Normally there isn’t much time for more than a handshake or hello when the St. Louis Cardinals get to mix with the special alumni groups the team brings in to honor. But yesterday provided an exception with the 1968 reunion as Luke Weaver was able to not just meet Bob Gibson, but actually received instruction on a slider grip.
The Cardinals right-hander was having a casual conversation with some teammates in the dugout when he was called over by Tim McCarver, who was sitting with his ’68 teammates Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. Weaver listened as McCarver rattled off some of the legendary stats from the two Hall of Fame pitchers. After a pause for the National Anthem, Weaver took advantage of the opportunity.
“I went back over there because (Carlton) was talking about sliders and how he was throwing them to Sadaharu Oh and finally getting him out for the first time with that pitch,” said Weaver. “Slider is kind of my fourth best pitch. It’s coming around, but might as well try to make that a better pitch. Nothing better coming from a couple guys that had a good one.”
Carlton was already in a conversation, but Bob Gibson readily engaged in showing off how he threw the slider.
“Just kind of seeing the grip, the way he threw it,” said Weaver, describing it like a normal dugout conversation between pitchers. “It was cool. It wasn’t intimidating. I felt comfortable and he was very comfortable, open, just very talkable and had no problem sharing. That’s what special about these guys who come around some of the greats who are trying to teach and willing to help a fellow pitcher…that was one of the cooler moments I’ve had.”
Different from his own grip, Luke said Gibson’s slider was more similar to how Weaver throws a curveball.
“I throw the curveball with a different style of grip, but it was close to where I was on the baseball,” he explained. “It was an interesting grip because it’s something that I’ve thought about just kind of looking at baseballs. During a game you’re just kind of like ‘I wonder what this would do? I wonder what that would do?’
As it turns out, the grip question was answered by Gibson.
“It was in a spot that was interesting and something I’ve thought about before, but I didn’t think would really work but I had never tried it,” said Weaver. “When he showed it to me, it kind of made me laugh inside because not too long ago I had my fingers on a ball with that kind of grip, and I was like ‘I don’t know if this would work very well’. Then I found out Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton are in that similar spot throwing it.”
Though he threw a bullpen on Sunday, Weaver didn’t try out the new grip. He said for now it’s more about fiddling around with it and playing catch.
“If it doesn’t make it through that level, there’s kind of no need to take it to the next level,” explained Weaver. “If you see some promise or you see kind of what you like or the guy you’re playing catch with gives you good feedback on it after you ask a couple questions, then you take it to the mound. The mound brings a different factor with the slope, the intensity, and all that stuff. Like I said, it’s something you play around with and it’s a grip that you know works. It’s in the back pocket.”
The baseball used to have the grip conversation, signed by Gibson, is now proudly on display in Weaver’s locker.
“I got a souvenir,” nodded Weaver. “He signed it and I was pretty pumped about it. I’m not crazy into signatures and different things like that. I think it’s super cool. I just, for me, it’s never my first thought. My first thought was hey, let’s go try to find a slider grip, not get a signature. The situation presented itself and I went for it. It’s something that I’ll look back and be like out of a slider grip conversation, I got a signature from if not the best pitcher ever–so, it was a pretty cool moment.”
photo credit: Fox Sports Midwest; Bill Greenblatt/UPI; Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports