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Published: Sunday, 5/14/2006

Former Tiger part of 1968 magic

Tom Matchick holds a Silver Glove award he won for fielding excellence while with Rochester in 1971 and a bat commemorating the 1968 World Series championship of the Detroit Tigers. Tom Matchick holds a Silver Glove award he won for fielding excellence while with Rochester in 1971 and a bat commemorating the 1968 World Series championship of the Detroit Tigers.
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In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports columnist Ron Musselman talked with Tom Matchick, a onetime Mud Hens all-star shortstop who earned a ring as a utility player on the Detroit Tigers' 1968 World Series championship team.

Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't ask Tom Matchick about the Detroit Tigers' magical 1968 season.

The Tigers won the World Series a year after the race riots in Motown, and many believe their championship helped heal tensions in the city.

Matchick, who lives in Holland, Ohio, was a jack-of-all-trades for the Tigers, filling in at first base, second and shortstop. He appeared in 80 games that season, batting .203 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. He was 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter in the World Series.

He earned a spot on the Triple-A All-Star team with the Mud Hens in 1967, and was called up to the major leagues late in the season. He played in eight games with Detroit.

Matchick appeared in 94 games with Detroit in 1969 and then got traded five times between December of 1969 and April of 1973. He played for both the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals in 1970, with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1971 and Baltimore Orioles in 1972. Matchick had a lifetime batting average of .215 in parts of six major league seasons.

As a minor leaguer from 1962-1967 and 1971-1976, he was a five-time all-star shortstop and hit over .300 three times. He spent 10 years at the Triple-A level and won a Governors' Cup championship while playing for Syracuse. He also won an International League Silver Glove award at Rochester in 1971 for his fielding excellence at third base.

A native of Hazleton, Pa., the 62-year-old Matchick was originally signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school. A year later, he was drafted away by the Tigers. Matchick met his wife, the former Linda Lang, while shopping in downtown Toledo, and has lived in the area since retiring.

The Matchicks have a son and daughter - Brian, 38, and Heather, 37 - and have provided a foster care home for more than 30 children over the years, including 12-year-old Amanda, whom they adopted.

Matchick is vice president of sales and hiring for Great Lakes Aerocam in Woodville, which specializes in aerial photography of farms and businesses in five states.

"1968 WAS A great year. It was a long, long time ago. Denny McLain won 31 games and nobody has come close to it since. To be honest, I think Mickey Lolich could have won 30 that year too. Denny was a great pitcher, but Lolich was a great pitcher also. He won three games in the World Series and was named MVP. Lolich should probably be in the Hall of Fame. He was a great pitcher. We had a great staff in general. Not only did we have McLain and Lolich, we had Earl Wilson, Pat Dobson, John Hiller and Joe Sparma. And we had a great pitching coach in Johnny Sain."

"MAYO SMITH KEPT it all together - he was a very good manager - and we had some outstanding players in Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, Willie Horton and Gates Brown, who I swear could wake up in the morning and go to the stadium and hit line drives. But "Stormin Norman" Cash was the leader of our team. Even though we were down 3-1 to St. Louis in the World Series, you would have thought we were up 3-1. We knew we were going to win.

"We were a loose bunch. We had great team chemistry. I am not sure what the final stats were that year, but I know we won 30 or so games in the final three innings. We were a great comeback team. The highlight of that year for me was when I hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning in a game in June to beat Baltimore, which was a game behind us. I hit it off Moe Drabowsky - it was the first homer he gave up all year."

"IT'S NICE TO see the Tigers finally doing well again and up near the top of the standings. It's been a long time since they were in this spot. Jim Leyland and I came up together in the Tigers' organization. We played winter ball together in my rookie year. Gene Lamont was on our team too. I think the Tigers have some pretty good prospects now, and I think Jimmy will do a great job with them."

"THERE WERE NO steroids when I played. Heck, nobody even lifted weights. The steroids issue in baseball now is a negative because people can point the finger and say the only reason someone hit all those home runs was because of steroids. I don't know what steroids have to do with hand-eye coordination or reflexes, but I'm sure you gain strength. Some of these guys now, you now see them from one year to the next, and you'd swear they were working out in the weight room 24 hours a day."

"I THINK PETE Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. He was one of the finest players ever and is baseball's all-time hits leader. Pete Rose bet on baseball - there's nothing new there - but I can guarantee you he did not throw a game he lost. He's not that dumb. This thing has been going on way too long. Give the guy a break. It's not like he gave drugs to kids or took steroids. Baseball players go to spring training every year and bet on the dogs, or they bet on football games, and nobody has a problem with either one of those."



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