He had a batting stance as unique and hardscrabble as his on-the-field personality.
The Tigers thrived on each. Away from the field, they appreciated Dick McAuliffe even more, all because a second baseman and personification of their 1968 world championship team was such a decent man in and out of a uniform.
McAuliffe died Friday in Connecticut at age 76 following a battle with Alzheimer’s.
“He was a man’s man, a hustler, a fighter, and he didn’t take any crap from anybody,” said Mickey Stanley, the Tigers’ gold-standard center fielder who played alongside McAuliffe for nine seasons in Detroit.
McAuliffe and Stanley platooned as Tigers leadoff batters in ’68, with McAuliffe batting against right-handers, Stanley against left-handers.
“We chased each other around the bases one way or another,” Stanley said. “But he was such a great part of our chemistry. He was a bulldog.”
Or, if you preferred, “Mad Dog.” It was the nickname teammates had given him fairly early in a Tigers career that began in 1960 and stretched through the 1973 season during which McAuliffe batted .249, with 192 home runs, and a sizeable .753 OPS — solid numbers for a shortstop who later moved fulltime to second base.
Mickey Lolich, the Tigers left-hander who arrived three years after McAuliffe and played one season longer in Detroit than McAuliffe, remembers how an infielder’s knack for getting on base and scoring runs was a trademark talent on an extraordinary ’68 world championship team.
“He was 100 percent a baseball player,” Lolich said Monday. “He just had this attitude, to go out there and challenge.
“He didn’t like losing. He’d get mad after an at-bat, come back to the bench, throw his bat sometimes into the rack and toss down his helmet, and we sort of looked at each other and said: ‘Well, he’s sort of (ticked) off.’
“But there was a blood-and-guts guy who played and loved to win. And he didn’t fear anyone.”
The prickly side of McAuliffe’s baseball persona cost him a five-game suspension in August of ’68 after he took two pitches near his head from White Sox starter Tommy John. After the second buzzing, McAuliffe headed on a sprint for the mound, locked up with John, and separated the left-hander’s shoulder.
McAuliffe’s five-game vacation coincided with the Tigers’ only serious losing streak of ’68. They didn’t win a game during his shelving.
As much as his feistiness, McAuliffe’s left-handed batting stance was particular to his baseball DNA, beautifully described by analyst Bill James in his classic series, The Baseball Abstract.
“He tucked his right wrist under his chin and held his bat over his head, so it looked as if he were dodging the sword of Damocles in mid-descent,” James wrote. “He pointed his left knee at the catcher and his right knee at the pitcher and spread the two as far apart as humanly possible, his right foot balanced on his toes, so that to have lowered his heel two inches would have pulled his knee inward by a foot.
“He whipped the bat in a sort of violent pinwheel, which produced line drives, strikeouts, and fly balls, few ground balls, and not a lot of pop-outs.”
Stanley and Lolich said McAuliffe’s presence in a lineup not only was reassuring, it became a dependency.
“He was a great teammate, he really was,” Lolich said. “I really liked him a lot. I felt great when he was playing behind me. He’d be there for you no matter what.”