Sunday, September 5, 2010

PTWSW #65: The 1968 Detroit Tigers

Manager: Mayo Smith
Record: 103-59
Ballpark: Tiger Stadium
Owner: John Fetzer
GM: Jim Campbell
Coaches: Tony Cuccinello, Julio Moreno, Wally Moses, Hal Naragon, Johnny Sain

Future Hall of Famers: Al Kaline, Eddie Mathews

All-Stars: Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Denny McLain, Don Wert

Team Leaders, Batting

Willie Horton, .285
OBP: Bill Freehan, .366
SLG: Willie Horton, .543
OPS: Willie Horton, 895
2B: Jim Northrup, 29
3B: Dick McAuliffe, 10
HR: Willie Horton, 36
RBI: Jim Northrup, 90
BB: Dick McAuliffe, 82
SB: Dick McAuliffe, 8

Team Leaders, Pitching

Denny McLain, 31 (AL leader)
SO: Denny McLain, 280
ERA: Denny McLain, 1.96
IP: Denny McLain, 336 (AL leader)
CG: Denny McLain, 28 (AL leader)
SHO: Denny McLain, 6
K/BB: Denny McLain, 4.44 (AL leader)
SV: Pat Dobson, Daryl Patterson, 7


Oldest Player: Roy Face (b. February 20, 1928)

Youngest Player: Les Cain (b. January 13, 1948)

First to Leave Us: Bob Christian (d. February 20, 1974). Christian was only 28 when he died of leukemia.

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Eddie Mathews (debut April 15, 1952)

Last in Majors: Willie Horton (final game October 5, 1980)

First to Play For the Franchise: Al Kaline (June 25, 1953)

Last to Play For the Franchise: John Hiller (May 27, 1980)

Pre-union Team: The 1966 Red Sox had four: Lenny Green, Don McMahon, Earl Wilson and John Wyatt.

Reunion Team: The 1970 Padres had three: Dave Campbell, Pat Dobson and Earl Wilson.


Denny McLain, AL MVP
Denny McLain, AL Cy Young Award
Bill Freehan, AL Catcher Gold Glove
Mickey Stanley, AL Outfield Gold Glove
Jim Northrup, two grand slams in one game, June 24
Jim Northrup, three grand slams in one month, June

Season Summary

In "The Year of the Pitcher," the Tigers won by having the American League's most powerful lineup. They led the loop in home runs and slugging percentage (both by wide margins), and their batting and on-base averages were fourth and second, respectively. They had no use for stolen bases, finishing last in the AL with a team total of only 26. Detroit also had the pitching to go with their power: The Tiger staff (led by 31-game winner Denny McLain) was third in ERA+, second in K rate and fourth in walk rate. Their defense was strong too, ranking first in fielding percentage, third in DER and second in TotalZone.

After a tight pennant race in 1967, there was no question that Detroit was the class of the AL in 1968. The Tigers were in first place almost the entire year, and a 19-4 run from late August to early September sealed the deal. With the season winding down, manager Mayo Smith made a controversial move. Shortstop had been a weak position for the Tigers all year, with Ray Oyler, Tom Matchick and Dick Tracewski providing little in the way of offense. With a four-man logjam in the outfield, he moved Mickey Stanley, the strongest one defensively, to short. Stanley's experience at the position was minimal, but Smith expressed confidence that he could handle it for the World Series, where the Tigers would face the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Cardinal ace Bob Gibson had a season for the ages in 1968 (22-9 record, 1.12 ERA), and he continued his brilliance by striking out 17 Tigers (a new World Series record) and pitching a shutout in Game 1. McLain lasted only five innings for Detroit, despite allowing only two earned runs. The Tigers bounced back in Game 2 behind Mickey Lolich, who allowed only one run in nine innings and hit his only career home run. The Cards embarrassed the Tigers by beating them in front of their home crowd the next two games, but the Bengals got a win in Game 5 to leave Detroit on a high note. The Tigers proceeded to blow out the Cardinals in Game 6 and send the Series to the maximum.

Game 7 was an exciting pitching duel between Gibson and Lolich. It remained scoreless until the seventh, when Jim Northrup hit a drive that Cardinal center fielder Curt Flood misjudged, resulting in a two-run triple. The Tigers would go on to win by a 4-1 score, and Lolich was named MVP for his three complete-game victories and 1.67 ERA. As for Stanley, he handled shortstop capably in all seven games, committing only two errors in 32 chances and turning three double plays.


Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
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