1968 Deluxe Past Season with transactions and lineups available now!

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1968: Tragedy, Tumult, and the Shrine on Michigan and Trumbull

by Steve Ehresman

America in 1968, torn apart by assassinations and riots, faced an uncertain future. The deaths of Martin Luther King, Junior and Robert F. Kennedy were dark chapters in our nation’s journey through a nightmare decade of war and civil unrest. Few constants remained to remind the American people that they have always been stronger and more resilient than the forces of despair. For those who still believed in our nation’s spirit, institutions like baseball offered solace and healing in even the most painful of times.

In the quiet, seemingly reliable world of our National Pastime, life on the diamond proceeded with equanimity, despite the fact that Major League Baseball was posed on the brink of revolutionary changes. With the unexplored worlds of expansion and divisional play on the horizon, some have come to regard 1968 as the last authentic baseball season, one that our ancestors would have recognized because it had been in place since the established National League and the upstart America League declared a truce and began playing post-season games dubbed the “World Series.” After 1968, baseball would evolve and usher in a “brave new world.”

No better testimonial exists to describe the 1968 season than the fact that its two Cy Young Award winners were also MVPs in their respective leagues. In the National League, MVP Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals awed the sports world by compiling a 1.12 ERA, on his way to a 22-9 season, in which he struck out a league-leading 268 National League hitters and tossed 13 shutouts. Not to be outdone, the American League MVP, Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, put together a record-breaking 31-6 campaign, along with a 1.98 ERA and a staggering 28 complete games.

Whereas other hurlers, such as Luis Tiant (21-9, 1.60 ERA, 9 shutouts), Sam McDowell (283 strikeouts, 1.81 ERA), Dave McNally (22-10, 1.95 ERA), Mel Stottlemyre (21-12, 2.45 ERA), Fergie Jenkins (20-15, 2.63 ERA), and Juan Marichal (26-9, 2.43 ERA), vied for the attention of America’s baseball fans, Gibson and McLain truly compiled seasons for the ages in the “Year of the Pitcher.”

It would be inaccurate to overlook the outstanding offensive statistics many batters compiled in 1968, despite the overall dominance of hurlers. Batting champions Carl Yastrzemski (.301) and Pete Rose (.335) consistently hit opposing pitchers, while Frank Howard (44 home runs) and Willie McCovey (36 home runs, 105 RBI) led their respective leagues in slamming long balls. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson prospered in his first full-season with the Red Sox, slamming 35 home runs and compiling 109 RBI. Bert Campaneris and Lou Brock tied for the lead in stolen bases with 62 apiece. Cincinnati debuted a twenty-year-old catcher, who hit 40 doubles, clubbed 15 home runs, and drove in 82 runs, while posting a .275 average. The National League would hear much more from Johnny Bench in the years ahead.

In the Fall Classic, the upset-minded Detroit Tigers faced the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Led by an outstanding cast, the Bengals captured a championship for Motown, besting the Red Birds in a compelling seven-game World Series, in which Mickey Lolich starred and Mickey Stanley played shortstop. The team that many Detroit fans have called “Baseball’s Last Real Champions” brought hope and calm to Tiger Stadium and to a great, but troubled, American city.

Since that turbulent summer, baseball has forged ahead, never looking back: adding divisional play, a designated hitter, free agency, new teams, and even wild cards. Although the National Pastime is prosperous and healthy, our fascination with the Boys of Summer from an earlier age has never waned. Diamond Mind is excited to re-issue this historical season, complete with all the features that have made it a leader in baseball simulations. Order yours today, and replay the year in which Major League Baseball bid adieu to the old era and stepped boldly into the future.

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  • Jim Wheeler