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STARTING OVER
William Nack
December 14, 1987
DENNY McLAIN, THE LAST PITCHER TO WIN 30 GAMES, IS OUT OF JAIL AND TRYING TO BUILD A NEW LIFE FOR HIMSELF
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December 14, 1987

Starting Over

DENNY McLAIN, THE LAST PITCHER TO WIN 30 GAMES, IS OUT OF JAIL AND TRYING TO BUILD A NEW LIFE FOR HIMSELF

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He told her, apologetically, "I just didn't realize what I was doing." She dropped the suit. Two years later, though, she left him and filed again. He had opened a bar in Atlanta called Gaffer's, and she figured that he was running around with other women. "Oh, the hours he was keeping, the people he was with," she says.

"I was abusive," Dennis admits, "not physically but emotionally, due to the way I was carrying on." One day, after he left for work, she and the children loaded a U-Haul with all the belongings from their Atlanta home and left. "I took everything," she says. "I don't know how I did it, and I don't know how I got home to Chicago."

When Denny finally reached her by phone, from Atlanta, he yelled, "You didn't even leave me a pillow!"

They were back together in six months, living in Atlanta again; they had agreed that Denny would sell Gaffer's. It was at this point that his meanderings through the 1970s began: He went from one enterprise to another, from one money problem to the next. He declared bankruptcy again in '77, after the Memphis Blues, the minor league baseball team of which he was general manager, ran aground financially. "I had overextended myself," he says. He lost more money on the big-screen TVs: "We wound up with a bad product."

In 1978 the McLains lost just about everything when a fire in their Lakeland, Fla., house destroyed their belongings, including his baseball mementos—bats and scrapbooks and the two Cy Young Award plaques—none of them insured. "It was my fault," Denny says. "I didn't pay the premium."

Broke, he turned to hustling golf in 1978, and because he was a scratch player, he actually made a good living at it. "I used to hit a thousand balls every day," he says. "Every once in a while a guy came by who thought he could really play. I took my act on the road, too. That's where the money is, down in Miami. I enjoyed playing. I enjoyed winning. I enjoyed giving a guy three or four shots a side and beating his brains out. I probably enjoyed that as much as pitching."

"I love sitting at home in front of my big-screen TV and changing channels all day long between games and movies."

McLain's most serious troubles began in 1981 when he quit golf hustling and joined First Fidelity Financial Services, Inc., in Tampa, a mortgage brokerage where he fell in with some fast shufflers. "Biggest mistake I ever made," he says. "Being associated with them, I began doing things in a manner in which they should not be done." According to prosecutors and several witnesses, that included demanding illegal kickbacks from customers seeking mortgages, loan-sharking and running a bookmaking operation out of one of the mortgage company's branch offices.

The pressure began to get to McLain. He ate excessively, and he was drinking heavily; his weight ballooned, and in 1981 he suffered a mild heart attack. "No matter what I said to him about his weight, he wouldn't listen," Sharyn says. "It was like he just didn't care."

In 1982, citing bookkeeping irregularities and fraud, the state of Florida closed down First Fidelity. Pressed for cash, McLain and a former colleague from the mortgage company became entangled in the cocaine trade, according to federal prosecutors. Still, his financial slide continued. He wrote bad checks, lost his Piper when he couldn't keep up the payments and saw his walk-in clinic business suffer after his indictment in March 1984. Thus began the chain of events that led to those nightmarish 30 months inside a cage.

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