Bob Gibson: Proud, Opinionated, Tactless and the Most Feared Pitcher of His Era

Joe Torre has the reputation of being an individual who favors diplomacy over force. He is concerned about how he treats adversaries and how they react to him.

In the spring of 1995, Torre hired Bob Gibson as the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen coach.

Torre and Gibson had been teammates with the Cardinals. When Torre managed the New York Mets, Gibson was his pitching coach. When Torre managed the Atlanta Braves, Gibson was his pitching coach.

Gibson had really been an “attitude” coach with the Mets and Braves. He certainly had what some referred to as an attitude. Bob Gibson was the meanest, toughest and most fearsome pitcher of his era.

Torre loves to describe his friend. “Just say he’s proud, he’s opinionated, sometimes he doesn’t have a lot of tact. But above all, Bob Gibson loves baseball.”

Rick Mahler, the Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator, had been a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves when Gibson was their pitching coach. Mahler hit the nail on the head, not only about Gibson but about most of today’s players.

“He had this attitude that I’m sure carried over from the 60s and 70s,” Mahler says. “Players back then played for a pure love of the game not that guys don’t today, but there’s so much money these days. Everyone respected Bob for his attitude.”

Then Mahler made the point that separates modern players from Gibson, Tom Seaver, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle and others of their ilk.

“You know how some guys are, they go 4 for 4 in a game they lose, they’re still a little upbeat. But whenever they’d walk by Bob Gibson, they’d wipe that smile right off their face. You just didn’t want to make him mad.”

At the age of 58, Gibson seemed to have mellowed. He still hated to lose but he could tolerate human failing more than in the past.

Speaking to the media after he was hired as the Cards bullpen coach, Gibson removed any doubt about what his attitude would be if he played in 1995.

“Look, if I was a ballplayer, I’d probably still be a (jerk), but on the whole, I’d have to say that I’ve mellowed. Age will do that to you,” he says.

“There are things from my past that used to anger me so much I couldn’t even talk about it. Now I can. I remember the days that I was forced to drink from a different water fountain (than white people).

“There was a time I wouldn’t have been allowed on Treasure Island (a wealthy neighborhood in St. Petersburg). Now I own a condo there. These are things you never forget. They’re with you forever, but age softens you.”

When he was on the mound, merely being a hitter who had a successful at-bat against him upset Gibson. He would be the same today, despite his 76 years.

When the new Cardinals management took over, general manager Walt Jocketty told Torre that he had free reign with respect to his choice of bullpen coach. Gibson, who had been out of baseball, understood the politics of the business world.

“I did learn that once a player retires, he has to learn how to lie, to play little social games in this world. Sometimes, that’s not easy for an athlete who was used to getting by on his own ability.”

The Cardinals were looking for a legend to help their image after finishing a dismal fourth in the newly-created Central Division.

Few could rival Gibson as a legend.

Source Citation

Klapisch, Bob. “Firing again.” The Sporting News 27 Feb. 1995: 23. General OneFile. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.

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