“He was like a godsend, everywhere he was.”
Three words that describe Bob Gibson’s influence in the St. Louis clubhouse are “I have to play with my feet,” “Walk on water” and “Believe in yourself.”
Gibson, who died on Tuesday at the age of 82, is an American Baseball Hall of Famer for his ability to dominate games without making pinpoint pitches. Each classic outing or his outpitches of an opponent’s ace are noted for their unusual approaches. He did not include fastball or slider, but relied on a three-pitch mix that delivered very few strikeouts but was highly effective.
Much of that success came because of the habits he instilled in teammates. Gibson had an uncanny ability to guess a hitter’s subtle adjustments, as well as find what would make a hitter miss with his pitch. He incorporated home runs (almost as many as strikeouts) into his arsenal, creating occasional success, but a larger part of his mystique came from a lack of respect his pitches commanded from hitters. He almost never surrendered a walk (other than in retirement), which caught hitters off guard. They often oversmarted Gibson, and the rest of the St. Louis team found a way to adjust to beat him.
Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, Gibson’s manager on and off for 13 seasons, would frequently refer to Gibson as “a godsend,” because his competitive fire and discipline rubbed off on players on the team, La Russa once said.
“He became the foundation of every winning ballclub I ever had,” La Russa said in a statement. “There will never be another pitcher like him. His brilliance was every time he went out, he attacked hitters with pinpoint accuracy. He won games for us in unlikely ways, but no matter how rare the outing, he beat us with his grit and determination.
“You can go back and replay that game [against the Dodgers in the 1974 playoffs] over and over again. There’s a magic that went through us and throughout our team. We were a different team after that night.”
That Dodgers series was just one of several postseason frames that provided a glimpse into Gibson’s makeup. Once, he began the sixth inning in Game 5 of the 1967 World Series against the New York Yankees and his teammates knew an intimidating pitcher was about to walk into the game. Still, the thought of a competitor as cool as Gibson for a pitcher did not seem possible. He responded by pitching scoreless innings the next two nights, helping the Cardinals complete the series sweep.
Years later, he used the same philosophy on facing postseason foes again. The Cubs hadn’t scored a run against him during his career, but they hoped that was about to change on Oct. 14, 1974. Gibson wasn’t going to let it.
He battled his way through six innings and 81 pitches, and the Cardinals got a rain delay of 1 hour, 51 minutes during the seventh inning, which allowed La Russa to insert Craig McMurtry. The move paid off as McMurtry helped lead St. Louis to its fifth World Series title in franchise history.
We knew Tony was a great manager. We knew he was a great human being. We knew that. He was a great friend of ours. — Gibson v Cubnies
Gibson’s humility stood out, but his gratitude was also plainly evident when it came to his coaching staff and players.
“He was a very special person,” Cubs right fielder Billy Williams said in a statement. “I had the chance to play for him on two World Series teams. I went to see him when he came to Kansas City (for spring training in 1988). I don’t think I have ever had more fun playing baseball. My experience is probably really much different than any other player I have had the honor of playing for. He was something else and I’m really going to miss him.”