The postseason playoffs notwithstanding, this has been a terrible month for baseball with the loss of three Hall of Famers – Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.
They were three of a kind, dominant performers, Seaver with 311 victories, Brock with 3,023 hits and Gibson with a cluster of impossible to match statistics.
Seaver and Brock had brilliant seasons. Nobody had a season like Gibson did in 1968. He was so good that year that it forced baseball to alter the landscape in an attempt to even the playing field. Lowering the mound from 15 inches to 10 hardly interfered with Bob Gibson’s excellence.
He was the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner in 1968 when he won 22 games and posted an earned run average of 1.12, the fourth lowest in major league history and the lowest since baseball emerged from the deadball era in 1920.
The remarkable part of Gibson’s 1968 season was that he somehow lost nine games in a year when he struck out 268 batters and threw 13 shutouts. He had 28 complete games that year and 28 more the next season when he responded to the lower mound by winning 20 more games and striking out 269. The year after that, he won 23 games.
Gibson’s resume was astounding. He was a five-time 20-game winner and struck out 3,117 batters in 17 seasons. There were 56 career shutouts, a no-hitter against Pittsburgh and a remarkable 255 complete games.
That last number may have had something to do with Gibson’s demeanor on the mound. He did not like visitors to his place of business, certainly not visitors intending to remove him from the game.
There is an oft-told anecdote about Gibson and his longtime catcher, Tim McCarver. Gibby was struggling one day and in a tight spot when McCarver decided to visit the mound. When the catcher arrived, Gibson growled at him. “What are you doing out here,’’ he said. “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.’’
And that was the end of that catcher’s visit.
Gibson pitched in three World Series, winning seven straight games. One of the wins came in the Series opener in 1968 against Detroit when he struck out a record 17 batters. That was the year after he missed two months of the season when a line drive hit by Roberto Clemente broke his leg. He was back in time for the World Series where he beat Boston three times, including Game 7 and won the Series MVP award.
In 1964, he also won the Series seventh game, pitching on two days rest after a 10-inning complete game against the New York Yankees. He was clearly tiring in the ninth inning when he surrendered a pair of home runs to Clete Boyer and Phil Linz. But he hung on for the victory. Had manager Johnny Keane considered relieving him? No way.
“I had a commitment to his heart,’’ Keane explained.
Photo: Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire