Commentary

Dodgers reward John Lindsey

Colletti gives career minor leaguer a shot in the majors for the right reasons

Updated: September 7, 2010, 10:09 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

SAN DIEGO -- He leaned against the dugout railing for over an hour, surveying a season gone wrong.

The Dodgers' season isn't over yet, and general manager Ned Colletti won't admit it is, but the only part of him that seemed at peace with the world was the brown silk shirt he wore to the ballpark on this windless day in San Diego.

Toward the end of batting practice, John Lindsey ran in from the outfield, approached Colletti from behind and shook him by the shoulders.

"Thank you," Lindsey said, looking Colletti directly in the eye. "Thank you."

Colletti smiled and laughed, the frustration of the season momentarily gone, then grabbed Lindsey by the arm and said, "You deserve this, John. I can't tell you how proud I am of you."

[+] EnlargeNed Colletti
Kirby Lee/US PresswireDodgers GM Ned Colletti seemed just as excited to give John Lindsey his first taste of the major leagues as Lindsey himself.

A day earlier, Colletti had delivered the best news of Lindsey's life. After 16 years in the minor leagues, he was being promoted to the majors.

When Lindsey, 33, makes his official debut, most likely as a pinch hitter sometime in the next few games -- he did not get into Monday's 4-2 loss to the Padres -- he will be the oldest non-Asian-born player to make his major league debut since Alan Zinter finally reached the majors with the Houston Astros in 2002 at age 34.

Before being promoted, Lindsey had played more seasons of minor league baseball without making the majors than any current player.

It had taken him until the age of 26 to make it to Double-A, and 30 to reach Triple-A. He has been with four organizations -- the Rockies, Mariners, Marlins and Dodgers -- and played a season-and-a-half for the independent New Jersey Jackals. In the winters, if he couldn't find a job in the Mexican League, he worked at the YMCA in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., for extra money.

All that time, he kept getting better. His average climbed well over .300 in three of his past four seasons, his power became consistent, his defense at first base improved enough to be called "serviceable."

This season, he hit 25 home runs and led the Triple-A Pacific Coast league with a .353 average and a .657 slugging percentage. His 41 doubles were second in the PCL despite missing a month of the season because of a calf injury.

Last week, I spent nearly 5,700 words telling John Lindsey's story. At the time, despite his impressive season, it was unlikely he'd be promoted to the majors when rosters expanded from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1 since the Dodgers had only one spot open on their active 40-man roster.

The story, at its core, was about Lindsey's faith: In the game, in himself, in God, and then ultimately, that whatever did happen he would find peace with.

John Lindsey deserved to be called up to the major leagues based on his performance. But this is a business. A decision must make as much financial and strategic sense as baseball sense, and by most measures it did not.

I'd forgotten something, though.

Colletti.

"Sometimes you have to repay," Colletti said. "He's earned it. His family has earned it.

"You reward people for the right reasons, including heart."

Can Lindsey help the Dodgers?

"Yes," Colletti said. "He's a strong man with good power."

Colletti had met Lindsey only a handful of times, but he knew his story and his character well. When a guy hits over .300 at the Triple-A level for three straight seasons in your organization, a general manager has to pay attention.

Every time Colletti called, all he heard was almost universal praise from managers and teammates about Lindsey's character and ability at the plate.

Sunday afternoon, he made one last call to Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach.

"I'd been thinking about doing it the whole month of August," Colletti said. "But I didn't tell anybody what I was going to do. Then [Sunday] I called Timmy and said, 'Let's run through these guys.' We got to John and he said, 'Absolutely.'

"I said here's what I want you to do: I want you to go get John Lindsey, I want you to bring him into your office, and I want you to tell him. Then I want you to put him on the phone with me."

Wallach smiled. He was going to enjoy this one. He has been on the other side of these decisions too many times, telling guys that they've been released.

Wallach walked into the visiting clubhouse in Round Rock, Texas, where his Albuquerque Isotopes were preparing for a game. He found Lindsey, and they walked into the manager's office; Lindsey sat down as Wallach slammed the door.

"I didn't know what was going on," Lindsey said. "I didn't think I'd done anything for him to be mad enough to slam the door."

In the corner of the room, hitting coach Johnny Moses tried to keep a straight face but couldn't help but grin.

Wallach delivered the news.

"It was," Wallach said, "as good as it gets."

After the call with Colletti was over, Lindsey stood up to shake Wallach's hand and thank him. His legs felt weak, so he hugged him instead.

A few minutes later, Lindsey came out of the office and told his teammates. Right-handed pitcher Jon Link had his headphones on while he watched a movie.

"I was totally oblivious," said Link, who was also promoted Sunday. "I was basically sitting in my locker watching a movie. Then all of a sudden I hear people start screaming. I tear my headphones off and I'm like, 'What the heck is going on?' Then I see Big John giving everybody a hug. I turn to one of my buddies playing cards and I'm like, 'What's going on?' He's like, 'Big John just got called up.' So I popped out of my seat, ran over there and gave him a hug.

"It was awesome. Just awesome. I think he was fighting back tears for an hour."

There are those who will think Colletti made an emotional decision in promoting Lindsey. That his heart guided him, not his head.

But what if neither is true?

What if, in this lost season, Colletti simply wanted to remind his team about the way baseball should be played, and which kind of players he thinks should play it.

On July 31, Colletti made three trades at the trading deadline. One of those deals sent James McDonald and Andrew Lambo to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Octavio Dotel.

McDonald had once been the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year, but his career seemed to stall as he failed to show the maturity the Dodgers had hoped. Lambo had once been one of the Dodgers' top outfield prospects, but he was suspended 50 games this season for violating baseball's drug policy.

The trade, and the statement about Colletti's values that it made, were largely obscured by the team's acquisition of pitcher Ted Lilly from the Chicago Cubs on the same day.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, Colletti promoted John Lindsey, a guy who has spent 16 years doing things the right way.

"I think I'm pretty easy to read," Colletti said, grinning. "But you never know who is paying attention and who isn't."

Lindsey didn't hear Colletti as he walked up the steps of the dugout for his first batting practice as a major leaguer. His eyes were on home plate. He wore a pair of blue cleats borrowed from Dodgers first baseman James Loney.

His hat was was uncreased and clean.

"I'm not bending it," he said. "I want to keep it looking new for as long as I can."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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