One of the most underrated hurlers in baseball history, Lolich was a strikeout machine for the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s and early ’70s. To say that he has failed to catch the eye of Hall of Fame voters would be the first time Lolich has failed to go unnoticed – what with his C.C. Sabathia build and all – but the stout lefty has, for whatever reason, been neglected by the voters.
Lolich exploded on the baseball scene in 1964, posting 18 wins while fanning 192 batters. Unlike most strikeout artists, Mickey knew where he was throwing the ball. Of all the 190+ strikeout pitchers in the AL during the ’64 season, Lolich had the best control, issuing 0.276 walks per inning. The following year, Mickey finished second in the AL, behind flamethrower Sudden Sam McDowell with 226 strikeouts. However, Lolich’s strikeout to walk ratio was 3.139 to 1 while Sudden Sam’s was 2.462 to 1. So, Lolich may not have fanned as many batters as McDowell, but he let on far fewer with the free pass.
In 1967, Mickey paced the AL with six shutouts and teamed with flaky Denny McLain to guide the Tigers to the 1968 World Series. The Fall Classic was billed as the McLain vs. Bob Gibson bout, but ended up being the Lolich vs. Gibson heavyweight matchup. The two flourished throughout the series and then met up face to face in Game 7. Lolich was working on less rest than the Hall of Fame Redbird but still outpitched Gibby and brought the title to Detroit.
Mickey built off his World Series success by posting 19 wins in 1969, but again, he finished second in the strikeout department to Sudden Sam McDowell with 271 strikeouts. His 230 strikeouts in 1970 were again good for only second best as Sudden Sam eclipsed him again. But his finest season came in 1971, when he paced the AL in wins, games started, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. Mickey notched 308 strikeouts – finally topping Cleveland’s fireball artist. Lolich posted a 25-14 record in 1971 and tossed 376 innings – the most innings tossed in a single season since Grover Cleveland Alexander threw 388 innings in 1917.
Following up a 25 win 370+ inning season would be an ardous task for anyone, but Mickey flourished again in 1972. He won 22 games and finished second in the strikeout department to California’s young star Nolan Ryan. However, just like Lolich owned Sudden Sam McDowell in the accuracy, Mickey owned The Ryan Express. Mickey’s strikeout to walk ratio was 3.38 to 1 while Nolan’s was 2.09 to 1. Lolich also carried the Tigers to an ALCS mathcup with the Athletics, posting a microscopic ERA of 1.42 in a losing effort to Oakland.
Even with many innings logged in his left wing, Mickey still was the Tigers go-to guy in 1973: leading the club in strikeouts, innings, complete games and shutouts. He followed that up with 202 strikeouts in 1974 and also completed 19 games in 1975. Pitching with the ironman resolve of Deadball Era pitchers like Alexander and Big Ed Walsh finally caught up with Mickey and he retired in 1977. However, he made a comeback attempt in 1978 with the San Diego Padres, posting a brilliant 1.54 ERA out of the Friar’s pen. Mickey retired for good after the 1979 season.
Mickey Lolich’s career stats: W 217/L 191/PCT .532/G 586/CG 195/IP 3,640/H 3,366/BB 1,099/SO 2,832/SHO 41/ERA 3.44