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Q&A: Pete LaCock vs Bob Gibson [and Japan]

Pete LaCock is a good storyteller. The former first baseman is prone to embellishment — Retrosheet doesn’t see eye-to-eye to with some of his recollections — but his tales are certainly entertaining. The son of long-time Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, LaCock played for the Chicago Cubs (1972-1976), for the Kansas City Royals (1977-1980) and for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, in Japan (1981).

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LaCock on battling Bob Gibson:

Billy Williams had broken his ankle, so the team was looking for a left-handed hitter. I had been hitting the ball pretty well, so they brought me up from Double-A. I was 19 years old. The game was in Chicago, and Bob Gibson was pitching for the Cardinals.

“It was 3-2, bottom of the ninth, and we had runners on second and third with two outs. Our pitcher was due up and Don Kessinger was the next hitter. He wasn’t a very good left-handed hitter — he was a better right-handed hitter — and Gibson had already struck him out a few times.

“I figured they were going to walk me. My run didn’t mean anything and putting me on meant they could get an out an any base. They had a meeting on the mound and somebody said, ‘Does anybody know this guy?’ Gibson said, ‘If they’re bringing in a rookie, I’m pitching to him.’ Ted Simmons was the catcher, and he told me this. When he comes back behind the plate, he goes, ‘They’re going to pitch to you, kid.’ I said, ‘Great.’

“First pitch, base hit, game over. I’m out there giving high fives.

“About three weeks later we go to St. Louis. I’m hitting third and Gibson is pitching again. I’m looking for my bats and all they’re gone. I was panicking. Billy Williams is sitting there with a cast on his ankle and he’s got them. He goes, ‘Pete, there are two outs and nobody on. You’ll make baseball history. Go to the plate without a bat and just stand there.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy, man. Just give me the bat.’ He said, ‘Gibson is going to hit you.’ I said, ‘No he‘s not. He forgot about it.’

“First pitch, Wham! He nailed me.

“Next time up, I’m thinking he figures I’m going to be scared, but I’m not. I’m just looking for a pitch to hit. Well, he gets me about two inches below where he hit me the first time.

“[In 1975], they had a Bob Gibson Day, in St. Louis. They gave him a big parade, a motor home, a bust of his head. The whole nine yards. He didn’t start that game — he was pitching out of the bullpen at the time — but in a 6-6 tie, they started warming him up.

“The bases were loaded with nobody out. Gibson comes in. First guy pops up, second guy strikes out. I’m the next hitter. The count runs to 3-2 and I hit a grand slam home run to beat him. It was the last pitch he ever threw.

“He comes off the mound and is calling me everything you can imagine. He’s following me around the bases, and by the time I get to third, I’m almost walking. I thought we were going to fight. I had charged the mound against him before. Twice, actually.

“The surface was Astroturf, and my home run hit the mezzanine and rolled back to the infield. Ted Sizemore was the second baseman, and he got the ball and flipped it over to Gibson. As I was walking into to the dugout, he threw it at me.

“About 15 years later, we’re doing an old-timer’s game in Royals Stadium. Bob Feller is pitching. I walk up to hit, and when I get up to the plate, Gibson comes out of the dugout. He goes to the mound and starts warming up. I’m wondering what in the Sam Hill? First pitch, he drills me.

“I ended up coaching with the Cardinals. Buddy Bates was the clubhouse guy, and when I go into the coaches room, I see that I’m lockering right next to Gibson. I’m going, ‘Buddy, this ain’t going to work.’ He’s saying, `Yeah, yeah, this is going to be good.’ The whole time I was there, I don’t think Gibson said one word to me.

“Anyway, the first time I charged him, I didn’t get halfway there. Ted Simmons jumped on my back. I ended up on the bottom of the pile and got my ass kicked. The other time, I figured I’d walk half way to first, then take a left. I started to, but Shag Crawford — he was the umpire — was right behind me. He knew I was planning to go after him. I knew [Gibson’s reputation] but in baseball you get brave and you get stupid.”

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On bean balls and brawling in Japan:

Charlie Manuel and I both played in Japan. Charlie was getting ready to break Sadaharu Oh’s record, and they hit him in the face [with a pitch] and broke his jaw. He had surgery and a few days later he was back at the stadium. He had a football helmet with a face mask.

“The interpreter came over with the kid who hit him. He walked up to Charlie, and Charlie thought maybe they were there so the kid could apologize. The interpreter said, ‘Charlie, you can hit him.’ Charlie said, ‘What do you mean I can hit him? Get the [expletive] out of here; I don’t want to do that.’

“I had been hit a bunch of times, and I told Charlie I was going to charge one of these guys. Charlie stutters a little, and he goes, ‘Da-da-da don’t do that.’ I asked why. He said to come over to his house and he’d show me the replays.

“The pitch hits him high, up in the shoulder. Charlie throws his bat down and takes off running at this guy, and I swear, the pitcher kind of puts his chin out. Charlie hits him — Wham! — and knocks him back off the mound. Charlie whips around, but every player had stayed at his position. The umpires stayed in position. The players in the dugout stayed there. Charlie said, ‘I turned around and was looking for someone to fight, but there wasn’t anybody there.’ I felt like a fa-fa-fa [expletive]-ing fool. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to first base. They brought in another pitcher and the game went on.

“I never did charge the mound over there, but I did get into a fight against the Tokyo Giants. I came running around third base — I was going to be the winning run — and their catcher got the ball ahead of me. I knocked him flying — Boom! — and the ball came out. He got up and pushed me, so I hit him. All of a sudden it felt like I was fighting everybody. I was, because my team never left the dugout. The only guy to come out to help me was our other American player. Roy White and Gary Thomasson were on the other team, and they were pulling me away, saying, ‘Pete, you aren’t going to win this fight.’

“Once, I was playing first base and a ball bounced up and I caught it under my armpit, but then dropped it. The umpire called him out. The opposing manager came running out. He grabbed the umpire and slapped him, and threw him to the ground. I’m going, ‘Whoa!’ Then he goes back to the dugout and sits down. Didn’t kicked out. I saw some crazy things in Japan.”