By In 100 Greatest

No. 39: Bob Gibson


I was planning on writing a new piece on Bob Gibson for this series … but I find that almost everything I want to say is in this piece I wrote five years ago. I have edited and reworked for context.

* * *

Bob Gibson smiles hard. It’s about to happen again. Over the years, Gibson has learned to tell when someone is about remind him how ferocious… heartless… intimidating he used to be. He has learned to brace himself for those peppy, ‘You were vicious!” compliments (they are compliments, right?) and the awed “You were a killer out there!” tributes (they are tributes, right?). He has learned to see them coming, the fans — they’re definitely fans — who remember him fondly for that glare and those up-and-in fastballs, who think of him as young and raging and invincible, with fury and pride and the purest annoyance oozing from his forehead instead of sweat.

“Mr. Gibson,” this man says. “Oh, do I remember the way you pitched. I remember all those batters you hit. They were so scared of you.”

Yes, Bob Gibson smiles hard. He shakes the man’s hand warmly, and he signs a baseball, and he says thank you in that voice that always surprises, that soft voice tinged with warmth. And it is only when the man has walked away and is long out of hearing range, that Bob Gibson asks — not angrily but with a sense of wonder — “Is that all I did? Hit batters? Is that really all they remember?”

* * *

No baseball player, not even Ty Cobb, has had so many stories told about menace. There are two — TWO — famous stories about Gibson throwing at a batter in an Old Timers’ Game.

Story 1: Gibson once plunked Pete LaCock in an Old Timers’ Game because had the gall to hit a grand slam off Gibson in the last inning of Gibson’s career in the major leagues. After he hit LaCock, Gibson shouted, “I’ve been waiting years to do that.”

Story 2:  Gibson brushed back Reggie Jackson in an Old Timers’ Game. Why? Because he had the gall to hit a home run off Gibson in an EARLIER OLD TIMERS’ GAME.

The stories are enjoyable almost entirely because Gibson is the man pitching. They would not be as fun if you replaced him with, say, Marichal or Feller or Koufax or Seaver or even another famously intimidating pitcher like Early Wynn or Don Drysdale or Roger Clemens. Gibson is a man apart. If the name “Lombardi” (as NFL Films reminds us) evokes images of duels in the snow, the name “Gibson” evokes images of a batter lying flat in a cloud of dust and the merciless man on the mound, glowering, daring, never ceding ground, never forgetting.

A quick scan of famous quotes about Gibson:

Dick Allen: “Gibson was so mean, he’d knock you down and then meet you at home plate to see if you wanted to make something of it.”

Don Sutton: “He hated everyone. He even hated Santa Claus.”

Red Schoendienst: “He couldn’t pitch today because they wouldn’t let him. The way he’d throw inside, he’d be kicked out of the game in the first inning.”

Tim McCarver: “I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the plate where I belonged, and that the only thing I knew about pitching was that I couldn’t hit it.”

Dusty Baker: “The only people I ever felt intimidated by in my whole life were Bob Gibson and my Daddy.”

And so on. Perhaps the most telling words about Bob Gibson’s persona came from Hank Aaron in his poetic advice to Dusty Baker (as remembered by Baker):

Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson
He’ll knock you down
He’d knock down his own grandmother.

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
And don’t run too fast.
If you want to celebrate get in the tunnel first.

And if he hits you don’t charge the mound
Because he’s a Golden Gloves boxer.

This is the inescapable reputation of Bob Gibson. It grows larger every year. Children whose fathers are not even old enough to have seen him pitch come up to Gibson to say he’s their favorite pitcher, not because of his 3,117 career strikeouts or his 1.12 ERA in 1968 or his unrelenting brilliance in the World Series. No, it’s because he was mean, tough, a symbol of badass. Gibson smiles when they say that, says that he appreciates it.

“The only real problem is,” he says, “they got it all wrong.”

* * *

Dusty Baker has an endless supply of Bob Gibson stories. A favorite: One night he saw Gibson in a restaurant. His teammates encouraged him to walk over and say hello. “It’s OK,” they told him. “It’s away from the field. This is a good time. Bob will be happy to talk.” Then, while those teammates snickered, Baker and his wife walked over.

Dusty said: “Excuse me, Mr. Gibson.”

Gibson looked up and snarled, “Why the *$*#&$* should I talk to you?” Then he looked past Dusty, to his wife, and said, “It’s very nice to meet you Mrs. Baker.”

The story’s punch line, though, comes years later, when Dusty retold the story to Gibson. The way Dusty remembers it, Gibson nodded. The story did not surprise him at all. “Well, what do you want?” he asked. “I said hello to your wife.”

* * *

Here’s a question: How tall do you think Bob Gibson is? Before you answer, you might remember that before he played in the big leagues, Gibson played for the Harlem Globetrotters, and he was known for his ferocious dunks. Player after player from his time will talk about the larger-than-life image of him scowling on a pitcher’s mound. “He looked like a giant out there,” his catcher and friend, Joe Torre, will tell you.

So how tall? Six-foot-four? Six-foot-five? Bigger?

No, of course not. Gibson is 6-foot-1. He was inches shorter than Drysdale and Jenkins, Sudden Sam and Gaylord Perry, Koufax and Bob Veale and the other big pitchers of the era. He was, for that matter, an inch shorter than his friend and rival Joe Torre.

See Gibson did not dominate with size, not exactly. And you know what else? He did not dominate by hitting an excessive number of batters, either. He never once led the league in hit-by-pitch. He only once finished in the top three in that category (and that was in 1963, when he was still quite wild).

Gibson’s aura grew out of something else: A need to win. t wasn’t a choice. The idea of failure threatened his very existence. Gibson has never enjoyed revealing much of himself. But he once opened up with The New Yorker‘s Roger Angell. He said this: “I’ve played a couple hundred games of tic-tac-toe with my little daughter. And she hasn’t beaten me yet. I’ve always had to win. I’ve got to win.”

This is a common theme — the much used “I want to win even if we’re playing ping-pong/tic-tac-toe/tiddlywinks” quote. But Gibson turned it on its head. He didn’t say that he would not let his daughter win at tic-tac-toe. He did not say that he hated losing even to his daughter in tic-tac-toe.

No, he said that in hundreds of games, he NEVER ONCE let his daughter win at tic-tac-toe. The games are over. The lessons, if there were lessons, have been learned. And Bob Gibson won.

* * *

What is more intimidating than a man who is hungrier, more determined, willing to go farther to win than you are? What made The Terminator in the first movie so savage, I think, was not that he was strong, and not that he was virtually indestructible, and not that he had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscles… but instead it was that The Terminator wanted to kill you more than you wanted to stay alive. There is no easy human response to that sort of intensity.

So was Gibson. He looked bigger than 6-foot-1. He may have only hit 10 or so batters a year, but those 10 never forgot. He threw his 95-mph fastball and savage slider by unfolding into a windup that screamed ancient violence. This was the windup David used this windup when smiting Goliath. That is the word. Gibson didn’t look like he was trying to strike out batters. He looked like he was trying to smite them.

“That’s a whole lot of [expletive],” Gibson says. “I wasn’t trying to intimidate anybody, are you kidding me? I was just trying to survive, man.”

* * *

Nothing came easy to Gibson. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957, and his first stop was Columbus, Ga. — his memories of his eight games in the South in the 1950s are pungent and unpleasant and too personal to talk about. That was how baseball began for him. He made it to the big leagues in 1959, when he was 23, and then got beat around for a year and a half. He became a full-time starter in 1961 and led the league in walks. He was no instant sensation. He won 20 games for the first time when he was 29.

“People don’t know what it was like to be a young, black pitcher in those days,” he says, not defensively but as a point of fact. The way Gibson saw it, people wanted him to fail. Hitters wanted him to fail. Racists wanted him to fail. Opposing fans wanted him to fail. He had to beat them all. Every game was a fight to the finish, every hit him a dagger that could get him sent down, every loss a disaster from which he might not recover.

That is one of the things that people missed. It wasn’t about the fastball. It wasn’t about the slider. It wasn’t about coercion. Hell, he wasn’t getting Henry Aaron out by scaring him. Hell no, he got out Henry Aaron by mixing in slow stuff, getting the great man to twist himself into a knot. “You talk about my fastball?” he asks. “Aaron could hit God’s fastball.”

Nothing was easy. Nobody really backed down. Billy Williams owned Gibson’s slider, so he had to throw him something else. Gibson figured out how to pitch Mays, held him to a .196 average over the years. Roberto Clemente couldn’t touch Gibson. But for every Clemente and Mays, there was an Eddie Mathews or a Richie Hebner who hit him hard. He could not rely on being Bob Gibson to get easy outs. This was what people missed: There WERE NO easy outs.

So, he did things, small things nobody ever noticed, because they were enraptured with his image as bully. Never throw the same pitch in the same place to the same batter — that was Bob Gibson’s thing. Field every single bunt and ball up the middle — Gibson won nine straight Gold Gloves. Drive in every run possible — Gibson hit .206 with 24 home runs (two more in the World Series) in a low-scoring era. He was a brilliant bunter. He hit 18 sacrifice flies, more than any other pitcher since they started keeping track. Twenty-six games in his career, Gibson drove in more runs than he allowed.

“It wasn’t easy,” Gibson says. And that’s the point. Bully? Intimidator? Forget that. It wasn’t easy, but he kept on going, kept finding new ways, kept answering the challenges, kept winning. And it wasn’t easy.

* * *

Bob Gibson started nine World Series games. He finished eight of them. The only game he didn’t finish was his first — that was at Yankee Stadium, 1964. He was pulled for a pinch-hitter with the Cardinals down by three runs in the eighth inning. After that, he went 7-1 with a 1.60 ERA in World Series games. No manager dared take him out.

The complete games… this comes up often. People are always eager to ask Bob Gibson how he feels about today’s pitchers and the way they come out of games in the fifth or sixth inning. What’s wrong with America? Why can’t people finish games the way Bob Gibson did? They always want to ask him about it, always want to listen to him celebrate himself and his time. Only to ask Gibson this question is to once again misjudge him.

“Pitchers are just doing their jobs, man,” he says. “The game has changed. Pitchers today want to win as much as we did. When I pitched, you were expected to finish what you started, but it’s not like that now. Pitchers have different jobs. There are different expectations.”

Asking Gibson if he likes the new expectations is to misjudge him further. He doesn’t care all that much. He doesn’t watch a lot of baseball now. He watches the Cardinals, of course — he feels like the team has treated him well. Gibson also finds himself rooting quietly for the Dodgers, of all teams, because his close friend, Joe Torre, manages them (“I was even a Yankees fan there for a while, believe it or not,” he says). But, mostly, he has other things to do. He has a different life to live. Baseball does not define him.

This does not change. Bob Gibson has always refused to let any one thing define him.

“This guy came up to me a little while ago,” Gibson says. “Did you hear him? He goes: ‘You were so mean when you pitched. You hit all these guys.’ Stuff like that. I mean, that’s all right, people can think what they want. They can have their own memories. But you know how many times I’ve heard that? And I was thinking: Who comes up to you and says something like that?

“I wasn’t mean. I don’t buy into any of it. I was just doing my job. You hear people talk about this glare that I had. You know, I’ve been wearing glasses for almost 60 years. I wasn’t glaring… I just couldn’t see the catcher’s signals. I was just trying to see. That’s all. But people turn everything into something else.”

He shakes his head. People turn everything in something else. He’s not angry, or anyway he does not sound angry. That voice. So friendly. He seems almost amused by it all — the reputation, the aura, the way people seem endlessly fascinated by the way he looked, the way he threw a baseball. It’s like there was this part he once played, when he was young, this part of a pitcher who scowled and raged and struck out hitters on high fastballs. DeNiro will always be LaMotta, and Marilyn will always be the blonde bombshell, and Bogart will always be Rick. And Gibson will always be Gibson. The man has moved on. But the part lives on, grows bigger every year.


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83 Responses to No. 39: Bob Gibson

  1. Chad says:

    Yes!! Keep ’em coming!

    Thank you, Joe.

  2. George says:

    Gibson/Pedro was my 2nd choice for the tie (I picked Clemente/Kaline). Now that we know that’s wrong, I’m thinking it has to be Bonds/Clemens.

    • MikeN says:

      It’s obviously Bagwell Thomas

      • Bret Sabermetric says:

        The tie will be Willie Mays and Willie Mays Aikens.

      • Livia says:

        Fui a la pagina de Walmart a mi niño le encanto la KidKraft Wooden Train Table with 3 Bins and 120-Piece Waterfall Mountain Train Set (es una mesita con pista para los carritos y trae un monton de figuritas y toda la cosa) esta super linda ahora no mas falta que Mami la pueda comprar :).Facebook 10-22-12 10@Nr-12

    • Jayden says:

      Tego to , prawdę mówiąc, nie wzięłam pod uwagę. Mną kieruje jeszcze ciągle ponad tysiącletnia historia Polski, a tym samym i jej kuttAra.uzjalyckie narowy muszę dopiero przerobić.Także serdeczne ukłony!S.

    • Thank you so much Preston for sharing some of your OOOPSIES! It’s good to know that even the best can make mistakes, it is what I am so terrified of. You are absolutely right, we do have to admit our mistakes to learn from them. You have just made me want to spread my wings and fly. Thank you once again!

  3. Dr. Baseball says:

    Welcome Back Joe!

    I know you never left, but, I sure missed these baseball stories in the Top 100 so I just feel like I needed to welcome you back after picking this up again.

  4. Chris says:

    Another cool stat on Gibson. In 1968, his manager never came to the mound to take him out. He either pitched a complete game or was pinch hit for.

  5. Owen says:

    Great story as always, Joe. My dad and I played the board game Sher-Co Baseball for many years, with our own teams (fourteen each) that we drafted from among all the post-war players. Gibson was on one of my teams, and hands down the best pitcher in the league.

  6. Two in one day?! What a time to be alive.

  7. Of course Gibson’s 1968 Strat-o-Matic card was awesome. This was before the righty/lefty cards came out. In that Eddie Mathews and Richie Hebner did so well against Gibson, I immediately suspected that Gibson wasn’t as tough on lefties. And sure enough, righties went .204/.268/.287 against him. Impossibly good. Lefties were .257/.331/.372. Still very good, but lefties at least had a shot at hitting him.

  8. Brad Kelley says:

    I grew up in Michigan and remember the world standing still as Northrup’s triple went over Curt Flood’s head in the 1968 Series. Lolich beat Gibson. Unthinkable.

    • Brad Kelley says:

      Apropos bellweather22’s comment, Northrup hit left as I recall.

      • And Flood misjudged the ball too. Probably wasn’t expecting the ball to get jacked against Gibson. Wasn’t it something like 440 ft to the CF fence in Detroit in those days?

        • Marc Schneider says:

          The game was in St. Louis. He didn’t really jack it; it was basically a routine fly that Flood just misjudged.

          • That’s how I remember it too. Off the bat, it was “OK, that’s the third out.” It was a routine fly and it wasn’t even that deep — didn’t hit on the warning track. Flood misjudged it early, because by the time the cameras showed him you could see he was in trouble and knew it. It was so unlike Flood to do that. He may have been cheating in to have a play on Horton, a slow runner, in case of a single up the middle. And then didn’t judge the depth of the fly ball soon enough.

          • George says:

            38 years later, Curtis Granderson would repay the favor.

          • Brad Kelley says:

            In his defense (I can afford to be generous!), Flood was a great center fielder but that ball hit on a line straight at you can be a tough play. All you have to do is take one step in the wrong direction and you’re toast!

          • the_slasher14 says:

            But the ball wasn’t hit on a line. It was a high fly ball — what used to be called “a can of corn.”

          • Marc Schneider says:

            In Floods book “The Way It Is”, which I read many years ago, as I recall, Flood obliquely blames Walter O’Malley for him missing the ball. His take was that O’Malley was able to manipulate the schedule to benefit the Dodgers so that, somehow as a result, Flood was tired and that contributed to him missing the ball. It seemed a bit paranoid to me and it’s hard to believe, anyway, that should have been a factor in Game 7 of the World Series.

          • Al says:

            It wasn’t just that he misjudged the ball. On another day, Curt had the speed and ability to have misjudged a ball like that and would still have a good shot at catching it. But as Jim Northrup who was also playing center that day recalled, ““It was muddy out there. Most of the field was dry, but it was muddy in center field because of yesterday’s rain. The sun never hit center field. The grass and dirt didn’t get a chance to dry out.”

          • MartyR says:

            Jim Northrup said he “hit the crap out of it.” Look again, its a line drive that Flood had to go back on. Not even close to can of corn.

  9. Owen says:

    I updated the downloaded scoresheet that I have for the picks contest, but since I can’t reply all (bcc), I’ll just post here that the top ten, with their scores, are the following: AndyL (949), Mike Battoglia (942), WoC (942), DickAllen (940), Invitro (939), MarkR (921), ESPN (918), Esposito (917), DM (913), and Geoff (911). Good luck, everyone!

  10. wordyduke says:

    What good writing! What a great and honorable competitor!

  11. dlf9 says:

    I miss the big windups. I guess that I understand that the standardization of windups – and to almost as great a degree, batting stances – should bring the best results for the most players. But I like having unique deliveries like Gibson’s.

  12. Evan says:

    Glad to have this series back, Joe. This is going to be one of those weeks where every day is like Christmas morning.

  13. BobDD says:

    I’ve heard the phrase a few times over the years regarding this player or that, “He looked like a ballplayer”. That applied to Gibson as much as anyone I’ve ever seen play.

  14. I’ve always loved the fact that just about every picture you see of Bob Gibson is the same pose: He’s falling off to the left of the mound, with his right leg swinging around waist high.

  15. BobDD says:

    Miscellaneous Stat: Most Stolen Bases for a Pitcher in the 60’s
    Bob Gibson 11
    Tom Seaver 3
    Whitey Ford 3

  16. BobDD says:

    Hit Batters for the 60’s:
    Don Drysdale 112
    Jim Bunning 111
    Don Cardwell 84
    Jim Kaat 81
    Bob Gibson 75

  17. BobDD says:

    One More
    The only pitchers with more than 10 shutouts in a season in live-ball era:
    1968 Bob Gibson 13
    1964 Dean Chance 11
    1963 Sandy Koufax 11

  18. the_slasher14 says:

    My favorite Gibson story involves Tom Seaver in a spring training game. Late in the year before, John Milner had gotten a big hit off Gibson, and when he came to bat in a spring training game, Gibson hit him. Seaver retaliated against a Cardinal the next inning. The next inning, Seaver came up to bat and Gibson knocked him down — twice. The umpire began to come out from behind home plate to issue a warning and Seaver barked at him, “get back where you belong. This has nothing to do with you,” and then told Gibson “we can do this all day if you want to, but I can throw a lot harder than you can.”

    The next pitch was right over the plate.

    Can anybody verify this story? I can’t remember where I heard it.

  19. TWolf says:

    Even after the Northrup “triple” put the Tigers ahead late in the 7th game of the 1968 WS, Gibson batted for himself (and struck out) in the eighth inning. Even though Gibson was a good hitter for a pitcher, its hard to believe that any manager would let any pitcher bat for himself in that situation.

    • True, but it wasn’t like they had any great options on the bench to pinch hit. The most likely PH probably would have been Dick Schofield who came in defensively in the next inning anyway and who was probably the best hitter on the bench at that point. I can see Shoendienst thinking that the difference between Gibson and Schofield as hitters is smaller than the difference between Gibson and the rest of the pitchers as pitchers. Plus, 7th game of the World Series, you’re going to want your best pitcher out there.

      • NevadaMark says:

        Wasn’t Alex Johnson on that bench? He was a pretty good hitter.

      • With Strat-o-Matic, when I saw the Cardinals, it was shocking what a mediocre hitting team they were. Of course, 1968 was the year of the pitcher, but their leading HR hitters had 15 & 16 HRs. One guy hit .300 & most of the rest were around .250. Dal Maxville hit .250, but was usually flirting with the Mendoza line. They were definitely a pitcher reliant team, especially on Gibson (who started 3 series games) and somewhat on Carlton.

        • NevadaMark says:

          No one on the bench hit better than .240 or had more than 5 homers. Maybe Gibson batting WAS the best option.

  20. chh3 says:

    I absolutely LOVED Bob Gibson growing up here in NC. Had nothing to do with hit batters and everything to do with the fact that batters couldn’t hit him. The man could pitch. One of the greatest ever in my opinion. But I am a Cardinals fan!

    Thank you, Joe!

  21. Mark says:

    I’m not sure 1963-1964 are live-ball era, and definetely 1968 isn’t live-ball era.

    • perry534 says:

      Live-ball era is generally considered post-1920, when they banned the spitter and a lot of other pitches that relied on doing something to the ball (scuffing, etc.), and started putting more emphasis on keeping clean, new balls in play.

  22. Andy says:

    Joe, great piece! Growing up and watching Gibby he was all rage, competitiveness and intensity. But in the times I’ve gotten to meet him or interact with him you’d never know what he did in his earlier life. But yet there are moments, like the story Tim McCarver tells about remarks he made at the Baseball Hall of Fame when Steve Carlton was inducted. McCarver said Carlton had the best slider of all time, and then after the event Gibson waded through the crowd to look McCarver in the eye and tell him, “Best LEFTHANDED slider of all time.”

  23. NevadaMark says:

    He may have owned Clemente but Roberto broke Gibson’s leg with a line drive in 1967.

  24. doncoffin64 says:

    I have always (well, ever since I began actually looking at the numbers–in the early 1970s) felt that Gibson’s reputation for hitting batters was exaggerated. While Joe does not provide the numbers–Gibson hit 102 in his career, (tied 80th). and behind such notorious headhunters as Aaron Sele (112), Jim Kaat (122), AJ Burnett (132), and so on. The modern leader is Randy Johnson (190); Tim Wakefield is second (186). Jim Bunning (160) probably has more right to be called a head-hunter than Gibson, as does Drysdale. [I began to wonder, again in the early 1970s, how much of it was based not on what he did, but was a consequence of his being black. I have memories of Juan Marichal (who hit a total of 40 batters) and Dock Ellis (44) also being labeled headhunters.]

    • BobDD says:

      I think it simply was his intensity.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Ellis hit (intentionally) the first 3 batters in a game against Cincinnati in 1974, and tried to hit the next two. That will take care of your reputation forever. Never heard anything bad about Marichal as far as hitting batters. Hitting CATCHERS, well, that’s another story.

  25. dbradley88 says:

    Completely agree with davidgardner32 and dlf9 about the picturesque deliveries. That’s one reason I always enjoyed watching Dennis Eckersley pitch in relief. I just liked the way he threw the ball.

  26. Steve says:

    Great writing. Gossage also had a great pitching motion and follow through.

  27. John Leavy says:

    When I was a kid, former Cards first baseman Bill White was a Yankees’ play by play man, along with Phil Rizzuto and Frank Messer. In the early Sixties, the black players on the Cardinals were extremely close- segregation was still so common that they HAD to be. White considered Bob Gibson his best friend. Their wives and kids were close, too.

    But when White was traded to the Phillies, Gibson knocked White down the first time White came to bat against the Cardinals!

    White told that story a lot, but he WASN’T angry! He and Gibson had dinner together that night. At dinner, White howled in mock outrage, “I can’t believe you threw at ME!” Gibson howled back in equally mock outrage, “You were crowding the plate, man!”

    Years back, not too long before he died, I remember seeing Don Drysdale doing a TV interview. Drysdale seemed like a very friendly, amiable, laid back guy- and that’s always been his reputation OFF the field. But on the field, he was known as a headhunter. If anything, Drysdale was more feared than Gibson, and the numbers show he hit a lot more batters than Gibson.

    The interviewer noted the contradiction. He pointed out that Drysdale seemed like a very nice man… so how could he bring himself to throw at a beloved player like Stan Musial or Ernie Banks?

    Drysdale was smiling and affable when he started answering. “Well, you have to remember, we didn’t make a lot of money in those days. That World Series check was really important to us. SO, I’m trying to get the Dodgers to the World Series. And here’s Stan Musial, trying to beat us. He’s trying to keep me out of the World Series. That son of a bitch was trying to steal my money.” And by the time he finished talking, Drysdale looked ready to throw a hard one at Musial’s head right then and there!

    P.S. By the time Gibson’s daughter was 6 or 7, she SHOULD have figured out that EVERY game of tic tac toe should end in a draw. If both people playing know what they’re doing, nobody should EVER win or lose.

  28. Harvey Hecht says:

    Much has been made of Gibson’s dour personality, but in my encounters with him he was always personal and even-toned. Once at a card show I asked him of all the rings he had which did he wear. He pulled off his ring and handed it to me. Don’t ask me which it was; I was so surprised I’m not even sure I looked at it.

    As far as his competitiveness, I once asked Mike Schmidt if he hit his first home run off Gibson. He said it was his second. I told Schmidt that at the time I said Gibson must really be losing it to give up a homer to this bush rookie. He laughed and said you should have heard what he was calling me as I circled the bases. Wish I had asked if Gibson knocked him downs the net time.

  29. Dave says:

    Two things I love about this story (and by the way, Angell’s profile of Gibson, which can be found in Late Innings, is a terrific piece):

    1.) The reputation of Gibson (and Drysdale, and other pitchers of that era) as a headhunter has been wildly overblown…largely perpetuated by a few writers and athletes from that era who all remember the same anecdotes. There is little in the way of objective evidence that any of these guys pitched inside more often, or more ferociously, than pitchers from any other era.

    2.) It also skewers the silly idea that pitchers of that era were somehow more manly than modern pitchers because of the complete games. Gibson doesn’t take that bait when it is offered to him. The game is different, and it is absolutely clear that if Gibson, Drysdale, Koufax, Marichal, et al were somehow transported into 2015, they would be pitching 7 innings and turning over the ball to a litany of relievers who can throw 95+ with movement and control.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Funny thing about that is that in 1968 Gibson pitched in a five man rotation, which is the norm now. He only started 34 times that year; Kershaw had 33 starts in each season, 2011-13.

    • Bret Sabermetric says:

      Gibson doesn’t take that bait when it is offered to him.

      Not only that, but this is Gibson’s take on steroids:
      “I’m just glad they didn’t have steroids when I was playing. You know, I don’t know what I would have done… I probably would have a tendency to say, ‘Let’s just try this and see what it does to me.’ …Guys have always been cheating, period. It just takes a little different form today. I don’t know if I can really criticize the guys. Whoever the first guy was who started, that’s the guy I’m going to criticize. For the rest of them, they’re following suit… I don’t think it’s ‘OK.’ I’m not sanctioning it, but I understand why it happens.”

      Gibson on whether known steroid users should be allowed in the Hall of Fame:
      “Oh, yeah. I think so.”

      • John Leavy says:

        (Putting on Andy Rooney voice.)

        “Dj’ever notice that EVERY time someone starts a sentence with ‘I don’t condone…’ or ‘I’m not sanctioning..,’ he inevitably DOES sanction and condone the activity in question?

    • Marc Schneider says:

      That’s true but I also wonder if lowering the mound had anything to do with the reduction in complete games; ie, perhaps it takes more effort to pitch so that pitchers get more tired. I have to admit, though, that as an old fogey, I miss having guys throw complete games but I don’t think the lack of them has anything to do with “manhood.” It seems more romantic than pitching seven innings and then bringing in a litany of relievers for the last two innings. But, pretty clearly, it makes sense to bring in fresh pitchers. It has always sort of boggled my mind that Ralph Houk left Ralph Terry in to face Willie McCovey in 1962 Game 7-and, got away with it, barely. That sure wouldn’t-and shouldn’t-happen today.

  30. Martin Levin says:

    One of my memories of Gibson is that he was no-nonsense on the mound, no walking around, no rubbing the ball. Get ball, throw ball. That first game of the ’68 series, the 17 K game, he made the Tigers look like Little Leaguers.

  31. Gibson never led the league in HBPs, but he was in the top 10 eight times. And not just when he was young and wild: in ’69, Gibson got 269 SOs (Fergie Jenkins beat him with 273) and still hit 10 batters (the NL lead was 12).

    Lifetime, Gibson had 102. The active leader when he retired was Jim Kaat with 111. Though, to be fair, Drysdale with 154 and Bunning with 160 had already retired. Still, for his time Gibson did hit a lot of guys.

  32. Herb Smith says:

    I’ve always wondered about that Curt Flood-Jim Northrup situation.

    It just seems hard to swallow that a team’s entire season can go down the tubes because of a split-second defensive decision by an All-Star, 7-time Gold Glove winning, MVP-candidate CFer.

    Flood won 7 Gold Gloves (from 1963-69), which was no small feat in the NL during the heydays of Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, all three Alou brothers, etc. However, according to Fangraphs, his rep exceeded his skill; he probably did deserve 4 of them, but he wasn’t really in the same class defensively as Mays, much less Andruw Jones. Still, he was very, very good, and he was playing in his familiar home park, behind a pitcher he probably knew better than any pitcher ever.

    Gibson’s 17-K Game 1 shutout is legendary. In Game 4, Gibson pitched another gem, and his Cards won 10-1, the one Tiger’s run coming on…a deep homer to center field by Jim Northrup. And the day before, in Game 6, Northrup had broken the game open with a towering grand slam. It seems tough to believe that the Cardinals weren’t taking Northrup’s power seriously.

    And Gibson was on fire; besides his 13-shutout, 1.12 ERA performance in the regular season, at that point of the Series, Gibson had thrown two and 2/3rds games against the AL champs, and had only allowed ONE run. A Northrup homer, but still. He’d struck out 34 batters in 24 innings, a rate of 12.75 K’s-per-nine.

    Baseball is a weird game. It’s funny, but had Flood not become so well-known for fighting the reserve clause, he would definitely be remembered for this one play.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      You also have to remember that the Cards were up 3-1 in the Series. They lost Game 5, in part due to Lou Brock failing to slide and being tagged out at home when the Cards were ahead in the game. (As I recall, the out call was somewhat controversial.) Then, they got blown out in Game 6. Interestingly, the almost exact scenario played out the year before when the Cards were up 3-1 on the Red Sox and ended up having to win Game 7 behind Gibson. So, blaming Flood for losing the Series seems a bit unfair because they shouldn’t have even been in that situation. Some of the Cardinals that I saw interviewed by Bob Costas on MLB Network felt that they had fallen into the trap of assuming that Gibson would win and sort of got complacent.

    • Al says:

      Gibson who saw him play every day for years felt that among center fielders of that time he was second only to Mays. Gibson is not one to give it to someone, even a friend like Curt, if they didn’t deserve it. There were many occassions that Gibson has noted where a great Flood play had saved the day and the win for him, when wins were so hard to come by for Gibson for many years– not unlike another HOF contemporary, Sandy Koufax. Both men fought hard for each win like it was a world series with many close scores. It’s amazing to realize that Gibson lost 9 games in 1968 with an ERA barely above 1 run!
      I’d seen Curt play back in the day and imho, I agree with Gibson’s assessment. He was an amazing outfielder. It’s too bad there is not enough footage of him or Clemente, Kaline or the other great outfielders of that time.

  33. buddaley says:

    There are all sort of myths about hitting batters.

    One notion is that Walter Johnson was such a nice guy that he was afraid to hit batters. Ty Cobb claims he countered Johnson’s skill by crowding the plate so Walter would throw a bit outside for fear of beaning Ty, and being unnerved by missing the plate would then throw one easier over the middle. But in his career, Johnson twice led the league in hit batters and ended with 205, or one every 28.8 innings pitched.

    Gibson on the other hand averaged a hit batter every 38.1 innings that he pitched. In fact, Greg Maddux hit more batters per innings pitched (36.6) than Gibson did.

    Don Drysdale really did hit a lot of batters, one every 22.3 innings and so was Pedro Martinez (1/20.1).

  34. Johnny B says:

    Here’s another old-timers game story: Sometime in the late 80s or early 90s I saw Gibson pitch in an old-timers game in old Busch Stadium. This was before they moved in the fences; it was where deep fly balls went to die. Anyway, Gibson gives up a couple of runs and stands to be the loser. So he comes up to bat in the last inning and crushes a homer into the mezzanine deck to win the game.

  35. David Berg says:

    I think old-time aggressive pitching involved more knocking guys down than actually hitting them. Older players claim that throwing inside was more common and hitters were better at getting out of the way. So the HBP numbers are basically irrelevant.

    I’m not sure if I believe the “better at dodging” bit — it seems to me that the batters who get hit the most often are the ones who stride toward the plate, and I assume that isn’t new. But knocking guys down without hitting them certainly does appear to be a lost art.

  36. Pete S says:

    Roger Clemens was better than Gibson and is a hall of famer, prove me otherwise

  37. […] when Mr. Gibson speaks. About the steroid era, he reveals. He likely would’ve tried such substances. He indicates athletes’ cheat due to the extreme pressure to succeed. Particularly, the best […]

  38. Leila Jonson says:

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  39. Steve Sailer says:

    Great essay.

    A simple but useful ratio is hit by pitch / wild pitch.

    Among 60s NL superstars:

    Bob Gibson 102 batters hit to 108 wild pitches

    Juan Marichal 40 / 51

    Sandy Koufax 18 / 87

    Don Drysdale 154 / 82

    Senator Jim Bunning 160 / 47

    A few comments: As Joe says, Gibson’s reputation as a headhunter is overstated, and perhaps Gibson encouraged it. The great man played on the Harlem Globetrotters and presumably took notes on showmanship.

    Marichal had such pinpoint accuracy that when he did knock somebody down, the other team assumed it was personal. The longest brawl I ever saw was September 1971 when Bill Singer of the Dodgers hit Willie Mays, so Marichal knocked down Singer, Maury Wills, and then hit Bill Buckner who charged the mound. It took the umpires close to a half hour to restart the game.

    The Drysdale – Koufax ratios were instructive. Under his affable exterior, Drysdale was a crafty, determined competitor, while Koufax really was like a Gary Cooper character who didn’t much connive for an unsporting edge, but just went strength against strength.

  40. He’s a wonderful player.

  41. […] aim at the head. Don’t do it at all. Old school baseball types wax nostalgic about the intimidation factor of yesteryear, but trying to hit batters to exert dominance or take revenge is incredibly stupid. […]

  42. […] aim at the head. Don’t do it at all. Old school baseball types wax nostalgic about the intimidation factor of yesteryear, but trying to hit batters to exert dominance or take revenge is incredibly stupid. […]

  43. […] aim at the head. Don’t do it at all. Old school baseball types wax nostalgic about the intimidation factor of yesteryear, but trying to hit batters to exert dominance or take revenge is incredibly stupid. […]

  44. MB says:

    When I was seven years old, the first sporting event I watched start to finish was Game One of the 1968 World Series between St. Louis and Detroit. I had stayed home sick from school and my Dad, who was a CHP and a Cardinal fan, had traded to work a graveyard shift so he could watch the game on television. What I value and admire in all sports and athletes seemed to resonate from that game. Bob Gibson struck out 17 Tigers that afternoon. The intensity in how he glared at the hitter. The maximum effort he exhibited as he violently threw his body towards home plate as he pitched. The athleticism and grace he put on display as he fell off so far to the first base side with his back facing the hitter, yet still won Gold Gloves for fielding. He was revelation for me. He set a standard in me of what competing at the highest level really is. That afternoon created a bond with me and baseball, with me and the Cardinals, and most importantly with me and my Dad.

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