In a year that just keeps handing us terrible, unbearable losses, baseball lost one of its most iconic figures, as Bob Gibson died last night at age 84, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is reported that he had a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Gibson, one of the greatest big-game pitchers ever, is the second St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame to die within the past few weeks, as his teammate and fellow World Series hero Lou Brock died on Sept. 6. Tom Seaver, like Gibson a hard-throwing, right-handed generational ace, died on Aug. 31. Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline also died this year.
“I just heard the news about losing Bob Gibson,” a distraught Yadier Molina told Fox News Midwest. “It’s kind of hard, losing a legend. A game is a game, you can lose a game, but when you lose a guy like Bob Gibson, it’s hard. Bob was funny, smart, he brings a lot of energy. When he talked, you listened.”
Gibson defined 1960s baseball as the game ushered in an era of power pitchers who utterly dominated, starting with Sandy Koufax and Dodgers teammate Don Drysdale, and wild flamethrowers like “Sudden” Sam McDowell and Bob Veale, and later Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton.
But Gibson was the most intimidating. Gibson owned the inside portion of the plate and if any hitter dared to dig in, lean over and try to pull a ball on the outer half, he’d be made to reconsider with an inevitable brushback pitch, as Gibson once recounted to Charlie Rose a story about hitting his friend and former teammate Bill White:
Gibson first rose to national prominence in 1964, as he and Brock and the Cardinals made a remarkable late-season push to win the pennant over the Philadelphia Phillies. Gibson pitched in his first World Series that year, winning MVP after pitching three games and winning games 4 and 7 against the New York Yankees. In 1967, the Cardinals won the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, and Gibson was even better, going 3-0 and winning another Series MVP award.
In 1968, which came to be known as the Year of the Pitcher and sparked immediate rule changes to swing the game in favor of offense, Gibson had one of the greatest seasons in history. He posted a 1.12 ERA, the lowest of any starting pitcher in the live ball era (starting circa 1920) and won the MVP and Cy Young Award.
The Cardinals won the pennant and were heavy favorites over the Detroit Tigers. Gibson set a World Series record by striking out 17 batters in the opening game, a 4-0 shutout. He won Game 4, but ultimately lost Game 7 as the Tigers upset the Cards. In the three World Series appearances, Gibson went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA, with eight complete games.
The rule changes that followed Gibson’s incredible year didn’t diminish his status. He won 20 games again in 1969, and a second Cy Young Award in 1970. He won 251 games lifetime and struck out 3,117 batters, at the time a National League record.
He was a dangerous hitting pitcher, smacking 24 career home runs, and he won nine Gold Glove awards. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility.
Although he battled numerous medical problems as a youngster in Omaha, Nebraska, Gibson grew to be a fantastic athlete, as he was the first Black player in the history of Creighton University basketball, and was briefly a Harlem Globetrotter. Meadowlark Lemon claimed Gibson was better at basketball than baseball:
“I thought Bob was a better basketball player than a baseball player. I think Bob could have played with any NBA team. He was that good.”
Gibson’s batterymate on the Cardinals, Tim McCarver, became the voice of baseball in a decades-long broadcasting career. Gibson, always described as a gentleman and charming off the field, even intimidated his own catcher. McCarver’s famous oft-told story of Gibson is that he went to visit him on the mound, and was promptly told to go away. “I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the plate where I belonged and that the only thing I knew about pitching was that I couldn’t hit it.”
Bob Costas, on the MLB Network, told a quintessential Gibson story.
The last pitch Gibson ever threw, was hit for a grand slam by Pete LaCock. Fast forward a decade, and there’s an Old-Timer’s game at Wrigley Field. LaCock comes to the plate, and Gibson hit him.
Costas asked him, “Come on, what’s up with that?”
“Robert, the scales must be balanced, no matter how long it takes.”