Gibson, Bob 1935–
Bob Gibson 1935–
Baseball player, coach
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup for nearly twenty years. He began his career as a pitcher in the Major Leagues when he first signed with the Cardinals in 1957. Gibson remained with the Cardinals until the mid-1970s, pitching in several World Series and winning MVP honors. After retiring from play, Gibson went on to coach for the Atlanta Braves, as well as the Cardinals.
Gibson was born on November 9, 1935 in Omaha, Nebraska. Gibson’s father died three months before he was born, leaving his mother to provide for a family of seven children by doing laundry. The Gibsons moved into the Logan Fontenelle projects in Omaha in 1942. The move was a big step up from rented houses where family had been living. Bob Gibson grew up in an integrated housing project. Though the family was poor, Gibson’s young life was filled with sports—baseball, football, and his favorite sport, basketball. In high school, he played baseball for his local YMCA team in the summer, but he was not able to play at Omaha Technical High School until his senior year. At Omaha Tech, whites played baseball, and blacks ran track.
As a senior on the baseball team, he made the varsity team as an outfielder and utility player. Though he hit .368 in baseball, he was really known as a basketball player. His coach even wrote to Indiana University about him, but the basketball program wrote back informing the All-State player that the team had filled their quota of blacks for the year (which was one). So Gibson turned to baseball. He rejected an offer from the famous Negro League Kansas City Monarchs because the Negro Leagues no longer interested him after Jackie Robinson broke into Major League Baseball in 1947. The St. Louis Cardinals had a minor league team in Omaha. The Cardinals offered him a contract, but Gibson’s big brother, Josh, who had coached and mentored him all his life, told him he must get an education. Gibson finally accepted a scholarship to play basketball from Creighton, a private Catholic university in Nebraska.
Gibson started on the varsity basketball team at Creighton for three years. After his senior season Gibson stood as the school’s all-time leading scorer, but he attracted very little attention at the professional level from the NBA. In the end he was able to parlay a great performance at a college All-Star game into a deal with the Harlem Globetrotters. In the spring of 1957 Gibson focused in on baseball, which had always been his
Born Robert Gibson on November 9, 1935, in Omaha, NE, son of Pack and Victoria Gibson; married Wendy Nelson (second wife); children: Annette, Renee (previous marriage), Chris (with Nelson).
Career: Baseball player, coach. Signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, 1957; made first major league appearance, 1959; pitcher for the Cardinals, 1959–1975; Atlanta Braves, assistant coach, 1982–84; broadcaster for ABC, ESPN, and the Cardinals radio program, 1985–94; Cardinals, assistant coach, 1995–97.
Awards: World Series MVP, 1964, 1967; National League MVP, 1968; National League Cy Young Award, 1968; National League All-Star, 1962, 1965–70, 1972; National League Gold Glove, 1965–73; elected to Major League Baseball Hail of Fame on first ballot, 1981.
Addresses: c/o The St. Louis Cardinals, 250 Stadium Plaza, St Louis, MO 63102.
second sport. While in college he still played in the outfield, but he did possess a 95-mile-an–hour fastball. Again, Gibson received little interest from professional teams, but he was good enough to sign with the Cardinals for a $1,000 bonus.
When Gibson showed up to practice for the first day, Omaha Cardinal manager Johnny Keane told him to throw some batting practice. Right then and there Keane decided Gibson was a pitcher. He could throw hard, but had little control so he was sent to Columbus, Georgia—a team playing in a league integrated only four years before by Hank Aaron. Gibson finished the season with a 4-3 record and then immediately reported to the Harlem Globetrotters, where Gibson became roommates with Meadowlark Lemon. After one winter with the Globetrotters, the Cardinals offered him money not to play basketball and he quit for good to become a big league pitcher.
In 1958 Gibson made his way from a minor league training center, back to Omaha, and, by the end of the season, to the Cardinals’ Triple A team in Rochester, New York, where he finished with a 5–5 record and the hardest fastball in the league. Gibson made the big league club in 1959 but split his time between St. Louis and Omaha. It took Gibson until the middle of the 1961 season, when the Cardinals brought in Johnny Keane to manage the club, to get into the starting rotation for good.
The appointment of Keane was key to Gibson’s career at that point. Instead of being constantly criticized, Keane built up the young pitcher comparing him favorably in the press with Los Angeles Dodger great Sandy Koufax. Gibson told William Ladson of The Sporting News about the effect Keane had on his career: “He saw something. I don’t know what it was. But I was a pretty good athlete… I was a good ballplayer until I got into pro ball and then I couldn’t pitch anymore … I just knew that Johnny Keane had confidence in me.” By the middle of the next season, Gibson had made the All-Star team. But late in the year with Gibson at 15–13 and a 2.85 earned run average (ERA) he fractured his ankle and was finished for the rest of the 1962 season.
Though he started slowly, recuperating from the injury, Gibson and the Cardinals were a much-improved team in 1963. In the following campaign, the team and its ace would get better. In 1964 the Cardinals won the National League pennant with Gibson coming out of the bullpen for the last game of the year. He brought his 19 victories to the World Series against the Yankees. Three days after winning the season-ender, Gibson lost the second game of the series to the Yankees 8–3. Gibson started the fifth game at Yankee Stadium with the series tied 2–2. Gibson cruised through the powerful line up to take a 2–0 lead into the ninth. With a man on first the next Yankee batter Joe Pepitone connected with a shot that hit Gibson square in the backside and bounced toward third base. Instead of going down, Gibson pounced on the ball and somehow managed to throw the runner out. It turned out to be a game-saving play as the next batter tied the game with a home run. Gibson and the Cardinals were able to hang on to the victory in the tenth.
But Gibson was not done yet. Gibson had pitched four games in ten days and then was sent out to the hill to determine the series in Game seven. After six innings Gibson had a 6–0 lead. In the seventh Mickey Mantle hit a three-run home run, but Cardinal manager Keane left his starter in. In the ninth Keane told Gibson to just throw as hard as he could. Though the Yankees hit two home runs to make the score 7–5, Gibson got the last outs and secured the Cardinals first World Championship in 18 years. Gibson won two games and set a World Series record for strikeouts with 31. He was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) by Sport Magazine. Gibson told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about pitching during the World Series: “People will ask, ‘Were you tired?’ You don’t get tired till after the Series is over. The World Series is once in a lifetime. If you don’t want it, go home.”
The next two seasons the Cardinals stumbled but Gibson won 20 and 21 games respectively. The 1967 season was a different matter. By the all-star break Gibson had won 10 games and the Cardinals were three and a half games ahead of their closest opponents. In his next start against Pittsburgh, Pirate great Roberto Clemente lined a shot right off Gibson’s shin. The mark left a baseball imprint in his tibia, but Gibson would not come out of the game. Two batters later, Gibson came down on the leg and the bone snapped between the knee and the ankle. Gibson, whose leg had been fractured after the initial contact, would be out for eight weeks.
He came back to finish the season and lead the Cardinals into the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Gibson won the first game, the fourth game, and then it was his turn again to take the mound for the seventh game. Gibson rose to the occasion again pitching a three-hitter and adding a home run of his own to win the game 7–2. Gibson went on to win his second World Series MVP on the strength of his three-win and 27-strikeout performance. Gibson tied a World Series record set in 1905 for fewest hits allowed in three series starts with 14. Gibson was even invited to Washington D.C. for a state dinner with the Japanese president where he met President Lyndon Johnson.
Gibson’s 1968 season, considered by many in baseball to be the greatest single season by a pitcher in the history of the game, started slowly. After his first three starts he was winless and then won only three of his first ten appearances. After a third of the season was over, Gibson’s record stood at 3–5, but his ERA was a sparkling 1.32. He even lost a one-hitter early in the season. Gibson and the Cardinals got on a roll in June. He pitched five straight shutouts and 47 consecutive scoreless innings. By the mid point in the season, Gibson’s ERA was an otherworldly 1.06. By the end of July Gibson’s ERA was even lower at 0.96 and he had not been taken out of the game for three months.
At the end of the 1968 season, Gibson’s statistics were staggering. Gibson finished the year at 22–9, with 300 innings pitched, 13 shutouts, and an ERA of 1.12. And all for a club that averaged 2.8 runs a game on the nights he pitched. Gibson talked about his lack of run support with Edes Gordon of Baseball Digest: “In ’68, I had 13 shutouts and lost five 1–0 games. That’s 18 games in which I gave up one run of less. I lost nine games with and ERA of one. How do you do that? It drove me crazy. And people wonder why I was always grumpy—when I’d get one run, win or lose.” Gibson won the league MVP and the Cardinals again won the National League pennant to face the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series.
True to form, Gibson started and won the first game of the series setting a World Series record by striking out 16 batters. With the Cardinals up two games to one Gibson won his seventh straight World Series game—a record that still stands—and led the Cardinals to a three game to one advantage. But St. Louis lost the next two games, and as was the custom for the Cardinals, they would let Gibson win the seventh. Through six innings the score was tied at zero. Gibson had retired 20 of 21 batters and broken Sandy Koufax’s record of 31 strikeouts in a World Series. But it was not to be Gibson’s day. The Tigers scored four runs in the seventh and went on to win the World Series, spoiling Gibson’s near-perfect season. After Gibson and other pitchers of 1968 dominated the game so totally, baseball decided to make several rule changes. The pitchers mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches and the strike zone was shrunk. The umpires also cracked down on the inside pitch, one of Gibson’s most feared weapons.
The 1969 season brought more of the same excellence from Gibson, though his team stumbled to fourth place in a six-team division. Gibson won his 20th game on the last day of the season against 14 losses. He pitched a career high 314 innings and despite the rule changes racked up an ERA of 2.18. The consequence of the season’s failing was that the Cardinals were broken up. In 1970 the club was not the same despite Gibson’s 23 wins and a second Cy Young Award. He also won his sixth straight Gold Glove award and hit .303 to become the last pitcher in Major League Baseball to hit .300 and win 20 games in a season.
In 1971 Gibson struggled with a pulled thigh muscle through the first half of the season but won 10 of his last 13 decisions to finish the year at 16-13 including a no-hitter against Pittsburgh on August 14. The 1972 season brought more milestones for Gibson including the Cardinals record for most career victories (211). At the age of 36 Gibson finished the year 19-11 with a 2.46 ERA. He also hit five home runs—only Ted Simmons and Joe Torre hit more for the Cardinals that season.
As Gibson grew older his life on and off the field was becoming more complicated. He and his wife, Char-line, were on their way to a divorce and very few of his old Cardinals teammates were left from the days when they won three National League pennants. Gibson helped found the Community Bank of Nebraska with the help of financier Warren Buffett and was principal investor in an Omaha radio station.
Gibson missed much of the middle of the 1973 season after tearing cartilage in his knee. He finished 1973 with a record of 12–10 and a realization that at the age of 38 wondering if his body could take much more of the pounding. Every time he pitched in 1974 he was forced to undergo the draining of his knee. His elbow sometimes swelled up so that he could not straighten his arm. Still he battled his way to an 11-13 record, but after losing the last game of the season, he announced that 1975 would be the last year of his glorious career.
Though he had high hopes for his final season, Gibson was now raising his two daughters, Annette and Renee, alone. The physical and mental stress of being a professional athlete and a full-time parent caused both facets of his life to suffer. In baseball, he was demoted to the bullpen, but at home he hired Wendy Nelson, who Gibson later married, to look after his girls while he was gone. Gibson got his first victory coming out of the bullpen on July 28. Win number 251 would be the final victory of his career because he was used very little for the rest of the season.
Gibson received a motor home from the Cardinals on Bob Gibson Day and went traveling after his retirement. He also opened a restaurant, but still looked to get back into baseball. In 1981 he became the New York Mets “attitude coach” under his former teammate Joe Torre. Before joining the Mets, Gibson became a father again, this time to a son, Chris. Also in 1981 Gibson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Torre and all the coaches were fired after the 1981 season, but Gibson thought 1982 would be better. He was lead to believe that he would be managing the Cardinals minor-league club, but senior Cardinals management vetoed the idea. In the end, Gibson went back to work for Torre, this time as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Braves. Gibson and Torre stayed in Atlanta until after the 1984 season when all the coaches were fired.
After coaching Gibson began broadcasting on the radio, first on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball and then mainly with the Cardinals. Gibson still wanted a job in baseball, and after Joe Torre was named manager of the Cardinals, Gibson came home in 1995. Before introducing his new assistant coach to the media, Torre told Bob Klapisch of The Sporting News about his long time friend: “Just say he’s proud, he’s opinionated, sometimes he doesn’t have a lot of tact. But above all, Bob Gibson loves baseball.”
Gibson, Bob and Lonnie Wheeler, Stranger to the Game: The Autobiography of Bob Gibson Viking Penguin, 1994.
Baseball Digest, September 2000.
The Sporting News, February 27, 1995; August 3, 1998.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 2, 2001.
—Michael J. Watkins
Singer, guitarist, arranger
Bob Gibson was one of the original troubadours of the American folk music revival of the 1950s. His creative, sensitive style was inspired by classic country folk music; Pete Seeger was one of his heroes. Gibson re-invented the old standard folk songs, revitalized them, and developed his own arrangements. He is credited with kindling a resurgence in that genre of music among his own generation, as well as for generations after. Gibson is especially remembered for his collections of folk songs from the Ohio Valley and from the North Atlantic. He also popularized the 12-string guitar among the new folk singers of the 1960s. Gibson successfully combined his warm and generous nature with a freewheeling image, endearing himself as one of America’s best loved folk artists.
Robert “Bob” Gibson was born on November 16, 1931, in New York City. He always liked to sing and was inspired by his family, all of whom loved music; his father at one time sang professionally. Gibson grew up in New York and, as an adolescent, was drawn to the music at the small clubs and coffee houses. He collected records and memorized the words to his favorite songs. Eventually, he learned to play both guitar and banjo and went on to perform at local functions on an amateur basis. In time, Gibson realized that music was his calling. He traveled the northeast in search of both songs and an audience. He sang at concerts and in clubs, learning new songs and accumulating material for his performances. He developed his own trademark sound on the 12-string guitar, and he frailed and picked his banjo. Before long, Gibson, with crewcut hair and clean cut appearance, developed a following of fans. Initially, he made a name for himself in Cleveland and in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio. From Ohio he traveled to Chicago.
Sometime in the mid-1950s Gibson arrived in Chicago. Eventually, he connected with Albert Grossman, owner of a brand new nightclub, the Gate of Horn, which was struggling to survive. Gibson brought his fresh new face and folk styles to the club. Soon, the Gate of Horn was a showcase for Gibson and his songs, and his reputation spread nationwide. Television appearances, a rarity for many stars in the 1950s, were bread and butter for Gibson. He was a regular guest on television’s “Arthur Godfrey Time,” and he appeared on the “Hootenanny” show among others over the years. So wide was his appeal that he performed even at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. His performances were at times whimsical, and many of his songs were truly flippant. His Ski Songs album, released by Elektra Records in 1959, was a collection of novelty songs, typical of his wit.
Gibson’s contemporaries admit to their admiration for him. Some confided that they emulated Gibson’s style before they acquired one of their own. Folk singer Gordon Lightfoot and guitarist Tom Paxton were both influenced by the unique Gibson style. Tom Paxton marveled at Gibson’s special style in Artists of American Folk Music when he commented “[Gibson] actually did his rhythm work with his fingers, something like a frailing banjo player.” Roger McGuinn, founder of the 1960s folk-rock quartet the Byrds, revered Gibson as both a friend and mentor. Gibson indeed was a generous and patient advisor who thought nothing of sharing his own spotlight in order to help launch the career of a talented but unknown performer. Among others, he sang frequently with Bob Camp (later Hamilton Camp), and the two recorded an album together, all of which helped to promote Camp’s career. Gibson is widely credited with introducing singer Judy Collins to the American public as well.
Of all of the young singers to whom Gibson gave a helping hand, he is widely remembered for launching the career of folk singer Joan Baez in 1959, at the first Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. Gibson first met Baez, a virtually unknown teen-ager, in the spring of 1959 when Grossman engaged her to perform at his club for two weeks. By the time Baez arrived on the scene,
For the Record …
Born Robert Gibson, November 16, 1931, in New York, NY; died of supranuclear palsy, September 27, 1996, in Portland, OR; married twice; divorced twice; survived by four daughters: Susan Hartnett, Meridian Green, Pati Muench, Sarah Gibson; one son: Stephen Camp; four grandchildren.
Traveled the North Atlantic Seaboard and the Ohio Valley, collecting folk songs and developing his own arrangements; performed regularly at the Gate of Horn Club in Chicago, IL, and on television shows, including the “Arthur Godfrey Show” and “Hootenanny,” during the 1950s and early 1960s; appeared at First Newport Folk Festival, 1959, and began recording his music on various labels, such as Elektra (beginning in 1959), Riverside, Stinson, and Tradition; resurfaced briefly in 1969 as a performer on the club circuit; recorded The Courtship of Carl Sandburg (a musical play) 1984; released children’s albums until 1995.
Gibson himself was well tenured at “the Horn.” Baez at that time had recorded one album, albeit obscure, and was known chiefly to frequenters of the college coffee house crowds around Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. A friendship gelled between Gibson and Baez, who in her 1987 memoir And a Voice to Sing With reminisced fondly and described Gibson: “I got a crush on Bob, of course, and was terrified of him because he was at home in a den of sin called a nightclub, was marvelously sarcastic and funny, drank too much, sang both serious and silly songs, and cracked jokes in between them.” After becoming acquainted with Baez, Gibson invited her to accompany him to Newport that summer for the first Newport Folk Festival. Gibson was already scheduled to appear, although Baez was not on the program. On July 11 at the festival, Gibson took the stage and sang a song. Then he introduced Baez and ushered her onto the platform to join him. The two sang a pair of gospel tunes together: “Virgin Mary Had One Son,” and “We Are Crossing Jordan River.” The Gibson and Baez duet left the audience elated; both artists received excellent reviews. Vanguard Records released a live recording of the event on the Newport Folk Festival Recording, 1959, Volume 2, and the landmark performance of “Virgin Mary Had One Son” was re-released in a subsequent Vanguard collection, Greatest Folksingers of the Sixties. Curiously, the same historic performance at Newport that thrust Joan Baez into the public eye also marked the beginning of a slow denouement in the career of Bob Gibson. Gibson persistently suffered from health problems associated with exhaustion he also experienced intermittent loss of his voice. Except for one album, Where I’m Bound, released in 1964, the mild natured Gibson faded from public view for a decade. It was rumored that Gibson suffered from drug addiction during those years.
Gibson reappeared later in the 1970s with a fresh new collection of songs and styles. During those later years, Gibson performed on tour with his friends Tom Paxton and Odetta. In 1984, he wrote and released a musical, The Courtship of Carl Sandburg. The play was produced in Evanston, Illinois.
Gibson, with his smooth voice and kind heart, was especially fond of younger audiences. In 1988, he recorded and released A Child’s Happy Birthday for preschool children, described by All Music Guide as “A gentle record for younger kids.” He later collaborated in writing songs with children’s author Shel Silverstein. Gibson’s final album, released two years before his death in 1995, was Makin’a Mess: Bob Gibson Sings Shel Siverstein.
Gibson was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy in 1994. After 35 years in the Chicago area, he lived out the final years of his life in Portland, Oregon, with one of his daughters. Late in 1996, Gibson returned briefly to Chicago, and on September 20, 1996, in his characteristic wry and friendly manner, he hosted a spirited party, a reunion for his many friends and associates. Gibson’s friends affectionately remember the reunion as the “farewell party” that took place one week before his death. Most agree that the party was Gibson’s clever means of attending his own wake. After the party, he returned to Portland where he died on September 27, 1996.
Throughout his life, Bob Gibson shunned the commercialism of show business; he was a “singer’s singer,” who counted other singers and performers among his most loyal fans. He loved his music, and he loved his songs. Gibson’s unpretentious musical career predated the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Gibson’s musical arrangements were recorded by folk artists everywhere, from Odetta to John Denver to the Serendipity Singers. Upon his death, Gibson was remembered by his friend and admirer Roger McGuinn in the song, “Sweet Bobby from Chi.”
“I’m Never to Marry,” 1956.
Folksongs of Ohio, Stinson, 1956.
Offbeat Folk Songs, Riverside Records, 1956.
I Come for to Sing, Riverside Records, 1957.
Carnegie Concert, 1957.
Ski Songs, Elektra Records, 1959.
(with Joan Baez and others at Newport) Folk Festival at Newport, Volume 2, Vanguard, 1960.
Yes I See, Elektra, 1961.
Bob Gibson and Bob Camp at the Gate of Horn, Elektra, 1961.
Where I’m Bound, Elektra, 1964.
Greatest Folksingers of the Sixties, Vanguard, 1972.
Funky in the Country, 1974.
(with Bob Camp) Homemade Music, Moon Rail, 1978.
Perfect High, Mountain Railroad, 1980.
Uptown Saturday Night, Hogeye, 1984.
Courtship of Carl Sandburg, 1984.
A Child’s Happy Birthday, Big Records, 1988.
Makin’a Mess: Bob Gibson Sings Shel Silverstein, Asylum, January 24, 1995.
Series Vol. 1, Riverside Records, (originally recorded 1957-58) December 3, 1996.
Joy Joy! The Young and Wonderful Bob Gibson: The Riverside Folklore The Perfect High, (re-release) Drive Archive, May 19, 1998.
Baez, Joan, And a Voice to Sing With, Summit Books, 1987.
Baggelaar, Kristin and Donald Milton, Folk Music: More than a Song, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976.
Erlewine, Michael, ed., All Music Guide, Miller Freeman Inc., 1992.
Fuss, Charles J., Joan Baez: a Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Hood, Phil, ed., Artists of American Folk Music, GPI Publications, 1986.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, vol. 2, Guinness Publishing, 1992.
Okun, Milton, Something to Sing About! Macmillan Company, 1968.
Stambler, Irwin and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music, St. Martin’s Press, 1969.
New York Times, July 19, 1959, p. II-7.
Dresser, Michael and Benjamin H. Cohen, “Bob Gibson Discography,” Version 4, <http://users.aol.com/McGuinn742/Gibson.html/> 1997.
One of the fiercest competitors of any era in baseball, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson (born 1935) dominated the National League in the 1960s and early 1970s. The hard-throwing Hall of Fame right-hander was at his best when the pressure was most intense, winning seven of his nine World Series starts, eight of them complete games. Gibson was the first pitcher in almost 50 years to finish his career with more than 3,000 strikeouts.
Batters feared to step up to the plate against the scowling, intimidating Bob Gibson. Like the pitchers of an earlier era, he wasn't afraid to throw inside, sometimes knocking down hitters. Gibson's will to win was unquenchable. He led the Cardinals to three league championships and two World Series titles. His pitching performance in 1968 is among the very best in baseball history.
Beat the Odds
Bob Gibson was born and raised in poverty during the years of the Great Depression and World War II. He was the youngest of seven children, and he never knew his father, who died of tuberculosis before he was born. His mother, Victoria, supported her large family by working in a laundry. They lived in an inner-city slum in Omaha, Nebraska.
As a child, Gibson's own health was problematic. He suffered from asthma and hay fever. He had a heart murmur. While very young, he contracted rickets and almost died of pneumonia. Yet he overcame his maladies to become a star athlete at Omaha Technical High School, excelling in track and basketball as well as baseball, where he was primarily a catcher.
Gibson applied to the University of Indiana, but that school turned him down because in those days it had a quota on black athletes. Instead, he went to Creighton University in Omaha on a basketball scholarship. At Creighton, he also played baseball, starring as a shortstop and outfielder.
In 1957, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Gibson a small bonus and signed him to a professional baseball contract. They decided he was best suited to be a pitcher. Yet Gibson was still undecided about which sport to pursue, and he played one season of basketball with the barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters before casting his lot with baseball.
Gibson spent parts of three seasons in the minor leagues, refining his pitching skills, before earning a spot on the Cardinals roster in 1959. He was unimpressive in his first two seasons, winning six games and losing 11, and was twice sent down to the minors. Thirteen consecutive winning seasons in the major leagues would follow.
Pitched with Heart
Gibson threw the ball hard, but he had trouble throwing it over the plate with any consistency at the beginning of his career. His walk totals were unacceptably high: 69 free passes in 87 innings in 1960, and a league-high 119 in 211 innings in 1961, his first year as a regular member of the Cardinals' starting rotation. But even while he struggled with his control, his opponents were struggling to get hits off him, and his strikeout totals kept rising. In 1962, when he won 15 games, Gibson struck out 208 batters and allowed only 174 hits in 234 innings. He would strike out more than 200 batters in eight of the next ten seasons.
When he perfected a devastating slider to go with his intimidating fastball, Gibson became a complete pitcher. In 1964, Gibson pitched 287 innings and won 19 games, despite battling arthritis in the elbow of his throwing arm most of the season. St. Louis won the National League pennant, thanks largely to Gibson's great stretch run: he won 9 of his final 11 decisions. The Cardinals edged out two other teams as Gibson won the deciding game on the last day of the season with a gutsy performance in relief.
In the second game of the World Series, Gibson pitched eight strong innings but was pulled for a pinch-hitter with his team trailing, 4-3. Never again would he be removed from a World Series game. The series was tied at two games apiece when Gibson took the mound for Game Five. He dominated for ten innings, striking out 13 and allowing only two runs, and the Cardinals won. Three days later, a weary Gibson gutted out nine more innings in the decisive Game Seven. He allowed three home runs, but the Cardinals hung on for a 7-5 victory and a world championship.
The next season was the first of five in which Gibson would win at least 20 games. He was also establishing his reputation as an intimidator. He believed that the inside part of the plate belonged to him, and batters who would dare to lean in close could expect a fastball up and in.
"Actually, I didn't drill many guys," Gibson told the Sporting News long after his career ended. "You thought you might get it." The inside pitch was a key part of Gibson's psychological arsenal. "People don't really understand about pitching inside," he explained. "They think when you throw inside, you are trying to intimidate somebody, you are trying to knock them down, you are trying to hit them. It's none of the above. You pitch inside to make them think inside."
Gibson said that when he did hit a batter, often it was a mistake. But he wouldn't acknowledge it was unintentional. "I wasn't throwing at them and they didn't know it, because they expected me to throw at somebody," he recalled. "So I never apologized. That's the worst thing in the world to do. You just stand out there like you did it on purpose."
His catcher, Tim McCarver, knew how tough Gibson could be. Often, when McCarver went to the mound to settle him down, Gibson would scowl and wave him away. "The only thing you know about pitching is how hard it is to hit," Gibson once told McCarver as he approached the mound.
Gibson's athleticism helped him be an all-around contributor to his team. He was one of the smoothest-fielding pitchers of any era, jumping on bunts and grounders like a cat. He was awarded the league's Gold Glove as the best fielder at his position for nine consecutive years, from 1965 through 1973. He also was a formidable hitter, batting a respectable .206 for his career and clouting 24 home runs.
Big Game Pitcher
In 1967, Gibson's leg was fractured by Roberto Clemente's hard line drive. He was out eight weeks, but returned in time to pitch the Cardinals to another league championship, winning the pennant-clinching game against Philadelphia. Back in the World Series, he dominated the Boston Red Sox in his three starts, allowing only three runs, 14 hits and five walks while striking out 26 in 27 innings. He won the opener, 2-1, shut out Boston in Game Four, and was again the winning pitcher in the decisive seventh game. For the second time, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series.
No longer was control a problem for Gibson. In his peak years, he struck out three or four times as many batters as he walked. Recognized as the most dominant pitcher in the game, Gibson in 1968 became almost impossible to score runs against. That season was widely regarded as "the year of the pitcher," with defensive play dominating so much that baseball officials responded after the season by lowering the height of the pitching mound. But even though batting averages were depressed throughout major league baseball, Gibson's performance still was astounding. He completed 28 of his 34 starts, hurled 305 innings, gave up only 198 hits and 62 walks, and struck out a league-high 268 batters. He led the league with 13 shutouts and compiled a microscopic 1.12 earned run average, meaning that opponents averaged barely one run a game against him. He won 22 games and lost nine, but the losses were due mainly to poor run support from the light-hitting Cardinals.
Many baseball experts consider Gibson's 1968 season as the greatest pitching achievement since the pre-1920 "dead ball" era. His 1.12 ERA was the fourth-best all-time and by far the lowest since the 1910s. During one stretch of the season, he gave up only two runs over 95 consecutive innings. "That season was different because of my control," Gibson later told the Sporting News . "I really didn't have to think about where I wanted to throw the ball … all I had to do was throw it and it got there."
In the World Series, the Cardinals were heavily favored to beat the Detroit Tigers. The Opening Game pitted Gibson against Denny McLain, who had won 31 games for Detroit, the most by any pitcher after 1934. Gibson set a new World Series record by striking out 17 Tigers, shutting out Detroit on six hits. In Game Four, Gibson again easily beat McLain and even added a home run in the Cards' 10-1 rout.
Gibson now had won seven consecutive World Series games, finishing all of them, and for the third time he took the mound for a decisive Game Seven. This time he faced Mickey Lolich, who also had two complete-game victories in the series. The two battled in a tense scoreless pitching duel through six innings. Then, in the seventh inning, the usually reliable Curt Flood misread a line drive by Jim Northrup and fell down while trying to reverse course. The drive went over his head for a triple and the Tigers won the game, 4-1. Gibson had struck out a record 35 batters in the series, but the Cardinals lost despite his heroic efforts.
It was the last World Series for Gibson, but he continued to be a major star and a big-game pitcher. He won a second Cy Young Award in 1970 when he won 23 games, lost only seven, and struck out 274 batters. The next season, he pitched a no-hitter against Pittsburgh. Battling arthritis and injuries into his late 30s, he continued to be a workhorse on the mound. Finally, his pain-racked body gave way, and in 1975, at age 40, he fell to a 3-10 record and was forced to retire. He finished his career with 56 shutouts. Walter Johnson was the only player of the time able to surpass his 3,117 strikeouts. Gibson was inducted into base-ball's Hall of Fame in 1981.
A Winning Reputation
After his playing career ended, Gibson served as a coach with the New York Mets in 1981 and with the Atlanta Braves from 1982 to 1984. He also spent several seasons as a television broadcaster. For awhile he served as a special advisor to American League President Gene Budig. In 1995 he returned to the Cardinals as a bullpen coach and, starting in 1996, became a special instructor for St. Louis during spring training. He became very active in raising money for charities, and continued to be outspoken about racial barriers in baseball that he claimed kept qualified African Americans like himself from advancing in management ranks.
Gibson even complained that his reputation as a "headhunter"—a pitcher who throws bean balls—was the byproduct of racial prejudice. "I resent the fact that the only thing I get credit for is being a headhunter," he told the Sporting News in 1998. "I suspect [it was] because I was one of the first black pitchers that was relatively successful. I pitched just like everybody else, but when I did it, it was three times worse."
Gibson is best remembered as a competitor who used his heart and brains and guts to win. "We were taught from the time we were kids to kill, to take no prisoners—as far as winning," he said in the same interview. "And that doesn't change. We get a little bit older, but you go out to win at all costs."
Gibson, Bob, and Lonnie Wheeler, Stranger to the Game: The Autobiography of Bob Gibson, Viking, 1994.
Sporting News, August 3, 1998.
"Bob Gibson," Encylopedia Brittanicahttp://www.blackhistory.eb.com/micro/233/94/html.
"Bob Gibson," Total Baseball,http://totalbaseball.com/player/g/gibsb101/gibsb101.html. □