Better Late Than Never
The 50-year wait for Game 5 of the 1968 World Series.
Against the backdrop of all that transpired in our city and our nation in 1967 and 1968, this is a story of two teenage boys, whose young lives revolved around the Detroit Tigers.
Like so many others, they were heartbroken when the Tigers missed the 1967 World Series after splitting back-to-back doubleheaders on the last two days of the season.
The ’68 Tigers were different. Denny McLain won 31 games, and the team wrapped up the American League Pennant on Sept. 17. A 267-day newspaper strike kept the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News from providing daily coverage until mid-August — but there was always Ernie Harwell on the radio. Ultimately, the Tigers would win 103 regular-season games and prepare for their first World Series, as Harwell said, “since nineteen-hundred and forty-five!”
The fondest wish of Tiger fans was to attend a World Series game. And the Tigers accommodated by offering a lottery for seats.
The two boys, who lived on the same block in Oak Park, optimistically mailed away a self-addressed, stamped envelope — and waited.
And then the unbelievable happened.
The envelope came back. Inside were two tickets. Upper deck box seats. Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Face value: $12 apiece.
Now the boys faced a tough decision. Both came from families of modest means, and when word got around that they had tickets, someone offered $100 for the pair. One hundred dollars. In 1968, $100 was a mortgage payment.
The two teens did the right thing. They knew it then, and they know it now.
So, Game 5 of the 1968 World Series went on without the two boys present. It was the game in which Willie Horton threw a perfect one-hopper to Bill Freehan who blocked Lou Brock from scoring. It was the game in which Jose Feliciano sang an unconventional version of the National Anthem that nearly cost Ernie Harwell his job. It was the game that turned the tide for the Tigers and propelled them to a world championship.
The two teens, who cheered from afar that day, grew up, married, raised families, built careers and welcomed their first grandchildren. One moved east some 30 years ago; one stayed in Detroit. Over time, they lost touch.
Until last week.
That’s when one of the boys located the other and, after so many years, sent a text message suggesting they attend the game together as a once-in-a-lifetime “make good.”
His boyhood friend responded enthusiastically — attaching a digital picture of a tattered photocopy a half-century old. The top-half showed a self-addressed, stamped envelope with very familiar printing and a canceled 6-cent stamp. Below was a 1968 World Series ticket. Game 5. Upper deck box seat. Face value: $12.
On Sept. 8, when the Tigers commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 World Series, the two boys, now in their 60s, will be there together to thank their 1968 Tigers for a magical, memorable season. And somewhere above, their parents will be smiling.
It’s been a long wait. And this time, their tickets are not for sale.
Michael Freedman teaches journalism at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.