Friday, October 26, 2012

How Long It's Been: Baseball Had a Triple Crown Winner

This season, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, now American League Champions, batted .330, hit 44 home runs, and had 139 runs batted in. He led the AL in all 3 categories, thus winning the Triple Crown.

There hadn't been a Triple Crown in baseball since Carl Yastrzemski completed the 1967 season for the Boston Red Sox, batting .326, hitting 44 home runs and driving in 121 runs. He shared the home run title with Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, but that counts. The Red Sox, like Cabrera's Tigers, won the Pennant.

October 1, 1967. That's 45 years. How long has that been?

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Yaz's Red Sox edged Killebrew's Twins and the Tigers of Al Kaline for the AL Pennant by 1 game each, and the Chicago White Sox by 3. It was a genuine 4-team race, culminating in "The Impossible Dream," a name derived from a hit song of the year. The Sox went on to lose the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, despite the home run heroics of Yaz and Rico Petrocelli.

The Red Sox hadn't won a Pennant in 21 years, the Tigers 22 years. The Tigers would win it the next year. The Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in 49 years, the Tigers 22 years, the White Sox 50 years, the Chicago Cubs 59 years, and the Twins 43 years, since they were the 1924 Washington Senators.

Of the 20 teams then in the major leagues, half, 10, played in ballparks built in 1931 or earlier -- 7 in parks opening before World War I began. The only ones in use in 1967 that were still in use in 2012 were Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the 2 Los Angeles-area parks, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim (now Angel) Stadium.

There was a Major League Baseball team in Washington, but it wasn't the Nationals. There was one in Kansas City, but it wasn't the Royals. Dallas, Denver, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Tampa and Toronto were still minor league cities. Milwaukee was in its MLB interregnum, relying on the Green Bay Packers to provide the action, and were they ever: Their 3rd straight NFL Championship would happen in 3 months.

Baseball legends Smoky Joe Wood, Zack Wheat, Edd Roush, Bill Wambsganss, Goose Goslin, George Sisler, Pie Traynor, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean and Gabby Hartnett were all still alive, as were 3 of the 8 Chicago Black Sox of 1919: Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg. So was at least 1 player from every World Series-winning team from the beginning in 1903, except the 1905 New York Giants. (Their last survivor, Bill Dahlen, died in 1950.)

The defining players of my childhood? Yaz, I've already mentioned. Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench and Rod Carew all made their big-league debuts in 1967. Nolan Ryan did so the year before, but spent 1967 in the minors.

Mike Schmidt had just graduated high school, and had begun to attend Ohio University -- not to be confused with THE... Ohio State University. Pete Rose had completed his 5th season in the majors, and had yet to be thought of as anything other than a solid hitter. He had never seen a postseason game except on television. Steve Carlton was a member of the Cardinals' World Series winners, and Willie Stargell was already a star. Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk would not arrive until 1969, and George Brett not until 1973.

The Cardinals dethroned the Baltimore Orioles as World Champions. The defending World Champions in the other sports were the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL (they haven't even reached the Stanley Cup Finals since), Notre Dame in college football, and UCLA in college basketball. The Heavyweight Championship of the World was officially vacant, as Muhammad Ali had been stripped of it for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army.

Tom Coughlin of the Giants was a senior at Syracuse University. Terry Collins of the Mets was a senior in high school, Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks a junior. John Tortorella of the Rangers was 9 years old, Rex Ryan of the Jets was about to turn 5, Joe Girardi of the Yankees was about to turn 3, Avery Johnson of the Nets was 2, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was 1, and Peter DeBoer of the Devils wasn't born yet.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada 3 times; twice each in France and Japan; and once each in Mexico, Germany, Austria, Russia, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain. The World Cup has since been held in Mexico and Germany twice, and once each in America, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

There were then 25 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare and Medicaid had all become law within the last 3 1/2 years, there was still no Fair Housing Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Title IX or legalized abortion.

The President of the United States was Lyndon Baines Johnson. Former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and their wives, were still alive. Richard Nixon was preparing his 2nd run for the Presidency. Gerald Ford was House Minority Leader. Jimmy Carter was preparing his 2nd run for the Governorship of Georgia. Ronald Reagan was wrapping up his first year as Governor of California. George H.W. Bush was a Congressman from Texas, and his son was at Yale University. Bill Clinton was at Georgetown University. Mitt Romney was on a Mormon mission in France, his excuse for avoiding service in the Vietnam War, which he supported. Barack Obama was 6 years old.

John Collins was Mayor of Boston, but was about to be replaced by Kevin White. John Volpe was Governor of Massachusetts. The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, the Mayor of the City of New York was John Lindsay, and the Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes.

The current holders of those posts? Tom Menino was attending the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick was 11 years old, Andrew Cuomo was 9, Michael Bloomberg was at Harvard Business School, and Chris Christie was 5.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which gives out the Nobel Peace Prize (the Royal Swedish Academy gives out the Prizes in the other categories), did not give one out for 1966, and was about to not do so again for 1967. Therefore, the current holders of the Prize was the 1965 honoree, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

The Prime Minister of Canada was Lester Pearson; of Britain, Harold Wilson. The head of state for both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. The Pope was Paul VI. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, then Father Joseph Ratzinger, was then teaching at the University of Tübingen in his native Germany. There have since been 9 Presidents of the United States, 8 Prime Ministers of Britain and 4 Popes.

England's Football League had been won by Manchester United, and, upon the final whistle of the clinching game, away to West Ham United, their fans began tearing up London's East End. This is widely seen as the beginning of the modern age of "football hooliganism." Glasgow's Celtic defeated Internazionale of Milan to become the first British team to win the European Cup, at the national stadium of Portgual, earning the '67 Celtic squad the name "the Lisbon Lions."

Major novels of 1967 included The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron. J.R.R. Tolkein was still alive. George R.R. Martin was attending Northwestern University. J.K. Rowling was 2 years old.

No one had yet heard of Alex Portnoy, John Rambo, Spenser: For Hire, George Smiley, the Punisher, Rocky Balboa, T.S. Garp, Arthur Dent, Jason Bourne, Hannibal Lecter, Celie Harris, Kinsey Millhone, Jack Ryan, Forrest Gump, John McClane, Alex Cross, Bridget Jones, Robert Langdon, Bella Swan, Lisbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen.

In non-fiction, Desmond Morris published The Naked Ape, and Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore published a book about the effects of mass media: Trading on McLuhan's earlier saying, "The medium is the message," they titled it The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. William Manchester released his study of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Death of a President. JFK's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, published To Seek a Newer World, and Martin Luther King wrote Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? In just 8 months, both MLK and RFK would also be assassinated.

The same day the Sox clinched the Pennant and Yaz the Triple Crown, color television debuted in France. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was established. TV shows debuting for the 1967-68 included The Carol Burnett Show, Mannix, Ironside, The Flying Nun and The Prisoner.

Cult classics Star Trek, Get Smart, Batman (starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader) and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour were still on the air. Laugh-In was still a few months away. George Reeves, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1959, was still the most recent live-action Superman.

Major films released in the Autumn of 1967 included the movie version of the musical Camelot, a cartoon version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and Cool Hand Luke. In the Heat of the Night and Bonnie and Clyde were still in theaters. Sean Connery had recently played James Bond in You Only Live Twice. George Lucas was a graduate student at the University of Southern California's film school, while O.J. Simpson was running for its football team and leading it to a National Championship.

Robert Kardashian was at the University of San Diego School of Law. Kris Houghton was about to turn 12. Bruce Jenner had just enrolled at Graceland University in -- no, not Memphis -- Lamoni, Iowa. None of them had yet met each other.

The Number 1 song in America was "The Letter" by The Box Tops. The Beatles had rewritten the rules of rock and roll album-making with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Psychedelia was all the rage as the Summer of Love ended.

The Ed Sullivan Show had just premiered for a 20th season, with CBS Studio 50 newly renamed The Ed Sullivan Theater. Earlier in the year, The Rolling Stones were told by the CBS censors that, for their Sullivan performance, they had to change the title of their new A-side, "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together." They hated doing it, but they did it. As a result of this performance, American disc jockeys began flipping the record to the B-side, and that song hit Number 1: "Ruby Tuesday."

For the season premiere, The Doors made their 1st appearance, and were told that, despite "Light My Fire" having been Number 1 a few weeks earlier, they had to change a line: "Girl, we couldn't get much higher." At the time, you couldn't say "get high" on prime-time network TV. They sang it the usual way, and were banned from the show. In contrast, the Stones made one more appearance, in 1969, singing "Honky Tonk Women" -- and nobody stopped Mick Jagger from singing, "I laid a divorcee in New York City."

Tammi Terrell collapsed onstage, into the arms of her duet partner Marvin Gaye, and was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor, ending her beautiful career, and, 3 years later, her life.  The 1st issue of Rolling Stone magazine was about to debut, with The Beatles' John Lennon on the cover. The musical Hair premiered on Broadway. Bob Dylan was recording what became known as the Basement Tapes with The Band in Woodstock, New York. Michael Jackson and his brothers were not yet nationally known. Frank Sinatra was basking in the glow of now just his own mid-1960s revival, but his daughter Nancy's success.

Elvis Presley released his film Clambake and the soundtrack thereof. He really needed a change of direction. Within a year, he would get it, and remind everyone just who was King around here, anyway.

Inflation has been such that what $1.00 would buy then, $6.86 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp was 5 cents. A Subway ride in Boston was still only 15 cents, but was 20 cents in New York. The average prices of a gallon of gas was 31 cents, a cup of coffee 38 cents, a McDonald's meal 55 cents, a movie ticket $1.20, a new car $2,750, and a new house $23,900. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the preceding Friday at 926.66.

The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building. Construction had recently begun on the World Trade Center complex. Computers were huge, and most certainly did not fit on top of a desk, never mind a lap, or in a pocket. Cars were available with telephones, but a cordless phone was still something seen in science fiction. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee were 12 years old. The Apollo program was just underway, and man had not yet broken Earth orbit. Credit cards were still a relatively new thing, and the 1st automatic teller machine had just been introduced, in Britain. It would be another 2 years before one was introduced in America.

In the early Autumn of 1967, Che Guevara was captured an executed in Bolivia -- and soon, thousands of Americans will begin hanging up posters and wearing T-shirts with his likeness, confusing this insane butcher for a man of peace and free love. A riot during a soccer game in Turkey killed 44 people and injured 600 others. The Vietcong shot down U.S. Navy Lieutenant John S. McCain Jr., and detained him for over 5 years. Expo '67, the Montreal World's Fair, closed, and would soon give its name to a Major League Baseball expansion team.

And a massive antiwar demonstration converged on Washington, D.C. To this day, there are people who claim that the demonstrators actually levitated the Pentagon. This was the day, October 21, 1967, of the famous photo of the guy in the white sweater sticking a flower down the barrel of a rifle wielded by a soldier guarding the Pentagon.

Woody Guthrie, and Carson McCullers, and Francis Ouimet died. Julia Roberts, and Faith Hill, and Luis Gonzalez were born.

October 1, 1967. It was the last time Major League Baseball had a Triple Crown winner, Carl Yastrzemski. Now, 45 years later, it has happened again, with Miguel Cabrera.

Will Cabrera's Detroit Tigers have more luck in the World Series than Yaz's Boston Red Sox? At the moment, it doesn't look likely. But his regular-season achievement is still staggering. It had, literally, not happened in my lifetime. Probably not in yours, either.

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