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July 30, 2002|Larry Stewart

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, heard, observed, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

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What: "A City on Fire: The Story of the '68 Detroit Tigers"

Where: HBO, tonight, 10

This excellent HBO documentary covers a 14-month period that was one of the most explosive times in American history. It begins with the devastating Detroit race riots of 1967 and concludes with the Tigers winning the 1968 World Series.

The documentary is about how a baseball team helped reduce racial tensions in a wounded city.

The 1967 riots erupted following a police raid at the Blind Pig, a black nightclub. The riots lasted a week, 10 city blocks were burned, 43 people died and 2,500 stores were burned down or looted.

Damon Keith of the Michigan Commission on Civil Rights says, "People were not sane about this thing. They were just taking all of their frustrations out about the housing and the police brutality, lack of education, jobs and things of that sort. So you had all these pent-up emotions that erupted and nothing could stop it."

The riots ended only after President Johnson ordered 5,000 federal troops into Detroit.

The Tigers missed out on the World Series in 1967 on the last day of the season, when they lost the second game of a doubleheader against the Angels.

But in 1968, the Tigers got off to a great start, captivating the city's black and white communities. The Tigers won the American League by 12 games. They won the World Series after trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1. In Game 1, the Cardinals' Bob Gibson had a Series-record 17 strikeouts. In Game 7, left-hander Mickey Lolich beat Gibson on two days' rest.

Lolich and Gibson are among those who appear in the documentary. Others from the Tigers include Willie Horton, Gates Brown, Earl Wilson, Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Jim Northrup and announcer Ernie Harwell. Others from the Cardinals include Tim McCarver and Lou Brock.

Given the combination of the Tigers' amazing season and the concurrent social unrest, this well-produced documentary presents a compelling slice of American history.

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