On April 4th, a lone assassin later identified as James Earl Ray, shot and killed America's leading civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King as he stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A Baptist preacher, King had been on the forefront of the non-violent struggle to obtain civil rights for black Americans everywhere.
Robert Kennedy, brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was also shot and killed on June 5th, after winning the Democratic primary for the Presidency in California. A lone gunman named Sirhan Sirhan attacked the former Attorney General as he exited through the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel following a speech.
The U.S.S. Pueblo, an American intelligence-gathering vessel, was captured by the North Korean military who immediately accused the United States of conducting spy operations within their territorial waters. After eleven months of being taken prisoner and torture, the ships' crew was finally released. .S.S. Pueblo, still to this date, is the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive.
Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers became the first Major League pitcher to win thirty games since Dizzy Dean in 1934 as well as the first American League ace since Lefty Grove in 1931.
Five days later, McLain was on his way to win number thrity-one when the New York Yankees' Mickey Mantle tagged him for his five-hundred thirty-fifth career home run pushing him ahead of Jimmie Foxx for the #3 spot on the all-time list. Despite "The Mick's" mark, the Tigers managed to preserve the pitchers record with a clutch 6-2 performance.
On September 22nd, the Minnesota Twins' Cesar Tovar matched Bert Campanarie's 1965 performance of playing all nine positions against the visiting Oakland Athletics. In an odd twist, the first batter Tovar faced was Campanarie himself who fouled out on the way to a 2-1 loss.
Los Angeles Dodgers' ace Don Drysdale passed Walter Johnson's 1913 record of 55 2/3 scoreless innings after going from May 14th to June 8th while tossing 58 2/3 of his own. Drysdale finally allowed a runner to reach home after Howie Bedell, of the Philadelphia Phillies scored Tony Taylor on a sacrifice fly.
On June 14th, Hank Aaron joined the "500 Home Run Club" with a three-run, four-hundred foot shot over the left-center field fence courtesy of the San Francisco Giants' Mike McCormick. "Hammerin" Hank became only the eighth player in Major League history to accomplish the feat which was sweetened by a 4-2 Atlanta Braves victory.
Bob Gibson, of the St. Louis Cardinals, tallied his twenty-second win and thirteenth shutout of the season on September 27th marking the first time a National tallied thirteen scoreless games since 1916. Gibson also boasted an ERA of 1.12, the second lowest ever in the National League.
The Players Relations Committee and Players Consistency Association signed the first Major League Baseball "basic agreement" which increased the league's minimum salary to $10,000 and identified a formal grievance procedure. Both sides also agreed to explore the options for a reserve clause.
The Major League Players Association signed a major card contract worth millions with the Topps baseball card company.
The Baseball Rules Committee made several major changes to the game resulting in the most modifications to be implemented at one time in the history of the game. They included: the pitcher's mound being lowered from fiteen inches to ten, the strike zone being decreased from the shoulders-to-knees to armpits-to-knees, tighter enforcement and penalties for illegal pitches, extra-inning ties resuming from the point of interruption instead of being replayed and finally the study of artificial surfaces on ball fields and the pros and cons of turf.
Both the American and National Leagues restructured their divisions resulting in the AL East consisting of Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, New York and Washington, the AL West including California, Chicago, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland and Seattle, the NL East featuring Chicago, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis and the NL West claiming Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
"Anyone who could drink 25 Pepsis a day, play the organ in his (Denny McLain) spare time and win 31 games in a season was quite clearly, a very special person who deserved special privileges." - Joe Falls in Detroit News
Hitting Statistics League Leaderboard
Pitching Statistics League Leaderboard
1968 stood out as the Year of the Pitcher and you need not look further than Denny McClain and the AL pennant winning Detroit Tigers. Having lost out on the last game to the Red Sox in '67 they came out with a roar and never let go. McClain’s 31 win season was the first of its kind since Dizzy Dean's 30 victory season of 1934. His left handed counterpart Mickey Lolich won 17 and the Tiger’s bats led the league in runs scored and home runs.
The Baltimore Orioles did a bit of a turnaround, but never seriously contended. The third place Indians improved their win total by 11 games. The Red Sox rested on their laurels and the Minnesota Twins collapsed. The Senators returned to the cellar after one season of optimism.
#1 Detroit Tigers (103-59) . With the additional 14 wins by Denny McClain (31-6), Mickey Lolich’s 17 wins, and an increase of 17 home runs to 36 by Willie Horton, the Tigers went from a very good team to an excellent one. With the slugging of Norm Cash, Horton and catcher Bill Freehan they led the league in home runs. Utility man Mickey Stanley filled in nicely, particularly when Al Kaline was slowed down with injuries.
#2 Baltimore Orioles (91-71) . A nice bounce back from the disappointing 1967 season. Pitcher Dave McNally went back to being himself and won 22 games. Jim Palmer missed the entire season with a sore arm and Wally Bunker was still not producing. Jim Hardin and Tom Phoebus stepped in — each winning 15 games. Boog Powell bounced back with 22 home runs however Frank Robinson did not produce as expected. Former Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary collapsed to hitting only .200.
#3 Cleveland Indians (86-78) . Certainly an improvement from the 75-87 mark of ’67. They remained a very weak offensive club, but the pitching was quite good. Luis Tiant won 21 games while posting the lowest ERA (1.60) and highest number of shutouts in the AL. Sudden Sam McDowell was fully recovered from his tired arm of a year ago. He won 15 games while leading the league in strikeouts with 283.
#4 Boston Red Sox (86-76) . The BoSox never got it in gear. The offense should have been better than '67 with having Ken Harrelson’s 35 home runs and league leading 109 RBIs, for the entire season. Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg suffered an ACL injury and won only 6 games before being placed on the disabled list. Ray Culp and Dick Elsworth both won 16 games. Further evidence that it was the year of the pitcher '67 Triple Crown winner Carl Yastzremski led the league in batting with a .301 batting average.
#5 New York Yankees (83-79) . The Yanks were able to lift themselves out of ninth place, but were still far from being a good ball team. Mickey Mantle's swan season was not good (.245 BA, 16 HRs). Most of the improvement was due to pitcher Mel Stottlemeyer's 21 wins.
#6 Oakland Athletics (82-80) . The new fans in Oakland were salivating over the potential of a rising young team. Rookie outfielders Reggie Jackson and Rick Monday, along with 3B Sal Bando, had promising seasons. In the bullpen Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Jim Nash, Chuck Dobson and Lew Krause, all 24-years-old or younger, all produced double digit win seasons.
#7 Minnesota Twins (79-83) . Twin fans were scratching their heads as to what happened to the almost ’67 Twins. They did lose Harmon Killebrew for a third of the season due to injury, but it was primarily due to less production from the pitching staff. Neither Dean Chance nor Jim Kaat could match the previous season and the bullpen lacked depth.
#8 California Angels (67-95) . A big step back for what was considered an upcoming team. Outfielder Rich Reichardt flexed some power with 25 home runs, but no one could hit .300 and no pitcher would win more than 13 games.
#9 Chicago White Sox (67-95) . Ouch — a total collapse. Having been built around pitching it pretty much disappeared. Wilbur Wood led the staff with 13 wins while Joel Horlen slumped and Tommy John suffered a season ending shoulder surgery.
#10 Washington Senators (65-96) . Back to the cellar. Frank Howard matched his 44 homerun output of 1967, but as before there was little behind him. The pitching staff made no progress.
On June 29, 1968, shortstop Ron Hansen turned the fifth unassisted triple play in American League history when he caught a hard hit liner (first out), tagged second (second out), then applied a tag to the runner coming from first (final out).
On September 14, 1968, Denny McLain became the first thirty game winner since Dizzy Dean of the St. Louis Cardinals. The most recent American League pitcher prior to McLain to win thirty games was Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1931.