This season’s World Series match up stirs up memories of my youth. Grab a cup of something warm. I’m gonna be awhile, here.
It was 1967 and I as about to become a baseball fan forever. My dad thought his young boy was ready. Ready to begin the journey to understand the nuances and mysteries of our nation’s finest game. Ready to learn how to fill out a scorecard. I attended my first game at Tiger stadium that summer. Coming through the tunnel of the upper deck, I had never seen grass so green.
He sat me down one night and continued my baseball education through its greatest event, the World Series. That year, the Boston Red Sox were up against the St. Louis Cardinals. As an American League family, we would root for the Red Sox, I was told. Carl Yastrzemski was the best player on the Sox. “The best player in ALL OF BASEBALL!” “MVP”, I heard him say. “Triple Crown” entered my vocabulary. To this day, when I hear those words, I think of Yastrzemski, not horse racing. “Watch his technique”, my dad said. “Not pretty, but he works hard and gets the job done.” A lesson my dad would frequently bring home in my youth:
“Just get the job done, even if it isn’t pretty”.
This is where my “disdain” for Bob Gibson (and my admiration of athletic perfection) started. Where my love for tradition and Boston’s Green Monster began. Eight days (and three Gibson wins) later it was over. My heart was broken. My adopted BoSox had been beaten in seven games by the National League enemies in red. From that day forward, the Red Sox would be my second favorite baseball team. Which probably explains why I hate the Yankees.
I spent most of the next summer playing catch with my friends, learning the mechanics of the great game, and sifting through the newspaper’s sports pages keeping up with my home team, the Detroit Tigers. I thought maybe someday I would see my heroes play in the World Series. “Maybe THIS YEAR”, I’d tell my dad. “Maybe, son”, he would say. But he said it as a man who had waited what seemed like a lifetime to see his Tigers on the big stage again. He was not much older than I was when the world was at war, the Tigers beat the Cubs in the ’45 Series and the Curse of the Billy Goat began.
That summer, my room was decorated with baseball memorabilia. Sometimes the local paper would include special cards featuring individual players. I had them all. By Independence day, my dad began to believe. Whenever we had the opportunity we would be in front of the TV watching Lolich, McClain, Northrup, Brown, Horton, Cash, Freehan and the rest of MY Detroit Tigers. Two days before my birthday, Denny McClain became the first 30 game winner since Dizzy Dean. The day after my birthday, it happened. The Tigers beat the Yankees, 2-1, to clinch the American League pennant.
And they would face Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals.
On October 2nd, it started. We lost game one. And worse, Gibson beat our ace, McClain. While Lolich and the boys won game two, by Sunday (when Gibson beat McClain AGAIN) it was “going to be a challenge”, my dad said. But I had no frame of reference for this. This HAD to be the year! I had waited a WHOLE YEAR for this!
Three days later, Lolich had won game five in Tiger Stadium (and I learned that Bill Freehan was a BRICK WALL) and McClain and the Tiger bats CLOBBERED St. Louis in game six. When I found out it was Lolich and Gibson in game seven, my mind flashed back to a year before when Gibson, the machine, destroyed the Red Sox three times to win the series. I tried to keep my hopes high. My dad said, “this is going to be a great series”. My dad seemed to have a way of knowing things.
Back then, most games (even the World Series) were day games. It was a weekday and I was in school. When the game started, my teacher closed the classroom door and turned on the television. We were elated!
THIS was EDUCATION, my friends. THIS was HISTORY.
Two hours later Bill Freehan caught a pop foul off the bat of Tim McCarver and it was CHAOS! My Tigers had come back from a 3-1 deficit to win THREE STRAIGHT GAMES AND THE 1968 WORLD SERIES! That night I slept with my mitt and tried to fall asleep staring at the photos of my heroes on the walls around me in my room. I kept replaying the key moments of the series in my mind. I couldn’t stop smiling.
The next morning, I walked to the kitchen. The Detroit newspaper laying on the breakfast table said it best:
Go Tigers. And, this year, Go Red Sox!
“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” ― George F. Will