Generations learn to appreciate Gibson's greatness

When the greatest right-handed pitcher in the history of the franchise you're groomed to follow retires before you can say "baseball," how do you validate for yourself just how great he was?

You read.

You listen.

You ask.

You learn.

After doing that and more, you understand you will never see someone as bulldogged or fearsome or utterly dominant as Bob Gibson. And you lament the fact you never got the chance to see him pitch.

That will be the case for generations of St. Louis Cardinals fans, but the reverence they share for Gibson is undeniable. He became a Hall of Famer, a red coat recipient and an icon.

Gibson died Friday at the age of 84 following a battle with pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a resume of numbers and honors to rival the best in the game's glorious history.

His legacy, though, is more complex than Cy Young Awards and minuscule ERAs. What Gibson will be revered for is strength of character, fearlessness and an unwillingness to accept defeat.

"Complex, Courageous and yes Competitive," Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith tweeted after the news of Gibson's death circulated. "Behind that tough exterior was a caring Father, Husband and proud big hearted person with a great sense of humor. Cardinal nation has lost a Giant. My biggest disappointment was that I didn't get the chance to play behind the Genius and greatness of #BobGibson."

The right-hander played his entire career in St. Louis, throwing 255 complete games, winning a franchise-record 251 games and setting the standard with 56 shutouts, 3,117 strikeouts and 3,884 innings pitched. He retired in 1975, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and was an inaugural member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014.

Nearly a half-century after he retired, he's talked about as if he pitched yesterday as men in their 30s far too young to see him play consider him their favorite pitcher of all-time.

That's all because they've read, listened, asked and learned about his career.

They've heard the stories of their fathers, uncles and grandfathers who watched Gibson dazzle and delight the way he did in 1968. They've read "Stranger to the Game," which is Gibson's autobiography, and "Pitch by Pitch," which recounts his 17-strikeout game against the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series. They've watched black-and-white highlights and old interviews broadcast on MLB Network.

And they've learned what he endured growing up in Omaha, Neb., and what he did to help develop the Cardinal Way.

For that, Gibson's influence and legacy will never be forgotten.

"Everything I've talked about, Bob Gibson stood for," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said late Friday night after his team had been eliminated from the postseason. "Stood up for himself. Stood up for his teammates. He was an elite athlete. He was a great competitor. He was a winner."

If you don't know that to be fact, you need to read, listen, ask and learn about the man, his career and his legacy.

Then you will be able to appreciate why he is considered greatest pitcher to ever wear the birds on the bat.

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