Bob Gibson may be the greatest pitcher of all-time, and the long-time St. Louis Cardinal will be remembered for more than just his talent on the mound.
Bob Gibson’s legacy will never fully be understood. His career will likely never be matched. His persona could never be recreated. Those that had the privilege of witnessing his greatness know that Gibson was quite possibly the best pitcher of all-time. Not only do the numbers back it up, but the moments do, too.
Gibson’s story is incapable of being summed up in this article. Nor can his impact on the game of baseball. He was a larger-than-life, create-a-player, cheat code that dominated at the game’s highest level.
His MLB record-shattering season in 1968, which includes a current MLB record-low season ERA of 1.12 was possibly the best season from any pitcher ever. He recorded an MLB-best 268 strikeouts and had an overall record of 22-9 on his way to winning the National League MVP. To put that into perspective, in 2014, Clayton Kershaw became the first NL pitcher to win the award since Gibson’s 1968 season. In fact, the MLB had the dimensions of the mound changed going into the 1969 season from 15 inches tall to 10 inches tall in what was called the “Gibson rules.”
That’s just the beginning. Gibson’s true legacy lives in the postseason. It first started in the 1964 World Series, when he threw 27 innings over the course of eight days. After losing Game 2 and throwing eight innings, Gibson came back on three days rest to deliver a 10-inning outing in which he allowed zero earned runs and racked up 13 strikeouts in a crucial Game 5 victory. He would then finish the series off on two days rest, pitching another complete game in a winner-take-all Game 7. To make it even more impressive, these outings came against Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and that New York Yankees offense. Gibson was the unanimous series’ Most Valuable Player.
His postseason success only grew in both 1967 and 1968. In ‘67, Gibson pitched three complete games, winning all of them while posting an ERA of 1.00 along with 26 punchouts, winning the World Series MVP once again. These feats make for arguably the best World Series performance ever considering Gibson was fresh off of a broken ankle that forced him to miss 52 games before he finally became healthy just in time for the Fall Classic.
In 1968, Gibson broke Sandy Koufax’s record for the most strikeouts in a postseason game. His 17 punchouts against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 and 35 total in the series are still World Series records. Not to mention, Gibson pitched two more complete games in the series, winning Game 4 10-1, but eventually losing in Game 7 4-1, falling just shy of what would’ve been his third World Series MVP.
When’s the last time you saw a pitcher throw 27 innings in a World Series not once, not twice but three times? And have eight straight complete games in the Fall Classic? Here’s a hint, it’s never been done before or since. And frankly will never happen again. Gibson’s two World Series MVPs are tied for the record with Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965), and Reggie Jackson (1973, 1977). Pretty decent company.
Gibson didn’t just pitch though, he did it all. He collected nine Gold Gloves in his career which is the third most for a pitcher in MLB history. Most attribute his defensive ability to his insane athletic prowess. He even played for the Harlem Globetrotters before his career in the MLB started in 1957. Gibson also is seventh among pitchers on the all-time home run list as he hit 24 in his career. He hit two home runs in the World Series, one in ‘67 and the other in ‘68, which is tied for the most among pitchers in the postseason and World Series.
On top of all the numbers that could suggest Gibson was the greatest pitcher of all-time, it was the way he did it that made it much more special.
He was an intimidator on the mound, a no-nonsense pitcher that threw hard and wasn’t afraid to back batters off the plate. The combination of his lethal fastball and disgusting slider was way ahead of his time. He earned the respect of every single batter he ever faced.
“Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron once said. “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.”
“I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson,” Gibson’s long-time catcher Tim McCarver said. “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.”
“Gibson was so mean,” Dick Allen said, “ [H]e’d knock you down and then meet you at home plate to see if you wanted to make something of it.”
“The only people I ever felt intimidated by in my whole life were Bob Gibson and my daddy,” current Houston Astros coach, Dusty Baker said.
“When it came to winning ‘the big game,’ there were few pitchers who compared with Bob Gibson,” Larry Schwartz of ESPN said. “As outstanding as the St. Louis Cardinals’ scowling right-hander was at other times, he was at his most ferocious when the spotlight shined brightest.”
All of these quotes come in reference to the way he carried himself on the mound. His persona was not to be messed with, his glare was second-to-none. One story that perfectly captures the competitive nature within Gibson was the story of Pete LaCock.
On Gibson’s final pitch of his big league career, LaCock hit a grand slam off of him. End of story, right? Fast forward a decade later and the two face off against each other in an old timer’s game. What does Gibson do? He plunks him. With the first pitch. And then yells, “I’ve been waiting YEARS to do that.” This is just one of the classic stories told by countless former big leaguers that played with him or against him.
Despite his image of the head-hunting pitcher on the mound, Gibson himself came from humble beginnings in Omaha, Nebraska. The youngest of seven siblings, Gibson had to work for everything he earned. Things were no different when Gibson was given the opportunity with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Before he became a staple of the organization, Gibson struggled in his first few seasons, citing the difficulties of being an African American pitcher. Facing racism from fans and opponents alike in a game that has more failure than most, Gibson felt like people wanted to see him fail. He became extra critical on himself, making each loss more tragic than the next. Every run allowed made his job security more scarce. And yet, Gibson tackled all the obstacles on his way to reaching postseason baseball immortality and becoming the first pitcher ever to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first possible ballot.
He was larger than life in so many ways, may he be remembered for the greatness he displayed on and off the field. From Gibson’s Hall of Fame speech, he describes what his legacy should be.
“I want to be remembered, as a person and competitor that gave 100% every time I went out on the field. Sometimes I wasn’t too good. But nobody can accuse me of cheating them out of what they paid to see.”
Not too often do we get the pleasure to experience a player or person like Bob Gibson. May he rest in glory, as one of the best players and personalities the game has ever had.