He’d never seen a clip like this, but he thought it neat.
“Hey, come watch your Grandpa pitch,” said the grandfather to the granddaughter.
The clip came from the 1968 World Series that ended 50 years ago today when the Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1, in their Busch Stadium home, fighting past a 3-1 deficit for the title.
And that grandfather, reliving history while huddled around the kitchen table in his rural Wisconsin home? Former Tigers pitcher Fred Lasher.
Brendan Donley, the guest interviewer visiting Lasher’s home, had brought the footage he’d carefully clipped while researching for his book, “An October to Remember 1968: The Tigers-Cardinals World Series as Told By the Men Who Played in It.”
“Whoa, I’ve never seen this,” Lasher told Donley.
A recent Columbia University graduate, Donley had covered Australian baseball for the New York Times, his own website called The Big Inning, and more. But he wanted to do a project with depth. The idea came to him on Nov. 2, 2016, amid the ultimate backdrop of baseball: World Series, Game 7, Cubs at Indians, Progressive Field. Cubs win in 10 innings, 8-7.
Once he decided to write about the World Series, Donley had to narrow down which Series to write about. A main source of inspiration came from Lawrence S. Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times,” a book of stories from players who played in baseball’s Deadball Era. Donley aimed to adopt a similar format — letting the players tell their own stories — so he didn’t want anything too recent. He eventually narrowed it to 50 years ago, to that seven-game contest coming amid turbulent times in America, and one year after the infamous 1967 rebellions disrupted and fractured Detroit.
Donley started making the pitches in February 2017 and had a book deal by that April. Then he researched, researched, researched. First he confirmed rosters, then investigated which players, now in their 70s and 80s, were still around. Letters to the players went out in May and interviews began in June.
“I didn’t know what to expect with any of the guys,” Donley said. “Would they be grumpy?”
Some players had died, like Norm Cash, and some declined, like former Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich. Some took a few phone calls and name-dropping to entice, but ultimately, Donley talked with eight Cardinals and 12 Tigers, including Al Kaline, Willie Horton and coach Hal Naragon. Other interviews included people like Tony Kubek, one of the Series broadcasters.
Traveling by car and airplane, Donley visited players all around the Midwest, from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, also flying to places like Seattle and Oakland, California. Each time, he came armed with clips and intimate knowledge to help cue memories.
“There were a lot of things they didn’t remember,” Donley said. “But the things they did remember were very clear, and very accurate.”
“An October to Remember…” isn’t divided into chapters, but games, each supplemented by memories, box scores and the words of the broadcasters that Donley transcribed from old footage.
There’s Al Kaline, bragging on Mickey Lolich’s pitching of three complete games. There’s Willie Horton, talking road adventures: “On the road, we went to a lot of bars — and we’d always get into a fight… And Wayne Comer, he couldn’t drink. Every time he had a beer, he’d mess with people …”
Donley wanted to sequence it like a conversation, saying this format allows readers to skip around. In some instances, he said, it reads like the players are talking to each other in the same room. Donley achieved this by sharing teammates’ responses to footage when possible. After completing his research, he began sequencing the transcribed dialogue — matching each piece with it’s appropriate place in the Series’ timeline.
“My room looked like some sort of CSI lab, or like a conspiracy theorist’s den,” Donley said.
The book, available in hardcover and electronic formats, has a slew of photos from the Series, too. The package works, pulling in readers for a vivid flashback any baseball fan will appreciate, especially with the rehashed windup from announcers spliced in.
“Harry Caray: Tigers fans who are here are on their feet. And I imagine bedlam will break loose, when this final out is completed…
“Curt Gowdy: There’ll be some automobile horns squawking in the Motor City…”
Bill Freehan ultimately snagged a foul pop for that final out, of course, and those who were there can confirm the bedlam that ensued back home in Detroit. Those who were not cannot relive it through the pages of this book.
The baseball fan Donley continues to watch, and in lieu of his beloved Cubs or a timely, anniversary-style Tigers win, he’s calling for the Astros to repeat in this year’s edition of World Series fall ball.