Tigers did more than win in ‘68

There is little doubt that 1968 is remembered in this country as a watershed year.

There were so many earth-shaking events fifty years ago, it’s hard to put them in order.

You had the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy to begin with. The loss of those two charismatic leaders had much to do with the politics — and the numerous problems — we face in this nation to this day.

Then there was the war in Vietnam, the most divisive conflict since the Civil War. It’s effects were the loss of more than 58,000 soldiers and the division of the country into two distinct sections. It also is felt to this day.

On the positive side, 1968 was also the year of the Detroit Tigers.

It’s hard to imagine what 1968 would have been like without the Tigers’ success.

The team managed to help Michiganders — and baseball fans everywhere — forget momentarily about the miseries going on all around them.

That team probably should have won the 1967 American League pennant, having lost in the final weekend to the Boston Red Sox.

It was a power-packed outfit, starting with the outfield of Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Jim Northrup.

The infield had veteran fixtures in first baseman Norm Cash and second baseman Dick McAuliffe. And catcher Bill Freehan was rock-solid behind the plate.

The Detroit pitching featured a young righthander by the name of Denny McLain, who would barely lose a game that hot, long-ago summer.

Eccentric as he was, McLain had super stuff in his repertoire as he won 31 games, a standard seldom even approached since.

But the Tigers did more than just win — they energized a city that had been torn apart by a bloody race riot the year before.

As police stood alert in the city, the ’68 Tigers stuck to business and kept winning games.

They won the American League by eight games and readied to face favored St. Louis in the World Series.

You have to remember this was the last season before playoffs were put in place.

I watched my favorite team from across Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. I was awaiting my call from the draft board (it would come seven months later) and working in an elevator factory.

When the Tigers spilled the Cardinals in the series, I took a day off work to watch it.

As for the Tigers, they wouldn’t get to another World Series until 1984.

McLain, the biggest waste of talent I can recall, did win 21 games in 1969. But he eventually faded into obscurity, surfacing only to face prison time for swindling money from companies he was involved in.

Just about all the stars from the 1968 Tigers have either died or been swallowed up by time. Even broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell has left us.

But for me, they remain a very pleasant memory of a year that didn’t have many good ones ….


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