Robertson finds model in Lolich
Lefty shares more than No. 29 with former World Series hero
The last time the Tigers met the Cardinals in the World Series, a left-handed starting pitcher wearing No. 29 was critical to their success. In the 2006 Fall Classic, Nate Robertson hopes to repeat history.
In 1968, Tigers southpaw Mickey Lolich emerged from the shadow of 31-game-winning teammate Denny McLain and menacing mound opponent Bob Gibson to steal the spotlight. He won three games, including Game 7 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Lolich, who wore No. 29 during his 13 seasons with Detroit, was a gritty pitcher with a round belly who described himself as the "beer drinker's idol." With a whip-like fastball, he mowed down the Cardinals in the Series, refusing to be defeated. He sees similarities between himself and Robertson, who now wears the same number for the Tigers.
"I like [Nate] Robertson because he's sort of like I was -- a bulldog pitcher. I respect what he's done this year."
Lolich also notices another similarity.
"When I met him [earlier this season], I told him I wore No. 29 and it seemed like I was always in games that were 2-1 or 3-2. I was one of those guys that didn't get many runs. Now, he's been pitching when the team doesn't seem to score a lot of runs. I said, 'Maybe it's the number.'"
When Lolich jokingly suggested that Robertson should switch his number to switch his luck, Nate offered a good reason to keep it.
"He told me he got that number this spring when [the Tigers] signed Kenny Rogers," Lolich explained. "Rogers asked Nate for his number (No. 37), and he agreed. They asked Nate what new number he wanted, and he asked for No. 29. He told me it was because his dad played ball when he was younger and he was pretty good, and he always wore No. 29. That's a pretty good reason to wear it."
Wearing No. 29, Robertson enjoyed his finest season in 2006, winning a career-high 13 games and posting a 3.84 ERA. In addition to his pitching, Robertson has gained attention for his rally-starting "Gum Time" ritual of packing his mouth with bubble gum, which has spread from the dugout to the fans.
"It's just fun to see how people, more than anything, they're taking something as innocent as chewing some bubble gum, something that's been around baseball obviously a long time, and tying it into a success story in Detroit and having fun with it," Robertson wrote on his blog this summer.
Whichever number adorns the back of Robertson's jersey, Lolich will be rooting for him during the World Series.
"I grew up with the Tigers. I spent 17 seasons in their organization, and I'll always be a Tiger."
Lolich, who now resides part-time in Michigan and in his native Oregon, won 207 games in his big-league career, and he struck out more batters than any other left-hander in American League history -- 2,679 -- a mark that has stood for more than three decades. Once again, his name is on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot, making him one of just 27 players under consideration for induction in 2007.
When he looks back on his career, Lolich is proud of having been part of a solid Tigers organization, and he's excited that they're back.
"When I came up with them, the Tigers were so respectable for such a long time. Wherever we traveled, people appreciated the Tigers. The fans would applaud when we took the field. They always fielded a good team, through the 1960s, into the 1970s and again from the late 1970s and all through the 1980s.
"That jewel that we all knew as Tigers baseball is back, and they're winning ballgames. For such a long time, all anybody would say to me was, 'What's wrong with the Tigers?' Now they say, 'How about the Tigers!'"
Dan Holmes is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.