10 favorite baseball stories featuring members of Churches of Christ
I love baseball. I may have mentioned that once or twice…
When Joe Chesser was 9 years old, his family attended church with Lindy McDaniel, a young pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
One Sunday, Chesser brought a baseball to worship at the West End Church of Christ in Wellston, Mo., just outside St. Louis. The boy gave the ball to McDaniel, then 21 and in his second full season with the National League team.
The year was 1957.
“He had the entire St. Louis Cardinals team autograph it for me,” recalled Chesser, now 72 and an elder and preacher for the Fruitland Church of Christ in Jackson, Mo., about 100 miles south of St. Louis.
Chesser still has that baseball.
Some of the autographs have faded. But others remain visible, including Stan Musial, Hoyt Wilhelm, Alvin Dark, Wally Moon, Dick Schofield, “Vinegar Bend” Mizell and Von McDaniel, one of Lindy’s two pitcher brothers.
“To me, the most important thing about Lindy McDaniel was not his baseball career, although playing for the Cardinals, my favorite baseball team, is great,” said Chesser, who remembers watching McDaniel pitch at St. Louis’ old Sportsman’s Park. “What I admire most about Lindy is his love for the Lord and his desire to share the Good News with the lost.”
At age 84 — nearly a half-century after he retired from a 21-season major-league career — McDaniel remains active in teaching and preaching the Gospel.
He serves as an elder of the Lavon Church of Christ, a 50-member Texas congregation about 35 miles northeast of Dallas.
From 1955 to 1975, McDaniel compiled a 141-119 record with 174 saves and a 3.45 career ERA for the Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals.
But the devoted Christian, who served in full-time ministry after his playing days, always considered what happened off the field as more important.
“Faith is the anchor that’s going to help us in every other aspect of our life,” McDaniel said in a recent interview with The Christian Chronicle. “So we must put God first, and we must become familiar with the Bible.”
McDaniel grew up on a farm just north of Hollis, Okla., in the state’s southwestern corner.
The oldest son of Newell and Ada Mae McDaniel became an avid Bible reader at a young age.
When he signed with the Cardinals in 1955 — receiving a $50,000 bonus equal to $450,000 in today’s value — the can’t-miss prospect did so with a stipulation.
“I said, ‘I must go to church,’” he recalled. “They agreed to do that for me. Every organization in baseball gave me that privilege to go to church on Sunday. I knew I couldn’t survive the game unless that happened. So that was a really important piece for my signing a professional baseball contract.”
Before starting his baseball career, he attended his freshman year on a basketball scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. Later, he studied Bible for one fall semester each at two colleges associated with Churches of Christ: Abilene Christian University in Texas and Florida College in Temple Terrace, Fla.
The Associated Press featured McDaniel in an Oct. 16, 1955, profile with the headline “He Will Pitch For The Lord.”
The ACU student told the wire service he didn’t know if he’d become a minister after his playing career.
“I will definitely go into personal work, but I am preparing myself for either,” said McDaniel, then 19. “By going into Major League Baseball, I’ll get to know more people. It’ll give me a chance to take Christianity into baseball, and I can decide later about preaching.”
In 1963, McDaniel started producing a monthly publication called “Pitching for the Master,” which he kept going until his final season in 1975.
“Just like Paul, I was just using sports to teach about the principles of Christianity,” McDaniel said.
A pioneer of relief pitching, McDaniel played in an era when bullpen hurlers were expected to throw multiple innings.
In his prime, he could warm up in less than a minute and get batters out with “a good fastball, a forkball, a sharp slider and good control,” McDaniel noted on his personal website.
How fast did he throw? He has no idea.
The radar gun didn’t make its major-league debut until the mid-1970s, when McDaniel’s career was ending.
“At my peak in 1959 and 1960, I was just overpowering the hitters,” McDaniel told the Chronicle. “I know that much.”
In 1960, McDaniel went 12-4 with a majors-leading 27 saves and a 2.09 ERA. He made the National League All-Star team and tied for third in balloting for the Cy Young Award, given to the majors’ best pitcher. (Later, the Cy Young honor was split into separate awards for each league.)
McDaniel’s most memorable performance came on June 6, 1963, his first season with the Cubs.
He entered the game in the 10th inning at Wrigley Field. The score was tied, 2-2, with one out. The Giants had the bases loaded.
As McDaniel faced the catcher, the runner on second base — San Francisco’s Willie Mays — took two steps toward third.
“We had this pickoff play at second that we tried about a week before, and we didn’t quite get the job done,” McDaniel said. “But this time it worked like a charm.”
Mays uttered a curse word as the shortstop, Andre Rodgers, tagged him out.
McDaniel struck out Ed Bailey to end the top of the 10th and was the first scheduled hitter in the bottom of the inning. (Bailey, who died in 2007, was a longtime member of the West End Church of Christ in Knoxville, Tenn.)
McDaniel began the 1963 season with a .179 career average, but since he had thrown only four pitches, Cubs manager Bob Kennedy let him bat.
On a 2-2 count, McDaniel swung at Billy Pierce’s fifth pitch.
“It was a slider that didn’t slide too well,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel smashed the ball into the left-center bleachers. The walkoff home run gave the Cubs a 3-2 victory. It moved Chicago into a first-place tie with San Francisco, the Cubs’ first time atop the standings that late in the season since 1945.
“Of course, the whole team met me at home plate when I rounded the bases,” McDaniel said. “I got three standing ovations in the game, and (my time in the game) only lasted 15 minutes.”
Later, Mays was one of McDaniel’s teammates with the Giants.
Other Hall of Famers with whom McDaniel played included George Brett, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Orlando Cepeda, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Musial, Red Schoendienst, Gaylord Perry, Wilhelm and Billy Williams.
Another teammate was Yankees legend Bobby Murcer, a fellow Oklahoma native and Church of Christ member who died in 2008 after battling brain cancer. McDaniel introduced Murcer when Murcer was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
“He was every manager’s dream,” Murcer once said of McDaniel. “Rag arm. He could pitch every day.”
Berry Tramel, longtime sports columnist for The Oklahoman, contends that McDaniel himself deserves consideration for baseball’s all-time pinnacle.
“These days, relief pitchers throw to one hitter or for one inning, then retire to the clubhouse to be fed grapes and fanned by serfs,” Tramel wrote in a 2002 column when McDaniel was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. “In McDaniel’s day … relievers were not spoiled specialists awaiting the perfect situation. McDaniel sat in the bullpen, ready at any call to enter the arena.”
“In McDaniel’s day … relievers were not spoiled specialists awaiting the perfect situation. McDaniel sat in the bullpen, ready at any call to enter the arena.”
Tramel noted that in one 15-year span, McDaniel was the only reliever to receive a Cy Young Award vote. When McDaniel retired, he ranked second in career saves and second in career relief wins (119). His saves often involved pitching two or three innings.
“I would support McDaniel for the Hall, particularly over the one-inning wonders of the last 30 years, the most overrated athletes (in) any sport,” Tramel said in a recent email to the Chronicle.
McDaniel said he still enjoys watching baseball on television and follows the Texas Rangers since he lives in the Dallas area.
The game is different than in his time — both in terms of the million-dollar salaries and the technology.
“Every hitter knows every pitch you’re going to throw against him and vice versa,” he said. “They have pictures and videos, and we didn’t have any of that when I played. The game has become more specialized.”
Church and family keep McDaniel and Nancy, his wife of 12 years, busy.
He remarried after cancer claimed his wife, Alice. McDaniel’s family includes five children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“Lindy is one of the most conscientious, studious, devout people you will ever find,” said Terry Sumerlin, a Lavon church member who preaches two Sundays a month. “His affections are set above. My wife, Sherry, and I love him and his dear wife.”
The Lavon church endeavors to take members through the entire Bible every four years. That intentional study program, McDaniel said, has resulted in “people getting a lot more familiar with the whole Bible.”
“We’re all imperfect beings, and we’re saved by the grace of God,” McDaniel said. “But God asks for certain things from us as Christians, and one is obedience to him and to live a new life. So that is my main concern.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.