Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tigers Ought To Fete '68 Team This Summer At CoPa

Don't look now, but it's coming up on 40 years since the Tigers' World Championship of 1968.

We passed the 20th anniversary of the '84 champs a few years ago, and last year it was the 20th for the 1987 Comeback Kids, who stole the AL East pennant from the Toronto Blue Jays in the final week of the season. It won't be long before 20 years have gone by since the 2006 AL Champion team. Don't laugh. I know oldtimers like me certainly aren't.

The '68 team, for whatever reason, seems to elicit more romance than the '84 club. Maybe it's because baseball in the 1960s was at the tail end of another era, when pitchers dominated and there were four starters, not five, and the DH was still a cockeyed idea in someone's head. Or maybe it's because the 1968 team played a large role in providing a salve for a city still reeling from the 1967 riots and from the near miss for the pennant. It was also the last year before baseball split into divisions. And, it gave legend Al Kaline his only World Series appearance and victory.

A few of the '68 Tigers are gone. Joe Sparma, Ray Oyler, and Don McMahon all died relatively young. We lost Earl Wilson in 2005. Eddie Mathews has long ago passed on, as has manager Mayo Smith.

But many of them are still around, and I wonder if the Tigers have anything planned to commemorate the franchise's first championship since 1945. They did something way back in 1978, to recognize 10 years, but there was some flack for contriving an "anniversary" so soon after the event. Mickey Stanley, Mickey Lolich, and Willie Horton were still active at the time. Nothing, that I recall, happened in 1988 or '98 to honor the team.

It would be nice to end that drought this summer, with some sort of nice ceremony. Forty years ain't a short time, you know.

Ernie Harwell, Ray Lane, and George Kell are still kicking -- the team's radio and TV announcers back then. Many of the beat reporters and columnists are still alive, too. You could have quite a roster of participants, in addition to the players.

It's food for thought, especially in this day and age of celebrating things that don't always have just cause. Forty years ago, the Tigers turned Detroit on and injected the city with baseball fever. It was wonderfully timed, and kept us satiated until the late 1970s, when the team became revitalized.

Give 'em a Day this summer.


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