TAMPA, Fla. — Denny McLain, major league baseball's last 30-game winner, was sentenced Thursday to 23 years in prison by a federal judge who chided him for not accepting his conviction on racketeering, extortion and drug-dealing charges.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich cited the former Detroit Tiger pitching sensation's "failure to admit to yourself your own guilt" and his involvement with drugs as important factors affecting her decision.
McLain, 41, who sat through most of the proceedings, stood in the packed courtroom as the judge ordered him to serve eight concurrent years for racketeering, conspiracy and extortion.
She then tacked on the maximum 15 years for his attempt to deal three kilos of cocaine in 1982, and fined him $8,900.
McLain probably will serve eight years before becoming eligible for parole, the government said.
"I'll pay for my conviction the rest of my life. I've gone through a lot of shame and disgrace," McLain told the judge, reading from a prepared statement. "The lessons I've learned in the last 13 months have prepared me for the rest of my life."
Afterward, defense attorney Arnold Levine, who conferred with his client in a holding cell, said McLain was "destroyed by the length of the sentence."
"I think that much time was uncalled for," Levine said. "I didn't have any quarrel with the eight years. But I thought the consecutive was too harsh."
Levine said he will ask that McLain be allowed to go free on bond while he appeals the conviction. A hearing is expected to be set later.
"He expects we'll be successful on appeal and he'll be out in about 10 months," Levine said.
McLain, who compiled a 31-6 record and led the Detroit Tigers to the World Series in 1968, was convicted March 16 following a 14-week trial. Co-defendants Seymour Sher and Frank Cocchiaro received maximum 20-year prison terms for racketeering, conspiracy and extortion.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Ernst Mueller claimed that McLain was part of a racketeering scheme that charged loan-shark victims exorbitant interest rates; booked on sports events, and used threats of violence to collect illegal debts.
McLain testified that he was a longtime gambler, and at times a bookmaker, but maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
"I think justice was done," Mueller said outside the courtroom. "I think the court on the matter of drugs--cocaine in this case--was sending a message."
Levine unsuccessfully sought to have sentencing delayed for a second time. He argued that he had been unable to interview victims of McLain's crimes for a pre-sentence report that is used by jailers as reference.
Levine also complained that McLain was suffering from the flu, the reason the judge allowed him to sit through the proceedings.
McLain spoke on his own behalf during the hearing, portraying himself as a family man who has often been a victim of bad judgment. He said his legal problems embarrassed his family but that he had learned from his mistakes.
"I don't know how you get to where I am from where I was 17 years ago," McLain said.
In 1968, McLain became the first pitcher in 34 years to win 30 games in a season. He won the Cy Young Award that season and shared the pitching honor in 1969 when he had a 24-9 record.
His career nose-dived in 1970, though, when a pair of suspensions by the baseball commissioner--one of them for involvement with gamblers--sidelined him for most of the year.
He retired from baseball in 1972 at the age of 28, leaving with a 131-91 career record in 10 major league seasons.
In another development, Larry Knott, 49, a one-time co-defendant who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and testified for the government, was given an eight-year suspended sentence. A five-year probation will be implemented once he finishes serving a five-year term on an unrelated drug conviction.