Forgive me, George Stone, but I consider Jim McAndrew the most famous baseball player born in Lost Nation, Iowa.
Stone performed in the early 1900s. He was a left-handed-hitting outfielder with an unorthodox batting stance, but he led the American League in hits in 1905 and in batting average in 1906. His .358 average surpassed future Hall of Fame players Larry Lajoie and Ty Cobb, who won 12 of the next 13 league batting championships.
Born in Lost Nation, Stone called Nebraska his home and retired there in 1910 to become a banker.
McAndrew, a farm boy, born in 1944, attended Lost Nation High School where he turned in excellent seasons playing basketball and baseball. However, rival Elwood Eagles had the better baseball team.
The Eagles ended his high school baseball career with a 10-0 five-inning win over the Lost Nation Bobcats. McAndrew was the losing pitcher even though he struck out 17 batters!
He received a basketball scholarship from the University of Iowa, but an injury ended his basketball career.
He switched to baseball where he boasted earned-run averages of 1.20 and 1.02 over two seasons as a Hawkeye pitcher.
While playing for the Dyersville Whitehawks in a national tournament at Battle Creek, Michigan, McAndrew attracted scouts.
He was drafted in the 11th round (209th overall) by the New York Mets and began a climb up the ladder with successful seasons in five years. At Williamsport, Pennsylvania, he led the Eastern League with a 1.47 earned-run average but was still waiting for the call to join the Mets.
Holding a psychology degree from Iowa, he considered retiring from baseball. The next season at AAA Jacksonville didn’t go well. Whitey Herzog, the Mets director of player development, ranked McAndrew as a top prospect, but manger Clyde McCullough had a different look.
McAndrew wasn’t a drinker and didn’t cuss. McCullough wasn’t impressed by college boys. McAndrew didn’t see much action until Herzog stepped in.
Mets pitcher Nolan Ryan had a weekend military obligation. McAndrew was called to fill his spot. He was to pitch at St. Louis, against the defending National League champions on July 21, 1968. The field temperature was 110 degrees before 45,480 howling fans. His pitching opponent was Cardinals ace Bob Gibson!
“I was shell-shocked and nervous,” McAndrew recalled when I talked to him last week via phone in his Arizona home.
The poised McAndrew pitched six great innings. The only run he gave up was on an inside-the-park home run by Bobby Tolan, leading off the sixth inning.
The Mets never scored. McAndrew was replaced after six innings. The Cardinals added another run. That performance resulted in extending his stay with the Mets.
His next three starts were against the Dodgers, Giants and Astros. As in his debut the Mets failed to score in all of those games. McAndrew was the losing pitcher by 2-0, 1-0 and 1-0 scores. Pitching for a ninth-place team with a team batting average of .228, McAndrew finished the season with a 4-7 record and an earned run average of 2.28
He had a 0-5 record before his first big league win, a 1-0 decision over the Cardinals and Steve Carlton.
Things changed quickly. McAndrew joined a talented young pitching staff headed by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Gary Gentry along with quality relief pitchers Tug McGraw and Ron Taylor. McAndrew’s opportunities were limited, mainly as a fifth starting pitcher.
During the season he set a club record of pitching 23 straight scoreless innings.
“The Giants broke the string in the first inning of the next game, but I followed with six more scoreless innings,” McAndrew recalls.
In 1969, the Mets were the talk of baseball. Jumping from ninth place 24 games out of first place in 1968, they became World Series champions!
The Mets wiped out a 9.5-game lead by the Chicago Cubs in the first weeks of August to win the National League pennant, then won the division playoff and defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series in five games.
McAndrew pitched 11 innings without getting a decision over the Montreal Expos in Canada on Sept. 10. The Mets won in 12 innings. Ron Taylor was credited with the win. They were in first place in the National League for the first time in club history. (The Mets’ first season was 1962 when the joined the league as an expansion team.)
They held first place for the rest of the year, then swept the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. If needed, McAndrew was slated to start the fourth playoff game.
The Mets completed their Miracle Year by winning the World Series over Baltimore in five games after the Orioles had won the series opener.
“Tom Seaver got into trouble in the early innings of the first game. I was warming up in the bullpen but never got the call,” McAndrew said.
With the talented and deep-pitching staff, McAndrew never got in a World Series game. He finished the 1969 season with a 6-7 record and an ERA of 3.46,
His best season was 1972 when he had an 11-8 record and an earned run average of 2.80. Perhaps his best game was in 1970 when he tossed a three-hit shutout to beat San Diego, striking out a personal single game high of nine batters and not walking a Padre.
After the 1973 season he was traded to the Padres. He was released after pitching in 15 games. On April 17, 1974, McAndrew got his last big league win, 6-1, over the Atlanta Braves, a team he mastered, never losing to them and finished with a career ERA of 1.00 against the Braves.
However, he threw a pitch that Hank Aaron connected with for his 605th career home run on his way to erasing Babe Ruth’s then Major League career record.
On May 28, 1974, the Padres released him after a loss to the Pirates.
Being part of a World Championship baseball team is something few people experience. McAndrew had that thrill. He gave positive attention to Lost Nation, Iowa.
McAndrew was a dependable, but not flashy, pitcher. He battled injuries and sore arms. His career record shows he appeared in 161 games, pitching 771 innings, with 424 strikeouts and 213 walks with a record of 37-53 and a 3.65 ERA. He tossed six shutouts and contributing to seven more.
While on assignment in the Eastern League in 1971, McAndrew was the winning pitcher giving Robin Roberts, now in the Hall of Fame, his final loss in professional baseball.
McAndrew’s best pitch was his fast ball. There were no radar guns back then. McAndrew’s “heater” probably wasn’t close to 100 mph mentioned today.
“My fastball had good late movement. Billy Williams (Cubs oufielder, Hall of Fame) told me about the way it dipped when it got near the plate that gave him trouble,” McAndrew said. “I once was told Whitey Ford of the Yankees threw the same type of pitch.”
He said lefthanded batter Al Oliver with the Pirates was the toughest batter he faced.
“He wore me out,” McAndrew said.
Hank Aaron called him a fine prospect.
“I couldn’t stay healthy and spent a lot of times disabled. Most big-league pitchers can beat any team when they are healthy,” he pointed out.
McAndrew proudly wears his world championship ring and wishes he could have played in the World Series.
“There is a good side to everything. I was on a team with a lot of good players. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have played on a World Series champion,” he concluded.
A son, Jamie, was a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers and had minimal experience as a big-league pitcher.
McAndrew is a first cousin of former Maquoketa athlete Rich O’Hara.
McAndrew lives in Arizona and enjoys monthly gatherings with former Iowans living there. He follows his 10-year-old grandson, a pitcher on a team experiencing his first year playing “real baseball.”
The school in Lost Nation is closed. Weeds grow around it. The students are now part of the Midland district. The ball diamond he played on is a cornfield.
But when McAndrew pitched in the Major Leagues, he was called “the pride of Lost Nation, Iowa.”