Happy birthday, Pete LaCock (and a great Bob Gibson story)

Gibson cardI’ve got a great story about Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Gibson.

On January 17, 1952, Pete LaCock was born. I’m sure his father, Peter Marshall, was very proud.

Hollywood_SquaresFor those you of you who are too young to remember, Mr. Marshall (nee Ralph Pierre LaCock) was the host of the very popular television show, Hollywood Squares from 1966 to 1981. For those of you who are too young to remember, a television is a device that was placed in your living room and multiple members of the household would gather around it and watched shows, kind of like you do today, by yourself, on your mobile device.

In any case, Pete LaCock was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 1970 January amateur draft with the 20th pick. If you are interested, Chris Chambliss was the overall number one pick that draft.

By the time he was 20, in 1972 LaCock made his debut with the Cubs. He played for Chicago from 1972 to 1976 and the Kansas City Royals from 1977 to 1980. He finished his playing career with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales and the St. Petersburg Pelicans and Winter Haven Super Sox of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.

LaCock was a career .257 hitter with 27 homers and 224 RBI. Four of Pete’s homers were off future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, and yes, Bob Gibson, and that’s why we’re here today.

Here is the story…

WalkoffsBack in 2008, with the very fine baseball writer Jim Kaplan. I wrote a book for ACTA Sports entitled Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs. The book addressed all sorts of finales in baseball, including the ends of the careers of certain Hall of Famers…like Hoot Gibson.

In doing my research, I got to hear first-hand the ending of the great pitcher’s career from Pete LaCock, who was instrumental in the bringing of closure. He also gave me an outstanding coda to the story and the 11 years it took for Gibson to get revenge.

 

Here is how I wrote about Gibson in the book:

It would be fair to say that whether you are rich or poor, black or white, life consists of three stages – you’re born, you live a life, you die. The same is true for a baseball player’s major-league career. You break in, you play your career, and then you retire or are released. It doesn’t matter whether you are a scrub or a member of the Hall of Fame, that’s the way it goes. Sooner or later, every game ends, every stadium will close, every streak will end, every career comes to a close.

Here’s a story about a player in his first major league game, Buddy Schultz, of the Chicago Cubs. It’s also about Pete LaCock, third-year guy, although officially still a rookie. But this story is really about Bob Gibson, the great Hall-of-Fame pitcher in the last game of his storied career.

Pete LaCock came up for cups of coffee with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and 1973, but September 22, 1974 was the first time LaCock faced Bob Gibson. He pinch hit for Rob Sperring in the 6th and singled to right. The next time up in the 7th Gibby brushed back LaCock before getting him to fly out to left.

Five days later, the two teams met again, this time with LaCock in the starting lineup. In the 3rd, he doubled to right. When LaCock told me this, I jokingly mentioned that Pete “owned” Gibby. Pete laughed and then in all seriousness quickly said, “No one owned Bob Gibson, I just got my licks at the right time.” The reason for that was quite evident in LeCock’s next at bat leading off the 4th…Gibson hit LaCock with a fastball.

Jump ahead to June 21, 1975, during Gibson’s last season. LaCock went 0-for-4 against Gibson, but the rest of the Cubs fared better winning the game, 6-1, as Gibson dropped to 1-6.

By August 4, when the two combatants faced each other again, Gibson pitched in relief and threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. LaCock struck out to end the bottom of the 8th in his only time facing Gibson.

Bob Gibson’s last appearance in the majors was on September 3, 1975. Gibson came to face the Cubs with the score tied, 6-6. The Cardinals had tied the score by scoring five times in the bottom of the 6th topped by Lou Brock’s two-out, bases-loaded double that scored three. That brought in Buddy Schultz, making his major league debut. As he walked onto the mound, looked over at second and saw Lou Brock, Schultz told Bill Chuck, he thought, “Wow! I’m really in the big leagues!”

Nonetheless, Schultz threw two pitches and got Bake McBride on a grounder to second.

Bill Madlock led off the top of 7th against Gibson by flying out, but Jose Cardinal drew a walk. Champ Summers reached on an infield single and Cardinal moved to third when Mike Tyson (the shortstop, not the boxer) committed an error.

The hot-hitting Andre Thornton, who had taken LaCock’s starting job, drew a walk to load the bases. Manny Trillo bounced a ball back to Gibby who threw to Ted Simmons for a force at the plate.  Then Gibson gave an indication that the end was near by throwing a wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to score. He then intentionally walked Jerry Morales to reload the bases.

It was Buddy Schultz’ turn at the plate, but up stepped Pete LaCock, who was frustrated being a bench player. Cubs’ manager Jim Marshall had spent 45 minutes before the game listening to his request to be traded. Marshall told reporters, “Pete is a very ambitious young man. He needs a lot of time for someone to explain to him what it’s all about.”

Pete had taken extra batting practice prior to the start of the game and also had a good run around the ballpark with his Siberian Husky puppy. The combination must have worked, LaCock blasted the last and only grand slam of his career deep to right field.

After Don Kessinger bounced to Reggie Smith at first who tossed it to Gibson for the final out, Hoot was done and on his way to Cooperstown. Before he left the clubhouse that day Gibby said, “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”

But the story is not over.

In 1986, former stars like Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson and Gibson played a series of old-timer’’ three-to-five inning games at major-league ball parks to raise funds for former ballplayers not covered by the current pension system.  The games were sponsored by the Equitable Life Assurance Company.

According to LaCock, one day Bob Feller was on the mound and having trouble getting pitches to the plate. “I come up to the plate and all of a sudden Gibson comes running out to the mound and starts warming up, LaCock told Chuck. “First pitch, he gets me right in the back.”

At the banquet that night, Gibson was serving as the MC and introduced all the players…except for LaCock. “The other players are going, ‘What about your friend LaCock?’ ” Pete recalls. Gibson laughed and went on with the evening.

That is the life of ballplayers.

Pete currently serves as a special consultant for Zinger Bats, a company that has been creating custom bats for professional players since 1998 or as they describe themselves, “Destroying ERAs since 1998.”

Happy and healthy birthday, Pete.