John Lindsey's Last At-Bat On The Edge Of Forever's Inning

Published 5:04 pm Thursday, October 14, 2010

The final regular season box scores appeared in newspapers across the nation on October 4 as the 162-game 2010 season slid into home and disappeared into the dugout before re-emerging, like the ground hog and a surer sign of spring, next year.

Over 420 names appeared in those final box scores and numbers beside the names to tell us, and posterity, how they succeeded or failed, and how often and to what effect.

Those box scores included the final regular season game of Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, the 8-7 triumph over the Phillies perfectly book-ending his very first victory as Braves' skipper, also 8-7.

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That box score reveals Atlanta closer Billy Wagner struck out four. But what it conceals is the way those final three strike-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to clinch a play-off spot came on sliders let loose in the sun, seeming to skim across the light of summer before veering down into the shadows of early autumn and to the right, perfectly slicing the outside corner of home plate and serving it to Cox as a triumphant farewell gift as each of the three batters, to quote the late and great Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched them go by.

On the West Coast, the Giants-Padres box score tells us that San Francisco rookie catcher, Buster Posey, whose ACC career with Florida State would have seen him take his swings in Charlottesville, hit an important home run to help clinch the final play-off spot for the Giants, who faced the Braves.

What the box score cannot tell anyone is that Andres Torres actually had two hits in one at-bat in the bottom of the first inning. His double down the left field line leading off the game kicked up the chalk of the foul line, making it a fair ball, but not in the eyes of the umpire. Torres then singled. Two hits, for those watching the game, in one appearance at the plate.

But the most intriguing box score of the day, and certainly the most heartwarming, came further down the coast of California, in Los Angeles, where LA's manager Joe Torre bid farewell to the Dodgers with a 3-1 victory.

The LA-Arizona box scores contains 31 names. One of them was John Lindsey. The box score records that he appeared as a pinch-hitter but never saw a single pitch. What the box score conceals is a moment of heartfelt humanity and a glimpse into the qualities that made Joe Torre a great manager and make him a good man, just as it hides the never-say-die tenacity and faith of John Lindsey.

Until being finally called up to the Major Leagues on September 8, the 33-year old Lindsey had played in the minor leagues for 16 years with never so much as a whiff of a day in the majors. He was 26 before he ever made it out of Single-A to Double-A and was a 30-year old man before he stood with a bat in his hands to face a Triple-A pitcher.

But he never gave up, playing ball in Mexico in the off-season to hone his skills and make extra money for his family, or working in the winters at his hometown YMCA.

As he sat in his locker room this season, before and after games, you might find him with a computer on his lap, Lindsey completing work for on-line college courses. And any teammate you asked would tell you that men don't come better than John Lindsey.

And he could play baseball, too. You don't stick, even in the minor leagues, for so long unless you can play and bring good character into the clubhouse. Lindsey hit .353 and bashed 25 homers and 41 doubles in the Pacific Coast League for the Dodgers' Albuquerque Isotopes Triple-A team.

Lindsey's dream came true after 16 long years but in just his 13th trip to the plate a mid-September pitch broke his hand, suddenly and certainly ending his year and, at the age of 33, likely his major league career, however brief it had been-a .083 average, or one hit in 12 official at-bats (being hit by a pitch doesn't count, statistically, as an at-bat).

Certainly ending his year if anyone but Joe Torre had been his manager.

But in the dying embers of the final game of the 2010 Dodgers' season, in one of his final acts as manager in LA, Torre summoned Lindsey and told him to get a bat and go up and pinch hit.

His arm in a cast, Lindsey did just that, a smile on his face as he stood at home plate talking to the umpire, basking in the warmth of Torre's gift-the gift of one more moment of hearing his name announced at a Major League stadium, and the applause of the fans as he stood tall in the “big leagues” one more time after working so hard for 16 years and more than 2,200 minor league games to get there.

A small moment of immense dimensions.

Torre, of course, then pinch hit for Lindsey because however talented and determined Lindsey may be he cannot hit with a cast on his arm and a broken hand. Returning to the dugout, Lindsey was hugged by his teammates, including Brad Ausmus, who was retiring after 15 years in the Major Leagues.

Sixteen years in the Minors and 15 years in the Majors sharing an embrace, and by the warmth of their smiles it was impossible to tell which career belonged to whom.

As far as moments to hold close at the approach of winter, to cup for warmth and light when the world serious seems cold and uncaring, the final 2010 at-bat of John Lindsey will remain in the box score stuck to the office wall next to my desk.

Bring on the World Series, yes, but it will not top “Lindsey ph 0 0 0 0” in my eyes. Zero at-bats, zero runs, zero hits, zero RBIs.

With all due respect and sheer wonder to Roy Halladay's historic and astonishing play-off no-hitter, never have so many zeroes stood for so much in quite the same way.