Denny McLain: No shot at 30 wins today

Denny McLain was very succinct with his description of how he would have pitched the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. But in few words the last 30-game winner in Major League Baseball said about his approach, he spoke volumes about the difference in baseball from his playing days.

“Nothing but fastballs in,” McLain said. “Just fastballs, fastballs, fastballs and if he ever hits one, you knock him on his ass.”

McLain, who still lives in the Detroit area, spoke Monday night about a number of topics at the Genetti Hotel, including just how much the game has changed since he won 31 games for the Tigers in 1968. McLain made his second appearance in Williamsport since August during the seventh annual Williamsport Crosscutters Hot Stove Banquet last night and left the Ballroom full of Phillies and Crosscutters fans in stitches with his one-liners and stories from his career.

But prior to the banquet, McLain took the opportunity to expound on his lack of surprise to see Cabrera win the American League Triple Crown, the Tigers’ run to the World Series and how he’d pitch the reigning MVP.

“You can’t give a hitter the inside and outside part of the plate. He has to give you one of them,” McLain said. “If you don’t give me one of them, I’m going to hit you. But they don’t do that enough today. They don’t pitch inside enough today.”

McLain comes from an era of baseball in which the mound was higher, home runs weren’t hit with the frequency of a blink, and the players could police the game on the field. McLain comes from an era where he made just $30,000 to win 31 games and be named the American League Cy Young winner and MVP in 1968.

He compares the game now to the one he knows so well because he played in it. But he’s not afraid to admit when he’s witnessing greatness. Miguel Cabrera is greatness to Denny McLain.

“He’s the most intimidating factor I’ve seen in the game since the late 60s,” McLain said. “He is literally a kid who could play in any era.”

So when Cabrera became the game’s first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski 1967, it wasn’t that big a surprise to McLain. He sees Cabrera as the only player in Major League Baseball with the abilities to do something like win a Triple Crown.

“I don’t know who else you would even consider for a Triple Crown. In the American League, I can’t think of anyone,” McLain said. “I know (Mike Trout) got on a streak there for a while, but with being a rookie and all the pressures of the outside world, I don’t think anybody would think he’d win a Triple Crown. Cabrera could go to the Grand Canyon and hit .330. I just don’t think there’s anybody who is on super dominant player (in the National League). Not like Cabrera.

“Al Kaline calls him the best hitter he’s ever seen since the ’60s. That’s a pretty good endorsement.”

McLain also took the opportunity talk about what is wrong with pitching in today’s game. He said 50 percent of the pitchers in the league are probably AAA pitchers at best.

He said he would have had no chance to win 30 games had he been pitching in today’s game. He pitched in a time where pitchers threw every four days instead of every five like it is today. He came from a time when organizations endorsed players taking multiple shots of cortisone in order to stay on the field.

McLain said that between 1968 and 1969, when he went a combined 55-15 and threw 661 innings, he took 43 injections of cortisone to be able to pitch through pain.

“Would I have traded 31 wins for a career where you make $250 million? Even I would say yes,” McLain said. “You’ve got to be the biggest dummy in the world to say no. All (Tigers pitcher Justin) Verlander has to do is go throw six or seven innings and then he’s making $25 million a year. Pitch a couple hundred innings, get $2 million a month. That buys a lot of TV sets.”

But McLain can’t imagine only having been asked to throw six innings per start when he was in the midst of his best seasons. He twice threw more than 300 innings in a season and averaged 8.1 and 7.7 innings per appearance in those two seasons. He said for multi-million dollar contracts, he’d expect today’s pitchers to be able to throw more.

“Kids today can run five miles and they can run a mile in four minutes, but they’re not in shape to pitch,” McLain said. “It’s one thing to be able to lift 500 pounds, it’s another thing to be able to throw a fastball across the plate for a strike with something on it with movement. You see these guys and they’re built like Sherman tanks. It’s wonderful to be in shape, and I’m no specimen for being in shape, but if I wanted to get in shape, I pitched. That’s how we got in shape.”