On this day in baseball history, Bob Gibson made the final appearance of his illustrious major league career. Prior to the 1975 season, Gibson stated that it would be his last. The 39 year old came into the season after a pretty good year at the age of 38, posting a 3.83 ERA through 240 innings over 33 starts, also picking up 129 strikeouts along the way. On a September 1 afternoon in St. Louis, the Cardinals designated the day as Bob Gibson Day. In front of 48,435 fans, the intimidating righty was informed his jersey number 45 would join Stan the Man Musial’s number 6, and Dizzy Dean’s number 17 in Cardinals fame and glory, being the only three jersey numbers retired by the Redbirds at the time.
September 1 was a day that was used to pay homage to an all-time great of not only the Cardinals, but as one of the greatest to ever toe the rubber. Gibson was the undisputed ace of the Cards staff through the 1960s, a team that saw three National League pennants and two World Series titles; and if you did contest his role in the staff, well, then he’d probably brush you off inside. That is, if he didn’t just decide to put it in your ribs, because he would, and he’d be unapologetic about it the whole time. But the 6’2 Gibson wasn’t as stoic on his day of recognition as one would expect such an intimidating figure to be. Gibson is recorded as saying, “I’m more nervous than I was before a World Series game,” to onlookers, including former teammates Stan Musial and Bill White. Indeed, a time for celebration, and a time to reflect on a brilliant career, Gibson found himself overwhelmed by emotion each time he’d approach the microphone to try to address the crowd, who was thunderous with its standing ovation.
On this day, however, two days after such joy and reflection, Bob Gibson took to the mound one last time under a blackened St. Louis sky. By this point in the season, Gibson had made the change from starter to reliever. With 24 games left in the season for the 73-64 Cardinals, Gibson wouldn’t see any of them. The Hoot entered the game in the 7th inning against the Chicago Cubs. It was a night that would see Gibson face eight batters. He’d give up two hits and three walks, en route to giving up 5 earned runs. When Pete LaCock stepped up to the plate for Chicago, there were three men on base. Once LaCock returned to the dugout, there was no one left on base. Gibson gave up a grand slam to LaCock in his final appearance. Gibson was, however, able to finish the inning. He got Don Kessinger to ground out. The Cardinals lost the game 11-6 after having entered the inning tied 6-6. It wouldn’t matter much, though, because in Gibson’s final season, St. Louis concluded the year barely over .500 at 82-80, which put them tied for 3rd in the National League East, missing the playoffs by 10.5 games.
Of course, his final appearance would not be enough to taint the legacy of the Hall of Famer. It would be absurd if it did. A career spanning 17 seasons, Gibson finished his career with an ERA of 2.91, going 251-174 over 528 appearances. He collected 56 shutouts (13th all time) and 3,117 strikeouts (14th all time). Gibby threw one no-hitter, and it occurred on August 14, 1971, and happened in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium in which the Cardinals won 11-0, which is the largest margin of victory the franchise has seen when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. Finally, Gibson’s most glorious season, in which he posted an astonishing ERA of 1.12 in 1968, which was, and still is, the lowest single season ERA since 1914. He shutout 13 clubs that season and posted 268 strikeouts, both of which were league leading. Gibson finished the season 22-9 over 34 starts. He took home an All-Star bid, a Cy Young award, an MVP award, and a Gold Glove award that year. St. Louis finished that season with 97-65 record, which was good for 1st in the National League. They went on to lose 4 games to 3 in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. He went on to be a 9x All-Star, 2x World Champion, 1x NL MVP, 2x NL Cy Young winner, 2x World Series MVP, and 9x Gold Glove award winner over the full duration of his career.
Bob Gibson was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1981, six years after his career concluded. Gibson saw many great seasons with the two birds on his chest, but on this day, September 3, 1975, the preeminent Bob Gibson made his final appearance as a player on a baseball field.
National Pastime. http://www.nationalpastime.com/site/index.php?fact_day=03&fact_month=09.
Baseball Reference. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gibsobo01.shtml
Bob Gibson Hall of Fame page link: http://baseballhall.org/hof/gibson-bob