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Gibson’s cancer diagnosis is a big blow to Cardinals organization and baseball fans

The fourth greatest Cardinal: Bob Gibson

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson is the fourth greatest player in St. Louis Cardinals team history.
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Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson is the fourth greatest player in St. Louis Cardinals team history.

It was a big blow over the weekend to learn that legendary Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson is battling pancreatic cancer.

That’s an awful disease and the odds are stacked dramatically against Gibby. But we all know that no one is more unwilling to admit defeat than number 45.

Fans often talk about the Mount Rushmore of sports franchises, the top four legendary figures in the history of the club that define its existence. There is no way to tell the Cardinals story without including Gibson, who was the clear-cut leader of the amazing St. Louis teams that won three National League pennants and a pair of World Series in the 1960s.

People like to recall the tales that show Gibson’s fiery competitive nature. There was that time, for example, that he pegged Bill White with a pitch the first time the two friends and former roommates faced off as opponents.

But Gibby’s gift to the Cardinals, even after his playing days, is that he demanded the absolute best from those around him and set a pretty fair example of what that effort should look like. He lifted up everyone around him both as a player and later as an ambassador of the Cardinals organization.

One year at the annual baseball writers dinner, Tony LaRussa told the story of his rookie season as manager of the Redbirds. The Cardinals weren’t playing well in spring training and a parade of Cardinals luminaries led by Gibson and Lou Brock informed the new skipper that, exhibition games or not, St. Louis always hustles and always plays to win.

As one would expect, Gibson played the part of the heavy and shook La Russa up when he lowered the boom on him.

La Russa went to Red Schoendeinst and asked the former St. Louis player, coach and manager to help him get Gibson and Brock off his back. Schoendienst replied: “Who do you think sent them in here?”

The prognosis for Gibson isn’t a good one — according to the American Cancer Society, the one-year survival rate after diagnosis is about 20 percent. If anyone can brush back cancer through sheer will and refusal to succumb, it’s No. 45.

Many good thoughts and prayers your way, Gibby.

O’Neill still has up side

Tyler O’Neill has been a target of Cardinals fans looking for someone to blame for the team’s poor showing to this point. But he was the offensive star of the Arizona Diamondbacks series, especially in game two.

But forget about those results. While they’re nice, they’re not the reasons I am high on the power-hitting young fly chaser.

O’Neill strikes out a lot, sure. So do a lot of guys these days. But what makes him different is that I believe he has both the ability to get better as well as the will and the determination to do so.

A lot of the prospects we see in major league baseball these days are perfectly content to be a .230-hitting strikeout artist as long as they hit 35 home runs. But you can see the hunger in O’Neill’s eyes when he is at the plate — and you can see the disappointment on his face when he whiffs.

He’s not content to fail.

Just look at O’Neill. You don’t look like he does from waking up in the morning and wishing you had zero percent body fat and bulging muscles. To look like he does, you have to be ultra committed to the process every day. If he applies himself to baseball like he does to bodybuilding, there is no way the guy isn’t going to end up being an all-star some day.

Fans who were in love with Harrison Bader at this time last year have now turned on him because of his low batting average.

If the Cardinals want to inject some life into their offense, O’Neill would be a great choice. He’s fully capable of playing centerfield. There’s not much to lose by taking out your seventh or eighth hitter. While the floor is the same, the ceiling is much higher with O’Neill. Going into the game Sunday, Bader was hitting only .203 and only .163 for the past month. O’Neill came into Sunday hitting .271 and he’s batting .333 over the past week.

Letting O’Neill play more is a win-win situation for the Birds, who need help at the plate in 2019 and need to know what they have in the young outfielder for 2020. Is O’Neill part of the long-term picture or will the team need to look elsewhere for offense this off-season?

Waino’s return

Speaking of this off-season, I wonder what’s going to happen with Adam Wainwright.

The former ace more than made his fair share of money over the course of his big league career. But he’s in many ways been the best pitcher for the Cardinals after signing the major league equivalent of a bargain basement deal for the 2019 season.

Will he be willing to play for $2 million again next year? Wainwright stands to make $6-$8 million in incentives that even things out. But I could see a veteran major league star want guaranteed money to keep him form retiring on his own terms. Right now, with Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes still works in progress, the Birds can’t afford to be without him.

And I would sure hate to see Wainwright finish his career in Atlanta with his first organization after so many wonderful years in St. Louis.