DENNY McLAIN: MORE FUN, MORE FAME, MORE TROUBLE
Posted by athomeatfenway on May 5, 2009
I TOLD YOU I WASN’T PERFECT
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.
GET IN THE GUTTER.
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…..at 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.
THE CENTER OF ATTENTION
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.”
A MAN WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY
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.
“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.