Saturday, January 28, 2012
#202) MICKEY LOLICH
Mickey Lolich was traded to the New York Mets along with Billy Baldwin from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Rusty Staub and Bill Laxton on December 12, 1975. The lefthander had been the Most Valuable Player of the 1968 World Series while with the Tigers. Lolich at first vetoed the trade, but later reconsidered and signed a two-year deal with New York. "I had been in Detroit for 13 years," Mickey said. "I was comfortable there and I didn't want to leave." Negotiations with Mets' general manager, Joe McDonald and club president, M. Donald Grant changed his mind. "I'll be a starting pitcher here," the 35-year-old Lolich explained. "I think with a four-man rotation like the Mets have, we're gonna scare a few people, especially in Pittsburgh. I think it's the best four-man rotation in the National League."
Mickey was always far from the build of the typical ballplayer. "I'm over 200 and somewhere below 300," he once said. "Weight is always a big deal to everybody, but it's the arm and not the belly that you pitch with. I'm the roly-poly, I'm the beer belly, but I'm the hero to that guy watching me on TV—the all-time left-handed strikeout pitcher."
The biggest challenge for the veteran was not on the field. It was the decision to leave his wife and three children to live at the Lolich home in Washington, Michigan. "If I adjust and the family adjusts," he said in April about playing beyond 1976. "I'll play one more year. If not we'll retire. The longest we've been apart is two weeks. Now it'll be months."
The southpaw admitted it felt strange to put on the Mets uniform after so many years with the Tigers. He made his New York debut at Shea Stadium on April 11, 1976. Mickey lasted just two innings in the 7-6 loss to the Montreal Expos. Surrendering three runs (two of which were unearned) on three hits. Actually it was his fourth start before Lolich was able to register his first Mets victory. He struck out nine Atlanta Braves hitters in a 3-1 win on April 28th. "It feels super," said Mickey afterward. "I just wish it had come sooner. I might have been pressing a little bit. But I'm glad now that I've won this one. The first one always seems the hardest."
An anemic Mets offense plagued most of the lefty's starts. He was shutout four times and lost several other games where New York scored only one run. "I'm a completely different pitcher now than before," Lolich was quoted in August. "I throw more sinkers, more off-speed pitches and try to let the hitters do themselves in. My strikeouts are down to four or five a game. I could have a better record, but I've blown some leads too. I've been getting the ball up too much all year. But from every point of view except the win-loss record, it's been a satisfying season so far and I'd like to be here next season."
Mickey finished the year with an 8-13 record, 120 strikeouts, and a solid 3.22 ERA in his 31 starts. Despite the success, Lolich ultimately chose to retire from baseball in 1977. He was unable to deal with the distance from Michigan that pitching in New York presented. "I enjoyed playing there," he later said. "To me, the Mets were a super organization. I lived upriver, near Nyack, and that was nice. But it was the first time I was separated from my family and when the season ended, I figured, hell, this is a good to to retire."
Lolich became an automobile salesman that winter. After spending the next summer playing first base for the VFW team in the Romeo, Michigan recreational softball league he amazingly returned to the major-leagues with the San Diego Padres in 1978. He officially retired from the game for the final time following the 1979 season.
Back in Michigan he successfully founded Lolich Doughnuts in Lake Orion. He operated the business for 18 years before selling it in 1997. "I don't do anything...I've finally found something that I'm good at," Lolich said in 2010. "I tried making donuts but they all had holes in them. Now I watch the grass grow." Mickey and his wife are actively involved in many charities and the lefthander is a regular coach for the Detroit Tigers Fantasy Camp.
Mickey Lolich signed his card in the set for my friend Tom Carlon at the Tigers Fantasy Camp in Lakeland, Florida on January 21, 2012.