Hello to all my fellow baseball fans out there! As I am writing this, the calendar has arrived on the 1st day of Spring. Time for the 2023 MLB season to start on March 30th. Opening Day to me is my favorite day of the year by far. Time to enjoy the games, get my fantasy baseball lineup just the way I like it, and start to see if the baseball cards that were bought before the season started are going to make me as rich as Warren Buffett or be as worthless as a portfolio invested with Bernie Madoff. Somewhere in between will be fine. This month we will look at one of the greatest pitchers of all time and a fascinating human being too, Bob Gibson. Bob Gibson pitched his entire career, spanning 16 seasons between 1959 and 1975, for the St Louis Cardinals. He was one of the most intense, intimidating, and downright scary individuals to ever take an MLB mound. Gibson was also one of the best all-around athletes for a pitcher. He won the Gold Glove 9 times and was also a great hitter, joining a select group of pitchers who won 20 games and batted .300 in a season. He also averaged 22 points a game in college basketball and delayed his baseball career to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. On top of that, he was a Golden Gloves boxer. That went a long way to deter anyone from charging the mound when they were hit on purpose. Gibson was voted to 9 All Star games and hated every one of them. “I hated the All-Star Game,” Gibson said years after retirement. “I hated having to talk to guys that I spent the rest of the season trying to kick their butt. They were the enemy to me.”
He signed with the Cardinals in 1957 and was assigned to the Columbus, Ga minor league team. I’ll let you imagine what it was like for a young black pitcher experiencing the Jim Crow south for the first time. Not too pleasant. People wanted him to fail, hitters wanted him to fail, racists wanted him to fail, opposing fans wanted him to fail. He had to win, had to beat all of them, had to survive in any way possible. This made everyone that stood in his way the enemy. Bob remembered every at bat from every hitter and knew the hitters that had his number. It was a very small sample size. He would be sure to throw a fastball near the head area to take back the advantage over that player. If you were new to the league and had never faced Gibson before, he might introduce himself with a pitch to the ribs or the leg. The next time you got in the box, that memory would keep you from getting too close to the plate to gain that advantage against the pitcher. This might give you the idea that Gibson was a dirty player and the only reason he was good was that everyone was intimidated when they faced him. It was a different time, and many pitchers used these techniques. Bob was just better at it than anyone else in that era. You still had to make the pitches and get guys out. Some people must win and will not accept anything else. Gibson played tic tac toe with his daughter hundreds of times. He never let her win.
One of Gibson’s greatest moments was in the 1968 World Series, where he struck out 17 batters in one game, breaking a long-standing record. No one else since has matched it. After the 17th strikeout, his catcher Tim McCarver didn’t throw the ball back. Gibson glared at him because he worked quickly and wanted to get to the next batter. McCarver then came to the mound, which made him even more upset. Gibson once told his catcher, who had come to the mound to offer advice on what to throw next, to “Get the bleep out of here, you’re a hitter, you don’t know anything about pitching”. McCarver told Gibson to turn around and look at the scoreboard, which read Congratulations on Breaking the World Series record for strikeouts in one game! Bob didn’t even hear the crowd cheering until that moment. Very tentatively, he quickly doffed his cap to the stands to acknowledge them and barked at McCarver to give him the ball so he could deal with the next enemy batter.
Gibson’s career came to an end in 1975 when his bad knees kept him from being the dominating hurler he once was. Not wanting to end his playing days being mediocre, he chose to retire. There were still some scores to settle though. Bob’s last batter that he pitched to was a little known player named Pete LaCock and he gave up a grand slam home run. Pete took a little longer glance at his handywork than Gibson liked before he rounded the bases. Ten years went by, and Gibson was invited to an old timers game at Wrigley Field. When it was his turn to pitch, guess who stepped up to the plate. That’s right, Pete LaCock. Gibson drilled him in the ribs on the first pitch. Dusty Baker, who was a great player and even better manager as a rookie asked Hank Aaron for advice on how to hit against Bob. Aaron replied in a very serious tone: Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson He’ll knock you down He’d knock down his own grandmother. Don’t stare at him, don’t smile at him, don’t talk to him. He doesn’t like it. If you happen to hit a home run don’t run too slow And don’t run too fast. If you want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you don’t charge the mound Because he’s a Golden Gloves boxer. Hope you have a wonderful month of April and if you get a chance, take a kid to a baseball game. You will both enjoy it. I’ll leave you with a quote from the great Tim McCarver “Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when the other team doesn’t score any runs.”