Edson: The Best Trade The Tigers NEVER Made
It was October, 1966 and the Detroit Tigers were finishing up an odd but successful season.
They finished a respectable third in the American League with an 88-74 record. But they had employed three managers – Charlie Dressen, Bob Swift and Frank Skaff – and two of them died.
Adding to the misery of that otherwise strong season was the disappointing finish of young Tigers lefthander Mickey Lolich.
He was so bad, in fact, that a Traverse City radio station and many other fans around the state had started petitions to have Lolich traded.
Lolich had a 14-14 record in 1966 but his earned run average was a shockingly high 4.78. This is back in the day when league leading ERA’s were around 2.30.
Just to give you an example of his struggles: During a stretch in June he pitched 22 innings and gave up 29 hits and 16 runs.
During another stretch in July, he had two quality starts. But in his other four appearances he pitched 22 innings and gave up 19 runs.
And during September, when the Tigers were making a pennant drive, Lolich went 1-5 with a 4.81 ERA. Tigers management and fans were frustrated.
In later years, general manager Jim Campbell admitted he tried to trade Lolich.
“But I didn’t get any fair offers for him,” he said. “Lefthanders always carry a premium. And even though he struggled, we knew Mickey was a way better pitcher.”
So the Tigers turned down a couple of offers and stuck with Lolich. It was the best trade they NEVER made.
Two years later, on Oct. 10, 1968, Mickey Lolich was the toast of the baseball world.
He pitched three complete game World Series victories – the last pitcher to do so – as the Tigers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win in seven games.
To cap it off, Lolich defied all odds by beating the unbeatable Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals in an exciting Game 7, 4-1.
On that day of Oct. 10, I was in ninth grade and taking part in football practice during Game 7. Back in those days, World Series games were played during the day.
I figured being at practice was the perfect place for me that day, since I didn’t want to have my heart broken by Bob Gibson, who was the MVP of the 1964 and 1967 World Series wins for the Cardinals.
So as I trudged back into the locker room after practice, I expected to get the news that the Tigers had lost. Instead, one of the managers ran up to me excitedly and said the Tigers had won the World Series.
Looking back, I think that was one of the happiest days of my life. My teammates and I let out a big cheer and when I got home from practice my mom and dad greeted me at the door. They knew how much I wanted my Tigers to win the World Series.
Lolich’s performance was a lesson in patience.
In 1966, at the end of the season, he could do nothing right.
1968, at the end of the season, he could nothing wrong.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.