the trade just been McDaniel for Wright, nobody would have thought twice about it. Wright pitched in 110 games for the Royals between 1970 and 1973, but never played in the majors again after spending part of 1974 with New York. Piniella however, played for 11 more seasons, all with the hated Yankees, where he batted .295 and helped the Yanks win two World Series titles. To add insult to injury, Piniella helped the Yankees knock off the Royals in 1976. And 1977. And 1978. The trade was the baseball equivalent of herpes, the gift that kept on giving. None of this of course was McDaniel’s fault. He was a ballplayer and just wanted to pitch.

I did see McDaniel pitch once, in a hot July game against the White Sox in 1975. In a lopsided loss, he threw two innings, giving up three runs on four hits. In his defense, none of the Royals pitchers were good that day. It was about 110 degrees on the field and players and fans alike were just wanting to get the game over so they could get back into the air conditioning. That 1975 team also had three other legends playing: Harmon Killebrew, Cookie Rojas and Vada Pinson. McDaniel and Killebrew were both 39 that season and looked like they should have been playing on my grandfather’s church league softball team. Pinson and Rojas were both a sprightly 36. When George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young”, he knew what he was talking about. It was many years later before I fully appreciated the greatness, I had seen that year.

McDaniel had an interesting quote in the 1975 Royals yearbook. He said, “I have been blessed with a strong arm. I don’t have to pet or baby my arm. Even if I have to get up two or three times in the bullpen, I can still go in and pitch six innings. I used to feel that extra running and extra throwing would take the edge off, but I learned through experience that this was a mental thing.”

McDaniel passed away on November 14th, 2020, in Carrollton, Texas from Covid-19.