Published April 21, 2018

Fourth in a series of columns on the 1968 World Series Champion Tigers

Denny McLain doesn’t get it. As usual.

He doesn’t get why his contributions to the 1968 Tigers are being downplayed this year, as the organization is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the World Champs.

He doesn’t get why his likeness isn’t being pressed into a bobblehead, as are those of Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline and Willie Horton.

He doesn’t get why there isn’t more being made of how his 31-6 season helped catapult the ’68 Tigers into a runaway capturing of the American League pennant.

“I don’t quite understand it,” he told Crain’s Detroit Business a couple months ago. “There might be something going on I don’t know about. Maybe there’s a good explanation for it.”

Ya think, Denny?

‘There’s never been any like Denny’

Lolich won three games in the World Series in 1968 and was the series MVP. Lolich is forever adored by Tigers fans for his feat.

Freehan, a University of Michigan product, was an 11-time All-Star and became an upstanding member of the business community in Metro Detroit before coaching the Wolverines baseball team for several years.

Kaline is Mr. Tiger. Enough said.

Horton is Mr. Detroit.

None of them went to prison. None of them cheated people out of their pensions. None of them bilked teammates out of money with shady, fly-by-night business proposals. None of them dumped a bucket of ice water on sportswriters. None of them commiserated with the mob—as players and as civilians.

Yet Denny is perplexed. Typical.

McLain’s playing dumb would be comical if he wasn’t serious. If you wonder how anyone could be that tone deaf or clue free about how their behavior could come back to haunt them, well then you’ve been under a rock whenever the subject has been Dennis Dale McLain.

Denny never took complete ownership of his foibles. The late broadcaster Dave Diles once said that Denny reminded him of a guy who stabbed someone 10 times and blamed the victim for running into the knife all 10 times.

Former McLain teammate Jim Northrup once told me that Denny hoodwinked several teammates out of money when he got them to invest in a paint company that was a farce.

How many people could be shot on sight in the sleepy town of Chesaning, Michigan?

McLain, though he continues to deny it, cheated people in that burg out of their hard-earned pension money when Denny helped drive Peet Packing, which was Chesaning, into the ground in the early-to-mid 1990s. There are still people in Chesaning who would like five minutes alone with Denny, and if they had their way, they’d have about four minutes and 58 seconds to spare.

Denny’s autobiography is titled I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect, except that he didn’t tell folks he wasn’t perfect until after he screwed them and went to jail.

Denny and the Hall of Fame

The Tigers are celebrating the ’68 champs all year with giveaways and other events, but it will culminate on the weekend of Sept. 7-9, when the team will be feted in several ways. The St. Louis Cardinals, naturally, are the opponents that weekend. McLain says he’ll be at Comerica Park, just as he was in 2008 when the franchise celebrated the 40th anniversary.

McLain also is cross with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He thinks his 31-win season—likely the last time any big league pitcher will win 30 games—should be recognized in a special wing.

“People should be recognized for some of these great seasons, for the consistency, for doing some of the great things that the game has ever seen before,” McLain has said.

Tom Shieber, senior curator for the Hall of Fame, notes that McLain is listed in an exhibit called “One for the Books,” which names players who’ve won 30 games since 1893. Shieber also said the exhibit includes McLain’s glove from Sept. 14, 1968, when he won his 30th game of the season.

Apparently that’s not enough for Denny.

Image result for denny mclain

The Mount Rushmore of the ’68 Tigers: no Denny

McLain’s 1968 season was certainly one for the books. No one would suggest with a straight face that he wasn’t a key factor in the Tigers blazing to the pennant. But there’s more baggage with Denny than in Metro Airport.

The Tigers are doing the right thing. They’re putting the four bobblehead dolls out there and they made four solid choices. I would like to see Gates Brown, Norm Cash, Mickey Stanley, Dick McAuliffe and Northrup made into dolls, as well, but I get it. If you made a Mount Rushmore of the 1968 season, you’d put Lolich, Freehan, Kaline and Horton on it.

Why not Denny? Because, 31 wins?

Let’s put it this way. Who among those four would you remove and insert Denny in his place?

Understand now?

McLain’s apologies over the years have always come with an asterisk. He has started too many sentences with “Yeah, but…”

He’s gone from implausible denial to flat out lying to lukewarm apologies.

Denny is 74 years old and still he wonders why.

Someone, frankly, should do a story on Denny’s wife, Sharyn, who has stood by her man in marriage for over 50 years and through two prison terms and, horrifyingly, through the death of their daughter to a drunk driver. Sadly, Sharyn suffers from Parkinson’s Disease now. Denny is being a good husband, by all accounts, and is tending to Sharyn tirelessly. Good for him.

I don’t believe that Denny is a bad person, per se. I’ve met him on a few occasions. I believe that he’s someone who’s done some bad things, but who hasn’t always owed up to them. I believe that he’s always had some shyster in him. His pursuit of a buck has sometimes known no bounds, particularly those of the legal or ethical kind.

Maybe there’s something going on, Denny wonders about why the Tigers are muting his involvement in the celebration of the 1968 world champs.

Yes, something is going on, Denny. And the fact that you wonder what it is says volumes.


Prior columns in the series

Jim Northrup

Dick McAuliffe

Mickey Lolich