He fought the anguish and the boredom by taking part in sports, mostly tennis but even some baseball. He pitched six innings in a game one afternoon, gave up three runs and left with his arm throbbing. "I was in bed for two days after that," he says. "I felt like somebody had shot me with a howitzer."
What humor he saw in prison life was based on its absurdities: "I found it in the idiocies of the jobs we performed and in sitting there at four o'clock in the afternoon, grown men, watching cartoons."
When he wasn't mopping floors, he spent much of his spare time working on his appeal. "I can't imagine being in jail and giving up," he says. "To not fight is to accept what they're doing to you."
Hitting the books was his way of fighting. "I spent hundreds of hours in the prison library, poring over law books, trying to find cases that might have a bearing on mine," he says. Whenever he thought, he had something, he would phone Levine collect in Tampa to tell him. McLain made $3,000 worth of such calls. "He became a very good jailhouse lawyer," Levine says.
McLain had all the time he needed to think in prison, and at the end of his first year, he came to a crucial realization, the most important in his time inside: "All of a sudden you wake up one day, you look around and say, How in the hell did I get here? Then you have to admit to yourself: I put myself here. No one else. Now what am I going to do to get out? There comes a point when you finally admit to yourself, Hey, I've made some mistakes and I'm sorry. I'm genuinely sorry for what I did. Now please let me get on with the rest of my life."
"I like to sit with Sharyn and watch TV and do nothing. I like to just hold her hand."
During the years of his greatest success, McLain's marriage was unraveling, mainly because he ran around like a man who didn't expect to see 40. Indeed, his father and his father's father had both died at 36. "I thought I was going to be dead by 36, too," McLain says. "I thought I saw the end coming at the age of 24. I didn't think I had a chance, especially in the lane I was traveling. There have been some quiet years, but I don't remember one right now."
To be sure, 1970 was not one of them. As if the three suspensions weren't bad enough, he went bankrupt. "I was making $200,000 a year, easy," McLain says. "I thought we had so much money we could never run out of it."
The bankruptcy only added to the marital strife. "Our marriage at the time was bad," Sharyn says. "He was never home. He was always doing his own thing." She went along with it for a while. She was raised, after all, in a home from which the father was frequently gone, but the mother was never absent. "I thought that's what a good wife and mother was supposed to do, stay in the house and make sure the kids are O.K.," she says.
In 1970, while Denny was on a road trip, she decided she'd had enough and had divorce papers served on him at Yankee Stadium. "I didn't know what he was doing, but I knew that whatever it was, it didn't include me and the three kids," she says. "I was just tired. I was tired of raising the kids myself, tired of all the responsibilities. I wanted to shake him up. And it shook him up. It was maybe the first time in years that we talked."