This Day in Baseball History: April 8th, 1963

Nope. Not at all.

On April 8, 1963:

The Detroit Tigers claim Denny McLain off from waivers from the Chicago White Sox.

Originally signed by the Chicago White Sox, Denny McLain would break into the majors in 1963 as a 19-year old pitcher against, you guessed it, the Chicago White Sox. In his first start, he held the White Sox to one run, and he even added his only home run of his professional career to win the game. McLain wouldn’t pitch much more that season, and he only made a handful of appearances in 1964. In 1965, however, McLain took over as a full member of the Detroit Tiger rotation.

As soon as he got his chance, McLain took advantage. He was excellent in his first full season, going 16-6 with a 2.61 ERA in 220 IP. Over the next two seasons, he would slip, his ERA+ dropping from 134 to just below 90 in both seasons. Regardless, he won 20 and 17 games, respectively. His greatest year would come in the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 when he won 31 games with a 1.96 ERA, as he took advantage of the rule changes. McLain followed that with another great campaign, winning 24 games with a 2.80 ERA in 1969. But after that season, McLain rapidly declined and was gone after 1972 at the age of 28.

The story behind his decension is interesting but sad. Entering the 1970 season, McLain had two major problems — an arm injury and gambling. The former would greatly reduce his effectiveness when he pitched, and his ERA didn’t go below 4.28. The latter would do much more damage to his career and reputation. Having learned how to bet on horses from an early manager, McLain and a Pepsi rep (he loved Pepsi and endorsed the product) began a bookmaking business, acting as silent partners. Sports Illustrated, however, figured out what was going on and reported on it. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in response, suspended McLain for the first three months of the 1970 season. When he was about to come off suspension, Kuhn suspended him again because McLain had a firearm while under probation. Unable to handle his antics any longer, Detroit traded him to the Washington Senators for the 1971 season, but he and manager Ted Williams instantly began arguing. Having more arm trouble, McLain bounced around in his final year and was finally released by the Atlanta Braves during Spring Training in 1973. McLain had gone from wins leader to losses leader in two years (the only one to have done such) to out of baseball entirely before his prime.


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