They Changed the Rules of Baseball Because of Him -- Why Bob Gibson Was an All Time Great

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 1968, file photo, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson throws to Detroit Tigers' Norm Cash in the ninth inning of the opening game of the World Series in St. Louis. Gibson struck Cash out for the 16th strikeout of the game and set a new World Series record. Looking on are catcher Tim McCarver, home plate umpire Tom Gorman and first base umpire Jim Honochick. On Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, Clayton Kershaw became the first pitcher since Gibson in 1968 to win the National League MVP award. (AP Photo/ File)

 

This one is for my Dad.

A lifelong Cardinal fan, he grew up listening to Stan Musial on the radio with his father.

I grew up as a Cardinal fan watching Bob Gibson pitch in San Francisco and Los Angeles with my father when the Cardinals came west.  We always went to see a game Bob Gibson was pitching.

Bob Gibson passed away on Friday at the age of 84.  While even the most casual baseball fans know Gibson was one of the all-time greats, there are things he accomplished in the 1960s and 1970s that even serious baseball fans aren’t aware of if you didn’t search them out.  The reason is that some of the things he accomplished are simply unheard of in today’s game.  But he routinely did things that are hard to even fathom now.

They changed the game because of him.  After his performance in the 1968 season, Major League Baseball changed the rules by lowering the maximum height of the pitcher’s mound.  They did it because Gibson was nearly unhittable during the 1968 season, and that is closer to a fact than it is hyperbole.

Gibson was 22-9 that season and had an ERA of 1.12.  That was the lowest ERA in baseball during the “live-ball era” (after 1920), and the lowest ERA at all since 1906.

He started 34 games that season and had 28 complete games with 13 shutouts.  He was removed from the game eight times by his manager for a pinch hitter.  That means that in the 34 starts he was not replaced by his manager to bring in another pitcher a single time.

In June and July, he won all 12 games he started, 8 by shutout — including a stretch where he pitched 5 shutouts in a row.   He allowed only six earned runs in the 12 games.

Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry managed to beat Gibson in a game with the Cardinals in 1968 — he threw a “no-hitter” to escape with a 1-0 victory.

Gibson pitched 15 full seasons in the major leagues, played in 9 All-Star games, and won 9 Gold Gloves.  He is regarded as likely the best fielding pitcher to ever play the game.

He might have been the best athlete to ever be a major league pitcher.  He delayed starting his career with the Cardinals by one year in order to play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1956.

He is one of a very small number of pitchers to ever hit .300 in the same season he won 20 or more games — doing so in 1970 when he went 23-7 and hit .303.  His career total of 24 home runs has been exceeded by only seven other pitchers in the history of baseball.

He won the seventh game of the World Series in both 1964 and 1967, becoming the first pitcher ever to pitch two complete-game victories to clinch the World Series for his team.  He won three starts in the 1967 World Series – Games 1, 4, and 7.

He was only the second pitcher in MLB history to record 3,000 strikeouts.

He still holds the record for most strikeouts in a World Series game — 17 in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

In the 1964, 1967, and 1968 World Series, Gibson had seven straight complete-game wins.  In the first 24 innings of the 1968 World Series Gibson had given up just one run and 11 hits, before an outfielder’s error led to three Detroit runs after two were already out in the inning, and the Tigers went on to win Game 7 by a score of 4-1.

After the 1968 season ended, Major League Baseball lowered the pitcher’s mound from 15 inches to only 10 inches above home plate and made the strike zone slightly smaller.

Bob Gibson wasn’t the only major league pitcher to have a great season in 1968 — but he was the best major league pitcher in 1968, and the changes were called “The Gibson Rule.”

I lost my Dad a few years ago, and I don’t follow baseball like I once did.  But I’ll never forget our drives home after the games talking about how amazing it was to see Bob Gibson pitch.