Carlton pitched longer than Gibson and also wound up in the Hall of Fame. At a reception before his induction ceremony, in 1994, Tim McCarver saluted Carlton in a speech, with Gibson in the crowd. McCarver, who caught both pitchers in their primes, told the crowd that if Carl Hubbell had the best screwball ever, Nolan Ryan the best fastball and Sandy Koufax the best curveball, then surely Carlton had the best slider.
“Everybody applauded, it was very emotional, very fitting,” McCarver said a few years ago. “And we’re hugging, and I look over Steve’s shoulder and I see this figure swinging through the crowd — a ‘he had to get to me’ type of deal. Well, that figure was Gibson. He gets about six inches from my face and says: ‘The best left-handed slider in the history of the game!’ He kind of skulked away and laughed. He had to have the last word.”
Gibson’s intimidating persona has only grown lately, as M.L.B. tries to eliminate brushback pitches with fines and suspensions to promote player safety. But Gibson never actually led the league in hit batsmen, and when he did hit a batter, it was usually a right-hander moving up on the plate to reach the slider.
Their fault, Gibson would say.
“When you go guessing for a ball outside and you go out there to get it — especially with that slider out there a lot to right-handers — they would start out there to get that ball,” Gibson said in 2015. “Well, if I threw a fastball inside, especially a two-seamer, it’s going to hit them. And I wouldn’t acknowledge, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ I would never acknowledge that. I just said, ‘Gimme another ball, let’s go,’ so they thought I was throwing at everybody. And that was OK.”
Deep into retirement, Gibson pitched in an old-timers’ game and gave up a home run. The next batter was Richardson, just as it had been at the end of the 1964 World Series. With nothing at stake but pride, Gibson decided to play to his persona.
“The guys on the bench said, ‘I wouldn’t go up there if I were you!’” Richardson said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Surely not.’ I’m 65 years old, no helmet. Well, I got up and the first pitch was right behind my head. I was glad to pop up later on and get out of there. But he was quite a competitor.”