Baseball Loses Gibson

Baseball Loses Gibson, Sweet Lou and Perranoski

By David A. Avila
Published: October 5, 2020

Baby boomers everywhere are a little sadder this week, especially those who followed the Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals.

We lost more of those great heroes from the 1960s.

Former pitching great Bob Gibson passed away last week. Also, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost two of its 1960s heroes Lou Johnson and Ron Perranoski. If you are old enough to remember those three names they all took park in multiple World Series.

Gibson was a fire balling pitcher for the Cardinals who won two Cy Youngs, two World Series Most Valuable Player awards and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

I remember convincing my grandfather to take me to see Gibson pitch against the Dodgers when he was attempting to snap Don Drysdale’s record for 56 consecutive innings without allowing a run. It was record barely established a year earlier and looked in jeopardy.

Gibson was a fierce attack-style pitcher who had a quick windup and would then fling his entire body while firing his fastballs and sliders. Few batters stood a chance during his incredible year in 1968. He was almost unhittable and ended up allowing the fewest runs seen in almost 100 years and ended with a microscopic 1.12 ERA.

That day my grandfather, who coached our junior league baseball team the City Terrace Pirates, brought our whole team to see Gibson try to snap Drysdale’s record 58 2/3 innings established earlier that year. We couldn’t find parking so we parked outside of the Dodger Stadium parking lot and climbed up the ivy-laden hillside to gain entry to the game.

We barely made the first inning which found the Dodgers striking immediately and scoring a run against the great Cardinal pitcher. His record of shutout innings was stopped at 47 innings. But what a competitor. I remember watching the numerous celebrities at the ballgame that night including Boston Celtic star Bill Russell in the elevator. The stars came out that night.

Gibson threw more than 300 innings with 13 shutouts and 28 complete games in 1968 and won 22 games to lead the Cardinals to the National League pennant. He would be the last pitcher to win both the MVP and Cy Young awards until Clayton Kershaw accomplished the feat in 2014.

Speaking of the Dodgers who could forget Lou Johnson or Ron Perranoski and what they meant to those World Series teams of the 1960s.

Without reliable Perranoski coming out of the Dodger bullpen to rescue a faltering starting pitcher, especially in 1963 when he won 16 games and lost 3, the closer was a dependable sight for Dodger fans.

The big relief pitcher had a good sinking fastball that Dodger manager Walt Alston counted on to stop rallies from opposing teams. He was “lights out” for several years with the Dodgers.

Later, he became the Dodger pitching coach for many years.

And who could forget “Sweet” Lou Johnson who helped rescue the Dodgers in 1965 when the team lost its two-time batting champion Tommy Davis to a leg injury. Johnson came along and helped ignite the “Go-Go” Dodgers with his running, fielding and hitting.

Johnson was one of the best clutch hitters the Dodgers ever had. When the great Sandy Koufax published his auto-biography he devoted an entire chapter on Johnson’ s importance for the Dodger World Series teams in 1965 and 1966.

Despite being a mere eight inches over five-feet tall, Johnson packed power. If the Dodgers needed a homer, he would hit a homer. If they needed a single, he would produce a single. Listening to Vin Scully on a transistor radio describe Johnson coming up to bat are moments engrained in my memory. And he always seemed to come through.

Recently, Johnson also became a Dodger coach and I would run into him on the ball field or in the press room. Nobody was more fun to talk to about 1960s style baseball. Nobody was more joyful or loved baseball more than “Sweet Lou.”

Johnson had a way about him. If you loved baseball than you were his kind of person. Nobody was more giving of his time than Johnson.

Those transistor radio days are long gone, but the memories are still so very strong. So long Gibson, Perranoski and Sweet Lou.

MLB Divisional Playoffs

There were surprises and there were constants in this year of 60-game schedules and best-of-three game playoffs.

Pitching dominated the best of three series and those with the best starting pitching did not necessarily survive.

AL Division Play

Oakland Athletics came from behind to defeat Chicago White Sox and snap a playoff losing streak that extended to the 1990s. They lost Matt Chapman for the season to injury but have plenty of hitting and pitching to continue onward.

Houston Astros made it past the Minnesota Twins to advance to the best of five playoffs. They did it with steady pitching and a little luck to upset the Twins. Now they try their luck against their division rivals the Athletics. They have a young pitching staff.

Oakland will play the Houston at Dodger Stadium of all places. The Astros are hated in L.A. will that make a difference despite no fans allowed?

Tampa Bay Rays swept aside the Toronto Blue Jays like the young upstarts they are. They did it with pitching and more pitching in stifling the Rays. Led by Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow the Rays are confident in their ability to shut down the opposition. They led the American League in wins.

New York Yankees belted out the Cleveland Indians and proved that their hitting attack could be unstoppable. Despite a hot and cold season, once the Yankees regained Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in their lineup their hitting erupted. Now they seem like the dangerous team everybody expected. And with Gerrit Cole pitching they are a potent team.

Tampa Bay plays New York at Petco Park in San Diego. Will pitching defeat hitting?

NL Division Play

Atlanta Braves defeated the upstart Cincinnati Reds despite superb pitching by Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo. In the end the Braves bullpen and better hitting allowed them to move on to the Division playoffs.

Florida Marlins used its strong young pitching staff to bully its way over the favored Chicago Cubs. In a quick series that featured very little hitting by either team the Marlins took advantage and shut down the veteran Cubs team. The Marlins have never lost a playoff series in its short history. They are 7-0.

The Braves will play the Marlins in a best of five series

Los Angeles Dodgers swept aside the Milwaukee Brewers who managed to make the playoff cut despite losing their last game. The Dodgers boast the best record in the Major Leagues and lead the NL in hitting and pitching. They are a very loaded team. But they have not won a World Series since 1988 and despite strong teams including eight Western Division titles, they have come up short. Will this be the year?

San Diego Padres have languished in the bottom of their division for years and had not made the playoffs in 14 years. But this year with their minor league system boosting their team with players such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham the only professional sports team in San Diego looks solid. But do they have enough pitching.

Los Angeles plays San Diego in a best of five at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

+All MLB playoff games in the five-game series will be televised by TBS. There are no off days.