RIP Bob Gibson, 1935-2020

4 02 2021

The last two times I’ve posted one of these, another Hall of Famer has passed away.  I thought about doing a Hank Aaron tribute, given the enormity of what he meant to baseball.  But I’d prefer to do these in order.  I get a lot out of them – reading up on some of the greats of the game makes me appreciate them and the game of baseball.

75 B Gibson

The two HOF-ers from the 1960’s Cardinals juggernaut both passed away within a month of each other.  Gibson passed away on October 2nd of last year from pancreatic cancer.

Gibson was well before my time – like Brock, he retired before I was born.  I knew a lot about him as a kid – so many baseball history videos covered his World Series exploits.  A little bit unfairly, I think the one that gets covered the most is his last postseason game – one of only 2 that he lost.  More on that and his amazing World Series exploits later.

There are a couple autobiographies of Gibson, one written during his career and one after – and I hope to pick up one of them in the near future.  Pack Robert Gibson was born in 1935 in Omaha.  He was the youngest of 7 kids.  His father died before he was born and his oldest brother Josh became his father figure.  Josh had a college degree from Creighton and was the rec center director in the projects where the Gibsons lived.  So while their family grew up poor, Gibson had structure in his life with a focus on education and an outlet for athletics.  He was a great all-around athlete, and though he excelled at baseball, basketball was his favorite sport in high school.

He was offered a minor league contract with the Cardinals out of high school, but in part due to his brother’s influence he opted for a basketball scholarship to Creighton.  He was the first black athlete to receive such a scholarship.  I found this pretty cool – Creighton is to this day known as an excellent mid-major basketball school and its crazy to realize that one of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history is part of the foundation for that.  Gibson averaged 20.2 points for his career and was the team’s leading scorer 2 of his 3 seasons.  His jersey number 45 (which he would later wear for the Cardinals) hangs in the rafters as one of 5 retired by the basketball program.

He also played on the diamond at Creighton, where Bill Fitch (an assistant basketball coach for the Blue Jays) was his baseball coach.  Fitch would go on to become a Hall of Fame coach in the NBA and was at one point second to only Red Auerbach in career wins.  Gibson never got an NBA offer, though he did end up turning down an offer to travel with the Harlem Globetrotters once the Cardinals signed him that summer (1957).  He reported to their triple A affiliate in Omaha.  After being an effective hitter and pitcher in college, manager Johnny Keane determined he should focus on pitching.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Gibson was in the minors in 1958, then spent two seasons splitting time with the Cardinals.  He was held back by manager Solly Hemus, who displayed outright racism and tended to keep his black players on the bench.  He was replaced by Keane midway through the 1961 season, and the Cardinals were real contenders for the rest of that decade.

Gibson made his first All-Star game in 1962, and solidified himself as the Cardinals’ best pitcher.  He struck out 208 batters – his first time over 200 and good for 3rd in all of baseball.  He also posted a 2.85 ERA, good for 5th in the National League.  He continued to progress in 1963 and 1964, but he began making his legend in the World Series of 1964.  That year against the Yankees, the upstart Cardinals defeated the Yankees in 7 games.  Gibson didn’t start his World Series career off as particularly notable.  He pitched OK in game 2, giving up 4 runs in 8 innings.  He left the game down 4-2, but the Yankees bats came alive in the 9th off of the Cardinals relievers to make it a lopsided 8-3 final.

In game 5 of a 2-2 series, Gibson pitched 8 scoreless innings.  He entered the bottom of the 9th with a 2-0 lead, but after an error he allowed a game tying homer with 2 outs and the game went to extra innings.  His battery-mate Tim McCarver came through in the top of the 10th, however, hitting a 3-run homer.  Gibson allowed just a single in the bottom of the inning to register a complete game with no earned runs.

The Yankees won game 6, and Keane went to his Ace on just 2 days rest (and coming off the stressful 10-inning CG).  In game 7, the Cardinals jumped out to an early 3 run lead and extended it to 6-0 in the 5th inning.  Though Gibson didn’t pitch particularly well – he gave up 5 runs on 3 homers – that was all he needed and he finished the Yankees and the series off at 7-5.  Gibson was named the series MVP, and while it’s hard to argue – for my money McCarver (.478 BA, .552 OBP, 11 hits, 5 RBI, 4 runs) has a good case for the award.  I think what may have put Gibson over the top was the caliber of the Yankees hitters that he mostly kept at bay.

Incredibly – that was the least entertaining World Series Gibson was a part of.  The 1967 and 1968 World Series are all-time classics.  Those are probably better covered elsewhere; but suffice it to say Gibson was incredible.  He threw 6 total complete games (3 in each series), 2 of those being shutouts.  He again won the Series MVP in 1967, and his opener in the 1968 Series (17 strikeouts, is probably the best single game World Series pitching performance of all-time.

Here I’d like to point out Gibson’s overall World Series record.  He’s probably the greatest World Series pitcher of all-time.

  • That first World Series game was the only one where his manager ever needed a reliever.
  • Factoring in his 10-inning game in 1964, he actually equaled the tally of 9 CB’s – he pitched 81 innings over 9 games.
  • His WS career is bookended by losses – but he won all 7 games in between.
  • Not only is he the only pitcher to win multiple WS game 7’s (and only to start 3) – but Burleigh Grimes and Lew Burdette are the only others to start multiple game 7’s.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his 1968 season, the best in modern history.  He went 22-9, with 13 shutouts, completed 28 of his 34 starts, struck out 268 batters and posted the lowest ERA in history – an incredible 1.12.  He won the Cy Young and almost single-handedly forced MLB to lower the pitching mound.

Rest in Peace, Bob!


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