When Frank Broyles became the head football coach at the University of Arkansas following the 1957 season, he was told by influential boosters to do one thing when it came to recruiting — head to Forrest City and sign Elmer “B” Lindsey.
“B was the first player I recruited to play football for the Razorbacks when I came to Arkansas,” Broyles says. “I had been told that he was, by far, the best athlete in the state. So for my first recruiting trip, I got in my car and drove to Forrest City to recruit B to play for the Razorbacks. Immediately upon meeting him, I offered a full scholarship. His credentials as a four-sport athlete in high school were so impressive that I could envision him forming the foundation of the Razorback backfield corps.”
Lindsey never played a down for the Razorbacks.
Instead, he signed a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Broyles had faced a similar situation a year earlier when he was the head coach at the University of Missouri. He was hoping to build his team around Mike Shannon, who had starred in multiple sports at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis. Shannon was the first person to be named the Missouri Prep Player of the Year in both basketball and football.
Shannon headed to the University of Missouri but soon signed a baseball contract with the Cardinals. Broyles later said he believed Shannon might have won the Heisman Trophy had he stayed in school.
Lindsey would end up playing baseball for Memphis in the Southern Association with the likes of Shannon and Tim McCarver for part of the 1960 season.
“Coach Broyles spoke at our football banquet after the 1957 season at Forrest City, but there was never a question where I was going to school,” says Lindsey, who now operates family farming and cotton ginning operations in east Arkansas. “Coach Broyles later sent Coach George Cole down to visit with me, and I told him just that. I was going to Arkansas.”
Then came the baseball contract with the Cardinals.
For years, Lindsey wouldn’t talk about the size of his signing bonus. He didn’t want it to sound like he was bragging. It long was believed to have been more than $50,000, the most money ever offered to an Arkansas player to that point.
“It was $60,000 over five years plus $1,200 a month guaranteed for three years,” Lindsey now says. “My dad always loved baseball. He had been a pretty good baseball player himself. He said to me, ‘You would be crazy not to do this.’ I agreed and signed the contract. It would have been nice to see how it would have turned out if I had played football at Arkansas, but I couldn’t do both.”
In recognition of his accomplishments, Lindsey will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets for the annual induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.
Lindsey is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.
Lindsey’s younger brother, Jim, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 for his football accomplishments at the University of Arkansas and in the NFL. He played for the 1964 national championship team at Arkansas and played in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings from 1966-72.
“B weighed 188 pounds, had 10-flat speed and could cut on a dime,” Jim Lindsey says of his brother. “It has been said by the thousands who watched him play that he was the best high school halfback they had ever seen in Arkansas. … When my time came along, I was not in B’s shadow because the difference between his talent and mine would have been like comparing me to Gayle Sayers or Jim Brown.
“His baseball skills were overshadowed by his football talent. His baseball skills earned him a ‘bonus baby’ contract, and he went on to play in Tulsa and Memphis. … But his football skills far exceeded his baseball talent.”
B Lindsey says his first love as a child was baseball as he participated each summer in the Little League program at Forrest City. His father raised cattle and cotton at Caldwell and would drive him into Forrest City for practice. Beginning in the seventh grade, however, football began to capture his heart.
“I was fortunate enough to be the fastest person in the sixth grade,” says Lindsey, who had three older sisters, a younger sister and a younger brother (Jim). “But I didn’t think I would go out for football in the seventh grade. I was more interested in getting on the bus back to Caldwell so I could fish and hunt. I was watching seventh grade practice one day, though, and decided to give it a try. They gave me a uniform that didn’t fit.”
Lindsey ended up playing football in high school on teams that lost only two games in three years. Both losses were to DeWitt Dragon teams led by Harold Horton, a 1989 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. DeWitt won 13-0 in 1955 at Forrest City and 14-13 in 1956 on its home field. Horton scored both of DeWitt’s touchdowns in the 1956 game.
“Every time I talk around Harold about how good we were, he says, ‘You never beat us,'” Lindsey says.
By Lindsey’s senior year in high school, Horton was a freshman at Arkansas. Forrest City went undefeated in 1957. DeWitt fell, 21-0, marking Forrest City’s first win over the Dragons since 1951.
Lindsey scored 22 touchdowns that season despite having a broken bone just behind his thumb.
“I broke it in a scrimmage the Friday before the season opener against Conway,” he says.
His father took him to the famed Campbell Clinic at Memphis, which had opened in 1909 and is today recognized as a world leader in sports medicine. Doctors there put a cast on his hand.
Returning to school with the cast, Lindsey went to the principal’s office to get a slip to be admitted to class. Seeing the cast, the principal told Lindsey to go to the office of the Mustang head football coach, Jim DeVazier.
DeVazier would coach from 1954-64 at Forrest City, compiling a 77-36-7 record with five conference championships and two undefeated seasons.
“Coach DeVazier looked at that cast,” Lindsey remembers. “He didn’t even ask me how I felt. He just said, ‘You can’t play in that.'”
Lindsey went back to the doctor, who replaced the plaster cast with a lace-up leather cast to wear in practice. In games, he wore a sponge pad that the officials would check before each contest.
“I only had one fumble that season,” Lindsey says. “I also returned punts.”
With Sonny Holmes at quarterback and Lindsey as the main running back, the Mustangs scored 351 points that season.
Largely because of Lindsey’s talents, Forrest City began a high school baseball team his senior year. The summer before his senior year, Lindsey had attracted the attention of numerous pro scouts during the state American Legion baseball tournament at Fort Smith. He played in the outfield, at shortstop, pitched and was even the catcher at times. In that first year of high school baseball in the spring of 1958, the Mustangs advanced to the finals of the state tournament at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock before losing to Mountainburg.
“If I had come along a bit earlier, I don’t think I would have ever been signed to a baseball contract,” Lindsey says. “If you received a signing bonus of more than $4,000, you had to stay on the roster of the big league club for two years. I wasn’t good enough for them to have me on that roster. But they changed the rule in 1958.”
The bonus rule had been instituted by major league baseball in 1947. Any team that failed to comply with the rule, which required that a player signed to a contract in excess of $4,000 be assigned to the 40-man roster, would lose the rights to that player’s contract.
Lindsey played at Keokuk, Iowa, in the Midwest League in 1958. He was in Hobbs, N.M., in 1959 and then played at Memphis; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C., during the 1960 season.
Lindsey was in Billings, Mont., in 1961 and played for Tulsa of the Texas League for two seasons before retiring from baseball at the conclusion of the 1963 season.
“The Cardinals gave me every opportunity,” he says. “My fielding was never an issue. My hitting was the problem. I’ve always been told that you can tell after about five years whether you’re going to make it to the big leagues or not. I knew it was time to hang it up after six years.”
Lindsey remains a Cardinal fan, going to games several times each season. After his retirement from baseball, he took over the farm that had been operated by his father and three uncles. In 1987, Lindsey began a farming partnership with his younger brother. He raises about 4,000 acres of cotton and operates two gins.
“While I never had the privilege of coaching B because of his decision to play professional baseball after high school, I had the utmost admiration and respect for him as an athlete and as a person,” Broyles says. “He had all the qualities of leadership I looked for in a member of our team. He was and is a man of character and integrity, a born leader.”