Signing My First Baseball Contract



Back in August 19th of 1955, I signed my first professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. I had just completed an amateur career consisting of 4 years of high-school baseball, 2 summers of Legion baseball, and 3 summers of sandlot or simi-pro baseball. Thus, I had a lot of maturity for a 19 year old. My real start was playing American Legion Baseball in Altus, Oklahoma. My dad was a poor farmer, and when I was fifteen years old, he drove me 50 miles to play baseball in Altus. It was in Altus where I was exposed to great coaching, a great group of guys who knew how to play the game, a great sponsor, and wonderful fan support. Our team was fortunate enough to win the State Championship both in 1951 and in 1952. We played the top teams in all the surrounding states. It was also in 1952 that baseball scouts begin to take notice of my pitching. Realizing that I had exceptional talent, my dad made sure that I was given opportunity to develop by exposing me to good coaching and good competition. He did the same for both of my brothers, Von and Kerry Don. I must quickly note the indispensible role of my mom in providing moral and spiritual support, washing countless loads of uniforms, etc., and her unselfish and tireless devotion to the family.

In 1952, the Altus team had made a train trip to St. Louis were we played in Sportsman Park, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. We played against the top American Legion team in the city. I pitched the first six innings giving up one hit, and we won the game 9 to 1. It was a great thrill for a 16 year old to meet Stan Musial and many of the Cardinal players. I was a great Cardinal fan from a very young age.

My Amateur Background

After 1952, I developed my pitching gradually by playing in various summer leagues. I played simi-pro baseball in Oklahoma City (1953), in Bentonville, Arkansas (1954) and Sinton, Texas (1955) for the Plymouth Oil Company. Naturally I played high-school baseball, but it was the summer leagues that were most instrumental in my development. In high-school, we barely had enough to players to make up a team, and the coaching was poor.

When I graduated from high-school in the spring of 1954, I received a full athletic scholarship to play basketball for Oklahoma University. I also participated in their baseball program. Being a freshman, we were not allowed to play varsity. Although I was scouted by the Cardinals and other clubs, no club had offered me a professional baseball contract.

It was during the summer of 1955 that my break finally came. When I played for the Sinton, Texas ballclub, we were in a very fast league and even played against some professional teams. Our coach was Jack Trent who was the University of Texas varsity baseball coach. We had some very outstanding players. My record was 6 wins and 2 losses which was not that outstanding. I also ran into some lower back problems which were diagnosed as some kind of virus in my back. I did not pitch for about 3 weeks.

At the end of three weeks I was throwing hard on the sidelines. When I walked by the stands going toward the dugout, an old gentlemen motioned me to come over. He introduced himself as a Scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. He said that the Phillies were willing to offer me $30,000 to sign a contract. This took me by surprise, but I didn’t change my expression, and explained to him that my plans were to go to college. As soon as I got back to the dorm, I called my dad and told him what the man had said. Dad immediately called Fred Hawn, a Cardinal scout who had been closely following my development. Fred lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He got excited and hopped in his Cardinal Red Ford Thunderbird convertible and rushed to Hollis, Oklahoma to pick up my dad. Then both of them came to Sinton, Texas to see what was going on.

They picked me up at the dorm, we ate a late lunch, and all of us went to the ball park. We arrived about 3 hours before game time. Fred, being an old catcher always carried his catching mitt. He had swarthy, dark complexion, was short and well built, and he offered a good target for my pitches. I threw to him for about 40 minutes or so. My back was now feeling good, and my fast ball was really hopping. My coach was watching and badly wanted me to pitch in the game that evening. Fred told him, “No, he has done too much throwing to do that.” Then turning to my dad and me, he said, “Lindy, how would you like to try out for the Cardinals?” The Cardinals had always been my club, so I said, “When?” He said, “How about right now?” We picked up my things at the dorm, and off we went to the farm in Oklahoma. Here dad and I packed a few things. We got up early the next morning and we were off to St. Louis. I am not sure how fast Fred drove. The distance to St. Louis from the farm was 700 miles. and we arrived there in the middle of the afternoon. We checked into the Fairgrounds Hotel, just three blocks north of the Cardinal ball park. I remember that my dad and Fred Hawn seemed very nervous. You might say they were on “pins” and “nettles”! But I was just taking it all in and nothing seemed to bother me much. Maybe I was just too young to understand.

My Try-Out With The Cardinals

After unpacking, we went straight to the ball park. My try-out had been set up two days in advance. Doggie Lynch, a very jolly chubby man, met us at the entrance door to the Cardinal clubhouse. I was taken to a small dressing room and was fitted in an old Cardinal uniform. After suiting up, I was taken out to the playing field was greeted by Harry Walker, the manager. My dad and Fred Hawn were watching from the lower seats, just a few feet away. He directed me to a mound on the side lines and an old batting practice catcher was waiting there to catch me. I warmed up for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then Harry said, “O.K. That’s enough for now. I would like for you to come again tomorrow.” I replied, “But don’t you want to see me cut loose?” He said, “Aren’t you cutting loose?” I said, “Nah, I was just warming up.” He said, “O.K., let me see you cut loose.” Well, I did cut loose and the old catcher could barely hold on to my pitches. About that time, I noticed a number of Cardinals players edging toward the sidelines to get a closer look. Afterwards, Harry Walker told to come back the next day.

On the second day, I was well rested from the trip. I was allowed to throw batting practice to the extra men, that is, those who are not in the regular line-up. I was allowed to pitch on the big mound. Around home plate was a large batting cage and Dell Rice was my catcher. He had me to throw different pitches including curve balls, while the batters were taking their turns to hit. The batters were told what was coming, but none of them were able to hit the ball solid. I was throwing strike after strike. Again I came to the ballpark for the third day in a row. This time, Harry Walker and some of the regulars actually tried to hit off of me. I still maintained good control and none were hitting the ball solid. I had a long stride, ¾ overhand delivery and threw a very heavy fastball which sank naturally as it approached the batter.

My Contract Negotiation

After my third tryout was completed, I took a shower and was escorted to a big office at the Stadium. In this large room was my dad, Fred Hawn, Dick Meyers (Vice president of the Cardinals), Joe Mathis (head of the scouting system), Bing Divine (general manager), Harry Walker and myself. This was pretty awesome occasion for a 19 year old kid. After some small talk, the purpose of the meeting was finally stated. Bing Divine said, “Lindy, the Cardinals would like to sign you to a contract. We like the way you throw. What will it take for us to sign you?” Getting straight to the point I said, “I want $50,000 to sign!” Just then the room became very quiet. (You see, years ago in 1952 my dad sit by a man in the stands in Altus, and he told my dad, “Don’t let your kid sign for anything under $50,000.” My dad made the mistake of telling me. This figure had always stuck in my mind, and from that day my goal was to play for the Cardinals and sign for $50,000) Finally, Bing Divine broke what seemed like a long period of silence by saying, “Lindy, we don’t have the authority here to sign you for that much money.” I replied, “Well, all I know is that the Cardinals have always been my team. I did not go from club to club to see who would give me the most money, but I do want $50,000 to sign.” They could see that I was a very determined young kid. Mr. Divine responded, “Well, we will need to contact Augie Busch who owns the Cardinals. He must have the final word on this.” After a few minutes, Augie Busch, the owner of the Cardinals, was reached by phone. He was somewhere in the states in his private railroad car. I did not hear the conversation, but I was told that Mr. Busch flat turned down my request. He told Mr. Divine that bonus players have not worked out well for the Cardinals in the past. Then Harry Walker said to Bing, “Let me speak to Mr. Busch.” Again, I did not hear the conversation, but after a few minutes talking with Walker, Busch agreed to meet my price! (Many years later, Walker told me that there were only two young players that he had labeled “can’t miss” in his career. One was Al Kaline and the other was me. So I guess he told Mr. Busch that I was a “can’t miss” prospect.)

The total negotiation was not over. Mr. Divine took me aside privately just to find out if my goal was to get a large bonus or did I really want to play baseball for the Cardinals. I was able to convince him that my goal was to succeed in baseball. Then I informed Bing Divine that I could not sign a professional contract unless I was guaranteed the opportunity to worship on the first day of every week. Seeing that this was a matter of conscience, he agreed to this stipulation, and this verbal agreement was honored by all of the clubs I played for throughout my entire professional career.

It seems that everything went unusually well during those few days in St. Louis. My mom was very concerned about the influence that professional baseball would have on me. I knew that it would be impossible for me to survive spiritually unless I put God first in my life. Part of this was the guarantee that I would have the opportunity to worship. As a side point, at the time of my signing, if a player signed a bonus contract for over $8,000.00 he had to stay on the Big League Roster for two years. This was to discourage clubs from signing players to large bonus contracts. Fortunately, those two years were not wasted by sitting on the bench, as I good enough to work into the regular pitching rotation.

Normally my articles appearing in “Pitching For The Master” are full of scripture, but this article is an exception. This is just a small window into my background as a pitcher. The main point I am trying to make is that whatever profession we choose in life, we need to put God first. As a baseball player, I had many “ups” and “downs”. I never did believe that success on the playing field = success as a Christian. Nor did I believe that failure on the playing field = failure as a Christian. Some of my best pals were just average players, and some of the worst role models were superstars. After all is said and done, baseball is simply a vocation. Compared to knowing Christ, success in baseball amounts to nothing (see Phil. 3:4-9). Look for future articles containing the good stuff.

---Lindy McDaniel
February, 2010

1 comments:

Joe said...
on

Lindy, I remember one time your dad crediting you boys pitching skills to your mother. He said he played a pretty good game of tennis; but that your mother could out-throw any man in the county.

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