Bob Gibson, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away on Friday, in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska, at age 84. Gibson had been battling pancreatic cancer, and died just a few weeks after his former teammate, Lou Brock.
1.12 ERA in 1968. Superman!
As a lifelong baseball fan who has spent a lot of time reading about the history of the game, I have always had tremendous respect for Bob Gibson. I was born towards the end of the 60s and don’t recall ever seeing him pitch, but I don’t know another player that had a reputation as a competitor like he did. RIP.
You summed it up so well. Same thing for me. He was one of those all time greats like Mickey Mantle from just before I started watching baseball.
BTW: in 1957, Gibson also suited up for the Harlem Globetrotters.
I was born in the 1970s and started watching in the early 1980s. I remember Gibson as the pitching coach for Joe Torre’s Atlanta Braves. He always used to get standing ovations whenever he’d walk out to the mound in St. Louis - as the Braves pitching coach.
Gibson was without question one of the elite pitchers of his generation, and is definitely up there in the pantheon of MLB’s all-time greatest hurlers. I’ve read that MLB lowered the mound in the late 1960s in part because of Gibson’s ridiculous numbers. Koufax probably had something to do with that, too, but Gibson was definitely one of the hardest hitters to make contact against.
I understand there was a…um…flinty side to him, on the mound.
As great as he was in the regular season, he was even greater in the World Series. In three Series his ERA was 1.89, his WHIP was 0.889, his K/BB was 5.41. He won the World Series MVP twice. He was a tough competitor when it mattered the most.
He pitched inside when the rules and umps allowed it; nowadays there would be fights and suspensions.
I heard Bob Costas relay a story about Gibson. The last pitch that Gibson threw in the majors was when he was 39 years old, pitching against the Cubs. It was hit for a grand slam by a guy named Pete LaCock.
Years later, Gibson was pitching in an old-timers game. LaCock came to the plate. Gibson hit him with the first pitch.
I don’t know if the story about the old-timers game is true, but Pete LaCock has something of a reputation for - ahem - “embellishment” in his stories about baseball.
LaCock himself apparently used to tell the story about hitting a grand slam off Gibson’s last ever pitch, but if you look at the play-by-play for that game, you’ll see that it wasn’t his last pitch; Gibson stayed in the game after the home run and got the last batter of the inning out on a ground ball, 1B - P.
Good catch. I should have looked it up before posting.
But to continue the story, Costas and Gibson became good friends after Gibson retired. Costas asked him why he hit LaCock in the old-timer’s game. Gibson replied that he had to balance the scales.
I never saw Gibson pitch; he retired decades before I took an interest in baseball. But I’ve done a lot of reading on the history of the game over the last 20 years, and he was clearly special.
It’s also incredible how little these guys got paid in the days before Marvin Miller and the end of the reserve clause, as well as the dramatic rise of pro sports incomes in the era of expanded media coverage, massive TV rights agreements, and more expensive ballparks.
In 1968, Gibson won the Cy Young and the MVP with his 1.12 ERA and 22 Wins, and then two years later he won the Cy Young again. In 1970, he was paid $125,000, in a year when the median family income in the United States was, according to the US Census Bureau, just under $10,000.
If a similar ratio applied today, the top pitchers like Gerrit Cole or Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw would be making just under $800,000 per year, instead just over $1 million per start.
My Dad took all of us to a game in St. Louis in August of 1964. As luck would have it, Gibson started for the Cards that day. He was dominant early, but then the rains came. He tried to pitch after the hour-long rain delay, but gave up 5 runs in the 7th and ended up with the loss.
Still, I can say that I was in the stadium when Bob Gibson pitched.
There are a couple of Gibson stories that people should know.
On June 15, 1967 Gibson was pitching when Roberto Clemente hit a line drive back with such force that it broke Gibson’s fibula. Gibson continued to pitch with a broken leg, walking Willie Stargell, then getting Bill Mazeroski to pop up, He was pitching to a third batter when his leg went out under him. He returned to the mound eight weeks later.
In the last five weeks of the 1964 season, Gibson started 10 games and pitched 87 2/3 out of 90 innings. Gibson pitched 8 innings on October 1, then pitched four innings in relief in the final game, October 3.
I remember the 1964 pennant chase, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this amazing bit of info.
Thanks for sharing.
When Gibson hit a rough patch in an inning the manager sent catcher Tim McCarver to the mound. “What are you doing here? The only thing you know about pitching is it’s hard to hit.” Expletives May have been edited.
Gibson never in his career led the league in hit batsmen. He hit a few guys but he waasn’t the worst around. He was, however, noted for his overall… intensity. He famously wouldn’t even be friendly with other guys on the All-Star team.
That stat doesn’t tell the whole story though. I remember hitters that faced him talking about him being the guy you never dug in against. Bill White did Yankee games for over a decade and talked about Gibson often enough.
Gibson may not have led the league but part of that was respect (fear) of leaning in against him.
WEll, yeah, that was my point. Gibson was a very, very intelligent man; his intensity was a part of his character, but it was also a tool he consciously used. He wasn’t doing that stuff because he was mean, he was doing it because he knew it worked to get batters out and win ballgames.
Bill James once made the observation that almost all truly great pitchers are smart; Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Greg Maddux, Pedro, Grove, pretty much anyone you can think of, they were all at least moderately clever. (Steve Carlton might be the one exception, but it’s hard to separate stupid from crazy sometimes.) His theory was that the pitcher acts, and the batter reacts; it’s the pitcher who has the opportunity to plan out the at bat, to most exploit the batter. Gibson wasn’t just throwing the ball hard, he thought about what he was doing and how to manipulate batters.
I’ve played a couple hundred games of tick tack toe with my little daughter, and she hasn’t beaten me yet. I’ve always had to win. I’ve got to win.
- Bob Gibson, quoted in Speaking of Baseball: Quotes and Notes on the National Pastime, edited by David Plaut.