After briefly playing under contract to both the basketball Harlem Globetrotters team and the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Gibson decided to only continue playing baseball professionally. Once becoming a full-time starting pitcher in July 1961, Gibson began experiencing an increasing level of success, earning his first All-Star appearance in 1962. Gibson won two of three games he pitched in the 1964 World Series, then won 20 games in a season for the first time in 1965. Gibson also pitched three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series.
The pinnacle of Gibson’s career was 1968, when he posted a 1.12 ERA for the season and then followed that by recording 17 strikeouts during Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. Over the course of his career, Gibson became known for his fierce competitive nature and the intimidation factor he used against opposing batters. Gibson threw a no-hitter during the 1971 season, but began experiencing swelling in his knee in subsequent seasons. After retiring as a player in 1975, Gibson later served as pitching coach for his former teammate Joe Torre. At one time a special instructor coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, Gibson was later selected for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.
There was no digging in against Gibson, even the greats like Willie Mays knew it. See the following quotes from Jim Ray Hart and Dusty Baker.
“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn’t make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot…No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”
“(Hank Aaron told me) ‘Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down. He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. 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, don’t run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don’t charge the mound, because he’s a Gold Glove boxer.’ I’m like, ‘Damn, what about my 17-game hitting streak?’ That was the night it ended.”
The 1968 season became known as “The Year of the Pitcher”, and Gibson was at the forefront of pitching dominance. His earned run average was 1.12, a live-ball era record, as well as the major league record in 300 or more innings pitched. It was the lowest major league ERA since Dutch Leonard‘s 0.96 mark, 54 years earlier. Gibson threw 13 shutouts, three fewer than fellow Nebraskan Grover Alexander‘s 1916 major league record of 16. From June 2 to July 30, Gibson allowed only two earned runs in ninety-two innings pitched: a 0.20 ERA. Gibson pitched 47 consecutive scoreless innings during this stretch, at the time the third-longest scoreless streak in major league history. Gibson finished the season with 28 complete games out of 34 games started. Of the games he didn’t complete, he was pinch-hit for, meaning Gibson was not removed from the mound for another pitcher for the entire season.
Gibson won the National League MVP Award, the last MVP won by a National League pitcher to date. For the 1968 season, opposing batters only had a batting average of .184, an on-base percentage of .233, and a slugging percentage of .236. Gibson lost nine games against 22 wins, despite his record-setting low 1.12 ERA; the anemic batting throughout baseball included his own Cardinal team. The 1968 Cardinals had one .300 hitter, while the team-leading home run and RBI totals were just 16 and 79, respectively. Gibson lost five 1–0 games, one of which was to San Francisco Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry‘s no-hitter on September 17. The Giants’ run in that game came on a first-inning home run by light-hitting Ron Hunt—the second of two he would hit the entire season, and one of only 11 that Gibson allowed in 3042⁄3 innings.
In Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers to set a World Series record for strikeouts in one game, which still stands today (breaking Sandy Koufax‘s record of 15 in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series). After allowing a leadoff single to Mickey Stanley in the ninth inning, Gibson finished the game by striking out Tiger sluggers Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton in succession. Recalling the performance, Tiger’s outfielder Jim Northrup remarked: “We were fastball hitters, but he blew the ball right by us. And he had a nasty slider that was jumping all over the place.”
Gibson next pitched in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series, defeating the Tigers’ ace pitcher Denny McLain by a 10–1 score. The teams continued to battle each other, setting the stage for another winner-take-all Game 7 in St. Louis on October 10, 1968. In this game Gibson was matched against Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich, and the two proceeded to hold their opponents scoreless for the first six innings In the top of the seventh, Gibson retired the first two batters before allowing two consecutive singles.Detroit batter Jim Northrup then hit a two-run triple over the head of center fielder Curt Flood, leading to Detroit’s Series win.
The overall pitching statistics in MLB’s 1968 season, led by Gibson’s individual record setting performance, are often cited as one of the reasons for Major League Baseball’s decision to alter pitching related rules. Sometimes known as the “Gibson rules,” MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound by five inches in 1969 from 15 inches to 10 inches, and reduced the height of the strike zone from the batter’s armpits to the jersey letters.
Gibson was a fierce competitor who rarely smiled and was known to throw brushback pitches to establish dominance over the strike-zone and intimidate the batter, similar to his contemporary and fellow Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. Even so, Gibson had good control and hit only 102 batters in his career (fewer than Drysdale’s 154).
Gibson was surly and brusque even with his teammates. When his catcher Tim McCarver went to the mound for a conference, Gibson brushed him off, saying “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.”
Gibson maintained this image even into retirement. In 1992, an Old-Timers’ game was played at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego as part of the All-Star Game festivities, and Reggie Jackson hit a home run off Gibson. When the Old-Timers’ Day game was played in 1993, the 57-year-old Gibson threw the 47-year-old Jackson a brushback pitch. The pitch was not especially fast and did not hit Jackson, but the message was delivered and Jackson did not get a hit.
Gibson casually disregards his reputation for intimidation, though, saying that he made no concerted effort to seem intimidating. He joked in an interview with a St. Louis public radio station that the only reason he made faces while pitching was because he needed glasses and could not see the catcher’s signals.
Aside from the quote attributed to Dusty Baker, there is no information anywhere that suggests Bob Gibson was a boxer of any kind, let alone a “Gold Gloves” boxer.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes…Bob Gibson.
|April 15, 1959 for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 3, 1975 for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Earned run average||2.91|
|Career highlights and awards|