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Jim King spent five years in the Cardinals organization, learning from the likes of George Kissell and Johnny Keane, but he twice departed the Redbirds and never got much of a chance to make an impact with them at the big-league level.

jim_kingKing, an outfielder who started in the first big-league game played in California and who spent 11 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Senators, died Feb. 23, 2015, in his native Arkansas. He was 82.

The Cardinals prepared King for the big leagues.

After making his professional debut at 17 in 1950 with the independent Vernon Dusters of the Class D Longhorn League, King was signed by the Cardinals. He played in the St. Louis minor-league system from 1951-54, including two stints with Omaha clubs managed by Kissell, the franchise’s iconic instructor.

In 1954, King had his best season in the Cardinals organization, hitting .314 with 31 doubles and 25 home runs for an Omaha team managed by former St. Louis catcher Ferrell Anderson. King, who had a strong arm, also contributed 19 outfield assists.

Courted by Cubs

King caught the attention of Wid Matthews, director of personnel for the Cubs. On Nov. 22, 1954, the Cubs claimed King from the Cardinals in the minor-league draft.

King made his major-league debut with the Cubs in 1955 and played for them for two seasons.

In 1957, Cubs general manager John Holland was seeking to overhaul the roster. Cardinals general manager Frank Lane was seeking a left-handed pull hitter who could benefit from the Busch Stadium I dimensions. The distance along the right field line from home plate to the outfield at the former Sportsman’s Park was an enticing 310 feet.

Holland made a special trip to Memphis to talk with Lane as the Cardinals headed north from spring training. Their talks continued in the Busch Stadium press box lounge when the Cubs and Cardinals played in St. Louis during the first week of the 1957 regular season, The Sporting News reported.

Second chance

On April 20, 1957, the Cardinals reacquired King from the Cubs for outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Ed Mayer.

“The deal for King was completed within 48 hours, culminating a lengthy series of conversations between Lane and Holland,” St. Louis writer Bob Broeg reported.

Broeg described King as “a pull hitter for whom the Busch Stadium dimensions are tailored” and declared that the Cardinals were “stronger and deeper” with King on the roster.

Said Lane: “He’s got the knack of pulling, an asset especially with our short right field, and he won’t be handicapped in St. Louis by the wind blowing in as it does so often off the lake in Chicago, making hitting tough for left-handers.”

The Cardinals issued uniform No. 9 to King. It was the number worn by Cardinals standout Enos Slaughter (and later by Roger Maris, Joe Torre and Terry Pendleton) before it was retired by the club.

King was used primarily as a pinch-hitter. On May 15, 1957, less than a month after he was acquired, the Cardinals sent King to Class AAA Omaha in order to get their roster to the mandated 25-player limit.

Wrote Broeg in The Sporting News: “Entirely unexpected was the decision to send down King rather than Tom Alston, the good-field, no-hit first baseman … Although mum was the word around the club, it was apparent that owner Gussie Busch … had requested that Alston be given another chance or, at least, a longer look.”

At Omaha, King played for manager Johnny Keane (who, seven years later, would lead the Cardinals to a World Series title) and hit 20 home runs in 116 games before being called back to the Cardinals in September.

In 22 games overall for the 1957 Cardinals, King hit .314 (11-for-35). All his hits were singles.

California connection

King appeared poised to earn a spot on the 1958 Cardinals. However, the Cardinals were seeking catching help. The Giants needed a lefthanded-hitting outfielder to replace Don Mueller. On April 2, 1958, the Cardinals traded King to the Giants for catcher Ray Katt.

When the Dodgers faced the Giants on April 15, 1958, at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium in the first regular-season major-league game played in California, King was in the starting lineup, playing left field and batting second, just ahead of Willie Mays. King was 2-for-3 with two walks, a run scored and a RBI-single off Don Drysdale. Boxscore

King had his best seasons with the 1963 Senators (24 home runs) and 1964 Senators (18 home runs). He broke Mickey Vernon’s Senators single-season record of 20 home runs by a left-handed batter. On June 8, 1964, King hit three solo home runs in a game at Washington against the Athletics. Boxscore

In a big-league career spanning 1955 to 1967 with the Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Senators, White Sox and Indians, King hit .240 with 117 home runs. After his baseball career, he worked for 24 years for the White River Telephone and Alltel Telephone companies before retiring.

Previously: How Cardinals nearly traded Bob Gibson to Senators

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As a rookie, Carlos Villanueva almost kept the 2006 Cardinals from qualifying for the postseason and winning their first World Series title in 24 years.

carlos_villanuevaNine years later, Villanueva is competing in spring training for a spot on the pitching staff of the 2015 Cardinals.

On Oct. 1, 2006, the Cardinals entered the final day of the regular season needing a win over the Brewers at St. Louis or an Astros loss to the Braves in Atlanta to clinch outright the National League Central Division title. If the Cardinals lost and the Astros won, the Cardinals would need to win a regular-season makeup game against the Giants to clinch the division title and avoid a one-game playoff with the Astros to advance to the National League Division Series against the Padres.

Rookie starters

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa gambled and started rookie Anthony Reyes against the Brewers on only three days of rest, choosing to hold back Chris Carpenter in the hope St. Louis would clinch the division crown versus Milwaukee and have their ace available for Game 1 of the NL Division Series.

Brewers manager Ned Yost chose Villanueva as his starter. In his fourth big-league start, Villanueva had faced the Cardinals for the first time on Sept. 20 at Milwaukee and pitched seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 Brewers victory. Boxscore

Reyes flopped. The Brewers scored four in the first on a two-run home run by Prince Fielder, a solo home run by Geoff Jenkins and a RBI-single by David Bell (who is the bench coach for the 2015 Cardinals). Reyes was lifted before he could complete the opening inning.

Keep me in, coach

Given a 4-0 lead, Villanueva first faced Cardinals leadoff batter Aaron Miles. who “smacked a sharp one-hopper off Villanueva’s pitching hand,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“It felt bad,” Villanueva said.

Yost went to the mound and asked his right-hander, “How are you doing?”

“Of course, I said, ‘I’m doing great,’ ” Villanueva said.

In truth, the hand throbbed.

Said Yost: “I came close to taking him out. He couldn’t even swing a bat. I kept an eye on him and if I noticed a drop-off in effectiveness I would have taken him out. But I didn’t see it.”

Villanueva baffled the Cardinals. With each inning, their hopes of beating the Brewers dimmed.

Bailout by Braves

Then, in the fifth, Ronnie Belliard stepped to the plate for St. Louis and a roar erupted from the Busch Stadium crowd as the final from Atlanta was posted: Braves 3, Astros 1. The Braves had prevailed behind six shutout innings from starter John Smoltz and a home run by Jeff Francoeur. Boxscore

The loss by the Astros meant the Cardinals had clinched the division title, regardless of the outcome of their game with the Brewers.

As fans cheered in appreciation, Villanueva stepped off the mound and Belliard stepped away from the plate. Derryl Cousins, the home plate umpire, motioned for the game to resume, but Villanueva lingered, letting “the celebration last a few more seconds,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I wanted to give them their moment,” Villanueva said. “I knew what was going on.”

Drama in ninth

Villanueva shut out the Cardinals through eight innings, extending his scoreless streak against them to 15 innings over two starts.

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Brewers ahead, 5-0, Villanueva got Miles to fly out to right. Then, the Cardinals thundered to life. Chris Duncan launched a 414-foot home run. Albert Pujols followed with a 424-foot shot.

Francisco Cordero relieved and struck out Preston Wilson, but Scott Spiezio followed with a home run, cutting the deficit to two. Cordero then ended the drama _ and the regular season _ by striking out Juan Encarnacion, preserving a 5-3 victory for Villanueva and the Brewers. Boxscore

Unfazed, the Cardinals regrouped and beat the Padres in the NL Division Series, the Mets in the NL Championship Series and the Tigers in the World Series.

Villanueva went on to pitch for nine big-league seasons with the Brewers, Blue Jays and Cubs. He never pitched a complete game and only once matched the 8.1 innings he pitched against the Cardinals.

Previously: 2006 was critical to Tony La Russa earning Hall of Fame status

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With the 2015 Cardinals, John Lackey is hoping to become the 16th big-leaguer to play for three different franchises in World Series championship seasons.

john_lackeyLackey pitched for the 2002 Angels and 2013 Red Sox clubs that won World Series titles.

Only three players _ pitchers Lew Burdette and Steve Carlton and outfielder Lonnie Smith _ can count the Cardinals as one of three franchises they played for in World Series championship years.

Lackey, entering his first full season with St. Louis after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 31, 2014, would join them if the Cardinals win the 2015 World Series title.

After posting a 3-3 record and 4.30 ERA in 10 starts for the 2014 Cardinals, Lackey, 36, is expected to be one of the five starters for the 2015 Cardinals.

As a rookie with the 2002 Angels, Lackey was 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 18 starts. He was the starting and winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series versus the Giants. Boxscore

Eleven years later, Lackey was 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts for the 2013 Red Sox. He was the starting and winning pitcher in the decisive Game 6 of the 2013 World Series versus the Cardinals. Boxscore (The Cardinals beat him in Game 2.)

A look at the trio that played for three different franchises, including the Cardinals, in World Series championship years:

Lew Burdette

_ 1950 Yankees: As a rookie, Burdette, 23, pitched in two games for the 1950 Yankees but didn’t play in the World Series. The Yankees swept the Phillies.

_ 1957 Braves: Burdette was 17-9 with a 3.72 ERA for the 1957 Braves. In the World Series against the Yankees, he was 3-0 with an 0.67 ERA, yielding two earned runs in 27 innings. Burdette pitched shutouts in Games 5 and 7.

_ 1964 Cardinals: Burdette, 37, made eight relief appearances for St. Louis, posting a 1-0 record and 1.80 ERA, before being dealt to the Cubs for pitcher Glen Hobbie on June 2, 1964. Burdette’s lone win was important to the Cardinals, who finished a game ahead of both the Phillies and Reds before winning the World Series championship in seven games against the Yankees.

Steve Carlton

_ 1967 Cardinals: In his first full Cardinals season, Carlton, 22, was 14-9 with a 2.98 ERA. In his only appearance in the 1967 World Series versus the Red Sox, he was the losing pitcher in Game 5, even though he yielded just three hits and an unearned run in six innings. The Cardinals won the championship in seven games.

_ 1980 Phillies: Carlton won the 1980 Cy Young Award, with a 24-9 record and 2.34 ERA. In the 1980 World Series versus the Royals, Carlton was 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA. He won Game 2 and the decisive Game 6.

_ 1987 Twins: On July 31, 1987, Carlton, 42, was traded by the Indians to the Twins for minor-league pitcher and former Cardinals prospect Jeff Perry. Carlton was 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA for the Twins and didn’t pitch in the postseason. Still, he earned a World Series ring when the Twins beat the Cardinals in seven games.

Lonnie Smith

_ 1980 Phillies: In his first full big-league season, Smith hit .339 and had 33 stolen bases in 100 games for the 1980 Phillies. He batted .263 in the World Series. The Phillies won in six games versus the Royals.

_ 1982 Cardinals: Traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals as part of a three-way deal with the Indians on Nov. 20, 1981 (St. Louis sent pitchers Lary Sorensen and Silvio Martinez to Cleveland), Smith ignited the Cardinals’ offense in 1982, batting .307 with 182 hits in 156 games, scoring 120 runs and stealing 68 bases.

In the 1982 World Series versus the Brewers, Smith hit .321 (9-for-28) with four doubles and six runs scored. The Cardinals won the title in seven games.

_ 1985 Royals: To make room for rookie Vince Coleman in left field, the Cardinals traded Smith to the Royals for outfielder John Morris on May 17, 1985. Smith hit .257 with 40 stolen bases for the Royals.

In the 1985 World Series against the Cardinals, Smith batted .333 (9-for-27) and had four RBI. The Royals beat the Cardinals in seven games.

Smith played for a fourth franchise, the Braves, in the 1991 and 1992 World Series, but the Twins and Blue Jays won the championships in those years.

3 rings, 3 franchises

Here, in alphabetical order, are the 12 others joining Burdette, Carlton and Smith in playing for three different franchises in World Series championship years:

_ Nick Altrock, pitcher: 1903 Red Sox, 1906 White Sox, 1924 Senators.

_ George Burns, first baseman: 1920 Indians, 1928 Yankees, 1929 Athletics.

_ Joe Bush, pitcher: 1913 Athletics, 1918 Red Sox, 1923 Yankees.

_ Jay Johnstone, outfielder: 1973 Athletics, 1978 Yankees, 1981 Dodgers.

_ Mike Lowell, third baseman: 1998 Yankees, 2003 Marlins, 2007 Red Sox.

_ Dolf Luque, pitcher: 1914 Braves, 1919 Reds, 1933 Giants.

_ Stuffy McInnis, first baseman: 1910-11-13 Athletics, 1918 Red Sox, 1925 Pirates.

_ Jack Morris, pitcher: 1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays.

_ Herb Pennock, pitcher: 1913 Athletics, 1915-16 Red Sox, 1923-27-28-32 Yankees.

_ Luis Polonia, outfielder: 1989 Athletics, 1995 Braves, 2000 Yankees.

_ Wally Schang, catcher: 1913-30 Athletics, 1918 Red Sox, 1923 Yankees.

_ Dave Stewart, pitcher: 1981 Dodgers, 1989 Athletics, 1993 Blue Jays.

Previously: How Lonnie Smith came clean with the Cardinals

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Imagine Pete Rose in a Cardinals lineup with Ted Simmons, Keith Hernandez, George Hendrick and Garry Templeton. The Cardinals did. They tried to make it happen.

brock_roseThe catch: Rose likely would have been brought in to replace Lou Brock, relegating the popular Cardinals standout to a reserve role.

In November 1978, Rose left the Reds, his hometown team and the only one for whom he had played since entering the majors in 1963, and became a free agent. Five clubs _ Cardinals, Phillies, Braves, Pirates and Royals _ were finalists in bidding to sign him.

Rose chose the Phillies, even though the Cardinals and the others made more lucrative offers.

On Feb. 5, 2015, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN Radio he planned to discuss the possibility of reinstating Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 for misconduct related to gambling. In 2004, Rose admitted to betting on games during his tenure as Reds manager.

This is the story of how the Cardinals, determined to become contenders after finishing 24 games under .500 in 1978, wanted Rose, 37, to bring his hitting, hustle and hubris to St. Louis.

Sorely needed

Before the December 1978 baseball winter meetings began in Orlando, Rose met with Cardinals owner Gussie Busch, general manager John Claiborne and manager Ken Boyer in St. Louis “with the hope the Cardinals might be able to land a man who certainly would fit the type of offensive player so sorely needed by the Redbirds,” The Sporting News reported.

Rose, who started at third base for the 1978 Reds, likely would have played left field for the 1979 Cardinals, joining an outfield of Hendrick in right and Tony Scott in center. Simmons was the St. Louis catcher. The infield for the 1979 Cardinals was Hernandez at first, Ken Oberkfell at second, Templeton at shortstop and Ken Reitz at third.

Brock, the stolen base champion and future Hall of Famer who had sparked the Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series titles, had experienced a miserable 1978 season, batting .221 with no home runs and 12 RBI. He would turn 40 in 1979 and there were doubts whether he could be an effective everyday player.

In a 2014 interview with the Web site of Boston radio station WEEI, Rose recalled, “I went to St. Louis to talk with Gussie Busch, who offered me a Budweiser distributorship. I liked that, but he wanted me to replace Lou Brock and I didn’t want to get in that situation.”

(Brock remained the Cardinals’ regular left fielder in 1979 and rebounded strongly, hitting .304 in his final big-league season.)

In the book “The Lords of the Realm,” author John Helyar wrote that Busch talked with Rose about being a Budweiser spokesman and also discussed a distributorship. The meeting occurred at a St. Louis hospital, where Busch was preparing for hernia surgery.

“I probably would have had a hernia, too, if I had to carry all the money he was offering me,” Rose said.

In the Jan. 13, 1979, edition of The Sporting News, Claiborne denied Rose was offered a distributorship from Anheuser-Busch, though he confirmed the Cardinals “had made a very strong pitch for Rose.”

Treated like son

Indeed, Rose said the Phillies’ offer was lower than the bids of the Cardinals, Braves, Pirates and Royals.

“There were five bids and I took the lowest one,” Rose said. “Being conservative, I could have gotten at least another million and a half.

“I wish I could have played a year for each of the other four owners. They treated me like a son. But I had to analyze where I’d be the happiest. And the Phillies’ revised offer was enough that I didn’t have to worry about the money.”

The Phillies initially offered Rose a three-year, $2.1 million contract _ an average of $700,000 per year. When they sweetened the deal to $3.2 million for four years _ an average of $800,000 per year _ Rose accepted. He said his friendship with Phillies players Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt also persuaded him.

(The book “Pete Rose: A Biography” reports the breakdown of the Phillies deal as $905,00 the first year, $805,000 the second, $705,000 the third and $565,000 the fourth, with a $245,000 bonus if Rose played in 125 games.)

Chasing The Man

Royals owner Ewing Kauffman had made an aggressive bid, “but Rose has insisted all along he is a National Leaguer and what he lusts after most is Stan Musial’s record for hits in that league,” The Sporting News reported.

(Rose would surpass Musial’s NL record of 3,630 hits and then move ahead of Ty Cobb for the all-time mark. Cobb had 4,189 hits. Rose finished with 4,256.)

If Rose had selected the 1979 Royals, he would have played that season for manager Whitey Herzog.

The Braves thought Rose would pick them. Team owner Ted Turner offered Rose $1 million per year for “three years, four years, five years, whatever you want,” Sports Illustrated reported.

“A major network and a wire service columnist reported Rose was headed for the Braves,” wrote The Sporting News. “Team officials in Orlando for the winter meetings had Rose’s statistics printed upon the club’s letterhead and another member of the front office staff flew from Atlanta to Orlando with a Braves jersey and cap for Rose to wear at the signing.”

The contract Rose got from the Phillies made him baseball’s highest-paid player. “$3.2 million for a leadoff man, ye gods!” wrote Atlanta columnist Furman Bisher.

Phillies vs. Cardinals

Rose made his Phillies debut on Opening Day, April 6, 1979, against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Playing first base and batting leadoff a week before his 38th birthday, Rose was 1-for-3 with a walk against John Denny, who pitched a five-hitter in an 8-1 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

The Cardinals would finish ahead of the Phillies in the NL East in 1979. The Cardinals were third at 86-76 and the Phillies were fourth at 84-78.

Rose had a spectacular 1979 season, collecting 208 hits and batting .331. He finished second to Hernandez (.344) for the NL batting title. Rose led the league in on-base percentage (.418), edging Hernandez (.417).

Previously: How Cardinals’ mystery man nearly derailed 1980 Phillies’ title run

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With the 2015 Cardinals, Matt Belisle becomes teammates with a manager and a run producer who once hit significant home runs off him.

matt_belisleA free agent who signed with the Cardinals on Dec. 2, 2014, Belisle, 34, is expected to join Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden and Seth Maness as the key right-handed relievers for St. Louis.

In 11 seasons with the Reds and Rockies, Belisle has a 48-54 record, 4.41 ERA and five saves. He has made more than 65 appearances in each of the last five seasons.

The first and last home runs he yielded to Cardinals were hit by Mike Matheny and Matt Holliday. Matheny is the manager of the 2015 Cardinals and Holliday is their top RBI threat.

MLB debut

On Sept. 7, 2003, Belisle made his big-league debut for the Reds against the Cardinals at St. Louis. He entered the game in the sixth inning with the Cardinals ahead, 5-0.

After pitching a scoreless sixth and retiring the first batter in the seventh, Belisle faced Matheny, the Cardinals’ catcher. Matheny welcomed the rookie to the big leagues with a home run into the left-field seats.

“He’s a tiger,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Matheny. “Other coaches and managers talk to me and they just admire how consistent he is, how hard he works.” Boxscore

Misplaced heater

Nine years later, on Aug. 1, 2012, Belisle was brought in to face Holliday with the Rockies leading the Cardinals, 5-3, in the seventh inning at Denver. The Cardinals had two runners on base with one out.

Holliday, who broke into the majors with the Rockies, had hit a two-run home run off Drew Pomeranz in the first inning.

On a 1-and-0 pitch, Belisle threw a fastball that caught too much of the inner part of the plate. Holliday crushed a home run that traveled 452 feet, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 lead and propelling them to a 9-6 victory. Video

“If I had to do it over again, I still feel real confident with going inside with a heater, but just maybe stay inside a little more,” Belisle said to the Associated Press. “I just pride myself in preparing for big pitches in big situations. This one is extremely hard to swallow and I take it completely on my shoulders for this loss.”

Said Holliday: “I was looking to hit the ball through the middle. We had runners in scoring position and I was trying to get something to hit hard.” Boxscore

Milestone homer

Belisle also is the pitcher who yielded career home run No. 200 to the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols.

On Sept. 30, 2005, Pujols hit a grand slam off Belisle in the Cardinals’ 12-6 victory over the Reds at St. Louis. Video

“The best swing I took in two weeks,” Pujols told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

It was Pujols’ 40th home run of the 2005 season and his fourth career grand slam. Only Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews reached 200 home runs at ages younger than Pujols. Boxscore

Previously: Mike Matheny sparked Cards over Dodgers in 2004 NLDS

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In the last 85 years, only three pitchers have achieved 30 wins in a season: Denny McLain (31 with 1968 Tigers), Dizzy Dean (30 with 1934 Cardinals) and Lefty Grove (31 with 1931 Athletics).

gibson_mclainI met McLain on Jan. 31, 2015, at a sports card show at the American Legion Hall in Sebastian, Fla. Richard Stone, who produces the show the last Saturday of each month, was kind in introducing me to McLain and arranging the interview.

McLain, 70, was friendly, talkative, outspoken.

The pitcher, who used to drink a case of Pepsi a day, said he has dropped 180 pounds, crediting a procedure called bariatric surgery, which removed a portion of his stomach.

In 1968, when he won both the American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, McLain had a 31-6 record, 1.96 ERA and 28 complete games.

He won a second Cy Young Award in 1969, with a 24-9 record, 2.80 ERA and 23 complete games.

McLain was suspended by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn for part of the 1970 season because of his association with bookmakers. After his playing career, he twice went to prison: the first time on a conviction for racketeering and the second time on a conviction for embezzlement.

Today he is involved in a sports merchandising and memorabilia business at http://www.dennymclain31-6.com.

Here are excerpts from my tape-recorded interview with Denny McLain:

Q.: You are the last pitcher with 30 wins in a season. Do you think the achievement gets the credit it deserves?

Denny McLain: “As time goes by, the stories about it become greater, but the appreciation becomes a little less. Will anyone win 30 again? Obviously not. The game has changed. No else is going to do it.”

Q.: Do you think today’s major leaguers appreciate the feat?

Denny McLain: “A lot of players today don’t know historically what happened 30, 40 years ago. There are some, but they are the exceptions. Very few know or actually care. It’s about the paycheck. Despite how the current guys treat them, the former players still respect the players today. That’s the difference.

“Of course, we’re all a little jealous of the money. The guys today don’t understand what we did to get them to the place where they are today. We walked out (on strike) when we were making $20,000, $30,000 a year. I wonder if they were making $20,000, $30,000 a year today how many guys would walk out. Guys today win 15 games and make $30 million a year.”

Q.: Insane?

Denny McLain: “Insane is a kind word. They should be committed.”

Q.: You and Dizzy Dean are the last two pitchers to win 30 in a season. You both are considered to be free spirits. Do you see similarities to him?

Denny McLain: “Dizzy and I both had the same personalities. We got along super well because he was as nuts as I was.”

Q.: You got to meet him?

Denny McLain: “I met both Dizzy Dean and Lefty Grove.”

Q.: What was Dizzy Dean like?

Denny McLain: “He wanted to have a good time all the time. He was a big-time gambler. On the night before I won my 30th in 1968, Dizzy says to me, ‘How you feeling? Anything bothering you? Think you’re going to win tomorrow?’ At the time, I didn’t know he was a big-time gambler. Dizzy was soliciting information.”

Q.: What was Lefty Grove like?

Denny McLain: “Lefty Grove was the nicest man I ever met in my life. He was a class act. He was articulate. He knew the game.”

Q.: In 1966, at age 22, you were the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game at St. Louis and retired all 9 batters you faced …

Denny McLain: “Six of them are in the Hall of Fame.”

Q.: They would be Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Ron Santo and Joe Torre. Mays led off and struck out …

Denny McLain: “I had him 3-and-2. Bill Freehan, my catcher, called for a curve. In an All-Star Game, to call a curve on 3-and-2 is pretty drastic. I was so pumped up. I threw a curve that was one of the greatest I’ve ever thrown in my life. They call it a 6 o’clocker.” Boxscore

Q.: Then Clemente flied out and Aaron struck out …

Denny McLain: “In winter ball in 1964 in Puerto Rico, I played against Santurce. That team had Clemente and (Orlando) Cepeda. First time I pitched against them, I struck them out each four times. That’s when Clemente came up to me and said, ‘Why aren’t you in the big leagues?’ I said, ‘I am.’ ”

Q.: The story is that before the 1968 World Series you said you wanted not only for the Tigers to beat the Cardinals, you wanted to humiliate them. True?

Denny McLain: “I wanted us to beat them in four. I got tired of hearing about Bob Gibson’s (1.12) ERA. I kept saying, ‘If he’s that good, why didn’t he win some more games?’ I know one of the quotes I said was, ‘He won 22 games. I won 21 by the end of July.’ That really got everybody ticked off.”

Q.: Then in Game 1 of the World Series, Gibson strikes out 17, pitches a shutout and you get lifted after five innings …

Denny McLain: “There’s nothing you could do. We got beat 4-0. One of us was going to win and one of us was going to lose. I lost.” Boxscore

Q.: You and Gibson were matched again in Game 4. Again, he won …

Denny McLain: “We shouldn’t have played the game. It was played in a downpour. I was never a mudder.” Boxscore

Q.: In Game 6, you start against Ray Washburn, pitch a complete game and win …

Denny McLain: “That was my day. If we lose that game …”

Q.: The World Series is over …

Denny McLain: “It would have killed me.”

Q.: You received a cortisone shot for your right shoulder before that game. How much did that help?

Denny McLain: “I got the injection about an hour before the game. I got another touch to it about 20 minutes before I went to warm up. Took some kind of pill. I didn’t have any pain until the fifth or sixth inning.” Boxscore

Q.: You struck out seven, walked none, the Tigers win, 13-1 …

Denny McLain: “The thing that made me mad about that ballgame is there were two outs in the ninth and I had a shutout. Julian Javier got a base hit with a man on second. Boy, was I mad. It was just a lousy ground ball that went through the hole.”

Q.: Did you feel the win was redemption after two losses to Gibson?

Denny McLain: “They only had one pitcher. That was Gibson. The rest of them weren’t very good. We were surprised at how bad their pitching was. But what St. Louis did is much like what we did: Play fundamentally sound baseball. If you play the game soundly, you will win.”

Previously: Should Curt Flood have caught Jim Northrup’s drive?

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