St. Louis Sports Day

Gibson’s Stare, Attitude Dominated 1968


Fifty years since he used brushbacks, an intimidating stare and proper use of beneficial rules to post a Major League record 1.12 ERA (somehow managing to lose nine games against 22 wins) with 13 shutouts, Bob Gibson‘s dominant season is remembered as probably the best in Cardinals history. A painful Game 7 World Series defeat aside, the future Hall of Famer’s 1968 is among the greatest by any pitcher, and was smack in the middle of a 12-year run of dominance that spanned two expansion eras.

Now a half century later, New York Times “The Male Animal” columnist Sridhar Pappu recalls a year in which civil unrest and political turmoil dominated off the field as much as pitching did on it, in The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age. The story of this pivotal season, after which baseball altered the rules to seemingly give hitters a chance (13 qualified pitchers recorded ERAs of 2.20 or less in 1968), juxtaposes Gibson with the far more flashy McLain.

While the self-promoting McLain performed on the field, he also performed antics like disdaining the team charter in favor of traveling on his own plane. Gibson just took the ball and the mound and mowed down hitters.

“Let’s start with that stare,” said Pappu. “Gibson has said he was squinting, to see the signs from his catcher, but the effect is immeasurable. To look the part is one thing, but to live up to it, quite something else. Gibson wasn’t a head hunter. But he was resolute in keeping hitters “honest,” in keeping them from diving over the plate. His brushback pitch and ability to pitch inside with great command was unnerving to any hitter you talk to.”

Gibson_statueAnd Gibson wasn’t interested in the kind of fraternization among opponents so prevalent in today’s game.

“Then there was his treatment towards members of other teams,” added Pappu. “Any Cardinals player you speak to will tell you how gregarious Gibson was and how great a teammate he could be. But that was hidden by his outward animosity to a player who didn’t wear a Cardinals uniform. For the most part he didn’t fraternize at All Star Games, didn’t believe in establishing a closeness that others could use against him. He was someone who faced great adversity from the time of his birth and by his will and talent, reached a place of greatness. He wasn’t going to let anyone take that from him. And to this day, no one really has.”