Canada History Week Day 2: Gorbous…by nine inches

Gorbous1July 1-7 is Canada History Week, and this year’s theme is Sport throughout History

Some world records are made to be broken. Today, as part of our look at sport throughout Alberta’s history this week, we take a look at the boy from Rosedale, Alberta whose insatiable urge to throw baseballs put him in the record books…by nine inches.

Born in Rosedale, Alberta on July 8, 1930, Glen Gorbous grew up in Drumheller and Vulcan throwing baseballs to pass the time. As J.G. Preston writes in a fantastic history of the record for baseball’s longest throw on his blog The J.G. Preston Experience, when he had no one to play catch with, Gorbous developed his arm strength by throwing baseballs higher and higher in the air for hours on end.

Following high school, Gorbous went to a Brooklyn Dodger tryout camp in Calgary, joining their minor league team in 1949. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1954, and made his Major League debut the next year. At the time, he was the only Canadian in the major leagues.

Gorbous was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of 1955, and then again to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957. The Cardinals sent him to their minor league team in Omaha, where Gorbous’ throwing arm brought him some notoriety, and led to the momentous event.

From the 1988 story “The Longest Throw, The Mighty Game” by Don Bell in the Toronto Blue Jays program:

As a prank and to amuse his teammates, Gorbous says he used to take aim at the Omaha ballpark’s distant floodlights and knock out the bulbs. “It was costing a fortune to replace the lights. So management came up with a scheme which, they hoped, would bring some people into the park and provide a constructive outlet for this uncontrollable urge I had to grab a baseball and — pling! — throw it at just about anything…. “I didn’t give it much thought at first. But when the sum of $200 was mentioned for a few minutes’ work, I became convinced it was a wonderful idea and I’d give it a shot.”

As Preston notes, it’s unknown when the idea of having Gorbous try to break the World Record (previously held by Don Grate of the Minneapolis Millers) first came up. The Omaha World-Herald’s mention of it on August 1, 1957 was the first time the contest was mentioned to the public, and the contest was that night!

Nevertheless, that evening, the fans were waiting with anticipation. Gorbous emerged onto the Omaha Ball Park’s Field with a hotdog, glove, and a root beer. He crammed the hotdog into his mouth, put his glove on, and slammed back his root beer. Two attempts to beat Grate’s record of 445ft.1 inch fell short. But Gorbous decided to give it one more try. He went outside the stadium and across the street before running back in to the string and releasing the ball high into the air. To everyone’s surprise, it landed 445ft. 10 inches away, setting a new world record…by nine inches.

Perhaps the best description of the record breaking throw comes from Jack Sheehan, a columnist with the Las Vegas Sun, who was at that game as a boy in 1957:

Before the game started, a Spokane outfielder named Glen Gorbous performed an astonishing feat. He threw a baseball from home plate over the center field wall, 410 feet away. It took him three tries. On the first two, the throws fell just short and bounced off the Pete’s Perma-Mulch sign. But on the third, as he was going through a motion like a coiled shot-putter under attack by killer bees, Gorbous gave a grunt that carried all the way to our seats in the right-field bleachers. The ball exploded from his hand and hung suspended in the air for hours. With it hung every boyhood dream I’d ever had.  Then, finally, it disappeared over the fence. The crowd erupted in a huge ovation. I didn’t stand up; I would have been a small pine in a forest, but I couldn’t have been more awestruck had I witnessed a spaceship land on second base.

Breaking the world record took its toll on Gorbous, however; that summer he underwent arm surgery, and retired shortly thereafter. After working in the furniture business with his father in Calgary, and later for a company that provided portable housing and catering for an oil and gas exploration company, Gorbous passed away in 1990 at age 59.

Glen Gorbous was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. His Guinness World Record for the Longest Throw of a Baseball has yet to be broken.

 

Thanks to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame for their files

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