Portly lefty Lolich stole the spotlight from teammate Denny McLain in 1968, despite McLain’s 31-win season. Lolich won three games in the 1968 World Series, giving up only five runs in his three complete games, including a 4-1 victory in the seventh game against Bob Gibson on two days’ rest. In the sixth inning of that victory, he picked off both Curt Flood and Lou Brock. A notoriously poor hitter (a career .110 average), Lolich cracked his only major league homer in Game Two of the Series off Nelson Briles.
The picture of consistency throughout his career, Lolich struck out 200-plus seven times and finished 12th all-time in strikeouts with 2,832, second only to Steve Carlton among lefties. Lolich was not a natural lefthander. A childhood run-in with a motorcycle left him with a broken left collarbone. Rehabilitating his left arm actually made it stronger than his right. Lolich came up the same year as McLain but was far more consistent, never winning fewer than 14 games in his 11 full years in a Tiger uniform. In 1968, while McLain piloted planes and played the organ, Lolich rode motorcycles and played the drums on his way to 17 wins, going 10-2 over the last two months of the season. In 1971 he had a league-leading 25 victories and 308 strikeouts. He would have won the Cy Young Award but for Vida Blue‘s spectacular rookie season. Lolich won 22 the following year with a career-best 2.50 ERA and again felt he deserved the Cy Young Award, but he lost a close vote to Gaylord Perry.
Lolich was traded to the Mets for Rusty Staub after the 1975 season, then “retired” after going 8-13 for New York in 1976. He sat out the entire 1977 season to get out of his contract, then signed with San Diego for two final seasons.