From the start, when Brooks and Frank Robinson (right) of the world champion Orioles slammed out four homers between them in the first two games, 1967 was to be one of those vintage years, the kind that remind you that baseball in its subtle and often laconic ways is still a thrilling game of sudden action and intense climaxes. The play, highlights of which appear on these pages, became so implausible that even the 100-to-1 underdog Red Sox got into the act. The National League had its own upstart, Chicago, until marvelously balanced St. Louis ran away to await, with the rest of the country, the American League's widest finish—and Boston.
The situation was almost always the same. With the tying run on base and the crowd screaming and spilling beer, the call went out to the bullpen. In trekked shy Ted Abernathy (above) to save the Reds, and for another day the National League lead. An underarmer with a snake-in-the-grass fastball, Abernathy was the best and most colorful reliever in the majors. He saved nine games in the first five weeks alone. But likely as not, the man whose hit won the game was switch-hitting Pete Rose (right), that extreme rarity—an All-Star second baseman who became an All-Star outfielder. Rose batted .329, the Reds played 11 consecutive one-run games in May and June and won seven, five in a row.
Detroit was playing its finest ball in years—and having its worst luck. Denny McLain, the Tigers' best pitcher, tripped on a rug and dislocated two toes. The club's most promising young hitter, Jim Northrup, caught the mumps, and the best old hitter, Al Kaline (No. 6, above left), rammed a bat into the rack in rage and broke his hand. But the Tigers, getting a superb year from Catcher Bill Freehan (left), shrugged off the breaks and bumps and stayed in the American League race until the final day. Equally aggressive were the White Sox, who actually led for much of the year as Eddie Stanky, unquestionably the best manager in baseball between the upper lip and the Adam's apple, frequently and eruditely discussed many a recondite point of baseball law (above right). The White Sox lost because they had no hitting; in the National League the Pirates, preseason favorites, lost because they had little else. Roberto Clemente (right), the most consistent batter in the majors, revived talk of a .400 average as he whistled line drives past all kinds of National League pitchers. Clemente cooled after midseason, but his final .357 was the league's highest since 1948, Stan Musial's prime.
Endless hope was replaced by frenzy as the Cubs threatened to vault over 100-to-1 odds from 10th place to a pennant. "The Cubs are in first place!" ageless Ernie Banks shouted on July 2. Fifth only two weeks before, Chicago had won 14 of 15, largely on the burgeoning confidence of youngsters like Don Kessinger (above). But in St. Louis the Cardinals, led by Orlando Cepeda (right), erased the Cubs and the only serious threat on their exuberant march to the flag. Cepeda won the Most Valuable Player award; Mickey Mantle (left) came nowhere near winning his fourth. But the Yankee slugger hit his 500th home run to recapture momentarily the glory that once was a trademark.
April 15, 1968
Flash and crash
Zip, zap, zow and four seconds from digging spikes to flashing, uplifted spikes, long-striding Campy Campaneris (above) had stolen another one of his 55 bases to add sparkling substance to the flair of Kansas City's uniforms. The sound in Minnesota, where the Twins generated their own pennant fever, had a more solid thump to it—and thump again—as Harmon Killebrew (right, being greeted at the plate by teammates Cesar Tovar and Tony Oliva) mauled baseballs (44 homers in all) into the left-field upper deck, preparing the way for a hot September.
That meanest, most frustrating, stingiest of pitching staffs continued to keep the White Sox in contention. With the heat on, Texan Joe Horlen (right) tossed one of baseball's most dramatic no-hitters, beating the Tigers 6-0 on September 10 when a loss would have all but killed Chicago. Horlen, who has added a pair of spectacles to his repertory this year, led the league by yielding 2.06 earned runs per game. His teammate, Gary Peters, was second with 2.28, and Tommy John was fourth. Rare were the batters who grew fat at the expense of the White Sox.
Baseball, generously endowed with miracles, had to crowd aside the wonderworking of other years to make room for the Red Sox. Boston shouldn't win and couldn't win, but on it came from ninth place to first on the very last day—the most marvelous resuscitation in 96 years of professional play. Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown Winner Carl Yastrzemski set the stage for a rapt Boston with his game-clinching home run in the seventh inning of the next-to-last game (far left). And Pitcher Jim Lonborg, swept up in a wave of delirium (near left), stole the final scene as the sun set on the season. But there the year of the parvenu ended. The Cardinals, a team of exquisite balance and boundless professionalism, first teased the wondrous Red Sox in the World Series, then destroyed them. Bob Gibson (above right) froze Boston bats, and singles-hitter Julian Javier (right) finally signaled the end of the impossible dream by unloading a three-run homer off dead-game and dead-tired Jim Lonborg in the sixth inning of the climactic seventh game.
Until Gibson's pitching tour de force in the final game, Lou Brock was the Cardinals' most eruptive force—and the crackling Series' most exciting player. Hitting anything that moved and stealing everything that was stationary—including third (above), seconds after a telecaster had assured a national audience that Brock was always content with second base—he batted .414 and stole a record seven bases. But the seventh game was Gibson's triumph, and nobody knew that better than his admiring teammates and a numbed and silent Boston audience.