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Chicago Cubs history: Lindy McDaniel and the 1963 Cubs

McDaniel wasn’t with the Cubs long, but had his fair share of saves in the ‘63 season

Lindy McDaniel with his son Jonathan
Getty Images

In 1963 things started to look up for the formerly slumping Cubs as they finally finished a season with a record over .500. It was their first time with a winning record since 1946. The team appeared to be on their way to better days (which sadly wouldn’t prove to be the case for 1964) and a 27-year-old closer was about to have one heck of a year.

1963 Cubs

Record: 82-80
Standing: 7th in the National League
Manager: Bob Kennedy

The College of Coaches era came to an end in Chicago in 1963, with a single manager taking the helm for the whole year, though he was still called “head coach.” Clearly the change of pace helped the team, as Kennedy was able to bring the Cubs their first winning record in 15 years. Ron Santo was the team’s best hitter of the year, making it to the All-Star team reserve with a .297/.339/.481 line. Ernie Banks had his first “down” season since 1954 (ultimately his worst full season by the numbers in his career) and only managed 98 hits.

Our featured player for this season, Lindy McDaniel, came to the team courtesy of a 1962 offseason move that shipped Don Cardwell. George Altman, and Moe Thacker to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lindy McDaniel

Lindy McDaniel was born Lyndall Dale McDaniel in 1935, and got the nickname “Lindy” as an homage to the famed Charles Lindburgh when young Lindy was only about four years old.

He played for five different teams in his 21-year career: the Cardinals, the Yankees, the Giants, the Cubs, and the Royals. The bulk of his time was spent with the Cardinals and Yankees, but posted some pretty impressive results or the Cubs in his time with the team, especially in the 1963 season. In 48 games that year — the most he’d ever play in a single season — he had a whopping 22 saves, a 13-7 record, a 2.86 ERA, 3.02 FIP, and 1.239 WHIP. These marked an impressive step up from his previous couple of seasons with the Cards.

By the time 1963 rolled around, McDaniel was primarily used as a reliever, and likely for good reason. He’d started his career with St. Louis as a starter, but by the early ‘60s he’d been moved into more of a relief role, and this remained mostly consistent for the remainder of his career. It was McDaniel, in a starting appearance with the Cardinals, who gave up a record-setting fifth grand slam of the 1955 season to Ernie Banks.

He was so good as a reliever, he actually won the Fireman of the Year award in its inaugural season in 1960, and again with the Cubs in the 1963 season. Though the Fireman of the Year award was later renamed the Reliever of the Year award, it has since been discontinued.

McDaniel nearly singlehandedly won a game for the Cubs June 6, 1963 at Wrigley Field. Called into a tie game against the Giants in the 10th inning with Chuck Hiller on third and Willie Mays on second and one out, McDaniel picked Mays off second base. He then struck out Ed Bailey to end the inning and then, back in the day when teams let relief pitchers bat, led off the bottom of the 10th with a walkoff home run.

During his 21-year tenure in the majors, McDaniel made two All-Star squads, both in 1960 (when two All-Star Games a year was the norm) and in that same season he finished third in NL Cy Young votes.

Lindy McDaniel came onto the Cardinals radar at an early age, and they started their pursuit of him when he was only 16. Later they would also bring his younger brother Von into the fold. For Von, it wasn’t going to be a long-term future in the sport though, as he played only two seasons with the Cardinals — one of only two games. At 19, his major league career was over, thought he continued to play in the minors for another nine seasons, including some time with the Cubs farm.

Lindy, however, continues to excel. After slumping slightly with the Cardinals, he moved onto the Cubs, and many believed he was one of the major factors in their big turnaround season. According to Cubs pitcher Dick Ellsworth, Lindy “brought a new atmosphere of confidence and know-how to our pitching staff.”

He had three fine seasons with the Cubs before moving onto the Giants. Though he had another incredible relief season with the Yankees in 1970, collecting 29 saves in 51 games finished, with a 2.01 ERA, McDaniel was heading into the late stages of his career.

During his time in professional baseball, McDaniel never lost sight of his ultimate life goal: ministry. He studied during the offseasons at various Christian colleges, and eventually became an ordained minister. It was ultimately his church commitments that led him to request a trade from the Yankees, because it was simply too difficult to manage his religious work and be close to his family. He was granted his wish and traded to the Kansas City Royals.

As it turned out it was not age that would prove McDaniel’s undoing, but rather artificial turf. Moving from the Yankees real grass to the Royals artificial grass caused his ERA to climb. By 1975, the 39-year-old McDaniel had had enough. He retired from baseball so he could focus on his true passions: his family and his church.

McDaniel is now 83 years old and according to his website, continues to preach in Lavon, TX. He is working on a book about his baseball career.