Mike Sandlock Interview: Part Two

Part one of this interview can be read here.

Mike Sandlock joined the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1949, spending four seasons with the team before his return trip to the Pirates. There were two people from that team that were very influential in getting him back to the majors for one more season. The first was the manager of the team, Fred Haney. He joined the team the same year that Sandlock did and four years later, he would be named manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mike played 457 games under Haney and when Fred went to the majors for the first time since 1941, Sandlock soon followed.

Sandlock on his 1953 Topps card

The second person was an even bigger influence in getting him back and that was Johnny Lindell, a knuckleball pitcher. Sandlock developed a reputation for being an excellent receiver for knuckleball pitchers and when the Pirates signed Lindell, they brought along his personal catcher as well. Mike remembers fondly, what it was like to catch Johnny, who was actually once a slugging outfielder for the Yankees in the 1940’s  ” He was a pitcher before he was an outfielder, he was a twenty game winner in Newark(Yankees minor league team), but he had to break in with the Yankees with guys like Lefty Gomez and he was a good hitter so they made an outfielder out of him.”

By the late 1940’s, Lindell wasn’t quite the hitter he was before and that was actually a break for Sandlock, who went on to say “He won two World Series there, then on his way out he joined Hollywood and won twenty games again, he went 24-9.” Lindell had mastered the knuckleball and Sandlock became his personal catcher that season. At that time, the Pirates also had a few other pitchers who threw the floater and Mike caught them all but he thought Lindell was the best “He had a good knuckleball, he was the best of the three to four guys(on the Pirates) that threw the pitch.” Sandlock was even willing to give a comparison for the younger generation, proof that he still follows the game, ” The Mets guy(R.A. Dickey) now, throws his harder, but Lindell’s broke more.”

Sandlock was even quick to offer some advice for catchers trying to contain the knuckler ” You have to have good reflexes to be a knuckleball catcher. You can’t go reaching for it, you have to wait for it.” but even he was quick to admit it was a difficult task “It was like catching flies, I called it a butterfly.”

In April of 1953, Mike was back in the majors for the first time since 1946, and while he said he enjoyed his time in the minors, it wasn’t the same as the big leagues. Despite being with the Pirates for just one season and knowing his playing days were almost over, Mike said “I was just glad to be with Pittsburgh, back in the majors, I was at the end of my time.” It was almost a mirror-image of how he described the feeling he had the first time he came to the majors, just happy to be there.

As a rookie in the majors he said “I always felt like I was playing with guys who were better than me. It was a hard time to break in and you were treated like a rookie until you can break in with them.” For the Pirates in 1953, he was the experienced veteran on a team full of young catchers and that year they went through a lot of them. Mike spoke highly of Joe Garagiola, who was traded away during the season. He was close with Vic Janowicz, a 23 year old rookie in 1953, who was a college football star that had his career cut short by a car accident three years later.

That year for the Pirates, Mike hit .231 with 43 hits in 64 games. Late in the season the Pirates sold Lindell to the Philadelphia Phillies and he had a rough go of it there, mostly due to the fact none of their catchers could handle the knuckleball. The local press at the time called for the acquisition of Sandlock too and wondered why the Phillies purchased one but not the other.

The next season the Phillies rectified that oversight by acquiring Sandlock too, much to the approval of the other catchers on their roster. It was not to be though, for Mike in Philadelphia. Before he even played a regular season game, he was injured in a home plate collision. He credits the Pirates team physician at that time for actually saving his leg. Joseph Goldfine was a longtime doctor for the Pirates and took one look at Mike’s knee and knew something had to be done, so he took him to the hospital and oversaw his treatment. Mike credited him for still having that leg now “I was hurt in an exhibition game. Pittsburgh’s doctor Goldfine saved my leg by taking me to the hospital and having it drained. ”

Mike was with the Phillies for a short time but said of his stay there, as he summed up his travels through baseball  ” I left the Dodgers, went to Montreal, then to Hollywood, then to Pittsburgh, then traded to Phillies, that’s where I got hurt. They didn’t need me I had a bad wheel. I was there until June 1st, they shipped me to San Diego.”

Sandlock enjoyed his time in San Diego, along with some pretty good teammates and coaches ” Lefty O’Doul was there, Reese(Jimmy), he was Babe Ruth’s roommate. Then who do I run into, Luke Easter, Dick Sisler, Bob Elliot, couldn’t find a better outfit to be with. It was with two of those men that he spent the most time ” We were the three musketeers, me, Elliot and Sisler with the San Diego Padres, we went everywhere together.”

That 1954 season was his last in baseball and he pretty much knew it at the time ” We closed in September, when we walked off the field, I said this is it. I’m throwing the towel in.” His teammates celebrated that day but not Mike. So the obvious next question was, do you think you still could’ve played? He thought about it, then said  ” I could’ve played longer, it’s hard to say, you have to be able to move to catch a knuckleball.”  His knee was obviously still an issue at that point and it made it easier to walk away from the game while he still had the ability to walk away.

He had some great times during his baseball career, including some lighter moments, as he shared the story of the hazing every young pitcher would go through when they first came up ” Young pitchers would come up, we would say hey go find the key to the pitching box, he would look all over for that key(in the locker room), the trainer would laugh. There was no key but the kid would keep looking all over.” If players every came to the clubhouse with new shoes, they didn’t look good for long ” If you got new shoes back then, guys would have tobacco and they would bless the new shoes with tobacco.”

Special thanks to Al Simeone and Mike Sandlock for putting this together

In his post-baseball life he became a contractor and of course, enjoyed golf. He remembers a tournament near his home in Greenwich with a few former Pirates teammates, Dick Cole, Gail Henley and Bob Friend. He also had a story about Elroy Face, that of course, finished with his golfing exploits “We were pretty good friends. We used to go to the same restaurant everyday, the same waitress waited on us all the time. Well they got together and ended up getting married.” The Elroy Face he caught in 1953 was a struggling 25 year old rookie but things certainly turned around for him “He became a great reliever, probably best in the NL and he is a great golfer…a good little golfer.”

Sandlock still sees one of his former Pirates teammates once or twice a year. Every time Ralph Kiner is in the area, the two go out to eat. Mike has been invited to PNC Park by the Pirates but has declined, citing the fact ” I need a cane to get around and all that walking would be too much for me.”. He still has some of his memorabilia, but other items he has generously donated. His shin guards, a catchers mitt and a chest protector, now sit in a museum dedicated to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

As the day came to a close, he summed up his 17 year baseball career perfectly “I had a good time. I can’t complain, it came out alright.” It sure did, Mr Sandlock.

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