Lou Brock and Bob Gibson: Two Sides of Deliberately Throwing at Hitters

Harold FriendChief Writer IJune 4, 2012

Lou Brock
Lou BrockJamie Squire/Getty Images

Dave Kindred related two compelling anecdotes in the July 8, 1996 Sporting News. One involved Lou Brock and the other was about Bob Gibson.

Brock was leading off for the St. Louis Cardinals against Sandy Koufax. It was widely known that Koufax would, under certain circumstances, throw at a hitter.

When Brock walked, stole second, stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly, the next time Brock came to the plate was such a circumstance.

Don Drysdale, who knew a little about throwing at batters, turned to Jim Lefebvre and said, "Frenchy, I feel sorry for that man."

"Who?" Lefebvre said.

"Brock. Sandy doesn't appreciate that sort of thing. Sandy gets mad enough when you beat him with base hits. But when you score runs without hits, look out."

The next time Brock stepped into the batter’s box, Koufax’s first pitch was thrown right at him. A 96-mile-an-hour fast ball hit Brock in the back.

"You could hear the thud all over the stadium," Drysdale said. "Brock trotted toward first base, not rubbing or pretending he wasn't hurt. But he never made it. Brock just collapsed, and they had to carry him off on a stretcher."

It was a different game in the 1960s. Hit batters never, ever wanted to acknowledge that any pitcher, even Sandy Koufax, could throw hard enough to hurt them. Brock would collapsed rather than give in.

Koufax didn’t like to pitch inside, but sometimes, he felt that he had no choice.

Bob Gibson, like Drysdale, felt he had a right to throw at hitters. Not just protect “his” part of the plate, but throw at hitters.

If batters didn’t respect his right to part of the plate, Gibson relied on a knockdown pitch to educate hitters. He called the pitch a brush back pitch with an attitude. According to him, if a pitcher had to retaliate to protect his team, he had to hit somebody on the other team.

Gibson had limits. "I hit a few guys in the head, but not on purpose," he said. "If I hit somebody on purpose, my target was the body, where nobody really gets hurt."

Wouldn’t it be great to see Gibson or Drysdale pitch in 2012? They were two of the fiercest competitors ever.

How would the era of political correctness in which the game is played today have affected their pitching style?

I saw them their entire careers. My guess is that they would pitch the same way today as they did during their careers.