Late Friday night, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson died at the age of 84. He had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for more than a year. It’s been a tough year in a lot of ways, but also for losing MLB legends. Don Larsen, Tony Fernandez, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Gibson are among the notable MLB players to have passed away this year.
Gibson pitched 17 seasons in the major leagues, winning two Cy Young Awards in 1968 and ’70, as well as the ’68 MVP Award. He is one of 11 pitchers to win an MVP and Cy Young Award in the same season. The others: Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens, Willie Hernandez, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, Denny McClain, Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. Gibson also made the All-Star team nine times and won nine Gold Glove Awards.
Gibson was a 20-game winner five times, won the ERA title in 1968 (1.12), and led the league in strikeouts once (268 in ’68). His career adjusted ERA of 127 is 20th-best among Hall of Fame starting pitchers (min. 2,000 innings, starting in at least 75% of appearances), slightly behind Tom Seaver and a bit ahead of Jim Palmer (125) and Juan Marichal (123).
Perhaps more impressively, Gibson completed 255 of his 482 career starts. Only 11 pitchers in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) have completed more: Warren Spahn (382), Ted Lyons (356), Red Ruffing (335), Robin Roberts (305), Gaylord Perry (303), Lefty Grove (298), Early Wynn (289), Bob Feller (279), Burleigh Grimes (270), Ferguson Jenkins (267), and Carl Hubbell (260). 56 of those complete games were shutouts. Among Live Ball Era pitchers, only Spahn (63), Nolan Ryan (61), Seaver (61), Bert Blyleven (60), and Don Sutton (58) tossed more shutouts.
In an era when power pitchers were few and far between, Gibson stuck out. He accrued 200-plus strikeouts nine times, the highest total of such seasons between 1959-75. Seaver and Gaylord Perry had eight in that span of time and Mickey Lolich had seven. Gibson retired with 3,117 career strikeouts, currently 14th-best all-time. The 3,000-strikeout club boasts only 18 members. At the time he retired, he was only the second MLB pitcher to rack up 3,000 K’s along with Walter Johnson.
Gibson also authored history on August 14, 1971 when he no-hit the Pirates in an 11-0 win. The right-hander issued three walks and struck out 10, including Willie Stargell three times. The Cardinals have only had four no-hitters in the nearly 50 years since. Bob Forsch did it twice in 1978 and ’83, José Jiménez no-hit the Diamondbacks in 1999, and Bud Smith no-hit the Padres in 2001. No one has done it for the Cardinals since.
According to Baseball Reference, Gibson retired with 81.7 Wins Above Replacement. He is one of 24 Hall of Fame pitchers with 80-plus WAR. As WAR is a cumulative stat, playing time is a huge factor. Among the aforementioned 24 pitchers, Gibson has the third-fewest innings, ahead of only Mike Mussina and Pedro Martínez. On a basis of nine innings, Gibson is instead the 10th-most valuable pitcher behind Martínez, Grove, Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson, Mussina, Kid Nichols, Cy Young, Pete Alexander, and Seaver.
Perhaps most importantly, Gibson helped bring two championships to St. Louis in 1964 and ’67. In nine career postseason starts, Gibson threw a complete game in eight of them and went eight innings in the other. Two of those starts were shutouts. Overall, he had a career playoff ERA of 1.89 with 92 strikeouts and 17 walks in 81 innings. Madison Bumgarner is considered the modern day playoff pitching god, but even he has a slightly more mortal 2.11 ERA over 102 1/3 innings. That’s how good Gibson was.
The best of those postseason starts was Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers. He shut out the Tigers with 17 strikeouts against five hits and a walk. His second-best postseason start was a 10-inning, 13-strikeout performance in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He gave up two runs but both were unearned. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to have two career postseason starts in which he struck out at least 13 batters and allowed zero earned runs. Only 11 other pitchers have even done it once – Kershaw just joined the list on Thursday.
Beyond his ridiculous statistics, Gibson was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball history. He was known for utilizing the brushback pitch. Tim McCarver, Gibson’s catcher between 1963-69, said, “For my money, the most intimidating, arrogant pitcher ever to kick up dirt on a mound is Bob Gibson.” Gibson once said to McCarver, who had come out to the mound to confer, “The only thing you kjnow about pitching is that it’s hard to hit.”
Dusty Baker once received some advice from Hank Aaron about facing Gibson. Quoting Aaron, Baker said, “Don't dig in against Bob Gibson, he'll knock you down. He'd knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. 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.' I'm like, 'Damn, what about my 17-game hitting streak?' That was the night it ended."
Gibson broke the mold, emerging as a power pitcher when there hadn’t been many throughout baseball history. And he was not just a good power pitcher, but an elite power pitcher. His on-field achievements have been matched or exceeded by only a handful of pitchers in the 45 years since his retirement. RIP to a legend.