The 1968 World Series remains one of the most iconic in major league history. Featuring Bob Gibson in MVP form, Al Kaline, and Mickey Lolich, it was baseball at its best. Told with the vibrant first-hand perspective of Lolich himself and the expertise of award-winning Detroit journalist Tom Gage, this is the remarkable saga of that 1968 season which culminated in Tigers glory. Incorporating new reflections from players and personnel, Joy in Tigertown traces such achievements as Denny McClain's 31-win season as well as the remarkable slugging performances of Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, and Bill Freehan.
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About the Author
Tom Gage covered the Tigers beat for the Detroit News from 1979 to 2014. In 2015, Gage won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Mickey Lolich pitched in the major leagues for 17 years. He is best known for his three complete-game victories in the 1968 World Series. Jim Leyland managed the Detroit Tigers from 2006 to 2013. He resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Read an Excerpt
"They're killing people. They're burning down the town."
— outfielder Jim Northrup
The bus pulled up with several prisoners — violent men from the streets who'd been causing trouble — on it. I didn't see the individual who made the bloody attempt, but I heard about it. He broke the window next to his seat on the bus and tried to slit his throat on the jagged glass. I never found out how badly he injured himself. Or if he even survived. Such were the riots of 1967 in Detroit, though.
They took a toll not only on the city, or on the victims of the violence, but also on those distraught enough to take to the streets. Detroit wouldn't recover from the destruction for years. Maybe decades. Or possibly it still hasn't. Within hours, though, the riots had ruined some lives and changed others.
One day I was a pitcher; the next day I was on active duty for the Air National Guard.
One day I had a baseball in my hand; the next day I had a rifle slung over my shoulder. One day Detroit wasn't in the national news. The next day — with its fires, its looting, and its killing — it had become the national news. As president Lyndon Johnson said, "Law and order have broken down in Detroit, Michigan."
I'm not going to tell you I was assigned to the middle of the mayhem — because I wasn't. I neither fired my weapon at anyone, nor was I fired upon. I'm also not going to tell you I was ever at the epicenter of the unrest. But until peace was restored, we didn't know what we would or would not experience. Until we returned to our civilian jobs, we were soldiers following orders. Until I was Mickey Lolich, left-handed pitcher again, I was Mickey Lolich, sergeant.
In the same city where we worked, we also served. In the same city where we made our living, lives were lost. On July 23, 1967, a hot summer Sunday, there was smoke out there somewhere beyond left field at Tiger Stadium. We couldn't tell how near it was. We couldn't tell how far — but as usual, where there was smoke, there was fire.
Plenty of it.
Detroit was beginning to burn. Indeed it was.
When the trouble began, though, it seemed like such a normal day. Not that I want to say it was normal for me to lose a baseball game, but that's what I had just done — I'd lost the first game of a doubleheader at Tiger Stadium 4–2 to the New York Yankees. The game had pissed me off because it was more of the same for me. I hadn't been pitching very well, which is a way of saying I was 5–12 with a 4.40 ERA after taking the loss. We had a pretty good team at nine games over .500, but my record was horseshit. The loss was my 10 in a row. My season was spinning out of control. "Be careful, Mickey," the stadium guard told me when I left before the second game of the doubleheader was over. "Something bad is going on out there."
That's what I had heard. But I would see none of it. My way home took me away from the smoke, not toward it. I didn't know the extent of the problem until much later. On the broadcast for the second game, the announcers weren't saying anything about it either. General manager Jim Campbell didn't want to alarm the fans. No one did. So the nightcap was played as if it was just another Sunday. We won the game for a split. It was John Hiller's first major league victory.
But my teammates were told after the last out of the second game that their safety could not be guaranteed. Many of them drove home through clouds of smoke. Meanwhile, the blaze beyond left field — out on nearby 12 Street as we would learn later — kept growing. Violence was erupting everywhere. Willie Horton said he drove to one of the trouble spots and pleaded from atop his car with those in the streets to calm down. He failed.
They told him to drive away, that they didn't want him to get hurt. Not even the immensely popular Horton, the first African American baseball star in Detroit — a son of the city — could make the looters listen. The riots were spreading.
What had triggered the exploding unrest was an earlier altercation that took place when police raided a Detroit bar serving liquor after hours without a license to do so — a blind pig, in other words.
More than 80 people were arrested. But as those initially charged were waiting to be transferred to a police station, a bottle was thrown at a police van. One thing led to another, including the looting of a nearby store, and the violence escalated from there.
Soon it was more than unrest. It was a full-fledged riot, one of the worst any city had ever experienced. By the time it ended on its fifth day, 43 people had been killed. It didn't matter much, given far more serious circumstances, but we had baseball games to play and we couldn't play them that week at Tiger Stadium, which wasn't far from the center of the trouble.
So, over the objection of some players who wanted to stay home and make sure their families were safe — "They're killing people out there," said outfielder Jim Northrup. "They're burning down the town" — the next series was moved to Baltimore. We were to fly out the following morning, Monday the 24. Thinking I was leaving town, I drove to Tiger Stadium the next day to board the team bus to the airport. But just after I arrived, one of the ballpark guards said I had a phone call. It was Sgt. Zenker of the Air National Guard saying my unit, the 191 Combat Support Squadron, had been activated.
When I asked what that meant, he said it meant I needed to report to the base at Metropolitan Airport as fast as I could. So instead of going to Baltimore with the team, I was soon heading back home to get into my "other" uniform and then joining my unit. From there we didn't know where we were going. But it wouldn't take long to find out.
I'd been in the Air National Guard since 1963 and would stay in it until 1969. I had an annual commitment to attend the guard's summer camp in Alpena, Michigan, for two weeks, but if I had a scheduled start during those two weeks, I could fly down to make it. It wasn't easy to get ready for those starts. I'd try to throw during the camp, but I had a difficult time finding catchers who could actually catch me. I didn't want to hurt anyone by throwing with major league velocity. So I've had people suggest to me that dividing my summer for years like that cost me more than 20 wins throughout my career. But I don't make a big deal about that. It's not a complaint and never will be. I did the best I could in both uniforms.
We had already been to camp, though, when the 1967 riots began. They started on a Sunday, and we were activated as a unit for 10 days, starting Monday. The first thing we did after reporting to the base was to board a bus that would take us to a radio tower we were supposed to guard. I don't know where the hell I was at, but I was a sergeant in command of 11 other guys. The tower was on the roof of a Detroit Public Works building, but all I could see around me were garbage trucks. "Is that what we're doing, guarding garbage trucks?" I asked another officer. He grinned and then explained to me that up on the roof was the tower we were assigned to guard. That's what we did the first night.
But all we were given to eat were some K rations from the Korean War that we didn't like the looks of. They were nasty. So my first order was to tell everyone to cough up $5, and we'd somehow find something to eat. The guys in the unit said $5 wouldn't cover it, so they gave me $10 instead. We sent a volunteer to a takeout spot about three blocks away. But he had to be protected, so there I was walking down the street, wearing a helmet and fatigues while carrying an M-1. That's how we walked into the restaurant. Everyone turned around, saw me with the rifle, and their eyes grew as big as can be. A soldier off the street, carrying a rifle, picking up a carryout order? It doesn't happen every day.
Well, we picked up our 12 cheeseburgers, 12 milkshakes, and 12 orders of fries and took them back. But before we did, the owner came out and asked what was going on, so we told him we were guarding the radio tower down the street. "I guess that's good in case there's trouble that breaks out around here," he said. "This order is on me." He didn't recognize me for being a major league pitcher, which was fine with me. He was just happy our unit was close if the violence spread.
But shortly after that, we were pulled out of our initial location. They had checked the records and discovered that I was the second highest qualifier in my guard unit as far as being accurate with a rifle. That presented a couple of problems. The first was that they didn't want anyone shooting at me, but the second was that they didn't want me shooting back. So they assigned me to the motor pool as a driver for the major who was in charge of the troops downtown.
The Beaubien Street police station was command headquarters, but it was the safest place in the world with machine guns all around it. Plus we didn't have any more food problems because the wives of all the police officers stationed there kept sending them meals. When my major wanted to move, he'd let me know. But I was free to wander otherwise. I saw a lot down there at the station I never want to see again — like I saw prisoners sitting on the floor of the garage, and to help with overflow, they sent for 10 Detroit city buses. But for security reasons, only two guys at a time were allowed to use the Porta-Johns — or as we said in the military, the latrine. That led to prisoners using the buses as their bathroom, which meant — I heard later — that those buses could never be used again. I mean the stench was something else. So they had to be burned.
Still on active status, I was allowed to go home that night, but the possibility of joining the team in Baltimore was out of the question. From there, though, the Tigers had three more cities to go to. Lasting two weeks, it turned into a 13game road trip that included yet another stop in Baltimore. But with a 7–6 record, it became neither a maker nor a breaker of the 1967 season. We were in fourth place, three games out of first when the trip began and in fourth place, three games out when it ended.
I went nearly three weeks without pitching — from the doubleheader start that I lost on July 23, the day the riots began, to August 11 in the second game of another doubleheader. It was incredibly strange, however, that my season reversed itself when I resumed pitching. I went from a 0–10 slump to a 9–1 streak. I also went from an ERA of 5.09 during the slump to a 1.33 ERA after I returned to pitching. Amazing.
But suddenly we were in the middle of a pennant race that only made the city sadder and the fans madder when we came up short on the final day of the season. "From total excitement, boom, it was over," I said at the time. "I've never seen so many grown men cry in all my life," Gates Brown said on HBO's A City on Fire documentary.
The riots were devastating to the city of Detroit. They lasted five days. According to reports, in addition to the 43 people who were killed, nearly 1,200 were injured. More than 4,600 looters were among the 7,000 people arrested. More than 2,500 stores were looted or burned. Another 400 buildings had to be demolished because of extensive damage. Nearly 400 families were rendered homeless or displaced. And I — while not even coming close to where it was worst — will never forget my small role.
We remained active but on call for another week. It was the only time while I was in the Michigan Air National Guard that our squadron was activated. The rest of the time, years of it, was pretty routine. Because I was part of the motor pool, I would drive pilots from their quarters to their planes. I'd pick them up in a truck, take them out to their aircraft, and then I'd wait for them to return. There was a lot of waiting when I rather would have been with the team. I was the only Tigers' ballplayer on the base, so most people knew who I was and what my civilian job was. That meant a lot of baseball talk. I once was assigned to pick up an arriving general, who proceeded to sit on the hood of my car and just wanted to talk baseball.
I made some friends in the guard. But when my obligation was up, I can't say I minded. Probably my most memorable moments had involved two phone calls. One was the call I got at the ballpark from Sgt. Zenker, my commanding officer for the entire time I was in the guard, to inform me we'd been activated. I'd tell you his first name, but, to be honest, I'm not sure of it. I just called him Sarge. With his call, though, I realized just how big the riots were becoming.
But to match the impact of getting that first call was the one I received days later to tell me the riots were finally over. "We're no longer active," Sarge told me in that second call. "Now you can go play baseball again."
So I did.CHAPTER 2
"So close, so close."
— outfielder Willie Horton
To fully understand the joy of 1968 in Detroit, following what the city suffered through the year before, it is essential to understand the end of the Tigers' 1967 season. In the same year that the riots took their toll, we could have made Detroit smile again by winning the American League pennant. And for much of the season's final week, it looked like we were going to do exactly that.
But with two days remaining, the question of how it would end remained agonizingly unanswered. It had been a turbulent season for many Tigers, including me. Sometimes I think "especially me," but it would be selfish to think so. I did lose 10 in a row, though — a slump of such personal impact that it made me wonder if I would be able to adequately provide for my family. "I tell you, I've awakened more than once during the night and started thinking about things," I confided to Detroit Free Press columnist Joe Falls that summer. "I mean, you get to thinking about your career, the way it should be going — and then something like this happens, losing all these games in a row. The thing is I took a salary cut this year. I won 14 games last season but took a cut. It makes you think, if that's the case, what are they going to do to me next season?"
I was worried about my future. That was plain to see. But I couldn't trace my slump to anything I was doing wrong on the mound. "What gets me," I said in that same conversation with Falls, "is that I've been pitching the same way as when I won 18 games two years ago. My fastball is moving the same way. My curve is breaking the same way. I'm hitting the corners. I'm locating the ball around the knees. I'm jamming guys the way you should. But all I've done is lose."
My record was 5–2 when the nonstop slump began. The Tigers scored only five runs in my next five starts. Only once during the drought did we score more than two runs while I was on the mound, and that happened in the worst game I had all year — an 11–5 loss to the Minnesota Twins, in which I didn't get out of the third inning. That defeat was my sixth in a row, and unbeknownst to me, I had four more to go before I finally won a game. I lost the four by scores of 2–0, 3–2, 3–2, and 4–2. Suffice it to say, it was a trying time.
It was a stretch that could easily ruin a season for a starting pitcher — and also for the pitcher's team because the slump was an extended one. From May 20 through August 10, I didn't win a game. I was 0–10. Worse was the feeling of letting my team down because the Tigers were 0–11 with me pitching during that time.
It was a nightmare.
In fact, the day I lost my 10 in a row, I was driving home from the ballpark a little too fast — or maybe a lot too fast. And sure enough, I got pulled over for speeding. When the officer asked for my driver's license, he recognized my name. "Michael Lolich," he said. "Is that you, Mickey?"
When I said it was, he replied, "Go on home. You have enough problems."
Despite my individual losing streak, the team had an overall 40–42 record. Better yet, we lost only two games in the standings. We were in second place, a half game out of first at the beginning of it and in fourth just two-and-a-half games out when I finally started winning again.
And, thankfully, I did start winning again. In my last 10 starts of 1967, I went 8–1 with four shutouts and a 1.26 ERA. But more importantly the Tigers went 9–1. I bounced back — we did, too — and suddenly the season was fun again. Go figure, though. I wasn't doing anything differently than when I was losing. At least that's how it felt to me. It was no time, however, to look back and wonder why. With 50 games remaining, we were in the middle of a pennant race.
And what a pennant race it turned out to be — especially after Labor Day. We went from fourth place to first with a win one day but sank from first to fourth with a loss another day. That's the kind of wild ride it was. There were four teams — us, the Boston Red Sox, the Twins, and the Chicago White Sox — scrambling for first place the entire month of September.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Joy in Tigertown"
Copyright © 2018 Mickey Lolich with Tom Gage.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Jim Leyland xiii
1 The Riots 1
2 1967 11
3 Clinching the Pennant 23
4 Game 1 31
5 Figs and Fastballs 37
6 Game 2 55
7 Learning Curve 71
8 Game 3 87
9 Fun and Games 93
10 Game 4 105
11 Rules, Rides, and Runs 111
12 Game 5 125
13 Who We Were 137
14 Game 6 161
15 Highs and Lows 167
16 Game 7 183
17 Celebrity Status 201
18 The Year After 219
19 The 1970s 225
20 Doughnut Man 249
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A delightful read! Anyone who lived through the Summer of '68 will enjoy Mickey's insights.