How did Bob Gibson’s career end?

On this date in 1975, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen entry for today:

On the final pitch of his Hall of Fame career, Cardinals great Bob Gibson gives up a grand slam to Pete LaCock. It will be LaCock’s only bases-loaded homer of his career.

I have heard this fact many times–it’s a sad thing.

But a fellow on Twitter named Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) pointed out to me that this “fact” is not a “fact” at all.

Take a look at the box score for the game.

In the 7th inning of the game, here’s how it went:

Bob Gibson replaces Larry Lintz (PR) pitching and batting 9th
Fly ball
Walk
Single
Walk
Ground out
Wild pitch
Intentional walk
Home run (by Pete LaCock)
Ground out
(end of inning)

Mike Wallace replaced Bob Gibson to start the top of the 8th.

So, the grand slam clearly did not come on the last pitch of Gibson’s career, since he recorded a ground out following the home run.

What gives? Why does this story about Gibson persist when it is so obviously false?


Comments

How did Bob Gibson’s career end? — 42 Comments

  1. The Charlton Chronology mentions that Gibson himself stated (incorrectly) in his autobiography that the pitch to LaCock was his last pitch in the majors.

  2. I wonder if there was a concerted effort by “some” members of the media to spin the tale of LaCock’s grand slam coming off the final pitch of Gibson’s career.

    As a story, it captures the essence of Gibby’s final days in uniform, and by extension, the demise of many star athletes who hung on just a bit too long.

    Also, Pete LaCock’s father, Ralph Pierre LaCock (known as Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall) may have used some of his influence to help etch his son’s name into baseball lore. Once a story gets told enough times, people tend to accept it as fact.

    • No, sir. This is baseball, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

      Beyond my very slight edit above to Maxwell Scott’s line from the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I can think of no other sport that loves to print the legend more than baseball.

  3. I like to think it is a case of trying to make something that is dramatic and tragic even more dramatic and tragic. I think it is pretty sad that in his last inning in the majors, Gibson gave up a grand slam to a such a lowly scrub as LaCock (even that name has dramatic effect; it wouldn’t be as effective if it was “Jones”). Whether it was a baseball writer or Gibson himself, doing it on the last pitch (rather than just his last inning) is taking it that one step further that the story really doesn’t need.

    • Why Max? What’s wrong with questioning how or why the notion got started? It’s clear that the point of this topic is:

      “What gives? Why does this story about Gibson persist when it is so obviously false?”

      • I think you may have misinterpreted what Max said. I believe he was theorising that the story was changed (intentionally or not) because the new ending makes it sound even more dramatic. I happen to agree with him; all stories become more hyperbolic the more they are told. I don’t see him questioning the point of this thread.

        • Precisely. People like “I cannot tell a lie…” (George Washington and the cherry tree), “Play it again, Sam” (Casablanca), “The British are coming!” (Paul Revere’s ride) and other good stories, regardless of whether they are true. A little fibbing goes a long way to making something more dramatic. And things just perpetuate from there. It doesn’t matter that there was no cherry tree, that he says “You played it for her, you can play it for me, now play it!” or that it is unlikely Paul Revere yelled much more than “to arms! to arms! since, really, they were all still British.”

          • Which is why I said: “As a story, it captures the essence of Gibby’s final days in uniform, and by extension, the demise of many star athletes who hung on just a bit too long.”

            Perhaps I should have italicized the word “story” to emphasize my point. Or maybe I should have peppered my post with winks, smiley faces, and lol’s.

  4. I don’t know if Joe Posnanski is the sole culprit of this ignominious slight to Gibby, but in his 2009 book about the 1975 Reds titled “The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds” he writes:

    “Five days later, Gibson pitched in his final game, against the Chicago Cubs. He had nothing. He walked a man, allowed a single, walked another, threw a wild pitch, and intentionally walked a man. And finally, he grooved a fastball to Pete LaCock, a twenty-three-year old first baseman who was the son of game show host Peter Marshall. LaCock blasted it, a grand slam. That was the last pitch Bob Gibson ever threw in the big leagues. But with Gibson, there’s always one more story. Many years later, he was pitching in an old-timers game. And Pete LaCock was playing too. LaCock stepped up to face Gibson, who was well into his fifties. Gibson stared him down and promptly hit LaCock in the back with a pitch. ‘Ow Bob, what gives?’ LaCock asked. ‘I’ve been waiting for years to do that,’ Gibson said.”

    Many more years later (2011), in the documentary series titled “Behind the Seams,” Bob Costas interviewed Gibson and questioned him about the incident. Gibson replied, “The books must be balanced Robert.”

    That’s a story, within a story, within a story.

    • I have a lot of respect for Joe Poz, Mick. I seriously doubt he would ever intentionally put something false into one of his books. I’d say he was just another victim of assuming that story was indeed true. I assume you were simply just using an excerpt from his book as an example of the false information.

      • bstar, I was joking when I said: “I don’t know if Joe Posnanski is the sole culprit of this ignominious slight to Gibby.”

        I was trying to illustrate one example of how the “myth” continues top be perpetuated 30+ years from the day of Gibson’s final game.

    • Nothing up in arms about that danny. How can one argue against it? As great as Koufax and Seaver were, nobody comes close to Gibby in a 1-game situation. He was guts and glory!

    • In the late 90’s, when they were doing the interviews for the All century Team video documentary, they asked Gibson, who will he pick to be the Starter on the All Century Team, and he said “I´ll pick me!”. So, Gibson himself agrees with you.

      • Ryan was not suspended for that because at that time, the League President could not discipline players not thrown out of the game by the umpires.

  5. I saw Gibson pitch on Opening Night in 1975. He pitched like Bob Gibson-for seven innings-striking out a lot of Expos. In 1973, he suffered a broken leg for the third time in his career, and started to decline in 1974. I was also at the game in 1967, when Clemente injured him with a line drive, and he pitched to two more batters(Stargell and Mazeroski,I think), before collapsing on the mound. Loved watching him pitch until the summer of ’75, when he joined the ranks of Joe Louis, Willie Mays and John Unitas at the end of the line, becoming almost too painful to watch.

  6. If you look at the box score (and with proper HHS training) you can clearly see the issue. It was the intentional walk to Morales.

  7. #24/ Brooklyn Mick,

    I have to disagree very strongly with this concept that a once-great player can “hang on too long”. It’s THEIR livelihood, how they’ve made a living their entire adult lives; who are WE, to tell THEM when to quit, just because playing too long might tarnish our reputation of them?

    As long as an MLB team is willing to play them, I don’t see why they shouldn’t continue to play as long as they wish to.

    • Lawrence, I’m not saying that WE have a right to tell anyone when it’s time to quit, but WE, as fans, have every right to discuss their decision(s). As a fan I have the right to state that “in my opinion” Ali, Namath, Mays, Unitas, and others, stuck around too long.

      • OK, fine, and “in my opinion”, any professional athlete can stick around as long as they want, as long as there is someone willing to pay them to perform.

        Not everyone can end their career the way that John Elway did.

        • Lawrence,

          I agree with you wholeheartedly. I mean, not only is the particular sport in question their livelihood, it’s often their lives. They’ve frequently been playing it since they were toddlers, and their whole identity is often wrapped up in it. If they want to cling to that, for good and ill, who am I to blame them? They owe our mental image of them in their prime nothing.

          Plus, there are plenty of novelists, filmmakers, etc. who wrote one too many books / directed one too many films and who, it could be said, also should have hung up their artistic spikes at some prior point in time. It’s a human failing and, being all too human myself, I have a hard time blaming them for such.

          • It happens in other walks of life too. As a lawyer, I have been in the courtroom with esteemed lawyers who have been practicing for 50+ years and really don’t have their fastball anymore. It is pretty sad actually, especially when you can remember them as they once were. You are lucky if you never have had treatment by a doctor that should have “hung up his spikes” a few years ago (I wasn’t so lucky when I came to the ER needing an emergency appendectomy. My 80 year old general surgeon didn’t even perform laparoscopic appendectomies, so it was the good ol’ open procedure for me)

        • I’m with you on this. Most athletes don’t walk away from the game as Ted Williams did, and certainly not like Sandy Koufax.

          Chipper Jones gets to walk out on a high note. Mike Mussina did a couple years back.

          Yet most players hang on to the end, and as a fan of the game I enjoy watching both endings. Those who walk out on a high note, and those who try to squeeze every last drop out of their skills. I recently saw some reporter refer to the sad ending of Rickey Henderson, who played for a few seasons in independent ball trying to get one last shot in the majors. I never once thought Rickey Henderson had a sad ending, and I doubt most fans do either. He was doing what he wanted to do. No shame in not being the athlete at 45 compared to 25 or 35. In fact, just being able to play competitively is still a great thing.

          The ending for Pujols won’t be pretty. Same for A-Rod. In fact, I guess one can say that by signing those long and expensive contracts, players pretty much guarantee they won’t be able to head off into sunset still being solid contributors. Doesn’t bother me at all.

          • We discussed this on another thread, but Manny Ramirez is another example. He hit so well for the Red Sox–I couldn’t ever imagine how it would end. But it did, pretty quickly over a 2-year period. His behavior finally outweighed his performance.

          • MikeD,

            The irony is that sportwriters are constantly harping on how most major league athletes never play “for the love of the game”. Yet this is EXACTLY what Henderson was doing in independent ball, making a pittance in the minors after his MLB career ended, and for his efforts he got endlessly mocked by the writers.

          • Lawrence, as a kid I remember reading articles about how Willie Mays embarrassed himself in his final year with the Mets. That was a touch before I started watching the game, but I never understood why they thought he was embarrassing himself. Fine, he wasn’t what he once was and his time had come to retire, but embarrssing himself?

            As I grew older, I realized it was almost always some reporter saying the player (in that case Mays) should retire. It seems they don’t quite understand the competitive fire that fuels these guys.

          • I always felt that, as a player, Ryne Sandberg was somewhat overrated, good but not great except for a couple of years. But how many Hall-of-Famers in our time have taken on the roll of minor league manager, plugging away in Peoria, Des Moines, and Lehigh City, suffering the innumerable frustrations attendant on that position, when his reputation is secure and the money can’t be commensurate to the job.

            It’s another, more productive way, I think, for a storied ballplayer to show his devotion to the game.

  8. Another example is the scene in the movie “The Lou Gehrig Story” from Gehrig’s final 1939 season. Gehrig hits a feeble grounder to the left side that somehow finds a hole between short and third. No sooner does Gehrig arrive at first than he’s back in the dugout as the next batter makes the final out of the inning. As Gehrig comes into the dugout, instead of being ribbed by his teammates for getting a cheap hit, he’s getting exaggerated compliments and encouragement that now he’s on his way out of his season-long slump. It’s at that point that Gehrig goes to his manager and says “I’m done. It’s time to put in someone else.” (or words to that effect)

    That was the movie. The reality – Gehrig’s last hit came in his next to last game (he went 4 for 28 for the season, all singles), and he played a complete game in every appearance in 1939. Whether he did get a cheap hit and a lot of teammate encouragement because of it, guess we’ll never know if there’s some kernel of truth to that part.

  9. In Vol. 5, no. 2 of “Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game” (Fall 2011), there is an article studying the creation of the legend of Germany Schaefer’s Called Home Run. (Not to be confused with the legend of Schaefer stealing first base.) The article takes a careful approach to determine when elements were added to the story (such as Schaefer’s antics running the base path after the home run).

    In this case, with Gibson, @9 mentions a 2009 book by Joe Posnanski that gives the “final pitch” story, but @1 suggests that Gibson’s autobiography also gives the same story. I think that that was published circa 1994, wasn’t it? I guess I can’t really blame subsequent writers for accepting Gibson himself as an authority on the subject. Although, come to think of it, trusting a baseball player about events in a baseball player’s career is probably not something a serious scholar should do–Germany Schaefer should prove that!

    Can anybody find a written reference to the story prior to Gibson’s autobiography? Prior to blaming media members or Peter Marshall for spreading the story, let’s make sure it wasn’t Gibson himself who created the legend.

  10. From my book, “Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs”

    Bob Gibson
    It would be fair to say that whether you are rich or poor, black or white, life consists of three stages – you’re born, you live a life, you die. The same is true for a baseball player’s major-league career. You break in, you play your career, and then you retire or are released. It doesn’t matter whether you are a scrub or a member of the Hall of Fame, that’s the way it goes. Sooner or later, every game ends, every stadium will close, every streak will end, every career comes to a close.
    Here’s a story about a player in his first major league game, Buddy Schultz, of the Chicago Cubs. It’s also about Pete LaCock, third-year guy, although officially still a rookie. But this story is really about Bob Gibson, the great Hall-of-Fame pitcher in the last game of his storied career.
    Pete LaCock came up for cups of coffee with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and 1973, but September 22, 1974 was the first time LaCock faced Bob Gibson. He pinch hit for Rob Sperring in the 6th and singled to right. The next time up in the 7th Gibby brushed back LaCock before getting him to fly out to left.
    Five days later, the two teams met again, this time with LaCock in the starting lineup. In the 3rd, he doubled to right. When LaCock told me this, I jokingly mentioned that Pete “owned” Gibby. Pete laughed and then in all seriousness quickly said, “No one owned Bob Gibson, I just got my licks at the right time.” The reason for that was quite evident in LeCock’s next at bat leading off the 4th…Gibson hit LaCock with a fastball.
    Jump ahead to June 21, 1975, during Gibson’s last season. LaCock went 0-for-4 against Gibson, but the rest of the Cubs fared better winning the game, 6-1, as Gibson dropped to 1-6.
    By August 4, when the two combatants faced each other again, Gibson pitched in relief and threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. LaCock struck out to end the bottom of the 8th in his only time facing Gibson.
    Bob Gibson’s last appearance in the majors was on September 3, 1975. Gibson came to face the Cubs with the score tied, 6-6. The Cardinals had tied the score by scoring five times in the bottom of the 6th topped by Lou Brock’s two-out, bases-loaded double that scored three. That brought in Buddy Schultz, making his major league debut. As he walked onto the mound, looked over at second and saw Lou Brock, Schultz told Bill Chuck, he thought, “Wow! I’m really in the big leagues!”
    Nonetheless, Schultz threw two pitches and got Bake McBride on a grounder to second.
    Bill Madlock led off the top of 7th against Gibson by flying out, but Jose Cardinal drew a walk. Champ Summers reached on an infield single and Cardinal moved to third when Mike Tyson (the shortstop, not the boxer) committed an error.
    The hot-hitting Andre Thornton, who had taken LaCock’s starting job, drew a walk to load the bases. Manny Trillo bounced a ball back to Gibby who threw to Ted Simmons for a force at the plate. Then Gibson gave an indication that the end was near by throwing a wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to score. He then intentionally walked Jerry Morales to reload the bases.
    It was Buddy Schultz’ turn at the plate, but up stepped Pete LaCock, who was frustrated being a bench player. Cubs’ manager Jim Marshall had spent 45 minutes before the game listening to his request to be traded. Marshall told reporters, “Pete is a very ambitious young man. He needs a lot of time for someone to explain to him what it’s all about.”
    Pete had taken extra batting practice prior to the start of the game and also had a good run around the ballpark with his Siberian Husky puppy. The combination must have worked, LaCock blasted the last and only grand slam of his career deep to right field.
    After Don Kessinger bounced to Reggie Smith at first who tossed it to Gibson for the final out, Hoot was done and on his way to Cooperstown. Before he left the clubhouse that day Gibby said, “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”
    But the story is not over.
    In 1986, former stars like Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson and Gibson played a series of old-timer’’ three-to-five inning games at major-league ball parks to raise funds for former ballplayers not covered by the current pension system. The games were sponsored by the Equitable Life Assurance Company.
    According to LaCock, one day Bob Feller was on the mound and having trouble getting pitches to the plate. “I come up to the plate and all of a sudden Gibson comes running out to the mound and starts warming up, LaCock told Chuck. “First pitch, he gets me right in the back.”
    At the banquet that night, Gibson was serving as the MC and introduced all the players…except for LaCock. “The other players are going, ‘What about your friend LaCock?’ ” Pete recalls. Gibson laughed and went on with the evening.
    That is the life of ballplayers.

    • Great stuff, Bill — captures the spirit of the story, while also getting the play-by-play facts right.

      Note that in the book “Take Me Out To the Cubs Game”, by John Skipper (McFarland and Co., 2000), Pete LaCock himself is quoted (p. 171): “I hit the last pitch Bob Gibson ever threw in his major league career. It was a grand-slam home run…..” So the memories of both the pitcher and the hitter in that at-bat give drama priority over facts, in exactly the same way. It’s human nature.

      Splendid blog post, BTW, Andy — a nice bit of baseball history, with broader implications for the nature of memory and history.

      • Plus maybe Bob Gibson retired Don Kessinger so many times over the course of his career he naturally just forgot this one last time.

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