Forty years ago, the Cardinals designated Sept. 1, 1975, as Bob Gibson Day. Gibson, 39, was feted in an hour-long ceremony before the Cubs played the Cardinals in front of 48,435 spectators on a Labor Day afternoon at St. Louis.
Two days later, Sept. 3, Gibson yielded a grand slam and took the loss in his final Cardinals appearance.
Before reporting to spring training, Gibson had said 1975 would be his last year as a player. He began the season in the starting rotation but was shifted to the bullpen during the summer.
The Gibson Day event was an opportunity to salute the Cardinals’ all-time best pitcher. Gibson was the ace on 1960s Cardinals clubs that won three National League pennants and two World Series titles. He is the franchise’s career leader in wins (251), shutouts (56), strikeouts (3,117), complete games (255), innings pitched (3,884.1) and games started (482).
In a ceremony at home plate, the Cardinals declared that Gibson’s uniform No. 45 would join the No. 6 of Stan Musial and the No. 17 of Dizzy Dean as the only numbers retired by the franchise. Club owner Gussie Busch presented Gibson with a $32,250 luxury motor home.
Gibson told onlookers, including former teammates Musial and Bill White, “I’m more nervous than I was before a World Series game.”
Then it was Gibson’s turn to address the crowd.
In the book “Gibson’s Last Stand,” author Doug Feldmann wrote, “At first, Gibson was too moved to speak when he approached the microphone down on the field. Several times he stepped toward it again, but had to pause with every attempt, as each standing ovation was louder than the one a moment earlier.”
When he was ready, Gibson, true to self, told the crowd, “One thing that I’ve always been proud of is the fact that I’ve never intentionally cheated anyone out of what they paid their money to come and see. Most of all, I’m proud of the fact that whatever I did, I did it my way.”
Reflecting on his future as a retired player, Gibson said, “It’s going to be a new life, a strange life for me. I just hope I can be half as successful as I have been in baseball.”
To cap the festivities, Busch got behind the wheel of the motor home and drove Gibson, his mother and his two daughters around the perimeter of the field as the stadium organist played “Auld Lang Syne.” Said Busch to Gibson: “I bet you never had a chauffeur like this before.”
Inspired, the Cardinals went out and beat the Cubs, 6-3, behind Lou Brock (three hits, three steals, two runs) and the pitching of Bob Forsch and Al Hrabosky. The victory moved the second-place Cardinals to within three games of the Pirates in the NL East Division. Boxscore
Tough to take
On Sept. 3, in the finale of the series, the Cubs led, 6-1, before the Cardinals rallied for five runs in the sixth, tying the score at 6-6.
Sensing an opportunity to give his fading star another shot at glory, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst called on Gibson to relieve starter Ron Reed and hold the Cubs in the seventh.
The move backfired.
The Cubs loaded the bases on a Champ Summers infield single and walks to Jose Cardenal and Andre Thornton. With two outs, Gibson uncorked a wild pitch and Gene Hiser, running for Summers, raced home from third, giving the Cubs a 7-6 lead. Gibson issued an intentional walk to Jerry Morales, reloading the bases.
Pete LaCock, a pinch-hitter, batted next. LaCock, who had lost the starting first base job to Thornton, was best-known as the son of game-show host Peter Marshall of “Hollywood Squares.”
With the count 3-and-2, LaCock stunned Gibson by drilling a fastball over the right-field wall for a home run _ the lone grand slam of his big-league career.
Dejected, Gibson retired the next batter, Don Kessinger, on a groundout and then walked off the mound for the final time. Boxscore
“I had reached my absolute limit in humiliation,” Gibson said in his book “Stranger to the Game.” “I said to myself, ‘That’s it. I’m out of here.’ ”
Gibson remained idle while the Cardinals fell out of contention.
On Sept. 15, two weeks after his special day, Gibson said goodbye to his teammates and headed home with 10 games remaining in the season, knowing he’d never pitch again.
Previously: How Bob Gibson achieved career win No. 250