Written by Richard Coreno
Published: 07 June 2009
Denny McLain was the last 30-game winner in Major League Baseball by notching a remarkable 31-6 record in 1968, while capturing the American League's MVP and Cy Young awards as a member of the World Series-winning Detroit Tigers. Four years later -- at the age of 28 -- he was out of pro ball, briefly played in an obscure league based in Canada and had stints in the minor leagues that were more about the party than resurrecting a soiled career.
With Detroit sportscaster and co-author Eli Zaret, McLain, in I Told You I Wasn't Perfect
(Triumph Books, March 2007), covers the highlights of a baseball career that flamed out due to arm problems and personal drama, while giving his side of a number of oftentimes sordid tales that include allegations of bookmaking and mob ties, being suspended twice in one season by MLB, two stints in prison -- one conviction was overturned on appeal -- hustling golf on a variety of courses, working in the sports media and being an accomplished organist with a pair of albums released on Capitol Records.
The memoir parallels a FOX Sports special from several years ago -- it still airs on an infrequent basis -- that gave McLain a forum to tell his story. And as with the cable-TV program, the book is McLain's pitching mound to deliver flaming fastballs at his critics and prosecutors with the brashness that carried him to the summit of pro baseball before he threw it all away while chasing other games in the deepest shadows of life.
The book begins on March 20, 1992, as McLain describes in gut-wrenching detail the death of his oldest daughter, 26-year-old Kristin Dawn McLain, in a hideous late night accident caused by a truck driver blocking three of five lanes on a dimly lit portion of M-59, an east-west state truckline highway that crosses the northern part of Metropolitan Detroit, to pull into a small driveway and a 19-year-old drunken driver in a pickup truck. McLain and Sharon unknowingly passed the burned-out wreckage of their daughter’s Chevy Blazer while en route to the hospital.
Such a devastating loss could have torn any family apart. But through this tragedy and other heartbreaking situations, Sharon McLain, the daughter of the legendary shortstop Lou Boudreau, tried valiantly to provide a compassionate compass to her husband during many troubling times, on and off the field.
And nothing summarizes McLain’s wild personal and professional ride than his minor-league “comebacks” in 1972 and 1973. Pitching for Birmingham (Class AA) in 1972, he notched an unimpressive 3-3 record with a 6.32 ERA. By spring 1973, McLain was operating two bars in Atlanta and his marriage was nearly finished due to the nocturnal nature of the business.
Detroit general manager Jim Campbell contacted McLain concerning a possible opportunity to pitch in Class AAA for the Iowa Oaks, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The contract was for $2,000 a month, with a $10,000 bonus if McLain made it back to the majors. If McLain clawed his way back to the big leagues his career would have gone full-circle, since he signed with the White Sox in 1962 as an amateur free agent.
“I had no idea if I could get Triple-A hitters out, but suspected I couldn’t,” writes McLain.
Though the deal saved his marriage -- McLain reconciled with Sharon minutes before a divorce hearing in Chicago -- it didn’t get him back into the big show. He hooked up with two fading veterans on the Oaks -- catcher Tom Egan and outfielder Joe Keough -- received a free AMC Gremlin in exchange for cutting a radio commercial for a local auto dealer and made sure to have some fun and games lined up before the team bus rolled into a city.
“It was the Denny McLain dog and pony show,” he writes. “The only drawback was that Keough and Egan didn’t have enough money to gamble the way we would have liked to.”
McLain was 1-4 with a bloated 7.55 ERA with Iowa. He also pitched for Class AA Shreveport -- a Milwaukee affiliate -- and compiled a 6-4 mark with a 5.20 ERA. These were the final stops in his baseball career.
What haven’t stopped since the publication of the book are McLain’s brushes with the law. On April 11 he was arrested by Oakland County deputies on a charge of missing a court appearance in a civil case. McLain and Sharon now reside in the Village of Pinckney in Livingston County.
And so it goes in the rocky life and times of one of the most controversial figures to ever don a MLB -- and prison -- uniform.AHP Rating: 3.0 Balls
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