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1) Lolich is not a beer drinker and 2) he is not left-handed.
Now for the facts. Lolich is overweight because that for him is being in good shape. He pitches left-handed because when he was a small boy a motorcycle fell on him and broke his left clavicle, forcing him thereafter to exercise the injured arm, which he still does. That is also why he rides motorcycles. That and because his mother told him he should stay away from them. By the same token, opposite side, he does not drink beer—except when he is very, very thirsty—because when he was young his father told him he could have one any time he felt like it. So he grew up not feeling like it.
Lest Lolich appear overly contrary, it should be explained that he has carefully nurtured a reputation for eccentricity that he once hoped would earn him the publicity an athlete of his stature merited. Alas, he has received comparatively little publicity, mainly because he has had the rotten luck to be upstaged by two more spectacular attention-getters. First there was Denny McLain, his former teammate on the Detroit Tigers, who had the bad taste to win 31 games the same year Lolich became a World Series hero. Now there is Oakland's Vida Blue, who also pitches left-handed and is virtually the only American League pitcher anybody hears about these days.
This understandably nettles Lolich, who has started more games than Blue and finished only one fewer, has nearly as many strikeouts, has pitched more innings and—most important of all—after Blue's 2-1 loss Friday could conceivably end the season with more victories, since he now trails by only one. And all this with a team that will probably win 15 fewer games than Blue's.
Lolich's sensational 1971 performance is in marked contrast to last year, when he led the American League in losses with 19. He should break the Detroit record for number of games started, which is 44 and was set by George Mullin in 1904. And he most likely will pitch more innings this year than anyone has since Bob Feller went 371 in 1946. With six more starts remaining—Lolich pitches every fourth day—he may even surpass Feller.
But the Cy Young Award for best pitcher in the league almost certainly will go to Blue.
"The publicity does it for you," Lolich says with resignation. "Nobody knows I'm around half the time. What if they should give the award to me? People would just look around and say, 'Who's he?' "
Lolich has learned to live with the knowledge that this is a Blue year. Blue is young and new: Lolich is almost 31 and has been around since 1963. Blue's team is miles out in front in the West Division; Lolich's is trying to maintain second place in the East. And anyway, playing second banana is not a new experience for Lolich. In 1968, when he won 17 games in the regular season and then proceeded to save the Series for the Tigers with three fine victories, McLain, the first 30-game winner in 34 years, was at the very top of his form on and off the field. Lolich's more modest achievements—on and off the field—were largely unrecognized.
Rumors of a feud between the two, given substance by Lolich's assertion that McLain was not exactly selfless, at least gave Lolich some reflected celebrity. Lolich now denies that any rift existed. They have always been good friends, he says. And when Lolich became a 20-game winner this year, for the first time, McLain wired congratulations. Still, as long as McLain remained in Detroit, Lolich played in the shadows. He is not, he insists, embittered by his life out of the sun. If anything, he now accepts anonymity with equanimity.