He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Detroit Tigers in 1958. Lolich pitched in the Detroit minor leagues for four seasons winning ten games in 1962 at AA Knoxville. He debuted in 1963 going 5-9 as both a starter & reliever.
Loich became a top starter the next season & remained in Detroit pitching for 14 seasons. He never experienced any arm trouble with his so called rubber arm putting in seven straight seasons with 200 plus innings of work. In 1971 he began a four year stretch where he tossed over 300 plus innings each season. He won 14 games or more from 1964 through 1974. He won 17 or more games five times in his career, including two super twenty win seasons.
|Lolich & Catcher Bill Freehan |
1968 World Series
In the 1968 Tigers Championship season, all the problems & riots of the late sixties were put on hold in Detroit. The city became captivated by the Tigers run for the pennant & trip to the World Series. Lolich went 17-9 (6th most wins in the league) second on his team to Denny McLain who won 31 games that season. Lolich's was sixth in the A.L. in strike outs (174) & winning % (.654). He posted a .319 ERA pitching 220 innings while tossing four shut outs.
Post Season: The two pitchers led the Tigers to the World Series against the defending Champion St. Louis Cardinals. After the Cards defeated McLain in Game One behind Bob Gibson's shut out performance, the start went to Lolich. In Game #2 Lolich pitched a six hit, one run complete game performance. In the game he struck out nine Cardinals. The Cards beat up on McLain again in Game #4 & Loilch once again got his team back in the Series.
In another complete game performance he allowed three runs on nine hits for the win. In Game #7 he beat the legendary Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson, who had won seven straight World Series Games up to that point. Gibson had also won three games in the previous year’s World Series, and two games in that 1968 Series.
Lolich shut the Cardinals out for eight innings, before surrendering a 9th inning solo HR to Mike Shannon. It was only the fifth hit of the game for the Cards as Detroit won it 3-1 at Busch Stadium.
In that World Series Lolich put on a dominating performance, pitching three complete game victories, while allowing only five runs over 27 innings. He would strike out 21 batters, walk six & post a 1.67 ERA . Lolich was voted the World Series MVP. Lolich is the only lefthander to start, finish and win three complete World Series games.
The next season he won 19 games (19-11) seventh most wins in the AL, with 280 strike outs & a 3.14 ERA, as Detroit fell to second place, 19 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. In 1970 he struggled, leading the league in losses with 19 (going 14-19). He also gave up 115 earned runs which was the most in the AL. The Tigers finished fourth in the East that year & Lolich's 14 wins led his staff.
He turned it around in 1971 winning a league leading 25 games (25-14). He also led the league in strike outs (309) starts (45) complete games (29) & an incredible 376 innings pitched. The only reason he didn’t win the Cy Young Award was because Oakland's Vida Blue had an even better year, including posting a 1.82 ERA. The '71 Tigers finished second to the world champion Baltimore Orioles that season.
He won 20 games again in 1972 leading the Tigers to an AL East title, but they were beaten in the ALCS by the Oakland A’s. That season Lolich posted his career best ERA at 2.50 (10th in the AL). The big lefty struck out 250 batters (2nd in the AL to Nolan Ryan) & posted a 2.50 ERA (tenth in the AL). He made 41 starts throwing four shut outs, allowing a league high 29 HRs. In his career Lolich would allow 347 HRs (27th most of all time).
In 1973 he won 16 games for the first of two straight seasons. Lolich would start over forty games for four straight years, and since he pitched tons of innings, his decisions piled up in both the win & loss columns.
In 1974 he once again led the league in losses (21) but he did win 16 games. His ERA rose to 4.16 in over 300 innings pitched for the fourth straight season. 1975 wasn’t much better as he lost 18 games (tied for second in the AL with team mate Joe Coleman).
Also AL hurlers Fergie Jenkins & Jim Slaton lost 18 games, all second behind league leader Wilbur Wood (20 losses). Lolich was still a work horse at age 35 making 32 starts & 240 innings, although it was 68 less innings for him than the previous year.
The New York Mets front office went after Lolich at the age of 35. It was clear his great days were behind him. With a staff of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Jon Matlack they sure had enough quality pitching.
What they needed was more offense to help that talented staff. But instead, they traded away their main RBI man, Rusty Staub to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Lolich. They also received a young promising outfielder Billy Baldwin, who GM Joe McDonald insisted be in the trade. Baldwin never worked out either.
To this day the trade makes no sense & still bothers long time fans. Staub went on be an All Star, tearing up the American League, driving in 96 or more runs three years in a row, including 121 in 1978.
As for Lolich, he only would pitch one season in New York, going 8-13 with a 3.22 ERA. He struck out 120 batters walking 52 pitching in 192 innings. Both totals were the lowest since his rookie year in 1963.
Lolich debuted with the Met at Shea Stadium, in third game of the ’76 season. He pitched just two innings giving up three runs to the Montreal Expos, earning a loss. In that game he fell fielding a ground ball in the 1st inning, making an error that eventually led to three earned runs. He was pulled early in the game & his debut was highly criticized. This was to set the tone for his legacy as a Met.
He lost his first three Mets starts, with the next two coming on the road in Pittsburgh & St. Louis. He then pitched a complete game shutout against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on April 26th. After another win in early May, he lost seven of his next nine decisions.
Manager Joe Frazier was more quick to yank Lolich than his Tiger skipper Ralph Houck had in Detroit. This upset the big fellow as well as the Mets wanting him to ice his arm. Lolich said years later: "People love to put ice on their arms, but I refused, When I went to the Mets, they told me to ice my arm, but I wouldn’t. I would wrap my arm in a towel and go into the shower and let the water get hot. I would stay in there about 15 minutes until my arm was red. Teammates wouldn’t get close to me because water bouncing off me would burn them.”
Lolich did show a few brief glimpses of his studded past; He threw a two hit complete game shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 29th, notching nine strike outs.
He then threw a three hit shutout against the Atlanta Braves on July 18th beating Carl Morton. That day he walked no one & lowered his ERA to 2.69. He won his next start as well in Montreal, beating the Expos for his sixth win. On July 29th, he pitched nine innings against the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium, allowing just one run. The bullpen came in & blew the game, denying him of a victory.
On August 8th, he pitched another complete game victory at Pittsburgh, beating the Pirates 7-4. As the season came to a close, he made eight more starts, losing three four games earning four decisions. He made the Rusty Staub trade look even worse, as the Mets finished third that year (86-76) & Lolich chose to retire after the season.
A year later he returned, signing with the San Diego Padres. He pitched in 20 games, making just two starts going 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He came back to Shea Stadium on August 17th, 1978, pitching three scoreless innings & earning a save against the Mets. Two weeks later he got a win against the Mets when they came to San Diego. Lolich pitched a four hit shutout over five innings of work. Lolich retired in 1979 after going 0-2 in 27 games.
In a sixteen year career, he was 217- 191 (80th most wins all time / 52nd most losses).
He struck out 2832 batters which is the third most for left-handers in history (18th most all time) pitching 3638 innings (59th all time). He had 195 complete games (146 all time) & 41 shutouts (41st all time).
In his career he gave up a lot of HRs: 347 (29th most all time) as well as a lot of walks 1009 (76th all time). He posted a 3.44 ERA pitching in 586 games (223rd all time) making 496 starts (49th all time).
Retirement: After his season with the Mets he opened a doughnut shop in Lapeer, Michigan right outside of Detroit. He ran the shop for many years before retiring to Oregon a few years ago. He still appears as a coach at Detroit Tiger events & fantasy camps.
One of his best quotes was in jest to his weight during his playing days, the big guy said; “All the fat guys watch me and say to their wives, 'See, there's a fat guy doing okay. Bring me another beer.”
Lolich ranks high in many Detroit pitching records, first in strike outs, shut outs, games, & HRs allowed. He is third in wins, games & innings.