Had the game not been segregated, the late Satchel Paige would probably be known as the greatest Black pitcher in Major League Baseball history.
Denied his chance by racism, Paige didn’t pitch in the Majors until he was past his prime. Yet, he was still getting dudes out when he was in his late 40s – and early 50s.
St. Louis, the baseball world and a nation of sports fans lost the best, most-dominant Black pitcher in MLB’s history last week when Bob Gibson succumbed to pancreatic cancer (October 2, 2020) in Omaha at the age of 84.
Gibson’s most impressive statistic, which will never be matched, are his 255 complete games in 482 starts. In 1968, which is called the Year of the Pitcher, Gibson was by far the best,
He threw 13 shutouts and had a mind-bogging ERA of just 1.12. He won the National League MVP Award and the Cy Young Award that year, the first of two Cy Youngs he landed during his career. Behind Gibson, the Cardinals won World Series titles in 1964 and 1967.
In the opening game of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Gibson struck out a record 17 hitters. He died on the 52nd anniversary of that feat. Unfortunately, the Cardinals dropped that series in seven games.
Gibson finished his career with a Cardinal record 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts and a 2.91 ERA. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
He also holds Redbird records for complete games (255), innings pitched (3884.1), shutouts (56), strikeouts (3,117) and batters faced (16,068).
Houston manager Dusty Baker, who starred in the NL during Gibson’s final years, spoke of Gibson’s fierce competitiveness.
“He was tough on me. He was one of the only guys, besides my father, that I was intimidated by,'' Baker said.
In 2008 at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium, Gibson said his reputation for head-hunting had been embellished.
''I didn't do half the things they said I did,'' he said.
''They said I was always knocking guys down and hitting guys. But I won a game or two in there.''
Gibson did hit 102 batters during his 17-year career.
With a Major League career that began in the late 1950s, Gibson certainly dealt with racism in baseball and throughout America. This included his first manager, Solly Hemus, who openly used racial epithets toward Black and Latino players.
He was fired in 1961, just as the Cardinals were becoming one of baseball’s most diverse teams.
In the 2015 book “Pitch by Pitch, Gibson wrote “Our (Cardinals) team, as a whole, had no tolerance for ethnic or racial disrespect.”
“We’d talk about it openly and in no uncertain terms. In our clubhouse, nobody got a free pass.”
Gibson later said that his historic 1968 season was fueled by his rage at racism and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals youthful ace, pitched gallantly in his team’s 4-0 season-ending loss to the San Diego Padres on Oct. 2, learned of Gibson’s death just as the game was ending.
“That one hurts,” said Flaherty, who had developed a close relationship with Gibson as a mentor and advisor.
“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.”
I saw Gibson pitch more than a dozen times at Busch Stadium, including some famous duels against Juan Marichal and the San Francisco Giants. Two minority pitchers that didn’t back down from anyone.
Those battles are why I like close, low-scoring baseball games. It’s real baseball.
Bob Gibson was a real man and a real pitcher. Both are in short supply these days.
It’s about time
I toured the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City three weeks ago for the first time in years and it remains a fascinating journey.
An examination of the battle to integrate Major League Baseball, which began decades before Jackie Robinson played, is a highlight of the many exhibits.
Key to the effort were the heroics of Black soldiers in World War II. They could serve and die for a nation that didn’t allow them to excel in the Majors.
It’s detailed that the color barrier in baseball would have ended sooner if not for one, racist man – Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
It is no coincidence that black players took the field in 1947 – three year after Landis’ death.
And it is nothing short of a disgrace that the Most Valuable Player Awards, which are voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, carried his name for 75 years.
That is until last Sunday.
“We will no longer will be associated with the Landis name, and the MVP plaques will be nameless in 2020,” BBWAA president Paul Sullivan wrote.
“Hopefully when some sense of normalcy returns in 2021, we can have a healthy debate over whether to add a new name or just leave it as the BBWAA MVP award.”
Former St. Louis Cardinal star third baseman Terry Pendleton, who won the 1991 National League MVP Award with the Atlanta Braves, joined Hall of Fame members Barry Larkin and Mike Schmidt in calling for Landis’ name to be removed in June.
After learning of the BWAA’s decision, Pendleton texted “It’s the right thing to do!!”
The decision cannot be fully celebrated though. The vote to remove Landis’ name was not unanimous. Only 89 percent of voters approved the action. This means more than 1-in-10 voters were happy to keep the racist Landis’ name on the award.
The Reid Roundup
On August 14, 1971 Bob Gibson threw his first and only no hitter in a 11-0 road win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is no film of the final innings of the game. It was not televised in Pittsburgh or St. Louis that Saturday night, and the lone film crew at the game left to prepare for the 11 p.m. news.
Alvin Reid, 10, and his family went bowling that night and the final innings on KMOX were on the alley speakers.
Gibson was not the first Black pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe won in 1956.
“Well, this should piss the haters off," said Bubba Wallace as he took the lead with eight laps left in last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race in Talladega, Fla. – site of the noose incident earlier this year. Wallace had two minor crashes before the race ended and finished 24th.
The Houston Texans fired head coach Bill O’Brien on Monday. While All-Pro quarterback Deshaun Watson is struggling this season, it is a job that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will be interested in when the season ends.
Romeo Crennel, 73, was named Texans interim coach. When he takes the sideline on Sunday, he will become the oldest head coach in NFL history.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said he will not “pressured” into starting rookie Tua Tagovailoa and that his collegiate hip injury remains a factor in the decision. Miami is 1-3 and starter Ryan Fitzpatrick has been inconsistent.
Jimmy Butler saved the Miami Heat season – or just prolonged it – last Sunday night with 40 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in his team’s 115-104 win. It is one of the Top 3 games in NBA Finals history.
The baseball world would like to see the New York Yankees face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series later this month. But wouldn’t it be fun if the hated Houston Astros take on the flamboyant and fun San Diego Padres in the Fall Classic?
This matchup would also give Astros manager Dusty Baker another chance to win the World Series as a manager.
That bat flip by Fernando Tatis Jr., that helped seal the Padres’ comeback win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Two of their NL Wildcard game was awesome. I’m sure the Cardinals will retaliate next season.
The 47th Annual Bayou Classic football game between Grambling State University and Southern University will be played on Saturday, April 17, 2021, at Independence Stadium in Shreveport. The move from the Superdome in New Orleans is just for the game this spring.
Quash the rumor that Emmitt Smith, NFL Hall of Famer and former teammate of Deion Sanders with the Dallas Cowboys, will be joining Sanders’ staff at Jackson State University. “No. No I won’t. I sent Deion a quick note, asking him if he needed a running back coach, but I was really joking.”
The Baltimore Ravens announced that the team is launching a podcast series called “Black in the NFL.” The 10-part series “will take a look at how race intersects with the league and its fans.”
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is #aareid1