Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball--and America--Forever
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The extraordinary story of the 1968 baseball season—when the game was played to perfection even as the country was being pulled apart at the seams
From the beginning, ’68 was a season rocked by national tragedy and sweeping change. Opening Day was postponed and later played in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. That summer, as the pennant races were heating up, the assassination of Robert Kennedy was later followed by rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But even as tensions boiled over and violence spilled into the streets, something remarkable was happening in major league ballparks across the country. Pitchers were dominating like never before, and with records falling and shut-outs mounting, many began hailing ’68 as “The Year of the Pitcher.”
In Summer of ’68, Tim Wendel takes us on a wild ride through a season that saw such legends as Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Don Drysdale, and Luis Tiant set new standards for excellence on the mound, each chasing perfection against the backdrop of one of the most divisive and turbulent years in American history. For some players, baseball would become an insular retreat from the turmoil encircling them that season, but for a select few, including Gibson and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, the conflicts of ’68 would spur their performances to incredible heights and set the stage for their own run at history.
Meanwhile in Detroit—which had burned just the summer before during one of the worst riots in American history—’68 instead found the city rallying together behind a colorful Tigers team led by McLain, Mickey Lolich, Willie Horton, and Al Kaline. The Tigers would finish atop the American League, setting themselves on a highly anticipated collision course with Gibson’s Cardinals. And with both teams’ seasons culminating in a thrilling World Series for the ages—one team playing to establish a dynasty, the other fighting to help pull a city from the ashes—what ultimately lay at stake was something even larger: baseball’s place in a rapidly changing America that would never be the same.
In vivid, novelistic detail, Summer of ’68 tells the story of this unforgettable season—the last before rule changes and expansion would alter baseball forever—when the country was captivated by the national pastime at the moment it needed the game most.
evening for his seventh consecutive victory. In addition, it was his 135th career win, moving him past Dizzy Dean on St. Louis’s all-time list. Still, this one stung—plenty. Afterward, in the visiting clubhouse, the press asked Gibson about the only run he had allowed. “You saw it,” the winning pitcher replied. “[He] missed the ball.” The room grew quiet until Gibson added, “Hey, that’s the way it goes.” PART III Eager for a Second Chance What does a town that’s been to hell and
with the season on the line, Detroit’s pitching, considered by many to be the strength of the team, didn’t come through. Due to rain-outs earlier in the week, the Tigers and Angels had played a doubleheader the day before, too, splitting that affair. Now for its fourth game in two days, Detroit went with its would-be ace, Denny McLain. Early on, the Tigers held a 3–1 lead in the second inning. But McLain, who would go 0–2 in five starts in September, was tagged for three runs and was soon out of
was on the verge of another signature comeback. But St. Louis manager Red Schoendienst lifted Washburn and called on reliever Joe Hoerner of fungo bat fame. Hoerner snuffed out the rally, along with the Tigers’ hopes of winning Game Three, retiring Jim Northrup and Freehan. In the top of the next inning, the Cardinals’ Cepeda blasted a three-run shot off Detroit reliever Don McMahon. The home run was Cepeda’s first in sixty World Series at-bats. With some daring-do on the base paths, coupled
Series one day. On October 14, 1968, Tiant’s daughter, Isabel, turned one year old. The family planned a party for that evening at their home in Mexico City, and Tiant spent the afternoon watching the men’s one-hundred meter Olympic trials with a friend. In a few days, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos would raise black-gloved fists to the heavens, a demonstration that the New York Times’s columnist Robert Lipsyte would call “the mildest, most civil demonstration of the year,” and one
In addition, he marries actress-activist Jane Fonda. He’s often considered to be the basis for the Kris Kristofferson song line “partly truth and partly fiction, a walking contradiction.” Through it all, Hayden never forgets his love of baseball. In the 1980s, he begins playing again and attends the Dodgers’ fantasy camp in Vero Beach, Florida. Despite being out of shape, he sticks with it and is MVP and batting champion the next spring. He still plays and coaches in the Los Angeles area. “All