1968: october 10

This is a couple of days late, because I've gotten so used to the baseball schedule of the last couple of decades that I forgot there was a time when the World Series ended in early October.

The 1968 World Series is remembered as one of the better ones in the game's history. 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, and none shone as brightly as Detroit Tiger Denny McLain, who won 31 games. The team's MVP might have been outfielder Willie Horton, who made the All-Star team and finished the season with 36 HR, second in the league. Then there was All-Star catcher Bill Freehan, who played in 155 games, 129 of them behind the plate, and hit 25 HR. On the other hand, there was Don Wert, one of the odder All-Star choices (he hit .200 for the season), and Ray Oyler, who hit .135. It was Oyler's abysmal bat that prompted one of the most famous strategy moves in Series history, when Detroit manager Mayo Smith decided to play outfielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop in place of Oyler. Stanley had never played SS in his entire professional career. Stanley didn't have a particularly good Series ... he hit .214 and made a couple of errors. But his presence in the infield meant Smith could play three other good hitters in the outfield, and those three (besides Horton, there was Jim Northrup and future Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline) hit very well.

The Tigers' opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, were led by the amazing Bob Gibson, who posted a 1.12 ERA for the entire season. (On the other hand, their catcher was a motormouthed know-it-all named Tim McCarver.)

The first two games were in St. Louis. In Game One, Gibson struck out 17 and shutout the Tigers, 4-0. In Game Two, the Tiger bats woke up, including pitcher Mickey Lolich, who homered in an 8-1 victory.

The Cards took the first two games in Detroit to open up a 3-1 lead, with Orlando Cepeda homering in Game Three and Bob Gibson outdueling Denny McLain in Game Four, 10-1. In Game Five, Lolich took the mound hoping to keep the Series alive ... Cepeda homered in the first inning as St. Louis took a 3-0 lead, but the Tigers came back to win in a game most famous for its National Anthem, sung by Jose Feliciano.

And so, back to St. Louis. In Game Six, McLain finally had a good game, and Detroit ran away with a 13-1 win, setting up a seventh game. Bob Gibson was back for one more try ... Mayo Smith opted for Mickey Lolich, pitching with only two days rest. After six innings, the game was scoreless. The Tigers put up a three-spot in the top of the 7th, Lolich went the distance for the third time, and Detroit won the game and the Series, with Lolich being named Series MVP.

The next year, Major League Baseball began divisional play, making the 1968 World Series the last under the traditional format that had lasted for the entire 20th century to that point.

1968: october 5

On this date, the trial of the Catonsville Nine began. The Nine were Catholics, including priests, ex-priests, ex-nuns, artists, and others, who earlier in the year poured napalm on a batch of draft files and set them on fire. The trial lasted through October 9 ... they were found guilty of destroying property and interfering with the Selective Service.


1968: october 2

Forty years ago today, members of the Mexican police and military killed 200-300 people in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.

As in so many places in 1968, Mexico had a strong leftwing student movement. The upcoming Summer Olympics in Mexico were a focal point of protests, with the government hoping for tourist dollars and a good impression on the rest of the world, while students wanted fundamental changes. On the night of October 2, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City, the authorities moved in on several thousand gathered protestors and started shooting. It took almost thirty years before the Mexican government launched an investigation into the events in Tlatelolco (the name for the area of Mexico City where the massacre occurred).

1968: september 22

A new #1 on the American charts. I had an English teacher in high school ... don't remember which one it was, one of the younger ones ... one day in class, he/she did a close reading of "Hey Jude," explaining that "Jude" was British slang for penis ... listening to the song with that information in your head leads to a v.different interpretation than I'd previously considered. I'm pretty sure my teacher was fulla shit, though.

1968: september 17

In 1968, there were three television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC (along with the precursor to PBS, NET). Television seasons started in the fall and ended as spring headed towards summer. The schedule was pretty much set in stone ... you didn't have series moving around all the time, didn't have episodes that ran 3 minutes over. Because of this, it was easy to create a schedule grid for each season, and easy for TV Guide to produce a Fall Season issue that covered pretty much everything you needed to know (not true today, when you've got the broadcast networks, the basic cable channels, the premium cable channels, the series that run 12 episodes a year, the series that always run during the summer, the series that get moved around).

As an example of how the longer seasons made a difference, consider Lancer, a Western on CBS that I can barely recall. It ran on Tuesday nights for two seasons, beginning in 1968. Like I say, we're talking a fairly obscure series. By the time Lancer finished its two-year run, there were 51 episodes. For comparison purposes, The Sopranos didn't reach Episode 51 until the next-to-last episode of Season Four.

Lancer came on at 7:30 on Tuesday nights, and was followed on CBS by The Red Skelton Hour. Skelton had been on since 1951, and had a long radio career before that. ABC countered Skelton with It Takes a Thief, which had begun as a mid-season replacement earlier in '68. NBC had a sitcom from 8:30-9:00, followed by Tuesday Night at the Movies (in those days, networks would have regularly-scheduled slots for movies ... in fact, there was a movie on one of the networks every night of the week in 1968). On September 17, 1968, the movie was the three-year-old I'll Take Sweden with Bob Hope.

The NBC sitcom on Tuesday nights that year had its premiere on September 17. Julia starred Diahann Carroll as a nurse and single mom (her husband had died in Vietnam). By 1968, Carroll, in her early 30s, had won a Tony, been nominated for an Emmy, had recorded seven albums, and made half-a-dozen movies, including Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess. She even went to high school with Billy Dee Williams (it was the "Fame" high school). She was, in short, a star, not top-level but certainly well-known and highly-regarded. But history will likely always think of her first as the lead in Julia. Why? Because Julia was ... well, there is some argument about the specific historic nature of the show, but Wikipedia comes close enough when it calls the show "one of the first weekly series to depict an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role." Julia wasn't the first sitcom to star an African American actress ... in the early 50s, Ethel Waters had starred as a maid in Beulah, which was criticized for its "Mammy" stereotype. (Beulah, as a character and later as a series, began on radio, with Beulah played by a white male.) It took fifteen years after Beulah for another series starring a black woman: Julia.

Julia lasted three seasons and 86 episodes. Diahann Carroll won a Golden Globe award for her performance. But Carroll is said to be the reason the series was canceled ... she said she was tired of the controversy surrounding the show, which was criticized for its supposed lack of political content. Time Magazine, of all places, suggests the context under which the series operated:

Diahann Carroll, in her own series, is a black registered nurse who is trying to make it in whitey's world. Widowed Julia has a five-year-old son Cory, played by a winning little fellow named Marc Copage. They are pretty well off, judging from the nifty apartment they occupy. Still, Julia needs a job. She is turned away by America's only personnel director who is not desperate to hire Negroes. Fortunately, she finds a protector in cantankerous Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan), who doesn't care what color she is as long as she knows her business. Some of Julia's problems are black, but her aspirations and life-style are white. That factor, despite NBC's laudable decision to bring Negroes more prominently into television, makes Julia hardly more than a small-screen Guess Who's Coming to TV?

1968: yes, it's still september 7

The legendary British blues-rock band The Yardbirds broke up in July of 1968. They were primarily famous as the home of the great guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, by the time of the break-up only Page remained. The band was still contracted for a few gigs, and so Page put together a group of players to fulfill those contracts, calling them the New Yardbirds, who played together for the first time on September 7 in Denmark. Page's fellow musicians: Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and John Bonham on drums. Less than two months later, they played their first concert under their new name: Led Zeppelin.