Bob Gibson

July 17, 1974: Bob Gibson gets his 3,000th strikeout the same day Dizzy Dean passes away

The same day the Cardinals lost one of the best pitchers in franchise history, another claimed his 3,000th strikeout victim.

On July 17, 1974, Bob Gibson claimed the 3,000th strikeout of his career, retiring Cesar Geronimo on strikes in a 6-4 loss to the Reds. Early that morning, Dizzy Dean, the unquestioned ace of the 1934 Cardinals’ world championship team had passed away with his wife Patricia; his brother, Paul Dean; and Paul’s two children at his side in Reno, Nevada. Dean had checked into St. Mary’s Hospital with chest pains a few days earlier, on July 14, then suffered a heart attack early the next day.

“Mrs. Nixon and I join sports fans everywhere in mourning the loss of this legendary figure,” President Richard Nixon said.[1]

Dean cemented his place in baseball lore in 1934 when he led the Gashouse Gang to the World Series championship. Dean won the National League Most Valuable Player Award after he led the league with 30 wins – including seven shutouts – and struck out a league-high 195 batters. Pitching in nine games over a 19-day stretch in the heat of the pennant race, Dean finished the season with 311 2/3 innings and a 2.66 ERA.

He led the league with 28 wins the following season, pitching 325 1/3 innings as he threw 29 complete games. His 190 strikeouts marked the fourth consecutive year that he led the National League in strikeouts.

Given his incredible workload – which included at least 286 innings in five consecutive seasons, plus a variety of exhibition performances throughout each season to supplement the Cardinals’ revenue – Dean’s arm trouble in the late ’30s comes as no surprise. Just before the 1938 season, the Cardinals traded him to the Chicago Cubs, where he battled through injuries until 1941, when he pitched a single inning before retiring.

Dean returned for a lone start in 1947 when, as a radio broadcaster for the St. Louis Browns, he told the audience that he could pitch better than the hurlers the Browns were sending to the mound. Backing up his words, Dean pitched four scoreless innings in a Sept. 28 game against the White Sox.

In 1953, Dean was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that year he began announcing the nationally televised Game of the Week alongside Buddy Blattner and Pee Wee Reese. Though Reese later denied that Dean ever said such a thing, legend holds that Dean once observed a young couple among the spectators.

“Look-a-there, Pee Wee,” he said over the air. “Those young folks are smooching after every pitch. He’s kissing her on the strikes and she’s kissing him on the balls.”[2]

Dean’s colorful mangling of the English language, including using the term “slud” instead of “slid,” endeared him to audiences, including many who were too young to have seen him pitch in the ’30s. He continued to broadcast games for CBS through 1965 and Braves games from 1966 through 1968, giving him an opportunity to see Gibson’s emergence as the Cardinals’ next legendary pitcher. As Dean remarked, Gibson knew just the right pitch to throw “99 times out of 10.”[3]

Indeed, as Gibson took the mound in pursuit of his 3,000th strikeout, he had long since earned his own place in the Hall of Fame. He entered the game with 2,999 strikeouts, one shy of becoming the first National League pitcher and just the second player in major league history to reach 3,000, joining Walter Johnson.

Earlier that day, Tony Perez had announced Geronimo as the favorite to be Gibson’s 3,000th strikeout victim as he set odds for players in the lineup. Six years later, Geronimo also was at the plate for Nolan Ryan’s 3,000th strikeout.

Pete Rose is 20-to-1, Joe Morgan is 30-to-1,” he said. “Johnny Bench is 3-to-2, but only because he may bunt.”

“What if I say I’m not bunting?” Bench asked.

“Then you are 1-to-3,” Perez answered with a laugh. “Me, I’m even money if it gets to me. I (have) been helping Gibson for 10 years. Why not do it now? I mean, I always look for the fastball, right here. It never comes. Just that hard slider, hard slider.”[4]

The first time through the lineup, the Reds played spoiler to Gibson’s milestone. In the first inning, Morgan singled and stole second, scoring on a single by Bench. In the second, Dan Driessen reached on an error by Ted Simmons at first base and scored on a ground ball by Ken Griffey. With runners on first and second and two outs, Gibson struck out Geronimo on a fastball above the strike zone to end the inning.

As the Busch Stadium II crowd of 28,743 cheered, the ultra-competitive Gibson uncharacteristically tipped his cap to the fans.

“I wanted the fans to know that I appreciated that they appreciated my efforts,” he said the following day.[5]

Joe Torre hit a three-run homer and Reggie Smith added a solo shot to give Gibson and the Cardinals a 4-2 lead, but in the fourth inning, Lou Brock lost track of a Driessen fly ball, allowing it to drop for a double. Griffey smacked a double into right field to cut the St. Louis lead to 4-3.

Gibson maintained that lead until the sixth. With two outs, Dave Concepcion singled, Griffey walked, and pinch hitter Terry Crowley, who was batting just .160 on the season, singled into center to tie the game.

In the seventh, manager Red Schoendienst pulled Gibson for a pinch hitter. Gibson finished the day with four strikeouts, giving him 3,003 for his career.

“I thought he was getting a little tired,” Schoendienst said. “He was also leading off the inning and I thought we might get a run.”[6]

Both bullpens continued to put zeros on the scoreboard until the 12th inning, when Cardinals reliever Rich Folkers walked Darrel Chaney and allowed a single to Concepcion. Schoendienst called on Orlando Pena to end the threat, but George Foster greeted him with a double to left field to score Chaney and Concepcion.

In the ninth, St. Louis second baseman Jerry DaVanon reached on an error and pinch hitter Ken Reitz singled. After Pedro Borbon uncorked a wild pitch, Reds manager Sparky Anderson called for him to intentionally walk Brock and pitch to infielder Mike Tyson.

The strategy worked. Tyson popped out to Morgan at second base to end the game.

“I wouldn’t have slept if we didn’t walk Lou Brock and he beat us,” Anderson said. “He’s beaten our club a lot in the last few years, at least three times with home runs. If Mike Tyson had beaten us, I would have slept.”[7]

“That’s the kind of game that makes you lose your hair and get ulcers,” Bench said. “Imagine, two out in the ninth, then an error and a hit. I thought, ‘Here we go again.’”[8]

Never inclined to discuss personal accomplishments following a loss, Gibson had already left by the time reporters reached the clubhouse after the game.

The 38-year-old Gibson finished the 1974 season with an 11-13 record and 3.83 ERA over 240 innings. He retired following the 1975 campaign with 251 career victories, a 2.91 ERA, and 3,117 strikeouts, concluding a career that included two World Series titles, two World Series MVP awards, two Cy Young awards, one National League MVP Award, nine Gold Glove Awards, an ERA title, and nine all-star game appearances. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

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[1] “Dizzy Returns To South,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1974.

[2] John Heidenry (2007), The Gashouse Gang, PublicAffairs: Page 289.

[3] John Heidenry (2007), The Gashouse Gang, PublicAffairs: Page 292.

[4] Bob Hertzel, “Gibson Gets 3000th Strikeout, Reds Get Hits,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 18, 1974.

[5] Jack Herman, “Fans’ Applause Earns Tip of Gibson’s Cap,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 19, 1974.

[6] Associated Press, “Reds Spoil Gibson’s March Into History,” Mexico Ledger, July 18, 1974.

[7] Neal Russo, “Cincy Book A Sleeper,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1974.

[8] Neal Russo, “Gibby Is Still Gibby,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1974.