It’s been 20 years since Bob Gibson last stared down a hitter who dared crowd the plate and 10 years since he last put on a major league uniform.
Well, The Glare is alive and well. The Hall of Fame pitcher is back with the St. Louis Cardinals, and if you want to see it just ask him about his specific duties.
“Job descriptions are for writers,” snorted Gibson, 58. “A coach is a coach is a coach, period.
“You could be a hitting instructor or a pitching coach and if you can help somewhere else, you do it. I might be able to tell a hitter something that’s on a pitcher’s mind.”
Gibson is not the pitching coach. That’s Mark Riggins’ job. But he’ll help with the pitchers and has been fine-tuning many of the minor leaguers at training camp. He’ll also serve as manager Joe Torre’s right-hand man and work in the bullpen.
Moreover, Gibson, known for his intensity during his playing days, will serve as Torre’s “attitude coach.” Torre also hung that moniker on Gibson when he served as his pitching coach with the New York Mets in 1981 and the Atlanta Braves from 1982-84.
“He has a lot to contribute, and he still has an intimidating way about him,” Torre said.
Gibson has been a little more low-key with the pitchers in training camp, most of whom are from the Cardinals’ minor-league system. General manager Walt Jocketty said he can’t wait to see what Gibson, who will stress pitching inside, can do with a major league staff that had an abominable 5.14 ERA last season.
The Cardinals added free agents Danny Jackson and Tom Henke in December before the signing freeze went into effect. Still, he’s got some raw material to develop.
“That’s the group he’s got to work on, to build up their intensity and desire to win, whatever you call it,” Jocketty said. “They’ve got to learn to turn it up a notch, from what I’ve been told.”
The way Torre sees it, the game needs more no-nonsense guys like Gibson. But he was gone from the game for so long that he wrote a book, “Stranger to the Game,” about it last year. In it, he complained that the “Cardinals won’t have anything to do with me despite my close relationship with the manager.”
“I tried,” Gibson said. “Nobody wanted me. But since I wrote about it, things have changed. In fact, they changed as soon as the book came out.”
One supposed reason Gibson was unwanted was a reputation that he expected his pitchers to be as talented as he had been. He vigorously denies this, saying one reporter’s opinion somehow became fact.
“That’s the only thing I hate about baseball,” Gibson said. “For whatever reason or maybe no reason, somebody will start something and it’ll go on forever. I wasn’t expecting anybody to be me. I’d have to be silly.”
Gibson said the proof of his ability is in the Braves’ performance.
“I was too tough?” he said. “We won our division the first year, and the second and third year we came in second.
“It seems to be in our society, people love to think the worst. They like to take the negative attitude about it, especially the print media. You guys don’t want to write good stuff, that’s the way I look at it.”
Torre wanted to hire Gibson when he was hired as manager in 1990 but was met with resistance from then-GM Dal Maxvill.
The two never got along, stemming from a dispute when both were coaching for Torre in Atlanta.
“There may be one person in the organization standing in my way; there may be several,” Gibson wrote in his book. “There may be sound, objective reasons why the Cardinals don’t want me around; there may be misguided, personal motives. I just don’t know.”
Now that the Cardinals’ front office has been overhauled, whatever obstacles there were are gone. Torre, who’s in the last year of his contract, needs Gibson’s input to survive.
He also felt it was time Riggins got a shot, after five seasons at Triple A Louisville. So he created a spot for Gibson.
“He can tell you what he felt when he was standing on the mound in the World Series,” Torre said. “But I didn’t want him to be the official pitching coach because the job has changed.
“You have volumes of paperwork, stuff like that, and I didn’t want to put him in that situation. Plus, Mark Riggins has had most of these kids.”
Jocketty said he doesn’t believe having two pitching coaches will be a problem.
“I’ve seen them working together and conversing, and that’s going to be the main thing, communicating,” Jocketty said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they work when we start playing games, but I think it’ll be fine.”
Gibson’s even making an impression on the position players.
“I’ve always been a baseball fan,” catcher Danny Sheaffer said. “Anytime you get a chance to work with someone who’s done things you want to do, in any profession, it’s a plus. The guys who reach the pinnacle are the most respected, and hopefully I can learn from him.”
If others don’t know of his accomplishments--the 251 victories, the career 2.91 ERA, the astounding 1.12 ERA in 1968, the World Series heroics--that’s all right, too.
“It doesn’t bother me, doesn’t bother me at all,” Gibson said. “I’ve had my day in the sun and I’m not concerned about whether somebody remembers it or not.”
There’s only one thing he’s not happy about. The strike has cast a pall over this spring.
“Timing is everything, and I never had great timing,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of holes in this thing right now. Right now we’re between a rock and a hard place as coaches and it’s a tough situation to come back into.
“But it’s nice to be back in the clubhouse and telling jokes and lies and doing what I used to do.”