Book Report: From Ghetto to Glory: The Story of Bob Gibson by Bob Gibson with Phil Pepe (1968)

Book coverI hopped into this book right after reading Open Net because I was in the mood for another sports book, and this one was right across the hall.

So. This book really has three themes, and they don’t mesh together very well at all.

  • It’s partly a biography of Bob Gibson, who came out of a poor neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska, played with the Harlem Globetrotters for a season, and then settled into playing for the Cardinals organization and then the major league team, winning a couple of World Series with them and becoming a star, although he’s pretty humble about that.
  • Because it’s 1968 and because Gibson is Black, the book also tackles the Race Question, which served to distance this particular reader who is white but grew up pretty poor. It distances the reader from the experience of the man whenever the book goes into the Experience of the Race.
  • A bit of a baseball book which goes into the philosophy of pitching and that particular, 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series.

It would have been a far better book if they’d only focused on the first and the third of those themes. It would have focused on what draws us together, not what separates us. Fifty years later, the professionals have gotten better and more scientific at separating us.

At any rate, some good stories in here, like the time where he broke his leg and came out to pitch on it anyway before coming out of the game and being shut down for most of the season thereafter. A lot of love for his wife, whom he divorces a couple years after the book comes out. A lot of familiar names from Cardinals history–Mike Shannon, Tim McCarver, Roger Maris, and so on. So like Open Net, it helps someone who came to fandom later connect those names to stories, but perhaps useless to current fans.

The book is written in very plain language–I wondered if it was targeted to kids, or if it’s just the way the sports journalist Phil Pepe wrote.

I did flag a couple of things.

How do you measure poverty? I wore the same coat for three or four years. It was a hand-me-down from one of my brothers and I wore it until it had too many holes in it. I had one pair of shoes. No Sunday shoes, just one pair for every day in the week, and I wore them until they practically fell off my feet. When they got holes in the bottom, I put a piece of cardboard in them so the water would not seep through when it rained.

See, I can understand that. I got hand-me-downs from the neighbors, which meant I was pretty fly for a white guy in 1980. And my shoes were rubber-soled sneakers, so they’d break down by having the top separate from the sole, not wearing holes in the bottoms, but I remember making the shoes talk like a mouth with my exposed sock as the tongue. It was definitely not a Race thing.

Now that’s the way I see the Negro riots we’re having in this country, as a brushback pitch. Their intention, like the brushback pitch, is to get people to think and not to get complacent and take things for granted. Negroes have been mistreated for years. They are getting tired of being mistreated, misused, and misunderstood, and the only way they can rebel is to stage riots.

The chapter was called “Brushback”, and it started in pitching philosophy including when to brush someone back. Then, it turned into justifying riots as part of the Race Question. Gentle reader, I remind you that over 80 people died in 1967 in riots. The only person who died from a pitch was Ray Chapman. So they’re not the same. And it illustrates how the book veered between its themes poorly. One wonders what Gibson thought about the riots fifty years later in 2020 (which occurred right before his death). Oh, one wonders.

And, yes, lest you wonder, the book does contain the baddest word. Gibson talks about how he feels about it and how he and a couple of teammates cleaned the locker room up of language (and how the team came together as a team instead of groups of different colors).

All I wanted was a baseball book, where I could learn from Bob Gibson, the pitcher. Instead, I got a whole lot of Bob Gibson, The Other.

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2 thoughts on “Book Report: From Ghetto to Glory: The Story of Bob Gibson by Bob Gibson with Phil Pepe (1968)

  1. Gibson’s biography written with Lonnie Wheeler, “Stranger to the Game” from 2014 is very good. Wheeler also edited the “Sixty Feet, Six Inches” collection of talks with Gibson and with Reggie Jackson. Haven’t read that one, but the dates suggest both benefit from the perspective of elapsed time.

  2. I saw that bio listed when I was researching the post, and I wondered if it offered a better perspective without the need to say something about the then-Current Thing.

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