Thursday, April 28, 2005

Iron Man, Rubber Arm: Lolich's '71 Season Last Of Its Kind

Lolich flinging that rubber arm

The Mick would never do it, so I will. He would never look at disdain at the pitchers of today, who thrust their chests in pride if they toss 200 innings in a season. He would never denigrate the managers of those pitchers, who like to partition the game into two parts -- the first six innings (starting pitcher) and the other three (setup man and closer). He would never call attention to himself, and in particular his 1971 season, which has pitching numbers so huge, it looks like somebody of today's two seasons combined.

"The Mick" is Mickey Lolich, and before he hung up his spikes and finally rested his arm so he could make money in the doughnut business, Lolich was about as reliable of a starter as you can get. They said he had a "rubber arm", but even rubber will wear out eventually, won't it? Lolich didn't just take the ball every fifth day -- he took it every fourth, and, if the situation called for it, like a certain World Series that we will discuss later, every third.

I could go on and on -- just as Lolich's arm itself -- about Mickey's iron man status, but let's cut to the chase, alright? Let's just look at the 1971 season, a year in which if Lolich was a car, he'd have been driven, oh, 300,000 miles. And I'm only exaggerating slightly.

In '71, Lolich started 45 games. To save you the math, that's one start every 3.6 games. Or, to put it another way, only 32 innings of ball would go by between Lolich starts. Not impressed yet? Today's "workhorses" preen if they start 33-35 games, and their managers gaze at them lovingly if they do.

In '71, Lolich completed 29 games. That's right. The man started and finished almost as many games as today's aces start and leave for someone else by the 7th inning. Still not impressed? Well, those 29 games equate to at least 261 innings by themselves (there were no doubt a couple 10 and 11 inning efforts in there). If a guy throws 261 innings nowadays, he's the second coming of Cy Young -- or Mickey Lolich.

In '71, Lolich threw 376 innings. Mommy! So in his 45 starts, Lolich lasted an average of 8.4 innings. Can you imagine giving a fellow the ball today every 3.6 games, and knowing that he's good until there's one out in the ninth -- on a freaking average!?

Okay, so why did Lolich pitch so much and last so long every time he took the hill, especially in 1971?

Well, there was the ERA in '71 -- a tidy 2.92. So now we got a guy who will usually take you into the ninth inning and only give up about three runs in the process. You think he ain't gonna win a few games that way? And win he did -- 25 times. And oh yeah, he gave up an average of eight hits per nine innings, while walking just 2.3 and striking out 7.3.

And they don't call the best pitcher the Mickey Lolich Award winner?

The ironic thing is, Lolich didn't win the Cy Young Award in 1971. That honor went to Vida Blue and his 24-8 record and 1.82 ERA. I guess........

Just to show you that I am not simply plucking one awesome season out of a career filled with average ones, here's Lolich's stretch of innings pitched from 1969-1974:

'69: 281
'70: 273
'71: 376
'72: 327
'73: 309
'74: 308 (for Lolich's complete record, click )

That's six seasons, 1874 innings. That means Mickey Lolich, by himself, threw 208 nine-inning games, or almost 35 a year, for six years. He should have been sued by the bullpen for lack of work.

Never did someone
do so much to earn champagne

Now, about that 1968 World Series. The Tigers were thought to be led by Denny McLain, with his sparkling 31-6 record. But McLain struggled in the Series, and Lolich swooped in, like Superman, and saved the day. He started three games, finished them all, and won them all. And to cement the legend, Lolich started Game 7 against Bob Gibson -- on two days rest. Gibson had never lost a Game 7. He was thought to be a lock. And Lolich matched him, pitch for pitch, until Gibson blinked and Curt Flood slipped, and before you knew it, the Tigers were champions.

If you check the record book, no pitcher has had anywhere near the type of iron man season as Lolich racked up in 1971. And you know what? No one ever will.

I think he earned a few doughnuts, don't ya think?

A rarity:
Lolich NOT pitching

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