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.  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.

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.

In addition to the Packers, defending champions were 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.

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.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Lester Pearson; of Britain, Harold Wilson.  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.  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 and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour were still on the air.  Laugh-In was still a few months away.

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 Doors were banned from The Ed Sullivan Show after their first appearance, because, in defiance of the rule against saying "get high" on network television, lead singer Jim Morrison sang the offending line in "Light My Fire": "Girl, we couldn't get much higher." Tammi Terrell collapses onstage, into the arms of her duet partner Marvin Gaye, and is soon diagnosed with a brain tumor, ending her beautiful career, and, 3 years later, her life.  The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine was about to debut.  The musical Hair premiered on Broadway.  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.

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.

In the early fall 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 will detain him for over 5 years. Expo '67, the Montreal World's Fair, closes, and will soon give its name to a Major League Baseball expansion team. And a massive antiwar demonstration converges 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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