Lolich in 2009
|Born: September 12, 1940|
|May 12, 1963, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 23, 1979, for the San Diego Padres|
|Earned run average||3.44|
|Career highlights and awards|
Michael Stephen Lolich (born September 12, 1940) is an American former professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball as a left-handed pitcher from 1962 until 1979, most notably for the Detroit Tigers. A three-time All-Star, Lolich is most notable for his performance in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals when he earned three complete-game victories, including a win over Bob Gibson in the climactic Game 7. At the time of his retirement in 1979, Lolich held the Major League Baseball record for career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.
He was born right-handed and began to throw left-handed after a childhood accident. At age two, he rode his tricycle into a parked motorcycle, which fell on him. The accident broke his left collar bone, requiring him to wear a cast for four months. Post-injury efforts to strengthen the left arm helped Lolich develop into throwing left-handed. Known as an eccentric, a sports writer in 1964 wrote of Lolich: "He now eats, writes and bats right-handed, pitches left-handed and thinks sideways."
As a teenager, he excelled playing in American Legion Baseball and in the Babe Ruth League, setting Oregon state records for strikeouts. He attended Lincoln High School in Portland and posted a record of 19 wins against 5 losses for the school team in 1958.
Lolich was signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent at age 17 on June 30, 1958. He began his professional career playing the 1959, 1960, and 1961 seasons with the Knoxville Smokies of the South Atlantic League and the Durham Bulls of the Carolina League. In his first three seasons, he compiled a 17-29 record in 82 games.
Lolich was assigned to the Triple-A Denver Bears at the start of the 1962 season and went 0-4 with a 16.50 ERA in nine games. After the poor start, Detroit ordered him back to Knoxville. Lolich refused to report to Knoxville and was placed under indefinite suspension. He returned home to Oregon and struck out all 12 batters he faced in a four-inning outing in semi-pro ball with the Archer Blower team in Portland. In early June, Lolich was acquired by the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in a deal with the Tigers. Lolich turned his career around, compiling a 10-9 record and 3.95 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 23 games with the Beavers. The key to Lolich's turnaround was finding control of his pitches. He had developed a reputation as "a flamethrowing wildman" in the minors but developed his control while playing for Portland.
Buoyed by a strong performance with Portland, Lolich was reclaimed by the Tigers in 1963. He irked Detroit's management by reporting late to spring training, saying he had remained in Portland to take an examination to become a mailman during the off-season. He was cut by the Tigers on April 3 and optioned to the Syracuse Chiefs, then recalled to Detroit on May 9 after compiling a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings at Syracuse. He made his major league debut on May 12 and secured his first win on May 28, allowing one run in nine innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He was plagued by lack of run support during his rookie campaign, losing a 2-1 decision on July 29, allowing only one hit through innings before giving up a home run in the ninth inning. He finished the 1963 season with a 5-9 record, 3.55 ERA, and 103 strikeouts in innings pitched.
Lolich blossomed in 1964 with an 18-9 record and 3.41 ERA in 232 innings pitched. He pitched his first shutout, a three-hitter against the Minnesota Twins, on April 24. On September 9, he pitched his sixth shutout of the season and struck out 12 Yankees. For the season, Lolich ranked fourth in the American League with six shutouts and fifth with 192 strikeouts.
In November 1964, Lolich married Joyce Fleenor, a former airline stewardess from Los Angeles. At spring training in 1965, Lolich told reporter Joe Falls that marriage had a calming influence on him: "She's done so much for me, to settle me down, that I can hardly put it into words. She's made me a very happy guy."
In 1965, he compiled a 15-9 record with a 3.44 ERA. His 226 strikeouts ranked second in the American League behind Sam McDowell. Always known as a weak hitter, Lolich hit .058 and struck out 37 times in 86 at-bats during the 1965 season.
After two strong seasons, Lolich regressed in 1966. His ERA jumped by more than a run to 4.77, and he compiled a 14-14 record in 40 games. After the season, Lolich rejected claims that his weight was the problem. He noted that he weighed 200 pounds when he won 18 games in 1964 and weighed only two pounds more in 1966. Lolich instead opined: "The big problem for me was loss of concentration. I blew a lot of leads this year."
In 1967, the Tigers hired former major league pitcher Johnny Sain as their pitching coach. Sain helped develop Lolich's pitching skills and taught him psychological aspects of pitching. The 1967 season was a memorable one for the tight four-way pennant race among the Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. The Tigers were in contention until the final day of the 1967 season, finishing one game behind the Red Sox. Lolich finished the season with a 14-13 record, but led the league with six shutouts.
In late July 1967, Lolich was called to active duty with the Michigan Air National Guard in response to the ongoing riot. Lolich spent twelve days on active duty and was promoted to Airman First Class. Upon returning to the team, he received death threats, allegedly from the Black Panthers, for his role in quelling the riot. In response, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed a team of snipers on the roof of Tiger Stadium during his following two starts.
In 1968, the Tigers quickly rose to first place, winning nine straight after losing the season opener to Boston. Lolich was overshadowed by teammate Denny McLain's 31-win season, and was sent to the bullpen in August due to a late-season slump. He made six appearances as a relief pitcher before returning to the starting rotation. He posted a 17-9 record with 197 strikeouts, as the Tigers won the American League pennant by 12 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.
After Bob Gibson defeated McLain in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series in St. Louis, Lolich helped Detroit recover by allowing only one run to win Game 2 8-1. He also helped his own cause by hitting the only home run of his 16-year career. But the Tigers lost the next two games at home to fall behind the Cardinals 3-1 and were facing elimination when Lolich returned to pitch in Game 5, just four days after pitching a complete game. Despite an unsettled start, when he surrendered an RBI single to Curt Flood and a two-run home run to Orlando Cepeda in the first inning, Lolich remained calm and proceeded to pitch eight scoreless innings as the Tigers scored two runs in the fourth and took the lead in the seventh on Al Kaline's bases loaded two-run single. They added another run for a 5-3 win, staving off elimination.
Back in St. Louis, the Tigers then won Game 6 by a score of 13-1 behind McLain's solid pitching and a grand slam home run from Jim Northrup in a Series-record-tying ten-run third inning rally to force Game 7. With just two days of rest, and having pitched two complete games in the past week, Lolich faced Gibson in Game 7, both having won their previous two starts. They each pitched six scoreless innings, Lolich picking off Lou Brock and Curt Flood to end a Cardinal threat in the bottom of the sixth, before the Tigers broke through with three runs in the top of the seventh starting with a two-out, two-run triple to deep center by Northrup just over Flood's head for an eventual 4-1 Tigers win and a 4-3 Series triumph.
Detroit became only the third team in World Series history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games. Having completed Game 7, Lolich became the 12th pitcher to win three games in a World Series, and the last with three complete games in a single Series. He was the last pitcher with three victories in the same World Series until Randy Johnson won 3 games in the 2001 World Series. He is the only left-handed pitcher with three complete-game wins in the same World Series in baseball history. No other pitcher has thrown three complete game World Series victories in the same series since. Lolich's performance earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
In 1969, Lolich won 19 games and earned his first All-Star selection. He struck out 16 batters in a game twice in 1969, his career high. In 1971, he led the American league with 25 wins, an impressive 29 complete games and 308 strikeouts, all career-highs. His 308 strikeouts is also a Tigers' team record. Lolich became known for his endurance and his ability to pitch complete games. He reached the 300-innings pitched mark every season between 1971 and 1974. He finished second to Vida Blue in the 1971 Cy Young Award voting.
Lolich won 22 games and posted a career-best 2.50 ERA in 1972 to help the Tigers win the American League Eastern Division championship. He pitched impressively in the 1972 American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics, posting a 1.42 ERA in two starts. In Game 1, he pitched 10 innings allowing only 1 run before losing the game in the bottom of the 11th inning on an unearned run. He pitched nine innings in Game 4, again allowing only 1 run, but the win went to reliever John Hiller as the Tigers rallied in the 10th inning. The Tigers eventually lost the series to Oakland in five games. He finished third in the 1972 Cy Young Award voting behind Gaylord Perry and Wilbur Wood.
Lolich won 16 games in 1973 and 1974. However, the Tigers dropped to last place in the American League East. In 1975, Lolich eclipsed Warren Spahn's Major League Baseball record of 2,583 career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher. Although Lolich pitched effectively in 1975, the Tigers' poor performance continued as they failed to provide him with much offensive support. He received only 14 runs of support during a 14-game stretch in which his win-loss record was 1-13, even though he managed to post a respectable 3.88 earned run average in that period.
Lolich was traded with Billy Baldwin to the New York Mets for Rusty Staub and Bill Laxton on December 12, 1975. As a major leaguer for at least ten years with the last five on the same ballclub, he had initially exercised his right to veto, which he eventually lifted after his attorney and Mets administrators M. Donald Grant, Joe McDonald and Bob Scheffing convinced him that the transaction was financially beneficial and would not negatively affect his family.
Lolich posted an 8-13 record with a respectable 3.22 ERA for the Mets in 1976 however, he had disagreements with the Mets pitching coach as well as the Mets trainer and retired after the season. He opened a doughnut shop in suburban Detroit and sat out the 1977 season. He returned to baseball in 1978, signing with the San Diego Padres as a free agent.
He played mostly as a relief pitcher for the Padres in 1978, going 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 20 games. The following season, Lolich added a knuckleball to his pitching. Lolich had an inconsistent season in 1979 and decided to retire. He pitched in his final major league game on September 23, 1979, at the age of 39.
In a 16-year major league career, Lolich played in 586 games, accumulating a 217-191 win-loss record along with a 3.44 earned run average. He struck out 200 or more batters in a season seven times in his career. His 2,832 career strikeouts were the most by a left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball history until he was surpassed by Steve Carlton in 1981 and, he held the American League record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher until being surpassed by CC Sabathia in 2017. His 2,832 strikeouts ranks 20th all-time and fourth among left-handed pitchers behind Randy Johnson, Carlton and Sabathia. Lolich threw 41 shutouts and 195 complete games during his career, completing nearly 40 percent of his starts. He holds Detroit Tigers team records in single-season strikeouts (308), career strikeouts (2,679), shutouts (39), games started (459) and home runs allowed (329).
In 1,017 plate appearances, he had 105 walks and 90 hits. He has the most career plate appearances of anyone with more walks than hits.
In 1979, Lolich invested in a doughnut shop in Rochester, Michigan, with the understanding that his partner would run the business. Following disagreements, Lolich bought out his partner and began running the business. After losing his lease, he moved the doughnut business to Lake Orion in 1983. In the late 1990s, Lolich sold the doughnut shop and retired. He remained active in charity work and served as a coach at the Detroit Tigers' baseball fantasy camp in Lakeland, Florida. Because of his humble "everyman" qualities, many long-time Tiger fans celebrate him as one of the most popular sports figures in a working man's city. As The Detroit News put it, "He didn't act like a big shot superstar, he was one of us."
In 2003, Lolich was one of 26 players chosen for the final ballot by the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee but garnered only 13 votes, far below the 75% required for election. A frequent claim of his is that never having won the Cy Young Award was a factor in his lack of success in Hall of Fame balloting (as of 2012).