US Navy photo

Baseball HOF’er Robert “Hoot” Gibson – RIP

The State of Nebraska’s greatest athlete and Major League Baseball and Creighton University Hall of Famer, the great Bob Gibson, passed to glory last Friday in Omaha. After fighting pancreatic cancer for more than a year, Gibson died at the age of 84 on October 2, 2020.

MLB/St Louis Cardinal photo

In 2005 and again in 2015, the Omaha World Herald and a panel of veteran sports observers, selected Bob Gibson as the leader of the Nebraska 100, a ranking of the states all-time top athletes – out of approximately 500 candidates submitted.

Gibson bested legendary athletes such as: Football greats Gayle Sayers (2), Johnny Rodgers (5), Ahmad Green (8), Marlin “the Magician” Briscoe (17), Mick Tinglehoff (22) and Pat Fischer (25). Basketball greats Bob Boozer (4), Mike McGee (13), “Ironman” Ron Boone (26), and Fred Hare (80). Other notables included: Gymnast Jim Hartung (11), Track & Field’s “Rocket” Roger Sayers (36), and current multi-belt title holder, boxer Terrance “Bud” Crawford (35).

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on November 9, 1935, Pack Robert Gibson was the youngest of seven children. He was named after his father, who died shortly before Bob’s birth. His mother, Victoria, worked in a laundry and cleaned houses to make ends meet. Bob spent most of his childhood living in the Logan-Fontenelle housing project on Omaha’s north side.

Bob’s oldest brother, Josh, became his surrogate father and mentor. As Bob later recalled: “He had always been the central figure in my life – father, coach, teacher, and role model. … Josh led by example. We were all, one way or another, a reflection of Josh.”5

On the YMCA Monarchs, the baseball team, Bob was a catcher and shortstop while pitching only occasionally. In 1951 the Monarchs became the first black team ever to win the American Legion city championship. Bob was selected to the all-city team as a utility player.

Bob’s favorite sport, however, was basketball. In addition to playing on the recreation center teams, he played on the Omaha Technical High School team for two seasons and was a unanimous choice for the all-city team in his senior season.

By Gibson’s senior season, a new baseball coach was in place at Tech and Bob joined the team, playing the outfield and pitching. He finished second in batting average among city players at .368. Tech won the intercity tournament and Gibson was selected to the all-city team as a utility player.

After high school, Bob tried to get a basketball scholarship to Indiana University but was denied entry because the school “already had its quota of Negroes.” Thanks to Josh’s connections at Creighton University, Bob became the first African-American to receive a basketball scholarship from the Bluejays. By the time his career at Creighton was over, Gibson was the university’s all-time leader in points per game (20.2) and third in total points (1,272).

He is still 4th all-time in Bluejay points per game. Gibson’s basketball jersey number (No. 45) is one of five that have been retired by Creighton, along with Paul Silas, Bob Portman, Jim Harstad, and Kyle Korver. Bob was the 1st inductee into the Creighton University Athletics Hall of Fame.

Gibson also played baseball at Creighton, although baseball was treated as a minor sport at the time. Bob was a superb utility player at Creighton, where he caught, pitched, and played third base and the outfield. In his senior year he led the Nebraska College Conference with a .333 batting average and went 6-2 as a pitcher. The Dodgers, Yankees, White Sox, Phillies, and Athletics all contacted him about playing professional baseball, but none offered a substantial bonus.

He seemed to have flown below the radar of most NBA scouts as well. The Minneapolis Lakers were the only NBA team to talk to him, but they never made an offer. The NBA passed him by, though he would earn a spot with the famous band of barnstorming tricksters, the Harlem Globetrotters for a year.

Bob Gibson signed a contract with the St Louis Cardinal organization in 1957. The rest is known history.

Bob Gibson was an inductee of the MLB Hall of Fame in 1981, Creighton University Athletics inaugural Hall of Fame class (1968), Nebraska High School Association Hall of Fame (1994), Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame (2005), and the St. Louis Cardinals inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2014.  A nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, he won two Cy Young Awards and the 1968 National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award. He also won 9 straight baseball Golden Glove awards.

Rest in peace big fella. You done real good!