If you ask me what I remember most about the year 1968, I’ll have a quick, simple, shallow but honest response.
“Cards lost to Detroit Tigers in the World Series.”
That’s what I remember most about 1968, a year that some historians say changed America more than any one year in history.
Fifty years ago. I was 9 years old. A fourth grader at St. Philip’s Catholic Grade School. Mrs. Siekman’s class. She was tough as a nun.
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There was a lot going in our country. But I lived in a simple, secure, safe, naive world of sandlot baseball, bike rides, kick-the-can and being home when the street lights came on, or the locusts hummed, or whichever came last.
What I remember most about historic 1968 was baseball. After winning the championship in 1967, the Cards were favorites to win it all the next season, too. I was devastated. Gibson. Cepeda. McCarver. Shannon. Javier. Some chubby Tigers pitcher named Mickey Lolich shut us down. I was speechless. How could we lose?
In 1968, a 9-year-old kid, red-haired boy from midtown East St. Louis could hop on the Redbird Express bus on State Street and take it west to Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis, then walk to a night Cardinals game which started at 8 PM. With his buddies. No parents or chaperones. The only phones we could use were pay phones in a booth along the main streets. But there was no reason to call anyone. Safety was taken for granted.
News wasn’t 24/7 or non-stop in 1968. There was evening and 10 p.m. TV news only. Dry and unsensationalized. There were four daily newspapers serving the Metro East in 1968. The St. Louis Globe Democrat. Metro East Journal. Belleville News Democrat. St. Louis Post Dispatch. Afternoon and morning papers. Kids like me delivered newspapers to homes in their neighborhoods, but we didn’t read them. Too much to do. The only news we received was from our parents, the TV evening news, or listening to the old, white men argue with one another at Art’s Barber Shop on State Street.
We got our dose of news at dinner time when we’d overhear Walter Cronkite on the TV news from the black-and-white TV in the family room. We lived in a little box of a house on Terrace Drive in East St. Louis. You could stand in the hall of that old house and stick your arm in every room. No air-conditioning. We didn’t need it, though. We were never indoors.
1968. History tells us it was a monumental year that changed America. I’ve been reading a few books about 1968. War. Assassinations. Riots. Olympics. Politics. Hippies. Ed Sullivan.
I remember snapshots about 1968 here and there. In hindsight, I’m most amazed at how little impact it had on my very sheltered, childhood world.
Nixon. McCarthy. Humphrey. Wallace. President Johnson. I didn’t know a Democrat from a Republican. All I knew was what I heard from Walter Cronkite or the old white men at the barber shop. Cronkite was more objective and less animated.
I remember the USS Pueblo being captured by North Korea. I didn’t understand. The Vietnam War was on the nightly news. I knew about the military draft. I had older brothers. College, Canada or war? There was a quiet fear of the future but it all seemed more like a movie than reality.
Other than the Cardinals, I remember Lew Alcindor playing basketball at UCLA, and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos receiving Olympic medals and raising their fists in protest during the national anthem. There was a running back at USC named O.J Simpson, and wondered how anyone could be that good.
But my focus was baseball. Cardinals baseball. Sandlot baseball. My school baseball team in the Crusader League at St. Philip’s.
In hindsight, I am amazed at all that happened in one year. 1968. Fifty years ago. And how I was totally insulated and sheltered from the real world around me. My biggest worry as that the fresh crack in the Whiffle Ball lasted the final few innings, or until morning when we could hop on the State Street bus to Grant’s to buy a new one.
There is a lot going on in our world today. Confrontation. Divisiveness. But 2018 pales in comparison to 1968. A year that changed America. A year for the history books. And the year that the Detroit Tigers beat the Cards in the World Series.
Somewhere, somehow, I hope there’s a nine-year-old boy out there today who is as naïve and sheltered from the real world as I was 50 years ago.