You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1972, Bob Gibson became the winningest pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history.
In 2006, less than an hour after Tony La Russa had won his first World Series as the manager of the Cardinals, he was greeted in the hallway at Busch Stadium by an iconic figure.
“Bob Gibson just shook my hand,” La Russa said, breathlessly. LaRussa had won a World Series in Oakland, and nearly 2,500 games by then, yet he was glowing, in awe of what had just happened.
“I just got welcomed to the club by Bob Gibson!” La Russa said.
That’s the reverence paid to Bob Gibson, not just in St. Louis, but across major league baseball: When something or someone is endorsed by Bob Gibson, it becomes official. He is one of the greatest pitchers of all time; he is arguably the greatest athlete ever to pitch in the big leagues. He was a great basketball player at Creighton and played a year for the Globetrotters. When it came to competing, no pitcher was more ferocious than Gibson.
“I loved facing him because he wanted to win so much,” said Frank Robinson, a fellow Hall of Famer. “If I won the battle against him, I knew that I had beaten the absolute best.”
Gibson won 251 games with a 2.91 ERA for the Cardinals from 1959 to 1975. He won two Cy Young Awards, the only Cardinal to win twice. In 1968, he posted a 1.12 ERA, the lowest by any pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920). That season, Gibson threw 47 consecutive scoreless innings. He completed 28 games; he was removed for a pinch hitter six times, but he was not replaced on the mound, mid-inning, by another pitcher all season.
Gibson was at his best in the postseason. He made nine starts, completed eight, went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. In Game 7 of the 1964 World Series, he beat the Yankees 3-0. In 1967 against the Red Sox, Gibson won Games 1, 4 and 7, making him the first pitcher to record a complete-game victory in a Game 7 of two World Series. In Game 1 of the 1968 Series, Gibson struck out 17, which remains the single-game standard in postseason history.
“We had no chance,” former Tiger Norm Cash said. “That was the best stuff I had ever seen.”
Doug Rader was asked to name the five best pitchers he faced.
“That’s easy,” he said. “Bob Gibson in 1968, Bob Gibson in 1969, Bob Gibson in 1970, Bob Gibson in 1971 and Bob Gibson in 1972.”
Gibson made nine All-Star teams, but he said many years after retirement, “I hated having to talk to guys that I spent the rest of the season trying to kick their ass. They were the enemy to me.”
His ferocity was legendary.
“I was told by Hank Aaron never to mess with Bob Gibson,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I was told never to stare at him, or talk to him, or smile at him. And if he hit you with a pitch, I was told never to charge the mound, because he would beat your ass.”
Other baseball notes for June 21
In 1956, my dear friend Rick Sutcliffe was born. He was an excellent major league pitcher, one of the best guys ever and always up for a laugh. A few years ago, he went jogging in a park in New York, and he asked if he could join in a softball game with a bunch of strangers. “They thought I was Mark McGwire,” Sut said. Later that night, he and I rode the packed elevator to the press box at Citi Field. Soon after, some guy tweeted that he’d just gone up in the elevator “with some guy that looked like Mark McGwire.” Sut howled.
In 1967, Bob Uecker, always hilarious, hit the only grand slam of his career, which gave him as many as Pete Rose and Derek Jeter hit in their careers. Uecker once said on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson that his career highlights were: “I saw a fan fall out of the upper deck in Philadelphia … and I got out of a rundown against the Mets.”
In 1970, Tigers shortstop Cesar Gutierrez went 7-for-7 in one game. Gutierrez batted .243 that year. In that game, his average went from .218 to .249.
In 1959, Hank Aaron recorded the only three-homer game of his career. He hit 755 home runs. Merv Connors, who played for the White Sox in 1937-38, finished with the fewest career home runs — eight — of any player with a three-homer game.