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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

McClendon remains a Little League 'Legend'

McClendon remains a Little League 'Legend'

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McClendon remains a Little League 'Legend'

MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Forty-two years later, the legend of "Legendary Lloyd" lives on.

Every August, when the Little League World Series takes center stage in Williamsport, Pa., Lloyd McClendon relieves that magical moment of his youth.

But for McClendon, the lasting impression is more than the fact he swung a bat five times in three games in Williamsport and hit five home runs, drawing intentional walks in his five other plate appearances and being proclaimed "Legendary Lloyd."

What sticks in McClendon's mind is picking up the newspaper that first morning he and his teammates from Gary, Ind., were in Williamsport and seeing the headline.

"I was 12 years old and really didn't know the significance of it, and then you pick up the paper and it says, you know back then they didn't say the word 'black,' so it says, 'First All Negro-League Team to ever play in the Little League World Series.' It was pretty unique."

It was -- and still is -- a moment of pride for a community that could use a pick-me-up. Gary is a steel town. Automation, however, reduced the work force from close to 70,000 to around 7,000, according to city officials, and Gary is battling for survival.

That's why moments like the ones enjoyed by McClendon and his teammates in 1971 are so important to the community.

"I've come to appreciate what we really accomplished," said McClendon. "It's [42] years now and people still talk about what we accomplished. I guess we did something special.

"I look back now with fond memories, obviously. We captured the hearts of Americans. Taiwan beat us in that championship game, but there were a lot of good things we accomplished."

McClendon was All-State at Roosevelt High School in Gary. He earned a baseball scholarship to Valparaiso. Drafted in the eighth round in 1980 by the New York Mets, he was part of the package that went to Cincinnati in the Tom Seaver trade after the 1982 season. McClendon played in the big leagues with the Reds, Cubs and Pittsburgh, where he was a part of three consecutive National League East champions (1990-92).

Now the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers, he also coached the Pirates and then managed them for five years.

Those moments in Williamsport, however, overshadow all that.

It was a surreal time for the group of 12-year-olds. They had never been far from home, and had never had a national spotlight. ABC's "Wild World of Sports" featured the championship game against Tainan City, which was on its way to its second Little League World Series championship in five years. Jim McKay and Mickey Mantle were the announcers for that gamed played 42 years ago Saturday.

"We got there, and I can remember this vividly -- we got new uniforms, new gloves, new spikes. ... We were in hog heaven. We'd never had new equipment before. 'New' was not in the vocabulary.

"My glove was a hand-me-down. I was the youngest of 10 boys, [and] that glove saw lots of action before it got to me."

None of the nine previous McClendon kids stepped onto the national stage like Lloyd did.

"It was like I was in a fantasy world," admitted McClendon.

In the quarterfinals, Gary beat the team from Kentucky. McClendon hit two home runs and was intentionally walked. In the semifinals, Gary beat the team from Madrid, Spain, with McClendon hitting two more home runs and drawing another intentional walk.

Then came the title game with Tainin.

Before the game, McClendon remembers, the manager of the Taiwan team said that he would not intentionally walk "Legendary Lloyd" because "we will lose face at home."

"[Their manager] said he would rather lose than walk me," McClendon recalled.

McClendon changed the thought process in the first inning.

He came to the plate with two men on base, and on the first pitch he was thrown, he unloaded a three-run home run. He was intentionally walked his next two plate appearances. Taiwan won the championship game in nine innings, the longest game in Little League World Series history. McClendon pitched the first eight innings, striking out 12.

McClendon wonders what could have happened had he gotten a chance to hit in the bottom of the ninth.

He was on deck when the game ended.

"There were runners on first and second with two outs," McClendon recalled. "I was on deck. On a 3-2 pitch, the umpire called a ball a strike. If the kid in front of me had walked, they would have had to pitch to me."

The loss was crushing at the time. The kids from Gary wanted the living dream to have a happy ending.

Years later, however, McClendon realizes that he and his teammates did score a victory in life, if not on the scoreboard.

"We were just having fun playing a kids' game," said McClendon. "Unlike a lot of kids today, we didn't face that adversity, that pressure to succeed, that pressure to win, that pressure to be real good.

"I'd come from a neighborhood where the older parents watched over the kids, and they just wanted us to play have fun and enjoy the game. I was kind of shielded from that. In fact, when we went to the Little League World Series, we didn't even know what the Little League World Series was until they announced we were going."

When the team left Williamsport, however, everyone knew who McClendon was.

He was -- and is -- Legendary Lloyd.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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