Goss: Old Timers Baseball Association of Will County lands Denny McLain as speaker
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org October 5, 2013 5:56PM
Denny McLain | File photo
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:32AM
Major League Baseball has morphed into a battle of bullpens.
Starting pitchers are not expected to last more than six or seven innings, even though every team uses nothing less than a five-man rotation.
With no chance of returning to four-man rotations, or aces throwing well more than 300 innings in a season, there never will be another 30-game winner.
Who was the last? That’s right, Denny McLain, who went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 1968.
The free-spirited McLain is remembered for that accomplishment and much more. His life has included negatives, but he always has been colorful, and area baseball fans have an opportunity to get to know him better. He has accepted an invitation from the Old Timers Baseball Association of Will County to be the guest speaker for its 65th annual banquet Jan. 30 at the Holiday Inn, Interstate 80 and Larkin Avenue.
Born in Markham, McLain, 69, played shortstop and pitched at Mount Carmel. He is the son-in-law of 1977 Old Timers guest speaker and Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau. McLain’s wife, Sharon, said she will attend the banquet as well.
Originally in the White Sox organization, McLain was grabbed off waivers by the Tigers when the Sox left him unprotected. He made his major league debut Sept. 21, 1963, against the Sox, allowing one run on seven hits and hitting a home run. He is among six teenage pitchers to homer in a game since 1920.
McLain had that sort of flair. He was that good of an all-around player. In a 1965 relief appearance, he struck out the first seven batters he faced to set a major league record. He finished that year third in the American League in strikeouts, started the All-Star Game in 1966 and was steaming toward the historic 31-win season of 1968, when he became the first pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award and MVP in the same season.
However, there was a definite fall from grace.
McLain missed starting the 1969 All-Star Game — he won his second Cy Young that year — because he had a dental appointment. He criticized fans and teammates. He was reprimanded for “intentionally” allowing his idol, Mickey Mantle, to hit his 535th homer, putting McLain third on the all-time list, late in the game in 1968 when McLain beat the Yankees for his 31st victory.
In early 1970, magazine articles detailed McLain’s alleged bookmaking activities. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for the first three months of the season. McLain later received a seven-game suspension for dousing two sportswriters and another suspension for carrying a gun on a team flight.
In October 1970, he was traded to Washington, where he and Senators manager Ted Williams were oil and water. McLain went 10-22 with Washington in 1971 and, battling arm problems, pitched with Oakland and Atlanta in 1972. The Braves released him in 1973 during spring training. One of that era’s best pitchers was done at age 29.
McLain is a talented organist and continued that pursuit, and golf hustling, upon retirement. He also was in and out of prison for drug trafficking, embezzlement, racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy. Sharon divorced him during his last jail term and remarried him after his release.
Around stints in prison and rehabilitation, he was on sports talk radio and network television shows in the Detroit area. He has hosted a daily talk radio show.
McLain resides in Pinckney, Mich. He writes a monthly column and blogs for “In Play! Magazine,” a Detroit sports magazine.
His autobiography, “I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect,” tells all, including the Gambino crime family once ordering a hit for his murder, and the friendship he formed with John Gotti Jr. while in jail.
McLain’s life has been self-destructive, yet he discusses it honestly and he remains an iconic pitcher.
If interested in tickets to the Old Timers banquet, contact Stan Turk at (815) 730-9411.