November 13, 1968: Bob Gibson named National League MVP

In Bob Gibson’s autobiography, Stranger to the Game, he summarized his historic 1968 season simply: “In the summer of 1968, I mastered my craft,” he wrote.[1]

That mastery was rewarded with both the National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. On November 13, 1968, Gibson became the 14th Cardinal in franchise history to win the MVP Award since it had been established 44 years earlier.[2] In doing so, he became the third Cardinal in five seasons to win the MVP, joining Ken Boyer, who won the award in 1964, and Orlando Cepeda, who was a unanimous selection in 1967.

Of those 14 Cardinals MVPs, Gibson was just the third pitcher to win the MVP, joining Dizzy Dean and Mort Cooper.

“It’s great,” Gibson said from Matsuyama, Japan, where he and the Cardinals were participating in a goodwill tour. “It’s just great because pitchers usually don’t win MVP awards. I’ve got to thank everyone on the team because they all helped me have a good year.”[3]

Cepeda and Brock were with Gibson when he learned by phone that he had won the award.

“Now you’ll have to win it next year,” Cepeda said to Brock.[4]

Meanwhile, Gibson’s first response was, “You’re kidding,” the same thing he said two weeks earlier when told he had won the Cy Young Award.[5]

Gibson received 14 first-place votes to finish with 242 points while Cincinnati’s Pete Rose, who led the league with a .335 batting average, received the other six and placed second with 205 total points. Willie McCovey was third with 135 points, Curt Flood was fourth with 116, and Juan Marichal was fifth with 93. Brock placed sixth with 73 points and Mike Shannon was seventh with 55.

Gibson’s 24-10 record for the season failed to capture how dominant he was throughout the season. Over 304 2/3 innings, Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA while striking out 268 batters. Along the way, he threw a franchise-record 13 shutouts and posted a 15-game win streak, the longest ever by a Cardinals pitcher.

The top four hitters in the league – Rose (0-for-8), Matty Alou (2-for-14), Felipe Alou (2-for-15), and Alex Johnson (1-for-8) hit just .111 against him, and league-wide, batters hit just .184 against Gibson.[6]

While Gibson had already appeared in four all-star games heading into the 1968 season, he reached a new level that year due to improved command and the emergence of his slider as a dominant pitch.

“In spring training that year, Tim (McCarver) had encouraged me to throw it,” Gibson wrote in 2015. “I’d always had difficulty controlling my breaking pitches on the arm side of the plate, which is outside to a left-handed hitter, and was reluctant to throw a slider that I was afraid might sweep right into the sweet spot over the middle. But McCarver convinced me that my control had improved enough that I could now deliver that pitch with conviction. He was right, and it made a profound difference. Left-handers were still the batters that most threatened me, as a rule, but in 1968 I felt that I’d finally grabbed the upper hand against them.”[7]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968

Heading into June, Gibson was just 3-5 despite a 1.52 ERA. He received no decision in his first two starts and was just 1-1 at the end of April. In May, he won his first two games, but then lost his next four starts despite allowing just seven earned runs over 33 2/3 innings (a 1.87 ERA).

With the beginning of June, however, he began to roll, winning all six of his starts that month. In each of his last five starts, he threw complete game shutouts as part of 47 2/3 consecutive innings in which he did not allow a run.

Then he won all six July starts. After a no-decision against the Cubs on August 4, Gibson picked up three more wins to improve to 18-5 before he finally lost to the Pirates, allowing three earned runs over nine innings while striking out 15. The loss increased his ERA to 1.07.

Throughout the entire season, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst never came to the mound to take the ball from Gibson in the middle of an inning. In fact, Gibson completed 28 of his 34 starts and only failed to get to the eighth inning twice.

“He carried the whole team,” Cepeda said. “He should get all the awards that are presented.”[8]

With Gibson leading the way, the Cardinals won the National League pennant with a 97-65 record.

Though award voting took place before the postseason, Gibson added two more wins in the World Series, defeating American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner Denny McLain in Games 1 and 4 while striking out a record 17 batters in the opener. In Game 7, Gibson struck out eight in a complete-game effort, but was out-pitched by Mickey Lolich, who allowed one run over nine innings.

With the announcement of the Cy Young and MVP awards, Gibson joined Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, and McLain as the only pitchers to win the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same year.[9]

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch quoted Rose arguing that his role as an everyday player made him the more valuable player.

“With all due respect to Gibson, he won 22 (actually 24) games for the Cardinals while I might have won 50 for the Reds,” Rose said.[10]

In the Cincinnati Enquirer, however, Rose was far more gracious, saying, “I couldn’t have picked a better man to finish second to.”[11]

“I think I knew all along I wasn’t going to win it,” Rose said. “I was just happy I came as close as I did. I’m just glad I made the showing I did. I got a lot more votes than any regular player.”[12]

After the season, with offense down league-wide, Major League Baseball made changes designed to generate more offense, including lowering the mound and – probably more importantly – warning pitchers who brushed back hitters. Sportswriters and others referred to these as the “Gibson Rules.”

“I can assure you I was not consulted,” Gibson wrote. “Nor was I flattered, much preferring not to be associated, in any fashion, with legislation that would diminish the power of the pitcher.”[13]

Gibson went on to win the Cy Young Award again in 1970 and placed fourth in the MVP voting that year. He retired after the 1975 season with 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts, and a career 2.91 ERA, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

Years later, Doug Rader, a former Astros third baseman and a manager with the Rangers, White Sox, and Angels, was asked the names of the five toughest pitchers he ever faced.

“That’s easy,” he said. “Bob Gibson in 1968.” He paused for a moment, then rounded out his list. “Bob Gibson in 1969, Bob Gibson in 1970, Bob Gibson in 1971, and Bob Gibson in 1972. No one else was even close.”[14]


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[1] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, Penguin Books USA, New York, N.Y., Page 1.

[2] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[3] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[4] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[5] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[6] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[7] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 13.

[8] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[9] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[10] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[11] Jim Schottelkotte, “Rose Happy To Come As Close As He Did,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1968.

[12] Jim Schottelkotte, “Rose Happy To Come As Close As He Did,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1968.

[13] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 13.

[14] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, Penguin Books USA, New York, XIV-XV.

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