In Tim Wendel’s brilliant new baseball book Summer of ’68, there is a large chunk devoted to the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Bob Gibson.
This six-month journey has been labeled, and rightly so, the Year of the Pitcher. So dominant were the hurlers that the Boston Red Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a paltry .301 batting average, while the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose paced the National League with a .335 mark.
The Washington Senators’ Frank Howard sat atop theALwith 44 homers, and the San Francisco Giants’ Willie McCovey totaled 36.
FourALpitchers reached 20 victories: the Detroit Tigers’ Denny McLain (31), the Baltimore Orioles’ Dave McNally (22), the Cleveland Indians’ Luis Tiant (21), and the New York Yankees’ Mel Stottlemyre (21).
Meanwhile, in the Senior Circuit that number was achieved bySan Francisco’s Juan Marichal (26), Gibson (22), and the Chicago Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins (20), while the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale tossed six consecutive shutouts.
McLain became the first pitcher since Dizzy Dean in 1934 to scale the 30-win mark, and he graced the cover of several national magazines.
But the hurler who stood the tallest was Gibson, whose record of 22-9 doesn’t seem overly impressive when stacked against McLain’s 31-6, but the 13 shutouts, 268 strikeouts, 62 walks, 28 complete games, and 1.12 earned-run average does.
Gibson’s rise to greatness wasn’t predicted, not with his slow start. In 1959 and 1960, Gibson accumulated a record of 6-11, while walking 87 with 117 strikeouts.
After going 13-12 and 15-13 across the next two seasons, Gibson finished 18-9 in 1963, and 19-12 in 1964 as he pushed the Cards to the World Series title in seven games over the Yankees. In that Series, Gibson went 2-1, and it became a springboard.
Feeling on top of the world, Gibson (251-174 with a 2.91 ERA during a 17-year career) began a streak in which he’d reach 20 wins in two consecutive campaigns, and five overall.
Gibson’s 20-12 record in 1965 was followed by 21-12, but a broken leg limited the hard-throwing right-hander from Omaha, Nebraska to 24 starts in 1967 and a 13-7 mark, but it didn’t prevent him from leading the Red Birds to a second title in four seasons as they topped the Red Sox in seven games, with Gibby winning three, including the clincher.
Because of his gruff demeanor and straight talk, Gibson wasn’t especially well liked by the national press, and it was said he “pitched with a chip on his shoulder.”
Gibson is African American, a college graduate (CreightonUniversity) and often felt rage. He had reason given the Vietnam War was in full stride overseas, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated in 1968, and later that summer Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention which erupted into violence.
Fittingly, the Cardinals and Tigers met in the World Series, and though the Birds lost in seven games, with Gibson, who fanned 200 or more batters nine times, on the hill in the finale, his Game 1 effort is the stuff of legend. That day inSt. Louis, he mowed down 17 Tigers for a still-Series record, and made it look easy.
Looking back, there was no one quite like Gibson, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1981. Certainly not that year.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org.