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Book Review: Summer of ’68 by Tim Wendel

For baseball, the 1960s were an extremely memorable decade. Every fall it seemed that there were heated series between historic teams who had a deep love for the game and a desire to call themselves the best. This decade also featured many polarizing and other not so popular, yet still interesting players. Author Tim Wendel depicts two of these teams and some of these players in his new book Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball–and America–Forever.

In short, Wendel’s work tells the story of the 1968 World Series between the Saint Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers. There is much more involved in this book than the story of what happened during the Series, however. 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.

Wendel also tells the story of the entire 1968 season in terms of both what happened on baseball diamonds across America, but also focuses on events that happened outside of the world of baseball as well to illustrate the climate of the country at the time of this Series.

The author depicts 1968 as the year of the pitcher, pointing to memorable names such as Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Denny McClain and Luis Taint for support of his claim. Various records were set this season for both the success of pitchers and the failure of the hitters.

While conventional wisdom might be that Wendel spends the majority of his time on the well-known stars of these teams such as Gibson, this isn’t necessarily the case.

As evidence that Wendel wanted to illustrate how outside events have an effect to what happens on the diamond, the author notes that this year was one remembered in many history textbooks as a year of many tragedies. America was first rocked by the assassination of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who had a strong influence on many Major Leaguers at the time.

Students of history may remember another event that took place in closer proximity to King’s assassination as presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was also shot and killed just two weeks after the King incident. It was almost as if violence was the theme of America throughout the summer of 1968, which, considering the main parties involved is somewhat ironic.

All of these events come just one summer after major riots in downtown Detroit caused much of the city to burn. For the Tigers, it became only so appropriate that they would become the team to represent the American League in the World Series under these circumstances. This team, Wendel notes, is just what the downtrodden city needed to get their spirits back up again after disaster struck the year prior.

English: 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers po...

Image via Wikipedia

To illustrate that much of the book is spent on topics that are related to, but aren’t the World Series, consider that Wendel doesn’t start his story of the actual Series until page 145, more than halfway through the book. By the time the Series does start, the reader feels like he knows the main players from both teams extremely well and may find themselves rooting for both sides at various times throughout the Series based on which players has stories they identified with the most.

The work is not a quick read, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read. 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.

Wendel’s new work will debut in hardcover in April 2012 for a price of $25. It is 288 pages and includes 16 pages of black and white photographs depicting the main people who contributed to making that summer so memorable.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5

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