Bob Gibson

There have been few pitchers more intimidating or more dominating than Bob Gibson. His great physical stamina and tremendous concentration gave him an enormous edge enhanced by his willingness to pitch inside and sometimes hit batters. His 1968 season is one of the very best ever turned in by a pitcher, and his stellar World Series performances made him the toughest pitcher in the Fall Classic since Whitey Ford and brought him Hall of Fame election in 1981. With a blazing fastball, darting slider, good curve, and pinpoint control, from 1963 to 1972 Gibson averaged better than 19 wins per season. He struck out more than 200 batters nine times and led the NL four times in shutouts. In 1971 he no-hit the Pirates. Two aspects of Gibson’s career demand special mention. In 1968 he pitched 13 shutouts on his way to a 1.12 ERA, the second-lowest since 1893 in 300 innings. During one stretch Gibson allowed only two runs over 92 innings. His strikeouts to innings ratio approached 1.0, while he walked only 62 batters all season. At one point he won fifteen games in succession. The second area in which Gibson proved phenomenal was World Series play. He won seven consecutive games and pitched eight straight complete games in World Series competition. Only Whitey Ford owns more World Series victories than Gibson, who is also second all-time in WS strikeouts. In the opening match of the 1968 classic, Gibson beat 30-game winner Denny McLain 4-0 and set a Series record by fanning 17 Tigers. His 35 total strikeouts in the 1968 WS were also a record. He won Game Four 10-1, but lost Game Seven 4-1, on two days’ rest, to Mickey Lolich. Gibson lost a shutout in the seventh inning when Curt Flood uncharacteristically misjudged a routine fly ball. Gibson won the clinchers in both the 1964 and 1967 Series. In Game Two of the 1964 Series against the Yankees, he lost 8-3 but kept it close until he was knocked out in the ninth inning. He won Game Five 5-2 in ten innings, taking a shutout into the ninth. Coming back on two days’ rest for Game Seven, he won 7-5. In 27 innings, he had 31 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA. In 1967 he beat Boston’s Jose Santiago in the opener, 2-1, and in Game Four, 6-0, and bested Jim Lonborg 7-2 in the finale. A sickly child who almost died, Gibson was found to have a heart murmur but went on to excel in basketball and baseball in high school. He accepted a basketball scholarship to Creighton University and was the first person inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1957 Bob agreed to sign with the Cardinals for $4,000 and reported to the Omaha farm club. After the baseball campaign was complete, he joined the Harlem Globetrotters for a season. His Omaha manager, Johnny Keane, had great confidence in him, but two trials with the Cardinals had produced a 6-11 record and not much of an impression on the St. Louis manager, Solly Hemus. However, when Keane replaced Hemus in 1961, he put Gibson in the starting rotation to stay. Gibson blossomed in 1963, going 18-9, as the Cardinals contended following the acquisition of fine-fielding shortstop Dick Groat. Gibson retired as the winningest pitcher in Cardinals history. He became the second pitcher in history to fan 3,000 batters and also hurled 56 shutouts. His incredible career was accomplished despite a fractured leg (1962), a severely strained elbow (1966), a broken leg (1967), and badly torn ligaments and knee surgery (1973). After struggling through the 1975 campaign on bad legs, Gibson decided in early September that it was time to retire when light-hitting Pete LaCock powered a grand-slam home run off him. Gibson proved quickly and repeatedly there simply wasn’t an element of the game he hadn’t mastered. From 1965 to 1973 he won nine consecutive Gold Gloves for fielding excellence. He often helped his cause with the bat, laying down a successful bunt or hitting up the middle. He had 24 regular-season home runs plus a pair in World Series play. In 1970 he batted .303 and was occasionally employed as a pinch hitter. After serving as former teammate Joe Torre’s pitching coach with the Mets and Braves, Gibson returned to St. Louis as a baseball radio commentator and sports show host.