- - Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Longtime local baseball fans will still point to Oct 9, 1970, as the day of the worst trade in the history of Washington baseball.

Denny McLain would agree.

“I got traded to hell,” McLain said.

McLain, 73, the last pitcher in baseball to win 30 games in a season, was traded by the Detroit Tigers, along with Elliott Maddox, Norm McRae and Don Wert to the Washington Senators for pitchers Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan, shortstop Eddie Brinkman and third baseman Aurilio Rodriguez.

Coleman would go on to become a two-time 20-game winner for Detroit, while Rodriguez would go on to be the Tigers starting third baseman for the six seasons.

McLain, the former two-time Cy Young winner who was the star player in the deal? He lost 22 games for the 63-96 Senators in 1971 and was out of baseball a year later.

“I got into a beef with the (Tigers) front office and they traded me to hell,” McLain said in his conversation with me on my Cigars & Curveballs podcast on The Washington Times website. “They traded me to Washington, D.C. That was no place to be for a guy who wanted to win. It was just awful.

“We had the greatest bunch of guys in the world but they couldn’t hit a cutoff man, they didn’t know what bunting was, they didn’t know what run and hit was, they didn’t know hit and run,” he said. “We just could not play the game. It was dreadful.”

That isn’t news, but McLain — who had been suspended for carrying a gun on a Tigers team flight, his second suspension of the 1970 season, when the trade was made — did offer some noteworthy perspective more than 36 years later.

First, he revealed specifically how severely damaged his pitching arm was when Senators owner Bob Short made the trade.

“I had already started tearing my rotator cuff in 1965 in bad weather and every year it just got a little bit worse,” McLain said. “Then in 1968 and 1969 it continued to get worse although I was still pitching effectively, I knew it was getting toward the end because it hurt so bad. In 1968 I think I had 24 cortisone shots. In 1969, I think I had 29 cortisone shots. It was a waste of time because the last 30 I don’t think did any good at all.”

Nearly 60 cortisone shots in two seasons, and the Senators traded for him.

The second revelation by McLain was about how Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who retired as a player in 1960, left the Boston Red Sox as a team executive to return to the field as the manager of the woeful Senators in 1969.

McLain contends that Williams only came back to manage the Senators because Bob Short, the trucking magnate who owned the franchise, arranged it so Williams, a long-time spokesman for Sears outdoor products, would get the endorsement back that he had lost.

“The only reason Ted came back after being out of the game so long is because he lost his contract with Sears,” McLain said. “He had a monster contract with Sears for 25 or 30 years all of a sudden the generations did not know who Ted Williams was

“So Williams needed to get himself back in the limelight,” McLain said. “Bob Short said to Ted ‘If you come manage my baseball team I will get you your Sears contract back for another 25 or 30 years.’

“He owned one of the largest trucking companies in the world,” McLain said. “In fact, his biggest deal was with Sears and because he had that relationship with Sears was the reason he was able to get Ted that deal.”

McLain, as has been well documented, clashed with Williams, and was the leader of what was called the “Underminers Club,” a group of Senators players who were dedicated to getting Williams, who managed the expansion Senators to their best season in 1969 — an 86-76 record, fired.

McLain would go on to call Short — one of the most hated men in Washington sports history for moving the Senators to Arlington, Texas, following the 1971 season — “one of the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life.”

McLain’s life has been one filled with turmoil — numerous legal problems after he retired, including spending six years in prison on charges of embezzlement of funds from a pension fund. His oldest daughter was killed at the age of 26 in 1992 by drunk driver. He spends his time these days making appearances and signing autographs. He will likely always be the last player to win 30 games in major league baseball history, going 31-6 in 1968.

In Washington, though, Denny McLain will be the symbol of Washington baseball failure.

“That ball club sucked,” he said. “It was just terrible.”

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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