What I’m Reading: “Pitch by Pitch” by Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler

In “Pitch By Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game,” Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler take readers through the first game of the 1968 World Series, a game in which Bob Gibson struck out a record 17 Detroit Tigers.

This is the third collaboration between Gibson and Wheeler, who previously worked together on Gibson’s autobiography, “Stranger to the Game,” and “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” in which Gibson and Reggie Jackson shared memories from their playing days and discussed the intricacies of the showdown between pitcher and hitter.

Squaring off against a Tigers team that featured a loaded lineup and was backed by 30-game winner Denny McLain, Gibson gave one of the best performances of his career, striking out six of the first seven batters he faced and notching at least two K’s in six of his nine innings.

The play-by-play descriptions outline Gibson’s thought process throughout the game – his strategies in attacking hitters, his perceptions of his own strengths and weaknesses, and his general philosophies regarding the art of pitching – and help to mitigate the perception Gibson’s success could be attributed to his intimidating presence on the mound and his willingness to throw at hitters.

Even more interesting, however, are Gibson’s descriptions of his contemporaries on both the Cardinals and Tigers rosters. He describes Lou Brock’s fearless style of baseball and theorizes that his need to defend Brock – who often drew their opponents’ ire by stealing whenever he had the chance, even if that opportunity came when the Cardinals were already well ahead – played a significant part in his reputation as a pitcher who was willing to throw at his opponents.

He does an excellent job describing the personalities of his teammates and the unique clubhouse culture the El Birdos had in those years. He takes an obvious pride in the success of his teammates, many of whom enjoyed long, successful careers after their playing days ended. More than anything, that may have been my most enjoyable takeaway from this book – after a 17-year major league career that saw just about everything baseball has to offer, Gibson still holds a deep and obvious affection for the teammates he shared a clubhouse with 47 years ago.

As a result, Pitch By Pitch belies Gibson’s reputation as the meanest pitcher on the planet. Instead, it showcases the intensity, determination, and intelligence behind his success, and shows the (slightly) softer side of the greatest pitcher in Cardinals history.

 

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