Even when he was inside, though, there were small blessings, such as the friends he made. The best was not even an inmate. He was Walt Olender, a delicatessen owner from Bayonne, N.J., an avid collector of baseball memorabilia. Olender started writing to McLain when he first went to prison, and they began exchanging letters once a week. Occasionally, McLain called Olender on the phone to chat. Though they'd never met, Olender felt a bond forming between them. "I wrote him for 2� years," says Olender. "I felt like I really knew this guy, like he was a close friend."
Olender often sent McLain $20 a week in spending money—"He was supporting me in prison!" Denny says—and last Christmas he sent Sharyn $1,500 to help tide her over.
But there were no blessings to match the one on that August day when the appeals court overturned his conviction. The event remains the most vivid in his life, bigger and more emotional than his 30th win in '68. A prison official called out to him, " McLain! Call your attorney. Right away!"
"My heart went through my head," he says. Levine told him he had won the appeal on all points. McLain broke down and wept. "I've got to call Sharyn," he said.
The blessing didn't end with the news of the appeal. When McLain needed someone to pledge $200,000 to bail him out while he awaited a possible retrial, he called Olender and said, understating the point more than a little, "I want to ask you a big favor." Olender flew to Tampa. Using his personal assets as collateral, he sprung a man he'd never met from prison and flew back to Bayonne on the next plane. To this day, he hasn't met McLain. The two of them have a deal, though: Olender is McLain's agent in booking appearances at baseball-card shows, and they were scheduled to finally meet at a show this month.
When Welker heard that McLain was out of prison, he approached him with the idea of playing the organ at Komets hockey games. "We needed to get some recognition," he says. McLain turned down the offer. "I'm not in the circus business anymore," he told Welker.
Instead, they worked out a deal: McLain would promote the Komets and help peddle Welker's alcohol-free wine cooler. Welker had no second thoughts about hiring McLain. "I think every man deserves a second chance," he says.
As it happens, McLain isn't out of the legal woods. The U.S. Attorney's office recently announced that it intends to try him again on the old charges. The retrial is set to begin on Jan. 4. On hearing this, McLain said, "When is enough enough?" Not yet, according to prosecutors. In fact, a guilty plea in exchange for a sentence of time served may be the best McLain can now hope for.
"I like going to the bathroom by myself without asking someone to leave the room."
Meanwhile, McLain has some catching up to do. He carried a lot of heavy baggage home from prison, and more than just the memories. He is laden with guilt about what he put his family through, and there is a kind of desperate edge to his voice when he talks about making things right again. "I'm sorry I didn't take care of Sharyn and the kids in the early years of the marriage," he says. "I'm trying to make up for it now. I'm going to do everything I can. But there's no way to get even, not after what I did to her."