Bob Gibson, the powerful former pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and a National Baseball Hall of Famer, died on Friday at 84 years old from pancreatic cancer.
Gibson had been in hospice care for over a year in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Playing for the Cadinals his entire baseball career, Gibson was especially celebrated for his winning pitching in the 1968 World Series, which led him to be one of the first (and still few) African American pitchers to be honored with the Cy Young Award.
Gibson’s death came on the 52nd anniversary of perhaps his most overpowering performance, when he struck out a World Series record 17 batters in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against Detroit.
One of baseball’s most uncompromising competitors, the two-time Cy Young Award winner spent his entire 17-year career with St. Louis and was named the World Series MVP in their 1964 and ’67 championship seasons. The Cards came up just short in 1968, but Gibson was voted the National League’s MVP and shut down opponents so well that baseball changed the rules for fear it would happen again.
Gibson continued to rack up impressive pitching performances with the Cardinals until he left the club in 1975, later publishing the book Pitch By Pitch to invite fans into the story behind his stunning 1968 Series performance.
“Everything I’ve talked about, Bob Gibson stood for,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to AP, in response to the pitcher’s death. “He was an elite athlete. He was a great competitor. He was a winner. I think he would have enjoyed playing on this team. We’re going to miss him.”
Gibson maintained ties with the Cardinals and often spoke highly of the team’s one-time manager Johnny Keane, despite experiencing racism from that manager’s predecessor, Solly Hemus, and even from fans in the stadiums. In more recent years Gibson acted as a mentor to the team’s younger Black players, like Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty.
“That one hurts,” Flaherty said of Gibson’s death. “He’s a legend, first and foremost, somebody who I was lucky enough to learn from. You don’t get the opportunity to learn from somebody of that caliber and somebody who was that good very often.”
Gibson’s former long-time teammate with the Cardinals, outfielder Lou Brock, died earlier this month at 81.