The 1969 Baseball Winter Meetings

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in December 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

As the 1969 baseball winter meetings approached, the central issues on the minds of most owners were the recommendations of a restructuring committee that had been created a year ago. At the previous year’s meeting in San Francisco the owners had fired William Eckert as commissioner, and had formed a group to examine ways to restructure the management of the game in an attempt to reduce the league squabbles that had been plaguing baseball over the past decade.

Would baseball reorganize to reduce the power of individual leagues? In 1969, the two professional football leagues completed their merger and placed themselves firmly under the direction of a single powerful commissioner – Peter Rozelle. It escaped no one’s notice professional football was thriving, particularly when compared with the so-called National Pastime.

The 1969 winter meetings were held from Sunday, November 30 through Saturday, December 6 in south Florida, split between Fort Lauderdale and Bal Harbour.

It is instructive to consider how autonomous the leagues were a few decades ago. The leagues could expand or move teams without regard for the other league. The leagues had different umpiring crews, who stood in different places on the field and who often received different direction on rules – when to call a balk, when and how to enforce the spitball rule, how to define the strike zone. Teams did not co-ordinate on scheduling – in 1960 the National League started the season a week earlier than the American League.

After firing Eckert at the 1968 meetings, the owners had hired Bowie Kuhn as interim commissioner in February, and then signed him to a seven-year contract in August. At the 1969 meetings in December, the restructuring committee, formed a year earlier, made its proposal to their fellow teams.

In essence, the committee recommended giving significantly more power to the commissioner by making the two league presidents essentially his deputies, responsible to the commissioner first and the league owners second. The presidents would be nominated by the commissioner and approved by the owners. The two league offices would move to New York (traditionally they had moved to wherever the president happened to live), as would the minor league offices.

Moreover, the two league umpiring staffs would be merged into a single staff under the commissioner, rather than managed by the league presidents. The commissioner would also have control of a number of additional people and spheres. He would appoint the chairman of the Playing Rules Committee, a broadcast coordinator, an administrative officer, and various aides, lawyers, and assistants.

Of paramount importance, all playing or operating rules changes or structural changes would require a two-thirds majority of all owners and a simple majority of each league, making it much more difficult for a small group in one league to block a measure favored by most of the owners. Currently the two leagues voted independently and separately and had their own procedures for how their votes were counted. The National League, for example, required unanimous consent on some issues, like relocation or expansion. In 1968 a single owner – Houston’s Roy Hofheinz – had reportedly blocked expansion to Dallas, which the rest of the owners wanted.

To a very large degree the restructuring plan was delivered a blow two days before it was presented when the National League voted 12-0 to hire Chub Feeney to replace the retiring Warren Giles as league president. It was known that Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wanted Giles to stick around during this transitional period. The sudden appointment of Feeney, who was a member of the restructuring committee and well aware of what was in the coming report, was a significant defeat for Kuhn and the committee.

The National League, which still called itself the “senior circuit” seven decades after the AL was founded, took pride in its own superiority – it had most of the best players, had much higher attendance, and had won the past seven All-Star games. Many AL clubs struggled financially in the 1960s, including Cleveland, Chicago (who were essentially rescued by playing 20 games in Milwaukee over the previous two seasons), and Seattle (who was bankrupt).

The NL also had more stability within its ranks, and was particularly weary of any loss of independence and power. During these troubling times it was the AL who wanted to make changes to the game – advocating for interleague play, the legalization of the spitball, and, eventually, the designated hitter. The NL generally held the time, and they were weary of having the AL dictate terms.

Feeney was opposed to interleague play, as Giles had been, and also announced that he planned to move his league’s offices from Cincinnati to San Francisco, and not to New York. Many were concerned about the time difference. “In the morning,” said one observer, “Don Grant (New York Mets), Joe Brown (Pittsburgh) and Don Davidson (Atlanta) will be asking, ‘where the hell is Chub Feeney?’”

No action was taken at the Florida meetings, but further get-togethers were scheduled to consider the details of the comprehensive proposals point by point.

In the end, most of the plan would eventually take hold, but it would take 30 years.

In a less dramatic matter, the major leagues approved a “caveat emptor” amendment to the existing rules regarding player trades. There had been two high profile deals in this past year in which a traded player decided to retire rather than report to his new team.

  • On January 22, 1969, the Montreal Expos traded first baseman Donn Clendenon and outfielder Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for outfielder Rusty Staub. Everything appeared fine for a few weeks, until February 28 when Clendenon announced his retirement. Most observers thought the trade would be called off at this point. In early March, Clendenon suggested he might be open to returning but not to Houston, though his public stance would change several times over the next few weeks. For his part, Staub was thrilled to be with the Expos, and Montreal was thrilled to have him. After considerable communication with all parties, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn reworked the deal by having Montreal send a couple of additional players to Houston and allowing Clendenon (who got a big raise) to remain with the Expos.
  • In early April the Red Sox made a six-player trade with the Indians, sending popular first baseman/outfielder Ken Harrelson to Cleveland. Harrelson, who had considerable business interests in Boston, announced that he was retiring. Kuhn froze the deal until he could arrange a meeting with Harrelson and executives from each club. After Harrelson got a new contract with a large raise, he “un-retired” and the trade was finalized.

The traditional way such matters had been handled in the past was to call off the entire trade.

Under the new rule, which even the commissioner believed was necessary, all trades, once agreed upon, would stand. It was up to the teams themselves to convince their players to report to work. Had this rule been in place a year earlier, both trades would have been final, and Clendenon and Harrelson would have been free to report or not as they wished.

The biggest trade of the winter meetings caused only minimal comment at the time. The champion New York Mets, whose third baseball Ed Charles chose to retire, sent two youngsters (outfielder Amos Otis and pitcher Bob Johnson) to the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Joe Foy. The Mets had long been seeking stability at third, and the 26-year-old Foy appeared to be the missing piece. “He’s a fine defensive third baseman and he gives us speed,” said Mets manager Gil Hodges. “I expect him to give us more offense, plus a good glove at third.”

After having been rebuffed at the winter meetings each of the past two Decembers, the players chose to hold their 1969 annual meeting at a different time and place than the owners: San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 13 and 14. Bowie Kuhn, who had not become commissioner until Feb. 4, 1969, spoke at the meetings and told the players he hoped they could coordinate their meetings in future years. In fact, Kuhn told the players that he considered himself the players’ commissioner too.

The players voiced a number of grievances to Kuhn, including the increase of artificial playing surfaces, the newer stadium designs, plans to have the fans vote for the All-Star teams beginning in 1970, and the stalled CBA negotiations. (The very first CBA, agreed upon two years earlier, was to expire on December 31).

The most important issue discussed at the players’ meetings involved star outfielder Curt Flood, who had been traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia in October but now wanted to file suit against baseball to end its hallowed reserve clause. Miller invited Flood to speak to the players, who asked tough questions about his motivations and plans. After hearing from Flood, the player voted unanimously to support his legal case financially and otherwise,

This would prove to be a momentous decision, part of the thread that took down the reserve clause six years later.

As with most winter meetings in this period, it would take years to fully understand the history that was being made. The owners spent most of their time on restructuring their management, while the players were working on dismantling their core economic system. A new decade dawned, baseball’s biggest one yet.

 

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The 1968 Baseball Winter Meetings

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in December 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

Like the rest of the country, baseball was sailing through troubling waters in 1968. In the view of many observers, baseball had been overtaken by professional football as the national sport, especially with young people. It was the now sport of their grandfathers, but lacking in the excitement and violence offered up on Fall afternoons in the NFL.

Baseball’s biggest problem, though by no means the only one, was the alarming dominance of its pitchers – or, if you prefer, the alarming ineptitude of its hitters. This trend had been dismissed as a fluke a few years earlier but had instead gotten steadily worse. How bad was it? A full 21% of all major league games were shutouts in 1968. The American League hit .230 (the venerable Yankees managing .214). No-hitters, long shutout streaks, batters hitting below .200, pitchers with ERAs below 2.00 – none of this was unusual, or special, any longer.

Baseball was getting hammered in the press, who concluded that baseball needed on-field changes, but that its management was so dysfunctional and inept, with two leagues that operated without regard for the other, that nothing was ever done. “It would be terrible for us to continue on whistling through the graveyard and ignore what is happening,” said Cleveland president Gabe Paul.

The 1968 major-league winter meetings were held at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco from Sunday, December 1 through Saturday, December 7. Surprisingly many, baseball acted in dramatic ways.

Most people focused on the Rules Committee meeting, at which significant changes to the playing rules were agreed upon: beginning in 1969 the pitchers’ mound would be 10 inches above the height of the plate, rather than 15 inches, and the strike zone would be reduced to encompass the top of the knee to the armpit, instead of the bottom of the knee to the top of the shoulder.

Most baseball people seemed to be crossing their fingers. “All this stuff is trial and error anyway,” said Atlanta general manager Paul Richards. “If it works, let’s do it.” Dodger manager Walter Alston was less optimistic. “The good hitters are still going to hit and the rotten hitters are still going to strike out.”

Of importance to record keepers and historians, if not to the game on the field, baseball also created the first official “save” rule. Writers had been using the term informally for years, and the Sporting News had created a rule (which they regularly modified) several years earlier, but in 1969 the save would be part of the official record for the first time.

The rule would credit a “save” to a reliever who entered the game with a lead and held that lead until the end of the game, provided he did not earn a “win.” The rule would also allow a pitcher to get a save without finishing the game if he was removed for a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner – in such a case, the official scorer could choose from among multiple eligible candidates. This original save rule remained in place through 1973, and all 1969-1973 saves in the record book reflect this rule.

The American League also agreed to try some experimental rules in spring training: the use of a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher; a permanent pinch-runner who could be used anytime; and the automatic awarding of first base on an intentional walk. “These tests,” said AL President Joe Cronin, “will be made at the discretion of the president.”

For most fans, the winter meetings are about trades. In the biggest deal of the meetings, one that would have large ramifications over the game for the next several years, the Baltimore Orioles traded infielder-outfielder Curt Blefary and minor-leaguer John Mason to the Houston Astros for left-handed pitcher Mike Cuellar, infielder Enzo Hernandez, and minor leaguer Tom Johnson. In the end, the only piece that mattered was Cuellar, who became an anchor for the great Orioles staffs over the next several years.

Houston had deemed Cuellar expendable despite three good seasons, and had wanted to trade him for a hitter. They had tried to get Jesus Alou from the Expos (which also would have been a terrible trade). Baltimore, on the other hand, had a surplus in the outfield – Earl Weaver had taken over as Orioles manager in July and had given Blefary’s job to Don Buford. Blefary, the 1965 American League Rookie of the Year, had not been happy about it, and the Orioles decided to cash him in. They would soon be one of history’s great teams.

Meanwhile, per longstanding tradition the players union held their annual meetings in the hotel, which led to a fair bit of drama. In September, MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller had advised the players not to sign their 1969 contracts until a new pension agreement — replacing one expiring on March 31 — was reached. The clubs’ pension contribution had traditionally been tied to World Series and All-Star Game television revenue, and baseball had recently signed a new lucrative TV deal, which included additional revenue for two brand new League Championship Series. Understandably, the players wanted to share in this new bounty.

Once he arrived in San Francisco, Miller was told that the owners were too busy to meet with them (as they had been too busy in Mexico City a year earlier). After their Wednesday board meeting, Miller held a press conference and read off the names of dozens of players, including such luminaries as Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, and Willie Mays, who had agreed not to sign their 1969 contracts without a pension agreement in place.

The owners claimed this was all just a ploy. “A negotiating tactic,” said John Gaherin, the owner’s chief negotiator, “but it is not conducive to a healthy climate for a settlement.” (The players held firm for three months, until a favorable pension accord was finally reached in late February.)

But the most dramatic act of the meetings took place on Friday the 6th, when the owners fired Commissioner William Eckert three years into his seven-year contract. The owners wanted a new commissioner who would provide bold and imaginative leadership, traits that Eckert clearly did not have.

The owners claimed they were looking for a complete restructuring of the game, changes that would rid baseball of the squabbling between the leagues that had plagued it for years. They wanted someone like Pete Rozelle – who was overseeing the merger of the NFL and AFL and achieved more cooperation between the two leagues in a few months than the baseball’s leagues had achieved in more than 60 years of co-existing.

Mike Burke of the Yankees, one of the “Young Turks” who was angling for change, thought baseball needed to deal with the fact that it was losing popularity. “We recognize our problem. It’s the attitude of the public at large that baseball is not with it, that it’s not as contemporary as football, hockey and basketball, the contact sports. It’s an attitude that exists and we’ve got to decide what to do about it. We need strong, courageous, intelligent leadership.”

There were no discussions on a replacement – Eckert was fired on the final day of the meetings – but a committee was formed to consider ways to restructure the game. What many wanted was less league autonomy, the start of a unification process that would take 30 years to complete.

The 1968 Winter Meetings were one of the most important ever. The news included new rules changes, the axing of a commissioner, and more dramatic — and ominous – rumblings from the players. The year ahead would include four new expansion teams, league championship playoffs, and a year-long celebration of their centennial.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have a problem. Baseball had taken the first step, but there were many more ahead.

 

The 1967 Baseball Winter Meetings

 

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in December 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

Fifty years ago baseball used its annual multi-day winter meetings as a place to get things done. In the days before email and cell phones, and in the very early days of primitive “conference calls,” these meetings were the best opportunity for all of baseball’s owners and general managers to meet face to face, to make decisions on their business, to debate rules changes, to consider franchise moves, or to negotiate trades.

Then as now, there were many different meetings – league meetings, marketing meetings, rules committee meetings, meetings for the minor leagues, and many more – along with the informal get-togethers between teams to discuss trades. In the 1967 National League meeting, Astros president Bill Giles suggested that each club select a candidate for a “Miss Baseball” beauty contest. It was a different time.

The 1967 major-league winter meetings were held in Mexico City from Sunday, November 26 through Saturday, December 2.

The most pressing matter was expansion.

The offseason had been launched just after the World Series when the American League granted permission to Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley to move his team to Oakland. Finley had tried to relocate several times before, and in 1964 the American League had threatened to expel him from the league unless he signed a four-year lease in Kansas City. He did so, but now the lease was up and he wanted out. His fellow league owners, the only people who mattered, reluctantly agreed.

When Kansas City civic officials threatened legal action, the American League hastily announced plans on October 18 to add new teams in 1969 in both Kansas City and Seattle. The National League was caught off guard, having believed that the two sides had an agreement to work together on any future expansion or relocation plans. Instead, the American League had placed a team just across the bay from the National League’s San Francisco franchise, and also in Seattle, considered a plum baseball city.

The telling point is that the leagues of this period largely operated independently. The AL had also jumped the gun on expansion in 1961, angering the NL, which expanded a year later. Then-commissioner Ford Frick was powerless to stop any of it, though he did extract a promise that future expansions or franchise moves would be worked out between the leagues. Several years later new Commissioner William Eckert was equally powerless. The AL was expanding, and that was that.

At their meeting in Mexico City, the National League “unanimously, if grudgingly” voted to expand by two teams by 1971, two years after the AL. “We were hoping they would expand at the same time as us,” said AL president Joe Cronin, “and maybe they will yet, but there is nothing we can do about it if they don’t.” He was right about that.

In the 1990s expansions, major league baseball awarded franchises to ownership groups, after considering local markets and ballpark plans. In the 1960s, the leagues first chose the city, and then scrambled to find an owner and a place to play.

The National League received entreaties from representatives of Milwaukee, San Diego, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, and Denver. San Diego, considered a strong choice, had already lured longtime Dodger executive Buzzie Bavasi to sign on as one of its owners. Bill DeWitt, a former executive with several clubs, was working with the Buffalo group.

At their own 1969 league meeting, the AL awarded its Seattle franchise to Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc., a group led by Pacific Coast League president Dewey Soriano, his brother Max, and Bill Daley, former board chairman of the Indians. The group said that Sicks’ Stadium, longtime home of the Seattle team in the Pacific Coast League, could be temporarily expanded to 30,000 seats and that construction on a new stadium would begin by 1970.

The American League owners also heard presentations from four groups hoping to land the Kansas City franchise, and promised to decide between them in January. One of the leading contenders was Ewing Kauffman, president of Marion Laboratories, who, unlike the other Kansas City groups, wanted to buy the entire team with his own money. (Kauffman ultimately was chosen, and became a model owner.)

The AL also established some details of its expansion draft, to be held in October 1968. Each of the new clubs would be able to select three players from each existing AL team (a total of 30 players for both Kansas City and Seattle) at a cost of $175,000 per player. The clubs were also required to pay $100,000 to join the league, bringing their initial expenditures to $5.35 million each. In addition, the new clubs would also be required to begin contributing to the player pension fund immediately, but would not be allowed to share in the TV deal for three years.

Like all expansions in all major sports, it was a major cash grab for the existing owners.

Meanwhile, team representatives met to discuss ways to speed up the games, which were now taking an alarming 2:37 on average. Umpires were asked to ensure that mound conferences between the pitcher and catcher be curtailed, that batters run back to the plate after a fouled bunt attempt, and that pinch-hitters be on the bench when the previous batter completed his time at bat, which would eliminate a pinch-hitter from running in from the bullpen. More interestingly, teams were asked to use golf carts to bring relievers in from the bullpen. The Yankees had long refused to use them, but said they will now comply.   A committee of general managers and managers was formed to explore other rules to speed up the game. Spoiler: they did not solve the problem.

Per tradition, the Major League Players Association held their annual meetings in Mexico City as well, with player representatives of all 20 teams present. Drama ensued when Executive Director Marvin Miller was told that the owners’ Player Relations Committee would not have time to meet with them. The union had made numerous proposals to the owners several months earlier (on what would become the very first Basic Agreement) and negotiations had been slow. “We were told further discussion would be needed in Mexico City,” said Miller. “The only reason the players are here is to conclude the negotiation.”

A few years earlier the players would have wagged their tales and returned home, but the 1966 hiring of Miller had changed the game. He held a press conference to lay out the state of the negotiations. The owners claimed to be surprised at the misunderstanding, and claimed that it was much ado about nothing. Atlanta general manager Paul Richards was more pointed: “Somebody’s lying. And I don’t think it’s the owners. If this guy continues these kinds of antics we might just have to get in the gutter with him.”

At their own press conference, player representatives announced that Miller had been given a new contract, through 1970, signaling that the owners could not avoid dealing with their controversial leader. The owners agreed to meet with the players in a couple of weeks back in New York.

At this point, the owners could have learned that the players should be taken seriously as a determined group who wanted a seat at the table and would continue to push until they got it. Instead, the owners went on with the misguided confidence that they retained the whip hand.

The two most pressing issues facing baseball at the end of the 1967 Winter Meetings were the need to finalize expansion plans in each league, and the need to continue and complete negotiations with the player’s union on what would be the first-ever Basic Agreement. Both issues seemed likely to conclude soon.

 

Oh Canada! (1992 World Series)

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in October 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

Twenty-five Octobers ago, baseball’s World Series finally made it north of the border, when the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Atlanta Braves in the Fall Classic. Canadian teams had been knocking at the door for many years – the Montreal Expos got to the final game of the NLCS in 1981 and competed for a string of division titles, while the Blue Jays had lost three ALCS’s (1985, 1989, 1991). But until 1992 the World Series had always been an all-USA affair.

Not only were the Blue Jays been a perennial contender (11 straight seasons of 85 or more wins starting in 1983), they had also become an economic behemoth in the game, causing national pundits to wonder how the Red Sox and Yankees would be able to compete with the Blue Jays in the AL East.

The reason for the optimism – or pessimism, if you were any of the other teams – was the 1989 opening of Skydome in June 1989. The first of what became a stadium boom in the game, Skydome was hailed as an engineering marvel with its retractable roof, and featured an adjoining hotel and prepaid luxury suites. Despite not moving in until June, the Blue Jays set an all-time attendance of 3.375 million that season, which they shattered the next year before going over 4 million for three years. The Yankees and Red Sox, meanwhile, were playing in aging stadiums without the luxury boxes that began sweeping the nation.

While the Blue Jays had broken through in the 1980s with a great crop of home grown players (Dave Stieb, Tony Fernandez, George Bell, and others), by 1992 general manager Pat Gillick was using his revenue advantage to field a lot of veteran stars: Roberto Alomar, Dave Winfield, Joe Carter, Jack Morris, and mid-summer pickup David Cone were all acquired as ready-made stars.

The Blue Jays opponents in the World Series were the Atlanta Braves, who had lost a classic Series to the Twins the previous year, but had just won a thrilling five game series over the Pirates. While a Toronto victory would be a first for Canada, an Atlanta victory would be a first for a team from the American South. The Braves were younger, and more homegrown – David Justice, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant had all debuted in the majors as Braves in the last few years. Winners of 98 games, 7 more than the Blue Jays, the Braves had to be considered a slight favorite.

The first game, played on Saturday, October 17 in Atlanta, started with Jimmy Carter throwing out the first ball. After the ex-president took his seat, the game turned into a pitching duel between Tom Glavine and Jack Morris (the hero of the 1991 series against the Braves as a Twin). With the Brave fans deafening America with their Tomahawk chop, the Blue Jays struck first on a solo homer by Joe Carter in the fourth. The fans were quiet for a few innings, or until Braves catcher Damon Berryhill hit a three-run homer off Morris in the sixth for a 3-1 lead that held up. For Glavine, it was a four-hit masterpiece, in a game that took just 2:37 to play.

On Sunday night the Braves looked like they were going to go up 2-0, as John Smoltz took a 4-2 lead into the eighth. The Blue Jays put together a run on a Dave Winfield single but still trailed 4-3 heading to the ninth. The Braves handed the ball to Jeff Reardon.

The Braves’ closer for most of 1992 had been Alejandro Pena, but they acquired the veteran Reardon from the Red Sox on August 31 specifically for this situation. He had 353 career saves (second all-time) when they got him, then he won three games and saved three more in September.

But in Game 2, Reardon did not get the job done. After walking pinch-hitter Derek Bell, he faced another pinch-hitter, Ed Sprague, who took Reardon over the left field wall. Suddenly it was 5-4, a lead the Blue Jays held in the bottom of the ninth. The series was tied.

After a day off, the first World Series game on Canadian soil took place on Tuesday night, a matchup of two youngsters: Toronto’s Juan Guzman and Atlanta’s Steve Avery. It was another great pitcher’s duel with hits difficult to come by. Avery was especially impressive, and he took a 3-hitter, and 2-1 lead, into the eighth. That lasted one batter, when Kelly Gruber homered down the line in left to tie things up.

With the game tied, Avery came back out in the ninth and gave up a leadoff single to Alomar. After three pitching changes, a steal, and bunt and two intentional walks, Reardon allowed a long single by Candy Maldonado on an 0-2 pitch for the ballgame. If one were to look for a single reason for the Braves relative lack of success in the post-season in the 1990s, you might settle on their problems with late game relief during most of that run. Reardon, their closer for the past six weeks, had failed in two straight games.

Game 4 was another pitchers duel, this one a battle of lefthanders: Jimmy Key and Tom Glavine. The two were very similar pitchers, Glavine a bit better and a bit more durable, enough to get him 305 wins and a plaque in the Hall of Fame before he was through. But Key won 186 games himself, and enjoyed many excellent seasons with the Blue Jays and Yankees.

The Blue Jays struck first, on a 3rd inning home run by Pat Borders, their light hitting catcher, and they made it 2-0 on an RBI single from Devon White in the 7th. Key had a shutout into the eighth, when he allowed a leadoff double, a bunt single and a ground ball to make the score 2-1. Blue Jay Cito Gaston turned to his bullpen to get the last five outs, and Duane Ward (the winning pitchers in Games 2 and 3) and Tom Henke finished it up quickly.

Time of game: 2 hours, 21 minutes.

Toronto now just had to win one game, and for Game 5 put the ball in the hands of Jack Morris, who had earned a reputation as a World Series hero. In the 1984 World Series, for the Tigers, he threw two outstanding complete game victories. In 1991, for the Twins, he had pitched two very good games (a win and a no-decision) before throwing a legendary 10-inning shutout to clinch the title. Morris had pitched well four days earlier in the Game 1 loss. The Blue Jays were understandably confident that they would wrap things up at home.

Neither Morris nor John Smoltz looked particularly sharp early, and the two teams reached the fifth knotted at 2-2. In the top of the 5th the Braves broke it open, with two singles, a double, an intentional walk, and a Lonnie Smith grand slam. The score was suddenly 7-2, and Morris was out of the game. Neither team scored again, so the series moved back to Atlanta, with Toronto still holding a 3-2 edge.

Game 6 was another great pitcher’s duel, David Cone against Steve Avery. After the teams traded runs early, Toronto outfielder Candy Maldonado homered in the fourth to make the score 2-1, and it stayed that way until there were two outs in the ninth.

Toronto’s end of game mastery had been playing out as scheduled. Duane Ward had cruised through the eighth, and the seemingly invincible Tom Henke looked ready to do the same. But after a leadoff single, a bunt, and fly ball, he allowed a two-out two-strike ground single to Otis Nixon and we had our first extra inning game of the series. Braves owner Ted Turner, and his girl friend Jane Fonda, were among the thrilled spectators.

The hero of the game, and the story of the series, ended up being the 41-year-old Dave Winfield. In his long outstanding career, Winfield had played in one previous World Series, with the 1981 Yankees, and his 1-for-22 line had caused Yankee owner George Steinbrenner to mock him as “Mr. May.” Eleven years later, Winfield hit .290 with 26 home runs for Toronto, and was back in October. In the first five games and ten innings, Winfield had managed just four singles in 21 at bats, a .190 clip.

In the top of the 11th, the Blue Jays got two runners on with two outs in front of Winfield, facing left-hander Charlie Liebrandt. After working the count to 3-2, Winfield smoked a two-run double down the left field line for a 4-2 lead. The Braves did not go quietly, scoring a run and putting the tying run on 3rd before finally succumbing.

The Blue Jays, and Canada, had their first championship. They would go on to repeat in 1993, putting themselves at the very center of the baseball world.

 

Lou Brock in the Series (1964-68)

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in October 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

At the 1964 baseball trading deadline (June 15 in those days), the St. Louis Cardinals made a six-player deal with the Cubs, a trade that really boiled down to swapping pitcher Ernie Broglio for outfielder Lou Brock. This deal remains famous as one of baseball’s all-time great swindles even as modern analysts have chipped away at Brock’s claim to greatness. He was not a very good defensive player, he did not walk much for a leadoff man, etc.

While he was actually playing, Brock was most famous for two things. First, he led the league in stolen bases nine times, despite not really being given a green light until he got to St. Louis at age 26. Stolen bases are not as championed as they once were (Who led the NL in steals in 2016? Wrong, it was Jonathan Villar), but in Brock’s era the stolen base crown was a valued accomplishment.

Second, Brock was a great post-season player on one of the era’s iconic teams. That remains undeniable, though perhaps less well known.

By 1964 the Cardinals had been a good team for several years, but were sitting at just 28-31 when they acquired Brock. The Cardinals desperately needed an outfielder, and GM Bing Devine and manager Johnny Keane coveted speed. The game was getting faster, especially in the National League, and the Cardinals were falling behind the times.

“None of us liked the deal,” admitted first baseman Bill White years later. “We lie and say we did, but we didn’t like that deal. In my opinion, Lou had a lot of talent, but he didn’t know anything about baseball. He might steal a base if you were up ten runs or down ten runs. But somehow, when he came to us, he turned everything around.”

Keane told Brock that he would play left field every day, that he would not be asked to bunt, and that he should steal bases anytime he thought he could make it. In pitcher Bob Gibson’s words, “Presto, we were transformed.”

Obviously there were other factors, but the Cardinals won their first four games with Brock and the team seemed to stabilize immediately. Batting second behind Curt Flood, Brock hit .348 with 42 extra-base hits and 33 steals in 103 games to finish out the season. And the Cardinals sprinted to a shocking pennant, benefitting from a September swoon by the Phillies.

In his first World Series game, the 26-year-old Brock singled and scored in the first and added a two-run double in the eighth to help lead the Cardinals to a 9-5 victory over the Yankees. After three hitless games, Brock closed out the series with seven hits in the final three contests, including a long home run off Al Downing in Game 7. For the series, Brock finished 9-for-30 (.300) with two doubles and a home run. Surprisingly, he attempted no steals against Yankee catcher Elston Howard, surely an accident of timing and circumstance. Such is the life of a base stealer.

The Cardinals won the 1964 World Series, and the acquisition of Brock quickly became accepted as the key in the club’s ascension. GM Bing Devine was fired in August, before their big surge, but still won the Executive of the Year award based in large part on his June trade for Brock.

The Cardinals dropped back to the pack in 1965 and 1966, while Brock cemented his stardom. He stole 63 bases in his first full year in St. Louis, the first Cardinal to swipe more than 50 in the 20th century. The next year he stole 74 and led the league for the first time.

Maury Willis deservedly gets most of the credit for bringing the stolen base back to baseball, and he led the league in steals for six straight years beginning in 1960. Starting in 1966, Brock took over.

After great trades for Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris in 1966, the next year the Cardinals rolled to an easy pennant, by ten and a half games. On a team filled with stars – Cepeda, Flood, and Tim McCarver had big years – Brock was one of the biggest, hitting .299, leading the league in runs and steals, and even hitting 21 home runs.

Then he took over the World Series against the Red Sox.

In the first game Brock delivered four singles and walk, two steals, and two runs scored in a 2-1 Cardinal victory. Jose Santiago pitched an otherwise brilliant game for Boston, but he could not keep Brock off the bases and it was the difference in the game.

The Red Sox – specifically Jim Lonborg – managed to keep Brock off the bases twice in the series, in Games 2 and 5, and Boston prevailed both times. In the other five games, Brock accumulated 12 hits, and – with considerable help from Bob Gibson’s three complete game victories – the Cardinals won in seven games.

Brock hit .414 in the series, with four extra base hits, a Series record seven steals (in seven attempts), and a reputation in New England as a royal pain.

In 1968 the Cardinals rolled again, winning the NL pennant easily, with Brock having another big year. In the Year of the Pitcher, Brock led the league in doubles, triples, and steals, and finished sixth in the league in total bases.

In the World Series, the Cardinals third in five years, they would face the Detroit Tigers. All of the pre-series hype focused on the matchup between the two ace pitchers: the Tigers’ Denny McLain, baseball’s first 30-game winner in 34 years, and still the most recent; and the Cardinals’ Gibson, whose 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts were the best totals in more than 50 years. They were scheduled to face off at least twice, and theoretically three times.

If there was a secondary story, it was Lou Brock, who had hit and run at will against the Red Sox the previous year. The Tigers catcher, Bill Freehan, was the game’s best, but the Tigers knew that their best hope was to keep Brock off the bases.

The first game was the Bob Gibson show (5-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts), and Brock contributed a home run and a stolen base to the cause. He managed a hit, a walk and two steals in a losing cause in Game 2.

In the third game, another Cardinal victory, Brock was on base four times on three singles and walk and stole three bases in four attempts. Brock led off Game 4 with a home run to right-center off McLain, and later tripled and doubled (immediately stealing third) in an easy 10-1 victory. Brock’s seventh steal tied the Series record that he had set the previous year, and it only took four games. The Cardinals were one win away.

Game 5 proved to be the turning point, and Brock played a pivotal role – though not one he wanted to play.

He led off the game with a double of Mickey Lolich, igniting a three-run rally and putting the championship in sight. So far, so good.

With the score still 3-0, Brock singled to start the third but when he tried to steal his eighth base, Freehan gunned him down. Coincidence of not, Brock never stole again in the rest of the series. In the fifth, he doubled, his 11th hit of the Series in just the fifth game. But when Julian Javier followed with a single, Tiger left fielder Willie Horton threw Brock out at home.

Although the Tigers had not stopped Brock from getting on base, they had managed to stop him on the bases twice. And when they put together rallies in the fifth and seventh innings, it was enough to secure a 5-3 victory to push the Series to Game 6.

Brock played little role in the final two games, both Tiger victories. His lone hit in the sixth game came when the Tigers had built a 13-0 lead, a lead that proved sufficient.

In the Game 7, Brock singled to lead off the sixth in a game that was still scoreless. Surely, this was the biggest moment in the series, as all observers waited to see what he was going to do. What he actually did was … get picked off by Mickey Lolich. In fact, with two outs Curt Flood singled, and Lolich picked him off too.

In the following half inning, the Tigers got the three runs that proved to be decisive, and they ultimately won the clincher, 4-1. Lolich was the big star of the series, with three victories, and he was particularly praised for controlling Brock on the basepaths in Games 5 and 7.

For the 1968 World Series, Brock hit .464, tying a record with 13 base hits (still the record), tying a record with 24 total bases, and tying his own record with 7 stolen bases.

Although Brock played another 11 seasons, he never made it to the post-season. He won several more stolen base titles, eventually setting both the single season and career records, and surpassed 3000 hits in his final season. Considering that he never really got the chance to play his game until he was 26, it was a remarkable career.

But when Brock’s career his accessed, it seems right and proper that his excellent World Series record, including a .391 batting average, with 13 extra base hits in 21 games, be part of his resume and his legacy.

 

New Horizons (1957 World Series)

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in October 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

 

As the 1957 baseball season dawned, baseball fans in New York City could be forgiven if they had taken to think of the World Series as their very own event. In the recent decade (1947-56), there had been 58 World Series games played, and 48 of them had taken place in New York, including 36 of the past 38. Think about that.

Growing up in the 1970s, I was fed stories and books about this Golden Age, generally from adults or writers who had grown up in New York in this period and considered this the game’s zenith, the best time to grow up, to love the game, a team, a city, a neighborhood. And maybe it was. For them. If you grew up in Pittsburgh or Boston, maybe you’d have a different take.

If 1957 marked the end of the Golden Age for New York baseball, the final year of their three-team hegemony, one could argue that it marked the beginning for the rest of the country.

After baseball spent five decades with 16 teams in the same 11 cities, the Boston Braves broke the logjam with their move to Milwaukee in 1953. For their first six years in Wisconsin, the Braves had the highest attendance in the major leagues, until they were finally topped by another transplant – the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Braves, coincidentally or not, also became a very good team immediately upon landing in Milwaukee. The final Boston Braves team (1952) featured Warren Spahn, a couple of promising youngsters in Eddie Mathews and Lou Burdette, and a lot of veterans on their way out. Their 64 wins were 32 fewer than the Dodgers.

In 1953, Spahn (23-7, 2.10) and Mathews (47 homers) took big steps forward in their new homes, while youngsters Bob Buhl and Joe Adcock joined a suddenly young core. The Milwaukee Braves vaulted all the way to 92 wins, and finished second.

The next year they added Henry Aaron. That went well. The National League of the 1950s was loaded, as every team seemed to have a superstars or two. In 1956 the Braves lost the pennant on the final weekend of the season to the last great Brooklyn Dodgers team.

The 1957 Braves won the National League rather easily, winning 95 games to outpace the Cardinals by 8. Three superstars – Henry Aaron (44 homers, 166 OPS+), Eddie Mathews (32 homers, 154 OPS+), and Warren Spahn (21-11, 2.69) – led the way, all having their typical season. The Braves had two other good starters (Lou Burdette and Bob Buhl). Aaron and Mathews were most of the offense – no other Brave scored or drove in 70 runs – but manager Fred Haney cobbled together a few platoons and employed a deep bench.

The Braves opponent in the World Series, surprising no one, was the Yankees. The American League was filled with weaklings and sad sacks for the entire decade of the 1950s, and only a great year from the Indians in 1954 and a fluky 1959 Yankees off-year (allowing the White Sox to sneak in) kept the Yankees from winning 16 pennants in a row (1949-1964). The 1957 club won 98 games and took the pennant by eight.

The Yankees won the pennant every year by having better players than everyone else. In 1957, this included the league’s best player (Mickey Mantle, who hit .365 with a 221 OPS+), three-time MVP Yogi Berra (24 homers), underrated star Gil McDougald (120 OPS+ and great shortstop defense), and a large cast (Bill Skowron, Hank Bauer, Tony Kubek) of solid contributors. Whitey Ford missed several weeks with a sore shoulder, but manager Casey Stengel always managed to find a handful of people to give him 20-30 solid starts. In 1957, he got this out of Tom Sturdivant, Bob Turley, Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen and Bobby Shantz, who were plenty good enough to win another pennant.

With the middle three games scheduled for Milwaukee, the series included off days after Games 2 and 5. This seems perfectly normal to the modern fan, but this schedule had not yet become standard practice. In the previous 10 World Series (6 of which were New York affairs), there were no scheduled off days. (Weather problems created off days in 1951 and 1956). But in 1957 these off-days would allow the Braves to use just three starters, with Spahn ready to start three times, and mitigate the Yankees pitching depth advantage. The schedule had no effect on Stengel, who used five different starters in the World Series in 1955 and 1956, and would again this year.

In Game 1, a Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Ford outdueled Spahn 3-1 in a battle of aces. The Yankees, per habit, pecked away at Spahn relentlessly before breaking through on Bauer’s RBI double in the fifth and Andy Carey’s run-scoring single in the 6th. That chased the Braves’ best pitcher, and Ford had the runs he needed, finishing with an impressive five-hitter.

Perhaps reacting to Ford’s gem in Game 1, Stengel went with Shantz, his other lefty, in Game 2. This time the Braves scored four runs in the first four innings, highlighted by a long Aaron triple in the second and Johnny Logan home run in the third. Burdette allowed seven hits and three walks, but went the distance for a 4-2 victory to knot the series.

The scheduled off-day, Friday October 4, is more famous today for the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite. After a day for America to lick their wounds, the World Series came to Milwaukee for the first time on Saturday. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the real Bronx Bombers showed up. Tony Kubek, the second batter of the game, got things started by homering off Bob Buhl, Mantle homered in the fourth, and Kubek capped the scoring with another homer, a three-run blast, in the seventh. The Braves knocked Turley out with three hits and four walks in the first two innings, but all that just amounted to one run. The final was 12-3, and the Yankees had a 2-1 series lead.

Spahn was back on the hill for Game 4, this time facing Tom Sturdivant. Casey Stengel never shortened his pitching staff in the post-season – he gave his pitchers at least four days of rest in the regular season, and gave them the same in October, Whitey Ford included.

The Braves got to Sturdivant with four runs in the fourth, all of it coming on a three-run homer by Aaron and a solo shot from Frank Torre. This looked to be plenty for the great Spahn, who entered the ninth with a six-hitter and a 4-1 lead.

After retiring Bauer and Mantle, needing just one more out, Spahn was touched with singles to Berra and McDougald and then a stunning three-run home run from Elston Howard to tie the game. Just like that. Things got worse in the tenth, when the Yankees moved in a front when Bauer singled in Kubek, who had tripled.

Now the Yankees were three outs from a 3-1 series lead.

In the bottom of the tenth, Haney called on Nippy Jones to pinch-hit for Spahn against Tommy Byrne. The first pitch was a curveball and inside which past Berra to the backstop. Umpire Augie Donatelli called it a ball, but Jones retrieved the ball and showed it Donatelli, who found shoe polish and agreed that it had struck Jones’ foot. A few minutes later a run-scoring double from Logan tied the game, and a walk-off two-run homer from Mathews off Bob Grim sent the happy Braves to their dressing room. The Series was tied again.

Game 5 matched Burdette, the star of Game 2, against a well-rested Ford, the star of Game 1. Ford was once again brilliant, allowing just six singles over his seven innings, with a lone run coming when the Braves managed three of them in a row in the sixth – Mathews, Aaron, and Adcock. This proved the only run of the game, as Yankees poorly spaced their seven singles — in seven different innings. Burdette did not allow a walk in his brilliant 1-0 shutout.

The series returned to New York with the Braves needing to win one of two.

The Braves sent Bob Buhl out again for Game 6, and he struggled for the second time in the series. He wriggled out of trouble in the first and second, but finally allowed a two-run homer to Berra in the third. There were three more solo home runs in the game, two by the Braves (Torre and Aaron), but a final decisive one from Bauer in the 7th. Bob Turley went the distance in the 3-2 victory, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7.

The Braves were delivered a big blow when Warren Spahn came down with the flu and was unable to pitch. Having committed himself to three starters, Haney handed the ball to Burdette, who had shut out the Yankees three days earlier. The Yankees countered with Larsen, who had won Game 3 with 7 1/3 innings of great relief, and, of course, had thrown a perfect game in the Series the year before.

Remarkably, Burdette threw another seven-hitter, and another shutout, and the Braves four-run third inning was plenty of offense in a relatively easy 5-0 win. The Yankees only real rally came in the ninth inning, when their three singles were still not enough to get a run across. Burdette finished with three complete games wins, allowing just two runs.

The Milwaukee Braves, just five years after leaving Boston as a poor down-trodden ballclub, were the most popular team in America (with attendance figures to prove), and the best. After eight years, the championship belt finally left the city of New York, and traveled all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

 

The Unexpected Hero (1968 World Series)

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Note: This article was originally published at TheNationalPastimeMuseum.com in October 2017 and is reprinted here by permission.

Has there ever been a World Series in which the two biggest stars in the game were the starting pitchers in Game 1 (and potentially Games 4 and 7)? I maintain that it happened just once – appropriately enough, in 1968. The Year of the Pitcher.

As it happens, this was first World Series. I had become a fan that summer, and still recall my sadness listening to the final Red Sox game on the radio and realizing that I would have six months to wait for the next one. I was nearly 8, and the pattern of my baseball life had begun. Delaying the off-season just a bit, there was this World Series thing so I figured I might as well watch.

The 1968 World Series pitted the AL champion Tigers and the NL champion Cardinals.  There were no playoffs — the regular season ended up Sunday and the series started on Wednesday afternoon.  All games took place in the afternoon.  I had to rush home from third grade to see the five weekday games.  I rooted for the American League.

The story of the 1968 baseball season was tremendous pitching or, if you prefer, terrible hitting. There were countless individual pitching achievements—no-hitters, shutout streaks, strikeouts—but the two biggest baseball stories, and baseball stars, were McLain and Gibson. The two men could not have been more different: McLain was brash and cocky, craving his new-found attention. Gibson was all glare, and didn’t seem to care if anyone liked him (though his teammates did).

McLain became the first pitcher in 34 years to win 30 games, accomplishing this feat on national TV with Dizzy Dean (the last to accomplish the feat) calling the game for NBC. Gibson “only” won 22 games, because he generally pitched in a five-man rotation and did not always get the run support afforded McLain. At the end of May Gibson’s pitching record was 3-5 despite a 1.52 ERA. Taking matters more or less into his own hands, in the months of June and July he won all 12 of his starts, each a complete game, eight of them shutouts, and posted a 0.50 ERA.

Both teams won their pennants easily, allowing for several weeks of Gibson vs. McLain anticipation. Gibson was properly considered the better pitcher and his team the series favorite – the Cardinals were defending champs, and Gibson had dominated the Red Sox three times the previous October. But McLain’s wins were legitimate – he put up a 1.96 ERA over 41 starts and 336 innings.

Both teams had other, if less celebrated, weapons. The Tigers offense hit 185 home runs, by far the most in the majors, and was led by Willie Horton, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline, Dick McAuliffe and Jim Northrup. The pitching after McLain was serviceable, with Mickey Lolich and Earl Wilson pitching well enough for the offense to win most of their starts.

The Cardinals did not have the firepower of the Tigers – Orlando Cepeda (16) and Mike Shannon (15) were the only players who managed more than six home runs – but the team led its league in triples and was second in doubles and stolen bases. St. Louis relied on speed on the bases, and excellent starting pitching. In Nelson Briles, Ray Washburn and Steve Carlton, the Cardinals had much better options outside of the three potential Gibson-McLain games.

And so it began.

In the opener in St. Louis, Bob Gibson was as good as any pitcher has ever been, throwing a five-hit shutout and striking out a World Series record 17 men. McLain wasn’t awful – he allowed three runs in the fourth on two walks and two singles, and left for a pinch hitter in the sixth. But the story was Gibson, who threw a masterpiece people are still discussing 50 years later.

As overmatched as the Tigers offense looked in Game 1, they came back the next day and waltzed to an 8-1 win behind Lolich’s six-hitter. Detroit hit three long home runs off Briles, including one by Lolich himself (the only one of his professional career). In many ways this was the biggest game of the series, as the Tigers had been so thoroughly dominated you might wonder if they would just pack it in. Instead, we now had a series.

Unfortunately, the Motown optimism lasted just one game. After a day off, the series moved to Detroit, and the Cardinals won decisively, 7-3. Playing against type, St. Louis managed 13 hits off five Tiger pitchers, including three-run homers by McCarver and Cepeda. Down 2-1 in the series, it was lost on no one – least of all the television announcers – that the Tigers were now going to have beat Gibson, either in Game 4 or (if things got that far) Game 7. How likely was that?

Gibson and McLain went back to the mound for Game 4, and the results were even more one-sided. The Tigers managed to score a run – on a Northrup home run – and struck out “only” 10 times, but the Cardinals chased McLain in the 3rd on the way to a 10-1 rout. Among the 13 hits there were six for extra bases, including a Gibson home run off Joe Sparma. The Cards were a game away from becoming the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series in 60 years.

Game 5 took place on Monday afternoon, and the Cardinals opened the contest with three runs off Lolich in the top of the first. Despite base runners throughout the game, those three runs would be all Lolich would allow, and the Tigers managed to scrape together two runs in the fourth and three in the 7th to prevail 5-3. The series would return to St. Louis, with the Cardinals needing to win one of two.

Tiger manager Mayo Smith’s most famous post-season decision was electing to play outfielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop, filling a gaping hole in the club’s lineup. But Smith made another gutsy move that likely had a bigger impact on the outcome of the series. Trailing 3 games to 2, Smith decided to pitch McLain in Game 6 on just two days rest, and (if necessary) Lolich, also on two days rest, against Gibson in the finale. McLain had pitched poorly twice and was likely dead tired after 43 starts over six months, so accelerating his schedule seems extreme by the standards of a latter era. On the other hand, he wouldn’t have to face Gibson.

As it happened, the Tigers scored two in the second and ten in the third (including a Northrup grand slam) and cruised to a 13-1 victory. McLain was great, allowing 9 singles and no walks but he had the benefit of cruising for the last seven innings. Caveats aside, he had his series victory.

The 1968 World Series came down to Game 7, Gibson against Lolich, both men having won twice already. This may seem an unusual bit of fortune for baseball, but the precise thing had happened a year earlier, when Gibson faced the Red Sox’ Jim Lonborg, who, like Lolich, had won Games 2 and 5.

In 1968, Gibson began Game 7 like he had pitched in Game 1, retiring the side in the first three innings while striking out five. Lolich was less spectacular, allowing an occasional base runner, but neither team could manage even a single run through six innings. At this point, Gibson had allowed 1 run in 24 innings in the series.

After two harmless Tiger outs in the top of the 7th, ground singles by Cash and Horton gave the Tigers something that looked suspiciously like a rally. And all of a sudden Jim Northrup hit a screaming line drive to deep center field that Curt Flood could not run down, and when the dust settled Northrup was standing on third with a two-run triple. Many people have suggested that Flood misjudged the ball but the ball was really crushed, and hit directly over his head. Flood was a great center fielder, but not great enough on this play. Freehan doubled down the line and, just like that it was 3-0 Tigers.

The Tigers scored again in the eighth, and that was more than enough for Lolich. In fact, he came within one batter of a shutout before allowing a harmless home run to Mike Shannon to make the final score 4-1. With the victory, the Tigers became just the third team in history to come back from a 3-1 World Series deficit.

The 1968 World Series was anticipated because of the historic pitching matchup between Bob Gibson and Denny McLain, a matchup that ended up being somewhat of a dud. Gibson was fantastic, faltering only after 24 innings of otherworldly pitching, living up to his billing as the best in the game. McLain, soundly routed in both head-to-head games, ironically ended up on the winning side.

And it was the unheralded Mickey Lolich, unmentioned in all the pre-series hype, whom McLain could thank for his cherished World Series ring.