Exclusive Interview with St. Louis Cardinals HOFer Bob Gibson

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St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson spoke with Redbird Rants in conjunction with the release of his new book, Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, co-written with Lonnie Wheeler.

Image courtesy of Flatiron Books

Danielle Solzman: Thanks for joining Redbird Rants today. I really enjoyed reading Pitch by Pitch, your third collaboration with Lonnie Wheeler. What made you decide to write about your perspective of Game 1 of the 1968 World Series?

Bob Gibson: My literary agent, David Black, originally presented the idea. The concept was to demonstrate, pitch by pitch, the full experience of what a pitcher goes through on game day. Aside from the fact that we usually threw a lot more pitches than the guys do today, that part of the game hasn’t changed a whole lot.

We considered basing the book on an ordinary regular-season game, the idea being that it would show what a starting pitcher does 35 times a year. That’s when I realized how long it’s been since I played. We picked out about 10 games that would serve the purpose very well, but we couldn’t locate a full tape on any of them. It was essential that we work from a tape, so that Lonnie and I could watch the game together and I could replay every moment of it. Ultimately, we came across Game 1 on YouTube, of all places, and it was ideal. First of all, 1968 was my best season, and one that I’m closely associated with. It was also, in all of baseball history, the season that’s most prominently characterized by pitching. Game 1 that year is still the only World Series game in which the pitching matchup featured two MVPs. On top of that, taking into account the setting and timing, it was probably the best game of my career; or, at least, the one I’m best remembered for. It’s a game that I enjoyed reliving.

Danielle Solzman: Would the game have a greater meaning if the Cardinals had won the World Series over the Tigers in 1968?

Bob Gibson: Not really. The game was the game, period, and we won it in memorable fashion. The thing is, you have to keep winning. What happened was that the loss in Game 7 left a bad memory to go along with the good one. Game 7 is still the most disappointing game of my career, the day I’d most like to have back. But it didn’t wipe out Game 1.

Danielle Solzman: You still hold the modern World Series record for strikeouts. With the way that pitching has changed over the years, are you surprised that you still hold the record or did you think that it would have fallen by now?

Bob Gibson: At the time, I probably figured it would be broken by now. But I didn’t anticipate how unusual it would become for a pitcher to go nine innings. I started nine Series games and averaged nine innings, which would be unheard of today. If you want to set a strikeout record, you pretty much have to go nine innings. Since that day against the Tigers (when I struck out 17), nobody has struck out more than 12 in a World Series game. But that hasn’t been the case in the playoffs. Kevin Brown struck out 16 in 1998, and Roger Clemens, Livan Hernandez, and Mike Mussina all struck out 15. I never pitched in a playoff game, but I doubt that I’d have put up the numbers I did in the World Series. There’s something to be said for pitching against batters who have never faced you before.

Danielle Solzman: What does it mean to you to be able to put on the red blazer every season?

Bob Gibson: It used to be a little more meaningful than it is now, since the members of the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame also get red blazers. I feel that the Cardinals should have probably given them blue blazers and left the red ones for the guys in the National Hall of Fame. But either way, it’s something I take a lot of pride in, because I’m a Cardinal through and through. At home in Omaha, I watch the Cardinals every night, unless they’re getting blown out, which is the only time I’ll ever switch to another game. I’m Freddie Frontrunner.

Danielle Solzman: After Stan Musial died, I was reading the George Vecsey biography of Stan and saw where the Cardinals sent some scouts to see Ernie Banks when he was playing in the Negro Leagues. One was positive and the other was negative. Can you imagine what the 1950s, 1960s, and early portion of the 1970s could have been like with Banks in the Cardinals lineup? As far as pennant races go, what kind of damage could the Cardinals have done outside of 1964, 1967, and 1968?

Bob Gibson: I’d never speak against Ernie Banks. He was a great guy and a great player, and I was always desperate to get some more punch in our lineup. Having Ernie on our side would have significantly improved my quality of life. But let’s put it this way: I would rather have had Ozzie Smith. Dal Maxvill was a great shortstop in his own right, but he never developed his bat like Ozzie did. And I’m not sure that Banks would have been quite the hitter in St. Louis that he was in Chicago. He hit more home runs at Wrigley Field than he did in other parks, and a whole bunch of them landed in that little basket at the top of the fence. At Busch Stadium, those would not have been home runs. When I was pitching, I’d rather have had a shortstop that can help you both offensively and defensively. That said, I always enjoyed it when we got somebody who could hit the ball out of the ballpark. Orlando Cepeda. Dick Allen.

How about putting Willie Mays out there? Although, now that I think about it, Hank Aaron was probably the guy I would have most liked in our lineup. You can’t go wrong with either one of them.

Danielle Solzman: A lot of prominent Cardinals players ended up moving to St. Louis during their career and made it their home when they retired. You decided to stay in Omaha where you grew up. Did you ever consider making such a move to St. Louis?

Bob Gibson: Oh yes. When I was a rookie. But I couldn’t find a place that would allow me to live in an area where I wanted to live. If I could have found a place there that I could even rent, it would have made a big difference in my thinking. One of the things that turned me off was Bill White’s experience when he tried to buy a house. He had to have one of his friends buy the house and sell it to him. I ended up staying in a hotel during the season, and it wasn’t very nice. Today, of course, it’s entirely different.

Danielle Solzman: At the time of my sending these questions, the Cardinals are set to play against the winner of the Wild Card game being played on October 7. Looking at the standings on September 16, which team presents more of a challenge for the Cardinals: Chicago or Pittsburgh?

Bob Gibson: I don’t know, to tell the truth; the Cardinals have had their hands full with both of those teams this year. But in a short series, it can come down to pitching matchups. Jake Arrieta has had a fantastic season for the Cubs, but if he has to pitch the wildcard game, he wouldn’t be available as soon in the division series. Of course, Jon Lester has an outstanding postseason record, so he could be considered another ace in that situation. The Pirates are deep, too, at the top of the rotation, with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, and they might have a little edge with A.J. Burnett and all his postseason experience right behind them. You have to consider, also, that the Cubs have a lot of really good hitters in their lineup who have never played a game after the end of the regular season. On the other hand, I think the injury to Juan Ho Kang was a blow to the Pirates. So I’m back to I don’t know.

Danielle Solzman: Thanks again for joining us and congratulations on everything you accomplished while wearing the Cardinals uniform.

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