Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (2024)

Mickey Lolich cemented his place in Detroit Tigers lore by pitching the franchise — no, willing it — to one of the greatest World Series comebacks in history.

Lolich, then a portly 27-year-old, took the mound at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in Game 7 of the World Series on Oct. 10, 1968. And on two-day’s rest, he twirled his third complete game over eight days as the Tigers became the third team in history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the Fall Classic.

It was one of the greatest individual feats in franchise history, considering the Cardinals were defending World Series champions.

Lolich, a hard-throwing lefty, gave up five runs over his 27 innings. When the Tigers recorded the final out in Game 7, after Tim McCarver popped up down the first-base line, Lolich leapt into the arms of catcher Bill Freehan, who had recorded the final out.

Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (1)

It was a moment frozen in time.

The Tigers snapped a 23-year World Series drought that day, and Lolich became the third pitcher in the post-1920s dead ball era to win three complete games in a single World Series.

The epic pitching performance came from the man who 15 months earlier was stationed in downtown Detroit with the Michigan National Guard during the deadly uprisings of 1967.

Lolich was named World Series MVP after outshininghis teammate Denny McLain, a 30-game winner, and the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in the series.

“It was always somebody else,” says Lolich, now 78, “but my day had finally come.”

Two months earlier, it was hard to imagine Lolich, the Tigers’ No. 2 starter, becoming the hero of the World Series.He had pitched poorly and was relegated to the bullpen in early August by Tigers manager Mayo Smith.

More:How 1968 Tigers soothed a rebellious city's racial tension

Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (2)

“I was really upset, and as he walked away I told him, ‘You’re really going to need me one of these days,’ ” says Lolich, who after six successful relief appearancesreturned to the rotation to finish the regular season with a 17-9 record and 3.19 ERA.

“While I was being interviewed during the locker-room celebration (after the World Series), I stepped away for a moment, walked up to Mayo who was talking to a reporter and said, ‘I told you that you would need me.’ He said, ‘I sure did.’ ”

Cardinals slugger Roger Maris had warned his teammates that Lolich was the guy to worry about in the series. Maris had faced Lolich while playing for the New York Yankees in the American League.

“Years later,” says Lolich, “Lou Brock told me that Roger said, ‘If you don’t pay attention to the fat guy he’ll shove the ball right up your (expletive).’ ”

Facing the 6-foot-1, 170-pound fireballer was a nightmare for both left- and right-handed hitters. Lolich had a nasty sinking fastball that went low and away from right-handed hitters, and he also had an overpowering four-seamer that went up and in on batters.

“I didn’t turn as much as most pitchers,” says Lolich, whose fastball once was clocked at 96 mph. “I kind of walked into the hitter and a lot of guys told me that it looked like the ball was coming out of my shirt, and that it was on them faster than they expected.”

Reggie Jackson, one of the greatest hitters of the era, struggled against Lolich and once said “Lolich was the best left-hander in the league for eight seasons.”

“Every time I played Detroit I had to face the son of a bitch,” Jackson told Baseball Digest in 2014. “His fastball could knock your (expletive)off. He was a gallon of ice cream when you only wanted a cone, and when he took the mound at 1 p.m. you knew he would be there until the end. I wish he had gone into the donut business 10 years earlier.”

Three times the victor

Lolich’s heroics in the 1968 began in Game 2 in St. Louis as he tried to even the series after Gibson’s dominating, 17-strikeout performance in Game 1.

Lolich, a doughnut-shop owner in Oakland County after his career ended, tossed a six-hitter in the 8-1 victory and helped his own cause by hitting what turned out to be the only home run of his career — a third-inning solo shot to left field.

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“I thought I flew out and didn’t even watch the ball," says Lolich."Whenever I made an out, I stepped over first base so I wouldn’t injure myself. Our first-base coach Wally Moses yelled ‘Get back and touch the bag, you hit it out.’ ”

“I couldn’t believe it.”

After the Tigers lost the next two games at Tiger Stadium, including a 10-1 rout in Game 4 on Gibson’s five-hitter, Lolich faced the greatest challenge of his career as he tried to dig Detroit out of a 3-1 series deficit.

It didn’t go well — at first.

He surrendered three runs in the first inning of Game 5, including Orlando Cepeda’s two-run homer.

“When I was warming up in the bullpen, I was just getting ready to throw some breaking balls when Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem, which to me seemed to take forever,” says Lolich. “I hadn’t even thrown a competitive curveball in the pen yet and the left-field umpire told me to take the mound. I threw all fastballs and Cepeda jumped all over one.”

In the fifth inning, with the Cardinals leading 3-2, St. Louis threatened to extend its lead when speedster Lou Brock tried to score standing up on a sharp single to left by Julian Javier. Willie Horton fielded the ball and fired a perfect one-hopper to Freehan, who tagged out Brock.

“That play was a game changer because when the ball was hit, I knew I was out of the game,” Lolich says, “but then Brock was out, and I stayed in to finish it.”

Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (5)

In the bottom of the seventh, still trailing 3-2, Lolich helped himself again with a one-out single, then scored the tying run on Al Kaline’s two-run single that gave the Tigers the lead. They scored another run that inning before Lolich held the Cardinals at bay for the 5-3 victory, pushing the series back to St. Louis.

After the Tigers routed the Cardinals 13-1 in Game 6, the stage was set for Lolich.

“(Mayo Smith) took me down into the tunnel and asked if I could give him five innings for Game 7 the next day, and I told him sure,” says Lolich, who knew Smith was uncomfortable going with Earl Wilson, who had lost Game 3. “I showered and then Dr. Russell Wright and I took a cab back to the hotel where he hooked me up to what I called ‘The Frankenstein machine’ that made my left arm muscles jump to get the blood circulation going. We did it again after dinner.”

Lolich didn’t want to overthink Game 7. In fact, he walked out of a pitchers’ meeting because of it.

“At those meetings it’s always ‘Don’t pitch this guy inside, don’t throw that guy a breaking ball, don’t do this don’t do that.’ It’s all negative stuff and I don’t want to hear it,” says Lolich. “I never studied the hitters, I pitched to them according to the reaction to the last pitch I threw.”

When Lolich entered the dugoutin the bottom of the fifth, with the game scoreless, he assumed his day was over.

But Smith asked for one more inning.

Then another.

In the bottom of the sixth, Lolichkilled a potential Cardinals rally by picking offBrock and Curt Flood at first base after both had singled.

After the Tigers took a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh, with help from Jim Northrup’s two-run triple, Lolich walked up to Smith and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Now I’ll finish it for you,” Lolich said.

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” Smith said.

Game-by-game:How the Tigers won the 1968 World Series

Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (6)

For his performance, Lolich won the Series MVP, was awarded a new Dodge Charger — “I wanted the traditional Corvette because I already had two Chargers in my driveway,” he said — and landed endorsem*nt deals, TV appearances, and also a short singing gig at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas as part of “Mickey Lolich and the Four Scores.”

Lolich received the typical $10,000 bonus players earned for winning the World Series, but Tigers general manager Jim Campbell also raised his salary from $30,000 to $40,000.

“I tried to get more but he said, ‘Look, you got a 30 percent raise,’ ” says Lolich, whose salary maxed out at $125,000 near the end of his career.

Lolich established himself as one of baseball’s best lefthanded pitchers and became the staff ace when McLain was traded to Washington following the 1970 season.

He developed a cut fastball in spring training in 1971, then led the league in victories (25), complete games (29), strikeouts (308) and innings pitched (376). His innings-pitched mark was a post-dead ball era record surpassed only by the Chicago White Sox’s Wilbur Woods (376⅔) the next season.

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Lolich’s career eventually fizzled over the next decade. He helped the Tigers reach the playoffs in 1972, was traded to the New York Mets in 1975,retired in 1976, then came out of retirement and finished his career with the San Diego Padres in 1978 and ’79.

Over his 16 seasons, Lolich won 15 or more games eight times, struck out 200 or more batters seven times, threw 195 complete games and missed only one start due to injury.

For decades, he was the American League’s career leader in strikeouts for a lefthander (2,679), until C.C. Sabathia (2,832) passed him in 2017. Lolich struck out more batters than Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Don Drysdale, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, and his childhood idol, Whitey Ford. Among baseball's top-19 career strikeout leaders, only Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Lolich arenot in the Hall of Fame. (CC Sabathia is still an active player).

And yet Lolich'sgreatest moments came in 1968, when he emerged as the unlikely ace who delivered the Tigers a championship.

“Over the years I have told some of my stories and people have suggested for a while that I should write a book,” says Lolich, whose first book, “Joy in Tigertown,” went on sale during the summer. “My three daughters saw me play but they weren’t that old and then I realized that my grandchildren didn’t know a lot about me becoming a ballplayer. It was also perfect timing with the 50th anniversary of the ’68 season.”

Writing the book gave Lolich a chance to thank his family for itssacrifice over the years, but he also thanked the players on that 1968 team.

To sum it up, he wrote:

“Pitchers don’t win games, teams do.”

More:Tigers great Denny McLain has regrets, but damn he could pitch

Reunion:Jose Feliciano, former players highlight ceremony for 1968 Tigers

'68 Tigers:Five players that made the difference

Books:Remembering Denny McLain, Bob Gibson and 1968

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Mickey Lolich's epic World Series wins still turn heads, 50 years later (2024)


What did Mickey Lolich do in the 1968 World Series? ›

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.

Why isn't Mickey Lolich in the Hall of Fame? ›

No, Lolich didn't have a Hall of Fame career. There is only one starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame who had less than 220 career wins and a W-L percentage under . 550. That's Rube Marquard, who is probably one of the least deserving pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

Where is Mickey Lolich now? ›

Lolich is 75, still lives north of Detroit (for 49 years), still follows the Tigers and remains funny and a lively conversationalist.

Is Bill Freehan still alive? ›

William Ashley Freehan (November 29, 1941 – August 19, 2021) was an American catcher in Major League Baseball who played his entire 15-year career with the Detroit Tigers.

How many wins did Mickey Lolich have in 1968 World Series? ›

The Tigers came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win three consecutive games, largely on the arm of Mickey Lolich, who was named World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP); as of 2022, he remains the last pitcher to earn three complete-game victories in a single World Series.

How good was Mickey Lolich? ›

For years Lolich held the record in the MLB for most strikeouts in a career by a left-handed pitcher. He still holds the all-time Tiger team records in single season strikeouts (308), career strikeouts (2,679) shutouts (39), and games started (459).

Who was removed from the Hall of Fame? ›

Jann Wenner Apologizes for Controversial Comments After Being Removed From Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Board.

What Hall of Fame pitcher never gave up a Grand Slam? ›

Palmer is the only pitcher in big-league history to win World Series games in three decades (1960s, 1970s, and 1980s). During his 19-year major league career of 575 games (including 17 postseason games), he never surrendered a grand slam, nor did he ever allow back-to-back homers.

Where was Mickey Lolich donut shop? ›

But there it is, next to the Lake Orion (Mich.) U.S. Post Office, a 45-minute ride from Tiger Stadium. The bat-and-ball-shaped sign confirms that the shop belongs to the Mickey Lolich, the lefty who won 217 games and struck out 2,832 batters in a 16-year career with the Detroit Tigers.

Who is number 68 on the Detroit Tigers? ›

Jason Foley

Who has the most career strikeouts? ›

Nolan Ryan+

Who is president of the Detroit Tigers? ›

Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris spoke to the media at Spring Training on Wednesday, breaking down how the offseason went and setting the record straight on his team's potential makeup.

Did Bill Freehan play football? ›

Petersburg, Florida, Royal Oak, Michigan, native Bill Freehan decided to stay nearby to play college athletics at the University of Michigan. Though he earned a letter as a sophom*ore tight end on the football team, Freehan made his loudest noise on the baseball diamond during the 1961 season.

Who was the most valuable player in the 1968 World Series? ›

Detroit pitcher Denny McLain won the Cy Young Award and was named the American League's Most Valuable Player after winning 31 games. Mickey Lolich pitched three complete games in the World Series – and won all three – to win World Series MVP honors.

What happened in baseball in 1968? ›

A significant "power shortage" culminated in 1968, with far fewer runs scored than in the early 1960s. Pitchers including Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals and Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers dominated hitters, producing 339 shutouts in 1968, almost double the number of shutouts thrown in 1962.

Who hit a Grand Slam in the 1968 World Series? ›

Al Kaline and Jim Northrup both knocked in four runs, Northrup hitting a grand slam.

Who sang the national anthem at the 1968 World Series? ›

Jose Feliciano, a Puerto Rican singer and guitarist, was invited to sing the national anthem before Game 5 of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968.


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