photo: Bob Gibson (Associated Press)
This week’s Blast From the Past is a standalone article that continues the series about St. Louis Cardinals pitching icon and Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Last week, we began with a brief description of his early life and his major league debut in 1959. Here, we look at the next four years of Gibson’s career, a period which ended with his first World Series Championship.
Gibson made his major league debut in April 1959 but spent the next couple of months in the minor leagues. He returned to pitch for St. Louis mid-season. Gibson’s 1960 season began with the big league club but he rode the shuttle between the Cardinals and the minor league Rochester Red Wings the next few months.
Gibson made two relief appearances with St. Louis in April 1960. He had three outings in May, one as a starter for two innings on May 4 and two relief appearances on May 7 and May 11.
Gibson returned to St. Louis on June 21 as a starter. He remained with the Cardinals for the remainder of the 1960 season. Gibson made 11 more starts that season, including a complete game on August 12 against the Pirates, in 9-2 win. He pitched a total of 86 2/3 innings in 1960 in starting and relief combined.
Gibson’s manager during this 1959-60 period was Solly Hemus, a notorious racist. Gibson remarked that Hemus told both he and Curt Flood at one point that they would never make it in the majors. Because of Hemus’ dislike of black players, he would use Gibson as sparingly as possible.
Hemus began the 1961 season again shuffling Gibson between the bullpen and the rotation. Gibson made two starts and two relief appearances in April. In May, he had four starts, including a complete game shutout against the Cubs on May 21. Gibson made six starts in June, including three complete games.
On July 6, Hemus was fired by the sixth-place Cardinals and replaced by Johnny Keane. “It was a whole new world for the black players,” said Gibson on the removal of Hemus. The Cardinals were 33-41 under Hemus but went 47-33 after Keane took over. Gibson made 14 more starts in 1961 including complete games on July 18, August 6, August 31, September 12, and October 1. The latter was a complete game shutout over the Phillies.
Gibson and Flood, along with teammate Bill White, started a movement to end segregation of black players in the clubhouse and hotel rooms and the Cardinals became the first team in baseball to end this practice of segregation in 1961.
Gibson’s 1962 season featured 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in late May. Major League Baseball played two All-Star Games each season from 1959 to 1962, and Gibson was named to both All-Star teams in 1962.
Despite fracturing his ankle late in the season, Gibson still made 30 starts, and led the NL in shutouts with five. He pitched 15 complete games and ended 1962 with a record of 15-13 and an ERA of 2.85. He also posted his first 200+ strikeout season.
A slow recovery from the fractured ankle led to only one win for Gibson in his first seven starts in 1963. He won his next two and won four of five in June, with the other a no decision. By the end of July, he had a record of 12-5. Gibson finished the season with a record of 18-9, but the Cardinals fell short of the NL pennant by six games with a record of 93-69 behind the 99-63 Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 1964 season was a race to the finish line against the Phillies for the NL crown. A nine-game winning streak by the Cardinals and a 10-game losing streak by the Phillies led to St. Louis squeaking out first place on the final game of the season. Gibson ended 1964 with a record of 19-12 with an ERA of 3.01.
The Cardinals faced the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series. The Cardinals won Game 1, 9-5. Gibson got the Game 2 start against Yankee pitcher Mel Stottlemyre. His first World Series start ended in an 8-3 loss, with Gibson yielding four of the eight runs in his eight innings pitched.
Gibson redeemed himself in Game 5, which the Cardinals won 5-2 in 10 innings. Gibson pitched the entire game, holding the Yankees scoreless through eight. He finally gave up two runs in the ninth to tie the game and send it into the 10th inning. The Cardinals took the lead in the top of the 10th on a three-run home run by Tim McCarver and Gibson shut the Yankees down in the bottom of the 10th with only a single allowed.
Gibson returned to start Game 7 on two days of rest. He gave up five runs in nine innings including two home runs in the ninth, but the Cardinals put seven runs on the board to win 7-5 and take the series. Gibson retired Bobby Richardson on a pop fly for the final out.
Gibson won two World Series games and set a new World Series record by striking out 31 Yankee hitters. The 1964 World Series was the Cardinals seventh World Series title and first since 1946.
The first five years of Gibson’s major league career started with a troubled relationship with a racist manager but ended in a World Series Championship. The next stage of Gibson’s career would be even better.
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