Bob Gibson is, inarguably, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He retired in 1975 with a 251-174 career record, a lifetime 2.91 ERA, 3,117 strikeouts (he was the second MLB pitcher to reach the 3,000 mark), 2 Cy Young awards, 9 All-Star appearances and 9 Gold Gloves, an NL MVP for his incredible 1968 season (a 1.12 ERA, still a MLB record), and 2 World Series MVPs.
But the numbers don’t really tell the story of the competitor. I recommend David Halberstam’s “October, 1964,” his book about a wild baseball season as backdrop for racial changes going on in the country, for a description of what it was like to face Gibson on the mound. One of the most famous stories is when Gibson suffered a broken leg after being hit by a line drive from Roberto Clemente, of the Pirates, on July 15th, 1967:
It was when Roberto Clemente hit me right above the ankle with a line drive. Of course, I didn’t know it was broken at first. Our trainer, Bob Bauman, sprayed it with ethyl chloride and I told him he was spraying the wrong spot because that wasn’t where it hurt. He told me to take a look, and there was a dent in my skin the shape of a baseball. Then he put a little tape on it and I threw a couple soft pitches and thought, all right, it’s okay, let’s go. I walked Willie Stargell, got Bill Mazeroski to pop up, and on a three-two pitch to Donn Clendenon I was trying to open up on a fastball and, pow, the fibula bone snapped in two.
He was out until Labor Day, but came back strong and mowed down the Boston Red Sox three times in the World Series.
Today is the 40th anniversary of Gibson’s no-hitter, also against the Pirates. Here’s the play-by-play as Gibson strikes out Willie Stargell:
The Cardinals could use a pitcher like Gibson right now. With 42 games to go, they’re 64-56, 5 games behind the Brewers, and time is running out. They have six games to play with Milwaukee, but they have lost 5 of their last 6 against the Brewers, so things don’t look promising. Lack of consistently effective pitching, particularly relief pitching and most particularly the closer, have plagued them all season. Once staff ace Adam Wainwright was lost for Tommy John surgery, the teams’ prospects diminished. Future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols, who may depart after the season, got off to a dreadful start, but seems to be regaining form. Defense has been shoddy, and, as I have often said, managerial decisions, particularly leaving pitchers in too long when they’re struggling and having players who are on hot streaks sit out a game, haven’t helped.