As a boy, I had dreams of being a professional baseball player. I began playing organized baseball when I was 8 and did not stop until my senior year of high school. I was reminded of that yesterday, when one of the older stars named Bob Gibson passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 84. You may not know who he is, so allow me one paragraph on his success, courtesy of Wikipedia, which I will follow with a few recollections.
“Robert Gibson was an American professional baseball pitcher who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. Nicknamed “Gibby” and “Hoot”, Gibson tallied 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts, and a 2.91 earned run average during his career. A nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, he won two Cy Young Awards and the 1968 National League Most Valuable Player Award. Known for a fiercely competitive nature and for intimidating opposing batters, he was elected in 1981 to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The Cardinals retired his uniform number 45 in September 1975 and inducted him into the team Hall of Fame in 2014.”
The above paragraph speaks of him being fiercely competitive implying he must have been some kind of jerk. While pitching, he was a force as he was paid to get the batters out. And, he could be off putting to teammates. This talented pitcher was very quiet, even soft-spoken, and did not brag on himself like too many do today. He was very smart and confident and largely kept to himself. That did not always sit well with reporters and others. So, to say he was a warm person would also be off the mark.
But, as his former catcher and later baseball announcer Tim McCarver said about Gibson, he scared batters because he had command of two pitches – a moving fastball and curveball. Batters did not want to dig in too deep at the plate because of these two pitches. He would throw the fastball inside, then strikeout the batter with his curve ball away. As a former player, facing a fastball that moved was more frightening than one that was straight.
In 1964, 1967 and 1968, he led the St. Louis Cardinals to three World Series, with his team winning two of them. They came close to winning all three, but succumbed to a loaded Detroit Tigers team in seven games in 1968. Yet, even then, Gibson pitched the Cardinals to two victories. In the first game against the Tigers, Gibson struck out seventeen batters. At the time, the record was 18 strikeouts.
When Gibson was pitching against a team I was pulling for, I knew it was an uphill battle. I remember a sports show where Bob Costas interviewed Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, two of the greatest baseball players who played in Gibson’s time. Gibson was in the audience and when Costas asked him to stand, both players showed Gibson much respect as a worthy adversary.
There is an old saying that applies to Gibson; be more scared of the quiet one. He did not boast, he just performed. He was quiet, but he was confident. He was someone I would love to talk with about his philosophy on pitching. Then, again he may not have let me.