John Lindsay was born in Hattiesburg Mississippi. He was an excellent baseball player and someday he, his coaches, and family all believed he would be a Major League star. In 1995, when he finished high school The Colorado Rockies acquired his rights in the 13th round of that year’s player draft and he eagerly signed and reported.At 18, he was a professional baseball player. He went to the rookie league anticipating the day he would be playing in the “Big Show.”
This month, 15 years later, at the age of 34, the 225 pound, six foot two, first baseman reached the major leagues for the very first time as a September "call up" for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Under the arcane rules of this game, teams are allowed to expand their rosters on September 1st. There is a limit, and most teams only add those they want to evaluate against the better pitching in the Major Leagues, or may help win a Division Title. In the case of teams that are no longer in contention to reach the play-offs, the number is usually greater. The Dodgers, who as of last night were 11 games out of first place have not conceded it is over, but as the saying goes in the clubhouse, “you can pretty much stick a fork in them, ‘cause they’re done.”
Enter John Lindsay. Last night, with the Dodgers trailing the San Diego Padres by 4 runs he was called off the bench to pinch hit. He is a right handed batter and statistically, right handed batters hit better against left-handed pitchers. The conventional wisdom of baseball then is that you “do it by the book,” that is, since a left-handed pitcher was at that moment standing on the pitcher’s mound for the Padres, “the book” says, you don’t let the scheduled batter hit if the game may still be in doubt and he is a left-handed batter. Rather, you “lift” him for a right-hander. The “book,” by the way, is the way managers and coaches explain moves such as this. No one has ever seen the book. It is the way in the strange world that is baseball, it has always been done, so that is what is expected. We are not supposed to understand these obscure things, only to appreciate that the manager is “smart” enough to know it.
A player officially enters a game when the umpire acknowledges him, and the public address announcer “Announces him into the game,” another obscure ritual appreciated only by the rule makers and not well understood by casual fans. The umpire saw John Lindsay approach and both signaled him into the game and made note on his line-up card that he was batting and in what position in the batting order. Once this was done, Mr. Lindsay was "officially" in his first major league game. The man, who spent 15 years as a career minor leaguer had a huge smile on his face and took his practice swings preparing to do battle.
Unfortunately, the Manager of the Padres decided, as is his option under the rules, that he did not want his left-handed pitcher to pitch to any more batters this night and proceeded from his dugout to the mound, signaled with his right hand, as is the custom, to send in the pitcher currently tossing baseballs in the home bullpen from that side of his body. While John Lindsay watched, the left-hander departed and a gaggle of infielders and the manger awaited the arrival of the new pitcher.
The “book” of course now produces a conundrum. Mr. Lindsay bats right. He is, statically, less able to achieve success against a pitcher who throws with his right hand. The Dodger manager therefore is faced with the dilemma of “burning a player’ by replacing Lindsay and removing him from ever participating further in this game and sending another player to bat who bats left, or simply taking his chances that Lindsay will beat the statistical odds, which is not what the “book” says he should do. Mr. Lindsay will be listed as having been sent to bat and thus appeared in his first game even though he never stepped into the batter’s box or saw a pitch thrown in anger. Joe Torre, The Dodger manager did what the "book" told him and not what his heart knew was right.
In good humor and a huge smile, Lindsay later said he tried not to look back at the Dodger dugout in hopes that he would not see someone summoning him back. Then he heard a voice call his name and knew what had happened. He returned to the bench, took off his helmet and batting glove, and sat down while a man named Loney made the same walk through all of the ritual blessing bestowed on Lindsay but moments before.
Mr. Loney hit the second pitch on the ground to the shortstop and was the last out of the inning.
John Lindsay was seen laughing in the dugout and was reported to have said to his manager and teammates with more good humor and bonhomie than I would ever had been able to muster after 15 years of waiting that at least he didn’t strike out in his first Major League batting appearance. Torre gave hime the lineup card on which his name appeared. He says he will frame it. The batting coach said in jest, "see they would rather pitch to Loney (the regular first baseman) than you, you scare'em Bob."
If John Lindsay never enters a game again, he is now officially in the Major League Record Book as having made one appearance, no hits, made no outs, scored no runs, committed no errors and never struck out. He is, for now, the statistical anomaly: A man who has “played” in a Major League game, but never swung his bat nor fielded a ball. Perhaps, as his smile seemed to indicate, after 14 years that was enough for him tonight. I doubt it.
The Dodgers continue their long reluctant march to the end of their season in Houston tonight. Several left-handed starting pitchers are scheduled to pitch for the Houston team and it is believed that he will start a game or two there at first base. Since Houston is closer to Mississippi, much of his family is already en route hoping that is true and the statistical line on this man, one who has followed his dream well beyond when most have decided it is over, will grow a great deal longer. All true baseball fans can only hope that he will flourish and the smile on his face will grow even larger than it was when he heard his name on the public address system in a Major League stadium for the very first time.
Postscript: Robert Lindsey played his first full game on in the major leagues September 11th against the Houston Astros. He was the starting first baseman. He batted three times and struck out twice. On September 12th he pinch hit (the Dodgers were losing badly after the first inning) again, and had his first base hit after nearly 16 years in the minors. The Houston outfieder retrieved the ball and it was given to him, another baseball ritual. He said he tried not to smile too hugely, because, "I didn't want to look like some young kid out there."