The story behind Denny McLain can be no better told than by Bill Freehan (Never Touch a Superstar, March 2). Too often a team has failed to achieve excellence because of a superstar who thought he was more important than the rest of the team.
It happened for a few years to the Chicago Black Hawks with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita; and it is now happening to the Detroit Tigers with Denny McLain. Rare indeed are the stars who put themselves below the team so that the team as a whole can prosper. A few examples are Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the old New York Yankees and Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins.
Superstars can do a lot for their teams, for their sport and for sports as a whole. But people like Denny McLain do the game no good. Never touch a superstar, my foot.
HUNTINGTON F. WILLARD
Bill Freehan, catcher for the Detroit Tigers, has written a vivid and startling account of his 1969 season with teammate Denny McLain. Freehan points out how McLain had an extraordinary number of special privileges and many times was lucky on the mound. This could understandably make his teammates angry. It appears that some of McLain's special privileges included making bad business deals, as revealed by SI, Feb. 23 (Downfall of a Hero). When Freehan described how the Tigers had a "group therapy" session last Sept. 14, he stated that the Tigers wanted rules enforced and that all the players in attendance felt more mature. McLain wasn't at this meeting. I think Kuhn was right in suspending McLain. The Tigers are a better team despite losing a 20- to 30-game-winning pitcher.
Regarding the Denny McLain suspension, the diary of Detroit Catcher Bill Freehan is most revealing for it shows that McLain both took and was given privileges and leeway not accorded his teammates. Admittedly, a pitcher is not subject to the same handling as are infielders and outfielders, but there are certain rules and regulations to which he should be made to adhere. So, where there was undue permissiveness, others, quite unconsciously, are also culpable to a greater or lesser extent. But all that is the negative aspect of the matter. It is the positive side and the lesson learned from it that should be stressed. The McLain case should be used to impress upon everyone in the sports world, high and low, the imperative importance of the exercise of strict obedience to discipline, no matter what.
New York City
I think publishing the diary of Bill Freehan on the 1969 season and Denny McLain is really letting the people know what happened, and I say, more of it.
I salute you, SI, on your view concerning Denny McLain (SCORECARD, Feb. 23). As an elementary school physical education teacher I know the high regard in which these professional athletes are held by the young people of America. As soon as the McLain story broke, I was questioned by many of my pupils, some of whom are definitely earmarked for positions of leadership, concerning all aspects of the affair. Trying to honestly explain the situation to a youngster who lives just to see McLain pitch was a very difficult task indeed.
Many professional sports figures do so much to mould the character of "young America," but one scandal of this magnitude can and does destroy that good. America's most valuable resource by far is its youth. Professional athletes must accept their very large share of the responsibility for its safeguard.
BILL TSCHIRHART Jr.
Your article about Denny McLain in your March 2 issue was great, and Bill Freehan stated it like a pro. I was especially interested to learn about all the times McLain left the ball park after Manager Smith pulled him out of the game and went to fly his plane. (I smiled when I read that McLain was late for the All-Star Game because he had a dentist's appointment and Mel Stottlemyre started.) If I were Manager Smith, McLain would have been fined $100,000. I'm 11 years old, but I know a good article when I read one. Oh yeah, tell Bill Freehan thanks for writing the truth. It's about time.
Your addendum on the McLain affair (SCORECARD, March 2) is a wonderful job of scapegoating. Certainly McLain erred, and certainly no blame attaches to Kuhn or the investigators. However, they are not the only ones involved in this affair.