- The book: “Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball”
- The author: John Feinstein
- Vital stats: Doubleday, 370 pages, $26.95
- Find it: At Random House, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
Photo by Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
- The pitch: There’s that image we can still see of Dodgers manager Joe Torre talking the lineup card to home plate before his final game with the team in 2010 – and taking with him a 33-year-old rookie first baseman named John Lindsay.
The cameras and microphones captured Torre explaining to home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez that Lindsay may have had his left hand all wrapped up — the result of breaking it after getting hit by a pitch a couple games earlier — but he would be in on that lineup card anyway. When it came time for him to bad, Torre would have to send up a pinch-hitter.
It was a way for Torre to give Lindsay something to remember in what would likely be the last time either one of them would put on a big-league uniform. They’d go out together.
Lindsay may have a “nobody” was until he got a September call-up. As the story came out, he had spent the previous 16 seasons in the minor leagues — longer than anyone had to wait in baseball history before a big-league promotion.
The soft-spoken Mississippi native started his career as an 18-year-old with the Colorado Rockies’ Arizona League League team in 1995. It was followed by a trip to the low Single-A Portland team.
He didn’t reach Triple A until he was 30.Vin Scully explained the whole thing as Lindsay came into the on-deck circle to finally make his first major-league appearance on Sept. 8 as a pinch hitter. Then came a commercial. Then came Andre Ethier, sent in as a left-handed hitter to replace Lindsay because of a pitching change.
So much for that.
Lindsey did finally get into a game the next night, against Houston, flying out to center field. He got his one and only hit against the Astros on Sunday, Sept. 12, a line drive that dropped in front of Carlos Lee in left field.
That Lindsay was included in Feinstein’s new book about how and why players endure the minor-league experience is a natural fit.
“I”m an accident away,” the 35-year-old Lindsay tells Feinstein about why he kept playing after the Dodgers released him. “It happened once. I still believe it can happen again.”
Lindsay hit .353 in 107 games with the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, including 25 home runs and 97 RBI, and a Pacific Coast League All-Star. Feinstein documents how his manager, Tim Wallach, gave him the news of his callup, and how Lindsay was afraid to brag about it to his teammates.
After that Sept., 2010 experience, nobody really heard much about Lindsay, even though the next season, back in Albuquerque, he hit .309 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs.
In 2012, he played in the Mexican League, then signed with Detroit to play at Triple-A Toledo. Same thing in 2013.
He finally retired on April 30 of that year, according to his online stats. After 1,700 games in the minors, 273 homers, 1,142 RBIs and a .284 average.
Lindsay becomes one of nine story lines weaved into Feinstein’s detailed narrative, along with a couple of others who had stays on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster — outfielder Scott Podsednik (a 2005 World Series hero of sorts with the Chicago White Sox who played 39 games in L.A. during the last half of 2010, the same year as Lindsay’s callup) and pitcher Brett Tomko (who had 10 of his 100 career big-league wins with the Dodgers between 2006-07).
In 2012 and even into ’13, Feinstein takes more than just a snap shot of all of them, as well as pitchers Scott Elarton and Chris Schwinden, outfielder Nate McLouth, managers Ron Johnson and Charlie Montoyo and umpire Mark Lollo.
In many cases, people really did know their names, or else they wouldn’t be given a third, fourth or even a fifth chance to keep getting another shot.
As Toledo manager Phil Nevin says: “The worst part is releasing a player because you’re killing his dream. Sometimes, the biggest favor you can do is tell a player ‘it’s time.’ They don’t want to hear it, but they need to hear it.”
This was a purgatory situation for many, waiting for another call-up, going through another rehab or a rain out, clearing waivers and avoiding outright releases, putting on uniforms representing anything from the Iron Pigs and the Isotopes, with families and futures on the line.
One more familiar name comes up as well in the Feinstein finding-out process.
Chris Dickerson, the former Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks standout, made his big-league debut in 2008 with Cincinnati, but himself in the New York Yankees’ spring training when the 2012 season starts as a soon-to-be 30-year-old trying to keep his job.
“Dickerson was a classic example of what scouts call a 4-A player,” writes Feinstein in Chapter 4. “He was probably a little too good to be playing Triple-A but not quite good enough to play regularly in the major leagues … Still, Dickerson wasn’t prepared when the Yankees told him early in training camp that he was being out-righted to Triple-A (meaning he was off the 40-man roster as well).
“‘I was stunned,’ Dickerson said. ‘It wasn’t as if I thought I was a lock to make the team, but I thought I’d get a chance. I was hurt and I was angry. I just think I’m a better player than that.’
“He shook his head at the thought of spending an entire season in the minor leagues.
“‘When you go home for the winter after being on the big-league club (he played in 60 games for the Yankees the previous season, including an appearance in the postseason), it means something,’ he said. ‘People look at you a certain way. you go home after being in the minors, and people say to you, ‘So, do you think you’ll make it back to the pros?
“‘That is the most annoying thing anyone can say. What do people think I’ve been doing since college, playing for fun? People don’t understand — Triple-A baseball is very real and very good. The guys playing Triple-A are really, really good baseball players.’
“He smiled and shook his head.
“‘Of course, no one wants to be one of them,’ he said. ‘Including me.”
Feinstein circles back to see Dickerson’s return in September, in Chapter 36. Dickerson his .316 for the Yankees’ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team, and he was one of six callups. His first big-league at bat of 2012 was taking an inside cutter from Baltimore pitcher Chris Tilman and hitting a two-run homer.
“‘All the home runs I’ve hit in my life, I’ve never felt like that,” he said. ‘Not as a kid, not the first one I hit in the majors (in 2008). There was a rush of adrenaline through my body that was unreal. To come back to that stadium after the year I’d had and the way I’d been treated and hit one out my first time up … Some things are beyond description. You feel it inside you in a way you can’t put into words.”
Thankfully, Feinstein does just that.
So what’s become of Dickerson? He spent 2013 (56 games) with Baltimore. He signed a minor-league deal to start 2014 with Pittsburgh and hit .355 in the spring with two doubles and seven RBIs in 15 games. But the Pirates reassigned him with no room in their outfield. He’s not on their 40-man roster, nor is he at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Anyone know his whereabouts? Sounds like something Feinstein may want to track down when the book gets re-issued in paperback.