JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- The Cardinals had a slew of guest roll through camp Tuesday morning, but the biggest name in Jupiter belonged to the quiet man standing along the fence in a while polo shirt. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was on hand, making a visit to the team’s complex.
Gibson is one of a handful of Cardinal greats to spend time at spring camp (Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst are all familiar faces), providing advice to players and sharing ideas with manager Mike Matheny. While having former players with such pedigrees available to talk is invaluable, convincing current young players to approach guys they’ve only seen on baseball cards and enshrined in bronze is a somewhat of a work in progress.
“I think some of our Hall of Famers come in and our guys are intimidated,” Matheny said. “They’re not an easily intimidated group but when you have the Hall of Famers in, they just don’t feel comfortable. So we’re trying to break that down.”
Some retired greats are easier to chat with than others. Ozzie Smith, for example, has a bright, bubbly personality that makes conversation come naturally. He’s spends time with players during infield drills, coaching as he takes grounders alongside them. Brock has always been a warm presence in any room he enters. Schoendienst is the elder statesman, but welcomes any chance to talk baseball with a willing participant.
Bob Gibson is a different animal. While the 81-year-old is a fountain of knowledge and an eager teacher, the reputation from his playing days still carries weight. Not only is he one of the greatest pitchers to ever walk the Earth, he was one of the most feared. When Gibson was on the mound, he didn’t just own the patch of dirt he stood on. He owned the inner half of the plate, the outer half of the plate, either batter’s box and just about any other piece of real estate he set his eyes on. No one messed with Bob Gibson. If you’re a young player staring him in the face for the first time, finding your voice can be harder than you thought.
“I tell them it’s a missed opportunity. They don’t take advantage of that it’s really their loss,” Matheny said of players being too nervous to speak up. “Just making sure they understand how unique it is and how special it is to have these opportunities and to not let them slip away. If you do, we’re not guaranteed we’ll keep having those opportunities.”
Adam Wainwright seized on the chance to talk to Gibson early on, and continues to have a relationship with him now that he’s a veteran himself. Tuesday he came out of the clubhouse and made a beeline for Gibby, shaking hands and having a brief conversation before preparing for his upcoming start. But even now when the two talk, Wainwright says he tries to stay out of the way.
“I did more listening than talking before, and I still try to do that. I really just try to listen as much as I can. I don’t want to fill the box with too many of my words when he has stuff to say,” he said.
Gibson wasted no time Tuesday once he got into the clubhouse. He chatted with Cardinal pitchers at their lockers, going beyond the generalities of pitching and often offering specific advice based on what he’s seen so far.
“He pays a lot of attention to what we do. He's offered me a ton of information, so I appreciate having him around, and he's also a pretty cool guy to pick his brain,” said Trevor Rosenthal, who has spoken with Gibson a lot over the last few years. “He talked to me about facing right-handed hitters and his approach. It was something I was working on, and it was something that he saw.”
Gibson has saw plenty in his 17 years in the MLB, and he’s still watching like a hawk now. He contacted Matheny to tell him he’d been observing spring games and had some notes already prepared.
“Probably more like a novel at this point,” Matheny said. “He was watching the game the other day already he told me. He’s got some thoughts. I can’t wait to hear them.”