The news that Mickey Lolich had survived open-heart surgery caught many people by surprise. Including Mickey.

“Mr. Lolich?” said the voice over the telephone. “We’re calling from a collection agency.”

“Collecting for what?” Mickey said.

“For that open-heart surgery you had in San Jose.”

“Open-heart surgery?”

“Yes. You owe $100,000. When can we expect payment?”

Now, it is not every day you get a call like this, someone claiming you’re
$100,000 in the red. A call like that can give you a heart attack, which might require open-heart surgery — and then you’d have two bills.

“What are you talking about?” Lolich said. “I’m perfectly healthy. And I haven’t been in California in years.”

“You haven’t?” the voice said.

“You sure you have the right guy?”

Thus began an odyssey that still has Lolich baffled. The Mickey Lolich we all know — ex-Tigers pitcher, star of the 1968 World Series, donut shop owner in Lake Orion — is not the same Mickey Lolich who is using the name to charge medical bills somewhere in California.

And doing a pretty good job.

“Apparently this guy looks a little like me, he’s about my age, has curly hair,” Lolich said. “And he must be a pretty smooth talker.”

That’s for sure. According to Lolich, when the social security numbers didn’t match the insurance, the guy insisted the hospital had made a mistake.

And they believed him!

Now, anyone who has ever tried to get aspirin from a hospital without the proper paperwork — let alone an operation — knows what a feat this is. I mean, this guy must be some kind of liar to scam open-heart surgery. We’re not talking hockey tickets here.

“I’m told he has a driver’s license with a name like mine,” Lolich lamented. “He knows all my stats. He even gave autographs to people in the hospital.” An unlikely accident

Now, all this would be strange enough if the story ended there. But last week, Lolich — the real Lolich — got a bill from a California doctor for a chest x-ray. “Uh-oh,” he thought. “Here we go again.”

A few days later, Mickey got a call from an acquaintance asking if everything was OK.

“Yeah, why?” Mickey asked.

Because, the caller said, he had heard that Mickey had checked into a drug rehab clinic. And, to make matters worse, he heard that Lolich’s wife, Joyce, had been killed in an auto accident. He was really sorry.

“She what?” Mickey said.

As you probably guessed, Joyce is fine. And Mickey doesn’t go near drugs, so a clinic is hardly necessary.

But the same character who was using Lolich’s name to have the doctors fix his heart, had apparently gone to Mexico to score some drugs, then used some of those drugs himself, then had the puss beaten out of him by some banditos. The authorities took him back across the border, and dumped him in a rehab clinic, where — guess what? — he told people he was the former Tiger, down on his luck (after all, his wife had been killed in an auto accident) and they should bill his insurance.

And he gave some more autographs.

And by the time the authorities caught up with him, he had checked himself out. The price of fame

Now, celebrity impersonation is not new. There are countless stories of guys who look like famous actors or athletes using the scam to pick up women, or get free meals. There was one guy, in 1983, who told people he was Bill Russell, the basketball star — even though he looked very little like him.

“I pictured Bill Russell as taller,” women would say.

“I got in a car accident and had part of my legs amputated,” he’d answer. And they believed him!

And you wonder how the Home Shopping Network stays in business?

Anyhow, Mickey — the real Mickey — wants to put a stop to all this. “For one thing, I don’t want someone to check my credit rating and find I owe
$100,000.

“I’ve worked hard to keep my name clean. All of a sudden, these things are happening with my name attached. I’m afraid people are going to hear rumors and not investigate and next thing you know, someone in Podunk, Iowa, thinks I’m a drug addict.”

For the record — all you suckers out there — Mickey Lolich, 55, lives in Michigan, his heart is fine, his wife is fine, and he doesn’t score dope.

As for the impersonator?

“They know where he is,” Lolich says. “A doctor at the rehab clinic says he lives right near the place, in National City, outside of San Diego. She said he’s in there all the time. They even have his address.”

So why don’t they use it to arrest him?

“I don’t know. Something about violation of privacy.”

It figures. People are always snooping into other people’s affairs.

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