October 29, 1944|
Franklinton, North Carolina
|Died: February 16, 2010
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|September 4, 1972 for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 26, 1984 for the Texas Rangers|
|Earned run average||3.76|
|Career highlights and awards|
James Blair Bibby (October 29, 1944 – February 16, 2010) was an American Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher. During a 12-year baseball career, he pitched from 1972 to 1984 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, and Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he was a member of its 1979 World Series Champions. He pitched a no-hitter against a team in the midst of a three-year dynasty. Also, in 1981, as a member of the Pirates, he missed out on a perfect game by just one hit, allowing a lead off single, before retiring the next 27 batters he faced.
Bibby attended Fayetteville State University on a basketball scholarship, and also pitched for its varsity baseball team. His professional career began when he was signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent after his junior year on July 19, 1965. With Fayetteville State having discontinued its baseball program in the late-1970s, he was the only person from the university to perform in the major leagues.
After appearing in thirteen games and posting a 2–3 record with an 11.25 earned run average (ERA) with the Marion Mets in 1965, he spent the next two years on active duty with the United States Army as a truck driver in Vietnam. On his return to baseball, he moved up the organization's minor league system, first with the Raleigh-Durham Mets in 1968 before splitting time with the Memphis Blues and Tidewater Tides in 1969. His progress was interrupted again in 1970 when a back injury which required a spinal fusion of the first and second vertebrae sidelined him for the entire season and put his career in doubt. He rebounded in 1971 by having his best campaign in the minors as he led all Tides pitchers with a 15–6 mark.
He never got to play for New York because he was part of an eight-player transaction on October 18, 1971, when he, along with Art Shamsky, Rich Folkers and Charlie Hudson, were sent to St. Louis for Chip Coulter, Chuck Taylor and two players who would later help the Mets capture the National League pennant in 1973, Jim Beauchamp and Harry Parker. Bibby earned a promotion to the Cardinals late in 1972 as the Tulsa Oilers' top hurler at 13–9, with a 3.09 ERA, 13 complete games and 208 strikeouts. He made his major-league debut at age 27 as the starter in the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader at Busch Memorial Stadium on September 4. Despite surrendering four runs in 6 1⁄3 innings, he picked up the win in the 8–7 triumph over the Montreal Expos. He made five more starts to finish the season, but lost three of them.
After beginning 1973 at 0–2 with a 9.56 ERA, he was acquired by Texas on June 6, 1973 in exchange for Mike Nagy and John Wockenfuss. The trade was made at the urging of Whitey Herzog who, prior to becoming the Rangers manager, was the Mets director of player development. Herzog said about Bibby, "I had him for five years in the minors. With the exception of Nolan Ryan, he throws harder than anybody in this league."
Just under two months later on July 30, Bibby pitched the franchise's first-ever no-hitter in a 6–0 victory over the defending and eventual World Series Champion Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Despite issuing six walks and relying almost exclusively on his fastball, he still registered thirteen strikeouts and outdueled Vida Blue—himself a no-hit pitcher in 1970. After he fanned in the ninth inning, Oakland's Reggie Jackson commented on the strike three pitch, "That's the fastest ball I ever saw. Actually I didn't see it. I just heard it." Bibby, whose salary was $15,000 that year, earned a $5,000 raise from team owner Bob Short as a result of the achievement.
On a ballclub that finished with the worst record in the majors at 57–105 and fired Herzog with 24 games remaining in the campaign, Bibby was its winningest pitcher despite a 9–10 record. When the Billy Martin-managed Rangers became the surprise team of 1974 by going 84–76 and vaulting into second place in the American League Western Division, Bibby (19–19) and the newly-acquired Ferguson Jenkins (25–12) each made a club-record 41 starts to anchor the pitching staff. The nineteen losses, however, are also a club record.
Bibby's inconsistency with his control plagued him again early in 1975 when he went 2–6 with a 5.00 ERA. He was traded along with Jackie Brown, Rick Waits and $100,000 to Cleveland for future Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry on June 13, 1975. The deal was actually the result of a feud between Perry and Indians manager Frank Robinson. Bibby compiled a 30–29 record with a 3.36 ERA in his 2 1⁄2 years in Cleveland. More importantly, with the help of pitching coach Harvey Haddix, he worked on improving his delivery to home plate and also added the curveball, slider and changeup to his repertoire.
During spring training on March 6, 1978, an arbitrator ruled that Bibby be declared a free agent. The reason was indicative of the financially-strapped and inept Indians management at the time. Bibby's 1977 contract included a $10,000 bonus if he made at least thirty starts. He started exactly thirty of the 37 contests in which he appeared, but the Indians failed to make the payment by the deadline stated in the terms of the contract.
Bibby signed with Pittsburgh nine days later on March 15, 1978. He was originally expected to be the new closer, replacing Goose Gossage who had left for the New York Yankees in the offseason. Instead Bibby became a starter in the five-man rotation and had his most productive years with the Pirates, going 50–32 with a 3.53 ERA in five seasons.
His only postseason experience was when he helped the Pirates capture the 1979 World Series Championship. Despite not getting a decision in any of his three starts, he pitched effectively with a 2.08 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 1⁄3 innings. In the 3–2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Riverfront Stadium, he pitched seven innings and left the game with a 2–1 lead. He went 6 1⁄3 innings and departed Game 4 of the Fall Classic with a 6–3 advantage in the 9–6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Three Rivers Stadium. When the Pirates clinched the series with a 4–1 win in Game 7 at Memorial Stadium, he lasted four innings, with his only mistake being Rich Dauer's home run to lead off the Orioles' third.
Bibby's best year in the majors was in 1980, when he posted a 19–6 record and a league-best .760 win-loss percentage. He also made his only appearance in an All-Star Game that season at Dodger Stadium on July 8. He entered the game in relief of Jerry Reuss and pitched a scoreless seventh inning. After Robin Yount flied out to right field, Bibby surrendered a single to center to Willie Randolph, who was retired when Cecil Cooper grounded to the shortstop for a double play.
A Pirates home game on May 19, 1981 began with Bibby allowing a leadoff single to right to the Atlanta Braves' Terry Harper. From that point on, Bibby hurled the equivalent of a perfect game by retiring the next 27 batters in a 5–0 victory. He also excelled at the plate that night by hitting a pair of doubles (to center off Phil Niekro in the fifth, to left off Rick Mahler in the sixth), driving in a run and scoring another.
He returned to the Rangers on February 7, 1984, but lasted only two months into the regular season as he pitched in eight games out of the bullpen without a decision. His final major league appearance was in a 5–1 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Arlington Stadium on May 26, 1984. After replacing Dave Tobik to start the ninth inning, Bibby allowed a single to Joel Skinner, a double to Rudy Law and an intentional walk to Jerry Hairston, Sr. to load the bases with one out. He managed to not surrender any runs by getting a groundout from Mike Squires and a flyout from Greg Walker. Bibby was released six days later on June 1.
He was picked up by St. Louis again on June 9, eight days after his departure from Texas. He only appeared in two contests without a decision for the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals' Triple-A farm team at the time. His career as an active player came to an end when he was released 22 days later on July 1, 1984.
Bibby earned his bachelor's degree in health & physical education from Lynchburg College in 1980. His first coaching job was with the Durham Bulls immediately after the conclusion of his playing career in 1984. He was the pitching coach for the Carolina League's Lynchburg, Virginia ballclub from 1985 to 1999. He served the franchise beginning when it was affiliated with the Mets and through parent club/name changes in 1988 (Red Sox both) and 1995 (Pirates/Hillcats). He was honored by the Hillcats in 2002 when his uniform number 26 was the first one retired in the city's baseball history. He spent the 2000 minor league season in the same capacity with the Nashville Sounds, but retired from coaching after his contract wasn't renewed.
Bibby was an older brother of Henry Bibby and uncle of Mike Bibby. He was married to Jacqueline Ann (Jordan) Bibby and had two daughters, Tamara Bibby of Washington, DC and Tanya Bibby (McClain) of Charlotte, NC. He died in Lynchburg General Hospital on February 16, 2010 due to bone cancer.
July 30, 1973
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