Freddie Lindstrom was famous in his day. Sort of.
Let’s set the scene. The 1924 World Series. The New York Giants and Washington Senators tied at three wins apiece. Game Seven to determine the champion.
New York’s regular third baseman, Heinie Groh, had injured his knee late in the regular season. He was replaced in the Giants’ lineup by the 18-year-old Lindstrom, to this day the youngest player to appear in a World Series.
Lindstrom played well in the first six games, going nine-for-25. He even rapped four hits off of Washington ace Walter Johnson in Game Five.
Game Seven was a different matter. The Giants held a two-run lead when the Senators loaded the bases in the eighth inning. A ground ball struck something — maybe a pebble or a clod of dirt — and bounded over Lindstrom’s head. Game tied.
On to the 12th inning. Washington had two runners on base when the same thing happened. A grounder skipped past Lindstrom, and the Senators won the only world championship in their benighted history.
Lindstrom became a fixture at third base for the Giants throughout the rest of the 1920s, then bounced around to other positions (center and left field) and other teams (two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a season apiece with the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers) before retiring in 1936.
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Lindstrom enjoyed some very good seasons — a league-leading 231 hits in 1928, a .379 batting average in 1930 — but he was always followed by a cloud. It was unfair, but he would always be remembered first and foremost as the goat of the 1924 series. Those unhappy ground balls were prominently mentioned, of course, in his obituaries in 1981.
Here’s the crucial point. Lindstrom’s career numbers were nice, especially his 1,747 hits, but nobody thought of him as a Hall of Famer.
How do I know? Consider this: Lindstrom was eligible for the first 20 Hall of Fame elections, which were conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) between 1936 and 1962. The voters completely ignored him on 15 of those occasions. These were the five times that he received any support:
1949: 1 vote (0.65%)
1956: 3 votes (1.55%)
1958: 5 votes (1.88%)
1960: 6 votes (2.23%)
1962: 7 votes (4.38%)
That’s a grand total of 22 votes in 20 elections. Not exactly a mandate for induction, especially when you consider that the BBWAA’s threshold has always been 75 percent. Lindstrom finished more than 70 points below that standard in his best year, 1962.
I’m not criticizing the voters. I developed a separate indicator of Hall of Fame worthiness, the quality score (QS), which is plotted on a 100-point scale. Anybody with at least 60 points is a rock-solid choice for Cooperstown, while anyone below 30 is a poor candidate.
Lindstrom’s QS was four points. The BBWAA was completely justified in turning away his candidacy.
But there’s a second route to baseball immortality, known in those days as the Veterans Committee. The 12-man panel was dominated in the early 1970s by a pair of Lindstrom’s former teammates, Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry.
The committee made some truly awful Hall of Fame selections during their tenure, including Jesse Haines (QS of 11 points) in 1970, Dave Bancroft (16) and Chick Hafey (13) in 1971, Ross Youngs (12) in 1972, and George Kelly (5) in 1973. None had attracted much interest from the hall’s gatekeepers, the BBWAA, but all had played with one of the committee’s two ringleaders, sometimes both.
Frisch was dead by 1976, but old habits are hard to shake. The Veterans Committee elected Freddie Lindstrom to Cooperstown that year — by a unanimous vote of the 12 members.
It was a nice present for a 70-year-old man, a nice way to dispel the ghosts of 1924 and confirm that, yes indeed, Lindstrom had been a ballplayer of high quality in his time.
He just hadn’t been of Hall of Fame quality.
HOF box score: Freddie Lindstrom
Teams: Brooklyn (National League), Chicago (NL), New York (NL), Pittsburgh (NL)
Primary position: 3B
Career stats: G 1,438, HR 103, RBI 779, BA .311
League leader: H once, CS once
Quality score: 4 points (poor)
Selected to HOF: 1976
Selected by: Veterans Committee