GREENWICH, Conn. — Three months shy of his 97th birthday, Mike Sandlock, the Dodgers’ oldest living former player — and baseball’s oldest living former catcher — can still hit a tee shot almost 200 yards and is fit enough to drive himself about four miles to the 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Holy Name Roman Catholic Church in nearby Stamford. His father did the same with the Sandlock family of five in the 1920s — in a horse and wagon.
“We’d all pile in for the 10-minute ride,” Sandlock said recently. “Now, by car, it takes me a little longer because I live a bit farther away and there are a lot more lights.”
Sandlock’s mode of transportation will be a limousine Saturday, when he, his two sons, their wives and his two grandchildren are chauffeured to Citi Field in New York, where he will take part in an on-the-field meet and greet with Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, coaches and players. The Dodgers are also expected to present several gifts to Sandlock, currently the third-oldest former big league player.
Sandlock, who is also the oldest living Brave, Pirate and Phillie, played only one full season with the Dodgers, in 1945 when he batted .282 in 80 games, and part of the 1946 season with Dodgers teams that finished third and second, respectively.
Particularly memorable was Sandlock’s first game, on opening day at Ebbets Field on April 16, when he went three for four with a triple and two singles and drove in three runs to lead the Dodgers over the Phillies, 8-2. Memorable, too, was playing shortstop alongside legendary Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, who was at second base in what turned out to be his second-to-last game as a player.
After playing 22 games at shortstop, Sandlock, a catcher during his early days in the minors, caught 47 games when he replaced Mickey Owen, who had been drafted into the Army. All of which was pretty good for a player who was cut both times he went out for his high school team in Connecticut in the mid 1930s.
Before coming to the Dodgers, Sandlock spent part of two seasons as a shortstop with the Boston Braves under another managing legend, Casey Stengel. After leaving the Dodgers, he spent the 1947 and 1948 seasons with the team’s triple-A farm club in Montreal, where he worked with a young Roy Campanella and also caught Don Newcombe before both went up to the Dodgers’ parent club.
“Mike helped me out even though he knew I was going to take his job,” Campanella said later.
From 1949 through 1952, Sandlock was the regular catcher, and one of the most popular players, with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. “I made twice as much money with the Stars as I ever made in the big leagues,” Sandlock said. “And with all of the movie stars who’d come to the games at Gilmore Field, many of whom I met, it was a great place to play.”
The Stars’ manager, Fred Haney, liked Sandlock enough to take him along when he was hired as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953. That was mainly because Haney was bringing along Johnny Lindell, a Yankees outfielder in the 1940s who became a knuckleball pitcher for the Stars and then the Pirates, who preferred to pitch to Sandlock.
The next season, both Lindell and Sandlock, by then a package deal, were traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, who had four other knuckleball pitchers on the staff. “Unfortunately I never got to play because of a bad knee, which caused me to quit at 37,” Sandlock recalled.
After retiring, Sandlock worked as a carpenter in his hometown of Greenwich, while finding time to win the men’s golf championship at the Innis Arden Golf Club four times. At 96, he plays golf two or three times a week.
If playing under and with Durocher was memorable, so, too, was outhitting Stan Musial during Sandlock’s first year in the minors, 1938. As a catcher with the Huntington, W.Va., Bees in the Mountain State League, he batted .276, while Musial, then a rookie pitcher in the same league, hit 258.
After yet another nine holes of golf on a scorching hot July day, Sandlock recalled one other thing about Musial: “I think he out-hit me later when we were both in the National League,” he said with a smile.