Summer of '68

The Season That Changed Baseball -- and America -- Forever


By Tim Wendel

Formats and Prices




$28.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $21.99 $28.99 CAD
  2. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 12, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The extraordinary story of the 1968 baseball season–when the game was played to perfection even as the country was being pulled apart at the seams

From the beginning, ’68 was a season rocked by national tragedy and sweeping change. Opening Day was postponed and later played in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. That summer, as the pennant races were heating up, the assassination of Robert Kennedy was later followed by rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But even as tensions boiled over and violence spilled into the streets, something remarkable was happening in major league ballparks across the country. Pitchers were dominating like never before, and with records falling and shut-outs mounting, many began hailing ’68 as “The Year of the Pitcher.”

In Summer of ’68, Tim Wendel takes us on a wild ride through a season that saw such legends as Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Don Drysdale, and Luis Tiant set new standards for excellence on the mound, each chasing perfection against the backdrop of one of the most divisive and turbulent years in American history. For some players, baseball would become an insular retreat from the turmoil encircling them that season, but for a select few, including Gibson and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, the conflicts of ’68 would spur their performances to incredible heights and set the stage for their own run at history.

Meanwhile in Detroit — which had burned just the summer before during one of the worst riots in American history — ’68 instead found the city rallying together behind a colorful Tigers team led by McLain, Mickey Lolich, Willie Horton, and Al Kaline. The Tigers would finish atop the American League, setting themselves on a highly anticipated collision course with Gibson’s Cardinals. And with both teams’ seasons culminating in a thrilling World Series for the ages — one team playing to establish a dynasty, the other fighting to help pull a city from the ashes — what ultimately lay at stake was something even larger: baseball’s place in a rapidly changing America that would never be the same.

In vivid, novelistic detail, Summer of ’68 tells the story of this unforgettable season — the last before rule changes and expansion would alter baseball forever — when the country was captivated by the national pastime at the moment it needed the game most.


Also by Tim Wendel
High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the
Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time
Going for the Gold: How the U.S.
Olympic Hockey Team Won at Lake Placid
Buffalo, Home of the Braves
Far From Home: Latino Baseball Players in America
The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise
and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport
Castro's Curveball
My Man Stan (a novel for young readers)
Red Rain

In memory of Eric Wendel, John Douglas, and Bill Glavin.
For Jacqueline, Sarah, and Chris, my heart of the order.

So often we look to sports for an escape. We prefer to imagine it inhabiting a place that's cordoned off from the fractured and complex world outside the lines. And in many ways it is. It's a place where well-defined rules govern the action and outcomes are resolute; where the drama plays out in familiar ways we can easily understand and appreciate (if not always predict); and where we can celebrate victories vicariously, but still keep the pain of failures at arm's length.
But what happens when events in the outside world become so chaotic, so divisive, that it's no longer possible to fully escape them? When larger issues begin to permeate sports in such a way that it impacts our ability as fans to follow the action and the story lines in the usual way? In such a situation the games we watch and play cease to be merely diversions, but perhaps that's also when they matter to us most, and when the potential is there for their outcomes to mean something more.
How does such added pressure impact players? What happens when even they are no longer able to stay above the fray, and when it becomes impossible for them to isolate themselves by focusing on single moments—one game, one at-bat, one pitch at a time?
Time and again throughout the remarkable, turbulent year of 1968, the best in sports had to fall back on something else and find other ways to persevere. In the case of World Series champion Bob Gibson, the St. Louis Cardinals ace channeled his anger into one of the most dominant pitching performances of all time. Detroit's Denny McLain, his counterpart in that season's World Series, found it best to embrace celebrity and fame in an effort to assure things never cut too close to the heart. For Tigers' slugger Willie Horton, he had to expand his definition of home to include something more than Detroit, the divided city he had grown up in. For Luis Tiant, who was about to have his break-out season pitching for the Cleveland Indians, it was finding the personal strength to be a witness to the sea changes in everything from politics to music to sports. And for Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood, perhaps it was realizing that the boundaries between sports and the outside world weren't so impermeable after all; that he could be a catalyst for change, too.
And yet it also remained true that sometimes all it takes to propel an athlete is the chance to win with everything on the line. That was the fervent hope that kept Detroit pitcher Mickey Lolich going: that he would one day have the opportunity to succeed when few believed he could ever rise to the occasion.
Today we often place our sports heroes beyond arm's length. Maybe it's a natural result of a day and age when professional athletes make so much money and no longer live in our neighborhoods that our closest glimpses of them are captured through fleeting images on the JumboTron or our TVs at home. They are regarded as celebrities, perhaps more so than at any other time in history. Yet it didn't use to be this way. In '68, for better or for worse, we were often in it together—even when we rallied to different sides of the political argument and allowed the storms of protest to wash over everything. The idea for this book came one night when I was channel surfing, bouncing between the talking heads on cable television and thinking to myself, "Could we be any more divided?" The great thing about history and our nation's narrative is that we can take Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine back to a previous era or moment when things were seemingly just as difficult in order to gain perspective and maybe even glean a few lessons. In looking back at times in which we struggled and yet somehow carried on perhaps we can find a way to move ahead again.
In 1968, the gods were angry. It's been called "the year that rocked the world," and it rarely showed any mercy. How else to describe a single year in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin's bullet and weeks later Robert Kennedy met the same fate? In which riots broke out in the streets in cities across the country, and millions gathered to protest the issues surrounding the Vietnam War and civil rights, often to be met with resistance and in some cases brutality. In which everything boiled over late that summer in the streets of Chicago. Thanks to television, our world in 1968 was shrink-wrapped forever. We were able to view all this on a nightly basis, with much of it cued up for instant replay. Seemingly overnight we had become Marshall McLuhan's "global village," and what we saw was that things everywhere were unraveling, being pulled apart at the seams, often with unbearable force.
And yet, through it all, juxtaposed against the turmoil, there was sports. In 1968, baseball was still regarded as the national pastime, but the barbarians were at the gate, so to speak. Only a few weeks into the new year, Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers won their second consecutive Super Bowl. From this point on, empty seats at the Super Bowl were unheard of, and football would soon surpass baseball in popularity, with Joe Namath and the upstart American Football League poised to "guarantee" victory in the next championship game.
Much has been written about the impact of this tumultuous year on politics, music and our culture in general. But in our discussions of '68, the glories and struggles that occurred in sports during that time are too often cast aside. Bill Russell, the legendary player-coach for the Boston Celtics, once said that sports favor the short view. Little in this realm lasts longer than a season, regardless of how epic the team or contest maybe. And yet, while scores fade and names and even outcomes may recede in our memory, select moments—so fully representative of larger forces and events that we refer to them as iconic—remain. And once pieced together, these moments can form a narrative that still speaks to us to this day.
Vienna, Virginia

A Bad Moon Rising
The image was so overwhelming, so unforgettable, that people's common sense ended up somewhere else.... The shape of their world changed.
Back before times became so chaotic and turbulent, contentious, and even dangerous, Willie Horton made it his mission to ask Bob Gibson for his autograph. The Tigers' slugger doesn't recall when this curious quest began. Was it 1963 or maybe 1964? To this day, Horton isn't exactly sure. What is certain is that his first real chance came during spring training. As Horton recalled, he could have opted out of a particular Grapefruit League swing, which saw the Tigers' split squad stopping by Winter Haven to play the Red Sox, then heading another seventy miles west for a contest against the Cardinals at their spring training home at old Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Instead, he signed up for the trip, with a purpose in mind.
"My father had been a big Bob Gibson fan," said Horton, whose parents died in a car crash in 1965. "My father knew that he was a great basketball player, too, so I thought why not? I'll make this trip. I'll get him to sign."
Little did Horton realize how difficult it would be. After taking batting practice at Al Lang, Horton waited, pen and paper in hand, for the rest of the home team to appear. As Gibson strode out to shag balls with the other St. Louis pitchers in the outfield, Horton approached and asked if the right-hander would be kind enough to sign.
"What position do you play?" Gibson replied curtly.
Horton told him outfield.
"Outfield?" Gibson answered. With that he turned away, wanting nothing to do with an opposing player.
Crestfallen, Horton slunk back to the visiting dugout, where his friend and teammate Gates Brown waited for him. Brown had seen the snub and knew exactly what had happened. "You're a damn fool for making this trip," Brown said. "Anybody could have told you that guy is all business, all the time."
Indeed, the Cardinals' ace rarely smiled and always seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder. "The basis of intimidation, as I practiced it, was mystery," Gibson later explained. "I wanted the hitter to know nothing about me—about my wife, my children, my religion, my politics, my hobbies, my tastes, my feelings, nothing. I figured the more they knew about me, the more they knew what I might do in a certain situation. That was why, in large part, I never talked to players on other teams. That was why I never apologized for hitting anybody. That was why I seemed like such an asshole to so many people."
Sometimes things start from a long way off, build and build over the seasons without anybody really noticing or being any the wiser. That's how it seemed to Willie Horton years later, on a bright autumn day in St. Louis in 1968. The stands at old Busch Stadium were filled to overflowing with fans wearing straw hats with either a cotton tiger or cardinal stapled to them. The color of that afternoon—many games, even World Series contests, still began before sunset back then—stood out as firehouse red. Of course, that was the respondent hue of the hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. At stake was something far bigger than a spring training contest between two split-squad teams. This was Game One of the 1968 World Series, and as Willie Horton watched starter Bob Gibson warm up, he couldn't help thinking back to that day in Florida and whether the Cardinals' ace was about to give him a hard time all over again.
Anybody who had picked up a bat that year could have identified with Horton's trepidation. It had been a season that would be forever known as the " Year of the Pitcher," a time when hitting streaks were usually measured in days rather than weeks. Early on in '68, Jim "Catfish" Hunter of the Oakland Athletics pitched a perfect game, the first tossed in the American League regular season in forty-six years. Meanwhile, in the senior circuit, two no-hitters were thrown on back-to-back days in the same ballpark for the first time in major-league history. Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers kept the opposition off the scoreboard for a record 58 2/3 innings, while Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians held hitters to a paltry .168 average. Both were new standards. In every ballpark across the country hitters, even the best in the game, struggled. Carl Yastrezemski of the Boston Red Sox, the previous season's Triple Crown winner, hit just .301 for the year, but that was enough to win the batting title in the American League. In fact, the junior circuit's collective slugging average of .340 stood as the lowest since 1915 and the dead-ball era.
"No hitter had an easy time of it that year," said Cardinals' first baseman Orlando Cepeda. "You might put together a string, get hot for a week or two, but anything more was asking too much in '68."
It was no surprise then that in the "Year of the Pitcher," the two starters for the first game of the World Series stood front and center. While Gibson's record was a modest 22–9, he finished the regular season with a 1.12 earned run average, the lowest ever for anyone pitching as many as 300 innings in a season. His counterpart for Game One, Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, had compiled an amazing 31–6 record, the first pitcher to reach the thirty-victory plateau since Dizzy Dean in 1934.
By the time the two were set to take the mound that afternoon on October 2, the teams themselves had been eyeing each other for almost two months. In 1968, the last year before additional teams were added to postseason play, the Tigers won the American League pennant by twelve games and the Cardinals by nine. Everyone, including both ballclubs, their fans in each city, and the national press, had eagerly been awaiting this Fall Classic for some time.
Certainly there had been bumps in the road along the way for both teams, however. Built on speed and defense, the Cardinals sometimes fell into a swoon at the plate and in fact had been no-hit by the Giants' Gaylord Perry only a few weeks before. Many believed Detroit, rather than the Boston Red Sox, should have won the pennant in 1967. So it didn't surprise many when the Tigers kept the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, and Red Sox at arm's length this time around. Yet some still questioned Detroit's ability to win under pressure.
If St. Louis captured the 1968 Fall Classic, the franchise would be recognized as a dynasty, the top ballclub of the sixties after winning in 1964 and 1967. If Detroit triumphed, the championship would be the city's first in twenty-three years, and perhaps a psychic balm for a locale ravaged by rioting and racial division.
While few realized it at the time, the game of baseball was fast approaching a crossroads in 1968. In fact, the game's first century of existence was about to go down in the history books. The first pro team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, had come into existence in 1869, nearly a century before, posting a 65–0–1 record while barnstorming 11,877 miles. Along the way, the game had authorized such advances as the curveball (in 1872), turnstiles (1878), and night baseball (1935). During this sweep of history, Cy Young retired with 511 career victories (1911), Babe Ruth walloped 60 home runs in a season (1927), and Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game, his fourth no-hitter in four years (1965). Looking ahead, a divisional format and play-offs were on the horizon—changes that were about to alter the national pastime forever. "People forget how honest and pure things used to be," Willie Horton said. "Back then we played the whole season so the best team in the American League could play the best team in the National League. You cut right to the World Series. I always kind of appreciated that."
On this day in October 1968, and at this time in U.S. sports history, baseball had everything going for it. Not only did the sport offer fans an epic pitching showdown in Game One, what some scribes called "The Great Confrontation," the game itself reigned as king throughout the American sports landscape. In '68 the national pastime was as popular as it had ever been. Soon it would fall from this lofty perch, thanks in large part to many events that took place during this watershed year. For now, however, the game was ready for another turn on center stage.
As Game One began, Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver settled in behind home plate. Tom Gorman, the home-plate umpire, took up his position behind him, and out on the mound stood Gibson, glaring in at both of them as if they were strangers, even adversaries. Even though the intimidating right-hander struggled somewhat early on, needing seventeen pitches to get through a scoreless first inning, it soon became apparent that Gibson was in rare form. His fastball displayed great movement, hissing like a snake as it flew through the strike zone. After gaining a touch more control, Gibson struck out seven of the first ten Tigers batters he faced. On this afternoon, the heart of the Detroit batting order—Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Horton—was overmatched, registering the lion's share of Detroit's strikeouts.
"That day was trouble all over again for me, for my ballclub, for anybody from Detroit," Horton said, "In that game, Bob Gibson was the toughest pitcher I ever faced in my career. Ever."
When it came to pitching in 1968, neither league was truly able to gain the upper hand. Nearly every team could roll out a quality ace, or at least one in the making. In the National League, the top arms included Gibson, Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Mike McCormick and Ferguson Jenkins, not to mention such promising youngsters as Gary Nolan, Larry Dierker, and Steve Carlton. "Against studs like Gibson and Marichal," Drysdale wrote in his memoir, "you knew damn well that you could give up three runs or less in a game and lose."
Undoubtedly, everyone in the American League knew the stakes had been raised as well, with McLain and Mickey Lolich in Detroit, Luis Tiant and "Sudden" Sam McDowell in Cleveland, Dean Chance and Jim Kaat in Minnesota, and Jim Lonborg coming off his Cy Young season in Boston. Throughout 1968, this chord became the clarion call, sounded time and again. Sometimes it would be the game's top stars that delivered this refrain. In other moments, unknown arms, at least at the time, would underscore this trend. While professional football, especially the upstart American Football League, strove for explosive offense and points, the more the better, in baseball that year teams often struggled to put a few runs on the board. Early on, veteran hitters could tell there was a bad moon rising for them in '68. One needed only to look at the daily headlines to realize that pitching ruled the national pastime.
"You could see that the pitching was going to be something that season," Gates Brown said. "Anybody with eyes knew that even as early as the first weeks of spring training. My God, the arms that were out there. As that '68 season began all I was thinking was put the damn ball in play and see what happens. That's about all a man could do some days."
In the Pirates' fourth game of the season, Jim Bunning picked up his first win with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a 3–0 victory at Dodgers Stadium. The shutout was the fortieth of his career and included his one-thousandth strikeout in the National League. That made him the first pitcher since Cy Young with one thousand in each league.
A day later, the Houston Astros defeated the New York Mets, 1–0, in twenty-four innings. The game lasted six hours and six minutes.
Of course, one could rationalize Bunning's star turn was the culmination of a Hall of Fame career, and indeed, the no-nonsense right-hander was inducted into Cooperstown in 1996. As for the marathon in the Astrodome? Just a fluke, right? Maybe, maybe not.
The following week, on April 19, Nolan Ryan, in his season debut for the New York Mets, struck out eleven, including three batters on ten pitches in the first inning. Afterward, announcer Ralph Kiner compared the soft-spoken Texan with Bob Feller when it came to sheer velocity. But as was Ryan's luck during his years with the Mets, things didn't turn out well. The Texan lost 3–2 when Rocky Colavito, who was a last-minute addition to the Dodgers' lineup, drove in the winning run. Jim Fairey was supposed to start in the Los Angeles outfield, but mistakenly thought the game was a night affair and overslept. That put Colavito in the starting lineup and his single in the eighth inning decided it.
"Strikeouts weren't the problem for me back then," Ryan said. "Getting wins was another matter."
By the time the Orioles' Tom Phoebus no-hit the Boston Red Sox on April 27 in Baltimore little doubt remained that a trend was apparent. Brooks Robinson not only drove in three runs but saved the no-no with a diving grab, to rob Rico Petrocelli of a hit in the eighth inning.
"The evidence mounted quickly," said William Mead, author of Two Spectacular Seasons, "that this was going to be a great time for the pitchers."
On May 8, 1968, Catfish Hunter of the Oakland Athletics hurled a perfect game against the visiting Minnesota Twins. It was the A's first year in Oakland, after moving to town from Kansas City. Only 6,298 fans were in the stands that evening for what was just the eleventh game ever played at the new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. But what the privileged few in the stands witnessed was the first regular-season perfect game—no hits, no walks, no errors—in the American League since 1922.
For baseball insiders, Hunter's "perfecto" came down to a precious moment or two. In the seventh inning, the twenty-two-year-old faced Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew. The count ran to 3–2, and just about everyone, including Killebrew, figured the baby-faced right-hander would throw a fastball. But Hunter crossed up the future Hall of Famer, going with a changeup that Killebrew swung at and missed.
From there, things quickly moved to the game's final batter, Rich Reese. The Twins' pinch hitter fouled off four pitches with a 3–2 count before a called third strike. "For a while there I thought I was never going to get him out," Hunter said afterward. "That boy kept on fouling off everything I threw up there. I sure was glad to see him strike out."
At the time of Hunter's perfect game, the chances of a no-hitter were calculated at 1,300 to 1. The chances of a perfect game stood at 28,000 to 1. In the Oakland clubhouse, Hunter told representatives of the Hall of Fame they were welcome to anything they wanted, uniform, cap, even the bat he used to help his own effort by driving in three runs, everything except the ball that struck out Reese. "That last one belongs to me," the pitcher said. "I'll keep it as long as I live because it sure took me a long time to get that final out."
Afterward, Athletics' owner Charlie Finley promised Hunter a $5,000 raise—a princely sum in these days before free agency—in honor of the accomplishment. When Hunter called his father back in North Carolina, the old man cautioned his son, "Tell me all about that five thousand when you get it." After all, Finley already had the reputation for being a notorious skinflint. In the end, though, Hunter got his money. Perhaps because of all the great players the Athletics owner employed over the years, this pitcher was his favorite.
In high school, Hunter pitched five no-hitters, including a perfect game. But before signing a professional contract, he was involved in a hunting accident, which blew off a toe and left thirty shotgun pellets in his right foot. He was winged by his older brother, who stumbled, the gun accidentally going off, while the two were duck hunting. Upon seeing Hunter's bleeding foot, the brother promptly fainted, leaving the wounded pitching prospect on his own.
Hunter crawled on his belly to a nearby creek, where he soaked his sweater in the cool running water. Then he scrambled back, wringing the garment over his brother's face. Thankfully that was enough to revive the sibling and soon Hunter was in the bed of the family pickup truck, hightailing it to the local hospital. There doctors told him that he would never play baseball or football again.
"I could see he was handicapped," said Finley, who visited the Hunter family's sharecropper shack in Hertford, North Carolina. "Yet he still played baseball. His determination grabbed me, and after I heard the story of his accident, I was convinced that I wanted him."
Other teams hadn't gone above $50,000 for Hunter's services, due to the damaged foot. But Finley made a preemptive bid of $75,000 " because the Catfish had character."
Early on, Hunter needed a good foot more than an admirable character. An operation to remove the shotgun pellets slowed his progress and many in the A's organization urged Finley to drop him from the roster. Yet four years after the signing, Finley's gamble paid off as Hunter was carried off the field on his teammates' shoulders. In pitching the first perfect game in the American League since Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series, Hunter threw just 107 pitches, and only four balls were well hit. Left fielder Joe Rudi, making his first start in left field after being called up from Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League, tracked down two of them, including Rod Carew 's line drive in the seventh inning. Afterward, Hunter said the latter was the only one that really concerned him.
"He probably threw no more than five curves all night," said A's catcher Jim Pagliaroni, who had caught Bill Monbouquette's no-hitter in 1962. "He shook off only two of my signs. He made my job easy."
With Hunter's perfect game, it was apparent to sports fans that—to paraphrase the Buffalo Springfield hit song of the time—something was happening here. Pitchers, young and old, had the fever, and looking back on it, Hunter's perfect game ushered in a season of excellence that we may never witness again. "It was the times," said Jon Warden, a rookie reliever with the Tigers in '68. "Everybody knew it. We were witnessing one of the great eras in pitching, and I, like anybody who threw a baseball back then, wanted to be a part of it in the worst way."
Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, who would go on to lead the American League with 109 RBI, remembered Hunter's perfecto as a sign of what was to come. "There were a lot of amazing pitchers in that season and folks will ask me, 'Who was the best?'" Harrelson said. "And I'll ask them, are we talking about best stuff or best pitcher? If we're talking stuff, it would have to be somebody like Luis Tiant or 'Sudden' Sam McDowell. I mean nobody had four pitches as good as McDowell in his prime.
"But if we're talking best pitcher, I'd go with Catfish Hunter. He didn't have the stuff of the guys we're talking about and I'd had glimpses of Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal or Don Drysdale, too. We'd go up against those NL guys in spring training and I'd faced Gibson in the '67 World Series.
"Catfish didn't have that kind of stuff. His fastball was kind of sneaky and he had a spinner of a breaking ball. Maybe not much. But what he did have was the biggest heart and more balls than anybody I ever faced. I mean the man was a competitor. If you're asking me who's the guy to win me a game when my family's lives are at stake, I'm going with Catfish."


  • Summer of '68 shows that imperfect men can approach baseball perfection…Wendel recounts this matchless season with verve and you-are-there immediacy.” Grand Rapids Press, 4/4/12“A welcome memoir of a year the Tigers won the World Series while the world fell apart.” Detroit Metro Times, 4/4/12“[Wendel's] writing flows and it's an easy read…He nails what's best about the sport.”, 4/3/12“Wendel's analysis of the existing literature, newsreels, and his player interviews from that season give readers a taste of the turbulence while keeping the reader interested and turning pages.”, 3/11/12“A look back at one specific baseball season and the events in the culture surrounding it.”

    Shelf Awareness, 4/13
    “A mesmerizing story.”

    Metro New York, 4/10“If you're looking for the combination of the greatest year of baseball and most incendiary in American culture, here's your winner.” Houston Chronicle, 4/8
  • “A well-written, fast moving book…It would be useful for those who did not live through The Sixties to take a look back; it is useful for those of us who did to be reminded.”, 3/16/12“[Wendel] tells the story…with verve, in the familiar cadences found in sports journalism. While the details of most of this book will understandably appeal to baseball fans, the added angle of how teams and players faced unrest in their own cities, and how they contended with each other on teams as well as on the field against their rivals, enriches this presentation.” Niagara Gazette, 3/8/12“A masterwork of sports sociology.” Gazalapalooza(blog), 3/14/12
    “Much more than strictly a book about the momentous baseball season of 1968. It's really a thoughtful and intriguing book about our whole world during that tumultuous year, and how the pivotal social, cultural and political events inside sports and out in 1968 echo loudly to this very day…An excellent and gripping true story.”, 3/20/12
  • “A wonderful book…[that] vividly recalls both a classic seven-game World Series and the political and social events that surrounded it.”, 5/10/12
    “Wendel does a masterful job of relating all the extraordinary events that year through baseball…Buy this book now, and next time you need a gift for that baseball nut in your life, you'll have it ready to give.” Iron Mountain Daily News, 5/26/12“Delivers a brilliant summary of that tumultuous year in America…Plenty of good information here for sports fans and historians.” “The Bookworm Sez” nationally syndicated column
    “[A] story of one baseball season and the players that made it fantastic, even as the world seemed to be falling apart…[A] home run!” Iron Mountain Daily News, 5/29/12
    “In detailing how this season was more memorable than perhaps any other, Summer of ‘68 illustrates the deep connection between America and its national game.” NY Sports Day, 6/9/12
  • “In 1968 baseball's golden era…went out with the bang of Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich fighting it out in one of the great pitching duels ever, one that played out in the final game game of the '68 World Series…Tim Wendel's new book does that watershed moment justice and I found it deeply affecting…There are those rare occasions when sweeping change to the wider world walks in tandem with baseball, as it did in 1968. Tim Wendel's book captures the spirit of those times, the way that great players were humbled by the loss of their own heroes, how they recovered–as did the nation–and how they gained new strength to achieve greatness and walk away winners.”

    Booklist, 4/15/12
    “Wendel details a terrific World Series…and he brings into relief the players, influenced by the political climate or not, who had a profound impact on the game.”

    Tampa Tribune, 3/26/12“Wendel does a masterful job of putting sports and politics in their proper perspective…Wendel catches all the emotions of 1968 and has written a book that is as memorable as the year he chronicles.” Redbird Rants (website), 3/26/12
    “A must read for Cardinals' and baseball fans alike.”, 4/5/12
  • “No book better captures how in 1968 sports changed America—and vice versa. In splendid fashion, Tim Wendel takes us on a rollicking journey through an unparalleled year of tumult, tragedy, and, too, joy. Summer of '68 reads like a novel brimming with surprising action, colorful characters, and fresh insights. I enjoyed every page.”

    John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball and author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden
    “It seems like only yesterday when both our nation and its pastime seemed in mortal peril. Tim Wendel's Summer of '68 brilliantly evokes the glories and the grim realities of that time, when America and baseball came to a crossroads, and emerged for the better on the other side.”

    Library Journal, 2/1/12

  • “The story of one baseball season and the players that made it fantastic, even as the world seemed to be falling apart around the field.” Charleston Post and Courier, 4/15/12
    “Wendel consistently gets to the heart of a changing world.” Bookviews (blog), May 2012“Wendel captures the spirit of the time and weaves together the stories of the year's events, the teams and players in a thoroughly entertaining fashion; particularly for anyone who loves the game. This book demonstrates the deep connection between the nation and its national game.”, 4/30/12
    “An exciting look at the year in MLB…There is real value here. It's instructive to learn what players of the time thought about historical and newsworthy events, and how some even had first-hand participation…If you're a baseball fan who remembers the glory days of Bob Gibson's frightening stare, the showbiz glitz of Denny McLain, the time when a manager could actually be named Mayo Smith, then you should enjoy Summer of '68.”, 5/10/12
    “A splendid, cross-generational book that can satisfy not only the duffers who remember that year like it was yesterday, but also young and inquisitive baseball fans and history students.”

    Memphis Commercial Appeal, 5/12/12
  • “Wendel has interviewed many of the key participants to bring this crucial year to life. Transcending baseball history alone, this is recommended for baseball fans and students of the era.”

    Kirkus Reviews, 2/15/12
    “[Wendel] charts the thrilling Series game by game. More intriguing, though, is the season's unique backdrop: the ‘Year of the Pitcher' in baseball and the national turmoil surrounding the sports world…An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.” Publishers Weekly, 2/20/12“Wendel mines one of baseball's more absorbing episodes in this rich chronicle of the 1968 season. It's a sociologically resonant account…Wendel provides telling color commentary…and sharp analyses of on-field strategizing and play-by-play.”, 2/6/12
    “Wendel doesn't disappoint in Summer of '68…especially if you are a fan of the pitching side of the game…this is going to be a book that you are going to want on your bookshelf if you are a fan of baseball history in general or Cardinal history in specific.  It's a quick and entertaining read and one that you'll probably come back to time and time again.” Relaxed Fit e-zine, 2/22/12
  • “Wendel is one of the best baseball book writers…In Summer of '68 he has a great subject…Wendel does a fine job of relating the tensions that were coursing through baseball at the time, set against the backdrop of national and international turmoil.”, 4/2
    “Wendel meticulously tells the story of many of the players from both squads giving the reader a comprehensive understanding of how the 1968 Series came to be from many different perspectives…The extensive research that Wendel must have done in order to get the insight and perspective shared in this book is evident on every page. Even people who don't know much about baseball history may come off as an expert on this season after reading this book.” New York Journal of Books“Not only the story about the 1968 Major League Baseball season, but also a meticulous history lesson outlining the dawning of a new age in baseball—and in American history…Mr. Wendel engagingly presents the facts of what was a game-changing year in American history for baseball, but most importantly for the citizens of America who could see there was a wrong to right—and it was up to us to achieve that change.” Detroit Free Press, 4/15/12
  • “[From] a dugout's worth of new books about baseball…[one] of this season's most promising literary prospects…A look back at 1968, the year of political assassinations, urban riots and a classic World Series.” New York Post, 4/1/12 “Wendel shows that baseball really is part of the fabric of America.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/1/12“Cardinals fans who want to revisit the team's collapse and loss against the Tigers in the World Series will probably appreciate Wendel's detailed description in Summer of '68.” Cleveland Sunday Plain Dealer, 4/1/12“[Wendel] astutely marks this summer as a landmark year for baseball—the game, like the country, would be forever changed.” San Antonio Express-News, 4/2/12“Nostalgic, sure, but never sentimental or sappy, Wendel…sets a grand stage for a crucial year in sports, and produces an engaging, well-researched book that baseball fans can breeze through easily…If you miss players like Lou Brock and Luis Tiant, Summer of '68 will remind you why.” Milwaukee Sunday Journal Sentinel, 4/1/12“Engaging…Bring[s] the season alive.” San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/1/12
  • “[Wendel is] a passionate fan with the skill of a reporter…Summer of '68 isn't a book about Detroit; it is bigger than that. But that year, the story of Tigers baseball resonated beyond the city's borders. Wendel ably captures both how, and why, it mattered so much.” Lansing City Pulse, 4/11/12“Wendel's book serves as a testament to a team that is credited with holding a city together and giving its residents something to cheer about after the devastating 1967 riots…Wendell also makes the case that the 1968 series represented the last pure games of baseball in a time before league playoffs and wild-card spots.” Tonawanda News, 4/15/12
    “The year 1968 was the bellwether for a lot of things, including baseball's dominance over football and society's admission that serious changes were in the wind. Wendel addresses it well.”
     American Profile, 4/28/12“This riveting account masterfully weaves the social turbulence of 1968 into a narrative of one of the game's most memorable seasons.” McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 4/26/12“Wendel is a master storyteller…Wendel skillfully ties the baseball season to domestic events.” Savannah Morning News, 4/18/12
  • Ken Burns, filmmaker, creator of the Emmy Award–winning documentary series Baseball
    “As always, Tim Wendel gets to the heart of this game and the complicated republic it so precisely mirrors.”

    David Maraniss, author of Clemente and When Pride Still Mattered
    Summer of '68 captivated me from the get-go: I was eighteen that summer, reeling from the chaos of an unforgettable year, awestruck by the ferocious beauty of Bob Gibson, rooting for Willie Horton and the Tigers from the city of my birth. Cheers to Tim Wendel for bringing it all back so vividly.”

    Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail
    “A year of great convulsion and heartbreak, 1968 was the closest we've come to a national nervous breakdown since the Civil War. But as Tim Wendel so deftly captures in this fine book, it was also a year when baseball soothed and thrilled us—and urgently reminded us why it's called the ‘national pastime.'”

    Tom Stanton, author of The Final Season and Ty and The Babe

On Sale
Mar 12, 2013
Page Count
304 pages
Da Capo Press

Tim Wendel

About the Author

Tim Wendel was a founding editor of USA Today‘s Baseball Weekly and is the award-winning and highly acclaimed author of eleven books, including Summer of .68. He has served as exhibit adviser to the Baseball Hall of Fame and has been a writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University. He lives near Washington, DC.

Learn more about this author