The end of the baseball season is upon us and I couldn’t be happier. As a fan of the Detroit Tigers–42 wins, 119 losses, and 48 games behind first place in the central division–I’ve felt for months that this year’s campaign couldn’t conclude soon enough. Better luck next year, guys–and thanks for not losing 120.
#ad#For as lousy as they were this year, the Tigers have been very good to my family over time. Every American boy deserves to have his favorite team win the World Series when he’s growing up, and the Tigers have had an uncanny knack for greatness once a generation. They won the World Series in 1945, when my father was turning 12. My (much) older brothers were about the same age in 1968, and I was 14 in 1984.
In that 1984 season–104 wins, 58 losses–my heroes were Trammell, Whitaker, Parrish, Gibson, and Morris. Before then, however, the heroes of my imagination were on that 1968 club: Kaline, McLain, Horton, Northrup, and Lolich. One of the hand-me-downs I inherited from my brothers was an hour-long LP called “The Year of the Tiger,” featuring radio announcers Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane calling games and summarizing the season, plus a corny theme song:
We’re all behind our baseball team,
Go get ‘em, Tiger!
World Series bound and picking up steam,
Go get ‘em, Tiger!
I wore out that old record as a kid and still have it packed in a box somewhere today. But I don’t have a record player anymore, so I can’t play it for my own brood.
But then–eureka!–I discovered that a little company called Gadfly Records has put out The Year of the Tiger on CD. (Says the Gadfly website: “When people hear of Gadfly Records for the first time, they often ask ‘What kind of CDs do you release?’ Quite simply, we specialize in offbeat and unique projects…”)
I ordered a copy and have been playing it nonstop since it arrived last week. For me, this year’s World Series isn’t between the Yankees and the Marlins; it’s between the Tigers and the Cardinals. And–uh oh–the Tigers are down three games to one against a heavily favored opponent, and they’re losing in the seventh inning of game 5. (Maybe this is why baseball is called the national pasttime.)
I’ve written about the 1968 season before, and I suppose I’ll keep on doing it as long as the current team remains so uninspiring. It was a magical year: By the time the Tigers had secured the American League pennant, they had won 29 games in their last at-bat. On August 11, pinch-hit specialist Gates Brown did it twice in the same day, during a double-header against Boston. In the first game, he hit a homer in the 14th inning; in the nightcap, an RBI single in the 9th made the difference.
Denny McLain, of course, was the team’s outstanding performer in 1968–he won 31 games, plus the Cy Young and MVP awards. The starting rotation was rock-solid. At one point, the Tigers played 11 straight games without going to the bullpen. The team had lots of heroes, from Al Kaline coming back from a broken arm to centerfielder Mickey Stanley moving to shortstop for the World Series.
And what a fantastic series it was. In the first game, St. Louis hurler Bob Gibson struck out 17 Tigers–a record. Things looked bleak for Detroit, especially after Game 4, when the Cards thrashed Detroit, 10-1. In Game Five, on the brink of a championship, St. Louis jumped to an early lead. But the Tigers roared back, throwing out Lou Brock at home plate and returning to their come-from-behind formula. The Tigers romped in Game 6, setting a record for runs scored in a single World Series inning (12) and winning 13-1. In Game 7, pitcher Mickey Lolich capped off one of the great championship performances in baseball history: three wins, the final one achieved on two days of rest. The last out was made by Tim McCarver, who is one of announcers in the Fox Sports booth at this year’s fall classic.
But I’m not hearing McCarver much these days. Instead, I’m listening to him pop out to Tigers catcher Bill Freehan–again and again and again.