Detroit Tigers: The Tigers who wore stripes

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: James McCann #34 of the Detroit Tigers pounds fist with Paws before a MLB game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on September 24, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: James McCann #34 of the Detroit Tigers pounds fist with Paws before a MLB game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on September 24, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Tigers
DETROIT, MI – APRIL 7: A general view of Comerica Park during the tribute to former owner Michael Ilitch during the opening day celebrations prior to that start of the game against the Boston Red Sox game on April 7, 2017 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

Denny McClain

The cocky young ballplayer was an exceptional pitcher almost from day one. Denny McClain was initially signed out of high school as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago White Sox. Left unprotected, the Detroit Tigers acquired McClain off waivers in April of 1963.

McClain played 10 years in the Major Leagues for the Tigers, Senators, Athletics and Braves. His years with Detroit were spectacular. Aside from the World Series Championship in 1968, McClain garnered an AL MVP, 2 AL Cy Young awards, be a two-time AL wins leader and was voted an All-Star three times.

McClain’s most notable achievement was winning 31 games as a pitcher in 1968. That feat had not been accomplished since 1934 and has not been done since. With rotations as they are today, a 31 game winner may not be seen again in MLB.

McClain was accused of pitching an intentional “fat” pitch to his boyhood hero Mickey Mantle. Mantle hit the ball out of the park for the last home run of his illustrious career.

McClain was also a talented musician and would often play clubs in downtown Detroit. He also released two record albums and was a headliner in Las Vegas Casinos, and appeared on many television shows.

Aside from being on the cover of Time Magazine, he was also selected as Associated Press Male Athlete of the year in 1969.

For all his talents, McClain was an apparently bad gambler. When articles were released in two nationally published magazines highlighting his gambling activities, he was suspended from baseball.

Numerous incidents in Detroit led the Tigers to trade McClain to the Washington Senators. His career was never the same.  McClain continued to create problems and was once again suspended from baseball by commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Arm trouble continued to haunt McClain and he saw an end to his baseball career in 1972 at the age of 29.

TROUBLE with the Law

After leaving Major League baseball, McClain played the organ at downtown Detroit bars and clubs. He also continued to play ball for the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball league and batted .380 as an infielder.

Once he left the ball field his weight increased to 360 lbs. He began a somewhat successful radio talk show which was ultimately cancelled after a demand for more money.

Gambling became his main source of income. He was rumored to have accepted $160,000 by flying a wanted felon out of the States.

He was ultimately imprisoned for drug trafficking. embezzlement and racketeering. Even though that case was subsequently reversed he did not learn a lesson. He was once again convicted of embezzlement, mail fraud and conspiracy and spent six years in prison.

Next: The Forgotten 1972 Detroit Tigers

Today he lives in the suburbs of Detroit and can be seen peddling signed baseballs and his book at minor league stadiums throughout the eastern USA.