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.
"If I ever made a mistake inside, all right, but the outside is mine and don't you forget it." - Bob Gibson
Hitting Statistics League Leaderboard
Pitching Statistics League Leaderboard
On April 19, 1968, Nolan Ryan threw nine pitches during the third inning and all nine were strikes against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ryan became only the seventh National League pitcher in history to accomplish this unique pitching feat.
The Cardinals followed up their success of 1967 with an equally impressive cakewalk to the World Series. Pitcher Bob Gibson was great in 1967, however he was even better in 1968. His record setting 1.12 ERA and 22 wins, including 15 in a row, helped convince the baseball decision makers to lower the pitching mound for 1969 in order to bring more offense to the game. He also led the NL in complete games, 28, and strikeouts, 268, earning him both the Cy Young and MVP Awards. The Cardinal’s pitching offset slump years by Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver and Julian Javier.
The Dodgers were still getting over not having Sandy Koufax. Most of the teams held their places from the year before. The League was awash with good pitchings; On September 17 Gaylord Perry no-hit the Cardinals. On the next day, the Cardinal’s Ray Washburn turned the tables by no-hitting the Giants. Even the All Star Game was all about pitching as the NL shut out the AL 1-0. Maybe the most extreme example took place on April 15 when it took 24 innings for the Mets to score a run and defeat the Astros 1-0.
#1 St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) . Bob Gibson wasn’t the only pitcher throwing well for the Cards. Nelson Briles, Ray Washburn and Steve Carlton combined for 46 wins. Much of the offense came from outfielders Curt Flood .301 BA and Lou Brock 62 stolen bases. Roger Maris had left his power in Yankee Stadium. The manager was former Cardinal and HOF second baseman Red Schoendienst.
#2 San Francisco Giants (88-74) . First baseman Willie McCovey led the offense batting .293. 35 home runs and 105 RBIs. At 37, Willie Mays was slowing down, but still hit 23 home runs. Second only to Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal enjoyed a career year. He led the league in wins 26 and complete games 30. Gaylord Perry also had a good season winning 18 games.
#3 Chicago Cubs (84-78) . The Cubs grabbed third place for the second year in a row. The 37-year-old Ernie Banks could still knock them out of the park, 32 home runs, as could Billy Williams, 30. Fergie Jenkins again won 20 games and #2 starter Bill Hands backed him up with 16. Ex-Dodger Phil Regan was effective in relief with 25 saves and 10 wins.
#4 Cincinnati Reds (83-79) . Second baseman Pete Rose had his first .300 season hitting .335 with 210 hits. Outfielder Alex Johnson hit .312, but neither had power. Only 1B Lee May could hit more than 20 home runs. They still struggled to find good pitching. Jim Maloney was again their ace with 16 wins, but no one else won more than 12 games.
#5 Atlanta Braves (81-81) . Another small step forward. Hank Aaron led a weak offense hitting but with just 20 home runs while no one else hit more than 12. Their mediocre pitching staff was once again headed by Pat Jarvis (16-12) and knuckleballer Phil Niekro (14-12).
#6 Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82) . Nothing new here. The Pirates stood pat during the off season and consequently showed no improvement. Matty Alou batted .312 while Willie Stargel and Roberto Clemente contributed the power. Pitcher Steve Blass stepped up to the #1 starter spot with 16 wins.
#7 Los Angeles Dodgers (76-86) . The Dodgers still could not face up to losing Sandy Koufax. Don Drysdale won 14, but and was more than anyone else on the staff. No power and no .300 hitters.
#8 Philadelphia Phillies (76-86) . Dashing the hopes of being on the rise the Phils offered little in regards to super stars. Again only 3B Dick Allen stood out with 33 home runs and 90 RBIs. With 19 wins, Chris Short was again the team leader. No other starters won more games than they lost.
#9 New York Mets (73-89) . The twelve game win improvement was showing some upside. Still absent a strong bat, their pitching staff was coming together with Tom Seaver's 16 wins and Jerry Koosman's 19 victories. Twenty-one-year old Nolan Ryan suffered a hand injury, but raised some eyebrows with his fast ball striking out 173 batters in 175 innings.
#10 Houston Astros (72-90) . Still not going anywhere in their sixth season. Second baseman Joe Morgan was knocked out early in the season with an injury leaving just 1B Rusty Staub, .291 BA, and outfielder Jimmy Wynn, 26 home runs, to carry their weak offense. Their pitching was no better with no starters having a winning season.