Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jim Bibby

Jim Bibby, one of Chuck Tanner's starting arms when the Bucs took the crown in 1979, joined teammates Willie 'Pops' Stargell, John 'Hitman' Milner, Bill Robinson, Doc Ellis, and Dave Roberts on the Field of Dreams when he died from undisclosed causes today.

The big righty pitched in the show for 12 seasons, from 1972-84, spending five years with the Pirates, four with the Rangers, three with the Indians and two short stints with the Cardinals. He ran up 111 wins with a 3.76 ERA during his career.

A tall (6'-5"), intimidating flamethrower with overpowering stuff, Bibby averaged a trifle over 5-1/2 K's per nine, while walking almost four per game, tantalizing but never consistent. He was a Jekyll and Hyde guy, capable of great games followed by stinkers.

Bibby, 65 when he died, started his pro career in the New York Mets system in 1965 following three years with the Fayetteville State Broncos. After missing the 1966-1967 seasons when he was part of Uncle Sam's contingent in Vietnam, he returned to the Mets and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971 in an eight player deal of marginal talents.

He got the call in the show in 1972: his inability to throw strikes kept Bibby from becoming a big leaguer until he was 27 years old, when got a cup of coffee in St. Louis. After six very forgettable outings for the Cards in 1973, he was shipped to the Rangers for Mike Nagy and John Wockenfuss.

He showed his potential that season. Bibby tossed a no-hitter against the A's, a one-hitter, a two-hitter, two four-hitters, and four five-hitters in 1973. He struck out 15 in one game, and fanned at least 10 seven times. Still, he finished 9-12, though with a respectable 3.76 ERA.

In 1975, he was part of a trio the Rangers sent to the Tribe for Gaylord Perry, and the light went on in Cleveland. Bibby won 30 games there in 2-1/2 years, with ERAs of 3.20, 3.20, and 3.57.

Bibby joined the Bucs as a free agent in 1978, and would remain a Pirate until 1983. The team got its money's worth from Bibby. He went 50-32 for Pittsburgh, with a 3.53 ERA over that span (he lost 1982 to an elbow injury), and he went 19-6 with a 3.32 ERA to earn his only All-Star nod and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 1980.

Hey, so what if he came to Pittsburgh to replace Goose Gossage? Teke Tekulve took care of that after Bibby fizzled as a finisher and returned to the rotation.

He became a key member of that 1979 pitching staff. Bibby made 34 appearances, split between starting and the pen. The big guy put up a 12-4 record with a 2.81 ERA, and did even better in the playoffs and Series. He got three starts, including Game #7 against the O's during the post-season. Although earning no decisions, he pitched in 17-1/3 pressure cooker innings, with an ERA of 2.08.

After that brilliant 1980 season, he still had a highlight left in him. On May 19, 1981, at the age of 36, Bibby gave up a leadoff single to the Atlanta Braves' Terry Harper, then was perfect for the remainder of the game, retiring the next 27 batters for a 5-0 shutout. On top of that he went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, and drove in and scored a run.

But in 1982 he had arm woes, missing the year, and that put the nail in his MLB coffin. Bibby was a swingman in 1983, with a 6.69 ERA, and played briefly with the Rangers, where he was released and signed to a minor-league deal by St. Louis.

He retired in July of 1984 from his original club, the Cards, and Bibby served as pitching coach with the Lynchburg Mets, Red Sox and Hillcats for 15 years. After a season with the Pirates' Nashville club in 2000, Bibby's contract wasn't renewed, and he retired from baseball for good, getting two new knees in 2001.

There was one final recognition for Bibby. In 2002, Lynchburg retired his number 26 and held a bobblehead night for him. That's some kinda love for a pitching coach.

Bibby was the oldest brother of UCLA basketball player Henry Bibby and the uncle of NBA player Mike Bibby. He leaves behind his wife, Jackie (Jordan) Bibby, and two daughters, Tamara Bibby and Tanya (Bibby) McClain.

We know that somewhere tonight in baseball Vahalla, Jim Bibby is staring in for the sign, with a torrent of sweat washing over him, ready to unleash his wild heater once again.


Michael Hoff said...

Jim Bibby was one of my favorites. When I was 15, I took a bus from Altoona with my best friend (I think it was 1979's "Blair County Day") and I saw him hit a home run against Atlanta in a double-header. And I'll never forget listening to that game you mentioned -- giving up a leadoff single then retiring the next 27 in a row. Rest in peace, Jim Bibby. And thanks from this lifelong fan for some great childhood memories.

Ron Ieraci said...

Michael, I always had a soft spot for Bibby myself. He reminded me of an old Buc lefty, Bob Veale, with his mannerisms, the way he commanded the mound, and kept guys off balance thanks to his wild streak.

And with the buckets of sweat that poured off him, no one could ever question how hard he was working during a game!

WilliamJPellas said...

I'll tell you something. Before the injury that ended his career, for about 5 or 6 years Bibby was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Unfortunately he got a relatively late start to his career (as Veale did, by the way) and so his final numbers don't reflect how good he really was. Bibby was first a college student and then a truck driver in the Army in Vietnam, and really only then got the chance to play baseball full time. As you say, Ron, it wasn't until he was 27 that he really got established in the bigs, and so the "meat" of his career was really only about 9 or 10 years. I've always thought he was capable of 200 wins had things broken for him a bit differently.

But, he was definitely a Buc stalwart, and one of the really good pitchers on that '79 team. He wasn't a particularly good hitter in terms of average, but as Jim Rooker once put it, "if he runs into one, it goes a long way".

Rest in peace, Jim. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

Ramone Burford said...

Great article about a true hero and role model on and off the field. And if not for the political and social climate early in his career, Bibby would have been a no brainer for the Hall. Hell, I would even go out on a limb to say there are pitchers with lesser stats and achievements represented in Cooperstown. He dedicated most of his life to the sport of baseball from mentoring young athletes not just about baseball but life itself. We lost a special guy Tuesday. In all my years I never saw him frown. He was a blast to be around. He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched. RIP Bibby.

Ron Ieraci said...

Ramon, Will, Michael - thanks for the Jim Bibby posts. It's nice to know that some fans still remember the old guys that did so much for Pirate baseball.