Bob Gibson was the best postseason pitcher in baseball history
By Dan Holmes September 8, 2017
The greatest big-game pitcher of his era, Bob Gibson may have been the best big-game pitcher of all-time. His teammates, who benefited by winning two World Series winners’ paychecks as a result of his legendary performances, would certainly agree.
Gibson almost single-handedly won two World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s, and nearly won another. He was the ultimate warrior on the mound. Focused on one thing: winning. Twice he was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series, the only pitcher to be so honored.
In 1964 he beat the Yankees twice, including a Game Seven victory in which he struck out nine. Three years later he won Games One, Four, and Seven over the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox in the Fall Classic. Had the series been a best of 70, you got the feeling that Gibson would have won 30 times. He overpowered Boston in his three starts. They’d never seen anything like him.
In 1968, he enjoyed one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history, posting a 1.12 ERA, a modern record. He pitched five consecutive shutouts in June, and in June/July he was 12-0 in 12 starts with 12 complete games(!) . In those dozen starts he manhandled the opposition, allowing six runs for a 0.50 ERA. In the World Series he struck out 17 Tigers in Game One, a performance that ranks as one of the most dominant in baseball history. Detroit batters were clearly out of their league facing Gibson.
As a child Gibson survived multiple illnesses and once nearly died. He grew up in poverty but by the time he was a teenager he was growing into a smart, tough young man. He was a star basketball and baseball player who briefly played with the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1957 he was signed by St. Louis, and two years later he made his major league debut.
Like many pitchers, he took some time to mature, not winning twenty games until he was 29 years old. He first made the All-Star team in 1962, the same year he paced the NL in shutouts. In 1964 the Cards won the pennant and faced the Yankees in the World Series. After losing Game Two, Gibson won the fifth and seventh games within four days of each other, setting a Series record with 31 strikeouts in the process. The Cardinals had their first title in 18 years.
In 1967 Gibson again sparkled in the World Series, this time against the Red Sox. He won Games One, Four, and Seven, pitching complete games each time. In his 27 innings he allowed a scant 14 hits, struck out 26, walked just five, and posted a 1.00 ERA. In Game Seven at Fenway Park in Boston, Gibson tossed a three-hitter to handcuff the Red Sox, but he also clubbed a home run to help his own cause. It was one of the greatest Series performances in history and he earned the Series MVP award for the effort.
The following year the Cardinals returned to the Fall Classic and took a 3-1 lead over the Detroit Tigers. Gibson defeated the Tigers 30-game winner Denny McLain in Games One and Four, allowing 10 hits in his 18 innings, while striking out 27. In Game One he was simply masterful fanning 17 Tigers, a Series record that still stands.
The Tigers rebounded and forced a Game Seven, pitting Gibson against Mickey Lolich, who had won two games already. The two battled in a scoreless game for six innings until Detroit finally got to Gibson and won the title. Gibson had done his part, winning two games, finishing with a 1.67 ERA, and breaking his own Series record with 35 K’s.
In his World Series career Gibson started nine games, winning seven and losing two (he won seven in a row). Every one of his victories was a complete game and he pitched eight in all. In 81 innings he allowed 55 hits, had a 1.89 ERA, struck out 92, and walked 17. His 92 strikeouts are even more amazing when compared to the Series lifetime record-holder, Whitey Ford, who whiffed 94 batters. Ford accumulated his 94 strikeouts in 12 more games and 63 more innings than Gibson.
Almost as incredible as his post-season performances is Gibson’s 1968 season. He won 22 games and completed 28 of his 34 starts. He led the NL with 268 strikeouts and 13 shutouts. Five of his shutouts came consecutively, and at one point he pitched 47 1/3 straight scoreless innings. Amazingly, the right-hander allowed just 38 earned runs all season, in more than 300 innings. He lost nine games, but in three of those he allowed just a single run. He won both the Cy Young and the MVP award.
Gibson won the Cy Young again in 1970 after posting a career-high 23 victories. He was more than just a pitcher, hitting 24 career homers, including twice hitting five in a single season. From 1965 to 1973 he won a Gold glove each season for his defense on the mound. He was extremely tough, rebounding from a broken leg in ’67 to turn in his clutch World Series mound work.
He retired the winningest pitcher in Cardinal history, with an excellent .591 winning percentage. At the time of his retirement, his 3,117 strikeouts ranked second behind Walter Johnson.
Due to his stellar postseason accomplishments, including pitching and winning two Game Sevens in the World Series, Bob Gibson rates as the best postseason pitcher in baseball history. Other candidates include Whitey Ford, Jack Morris, and Curt Schilling, among others.
In our list of the Top 100 Pitchers in Baseball History, Gibson comes in at #8, making him one of only two pitchers from the 1960s to crack the top ten. Our rankings factor career value, peak value (both with best seven and best three seasons), importance to pennant-winning teams, and post-season performance. Based on that criteria, Gibby rates among the greatest players to ever toe the rubber.
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.