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Best Cardinals Pitcher of All-Time

by Mark Ashby Vaughan

This is the first in a series of ten articles counting down the best ever Cardinals players at each position.

I will be going around the diamond based on the box score number of each position and picking the top two players at that position. Since this is the first article, let’s take a look at the number 1 position – Pitchers.

With no beating around the bush, let’s get right to it…..

The #1 Cardinals pitcher of all time is Bob Gibson (1959 – 1975). “Gibby” as he was often called (he was also known as “Hoot”) was elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame in 1981.

Over a career which spanned 1959 to 1975, all spent with the Cardinals, Gibby won a team record 251 games (46th all-time) with 174 losses for a career .591 winning percentage. He also completed 255 games (73rd all-time) with 3,117 strike outs (14th all-time). Over his 3,884 innings pitched (46th all-time) he yielded just 3,279 hits. His 56 career shutouts are good for 13th place all-time as well.

Gibson never smiled on days that he pitched. He would never speak to an opposing player either. On game days, in fact, he rarely spoke to his own teammates. When catcher Tim McCarver once went to the mound for a conference, Gibson brushed him off by saying, "The only thing you know about pitching is you can't hit it."

Gibson also threw inside to back players away from the plate, sending the message that he owned the inside corner. Players foolish enough to disregard the communiqué would end up on the receiving end of a Gibson fastball. Gibby politely plunked 102 hard of hearing batters during his career.

In 2004 he was named the most intimidating pitcher of all time by Fox Sports.

Gibby had an overpowering fastball, a sharp slider and a 12-to-6 curveball which was often his pitch of choice to finish off a batter when he had a two strike count.

Gibson was not a pitcher only. He prided himself on his batting, having a career batting average of .206 with 24 home runs and 144 RBIs. He also hit 2 home runs during the World Series games in which he played. Additionally, he won nine Gold Glove awards as the best fielding pitcher in the league.

In 1999 he was ranked as the 31st best player in The Sporting News’ list of the top 100 best players of all time.

Gibson also owns two Cy Young awards (‘68 and ‘70) and a league MVP award in ’68.

Gibby was easily on his way to his third straight 20 win season during the ’67 season until his leg was broken by a line drive hit by Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente. He was out of action from mid-July to early September, the loss of time on the mound costing him what would have later been six consecutive 20 win seasons between the years ’65 and ‘70.

Winning just 13 games that year due to the injury, he rebounded by blowing the Boston Red Sox away in the World Series, winning three complete games (one a shutout) and having an ERA of just 1.00 with 26 strike outs in 27 innings pitched.

Gibson’s best season ever (one of the best ever by any pitcher) was the following year, 1968. He pitched 13 shutouts with 268 strikeouts and a minuscule 1.12 ERA for the entire season. Incredibly, his record was just 22-9 that year, losing five 1-0 games on a team that hit just 73 homers and batted a paltry .249 during the ’68 season.

Gibby also fanned 17 Tigers from Detroit in the first game of the Worlds Series that year, a still standing World Series record.

His 1968 season was so successful, in fact, that it is largely cited as the primary reason MLB mandated that all pitcher’s mounds be lowered from 15 inches high to just 10 inches before the start of the 1969 season.

In spite of his incredible domination over hitters, Gibby pitched just a single no-hitter, in 1971 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. His no-hitter, however, was the first pitched against the Pirates in 122 years.

Gibson played in three World Series (’64, ’67 and ’68), owning a 7-2 record over all, winning 7 games in a row, a 1.89 ERA over 81 innings pitched with 92 strike outs.

His jersey number 45 was retired by the Cardinals in 1981.

The #2 spot on the list of greatest Cardinals pitcher ever goes to the incomparable Dizzy Dean.

Dizzy might well have been the absolute best Cardinals pitcher ever had he not been injured during the 1937 season. While pitching in the All-Star game that year, he was hit in the foot by a line drive off the bat of the Indian’s Earl Averill, breaking Dizzy’s big toe. Later that season, he came back too soon after the injury, causing him to alter his pitching motion to favor the recently broken toe. His modified pitching motion resulted in Dizzy injuring his throwing arm and he was never the same.

During his five uninjured complete seasons (’32 to ’36) with the club, he won 20-plus games three times, and 30 games in ’34 when he was just 24 years old. Considering that he was only 27 years old when he was injured, his career statistics might have been unparalleled had he been fortunate enough to pitch another five or six seasons uninjured.

Dizzy’s 30 win season in 1934 is the last time that a National League pitcher has accomplished the feat.

From ’30 to ’36, Dizzy’s non-injured years with the club, he owned a 121-65 record for a .651 winning percentage. After he was traded to Chicago prior to the ’38 season, and in spite of pitching with an injured arm, Dizzy was wily enough to achieve a 16-8 record over four years with the Cubs.

Honorable Mentions in the category of ‘Best Cardinals Pitcher of All-Time’ go to Mort Cooper, Harry Breechen and Jesse Haines.

For an extra bonus, let’s take an abbreviated look at the ‘Best Ever to Pitch a Part of Their Career with the Cardinals’ category, where a shout goes out to Cy Young and Grover Cleveland Alexander.

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