Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #100 Johnny Lindell

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The Top 100 finally kicks off with forgotten pitcher-turned-outfielder Johnny Lindell.

About four months ago, I issued a call for help from the community in creating this site's list of the Top 100 Yankees of all time. We were delighted to receive 17 responses from you guys, and the list was complete. It took awhile to get this underway, but here we go.

Name: Johnny Lindell
Position: Outfield/Pitcher (RHB/RHP)
Born: August 30, 1916 (Greeley, CO)
Died: August 27, 1985 (Newport Beach, CA)
Yankee Years: 1941-50
Primary number: 27 (also 16, 18, and 8)
Yankee statistics: 742 G, .275/.343/.428, 124 2B, 45 3B, 63 HR, 114 wRC+, 14.5 rWAR, 15.3 fWAR

Biography

More prospect gold in California

The Joe McCarthy-era Yankees and subsequent teams had their share of superstars. Guys like Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto were future Hall of Famers, and players like Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller were frequent All-Stars. However, the sheer depth of these squads was one of the primary reasons that they finished at the head of the pack in the American League year after year. There were also players that stayed with the time through the wartime years and helped them win the 1943 World Series, a championship often forgotten due to the absence of many stars. One such player was a California kid named Johnny Lindell, the 100th-ranked player in Pinstripe Alley's Top 100 Yankees.

California was an established factory of west coast Yankee talent by the mid-1930s. Imports included DiMaggio, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. Lindell was six months into a pitching career at USC in 1936 when scout Bill Essick signed him with a bonus of $150. The Yankees highly respected Essick's opinion; he was the same fellow who recommended all those aforementioned west coast players in addition to Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, and Frankie Crosetti. The 20-year-old joined the Class C Joplin Miners and hit .325 with a .350 slugging percentage in 42 games while also pitching 212 innings to a 4.03 ERA. His control was little wild at 4.1 BB/9, but he cut that down to 2.8 BB/9 in 102 innings during his next season at Class A Binghamton while also bringing his ERA down to 2.74.

Lindell continued to develop as yet another homegrown prospect throughout the next few seasons. He reached his apex with a dominant '41 season with the Newark Bears, right on the Yankees' doorstep. Lindell went 23-4 in 31 games and 228 innings, completing 22 of his starts with a superb ERA of 2.05 and a walk rate of 2.3 BB/9. Lindell was no Ben Francisco with the bat either, contributing a .298/.328/.352 triple slash in 121 plate appearances as well, showing some value on offense to complement his excellent numbers on the mound. He was deservedly named the Minor League Player of the Year.

Having nothing left to prove in the minors, the Yankees put Lindell on their pitching staff for the '42 season as they tried to defend their World Series championship in '41. Unfortunately for him, the Yankees' starting rotation in '42 was absolutely stacked-not one of their six pitchers who made at least 19 starts posted an ERA+ below 107 or an ERA over 3.25. Lindell was instead relegated to the bullpen, where he made more relief appearances than anyone other than fireman Johnny Murphy. Featuring a knuckleball, curveball, and fastball, he was decent in his rookie season, pitching to a 3.76 ERA and a 92 ERA+. The Yankees won the AL pennant, but with so many statistically impressive starters in their rotation, there was no room in the ‘pen for Lindell come September and October. He was a non-factor in the Yanks' five-game Fall Classic loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

A triple threat at the plate

When Lindell returned to the Yankees for Spring Training in '43, the team suddenly had very little depth in the outfield. Both DiMaggio and Henrich had enlisted for World War II, leaving only Keller as an incumbent outfielder. Lindell's manager, McCarthy had an inkling that Lindell could possibly help the Yankees in that capacity rather than on the mound. He was perturbed by Lindell's low strikeout rates and felt that Lindell's repertoire (especially his fastball) was not good enough to retire major league hitters. Happy to help in whatever way he could, Lindell won a job in the Opening Day outfield and spent the '43 season adjusting to life as a regular position player.

In the first half, Lindell was on a roll; he hit .260/.340/.382 with 20 extra-base hits while McCarthy told reporters "Keep your eye on Lindell because he looks like he's going places." McCarthy rewarded him with Lindell's only career appearance on the AL All-Star team. Although the daily grind of the long season in the field led to a second-half slump, he still led the league in triples with 12 in just 122 games and ended the season with a .245/.329/.366 triple slash and a 103 wRC+.

The Yankees rode an otherworldly .701 winning percentage at home (54-23) to a 98-56 record, building a 10-game lead in the AL by mid-August and eventually capturing the flag by 13.5 games over second-place Washington. Lindell's struggles continued into the World Series with just two times on base in 10 plate apperances, but the Yankees were able to exact revenge over the Cardinals in five games anyway, and Lindell had his first World Series ring.

"Keep your eye on Lindell because he looks like he's going places." -Joe McCarthy, 1943

Now with that first full season under his belt, Lindell broke through as a 27-year-old in '44 with his career year. Although the Yankees' streak of three consecutive pennants came to a close as they finished in third place, six games behind the normally-downtrodden St. Louis Browns, Lindell did everything he could to keep the streak alive. A bit of a slow start cost him his second All-Star appearance, but the rising fan favorite was far more consistent throughout the '44 campaign than he was in '43. He notched 33 doubles on the season, and four of them came in a row in one game on August 17th against the Indians at Yankee Stadium, tying a major-league record.

Lindell led the league in triples again at 16, added a career-high 18 homers, and he hit .300/.351/.500 with a .393 wOBA and a 138 wRC+ in 149 games. His .500 slugging percentage was third in the league, he led the league in total bases at 297, and he compiled 5.7 fWAR. He was overshadowed by teammate Snuffy Stirnweiss for AL MVP votes, but Tigers ace Hal Newhouser won the award anyway. Nonetheless, it was a banner season for a man who was a full-time pitcher just two years prior.

Lindell began the '45 campaign with the Yankees once again, but after hitting .283/.363/.377 in 41 games, he enlisted with the U.S. Army as World War II was winding down in June and he missed the remainder of the season. By the time Lindell returned to the Yanks with the rest of the veterans in '46, he was squeezed out of the starting outfield by DiMaggio and Henrich. Some wartime players like Stirnweiss returned to normal with superior pitching back on the mound, but Lindell's numbers were not far off from his career norms. He appeared more often for the Yanks in '46 than any other bench player, 102 games, frequently finding open spots in the lineup as both an outfielder and a first baseman. Lindell hit .259/.328/.410 with 10 homers and a 104 wRC+ in 369 plate appearances.

World Series hero

In '47, the Yankees had a new skipper at the helm; McCarthy had left the Yankees 35 games into the '46 season. Management settled on former Senators manager Bucky Harris as the manager, and he continued McCarthy's practice of keeping Lindell active seemingly every other day as an outfielder or pinch-hitter. A ruptured disc brought Keller down for the season in June though, and Lindell took his place in left field for the duration of the season, playing alongside DiMaggio and Henrich. He again turned in a fine season at the plate, batting .275/.322/.412 with a 101 wRC+ as the Yankees broke a brief streak of three seasons without October baseball in win the '47 AL pennant with a 97-57 record, 12 games ahead of the Tigers. They were even better at home than the '43 squad-55-22, a .714 winning percentage.

In his second World Series, Lindell played the best baseball of his life. He drove a go-ahead two-run double in the opener at Yankee Stadium to give the Yankees a 2-1 fifth inning lead that held up, and he hit a sacrifice fly while reaching base three times with a walk, a double, and a triple in a 10-3 blowout win in Game 2. He notched four more hits and two walks in a one-run losses at Ebbets Field in Games 3 and 4, and after a rare hitless outing in Game 5, he rebounded with two hits in two at-bats in Game 6 until calamity struck. Lindell broke a rib on the basepaths and had to watch from the bench as the Yankees eventually took the series in seven games. Had the World Series MVP existed in those days, Lindell may very well have won it for his .500/.625/.778 triple slash in that series, even if he was unable to finish the Classic himself.

The last hurrah

Lindell hit a commendable .317/.387/.511 in part-time duty the next season, good for a .412 wOBA and 137 wRC+ in 88 games. It was not enough to save Harris's job though, as the Yankees missed the Fall Classic and Casey Stengel took over the ballclub. He was only 32 years old in '49, but Lindell's talents at the plate began to fade; his .242/.350/.374 triple slash produced his first sub-100 wRC+ season as a full-time player. Lindell did produce one final highlight in pinstripes near the end of the '49 campaign in a tight race with the Boston Red Sox for the pennant.

The Yankees were in a must-win scenario against Boston at Yankee Stadium with only one more game left on the slate. They trailed Boston by a game in the AL standings, so a loss meant that Boston would be the winners of the pennant. The Red Sox beat up Allie Reynolds and wild reliever Joe Page to jump out to a 4-0 lead after three innings. The Yankees fought back to tie it up at four in the fifth against Mel Parnell, and the score remained that way until Lindell came up with no one on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth.

Joe Dobson had relieved Parnell in the fifth and limited the Yanks to just a pair of infield singles in 3.2 innings. Lindell stepped up and broke Dobson's scoreless streak with a long homer to deep left field, the last he would ever hit as a Yankee. His old manager McCarthy was managing the Red Sox, and Lindell jokingly told the press that the homer was McCarthy's fault for originally converting him to a position player.The roundtripper brought the enormous Yankee Stadium crowd of 69,551 to its feet as the Yankees took 5-4 lead and lived to see the next day. They won that game as well as Lindell went 1-for-2 with two walks in the 5-3 pennant-clinching victory. Boston was toast, and Lindell would earn his third World Series ring.

The 34-month comeback... to the mound

After a slow start to the 1950 season, the St. Louis Cardinals claimed Lindell from the Yankees, ending quite a successful 15-year stint in the Yankee organization. A disappointing stint with the Cardinals spelled his exile from the pros, as St. Louis sold him to Pacific Coast League's Hollywood Stars. Back on the west coast, Lindell also returned to his first site of success as a player-the pitching mound. He had not pitched professionally in nine years, but he dazzled PCL hitters with his knuckleball by notching a 36-18 record over the next two seasons, pitching to a 2.73 ERA in 472 innings. He was named PCL MVP in '52. Imagine that-190 innings one year and 282 the next after zero in basically a decade. Different times, indeed.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a working agreement with the Stars, and they had purchased the rights to Lindell. Impressed by his numbers in the PCL, they invited him to camp and he made their starting rotation. Thus, he completed his amazing 34-month comeback to the majors on April 15, 1953 in a game against the Dodgers. He lost to the defending NL champions 4-2, but his only run support came from his own bat on a two-run homer. Lindell was a league average starter in '53, pitching to a 95 ERA+ in 175.2 innings before the Phillies purchased him on August 31st. He finished the year in Philly, then went 1-for-5 with two walks as a pinch-hitter in '54 before he was released on May 10th, ending a 12-year career in the majors.

Lindell had a nice, long retirement before lung cancer took him few days shy of his 70th birthday in 1985. He will never be remembered as the most well-known Yankee of the ‘40s, but he certainly made his impact on the team all around the field and wrote quite a personal comeback story with his eventual return to the mound.

Andrew's rank: 85

Tanya's rank: 92

Community's rank: N/A

Avg. WAR rank: 96.5

Season Stats

Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

rWAR

fWAR

1941

24

NYY

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0.000

0.000

0.000

0.000

-100

0

0.0

0.0

1942

25

NYY

27

24

24

1

6

1

0

0

4

0

0

0

5

0.250

0.250

0.292

0.542

53

7

0.1

-0.1

1943

26

NYY

122

500

441

53

108

17

12

4

51

2

5

51

55

0.245

0.329

0.365

0.694

102

161

1.0

1.4

1944

27

NYY

149

646

594

91

178

33

16

18

103

5

4

44

56

0.300

0.351

0.500

0.851

138

297

5.3

5.7

1945

28

NYY

41

181

159

26

45

6

3

1

20

2

1

17

10

0.283

0.363

0.377

0.740

111

60

0.8

0.9

1946

29

NYY

102

369

332

41

86

10

5

10

40

4

1

32

47

0.259

0.328

0.410

0.738

104

136

1.1

1.3

1947

30

NYY

127

513

476

66

131

18

7

11

67

1

2

32

70

0.275

0.322

0.412

0.734

104

196

2.1

2.1

1948

31

NYY

88

344

309

58

98

17

2

13

55

0

0

35

50

0.317

0.387

0.511

0.898

138

158

2.2

2.6

1949

32

NYY

78

247

211

33

51

10

0

6

27

3

0

35

27

0.242

0.350

0.374

0.724

92

79

0.3

0.6

1950

33

NYY

7

25

21

2

4

0

0

0

2

0

0

4

2

0.190

0.320

0.190

0.510

35

4

-0.2

-0.2

NYY (10 yrs)

742

2850

2568

371

707

112

45

63

369

17

13

250

322

0.275

0.343

0.428

0.770

114

1098

12.7

14.5

Year

Age

Tm

W

L

ERA

FIP

G

GS

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

BK

WP

ERA-

FIP-

rWAR

fWAR

1942

25

NYY

2

1

3.76

3.40

23

2

1

52.2

52

25

22

3

22

28

1

1

1

106

99

-0.2

0.3

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

Bailey, Judson. "Yankee Pitcher May Play First," The Telegraph-Herald. 19 Mar. 1943. (Link)

BR Bullpen

"Lindell Homers to Clinch Win; Final Tilt Today," Herald-Journal. 2 Oct. 1949. (Link)

"Pitchers Parade in Final Contest," The Windsor Daily Star. 6 Oct. 1947. (Link)

"White Hope of the New York Yankees, Johnny Lindell, is Producing," Painesville Telegraph. 26 May 1943. (Link)

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