At home at fenway

Keeping an eye on Chaim, Raffy & a few good books

Archive for May, 2009

Lon Warneke is worthy !

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 5, 2009



Lon Warneke vs. Lefty Gomez

By Don Loveless

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is the pinnacle accomplishment for baseball players.  Less than one percent of the ball players reach this plateau.  The elections almost always lead to huge debates.  An example this year is the election of Jim Rice.  Rice was elected on his fifteenth and last chance with the baseball writers.  His election now has everyone asking about players like Andre Dawson and Richie Allen. 

Many old players seem to be forgotten and need to be revaluated.  One such player is former pitching great Lon Warneke.  The pitcher I want to compare Warneke with is former Yankee great Vernon “Lefty” Gomez.    Gomez was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 by the “Old Timers” committee.  Warneke has never even come close in all these years. 

Lon “The Arkansas Hummingbird “came up with the Cubs in 1930 as did Lefty Gomez.  Both would become dominant pitchers for their teams.  Their career numbers would almost mirror each other.  But, for some reason Warneke was never considered for the Hall while Gomez always received a fair amount of votes.  Below is a comparison of their records.


  1. Warneke   192-121   3.18   1140     30
  2. Gomez      189-102   3.34   1468     28

Gomez was on 7 American League All-Star teams while Warneke was on 5 National League teams.  Gomez won 20 games or more 4 times while Warneke accomplished the feat 3 times.  Warneke played for the Cubs from 1930-1937, then played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1937 to 1942 before returning to the Cubs to finish out his career.  Both had success in the World Series with Gomez going 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA and Warneke going 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA. 

Warneke continued his success with the Cardinals with a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on August 30th 1941.  Upon his return to the Cubs, Warneke went into the military for almost 2 years.  Arm injuries took their toll on both Gomez and Warneke with them retiring in 1943 and 1945 respectively.  Gomez attempted a comeback with the Washington Senators in 1943 but soon realized it was over. 

Vernon “Lefty” Gomez died in 1989 of Congestive Heart failure.  Typical of his lack of respect, Lon Warneke died of a heart attack at home after the initial ambulance was totaled in a crash on way to his house.

During their careers, both pitchers were among the best in their respective leagues.  They were both the aces of their staffs.  I believe that if these 2 pitchers had switched cities, Warneke would be in the Hall of Fame and Gomez might be on the outside looking in.


(Don Loveless lives on the East Coast but is a Chicago native.  An expert on the Cubs and White Sox, Don would be granted a Masters in Charlie Grimmology, if one existed.)


Posted in BASEBALL, Hall of Fame | Tagged: | 1 Comment »


Posted by athomeatfenway on May 5, 2009




Denny McLain with Eli Zaret.  Triumph Books.  2007.



Leigh Montville wrote that when Ted Williams was a kid in San Diego in the 30’s, he used to go to the movie theater with his pal, Joe Villarino.  Ted would go to the water fountain and wet his hands, return to his seat, do a loud KERCHOO ! and flick the water on the people seated in front of himself and Villarino.


 Unrestrained adolescent pranks and desires go right to the heart of who Denny McLain was — and may continue to be.

He couldn’t resist so many things.  Like making an easy buck.  Like a get rich quick scheme.  Like a basketball or football bet.  Like a bottle of Pepsi.  Like loaning his plane to drug dealers.  Like signing blank legal documents.  Like the lure of the media,  and attendant fame.

And he was wildly successful — at least three times.

McLain is a living, breathing Dow Jones Industrial.  He has roiled through personal bull and bear markets for all of his 64 years.  He has made piles of copious loot, only to set them afire every time.

Over and over.

He is one talented nut job.




This book was nothing like I expected.  I really didn’t know squat about Denny McLain the person. 

From afar, we know Denny was a roman candle.  In 4 years, he went from winning 2 Cy Youngs to being disgraced in an association with gamblers, and then retired 2 woeful season later.


He was brilliant.

He won 108 games in 5 years, 20 or more 3 times, between 1965 and 1969.

31-wins put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in Sept., 1968. 

He was repugnant.

18 months later, he was on the cover of S.I. again, this time for consorting with gamblers. 

He was making book on the side, which led to a large debt, which led to an alleged broken toe, which led to Denny pitching poorly down the stretch of the ’67 season. Detroit dropped from the pennant race, oiling the wheels for Boston.

In 1985, McLain was convicted of racketeering, loan-sharking and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

None of that is news.

What is striking is how he reveals himself as an aggressive, brutal story teller, with an eye for cleavage and a knack for whacking icons.

He paints Ted Williams, who managed him in Washington, as a self absorbed narcissist who was unable to relate to players because he couldn’t understand how mere mortals could not hit the baseball like he did.

“Williams desparately needed to be the center of the universe.  It always had to be in the papers…Ted said this…This is what Ted is thinking.”

“Obviously, Bob Short catered to his whims and allowed him to be this way with no recrimination.  Not only did Williams live for free at the Shoreham Hotel, but Short paid for his hookers, the best looking hookers in the league.”

“You couldn’t have gotten close to Ted  if you’d wanted to… the end of his career, my father-in-law, Lou Boudreau, played with Ted in Boston in ’51 and ’52.  Lou commiserated with me, saying of Ted, ‘He was a great hitter, but he never gave a shit about anybody but himself.’”.

He reveals Eddie Matthews as “a drunk, a bitter alcoholic”.

He rats out Kenny Holzman as “a degenerate gambler”, who needed no corruption whatsoever by Denny.

He says Mayo Smith drank so much that it usually took him three or four innings to sober and get his head into the game”.

He has splenty to say about ALL of his enemy combatants.

He names the names — and aims point blank.

To be fair, the sordid is  mixed with the fascinating. 

He explains that John Wyatt relied on Preperation H for his superb spitball. 

He confesses to plunking Boog Powell after Das Booger lined a screamer at McLain’s package, the high point of a 14-for-15 run that Powell was enjoying against Denny.

His accounting of the ’67 Pennant Race and his run to 31 wins the next year are r-i-v-e-t-i-n-g !

So is his retelling of his prison time.

The death of his daughter, Kristin, is heartbreaking.

 Rest In Peace, Kristin.


Denny never has been able to get enough.  He is frank about this, too.  Here is a passage from his chapter on the Press:

“I wanted the attention of writers so badly that I ‘d get depressed between starts because they weren’t in front of my locker.  I wanted to talk about anything and everything in grand fashion and be the center of attention.”



Denny repeatedly gave himself permission to do whatever he wished.  He took $160,000 from a manslaughter convict in exchange for helping him flee the U.S..   He flew cocaine across state lines for a fee.  He became a high stakes bookie.  He partnered with borderline lenders of last resort, charging 28% interest, squeezing the most desperate. 

Why ?”

“Again, my  ability to rationalize and justify the use of my plane while disregarding my participation and the consequences was typical for me.  The law calls it ‘deliberate indifference’……”

One might expect he would be anything but indifferent on the occasion of his 1985 conviction for loansharking, racketeering, cocaine possession and extortion..

The book  supports that:

“In those immediate and awful moments, I saw my family sobbing uncontrollably in the courtroom and I realized that my life as I had come to know it would never be the same.  My thrill seeking lifestyle had finally caught up with me.  I had destroyed my family and all I had stood for and accomplished in my life.  How would Sharon and the kids survive ?”


McLain’s sorry words resonate with sincerity.

He would serve his time in a hellish prison.

He would become truly repentant.

He would go back to jail in 1994 for stealing from a Pension Fund.

Call it John Belushi Syndrome, or whatever you wish.

The desire to have…..MORE….more fun, more money, more attention….is irresistible to Denny.



McLain chronicles his career and personal life with wit and clarity, telling jokes, outing jerks, while naming names. 

If you remember when Denny McLain was the most famous man in America, this book is for you.



Posted in BASEBALL BOOKS | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »