Tigers legend: “Never been treated so nicely”

World Series champion entrusted his care to McLaren Macomb orthopedic surgeon.


In 1968, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain became the last major league pitcher — likely the last ever — to win 30 games in a season.

That magical summer concluded with a Tigers’ World Series championship and Denny earning the American League Cy Young Award as the league’s top pitcher, while also being named the league’s MVP, a rare accomplishment for a pitcher.

It remains an era Detroit baseball fans remember fondly, and, more than 50 years later, Denny, known for his distinctive high leg kick, remains a Tigers legend, routinely invited to remembrance days at the ballpark.

But like many former professional athletes, Denny began moving slower. His legs were paying a price from the wear and tear of the game. That, coupled with a traumatic accident, resulted in limited, difficult and often painful mobility.

“I hadn’t had this much pain since I pitched,” Denny said.

It was this that ultimately brought him to McLaren Macomb and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Wagner.

“You can tell he’s very bright”

About five years ago, Denny had a total knee replacement performed on his right knee.

Though he ultimately rehabilitated, he was less than satisfied after having experienced some complications. So when it came time to address the seemingly constant pain in his left foot, he turned to a trusted friend for a suggestion.

“I had met Carl Pesta at some function, years back,” Denny said. “We’re piano players, both of us, and played that night, and once in a while we would get out and play some more, anywhere where they’d have us and a couple pianos.”

Dr. Carl Pesta, a general and bariatric surgeon at McLaren Macomb, kept in touch with Denny, nurturing a friendship to the point Denny trusted Dr. Pesta to perform a bariatric procedure. As with all his patients, Dr. Pesta remained in touch, both personally and to check in on his post-surgery weight loss progress.

“I saw him at a function, and I had been on a walker,” Denny said. “I talked to him about a referral, and he said, ‘We got to get you off of that walker. I got the best surgeon for you.’”

For the pain in his foot, Dr. Pesta suggested Denny meet with McLaren Macomb orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Christopher Vitale. Quickly determining that the root of Denny’s foot pain was rooted in his knee, Dr. Vitale referred him to Dr. Wagner.

Denny soon met with Dr. Wagner, who in his years of experience at McLaren Macomb has been a trusted orthopedic surgeon, using the latest technology and techniques to return his patients to the pain-free life they had once enjoyed.

“Right away, you can tell he’s very bright,” Denny said. “And he was concerned. Very concerned.”

Imaging procedures showed that Denny’s knee was plagued by severe arthritis.

“He came in complaining about the pain in his foot,” Dr. Wagner said, “but in imaging his knee we could see there was a severe amount of arthritis causing him considerable pain. Reviewing all his options, we both agreed surgery was the route to go. This would give him a good, solid foundation that will ultimately alleviate that surrounding pain and get him feeling much better.”

In early October, Dr. Wagner performed Denny’s procedure at McLaren Macomb — a total left knee replacement. Denny, on his way to rehabilitation and recovery, was up and walking the next day.

“I couldn’t travel with this knee — I got away from myself,” he said, already grateful and looking forward to getting back on the road, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball as an ambassador for the game.

“I’ve never been treated so nicely,” he said. “Many of them didn’t know who I was, and they treated me so nice — just like they do everyone else.”


Orthopedics at McLaren Macomb

Meet the surgical team and learn more about the orthopedic surgery capabilities at McLaren Macomb.

Click here

Bariatric Surgery Institute at McLaren Macomb

Learn more about the many benefits of bariatric surgery and request an appointment.

Click here