Bob Gibson – A Lesson in Competitiveness


“(Hank Aaron told me) ‘Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down. He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. 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, 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

Everybody is competitive to a point. The need to win and succeed brings out the worst in people. Winners are celebrated and toasted. Losers are heckled and booed. This isn’t anything new. It has been documented and rampant throughout history, and not just in context with sports. It was even the popular catchphrase for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, “The Thrill of Victory… and the Agony of Defeat.” The natural need/want/desire to win/succeed is what causes competition and brings out the “competitive nature” in people.

I am an overly competitive person. I hate losing (who doesn’t?). I am a sore loser. I’ve even been known to turn off a video game if I have no chance of coming back.

When I’m winning, you do not want to be losing. I run my mouth and smack talk like the bastard offspring of Gary Payton and Larry Bird. I spray Febreeze to honour a dirty dangle or a sick juke. I refer to my Xbox controller as “My Hot Fire” and have even resorted to gaming with oven mitts on JUST to ensure my hapless opponent knew what a rout it was.

When losing… well… let’s just say it’s not pretty. It’s a combination that is half gut-wrenching depression and half a two year old throwing a temper tantrum. Now keep in mind that I cannot stress the following with any more importance:

a) I do not condone, nor am proud of ANY of my actions. I think it’s sad to be quite honest, and has come to the point where I do not like taking part in an activity unless I have some kind of chance at being successful or winning.

b) I am not a professional athlete. I am not even an amateur athlete. I am a recreational athlete. I play house league and pick-up games. I pay to play sports.

c) Most of my successes come at besting my best friends and family members at video games and fantasy sports. I know I am a pathetic individual…

Losing for me is beyond demoralizing, it is straight tortuous. It is one of my own personal levels of hell. It causes me to stew and sulk. It causes me to become catty and callous. I may as well change my name to Tom just because of how Petty I become. What can I say? Losing is a real Heartbreaker. In lieu of a punching bag, I used a straight over hand throwing motion. The result… Multiple new Xbox controllers, hockey sticks, cordless phone handsets; not to mention the amount of holes and dents that required patches and poly fill.

To say Bob Gibson was a competitive person is an absolute UNDERSTATEMENT.

Bob Gibson is my favourite baseball player of all time. I know what you are thinking: How can I say that someone is my favourite player when I never even got to watch them play? Hell, even with YouTube and archived videos, I still haven’t really seen Gibby pitch. But it is a fair question, and one that I have been asked on more than one occasion. Gibson is my all time favourite because he is the EXACT type of player that I would want to be. Hands-down, no question about it. I absolutely love everything about him and his career. His arrogance and ferocity on the mound. His surliness towards not only opposing players, but his own teammates. The way that he put every single ounce of energy into every pitch he threw, so much so that it caused him to nearly fall down after every pitch. He was the definition of fearless competitor and he exemplified what it was to be regarded as an Ace in baseball.

Bob Gibson

Let’s start off with a little background on information for those who may not know (OH YOU DIDN’T KNOW!?!?), or need to be reacquainted with the Cardinals’ #45.

Career Stats:
• 251 wins – 174 losses (46th all time)
• 2.91 ERA (65th all time)
• 3117 Strikeouts (14th all time)
• 2x NL Cy Young Winner
• 2x World Series Champion
• 2x World Series MVP
• 1968 NL MVP
• 9x All-Star
• 9x Gold Glove Winner
• Major League All-Century Team

MLB Records:
• 35 Strikeouts in a World Series (1968)
• 17 Strikeouts in a World Series Game (Game 1 – 1968)
• Modern Day MLB Single Season ERA Record (1.12 – 1968)

Now, I am not here to go over every single aspect and detail of Gibby’s heralded career. If you want that, go check out his wiki page. But I will explain how a legend is created.

Gibson was a standout athlete as a child and teenager. He overcame rickets at a young age and struggled with being an asthmatic for his entire athletic career. In high school he was a standout two-sport athlete playing both baseball and basketball, not to mention track and field. Gibson arguably was a better hoops player than a ballplayer. He was an all-state basketball player in Nebraska and was given a full athletic scholarship to Creighton University for basketball. After majoring in sociology at Creighton, Gibson signed to play basketball with the Harlem Globetotters in 1957. Yes, the same Globetrotters that have been schooling the Washington Generals for the better half of a century. I told you that he was a sick baller. However, that is where this tale of a baller ends and the LEGEND of a ballplayer begins.

See, basketball’s loss would be baseballs gain, thanks to St. Louis Cardinals GM Bing Devine. When Gibby had agreed to ball with the ‘trotters for a season in 1957, he had also signed a minor league contract with the Cards for $3000. Despite signing with the Cards, he had agreed to put off baseball for a year in order to star in the first AND1 highlights. After the 1957 season, GM Devine convinced Gibson to trade in the hard court and orange ball for the diamond and a brand new pearl. Maybe it had to do more with the $4000 cheque and not Devine’s shrewd negotiation skills that made Gibson make the leap to the Cards.

Gibson started with the Cardinals at spring training in 1958 but was assigned to the minors for the season. The 1959 season would see Gibson start the season with the Cardinals, make his first MLB appearance and get his first MLB start and win. However, he was not overly impressive and impactful in his first few major league seasons and he would yo-yo between the majors and minors until 1961. In 1961 the Cardinals fired their manager (Solly Hemus) and promoted Johnny Keane from their AAA affiliate Omaha to become the new manager. Keane, who had seen what Gibson had to offer as a starter from their time together at Omaha, immediately moved Gibson from the bullpen into the starting rotation. Gibson went on to go 11-6 for the remainder of the season. It would be the following season that would begin his ascent to greatness.

Who’s Better?

From 1962-1969 Gibson was ARGUABLY the best pitcher in the game, keyword being arguably. Yes I am biased seeing as Gibson is my favourite player (hence the article) but the numbers don’t lie. Between 62-69 Gibby went 148 – 87, won a CY Young, two World Series, two World Series MVP’s and the 1968 NL MVP. Koufax had 111 wins from 62-66 when he was forced to retire because of an arthritic left elbow. Koufax won three CY Young awards, three pitching triple crowns, and two World Series rings, was MVP in both those World Series wins, and also won an NL MVP. Juan Marichal went 182-76 in the same period. Nothing against Marichal, but with no Word Series rings, no CY’s or MVP’s it really makes it a two-horse race. As much as I love Gibson, Koufax was the better pitcher in that time span but his career was cut short by the previously mentioned arthritic elbow. Gibson ranks higher long term perhaps because of longevity, but Koufax wins this round.

One Tough Sonofabitch

I’m not even mentioning how Gibson had an ankle broken by a line drive in 1962 ending his season halfway and postponing his return to brilliance until May the following year. It wouldn’t be the last time that Gibson was wounded in action. In July of 1967; Gibson took a Roberto Clemente line drive off the right leg. Unaware of the severity of his injury, Gibson continued to pitch. He lasted three batters before his right fibula snapped. Gibson would return less than two months later and lead the Cards into the post-season.

The Year of the Pitcher – 1968

Some pitchers have good years. Some have great years. Few will EVER have the season that Gibson had in 1968. Ironically a few of those pitchers had that kind of year in 1968. Denny McLain would win 31 games, something that had not happened in baseball since Dizzy Dean pulled it off in 1934. Don Drysdale would pitch 58 2/3 scoreless innings. Bo’Sox pitcher Luis “El Tiante” Tiant had a 1.60 ERA on the season, all while holding AL batters to a .168 batting average; also an MLB record. Catfish Hunter even twirled the first perfect game in the AL in 12 years. Damn fine seasons all around.

Bob Gibson on the other hand:

22 wins – 9 losses – 1.12 ERA – 268 K’s – .085 WHIP – 28 Complete Games – 13 Shutouts

Please read that again.

1.12 ERA!!!!

Needless to say that it is a modern day MLB record, Dutch Leonard had 0.96 ERA in 1914, and one that a modern day starter may never come close to. (I do not count relievers/closers in this category). Almost more absurd are the 28 complete games and 13 shutouts!! Gibson was only 3 shutouts off of Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 16 in 1916. A few things happened after the season:

a) Bob was (obviously) awarded the 1968 NL CY Young;

b) Bob was awarded with the 1968 NL MVP;

c) Because of the absurd stats posted by pitchers in the majors in the 1968 season, Major League Baseball implemented the “Gibson Rules” for the 1969 season. The rules included lowering the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches, and reducing the height of the strike zone from the armpits to the top of the letters.

Gibson was so good that they had to change the rules.

Ignorance in the World Series

The Cardinals made it to the World Series three times during Gibson’s career; 1964, 1967, and 1968. To say that he was a major factor in those appearances doesn’t give him enough credit. His stats in World Series play look like this:

9 Games Started – 8 Complete Games – 7 wins – 2 losses – 1.89 ERA – 92 K’s

Go back and read that one more time.

Ridiculous and absurd to say the least. If that happened today, Twitter would explode. In the 1964 WS against the Yanks, Gibson won two games, including a complete game win in game 7, and set the MLB record with 31 strikeouts. When he returned to defecate on the Bo’Sox in the ’67 World Series, he did so by allowing only three earned runs, and fourteen hits, all while pitching three complete game victories, including Game 7 (again). Sidenote – Bob also added a homerun in game 7. The complete game victories tied Christy Mathewson’s legendary performance in the 1905 World Series. Following his ridiculous 1968 season, the Cards met the Tigers in what would be Gibby’s last World Series. Gibby started the series off by striking out seventeen batters in Game 1. SEVENTEEN BATTERS!!!! That was, and still is, an MLB record. Following a Game 4 win over Denny McLain, Gibson lead the Cards into another Game 7 duel. Unfortunately he would be on the losing end this time round. Gibson would go onto break his own MLB post season record by striking out 35 batters.

Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away

From 1969-72 Gibson would continue to be an elite pitcher in the National League. He would hit the 20 win mark two more times, including a career high 23 in 1970. From 1973 until the end of his career in 1975, Gibby became an average to slightly below average pitcher. He went 12-10 in 1973, 11-13 in 1974, and a career worst 3-10 with a 5.04 ERA in 1975. Gibby left the game on his terms in 1975 following a dismal season that saw him relegated to the relief duty. In his last appearance in the majors he served up a walk off home run to a no name player, as Gibby could only say; “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”

Ignorance as a Batter

Having played in the National League for his entire career, as well as during the pre-DH days, Gibson was forced to bat on a regular basis. Unlike today, where most pitchers fail to obtain a batting average higher than the weight of a small child, Gibby knew how to handle the twig. For his career Gibson posted a batting line that looked like this:

.206 AVG (274-1328) – 44 Doubles – 5 Triples – 24 Home Runs (2 in the World Series) – 144 RBI – 13 SB – 63 Walks

Pretty damn impressive seeing as he was paid to pitch. More impressive was the fact that Gibson was routinely used as a pinch runner because of his above average speed.

Ya F*** Around…Ya Won’t Be Around

As I mentioned earlier, Gibson was not only a surly prick to both opponents and teammates alike; but he was also an absolute psychopath when it came to winning and being competitive. It didn’t matter who you were, friend or foe; all were treated with the same utter disdain.

Bill White was Gibson’s close friend when they played together with St. Louis. That would change following White’s trade to the Phillies. In his first at bat against his former teammate, Gibby fired a fastball inside, hitting White on the arm. As he walked to first, White made the mistake of saying “What are you doing Bob?! We were teammates for years!” Gibson replied, “We’re not teammates anymore!”

Gibson famously told his long time catcher, and future abysmal commentator, Tim McCarver, that “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it!”. McCarver was just attempting to have a mound meeting following a hit.

Even after his retirement, Gibson made sure it was known that he was not one to play nicely with others. In 1992, the All-Star game was held in San Diego. As part of the All-Star festivities, Gibson took part in the annual Old-Timers Day game and promptly served up a muffin to Reggie Jackson, who deposited it in the bleachers. Not one to forget things, when the Old-Timers’ Day game was played in 1993, Gibson threw Jackson a fastball up and in. You can hardly call it a fast ball as Gibson was 57 at the time, and did not hit the 47 year old Jackson, but the message had been delivered, and Jackson failed to get a hit.

Here are a few good quotes from both Gibson’s peers and the man himself:

“Barry Bonds? I’ll tell you what, if he hit a home run off (Bob) Gibson or (Don) Drysdale and stood and admired it, they’d knock that earring out of his ear the next time up.” – National League Umpire Doug Harvey

“He (Bob Gibson) 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, along with guys like Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.” – Red Schoendienst

“I’ve played a couple of hundred games of tic-tac-toe with my little daughter and she hasn’t beaten me yet. I’ve always had to win.” – Bob Gibson

“Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid.” – Bob Gibson

As a kid, I always thought that the pitchers were at the mercy of the hitter. Compared to batters, pitchers looked both unassuming and non-athletic. They seemed timid, like they were one hard hit foul ball away from burying their head into that little pile of dirt they stood on. Sure, a 100 mph fastball was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as a hulking slugger depositing said fastball 500 feet into the bleachers. Don’t blame me. I was a kid. Loud noises and explosions resonated more with me than the idea of playing chess or studying. Who am I kidding? They still resonate more with me. What has changed is the amount of respect I now have for the man standing some 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate.

Thanks to the many hours spent reading up on the history of the game, I came to view pitchers not as ostriches who were about to defecate in their stirruped pants, but rather as educated assassins. They were a combination of gunslinger, physicist, and psychologist. Armed with an arsenal of mid-to-high 90 mph heat and accompanied by ungodly, gravity-defying breaking pitches. Pitchers knew their opposition better than their opponents knew themselves. They knew what they liked, what they hated, and their tendencies. Damn, they even knew what the outcome of throwing a specific pitch at a specific time in the count would result in (see Maddux, Greg). Above all though, they knew it was up to them to ensure that the opposition stayed off the score board. They were enforcers. If a batter crowded the plate in order to shrink the strike zone, the next pitch would be at their ear. If the opposing team’s pitcher hit one of your batters, it was their job to settle the score. Don Drysdale, a Hall of Fame pitcher and notorious brush-back specialist, made it known on how he policed the game:

“My own little rule was two for one. If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knocked down two on the other team.”

I still play baseball – men’s league, recreational baseball. I am predominantly a pitcher, always have been since I started playing ball again back in high school. I am by no means a good pitcher. I do not have anything measured in the 90’s unless you count my blood pressure. I am a baker on the mound. I throw muffins. Every Sunday, batters come out to my weekly bake sale in an attempt to gorge themselves on the muffins and cupcakes that are being served. I know this. I am well aware, mainly because of the opposition and my friends who consistently remind me of this. I like to think that I am successful. I get hit, but not always hard, and rare is the week that I take a pounding like a mallard duck. It’s because I take the Maddux approach when pitching. I live on the black. I try and use deception and location to my advantage. Why? Simple, I am never going to overpower somebody, but if I can show them enough slop and junk perhaps I can sneak one of my muffins past them.

Pitchers were straight up bad asses back in the day. They had nicknames like “the Barber” because of how perilously close the pitch would come to cutting your hair. They were surly and unfriendly and above all, they hated to lose. It did not matter if it was your best friend or brother on the opposing team. There were no hugs and handshakes and words of praise between opposing players. You straight-up were taught to loathe and despise both losing and the opposition. That is why I love Bob Gibson so much. I love that he wanted to win at any expense, and he didn’t care who thought otherwise. I love that he did not care if you played together for 10 years – the second you stepped in the batter’s box sporting the opposition’s colours was the second that 10 years no longer mattered. Why do people love classic cars so much? It’s because they don’t make them like that anymore. The same can be said with classic movies, hell even classic rock. That is why I love Bob Gibson so damn much as a player…they just don’t make them like that anymore. – $

“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn’t make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot…No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”
-Jimmy Ray Hart


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