April 15, 1953: Lindell, Sandlock's efforts not enough in Pirates' loss to Dodgers
It was a new season, the Pirates opening against the 1952 National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Pittsburgh had finished last (42-112-1) in 1952, 54½ games behind Brooklyn. Fred Haney had been brought in as manager. They'd played Opening Day at Ebbets Field the day before and taken a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth, but then coughed up four in the bottom of the fourth and four more in the bottom of the fifth and lost, 8-5.
It was a cold and windy day and only a little over 3,100 fans came out for the second game of the season.1 This one matched up right-hander Russ Meyer of the Dodgers against Johnny Lindell for Pittsburgh. It was the temperamental "Mad Monk" Meyer's first year for the Dodgers; he'd been with the Phils since 1949 and the Cubs before that. He retired the Pirates 1-2-3 in the top of the first.
Lindell had pitched in 23 games (2-1) for the Yankees back in 1942, mostly as a reliever. After he hurt his pitching arm, manager Joe McCarthy began using him as an outfielder starting in 1943, but after the war he took up pitching again. In 1951 and 1952, Lindell pitched for the Hollywood Stars and in '52 was 24-9 with a 2.52 ERA; the Stars won the Pacific Coast League title and Lindell was named league MVP. GM Branch Rickey bought his contract and brought him up to Pittsburgh in 1953. Hollywood manager Fred Haney was brought up to manage the Pirates.
Lindell was a little shaky in his first outing, his National League pitching debut, walking two in the first inning, seeing both runners advance on a grounder hit back to the mound, and then throwing a wild pitch to give Brooklyn an early 1-0 lead.
In the top of the third inning, catcher Mike Sandlock singled. He was forced at second on Dick Cole's grounder, but then the Pirates took the lead when Lindell homered into the left-field stands off Meyer. They were the only two runs that Pittsburgh scored in the game.
Lindell had a .273 career batting average and this was his 69th home run in the majors.
Carl Furillo of the Dodgers homered to lead off the bottom of the fourth, also to left, tying the score 2-2. There was no more scoring in the game until Brooklyn came up in the bottom of the eighth. Gil Hodges and Furillo both singled and advanced on Meyer's sacrifice bunt, and then both scored on team captain Pee Wee Reese-'s single right up the middle through a drawn-in infield and into center field.
Meyer shut down the Pirates in the ninth and won the game, 4-2. It was the first time SINCE 1947 Meyer had won in his first start; he'd been 0-5 over the prior five seasons.
Both Meyer and Lindell had gone the distance, and each gave up eight hits, with one of them a home run. Neither team had committed an error, though there had been the wild pitch and Sandlock was charged with two passed balls. Lindell had become primarily a knuckleball pitcher, the pitch always notoriously difficult to catch. And windy conditions never help a knuckleball.
Lindell had walked 10 Brooklyn batters to Meyer's one, but only his walk to Junior Gilliam to start the game cost him a run. Lindell had struck out four, and been active as a fielder, too, with seven assists. Among his teammates, only Sandlock, with three hits, had more than one hit.
For the Dodgers, Carl Furillo had a 3-for-4 day, with the one run batted in, on his homer.
Aside from Lindell's own homer, the Pirates' star on offense had been Sandlock, who had a 3-for-3 day, all singles. His third-inning hit had caromed off Meyer's leg, a "savage liner off his right shin,"2 but the Brooklyn pitcher stayed in the game.
Haney had Catfish Metkovich pinch-hit for Sandlock in the ninth, "figuring the percentages were against Sandlock delivering a fourth safety,"3 but Metkovich struck out swinging. Joe Garagiola pinch-hit for Cole and grounded out unassisted to first base, ending the game.
Lindell credited his catcher for helping him get back to the majors. While on his way to Havana to join the Pirates for spring training, Lindell said of Sandlock, who like him was 36 years old at the time: “Sandlock was my catcher in Hollywood. He helped me greatly. It was he who nursed me along, gave me encouragement and acted as my tutor and counsellor. My luckiest break, next to coming back to the big leagues, was when Haney and Sandlock were brought up to the Pirates with me.”4
Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen was pleased to see another win on the books. Not on the basis of the first two games, which were at least competitive, Joseph Sheehan of the New York Times was already calling the Pirates "the predestined cellar tenants."5 In fact, he proved right, though they won eight more games than the year before, finishing 50-104. Before being sold to the Phillies at the end of August in 1953, Lindell was 5-16 (4.71 ERA) with Pittsburgh. He retired at the end of 1953 after going 1-1 (4.24 ERA) in September with the Phillies.
This article originally appeared in "100: The 100 Year Journey of a Baseball Journeyman, Mike Sandlock" (SABR, 2016), edited by Karl Cicitto.
1 The Brooklyn Eagle commented, "The crowd of 3,149 was alarmingly small even for the day after opening day. There were 5,900 knothole kids on hand from Boys High School, George Washington High, James Madison High, and East New York Vocational School." Harold C. Burr, "Flock Picks Giant 'Killers,' " Brooklyn Eagle, April 16, 1953: 17.
2 Joseph M. Sheehan, "Meyer Winner in Brooklyn Debut As He Subdues Pittsburgh, 4-2," New York Times, April 16, 1953: 38.
4 Associated Press, "Lindell Credits Haney, Sandlock for Comeback," Omaha World-Herald, February 20, 1953: 26. The article said that Lindell would otherwise probably have been working as a cop at the Santa Anita Racetrack.