Tim Wendel’s book, Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball — and America — Forever, bestows upon baseball fans an interesting perspective on the 1968 baseball season. He follows the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals as they marched through the competition on their way to the World Series. It was the season of the pitcher, but it was also a season of social unrest across the United States.
It was one of the most violent and disruptive domestic periods in U.S. history. Two of our leading National figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, were assassinated within months of each other. Anti-Vietnam protests gained momentum across the country. The area outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago rocked with riots and protests. To say the U.S. people harbored a lot of anger would be an understatement.
In 1967 Detroit burned with race riots. Governor Romney called out the National Guard to suppress the protestors. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, many feared the riots would resume. Did a winning Detroit Tigers team help to keep the lid on fresh riots? Read the book, and catch Wendel’s take on the subject.
Summer of ‘68 looks at the upheaval through the eyes of baseball players. Wendel interviews many of the former players to obtain their memories and opinions on the racial issues, assassinations, the Vietnam War and other social changes occurring that year.
The reader gets to know the players, Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Willie Horton and Mickey Lolich. That was the season Denny McLain threw for 31 wins. Mickey Lolich completed and won the three games he started in the World Series. Lou Brock ruled the base path for the Cardinals.
1968 was the year of the pitcher. In addition to the Cardinals and Tigers pitching staff, we learn about Gaylord Perry, Luis Tiant and Catfish Hunter. Luis Tiant was probably the best pitcher in the American League that season with four straight shutouts. He also had 21 wins and a 1.60 ERA, but the lack of team support from the Cleveland Indians hurt his overall performance.
The Great Confrontation reveals the 1967 World Series in all its glory. Wendel transforms each game into prose. Treating us to the highlights. Those who lived it will love to remember the games. Those that were not born yet, will get a chance to meet the stars and heroes of their grandfathers and fathers.
Not only did the United States go through changes that season, baseball and sports did also. After the year of the pitcher, Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 to 10 inches. They also shrank the strike zone. They determined the fans would rather see home runs than shutouts and no hitters.
The media was about to change as well. In 1968, there was no cable TV. Few games other than the World Series received national television coverage. Fans knew their teams from going to the ballpark or listening to the game on the radio. Game announcers became celebrities. Detroit kids tuned in to hear Ernie Harwell call the game; while in St. Louis they listened to Harry Caray.
Wendel makes the argument, Major League Baseball ruled the sports world in ’68. Football was quickly gaining popularity and would soon surpass baseball. Baseball represented a microcosm of Americana, and the interactions of the players, their off-field activities and their opinions, still represented a cross-section of the United States. As such, Wendel’s analysis of the existing literature, newsreels, and his player interviews from that season give readers a taste of the turbulence while keeping the reader interested and turning pages.