|1968 Detroit Tigers|
|1968 World Series Champions|
1968 American League Champions
|Major League affiliations|
|General manager(s)||Jim Campbell|
(George Kell, Larry Osterman)
(Ernie Harwell, Ray Lane)
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The 1968 Detroit Tigers won the 1968 World Series, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals four games to three. The 1968 baseball season, known as the "Year of the Pitcher," was the Detroit Tigers' 68th since they entered the American League in 1901, their eighth pennant, and third World Series championship. Detroit pitcher Denny McLain won the Cy Young Award and was named the American League's Most Valuable Player after winning 31 games. Mickey Lolich pitched three complete games in the World Series – and won all three – to win World Series MVP honors.
Denny McLain had a remarkable season in 1968, as he went 31–6 with a 1.96 earned run average (ERA), was an All-Star, won the Cy Young Award, won the AL Most Valuable Player Award, and won Game 6 of the World Series. He is the only pitcher since 1934 to win 30 games in a season. Beleaguered by legal and financial troubles in later years, McLain was at his best in 1968. Perhaps worn down by pitching 336 innings during the regular season, McLain's 1968 World Series performance was not as stellar. He lost Games 1 and 4 to NL Cy Young Award winner, Bob Gibson. McLain did, however, win the crucial Game 6 on just two days rest, holding the Cardinals to one run in a 13–1 victory.
The Tigers No. 2 starter, Mickey Lolich, allowed just five World Series runs in three complete games, winning all three including the final and decisive game. Lolich also helped himself at the plate in Game 2 when he hit the only home run of his 16-year career. Lolich was given the World Series MVP Award for his performance. During the regular season, Lolich went 17–9 with 197 strikeouts and a 3.19 ERA. He was actually moved to bullpen briefly in August after a few poor starts, but returned to pitch well down the stretch.
Earl Wilson was the team's No. 3 pitcher, going 13–12 for the season with a 2.85 ERA. Known as one of the best power hitters of all time among major league pitchers, Wilson hit seven home runs in 88 at-bats in 1968. Wilson's at bat-to-home run ratio of 12.57 was higher than any player in the major leagues in 1968 — higher even than home run leaders Frank Howard and Willie Horton. Wilson was the losing pitcher in Game 3 of the World Series, allowing 10 baserunners and three earned runs in 41⁄3 innings pitched.
The Tigers No. 4 starter, Joe Sparma, was the starting quarterback of the undefeated 1961 Ohio State football team. In 1968, Sparma lost his spot in the rotation after a run-in with manager Mayo Smith. Sparma was pulled from a game and made critical comments about Smith to sportswriter Joe Falls. When Falls asked Smith for a response, Smith said he "didn't want to get into a spitting contest with a skunk." Smith refused to start Sparma for several weeks afterward. When Sparma finally got another start on September 17, 1968, he pitched a one-run complete game against the Yankees to clinch the pennant. The Sparma–Smith feud continued, and Sparma pitched only 1⁄3 of an inning in the 1968 World Series, giving up two earned runs for a 54.00 ERA in postseason play.
The Tigers bullpen in 1968 included Daryl Patterson, Fred Lasher, John Hiller (who also made 12 starts during the season) and Pat Dobson (who made 10 starts during the season).
Catcher Bill Freehan posted career highs with 25 home runs (fifth in the AL) and 84 runs batted in (RBIs) (sixth in the AL) and broke his own records with 971 putouts and 1,050 total chances, marks which remained AL records until Dan Wilson topped them with the 1997 Seattle Mariners. Freehan was hit by a pitch 24 times in 1968 – at that time an AL record. Freehan was the starting catcher for the AL All Star team in 1968 (and every other year from 1966 to 1972) and finished second in the 1968 American League MVP voting, behind McLain.
First baseman Norm Cash, known as "Stormin' Norman", was one of the most popular players on the team. In 1968, he hit .268 with 25 home runs despite being limited to 127 games. In the 1968 World Series, Cash hit .385 (10-for-26). Cash singled to start a three-run rally in the seventh inning of Game 7. The rally broke a scoreless tie in a pitching duel between Lolich and Gibson.
Second baseman Dick McAuliffe had a .344 on-base percentage, led the AL with 95 runs scored, and showed power with 50 extra base hits, including 16 home runs. He also tied a Major League record by going the entire 1968 season without grounding into a double play. A converted shortstop, McAuliffe also improved defensively, reducing his error total from 28 in 1967 to nine in 1968. He finished No. 7 in the 1968 AL MVP voting. On August 22, 1968, McAuliffe was involved in a brawl in which he drove his knee into pitcher Tommy John's shoulder after almost being hit in the head by a pitch. McAuliffe played well in the 1968 World Series, with five runs, six hits, four walks, three RBIs, and a home run in Game 3, a colossal solo shot into the top of the upper deck in right at Tiger Stadium.
Shortstop Ray Oyler managed only 29 hits (21 of them singles) in 1968 for a career-low batting average of .135. However, his glove remained valuable as he had a .977 fielding percentage – 15 points above the league average for shortstops. Late in the season, and in the World Series, Oyler was replaced at shortstop by outfielder Mickey Stanley in a historic gamble by manager Mayo Smith. In the offseason, Oyler was drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots.
Third baseman Don Wert was hit in the head by a pitch that shattered his batting helmet on June 26, 1968. He was carried off on a stretcher, spent two nights in the hospital, missed several games, and was never the same hitter again. He had never hit lower than .257 in five prior seasons, but his 1968 batting average dropped to a career-low .200. Wert was selected for the AL All Star team in 1968 and is remembered for his ninth inning, game-winning hit on September 17 to clinch the American League pennant. Ernie Harwell described the scene as follows in his radio broadcast of the game:
This big crowd here ready to break loose. Three men on, two men out. Game tied, 1–1, in the ninth inning. McDaniel checkin' his sign with Jake Gibbs. The tall right-hander ready to go to work again, and the windup, and the pitch...He swings, a line shot, base hit, right field, the Tigers win it! Here comes Kaline to score and it's all over! Don Wert singles, the Tigers mob Don, Kaline has scored...The fans are streaming on the field...And the Tigers have won their first pennant since nineteen hundred and forty-five! Let's listen to the bedlam here at Tiger Stadium!
Left fielder Willie Horton led the way among the outfielders in 1968. His 36 home runs, 278 total bases and .543 slugging percentage all ranked second in the American League behind Frank Howard. In a year in which the league batting average was .230, Horton's .285 average was good for fourth in the AL, and he also finished fourth in the AL MVP voting. In the World Series, Horton batted .304 and had a solo home run to give the Tigers an early lead in Game 2. He also made a pivotal defensive play in the fifth inning of Game 5. When Lou Brock tried to score from second base on a single to left field, Brock was tagged out on a throw from Horton that hit Freehan's glove on the fly. Horton was the only African American position player to start for the team.
Mickey Stanley covered center field for the 1968 Tigers, won a Gold Glove Award at the position and led all American League outfielders with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Prior to 1968, Stanley had been used mostly as a backup outfielder, but an injury to Al Kaline expanded his playing time, as Jim Northrup moved to right field to sub for Kaline. When shortstop Ray Oyler went "0 for August", and his batting average fell to .135, manager Mayo Smith made one of the most talked-about managerial moves in baseball history, moving Stanley to shortstop for the last 9 games of the regular season and for all 7 games of the 1968 World Series. The move also allowed Smith to play both Kaline and Northrup in the outfield. Stanley had not played the shortstop position before the 1968 season, but was a talented athlete with a good glove. Though Stanley made 2 errors in the World Series, neither error led to a run being scored. In its "The End of the Century" series, ESPN rated Mayo Smith's decision to move Stanley to shortstop for the World Series as one of the 10 greatest coaching decisions of the 20th Century in any sport.
Jim Northrup was the Tigers' right fielder for most of the 1968 season, and was among the American League leaders with 90 RBIs (3rd in the AL), 57 extra base hits (4th in the AL), 259 total bases (5th in the AL), and 29 doubles (5th in the AL). Northrup also hit four grand slams during the 1968 regular season, plus one more in the World Series. He hit two in consecutive at bats on June 24, 1968, and then hit another five days later, becoming the first major league player to hit three grand slams in a single week. Northrup's fifth grand slam came in Game 6 of the World Series. With Stanley moving to shortstop, Northrup started in center field during the World Series. Northrup also had the Series-clinching hit in Game 7 off Cardinals ace Bob Gibson. After Gibson held the Tigers scoreless through the first six innings, Northrup hit a triple over center fielder Curt Flood's head, driving in Norm Cash and Willie Horton. In the 7-game series, Northrup had a .536 slugging percentage, with 8 RBIs, 7 hits, 4 runs scored, and 2 home runs. Northrup placed 13th in the 1968 AL MVP voting.
The only future Hall of Fame member who played regularly for the 1968 Tigers was Al Kaline. (Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews played in 31 games for the 1968 Tigers.) However, Kaline broke his arm after being hit by a pitch in May and missed part of the season. He played 70 games at his usual spot in right field and another 22 games at first base. His .287 batting average would have placed him 4th in the league, but he did not have enough at bats to qualify. Kaline excelled in his only World Series appearance by batting .379 with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs.
Pinch-hitter Gates Brown also had a huge year for the Tigers in 1968. Signed by the Tigers while serving time in an Ohio prison, Brown led the team with a .370 batting average (34-for-92) and .685 slugging percentage in the "year of the pitcher" when the league batting average was only .230. He also led the American League in pinch hits and came off the bench with clutch hits to spark a number of dramatic ninth inning come-back victories. In a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox on August 11, 1968, Brown had a clutch game-winning home run off Lee Stange in the 14th inning of the first game, then had a game-winning single off Sparky Lyle in the ninth inning of the second game.
|Boston Red Sox||86||76||0.531||17||46–35||40–41|
|New York Yankees||83||79||0.512||20||39–42||44–37|
|Chicago White Sox||67||95||0.414||36||36–45||31–50|
Sources:          
|1968 Detroit Tigers|
After losing the 1967 American League pennant by one game to the Red Sox, the Tigers got off to a 9–1 start in 1968. By April 29, they were 12–4. On May 10, the Tigers moved into first place and remained there for the rest of the season. In baseball's final season before the leagues each split into two divisions, the Tigers finished with a record of 103–59 and outscored their opponents 671 to 492. The Orioles stayed close through much of the season, but the Tigers wound up winning the pennant with a 12-game lead over Baltimore. The 1968 Tigers also won the season series against all nine league opponents‚ the first team to accomplish that since the 1955 Dodgers. The 1968 Tigers developed a reputation for dramatic comebacks, often with winning late-inning home runs. The Tigers led the major leagues with 185 home runs in 1968, which was 52 more than the next closest team (Baltimore with 133). They won 40 games from the 7th inning forward, and won 30 games in their last at bat. In each game, there seemed to be a new hero, with even the light-hitting Don Wert, Ray Oyler and Tom Matchick providing clutch hits to win ballgames. The 1968 Tigers were also known for their esprit de corps. The starting lineup had been intact since 1965, and several of those starters had grown up in Michigan as Detroit Tigers fans: Willie Horton in Detroit's inner city, Bill Freehan in suburban Royal Oak, Jim Northrup in a small town 25 miles (40 km) west of Saginaw, and Mickey Stanley from the west of the state in Grand Rapids.
The 1968 Tigers' winning percentage ranks as the fifth-best in team history, as follows:
|Tigers win||Tigers loss|
|1968 Game Log (103–59)|
|= Indicates team leader|
Note: Pos = Position; G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in
Note: G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in
Note: Pitchers' batting statistics not included
Note: G = Games pitched; IP = Innings pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts
Note: G = Games pitched; IP = Innings pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts
Note: G = Games pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; SV = Saves; GF = Games finished; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts
Main article: 1968 World Series
The 1968 World Series featured the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Tigers winning in seven games for their third championship in seven World Series appearances.
In Game 1, the Cardinals' ace Bob Gibson threw a shutout, striking out 17 batters, as St. Louis won 4–0. As of 2011, Gibson's 17 strikeouts is still the record in a World Series game. The only positive the Tigers could take away from Game 1 was the fact that Mickey Stanley, having moved from center field to shortstop at the end of the season, handled five chances without an error.
In Game 2, Mickey Lolich hit a home run and pitched the first of his three complete game victories, as Detroit won, 8–1. Norm Cash and Willie Horton both homered, and perennial Gold Glove winner, Al Kaline, made two sensational catches in right field.
The Cardinals followed with wins in Games 3 and 4, including another victory by Bob Gibson over Denny McLain in Game 4. Lou Brock stole three bases in Game 3 and had six steals in the first three games. In Game 4, McLain pitched poorly, giving up six runs in three innings. Game 4 also saw one of the most bizarre strategic battles in World Series history. The Cardinals led 4–0 in the third inning, when the game was delayed by rain for over an hour. When play resumed, the Tigers began to stall, hoping to have the game called before it became official. The Cardinals responded by intentionally trying to make outs to move the game forward. As a result of the tactics, Game 4 of the 1968 series was criticized as one of the worst games in World Series history.
After Game 4, with the Cardinals up 3 games to 1, a Detroit team that had made dramatic comebacks all year was forced to make its biggest comeback yet.
Game 5 began with the unconventional, soulful singing of the national anthem by José Feliciano, drawing boos from some Detroit fans. When the game got underway, the Cardinals immediately scored three runs in the first inning off Mickey Lolich. In the fifth inning, Lou Brock doubled, and the Cardinals had a chance to break the game open, but Brock tried to score from second base on a single to left field. Brock was out in a collision with Bill Freehan at home plate, as Willie Horton's throw hit Bill Freehan's glove on the fly, and Brock elected not to slide. Brock later remarked that he never slid because no one had ever tried to throw him out at home. In the 7th inning, the Cardinals led, 3–2. Mickey Lolich led off for the Tigers in the 7th inning with a bloop single, and the Tigers loaded the bases for Al Kaline to slap a single into right field, driving in two runs. Cash drove in another run, and the Tigers led, 5–3, which proved to be the final score. Mickey Lolich pitched his second complete game victory.
In Game 6, Mayo Smith passed over Earl Wilson and elected to start Denny McLain on two days' rest. McLain held the Cardinals to one run, and the Tigers scored 13 times. The Tigers scored ten runs in the 3rd inning, capped by Jim Northrup's grand slam.
Game 7 was a pitching duel between Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich, pitching on only two days' rest. In a pre-game pep talk, Mayo Smith told his team that Gibson was not Superman, prompting Norm Cash to ask: "What was he doing in a telephone booth changing his clothes?" The game was scoreless after six innings, as the two pitchers dominated. In the 7th inning, the Tigers broke through on a triple by Jim Northrup that went over center fielder Curt Flood's head, driving in Norm Cash and Willie Horton. Curt Flood initially misread Northrup's hit, taking a step in, and then slipping as he chased the ball over his head. Flood was tagged a "goat" for having misplayed the ball. The Tigers won Game 7 by a score of 4–1.
Mickey Lolich, who pitched three complete game victories, was named the MVP of the World Series. On the plane ride back to Detroit after Game 7 of the World Series, Lolich turned to newspaper columnist, Pete Waldmeir, and said: "I guess I'm an unlikely hero. Pot belly. Big ears. Just a guy who shows up every day and gets the job done as best as he knows how." But it was precisely those "average man" qualities that made Lolich one of the most popular sports figures in a working man's city. As the Detroit News put it, "He didn't act like a big shot superstar, he was one of us."
The 1968 baseball season occurred in a year of upheaval. The Tet Offensive earlier in the year increased opposition to the Vietnam War. The City of Detroit had suffered through one of the worst riots in American history during the summer of 1967. Less than a week before Opening Day, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. took place in Memphis, triggering civil unrest in over 100 American cities, including in Detroit. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy followed in June. And in late August, the Tigers played a series in Chicago, as Chicago police had violent confrontations with thousands of anti-war protesters during the Democratic National Convention. Yet, through the summer of 1968, the people of Detroit were united by their passion for the Tigers and the calming radio voice of Tigers broadcaster, Ernie Harwell. When the Tigers won the World Series, the headline in the Detroit Free Press read: "WE WIN!" The headline told the story. Amidst all the turmoil, the people of Detroit came together behind their baseball team.
In a column published on October 11, 1968, Detroit's senior baseball writer, Joe Falls, described the impact of the Tigers championship on the city.
My town, as you know, had the worst riot in our nation's history in the summer of 1967, and it left scars which may never fully heal. . . . And so, as 1968 dawned and we all started thinking ahead to the hot summer nights in Detroit, the mood of our city was taut. It was apprehensive. . . . But then something started happening in the middle of 1968. You could pull up to a light at the corner of Clairmount and 12th, which was the hub of last year's riot, and the guy in the next car would have his radio turned up: ' .... McLain looks in for the sign, he's set – here's the pitch' ... It was a year when an entire community, an entire city, was caught up in a wild, wonderful frenzy.
Even the Governor of Michigan, George Romney, credited the Tigers with helping calm the city. In a letter to owner John Fetzer, Romney wrote: "The deepest meaning of this victory extends beyond the sports pages, radio broadcasts, and the telecasts that have consumed our attention for several months. This championship occurred when all of us in Detroit and Michigan needed a great lift. At a time of unusual tensions, when many good men lost their perspective toward others, the Tigers set an example of what human relations should really be."
1968 Major League Baseball All-Star Game
The following members of the 1968 Tigers have been ranked among the Top 100 of all time at their position in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in 2001:
See also: Minor League Baseball
|AAA||Toledo Mud Hens||International League||Jack Tighe|
|AA||Montgomery Rebels||Southern League||Frank Carswell|
|A||Rocky Mount Leafs||Carolina League||Al Federoff|
|A||Lakeland Tigers||Florida State League||Len Okrie|
|A-Short Season||Batavia Trojans||New York–Penn League||Bob Dustal|
|Rookie||GCL Tigers||Gulf Coast League||Wayne Blackburn|