By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A packed room of Detroit Tigers fans waited in anticipation as former Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich and former Tigers beat writer Tom Gage took the stage to talk about their new book, “Joy in Tigertown: A Determined Team, A Resilient City and Our Magical Run to the 1968 World Series.”
During the talk Nov. 1 at Henry Ford Centennial Library, Lolich and Gage took questions from the audience about the Hall of Fame, including watching pitch count for pitchers, watching a pitcher’s innings, how to protect against an arm injury, shaking off pitches, and getting sentimental during trades.
The first question centered around the pair’s book which gives an inside look at not only the Tigers’ championship season, but also about how Lolich came up through the baseball system as an amateur and how he grew up as a child in Oregon.
Gage explained that he and Lolich had the idea for the book at about the same time a few years ago and that Gage felt the pitcher was underwritten about and a star pitcher.
“I told the publisher that I didn’t just want a book about the World Series, but a special book about my personal story and my baseball path,” Lolich said. “I’ve been told the book is easy to read and keeps people flipping the pages to the next chapters because they want to know what happens next in the book.”
“I knew he was a great pitcher,” Gage said, “but the statistics I found during research back that up and impressed me.”
Lolich was born in September 1940 and began learning to throw at a young age by throwing figs at his grandparents’ house in Portland. He also is not a left hander by nature, but a childhood tricycle accident forced him to throw with his left hand. Lolich still batted right-handed and still writes with his right hand.
He made his major league debut at the age of 22 with the Detroit Tigers in May 1963 after being signed as an amateur free agent in 1958 by the team.
Lolich played with the Tigers through 1975 where he racked up team records for most strikeouts at 2,679, 39 shutouts and 459 games started. He also won three games in the 1968 World Series — all complete games — including pitching eight scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series when the Tigers completed their comeback after trailing 3 games to 1.
Lolich was traded to the New York Mets before the 1976 season where he spent a year before retiring, but then returned to baseball as a relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres in 1978 and 1979.
Attendees at the talk were eager to learn more about Lolich’s pitching days and what his thoughts about the current state of Major League pitching.
He told the crowd that back when he played, pitchers were signed to one-year deals and would either get a raise or pay cut on their next contract depending on their performance during the season.
When a fan asked Lolich about the three changes he would want in baseball today, he said he would not show the pitchers’ speed on the scoreboard, not allow defensive changes, and not show pitch counts on the scoreboard because that could have pitchers count how long before they exit a game.
Lolich was also asked who he hated pitching against the most and who he intentionally threw a pitch at, in which he responded Cesar Tovar of the Minnesota Twins.
Another fan asked who was one of the best pitchers Lolich saw while he was still pitching and he responded with Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles.
Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, Lolich was asked who he found to be the most funny from the 1968 Tigers team and he said first baseman Norman Cash.
“Joy in Tigertown: A Determined Team, A Resilient City and Our Magical Run to the 1968 World Series” is available for purchase at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])