- September 12, 1940
- 6' 1"
- 170 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 5-12-1963 with DET
- Allstar Selections:
- 1968 BR, 1968 WsMVP
Mickey Lolich biography:
Mickey Lolich vaulted to national attention in the 1968 World Series when he won three games and out-dueled Bob Gibson to win Game Seven, giving the Tigers the title. He was a hard-throwing lefty who fought to keep his weight under control his entire career. Lolich led the AL in strikeouts in 1971 and finished second four times. He won 25 games in 1971 and pitched 376 innings in 45 starts. He retired as the all-time leader in K's by a lefty, and still holds the AL mark for southpaws
Mickey Lolich described himself as "the beer-drinker's idol." With his portly physique and his likable disposition, the pitcher was popular with Tiger fans during his 13 seasons in their uniform. His talented left arm didn't hurt his cause either.
Lolich was born in Portland, Oregon, on September 12, 1940, the same day that Schoolboy Rowe defeated the Yankees to keep the Tigers one-half game ahead of the Indians in the AL pennant race. Lolich's father was a parks director, which kept him outside, and his kids near the parks and play equipment. Consequently, Mickey (born Michael Stephen Lolich) developed into an outdoorsman and an athlete. Lolich said that as a kid he "threw rocks at birds, squirrels, and anything else that moved."
As a result, he built a strong arm. But Lolich was almost right-handed. 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.
As a youth in Oregon, Lolich played lots of baseball, though there wasn't a major league team to follow. "The only games we would get were national broadcasts of the Yankees," Mickey said, "so I grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford in the 1950s." Later, Lolich and Ford would be friends in the big leagues. When he was a teenager, Lolich pitched brilliantly for local Babe Ruth and American Legion teams, setting records for strikeouts that are still standing. One pitcher who Lolich battled in amateur tournaments was Al Downing, also a left-hander, who was signed by the Yankees at the same time that Mickey was being scouted. "My uncle told me Al had signed with the Yanks," Mickey said, "and I knew I'd be battling him to get to the majors, so I signed with the other team that was really interested in me, the Detroit Tigers."
In Mickey's first season in the minor leagues, he weighed 160 pounds, and as he says, "was nothing but skin and bones." After more than four years in the minors, Lolich was called up to Detroit early in 1963, working out of the bullpen and as a spot-starter. His big league debut came on May 12 in a 9-3 Tigers' loss to Cleveland. The first batter the young Lolich faced, Indians' pitcher Sam McDowell, struck out. Mickey earned his first win on May 28 in Los Angeles against the Angels, going the distance. Complete games would become a Lolich trademark.
From 1964 to 1975, Lolich was in the Tiger rotation, winning 12-25 games every season. He tossed six shutouts in 1964, six more in 1967, and four during the magical 1968 campaign. In 1968, the Tigers had the best team in the American League, coming from behind to win several games on the way to the pennant. Teammate Denny McLain won 31 games that year, overshadowing another fine season by Mickey (17-9, 3.19 ERA, 197 K's). But in the World Series, Lolich took center stage. The Tigers squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Champions. After McLain lost Game One to Cardinal ace Bob Gibson, Lolich righted the ship by winning Game Two, 8-1 on a six-hitter. In that game, Lolich hit a home run off Nelson Briles in his first at-bat. In Game Five, with Detroit trailing three-games-to-one in the Series, Lolich out-dueled 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, both of whom had two wins in the Fall Classic. In Game One, Gibson had set a record with 17 strikeouts and seemed invincible, but Detroit erupted for three runs in the seventh inning 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.
His performance in the 1968 World Series seemed to buoy Lolich, as he vaulted to the position of staff ace. 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 AL 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 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 lefty in American League history.
After the 1975 season, in which he lost 18 games for a miserable Tigers' team, Mickey was traded to the New York Mets for Rusty Staub in an unpopular trade. Lolich never took to the Big Apple, and never moved his family there. During his one season as a Met, he battled with the trainer and pitching coach, who wanted him to run and treat his arm with ice. Lolich balked at the advice. He managed a decent 3.22 ERA for the Mets, posting an 8-13 record. At the end of the season, fed up with New York, Lolich retired in order to get out of the last year of his two-year contract. After sitting out a season (in which he put a few more pounds on his ballooning frame), Mickey signed with the San Diego Padres in 1978. But his arm failed to bounce back from the layoff, and he landed in the bullpen, where he performed well in '78, going 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 20 games. After an ineffective 1979 season, Lolich retired and returned to Detroit, where he had a home and business interests.
Lolich won 217 games in his 16-year career, fanning 2,832 batters in 3,638 1/3 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% 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. He is active in charitable work and as a coach at the Detroit Tigers' Fantasy Camp in Lakeland, Florida. In 2003, Lolich was one of 26 players selected to the final ballot by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. He received 13 votes, placing him far below the 75% required for election.
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