The Incredible Mister Gibson

Bob GibsonRobin’s bedroom held the usual assortment of objects one would expect to find in the space occupied by a teenage girl but there were some odd and seemingly out of place items as well.  There was a framed photograph of her father and hero, Joseph dressed in his World War II uniform, a baseball caught at a Cardinals baseball game, a Cardinals baseball cap and a 1959 baseball card with a picture of her other hero, that incredible Mr. Gibson.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and seem to appear, almost miraculously, in all walks of life.  The young can elevate the legends of those greater than ordinary ones among us to almost god-like proportions.  So it was in 1964 for a fifteen year old girl residing in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb of Florissant, and her image of the great St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher, Bob Gibson.

Robin, a high school sophomore, was aware boys existed but she had more important things on her mind.  She was possibly the St. Louis Cardinals most avid fan.  She could recite the day’s starting line-up and knew who was hitting and who wasn’t.  But more than that, she knew almost everything about Bob Gibson and she considered him to be the greatest baseball pitcher who ever lived.

Robin knew Gibson attended Creighton University, and was a star athlete there.  He played basketball and played professionally for the famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in their 1957-58 season.  Gibson eventually decided to pursue a career in professional baseball and in 1957 the St. Louis Cardinals and owner August ‘Augie’ Busch signed him to a play for the history laden “redbirds”.

The Cardinals were playing the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series.  After six games, the series was tied with each team having won three games and the seventh, and deciding, game was to be played at 2:40 p.m. on Thursday October 15th in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, known by St. Louis baseball fans as, Sportsman’s Park.

Robin knew she had to see that game and asked her father if she could miss two days of school, Wednesday and Thursday, and go to the game.  She knew her father had to work those days and asked if she could ride the bus alone, spend Wednesday night near the stadium ticket window and get a bleacher seat ticket the morning of the game.

If Robin’s father, Joe would have preferred a boy baby fifteen years ago, it never showed, but the love and close relationship he had with Robin did.  Joe worked long and difficult hours at a manufacturing plant but, when there was time and money enough, he and robin traveled to Sportsman Park to watch the Cardinals play baseball.

Robin’s father knew how much she loved the Cardinals, as did he, but for him there was cause for a smidgen of concern contained within her request.  After a moment of thought he said, “If one of your friends will go with you, you can go”.  Robin had anticipated that condition and planned to talk to her best friend, Susan.  But Robin’s plan had a flaw, as Susan cared nothing about sports, baseball or the Cardinals.

Robin hurried to Susan’s house and all the while a scheme developed in her mind.  Robin rang the doorbell at her friend’s house and when Susan answered the door the scheme Robin had derived vanished as she blurted out “Wanna go see Bob Gibson and the Cardinals”, Robin excitedly asked.  “I don’t know, what kind of music do they play” Susan replied.  “Music”, Robin blurted out, “What are you talking about”.  “The band, Bob Gibson and the Cardinals, what kind of music do they play”?  “They’re not a band, I’m talking about the Cardinals baseball team and pitcher Bob Gibson.  They’re playing in the seventh and final game of the World Series at Sportsman Park”.

Robin convinced Susan to be a party to the great adventure and on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the game, the two girls took the thirty minute bus ride to the stadium. They had with them one brown paper grocery bag containing two small pillows, two blankets, Twelve 100 Grand candy bars, twenty pieces of Double Bubble chewing gum, one transistor radio and a metal flashlight.  They also carried one Small metal cooler containing six bologna sandwiches and eight bottles of Dr. Pepper.  In her pocket Robin carried an item that would ensure a Cardinal victory, a Topps 1959 Bob Gibson rookie baseball card that was given to her by her father which she carried with her when the two, although infrequently, sat in the right field bleachers watching the cardinals.

While on the bus Susan asked, “Who are they playing”?  Robin, with a look of disbelief replied, “Those damn New York Yankees”.  “You know Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Marris and their manager, Yogi Berra”.  Now, Yogi Berra grew up in an area of St. Louis known as “The Hill” but once he joined that evil and dastardly collection of baseball bandits known as the Yankees, he became the nemesis of all true Cardinals’ fans.  Although Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer was the brother of Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer, baseball rivalries were thicker than water and he too was part of the evil legion.

The afternoon and night before game day were relatively uneventful.  Robin and Susan talked about school and boys but always on Robin’s mind was the game to be played the next day.  Robin knew there would not be many tickets available so as she and Susan stood in the slowly moving line she could only hope there would be two bleacher tickets remaining for them, and there were.  The two were awarded two right field bleacher tickets.

Robin’s excitement for the start of the game was almost uncontrollable as she watched Gibson warm up prior to the game’s start, and she believed that the playing of the national anthem would never come to an end.  Finally, Gibson took the mound and the game began.

The Cardinals scored six runs in the first five innings but the Yankees fought back scoring three runs in the sixth frame.  The Cardinals added an additional run in the seventh while the Yankees scored two runs in the ninth inning in a failed comeback attempt.  The Cardinals prevailed with a 7-5 win and became the world champions.  Gibson, to Robin’s delight, pitched a complete game and was later named the series MVP.Joe Wroten Army 1

Yogi Berra was fired on October 16th, one day after the seventh, and final, series game and Cardinal’s manager Johnny Keane, who said he never considered taking Gibson out of game seven, resigned that same day.

Later in her life Robin recalled something her father once said to her while the two sat together on the bus after a particularly painful Cardinals loss, “My favorite song is one written by a man named Charlie Chaplin and he recommended that you just smile, while I remind you that Gibson is pitching tomorrow”.

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