This article was written by Karl Cicitto
Mike Sandlock was a batting, fielding and running star in a game in which he scored the go ahead run, tagged out a runner trying to score the tying run and drove in the winning run. This all occurred in the eighth and ninth innings and helped secure a 4-3 Pirates road victory over the Reds.
The Buccaneers and Reds met in the presence of 2,054 paid attendees on August 6, 1953 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati for a game that had no pennant implications.
The last-place Pirates, which had lost impressive rookie Dick Groat to the military and Ralph Kiner in a trade, were rebuilding the team under Branch Rickey. The Bucs had won only 36 of 111 games to this point.
The 1953 Reds were a second division team with the home run pop of outfielders Gus Bell (30), Jim Greengrass (20), and the first baseman, Ted Kluszewski (40). Coincidentally Reds pitching yielded a lot of home runs in 1953: 179, the most in the National League. Home runs allowed by Reds pitching played a major role in the outcome on this day.
Lindell was the former Yankee outfielder who tried to come back as a knuckleballer at age 36 and had come from Hollywood in the PCL with Mike Sandlock to join the Pirates in 1953.
Raffensberger was a 35-year-old lefty from York, Pennsylvania and was in his 14th season in the big leagues. He was coming off a 17-win season in 1952. He led the NL in shutouts twice. He frequently ended up on the losing end of a decision; he had the reputation of being one of the unluckiest hurlers in history when it came to run support. Meager run support would haunt him in this game as well.
In the top of the first inning, Raffensberger nearly gave the Pirates all that they would need in this game when he surrendered two runs. He threw Carlos Bernier out at first on a ground ball and then yielded back-to-back home runs to Danny O’Connell and Hal Rice. Two fly ball outs followed and it was 2-0 Bucs after a half-inning of play.
In the bottom half of the first inning, Lindell pitched much better than Raffensberger. Johnny retired Rocky Bridges, Bobby Adams, and Gus Bell on a ground balland two flies. Lindell, who was capable of striking out 10 or walking eight with his knuckler, found his groove early in this game. He retired the first nine Reds he faced, striking out four of them.
After Lindell mowed down the Redlegs through three innings, Raffensberger responded in the second, third, and fourth innings by sending nine consecutive Buc batters back to their dugout, seven of them on infield ground balls.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Lindell finally allowed a base runner. Rocky Bridges singled to right field and advanced to second on an error by second baseman Eddie Pellagrini. A base on balls for Bobby Adams made it two ducks on the pond. Then Gus Bell attempted a sacrifice bunt, missed the ball, and Bridges and Adams were safe at second and third on a double steal. Bell then stroked a grounder up the middle for a single into center, driving in Bridges. Although Lindell walked the next man to load the bases with no outs, he struck out Greengrass and popped out both Willard Marshall and Andy Seminick to end the threat. Bucs 2, Reds 1 at the end of four.
The game remained tight through the middle of the seventh inning as neither team could rally. Lindell used his flutter ball to retire six straight and Raffensberger scattered three hits over the fifth, sixth, and seventh. The score remained 2-1 in favor of Pittsburgh through 6 1/2 innings.
The Reds scratched out a run in the bottom of the seventh. Lindell yielded a single to Greengrass and a double to Marshall. The left-hander struck out Seminick looking but the next batter, Roy McMillan, drove in Greengrass with a fly ball to right field. Another fly ball got Lindell out of the inning but the score was now 2-2 heading into the eighth inning. A dramatic ending was ahead.
Raffsenberger had pitched seven very competent innings but Reds manager Rogers Hornsby had sent up a pinch hitter for him in the seventh. Hornsby sent in relief pitcher Clyde King to face the Pirates number nine hitter, Mike Sandlock, to lead off the eighth. The 37-year-old catcher was batting .208 at the time. The old backstop greeted King by stroking his pitch into the right-field corner for a double. Old Sandbags was safe at third on the next play when the third baseman Adams dropped a throw from the shortstop McMillan on an O’Connell bouncer. Hal Rice then lifted a short fly to Gus Bell in center and the poor throw from Bell reached home on three hops, Sandlock sliding home with the tie-breaking run.
A bang-bang double play stopped the Reds from tying the game at three in the bottom of the eighth inning. Lindell first retired Bridges and then walked Adams and Bell. Pirate manager Fred Haney pulled Lindell, sending in Paul LaPalme to snuff the rally. LaPalme promptly loaded the bases by walking Kluszewski.
With the bases loaded, one out, and Bobby Adams at third, Jim Greengrass lifted a fly to Carlos Bernier in right field. Bernier fired his throw to the plate. Sandlock caught it on one bounce and tagged out the sliding Adams. It was an inning-ending double play. The score was Pirates 3, Reds 2 after eight innings completed.
Sandlock played a pivotal role in the next inning, too. Rajah sent King back out for the ninth and the big righty from Goldsboro, NC soon had two Bucs on with two out. Old Sandbags punched the ball into right field for a single, scoring Paul Smith and making it Bucs 4, Reds 2.
Sandlock’s RBI in the ninth turned out to be the game-winner. LaPalme, back on the mound for the ninth, allowed a run on a walk, a single, and an error by the second baseman, Pellagrini.
With the score 4-3, two outs in the ninth and the tying run at second, Bobby Adams lined a LaPalme pitch to left-center and Hal Rice made a fine running catch that was called “sensational” by Jack Hermon in the next day’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
The game was over. Mike Sandlock had a memorable game and the Pirates won their third game in a row in the August dog days of a very poor Pirate campaign.
Sandlock’s skills at the receiver spot were tested this day by Lindell’s knuckleball but there is no doubt that he knew how to handle the flutterer. Old Sandbags was the starting catcher in all 23 of Lindell’s starts for the Bucs. They were inseparable on the field in 1953 until The Mahatma sold Johnny to the Phillies on August 31. They were paired in 1952 in Hollywood and might have been together in 1954 on the Phillies had Sandlock not been injured in a spring training collision.
This article originally appeared in “100: The 100 Year Journey of a Baseball Journeyman, Mike Sandlock” (SABR, 2016), edited by Karl Cicitto.
The author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet,org, and the following sources:
African-American Registry. “Pittsburgh Pirates Integrate,” (www.aaregistry.org).
Amore, Dom. “He’s hitting 100: Mike Sandlock, MLB’s Oldest Player Has a Lifetime of Milestones,” Hartford Courant, October 4, 2015.
Erardi, John. “Reds Made Up for Being Slow to Integrate,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 13, 2011.
Hernon, Jack. “Bucs Strong Arm Reds For 3 In A Row,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 7, 1953.
James, Bill. “The Turk Farrell Award, Part II,” www.billjamesonline.com, May 1, 2007.
Skipper, James J. Jr., Baseball Nicknames, A Dictionary of Origins and Meanings (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1992).
“MLB’s Black Pioneers,” www.foxsports.com/mlb/lists, February 1, 2013.