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Original Issue


The story behind Denny McLain can be no better told than by Bill Freehan (Never Touch a Superstar, March 2). Too often a team has failed to achieve excellence because of a superstar who thought he was more important than the rest of the team.

It happened for a few years to the Chicago Black Hawks with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita; and it is now happening to the Detroit Tigers with Denny McLain. Rare indeed are the stars who put themselves below the team so that the team as a whole can prosper. A few examples are Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the old New York Yankees and Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins.

Superstars can do a lot for their teams, for their sport and for sports as a whole. But people like Denny McLain do the game no good. Never touch a superstar, my foot.
Belmont, Mass.

Bill Freehan, catcher for the Detroit Tigers, has written a vivid and startling account of his 1969 season with teammate Denny McLain. Freehan points out how McLain had an extraordinary number of special privileges and many times was lucky on the mound. This could understandably make his teammates angry. It appears that some of McLain's special privileges included making bad business deals, as revealed by SI, Feb. 23 (Downfall of a Hero). When Freehan described how the Tigers had a "group therapy" session last Sept. 14, he stated that the Tigers wanted rules enforced and that all the players in attendance felt more mature. McLain wasn't at this meeting. I think Kuhn was right in suspending McLain. The Tigers are a better team despite losing a 20- to 30-game-winning pitcher.
Larchmont, N.Y.

Regarding the Denny McLain suspension, the diary of Detroit Catcher Bill Freehan is most revealing for it shows that McLain both took and was given privileges and leeway not accorded his teammates. Admittedly, a pitcher is not subject to the same handling as are infielders and outfielders, but there are certain rules and regulations to which he should be made to adhere. So, where there was undue permissiveness, others, quite unconsciously, are also culpable to a greater or lesser extent. But all that is the negative aspect of the matter. It is the positive side and the lesson learned from it that should be stressed. The McLain case should be used to impress upon everyone in the sports world, high and low, the imperative importance of the exercise of strict obedience to discipline, no matter what.
New York City

I think publishing the diary of Bill Freehan on the 1969 season and Denny McLain is really letting the people know what happened, and I say, more of it.

I salute you, SI, on your view concerning Denny McLain (SCORECARD, Feb. 23). As an elementary school physical education teacher I know the high regard in which these professional athletes are held by the young people of America. As soon as the McLain story broke, I was questioned by many of my pupils, some of whom are definitely earmarked for positions of leadership, concerning all aspects of the affair. Trying to honestly explain the situation to a youngster who lives just to see McLain pitch was a very difficult task indeed.

Many professional sports figures do so much to mould the character of "young America," but one scandal of this magnitude can and does destroy that good. America's most valuable resource by far is its youth. Professional athletes must accept their very large share of the responsibility for its safeguard.
Kitchener, Ontario

Your article about Denny McLain in your March 2 issue was great, and Bill Freehan stated it like a pro. I was especially interested to learn about all the times McLain left the ball park after Manager Smith pulled him out of the game and went to fly his plane. (I smiled when I read that McLain was late for the All-Star Game because he had a dentist's appointment and Mel Stottlemyre started.) If I were Manager Smith, McLain would have been fined $100,000. I'm 11 years old, but I know a good article when I read one. Oh yeah, tell Bill Freehan thanks for writing the truth. It's about time.
Yonkers, N.Y.

Your addendum on the McLain affair (SCORECARD, March 2) is a wonderful job of scapegoating. Certainly McLain erred, and certainly no blame attaches to Kuhn or the investigators. However, they are not the only ones involved in this affair.

In the Feb. 23 issue, which detailed McLain's 1967 involvement with bookmakers, the lead SCORECARD item expressed regret but stated that to cover up improper behavior hurts rather than helps sports. Now you give the impression that, with the suspension of McLain, the matter is cleared up and baseball's honor restored. But McLain is not the only one whose behavior is open to question.

What about the reports that the commissioner's office had received a report on McLain several years ago but did nothing? (This is not to blame Kuhn, who was not the commissioner then.) And what about the Tiger front office, which, it has been suggested, gave what amounted to tacit approval of McLain's activities?

Baseball cannot just shove McLain aside and, thereby, win back respect and approval. The sympathy for McLain, which you seem to deplore, is not primarily over his suspension, but over the fact that it was necessary. If baseball had expressed its concern three years ago by helping a young man deal with the sudden wealth it provided, all this may never have happened. Maybe under Kuhn's leadership things will change so that wayward actions by young players will be discovered and corrected before they become life-and career-threatening scandals. Then baseball will be worthy of the respect you wish for it.
Roseville, Mich.

It is not only regrettable but unbelievable that the commissioner of baseball has just recently hired one man to investigate situations like the Denny McLain affair. This "security" division of the commissioner's office is now to be reinforced with additional personnel in every major league city. However, this was announced only after SPORTS ILLUSTRATED displayed incriminating information about McLain.

I wasn't even born in 1919, but I am well aware of the incidents of that year that almost destroyed baseball. Have Commissioners Landis, Chandler, Frick, Eckert and Kuhn left their heads buried in the sand for 51 years? Incredible!
Santa Rosa, Calif.

One need not be a player held over from past regimes to know what Emile Francis has done for the New York Rangers (Flashing Blades for a Mini-mastermind, March 2). It is necessary only to be a fan of as few as 10 years and to have paid to watch those twice-a-week encounters with the rest of the NHL to see that the Rangers have come a long, long way indeed since Mr. Francis appeared on the scene.

Only the conviction that hockey is the world's greatest sport, played by larger-than-life people, keeps us returning week after week. And it has all been worth it.

To the loyal Ranger fans (most of whom do not throw garbage at anybody), Vince Lombardi is not the only man who should be on the lookout for speedboats when he takes his morning walk.
Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

I hope Gary Ronberg does not vote for hockey's rookie of the year. Mr. Ronberg seems to think New York has the only rookie in the league who is good enough to win it. Perhaps he should watch the Rangers when they play the Chicago Black Hawks, and especially the Hawks' goalie, Tony Esposito. Esposito has 11 shutouts, two short of the modern record, and is battling Eddie Giacomin for the Vezina Trophy. Sure Fairbairn has had a good year, but in order to outshine Esposito he would have to score 40 goals.

New York has already won one award it shouldn't have, Baseball's Comeback of the Year in the National League and, with writers like Ronberg, it will win another one.
Chicago Heights, Ill.

As a transplanted New York Ranger fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Gary Ronberg's well-researched article. However, since the March 2 edition of SI arrived in my mailbox, the "rampage" appears to be headed in the wrong direction. After being badly battered by the Bruins, tied by the on-again, off-again Wings and finally bludgeoned by the Black Hawks, it's time for the spirited mini-mastermind to get his Broadway Blues back on the winning track.
Palatine, Ill.

Your article on Marty Liquori (A Monkey Rides the Easy Runner, March 2) was more than just interesting and enlightening. It really discussed the presence of a growing problem in American athletics. How much of a value do we place on winning? That cherished American social value of competition has, I'm sure, made as many runners as it has broken them. It's a shame that people must always be forgetful of the fact that a runner is still a human being and not a machine. When Jim Ryun became a champion, the pressure started. A member of the U.S. Olympic Committee actually told Ryun that he had let down his country by winning only a silver medal in the Mexico Olympics. Where do we draw the line and stop expecting our runners to grow wings?

In any event, the article on Liquori said what really needed to be said. It will, hopefully, make more athletic enthusiasts mindful of what it takes to be a championship athlete. Maybe we should keep in mind that we're only watching the race, not running it. It's easy to yell from the stands with a hot dog in one hand and soda in the other. It's another thing to run 70 miles a week.
New Brunswick, N.J.

Contrary to the opinions of Curry Kirkpatrick, the players, coaches and fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference are not trained in guerrilla-warfare tactics prior to the basketball season (One More War to Go, March 2). Between blows (which aren't as numerous or as intense as Mr. Kirkpatrick envisions) there is a great deal of superb basketball talent exhibited in the ACC—besides the "nicely groomed, attractively Irish and devotedly Catholic boys" who play for South Carolina. I hope in the future Mr. Kirkpatrick might drop his latent desire to become a war correspondent and instead assume the position of sports-writer.
Chapel Hill, N.C.

It was a great disappointment to note that your only mention of Duke was an account of some off-the-court activities at the Duke-South Carolina game. We would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

During the second half of that game John Ribock stopped a Duke fast break with a cross-body block (or perhaps it was a flying tackle) of which Vince Lombardi would be proud, throwing Rick Katherman into the goal support in the process. During the time-out that followed (to care for the injured Katherman), Coach McGuire took serious offense at the cries of "bush league" that greeted him and his team. As McGuire's guiding hand pointed out the more vociferous offenders, Riker and Roche threw water on the Duke fans, after which a Duke spectator retaliated by spitting on McGuire.

We are in no way trying to justify the fact that McGuire was spat upon; that action was indefensible. However, it was McGuire who initiated the exchange—not the other way around, as reported in SI.

It seems very unfortunate that the most talented basketball team in the ACC should take such great pride, as Tom Riker reports, in their ability to manhandle others without being touched. Until McGuire teaches his team that clipping, elbowing and getting in good cracks on loose balls and layups is not considered very sportsmanlike in the ACC, perhaps he had better stop wearing those $300 suits. He might get them snagged on some North Carolina barbed wire.
Durham, N.C.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Kirkpatrick on his fine article about the South Carolina Gamecocks and the strongest basketball conference in the nation, the ACC. John Roche, one of the country's finest players, his talented teammates and Frank McGuire are long overdue for national publicity. We must find fault, however, with Charlie Scott's accusations that he deserved the player of the year award in the ACC last season. Scott also claims that Roche's success is due in part to his teammates. This may be a fact, but Scott fails to realize that the Gamecocks work together as a team, which has resulted in two victories over Scott's North Carolina Tar Heels this season.
Erskine College
Due West, S.C.

Thank you for the fine tribute paid to the Atlantic Coast Conference. As a native North Carolinian and a graduate of North Carolina State, I feel as though I have constantly witnessed the finest basketball in the nation for many years.

My only regret concerning the article was the fact that no mention was made of the late Everett Case, the longtime coach at N.C. State, who must be given credit for starting the conference on the road to greatness. The Old Grey Fox forced the beginning of intense recruiting programs at the other ACC schools and, more than any other man, initiated the development of great basketball in the South.
Eatontown, N.J.

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