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DOWNFALL OF A HERO
Morton Sharnik
February 23, 1970
Poor, dumb Denny McLain, the star pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, was a partner in a bookmaking operation during the 1967 baseball season and became inextricably involved with mobsters. Now he is paying the terrible price
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February 23, 1970

Downfall Of A Hero

Poor, dumb Denny McLain, the star pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, was a partner in a bookmaking operation during the 1967 baseball season and became inextricably involved with mobsters. Now he is paying the terrible price

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On Aug. 4, 1967 a 4-year-old bay colt named Williamston Kid won the eighth race at Detroit Race Course and paid $21, $9 and $6.20. Although Williamston Kid had achieved a measure of fame by winning the Florida Derby on a disqualification the year before, this, his first 1967 start, was seemingly of little consequence—a six-furlong, $4,200 allowance race. However, the win set in motion forces that led to the violent death of one man; may have cost the Detroit Tigers the 1967 pennant; threaten the career of their star pitcher, Denny McLain; and test the integrity of major league baseball.

This sordid and tangled tale has been pieced together from information supplied by several law-enforcement agencies and by Lawrence A. Burns, the onetime Detroit Mafia and teamster lawyer, whose revelations last month led to the resignation of the newly appointed Cleveland police chief.

The man who eventually died as a result of Williamston Kid's three-length victory was Hubert Edward Voshen, 57, a two-handed bettor and the owner of the highly profitable Te-Khi Truck Stop at the intersection of 11 Mile Road and Interstate 94, east of Battle Creek, Mich. Voshen had wagered $8,000 on the horse—$2,000 to win, $5,000 to place, $1,000 to show. He should have won $46,600. Until the day he died, all he got was $1,000.

Voshen had placed his bet with Jigs Gazell, a bookie who operated out of the Shorthorn Steak House in Flint and a member of a local Syrian mob loosely allied with Detroit's Cosa Nostra. When Voshen went to collect his winnings, Gazell said he didn't have the cash but that he had partners. "Try them," he told Voshen. "They're the kind of guys who can come up with the money."

Among Gazell's partners in the handbook were at least one Syrian mob boss; Edwin K. Schober, then vice-president and marketing director of the merchandising division of Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., Inc., Detroit and now vice-president and general manager of Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., Inc., Mount Vernon, N.Y.; and Denny McLain. Schober and McLain had met the year before when Schober, hearing that McLain drank 25 Pepsis a day, hired him for a Pepsi-Cola management training program. A close relationship developed. McLain said in 1968, "For the last couple of years Schober's been just like my father."

McLain, in turn, had met the habitués of the Shorthorn when he was booked to play the organ there. Performing on the Hammond organ is one of McLain's more lucrative sidelines.

Early in 1967 Gazell and his Syrian cohorts made a deal with McLain, who, for good reason, is known to his teammates as Super Flake: if he would back the handbook with a few thousand dollars, they had the betting customers who would make him rich. McLain, who had previously been betting basketball and hockey with the Syrians—and losing—agreed and put up the money. Poor, dumb Denny—who is also known to his teammates as Dolphin because he is a fish as a gambler—was easy game. The money the bettors lost was taken by the Syrians. The payouts on winning bets came from the money McLain and fatherly Ed Schober invested.

It would appear that McLain and Schober went into the bookmaking business in February 1967. At about that time McLain obtained the first of several loans from the Citizens Commercial & Savings Bank, located across the street from the Shorthorn. Several thousand dollars of this money went into the handbook, which took action on various sports during the period McLain was affiliated with it. At this time he also opened a checking account at Citizens, which he often overdrew.

In August, when Jigs Gazell blithely told Voshen to see his partners, he neglected to tell him who they were. Gazell didn't reveal that information until a week or so later when, sick of being dunned by Voshen, he suggested they take a ride. Voshen assumed the purpose of the ride was to take him someplace to get his dough, but all Gazell came up with was $1,000. It was Gazell's intention to scare Voshen, and he did. He reminded Voshen of his connection with the Syrian mob, then, softening the threat, told him, "Go see the Pepsi-Cola guy, Schober. See Schober and Denny McLain."

Voshen, a tall, painfully thin man with gray hair and gold-rimmed glasses, who habitually wore a $150 sports coat and an expensive, open-neck sports shirt, called on Schober at his office. "The guy knew what I was after," Voshen said later. "You could tell that he was upset. He told me that he didn't know Gazell was taking such big action. He went on to explain that he didn't have the money to pay off a debt that size, but he would speak to his partners and see what they could come up with."

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