Denny McLain back behind a mic — with Zaret, Page

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Denny McLain

Denny McLain is back behind a microphone, in an ideal format for a figure some people will always love and others will always loathe.

McLain and former local sportscasters Eli Zaret and Bob Page launched a podcast Monday called "No Filter Sports," promising two weekly hours of things they probably couldn't say if their jobs depended on it.

"The beauty of this," Zaret said early in the first show, "is the three of us are never going to work for any corporate bosses again" — and with no careers to sabotage, there are no filters.

"The big difference is, we don't need this," McLain agreed. "There were a lot of things we were unable to say because of sponsorships and things like that.

Zaret, 68, and Page, 66, worked at assorted radio and television outlets in Detroit, and both spent time in New York, where Page had 10 outspoken and ultimately pink-slip-inducing years at the MSG Network.

McLain, 74, did 10 years in the major leagues and two stints in prison. There's no forgetting his 31 wins for the world champion Tigers in 1968, and no sugar-coating some of what came after.

A talented broadcaster, he drew strong ratings as the morning host on WXYT-AM (1270) in the 1990s and hosted a 30-minute weekly sports show with Zaret on WJBK-TV (Channel 2).

Next came a six-year prison term for looting the pension fund of a Northern Michigan meatpacking company, and though he briefly held down a Sunday show on WFDF-AM (910) in 2017, any hint that he might return to a more established station drew everything short of torches and pitchforks.

With a podcast, Zaret noted, the audience is self-selecting, and there's no other programming to absorb collateral damage if people aren't happy with McLain's presence.

"I think there will be a variety of responses," Zaret said, "just like there always was. I can't control that.

"I'm asked a lot, 'Why would you want to work with Denny McLain?' The answer is, I never had more fun in my career than when I worked with Denny."

McLain pointed out that he's paid to do more than 150 appearances in a slow year, mostly dinners or card shows, meaning some people don't know about the shakier parts of his history or don't care.

"Whatever did occur was a long time ago," he said. "Generations have passed."

What's important to him now, he said, is tending to his wife, Sharon, as she deals with Parkinson's disease — and laughing with Zaret and Page.

They'll record the podcasts in Ferndale, in the basement studio of former WRIF-FM morning drive behemoth Drew Lane. A relatively early adapter to podcasting, Lane oversees what's still known as Drew and Mike after Mike Clark's death in October.

Zaret recorded some sample podcasts there in the fall, "just to try and dip my toe." Having committed to two per week, he said, he'll drive in from Bloomfield Hills and McLain will arrive from Wixom, with Page contributing via Skype from New York or Florida.

Among their subjects Monday were the two NFL championship games. They agreed that Jimmy Buffett is a great businessman but a poor anthem singer, and that the officiating was horrendous.

Then Page praised color analyst Tony Romo for his spot-on play in predicting New England's victory over Kansas City.

"Quick question for you two geniuses here," McLain said. "Where the hell was all this ability when he was a quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys?"

"He was a great quarterback," Zaret protested.

"What did he win? He won nothing," McLain said — and it was game on.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn