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'It Would Be Nice to Be Included' More as Tigers Mark '68 History, Denny McLain Says

February 11, 2018, 4:00 PM Crain's Detroit Business

Although Denny McLain "is forever associated with '68," as journalist Bill Shea puts it, the past Detroit player isn't "a focus of the upcoming season's 50th anniversary celebration of the 1968 team" that won the World Series.

Denny McLain at a 2014 memorabilia show after stomach-reduction surgery brought a 162-pound weight loss.

This seeming paradox isn't strange. "The 73-year-old ex-Tigers pitcher is certainly a one-man Greek tragedy," Shea writes at Crain's Detroit Business. "A bull who carries around his own china shop."

The magazine-like article reviews a half-century of highlights and lowlights. It has frank comments by McLain and stretches nearly 2,000 words, a journalism version of extra innings.

The past star's dual dimensions are laid out at the start:

Denny McLain is many things to Detroit Tigers fans: Baseball's last 30-game winner — propelling them to the 1968 world championship and the league MVP that year.

To others, he's an arrogant jerk, a convicted criminal with ties to drugs and the mob, with two terms in federal prison on his rap sheet. A heartless businessman who stole employee retirement funds. A vulgar, glib self-promoter.

A cover from 1970, the year McLain was suspended for half the season and then traded to the Washington Senators.

Shea mentions a Sports Illustrated cover featuring McLain.

It's not the one on July 29, 1968 ("In Antic Pursuit of 30 Wins"), nor the one from Sept. 23, 1968 ("Al Kaline Congratulates Denny McLain -- No. 30"). Instead, the Crain's writer recalls the Feb. 23, 1970 issue at right.  

He was suspended for half that [1970] season, the Tigers traded him, and his career quickly fell apart. He tried to resurrect his glory days with stops in Washington, Oakland and Atlanta, but his arm was spent from all those innings on the mound at Tiger Stadium.

What followed was the well-worn McLain saga: Bankruptcies, criminal convictions, autobiographies, personnel tragedies, eye-rolling headlines, but also an endless litany of funny speaking engagements, TV and radio appearances during the Tigers' latest heyday, and baseball card show signings with lines of parents and grandparents taking little ones to meet the hero of 1968.

It's that mixed legacy that makes McLain a dicey commodity for the Tigers' marketing department. He made history, and much of it no good.

This autographed McLain souvenir is offered for $30 by a San Diego dealer.

So as the team tries "to capitalize on Baby Boomer nostalgia to get butts in Comerica Park's seats" this season, McLain's role is minimized.

There won't be a Denny McLain bobblehead — in a year when the Tigers will give away more bobbleheads of 1968 players [40,000] than they will 2018 players. . . . 

McLain has been invited to participate in a weekend commemoration of the 1968 team in September, but that appears to be the limit of the involvement. . . .

McLain is keenly aware that the Tigers aren't making a bigger deal of his historic 1968 season.

"I don't quite understand it. There might be something going on I don't know about," he said. "Maybe there's a good explanation for it. I'm not as hurt as much as my wife is. Maybe some things will change before it's all over.

"It would be nice to be included in the exceptional moments. I was there in '68 when we won it all."

► Other colorful details and quotes enliven the deeply researched full article.


Read more:  Crain's Detroit Business

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