When he was on the mound, Tiger pitcher Mickey Lolich tried to keep things simple. “I could throw the ball hard,” Lolich said in a 2004 interview, “but I tried to put it over the plate. I wanted two of my first three pitches to be strikes. It was like ‘Here, hit it.'”
Few batters could hit Lolich that well, and many of them ended up taking the long walk back to the dugout having fanned against the southpaw hurler. In his career – all of three seasons of which were spent in a Tiger uniform – Mickey struck out 2,832 batters. That total ranks him 18th in baseball history. Lolich may be the most anonymous pitcher in the top 20 strikeout artists in baseball history – every pitcher ahead of him on the list who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been elected to that institution. Many fans may not realize that his mark of 2,679 strikeouts in the American League is a record for a left-handed pitcher. That’s right – no other “wrong-handed” pitcher has ever struck out as many batters in the Junior Circuit as Detroit’s Mickey Lolich.
It was only because of an accident that Lolich became a lefty at all. As a toddler, the curious Mickey poked his way around a motorcycle owned by a family member. The bike fell on the little Lolich and he broke his left arm and shoulder. When the cast came off he had to do exercises to strengthen the damaged arm and shoulder. As a result, little Mickey became a lefty.
As a lefty, Mickey stands atop some impressive pitchers in AL strikeout history. Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, Lefty Grove, Hal Newhouser, Whitey Ford – all Hall of Famers – none struck out as many batters as Lolich. Ditto Sam McDowell, Vida Blue, and Frank Tanana, hurlers known for mitt-stinging fastballs in their primes. Chuck Finley and Mark Langston, two tall southpaws who came up in the 1980s, each pitching for years and regularly fanning 200+ batters a year, neither of them eclipsed Lolich’s mark.
The biggest threat to Mickey’s record for AL whiffs was Randy Johnson. In 22 seasons, the “Big Unit” recorded 4,875 K’s, second behind only Nolan Ryan in baseball history and the most ever for a lefty. But luckily for Mickey’s AL record, Johnson was sent to the National League each time he came close to it. Johnson’s 2,545 strikeouts in the American league fell more than 100 shy of Mickey.
With 217 wins to his credit, two top three finishes in Cy Young Award voting, and those three unforgettable complete game victories in the 1968 World Series, Lolich built a resume that still gets attention. Four times he’s been considered by the Veterans Committee for election to the Hall of Fame. That came after spending 15 years on the baseball writer’s ballot.
Someday some pitcher may break Ol’ Mickey’s record, but until such a time, the Tiger legend keeps his perch atop the all-time list of strikeout hurlers in the league.