July 15, 1967: Bob Gibson faces three Pirates with a broken leg

By 1967, Bob Gibson already had established himself as one of the fiercest competitors in baseball. On July 15, he cemented that reputation when he pitched to three batters with a broken leg before finally snapping the bone entirely. Less than three months later, he won the World Series MVP Award, leading the Cardinals to a seven-game World Series victory over the Red Sox.

The Cardinals entered their July 15 game against the Pirates with a 51-33 record and a four-game lead over the second-place Cubs. Earlier that month, Gibson had earned his 10th win of the season and he entered the contest with a 3.54 ERA. In his previous start, he had thrown 9 2/3 innings against the Phillies, striking out eight in a no-decision.

Despite Roberto Clemente’s powerful presence in the middle of their lineup, the Pirates were just 41-40, 8 ½ games behind the Cardinals for sixth place. Manager Harry Walker, a former Cardinals star, held a 45-minute meeting at the Pirates’ team hotel before the game to discuss misplays on the field and missed curfews off it.[1] Despite his efforts to rally the troops, the Pirates’ 6-4 win over the Cardinals was the last of Walker’s tenure in Pittsburgh and he was replaced by Danny Murtaugh just a few days later.

The game opened well enough for Gibson as he retired the first six batters he faced. Roger Maris hit an RBI triple in the first inning that scored Lou Brock for the game’s first run. In the third, Gibson walked the first two batters he faced before escaping the jam with a ground ball and two consecutive pop flies.

The fourth inning, however, would prove to be his final inning for almost eight weeks.

Though Gibson and Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver usually were on the same page, on this at-bat they differed in how to attack Clemente to lead off the fourth. McCarver first called for a fastball, then a curve, but Gibson shook him off each time.[2]

Instead, Gibson wanted to throw his best pitch, his slider. The idea was for the pitch to start out over the middle of the plate and then dart outside, but instead Gibson’s slider hung out over the middle of the plate. Clemente smacked the ball back up the middle and struck Gibson’s right shin. The Cardinals’ ace fell to the ground as the ball rolled to Eddie Bressoud at shortstop and Clemente arrived safely at first base.

“I’m fine,” Gibson told Cardinals trainer Bob Bauman when he came out to check on him.[3]

Nonetheless, Bauman could see a dent in Gibson’s leg shaped suspiciously like a baseball. Dutifully, Bauman sprayed Gibson’s leg with ethyl chloride, a cooling substance used for the temporary relief of minor injuries.

“I hate to tell you, Doc, but you’re spraying in the wrong place,” Gibson said.[4]

That was when Bauman showed him the dent in his leg.

“It was odd that I couldn’t feel where I had been struck, but since I couldn’t feel it, I wasn’t particularly worried,” Gibson wrote in his autobiography, Stranger to the Game. “I told Doc to put a little tape on it and let me get back to work.”[5]

Gibson walked the next batter, Willie Stargell, before getting Bill Mazeroski to fly out to Curt Flood in center field. Gibson had a full count on Donn Clendenon when he attempted to put a little extra effort into the pitch.

For the second time that inning, he collapsed. This time, his fibula had snapped completely, 3 ½ inches above his right ankle.[6]

As Gibson explained decades later: “Initially, the bone had been fractured but not separated. It was only when I came down on it so hard – my motion concentrated a lot of weight and spinning momentum on my right leg – that it broke cleanly in two. If that hadn’t happened, I might have continued the season uninterrupted.”[7]

Unfortunately, the Cardinals were forced to continue without him. Manager Red Schoendienst called upon Al Jackson, a 31-year-old lefthander from Waco, Texas, to pitch the next 3 1/3 innings. Gene Alley greeted Jackson with a sacrifice fly that scored Clemente and Clendenon added an RBI single two innings later.

In the bottom of the sixth, Orlando Cepeda hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run shot off Dennis Ribant to give the Cardinals a brief 3-2 lead, but Clemente and Stargell answered with RBI singles in the seventh.

Alex Johnson entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score, but the Pirates continued to chip away at the Cardinals’ bullpen. Pittsburgh’s Jose Pagan pushed the go-ahead run across in the eighth and Mazeroski added an RBI single in the top of the ninth to give Pittsburgh the 6-4 win.

With three hits on the day, Clemente upped his average to .353, pulling even closer to Cepeda, whose .355 clip led the league.

Juan Pizarro earned the win for the Pirates in 2/3 of an inning of relief, while Nelson Briles took the loss for the Cardinals.

Everyone’s attention, however, was focused on how Gibson’s absence would impact the Redbirds’ championship hopes. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “the Cardinals’ run at the head of the National League pennant race was dealt possibly a crippling blow,” and described a postgame scene in which, “Mike Shannon, slouched in a chair, looked forlornly at the figure who sat in front of a locker on pitchers’ row. Tim McCarver, drawing on a T-shirt, gave a long glance in that direction too.”[8]

“What’s it mean?” Shannon asked in response to a reporter’s question. “It means the monkey’s on somebody’s back now. Somebody has to pick us up. We’ve lost him for six weeks. What’s that – eight or 10 starts? You know he wins six of those starts. Even if he’s going bad, he wins five of them.”[9]

Gibson ended up missing almost eight weeks due to the injury. After the loss to the Pirates dropped them to 51-34, the Cardinals went 36-19 in Gibson’s absence. St. Louis won 11 of 12 games from July 25 through August 6, then reeled off eight consecutive wins from August 11 through August 19. Incredibly, the Cardinals actually extended their National League lead from four games to 11 ½.

Gibson’s return only helped the cause. In his first game back, he allowed two runs over five innings, earning the win in a 9-2 decision against the Mets.

“I was feeling my way at first, but then I said, ‘to heck with it,’ and cut loose,” Gibson said.[10]

He won his next two starts as well, improving to 13-6 on the season before taking a tough-luck loss against the Braves (he allowed one earned run over eight innings). In his regular-season finale, he pitched nine innings without allowing an earned run.

“I was never surprised at anything Bob did but coming back from a broken leg in the way that he did and the time that he did it, I don’t think that will ever happen again,” McCarver said.[11]

The Cardinals finished the regular season 10 ½ games ahead of the Giants and 14 games ahead of the Cubs for the National League pennant.

Gibson earned World Series MVP honors in the Fall Classic, going 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 27 innings. After going the distance to win Games 1 and 4, Gibson pitched all nine innings in the decisive seventh game, striking out 10 Red Sox in a 7-2 Cardinals win.


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[1] Lester J. Biederman, “Walker, Bucs Hold Another Meeting,” Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1967.

[2] Sridhar Pappu (2017), The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age, New York: First Mariner Books, Page 93.

[3] Sridhar Pappu (2017), The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age, New York: First Mariner Books, Page 93.

[4] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York: Penguin Books USA, 135.

[5] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York: Penguin Books USA, 135.

[6] Ed Wilks, “Gibson Suffers Broken Leg as Cards Lose,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 1967.

[7] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York: Penguin Books USA, Page 136.

[8] Ed Wilks, “Gibson Suffers Broken Leg as Cards Lose,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 1967.

[9] Ed Wilks, “Gibson Suffers Broken Leg as Cards Lose,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 1967.

[10] Neal Russo, “Gibby Makes Winning Return,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 8, 1967.

[11] Sridhar Pappu (2017), The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age, New York: First Mariner Books, Page 96.

1 thought on “July 15, 1967: Bob Gibson faces three Pirates with a broken leg”

  1. Pingback: October 12, 1967: Bob Gibson pitches Cardinals past the ‘Impossible Dream’ Red Sox in Game 7 | STLRedbirds.com

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