There is nothing in Lindy McDaniel‘s composite stats that make you shiver with delight. His 3.45 ERA sounds pedestrian. His career 1.272 WHIP sounds ordinary. He gave up his share of hits. The only thing his stats show us is a long and reliable career where he consistently took the ball and threw for as long as you wanted him to throw the ball. For example, in 1973, one of the years mentioned in the first paragraph, Lindy pitched 47 times, 44 of them in relief. He finished the game as the team’s last pitcher 32 times. And yet he threw 160.2 innings! His record that year was 12-6 with ten saves AND a complete game start.
It was one of those games in 1973 that stands out more than any other. The date was August 4, 1973 in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Ralph Houk’s Yankees were only a half a game out of first place and faced Billy Martin in the opposite dugout. Martin also had the Tigers in the race. The Orioles would eventually win the division in a romp. The Yankees limped home with a record of 18-31 to finish the season way out. But on this August day, there was hope and promise and Fritz Peterson got the start for the Yankees against Woodie Fryman.
Fritz Peterson, after so many great years with the Yankees, had a woeful one in 1973. His arm was probably toast after so many innings all those years. On August 4, 1973, he lasted only an inning in that start. He gave up a run on two hits and left the game. Did he get hurt? Was he ill? Time forgets. He did have to field three balls in the first including a bunt, so perhaps he hurt himself with all that fielding. Either way, he was out after one inning and Lindy McDaniel started the second. The game would end up going fourteen innings and Lindy McDaniel pitched the last thirteen of them!
And get this: Horace Clarke hit the game-winning homer in the top of the fourteenth to make Lindy the winner. It was one of only two homers Clarke hit in 650 plate appearances. McDaniel gave up only one run in his thirteen-inning relief appearance and only six hits. But that was Lindy McDaniel. Whatever the team needed, he could provide it. McDaniel’s WPA score for the game was an incredible, 1.083.
Lindy McDaniel was signed as a “bonus baby” in 1955 by the St. Louis Cardinals. As such, he started right in the major leagues because the rules for such signings stipulated that the player had to stay on the big league club’s roster for two years or be exposed to the waiver wire. He only got into four games in 1955 but a year later, he appeared in 39 games and started seven of them. He finished with a 7-6 record and a 3.40 ERA. The following year (1957), he started 26 games out of his 30 appearances and had a very good year. He went 15-6 with ten complete games and a shutout. He finished with a 3.49 ERA.
Looking back at that year, you have to wonder why McDaniel didn’t stay in the starter position. Perhaps the key was that he struggled mightily the next season, perhaps the worst of his career. He only started 17 games and pitched ninety innings less than the year before. He got lit up to the tune of a 5.80 ERA. After 1958, he was mostly a reliever.
His first big year as a reliever came the very next year. He finished 47 games in 62 appearances, won 14 and if the save was around back then, would have had 15 of them. He was even better in 1960, a year when he came in third in Cy Young voting and fifth in MVP voting. He went 12-4 with a 2.09 ERA in 65 appearances. If the save rule was in effect, he would have been credited with 26. And he found the time to start two games and pitched a complete game in one of them.
McDaniel had two sub par years in 1961 and 1962 but had another big year in 1963. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals traded him to the Cubs after that season just as the Cardinals were about to launch on their post season run that included World Series titles. McDaniel was fated never to pitch in the post season.
He had a decent season and then a very good season for the Cubs before they traded him to the Giants in the deal that brought the Cubs Randy Hundley. He had a great season for the Giants in 1966 and a good one in 1967 and then they traded him to the Yankees, then the worst team in baseball.
With such a dearth of talent on those teams, a guy like McDaniel became a fan favorite toiling away for such bad teams. He had perhaps his best season as a pure reliever in 1970 (at age 34) when he won nine games, saved 29 more. He finished that season with a 2.01 ERA in 111+ innings.
1971 was a bad season, but in 1972 and 1973, he was below three in ERA again including the brilliant 1973 season already mentioned. But after that season, McDaniel was traded to the Royals in the deal that brought Lou Piniella to the Yankees. Piniella would go on to be a Yankee hero, so McDaniel brought value even at that advanced age. He gave the Royals two fairly effective seasons before he retired after the 1975 season.
Lindy McDaniel finished with 141 wins against 119 losses and Baseball-Reference.com credits him with 172 saves. He finished 577 games. He managed to add in 18 complete game starts over his career and threw two shutouts. He even made the All Star Team as a member of the Cardinals in 1960. Perhaps his best stat was in pitching all those years and finishing with a 0.7 homers per nine inning rate. He was an effective and durable arm for 21 years and many of those were for bad teams. He is remembered fondly and his name alone brings many smiles to old time Cardinal, Yankee, Cubs, Giants and Royals’ fans.