The Year of the Pitcher was also the last Year of the Switcher. And Denny McLain, in the vernacular of 1968, was delighted to be groovin’ one for Mickey Mantle.
On, Sept. 19, the Yankee switch-hitter’s final appearance at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, McLain decided to help Mantle catch Jimmie Foxx for what then was the third spot on the MLB career home run list. Foxx had 535 and Mantle had 534 when he stepped in against McLain, who already had famously won his 30th game of the season and held a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of this one.
McLain told Newsday at Old-Timers Day in 2014 that Mantle was his idol so he called his catcher, Jim Price to the mound and said, “Let’s let him try to hit one out. Price looked at me and said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He needs one more. Let’s let him have a chance to do that. He can’t hit a six-run homer.’ ’’
McLain said Mantle initially didn’t believe the fix was in — and the Mick confirmed that numerous times in books and interviews — and took a room-service fastball right down the middle before realizing what was happening. Then he indicated with his hand where McLain should throw the next pitch. He fouled one off before drilling a home run into the rightfield seats. Fans, Tigers infielders and players on the bench gave No. 7 an ovation.
“I think we all had tears in our eyes,” McLain told Mantle biographer Jane Leavy in her book, “The Last Boy.” “Mickey Mantle represented the game of the 1960s right up to the day he retired.”
Mantle signed a ball for McLain after the game that read, “Denny, thanks for one of the great moments in my entire career, Mickey.”
Noted columnist Red Smith, writing for Women’s Wear Daily after the demise of his old paper, the Herald Tribune, delivered the best punch line: “When you’ve bought 534 drinks at the same saloon, you’re entitled to one on the house.”
Baseball commissioner William Eckert was not amused and sent McLain a scolding, scathing letter saying he had attacked the integrity of the game. No action was taken, however, but all parties were relieved when Mantle hit a legit home run, No. 536 and last of his career, the next day against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.