Former Tribe Ace McLish Dies At 84
Cal McLish, in 1958.
Cal McLish, in 1958.
Indians Ink
Posted Aug 30, 2010


Former Indians right-hander Cal McLish died last week at age 84. McLish was a 19-game winner for the Tribe in 1959, then became one of the many players traded away by general manager Frank Lane before the 1960 season. Following is an article about the former pitcher that appeared in the October 2005 issue of Indians Ink Magazine:

By CHUCK MURR
INDIANS INK, October, 2005
Cal McLish enjoyed his four years in Cleveland -- except for the final two days.

"It's been 46 years and I'll never get over being angry about it," said McLish, now 79, about the end of the 1959 season.

"I wasn't angry at the time because I didn't know what was going on," said McLish, who went only 92-92 for seven teams in his career, but was a fine 46-27 for the Indians, including 19-8 when Cleveland finished second to the Chicago White Sox in 1959.

"It's the only time I ever got close to 20 and that's because we had a very good team that year," McLish said. "Anyway, it's the day before the season ends and Frank Lane, the general manager, comes over and asks me to give up my final turn on the last day so that Herb Score could get a chance to start.

"Well, Herbie was just the greatest kid in the world and I'd do anything to help him try to get his career back together. I was there in 1957 when he got hit in the eye and that's one of the saddest days of my life. Herbie didn't pitch much in 1958, then he came back in '59 and was inconsistent. I figured one start, even to win 20 games, wasn't going to kill me and it could really mean a lot to Herbie. So I said, 'Sure, I'll step aside.' "

McLish discovered three months later that the controversial Lane had a hidden agenda. "I found out from my good friend Hal Lebovitz (the long-time Cleveland sports writer) that Lane had already traded me to Cincinnati before the end of the season and didn't want it to look like he traded a 20-game winner," McLish said.

"It took them a couple months to put the whole thing together, but Lane never intended for me to be in Cleveland the next year anyway. He didn't want to risk me getting hurt in that one game, which would have scotched the deal.

"That idiot ruined baseball in Cleveland. We almost won the pennant in 1959 and by the start of next year, he had traded away half the team." McLish, second baseman Billy Martin and promising young first baseman Gordy Coleman went to the Reds for aging second baseman Johnny Temple. Popular Rocky Colavito, Minnie Minoso and even Score were among the many others dealt away that offseason.

"That was an exciting season, 1959, because we were right in the pennant race until the final week," McLish recalled. "We had some good young pitchers in Gary Bell, Jim Perry and Mudcat (Grant), Rocky led the league in homers (42, tied with Harmon Killebrew) and Minnie was still pretty good (hitting .302 with 21 homers and 92 RBI at age 36).

"I loved Cleveland, the town, the fans, my teammates. Baseball was never quite the same for me after what Lane did. I still liked to play the game, but I looked at things different. He took a hell of a lot of fun out of it."

McLish went on to pitch for the White Sox and Phillies until 1964. Since then, he has served in a variety of coaching roles for numerous teams the past 40 years.

There's a lot more to his long and storied career than his long and bitter memory of Lane, however.

Take his given name, for example. It's the longest in baseball history: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.

He has had to explain it all for more than 60 years since arriving on the major-league scene as an 18-year-old with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. Years later, he even had to explain it to his wife, who read a story about "the guy with all the names," in the newspaper.

"She never knew," he said. "I didn't think it was all that important. There were eight kids in my family, and my mom named them all except for me. I guess my dad figured he'd go all out when he got his chance. At least I'm remembered for something."

In addition to all those names, McLish also had a nickname: Bus. That came from pop, too. Cal was a large baby and the day he was born, dad reportedly said, "He's as a big as a bus!"

Part Choctaw and Cherokee Indian, McLish played at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. He grew up in Oklahoma listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio. In the fall of 1943, the Cardinals invited him to St. Louis for the World Series so that he could be introduced to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in order to settle a dispute as to who owned the rights to the young right-hander.

This was decades before baseball had an annual player draft. Back then, teams had hordes of scouts trying to sign prospects and both the Cardinals and Washington Senators thought they had McLish's name on the dotted line. In the Senators' case, there was a signature but no dotted line.

McLish explained to Landis how he and another young Oklahoma player had signed an agreement to go to Washington for two weeks and work out with the Senators, whose scout tried unsuccessfully to make a binding contract out of a napkin that had been signed by the boys.

Landis ruled they were not properly signed by any team, so the boys went on to attend a tryout camp staged by then-Dodger scout Tom Greenwade, who six years later would sign another Oklahoman for the Yankees. "You might have heard of him," said McLish. "A fellow by the name of Mickey Mantle."

McLish signed with the Dodgers while still a senior in high school for a whopping $1,500 bonus, not bothering to pay any attention to his actual salary. As he told author Russ Schneider in the book, Tribe Memories, The First Century, the youngster spent the first part of his career trying to get by on $150 a month. In New York City. Dodgers coach Charlie Dressen found out about it, went to the front office and got it changed to $150 a week.

With major-league rosters depleted by so many players serving in World War II, McLish left school a few weeks early and made his big-league debut on May 13, 1944, for the Dodgers. Two weeks later, he got his first win. He went 3-10 that year -- but it would be seven years until he got another victory in the majors.

He was dealt to the Pirates, then the Cubs, but spent two years in the military and pitched only a few games in the majors -- though he had one memorable 3-2 win over the Giants in 1951 for Chicago.

"Eddie Miksis hit this line drive out to center field and Willie Mays lost it in the sun or something," McLish recalled. "Hit Willie right in the head. It was an RBI double that won the game."

McLish spent four more years strictly in the minors, much of it with the Los Angeles Angels, then a Cubs farm team. He played the part of peacemaker in one of the ugliest baseball brawls in history on Aug. 2, 1953, when it took 50 Los Angeles policemen a half hour to separate the Angels and rival Hollywood Stars.

"Which one?" said McLish when asked about the fight. "We had three in two days with them. Worst I ever saw. Bodies all over the place." During his time in the minors, McLish threw a lot on the sidelines as a left-hander and even became a switch-pitcher for a few batters in games.

"It was a good idea, but pretty tough to do," he said. "Guys were always asking me to do it. Looking back, I had enough trouble throwing right-handed."

McLish finally made it back to the majors in 1956 with the Indians.

"I never really learned how to pitch until I got to Cleveland and Mel Harder showed me what to do," McLish. "What a tremendous pitching coach he was. Cleveland always had good pitchers and Mel was the reason. He turned Early Wynn from a hard thrower into a 300-game winner."

Used mostly in relief, McLish went 2-4 for Cleveland in 1956, followed by a 9-7 record in 42 games, including seven starts in 1957. Included was one surrealistic performance at Boston's Fenway Park on May 21, 1957. He walked Jackie Jensen and gave up homers to Gene Mauch, Ted Williams, Dick Gernert and Frank Malzone while getting only one out -- all in a span of 16 pitches.

Ironically, Mauch had been his rookie teammate with the Dodgers in 1944. McLish served as Mauch's pitching coach when Mauch managed the Phillies (1965-66) and Montreal Expos (1969-75). Harder's lessons started to pay off in 1958, when McLish went 16-8. Then came his only all-star season of 19-8 in 1959.

He applied those same lessons for years as a pitching coach, carrying on Harder's tradition. He has stayed active the past few years as a minor-league instructor for the Seattle Mariners.

Last year, he saw one of the Mariners' top prospects, Gil Meche, struggle aimlessly in a minor-league game. The right-hander had won 27 games over the previous three years for Seattle, but started 2004 with a 1-5 record and 7.06 ERA and was sent back down.

"I was determined to figure out what the heck was going wrong," McLish said. "He was walking five and six a game. I couldn't believe it." McLish took a page from own book, literally. He gave the youngster a pitching pamphlet he had written, detailing some of Harder's lessons mixed in with what McLish had learned over the years.

"Somebody had told Gil to pitch inside more, but that's asking too much of a power pitcher," McLish said. "You're asking pitchers to get hitters out by trying to hit a two-inch strip of the plate. You're not giving the pitcher a chance. A pitcher with Gil's stuff doesn't need to be perfect, he just needs to get ahead in the count, then use his changeup.

"The essence of pitching is destroying the hitter's timing."

You could almost see the bespectacled Harder saying the exact same thing 50 years ago to 20-game winners like Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and Score. And a journeyman who won 19 under his tutelege.

Meche won three straight in the minors, then won six of his next seven decisions with the Mariners, including a five-hit shutout of Boston. He credited McLish for the turnaround. "The pamphlet is based on the logic of pitching," said McLish. "It's nothing I put my name on because I don't want pitchers thinking it's about me, when it's just about pitching."

Then again, it's only a pamphlet. Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish would never fit on the cover.


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