One of the hallmarks of each of the "golden eras" of Tigers baseball has been great pitching. While Denny McLain was the best starter on the 1968 championship team's roster, left-hander Mickey Lolich was the ace of the staff during the '60s and '70s. The club put together nine winning seasons in ten years from 1964 to 1973 with Lolich on the staff. He didn't quite put up the same eye-popping numbers that Hal Newhouser or Justin Verlander did, but his sustained success earned him the #12 spot in our countdown.
*Played for the New York Mets in 1976.
**Played for the San Diego Padres in 1978 to 1979.
Mickey Lolich was born on September 12, 1940 in Portland, Oregon. He was signed by the Tigers in 1958 and made his major league debut in 1963 as a 22 year old. He made 33 appearances and pitched 144 2/3 innings for the Tigers that year, allowing a 3.55 ERA. This was his only season in Detroit that Lolich didn't top at least 200 innings pitched.
Over the course of the next 12 seasons, Lolich was a rock in the middle of the Tigers' rotation. He averaged 37 starts and 268 innings per year while allowing a 3.45 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. His best two seasons came in back-to-back years in 1971 and 1972. Lolich won 47 games in a combined 86 starts, totaling a 2.73 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in a whopping 703 1/3 innings. He made the All-Star team and finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in both seasons.
Lolich's place on this countdown is significant because he's the first player who doesn't have much of a case to be in the Hall of Fame. He never won a Cy Young award in his career, and only made three All-Star teams. His numbers look great on the surface, but aren't particularly dazzling when compared with other pitchers of his generation. The late 1960s were arguably the most pitcher-friendly times in baseball history since the dead ball era, culminating in the pitching mound being lowered to its current height prior to the 1969 season.
That said, Lolich was still an above average pitcher throughout his career. He finished with an ERA- below 100* in 10 of his 13 seasons with the Tigers, and only once had an FIP- above 100. He was also extremely durable. His 3638 1/3 career innings rank eighth among all pitchers from 1960 to 1980, and he ranks 11th with 62.0 fWAR. He also still holds the AL record for most career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.
Naturally, his name is littered across the Tigers' pitching record books. Here is how he stacks up with other Tiger greats.
*ERA- and FIP- compare a pitcher's ERA and FIP, respectively, to their peers while adjusting for park factors. A 100 rating is considered to be league average, with lower scores indicating better performance.
Despite his long-term success, Lolich is most famous among Tigers fans for an eight-day stretch. In the 1968 World Series, Lolich tossed three complete game victories for the Tigers, including the decisive Game 7 on two days rest against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Lolich also hit the only home run of his career in Game 2 of that series, a 9-1 Tigers victory. Lolich was named the series MVP, and his feat of winning three games in one World Series was not matched until Randy Johnson did so in the 2001 World Series.