Thursday, October 18, 2012

Time to Even it Up?

What I kind of remember about 1968:

The USS Pueblo.
The Chicago Democratic Convention.

What I remember about 1968:

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

What happened in 1968 that is still so clear it's like it happened yesterday:

Bobby Kennedy's assassination.
The World Series.

It's hard to convey to anyone born decades later than me how crazy it was to be a 10-year-old in 1968. Everything seemed relatively safe in my sleepy little Michigan town. Until "everything" started to explode.  Dr. King, the Olympics, the riots, the election, the Chicago cops. Who could you trust? Where was it safe? 

I watched most of the 1968 World Series at school. Not on my tablet. Not on my i-phone. On a grainy black and white t.v. in my school cafeteria. I hung with every pitch and at-bat, as did my classmates, Detroit, and most of the Mitten State.

The Tigers helped everyone forget, for a while anyway, the turmoil that was 1968. It brought together a  city and a state torn apart by race, by inequality, by war. And it allowed all of us, for at least seven magical games, to think about something simple - competition. And to collectively succeed at something when success at anything seemed impossible.

Baseball was my sport as a kid. It was the only sport I played as an organized competition and the one I followed more than any other as a fan. I still have my baseball card collection. I can still name the starting nine of the Tigers that year (from memory, without cheating: c Bill Freehan; 1b Norm Cash; 2b Dick McAuliffe; 3b Don Wert; ss Ray Oyler; lf Willie Horton; cf Mickey Stanley; rf Al Kaline/Jim Northrup; pinch-hitter extraordinaire Gates Brown). I remember Denny McLain's 31 wins, and the pitching of Mickey Lolich, and Earl Wilson, and Joe Sparma, and John Hiller.

One of my boyhood heroes.

The Tigers romped through the American League that season, winning the pennant by 12 games. But ahead lay the St. Louis Cardinals and their pitching monster, Bob Gibson. The Tigers went down in the Series 3-1 at a time when only two teams had ever come back from such a deficit to win a seven game series. Gibson was unhittable in Games One and Four, and yet, somehow, a self-described pot bellied, big eared unheralded guy named Mickey stopped him and the Cards in Game Seven to win the Series.

All of this seemed relevant this evening, as I watched the Tigers clinch their 11th American League crown and await their National League opponent, which appears likely, for the fourth time, to be the St. Louis Cardinals. The "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals beat the Bengals in 1934, the Tigers won in '68, and the Cardinals were best again in 2006. It seems time to me to even that scoreline.

The ultimate twist of fate? While this ten year-old was watching the series in his little town in Michigan, rooting for the Tigers, there was a nine year-old girl watching in a small town outside of St. Louis, rooting just as hard for the Cardinals. We have been married now for 30 years. A lesson, perhaps, that sports can divide as well as unite. 

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