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The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real…

The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real Champions (original 1997; edition 2014)

by George Cantor

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Title:The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real Champions
Authors:George Cantor
Info:Taylor Trade Publishing (2014), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real Champions by George Cantor (1997)



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The year 1968 was a turbulent one in the U.S. It was a year of assassination, a year of violent demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and yet another year of war in Vietnam. Yet it was also one of the best years of my life, the year I married my true love, the year I moved to a new town and started a new job where I would stay for the rest of my career and the year my team, the Detroit Tigers, won the World Series.

So there was no way, almost 49 years later, I was not going to enjoy reading "The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real Champions" by George Cantor. What I didn't expect was how terrific this book, published in 1997 and reprinted in 2014, would be. In just 230 pages of brilliant prose, Cantor covers not just a great team but also those turbulent times in which the Tigers roared.

Race riots in Detroit in 1967 left the once-great city in ruins. Much of the white population fled to the suburbs. It has been said that the 1968 Tigers saved the city, but that is not quite true, for a half century later Detroit has still not recovered. But they certainly helped, uniting fans, both black and white, at least for those few months.

Cantor did not spend much of his journalistic career as a baseball writer, but he did cover the Tigers for the Detroit Free Press (after Brent Musberger declined the job) in 1968. But then a strike kept the Detroit papers closed for much of the summer, and it took awhile for enthusiasm for the team to build and attendance to pick up.

The author's coverage takes readers from spring training that year to the seventh game of the World Series, where Mickey Lolich bested Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet he also seeks out many of the players from that team, including Lolich, Earl Wilson, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan, Gates Brown, Al Kaline and John Hiller, many of whom in the mid-'90s still lived in the Detroit area, and asked them to reflect on that team and their lives after baseball. These interviews alone make the book worth reading.

So what is the meaning of Cantor's subtitle, "Baseball's Last Real Champions"? Mostly it is a commentary on the fact that Major League Baseball went to a playoff system in 1969, meaning that a team now doesn't necessarily have to have the best record in its league to get into the Series. Yet so much else has changed with baseball since 1968, including salaries, free agency, the designated hitter and the way pitchers are used. In 1968 Tiger pitchers had 59 complete games, including 28 by Denny McClain, who won a mind-boggling 31 games. Last year the pitching staff had just three complete games.

Furthermore, all the World Series games were still played during the day that year, and the seventh game took just two hours and seven minutes. Today Series games can take twice that long and are all played at night, meaning that many fans, especially children, never get to watch the ninth innings of most games.

To love this book, it helps to have been a Tiger fan in 1968, but it certainly isn't necessary. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Feb 27, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book belongs to a genre I call "sports nostalgia" (if there is not such a genre, there should be). Books in this genre turn the spotlight on important events or personalities in a bygone era, allowing the reader the enjoyment of learning about, or remembering, past glories and--if done well-sharing details about the events that might be new. I am a longtime Tigers fan and remember this World Series vividly, as well as the Detroit Riots and the atmosphere of that time. So I am in the audience most likely to enjoy this lively and informal retelling. However I think anyone interested in baseball would have a good time with this. The author packs the narrative with amusing anecdotes about the major personalities and brings us up to date on what they are doing now. Some of the book's appeal is the almost poignant contrast between major league baseball as it was then and as it is now. No stratospheric salaries, television had not yet completely taken over the game, the players' private lives were mostly private, and so on. One of baseball's enduring appeals is its emphasis on the history of the sport. This book is a great addition to that record. ( )
  chillybee | Jul 6, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Loved it! I was just a kid and didn't remember all the details or how the events played out. I remember listening to game 7 of the 1968 World Series on Armed Forces Radio in England and cheering wildly when the Tigers won. I do wish that the reprint had a where are they now chapter or an epilogue from 1996 to present day do tell us about the lives of those '68 Tigers. ( )
  foof2you | Jun 8, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I missed out on the 1968 team. I grew up with the Tigers teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The 1968 team was the benchmark for comparison. I knew most of the names prior to reading this book, but George Cantor made the personalities and season come alive. What an amazing season. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any sports fan. ( )
  ShoreTurtle | Jun 8, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Every time I fill out a scorecard at the ballpark, I am always transported to my youth, sitting next to my Dad in the upper deck bleachers of Tiger Stadium learning to keep score, getting sick on popcorn and hoping a ball might make its way to my little baseball glove. For years, I was convinced alkaline batteries were named after the great outfielder, Al Kaline. No question I had to get mitts on George Cantor's 1997 THE TIGERS OF '68 when it came out in reissue. It is quoted authoritatively in the SABRE biography project. For students of the game, Tiger fan or not, this a must have.

For some, this will be evocative of old time baseball's last hurrah -- the last year before expansion, the last year of true pennant races before division playoffs took over, World Series games played in early October and early enough for children to watch, pitchers pitching complete games and games completed in about two hours. Days before bloated salaries, bloated egos and bloated game times. Days when you could head up to the Lindell AC after a game and swig beers with Norm Cash and Willie Horton. In clear economical prose, Cantor recounts the Detroit Tigers' trek to the World Series, taking on defending champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. Interspersed throughout are where-are-they-now (1997-style) character sketches of the greats: Lolich, Kaline, Wilson, McLain, Freehan, Stanley, Northrup, Horton and others.

I loved all the chatty insider talk. Like when Jim Northrup nearly killed Denny McLain after catching him cheating at cards. Mickey Lolich serving in the National Guard during the riots in the city. Bob Gibson's take on McLain tossing a gimme pitch to Mantle to boost his career HR totals. Who did (and didn't) attend Jim Campbell's funeral. Or Norm Cash, on second base at the start of a rain delay, taking third base when play resumed:

"What are you doing over there?" he was asked by the umpire.
"I stole third," he replied.
"When did that happen?" asked the ump, earnestly puzzled.
"During the rain."

A fun read especially over a Memorial Day weekend with the game on the radio in the background. ( )
1 vote michigantrumpet | Jun 1, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0878339280, Hardcover)

The Tigers of '68: Baseball's Last Real Champions is the uproarious, stirring tale of this team, a group of hell-raisers that brawled on the field and partied hard afterwards. This book revisits the main performers of this illustrious team and weaves their stories into a cohesive narrative that captures all the drama and color of Detroit's 1968 season.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:31 -0400)

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