What I Learned In Baseball About Drinking

This goes back in time when I went from the farm to the big cities playing Major League baseball.    This is about growing up with home spun values based upon the Bible and how those values were put to the test.   In particular, this is about growing up as a teetotaler when it comes to drinking alcohol and my exposure to the pressures and philosophies of baseball on drinking and how it affected my thinking on the subject.  This exposure to the world and reexamination process happens to every Christian on many levels as his faith in Jesus Christ is put to the test in the real world.   The choice is very simple, either we become molded into the image of the world or else we become transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (see Rom. 12:1-2).  I have seen many a rookie with a fairly decent set of values inherited from his parents and early religious training change before my very eyes simply because they desired to fit in and follow the examples of the superstars or the culture of the game.  To deny that there is a certain social culture when it comes to the game of baseball, or other high profile occupations, is to have your blinders on.   Anyway, this article is what I learned about drinking and baseball from my own experiences.   I could either grow and meet the challenge or crash.  Would my religious beliefs hold up in the real world?   I have deliberately kept this article as light as possible, and even a bit humorous at times.  I must apologize to those of you who idolize baseball celebrities and look up to them as “gods.”   You might not want to read the rest of this.

Chicago Cubs

I learned a lot in baseball about drinking.  For example, when I was playing for the Chicago Cubs in 1965, I learned some things from Lew Burdette, the famous spit ball pitcher from Milwaukee who had been recently traded to the Cubs.  Formerly he was one of the main starting pitchers for the Milwaukee Braves, along with the more famous Warren Spahn.   Anyway, this was late in Lew’s career, and he would tell us guys in the bullpen how things were when he and Spann played together.   He told us that they would drink at least 10 beers a day, but because they worked so hard running and exercising between starts, it would never affect their pitching.   The effects of the beer would just sweat right out of their bodies. Lew said that he didn’t drink during the off season, because he wasn’t working hard enough to sweat it out.  Going from 10+ to zero sounded kind of strange to me, but that’s what he said.   Anyway, he told us that you can never trust a man until you get him drunk.  That’s when the real person comes out.  Well, I am not sure I buy that one either.  I’ve seen a lot of drunk guys and in their stupor they have made some of the most stupid and ridiculous statements I have ever heard.  If that is the real, honest person, then I would much prefer that the real character remain hidden!  I am sure that at the A.A. (Alcohol Anonymous)  meetings everyone is told to get drunk so that they can have a real, honest conversation!  I do think that when a person is drunk, he loses self-control, and starts “spilling the beans” so to speak.  That is, say things he would never say when sober.  Lew also said in light humor and jest, “Guys, I wouldn’t want to be like Lindy here (pointing to me).  When he gets up in the morning he feels as good as he is going to feel all day.  But when I get up in the morning, I know that I will feel better as the day progresses.”  Of course, everyone laughed.  I later learned that most of his material was borrowed from the Dean Martin Show and his buddies in the “rat pack”.  Am I dating myself or what?   It is fantastic how much a person can learn sitting in the Bull Pen! 

St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier with the St. Louis Cardinals, I had roomed with Jim Brosnan, a relief pitcher acquired from the Cincinnati Reds who was busy writing books.  He took pride in being an atheist and never really enjoyed talking to a dumb,  uninformed, Bible believing and flat-earthish person like me.   In one of his books, he did write that he spoke to me 15 minutes about religion, and that was enough to convince him that I we shared no common ground.   He believed in the old adage, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”  For the atheist, what else could there possibly be?  Even though we were roommates, I never saw him much, as he would come in about 3 or 4 am very drunk from an outing on the town, and most of the time would barely locate his bed.  Sometimes he would just fall by his bed and lie on the floor.   The next morning, I would have to make sure not to disturb him, dress and sneak into the bathroom and gently close the door when leaving, and then stay out until he got up mid afternoon.   Not a good match to be sure.  I do not know if the Cardinals wanted me to influence him or if he was supposed to influence me.  But whatever the reason, it didn’t work.   What did I think?  I think maybe no one else wanted to room with him and they reasoned, “Oh, Lindy won’t mind!”  No,  I didn’t raise a stink, but I probably should have.  Hey, I can also name some good roommates.  Come to think of it, none of them were drinkers and we had more compatible schedules.  During the last 10 years of my career, I had a room all to myself.  Nice.

As a rookie with the Cardinals, I was very popular with the players, for the owner furnished us with free cases of beer.   Since I didn’t drink, players became very friendly wanting me to give them my cases.   Not wanting to offend anyone or perhaps lead them astray, I finally sent word to the Cardinal front office not to send me any more cases.   Now I never said that drinking a beer was wrong.  I was thinking more in terms of the power of example on young people.  In fact I spent a lot of time researching “Wine and the Bible” and refined my own conclusions.  This is what I have done with everything I was taught growing up.  Of course, I knew that this kind of research would really go over real well with the ballplayers.  HaHaHa!   They already thought I was really strange for insisting to go to church on Sunday.   If anyone is interested in that research, all you have to do is let me know.  Who knows, maybe you are strange like me and want to know facts.  I have found that most beer companies will tell you how good and healthy drinking beer can be, and I have no doubt that it helps your social life.  I also have no doubt that it can hinder your social life, as many blaring headlines show.  You will notice that those beautiful beer commercials aways have a disclaimer, “Drink Responsibly”.  They never show the celebrities in the police mug photo after they are arrested or the untold carnage on the highways.   I have even had some of the more religious players tell me that drinking a few beers or wine is not harmful if you eat a meal with it.   And it seems like they do handle it pretty well until they hit a slump or had a special reason to celebrate.  Then all logic seems to fly out the window.   Even a casual student of the Bible knows that the Bible draws a clear line on drunkenness.   Somehow I was always seeing the bad side of alcohol use such as broken homes, out of control anger, alcoholism, infidelity, and the things that make headlines today but were hidden from the public then.  So I’m thinking, if you don’t need it, why start it?  Guess what my message is to young people in the schools?  Well, it is the same for all so called “recreational drugs”.  I think my radicalism on the subject can be traced back to my family training.  My dad and mom were teetotalers.  None of my brothers drank nor did my sister.   Sometimes it works just as effectively when children see the disastrous effect drinking had on their family.  Of course, we never had as much fun as other people and people could never truly get to know us, if you know what I mean.   Only alcohol can reveal your real character, I’m told.

My brother Von and I were even jumped on for not going to the bars and mixing with the players.  Bob Broeg, a famous sportswriter for the St. Louis Cardinals and a writer we both respected, sat with Von and me in a car in the parking lot of Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg in the spring of 1958 for over an hour, trying to convince us of this very thing.   It was all in the spirit of team cohesion.  He said, “Even if you don’t actually drink, it is a good way to mix with the players.”   Broeg’s idea of an ideal team was “the Old Gas House Gang” of the 1920’s and 30’s.   They were a real “rooten, tooten” wild bunch of players!  Knowing some of that history was the very reason that my mom was very concerned about my playing professional baseball.  Von and I remained unconvinced by the arguments of Mr. Broeg.  We said to him, “Look, that may seem innocent enough, but we have to think of our influence on the young people.  And besides, if we are not drinking, we are not sure that the players would even want us there.”    It has been my experience over the years that most players want to do their own thing after the game, and they really do not want “party poopers” like myself around.   That is just the hard truth on the matter.  This has nothing to do with sitting around in the clubhouse while some of the players have a beer or two.  There are different ways to relate to your teammates without hitting the bars.  In baseball, you are around your teammates more than your own family, due to the scheduling, traveling, and playing baseball every day, etc.  Do we need to extend that even more?

San Francisco Giants

During my first year with the Giants, we opened the season in St. Louis.  Our players attended a banquet in St. Louis the night before opening day.   During this banquet, the great owner of the Giants, Horace Stoneham, got up to make a speech.  He was soused, that is, drunk as could be.  His slurred voice got stuck on “I have some good ballplayers and some bad ballplayers”,  over and over like a needle stuck on a record, and he finally had to be escorted from the podium.  I was thinking to myself, “A real good start for me and the Giants!”   He had a good drinking buddy in our manager, Herman Franks, and things didn’t go bad for me until close to the end of the season when Hermon tried to pull a fast one on me by putting one of his recently acquired drinking buddies in my usual relief spot which blew three critical games.   We lost the pennant by 1 ½ games.  But I will not go into all of the gruesome details here.  In 1964, Herman Franks had replaced Alvin Dark, the only strong manager the Giants had during those years.  Was Alvin fired because he didn’t drink with the owner?   Many think that was a factor.  Herman was brought in as a buffer between the owner and manager, and to deal with the unrest between the black and Latin players and the manager, and it wasn’t long until Herman had the job all to himself and Alvin was out.

Alvin was strong on discipline, but all managers after him were extremely weak and the superstars were allowed to run the club.   Could this be the reason the Giants never won the pennant all of those years even though they were loaded (no pun intended) with “Hall of Fame” talent?   Actually a few were loaded in other ways from time to time including some who became or were alcoholics.  One of these, a great hitter, was a bright candle for a while, but was just a throw-a-way when he was no longer useful.  Everyone knew he was on the hard stuff, but there was no intervention.   After spending 2 ½ years there, I would say there was definitely poor leadership at the top.  As to personal and private matters these are best left unsaid.   There was a sign in the clubhouse that said something like, “What you do and say here stays here.”   Well, another atheist, Jim Bouton, who wrote “Ball Four” a tell all book about the drinking and social habits of several Yankees, including Mickey Mantle, one of the largest gods in the game, and you know what happened to him.  Bouton was barred from the Yankee clubhouse for years.   They finally let him back in, for with so many exposé  books on the market, his book was no longer a novelty.   With the rapidly changing morals in society, such books did not seem to be causing much negative reaction.  In fact, in the eyes of some young aspiring kids, they were even greater heroes.  Some players are more interested in the fringe benefits, to be adored and perused by women, than the game itself.   These are the spoils of conquest.  On every club I played for there were the party guys, married and unmarried, usually formed into small clicks, and the only question was, who is responsible for the booze, and who is responsible for getting the women.  Were they all guilty?  No.  But this was the culture.  In the early days, and from time to time, baseball attempted to enforce curfews, hire detectives to check on players, and do all sorts of things, but most of this disappeared in the 60’s. 

The Giants asked me to come to the 50th Anniversary of their moving to California in July of 2008.   And every morning, I got up and ate breakfast with 4 other great players, all non-drinkers, which included Alvin Dark, Bob Bolen, Billy O’Dell, and the other I don’t remember.  We had a great time and shared some great stories.  I have always said that Christians have more fun, but the party people don’t believe me.     

As to my playing for the Giants in San Francisco, it was rather miserable to be on a team void of  leadership and cohesion, the weather was cold and the people drank a lot.  At the ballpark,  the sports writers were furnished all the liquor they wanted and they always wrote nice things about the ball club.  It was always about “Willie Mays & Company” and so it was.  Sandlot baseball played by a team of superstars.  No complicated signs, no hit-and-run, no stealing bases and no bunting, etc.  No doing the little things that win close games.   Keep all the superstars happy.  Just power baseball and power pitching.   Yes, and they had some of the greatest players in baseball history.  Years later, my buddy Steve Hamilton of the Yankees was traded to the Giants, and he told me later, “Lindy, you didn’t tell me half of what was going on!”  No, I didn’t.    Although Steve was highly respected with the Yankees and served as our player representative as well as the league representative, he was treated as “a nobody” with the Giants.  Also his “folly floater” pitch did not exactly fit the Giants either, but it does furnish me with a lot of funny stories to tell.   I was not exactly surprised that his “blooper pitch” was outlawed in the National League, but that is a different story entirely.  He retired not long after being traded. 

New York Yankees

I did know a few good sportswriters who covered the Yankees, but most of them hit the bottle as well.  I could tell you many stories not decent to mention here.  Now these eastern writers can be vicious indeed and no one could accuse them of being controlled by the ballclub.  It was usually a love/hate relationship between the owners/players and writers except for the Giants.   I think that many of them were jealous of the players who often were arrogant celebrities, for most writers do not make much money.  Poor souls, they spend their lives pecking on a typewriter and going to bars.  Many end up being alcoholics.   Oh, I keep using that word!  I must bite my tongue.  I think that sportswriters were mostly journalists who never made it to the top and finally settled for the lowest rung of the journalistic pole.   Well, yes, I must admit, there were a few good journalist who I respected as being accomplished, hard working and notable writers.   And some famous well known authors outside of  baseball that did drink a lot.  We all know that.  Talent and productivity has to be separated from personal habits and weaknesses.   But I never did like the idea of having to go to the bar to get ink.  That’s a code word for write-ups or publicity.

Speaking of the Yankees, we had a “Father Joe” who traveled with the ballclub and ran around with a lot of the players.  Some of his pals got into serious trouble with “wife swapping” and actually trading families, making headlines all over the country.  I didn’t blame him for that, but he did like to drink.  One day, while sitting in the family section with the players’ wives and children, he made fun of my wife for not drinking.   After my wife told me, I should have jumped him hard but I was a moral coward in those days and kept quiet.  I should have reminded him of the large number of priests who became alcoholics and that the Catholic Church had their distilleries going strong even during “prohibition.”   But I must pass on, not out.

 I never could quite understand why some players, after they got drunk on the airplane, would come toward the front of the plane and sit by me and want to talk about religion.   I was polite, but I would usually inform them that when they were sober again, I would be glad to talk to them.  Well, they never did.  That is, want to talk when they were sober.  Maybe when they were drunk, as Lew Burdette had explained to me, their real character was coming out.   So perhaps, I should have encouraged them to get drunk again so that we could have an honest talk about religion.   This is all rather confusing.  But you know, that’s baseball, and that’s the way it was many years ago.  Well, I could go on with many other such baseball stories about drinking, but this article would be way to long. 

Learning From Experience

There are some good things that come out of being a celebrity and an alcoholic at the same time.  You can join A.A., become a counselor and people will listen to you.   I am often told, “Don’t knock it unless you have tried it!”  Which means that unless you drink and have gotten drunk, you have no right to speak out on the use of alcohol.  But how about this one, “Wise people do not have to learn from their own experience, they can actually learn from the experience of others.  Only poor students have to learn the hard way.”   Is this not what a recovering alcoholic will tell you if he has the chance?   I know it must be thrilling to jump off a 20 story building, but I think I will leave that experience for others.   When it comes to social drinking, I think that I have been immune to pressures put upon me.   However I am very much aware of the raw pressure that can be put upon players due to the power and example of “Famous Celebrities.”   I am not afraid to engage in conversation with anyone, if kept on a rational and logical basis, as to what I believe on this subject.  I even like to engage in a little humor.  After all, I am born and bred an “Okie.”   I also spent a lot of time in the “Show Me” state of Missouri, and presently live in the great state of Texas, which is another thing entirely.   However, religiously I am a just a Christian and have been trained to follow only one Lord and Master when it comes to spiritual or religious values, and I realize that these values affect everything that I do.  I also believe that these values are understandable and defensible.   But Christians need to lighten up if they are to understand those on the other side and make compelling arguments.   Yes, I am more into prevention, especially when talking to young people, than trying to repair the damage, although that is also important.  Don’t be afraid to engage your friends and loved ones in these discussions.   Well, that goes for your enemies and strong opponents as well.  But we can only persuade, not force.  We are blessed with this great gift of free will.

As to the larger issue of succeeding in the world without allowing the world to shape your values, I place high importance on the Biblical examples of such high profile men like Joseph and Daniel, who maintained their convictions and found success even in the midst of great ungodly empires, and I am motivated by the living examples from our own times of those men and women who stand tall against overwhelming odds.   And yes, for sure, you will be tested. 

                                                          --- Lindy McDaniel
                                                          February, 2014

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Note:  At the beginning of this article is a photo of myself in a Chicago Cub uniform in front of the batting cage around home plate in Wrigley Field taken in 1964.   I was only 27 but already with eight years of experience in the National League.  I still had a lot to learn about life and playing baseball.

If you know others who would like to receive advanced copies of Pitching For The Master attached to e-mail, please let me know and send me their e-mail address and they will be placed on the list.    These e-mail lists are protected and will not be made available to others, and they will only receive articles from me.   Thanks.  Your comments are always welcome even if you do think I am a bit radical. 


Bart Barber said...

Thanks for the article on such an important subject. Alcohol ruins so many homes and lives!

I'm your neighbor, sort of. I'm one of the pastors at FBC Farmersville. I'm also a Cardinals fan, having grown up in the same neck of the woods that produced Wally Moon (whose job before signing with the Cardinals was coaching at Lake City High School, where I attended).

Anyway, I just thought I'd reach out and say hello. Maybe our paths will cross sometime.

scotirish said...

It's been awhile, (I'm 72) but I saw your name mentioned on Facebook and just looked you up and discovered your blog. Eli Grba is on my FB list because primarily, growing up as kids we both attended the same military orphanage, Glenwood School for Boys. He being 10 years older than me, we have never met in person. He just recently published a book "Baseballs Fallen Angel." I was particularly interested in what he had to say about alcohol because it has plagued my family for as long as I can remember. Anyway, I appreciated what you had to say and would like to add my email johnthomson.thomson@gamil.com to your list. Thank You, John C Thomson

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