The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinals’ Mike Leakes

Brothers Lindy and Von McDaniel along with Bob L. Miller joined the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1950’s without playing in the minor leagues first.

Other than the St. Louis Cardinals home opener of course, one of the big stories in baseball on Monday was the MLB debut of Cincinnati’s Mike Leake. The 22-year-old did something more-heralded first-round draft pick Stephen Strasburg did not, as the right-hander jumped into a starting role in the majors without playing a single minor league game. The former Arizona State star is the first starting pitcher to do so since California’s Jim Abbott in 1989.

Leake is the 84th man to play in the Major Leagues without a Minor League appearance and just the 23rd since the draft as we know it was initiated in 1965.

Prior to then, starting in 1947, a player signed for more than $4,000 was required to remain on the Major League roster. The intent was to hold down bonuses and when one was signed, the rule obviously kept the player from appearing in the Minors for a year or two, as the rules evolved. “Bonus Babies” from the era that would never play a game in the minors include Hall of Famers Al Kaline and Sandy Koufax.

Von McDaniel, Dizzy Dean, Lindy McDaniel in 1957 (Getty Images)The Cardinals had three of the Bonus Babies, all pitchers. They are the McDaniel brothers, Lindy (signed in 1955) and Von (1957) from Hollis, Oklahoma and Bob L. Miller from St. Louis (also 1957). They are the only Cardinals since at least 1947 that jumped straight to the majors.

Miller, a right-hander, appeared in five games at the age of 18 for the 1957 Cardinals but spent all of the 1958 and parts of the 1959 and 1960 seasons in the minors, converting to relief. He remained with the Cardinals organization through the 1961 season. At that point, he joined the New York Mets in the expansion draft and pitched in the majors for a total of 17 seasons, through 1974. Miller’s career record was 69-81 with a 3.37 ERA.

Lindy McDaniel made his MLB debut in September 1955 at the age of 19 after his freshman year at Abilene Christian College. By 1957, he was in the Cardinals rotation, a season in which he went 15-9 with a 3.49 ERA. Lindy would only appear in a total of six minor league games, all in 1958, in contrast with an MLB career that lasted 21 years. Lindy remained with the Cardinals through 1962 when he was traded to the Cubs. He appeared in 987 career games with a 141-119 record and a 3.45 ERA. Lindy logged 172 saves in a time when they were much more difficult to earn.

Driven by his father’s desire to have his sons together, Von signed with St. Louis right out of high school in June 1957 for the same $50,000 amount as his big brother received. He began very strongly with a two-hitter and a one-hitter in his first two starts, drawing widespread comparisons to the Dean Brothers from 23 years earlier.

Following that magical 1957 season, Von’s career quickly unraveled as tore a muscle in his shoulder during spring training in 1958. His MLB career ended at the age of 19 after two appearances that season. After trying to continue to pitch in the minors, Von became a third baseman and played in the minor leagues through the 1966 season in the systems of Houston (1962-64) and the Cubs (1965-66) after leaving the Cardinals.

Time will tell if Leake has a long, productive career like Miller and Lindy or burn brightly before quickly flaming out like Von.

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