DETROIT -- The first question that comes up with most players once they become eligible for the Hall of Fame is whether they've won a World Series. One Tiger can only wish that was the primary criteria.
Not only did Mickey Lolich win a World Series, he won it about as close to single-handedly as a pitcher can get. All three of his victories in the 1968 Fall Classic were complete-game wins, including a Game 7 classic in which he matched zeroes with, and eventually outpitched, the great Bob Gibson on two days' rest. The lasting image of his career will be his leap into catcher Bill Freehan's arms following the final out.
But there was more to Lolich's career than one magical week in October more than 30 years ago. After his World Series glory, he won 20 games in consecutive seasons and posted three straight 300-inning campaigns. No Tigers pitcher has more career strikeouts. He still owns the American League record for career strikeouts by a left-hander -- though Randy Johnson's return to the AL could threaten that -- and his 2,832 strikeouts trail only the Big Unit and Steve Carlton among southpaws in any league.
click player names for full bios:
Dick Allen (1963-77)
Bobby Bonds (1968-81)
Ken Boyer (1955-69)
Rocky Colavito (1955-68)
Wes Ferrell (1927-41)
Curt Flood (1956-69, 71)
Joe Gordon (1938-50)
Gil Hodges (1943, 1947-63)
Elston Howard (1955-68)
Jim Kaat (1959-83)
Mickey Lolich (1963-79)
Sparky Lyle (1967-82)
Marty Marion (1940-50, 52-53)
Roger Maris (1957-68)
Carl Mays (1915-29)
(1949, 1951-64, 76, 80)
Thurman Munson (1969-79)
Tony Oliva (1962-76)
Vada Pinson (1958-75)
Ron Santo (1960-74)
Luis Tiant (1964-82)
Joe Torre (1960-77)
Smoky Joe Wood
Maury Wills (1959-72)
Still, in 15 years on the BBWAA ballot and after multiple times before baseball's Veterans Committee, Lolich has never approached the vote tallies needed for induction to the Hall. His next chance comes up soon, but he is a long shot at best.
That doesn't mean he lacks supporters.
"I think he deserves to be in," said Hall of Fame Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell the last time Lolich was up for consideration, two years ago. "I think he was one of the most durable left-handers of his era. He racked up all those innings in certain seasons. He was a consistent winner in big games, including the World Series."
But as Harwell pointed out back then -- and it still rings true today -- Lolich wasn't the big-name pitcher on those Tigers teams of the late 1960s. That honor belonged to 30-game winner and flamboyant personality Denny McLain, though Lolich's love for riding motorcycles and playing drums was almost as outrageous.
While McLain was racking up his incredible win totals, Lolich was on the brink of 20, falling three short in 1968 and one in 1969. He missed out on Cy Young Awards in the years he did win 20, thanks to a breakout performance from Oakland's Vida Blue and a 24-win season from Cleveland's Gaylord Perry.
Just two members of the 1968 Tigers have been inducted into the Hall of Fame -- outfielder Al Kaline and pinch-hitter Eddie Mathews.
Also up for consideration by the Veterans Committee is Rocky Colavito, whose career as a fan favorite included four powerful years at Tiger Stadium. Colavito went to the Tigers before the 1960 season in exchange for league batting champion Harvey Kuenn in a swap of outfielders. Colavito homered against Cleveland in his first Tigers at-bat and hammered away from there. He slugged 45 home runs, drove in 140 runs and walked 113 times in 1961.
Though he was one of the fastest hitters to reach 300 home runs, Colavito ended his career with 374, a factor that has worked against him in Hall of Fame balloting. His eligibility on the writers' ballot lasted merely two years, earning him two votes in 1974 and one in 1975.
"He was a great home run hitter and he was a big RBI man," said Harwell in 2002. "And he was very popular, very personable. He was a fan favorite. But when a guy's a fan favorite, it doesn't mean he's a favorite of the writers. That extra quality doesn't seem to show in his stats. I think that's probably what's happened with Rocky."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.