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FEBRUARY 2003 1969 Ford Thunderbird Tudor Landau
Owner: Denny McLain
Denny McLain and his 1969 Ford Thunderbird Tudor Landau with Sunroof

On September 27, 1968, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain was presented a brand new 1969 Ford Thunderbird Tudor Landau in recognition of his outstanding performance during the 1968 baseball season. With just one start to go at the time of the presentation, with the most recent game having been played on September 14, 1967, Denny had pitched 31 winning games and lost only 6. This fact made McLain the first major league pitcher to win 30 games since Dizzy Dean of the St. Louis Cadinals made everyone take notice back in 1934! The special Michigan license plate DM 31-6 (McLain's initials and his season score) made sure that this Thunderbird wasn't mistaken for just another luxury car on the streets of Detroit. Note the rare factory license plate frame on Denny's car.

The Thunderbird was presented to McLain by then-Ford Division head John B. Naughton. And Ford was very generous with their gift, too. This wasn't just your average standard production line T-Bird! It was fully loaded including the new for 1969 optional Power Sunroof, and Electric Rear Window Defroster. It is rumored that during this photo shoot, the car had to be restarted to close the headlamp covers, which featured internal springs to open them in case of vacuum system failure. This safety feature creates more than a few headaches for '69 Thunderbird devotees today, as they still don't want to stay shut! Sharp eyes will note that the covers are beginning to creep up again in the photo above.

The Tigers went on the win the 1968 World Series Championship, but the '68 season got off to a rocky start with Detroit fans booing him after he commented that they were "the world's worst." In spite of the way things began, the victories soon started stacking up. The historic 1968 season would see Mickey Mantle play his last game in Tiger Stadium, and pitching what would be his next-to-last career homer, passing Jimmie Foxx on the all-time home run list. McLain lost both championship starts in which he opposed the Cardinals' Bob Gibson, who had won 22 games and set a major league record with a 1.12 ERA. After two days of rest, McLain won Game Six, which opened the door for teammate Mickey Lolich to beat Gibson in the Seventh Game.

Denny McLain circa 1968McLain liked to drink Pepsi, and was said to consume 25 of them a day. He also enjoyed playing the organ in his spare time, something he would continue to enjoy in later life. McLain partied hard during the off-season, strutting around in a white Mink coat, appearing on television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, and for a time he even had a Las Vegas lounge act. In spite of his lifestyle he was awarded the Tiger's first $100,000 contract, which was followed by winning his second consecutive Cy Young Award (1968 and 1969). The good times would not last for long, however, as midway through the 1969 season, he didn't show up until the fourth inning of the All-Star Game, which made Tigers manager Mayo Smith furious. Smith had intended to have McLain start the game, but McLain couldn't be bothered, and didn't even stay until the game's end, leaving early in his private Cessna.

And if 1969 was bad, 1970 was worse. McLain was suspended for three months on April 1 by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, for a 1967 bookmaking incident. In August McLain filed for bankruptcy, and when asked about it, dumped ice water on members of the Detroit press. On September 9, 1970, McLain was suspended for the rest of the season by Commissioner Kuhn for gun possession. McLain's run with the Tigers ended on October 9th, when he was traded to the Washington Senators after a dismal 3-5, 4.65 season.

McLain didn't get along with Washington manager Ted Williams, and McLain lost 22 games in 1971. The 1972 season was spent in Oakland and Atlanta, but at the age of 28, McLain's fastball was gone, as was his money and his career. During the 1970s, McLain put on weight, and started several businesses, all of which failed.

In 1985, he was convicted of racketeering, extortion, and drug possession, but was granted a new trial when the court ruled he had not received a fair trial, and was released in 1989. Recently, he has been playing the organ in a Michigan bar. McLain's story is the typical one of a shining star that basked in the limelight for a brief time, later to be subjected to a life of hardship. Whether it was his own doing or not, Denny McLain's more recent misfortune in life doesn't change the fact that he was the star of the baseball world in 1968, and he lived the good life tooling around town in a spiffy new '69 Thunderbird, given to him as a gift by the Ford Motor Company.

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