Bob Gibson, who played his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals and is arguably the greatest African American hurler in baseball history, died Friday. He was 84.
Over 17 electrifying big league seasons, Gibson won 251 games, compiled a career 2.91 earned run average and 3,117 strikeouts – not counting the World Series record 17 K’s against the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 Fall Classic.
He announced in July 2019 that he had pancreatic cancer.
“Bob Gibson quite literally changed the game of baseball. He was a fierce competitor and beloved by Cardinal Nation,” the Cardinals wrote in a message posted on the organization’s official Twitter feed. “We will miss him dearly.”
Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, Gibson earned a truckload of awards, including two Cy Youngs, two World Series Most Valuable Player trophies, nine Gold Gloves and a league Most Valuable Player award.
His best year came in 1968 when the hard-throwing right-hander turned in one of the greatest seasons ever produced by a starting pitcher. Gibson went 22-9 with an almost unreal 1.12 earned run average. He recorded 28 complete games and 13 shutouts.
Gibson’s performance was the catalyst for Major League Baseball lowering the pitcher’s mound from 15 to 10 inches.
Ironically, Gibson’s death came 52 years to the day he dominated the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, striking out a record 17 batters — all but four on swing and misses.
On Aug. 14, 1971, Gibson recorded his only career no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He fanned 10 Bucs in leading the Cardinals to an 11-0 victory.
“This was the greatest game I’ve pitched anywhere,” Gibson declared at the time. “I didn’t think I’d ever throw a no-hitter.”
Born Nov. 9, 1935, in Omaha, Nebraska, Gibson played baseball and basketball in high school. At Creighton University, he starred on the hardwood and later signed with the Harlem Globetrotters before the St. Louis Cardinals offered him a contract in 1957.
Two years later, Gibson emerged as a raw but immensely talented rookie who would not be denied stardom.
He counted among the most fierce and intimidating pitchers to take the mound, pounding the inside part of the plate and, at times, staring down sluggers who believed he had intentionally brushed them back.
“Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down,” legendary slugger Hank Aaron reportedly once warned then-Los Angeles Dodgers star Dusty Baker.
“He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him,” Aaron said. “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.”
Before Gibson won his first Cy Young Award in 1968, Dodgers ace Don Newcombe stood as the only Black player to earn the honor.
Vida Blue of the Oakland A’s, Ferguson Jenkins of the Chicago Cubs, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets, CC Sabathia of the Cleveland Indians and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays would later join Newcombe and Gibson as African Americans who’ve won the award.
Gibson also stood among athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson who voice strong support for the civil rights movement.
He credited the Cardinals for the team’s diversity and praised them for not forcing Black players to live in segregated housing during the baseball season.
Gibson’s death came weeks after the death of former teammate and fellow Hall of Fame member Lou Brock and one month after another baseball legend and former Gibson rival, Tom Seaver of the New York Mets.
“Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw,” retired Cardinal catcher Tim McCarver once said. “He always pitches when the other team doesn’t score any runs.”
Gibson is survived by three children, two with his first wife, Charline, and one with his widow, Wendy.