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'Pitch By Pitch,' Bob Gibson Shares His Life In The Game


This first day of the World Series is the perfect day to recall Series past. The New York Mets step on the grass to meet the Kansas City Royals tonight. And it would be hard for them to forget all the generations of players who have experienced that moment before. One of them spoke with our colleague, David Greene.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: It was Game 1, 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And walking slowly to the mound, Bob Gibson.

GREENE: The Cardinals' Bob Gibson took the mound. And he was about to strike out more batters than any pitcher in World Series history. His record still stands up today, which makes this odd. In his new book about that game, called "Pitch By Pitch," Gibson writes that striking out a hitter really isn't a priority.

BOB GIBSON: Getting the hitter out is the ultimate goal. Strikeouts is icing on the cake, I guess. You try to strike a guy out after you get two strikes. Up to that point, you'd just as soon the guy hit the first pitch.

GREENE: Because that way, you get a guy out with fewer pitches. Now, Bob Gibson spends time in his book writing about life growing up in the projects of Omaha, Neb. His father died before he was born.

GIBSON: And my brother, Josh, was the oldest in the family. And he was kind of a mentor, a teacher, everything else. And he was pretty much instrumental in my participating in sports and whatever else I did.

GREENE: That included teaching him baseball.

GIBSON: I'd call him a bully because...

GREENE: (Laughter) OK.

GIBSON: He bullied me into being a pretty good athlete. I developed the tenacity that I have because of just watching him and seeing how he interacted with people. I'm sure that that is one of the reasons I turned out the way I did.

GREENE: Bob Gibson was a black man playing baseball during the civil rights movement. His closest Cardinals teammate was Tim McCarver, who caught every pitch he threw most games. They became close despite coming from very different backgrounds.

GIBSON: He came from Memphis, Tenn. I was from Omaha, Neb. And he was taught certain things. He was taught that black people were not equal, and that they were subpar. But when you get to a point where you play together, you live together, you realize that all of the stuff that you were taught was not true. Here's a guy that I really enjoy being with, as far as the game was concerned. He got to know me by the way I pitched. And the best relationship with a catcher is when you can go out and pitch; you do not have to do a lot of extra thinking about things. And that was the case with Tim.

GREENE: It feels like the pitcher-catcher relationship is one that if you don't experience it, there's - there might be no way to describe it. It sounds like a very unique thing.

GIBSON: Yeah, I - you know, I'm not sure that it's unique. I think just the playing with each other is unique. And I think that probably is more important than putting down one finger or two fingers.

GREENE: For our non-baseball fans, just those are the two finger or one finger, the signs that your catcher puts down to suggest a pitch. And you can either go for it or shake him off, as it were, I guess.

GIBSON: Yeah, I didn't really shake Tim off a lot.

GREENE: (Laughter) It's a sign of a good relationship. A catcher knows...

GIBSON: Well, yeah, but I didn't finish yet.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GIBSON: What I did - he would put down one finger. And rather than me shake him off, I would just stare. And then he'd go to the second one. See, now, don't get me wrong. Catchers don't call the game. They just make suggestions.

GREENE: (Laughter) I would love to interview a catcher and see what he thinks about who's calling the game.

GIBSON: (Laughter) No, they don't call the game.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about the game that I guess one might argue Tim McCarver called or you called, depending on who you're talking to. But it was...

GIBSON: I called it.

GREENE: You called it. You called it.

GIBSON: He just made suggestions.

GREENE: There you go.

GIBSON: It was Game 1 of the World Series 1968. It's your St. Louis Cardinals against the Detroit Tigers. Why did you write a whole book about this game? What made it so special?

GIBSON: Getting into the World Series is what everybody wants to do. That's your aim from day one when you go to spring training.




UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Yelling) Got 'em. Listen to the crowd.


GREENE: That is the sound of some ninth inning drama. Bob Gibson had the lead and had just struck out the Tigers' Al Kaline. It was Gibson's 15th strikeout, tying Sandy Koufax's record for most in a World Series game. The crowd was cheering Gibson, and Tim McCarver wanted to recognize his friend.

GIBSON: Tim would not get behind the plate and call another pitch. He's walking out. He's walking toward me. What? Let's go. What are you coming out here for? And he was pointing at the scoreboard. And I looked around. And it said something; I think it was 15 strikeouts. It said something about tying Sandy Koufax's record. I went, OK, but we still got the rest of this game to finish. And that is not nearly as important as finishing the game, the strikeouts. Let's go. Let's just get this thing over with.

GREENE: And he did - with two more strikeouts - shattering the record, 17 strikeouts and the St. Louis Cardinals took Game 1. But someone was not there to witness Gibson's heroics.

You wrote about your brother, who we talked about, Josh. He was not at the 1968 World Series. Why was that?

GIBSON: Well, that's a good question. There came a point where my brother Josh was not the same mentor that he was when I was a child. For some reason, he thought that I was making tons of money. And certainly I was making more money than the average person that goes out and works day in and day out. And I believe that he thought that I owed him for his mentoring, his being responsible for me being a pretty good major league player. And I didn't see it that way. And that's probably the reason he didn't come.

GREENE: Have you made up with him since then?

GIBSON: My brother is not alive today, so no.

GREENE: Oh, I'm sorry.

GIBSON: No, I didn't make up with him.

GREENE: That sounds really hard given the relationship you guys had.

GIBSON: It was hard. It's hard. Yeah. You don't want things like that to happen in a lifetime. Unfortunately, they do.

GREENE: That Game 1 victory was also bittersweet for another reason, one baseball fans know all too well. The World Series is best of seven games. So glory one night can turn to dread the next day. And in the end, the Detroit Tigers beat the Cardinals four games to three.

GIBSON: I thought we had the best ballclub. And you know, they always say, oh, the best team wins. No, not all the time.

INSKEEP: Bob Gibson, star of Game 1 in the 1968 World Series. He spoke with David Greene. And of course, Game 1 of this year's series is tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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