Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball--and America--Forever

( 9 )

Overview

The extraordinary story of the 1968 baseball season—when the game was played to perfection even as the country was being pulled apart at the seams

From the beginning, ’68 was a season rocked by national tragedy and sweeping change. Opening Day was postponed and later played in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. That summer, as the pennant races were heating up, the assassination of Robert Kennedy was later followed by rioting at the Democratic National Convention ...

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Overview

The extraordinary story of the 1968 baseball season—when the game was played to perfection even as the country was being pulled apart at the seams

From the beginning, ’68 was a season rocked by national tragedy and sweeping change. Opening Day was postponed and later played in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. That summer, as the pennant races were heating up, the assassination of Robert Kennedy was later followed by rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But even as tensions boiled over and violence spilled into the streets, something remarkable was happening in major league ballparks across the country. Pitchers were dominating like never before, and with records falling and shut-outs mounting, many began hailing ’68 as “The Year of the Pitcher.”

In Summer of ’68, Tim Wendel takes us on a wild ride through a season that saw such legends as Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Don Drysdale, and Luis Tiant set new standards for excellence on the mound, each chasing perfection against the backdrop of one of the most divisive and turbulent years in American history. For some players, baseball would become an insular retreat from the turmoil encircling them that season, but for a select few, including Gibson and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, the conflicts of ’68 would spur their performances to incredible heights and set the stage for their own run at history.

Meanwhile in Detroit—which had burned just the summer before during one of the worst riots in American history—’68 instead found the city rallying together behind a colorful Tigers team led by McLain, Mickey Lolich, Willie Horton, and Al Kaline. The Tigers would finish atop the American League, setting themselves on a highly anticipated collision course with Gibson’s Cardinals. And with both teams’ seasons culminating in a thrilling World Series for the ages—one team playing to establish a dynasty, the other fighting to help pull a city from the ashes—what ultimately lay at stake was something even larger: baseball’s place in a rapidly changing America that would never be the same.

In vivid, novelistic detail, Summer of ’68 tells the story of this unforgettable season—the last before rule changes and expansion would alter baseball forever—when the country was captivated by the national pastime at the moment it needed the game most.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sportswriter Wendel (High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball) mines one of baseball’s more absorbing episodes in this rich chronicle of the 1968 season. It’s a sociologically resonant account, anchored by the Detroit Tigers’ pennant campaign, which helped settle the city after the 1967 race riots, and overshadowed by football’s impending eclipse of the national pastime. Wendel sometimes overswings for historical context as he revisits political traumas, from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to the Chicago Democratic Convention, and roams afield to the Mexico City Olympics and other sports events. He’s at his best just sitting in the ballpark, savoring the Year of the Pitcher’s classic mound performances: a Catfish Hunter perfect game; scads of no-hitters and shutouts; the legendary seasons posted by the Tigers’ 31-game winner Denny McClain and Cardinals ace Bob Gibson—who had an unheard-of 1.12 ERA—before their World Series showdown. Wendel provides telling color commentary—the contrast between the obsessive, steely-eyed Gibson and McClain, a flamboyant press-hound angling for a Vegas nightclub gig, is especially vivid—and sharp analyses of on-field strategizing and play-by-play. If not as significant as the author imagines, the story still packs plenty of meaning. Photos. Agent: Chris Park, Foundry Media. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Special Libraries Association Baseball Caucus Readers’ Choice Award Finalist

Ken Burns, filmmaker, creator of the Emmy Award–winning documentary series Baseball
“As always, Tim Wendel gets to the heart of this game and the complicated republic it so precisely mirrors.”

David Maraniss, author of Clemente and When Pride Still Mattered
Summer of ’68 captivated me from the get-go: I was eighteen that summer, reeling from the chaos of an unforgettable year, awestruck by the ferocious beauty of Bob Gibson, rooting for Willie Horton and the Tigers from the city of my birth. Cheers to Tim Wendel for bringing it all back so vividly.”

Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail
“A year of great convulsion and heartbreak, 1968 was the closest we’ve come to a national nervous breakdown since the Civil War. But as Tim Wendel so deftly captures in this fine book, it was also a year when baseball soothed and thrilled us—and urgently reminded us why it’s called the ‘national pastime.’”

Tom Stanton, author of The Final Season and Ty and The Babe
“No book better captures how in 1968 sports changed America—and vice versa. In splendid fashion, Tim Wendel takes us on a rollicking journey through an unparalleled year of tumult, tragedy, and, too, joy. Summer of ’68 reads like a novel brimming with surprising action, colorful characters, and fresh insights. I enjoyed every page.”

John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball and author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden
“It seems like only yesterday when both our nation and its pastime seemed in mortal peril. Tim Wendel’s Summer of ’68 brilliantly evokes the glories and the grim realities of that time, when America and baseball came to a crossroads, and emerged for the better on the other side.”

Library Journal, 2/1/12
“Wendel has interviewed many of the key participants to bring this crucial year to life. Transcending baseball history alone, this is recommended for baseball fans and students of the era.”

Kirkus Reviews, 2/15/12
“[Wendel] charts the thrilling Series game by game. More intriguing, though, is the season’s unique backdrop: the ‘Year of the Pitcher’ in baseball and the national turmoil surrounding the sports world…An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.”
 

Publishers Weekly, 2/20/12
“Wendel mines one of baseball’s more absorbing episodes in this rich chronicle of the 1968 season. It’s a sociologically resonant account…Wendel provides telling color commentary…and sharp analyses of on-field strategizing and play-by-play.”
 
Cardial70.com, 2/6/12
“Wendel doesn't disappoint in Summer of '68…especially if you are a fan of the pitching side of the game…this is going to be a book that you are going to want on your bookshelf if you are a fan of baseball history in general or Cardinal history in specific.  It's a quick and entertaining read and one that you'll probably come back to time and time again.”
 
Relaxed Fit e-zine, 2/22/12
“A well-written, fast moving book…It would be useful for those who did not live through The Sixties to take a look back; it is useful for those of us who did to be reminded.”
 
PopMatters.com, 3/16/12
“[Wendel] tells the story…with verve, in the familiar cadences found in sports j

Library Journal
Wendel (fiction & nonfiction writing, Johns Hopkins Univ.; High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time) follows the tradition of homing in on a key year in both baseball and U.S. history. America was being torn apart in 1968, and baseball was under stress, too. The pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers had players at loggerheads with one another. Star players like Cardinal ace Bob Gibson were not immune to racial tension and prejudice. And yet, the ultimate story is one of triumph as these teams provided some respite and hope to a beleaguered country suffering from the effects of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Wendel has interviewed many of the key participants to bring this crucial year to life. Transcending baseball history alone, this is recommended for baseball fans and students of the era.—P.K.
Kirkus Reviews
During one of the most tumultuous years in our history, a remarkable baseball season unfolded. In 1968, most baseball players had to work a second job to make ends meet. There were no wild-card teams or division winners. That year the Detroit Tigers became only the third club in history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the powerful St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. Showcasing this looming match-up, Wendel (Writing/Johns Hopkins Univ.; High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, 2010, etc.) foreshortens the season by focusing on the stories of individual Tigers Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe and, especially, pitchers Denny McLain, who won an astonishing 31 games, and Mickey Lolich, the Series MVP. The author also looks at Cardinal stars Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda and especially pitcher Bob Gibson, among the game's all-time greatest. He charts the thrilling Series game by game. More intriguing, though, is the season's unique backdrop: the "Year of the Pitcher" in baseball and the national turmoil surrounding the sports world. In addition to McLain and Gibson's heroics (both won the Cy Young and MVP awards), the season saw five no-hitters (including a perfect game by Catfish Hunter), a consecutive game strikeout record by Luis Tiant and an unprecedented scoreless innings streak by Don Drysdale. Meanwhile, the country was falling apart. Urban riots and massive antiwar demonstrations helped persuade LBJ not to run again. By the time the Chicago Democratic Convention exploded in the streets, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had already been assassinated. Wendel touches briefly on how the year agitated other sports, but he focuses on the baseball story and the athletes accustomed to ignoring the outside world. They found that impossible to do in the chaotic year of '68. An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306820182
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 977,448
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Wendel is the author of nine books, including High Heat, Far From Home, Red Rain, and Castro’s Curveball. A founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly, he has written for Esquire, GQ, and Washingtonian magazines. He teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University and has appeared on CNN, ESPN, SiriusXM, and NPR, and recently served as an exhibit advisor to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He lives in Vienna, Virginia.

www.timwendel.com

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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 4, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Rating:   4 of 5 stars (very good) Review: 1968 was a tumult

    Rating:  
    4 of 5 stars (very good)




    Review:
    1968 was a tumultuous year in America.  The Vietnam War was becoming unwinnable and many young men were dying in the jungles of that far-off land.   Riots and civil unrest was far too often a staple on the nightly news.  Two prominent leaders were assassinated. Riots marred the Democratic Convention of 1968.  But through it all, the American Pastime of baseball was still being played.  However, even the game that would supposedly take people’s minds off the news for a few hours had its own turbulence that season and was intertwined with some of the news.




    This all comes together in this interesting book by Tim Wendel as he collected stories and interviews from many players and managers of that season.  He concentrated on the two teams that would end up playing each other in the World Series, the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  It is also fitting that a pitcher on each team would win the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player for each league, Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Denny McClain for the Tigers. After all, 1968 was the “Year of the Pitcher” which is stated many times in the book.  Gibson set the record for the lowest earned run average in the modern era of 1.12 and McClain won 31 games, the last pitcher who has won 30 games. 




    Of course, other teams were part of the book, but Wendel concentrates on these two and it works out well. Where some of the other teams are mentioned is when there is a major event that took place and baseball was somehow involved.  One such incident was the handling of cancellation or non-cancellation of games following the assassination of Robert Kennedy.   Wendel takes the reader back to the commissioner’s office and the confusion about who can cancel games and who has to play.  Some players and one team, the New York Mets, refuse to play in the aftermath of the tragedy.  One of the players who refused to play, Milt Pappas of the Cincinnati Reds, ended up being traded three days following his refusal.  Events like this are well chronicled in this book.




    I found two minor issues with the book.  One was that there were a few typos missed in the editing process.  They didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book too much, but were still noticeable.  The other part that took me by surprise was the amount of words written about football.  This was about the time when football was about to surpass baseball as the most popular spectator sport in American, and the amount of stories written about that game in a baseball book seemed to illustrate that.




    Nonetheless, I found this an entertaining and easy-to-read book that any baseball fan interested in the game during that time frame will enjoy.   




    Did I skim?
    No, every story was quite interesting




    Pace of the book:  
    It was a fast moving book with the politics and football talk woven into the baseball stories quite well.  




    Do I recommend?  
    All baseball fans who are interested in baseball history during that time will enjoy this recap of that season before major changes took place.




    Book Format Read:
    Hardcover

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    THIS NOOK REALLY SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    THIS IS NOT WORKING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative Mr. Wendel provided to the ra

    I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative Mr. Wendel provided to the rather tumultuous Summer of 68. From the assassinations of RFK and MLK to the riots at the Chicago convention to the dominance of the pitcher in baseball Mr. Wendel brings them back vividly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    To read the Summer of 68 is to fall headlong into a moment in ti

    To read the Summer of 68 is to fall headlong into a moment in time when baseball was the national currency. Tim Wendel gives us memorable portraits of the great pitchers of the era -- Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and Luis Tiant among them. He gets us caught up in the great plays and the blown calls, the what-ifs that still reverberate. It was a singular season in a tumultuous time and Wendel has brought it back for us. The Summer of 68 is a great pleasure to read.

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  • Posted March 9, 2012

    Highly Recommended!

    Wendel does it again – “Summer of ‘68” is another great book and follows on the heels of “High Heat”. The 1960s represent an important decade in U.S. History, and 1968 was a watershed year in the decade. Tim Wendel's work in weaving together sports in the context of societal events that occurred in 1968 is a classic. One of my earliest memories of baseball was when my Mom & I watched Game 7 of the 1968 World Series in a Washington, DC hotel room. At the time I was 10 years old and we lived in upstate New York. My Dad took my Mom and me on a business trip to Washington, DC via a Penn Central train from Rhinecliff, NY to DC Union Station. While we awaited my Dad's return from meetings, my Mom & I watched Game 7 on TV and I can still remember Jim Northrup's Game 7 winning hit that went over Curt Flood's head. “Summer of ‘68” brought back this memory and many more. I highly recommend this book. It is very well researched, most entertaining and highly educational. Two thumbs up for “Summer of ‘68”!!

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    Posted May 28, 2012

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