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Remembering Bob Gibson

October 4, 2020

Hugh Atkins

It saddened me to learn of the passing of baseball great Bob Gibson. He died on the 52nd anniversary of one of the most dominant pitching performances in baseball history, his 17-strikeout slam dunk of the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. Gibson was legendary not only for his pitching prowess, but also his intense competitiveness.

Gibson played baseball and basketball at Creighton University. After college, Gibson signed contracts with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Harlem Globetrotters.

Gibson dominated the World Series in 1964, 1967, and 1968. After taking the loss in Game 1 of the ‘64 Series, he reeled off seven consecutive wins, a record that still stands. If not for a misjudged fly ball in Game 7 of the ‘68 Series, Gibson very well could have tacked on another win.

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During Gibson’s career the World Series was the sports world’s biggest stage, and he gave one command performance after another. As if it weren’t enough that Gibson was reducing Big League hitters to Little Leaguers, he also punctuated his dominance by hitting home runs in a couple of those games. Gibson hit more World Series home runs (2) than Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, and Ed Mathews, all of whom hit more than 500 homers in their careers.

In 1968, Gibson was the pitcher in the Year of the Pitcher, at least in the National League. He was 22-9 with a 1.12 earned run average; he had 28 complete games, including 13 shutouts. Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers that year, but Gibson bested him in Games 1 and 4 of the World Series. Gibson hit a home run in Game 4 after McLain left the game.

Over the years, stories about Gibson’s competitiveness reached mythical proportions. The following quote from Dusty Baker regarding advice he received from Henry Aaron on facing Gibson is a great example of how Gibson’s reputation preceded him:

‘Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down. Don’t stare at him. He don’t like it. If you happen to hit a home run, don’t run too slow, don’t run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don’t charge the mound, because he’s a Gold Glove boxer.’ I’m like, ‘Damn, what about my 17-game hitting streak?’ That was the night it ended.

–Dusty Baker on advice from Henry Aaron about Bob Gibson

–Nick Cafardo, the Boston Globe, August 21, 2005

 

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After reading this quote I searched Retrosheet and found Baker’s 17-game hitting streak, which ran from June 9 – July 11, 1972. During that span Baker hit .409 (27 for 66) with three home runs and 16 runs batted in; his on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was 1.095. After Aaron’s advice Baker went 0-4 with a strikeout against Gibson to end the hitting streak.

The box score from the game that ended Baker’s hitting streak held a couple of oddities for me. Not surprisingly, Gibson pitched a complete game shutout; but he also hit a home run off Braves’ starter Ron Schueler. Gibson also again went head-to-head against McLain, who pitched two scoreless innings in relief for the Braves.

Gibson retired after the 1975 season. He won 251 games, his career ERA was 2.91, and he tossed 56 shutouts. At the time of his retirement, his 3,117 strikeouts were the most in NL history. Gibson entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

Bob Gibson died from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 84 years old.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference and Retrosheet. Biographical details are from the SABR Baseball Biography Project. The quote from Dusty Baker was retrieved from Newspapers.com on October 4, 2020.)

 

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