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Fifty years ago, a Catholic kid from St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland took the baseball world by storm.
Mickey Lolich, a child of the Croatian community that peopled Slabtown, pitched and won three games for the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series win over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. The left-handed 1954 graduate of Cathedral School and Lincoln High School threw on short rest, winning Game 7 over legendary St. Louis flamethrower Bob Gibson.
Boys across America began mimicking Lolich’s windup, fluid but with stiff arms raised over the head before delivery.
“The Detroit Tigers and Mickey Lolich and his men brought a Hollywood movie finish to the World Series,” Sentinel writer Herb Larson wrote that fall.
Lolich threw 435 pitches in three games over seven days, a feat that now seems mythic, given the use of relief pitchers in the major leagues.
“God gave me a great arm,” Lolich told John Furey, a Sentinel freelancer in 1998. Amazingly, Lolich never had shoulder or elbow trouble.
He was born right-handed but at age 2 broke his collarbone in a tricycle crash. His parents tied his right arm behind his back to force him to rehabilitate the injured left side.
Lolich was one of the disciples of Rocky Benevento, the Italian-American groundskeeper at Vaughn Street Ballpark in Portland. Little Mickey hounded Benevento to let him be a bat boy for the hometown Portland Beavers. The lad watched the ballplayers and learned.
After graduating from Cathedral, Lolich attended Columbia Prep in the fall of 1954 and pitched the squad to the state championship game, losing but achieving the best finish of any team in the school’s history. Columbia Prep shut down and he transferred to Lincoln. It was just as well for Lolich, who found the academics at Columbia Prep out of his league.
Meanwhile, his pitching led Portland teams to national youth baseball championships. During high school, Lolich was ready to sign with his favorite team, the New York Yankees, when his uncle spoke to another Slabtown legend, Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox. Pesky, born Paveskovich, told the uncle that the Tigers were in sore need of left-handed pitching and that signing with them would help Lolich get into the major leagues sooner. By 1964, he was a fixture in the Tigers rotation, where he would stay for 11 years.
As a child, Lolich had promised to play baseball and earn enough money to buy a brick house for his parents, Steve and Marge Lolich. Steve Lolich, longtime caretaker of Wallace Park in Northwest Portland, told his son to forget about buying houses and just play baseball. In the early ’60s, Lolich bought his parents a new Pontiac. Margie died in 2002 and Steve in 2008.
No pitcher has won three games in a World Series since 1968 and it happened only twice before then.
“I was going out and doing my job,” Lolich told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune last month. “I was only doing what I was supposed to do.”
After the memorable moment, Lolich continued to be a dominating pitcher. In 1971, he led the major leagues in wins (25), innings pitched (376) and strikeouts (308). He played 16 years, notching 217 wins. After retiring from the diamond, he bought and operated a doughnut business in Michigan for 18 years. He still lives near Detroit, is married and has three daughters.
Lolich this year co-authored a book about the 1968 World Series, “Joy in Tigertown.”
Watch the entire 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1968 world series here.