Famed left-handed pitcher Mickey Lolich made himself a legend in the 1968 World Series. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lolich earned three complete game victories. That included a Game 7 win against Bob Gibson.
Fans also remember Lolich for an incredible 1971 season in which led the league in wins (25), complete games (29) and strikeouts (308).
Lolich played 16 years in Major League Baseball. He spent most of his career, from 1963 to 1975, pitching for the Tigers. Fans still consider him one of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball history.
Mickey Lolich’s Early Life
Michael Stephen “Mickey” Lolich was born on Sept. 12, 1940, in Portland, Oregon. Because his father worked as a parks director, Lolich spent a lot of time outside as a kid. He developed into an outdoorsman and an athlete.
Originally right-handed, Lolich accidentally tipped a motorcycle onto his left shoulder when he was still young. After the cast came off his left arm, he did exercises to strengthen it and began throwing with his left hand. He had so much success that he never switched back.
He played high school baseball and pitched for Babe Ruth and American Legion teams. He set Oregon records for strikeouts that still stand. The Tigers signed him to a minor league contract in 1958.
Lolich spent three years in Double-A, from 1959-1961. However, after a poor start in 1962, the Tigers wanted to send him down to Knoxville, a Single A team. Lolich refused, went back to Portland, and ended up getting loaned by the Tigers to the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. Under the guidance of pitching coach Gerry Staley, Lolich improved his control and had a stellar season.
In May 1963, after a short stint in the minors, the Tigers called him up to the big club.
Mickey Lolich In The Major Leagues
Lolich started with the Tigers out of the bullpen. However, he won a spot in the rotation quickly, earning his first win against the Los Angeles Angels on May 28. He pitched a complete game.
In 1964, Lolich won 18 games and became a fixture in the Tigers rotation. He pitched six shutouts during the season and had 192 strikeouts.
In 1968, the Tigers reached the World Series and Lolich reached a high point of his career. The season had not been his best, and he was pitching out of the Tigers bullpen in August rather than starting. Meanwhile, teammate Denny McClain had won 31 games and become the Tigers ace.
But in the World Series, McClain lost Game 1 against Bob Gibson. Lolich started Game 2, pitching a shutout and hitting the only home run of his career. The Tigers lost Game 3 and Game 4, but Lolich started Game 5. After giving up three runs in the first inning, Lolich pitched eight scoreless innings and the Tigers won, 5-3.
In Game 7, Lolich faced Gibson, one of the best to ever take the mound. Both had rested for only two days, but both pitched six scoreless innings to start the game. In the seventh, the Tigers broke through against Gibson, scoring two runs on a two-out triple by Jim Northrup and then adding a third on a double by Bill Freehan. Lolich finished the game for his third complete game of the series, and the Tigers won the World Championship.
Lolich was named the Most Valuable Player of the series.
Later Career and Life After Baseball
Lolich went on to pitch at a high level for many seasons. He made the All-Star team in 1969, 1971 and 1972.
In his amazing 1971 season, Lolich pitched a jaw-dropping 376 innings, won 25 games and threw 308 strikeouts. However, he finished second to Vida Blue for the Cy Young Award. His endurance remained uncanny. He pitched more than 300 innings every season from 1971 through 1974.
The Tigers never returned to the World Series, and the team worsened around Lolich. In 1975, even as he broke Warren Spahn’s career strikeouts record for lefthanders (2,583), the Tigers played so poorly and offered so little run support that Lolich ended up with a record of 12-18.
The Tigers traded Lolich to the New York Mets in 1976, but after that season Lolich quit baseball and opened a doughnut shop in Rochester, a suburb of Detroit. He returned to baseball for two seasons with the San Diego Padres, but retired for good after the 1979 season.
He retired with 217 wins, 2,832 strikeouts and 3,638.1 innings pitched.
After retirement, Lolich continued to run his doughnut shop. He moved the shop to another Detroit suburb, Lake Orion, in 1983. He eventually sold the shop and retired in the late 1990s. Over the years, he has participated in Detroit Tigers fantasy camps in Lakeland, Florida.
Lolich has not been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.