Saturday, 2:15 PM
Russ Gibson, catcher on 'Impossible Dream' team, dies
Russ Gibson was "was tough as nails," said former teammate Mike Andrews.
By Marvin Pave, Globe Correspondent
Russ "Gibby" Gibson, one of Fall River’s favorite sports sons, experienced a lifetime of baseball memories during his rookie season with the 1967 Boston Red Sox.
Mr. Gibson, 69, who died last Sunday in Swansea after suffering from heart and other ailments, broke in as a 28-year-old catcher with the ``Impossible Dream’’ team that shocked the baseball world by winning the American League pennant and taking the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals to Game 7 of the World Series at Fenway Park.
``Growing up, I dreamed of playing in the major leagues,’’ Mr. Gibson said in a 1989 Globe interview. ``But to play in your own hometown and for a pennant winner was something special.’’
On the day of Mr. Gibson’s passing, the man who never lost faith in him, former Boston manager Dick Williams, was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mr. Gibson had been cut late in spring training in the mid-60s by the Red Sox. The former three-sport athlete at Durfee High had spent spent 10 years in the minor leagues, and was uncertain about his baseball future.
``I had to drive from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Florida to join their farm team (Toronto) and Williams was their manager,’’ Mr. Gibson recalled in 1989. ``I had five days to think about my future behind the wheel of my car. By the time I got there I told Dick `I think I’m going to give it up.’ ''
But Williams talked Mr. Gibson into staying with Toronto as a player-coach, and he followed manager Williams to the Red Sox in 1967.
That season, Mr. Gibson caught fellow rookie Billy Rohr’s one-hitter on April 14 in Yankee Stadium. Rohr lost his no-hitter when Yankees catcher Elston Howard singled with two outs in the ninth, but Mr. Gibson felt that the Boston lefty was robbed.
``Rohr threw a fastball down the middle on a 1 and 2 count that the ump called a ball,’’ recalled Mr. Gibson, who also played for the San Francisco Giants and had a .228 batting average over six major league seasons. ``It was a terrible call.’’
Mr. Gibson also started behind the plate in the opening game of the '67 World Series at Fenway and appeared briefly in Game 7. Boston's starting catcher the remainder of the series was Howard, who was traded from the Yanks to the Red Sox that August
Former Red Sox teammate Mike Andrews, now chairman of the Jimmy Fund, said Mr. Gibson ``was all about team, not about himself."
"I felt the tag that he couldn’t hit in the major leagues was unfair because he had a lot of big hits for us,'' Andrews said. "Russ called an exceptionally good game, was hard to steal on and was tough as nails. I would always want a player like Russ on my team.’’
His son, Gregory, of Southbury, Conn., said Mr. Gibson always enjoyed signing autographs, especially for fans of the 1967 Red Sox.
``My oldest daughter is now 11 and he gave her souvenirs from his visits to Fenway Park that brought a smile to her face,’’ he said. ``He was a great father and a wonderful grandfather, and he was always everybody’s best friend.’’
Mr. Gibson’s other son, Christopher, of Fall River, said although his father enjoyed the recognition of being a major leaguer, he derived as much joy in attending high school reunions and sharing his countless stories with boyhood friends.
``Playing major league baseball never changed me as a person,’’ Mr. Gibson once said.
A Fall River native, John Russell Gibson had lived in Swansea since 1982. A 1957 graduate of Durfee High School, he was a Marine Corps reservist who served during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In addition to his baseball skills, Mr. Gibson was a forward on Durfee’s Eastern Massachusetts and New England championship basketball team and a quarterback on the football team. He was given the annual ``Jimmy Award’’ for his years of service to the Jimmy Fund in 1990 and is also enshrined in the Durfee High Athletic Hall of Fame.
Mr. Gibson, who was given a day in his honor at Fenway Park (and a new car) in 1967, worked for the Massachusetts Lottery Commission as a sales agent from 1984-2004. He also returned to Fenway last year for the 40th anniversary celebration of the ``Impossible Dream’’ team. A moment of silence for Mr. Gibson was observed Sunday night at the park before the Red Sox- Yankees game.
In addition to his sons, Mr. Gibson leaves a brother, Paul of Tiverton, R.I., and four grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Waring-Sullivan Funeral Home in Swansea. Burial will be at Mount Hope Cemetery in Swansea.
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