Monday, July 13, 2009

#130 -- Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson and Lou Brock were my first favorite players. As such I still have a soft spot in my heart for Gibby. In fact, I'm currently passing time on my treadmill (no, not as I write this, but during this time period) watching Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. Gibby doesn't really look as intimidating as I remember, but I don't see a lot of Tigers getting good swings, either.

Gibson went to college at Creighton in his native Omaha, playing basketball and baseball. I have no doubt that he would have been top of the line in football, volleyball, lacrosse or any other sport he chose to master. When he was a kid, no one would have imagined a career as an intimidating Hall of Fame pitcher, college basketball player and Harlem Globetrotter. Gibson was sickly. He had ricketts, asthma, pneumonia and a heart murmur. Still, he was as dominating in high school and college as he would be in the National League.

His Wikipedia page said he was one of the stars of the late 50's Globetrotters. I don't know how correct that is, but it says he could hammer down backhanded dunks. I do believe the line that says he left the Globies because he got tired of the clowning. Gibby is a competitor and there's no competition in beating the Washington Generals night after night while running tricks.

When initially called up, he butted heads with Cardinal manager Solly Hemus, but Gibson made the starting rotation and stayed there for the duration of his career. I was surprised to see that he only has 251 career victories. He had several years where he just didn't get the wins commensurate with his level of pitching. For example, he was having a good 1967 going into July 15 game against the Pirates. He was 10-6, 3.52 with 119 strikeouts in 138 innings. Roberto Clemente led off the 4th inning with a smash back to the box. It hit Gibson in the lower leg and Clemente got a single out of it. He then walked Willie Stargell, got Bill Mazeroski on a fly ball and walked Donn Clendenon before they figured out Clemente's liner had broken his freaking leg! I guess Gibby was human with a broken tibia. He came back in early September and went 3-1, 0.96 in 5 starts where he allowed 2 runs once. He then went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and a home run against the Red Sox in the Series. Wow.

However, his stretch from 1968 (actually you could have begun it after the July 15, 1967 game against the Pirates....he was 6-1, and an ERA under 1 in 8 starts) through 1970 is similar to what Sandy Koufax had done a few years earlier and what Greg Maddux did in the mid-90's. He was 65-29, 2.13 ERA and 811 strikeouts in 913 innings in 103 starts those 9 years. That means he averaged 8.86 innings per start in a 3 year period. He had 20 shutouts in those 103 starts and 79 complete games.

In 1968 he had a stretch where he completed 19 out of 20 games. The game he didn't complete, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 11th inning of a 13 inning loss. I know. You've got to be thinking, "What a wuss. Suck it up and give a little of yourself." I'd say Red Schoendienst had a lot of guts to pull him. In that stretch of 20 starts, he had 12 shutouts (5 in a row) and gave up 17 earned runs in 182 innings. His 1968 season was absolutely stupid and part of the reason now we have lowered mounds, juiced ballparks, juiced balls and juiced bats.

I'll put my respect and admiration for Gibson this way: The first National League game I ever got to see was Sunday, September 26 against the Expos. A fellow in my small town would take charter buses to St. Louis or Kansas City for a baseball game for about $15/head. My dad took me on a lot of those. This one was a big deal because it was my first Cardinal game and Bob Gibson was going to pitch. I was really hyped up. When we got to the Stadium, they announced the starting pitcher would be Darryl Patterson. Who? Dad, why isn't Bob Gibson pitching? Something about the Cardinals being out of the race. I was so PO'd about not getting to see Bob Gibson pitch that when I got home I found Darryl Patterson's 1971 card and promptly wadded it up. I'll have to look to see if I still have it and post a scan. I guess I had a little bit of Gibby's temperment as a 7 year old.
1972 Feature
July 13, 1972 was a Thursday and a light night on the schedule. In 6 games there were 4 shutouts. Gibson didn't pitch for the Cardinals, but Reggie Cleveland threw a 2-hitter at the Braves and won 2-0.
The Game of the Day was division leaders Pittsburgh (with Steve Blass coming in at 10-2) going against 12-2 Gary Nolan and the West division leading Reds. Cesar Geronimo got the Reds' first run with a 5th inning homer. Pittsburgh hadn't done much to that point, but they started getting with it. They loaded the bases, but Nolan struck out Richie Hebner to strand 3 in the 6th. Nolan then struck out Stargell and Hebner in the 8th to leave a couple on base. Bobby Tolan got a sacrifice fly in the 8th to give Nolan a little bit of breathing room. Clay Carroll pitched around a 9th inning single to close it out.