Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Summer of '68 (2012)

By Tim Wendel

Students of American history know that 1968 was a very historic year. The facts are easy to revisit -- Vietnam, Presidential election, assassinations, and so on.

It was a very busy year in sports, too. Joe Namath was at his peak as a quarterback (he'd help his Jets win the Super Bowl), the Boston Celtics' dynasty was rolling along, and a crazy Olympic Games took place in Mexico City. That doesn't include the World Series, which at the time was an obvious highlight of the sports calendar.

What's more, the fun and games weren't held in a vacuum. Those playing our sports were certainly influenced by events taking place around them.

Author Tim Wendel takes a look back at the year, concentrating on baseball, in his new book, "Summer of '68." Just a look at the psychedelic cover will have you ready to give this book a "far out, man" rating.

The two teams in the Series that year were perfect examples of the times influencing the games. The St. Louis Cardinals had a great mixture of players -- blacks, whites, and Latins -- who all got along and played together. The Cardinals were coming off wins in the Series in 1964 and 1967. The list of stars was a long one, including Bob Gibson and Lou Brock.

In their way in the 1968 World Series were the Detroit Tigers. That team missed out on the American League title the year before by a game, and probably had the best team. The Tigers were determined to erase that black mark on the record, and they did in relatively easy fashion. In fact, Wendel doesn't have much drama concerning either of the pennant races to cover here.

The Tigers' players grew up together in the minor leagues and thus came of age together in Detroit. Some of them were even from Michigan, and thus had an immediate connection to the area upon arriving in the big leagues. It was impossible for those players not to notice that the city had been clobbered by riots in the summer of '67. The Tigers received some credit for a lack of problems in that department in 1968.

Wendel uses a series of anecdotes to get the point across about the year. The baseball portions often centered on 1968 as "The Year of the Pitcher," as Denny McLain had a 31-win year and Bob Gibson's earned-run average was just over 1.00. There were other stars that year, such as Luis Tiant and Don Drysdale. But then, in the next section, the story can jump to track star Jim Ryun trying to figure out how best to run in the altitude of Mexico City in the Olympics.

Wendel does have a memorable World Series to work with as a climax. The Cardinals raced out to a 3-1 lead, only to let it slip away. Mickey Lolich (three wins) was the unexpected hero for the Tigers, while Curt Flood (Game Seven error) was something of an unexpected goat as unfair as that description is.

Wendel did some good research here, checking out a variety of books and articles for reference material. He also talked to some of the principals, even though quite a few from that time period have died. Has it really been 44 years?

What we have, though, is more than worth your time. Tim is an old friend of mine, as readers of this space might remember, so for me to say his work is worth your time isn't unexpected. Besides, I'm in the acknowledgements. That's why there's no rating. Still -- if you are old enough to have lived through the year (guilty), you'll remember a lot and learn a bit more. If you aren't, then you're in for an engaging head-shaking look back.

Learn more about this book

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