July 14, 2019
Bob Gibson has pancreatic cancer.
I read the news this morning that Gibson had sent an email that was forwarded to his fellow Hall of Fame inductees, informing them that he had been diagnosed and was receiving treatment, and that he would begin chemotherapy soon.
That can’t be a good thing.
“All we do now is pray,” said longtime agent Bob Zitzmann. We all know what a competitor he is.”
“I wouldn’t bet against that sucker, and I don’t think many people will, either,” said former teammate and current Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon.
I’ve never met Bob Gibson. Always wished I could, just to shake his hand and tell him how much I admired what a great pitcher and fierce competitor he was. And as much as I loved Gary Nolan and Jim Maloney and Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson gets the start if I need a right-handed pitcher to win one game (Koufax gets the nod if I need a left-hander).
Gibson was tough. Irascible. Mean on the mound (and sometimes off it). He overcame a difficult childhood in Nebraska, and constant mistreatment because he’s African American. To say he had a prickly personality might be an understatement.
But to a kid growing up in the 1960s, falling in love with baseball, Gibson was brilliant. He could hit, he could run, and he asked no quarter and gave none on the mound. There was no messing around — no BS out there — and he worked quickly. Like Bill Russell with the Celtics, you could tell that he was going to give every ounce of energy he had to win the game. He left nothing in reserve. He pitched in terrible pain — including a broken leg — but he would never give in, or give up.
I hope he doesn’t this time, either.
There are a hundred stories about his guts and determination, and his will to win; I won’t recount them here. And his book From Ghetto to Glory should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of 1960s baseball.
And just in case Bob sees this page:
Bob, I wish you nothing but the best as you face your toughest battle. I can’t put into words how thrilling it was to watch you pitch. You were so much more than a 1.12 ERA or World Series wins; you showed all of us what it meant to be a competitor and a winner of the highest order.
Cancer is a difficult opponent; and it’s going to be another close game. You won plenty of those back in the day, and I hope you get a complete-game win this time.
All best wishes,
Gibson jersey in the man cave