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Mudville: October 19, 2020 11:07 pm PDT
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PITCHING LIFE’S LESSONS

Consider that in 1968 Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers.

He threw 28 complete games.

If the Tigers of today somehow win 31 games this shortened season, it would put them in the postseason.

No pitcher is winning 31 games ever again with the crooked path baseball has taken and the treatment of starting pitchers gets more absurd by the day.

Managers continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening on the mound in front of them and run with a pre-scripted plan of attack drawn up by someone who can read an algorithm but can’t read a baseball player.

It happened to Aaron Boone and the Yankees all week, a team so far in on analytics, there is No Exit.

Here at BallNine, as you are learning, it is all about finding answers.

So, who better to talk to than McLain, whose roller-coaster life continues to ride the ups and downs at the age of 76.

But first here is what went on the last few days in regards to pitching.

On Wednesday Boone removed Masahiro Tanaka, who was throwing a shutout against the Braves, only to see Chad Green immediately give up a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman (hint, hint hitters, Freeman drove the pitch the other way to left center at Truist Park in Atlanta) to sink the Yankees and Boone, 2-1 in the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader.

Baush Stadium. Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain is shown pitching during first game of World Series.

Tanaka threw 66 pitches and said he told Boone “the tank was starting to empty a little bit.’’

Of course that’s what was said afterwards.

If every starting pitcher whose tank was beginning to empty was removed from a game, there would never be a complete game in baseball history.

“[Aaron] Boone jumped at his chance to over-manage” 

Boone jumped at his chance to over-manage and begin overnerding™.

In another seven-inning doubleheader two days later at Yankee Stadium against the Mets, Boone, no doubt blindly following the orders from his analytic gurus, did the exact same thing with Jordan Montgomery on the mound.

He removed the big left-hander, who had the Mets hitters off balance because the Mets had made just enough contact to get back-to-back singles to open the sixth inning.

In many ways, managers are like ultimate helicopter parents, always hovering to keep their children from having to deal with any challenge, any failure, how’s that working out, America?

In 2020, basically, the manager’s job is not to let a starting pitcher win his own game.

Wins have no meaning to starting pitchers, another absurd lesson from this generation of managers, enabled by front offices.

A manager’s job is to keep the pitch count and at the first sign of mental or physical trouble go to the bullpen.

In the absurd seven-inning games it’s even more obvious the nerds are in control because if a starter makes it through the fifth inning it is really the seventh inning or so they tell us.

No, geniuses – it’s the fifth inning.

Montgomery was taken out after those two singles to start the sixth, pulled by Captain Hook and Green was again summoned.

This time Green out did himself and surrendered three home runs in the inning and the Yankees lost 6-4.

In the nightcap Boone did it again, this time pulling a successful reliever Luis Cessa for Aroldis Chapman who had not pitched in 11 days and had one outing this season.

Adam Ottavino had pitched earlier so again this was all scripted.

A walk and a home run by pinch-hitter Amed Rosario off a confused Chapman (pitching at home, he did not realize the game was over) because the Mets were the home team the second game.

In 2020 only Rob Manfred knows the truth.

Then on Saturday with J.A. Happ at his best, pitching a 1-0 shutout with 90 pitches, Boone pulled him and Ottavino immediately surrendered a home run to Wilson Ramos to tie the score.

The Yankees won in the ninth on a wild pitch into the Legend Seats by Dellin Betances on a safety squeeze.

Pitcher Denny McLain #17 of the Detroit Tigers smiles as he sits in the locker room after a four month suspension for associating with gambling before an MLB game against the New York Yankees on July 1, 1970 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Baseball 101 is a lost art 2020.

What does McLain, who is never shy with his opinions, think about what’s going on with the game? Plenty.

“You want to get all the analytics you can, I guess, but the bottom line is I’ve never seen an analytic guy hit a three-run homer,’’ McLain said.

McLain had Johnny Sain as his pitching coach and Sain is regarded as the best pitching coach of all time.

“I had the president of the club,’’ McLain said. “The guy who knew more about pitching than everybody else put together. Nobody could explain and teach pitching better than Johnny Sain. Johnny had a unique ability to not only know what the ball was going to do and how you do it better, but he could explain it to a guy in a way you could understand it.”

“I don’t understand it, they got all these new terms in baseball today. The crazy terms don’t quite spell out what it is all about at times.”

“I don’t know what happened to the respect of the game,’’ McLain said, pointing not only to the field of play but with some players not maintaining Covid restrictions and causing teams to shut down.

“My most difficult thing is I don’t think they have the respect that we had for the game. It’s not that they are any better than we were, it’s not that they are any quicker than we were, they just don’t play the game.’’

McLain, 76, also pointed out how difficult it is for him to watch Miguel Cabrera play these days. “All the money ($248 million) they are paying him and he can’t hustle, it makes no sense to me.’’

If this were the 1968 Tigers who would get in such a player’s face?

“Let me tell you something,’’ McLain said. “It would only happen one time. Twenty guys would have gotten in his face and the guy who probably would be first would be (Norm) Cash or (Bill) Freehan. Of course (Al) Kaline would be a part of it too. But none of us would be afraid to tell him to get his big ass in gear. His actions are embarrassing.”

I don’t know what has happened to the game.” – Denny McLain

“Nobody hits and runs. Nobody bunts. Nobody runs and hits,’’ he said of today’s game. “Seldom do they hit a cutoff man. I don’t know what has happened to the game.’’

He has watched closely as Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick of the 2018 draft has begun his Tigers career.

“No one taught the kid how to pitch, that’s his problem, you can’t set up a hitter with two or three changeups in a row,’’ McLain said after watching Mize’s first two starts. “You can’t set up a hitter with two sliders in a row, you can’t set up the hitter with two forkballs in a row. You have to throw a majority of your pitches [as] fastballs. It’s the only way you can set up the other shit that you want to throw.’’

That is a comment I hear often from former major league pitchers and scouts.

Pitchers don’t establish their fastballs.

“Now I know why he was so successful in college, none of those college kids can hit a curve ball or a shitty slider,’’ McLain said. “(Mize) wins the Cy Young of college or whatever it’s called and now he gets to the big leagues and you notice a couple things.”

“I don’t think he knew how fast the game is in the major leagues,’’ McLain said. “I don’t think he had any idea – and secondly how far and how hard these guys actually hit the ball. He’s given up home runs, if you put them together they would go to Toronto. But he’s a good kid. It looks like he is aggressive and wants to learn but somebody has to teach him how to pitch.’’

Then there is that home run No. 535 by Mickey Mantle in the eighth inning on September 19, 1968 after the Tigers had clinched, a grooved pitch by McLain at Tiger Stadium for The Mick.

At the time the Tigers had a 6-1 lead . McLain said if it were a close game he would have struck out Mantle. The next batter Joe Pepitone requested such a pitch and McLain buzzed him.

That was win No. 31.

“In fact I got a call today,’’ McLain told me. “There is a screenwriter dealing with Mantle’s kids and they are thinking of doing a mini-series on Mickey Mantle and they are coming up to see me next week to film something on the home run I let him hit.’’

McLain is still in there pitching and revealed he is working on a major project that should fascinate his fans when he is prepared to make the official announcement.

His adored wife of the past 51 years, Sharon, passed away in December and he is dealing with the loss of the love of his life.

This is a man who knows heartache. Oldest daughter Kristin was killed in a car crash back in 1992. She was 26.

I remember these words from McLain about Kristin to me 14 years ago in Detroit, “It never goes away; it’s an everyday occurrence.’’

Detroit Tigers Denny McLain (17) in action, pitching vs Cleveland Indians. Detroit, MI 4/17/1968 CREDIT: James Drake (Photo by James Drake /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Sharon, 76, was the daughter of Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau. “Sure, we had bumps in the road but we had a great 51 years,’’ Denny said. “She was born into the life and she knew more about baseball than I did. I guarantee she did. She had Parkinson’s for the last 10 years, but this was a shock. I went in there to see how she was doing about 8:30 in the morning and lo and behold she had passed. I have to tell you my friend, there is no book that tells you what to do when the person you love more than anything else passes away. You know there is a day like this and you hope to God you both go at the same time. This has been the worst time of my life. There are mornings I can’t get out of bed. One day at a time that is all I can tell you.’’

McLain is going through the grieving process knowing there is a light ahead in the distance.

Then there were the seven years in jail ending in 2003, having been convicted of embezzlement and other charges, but there is more to that story as McLain noted, “That should have never happened. When you tell the feds to go fuck themselves when they want you to testify against people you don’t even know. They wanted me testify against John Gotti. I never met John Gotti in my life. You think John Gotti wanted to be in my life? Are you kidding? Just think of that – John Gotti coming to see me or me having lunch with John Gotti. Could you imagine the papers in New York?’’

Yes, this man is a fighter and a gunslinger on the mound, winning two Cy Young Awards. How else could you win 31 games in the majors even with that higher mound and throw 28 complete games and 336 innings like he did in 1968.

You could be sure there were plenty of times his tank was getting a little empty.

After being released from prison he found a way to survive.

“The good news is when I got out there was a lot of opportunity with the card shows, they were hot as hell,’’ McLain said, who has a website dennymclain31.com. “The biggest thing with a guy who gets out of jail is he can’t find a job. Well soon as I got out, I did like 19 weekends in a row of card shows. I went from 80 cents an hour to $4,000 a weekend. The timing was perfect and it was a great run.’’

I first met McLain outside Yankee Stadium by the player’s entrance when I was 15 in 1968, and I’ll never forget how well he treated fans that day.

He has had his slip-ups but Denny McLain is still out there with the fans.

“Up until this pandemic we’d do 150 appearances a year,’’ McLain said of autograph shows. “We’re like a bad penny, we keep showing up. God bless the fans. They still show up. They all have Denny McLain stories like you can’t imagine. Yes I still do the shows because I want to earn for my family, but you know what the best thing is: I love hearing their stories about where they were when certain things happened and their memories are so sharp and so detailed it just blows you away.’’

McLain is a showman at heart and plays the keyboard.

He does podcasts and radio shows.

He is an author.

He continues to do private signings and his website is filled with his memorabilia.

It is a relationship that works for both the fans and McLain.

“I had a spirited and great career,’’ is the perfect way McLain puts it. “No one had more fun than I did when I was out on the mound.’’

Detroit Tigers Al Kaline (L) victorious with Denny McLain (R) after winning 30th game of season by defeating California Angels, Anaheim, CA 9/11/1968 (Photo by Herb Scharfman/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)

His greatest memory?

“The night we won the pennant,’’ McLain said of the 1968 season. “To me it was bigger than the World Series because the hell we had been through in 1967 with the riots and the people dying. I think the thrill of my life was the night we won the pennant.’’

He knows these Tigers have a long way to go but his hope is that someday they win another pennant in his lifetime. “Because the town goes crazy when we do great things in the sports world in Detroit,’’ McLain said.

The man knows.

He lived it, highs and the lows, riding the roller coaster of life.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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