RIP to Lindy McDaniel, who for more than 20 years was one of the game’s top relief pitchers. He died on November 14 at an urgent care center in Carrollton, Texas, from COVID-19. He was 84 years old. McDaniel played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1955-62), Chicago Cubs (1963-65), San Francisco Giants (1966-68), New York Yankees (1968-73) and Kansas City Royals (1974-75).
Lyndall Dale McDaniel was born in Hollis, Okla., on December 13, 1935. He was one of two brothers to reach the major leagues, as younger brother Von McDaniel was a pitcher as well and was his teammate with the Cardinals in 1957 and ’58. Another brother, Kerry Don McDaniel, was a pitcher and first baseman in the Cardinals organization for three seasons in the 1960s. Their parents, Newell and Ada Mae, believed in religion and hard work, and those values would become ingrained in their oldest son as well.
Lindy McDaniel attended Arnett High School in Hollis, and he also pitched for the Altus American Legion team, which was the state champion in 1951 and ’52. McDaniel had a 31-3 record in those two seasons and struck out 243 batters in 166 innings in his last Legion season.
He played basketball and baseball for Arnett as well, and by 1954, he had established himself as one of the top young pitchers in the Southwest. In one 1954 game, he struck out 19 Childress High batters but suffered a 2-1 loss. He helped make tiny Arnett High a tough team to beat, even against the larger schools in the region. He also played semi-pro ball during the summers for teams in Bentonville, Ark., and Sinton, Texas.
By his senior year of high school, several pro teams were interested in signing the big right-hander, but he intended to go to the University of Oklahoma. He spent a year there on a basketball-baseball scholarship, and then the St. Louis Cardinals — his favorite team — came to him with an offer said to be around $40,000. He signed with the Cardinals in August 1955. The hardest negotiations involved convincing Ada Mae to let her son go play baseball; she had hopes of him becoming a minister.
Because it was a “bonus baby” contract, McDaniel had to join the Cardinals’ big-league roster, which he did in September when the rosters expanded. McDaniel made his major-league debut on September 2, 1955, at the age of 19. He threw 2 innings against the Cubs, allowing a home run to catcher Walker Cooper. Cardinal manager Harry Walker had promised to bring McDaniel into the majors “a few innings at a time,” but it wasn’t before long that he gave the kid a start against the Cubs on September 19. It was a historic start — he gave up Ernie Banks fifth grand slam of the season, establishing a new major-league record. McDaniel got a no-decision when St. Louis rallied to win, and his last appearance of the year against the Milwaukee Braves was a much better performance — 3 runs in 8 innings. He ended his first season with a 4.74 ERA in 4 games.
All thoughts of keeping the bonus baby on the bench vanished in 1956. McDaniel appeared in 29 games, including 7 starts, and he had a 7-6 record and 3.40 ERA. His first career victory came on April 21, after throwing 5 scoreless innings of relief in a 6-5 win over the Braves. McDaniel became a full-time starter in 1957, and he had a 15-9 record and 3.49 ERA to show for it. About halfway through the season, the Cardinals signed Von McDaniel to a bonus baby contract as well, and the 18-year-old won 7 games in 17 appearances (13 starts). The duo made headlines for their pitching success, as well as their faith.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself as well as God,” Lindy said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1957. Over the offseasons, McDaniel said he was studying for the ministry. He did not drink, which would occasionally create a divide between he and some of his hard-living teammates, and he regularly attended church.
Their success left Cardinals fans believing that they had found a new version of the Dean brothers. It was not meant to be. Von would make just 2 more appearances in a Cardinals uniform in 1958 before spending the rest of his 10-year career in the minor leagues. Lindy struggled to a 5-7 record and a 5.80 ERA and spent part of 1958 in AAA Omaha — the only time he would appear in the minor leagues. His delivery was out of whack, said St. Louis manager Fred Hutchinson. “He started out throwing side-arm, then tried to find it with an overhanded motion. His natural delivery, however, is three-quarters,” he explained.
The Cardinals took a different approach with McDaniel, and it changed his career for the better. They moved the right-hander to the bullpen, though he still had a few spot starts throughout the season. McDaniel flourished in the job. In one four-week stretch from June to early July, McDaniel appeared in 15 games. He won 3 games, just 1, saved 7 others, and allowed just 3 runs in 29 innings for an 0.90 ERA. As a starter, he was merely 1-4 and allowed 8 home runs in 39 innings.
“I was trying to pace myself when I was starting,” he said. “You just can’t do that up here in the majors. Too many players can hit it out of the park.
“I just feel that I am a natural relief man,” he added. “I have a good fastball, good control and I’ve never had a sore arm.”
As a reliever, McDaniel went to more of an overhand delivery, which added some speed to his fastball. It also gave him a nasty forkball that he used to great effectiveness. He finished his first season as a reliever with a 14-12 record and 16 saves, which led the majors. He appeared in 62 games with just 7 starts and finished with a 3.82 ERA and 86 strikeouts.
“Lindy never again will be a starting pitcher as long as I am manager,” said Cards skipper Solly Hemus. “He’s too valuable in the bullpen — he’s our whole bullpen.”
Aside from the odd start, McDaniel would never return to the starting rotation again. He demonstrated just how valuable a closer can be in 1960, when he won 12 games against 4 defeats. He led the NL with a .750 winning percentage and led all of baseball, for the second year in a row, in saves with 27. He also struck out a career-high 105 batters. He was selected to both All-Star teams and picked up a save in the July 13 game in Yankee Stadium. He allowed a single to Al Kaline but retired Nellie Fox, Brooks Robinson and Roger Maris on grounders to preserve a 6-0 win.
McDaniel made a strong showing in the postseason awards races and finished third for the Cy Young Award and fifth for the Most Valuable Player Award. He easily beat Pittsburgh’s Roy Face to be named the Sporting News Fireman of the Year as the top NL reliever. Within the span of about two years, he’d completed a transformation from a struggling ex-bonus baby to the best reliever in the game.
Two shaky seasons ended McDaniel’s tenure with the Cardinals. He won 10 games in 1961 but had a 4.87 ERA, having allowed 51 earned runs and 11 homers in 94-1/3 innings. His ERA dropped to 4.12 in 1962, but he lost 10 games. In October of 1965, the Cardinals traded McDaniel, starter Larry Jackson and catcher Jimmie Schaffer to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder George Altman, pitcher Don Cardwell and catcher Moe Thacker.
The change of scenery did McDaniel good, as he returned to form in 1963 with a 13-7 record and 2.86 ERA. He led the NL with 22 saves and 48 games finished and was again named the NL Fireman of the Year. He was particularly effective against his old Cardinals mates, winning 2 games against them while throwing 14 shutout innings. On June 6, he was called into a tie game against the Giants in the top of the tenth, with the bases loaded and one out. McDaniel immediately whirled around and picked Willie Mays off second base for one out, and then he struck out Ed Bailey swinging on three straight forkballs. In the bottom of the inning, he led off the inning with a massive home run off Billy Pierce. McDaniel would call that the greatest highlight of his career.
For all his success, McDaniel also gave up three grand slam home runs that season. One was to Hank Aaron, who hit what looked like a popup to second baseman Ken Hubbs. The Wrigley Field winds snared the ball and blew it over the right field wall. One was to Jim Hickman at the Polo Grounds. He broke his bat on a fly ball to left field, but it happened to have just enough distance to nick the left field upper deck facing, which was less than 250 feet from home plate. The third one was to Bob Aspromonte of the Houston Colt 45s. McDaniel would find out years later that Aspromonte had gone to a hospital to visit a young fan with a terminal illness before the game. He asked the ballplayer to hit a home run for him, and Aspromonte said he would try.
“That was the home run that he hit off of me!” McDaniel wrote in a blog post. “Now how can I complain about that? After all those years, I don’t feel nearly so bad about giving up that home run!”
McDaniel’s big day against the Giants described above put the Cubs into a first place tie. They would eventually fall to seventh place, and McDaniel was heavily used by head coach Bob Kennedy. He may have suffered the effects of that workload with a subpar season in 1964, when he went 1-7 with a 3.88 ERA, more than a run higher than his ’63 mark. He improved in 1965, but he was bumped from the closer role by Ted Abernathy and was used as a long reliever. He logged 128-2/3 innings over 71 games. At the end of the season, he and outfielder Don Landrum were traded to the Giants for catcher Randy Hundley and starter Bill Hands.
McDaniel hated his time in San Francisco. “It was rather miserable to be on a team void of leadership and cohesion, the weather was cold and the people drank a lot,” he wrote. He put the blame on the team’s leadership, including manager Herman Franks, who he characterized as a drinking buddy of owner Horace Stoneham who didn’t instill any discipline in the team.
For a couple of seasons, McDaniel pitched well, regardless of how he felt about his situation. He wasn’t the primary closer for the Giants in 1966 (Frank Linzy had 16 saves), but he won 10 games and saved 6 others while posting a fine 2.66 ERA. The Giants finished with a 93-68 record for a second-place finish and repeated in second place in 1967. That would be as close as McDaniel ever got to reaching the postseason in his long career. He wasn’t as effective in 1967 and appeared in just 41 games, including 3 starts. It was the first time since 1968 that he failed to pitch at least 50 games, as he missed some time with a shoulder injury.
McDaniel got off to a dreadful start in 1968, with a 7.45 ERA in 12 games. His shoulder was still bothering him, and the Giants dealt him to the New York Yankees on July 12 for pitcher Bill Monbouquette. Again, the reliever reacted to the change of scenery by pitching brilliantly for the rest of the season. He had a 4-1 record in 24 games with the Yankees, with 10 saves and a 1.75 ERA. He attributed the sudden change to correcting a flaw in his delivery. On August 23, the Yankees and Tigers battled to a 19-inning tie before the game was canceled on account of a 1am curfew. McDaniel came into the game in the ninth inning and threw 7 perfect innings with 6 strikeouts. It was part of a four-game span where McDaniel retired 32 batters in a row.
“He has turned both the bullpen and the team completely around,” said Yankees manager Ralph Houk. That article described McDaniel as being in the “twilight of his career.” In reality, he was 32 years old and had another strong seven seasons left in the big leagues.
Aside from a rough 1971 when his ERA moved past 5.00, McDaniel was a steady and frequently excellent reliever for the Yankees. His best season was 1970 when he won 9 games and saved 29 others, with an ERA of 2.01. His 29 saves were second-best in the AL behind Ron Perranoski‘s 34 with the Twins.
It’s an interesting contrast, McDaniel and the Yankees. By then, he had become a preacher for a church in Baytown, Texas, and he published a religious text, Pitching for the Master, that he continued into the 2010s in blog form. But he thrived in New York City in an era when it was not a cleaned-up and tourist-friendly place. The Yankees as a team didn’t have much success — this was the infamous Horace Clarke Era. But McDaniel was happy.
“I believe going to the Yankees gave me a psychological lift,” he said of the trade that brought him to town. “The organization is so great. They make it clear that I would be given the opportunity to pitch regularly and they helped build back my confidence.”
McDaniel recovered from his rough 1971 season and lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.25 in 37 relief outings in 1972. Though he didn’t record a single save — the Yankees had Sparky Lyle, after all — he was the team’s second best reliever. He threw 7 innings of 1-hit ball on August 27 to beat the Royals 9-8 in 16 innings. He also connected with an upper-deck home run off the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich on September 29 for his third career long ball. It was the last home run hit by an American League pitcher before the onset of the designated hitter rule in 1973.
At the age of 37, McDaniel threw 160-1/3 innings for the Yankees in 47 appearances in 1973. It was the most he had worked in a season since 1957, when he was a starter with the Cardinals. He was still very good, as he won 12 games and picked up 10 saves. The Yankees capitalized on his success by trading him to the Kansas City Royals over the offseason in a deal that brought them Lou Piniella and pitcher Ken Wright. McDaniel had requested the trade, hoping to spend his summer at a city closer to his home in Baytown.
McDaniel gave the Royals two solid seasons, with a combined 6-5 record and 3.75 ERA in 78 appearances. When pressed into a starting role, he started five times in 1974 and threw a couple of complete games. He announced his retirement from baseball on September 25, 1975. He said that his forkball had become too inconsistent and he had lost some motivation. “Finally, 21 years is long enough for anybody,” he added.
McDaniel wrapped up his career against the Texas Rangers on September 27, 1975, when he was 39 years old. He came into the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with two runners on base and got out of the jam by striking out Toby Harrah, and then he worked the final two innings, allowing just one baserunner on a Jim Sundberg single.
By the time McDaniel hung up his spikes, he was among the all-time leaders in relief wins, saves and appearances. Over 21 seasons, he had a record of 141-119 with 174 saves in 987 games, including 74 starts. He had 1,361 strikeouts and 623 walks with a career ERA of 3.45 and an ERA+ of 110. Per Baseball Reference, he was worth 28.2 Wins Above Replacement in his career.
McDaniel stated upon his retirement that he wanted to work in farming and preaching, and he didn’t want to stay in baseball as a coach or manager. That’s pretty much what he did, too. At the time of his death, he was a church elder at the Lavin Church of Christ in Lavon, Texas, and preached there once or twice a month. He had been ill for about four weeks with COVID-19 before his death, his daughter Kathi Watters told the Associated Press.
For more information: New York Times