With the baseball playoffs upon us, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a two-time World Series MVP who hurled eight complete games in the Fall Classic and still holds the record for strikeouts in a World Series game.
Throughout his 17 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, opponents knew they were in for a battle every time they faced Bob Gibson.
Born and raised in Omaha, Gibson was a two-sport standout, but it was basketball, not baseball, that gave him initial success.
The 6-foot-1 inch Gibson received a basketball scholarship from Creighton University and as a junior averaged 22 points per game and was a third team Jesuit All-American.
Following graduation, he was pursued not just by the St. Louis Cardinals to play baseball, but also by the Harlem Globetrotters to join their traveling basketball team. He signed with the Cardinals for $3,000, but before reporting to the team in 1957 spent time with the Globetrotters, where he was known as “Bullet Bob”.
Once Gibson turned his attention totally to baseball, it didn’t take him long to rise through the ranks.
He made his professional debut with the Columbus (GA) Foxes at the Single-A level, but before the year was over Gibson was pitching in his hometown with the Omaha Cardinals at Triple-A.
After splitting the 1958 season between the two St. Louis Triple-A squads in Omaha and Rochester, Gibson earned a spot on the opening roster for the Major League Cardinals in 1959.
Gibson allowed three earned runs in 2.2 innings of relief over three early season appearances before heading back to Omaha. When he returned to the majors later in the year he was a full-time starter and finished the year with a 3-5 record and 3.33 ERA. The next year he struggled at the major league level posting a 3-6 record with a 5.61 ERA.
However, Gibson proved that he belonged in the majors in 1961 as he began a streak of 13 consecutive winning seasons and 14 straight with double digit victories.
After registering a 13-12 record with 3.24 ERA in 1961, Gibson earned the first of his nine All-Star appearances in 1962 with a 15-13 record and 2.85 ERA. He also eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark for the first time in 1962 with 208.
Gibson went 18-9 in 1963 and then the next year won 19 games during the regular season.
The 1964 season proved to be Gibson’s national coming out party. He had a 10-10 record and the Cardinals trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 11 games before Gibson pitched a complete game victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 24th.
Over the final six weeks of the season Gibson went 9-2, including eight straight complete games, as the Cardinals rallied to pass the Phillies and claim the National League Pennant for the first time since 1946.
Facing the perennial champion New York Yankees in the World Series, Gibson lost game two as he allowed four runs in eight innings of an 8-3 loss. However, he rebounded to allow only two unearned runs in 10 inning of game five as the Cardinals won 5-2.
Despite only two days rest, he pitched a complete game in game seven as the Cardinals brought the World Series Championship back to St. Louis with a 7-5 victory. Gibson was named the series Most Valuable Player.
Now established as one of the top pitchers in baseball, Gibson won 20 games in 1965 and 21 the following season.
Gibson opened the 1967 season with a 10-6 record through mid-July and pitched two innings in the All-Star game. During a July 15th start, Roberto Clemente hit a line drive off Gibson’s right leg. Not realizing the leg was broken, he pitched to three more batters before the fibula bone snapped.
Despite missing their staff ace for more than a month, the Cardinals extended their division lead from two games when he was injured to 11 games when he returned in early September. Gibson showed no sign of rust in his return as he won three games and allowed only four earned runs in five starts over the final month of the season.
Gibson continued his success into the World Series as he pitched three complete game victories to lift the Cardinals to another seven game series victory and again earn MVP honors. He allowed one run in game one, shut out the Boston Red Sox in game four and then gave up two runs as the Cardinals won game seven 7-2.
The next season Gibson continued his domination by setting a major league record that he still holds nearly 50 years later by registering a season ERA of 1.12. He also posted a 22-9 record with 13 shutouts and 268 strikeouts. Gibson not only claimed his first Cy Young Award, but also was named the National League MVP.
St. Louis returned to the World Series for the third time in five years and Gibson was again at peak form. His 17 strikeouts in a 4-0 game one victory over the Detroit Tigers is still the highest single game mark in World Series history. Gibson was also victorious in game four with a 10-1 win, but his magic ended in game seven as Mickey Lolich out-pitched Gibson as the Tigers won the final game 4-1.
After registering a 20-13 record in 1969, Gibson claimed his second Cy Young Award in 1970 as he won a career-high 23 games while also registering a career-high 274 strikeouts.
That proved to be the apex of Gibson’s career as he dropped to 16 victories in 1971. He did earn All-Star honors for the eighth time in 1972 as he posted a 19-11 record with a 2.46 ERA at the age of 36.
Gibson retired following the 1975 season after registering a career record of 251-174 with a 2.91 ERA. He also was only the second pitcher in major league history to pass 3,000 career strikeouts and still ranks 14th all-time with 3,117.
To the surprise of no one, Gibson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first season of eligibility in 1981. He was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.