In the fourth installment in our Bob Gibson series, we look back at the final five seasons of the Hall of Fame pitcher’s career. From his 1959 debut with the St. Louis Cardinals, until 1970, when he won his second Cy Young Award, the right-hander was one of the best pitchers in the game. However, his last five years showed a gradual decline in effectiveness, until he retired from the game prior to the conclusion of the 1975 schedule.
Gibson won at least 20 games in a season for the fifth and last time in 1970. His record dropped to 16-13 in 1971, but his ERA remained good at 3.04. Gibson made 31 starts that season and led the league again in shutouts with five. His strikeouts dropped to under 200 at 185 for the first time since 1961, not counting 1967 when he fractured his leg and missed a couple of months of the season. He finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting that year behind winner Ferguson Jenkins, Tom Seaver, Al Downing, and Dock Ellis. He also won his seventh Gold Glove Award but failed to make the 1971 NL All-Star team.
The year 1971 stood out however, because it was the season in which he pitched his one and only no-hitter. On August 14 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, Gibson no-hit a lineup that included Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski, both future Hall of Famers. Gibby struck out Stargell three times. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 11-0 as Gibson struck out 10 and issued three walks. He had previously earned his 200th career victory on August 4 against the Giants.
In 1972, Gibson rebounded to win 19 games with an ERA of 2.46, with the latter his best since 1969. His strikeouts rose to 208 and he made 34 starts. Gibson finished ninth in the Cy Young Award voting and was named to his eighth and final All- Star Game. He also won the eighth of his nine Gold Gloves.
Gibson tore the cartilage in his knee while running the bases in August 1973. The Cardinals were in pennant contention at the time of the injury and ended up just 1 ½ games behind the division-winning Mets. Gibson made only 25 starts in 1973 due to the time out with the knee and his record dropped to 12-10 with an ERA of 2.77. He did win his ninth and final Gold Glove in 1973.
Gibson’s decline began in earnest in 1974. Though he reached the 3,000th strikeout milestone on July 17, 1974 by fanning Cesar Geronimo of the Cincinnati Reds, Gibby no longer had his once-overpowering fastball. Gibson’s personal life also took a turn as he and his first wife Charlene divorced that year. A return of swelling in his knee did not help matters and he finished the season with his first losing record since 1960 at 11-13. His ERA rose to 3.83.
Gibson announced in January 1975 that the season would be his last. He made only 14 inconsistent starts and was relegated to the bullpen by the end of July. His last win was in a relief appearance on July 27 against the Phillies. He made five more appearances in August with the last on August 29. He pitched the sixth inning in relief against the Reds and decided that was it. Gibson retired and left the team prior to the final road trip.
Gibson ended the 1975 season with a record of 3-10 and ERA of 5.04. He threw 109 innings with 60 strikeouts and an eye-popping 62 walks. Gibson retired with a total of 3,117 strikeouts, which was the NL record at that time, and second overall in MLB history to Walter Johnson. Those 3,117 strikeouts put him presently at a rank of 14th in major league history.
Gibson’s 17-year major league career ended with a record of 251 wins and 174 losses. His career ERA was 2.91 and he threw 255 complete games, including 56 shutouts.
The final installment of the Bob Gibson series will showcase his post-playing career, which included broadcasting as well as coaching jobs.
(includes Blast From the Past covering Gibson’s early career through 1959)
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