On May 12, 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 at Busch Stadium. Bob Gibson pitched a complete game for the Cards, allowing two runs on seven hits. He struck out six and walked one.
There was nothing exceptional about Gibson’s pitching performance that day. It was a typical one for him that year, except for the relatively low number of strikeouts.
But Gibson’s contributions weren’t limited to pitching. At the plate, he went 3-3 with a walk. He also stole a base.
Gibson singled to lead off the bottom of the third inning, but did not score. In the bottom of the fourth, he came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. The Dodgers had walked Steve Huntz intentionally to get to Gibson. Huntz, a rookie, was batting less than .100. Gibson had consistently batted around .200 throughout his career.
Gibson singled off of Claude Osteen to drive in Joe Torre and Joe Hague, giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. These were are all the runs they would need that day.
Gibson singled again to lead off the home half of the seventh inning. His hit triggered a two run inning that gave St. Louis a 6-1 lead.
The lead was 6-2 when Gibson batted in the bottom of the eighth with one out and no one on base. This time, he drew a walk from reliever Pete Mikkelsen, a teammate of Gibson’s the previous season.
Gibson proceeded to steal second base.
As I understand it, baseball etiquette at the time (and maybe still) did not frown on stolen bases by teams with leads of four runs or less. The notion was that as long as a grand slam could tie the game, it was not showing the opposition up to get a runner into scoring position by stealing second base.
The Cardinals were four runs up when Gibson stole his base. It’s true that a four-run lead in the bottom of the eighth with Gibson pitching must have felt more like a six-run lead. Nonetheless, Gibson did not violate any unwritten rule by swiping the bag.
I’m not sure whether he cared.
In my opinion, there hasn’t been another Bob Gibson since he retired in 1975. However, the Washington Nationals have perhaps the closest thing to Bob Gibson since then.
I’m talking about Max Scherzer. He resembles Gibson in the intensity with which he competes, including the visible effort he puts into every pitch. Both hate to come out of a game and they pitch pretty much the maximum number of innings that the practice of their eras permits (280-290 for Gibson; 220-230 for Scherzer).
Both compete not just on the mound, but at the plate. Gibson retired with a batting average of .206. In an era when pitcher batting averages have declined, Scherzer’s is .194.
Scherzer even has a stolen base to his credit. It came last year. He’d have more, I’m guessing, if management didn’t discourage its ace from base running escapades. Gibson stole 13 bases during his career, but was caught 10 times, which means his escapades were counterproductive. Anything less than about a two-thirds success rate hurts the team, though the analysis that shows this hadn’t been performed back when Gibson was playing.
Gibson and Scherzer were both relatively late bloomers. Gibson didn’t become a premier pitcher until his age-26 season. Scherzer didn’t gain that status until even later.
Both made up for lost time. Gibson won two Cy Young awards and made the all-star team nine times.
Scherzer has won the Cy Young award three times and has been an all-star six times so far.
If Scherzer resembles Gibson, it’s probably not a coincidence. Scherzer is from St. Louis and I understand that his father was a big fan of Gibson.
Maybe Brad Scherzer was at Busch Stadium on May 12, 1969. Or perhaps he caught the game on radio or television.
In any case, it’s likely that Brad held out Gibson as a model for Max. So it’s not surprising that almost every time I see Scherzer battling on the mound and at the plate, I think of Bob Gibson.