Alright, 2020. You win. I give up. Now, can you please stop it?
In the past month or so, the Major League Baseball (MLB) world lost two centerpieces to the Mount Rushmore of greatness that shaped the game into what it is today. Lou Brock and Tom Seaver, both nicknamed “The Franchise,” helped define what a pitcher and speedster on the base paths look like in the game we know and love today.
Around midnight on Oct. 2, baseball lost one of its truest icons, Bob Gibson — a trendsetter in a time when Black players still weren’t accepted all too well, even decades after the arrival of Jackie Robinson. A fireballer out of St. Louis who got pegged as a bit of a bully, in part because of his tendency to go after hitters with inside pitches to the ribs and, sadly, in part, because of the color of his skin. A man whose lights-out performances and playoff pushes made him a legend in the baseball community, strongly to this day. Gibson, or “Hoot” as he was often referred to in the MLB community, is best known for his unhittable fastball and longevity in games, as he was able to finish entire games basically every time he stepped out on the mound. A feat, while sounding commonplace, doesn’t happen nowadays as often, as pitchers are protected more and viewed as delicate centerpieces to teams. As the old saying goes, “Pitching wins pennants.”
Aside from his extensive success and accolades, Gibson is also revered for his impulsive manner on the mound — he didn’t like when people hit his pitches. It’s important to remember that Gibson pitched in a different style of baseball, when hitting players and getting physical was nothing short of commonplace.
“People were always saying, ‘Oh, you’re always throwing at people,’” Gibson said in a documentary called “Fastball.” “No, the people I threw at, I hit. I never threw at someone and not hit him.”
Probably bigger than any of that, though, remains his performance in the 1968 season, where his earned run average (ERA) stands as a pinnacle of baseball stats, on par with Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; for those who are unaware, I’m talking about his 1.12 ERA during that year. To show the gravity of just how significant this number is, the second lowest single-season ERA is 1.53, set by Dwight Gooden in 1985 — over 30 points higher than Gibson’s record. This unreachable feat hasn’t even been teased in the live-ball era of baseball since Gooden’s ’85 line.
I could talk about his unreachable heights in the baseball world all day. I could talk about his 1.12, the fact that he had more complete game finishes (255) than he did wins (251) or his overwhelming strikeout rate, until I ran out of breath. But, the one that really sticks out reminds me of my tribute to Gibson’s teammate Lou Brock. As I said, baseball has a way of being almost poetic in nature. The Cardinals won the world series four months to the day that Brock joined the team. The Marlins, who are strangers to the postseason, have won the World Series both times they broke the mold and made it to the elite. Legendary outfielder Ichiro started and ended his career in a game against the Oakland Athletics, with both games ending in a 4-3 score. Most amazingly of all, however, is a new poetic fact. Bob Gibson died 52 years to the day that he set his still-standing postseason record of 17 strikeouts in a single game. Things like this don’t just happen accidentally. No, the serendipity and coincidental nature of baseball fuels the love from its fans even more than any grand slam or no hitter ever could. The game has a way of writing its own stories, almost like love letters to the players and fans. I said it once and I’ll say it again: How can you not be romantic about baseball?
One certain faculty member on Harding’s campus is especially romantic about baseball; even more than most, in this case. Assistant professor of communication Tim Hamilton had the privilege of meeting Gibson on more than one occasion. As you can imagine, he comes equipped with his fair share of stories, too.
“The Cardinals are in San Francisco to play the Willie Mays-led Giants in the late ‘60s,” Hamilton said. “Orlando Cepeda was on the Cardinals and had been with the Giants before. He and Mays were good friends, Cepeda asked Gibson to go with him to visit Mays at his home in SanFran during the Cards-Giants series. When Mays opened the door, he sees Gibson wearing glasses. A shocked Mays exclaimed, ‘What the heck?! I didn’t know you wore glasses! How do you pitch with them?’ Gibson said that Mays never did well against him after that.”
Not a lot of people knew that Gibson was visuallyimpaired. He had a reputation for staring down batters, seemingly as an intimidation method to get batters out. Gibson shed a little light on the matter in the “Fastball” documentary.
“Since the day I turned 19 years old, I haven’t had very good eyesight; and I wore glasses,” Gibson said. “Never during a game, though. So I had to squint and look in at the catcher’s signs and people perceived that as me staring them down.”
Bob Gibson’s rigorousness and unquenchable thirst for competition remains unmatched in the baseball world. If Hoot was on the mound, he was going to win by any means necessary. You just don’t see that today; that undeniable hunger for victory remains unmatched and will forever remain unmatched in the great game that is baseball.
It brings me great pain to say goodbye to another icon of the sport, especially in such a short time, but no one lives forever. Gibson’s death will undoubtedly inspire many young athletes to follow in his footsteps — to want to compete their heart out and give their all to the game they love. LeFluer’s words once again reign true as we say goodbye to one of the best there ever was or ever will be: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Goodbye, Bob. May your legacy and importance you brought to the game of baseball never be forgotten.