The American League’s pennant race in 1967 will go down as one of the most exciting races in the history of the league. October 1, 1967, the last day of the regular season began with the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins tied for first place with the Tigers one half game behind.
The Tigers finished the season with two double headers on the last two days of the season against the California Angels, due to earlier postponements. The Red Sox and Twins would play each other, meaning that the Tigers would have to win both games in order to catch the winner of the Boston vs Minnesota game. All three teams knew that their fate was in their own hands. Win and you're in. Lose, and your season is over.
There were no divisions, just two leagues with the winners playing a best of seven World Series. The Tigers had not been to a World Series since 1945, when they beat the Chicago Cubs. The Red Sox had not won the pennant since 1946, when they lost in seven games to the St Louis Cardinals. Boston had not won a World Series title since the end of World War I in 1918.
The Twins, who were the Washington Senators until they moved to the Twin cities in 1960, had lost the World Series in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Prior to that, the Senators hadn't won an American League pennant since the days of Walter Johnson in 1925. None of the three franchises had won a World Series title in a very long time.
1967 was a long, hot summer in Detroit. The city was torn apart by racial strife and riots. 43 people were killed, resulting in President Lyndon B Johnson ordering the US army National Guard to patrol the streets with tanks to quell the riots. Curfews were in place which kept families in their homes after dark, and the evening news flashed images of a war in Vietnam that left the Country torn politically as well.
Baseball provided a welcome distraction from the difficulties of every day life, as every Detroiter and Michiganian united around a common love for the Tigers. Only one or two games each week were televised, so friends and families gathered around a radio to hear the voice of Ernie Harwell.
The Twins’ Rod Carew was rookie of the year in the American League, while Tom Seaver was the National League’s top rookie. The St Louis Cardinals were cruising to the National League pennant behind Bob Gibson, and the defending World Champion Baltimore Orioles faded below .500 and were out of the race by the end of July The Cardinals would win 101 games, while no AL team could win more than 92.
The Red Sox were led by Carl Yastrzemski, who won the Triple Crown, leading the league with a batting average of .326, RBI with 121, and was tied with the Twins' Harmon Killebrew with 44 home runs. Boston’s Jim Lonborg and the Tigers' Earl Wilson, who had been traded by Boston to Detroit a year earlier for Don Demeter, led the league with 22 wins each. Lonborg was voted the Cy Young award.
The season saw the Tigers win a game in which they were no hit by the Orioles, 2- 0, as they scored a pair of runs in the ninth inning. Boston’s Tony Conigliaro was lost for the season, and the next season, when he was beaned just below the eye by the Angels’ Jack Hamilton.
Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run for the Yankees, while Ed Matthews hit his 500th, playing for the Houston Astros, off the Giants’ Juan Marichal Matthews would be traded in August to Detroit. Yastrzemski and Willie Stargell of the Pirates each hit their 100th career home runs, and the Tigers’ Al Kaline hit his 300th homer.
Until the final days of the season, it was a four team race. The Chicago White Sox had a five game winning streak in mid September that included a three game sweep of the Twins that left them one half game out of first place. But that’s as close as they would get the rest of the way.
The Tigers lost both ends of an important double header on September 10th to the White Sox, being shut out 6- 0 by ERA champion Joe Horlen in a no hitter, and again shut out in the night cap, leaving the two teams tied, 1-1/2 games behind the first place Twins. Detroit had won the first two games of the series in Chicago.
The four teams remained within two games of each other until the last few days of the season, each jockeying to bring victory to a franchise that hadn't won a title in decades.
The White Sox stayed in the race until September 29, finishing the season with a five game losing streak, being shut out three of the five games, losing to the Kansas City Athletics, and being swept by the Washington Senators. They were to finish in fourth place, three games out of first.
The Twins were never more than one game out of first place during September, starting the month by taking two of three from Detroit in Minnesota. They held at least a share of first place 26 of 30 days during the month.
Detroit moved into first place on September 15 with successive 5- 4 victories over the Senators. The Red Sox then took both games of a two game series at Tiger stadium, winning 6- 5 in 10 innings on September 18, and 4- 2 the following day, pulling ahead of the Tigers into a tie with the Twins for first place.
On the last day of September, the second last day of the season, Detroit split a double header with the Angels, losing the first game 8- 6. The Tigers won the second game, 5- 0 with Willie Horton hitting a two run homer, and Mickey Lolich pitching his eleventh complete game and sixth shutout of the season. In Boston, Yastrzemski hit a three run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning to lead the Red Sox to a 6- 4 win over the Twins, leaving the two clubs tied for first place with one game between them remaining.
Boston’s win was a desirable result for Detroit, who remained just one half game back of both teams, as it left the Tigers' destiny in their own control. But it also meant that the Tigers could not win the pennant outright on the final day, as one of the two would win the final game, and a Detroit sweep would leave them tied with the winner.
On the final day of the season, the Red Sox and Twins began play just as the Tigers were getting under way against the Angels at Tiger stadium. Tony Oliva singled off Lonborg to drive in Harmon Killebrew putting the Twins up 1- 0 in the first inning. Killebrew extended the Twins lead, driving in Caesar Tovar in the third. The Twins’ Dean Chance allowed just a pair of singles through six innings, keeping the Twins on top, 2-0 through five innings.
Back in Detroit, Horton homered again, this time off Clyde Wright with Dick Tracewski on base to put the Tigers up 2- 0 in the first. Don Mincher homered off Joe Sparma in the Angels’ second to make it 2- 1. Horton reached base again in the third on an error with two outs, winding up on second base. Bill Freehan was intentionally walked, Don Wert singled home Horton, with Freehan advancing to third, and Wert to second on the throw. Ed Matthews then rounded out the scoring in the inning with a two run single, scoring Freehan and Wert to make it 5- 1 Detroit after three innings.
Buck Rogers homered off Sparma in the fourth, making the score 5- 2. The Tigers responded in the fifth when Horton doubled and was singled in by Freehan to make it 6- 2 Detroit. The Angles narrowed the lead in the eighth when Mincher hit his second home run of the game, a two run shot off Sparma, to make it 6- 4. Fred Gladding was brought in and recorded the last six outs, giving the Tigers a 6- 4 victory.
Meanwhile, at Fenway, with Chance throwing a two hitter and the Twins up 2- 0 entering the bottom of the sixth, Pitcher Jim Lonborg led off with a bunt single. Jerry Adair and Dalton Jones followed with singles to load the bases, and nobody out. Yastrzemski singled to center field, scoring two runs to tie the game, and moving Jones to third. Ken (Hawk) Harrelson grounded to shortstop with Yastrzemski being safe at second on a fielder’s choice. That scored Jones with the go ahead run.
Al Worthington relieved Chance, and promptly delivered two wild pitches, scoring Yaz to make it 4- 2 Boston. Danny Tartabull, pinch running for Harrelson, moved to third, and scored on a single by Reggie Smith, making it Red Sox 5, Twins 2 after six innings.
The Twins made it 5- 3 in the 8th, when Killebrew and Oliva singled off Lonborg with two outs, then Bob Allison singled to drive in Killebrew, but was thrown out at second trying to advance. Jim "Mudcat" Grant retired the Red Sox in the ninth, getting Rico Petrocelli and Reggie Smith. Elston Howard singled with two outs before Lonborg grounded into a force to end the inning. Lonborg finished his complete game victory getting Ted Uhlander, Rod Carew, and Rich Rollins in order to seal the win for Boston.
The Boston win eliminated the Twins, while the Red Sox had earned at least a share of the AL Pennant. They had to await the outcome of the second game in Detroit to find out whether they would win the pennant outright, or have to play a one game tie breaker vs the Tigers.
The Tigers sent Denny McLain to the mound, with a record of 17- 16 and a 3.49 ERA, to face California’s Ricky Clark, who was 12- 11 with a 2.59 ERA. McLain hadn’t made a start for two weeks, since the double header in Chicago. Clark was a rookie from Redford, Michigan.
The Angels got on the board in the second inning when Rich Reichardt homered off McLain. The Tigers answered in their half of the inning with a double by Matthews and a two run homer by Jim Northrup. After Don Wert singled with one out, McLain bunted him over to second, and Dick McAuliffe tripled, scoring Wert to make it 3- 1 Tigers after two innings.
The Angels kept up the pressure in the third. Bobby Knoop singled, and advanced to second on a single by Jay Johnstone, who was pinch hitting for the pitcher. After Johnstone was doubled off first on a line drive, Jim Fregosi doubled, scoring Knoop and knocking McLain off the mound, John Hiller entered and gave up a two run homer to Don Mincher, giving the Angels a 4- 3 lead.
Jim McGlothlin, who was 11- 8 with a 2.96 ERA for the season was called in to pitch for the Angels. He retired the side in order in the third. Hiller then gave up a walk, a single, another walk, and replaced by Mike Marshall. Knoop grounded into a force at second, McGlothlin got an infield single scoring one run, and Roger Repoz tripled to score two more, giving the Angels a 7- 3 lead.
Marshall was relieved by Dave Wickersham, and the Tiger bullpen was emptied to finish the game, even using Mickey Lolich, who had pitched a complete game victory the previous day, for 1-2/3 innings.
Each team would add another run to make the final score California 8, Detroit 5, sealing the American League Pennant for the Boston Red Sox. Boston would go on to lose the World Series to St Louis in seven games, with Bob Gibson earning three victories for the Cardinals. The Tigers won the AL pennant by a 12 game margin over the Orioles the following season. It would be another 37 years before the Red Sox finally won the World Series.
Footnotes: Fred Gladding, who finished the first game of the October 1 double header, was sent to the Houston Astros after the season as the player to be named later in the trade for Ed Matthews. In seven seasons with Detroit, Gladding had a 26- 11 record with a 2.71 ERA. He’d pitch another six years for Houston.
The Tigers would get some measure of revenge on the Red Sox in 1972, winning the American League’s eastern division by one half game. The first week of that season was canceled by the first ever player strike. MLB decided to just pick up the action and go with the remainder of the schedule, and not make up the canceled games. As a result, the Tigers played one more game than Boston that season. A flashback the 1972 season and the five game playoff between the Tigers and the Oakland A’s is here.
Dalton Jones, who scored the winning run in Boston's come from behind win over Minnesota on the final day of the season, was traded to Detroit for infielder Tommy Matchik following the 1969 season.
Ricky Clark, the Angels' winning pitcher in the final game of the season, was born in Mt Clemens, Michigan, went to Redford Union High school, and was signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent, before there was an amateur draft. He was then drafted by the Angels from the Tigers in the first Rule 5 draft in 1965.
Ken Harrelson played nine seasons in the major leagues, with the Kansas City A's, the Washington Senators, the Red Sox, and the Cleveland Indians. He had a career average of .239, and hit just .077 in his lone post season appearance with Boston in the 1967 World Series.
Yastrzemski’s triple crown marked the second year in a row that the feat was accomplished in the American League, with the Orioles’ Frank Robinson doing the same in 1966. It would not be done again until the Tigers Miguel Cabrera did it 45 years later, in 2012.
Bob "Buck" Rodgers was the catcher for the Angels in the game that Tony Conigliaro was beaned, effectively ending his career. The incident has consistently been referred to as a beaning. Rodgers went on to become a coach and eventually manage the Milwaukee Brewers, the Montreal Expos, and the Angels. He was involved in a serious accident in 1992 where the Angels' team bus crashed along the New Jersey turnpike, seriously injuring Rodgers.
Following the 1967 season, the Kansas City A's moved to Oakland. After the 1970 season, the Washington Senators, who were an expansion team replacing the old Senators who moved to Minnesota, also moved, to the Dallas Texas area and became the Texas Rangers. That franchise has never won the World Series.
The former Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins, won one world series in 1924 led by WalterJohnson, one in 1987 and in 1991 under Tom Kelly. They have gone 3- 19 in six post season appearances since, losing the last five times in the ALDS.
The Red Sox and Tigers rank third and fourth, respectively, in the number of pennants won by a franchise. The New York Yankees, and the Philadelphia/ Kansas city/ Oakland A's are the only franchises with more AL titles.
Writer's note: Being only eight years of age in 1967, I relied very much on the records provided by baseball_reference.com for much of the play by play and statistics of the 1967 season. I do have recollections, some very vivid, of the events of that year, including the pennant race especially after returning to school in September when the Tigers were the hot topic among classmates.