Gibson relives in detail, and with many asides, the brilliant first game he threw against the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series.
A tumultuous year politically and culturally, 1968 was also the Year of the Pitcher. Denny McLain, pitching for the Tigers, won 31 games, and Gibson, unfurling on the mound like a mad stork, compiled a staggering 1.12 ERA. Fortunately for baseball fans, the two would face off in the first game of that year’s World Series. Gibson, working with veteran baseball writer Wheeler (Intangiball: The Subtle Things that Win Baseball Games, 2015, etc.), writes with both brio and control, in perfect imitation of his pitching. One moment he sounds lawyerly—“the pregame machinations on the Cardinal clubhouse were mostly beyond the pale of my cognizance”—while the next, like the menacing presence he showed his opponents: the button over his locker read, “I’m not prejudiced. I hate everybody.” But that is not true, as the vest-pocket profiles of his teammates attest: Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver, and Roger Maris. Nor does the level of particulars slow the swiftness of the narrative. Simply, this is a fun book to read. The game was not much of a contest; Gibson was in complete command, masterfully working his backdoor slide and the four-stitch fastball. The author works plenty of local color into the story, as well: Al Kaline’s high school baseball talent, Gibson playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, why American League umpires have a better look at the strike zone, finding a hole in the swing of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, “whose swing had been described as perfect by no less than Ty Cobb.” One of the best parts of the book is the author’s evocation of the atmosphere of a big-league game—e.g., “sometimes you just have to go with the currents of the game.”
A captivating account from one of baseball’s most formidable pitchers.