Bob Gibson may well be the most intimidating pitcher in baseball history.
Pack Robert Gibson was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on this date in 1935. The youngest of seven children, his father died of pneumonia three months before Gibson was born, and his mother supported her family by working in a laundry. Young Robert was a sickly child, suffering from hay fever, asthma, rickets and a heart murmur. He almost died of pneumonia before his tenth birthday. “Gibby” rose from the extreme poverty of the Logan-Fontenelle housing projects to become a standout athlete at Omaha Technical High School, where he competed in track, basketball and baseball. He attended Creighton University, where he played shortstop and outfield for the baseball team and guard for the Blue Jays’ basketball squad. After signing a modest contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957, he spent four months playing with the Harlem Globetrotters [Daily Dose, 4/25/16] between baseball seasons. The Cardinals moved Gibson to pitcher and he bounced around the minor leagues before earning a full-time spot on their major league roster in 1960.
In 1962, he won 15 games and earned his first All-Star appearance. The following year, he won 18 games. Gibson went 7-2 down the stretch of the 1964 season to help the Cards win the NL pennant. Facing the New York Yankees in the World Series, Gibson won Games 5 and 7 to help St. Louis earn their first world championship since 1946. After striking out 31 batters to set a new World Series record, the 29-year-old Gibson was named Series MVP. In July 1967, Roberto Clemente [Daily Dose, 8/15/16] hit a line drive off Gibson’s right leg. Ever the tough guy, Gibson faced three more batters before his leg snapped just above the ankle bone. Gibson missed eight weeks before returning to go 9-2 down the stretch and help earn the Cards a berth in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Gibson was brilliant in the Fall Classic, allowing only three earned runs while pitching three complete game victories, including a Game 7 shutout in which he also homered. The performance earned “Hoot” his second World Series MVP award in four seasons.
The 1968 season was the “Year of the Pitcher.” And in the year of the pitcher, Bob Gibson was the pitcher of the year. Gibby was dominant, going 22-9 with a miniscule 1.12 ERA–still the lowest earned run average of the Live Ball Era [post 1920]. He completed 28 of the 34 games he started. Of the six games he did not complete, Gibson was lifted for a pinch hitter, meaning he was not removed from the mound for another pitcher the entire season. He won 15 games in a row and tossed 13 shutouts. From June 2 through July 30, Gibson gave up two runs in 92 innings—one on a catchable wild pitch and the other on a bloop double that was fair by inches. In 304 innings of work, Gibson struck out 268 batters and walked only 62. He led St. Louis to the 1968 World Series where they faced the Detroit Tigers, whose slugging lineup had won 103 games. In Game One, Gibby struck out six of the first seven Tigers he faced and hurled a five-hit, 4-0, shutout. Twice he struck out the side—getting Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton to end the game—while fanning 17 to set a World Series record that still stands. In a season that saw Detroit’s Denny McClain [Daily Dose, 3/28/16] win 31 games and Don Drysdale throw 58 consecutive scoreless innings, Bob Gibson’ ’68 season was the greatest ever by a starting pitcher. He was the unanimous NL Cy Young Award winner and was also named NL MVP. Gibson was so dominant that, following the season, Major League Baseball lowered the mound from 15 inches to ten in order to improve offensive production.
In 1970, Gibson won 23 games, hit .330, and earned his second Cy Young Award [Daily Dose, 7/6/16]. The following year, he threw a no-hitter against the eventual World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. He won 19 games and made his final All-Star team in 1972 before injuries reduced his effectiveness in the final three years of his career. He retired following the 1975 season with a career ERA of 2.91.
Bob Gibson was ferocious. Cardinal’s hall of famer Stan Musial said, “Gibby is one of baseball’s greatest competitors.” In 17 big league seasons—all with St. Louis—he won 251 game [56 of them shutouts] and struck out a National League-record 3,117 batters. Gibby played in nine All-Star Games, won nine consecutive Gold Gloves and hit 24 career homers. The 6’1” right hander only featured two pitches—an overpowering fastball and knee-buckling slider that made hitters look foolish—and had pinpoint control. No pitcher in history was as menacing, had greater disdain for hitters, or owned the inside half of the plate as did Robert Gibson. He was king of the postseason: in nine World Series starts, Gibson won seven and completed eight. Twice he was named MVP of the Fall Classic. “Bob Gibson’s demeanor was as menacing and terrifying as any athlete I’ve ever run across in any sport,” said Tim McCarver, Gibson’s battery mate for ten years. He won 20 or more games in five seasons and twice won 19. Not only was Gibson dominant, but he worked fast. “Gibson pitches as though he’s double-parked,” noted Vin Scully [Daily Dose, 11/27/15]. In 1975, the Cardinals retired his number 45 and, in 1981, Bob Gibson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1999, the winningest pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team.