Book Review: The Tigers of ’68 – Baseball’s Last Real Champions, by George Cantor

 

Reviewed by Bruce Rhodes

 

This is a wonderful book about a colorful team at the end of the ‘winner take all’ era in baseball, just before divisional play was introduced. Author George Cantor was close to the Detroit Tigers as a sports writer in 1968, and remained close to many of the players nearly three decades later to interview them about their experiences as Tigers in the late 60’s. Cantor does a great job of providing background to the Tigers’ 1968 championship year, describing the philosophy of the managers and owner of the team in those years, as well as the civil strife that existed in the Motor City in the same period.

 

Despite living in Toronto most of my life, I have a special nostalgia for the Tigers. The first MLB game I attended was in 1972 at Tiger Stadium; I got to see ’68 stars Micky Lolich, Bill Freehan, Gates Brown and others play that night. In the late 70’s I moved to Windsor, just a 15-minute drive from Tiger Stadium, and went to over 30 games each summer. I attended the last Tiger World Series win in 1984, with Kirk Gibson and Larry Herndon leading the way.

 

All of these experiences, however, and my love for baseball, trace to the year 1968 when, as an 11-year-old, I watched in amazement on TV as Denny McLain won his 30th game. I am thus grateful that there is Cantor’s book to offer a detailed depiction of that year, as well as the years leading up to and following ’68. The author provides interesting insights into the origins of many of the players, and also discusses what many of them ended up doing after their baseball careers were over. Some, such as Norm Cash, died untimely deaths.

 

Parts of the book read like a gossip column, shedding light on the self-absorbed antics of McLain, and the animosity that existed between him and many of the players, particularly Micky Lolich. Cantor also describes vividly the World Series pitching match-up between McLain and the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson, the latter having nothing but disdain for the former.

 

I highly recommend this book to all baseball fans, and especially to Tiger fans. I also recommend The Final Season by Tom Stanton, about the Tigers’ final year (1999) playing in Tiger Stadium.