Johnny Lindell spent a lot of years in Major League Baseball on the periphery of being a two-way player. He never quite qualified and honestly never came all that close to meeting the qualifications. At first, he was a pitcher who occasionally pinch-hit, then for a few years he transitioned into a position player who gave up pitching altogether, and for his final few seasons, he went back to being a pitcher first and pinch hitter second.
Sandwiched in-between all of those seasons he spent a couple of years with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. In 1951 and 1952 he fully committed to playing the field and pitching at the same time. His results for the Stars were a mixed bag, but for at least two years Lindell fully took the plunge into being a two-way player.
In 1951 Lindell pitched in 26 games while playing first base in 13 more games and the outfield in an additional 14. For the AAA-level minor league Stars he hit .292/.370/.506 with 9 home runs in 203 plate appearances. With the bat, he was a smashing success for the Stars and his play on the mound followed suit. He started 23 of his 26 games toeing the rubber, earning saves in the 3 games he did not start. Over 190.0 innings he threw 17 complete games, 3 shutouts, and put together an ERA of 3.03. His WHIP of 1.447 was concerning, but on the whole, Lindell was a heck of a ballplayer for the Stars in his first legitimate two-way season.
When the 1952 season rolled around the now unaffiliated Stars were hoping for another big season from their tall right-hander. What they received instead was a major letdown and a season that marked the end of true two-way play for Lindell. He took the ball for 282.0 innings as a pitcher and in this realm, Lindell did not let his team down. He accrued a near career-best 2.52 ERA, started 32 out of 37 games, and got 26 complete games and 4 shutouts out of said starts. Lindell improved his WHIP to 1.174 as he walked nearly the same number of hitters in twice as many innings as the previous season. That Lindell won the 1952 PCL Most Valuable Player award is one hundred percent due to his work on the mound. Unfortunately, Lindell also played 14 games in the outfield and 4 at first base. His slash line dropped to .213/.295/.385 with 8 home runs in 195 plate appearances. Lindell stopped making as much contact, lost some of his power, and almost never walked.
Lindell clearly had skills on both sides of the ball. For one reason or another he never quite could find the right mix of playing time as a two-way player. His inability to replicate his 1951 success undoubtedly confounded him, his coaches, and scouts. It’s not surprising then that Lindell returned to MLB in 1953 as a pitcher first and occasional pinch hitter. Sometimes players simply do better when focusing on one side of the baseball.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Getty Images