Denny McClain shares his thoughts on the Indians and more
Two-time Cy Young Award winner, 1968 AL MVP, and last 30-game winner in Major League Baseball Denny McLain has been many things in his life, but one thing he is unapologetic about is being outspoken. In a short seven minute conversation with him Sunday at Canal Park, I got the full experience of his brazen, honest look on the world of baseball.
McLain, who has been to 44 different cities lately on a tour meant to promote a reality show debuting after Thanksgiving, was not shy about speaking his mind on many issues of the day. When I mentioned the Stephen Strasburg imminent shutdown, McLain responded exactly how I expected someone who threw 661 innings between 1968 and 1969 to react.
“I don’t quite understand it,” McLain remarked. “A football player will go out and throw 500 passes at practice, a basketball player will shoot 1000 free throws, a hockey player will hit 1000 pucks trying to score, yet pitchers don’t pitch anymore? Makes no sense. How do you get better? Let me tell you how ‘smart’ these people are in Washington DC. Last year, the kid had to get surgery. Didn’t they see that coming? Didn’t they know he was going to get hurt? I mean, they make themselves out to be geniuses now, at 161 innings, he’s done, we’re sitting him down. I’ll guarantee you one thing: they may back him off, but they’ll never sit him down. If they sit him down, with the lead that they have in their division, people will ask for their ticket money back. Watch.”
I don’t fully agree with everything McLain had to say – I don’t think that anyone can accurately predict when a pitcher’s arm is going to blow out or that anyone knows the perfect combination of rest and pitching that will best protect a Tommy John arm from being reinjured – but if there’s one thing Denny McLain is, it’s blunt. After you’re done talking to him, you know exactly where he stands.
McLain also had sharp words for the Cleveland Indians’ organization. Any Tribe fan has been feeling awful lately (24 inning scoreless streaks will do that to you), but McLain accurately points out more reasons to be down on the Indians.
“My father-in-law is Lou Boudreau, one of the great Hall of Famers of all-time,” McLain stated. “[He] ran the Cleveland Indians from ’48 with that great pitching staff. He just always thought, the market being the size that it is, that in fact, the money wasn’t there. But you know what? Every club has got the money now. I mean, they split billions of dollars every year, just in merchandise away from the ballparks that are sold in other baseball parks. So there’s no excuse for not having a good team. I suspect that the biggest reason why a club continues to be so mired in the mud, as they say, is because the club does not spend the money in the right places, namely in the farm system. If you don’t develop them yourself, you will not develop a winner. And they need to get back to fundamental baseball; develop your own team in your own organization. Dictate who’s supposed to play where, and get the job done. But it’s been so long now. It really is a shame because this is one of the great franchises in the history of baseball. I don’t know who’s in charge of it, but they just can’t pick a good one. And if they do by chance pick a good one, they get rid of them.”
It’s true; the Indians have been downright terrible about developing their own talent lately. That is a huge part of their struggles this season and is a big reason that they may need to blow it all up and rebuild in the offseason.
The good news is that the Indians seem to be getting better at drafting and developing lately (see Kipnis, Pestano, and Allen to start), so maybe the Tribe will have another core like the teams of the ’90s had. They had better hope that’s the outcome, anyway, because McLain foresees a particularly nasty outcome for the Indians if they continue down this path.
“They sound so much like the Kansas City Royals,” McLain opined. “The Royals are one of those clubs that gets tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars every year because of the penalty that the other clubs have to pay them because they don’t win. And the bottom line is – this is the truth – they never use the money to develop a player. They use the money for their bottom line. So instead of showing something less than a monster profit with this money that they get in from the other clubs all of a sudden they show a $100 million profit. And there’s a club being run just for charitable purposes; that club’s not being run for profit. Charitable purposes and they can’t do it right.”
Luckily, on the minor league side of things, McLain is much happier with the state of affairs. He couldn’t stop raving about how beautiful Canal Park was and generally was amazed with the level of support baseball has across the nation.
“What’s been really impressive is the baseball teams in every city, how well they’re supported, the amount of money people have invested in the community with this,” McLain said. “The better parks are the ones that are in downtown, like Akron, where everybody who owns something downtown can certainly gain and enhance whatever products they have. They should mandate it; the ballparks should be mandated in the downtown area because if you get them out on the north side or south side of town, I’m not sure how much value they have.”
Getting past the politics of ballpark placement, McLain seems to be happy to be out on tour dealing with fans in different cities every day. He looked like a man comfortable with the way things have played out and warmly embraced the hundreds of autograph requests that came his way during the game.
“Yesterday we were in Altoona,” McLain said. “The day before, we were in Fort Myers. So everyday we’ve got a new city. It’s been great. The tour has been wonderful, the people have been wonderful, [and] they’ve come out in some terrific numbers.”
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If he was truly happy with the park in Akron, he should be gushing about Huntington Park.