How we remember him: As a mainstay in the Tiger’s middle infield throughout the 1960s, the three-time All-Star was a hard nosed player who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” after charging the mound in 1968 to fight White Sox hurler Tommy John. In that World Championship season, he led the American League in runs scored with 95 and tied a Major League record by going the entire year without hitting into a double play. His unorthodox wide open batting stance of leaning back in the box with the front foot “in the bucket” and the bat cocked at his head was often imitated by his many young fans on the playground. Rare among middle infielders of his day, McAuliffe also had power and finished among Detroit’s all-time top ten in five offensive categories upon retiring.
After the Tigers: After playing 14 years with the Tigers (1960-1973) McAuliffe was traded to Boston for Ben Oglivie where he finished his career over two seasons. He then ran baseball schools in his native Connecticut before operating a highly successful coin operated washing machine business. At age 45 McAuliffe retired from business.
Today: McAuliffe, 69, enjoys playing golf and participates in Pro-Am and charity tournaments. A former scratch golfer, the natural left handed swinger plays golf right handed with a cross handed grip.
On why he used an unorthodox batting stance: “In the minors I had a hard time adjusting to the velocity and I hit everything to left field so they were flooding me on the left side. My coach Wayne Blackburn had me open up my hips and lean back so I could hit the ball where it was pitched and not over stride. At first it was difficult to balance but once I got used to sitting back and then pivoting it was no problem.”
On why his golf swing is also unorthodox: “I caddied as a kid and on Mondays we could play. Being left handed I had never seen a left handed golfer or a left handed club. I had to play with right handed clubs but I still gripped it left handed but just brought it over to the right side. I just got used to it and was pretty good. I can still drive about 280 yards and I used to be a scratch golfer..
On his celebrated skirmish with Tommy John in 1968: “In the first inning I got a hit and scored from second on Kaline’s hit. I was a pest on the bases and I scored a lot of runs. Tommy John was a sinker slider low ball pitcher but my next time up he threw two right at my head. On 3 and 2 I was looking for a good pitch to hit but he threw a ball over my head to the backstop. I am sure it came from his manager Eddie Stanky. I wasn’t going to charge the mound but I dusted myself off and glanced at him when I was trotting to first. When he took two steps in to get a new ball he said ‘what are you looking at?’ with a four letter word. All I saw were stars and I ran out to the mound. As I charged he lowered himself into me and broke his collarbone.
On winning the 1968 World Championship: “We knew we should have won in ’67. We lost the pennant on the last day but we were determined to win it all the next year. I’ll never forget Eddie Stanky saying if he had our club we would have won by twelve games. I loved Mayo Smith (Tiger manager), he had a great personality and guys liked him but he wasn’t the best manager in the world. I had the most fun in baseball in ’68 because the guys all clicked on and off the field. Everybody played as a team and it was wonderful.”
On his aggressive style of play: “I always played hard and was very determined, something I learned from my high school coach Leo Pinsky who was very tough and a hustle, hustle coach. Through my father I was a Yankee fan at an early age and Phil Rizzuto was my idol, a scrappy little player and a damned good one. What carried me through my long career was having determination and desire.”
On his trade to Boston after the 1973 season: “Towards the end of the season I had it out with Jim Campbell and told him ‘you guys never treated me fair financially.’ I was half way down the payroll and there were guys making more money who hadn’t been there as long as I had. I knew I didn’t have too much left but I wanted to get a little bit of a reward. He said, ‘no, that’s not our policy.’ I told Campbell I wouldn’t be back next year. I wanted to finish my career in Detroit and would have if Campbell had come through. He later called me and asked if I wanted to go to Boston which was closer to my home and I said fine. I just wish I had finished my career with the Tigers.”
On baseball today: “I think there are too many teams with watered down talent, some of whom should be playing in Double A or Triple A. The infield play is fine but the outfield play stinks. These guys don’t even know how to catch the ball and get rid of it to make a play at the plate. Their body is not closed to begin with and they wind up and take a couple of crow hops before they throw. I follow the game a little more now that the Tigers are successful again. I think they are going to be a contender for the next several years.”
On participating in the closing ceremonies at Tiger Stadium in 1999: “Being there again was wonderful but you hated to see such a great stadium be retired. But you know, life has to go on. To me there was nothing like Tiger Stadium, and those Detroit fans, who were devoted and good people.”