I have a confession to make about Gibson. It is this:
I went through a decades-long period where I greatly minimized Gibson's feats. I noted--accurately--that his performance in the three games he
started in the 1964 Series were nothing special, and that he gave up 3 HR's and 5 earned runs in Game 7 of that Series, nothing to be proud of. And I
noted that while his performances in the 1967 and 1968 Series were every bit as awesome as legend has it, those were only 6 games and his career stats
were nothing like those of his contemporary, Juan Marichal.
Well, his WON-LOSS % was nothing like Marichal's, and that's for sure. And Gibson had some very good or great players in the field: Musial and then
Brock in left; Flood in center; Boyer (the best NL 3B immediately before Schmidt) at 3B; Groat briefly at SS; Bill White and then HOFer Cepeda at 1B;
McCarver at catcher.
In all honesty, Gibson pitched in ancient Sportsman's Park, a horrible park for right-handers, until mid-1966. These were the dimensions on
the right side of that field: 310 down the line; 322 to straightaway right; and 351 to the RCF power alley, which went out deep into right.
Now, the park wasn't as much of a gift then as it was in Ruth's time, when he played 1/7 of his road games there against the SL Browns, but it was
still a joke. In Ruth's time, there was NO screen in RF or RCF. Yeah, in Musial's and then Gibson's time, they ran a screen up to the top of the
small bleachers' roof, but it was a VERY shallow fence and not a very high net on that half of the field, which is why there's quite a difference
between Stan Musial's home and away career stats. (I have those, if anyone cares.)
Thus, what Gibson accomplished in that park is not too different from what Lefty Grove accomplished from ages 35 through 39 in Fenway Park. It's not
AS great (i.e., Grove somehow won FOUR more E.R.A. titles, with his arm now lame and his legendary fast ball a thing of the past, after his 35th
birthday--as a left-handed pitcher in Fenway Park [read that a few times]), but it's great.
These are Gibson's W-L records in Sportsman's Park from 1961-1966: 13-12, 15-13, 18-9, 19-12, 20-12, 21-12. THESE are his park-Adjusted ERA's: 136,
149, 105, 127, 126, 148. And remember, the amount by which those numbers exceed 100 is the percentage by which his E.R.A.--after the park factors are
considered--exceeds the average pitcher of that year. That's not a steady stream of excellence, but it's a stream run of being at least good, and at
From 1967 through 1973, at ages 31 through 37, Gibson went:
13-7, 22-9, 20-13, 23-7, 16-13, 19-11 and 12-10. Those don't look consistently excellent, either. But his Adjusted ERA's for those years? 110, 258,
164, 132, 119, 139 and 133. You can probably guess which year was the 258 year. That number was, of course, one of historic proportions.
A LOT of pitchers did out-of-this-world things in 1968, but none approached Gibson. The greatest single-season Adjusted E.R.A.'s of all time, not
including Dead Ball pitchers, are as follows:
1. Pedro Martinez, 2000: 285
2. Greg Maddux, 1994: 273
3. Greg Maddux, 1995: 259
4. Bob Gibson, 1968: 258
Do I think there is a credible case to be made for Gibson as the greatest pitcher of all time? No, definitely not. But he's Top 20, for sure, and
with all due respect to Young, Mathewson and Alexander, you probably can justify ranking him ahead of ALL Dead Ball pitchers except Walter Johnson.
Even there, I think it's close, but I'd probably take Johnson.
BTB, this should give you an idea of the magnitude of my disagreement with James and the other sabermetricians when it comes to Dead Ball Era
pitchers. Just be sure you don't lump Lefty Grove in with them, because he was born in 1900 and held in the minors by Jack Dunn--the same guy who
spotted Babe Ruth and sold him for a then-unreal amount to the Red Sox; do you think Dunn had an eye for talent?--until Connie Mack plunked down a
then unheard-of $100K for the lefty with "only one pitch."
As the hitters said, they always knew what was coming in Grove's early years, but so what? They couldn't hit it out of the infield.
It was then 1925 and Grove was 25 years old. Grove accomplished all of his mindboggling feats in a 17-year span from age 25 through age 41, and in
the last 8 of those years, he was a sore-armed pitcher who'd lost his legendary fast ball. In the first 7 years, he led the league in K's, and
despite his mediocre W-L records the first 2 years, he grabbed his first E.R.A. title in his second season.
If you don't know that much about Grove, I'll write him up sometime. I'm quite certain most baseball history nuts who have carefully studied the
matter would pick him as the #1 pitcher of all time, also. For now, it should suffice for me to note that:
He won those last four ERA titles after his 35th b-day, in Fenway Park, after Connie Mack had traded him to Boston;
He won NINE E.R.A. titles in only 17 years, in a career that began at age 25. Roger Clemens has seven ERA titles. No other pitcher has ever won more
He led the A.L. in W-L% four or five times, depending on whether his 14-4 season counts; no other pitcher has more than three W-L % titles, the last
time I checked;
He has the greatest W-L % of any 250-game winner; and
From 1929-1931, with Ruth still leading the league in HR's all three years, slugging percentage all three years, on-base average twice, and runs
created twice; and Gehrig turning into a monster player; and numerous other Hall of Famers now in their lineup (Dickey, Lazzeri, Combs); and four Hall
of Fame pitchers (Ruffing, Hoyt, Pennock and Gomez), LEFTY GROVE'S A'S BEAT THE YANKEES FOR THE A.L. CROWN THREE YEARS STRAIGHT! Yes, they had Mickey
Cochrane, whom I rate as the #4 catcher of all time, behind the plate. Yes, they had a young Jimmie Foxx (almost everyone's #2 first baseman),
although at that point in time, OF Al Simmons was better than Foxx.
But Grove is the one who did it. Without burying you in his stats for those three seasons, I will tell you that Grove led the A.L. in W-L %, AND
strikeouts, AND earned run average, in ALL THREE OF THOSE YEARS. When last I checked, some 15 years ago, six other pitchers had done that once in
their careers; Walter Johnson did it twice in his career; Grove did it THREE YEARS IN A ROW. And his won-loss record for those three years? Take a
deep breath and clear your throat (and remember, this is going against the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees in 14.3% of their games):
Grove, from 1929 through 1931, was 79-15.
No, that is not a misprint. 20-6, 28-5, 31-4. Y'all do the math.
OK, I got carried away and typed more than I intended to. It's easy to do with Lefty Grove. But you will now see why experts overwhelmingly pick
Grove as the greatest pitcher of all time. Nobody, including Clemens, can touch thost stats. And I find myself rooting for Pedro NOT to have five
more great seasons, because I love my Lefty Grove card and he's the Babe Ruth of pitchers and it's so hard to imagine rating anybody above the guy who
did all of those things. You know?
There is a LOT more, including quotes from players who faced the fast balls of Grove and Feller and Johnson. But this small avalanche should do for
[Edited on 4/14/06 by BaseballHistoryNut]