It's rare in professional sports that rules change to accommodate the talents of an athlete or team - for instance, the powerful Edmonton Oiler offense caused the National Hockey League to make teams players five-on-five instead of four-on-four in the event of concurrent minor penalties - but that's pretty much what baseball did in 1969.
After 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, professional baseball lowered the mound from 15" to 10". Looking at Gibson's 1968, it's no wonder - he registered a 1.12 ERA (the fourth lowest ERA in a single season this century), logged over 304 innings in 34 starts, recorded 13 shutouts (the third highest total in a single season), and struck out 268 batters. During one stretch Gibson allowed only two runs over 92 innings. His strikeouts to innings ratio approached 1.0, while he walked only 62 batters all season. At one point he won fifteen games in succession. In fact, his 23-9 record was startling only in that he somehow lost 9 games despite allowing just 38 earned runs all season long.
Gibson wasn't the only pitcher to dominate that year. The average ERA in the National League was 2.99, roughly the same as it had been in the dead ball era before the 1920s. Over in the American League, Cleveland's Luis Tiant (21-9, 1.60 ERA) and AL MVP Denny McLain (31-6, 1.96 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers were spectacular, and Cleveland's Sam McDowell (15-14, 1.81 ERA) struck out 283 batters. Baltimore's Dave McNally (22-10, 1.95 ERA) was also dominant, allowing even fewer baserunners per 9 innings than Gibson (7.58 for McNally versus 7.68 for Gibson). But Gibson's microscopic ERA was the primary factor in the decision to lower the mound, which raised the NL ERA from 2.99 in 1968 to 3.59 in 1969.
His 1968 season was capped by a spectacular World Series performance. In Game 1, he outduelled Denny McLain 4-0, scattering five and striking out a record 17 batters. In Game 4, he gave his team a 3-1 Series lead by outpitching McLain again, with another complete game 5-hitter. (His 35 total strikeouts in the 1968 WS were also a record.) But he lost Game 7, working on two days rest, 4-1 to Mickey Lolich. Gibson lost a shutout in the seventh inning when Curt Flood uncharacteristically misjudged a routine fly ball.
Still, his 7-2 career World Series record and 1.89 ERA made him the best Fall Classic pitcher since Sandy Koufax. Only Whitey Ford owns more WS wins than Gibson, who is also second all-time in Series strikeouts. Gibson won the clinchers in both the 1964 and 1967 Series. In Game 2 in '64, he lost 8-3 to the Yankees but kept it close until the ninth inning. He won Game 5 by a score of 5-2, in ten innings, taking a shutout into the ninth. Coming back on two days' rest for Game 7, he won 7-5. In 27 innings, he had 31 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA. In 1967 he beat Boston's Jose Santiago in the opener, 2-1, and in Game 4, 6-0, and bested Jim Lonborg 7-2 in the finale.
He was the dominant National League pitcher in the late 1960s, after Koufax retired, until the the 1970s when Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton established themselves. Over his career, he collected 251 wins (against 174 losses), and posted a 2.91 ERA over 17 seasons. He won two Cy Young Awards (1968 and 1970), and the 1968 National League MVP. With a blazing fastball, darting slider, good curve, and pinpoint control, from 1963 to 1972 Gibson averaged better than 19 wins per season. He struck out more than 200 batters nine times and led the NL four times in shutouts.
Gibson proved quickly and repeatedly there simply wasn't an element of the game he hadn't mastered. From 1965 to 1973 he won nine consecutive Gold Gloves for fielding excellence. He often helped his cause with the bat, laying down a successful bunt or hitting up the middle. He had 24 regular-season home runs plus a pair in World Series play. In 1970 he batted .303 and was occasionally employed as a pinch hitter.
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