Friday, March 16, 2012

#350 - Bob Gibson

This is NOT Bob Gibson's last card. They would come in '75. But it is his last card memorializing a good year although it wasn't all smooth running. When the Cards were having a tough time early in '73, so was Gibby, starting off at 2-5 but with a healthy 3.34 ERA. He then went 4-1, pulled his ERA below 3.00 and was looking to get a win total to match '72's when he went down in late July with a knee injury. He missed about ten starts, effectively killing St. Louis' chance for a division title, but returned in late September to win his final game. Here he looks warm before a sparse crowd at Candlestick. Bob had absolutely zero problem throwing at hitters and I am pretty sure that being on the receiving end of that stare could be an intimidating place to be. Even in '73.

Bob Gibson was raised in housing projects in Omaha, Nebraska. His dad passed away before he was born and he had an older bother Josh - not the Negro League catcher - help look after him. He was a small kid most of his time in high school but ended up being a superior baseball and basketball player. The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues attempted to sign him but his brother pushed him into college and Bob won a hoops scholarship to nearby Creighton University and was the school's first black player in both sports. When he graduated in '57 he signed with both the Cardinals and the Harlem Globetrotters. When the Cards scouted him in Omaha every other MLB scout was there for the CWS to see a kid from USC named Ron Fairly. The two would be teammates in Bob's last season. That summer he threw so much heat in A ball that he was bumped all the way up to Triple A - Omaha of course - where his manager was Johnny Keane. He was having a tough time finding the plate though and in '58 he pitched for two teams at the higher level, going a combined 8-9 with a 2.84 ERA. In '59 he started the season in St. Louis but between too many walks, an inability to get a regular spot in the rotation, and a less than great relationship with manager Solly Hemus, he was sent back down to Triple A. There he went 9-9 with a 3.07 ERA. After a few games there in '60 he was back up top for good.

Gibson and his manager his first few years, as noted above, didn't get along too well. Most of the black guys on the Cards thought Hemus was a racist, and none of them had a super relationship with him. For Bob's first couple seasons he caught as much pen as starting time and his inconsistent appearances didn't give him much time to work on his control. But with Gibson at 2-6 through the early part of the '61 season, Hemus was fired and replaced by Johnny Keane, a manager with whom Bob had an excellent relationship. Keane stuck Gibby in the rotation and he went 11-6 the rest of the way. He then improved his strikeout to walks ratio markedly in '62 as he won 15 and made his first All-Star team. A mostly better '63 followed in part because the strike zone was expanded. Then in '64 he capped an awesome season with an even better Series, winning the clincher in Game Seven. Then came the big years: in the next six seasons came six All-Star games, six Gold Gloves (he would get nine of those in a row), two Cy Young awards, and an MVP. The only season in that time he didn't win 20 he was injured in '67 and that year he had one of the most dominant Series ever, seemingly purely on spite, when he went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA. In '68 he had his amazing MVP year that inluded what I still think is one of the wiggiest stats I've ever seen: nine losses in a year in which his ERA was only 1.12. No wonder they lowered the mound the next season. In '70 he nabbed his second Cy and the next season most of his streaks ended as nagging elbow pain pulled his wins south by a few games. After a nice bounce in '72 came his last Gold Glove season. In '74 the elbow issues were compounded by serious knee issues - they would be drained 22 times the next two seasons - and an 11-13 '74 was followed by a 3-10 '75. That last season his knees were so out of whack that he pulled some pen time which didn't work for Bob and he opted to retire before the season was over. Gibby finished with a record of 251-174 with a 2.91 ERA, 255 complete games, 56 shutouts, and six saves. In the post-season he went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA in nine starts in which he totalled 92 strikeouts in 81 innings. When he was done Bob had several team and other records including most wins as a Cardinal (251), most NL strikeouts (3,117), most strikeouts in a Series game (17), most seasons with 200 or more strikeouts (nine), most consecutive starts (303), and most complete games in the Series (seven). No surprise he was elected to the Hall in '81, his first year of eligibility.

After Gibson retired he traveled the country a bit and then returned to Omaha where he served on a bank board and opened his own restaurant. He returned to baseball in '81, coaching for old friend Joe Torre on the Mets and then the Braves ('82-'84). He then did radio announcing for the Cards ('85-'89) and color for games on ESPN ('90). He would do a bit of instructional work for St. Louis for a few years before a one-year gig as a coach proper in '95. He would start an annual golf tournament in '97, put out two autobiographies, and from about '95 on has been actively involved with The Baseball Assistance Team.

Bob never passed Walter Johnson on that list but he was the first NL guy to top 3,000 strikeouts. He also threw a no-hitter in '71. I remember his commercials as a kid. The one that stands out the most is his one for an asthma product, an ailment he picked up in the housing projects.

Bob and John rarely crossed paths but a pitcher will help:

1. Gibson and Rick Wise '72 to '73 Cards;
2. Wise and John Vukovich ''70 to '71 Phillies.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Any insights about that diagonal line across Gisbon's face in this photo?