Our breakfast arrives, a two-fisted omelet for Lolich with a side order of jelly. Lolich pours a few spoons of sugar into his coffee. "I grew up staying with my grandparents a lot. They used to make old-fashioned coffee. You boil water, throw in the grounds and let it work for a while. You've got to cut it with a lot of milk and sugar."
Lolich's gut has been a blessing and a torment as far as fans are concerned. "I get ribbed a lot, particularly away from home, but it's easy to reverse that. Some guys go out to play on the road and nobody ever heard of them, even with their names right on their backs. I can put on my jacket and they still know who I am.
"Sometimes on the road I sprint along the outfield wall to stay loose, and I hear it start. They call me 'Jelly Belly," 'Whale Belly,' and anything else they can think of. I take it for a while, then I stop and walk over and say, 'Would you like me to pitch for your team? Would I be fat then?' "
There is one fan on the road who works unmercifully on Lolich. "I don't want to say what city it is, because I pitch so well against them, and I don't want them to remove this guy. He sits right behind the third-base dugout, and he's a real leather-lungs. He just keeps it up all afternoon. By the sixth inning, I'm hypnotized. It's like a chant, and I can really come down on those guys. I wish I could take that dummy everywhere."
But things can turn quickly against the fat athlete. Lolich was having a disappointing season the day we breakfasted, a 2-4 record. The letters were coming in from Tiger fans demanding the Stillman water diet for him, saying he should pay a fine if he was caught with a pizza in his hand. Lolich is steadfast in his response, and remains true to fattydom. Patting his gut, he said, "I think I'll just keep the tools I've got. And remember my watchword for this year: there are lots of skinny guys with bad arms."
Lolich mysteriously alluded to certain medical reasons for the size of his stomach. "It may have something to do with the way I breathe when I'm pitching," he hinted. But he finally had to add, "I asked the surgeons at Ford Hospital in Detroit what they would charge for a stomach amputation."
As for clothing, Lolich admitted that he sometimes succumbs to vanity like many fat men. "I wear a 38" waist, but sometimes I get a 36 for kicks. You've got to watch those double knits, though. Some of them are still like old pegged pants." Four years ago Lolich went to spring training at his normal weight of 220, but he pulled his pants up over his paunch. He usually wears his pants slung under his belly like a Southern auctioneer or a Little League umpire. Teammates were astounded, for it looked as though he had lost pounds. "After two weeks I put them down where they belonged, and when I showed up at the park, guys said, 'Damn, what did you do last night?' "
Lolich got bored with questions about his stomach. It was becoming a separate celebrity. So he put people off by claiming heredity. All the Loliches, he announced, had big bellies. But that story won't work anymore. His cousin Ron now plays for Cleveland. He is svelte. But Mickey pointed out, "The last couple of months Ronnie has been hitting .091. He's just got to fatten up and you'll see that average climb."
The secretaries and cowboys had dashed off to work. The only people abroad in coffee shops at 10 a.m. are ballplayers, writers and derelicts. Lolich and I worked out of the tiny booth.
As we said goodby, I realized that Lolich was almost the St. Francis of fat men. He is a sacrifice to the rest of the obese world of spectators. As he said, "When I'm out there pitching a Saturday game that is nationally televised, there is a fat guy in front of the set at home in his T shirt and shorts. He looks at me and says, 'See, Mabel, that guy's fat just like me. Now get me another beer, will ya!' "