This is becoming a bittersweet year for St. Louis Cardinals fans. They made the National League playoffs in this abbreviated season, but they also had to say good-bye to two Cardinals legends. A few weeks ago, Lou Brock died. This past Friday, Oct. 2, one of Brock’s teammates from those great Cardinals teams of the 1960s also left us: pitcher Bob Gibson died at age 84.
Gibson’s stats alone are incredible. He was 251-174 lifetime, with an ERA of 2.91 and 3,117 strikeouts. He was a 20-game winner five times. On two other occasions, he won 19 games. He won two Cy Young Awards and was the 1968 National League Most Valuable Player. He was an All-Star nine times, and he won nine Gold Gloves for fielding excellence. He was elected to the Hall of Fame.
However, there was a lot more to Gibson. He has been described as a fierce competitor, but that may be understating the case. He had a glare that could terrify a great white shark. He let you know he was there to beat you, and he didn’t care how he did it.
Gibson once said he rarely threw at batters, but, when he did, he hit them.
One thing to note about Gibson is he was a “money player.” If there was anything on the line in a game, like a championship, he was the guy you wanted on the mound. In the three World Series he played in, 1964, ’67 and ’68, he won seven consecutive games. He won three games in the 1967 series against the Boston Red Sox, beating Boston ace Jim Lonborg in the seventh game.
Perhaps Gibson’s best season was 1968. He went 22-9, but his ERA was an astonishing 1.12. He had 13 shutouts and struck out 268.
This was the same year Denny McLain went 31-6 for the Detroit Tigers, and the Cardinals faced the Tigers in the World Series. The opener saw Gibson against McLain, and it was billed as the “Pitchers’ Battle of the Century.” It was no contest. McLain was gone early, while Gibson struck out a World Series record 17 Tigers.
Gibson won the fourth game, and he was called on to pitch the seventh game. He was facing Detroit lefthander Mickey Lolich, who had also won two games. This turned out to be the pitchers battle that was supposed to take place between McLain and Gibson. Gibson was on the verge of winning three games in two consecutive World Series.
It turned out not to be. With two runners on base in the seventh inning, Detroit’s Jim Northrup smacked a fly ball that got past the Cards’ Curt Flood after he appeared to lose his footing. Northrup got a triple, and the Tigers took the lead. They would win 4-1, and it would be Lolich who would win three games.
When asked if he blamed Flood for the loss, Gibson was gracious. He said Flood was the best centerfielder in the National League, so how could he blame him for the loss.
Gibson and Lolich winning three games in the Series was the last time that happened until 2001, when Randy Johnson did it for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gibson and Lolich did it the hard way: they pitched complete games.
Gibson’s fire didn’t go out after he retired. Some years ago, there were questions about whether a pitcher should pitch in the World Series on three days’ rest. Gibson had a typical response for him:
“If you can’t pitch on three days’ rest in the World Series, go home!” he said. “You’ll have plenty of time to rest in November, December and January.”
Gibson’s skills and fire made him a legend in St. Louis. He will be missed. Hey, Bob! Say hello to Lou Brock and Stan Musial for me.