Denny McLain on the Bench

Denny McLain baseball card

I’ve known for years that Denny McLain, the phenomenal, controversial Detroit Tigers pitcher who won 31 games in 1968, was also an accomplished organist. Only recently have I heard his music, though — thanks to the video below of the fastballer at the keyboard on the Ed Sullivan Show.

As the late Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray might say, “Honesty compels me to report” that this video features one of the corniest arrangements of “Girl from Ipanema” ever. (My tastes run more to groove, funk, and jaw-dropping virtuosity.)

Still, though, you’ve got to give McLain credit. Just four days after he’d pitched Game 6 of the World Series on two days’ rest, en route to his team’s seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, here he is playing with his quartet on national TV — relaxed, confident, and zzzz… what was I saying? Oh yes, McClain’s quartet pulls off a flawless, if tepid, rendition of the bossa nova classic. Not only that, but Cardinals ace Bob Gibson joins McLain’s band toward the end of the video for a generic blues tune, strumming a few rhythm chords on an electric guitar (appropriately, a Gibson hollow-body).

Denny McLain Quartet, Ed Sullivan Show, 1968 - with special guest (

By the way, that same month the Hammond Times ran a nice story about the musical side of Denny McLain.

Today, McLain is apparently devoting most of his time to charitable events and occasionally writing for InPlay Magazine. His most recent book is I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect.

Denny, if you’re reading this, I wish you all the best — and I hope that you (and your lawyers) will take my good-natured ribbing in the playful spirit in which it was intended.

P.S. – Let me add that the autoharp is also a very nice instrument. Just sayin’.


  1. Given Denny McLain’s particular weakness, hopefully Ed wasn’t taking a “gamble” by having him on the show. Also, given that Bob Gibson’s absolute contempt for his opponents was well known, I wonder what it took to get him to appear on the same stage with McLain, much less play with him.

  2. Gibson disliked but respected opponents. Generally he didn’t socialize with them. Once out in San Francisco, it was either Bill White or Orlando Cepeda who actually got him to go to Willie
    Mays’ house for dinner. He said as I recall, that he really didn’t like
    doing things like that.

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