When I was a kid growing up in Versailles, Missouri, my favorite time of year was Summer.
Summer meant baseball. Baseball meant pitching in Little League. I loved baseball, and I LOVED pitching.
All I wanted — more than anything — was to grow up, and pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Like Bob Gibson. Seriously.
There were great baseball players, and there were great pitchers. Then, there was Gibson.
This was long before cable TV, ESPN, and round-the-clock sports programming. So…night after night, I would ask Dad for his keys, so I could sit in the car by myself, and listen to Harry Caray and Jack Buck on KMOX, out of St. Louis, draw the pictures in my mind of Brock, Flood, Cepeda, McCarver, and the rest of the Red Birds as they took on all comers. It was magical.
But, Gibson was different. He was special. He was the BEST. Period.
He was the fiercest, most competitive athlete I had ever seen. He threw the ball with such force that he would literally fall off of the mound after every pitch. Batters did NOT “dig in” against Gibson. They didn’t crowd the plate to protect the outside corner. Gibson stated repeatedly, and emphatically, that a pitcher has to own the outside corner of the plate. And, so, he did.
Gibson was the most intimidating pitcher of his generation. He wouldn’t hesitate to come in “high and tight” if he thought he needed to in order to protect his territory.
I won’t even try to start listing his statistical achievements, but… Bob Gibson so thoroughly dominated the 1967 World Series, and the ENTIRE 1968 season, that in 1969, Major League Baseball lowered the pitchers mound from 15 inches to 10 inches.
They changed the rules because of Bob Gibson.
In 1967, Roberto Clemente hit a line drive off of Gibson’s leg, breaking it. The next batter was Donn Clendenon. Gibson walked him on four pitches, before collapsing. That’s right: he threw four pitches with a broken leg. He returned at the end of the season to win three games in the ‘67 World Series.
But, Bob Gibson was also one of the smartest, most articulate, and classiest athletes of his generation. I never heard him blame the umpires, or his teammates, for a loss. When Curt Flood misjudged a fly ball into a triple in Game 7 of the ‘68 World Series — costing Gibson and the Cardinals the series — Gibson refused to blame Flood, and reminded reporters that Flood had made many great plays to win games.
Recently, Mr. Gibson made public the announcement that he is battling pancreatic cancer. He is 83-years-old. I hope he still has some fight left in him.
Hang in there, Gibby. There’s a bunch of us who are rooting for you to put another one in the win column. ❤️🙏