Vets to consider Tigers fave Lolich

Vets to consider Tigers fave Lolich

From out of the shadow of teammate Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich emerged as a hero during the 1968 World Series, hurling three complete-game victories, including Game 7. Within a few seasons, baseball fans realized that whereas McLain had been a fleeting comet, Lolich was a steady star, racking up inning-after-inning, setting down batters with his blazing fastball and winning games at a consistent pace for his Detroit Tigers.

With his "everyman" physique and his likable disposition, Lolich was immensely popular with Tigers fans during his 13 seasons in their uniform. His talented left arm didn't hurt his cause either. In 2007, he appears on the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee ballot for the third time.

In an ironic twist, one of the greatest left-handers in American League history was almost a right-hander. As a toddler, he was favoring his right arm, until one day he tipped over a motorcycle onto himself. The bike landed on his left side, damaging his left arm and shoulder. That summer he wore a cast on the arm and performed exercises to strengthen the torn muscles. When the cast came off, Lolich was a southpaw.

Always an outdoorsman, the young Lolich strengthened his arm by throwing rocks at "birds, squirrels, and anything else that moved."

Once again eligible for the Hall of Fame, Lolich eyes his boyhood idol, a Hall of Fame lefty. "The only games we would get were national broadcasts of the Yankees," Mickey said in a 2004 interview, "so I grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford in the 1950s." Later, Lolich and Ford would be friends in the big leagues.

From 1964 to 1975, Lolich was a stable force in the Tigers rotation, winning 12 to 25 games every season. He tossed six shutouts in 1964, six more in 1967, and four during Detroit's magical 1968 campaign, when Lolich went 17-9 with a 3.19 ERA and 197 K's.

In the Fall Classic, Lolich took center stage. The Tigers squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending world champions. After McLain lost Game 1 to Cardinals ace Bob Gibson, Lolich righted the ship by winning Game 2, 8-1, on a six-hitter. In that game, Lolich hit a home run off Nelson Briles in his first at-bat.

2007 Hall of Fame Inductions
  2007 Candidates  
The 2007 Veterans Committee ballot features 27 candidates on the player ballot, 15 on the composite ballot.
Players ballot
Dick Allen
Bobby Bonds
Ken Boyer
Rocky Colavito
Wes Ferrell
Curt Flood
Joe Gordon
Gil Hodges
Jim Kaat
Mickey Lolich
Sparky Lyle
Marty Marion
Roger Maris
Carl Mays
Minnie Minoso
Thurman Munson
Don Newcombe
Lefty O'Doul
Tony Oliva
Al Oliver
Vada Pinson
Ron Santo
Luis Tiant
Joe Torre
Cecil Travis
Mickey Vernon
Maury Wills
 
Composite ballot
Buzzie Bavasi
August Busch Jr.
Harry Dalton
Charlie Finley
Doug Harvey
Whitey Herzog
Bowie Kuhn
Billy Martin
Marvin Miller
Walter O'Malley
Gabe Paul
Paul Richards
Bill White
Dick Williams
Phil Wrigley

In Game Five, with Detroit trailing three-games-to-one in the Series, Lolich outdueled Briles again, winning 5-3 in his second complete game. Detroit won the next game in a rout, and set up a seventh game match between Gibson and Lolich.

In Game 1, Gibson had set a record with 17 strikeouts and seemed invincible, but Detroit erupted for three runs in the seventh inning in Game 7, and Mickey went the distance to win, 4-1. The southpaw had become one of the few pitchers to win three games in a World Series.

Lolich's performance in the 1968 World Series seemed to buoy him. In 1969 he won 19 games, and two years later he racked up 25 victories as he finished second in Cy Young Award voting to Vida Blue. That season, he started 45 games and completed 29, as he logged an incredible 376 innings pitched. His 308 strikeouts paced the league. Lolich was nearly as effective in 1972, winning 22 games as he led the Tigers to the American League East title. As usual, Mickey was a workhorse, pitching 41 games, completing 23 and hurling more than 300 innings. From 1971-1974, Lolich reached the 300-inning mark every season.

The durable lefty used an unusual method to keep his arm fresh.

"I never used ice. I would stand in the shower after a game and soak my pitching arm under hot water for 30 minutes. The water was scalding hot. After 30 minutes it would be red, but it would feel fine and I'd be throwing on the sidelines in two days. I never had a sore arm."

At his peak, Lolich threw his fastball in the mid-90s and relied on a change-of-pace and a curveball, which he threw from 88-90 mph. His philosophy was simple: stay ahead of the hitters and let them get themselves out.

"I tried to throw two of my first three pitches to a batter for strikes. I was like 'Here, hit it.'"

But his fastball was hard to hit, and Lolich went on to fan more batters (2,679) than any other left-hander in American League history.

After the 1975 season, in which he lost 18 games for a miserable Tigers team, Mickey was traded to the Mets in an unpopular trade. He finished his career with two solid seasons for the Padres. He received enough support to stay on the Baseball Writers' Association Hall of Fame ballot for the maximum 15 years, receiving as many as 109 votes.

Lolich won 217 games in his 16-year career, fanning 2,832 batters in more than 3,600 innings. He was named to the All-Star team three times and earned the 1968 World Series Most Valuable Player Award. He completed nearly 40 percent of his starts, and hurled 41 shutouts.

After his playing career, Lolich ran a donut shop near Detroit for several years, before selling the business and retiring to his home in Oregon.

Dan Holmes is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.