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Mudville: July 22, 2024 4:10 am PDT

Gibby’s Gonna Get Ya

Standing in the batter’s box in a Major League Baseball game must be terrifying.

Even for the most experienced hitter, there has to be some level of concern that any pitch from any pitcher at any time can ride up and in and do some real serious damage. I get that all hitters are professional and have seen thousands upon thousands of pitches in their careers, but I have to think there’s some sliver of doubt that you can end up like Tony Conigliaro, Dickie Thon, or even worse – Ray Chapman.

While the fear level may be slim for most hitters throughout history, there had to be a significant uptick for those poor slobs who had to face Bob Gibson.

Now, I wouldn’t want to bat against Don Drysdale or Randy Johnson by any means, but Bob Gibson could strike you out by simply looking at you. Dave Stewart too, but that’s a different story.

The question I have is: how does that translate to cardboard? On his 1959 rookie, Gibson is a smiling young fellow who looks as if he wishes to engage you in conversation or maybe have a bite to eat and a beer with you. That’s not the Gibson I pretend to know.

No, the Gibson I like to think about is the one who would throw at your mother if you dared dig into the box too hard when he was on the bump.

The 1959 Bob Gibson rookie, aka the ``Happy Gibby``

Moving one year forward, Gibson looks like he’s getting skeptical about this whole socializing thing, but I’m still not scared yet. The 1960 cards are the ones with a large color headshot and then a black and white in-action ghost of the player off to the side; in Gibson’s action photo, he’s not all that disturbing, even as a specter.

In 1961, Gibson was about to embark on his first full season in the Majors and by the time kids found him in their packs that spring, he had tired of their shit. Gibson’s mouth was closed for the first time on a card and he’s staring menacingly off in the distance. Looks like he’s contemplating whether or not he’s going to let the Topps photographer live to see another day.

On his 1962 Topps, he looks like he’s reconsidering. He’s still staring off, but he’s raised his eyebrows slightly. Maybe he’s watching Julian Javier and Bill White play pepper or maybe he’s looking directly into the soul of Jesus Christ. Could be either one. I’m anxious to see what version of Gibson the 1963 cardboard brings.

The 1960 Gibson was when he started to get a little angry.

In a surprise move, Topps backtracked two years and reused his 1961 photo! Topps was known for repeating photos in back-to-back years but reverting two years was rare. My theory about this is that Topps realized they missed the boat with their 1961 card and wanted to right that wrong. Gibson drilled ten batters in 1962, so the next year they obviously had to express that on cardboard. I believe when the Topps photographer went to ask Gibson to be more intimidating for his ’63 card, he shat his briefs instead… so to the archives they went. They found the 1961 photo and fired up whatever the 1963 equivalent of Instagram filters were.

Comparing the 1961 and 1963 cards side by side, you can see that the artist darkened the colors and shadows on the 1963 card. It was the same dirty trick Time magazine pulled on OJ Simpson in 1994. In the 1963 Topps photo, the shadow that the bill of his cap is casting across his face is significantly darker which creates deeper shadows around Gibson’s eyes, giving Gibby a Clint Eastwood-like squint. Maybe not full-on Eastwood but damn near close. The background of the card is darker too. It has that gritty feeling you get when you’re watching The Warriors or Taxi.

Sometimes Topps didn't even try. The '61 and the '63 Bob Gibsons were the same photo. And he still looked pissed.

One of the features of the 1963 Topps cards are the color dot stickers in the bottom corner. You know, the kind that are popular at garage sales and amongst color coding enthusiasts. They revived the concept of an in-action ghost image and placed it inside the color dot, but this time they made it too small for anyone to see. On Gibson’s 1963 card, he gets a blue sticker and a photo that can be interpreted in different ways. It looks like he could be following through on a pitch or maybe he’s running from the police after knocking a batter’s head clear off his shoulders. He looks pretty scared. Who’s to say?

The rest of Gibson’s cardboard history is relatively mellow compared to the ‘63 issue, with the 1968 edition being the exception. He has a clear aversion of looking at the camera, but besides that he oddly seems outright congenial. In 1972, Gibson even went casual with an unzipped Cardinals jacket over his home whites. The truth in all of this though, is that no matter what expression Gibson had on any of his cards, I’d rather shit in my hands and clap than get in the box against him.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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