And Now You Know More: The History of the 1968 World Series: Part I


By Thomas Best

Well, it is that time of year again.  Not just fall, but the time of the completion of the major league baseball season with the World Series. 

Those of you who are as old as I am will recall when World Series time was at least a week-long celebration of baseball. Do you remember being allowed take time away from your elementary classroom to go to the gym or library and watch the World Series on small television?  I remember watching the St. Louis Cardinals on TV in school in the 1960s. However, I also recall that for some reason, we were not going to be able to watch the opening game of the 1968 World Series in school.  Bob Gibson, already one of my baseball heroes, was going to pitch the first game.  I told my Mother that I would be sick if I couldn’t watch him pitch.  For the only time in my school career, my strict mother called into the school and told the secretary that I was going to have to stay home. With the implication that I was ill, I got to stay home and watch Gibson win game one.  And indeed, was it worth it! 

The year of 1968, known as the year of the pitcher, was dominated by hurlers whose skills on the mound appeared unprecedented. The pitching staffs of thirteen of the twenty major league teams had ERA’s under 3.00. This year was also the only time in history when every team posted at least ten shutouts. However, two right-handed pitchers in particular created a buzz about their pitching performances that has rarely been equaled—and they pitched against each other in that 1968 World Series, Denny McClain and Bob Gibson.

McClain’s claim to fame in this year was his ability to win 31 ball-games. The last player to reach that plateau was the Cardinals’ Dizzy Dean three decades earlier. McClain, already with a reputation for a screwball (and that was for his antics, not the type of pitch), led the Tigers to an American League title.  Bob Gibson, athletic and angry looking, had a phenomenal season with a paltry 1.12 ERA.  Only two pitchers ever had a better ERA, and those pitchers played in the “dead ball” era.  Gibson, despite winning only 22 games, threw 13 shutouts—the second most in history. With a reputation for intimidating hitters by throwing his blazing fastball “up and in,” Gibson struck out 268 batters. 

So, there I was, at home on October 2 in our small trailer, watching Bob Gibson match up with McClain.  As I had hoped, Gibson shut down the Tiger lineup for a 4-0 victory.  But he didn’t just win the game—he struck out 17 Tigers—still the record! “Gibby” closed out the game before the thousands of white-shirted and tie-wearing Cardinal male fans with three straight strikeouts.    

Not surprisingly, Gibson’s record has never been equaled in a World Series game since. Sandy Kofax’s best was 15 strikeouts in game #1 of the 1963 Series.

Honestly, today, I don’t recall most the details of that monumental game without the help from a Youtube video or box score.  I imagine I sat on the floor staring up at our TV, tensely cheering, oohing and awing, and eventually becoming horse from yelling.  My one day of skipping school paid off.  What happened in the rest of that memorable series, I will conclude with next week.

Thank you for listening.

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