1968 – The Year of the Pitcher

Man of the Year, Bob Gibson.

From the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s, offense was king. 1950 saw a pretty explosive season in which the AL averaged 5.02 runs a team per game. But Major League Baseball believed that offense was getting out of hand, so they decided to aid the pitchers. In 1963, the MLB increased the size of the strike zone to the armpits down to the bottom of the knee. Why were they upset? Just blame Roger Maris. Actually, though Maris was just an example, some believed that these out-of-left field sluggers were damaging the game because they weren’t being consistent.

The American League was really hit hard, falling from that 5.02 in 1950 to 4.44 in 1962 to 3.41 runs a game. Batting average-wise (go ahead and scream that I’m using this, but you can get the heck over it), they fell to a collective .230, the worst in American League history. The Oakland A’s led the pack with a .240 clip while the Yankees scuffled to a .214 average. Carl Yastremski, in the last year that we’ve had a Triple Crown winner, won the batting title with a .301 average (he hit .378 in September to break .300).

The National League wasn’t much better. From a high of 4.75 runs a game in 1953 to 4.48 in 1962, the runs per game fell to 3.82. Its average as a collective was .343, which is second-lowest and beats the 1908 Dead Ball season of .239. The Cincinnati Reds, startlingly, hit .273 for the season while the New York Mets finished last with a nice .228 average. Luckily, Pete Rose (.335) and Matty Alou (.331) decided to hit that season to avoid a catastrophe like the AL.

However, when one side dips, nature restores the balance. Pitching saw its era of greatness. The NL saw its shutouts rise to 185, and that was double the 1962 total of 95. ERA’s also began plummeting, and the most famous case was Bob Gibson. Gibson rattled off one of those seasons. In this one, he launched 304.2 IP with an amazing 1.12 ERA to go along with 268 K. Gibson, a great pitcher in every sense, never got below 2 in ERA in any other season (2.18 the year after was the closest).

Gibson wasn’t the only one to have a great season. 5 AL pitchers broke the 2 barrier, and 2 (including Gibson) did it in the NL. Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA, but unlike Gibson, he would return below that 2 barrier in 1972. Catfish Hunter would throw the first perfect game in the AL in 46 years. Gaylord Perry added a no-hitter against the Cardinals, and on the next day, the Cardinals, behind Ray Washburn, added their own no-hitter. Don Drysdale also famously threw 58.2 consecutive scoreless innings, and his record would stand until 1988. The two MVP’s that season? Bob Gibson in the NL and Denny McClain in the AL, both pitchers.

The World Series would see those two matched up as the St. Louis Cardinals faced the Detroit Tigers. Gibson threw a shutout for Game 1, but McClain would have more problems leading to a 4-0 Cardinal victory. Game 4 saw much of the same as Gibson threw a complete game while giving up a run, but McClain, overmatched, gave up 6 runs in the first four innings to give the Cardinals a 3-1 series lead. McClain came back for Game 6 and redeemed himself with a complete game, 1-run effort to stretch the series to a Game 7. In that game, Gibson and Mickey Lolich, owner of a couple impressive wins himself, duked it out going six scoreless until the Tigers broke through to win 4-1. The losers of every game either scored 3 runs (twice), 1 run (4 times), or 0 (once).

Attendance dipped only slightly in 1968, but the owners knew they had gone a little too far. The pre-1963 strike zone was put back in for the 1969 season, and the mound was knocked down from 15 inches to 10 inches (more incline allows pitchers to get more of a downward angle, thus making it more difficult to hit). Things immediately went back to normal in 1969, but for one season, pitcher was king.

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last few days. Trying to get back into the swing of school and fighting something trying to eat my computer occupied my time, so I figured I’d give you a doosy today.

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