JUPITER, Fla. • Can it be 50 years since Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson last played on a World Series championship ballclub? Gibson, who was in Cardinals camp this week as a ceremonial instructor, pondered this question for a moment.
“I never really thought about it,” said Gibson. “Hmm. Fifty years ago. I guess it does seem like 50 when you stop and think about it. Maybe more.
“It’s kind of like another life. It’s been so long since I’ve played ball and so long since I was in a World Series. It seems like it was something else – maybe like a dream.
“You know it’s not a dream but it feels like it. But I’ll tell you what will bring you out of it. You get out there and try to throw a ball and you can’t throw it 10 feet in front of you. That’ll bring you out of it real quick.”
Gibson, in an exclusive question-and-answer session with the Post-Dispatch, had some other interesting and revealing thoughts on pitching and the differences in the game from 40 to 60 years ago when he played.
Q: Do you throw at all now?
A: No. My wife is always giving me something to throw over the fence out to the birds in the backyard. I know better than to do that. I kind of flip it over sidearm. You’re going to tear something if you get your arm up there and really try to throw.
Q: Did you ever have arm surgery? Did you ever need it?
A: I never had surgery, but my arm hurt all the time. All the time. I can’t even straighten it out. I’ve got to think we pitched with stuff that these guys would sit out with now, which I don’t blame them for. They take better care of pitchers now than they did us.
We took Darvon. And they said when your arm was hurt, to ‘throw it out.’ They weren’t as smart about it as they are now. The doctors know what you should not do. We didn’t know that. The doctors never did either.
But I didn’t like to miss a start. My goal was to win 20 ballgames. I don’t know if that was wise or not. But we never did score a lot of runs when I was pitching, so there was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t win a ballgame.
Q: What do you think of starting pitchers being content to last six innings?
A: Very interesting. But I guess if you grow up that way, that’s the way it is. When we pitched six innings, there was going to be a nasty story written in the newspaper the next day. ‘Gibson can’t pitch but six innings. They need to trade hm.’
(Editor’s note: Gibson won 251 games in his career. He had 255 complete games. Last year, there were 39 complete games in the entire National League.)
Q: You stayed with the Cardinals your entire career. How significant is that, relative to Adam Wainwright possibly doing the same thing?
A: It was easy to do when I did it because I had no option but to stay with the Cardinals. I couldn’t just say, ‘I’m going to go somewhere where I can make more money.’ The idea is to make as much money as you can.
I would have (left), too, if I had to. If you have a good year somewhere and you want more money and if they don’t want to give it to you, you go somewhere else. That’s the way I would have done it, but we didn’t have that option.
Q: Do you think there are a number of people in this camp who are unaware of just what you accomplished when you played?
A: I’m sure, especially the foreign players. You’ve got to remember this was a long time ago. I’ve almost forgotten. I last pitched in ‘75. Most (read: all) of those guys weren’t even born. Wainwright wasn’t even born.
Q: How did it feel putting the uniform back on for a couple of days (while in Jupiter this spring)?
A: When I put it on, I was waiting for a flashback. I haven’t had it yet.
Q: Is being a starting pitcher a lot different now?
A: These guys have a lot of different pitches, more than we did. I had a good fastball and I knew it. I could throw it and it would go two different ways. And I stuck with it. I didn’t have a changeup and I didn’t have a curveball, basically. I threw that once in a blue moon — to a lefthander. It would break but mine just kind of rolled, like it was in slow motion.
Now, everybody’s got a changeup and everybody’s got a curveball and a slider. They always told you you couldn’t have a good slider and a good curveball. You had to have one or the other. I didn’t have a good curveball and I didn’t work on my curveball. I worked on my slider.
Q: Do you think pitchers clocked at 98 or 99 on the radar guns really throw any harder than pitchers in your day? And did people think you were actually bigger than you were?
A: That isn’t any harder than I threw. I hit 99 or 100 a couple times but our guns never said that. Like everything else, the radar is probably better than it used to be. But I can’t imagine anybody throwing harder than Nolan Ryan. I doubt he was ever clocked at doing 101 or 102.
I was 6-1½. Everybody thought I was 6-3 or so. But right now, I’m about 6 feet (Gibson is 81 years old).
Q: As a college basketball star at Creighton, you got a chance to play for the Harlem Globetrotters out of college. Did you develop any trick moves?
A: I learned to spin the ball on my finger, but I could do that before I got there. I didn’t like that clowning stuff. I wanted to play. I was tricked because what made me fall in love with the Globetrotters was that series they had with the College All-Stars. That was real basketball. They came into Omaha and I got to play for the All-Stars and I said, ‘I’d love to do this,’ but as soon as I got there, they wanted me to dribble between my legs and stuff.
Q: Is bench jockeying a dying art?
A: I just couldn’t sit there and watch. I yelled at guys on the other team and they looked in the dugout. They knew who it was. I would turn my back and show them my number (45). You do that now and you might be hit in the lip.
Q: Worst experience in baseball?
A: (Joking, we think) My worst experience in baseball was when Red (manager Red Schoendienst) had (Dal) Maxvill pinch hit for me. I was so mad. I sat on the bench and Maxie swung and missed a couple of pitches and then he popped up. I walked past Red and said, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ I took a shower and went home.”