Deal, Lindsay

Primary Positions: Right field, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Lenoir

First, Middle Names: Fred Lindsay
Date of Birth:  Sept. 3, 1911    Date and Place of Death: April 18, 1979, Little Rock, AK
Burial: Pine Crest Memorial Park, Alexander, AK.

High School: Oak Hill High School, Lenoir
College: Rutherford College, Rutherford College, NC; Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, NC

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 175
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1939          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1939

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
4          7          0          0          0          0      .000     .000     .000     -0.2

Though he played just three weeks in the major leagues, Lindsay Deal shocked the barons of baseball and captured headlines on sports pages around the country by persuading the sport’s authoritarian commissioner, who had a soft spot for minor leaguers, to come to his aid in a contract dispute with a major-league owner. Even with such help, Deal lost the argument and may have killed his career in the process by earning the owners’ lasting enmity. Though he was an excellent defensive outfielder who hit .300 in the minor leagues, Deal only got that one, brief shot at the big leagues at a time when players routinely journeyed to and from the minors.

He quit after 13 years in professional baseball and became a law-enforcement officer in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was positioned to write what might be the most important letter in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.

The oldest of Fred and Mamie Deal’s seven children, Deal grew up in the Little River section of Caldwell County, outside Lenoir, where Fred delivered the mail. He attended old Oak Hill High School and then Rutherford and Lenoir-Rhyne colleges where he played baseball and basketball.

A year after graduating, Deal signed his first professional contract in 1935 with the Knoxville, Tennessee, Smokies of the Class A Southern Association. He spent the next four years in the low minors, in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, honing his batting skills and earning rave reviews from managers and sportswriters about his defensive prowess. Deal was hitting .316 for the Montreal Royals in 1939 and was considered one of the best outfielders in the International League, then one step down from the majors, when the Dodgers brought him to Brooklyn at the end of the season. Used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement, Deal appeared in four games and didn’t get a hit. The Dodgers sent him back to their farm team in Montreal at the end of the year.

Deal protested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that he “hadn’t been given a fair trial.”[I]Team owners had hired Landis, a federal judge, as baseball’s first commissioner to restore the game’s reputation in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, when players on the Chicago White Sox were suspected of throwing the 1919 World Series. Landis famously banned eight of the players for life and would go on to rule baseball with an iron hand for almost 25 years.

Though he was a slight man at 5-6 and 130 pounds, Landis was an intimidating presence. His finely chiseled features seemed to be locked in a perpetual expression of seriousness. He allowed his snow-white hair to grow to tragedian lengths and topped it with a battered, black hat. Landis’ small frame seemed to disappear in his oversized clothes with stiffly starched stand-up collars that hinted at a personal rigidity. “They hired him right out of Dickens,” Leo Durocher once quipped.[II]

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, ruled the sport with an iron fist for almost 25 years, but had a soft spot for the kids down in the minors. Photo: Major League Baseball

When he took the job as commissioner, Landis laid out his hard terms. The owners had to “yield all their rights – even the right to think.” He could fine players and owners any amount. He could suspend them, even ban them forever. There was no appeal. Landis was the court of last resort. As a result, players and owners alike quaked when they were called to his Chicago office.

Landis could be as unmoving as the mountain in Georgia after which he was named when it came to the game’s integrity.[1] He rooted out gamblers and shady players, banning 18 of them during his tenure. Even the gods weren’t spared. Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth all crossed the commissioner and each paid a price.

Less known was Landis’ fight against farm clubs owned by major-league teams. On the federal bench, Landis was sympathetic to the underdog and the little guy and very hard on labor. He was the trust-busting judge who had slapped a $29 million fine on Standard Oil Co.

Branch Rickey’s innovation seemed like another trust to Landis. Rickey, who then ran the St. Louis Cardinals, pioneered the modern minor-league system in the 1920s.  Before then, farm teams were independent, and their owners sold or traded their best players to the big-league clubs. Under Rickey’s system, which was soon adopted by all the owners, major-league teams owned all their farm clubs, moving young players from one team to the next to fill gaps on the field or save money in the ledgers. The players, who were contractually bound to the teams for as long as they played, had no say in the matter.

The system abused the youngsters, Landis charged, and allowed teams to hoard players and hide them from other teams in defiance of the rules at the time. Landis waged a long and, in the end, losing campaign against the new farm system. He, for instance, freed minor leaguers on a case-by-case basis, either individually or by the busload. Landis freed 73 Cardinals’ farmhands in 1938. A year later, he made 90 players in the Detroit Tigers farm system free agents.

Deals’ appeal, then, found a willing audience. Landis ordered the Dodgers to invite the rookie to spring training in 1940 and give him a chance to make the club. The Dodgers and Deal couldn’t agree on a contract, however, and Landis interceded again. The Associated Press reported that the commissioner conferred by phone with the team and the player and, for the first time, fixed a contract amount.

That set the sporting press abuzz. “So, there you have it, a new worry for the men who have fortunes invested in baseball,” wrote a sports editor in Ohio. “Landis can tell them which players they must take to camp and how much they must pay for their services.”[III]

An angry Larry McPhail, the Dodgers’ president, complained to reporters that Landis hadn’t set a contract amount but had merely made “suggestions.” Landis replied, with a wry smile, “Everyone knows that all I do is make suggestions.”[2][IV]

Whatever Landis said didn’t help. Deal started the year in Montreal and then was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of the season. He spent eight more years in the minors, the last as a player-manager in Greenville, Mississippi, and retired at the end of the 1948 season.

Deal returned to Little Rock, where he had been living since at least 1939. He raised five children there and spent his life after baseball as a deputy sheriff, a state trooper and a U.S. marshal.

In 1955, Deal wrote to Paul Richard, then in his first season as the Orioles’ general manager. The two had played together as minor leaguers in Atlanta. Deal urged Richard to take a look at a senior at Little Rock High School named Brooks Robinson. Deal attended church with the Robinsons and had watched the boy grow up. “I think he measures up to having a good chance in major-league baseball,” Deal wrote in a bit of understatement. “Brooks has a lot of power, baseball savvy and is always cool when the chips are down.”[V]

Richard dispatched two scouts to Arkansas. They signed the kid with a $3,000 bonus. Robinson, of course, would become a legendary Oriole, playing 23 years and setting a standard for defensive excellence at third base. A perennial All Star and Gold Glove winner, Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

The man who discovered him didn’t live long enough to attend the induction ceremony. Deal died in 1979 at age 69.

[1] Landis’ father, Abraham, was a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil War. He named his son, born a year after the war in 1866, after a battle in Georgia where he was wounded by a cannonball. “Kennesaw” is the correct modern spelling of the mountain, but one “n” was accepted in the late 19th century.
It’s not clear from the existing records what Landis said and what McPhail understood. It’s unlikely, though, that the commissioner ordered the Dodgers to pay Deal a certain salary, as some of the first media reports implied. It is clear, however, that Deal, regardless of his salary, was the loser. He was sent to the minors and never returned to the major leagues.

[I] The Associated Press. “Landis Fixes Salary of Brooklyn Player.” The Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), March 28, 1940.
[II] Busby, Dan. “Kenesaw Mountain Landis.” Society for American Baseball Research. 2020.
[III]Schlemmer, Jim. “McCarthy’s Plan to Stand Pat Means Better Team for Akron; Landis Now Deciding Salaries.” Akron (OH) Beacon Journal. March 28, 1940.
[IV] The Associated Press. “Deny Landis Set Deal’s Salary.” The Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), March 29, 1940.
[V] Hatter, Lou.  “U.S. marshal paved the way for signing.” The Baltimore (MD) Sun. July 29, 1983.