SABR

Butch McDaniel

This article was written by David E. Skelton.

Often overshadowed by those of two older brothers, Kerry Don McDaniel’s brief career in baseball is remembered by a nickname – Butch – appended to him by a neighbor’s father but never used professionally by the athlete. Instead he laughingly remembered being known solely as the younger brother of Lindy or, a few years later, Von. The only left-handed, bespectacled hurler among this sibling trio, Kerry “thought it simply natural to play professionally. … My older brothers did it, why shouldn’t I?” A particular baseball prowess that extended to three siblings was likely inherited. Family lore attributes finely honed skills to both their paternal and maternal grandfathers on the amateur diamonds in Texas and southwest Oklahoma. Though their father, Newell, was an accomplished athlete himself, his prowess was exhibited on the tennis courts. The baseball gene appears to have skipped a generation and was dispersed among the three grandsons.

Kerry’s great-grandfather, Kentucky native John Perry McDaniel, settled in Harmon County, Oklahoma, via central Texas at the turn of the 20th century. His success in farming extended to his son West (a.k.a. William) and grandson Newell, with the latter assuming his three sons would follow in the family business. Newell was more than a successful farmer – he was also a shrewd businessman. He and his wife, Ada Mae (née Burk), raised their daughter and three sons in a strict religious atmosphere that perceived professional sports – and the unholy temptations associated – as unfit pursuits. Newell’s mind was quickly changed when his oldest son, Lindy, began attracting attention from the major leagues. The final straw came when he was offered $5,000 on the spot by a well-known gambler (known to everyone but Newell) in exchange for a future cut in his expected bonus. Realizing there was money to be made, Newell began an aggressive campaign to convince his wife of the possible future that lay before their sons – a campaign to which she acceded.

Born on September 15, 1943, Kerry saw Lindy and Von sign with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and 1957, respectively, and began dreaming of following his brothers into the majors. These dreams were hardly unwarranted. “The baby boy will be as good as the others, probably better,” Newell told a sportswriter. Cardinals scout Fred Hawn, who had signed Lindy and Von, concurred.1 An early growth spurt contributed to Kerry’s success at the Little League level as he towered over the competition. At 14, he joined the Mangum (Oklahoma) American Legion squad, where he continued to excel. Shortly before his 16th birthday, Kerry was invited to work out in St. Louis’s Busch Stadium. There he attracted the attention of Cardinals pitching coach Howie Pollet. “We’d better not lose sight of him,” said Pollet. “He’s faster and stronger than Von.”2 This success was not limited to the mound: In 1959 his hitting skills gained him selection to Oklahoma’s American Legion All-Star squad as an infielder. (One of the pitchers on the squad, Mack Kuykendall, went on to a seven-year professional career, primarily as a first baseman.)

Kerry exhibited the same dominance in high school. As a freshman he made the varsity baseball team. (He also made the varsity basketball squad.) Following in the successful footsteps of his brothers, Kerry remarked, “We didn’t keep track of no-hitters. We all thought it was natural [to rarely face a man on base].” In 1961 he batted .644 and was 25-0 as a pitcher, earning All-State selection. That April he led the Arnett High School Indians to a decisive 8-0 victory over Pocassett High for the Class C regional championship, hurling a one-hitter while striking out 13. The “brilliant”3 win propelled the Indians to their second consecutive state championship later in Ada.

Labeled the “third jewel in the McDaniel Triple Crown of baseball,”4 Kerry attracted scouts from 18 major-league teams to almost all his performances. They could have saved their time. Newell was determined that Kerry would be treated exactly the same as his older siblings. He steered his youngest son to Cardinals scout Fred Hawn – despite emerging rumors that “the Cardinals had ‘mishandled’ Von”5 through overuse. Kerry did not object. While growing up, the McDaniel boys got their sole exposure to the major leagues via the St. Louis games broadcast across the Central Plains on radio station KMOX. Each boy was an avid Cardinals fan.

Kerry signed with the Cardinals for the same $50,000 bonus his brothers had received. He signed a contract the evening of his high-school graduation, then repeated the act in a ceremonial signing on May 24, 1961, in the St. Louis boardroom of Anheuser-Busch, the beer giant that owned the team. The 17-year-old was flanked by his father, brothers, scout Hawn, and team president August A. Busch, Jr. Among the accolades delivered that day was one from Lindy, who said Kerry “has a more mature arm than Von or I had at the same age.”6 During the first week of his professional career, he was assigned to the parent club under the watchful eye of coach Pollet.

With the change in the bonus rules that had affected his brothers a few years earlier, the Cardinals were not obliged to keep Kerry on the major-league roster. They sent him to the Winnipeg (Manitoba) Goldeyes (Class C Northern League), the same team for which Von had played the season before. Though in the low minors, the team was nestled in the capital and largest city (1961 population: 265,420) of Manitoba province. The 1,200-mile distance from small-town Hollis, Oklahoma, to the big city represented a major cultural change for the 17-year-old McDaniel, the youngest player on an already-young team. Kerry seemed unfazed by his new surroundings when he made his professional debut on June 2 with a win at home over the Grand Forks Chiefs. Perhaps stung by the accusation that they had mishandled Von, the Cardinals were determined to hold Kerry to an 80-pitch limit. He was lifted after five innings, having surrendered six hits and two earned runs in an 11-5 victory for the Goldeyes. He was just as impressive five days later against the Duluth-Superior Dukes, though he did not figure in the decision.

Kerry would take the mound 17 more times, but except for an impressive August 2 outing – a win against Aberdeen in which he struck out seven Pheasant batters while surrendering just four hits – the rest of the season did not go nearly as swimmingly. The primary concern: control. McDaniel led the league in wild pitches – four in one game alone – while averaging 7.4 walks per nine innings. (The league average was 5.1.) The losses mounted for both McDaniel and the last-place Goldeyes, and Kerry’s eight defeats in three months of the season were the fourth highest on the team. The disappointing results appear to have sent shockwaves through the Cardinals organization, resulting in a decision in September (either by omission or commission) to leave an unsuspecting Kerry unprotected – a move that was reversed two months later.

Due largely to the sizable bonus he’d received, McDaniel’s struggles did not go unnoticed nationally. (Nor did those of several other perceived can’t-miss prospects who had received big bonuses, among them Bob Bailey, Lew Krausse, Jake Gibbs, and Arnold Umbach, Jr., none of whom were living up to expectations.) In an article in August, Associated Press columnist Ben Olen cited Kerry among this group when he wrote, “Their bank accounts may be large, but the batting averages and won-lost records are something short of impressive.”7 Older brother Lindy tried to take matters into his own hands the following February by reporting early to spring training with the express intent of working closely with Kerry. Apparently invoking the same “mishandling” issue that had surfaced the prior year, Lindy stated, “[Kerry’s] problem is simple. He was trying to change his pitching style and he was getting too much advice.”8

Reporting to spring training in 1962 as the youngest player on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, Kerry was merely upholding family tradition: Lindy was the youngest roster player in 1956 and 1957, Von in 1958. There were no expectations that Kerry would make the jump from Class C to the major leagues, and in early March he was sent to the team’s minor-league base in Homestead, Florida. When the season began, Kerry was farmed to Brunswick, Georgia, in the Georgia-Florida League (Class D).

Despite the hands-on assistance from his oldest brother and special instruction from Tulsa (Double-A) veteran Bob Blaylock, Kerry admitted years later, “I just got wilder and wilder.”The statistics bear this out. Pitching against the Thomasville Tigers on May 4, he walked six batters in two innings. Ten days later the Moultrie Colt .22s roughed him up for five runs in four innings. The walks continued to mushroom, with a team-leading 80 in 64 innings. Signs of improvement began to show with a 12-1 drubbing of the Dublin Braves, followed by a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Thomasville on June 11. But the wheels soon came off at a most inopportune time. On June 29 the Cardinals’ farm director was in the stands when Kerry took the mound. “I was wilder still,” Kerry recalled as he surrendered four quick runs to the Tigers. At the direction of the farm director, he finished the game playing first base.

This move was not completely unexpected. When he signed with the Cardinals, Kerry was given the option of choosing between playing first base and pitching. As his mound difficulties continued, the organization became increasingly anxious to see if their hefty investment might bear fruit at first base. McDaniel’s success at the plate in high school and Legion ball had translated well into the pros– in the 12-1 victory over Dublin, he’d helped his own cause with a home run and two RBIs – and he was now being given an opportunity to display his hitting prowess full time. He hit well until opposing pitchers stopped providing a steady diet of fastballs. The breaking pitches left Kerry flailing “way out in front of the pitch.” Still, in only 215 at-bats, he finished among the team leaders in home runs (9) and RBIs (37). But that fall the Cardinals were forced to make some difficult decisions. In order to protect left-handed pitcher Larry Jaster and outfielder Jan Firek, they moved Kerry and some others off the 40-man roster, Ostensibly assigned to the Atlanta Crackers in the Triple-A International League, McDaniel would never play a single game with the Crackers.

Spring 1963 found McDaniel on the roster of the Statesville (North Carolina) Owls in the Western Carolinas League. The unaffiliated Class A team was largely sprinkled with former and future Cardinals prospects, with McDaniel manning first base. A .293-2-8 batting line after 16 games placed him among the league leaders until the former difficulties with breaking balls set in again. Kerry managed only three more homers up to midseason, when he was abruptly returned to the mound. (The Owls were last in the league in runs surrendered and may have been desperate to find anyone to help curb this trend.) Though McDaniel captured three wins against one loss, the high walk rate continued, contributing to an ERA nearly twice the league average (6.08 vs. 3.73).

Determined to hang on to the once-prized youngster, the Cardinals assigned Kerry to winter ball. Shortly after marrying on his 20th birthday, September 15, he reported to Homestead, Florida, where he began experimenting with a forkball under the tutelage of Eddie Stanky. The training proceeded smoothly until Kerry’s tardiness for a morning weigh-in sent Stanky into a fiery explosion. More than 50 years later, Kerry remained dumbfounded. Seemingly on the cusp of having “figured it all out,” the surprised hurler suspected Stanky of submitting a negative report to St. Louis management, claiming a lack of commitment on Kerry’s part. If so, the report likely contributed to what happened next.

“And then there were none,”9 the Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution wrote on April 9, 1964, reporting on the last McDaniel to exit the Cardinals organization. Kerry had been released the day before, Lindy had been traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1962 campaign, and Von had been left unprotected and grabbed by the expansion Houston Colt .45s before the 1962 season. Scout Freddie Hawn expressed great disappointment at Kerry’s unconditional release. Lindy offered to help place him with the Cubs organization. With an eye on pursuing an education, Kerry politely declined.

With a few college semesters at Southwestern Oklahoma State University already under his belt during the offseasons of 1961-1962, Kerry once again followed in his brothers’ footsteps by enrolling in Bible classes at Florida Christian College (now Florida College). Though Lindy had moved on, Von was still at the college during the winter months. The younger brothers were offered the jobs as co-coaches of the men’s basketball team. They declined and Kerry eventually transferred to the University of South Florida as an accounting major. He and his wife, Kara, both enrolled in a personal-finance class that included budgeting and investing – a decision that would reap financial benefits for them in the future.

Kara Lou Mitchell’s upbringing might easily be described as “hardscrabble.” Like Kerry in many ways – both were left-handed and raised in the Church of Christ by cotton farmers, and even shared the same initials. Her father had not realized the success in farming that Newell had. Her family moved from Tipton, Oklahoma, to Harmon County so her parents could work at the local Boys Home. In nearby Arnett, Kerry, home after the 1962 season in Brunswick, spied Kara at a box-supper fundraiser. He secured permission from his parents to begin dating her – yet another example of his strict religious upbringing. The two were married the following September. In 2013 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

[Kara’s father Olen Mitchell had a brush with baseball royalty in 1964, shortly before Kerry was released by the Cardinals. Sitting alone in the stands watching his son-in-law play, he saw a limousine pull up and deposit Branch Rickey (at this late stage in his life, the Hall of Famer was serving as a consultant for the Cardinals). Mistaking Kara’s father for a major-league scout, Rickey invited him into the chauffeur-driven vehicle and they traveled around the practice fields the rest of the day.]

In 1965 Kerry and Kara moved from Florida to the Arlington, Texas, area. Von had settled in Arlington while playing for the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, and Lindy moved to the region years later. Though his studies inclined him toward accounting, Kerry found himself happier when his nose was not pressed in the ledgers. His strong people skills provided a measure of success in car and eventually insurance sales. When the Dallas-Fort Worth region experienced a tremendous growth spurt in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Kerry fell back on his education in investments and prospered by buying and renting properties, as well as making successful stock market investments. He also stayed busy buying and running a defensive-driving school, an income-tax service, and a less profitable roofing company venture.

Throughout, sports and religion remained a staple in McDaniel’s life. He played semipro baseball in the Arlington area for many years. An informal calling led to his 35-year leadership of a nondenominational church – his break with the Church of Christ causing some strife within his family. Meanwhile, Kara had earned a master’s degree in art therapy at the University of Texas at Arlington and became an accomplished artist, painting miniature china jewelry. Their daughter, Jana, like her father a people-person, succeeded in business before raising three children. Kerry’s inherited athleticism reappeared in his two granddaughters, both gifted tennis players – the favored sport of their great-grandfather Newell. Kerry often spent time working in his large garden, hunting or fishing for perch with his grandson. He retained partial ownership in the Oklahoma family farm inherited from his father, which he visited periodically.

For a three-year stretch beginning in 1961, Kerry McDaniel had his brush with fame. He happily recalled playing against future Detroit stalwarts Willie Horton and Bill Freehan, and distinctly remembered the first-hand experience of watching his Northern League team go down to defeat at the hands of future Hall of Famer Lou Brock. Regarding his abbreviated stint in the Cardinals organization, Kerry stated unequivocally, “I couldn’t have been treated better.” In 2010 – much as he did throughout his entire life – Kerry followed his older brothers into the Harmon County (Oklahoma) Hall of Fame.

Last revised: November 25, 2014

 

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Kerry McDaniel for the time spent in phone interviews. All unattributed quotes are derived from these interviews. Further thanks extended to Len Levin for editorial and fact-checking assistance.

 

Sources

Lowenfish, Lee, Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman (University of Nebraska Press, 2007)

The Sporting News

Baseball-reference.com

ancestry.com/

markosun.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/winnipeg-historical-and-future-projected-population-figures/

Kerry McDaniel, telephone interviews, May 20, June 11, and July 2, 2014

 

Notes

1 “McDaniel Boys’ Pop Acknowledges a Debt,” Hammond (Indiana) Times, September 4, 1957, D-2.

2 “Cards Flap Wings Over Rosy Future,” The Sporting News, September 9, 1959, 6.

3 “McDaniel Sparks Arnett to Crown,” Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution-Morning Press, April 30, 1961, 35.

4 “Special Instruction for Kerry,” The Sporting News, April 11, 1962, 52.

5 “Cards Land Third McDaniel Brother,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1961, 9.

6 Ibid.

7 “1961 Star Bonus Babies Sure Need Experience,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post, August 20, 1961, D-2.

8 “Lindy, Card Flop of ’61, Sees 1962 as Rebound Year,” The Sporting News, February 21, 1962, 28.

9 “Last McDaniel Cut By Cards,” Lawton Constitution, April 9, 1964, 15.

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