what i watched last week
the bradley effect

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.