The 1970s was a decade when the Cardinals dealt a significant number of quality starting pitchers, most notably Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, Mike Torrez and Jim Bibby.
Bibby’s name was back in the news when the Astros’ Mike Fiers pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 21, 2015. Fiers, acquired by the Astros from the Brewers on July 30, 2015, became the first pitcher since Bibby in 1973 to throw a no-hitter after switching teams midseason. Boxscore
Bibby, traded by the Cardinals to the Rangers on June 6, 1973, pitched his gem for Texas against the Athletics on July 30, 1973. Boxscore
Herzog, manager of the 1973 Rangers, knew Bibby could be special. Bibby pitched in the Mets’ minor-league system when Herzog was their farm director. It was Herzog who encouraged the Rangers to acquire Bibby from St. Louis.
Bibby, 20, signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in July 1965. The Mets assigned him to their rookie league club at Marion, Va. One of his teammates was another hard-throwing prospect, 18-year-old Nolan Ryan.
After the season, Bibby was drafted into the Army and his baseball career was put on hold. He spent 1966 and 1967 in the military, including a hitch in Vietnam.
When Bibby resumed his baseball career in 1968, Herzog was in his second year overseeing the Mets’ farm system as their director of player development. Over the next two years, Bibby progressed through that system. The Royals tried to trade for him in December 1969, but the Mets declined.
Then Bibby’s career hit another roadblock.
Bibby needed back surgery in 1970. The procedure required removing bone from his hip and attaching it to his spine to strengthen vertebrae. Bibby sat out the 1970 season, the third year in the last five that he couldn’t play baseball.
“There were times during that recuperation period when I wondered if it was worth it,” Bibby told The Sporting News. “I thought maybe it just wasn’t meant for me to play baseball, that maybe I should quit and get into something else.”
Bibby persevered and returned in 1971. Herzog assigned him to Class AAA Tidewater. Bibby’s record at the end of July was 14-2. He awaited a promotion to the big leagues. “I wonder what more the Mets want me to do or show,” Bibby said. “I feel I’ve proved myself down here.”
Bibby finished 15-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 27 games for Tidewater. He struck out 150 in 176 innings but issued 109 walks.
Terrific at Tulsa
On Oct. 18, 1971, the Mets traded Bibby, pitchers Rich Folkers and Charlie Hudson and outfielder Art Shamsky to the Cardinals for pitchers Chuck Taylor and Harry Parker, first baseman Jim Beauchamp and second baseman Chip Coulter.
The Sporting News opined that it “came as no surprise” that the Mets gave up on Bibby and added, “The big guy throws hard, but that’s about all.”
Bibby, 27, went to spring training in 1972 as a candidate for the No. 5 spot in the Cardinals’ rotation. The role instead went to Al Santorini. Bibby was sent to Class AAA Tulsa.
With his path to the big leagues stalled again, Bibby was becoming best known as the older brother of Henry Bibby, a starting guard for three national championship basketball teams under UCLA coach John Wooden.
At Tulsa, Jim Bibby started well, pitching a four-hit shutout on Opening Day.
In July, Bibby struck out 16 in each of two consecutive starts.
In 27 starts for Tulsa, Bibby was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA, striking out 208 in 195 innings. He pitched 13 complete games and showed improved control, walking 76.
Bibby was promoted to the Cardinals in September 1972. He made his big-league debut on Labor Day, Sept. 4, getting the start and the win in the second game of a doubleheader against the Expos at St. Louis.
Bibby gave up three runs in the first, including a two-run triple by Expos catcher and former Cardinal Tim McCarver, then pitched five consecutive scoreless innings before yielding another run in the sixth.
The Cardinals won, 8-7. Bibby’s line: 6.1 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts. Boxscore
In six starts for the 1972 Cardinals, Bibby was 1-3 with a 3.35 ERA.
At spring training in 1973, Bibby competed with Alan Foster, Mike Nagy and Santorini for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
In the exhibition opener, a 4-0 Cardinals triumph over the Mets, Bibby displayed a “powder-river fastball,” The Sporting News gushed.
Bibby and Nagy became the finalists for the last pitching spot on the Opening Day roster. Both had run out of minor-league options. The Cardinals chose Bibby, trading Nagy to the Rangers “because Bibby throws harder than Nagy,” The Sporting News reported.
Used sparingly, Bibby struggled with his command, walking 17 in 16 innings. In six appearances, including three starts, Bibby was 0-2 with a 9.56 ERA for the 1973 Cardinals.
On June 6, 1973, the Cardinals dealt Bibby to the Rangers for Nagy and catcher John Wockenfuss. In two seasons with St. Louis, Bibby was a combined 1-5 with a 5.11 ERA.
Explaining the deal, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said of Bibby, “There’s his age (28) and Whitey Herzog knows about him. Whitey said Bibby has a better arm than half his pitchers.”
Said Herzog: “What interested us about Bibby was the fastball. I’d say only Nolan Ryan throws consistently harder in this league. Since this is a breaking-ball league, we felt that if Bibby could get the ball over the plate, he might be successful.”
Herzog instructed Bibby to reduce his assortment of pitches, saying, “With your speed and your slider, you don’t need a curveball … Smoke. That’s your strength. Smoke! Use it.”
Following Herzog’s advice and getting the work he craved, Bibby pitched effectively. Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski said of Bibby, “He’s faster than Vida Blue.”
Bibby at his best
On July 30, 1973, Bibby pitched his masterpiece, a no-hitter in a 6-0 Rangers victory at Oakland. Bibby struck out 13 and walked six.
In the ninth, Bibby issued a leadoff walk to Sal Bando, who swiped second. The next batter, Reggie Jackson, worked the count full. Bibby unleashed a fastball that Jackson said he never saw for strike three.
“That last one was the best pitch I ever saw,” said Jackson. “Well, really, I didn’t see it. I heard it.”
Bibby retired Deron Johnson on a groundout and got Gene Tenace to pop out, completing the first Rangers no-hitter.
In 12 years with the Cardinals, Rangers, Indians and Pirates, Bibby had a record of 111-101 with a 3.76 ERA. He made two starts for the Pirates in the 1979 World Series, including Game 7, and posted a 2.61 ERA. In 1980, he had 19 wins for the Pirates and was named an all-star.
In 1984, Bibby, 39, was in his second stint with the Rangers. They released him on June 1 and, eight days later, the Cardinals, managed by Herzog, gave him another chance.
The Cardinals assigned Bibby to Class AAA Louisville, which was managed by his former Rangers and Pirates teammate, Jim Fregosi.
Bibby made two relief appearances for Louisville and didn’t allow a run in five innings, though he walked six and gave up five hits. On July 1, the Cardinals released him. Nearly 20 years after he signed with the Mets, Bibby’s pitching career was done.