Sunday, October 4, 2020

Bob Gibson


I had just finished listening to the Cardinals lose to the Padres to eliminate them from the playoffs when I got an alert on my phone.  Bob Gibson had passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 84.   The greatest pitcher in Cardinal history was gone.

When I started rooting for the Cardinals in 1974, Bob Gibson was approaching the end of his career. He had very up and down season I remember with a few really good games and some really bad ones.  I remember him pitching well in September as the Cardinals were battling the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL East crown.  He managed to get his record to 11-12.  Alas, he lost the next to last game of the season 3-2 when he gave up a two out homerun to Mike Jorgensen of the Expos.  I remember listening to the game on the radio. The Pirates won their next two games to win the division.  He began 1975 in the starting rotation but was moved to the bullpen because he didn’t pitch well.  He did OK there but he realized he needed to retire after a game against the Cubs.  He came in relief and gave up a grand slam to a guy named Pete LaCock.  Pete’s claim to fame was he’s the son of Peter Marshall – the longtime host of the gameshow Hollywood Squares.  He didn’t pitch another game after that.

My first real memory of him was in 1974.  My mom took all of us to see a couple of Cardinal games.  The first game we saw, Bob Gibson was pitching.  He was going for his 3000th career strikeout something only one pitcher (Walter Johnson) had done up to that time.   I remember him getting that by striking out a guy named Cesar Geronimo of the Cincinnati Reds.  Bob left the game with the lead but unfortunately the bullpen coughed up the lead.  The Cardinals ultimately lost in extra innings. 

I’ve read a lot and seen a lot of film clips of Bob Gibson.  He pitched for seventeen years for the Cardinals.  He won two Cy Young Awards.  He was a clutch pitcher in the World Series winning seven games in three Series (two of which the Cardinals won).  He struck out 17 Tigers in the first game of the 1968 World Series.  He set the modern record for the lowest ERA in a season in 1968 – 1.12.    He was a first ballot Hall of Famer. 

My best memory of him though was actually getting to meet him.  A few years ago the Cardinals had an event where you could meet Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver before they did a meal and then an interview with them.  Donna and I went.  I actually got to shake his hand.   I told him I was there at the game where he got his 3000th strikeout.  He asked me “Do you remember who that was?”.   I told him “Cesar Geronimo”.  He smiled and said “You have a good memory”.   I stood by him for an hour listening to him tell stories of his career.  Donna said I looked like a happy child.   We got our picture with them as well.  I hated to leave and go the meal.  He did a great interview afterwards as well. 

Bob Gibson was a very well-spoken articulate man.  He did some broadcasting and was the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves for a few years.    He was a wonderful athlete and even played for the Harlem Globetrotters until the Cardinals increased his salary to make him stop.  He roomed with the most famous of Globetrotters, Meadowlark Lemon.  He was a regular at Cardinal events and a great ambassador for the Cardinals. 

Jonathan asked me the day after why it made me so sad for Lou Brock and Bob Gibson to die.  Part of it is it’s another part of your childhood being gone.  Another part is you really start to realize your mortality when things like that happen.  I told him he’ll understand when his favorite sports figures of his youth (Derek Jeter and Eli Manning) age and finally pass away.  I’ve seen two of mine die in the past month.  I was honored and happy to have seen them play and watch their lives afterwards.