Scott Ferkovich was the editor of Tigers by the Tale: Fifty Great Games at Michigan and Trumbull, published by the Society for American Baseball Research. He is the author of Motor City Champs: Mickey Cochrane and the 1934-35 Detroit Tigers, coming in 2017 from McFarland. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_Ferkovich.
Major League Baseball has historically been an industry slow to evolve. Change is viewed with suspicion, as if the business were loath to offend the traditional sensibilities of its fan base. In 1969, however, the sport made a long-overdue change for the better to its postseason landscape.
When I first starting collecting baseball cards back in the 1970s, Topps had a virtual monopoly on the industry. There were a few other companies putting out their own cardboard collectibles, but they made up a microscopic portion of the market. Hostess, for example, occasionally printed a trio of “panel” cards on the bottoms of Twinkies boxes. Even Toys-R-Us and K-Mart tried to get in on the action.
After a dreary 1976 season, Bill Veeck knew that his Chicago White Sox were in need of change. The team had finished last in the American League West, losers of 97 games. Even the club’s new retro uniforms, with half-collared V-neck pullovers and a change of Bermuda shorts, could not inspire the players.
On the eve of his team’s opening-day matchup with the Indianapolis Hoosiers, Manager Bill Watkins called a meeting with the players. The meeting served not only as a pep talk, but it also afforded him an opportunity to review the team rules. The pre-season discourse had become a budding tradition for the 28-year-old Watkins. He was in his third year of skippering the Detroit Wolverines of the National League. If the previous year was any indication, the 1887 team figured to be very good indeed.
In Major League Baseball today, the 20-game winner has become increasingly rare.
Five-man rotations, limited pitch counts, and the emergence of setup men (not to mention the alarming prevalence of elbow and shoulder injuries), are all key reasons why there are fewer 20-game winners than there were two decades ago.
Is the stolen base a dying art? The numbers clearly indicate that to be the case. In 2015, Major League teams swiped a total of 2,505 bags. That was the lowest total since 1974 (excluding the strike-shortened 1981 and 1994 seasons).
For 50 years, Major League Baseball’s landscape had remained unchanged. So when Lou Perini moved his Boston Braves a thousand miles west to Milwaukee in time for the 1953 season, he shattered the sport’s status quo, and paved the way for numerous other franchise shifts over the course of the next half-century.
It was called the Year of the Pitcher, and with good reason.
In 1968, Major League Baseball batted a collective .237, the lowest in history. Teams scored only 3.42 runs per game. The New York Yankees hit a pathetic .214 as a team. Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with a .301 mark. The Cardinals’ Bob Gibson set a post Deadball Era record with a microscopic 1.12 earned run average (and somehow lost nine games in the process).
If you were searching for Barry Zito in 2015, the former Cy Young Award winner would have been found toiling for the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. The 37-year-old Zito was on a mission to prove that he could still pitch in the Major Leagues.