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Summer of '68

Author Tim Wendel covers tumultuous year

May 29, 2012
The Daily News

The year 1968 was one of America's most tumultuous - a year of political turbulence, civil unrest and violence.

Riots took place in more than a hundred cities, the worst of them in Chicago at the end of August during the Democratic National Convention.

Earlier that year, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was followed in shocking succession by the assassination of presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy.

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In "Summer of 68: The Season that Changed Baseball - And America - Forever" (Da Capo Press), Tim Wendel looks at this unforgettable season through the lens of baseball. Almost a century old, the national pastime was at the height of its popularity at a time when the nation sorely needed a distraction - not to mention a sense of hope.

Pitchers like Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians, Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers and Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals took center stage in what was dubbed the "year of the pitcher/"

This epic season culminated in a captivating "pitching showdown" between McLain and Gibson in Game One of the World Series. Gibson, an African-American, channeled the rage that he felt following the King and Kennedy assassinations to elevate his performance. And McLain, whose city had been traumatized the previous summer by a fiery five-day riot, gave Detroit its first championship since 1945 and became the last Major League pitcher to win 30 or more games during a season - a feat accomplished by only 13 players in the entire 20th century.

Wendel weaves their stories together masterfully - from Gibson passing Martin Luther King Jr. in an airport mere months before his murder, to Bobby Kennedy lauding Drysdale's sixth straight shutout, to entire teams deciding not to take the field after Kennedy's death.

And he shows us how, just like the nation, baseball changed forever that summer. The strike zone was expanded, and the pitching was so good that the following season the mound was lowered in order to decrease the pitcher's leverage and the focus back on hitting.

In detailing how this season was more memorable than perhaps any other, "Summer of 68" illustrates the deep connection between America and its national game.



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