Topps 1968 Baseball Card Set - A Time of Love Turns to Hate and Violence
January 25, 2013
by William Szczepanek
The year of 1968 was a very turbulent and scary time. The emotional wounds of the Kennedy assassination were just starting to heal, while many thought the Viet Nam War was still viewed as winnable. The slogans of the young revolved around "Peace Not War". Robert Kennedy would attack with, "It is time for the truth, time to drop the mass of official illusion". The Great Society was is its infancy and it was about to be shaken by its roots. The deaths of John Kennedy and now of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy made us feel insecure and apprehensive of what was to come. Unlike the fear that permeates the country today, whereby we have given up certain liberties at a very great price for the sake of fooling ourselves into thinking we are really safe, those times made Americans feel gloomy about what was happening, but more determined than ever to protect their rights and to prevail over their enemies.
The 1969 Topps Set
While the times were turbulent there were certain things you could count on to make life better. Baseball cards were going strong. Expansion would again be an issue for Major League Baseball in 1969, so 1968 would be the last year that the Topps set would contain the usual 598 cards. The design included a large portrait enclosed in a border with round corners. The border was a speckled design which seemed to vaguely try to emulate a wood grain, but really just looked like a speckled brown border which could vary in intensity from card to card. The last name was emphasized with large, red letters, the first name was in smaller black letters and the position and team were prominently positioned in a large colored circle. Team logos were not present. In general, the design was not an improvement, just different. Overall, it was disappointing to me compared to earlier years. But, like many other sets from other years, you either loved it or hated it. With so many star players in this set it is hard to argue that it is not one of the best.
The set contained a League Leaders Series (#7-12) and the previous year's World Series Highlights (#153-158) Series and All-Star cards (#361 - 380). The set contains a large number of Hall of Fame members. Notable rookies included Johnny Bench (#247), Nolan Ryan (#177) and Jerry Koosman. The set also includes a number of great combo cards, including the Super Stars card (#490) of Harmon Killebrew, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
1968 in Baseball
Pitching dominated baseball in the late 60s. Bob Gibson finished the season with a 1.12 ERA in the National League, Denny McLain would win 31 games for the Tigers and Don Drysdale would pitch 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians posted an ERA of 1.60 allowing a major league record low batting average of .168. To put more offense back in the game the Rules Committee the following year would lower the pitcher's mound from 15" to 10" and reduce the strike zone.
On September 28th Mickey Mantle played in his final game, eight days after hitting his 536th and last home run.
Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers, pitching on two days rest, won the 3rd game of the World Series as he beat Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals, 4–1 in the 7th and deciding game. Lolich was named Series MVP.
Awards and Honors
Most Valuable Player
Cy Young Award
Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers (AL) --- Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals (NL)
Rookie of the Year
Carl Yastrzemski, AL Boston .301 ---
Rose, NL Cincinnati .335
In the World in 1968
Martin and Bobby
When Martin Luther King was assassinated much of the country became frustrated and hateful. Black people took their anger to the streets in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, and Washington. Reason was nonexistent as cities burned and terror spread from within.
While Civil Rights legislation had passed, our nation was moving toward two societies; black and white, separate and unequal. With the killing of Robert Kennedy the blacks lost another hero, but many now felt that both whites and blacks were now losing overall.
With President Lyndon Johnson withdrawing from the election and Robert Kennedy assassinated the political process was chaotic. While the Republicans were bland, the democrats were a mess. Violence bred violence during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Alabama Governor, George Wallace ran for the American Independent Party as a segregationist, supporter of States' rights and anti-war advocate (an assassination attempt would be made on Wallace in 1972 causing him to be paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair). The election eventually went to Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey. The Viet Nam War would persist.
Student protests were common and never before or since have the views of the young been so strong. Were they true peace lovers who tried to get their message across with violence and sit-ins or did they just not want to support their country by going to Viet Nam. People had strong opinions, but what was lacking was the truth from the government.
The Viet Nam War
The Tet Offensive shocked the U.S. military, but the ability to move quickly and change strategy allowed the Allied forces to inflict major losses on the North. On February 18, 1968 the highest U.S. casualty figures for a single week during the entire war were recorded: 543 killed and 2,547 wounded. 1968 was to become the deadliest year of the war for the U.S. forces with 16,592 soldiers killed. On February 23rd the U.S. Selective Service System announced a new draft call for 48,000 men, the second highest of the war. The military was asking for an additional 400,000 men. President Johnson was concerned about the cost of the war and its impact on the economy, which could collapse the monetary system. On February 28th Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, stepped down from office, replaced by warhawk, Clark Clifford. But Clifford no longer believed the war was winnable and proposed de-escalation.
Walter Cronkite stated during a news broadcast on February 27th, "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds" and added that, "we are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory." President Lyndon Johnson, watching live in the White House, reportedly then turned to aides and said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
The Space Race
Russia had made significant strides in 1968 to land a man on the moon. The U.S. continued its orbital flights. 1969 looked like the year that someone finally would achieve this goal, but will it be Russia or the United States? Apollo Eight completed a flight around the moon by the year's end.
Movies of 1968
As was often the case in the 1960s movies of the future portrayed we humans as far more advanced than what we have been able to achieve. 2001 A Space Odyssey is a perfect example of technological advancement and knowledge development that was thought of as possible in 1968. It was a time of big thinking and dreams were things that could be accomplished with collective determination.
2001: A Space Odyssey MGM
Music of 1968
"Abraham, Martin and John" was a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion. It was a tribute to four assassinated Americans, all of whom fostered social change: Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy. It was a time when events of the day and social change were captured by the artists of the day.
Laugh-In was just the type of show the country needed at the time. The title of the show was a play on the words "love-ins" or "be-ins" of the 1960s hippie culture, and "sit-ins", commonly associated with civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the time. Laugh-in was politically incorrect in every way, which meant that it was blatantly honest, ─ something we could use more of today.
While many good things happened, 1968 was a difficult year to accept. I remember picking up the newspaper the morning after RFK was shot and carefully reading the account, looking for anything that might give hope that he would live. He was already dead. In just a few years three people who were monumental heroes to millions of people were gone. What would life have been like if any one of them would have survived is nothing more than conjecture. But there haven't been any that I know of who can as yet take their place.
1968 was a year in which there was a monumental shift in how people thought. The good times of Leave It To Beaver and Father's Knows Best were past. The eyes of people of all ages were opened to a new and more cruel world without perfect solutions.
When it came to addressing the large issues around our changing social environment, the people took charge because the leadership in the country couldn't or wouldn't do the job. The people loudly told the government what was necessary. This is not to say that we should live like we did in 1968, or do the same things. We are a country divided largely because of politician's agendas and biased news media that purposefully control our lives. What it means is that there are challenges today that need to be met. New problems and new solutions are necessary and it will probably take new people with the courage to put the needs of the many first to be able to move us all forward in the future.
A Republican President once said,
Every American "needs an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race for life" and the test of a democracy is to "elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from their shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all." ─ Abraham Lincoln
“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” ─ Robert Kennedy