In many ways, Lindy McDaniel is one of the most overlooked Yankee of the last 40 years. On the few occasions that his name is remembered, it’s usually in reference to the fact that he was the player the Yankees traded to the Royals for Sweet Lou Piniella. McDaniel is one of the forgotten Yankee closers (or firemen, as they used to be called), along with Jack “The Chief” Aker, Steve “The Burglar” Farr, and John Wetteland.
This Saturday, McDaniel will be attending his first Old-Timers’ Day, albeit at the new Yankee Stadium. I’m not sure if it’s a case of McDaniel never being invited to the old-timers’ conclave, or that he has simply rejected prior invites, but it’s rather remarkable that he has never returned to the Yankees in any official way since last donning the pinstripes in 1973. For whatever the reason, the drought will end this Saturday. And for a quality and class Yankee, it’s about time.
Acquired for another old favorite in Bill Monbouquette, McDaniel served the Yankees superbly as a durable and effective reliever from 1968 to 1973. Except for his performance in 1971, when his ERA ballooned to 5.04 (the second-worst mark of his career), he consistently turned back opposition hitters in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. The long, lean right-hander became a familiar site at the old Stadium, with his old-fashioned, baggy-uniformed look and an easy-going, over-the-top delivery. McDaniel did not overpower hitters, not in the manner of Sparky Lyle with his backbiting slider, Goose Gossage with his chest-high powerball, or Mariano Rivera with his chainsaw cutter. Employing a softer and more subtle forkball as his out-pitch, McDaniel complemented that offering with a pedestrian fastball, an effective slider, and pinpoint control.
Where McDaniel lacked power and dominance, he made up for those shortcomings with endurance and longevity. In 1970, he pitched 111 innings to the tune of a 2.01 ERA and a career-high 29 saves. In 1973, He once pitched 13 innings of relief in a marathon Yankee victory. (You can file that in the category of milestones that today’s relief pitchers will never achieve.) In his final season with the Yankees, McDaniel logged 160 innings at the not-so-tender age of 37. By the time that he retired after two encore seasons with the Royals, McDaniel had amassed 21 years in the major leagues—a rather remarkable total for a nearly fulltime relief pitcher who regularly pitched more than 100 innings a summer.
So why has McDaniel remained so underrated, both as a Yankee and otherwise? From the Yankee perspective, he conceded the fireman role to Lyle in 1972 and ’73, McDaniel’s final two seasons in New York. Then there is the issue of the postseason. Though he played for some competitive Cardinals and Giants teams, the two-time All-Star never sniffed the World Series in either the fifties or the sixties. With the Yankees, he was stuck with some mediocre-to-decent teams that never quite had enough to keep pace with Earl Weaver’s world class Orioles. So there were no Championship Series appearances for McDaniel, either.
Beyond the lack of team support, McDaniel never did much, on an individual level, to promote his own accomplishments. A gentlemanly and reserved man, McDaniel instead preferred promoting the word of God. As an ordained minister for the Church of Christ, McDaniel spent much of his off-the-field time teaching and interpreting the Bible. McDaniel did not preach within the clubhouse or the bullpen, but instead mailed each active major leaguer (at his own cost) a copy of his monthly religious newsletter, entitled “Pitching for the Master.” In looking through McDaniel’s file at the Hall of Fame Library, I could not find any examples of resentment from other players who did not appreciate the religious message. Given the recent backlash against Baseball Chapel, I wonder how Murray Chass would have reacted to McDaniel’s practice in today’s climate.
Nearly 35 years after he last threw a pitch, McDaniel continues to preach his religious beliefs. As with his pitching style, he does it without fanfare or fire-and-brimstone. Now 73, McDaniel-the-minister will wear the pinstripes for the first time in several decades come this Saturday. Though he never had the flare of Mo or Sparky, I hope at least a few Yankee fans remember just how good Lindy was during those five-and-a-half lean years in the Bronx.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.