I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s been a half-century since the Detroit Tigers won the 1968 World Series. I repeat … a haaaaalf-cennnnnntury.
I’ll get a chance to come to terms with that reality on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, when I’ll have the privilege of moderating an evening with Detroit Tigers pitching legend and 1968 World Series hero Mickey Lolich. Lolich, and award-winning former Detroit Tiger beat reporter Tom Gage, have collaborated on the book Joy in Tigertown: A Determined Team, A Resilient City, and Our Magical Run to the 1968 World Series. (Gage won the 2015 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his writing.)
The Tigers’ World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals was one of two major, life-affirming moments in 1968 — if you count my becoming a “man” on Feb. 24 at Adat Shalom. Yes, in 1968, I became a bar mitzvah, and the Tigers performed a “bat” mitzvah. Indeed, the championship was a mitzvah as the victory helped our city heal from the ’67 riots.
I was lucky enough to secure tickets to two of the three Series’ home games at Tiger Stadium, of blessed memory. It took a lot of work. Tickets were made available through a mail-in lottery, with each household limited to a certain number of tickets. To increase my chances, I submitted ticket orders using my two sets of grandparents’ addresses.
A day didn’t go by that I didn’t call grandparents Isadore, Molly, Sam and Helen to remind them that if an envelope arrived from Tiger Stadium it … was … not … junk … mail! And it paid off!
The baseball Gods blessed us with tickets for two of the three home games, and we split our baseball bounty among family members. I was further blessed to be in attendance at the Tigers’ only home World Series victory — a 5-3 Game 5 win over the Cardinals courtesy of … Mickey Lolich! That monumental win kept the Series alive, with the Tigers winning Games 6 and 7 on the road. Game 7 earning Lolich his third victory of the Series and MVP honors.
Baseball and Jewish holidays have intersected famously over the years. During a heated pennant race in 1934, Hank Greenberg, who struggled mightily with his decision, played on Rosh Hashanah after allegedly conferring with a rabbi. The victory on the High Holiday was pivotal to the Tigers getting into the post season and eventually winning the championship.
Sandy Koufax sat out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale replaced Koufax in the starting lineup and was soundly handled by the Minnesota Twins. When Dodger manager Walter Alston pulled Drysdale in the third inning trailing 7-1, Drysdale is reported to have said to Alston: “I bet you wish I were Jewish, too.”
Hoping that the Statutes of Sacrilegious Limitations protects me, I fully admit to having watched Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, which fell on Yom Kippur, praying the whole time God wouldn’t scratch me from his Book of Life Scorecard or my parents wouldn’t trade me for a Jewish kid to be named later.
I’ll never forgot how I acknowledged the Tigers’ World Series Championship in a pre-Facebook era. As soon as Game 7 ended, I made a congratulatory poster and stood on the corner of Southfield Road and 10 Mile, successfully eliciting drivers to honk their horns in celebration. I wouldn’t trade that memory for all the Facebook “Likes” in the world.
Mickey Lolich and Tom Gage are appearing in partnership with the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. as part of B’nai Moshe’s annual Spectacular Speaker Series. Tickets are $5 at the door; advance registration is preferred by calling (248) 788-0600. Autographed books will be sold for $25.
Alan Muskovitz is a writer, voice-over/acting talent, speaker, emcee and guest host on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR AM 760. Visit his website at laughwithbigal.com.