I rarely regret cable TV, but I would like to see this one: a documentary focusing on Detroit in the late sixties, and how the World Series winning '68 Tigers salved the wounds of the previous year's race riots. I was nine that summer, and barely cognizant of such matters, but I do remember the remarkable nature of that season. It was the year I got socialized. I'd never had any interest in sports, but that spring they had us playing T-ball at school, and as the Tigers gained momentum the interest among my peers was so pervasive that I couldn't help but become a fan. It was one of the few times I've wholeheartedly been involved in something so unabashedly mainstream. It was the year that Denny McLain won 31 games. That was (and remains) an amazing figure. My Dad told me stories from his childhood about Dizzy Dean, the St. Louis eccentric, and the last pitcher to win as many as 30. That had been in 1934, thirty-four years earlier; an unfathomable gulf for a child to contemplate. Now it's thirty-four years since '68, and while I've got a broader perspective on time, I'm no closer to understanding it. McLain seems as far away as Diz, yet I can recall the year's events as if it were last season. Mostly I heard them on the radio, narrated by Ernie Harwell, Detroit's Hall of Fame play-by-play man, who is retiring this year at age 84. Despite dominating the American League, the Tigers were Series underdogs against the champion Cardinals. They had Bob Gibson, who set the ERA record that year, but "only" managed a record of 22 and 9, which goes to show why '68 is remembered as the "year of the pitcher". He easily defeated McLain in their two series match-ups, but our number two guy, pot-bellied southpaw Mickey Lolich, emerged as the hero, winning three games. He beat the invincible Gibson in the deciding seventh game, pitching on short rest, as the Tigers came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to win their first series since 1945. It remains one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. The next year, I found out that (Yankees aside) sports is really about your team losing more often than it wins. Denny McLain ended up in jail as a two-bit mobster, and I haven't had much satisfaction from the mainstream since.

- alex 7-31-2002 12:48 am

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