Bob Gibson

July 30, 1959: Bob Gibson shuts out Reds in first career start

On July 30, 1959, Bob Gibson formally introduced himself to the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Baseball, earning the first of 251 career victories in the first starting assignment of his career.

That April, Gibson had made three appearances for the Cardinals, each in relief.

On April 15, Gibson made his major league debut, pitching the seventh and eighth innings of a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers. Pitching opposite Don Drysdale, who threw a complete-game shutout, Gibson allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, Jim Baxes, and another run in the eighth on a sacrifice bunt.

The following day, he entered the game in the fifth inning and allowed one run on three hits, retiring just one of the four batters he faced. On April 18, Gibson entered a game against the Giants down 7-1 in the eighth inning. Orlando Cepeda greeted Gibson with an RBI double before Gibson got Felipe Alou to ground out to the shortstop to end the inning.

With three earned runs allowed in 2 2/3 innings, Gibson was returned to Triple-A Omaha. He remained in his hometown until July 29, when right-hander Dick Ricketts was optioned to Rochester and Gibson was summoned to take his spot on the roster.[1] Gibson had been 9-9 with a 3.07 ERA in Omaha.[2]

It was poetic that Gibson was making his first start against the Reds, the franchise that had come so close to signing him out of Creighton University.

“As late as two in the morning he agreed to verbal terms with us, but by daylight he had jumped to the Cardinals,” Reds farm director Phil Seghi told the Cincinnati Enquirer, noting that he believed a family member had nixed the deal. “I don’t know what he’ll do tonight, but he’s a pretty good major league prospect.”[3]

The 23-year-old Gibson’s biggest challenges came in the first and ninth innings. After Johnny Temple walked to lead off the first, Vada Pinson singled to left. With runners on first and second, Gibson got Gus Bell to ground into a force out at second, Frank Robinson to fly out to center field, and Jerry Lynch to ground out.

The Cardinals gave Gibson all the offense he would need in the second. Ken Boyer led off the inning with a double to center field. Bill White advanced Boyer to third base, then Joe Cunningham singled to left off Reds left-hander Jim O’Toole, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

From there, Gibson refused to allow a runner past first base until the ninth inning.

The 22-year-old O’Toole pitched seven innings for the Reds, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth when he got Hal Smith to ground into an inning-ending double play. After O’Toole was removed for a pinch hitter, Brooks Lawrence threw two scoreless innings in relief.

In the ninth, Cardinals manager Solly Hemus subbed Curt Flood into the game to play center field, moving Gino Cimoli to left field and White to first base in place of the 38-year-old Stan Musial. Lynch led off the inning with a single to right field, but was retired when White knocked down a liner by Ed Bailey and threw to second for the force out.

Gibson got Willie Jones to pop up for the second out of the inning before he walked pinch hitters Frank Thomas and Don Newcombe on eight consecutive pitches. With the bases loaded and Marshall Bridges warm in the bullpen,[4] Gibson fell behind in the count 2-0 before Temple flied out to Flood to end the game.

Gibson finished the game with eight hits and three walks allowed. He struck out two.

“I can throw a lot harder but my shoulder has been a little sore for the past week,” Gibson said.[5]

Boyer led the Cardinals’ offense with three hits, including a double, and Smith and Alex Grammas each singled twice.

While Gibson’s performance demonstrated his outstanding potential, he wasn’t yet the dominant pitcher of the mid- to late-1960s. He allowed five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his next start, a 7-3 loss to the Pirates, then walked eight batters in his next outing, a 10-inning performance against the Phillies. After losing five consecutive decisions, he finished the year strong, striking out 10 Cubs in a complete-game win on September 12 and throwing 4 2/3 innings of relief to earn the win in a 14-8 victory over the Giants.

It was a mixed season for Gibson, who was still learning the slider, which would become a key pitch for him when paired with his fastball. On the other hand, Gibson was unlikely to reach his full potential while playing for Hemus.

“He told me, like he told Flood, that I would never make it in the majors, and he went so far as to suggest that I take a shot at basketball instead,” said Gibson, who had played for the Harlem Globetrotters before Cardinals general manager Bing Devine increased his salary enough to convince him to give up basketball. “He was apparently convinced that I didn’t have a thought in my head when I was on the mound, and was not the least reluctant to insult my intelligence. When the pitchers would meet before a series to review the hitters on the other team, Hemus would say things like, “You don’t have to listen to this, Gibson. You just try to get the ball over the plate.”[6]

In his third season as the Cardinals’ manager in 1961, Hemus was fired and replaced with Johnny Keane. With Keane’s encouragement changing the trajectory of his career, Gibson went on to establish himself as the most dominant pitcher in franchise history. Over 17 seasons, Gibson won one National League MVP trophy, two Cy Young awards, two World Series MVP awards, and nine Gold Globe Awards. He led the Cardinals to two World Series championships and appeared in nine all-star games before retiring in 1975. Gibson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 with 251 career wins, 3,117 strikeouts, and a 2.91 ERA.

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[1] “Ricketts Sent To Rochester; Gibson Back,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 29, 1959.

[2] “Birds to Start Gibson, Former Basketball Pro,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 1959.

[3] Bill Ford, “Don’s Control Just Too Good,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 31, 1959.

[4] Neal Russo, “Cards’ Gibson, in First Big League Start, Shuts Out Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 31, 1959.

[5] Neal Russo, “Cards’ Gibson, in First Big League Start, Shuts Out Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 31, 1959.

[6] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), “Stranger to the Game,” Penguin Books USA, New York, Page 52.

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