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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Basic Biittner: The Class of '68

Monday, October 30, 2006

I happen to be a member of the Class of 1968, in my case from Aurelia High School. 1968 is seen in today's light as one of the most memorable years ever, as far as news events go. Among the big news stories that year were an escalating war in Vietnam, President Johnson announcing that he would not be running for re-election, the assassination of Martin Luther King, police and crowd battles at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Robert Kennedy's assassination, and the election of Richard Nixon in November.

I bring up this momentous year because the two teams which squared off in the World Series that fall are meeting each other again in this year's Fall Classic. In 1968, the Detroit Tigers, led by the pitching of portly portsider Mickey Lolich, defeated the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Among the memorable players for the two combatants were the Cardinals' Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and a young Steve Carlton. The Tigers' countered with Lolich, eccentric 31-game winner Denny McLain, slugger Willie Horton, catcher Bill Freehan, and Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline.

Back in those days, they played World Series games during the day. At our High School, at least, students could watch the games, if they had a Study Hall. In the fall of '68, however, I was attending college at what used to be called Buena Vista COLLEGE in Storm Lake, and I have a distinct memory (something which is becoming more and more of a rarity these days) of sitting in my car by the lake in Chatauqua Park, eating lunch, and listening to the Series on the radio.

It's hard to imagine anyone doing that this year, as the Tigers and Cards go at it again. For one thing, Series games are no longer played in daylight hours. MLB switched over to night games many years ago - because of money, of course. The TV networks, the true "commissioner" of the sport, decided that night games would draw better ratings, and thus be more attractive to sponsors.

Such devotion to the game as I showed in 1968 is also hard to imagine today because, according to a recent poll, only 32 percent of Americans even follow "the National Pastime" in 2006.

The main reason cited for the decline in baseball's popularity (although attendance figures were at a record high this season - a seeming contradiction) is the proliferation of so many other sports, leaving baseball one of many sports competing for an audience.

Another reason baseball is not as popular as it once was, especially among young people, is, I believe, MLB's decision to "shoot itself in the foot" by no longer televising the afernoon games. What better way to attract young fans than to give them a break during the long school day, to watch the World Seies with friends? With the slower pace of baseball, too, it is possible to actually do some studying or homework during the game, and still follow the action - especially with Instant Replay.

Just an idea from the Class of '68.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner