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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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"Today I like just walking, taking the dog out at six in the morning and walking. And I like to open my own mail."
—DENNY MCLAIN

Denny McLain and his wife, Sharyn, drove together to the Humane Society animal shelter in Tampa on Oct. 16, thinking they might find a dog or cat to bring home. During their tour of the shelter, they drifted apart. After a while, Sharyn, wanting to go home, began looking about for her husband. She found him in the cat pound, talking to the cats. There were rows and rows of cages, and they were filled with screaming, crying cats, and he was telling them that he would be back one day to set them all free.

"Ready to go?" she asked him.

"We can't leave these cats in here," he told her.

She laughed, thinking he was joking, but he wasn't. "He was serious," Sharyn says. "He had this long, sad look on his face."

"They're all in cages," he told her. "You know what that's like? I know how they feel. This is not right!"

Sharyn grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out of the room. "Let's get out of here," she told him. "The people here will think you're insane."

"They were all bunched together," Denny says. "It was the same feeling I had when I was first locked up [in Seminole County Correctional Facility, in Sanford, Fla.]. It was like a holding tank. No individual cells. It was so cramped that you could hardly turn around without asking permission. Guys going to the bathroom right in front of you. You were totally violated. It's a degradation you can't understand until you've gone through it."

Coming upon those caged animals in Tampa moved McLain deeply because his own memories of the unforgettable pain of being caged were too fresh. The scene was too familiar. He left the animal shelter so shaken that six weeks later, recalling it, he still became agitated. "Seeing those cats, my God!" he said. "And I thought I was a big, tough guy. All of them were crying to get out of there. Me, too. That was me! Anytime you're behind bars, all you want to do is go home, no matter where home is."

On Sept. 4, to the cheers of fellow inmates wishing him well, Dennis Dale McLain, 43, walked out of the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Ala., where he had just finished serving almost as many months in prison (29�) as games he had won pitching (31) for the Detroit Tigers in 1968—the year he was the dominant player in baseball, the American League's Most Valuable Player and winner of its Cy Young Award. He had gone to jail on March 16, 1985, the day a jury of nine women and three men in U.S. District Court in Tampa found him guilty of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering (including loan-sharking), extortion and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it.

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