Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bob Gibson 1935-2020


"Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher in baseball. He is always pitching on days when the other team doesn't score any runs." - Tim McCarver

Bob Gibson battled childhood ailments such as rickets, hay fever, pneumonia, asthma and a heart problem. He survived not only those illnesses, but also the deeply rooted racism of the 1930s and 40s in Nebraska. His brother Josh, 15 years his senior, coached him in baseball and basketball (and was credited with coaching several other players in Nebraska like Gayle Sayers, NBA vet Bob Boozer, 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers, and Marlin Briscoe - the first black Quarterback in NFL history.). Josh saved his toughest drills and workouts for his little brother, hoping that Bob could follow in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson.

The intimidating stare was intended to frighten opposing players, but also to keep at a distance anyone who would challenge his rightful place on the field. As Gibson puts it - "Anger came from racism. Of course it did. But racism was a way of life. It was something I had to deal with on a daily basis."  Anger, intimidation - they were Gibson's way of competing, but also his way of dealing with the world around him. "I wasn't trying to intimidate anybody, are you kidding me? I was just trying to survive, man." Then again, Gibson often brushed off the claims that he was glaring at all. Gibson wore glasses when he wasn't pitching, and has said to many that "the Glare" was really just his way of squinting to see the catchers' signs. But if you ask opposing hitters, they'll tell you it worked no matter what the reason was that he did it.

Early in his career, A Sports Illustrated essay called "The Private World of the Negro Ballplayer" featured a tightly cropped photo of Gibson and teammate George Crowe in the clubhouse with the caption: In a dressing room empty of Whites, pitcher Bob Gibson consults Crowe. Gibson would later tell Roger Kahn that the photo was manipulated to look like the two were alone, but in fact they were seated next to several white players. The article had given the impression of a segregated Cardinals team with that photo, not to mention the text of the article itself that further alienated Gibson such that he did not agree to another interview or article about him in SI for nearly 50 years. 

Segregation was still a part of daily life in the South while Gibson was pitching. When the Cardinals played in the Grapefruit League for spring training, Black players would have had to stay at different hotels and eat at different restaurants - - until Cardinals' owner Gussie Busch purchased a hotel for the team to use, creating an integrated atmosphere for the players. 

The August 8th, 1959 game referenced above was not quite a glimpse of greatness as much as a test of Gibson's determination and endurance- he gave up 8 walks in the start, but pitched 10 innings and surrendered just 2 earned runs. He also struck out 8 Phillies batters. He did not factor in the decision,  but the Cardinals would win in 11 innings. 

Throughout his career, the prevailing thought was that Gibson was "mean" - but more than that, Gibson was a dominant and well-rounded athlete. He won so many games and struck out so many batters because he outpitched his competition. He also often out hit them - over his career he hit 24 regular season home runs, and 71 extra base hits total. There were 26 times where he personally drove in more runs than his opponents. Then there was his skill as a defender -- Gibson was awarded the Gold Glove at his position 9 times. He was the Cy Young winner in 1970, after posting a 23-7 record which included 3 shutouts and 274 strikeouts.

That paled in comparison to 1968, when he was the Cy Young winner and the league MVP. Gibson that season alone had 13 shutouts, and for the year had an ERA of just 1.12 over 304.2 innings. 28 of his 34 starts were complete games. He led the league in ERA, FIP, WHIP, WAR, strikeouts, shutouts, and was 2nd in victories. Gibson led an army of pitchers that so thoroughly dominated the league that the rules were changed to give the hitters a chance. The mound was lowered following the 1968 season, and the strikezone was made smaller (returning to the strike zone used in 1962 and earlier). Even with those changes, Gibson would again win 20 games, lead the NL in FIP and complete games, and sported an ERA+ of 164. 

Gibson saved some of his most memorable performances for the post season. He pitched in 9 World Series games, 8 of which were complete games. He was 7-2, with 2 shutouts, and struck out 92 batters in 81 innings of work. In 1964, pitching on two days rest, Gibson allowed a game-tying 2 run homer to Tom Tresh in the bottom of the ninth in Game Five. He was allowed to finish the inning, and the Cardinals came back to score 3 runs in the 10th. Gibson came back out to pitch the bottom of the 10th, and retired the Yankees quickly. Manager Johnny Keane was asked about the decision to stick with Gibson and he said "I had a commitment to his heart." 


  1. So sad to hear about another legend leaving us. But I've gotta say, I've learned a lot about Gibson from all of these amazing tributes. His World Series numbers really stood out to me in this post. Rest in peace Mr. Gibson.

  2. Awesome tribute! Great collection too.