One Hit Wonder

Forty-five years ago this Sunday, Chuck Lindstrom got his first hit in his first major-league baseball game. He didn’t know that it would be his last of each. DAVE REIDY with an interview.

America’s taverns and softball fields echo with the voices of dreamers, men and women who would give anything for the chance to dig into brown dirt, take smooth ash in hand, and lock eyes with a big-league hurler standing his ground some 60 feet away.

Forty-five years ago this Sunday, Chuck Lindstrom got that chance, and he made the most of it.

He never imagined he’d get only one.

Lindstrom was born on Chicago’s South Side in 1936, the same year his father, Freddie Lindstrom, retired from the Brooklyn Dodgers. A career .311 hitter, Freddie struck out just 276 times in 13 big-league seasons. Forty years later, he would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Though his brothers were all athletes, only Chuck followed his father into baseball. As a star player on a nationally ranked American Legion team, Lindstrom attracted plenty of attention and hoped to sign a professional contract right out of high school. His father, then head baseball coach at Northwestern University, encouraged him to accept a college scholarship. ‘I decided to go to Northwestern,’ the younger Lindstrom says. ‘I didn’t think that there were a lot of people who knew more about baseball than my father, so I knew the coaching would be pretty good.’ In three years at Northwestern, Lindstrom set hitting records that still stand.

After two seasons of bus rides, beanballs, and bone fractures in the minor leagues, the Chicago White Sox called up Lindstrom for the last two weeks of the 1958 schedule. The 21-year-old caught batting practice and rode the bench until manager Al Lopez sent him in to catch the final four innings of the season.

His composure at the plate is perhaps the clearest indication that Lindstrom believed this game was simply the first of many he would play in the big leagues: A player who recognized every at-bat could be the last might have swung at anything. The sky above 35th and Shields was clear, and the sun warmed the early autumn air. Lopez had told him he would play that day, so Lindstrom made sure his mother and father were among the few thousand watching the White Sox, who were mired nine-and-a-half games behind the first-place Yankees, close out the season against the Kansas City Athletics at Comiskey Park.

In his first plate appearance, Lindstrom drew a base on balls. When he came to bat a second time late in the game, the count reached three balls and a strike, and it looked like the patient rookie might walk again.

His composure at the plate is perhaps the clearest indication that Lindstrom believed this game was simply the first of many he would play in the big leagues. A player who recognized every at-bat could be the last might have swung at anything close in a meaningless, season-ending game. Chuck Lindstrom displayed the patience of a professional, and a knowledge of the strike zone befitting his bloodline.

With the count three and one, the Kansas City catcher, a journeyman named Frank House, addressed his younger counterpart. ‘[House] knew that this was my first game, and that I’d walked the previous time at bat,’ Lindstrom remembers. ‘He said to me, ‘I’d be looking for a fastball.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you betcha I am.’

‘I got a fastball and I jumped on it.’

Lindstrom lined that fastball off the right-field wall. He was waved around first and hustled around second, sliding safely into third with a triple. His first hit would be his last. He never played in the major leagues again.

Standing on third base, Lindstrom did not see the moment’s significance. ‘It was where I expected to be,’ he says. ‘It was fun, it was neat, but I really didn’t think that it was going to be the only time it happened.’ After the game, Lindstrom met his parents. ‘My mom had seen many a major-league baseball game, but this was probably as excited as I had ever seen her,’ he recalls. ‘Her knuckles were standing out as white as could be from squeezing her hands so tight. She was just thrilled to death, much more thrilled than I was, because I honestly thought there would be many other times.’

The next spring, Lindstrom failed to make the roster of the White Sox Triple-A affiliate. He bounced around the minor leagues for two more years, and when he was offered a coaching job, he took it. Only 24 years old, Chuck Lindstrom retired with a major-league batting average of 1.000.

Now in his mid-sixties, a successful businessman and father of five, Lindstrom is at home with his place in baseball history. ‘Anybody with any intelligence would understand that hitting 1.000 is fluky,’ he says with a smile. ‘You’re not gonna hit 1.000 if you get to bat many times.’ He is fiercely proud of all that his father accomplished, though he points out that Freddie is not the only Lindstrom to be honored in Cooperstown. In fact, he wasn’t even the first. In 1954, 22 years before his father’s enshrinement, 17-year-old Chuck Lindstrom was introduced as American Legion Player of the Year during Hall of Fame Weekend.

‘I used to kid him a little bit about that.’