The Detroit Tigers had little to celebrate in 2018. After finishing with the worst record in Major League Baseball last year, the team had the same 64-98 record (not the worst) this season. It was a year to build toward future success and to reflect on past triumphs–namely, the 1968 World Series championship. More than a dozen members of that team received special recognition during a 50th anniversary celebration at Comerica Park in September. Fittingly, the Tigers were playing the same team they faced in ’68, the St. Louis Cardinals.
When the Cards came to town in September, they were playoff contenders. The Tigers were not. St. Louis ultimately faded and missed this year’s National League Playoffs. With no chance of a rematch of the 1968 World Series, fans at Comerica Park were treated to a reunion instead.
Surviving members of the ’68 world champions entered the stadium in style—each riding shotgun in a convertible General Motors sports car. One by one, they filed out in front of the Tigers’ dugout and approached the stage set up for them behind the pitchers’ mound. Fans cheered as radio announcer Dan Dickerson introduced their hometown heroe, giving the loudest roar to one of the greatest Tigers of all-time, Hall of Famer Al Kaline.
Fans too young to remember the ’68 World Series watched highlights on the scoreboard towering over left field. Behind home plate, Craig Kastle recalled his youth. He was a student at Wayne State University 50 years ago. When tickets for Games 3, 4, and 5 in Detroit went on sale, Kastle says he waited all night to get his.
“It was a huge party all night,” Kastle says.
“We were partying all around Tiger Stadium. It was incredible.”–Craig Kastle
The Tigers spared no expense to honor the ’68 team. They even brought back recording star Jose Feliciano to sing the national anthem, in much the same way he did before Game 5 at Tiger Stadium.
As the ’68 Tigers left the stage, members of the 2018 squad presented them with individual replicas of the World Series trophy. That pleasantly surprised John Hiller, who split time as a starter and relief pitcher during that championship summer.
“When we get on the field and we see these pictures, and the uniforms, and…trophies –we’ve never had those, I’ve never had a World Series trophy,” Hiller says. “I think most of us had teary eyes out there.”
A few tears were shed for teammates who’ve passed away. Gates Brown, Norm Cash, and Jim Northrup, to name a few. But they, too, were part of this ceremony. The initials of every deceased member of the ’68 Tigers were sewn into the caps of those still here. Mickey Lolich, who pitched games 5 and 7 from start to finish, understands what this moment means.
“I really thought…with a tear in my eye…about this thing because…saw guys…I might not see them again.”
And some of the emotion arose from what winning in 1968 meant not only to these players, but to a city ripped apart by violence the year before. Certainly, the World Series did not miraculously heal Detroit, which still bears scars a half-century later. Dick Tracewski was a player in ’68 and a coach for the Tigers team that won the 1984 fall classic. When asked to compare the two, “Trixie” demurred.
“This team, I think was very special, because it came at a very unique time in Detroit’s history,” Tracewski says. “You know, the people here, we were kinda beat up in ’67. And ’68 came at a nice time.”
The exact time was 4:06 p.m. on October 10, 1968. That’s when Tigers’ catcher Bill Freehan caught Tim McCarver’s series-ending popup, then caught pitcher Mickey Lolich popping into his arms to celebrate their triumph. It brought joy to Tigertown then and still does 50 years later.