Crane's Corner: 6-8-21 The Cardinal Wins

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I’ve been a baseball fan since my little league days, and at the big league level, the game has changed and not for the better. Though they are better nourished and probably in better shape than the players I followed back when LBJ pitched for the Washington Senators, well at least on opening day, today's players are comparative wimps. The New York Mets, my team, lead the national league east in games won and players injured. 13 of the 25 players have gone on the injured list. Back in the day, anything short of an amputation, might keep you out of action for a couple of days. These guys need weeks to heal up.

They earn for the most part millions, and that's part of the problem. Owners coddle the rich jocks to protect their investment, so, even the best pitchers rarely pitch deep into the game and very rarely toss a complete game. Each year the 30 teams play almost 5000 combined games. Since 2007 there haven’t been 100 complete games tossed in a single season.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s the best pitchers usually went the distance, or close to it. Guys like Bob Gibson who died last year at age 84. Gibson pitched from 1959 till 1975. It was an era when fans and baseball people followed statistics but were not immersed in analytics as they are today. Calculators only covered the basics, computers were the size of refrigerators and only understood by nasa nerds not sportswriters or GM’s.

But pore over Gibson's career numbers and count how many times you say wow.

He was at once a product of his environment and of the times both of which might have ruined a lesser man. He grew up in a gritty housing project in Omaha. He was bitten on the ear by a rat. Undernourished to the point that he suffered rickets and even as a major leaguer, the prime of his career was the decade of the 60’s and prejudice and racism were a constant. Maybe that’s what made Gibby so angry,an emotion, which along with a 96 mile an hour fastball made Gibson so intimidating and so good.

The stories are legion. Traded from the white sox, Tommy Agee a new Met, faced Gibson in a spring game. Gibson drilled him yelling “welcome to the national league”. The pitch sent Agee to the hospital then into an 0 for 34 slump to start the season and his worst career year.

Gibson’s best friend was ex Philly and former National League President Bill White. In a 1964 game, White’s pal warned him not to crowd the plate, White ignored him, and was greeted with a fast ball on his elbow, and a friendly “ I warned you, you sob.”.Those guys had company. The Cardinal head hunter hit 100 other batters. Tim McCarver, Gibby’s long time catcher tells of a mound visit, a short one, ended with Gibson shouting.”What the blank are you out here for...the only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit”.

Ok, times have changed but it’s a rare night when your Kershaw’s, Scherzers and De Groms pitch past the seventh. Gibson threw 255 complete games and was the original Mr. October for the A’s, Gibson in three fall classics won 7 games. In ’68 he was the Cy Young and NL MVP winner, winning 22 games and tossing 13 shutouts with a dazzling 1.12 era. And he could hit, slamming 26 homers. And he could field, winning 9 Gold Gloves.

Maybe the most amazing stat in his final season when a knee injury led to a 4-3 record and retirement, Bob Gibson made a career best salary, $175,000.

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