May 6 – Happy Birthday Russ Gibson

1970 Topps Russ GibsonDuring spring training before Boston’s 1967 Impossible Dream season, Red Sox manager Dick Williams had three receivers in camp competing for the team’s two catcher’s slots. Bob Tillman had replaced Jim Pagliaroni as Boston’s starting receiver in 1962. He held onto that job until 1966, when then 24-year-old Mike Ryan got the nod. Joining Tillman and Ryan at the Red Sox Winter Haven, Florida facility that spring was a 27-year-old, ten year veteran of Boston’s farm system by the name of Russ Gibson.

A native of Falls River, Massachusetts, Gibson had been signed by the Red Sox way back in 1957, but he’d never done anything special enough during his lengthy stay in the minors to warrant even a late-season, cup-of-coffee call-up to the parent club. Then in 1965, he was assigned to Boston’s triple A International League team in Toronto, which was being managed by Dick Williams. It was his solid play for Williams over the next two seasons combined with the skipper’s promotion to Red Sox field boss that finally got Gibson a real shot at getting to Boston. He was ready for that challenge.

He had a great spring training that year and not only made the roster, in his big league debut, in Boston’s third game of the season, Gibson caught fellow rookie Bill Rohr’s complete game one-hitter over the Yankees. He also got off to a fast start at the plate, averaging better than .300 during most of the first month of the season and taking over as Williams de-facto starting catcher. He then went hitless in three straight games and the impatient Williams didn’t hesitate switching to Ryan. That’s when Gibson injured his hand, landing him back in the minors for rehab. When he got back to Boston, his hitting woes continued and the only reason he ended up making the the team’s postseason roster was that his .203 batting average that year was four points higher than Ryan’s, fifteen points higher than Tillman’s and over fifty points higher than the .145 average veteran Elston Howard managed after coming to the Red Sox from the Yankees that August. He struck out in both of his at bats against the Cardinals in the 1967 Fall Classic and then shared the starting catcher’s job with Elston Howard in 1968 and with Tom Satriano and Gerry Moses in ’69.

His best year was that ’69 season, his final year with Boston, when he hit a career high .251 in 307 plate appearances. Boston sold him to the Giants just as the 1970 season began and he spent three years as a back-up for San Francisco. He later went to work for the Massachusetts Lottery Department and coached some baseball at the junior college level. Gibson died in 2008 at the age of 69.

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