Bob Gibson

How waxing his car helped Bob Gibson shut out the Cubs

Heading into the Cardinals’ May 20, 1964, game against the Chicago Cubs, Bob Gibson knew he needed to do something different. So like the Karate Kid 20 years later, Gibson got to work polishing his car.

“I threw well in spring training, but my shoulder has been stiff since then,” Gibson said. “I had to warm up for 20 minutes to get loose one night, so I thought I’d try polishing the car.”[1]

Had the Cubs known what was coming, they may have paid someone to come polish Gibson’s car for him.

Gibson, who had won 13, 15, and 18 games, respectively, in the preceding three seasons, started 1964 with a pair of complete-game victories, beating the Dodgers 6-2 and the Houston Astros 6-1. On May 9, he picked up his third win of the season, scattering eight hits and two walks in a 5-1 complete-game victory, but stumbled in his next outing, lasting just three innings as the Braves scored four runs on eight hits and three walks. Though the Cardinals – who scored five runs in first inning – went on to win 10-6, Gibson was determined to return to form.

With his shoulder suitably loosened, Gibson opened the game by striking out Cubs second baseman Jimmy Stewart. Right fielder Lou Brock, who would be traded to the Cardinals less than a month later, also went down on strikes. Billy Williams and Ron Santo each singled before Gibson ended the threat by striking out Ernie Banks.

In the second, Gibson struck out Andre Rodgers, Billy Cowan, and Dick Bertell to give him six strikeouts in just two innings.

“Hoot, you ought to advertise on poles the way Satchel Paige used to,” fellow Cardinals pitcher Lew Burdette told Gibson. “Paige used to advertise that he’d guarantee to strike out the first nine batters.”[2]

Gibson retired all three Cub hitters in the third inning on ground balls before Chicago threatened again in the fourth. After Gibson retired Williams on a fly ball, Santo singled up the middle and Banks reached on an infield single. Once again, Gibson escaped damage, striking out Rodgers looking and getting Cowan to line out to Ken Boyer at third base.

Gibson wouldn’t allow another runner to reach base the remainder of the game, as he retired the final 17 batters he faced. Holding a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, he got Brock to ground out to first base and struck out Williams and Santo.

“I never saw anyone throw a breaking pitch that exploded like that one,” said Santo, who had two of the Cubs’ four hits against Gibson but also struck out twice.[3]

Santo was asked how Gibson’s fastball measured up against that of Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds.

“Maloney’s ball rises,” Santo replied. “Gibson’s ball goes this way, that way, up and down. Gibson is more deceptive and throws more easily than Maloney.”

Santo was then asked if Gibson’s fastball measured up to that of the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax.

“Yes, for certain periods, but Gibson throws his breaking stuff as hard as he does his fastball,” Santo said.

Gibson finished the game with 12 strikeouts. He allowed just four hits and lowered his ERA on the season to 2.17.

“Bob had great control and he challenged the hitters all night,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said. “In the ninth he went after Billy Williams and Santo as if he were saying, ‘Hurry up, I want to get this over and go home.’”

Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat said he could recall just one game in which Gibson threw as hard as he did against the Cubs that night, and it dated back to 1962, when Groat was on the Pirates and Gibson held him and his teammates to just three hits.

“We got two hits on sliders, one on a curve, none on his fastball,” Groat said. “I felt that for one given night, Gibson was the fastest pitcher I ever faced.”[4]

Chicago’s Larry Jackson, who pitched eight seasons and appeared in three all-star games for the Cardinals before being dealt to the Cubs after the 1962 season, kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard for seven innings and pitched his 2,000th major-league inning in the sixth before finally allowing a run in the bottom of the eighth.

Groat led off the inning with a single that eluded a diving attempt by Stewart at shortstop and rolled into center field. Boyer followed with a single into left that similarly avoided a diving Santo.

“I was playing close to the line, guarding against an extra-base hit,” Santo said. “If I had been playing Boyer in the normal position, I probably would have got the ball. I missed it by just a few inches.”[5]

With runners on first and third, Bill White hit a hard ground ball back toward the mound that bounced over Jackson and into center field.

“White hit the same pitch I got him out with the time before,” Jackson said. “He didn’t try to pull the ball as he did the time before.”[6]

White was caught in a rundown between first and second, and though Jackson walked Johnny Lewis and gave an intentional pass to Tim McCarver, he escaped the inning without further damage.

Nonetheless, as Richard Dozer wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “The Cubs simply were up against another of the superior men of the major league pitching profession, and Jackson was a luckless but brilliant loser.”[7]

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[1] Neal Russo, “Gibson Polishes Car, Then Cubs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 21, 1964.

[2] “Redbird Notes: Hoot Fans 6 in First 2 Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 21, 1964.

[3] Russo.

[4] Russo.

[5] Russo.

[6] Russo.

[7] Richard Dozer, “Gibson Sets Down Cubs On 4 Hits, 1-0,” Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1964.

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