Bob Gibson, Unlike Reggie Jackson, Appreciated and Respected His Fans

Harold FriendChief Writer INovember 20, 2011

It was a November day in 2002 that resembled late September. I almost didn't want to enter the large ball room where more than 100 active and retired ball players would soon be sitting behind large tables in order to sign autographs. But I knew I would and I did.

I had paid for a ticket that would allow me to obtain Reggie Jackson's autograph on a baseball, but I really wanted to see if I could speak with Bob Gibson, whose autograph I already had.

An elderly man, speaking into a microphone, announced that those holding tickets 1-50 for Reggie Jackson should get on the line to the left. I joined the other 49 Reggie Jackson fans as I glanced to my right. I could see Bob Gibson was already at work.

After a short wait, I handed Mr. Jackson the baseball. He hadn't spoken much to anyone as he signed, other than a muffled, "hello."

A lack of enthusiasm was apparent.

Then, instead of handing me the signed baseball, whose value had increased by more than $100, Mr. Jackson rolled it to the side of the table.

I was not pleased, to say the least.

Picking it up, I hoped that the autograph hadn't been smudged. It was fine, no thanks to the Oakland A's star who had hit three home runs in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series as a New York Yankee.

Asking Mr. Jackson a question or two was out of the question, but after he had rolled the ball,  there was no feeling of disappointment.

Bob Gibson had a long line in front of him and probably a few hundred individuals off to the side, waiting to be called.  I went to the coffee shop, watched some football and when I returned, Mr. Gibson was almost finished signing. He spoke to each fan as he signed.

Finally, I walked up to him, fully aware that he had just spent a couple of hours working. He saw me hesitate.

"Can I help you?"

There was no intimidation. There was no mean look. Then again, I wasn't in the batter's box and he wasn't on the mound.

"Yes, can I ask you a question?"

There was no sign of displeasure or impatience. He simply nodded assent.

"Which is worse, losing in the playoffs or losing in the World Series?"

Since I am a New York Yankees fan, we all know my answer, but what do I know? I experienced getting to the World Series and losing or not winning the pennant as a fan, not as a baseball player.

Mr. Gibson never hesitated.

"I want to get there."

I wasn't surprised. "Even if your team loses?"

The always aggressive Bob Gibson responded as I expected.

"You go as far as you can and never think of losing. Losers are afraid to lose."

He looked at me and before I could respond, he knew what I was thinking.

He had led the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Championship in 1964 when they beat the Yankees and again in 1967 when they beat the Yankees friends from Boston.

But in 1968, Curt Flood misjudged a Jim Northrup fly ball. Gibson had pitched a great game, but he lost.

"We lost in 1968, but in my mind, the Tigers didn't beat us."

I understood completely.

I thanked Mr. Gibson and left. He hadn't surprised me, but away from the baseball field, Reggie Jackson had disappointed me.