Now that he's out of prison and no longer working at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Mound Road and Metro Parkway in Sterling Heights, Mich., there's a good chance Denny McLain will follow the opening game of the 2006 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
McLain never watched much baseball when he did his 27 months in prison in the mid-1980s. He told reporters he watched even less when he did six years in jail in the late 1990s for dipping into the pension fund of the meat-packing company he had co-purchased.
But for this World Series, McLain will be taking in all the action and remembering what it was like when the Tigers and Cards last met in the Fall Classic and the baseball world hung on every pitch.
"I knew I missed it a little bit, but I never knew how much," McLain told The Associated Press.
The 1968 showdown was a masterpiece of names and performances, of upsets and surprises, which is why most baby boomers have a place in their heart for the Tigers-Cards matchup that went the distance.
St. Louis entered the 1968 World Series with speed and defence and pitcher Bob Gibson, who had won the National League's Cy Young Award and was the most valuable player. Detroit entered the Series with offence and power and pitcher Denny McLain, who won 31 games to snag the American League's Cy Young and MVP awards.
Early in the Series, Gibson had his way with the Tigers and in one game recorded 17 strikeouts. McLain struggled in his two starts and lost both by a combined score of 14-1. The lone bright spot for the Tigers, who found themselves down 3-1, was the pitching of flabby Mickey Lolich, who hardly looked the part of a well-conditioned athlete.
McLain regained his form and won the sixth game, but the hero of the Series was Lolich. He took the fifth game, then started the seventh game by throwing six runless innings. In the end, the Tigers won 4-1 and became only the third team in World Series history to rally from a 3-1 disadvantage and win in the seventh game.
For McLain, it was the time of his life. He was a star, a champion, on top of the world. Then came the fall. Within two years of winning the most games in the majors, McLain recorded the most losses. He developed arm problems and was suspended by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1970 for bookmaking activities.
After retiring, McLain tried to cash in on his name. He bought a restaurant and wrote a book about his life. He got into the mortgage business and sought out investors. Some of those investors were said to be mobsters, and McLain was convicted of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 23 years, but got out in 27 months after a judge ruled McLain hadn't received a fair trial.
Once out, the former Tiger tried to cash in on his baseball career, only to be hit even harder. In 1993, he persuaded his oldest daughter, Kristin, who was living in Florida, to come home to Michigan. On her way north, Kristin was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident.
"After the death of my daughter, my life was spinning out of control," McLain said. "It was a horrible time. It took me 10 years to find a little bit of peace."
During that hurtful period, McLain and a business partner bought a meat-packing operation (the Peet Packing Co. in Chesaning, Mich.) that eventually closed and forced 200 people out of work. Police investigated the closing and McLain was convicted of taking $2.5-million (U.S.) from the company's pension fund.
This time, McLain did six years in the slammer -- he even shared a cell block with mob boss John Gotti -- before being released in 2003. He ended up at a halfway house in Detroit, where he worked at a suburban 7-Eleven and signed autographs for fans.
Today, McLain is 62, weighs at least 300 pounds and works for a telecommunications company in Southfield, Mich. He's also been talking baseball on a Detroit FM radio station and thinks the Tigers' chances of winning "revolves around pitching. As long as the pitching stays healthy . . . they're going to be something."
Back in his day, he was that something. He could pitch, then entertain fans by playing the organ at Tiger Stadium. People loved him. He was Denny McLain, young and carefree, just like the many of us who watched him soar, never knowing how bad the fall would be.