First, it was Lou Brock, now we have lost Bob Gibson. He seemed so indestructible to me, more than any other St. Louis Cardinals legend.
The 1967 St. Louis Cardinals team was special for me. Not only because they won the World Series that year, but because it was the year I saw my first Cardinal game at Busch Stadium.
Members of that team will always be sketched into my memory…Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Roger Maris, Mike Shannon, Dal Maxvill, Julian Javier, and Steve Carlton. But it’s Bob Gibson who always seemed to stand out among the others.
I’m not sure. It wasn’t anything that happened at my first Cardinal game in 1967, Gibson wasn’t even on the mound that day. I think it’s because of what Bob Gibson, the man, stood for his entire life.
His presence on the mound is legendary, and at least partly explains Gibby the man. He projected competitiveness and intimidation during his career. Don Sutton said he hated everyone, “including Santa Clause.” Dusty Baker said he was only intimidated by two people in his life, “My Daddy and Bob Gibson.”
He could also be surly and brusque, even with a teammate. Catcher Tim McCarver once went to the mound for a conference, and Gibson told him as he was turning his back to McCarver, “The only thing you know about pitching is that it is hard to hit.” Gibby must have been an early advocate of limited mound visits.
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com quoted Joe Torre when he was asked to best describe Gibson. “Try pride, intensity, talent, respect, dedication,” Torre said, “You need them all.”
But to completely get Bob Gibson the man, you would need to read his 1968 autobiography, ‘From Ghetto to Glory, The Story of Bob Gibson.’ In it, he shares his opinions on race riots, sports media, and the difficulty of growing up as a Black Man in America.
Gibson was one of seven children and struggled with asthma, rickets, and a heart murmur. Nevertheless, he became the first African American to play basketball and baseball at Creighton University. Indiana University wouldn’t offer Gibson a scholarship because their ‘Negro athlete quota had already been filled.’
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When Gibby first arrived in St. Louis in 1960, Cardinals manager Solly Hemus, told Gibson and Curt Flood they would not make it as major leaguers and should try something else. Gibson and Flood believed Hemus’ comment was more based on his racial prejudice than their baseball abilities. If Hemus wasn’t racially biased, we now know he at least wasn’t a good judge of talent.
Outspoken in the St. Louis Cardinal clubhouse, Gibson, Curt Flood, and Bill White started a civil rights movement to make all players live in the same clubhouse and hotel rooms. This led the St. Louis Cardinals to become the first sports team to end segregation, three years before President Lyndon Johnson signed the “Great Society” legislation in 1964.
It’s the challenges in one’s life that helps build character. Bob Gibson’s life was full of challenges and helped build the player and man we saw over his career and post-career. That’s why Bob Gibson, of all the Cardinal legends, stood out to me as so indestructible.
Pancreatic Cancer was Bob Gibson’s last challenge. Although, in the end, the cancer won that battle, I bet the cancer was sorry it ever took on Bob Gibson.