Denny McLain

Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-1, 185lb (185cm, 83kg)
Born: March 29, 1944 in Chicago, IL
High School: Mount Carmel HS (Chicago, IL)
Debut: September 21, 1963 (Age 19-176d, 9,789th in MLB history)
vs. CHW 9.0 IP, 7 H, 8 SO, 4 BB, 1 ER, W
Last Game: September 12, 1972 (Age 28-167d)
vs. CIN 0.0 IP, 3 H, 0 SO, 0 BB, 2 ER, L
Full Name: Dennis Dale McLain
View Player Bio from the SABR BioProject
Relatives: Son-In-Law of Lou Boudreau

 

Denny McLain

Intro

Although he had won 20 games in 1966 and 17 more in 1967, few could have imagined what Denny McLain would accomplish in 1968. Pitching with a magical team behind him, the bespectacled righty won 31 games, becoming the first thirty-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934. McLain was rewarded with both the American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards, and the next year he again won the Cy Young, posting 24 victories. At 25 years old, he was rich, famous and succesful. But then the wheels came off his gravy train, due to his own dishonesty and character flaws. Early in 1970, McLain was suspended by the commissioner for a previous gambling incident. Later that season he filed for bankruptcy, tossed water on a reporter, and was suspended for a gun violation. Traded to the Senators, McLain argued with manager Ted Williams, was suspended a few more times, and ended up out of baseball before he was 29 years old. After his playing career, McLain continued his troublesome behavior, and eventually wound up in a Michigan prison for rackateering and drugs.

Best Season

After winning nine straight decisions in June and July, McLain’s record stood at 18-2. He won his 30th game on September 14, and had three more starts to go. Amazingly, he lost three games by the score of 2-1 and another 2-0, or he may have won 35 games. He lost his first two starts in the World Series, but rebounded to pitch a complete game victory in Game Six.

Factoid 1

At the peak of his popularity, in the 1968 off-season and during the 1969 season, Denny McLain worked as a headliner in Las Vegas and elsewhere throughout the country. He played the organ and sang.

PITCHERS WHO HIT A HOME RUN IN MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT

Player…………Debut…….Inn…Team Henry Boyle……….07/09/1884….4….STL Scott Stratton…….04/21/1888….4….LOU Billy Gumbert……..06/19/1890….6….PIT Bill Duggleby……..04/21/1898….2….PHI Tom Sullivan………05/15/1922….7….PHI Bill LeFebvre……..06/10/1938….8….BOS Dan Bankhead………08/26/1947….2….BRO Bobby Locke……….06/18/1959….4….CLE Denny McLain………09/21/1963….5….DET Hal Haydel………..09/07/1970….4….MIN John Montefusco……09/03/1974….3….SFN Paul Moskau……….06/21/1977….4….CIN Jason Jennings…….08/23/2001….9….COL Source: David Vincent

Biography

He was brash. He was flamboyant. He had a lounge act in Las Vegas. He performed on TV shows, including Ed Sullivan’s. He paraded about in a white mink coat. He was Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau’s son-in-law. He was also convicted of racketeering and smuggling cocaine and spent time in jail. And, for a while, Denny McLain was one of the finest pitchers in baseball.
In 1968 McLain was the league MVP and a unanimous Cy Young Award winner, going 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA, 28 complete games, and 280 strikeouts. He was the first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934, and helped the Tigers to their first World Championship since 1945.

McLain first came up in 1963 and he showed early flashes of brilliance, winning 16 games in 1965, 20 in 1966, and 17 in 1967. He might have won 20 in 1967, if not for an unexplained accident at home where he hurt his toe and missed his last six starts. His teammates, manager, and Tiger fans thought he was dogging it, and he was blamed for the Tigers’ close second-place finish in a wild, four-team scramble for the AL pennant.

Starting 1968, he could do nothing to erase the fans’ memory of the previous season. He was booed at home after commenting that Detroit’s fans were “the world’s worst.” But soon the victories started to pile up. He won nine straight starts from mid-June to mid-July to stretch his record to 18-2. On September 1, he converted a Boog Powell line drive into a triple play to preserve his 27th victory. He was in the dugout when he won his 30th, a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Oakland. In his 31st victory, he had a 6-1 lead over the Yankees, so he grooved a pitch to Mickey Mantle in Mantle’s last game in Tiger Stadium. Mantle crashed what would be his next-to-last career homer, passing Jimmie Foxx on the all-time home run list. McLain would have won 33 games if not for two consecutive 2-1 losses.

In the 1968 World Series, McLain lost both starts in which he opposed the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson, who had won 22 games and set a major league record with a 1.12 ERA. But McLain won Game Six on two days’ rest, setting up teammate Mickey Lolich to beat Gibson in the seventh game.

Many thought that his nonstop off-season partying would adversely affect McLain, but his lifestyle didn’t stop Tiger management from awarding their cocky ace the team’s first $100,000 contract. McLain responded by winning a second Cy Young Award (he shared it with the Orioles’ Mike Cuellar) with a 24-9 mark and a team-record nine shutouts. But things started to unravel midway through the 1969 season. He angered manager Mayo Smith by not showing up until the fourth inning of the All-Star Game, which Smith wanted him to start. Then Sky King left before the game was over, flying out in his private Cessna.

In 1970 things fell apart. On April 1, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for three months for a 1967 bookmaking incident. In August McLain filed for bankruptcy, then dumped ice water on a couple of Detroit writers. On September 9, Kuhn suspended him for the rest of the season for gun possession. Finally, on October 9, after a dismal 3-5, 4.65 season, he was traded to the Senators. Amid constant run-ins with no-nonsense Washington manager Ted Williams, McLain lost 22 games in 1971. He spent the 1972 season in Oakland and Atlanta. At the age of 28, his fastball and money were gone and his career was over. He put on weight. He tried several businesses, all of which failed. In the early 1980s, he spent over two years in jail before being granted a new trial and being released early in 1989. As he began to reassemble his life, he played the organ in a Michigan bar where Leon Spinks was the bartender, while listening to offers from promoters looking to get him back in the spotlight.

 

Notable Events and Chronology for Denny McLain Career

Major League Season Recap 1969

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