On the occasion of our naming of the Cardinals' All-Time Single-Season Team, why not pay homage to what may be the single greatest pitch in franchise history? We speak, of course, of Bob Gibson's slider.
Gibson was famous for his high fastball and his slide-piece, but it was his backup slider -- i.e., a slider that starts inside on same-handed hitters and then bends over the plate -- that was on occasion his nastiest offering.
The most famous back-up slider that Gibson ever twirled was this one to Willie Horton, which not only cinched Game 1 of the 1968 World Series for Gibson and the Cards but was also Gibby's record 17th strikeout on the day ...
Filth. Filth, I say.
Of course, to hear one Keith Hernandez tell it, the backup slider is at best a "happy accident" for the pitcher who throws it. Here's what Hernandez says in his book Pure Baseball on the intertwined subjects of Gibson and the backup slider (HT: Hardball Times) ...
If as great a pitcher as Bob Gibson couldn't throw the backup breaking pitch with any consistency, who can? Nobody. That's why it's never thrown intentionally. When you see it, mark it down as a mistake, even if it froze the batter for a strike. You heard it here first.
While we rightly associate Gibson with superlative command, it does indeed look like he missed his spot in the pitch to Horton above, as catcher Tim McCarver sets up outside but winds up lunging back over the plate in order to put a mitt on it. Likely, Gibson wanted Horton to chase a slider outside but didn't spot his pitch correctly.
Heck, let Gibson tell you himself about the quirks of that particular pitch. Here's this from Gibson's book with Reggie Jackson, Sixty Feet, Six Inches:
Final out of the World Series opener and going for your 17th K in front of an invigorated home crowd? That sounds like a situation ripe for overthrowing, and that's probably what Gibson did on that pitch to Horton.
Yet whether brilliance by design or good fortune, it was indeed brilliance on the part of the Hall of Famer ... and member of the Eye On Baseball All-Time Single-Season Cardinals squad.