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BISHER: Whatever happened to Denny McLain

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

Sometimes things pop into your head, and you wonder what has become of (The Name) and if the guy is still in prison. If he is loose and on the street again. If the herd of children he had a hand in producing managed to survive him, and move on in a life of their own.

What brings all this up is a newsprint I saw the other day, of an old decrepit joint downtown. When it opened it was called "Gaffer's," so anointed by its short-time proprietor, who, as it turned out, was just passing through town. You remember him. How could you forget Denny McLain, the man of exceptional talent but no direction? Last pitcher to win 30 games in a major league season.

In the shadow of Denny's career, Eddie Robinson, then general manager of the Braves, made a wild fling to bring the fading pitcher to town. Cost him $50,000 and Orlando Cepeda, whose career was glimmering in the fading light.

Worked out fine for Eddie. McLain made his debut in Braves clothes on a Fourth of July weekend, started and won wobbling through to the end. Fifty-three thousand fans paid to watch this, a one-game resurrection, and the deal paid for itself with a plump profit.

Denny won one more time, lost five times, but did finish the season here. Then, heavens to Betsy, was even invited to spring training, and that was the last time he pitched a ball in the major leagues. Then he decided it was time to launch his night club career. Ergo, "Gaffer's."

Since then, Denny McLain has drifted about like a rowboat in a storm. "Gaffer's" lasted about a month. He had often entertained during previous winters playing the organ in roadside motels and downtown bars. Not at "Gaffers." There, he was meeter, greeter and maItre d', a la Toots Shor.

But soon, the lights were dimmed, the "Gaffers" sign went dark and so did Denny McLain's night club career. His path led to prisons here and there, but his old pitching mate, Mickey Lolich carried on in his field, operating a doughnut shop. "One morning last week," one report read, "Mickey Lolich arose before dawn, went down to the shop to see that the doughnuts were properly prepared for the day."

Meanwhile in Tampa, Fla., a jury was chosen for Denny McLain's trial. Seven women and five men.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.