On August 14, 1971, St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson throws the first no-hitter of his storied career. Gibson’s heroics helped his team sail to an 11-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gibson overcame numerous childhood ailments–including rickets, asthma and a heart murmur–to earn a basketball scholarship to Creighton University after high school. His basketball skills were so impressive that in 1957 he spent a year playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition team devoted to combining humor and basketball tricks, that was comprised of world-class players like Meadowlark Lemon and, for a time, Wilt Chamberlain. Despite the good pay, Gibson soon became frustrated with the team’s emphasis on comedic showmanship, and decided to switch sports. Prior to the 1958 season, Gibson signed as a pitcher with baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, and after a year in the minors, was promoted to the major leagues. By 1962, he was one of the team’s most accomplished starters, and he soon established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
In 1964, after helping the Cardinals to a World Series championship with two wins and 31 strikeouts, Gibson won his first World Series Most Valuable Player Award. The Cardinals won the World Series again three years later in 1967, and Gibson delivered another MVP performance, throwing 17 strikeouts in Game 1 to break Sandy Koufax’s record of 15 in a World Series game. In 1968, Gibson’s play was perhaps the best ever by a pitcher: He pitched 28 complete games and 13 shutouts and kept his earned run average to just 1.12 for the season, the lowest in the modern era, with 268 strikeouts and a 22-9 record. For his efforts, he was awarded the first of his two Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in the National League.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, Gibson’s opponent on August 14, had recently given “Bullet” Bob quite a bit of a trouble. Four years earlier, his leg had been broken by a line drive hit by star Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente. In 1970, the year of his second Cy Young Award, the Pirates beat Gibson three straight times. On this day in 1971, however, Gibson got his revenge, both on the mound and at the plate. He threw 10 strikeouts and walked just three batters, as well as contributing a two-run single in the eighth. The only threat to his no-hitter came when Milt May launched a fly ball 390 feet to left-center in the seventh, but Cardinal Jose Cruz tracked it down. With two outs in the ninth inning, the Pittsburgh crowd stood and cheered as Gibson struck out slugging star Willie Stargell for the first and only no-hitter of his long and impressive career.
Bob Gibson retired after the 1975 season. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.