Monday, August 30, 2010

#9 - Mickey Lolich

Mickey Lolich. We are back to a significant pitcher, another guy that chewed up innings and did well in the post-season. Mickey was kind of an anomaly: a very good performer in his chosen athletic field of endeavor who looked horrible doing it. This card photo doesn't show it but along with the big innings and big wins Mickey toted around was a pretty huge belly. A better view of it may be seen on his '76 record card (in '75 he broke the career record for strikeouts by a lefty). '73 must have felt like a bit of a bummer for Mickey. A big playoff push in '72 - Detroit took Oakland to five games in the AL series - seemed to have chewed up a lot of the Tigers reserves and the following season was a big discount that saw manager Billy Martin get canned. So when his homers thrown ratcheted higher and Detroit's defense ratcheted lower, Mickey's ERA and wins went in opposite directions. Still, it was a pretty good year and would be a picnic compared to what was on the horizon. Mickey also smiled a lot, as shown in this shot at Comiskey; he, like Catfish, was supposed to be a pretty good guy.

Mickey Lolich grew up in Oregon where he had lots of success as a pitcher, going 19-5 in high school and getting to both the Babe Ruth and American Legion national championships. He was signed by Detroit in '58 upon graduating for a pretty decent bonus and got things rolling the next year, posting a nice ERA but a losing record in a season split between B and A ball. With a tendency to be a bit wild, Mickey would do that split the next two years as well, with varying degrees of success. In '63 he made it to Triple A where he went 10-13 with a 5.00 ERA.But after a better start at that level in '63. Mickey got called up to Detroit that May.

After some early relief work, Lolich jumped into the Detroit rotation his rookie year and, shades of his first year in the minors, put up a nice ERA but with a losing record. In '64 new manager Charlie Dressen heped fix a flaw in Mickey's delivery and the results were pretty tangible pretty much immediately as he put up two excellent years the following seasons. Mickey was still primarily a heat guy and that lack of variety contributed to a steep discount in '66 and then in '67 he missed a bunch of starts due to some military reserve work. But that year Detroit also got a new pitching coach in Johnny Sain who convinced Mickey he didn't need to be a power pitcher 24/7. Again the results were pretty dramatic as Mickey dropped his walk totals, knocked nearly two runs off his ERA and led the AL with his six shutouts. That good work continued in '68 and '69, Mickey's first All-Star season, and sandwiched an excellent Series in '68. '70 was a hiccup as he led the AL in losses and saw his ERA elevate a bit. But in '71 his new cut fastball helped propel him to a monster season in which he led the AL in wins, complete games, innings, and strikeouts coupled with a return to the All-Star game and second place in Cy Young voting. In '72 Mickey's 22 wins helped the aging Tigers to the playoffs in his final All-Star year.

The fallout that impacted Detroit in '73 really came home to roost the next few seasons and impacted Lolich's record significantly. In '74 his ERA moved up another notch and he led the AL in losses as he went 16-21 with a 4.15. By '75 nearly the whole '72 roster was gone and Mickey suffered a sort of bipolar season as he started the year 10-5 despite the team's losing season. But then though his ERA was about 3.80, Mick suffered a dearth of run support and went 1-13. Following that season the Mets decided they needed another lefty in the rotation - they already had two in Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack - and made one of those terrible deals that plagued the team back then, grabbing Mickey for big, but slow, hitter Rusty Staub.

Lolich put up not bad numbers in his new home in NY and followed his pattern when in a new environment: a decent ERA coupled with a losing record as he went 8-13 with a 3.22, But Staub had been a fan favorite and had a big first season in Detroit so Mickey was booed a bunch at home and really didn't care for the NY pitching regimen. So rather than return he retired and sat out the '77 season. He then signed with San Diego as a free agent and in '78 had a nice year in the pen, going 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA and a save in just 20 games. That magic wore off a bit in a '79 spent in a spot role and after that season Mickey retired for good with a record of 217-181 with a 3.44 ERA, 195 complete games, 41 shutouts, and ten saves.In the post-season he went 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in five games.

After done playing Lolich owned and ran some doughnut stores in the Detroit suburbs until he sold the business and settled in the Detroit area and Oregon. He also worked for a long time as a coach at Tiger fantasy baseball camps. He has a very detailed bio from the folks at SABR.

Again, like with the Catfish card, Topps seems to stick with a stat year and run with it. In Lolich's case, this would be 1971. It was a pretty awesome year for him. The stats illustrate his strengths: lots of innings and wins with to date one losing season, his rookie year. His '68 Series work put Mickey on the national map as he went 3-0, winning the mvp, and outpitching that year's two MVP's, Bob Gibson and Denny McLain. The cartoon at first seems pretty funny, given Lolich's girth. Upon re-thinking, though, with long hair, a beard, and shades, he would have probably fit the package for any hog rider back then.

Lastly, I want to begin implementing something I have been doing when I move around I am going to link the featured and the previous player via degrees of separation whereby I get the two players on the same team with the fewest links. So for Mickey Lolich and George Theodore, it gets done pretty quickly:

1. Lolich and John Milner (or Ed Kranepool, Tom Seaver, etc.) on the '76 Mets;
2. Milner (or any of the other guys) and George Theodore on the '73 to '74 Mets.

For Theodore and Catfish, I get a longer list:

1. Theodore and Teddy Martinez on the '73 Mets;
2. Martinez and Sal Bando on the '75 Athletics;
3. Bando and Catfish Hunter on the '67 to '74 A's.

Then, for Catfish and Aaron:

1. Catfish and Mike Hegan on the '71 to '73 A's;
2. Hegan and Hank Aaron on the '75 to '76 Brewers.

The links are short because except for Theodore these guys are all pretty established players. This exercise gets trickier when the names are not household ones.

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