In 1968 the American and National Leagues had ten teams each. They played 162 games and the teams in first place went to the World Series. Simple as that. It had been that way since 1903. 1968 was the last year before expansion brought expanded playoffs.
The Detroit Tigers and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals dominated the regular season and won their league titles handily. Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 earned run average. Both won the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards before meeting in the World Series.
The 1968 World Series featured one of the gutsiest moves ever by a manager. Ray Oyler was Detroit’s shortstop that year. He hit .135 in 111 games. So, Mayo Smith played his center fielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop. He had all of 9 games of experience there but started all seven games of the series at short. McLain was beaten by Gibson head-to-head twice and the Tigers fell behind 3 games to 1 with the final two games in St. Louis. It was over. Except it wasn’t.
McLain pitched on two days rest and won Game Six. Mickey Lolich pitched on two days rest and beat Gibson head-to-head in Game Seven. It was scoreless into the 7th inning when Detroit scored three times…. due ironically to a misplay by Cardinal gold glove centerfielder Curt Flood, who misplayed a flyball into a two-run triple. The Tigers won the game 4-1 and the series 4-3.
Stanley did fine at shortstop. Manager Mayo Smith’s gamble paid off. And Lolich… the undeniable hero… pitched three complete game wins. 1968. The year of the pitcher. The year of the Tigers. And the last great old school series.