Remembering Bob Gibson and his Canadian connections

Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) were mound rivals and perennial National League Cy Young Award contenders between 1967 and 1972.

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

After it was announced that longtime St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson had passed away on Friday, Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) paid tribute to his fellow Cooperstowner on Twitter.

“I just got the horrible news of the passing of my dear friend Bob Gibson,” Jenkins tweeted on Friday. “My thoughts and prayers are with Wendy and the Gibson family. A huge loss for the entire MLB and Cardinals family. We will miss you, Bob.”

Gibson died after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 84.

It’s heartwarming to know that Jenkins and Gibson became such good friends after being fierce rivals during their big league careers. Between 1967 and 1973, Jenkins was the ace of the Chicago Cubs, while Gibson was the No. 1 starter for the Cardinals, the Cubs’ most hated opponent.

From 1967 to 1972, the two bulldog right-handers were perennial National League Cy Young Award contenders that faced each other nine times, according to John Best, of The Bay Observer. In those showdowns, Jenkins earned five wins, Gibson three and there was one no decision.

One of their most memorable battles came on Opening Day at Wrigley Field in 1971 when they each allowed just one run through nine innings. But after Jenkins held the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the 10th, Cubs slugger Billy Williams clubbed a walk-off home run off Gibson in the bottom of the frame. Yes, it was a different era, but can you imagine two starting pitchers throwing 10 innings on Opening Day today?

But Jenkins, I’m sure, would trade his five wins against Gibson for a chance to pitch in the postseason, something he never got to do during his major league career, and that the Cards right-hander did three times and dominated. In his three trips to the World Series, Gibson made three starts in each and went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA and tossed eight complete games, striking out 92 batters in 81 innings. The Cards won two of those Fall Classics (1964 and 1967) and Gibson was named the MVP in each.

Born in Omaha on November 9, 1935, Gibson became the first black athlete to play both basketball and baseball at Creighton University. The Cardinals signed him as an amateur free agent in 1957 and after two minor league seasons, he made his big league debut on April 15, 1959. After being shuffled between the minors and the majors in 1959 and 1960, he emerged as the ace of the club in 1961.

In all, in his 17 seasons with the Cardinals, the intimidating right-hander was a five-time 20-game winner, a nine-time all-star and a nine-time Gold Glove Award winner. He also captured two Cy Young awards and finished his career with 56 shutouts (13th all-time) and 3,117 strikeouts (14th all-time).

The pinnacle of his career was his 1968 campaign when he went 22-9 in 34 starts and posted a minuscule 1.12 ERA – a statistic no pitcher has come close to matching in the last 52 years.

Not surprisingly, Jenkins and Gibson were teammates on the National League All-Star team in 1967 and 1972.

But Gibson’s connection with Jenkins is just one of his Canadian links. Here’s a rundown of some of the others:

– Gibson loved to pitch at Montreal’s Jarry Park. In 10 career starts there, he went 7-3 with a 2.41 ERA and tossed seven complete games. In 82 innings, he allowed 71 hits and struck out 52.

– The legendary right-hander tossed 56 big league shutouts. One of those came at Jarry Park. On September 28, 1969, Gibson held the Expos off the scoreboard, while scattering nine hits and striking out four, in the Cards’ 2-0 win. He also went 2-for-4 with a double at the plate.

– Gibson recorded his 250th – and second-last MLB win – at Jarry Park. On June 27, 1975, he limited the Expos to two runs on five hits in six innings to lead the Cards to a 6-4 win. Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Steve Rogers started for the Expos.

Bob Gibson (middle), shown here with Montreal Expos manager Gene Mauch (left) and St. Louis Cardinals teammate, Joe Torre, was 12-8 with a 2.57 ERA in 23 starts against the Montreal Expos during his career.

– In total against the Expos, Gibson made 23 starts and went 12-8 with a 2.57 ERA. He threw 14 complete games and struck out 135 batters in 182 innings.

– Gibson was also a decent hitter. He clubbed 24 home runs during his big league career. His fourth MLB homer came off New York Mets lefty Ken MacKenzie (Gore Bay, Ont.) on May 24, 1963. It was a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth inning of a Cards’ 10-4 win at Busch Stadium.

– The only Canadian player to hit a big league home run off Gibson was Tim Harkness (Lachine, Que.). Batting third and playing first base for the New York Mets, Harkness socked a three-run home run off Gibson in the first inning at Busch Stadium on April 29, 1964. That turned out to be the Mets’ only offence that day in their 4-3 loss to the Cardinals. Harkness was the most successful Canadian hitter against Gibson, going 4-for-15 with four walks, good for a .267 batting average and a .476 on-base percentage.

– By my count Gibson had six Canadian teammates over the years. While in the minors, Gibson suited up with Glen Gorbous (Drumheller, Alta.) on the triple-A Omaha Cardinals in 1957 and Tom Burgess (London, Ont.) on the triple-A Rochester Red Wings in 1958. While his Canadian St. Louis Cardinals teammates included Ken MacKenzie (Gore Bay, Ont.) in 1963, Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) from 1963 to 1965, Ron Piche (Verdun, Que.) in 1966 and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) from 1969 to 1973. Burgess, Taylor and Cleveland have been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont.

Published by cooperstownersincanada

Kevin Glew is a professional writer based in London, Ontario. His work has been featured on CBC Sports, Sportsnet.ca, MLB.com and Sympatico.ca. He has also written articles for Baseball Digest, Baseball America, The Hockey News, Sports Market Report and the Canadian Baseball Network. He has been involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more than 16 years, including a two-year stint as the museum's acting curator.

6 thoughts on “Remembering Bob Gibson and his Canadian connections

  1. Such great info Kevin. Thank you.
    Most amazing when you think about pitching was this:
    “Gibson loved to pitch at Montreal’s Jarry Park. In 10 career starts there, he went 7-3 with a 2.41 ERA and tossed seven complete games. In 82 innings, he allowed 71 hits and struck out 52.”

    In 10 starts he pitched 82 innings!!!

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