City on Fire, The 1968 Detroit Tigers

By Russell K. Tillman |  March 29, 2018 |  

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series Championship. In 2002, HBO presented “City on Fire, The 1968 Detroit Tigers.” I recall many times folks saying that the 1968 Tigers saved the City of Detroit after the terrible riots of 1967. This documentary presents that theme that you can watch via YouTube:

Our Father raised his five sons on the love of baseball; a game that is passed from generation to generation. I recall the many times when playing catch with our Dad (usually after dinner), and him telling us between throws, that his Dad was quite a pitcher and turned down a minor league contract offer with Boston to attend Uppsala University in New Jersey. Our Grandfather later attended the seminary to become a Lutheran minister. 

Our Dad took his sons to many MLB baseball games with the intent of teaching us and showing us the beauty of this game. He successfully did that and I was 13 years old during 1968 while Mike was a Senior in High School when we saw the magic of the 1968 Tigers unfold. Meanwhile Bob, Rich, and John were at Texas A&M and despite being without the Internet, we able to closely follow the Tigers. 

Upon the Tigers winning the American League Pennant, Mike mailed off and received World Series tickets for game five that he and Dad attended (while I had to go to school!). As this documentary shows, that game turned out to be the pivotal World Series game for the Tigers. Mike still has his scorebook from that game and these days he always brings it with him to Tiger games in hopes of meeting and getting Al Kaline’s autograph. Meanwhile, I proudly display my Dad’s World Series ticket stub which John framed for me after he found it going thru Dad’s stuff after his death.

Some things I remember about the 1968 Tigers:

  • We went to many Tiger games in 1968 including with our fellow Augustana Lutheran Church members attending Lutheran Night at Tiger Stadium to watch the Tigers play and sweep a twi-night double hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. That night, we sat in right field and my Dad said that was to be close to Al Kaline who was also a good Lutheran.
  • We watch Denny McLain win his 30th game while driving my brothers down from Michigan to Texas to start school at A&M. After a day’s drive from Detroit to St. Louis we watched the game at the home of a close work associate of our Dad.
  • At the start of the 1968 baseball season, the Detroit newspapers were on strike so the only news you got about the Tigers was from listening to them on the radio or watching the games that were televised on weekends. The papers came off strike in July so I took a job (my first job!) delivering the Detroit Free Press. I got my Tiger news from this paper every morning at 0530 as I delivered it to 80 homes before school started at 0745.
  • While my Dad taught his sons the love of baseball, our Mother never really followed baseball until 1968. She was from the generation that believed it was not woman-like to follow professional sports. However, seeing her sons enjoy the magic of the 1968 Tigers got her interested in the Tigers and before the season ended, she could name of the Tiger batting lineup and other salient Tiger facts. As boys, we were very proud that our Mother could do this and bragged much about her Tiger knowledge to many of our friends! The next year we were even able to talk her in attending a Tiger game with her sons.
  • We were so respectful of the St. Louis Cardinals and their strong team led by Bob Gibson. In that World Series, down three games to one, it felt like the magic was over. I couldn’t believe that there was still much Tiger magic left; yet Mickey Lolich stepped up and was there to lead the way. After reviewing his career stats and other accomplishments he needs to be strongly considered for the Hall of Fame.
  • Years later I learned that Willie Horton and his parents collected MLB player autographs; he lost he parents shortly before the start of the 1968 season. During the 1968 Spring Training, Detroit played St. Louis and Willie (and his parents) admired Bob Gibson so during batting practice he went up to him in the outfield to ask for his autograph. Bob Gibson simply looked Horton down and said no. (As a very competitive pitcher, Gibson felt one day he may have to pitch against him and didn’t want Horton to have any advantages.) During the 1968 World Series, Horton tried for an autograph again this time sending a bat boy over to ask and successfully got Gibson’s autograph!


Always a Tiger!  


Russ Tillman and his family reside in Vicksburg, Mississippi where 50 years on from 1968, he can easily access all the Detroit Tigers games he wants. 

Note: The last time Easter Sunday fell on April Fools Day was 1945, another year the Tigers won the World Series. 


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