Historic 1968 Detroit Tigers Featured in New Book


While fans of the Detroit Tigers wait (impatiently) for any news about off-season signings, it is possible to get a baseball fix. The book Pitch by Pitch by Bob Gibson gets readers involved in every single pitch thrown during the first game of the 1968 World Series game between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Seeing the game through the eyes of two-time Cy Young winner Bob Gibson is an eye-opening experience, as he pitched against the infamous and charismatic two-time Cy Young winner Denny McLain. 

Aug 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) is presented with two seats from Tigers Stadium by Detroit Tigers former players Al Kaline (center) and Willie Horton (right) before the game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The book is written from Bob Gibson’s perspective as if he is talking directly to the reader about his experience. He wrote the book from his memories of the game 47 years ago. Along with all of his memories of the game, Gibson shares his perspective of being an African American professional ball player in a world that was still figuring out what to do after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he developed friendships with players from different parts of the United States and world. 

As Gibson worked through the Detroit Tigers lineup, he shared knowledge and experience with each player. Since the two teams were from different leagues, he had not faced many of the batters before, but he knew about their reputation as hard-hitting, scrappy players. The teams played a full seven games and the Cardinals defeated the Tigers in the first one at Busch Stadium.

Apr 8, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (26) listens to Cardinals hall of famers Red Schoendienst Lou Brock Whitey Herzog Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith before receiving his 2013 National League Championship ring before the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers lineup was Dick McAuliffe, Mickey Stanley, Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, Bill Freehan, Don Wert, Eddie Mathews, Dick Tracewski, and Denny McLain. Gibson shares his memories about each batter and why he decided to throw each pitch to them. During the pitch-by-pitch play-by-play, Gibson shares stories about each batter and how their reputations were built not only by their playing, but by their personal lives off out of the stadium. Social media did not exist back then, so fans in 1968 only could learn about their favorite players through newspaper articles, magazine features, and radio and television interviews. Gibson’s stories fill in the blanks the way social media does today.

If social media did exist in 1968, Denny McLain and Willie Horton would have the most followers. McLain was a finicky player who flew his own plane to games, entertained his friends by playing the organ, and preferred fur coats to baseball uniforms. Horton was a Detroit Tiger icon because of his ability to play, but also because he was born and raised in Detroit. He was what every kid in Detroit wanted to be. After the race riots in 1967, Horton took it upon himself to help heal the city. Reading about McLain’s antics and the city’s respect for Horton, Gibson shows his respect for each man and how they could leave all of that behind when they walked into the stadium.

Readers get a first-hand experience of what it was like to pitch to Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Horton for the first time. Gibson was impressed by the fact that Kaline was able to return to top form despite having a broken arm during the same season. It is clear that Mr. Tiger was an intimidating force at the plate and in the shadows of right field where he made several outs for McLain. Gibson obviously respected each man’s ability to put the ball in play; but in this game, he took over pitching a shutout with only five hits and a record 17 strikeouts.

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Fans who enjoy learning about the history of baseball will find this book a good read. Each chapter focuses on one inning as Gibson faces each batter and how he and McCarver worked out their attacks. With each batter, Gibson breaks down the pitches and why each one was chosen. Gibson makes it easy to see that an MLB pitcher needs have a great arm, but also a great mind to manage the pressure of the game. The book also features a few images of Cardinals and Tigers, which come to life with the anecdotes in the book. Fans can also learn about the history of the game, why the mound was lowered, and what it was like to play in the World Series before the leagues broke into divisions.