Glancing Back, and Remembering Don Wert
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(June 15, 1965) – Denny McLain today set a single-game record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher as the Detroit Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to edge the Boston Red Sox 6-5.
McLain struck out 14 batters in 6.2 innings of relief work. He also struck out the first seven batters he faced, setting a major league record.
The Red Sox scored three runs in the first inning off Tigers starter Dave Wickersham. Wickersham lasted only one-third of an inning before giving way to McLain, who proceeded to strike out Eddie Bressoud and Bob Tillman to end the inning.
McLain allowed a pair of runs in the fifth inning, which put the Red Sox ahead of the Tigers by a score of 5-2. The Tigers scored four runs in the eighth on Gates Brown’s RBI single and Willie Horton’s three-run home run off Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz (4-4). Fred Gladding (2-1) pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings for the Tigers and picked up the victory. Gladding allowed no hits and struck out four batters.
The 21-year-old McLain would finish the 1965 season at 16-6 with a 2.61 ERA. He struck out 192 batters in 220.1 innings pitched.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
Yastrzemski’s five-RBI game was built on a five for five batting performance – hitting for the cycle plus an extra home run (and a walk).
Yastrzemski’s first hit was a two-run home run off Detroit starter Denny McLain in the bottom of the first.
In the second inning, Yastrzemski ripped a three-run homer off McLain, putting the Red Sox up 5-0. The Tigers came back with five runs in the top of the third inning to tie the game.
Yastrzemski drew a walk off Tiger reliever Ed Rakow in the fourth inning, and tripled off Rakow in the sixth. In the bottom of the eighth, Yaz singled off Larry Sherry. Then in the bottom of the tenth he doubled off Terry Fox, the game’s winner, to complete the cycle-plus.
The Tigers won the game in the top of the tenth by scoring four runs off Bosox reliever Dick Radatz. An RBI double by Don Demeter, an RBI single by Willie Horton, and Norm Cash’s two-run double gave the Tigers the 12-8 victory.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Mike Cuellar
Mike Cuellar emerged as an All-Star pitcher in the late 1960s, and then became one of the game’s best starters during the first half of the 1970s.
A native of Cuba, Cuellar was originally signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs and appeared in two games for the Reds at the end of 1959. Cuellar spent the next five seasons pitching in the minor leagues and in Mexico, finally drifting into the St. Louis Cardinals organization and going 5-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 1964. He was used primarily as a reliever for St. Louis, making only seven starts in his 32 appearances, and after the season was traded by the Cardinals with Ron Taylor to the Houston Astros for Chuck Taylor and Hal Woodeshick.
As a reliever for the Astros, Cuellar went 1-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 1965. But the following season Cuellar was moved into the starting rotation, and his career took off. He was 12-10 as a starter for the Astros with a 2.22 ERA in 1966, and followed up in 1967 with 16-11 record and a 3.03 ERA. He led the Astros staff in innings pitched (246.1), complete games (16), shutouts (three – tied with Don Wilson), and strikeouts (203). Cuellar’s record slipped to 8-11 in 1968 (with a 2.74 ERA), and he was traded with Elijah Johnson (minors) and Enzo Hernandez to the Baltimore Orioles for John Mason (minors) and Curt Blefary.
That trade was the best thing that ever happened to his career. Cuellar became the ace of the Orioles’ staff, going 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA and tying for the Cy Young award with Detroit’s Denny McLain. Cuellar went 24-8 for the Orioles in 1970, and 20-9 in 1971. He won 18 games in each of the next 2 seasons, and posted a 22-10 record in 1974. Overall, in his eight seasons with the Orioles, Cuellar posted a 143-88 record for a sparkling .619 winning percentage. He averaged 18 victories per season and 3.18 earned runs per nine innings pitched.
Cuellar was also a good-hitting pitcher, batting .115 for his hitting career (shortened by the designated hitter rule) with seven home runs and 33 RBIs. He was the first player to hit a grand slam in a League Championship Series, coming in 1970 against the Minnesota Twins. He remains the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in any League Championship Series.
Cuellar appeared in two games for the California Angels in 1977 before retiring with a career record of 185-130. A four-time All-Star, Cuellar was 4-4 pitching in five American League Championship Series and in three World Series.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(June 24, 1968) Today Jim Northrup became the sixth big leaguer to hit two grand slams in the same game. The “Slammer’s” power surge in the fifth (off Eddie Fisher) and sixth (Billy Rohr) frames enabled the Detroit Tigers to rout the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium, 14-3.
The 1968 season would be one of the most productive of Jim Northrup’s 12-year career. He hit .264 with 21 home runs and a career-best 90 RBIs.
The Glove Club: Bill Freehan
Bill Freehan played for 15 major league seasons, all for only one team: the Detroit Tigers. From 1964 to 1971, he was the Tigers’ everyday backstop, catching an average of 133 games over that eight-season run.
He could also hit. Freehan batted .300 in 1964, his second full season and his first as an All-Star. (He would make the American League All-Star team 10 more times.) In 1968, playing for the American League champs, Freehan batted .263 with 25 home runs and 84 RBIs, a performance that earned him the runner-up spot in the voting for Most Valuable Player.
The MVP in 1968 was Denny McLain, the 31-game winner. Freehan caught 138 games that season.
As a catcher, Freehan was superb. He won five consecutive Gold Gloves at that position, from 1965 to 1969. He led American league catchers in putouts each of those seasons, as well as in 1971. He participated in 15 double plays in 1968, the most in the league. His fielding percentage as a catcher slipped below .990 only once, in 1972 when he recorded a .989 percentage. He led the league in that category three times.
His only “weakness” as a catcher came from his arm, which was just better than average. He led the league in stolen bases allowed five times, though he led the league in caught stealing in 1968 with 38 runners gunned down. In 1964, he threw out 53.1 percent of base stealers, tops in the American League. Not much of a “weakness,” unless compared to all the other aspects of his catching arsenal.
Freehan retired after the 1976 season with 200 home runs, 758 runs batted in and a .262 career batting average.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Mickey Lolich
Every pitching staff can use a Mickey Lolich: lots of innings, lots of strikeouts, lots of wins. He’s the workhorse who keeps the pitching staff anchored. And on occasion, he rises to moments of true greatness, as Lolich did in October of 1968.
Lolich was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and was promoted to the big league club in 1963. He went 18-9 for the Tigers in 1964, and followed with a 15-9 campaign in 1965. After a pair of 14-victory seasons, Lolich went 17-9 during the Tigers’ pennant-winning 1968 season. But in the season when Detroit’s Denny McLain won 31 games, Lolich emerged as the Tigers’ other ace during the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lolich went 3-0 in the Series, with three complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He struck out 21 batters in 27 innings, and even hit a home run in Game Two … the only home run of his 16-year career. Lolich was selected as the 1968 World Series Most Valuable Player.
From 1964 through 1974, Lolich never won fewer than 14 games or pitched fewer than 200 innings. Four times during that period, he pitched over 300 innings in a season and was twice a 20-game winner, with a 25-14 record in 1971 and 22-14 in 1972. In 1971, Lolich led the American League in victories, games started (45), complete games (29), innings pitched (376), and strikeouts (308). He finished second in the voting for the Cy Young award to Vida Blue, whose 24-8 season garnered both the Cy Young and MVP awards.
Lolich won 207 games for the Tigers in the 13 seasons that he pitched for them, and then was traded to the New York Mets in 1975 in the deal that brought Rusty Staub to Detroit. His one season in New York, plus two seasons with the San Diego Padres, produced a total of only 10 victories.
Lolich finished his 16-year major league career with a record of 217-195 and a 3.44 earned run average. A three-time All-Star, Lolich leads all American League left-handers in career strikeouts with 2,679, also the most among all Tigers pitchers. He is the Tigers’ career leader in wins and shutouts.
Lolich is third in career strikeouts among all lefthanders, following Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson. He is still the only southpaw to win three complete games in a single World Series.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Denny McLain
In the last half of the 1960s, no American League pitcher was more dominant, or more flamboyant, than the hard-throwing Denny McLain. He was the first major league pitcher in 34 years to win 30 or more games in a single season. And he will probably be the last for years to come.
Since 1968, no major league pitcher has replaced McLain as the last of the 30-game winners. With 100-pitch limits, four-to-five days of rest between starts, and inning-by-inning relief specialists, it’s highly unlikely that a contemporary 30-game winner will – or can – emerge.
Yet are McLain’s accomplishments on the field celebrated today at any level of professional baseball? Hardly. His legal problems, both during his playing career and afterward, have almost completely wiped out major league baseball’s willingness to recognize what he accomplished on the pitching mound during the mid-to-late 1960s.
McLain was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1962. Selected on waivers by the Detroit Tigers prior to the 1963 season, he won 18 games in the Tigers’ minor league system and made his major league debut at the end of that season, pitching a complete game with eight strikeouts to beat the White Sox 4-3.
His breakout season was 1965, when McLain went 16-6 with a 2.61 ERA. In a relief appearance against the Boston Red Sox on June 15, 1965, McLain struck out 14 batters in 6.2 innings, including the first seven he faced.
McLain won 20 games in 1966 and 17 in 1967. In both of those years, he led the American League in home runs allowed, a feat he repeated in 1968.
His 31 home runs given up in 1968 didn’t keep him from winning 31 games, the first 30-victory campaign since Dizzy Dean in 1934. McLain’s 31-6 record was achieved on a 1.96 ERA. He led the league in winning percentage (.838), games started (41), complete games (28), and innings pitched (336). He also struck out a career-high 280 batters. In the year of outstanding pitchers in both leagues, McLain collected both the Cy Young award and the Most Valuable Player award for the American League.
He followed up in 1969 with another outstanding season: 24-9 with a 2.84 ERA, again leading the league with 41 starts and 325 innings pitched. He was co-winner of the Cy Young award with Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles. At age 25, McLain had already notched 114 victories as the decade closed.
He would win only 17 more games for the rest of his career, as arm problems and suspensions brought such a promising career to such an abrupt end. He was traded to the Washington Senators for the 1971 season, and that year led the league with 22 losses. He split the 1972 season between the Oakland Athletics and the Atlanta Braves, going a combined 4-7 with a 6.37 earned run average. It was his final season in baseball.
Lights Out: Denny McLain Becomes Baseball’s Last 30-Game Winner
When: September 14, 1968
Where: Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan
Game Time: 3:00
Only one man on earth knows what it feels like to be a 30-game winner. That man is Denny McLain, and that feeling came to him in a game he nearly gave away.
McLain was a bulldozer all season long, the league’s best pitcher pitching for the league’s best team. His first two starts resulted in no decisions, but he won his next five starts, was 8-1 at the end of May and 14-2 at the end of June. McLain went 7-1 in July to become a 20-game winner before August 1, and was 5-2 in August to enter the season’s final month with a 26-5 record.
He won his first three starts in September, and the Oakland Athletics came to Detroit on September 14 to face McLain with his 29-5 record and a 1.95 ERA. A’s starter Chuck Dobson and McLain traded zeroes over the first three innings. The A’s scored two runs in the top of the fourth with Reggie Jackson’s twenty-seventh home run of the year. Then the Tigers chased Dobson in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run by Norm Cash.
The A’s came back in the top of the fifth, as Bert Campaneris singled in Dave Duncan to tie the score at 3-3. Jackson put the A’s back on top in the sixth inning with his twenty-eighth home run, and the game remained 4-3 through the eighth inning.
McLain retired Sal Bando, Jackson and Dick Green in order in the top of the ninth, throwing a third strike past Green for his tenth strikeout of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk. Dick McAuliffe hit a pop foul to Bando, and then Mickey Stanley singled off A’s pitcher Diego Segui, sending Kaline to third.
The next batter, Jim Northrup, smashed a hard grounder to Danny Cater at first. Cater fielded the ball and threw to third to keep Kaline from scoring, but the ball got by Bando, allowing Kaline to score the tying run and advancing Stanley to third. Willie Horton singled to drive in Stanley with the winning run, the run that made Denny McLain the first 30-game winner in the American League in 37 years, and the last man to do it in the Twentieth Century.