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Early life and collegiate careerEdit
Gibson was born in Pontiac, Michigan, grew up in Waterford, Michigan (attending Waterford Kettering High School), and attended Michigan State University where he was an All-American wide receiver/flanker in football. He played only one year of college baseball. He was drafted by both the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the St. Louis Cardinals football team, but chose baseball.
Gibson played as the right fielder for the Detroit Tigers from 1983 to 1985. He helped the Tigers to the 1984 World Series championship. He became a free agent after the 1985 season, but received no significant offers, due to collusion among the owners of Major League Baseball teams. He re-signed with the Tigers, and in 1987 helped them to win the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays in an enthralling divisional race. However, Detroit lost the 1987 American League Championship Series to the eventual World Champion Minnesota Twins.
Gibson was proclaimed by Manager Sparky Anderson as the next Mickey Mantle. Later Anderson apologized and said that probably put too much pressure on a young and inexperienced Gibson.
In 1988, an arbitrator, Thomas Roberts, ruled that the owners colluded against the players. He ruled that several players, including Gibson, were to be immediate free agents. They were free to sign with any team. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed him. (Sporting News Baseball Guide, 1989, p.18)
Gibson was known for hitting clutch home runs. In the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, he faced Goose Gossage, one of the game's premier relievers, with Detroit up 5-4 and first base open. An intentional (or at least semi-intentional) walk seemed to be in order, especially since Gibson had already homered earlier in the game. But Gossage told San Diego manager Dick Williams he thought he could get the Tigers' right fielder out; indeed, he had struck out Gibson in the latter's very first Major League at-bat in 1979. If the Padres could hold the Tigers and score a couple in the ninth, they would force the Series back to San Diego, and maybe turn the tide. In the Sounds of the Game video, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson was seen in the dugout, yelling at Gibson, "He don't want to walk you!" and making a bat-swinging motion with his hands, the universal baseball gesture for "swing away." Gibson got the message, and launched Gossage's next pitch deep into Tiger Stadium's right field upper deck for a three-run homer, icing the game and the Series for the Tigers.
In the ESPN interview with Gossage and Williams aired after the 2008 Hall of Fame inductions, Williams took responsibility for the situation, as he allowed Gossage to talk him into pitching to Gibson. At the same time Williams ribbed Gossage that Gibson's home run damaged several seats, "in consecutive rows".
Los Angeles DodgersEdit
Playing for the Dodgers in the 1988 National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Gibson made an improbable catch in left field at a rain-soaked Shea Stadium. Racing back, he slipped on the wet grass, yet on his way down, with his knees on the ground and the rest of his body suspended, he reached out and made a full extension catch to save a Mookie Wilson double in Game 3. In Game 4, he hit a solo home run in the top of the 12th that ended up winning the game for the Dodgers. In Game 5, he hit a two-out three-run homer in the fifth; the Dodgers ended up winning the game 7-4. His LCS heroics proved to be a prelude to his single most visible career moment.
The 1988 World Series home runEdit
In the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, Gibson -- the 1988 NL MVP -- saw only a single plate appearance, but it was one of the most memorable and oft-replayed in baseball history. Gibson had severely injured both legs during the League Championship Series and had a stomach virus. He was not expected to play at all. In Game 1 on October 15 1988 (at Dodger Stadium), with the Dodgers trailing by a score of 4–3, Mike Davis on first, and two out in the ninth inning, manager Tommy Lasorda inserted Gibson as a pinch hitter. Earlier, the TV camera had scanned the dugout and Vin Scully (the legendary Dodger announcer, who was calling the game with Joe Garagiola for NBC) observed that Gibson was nowhere to be found. According to legend, he was in the clubhouse undergoing physical therapy and saw this on the television, spurring him to get back in the dugout and tell Lasorda he was ready if needed. When Gibson received the news that he would pinch-hit, he went to the clubhouse batting-cage to warm-up. Suffering through such terrible pain in his knee, it is said he was wincing and nearly collapsing after every practice swing.
Gibson hobbled up to the plate with Scully commenting, "Look who's coming up!" He was facing Dennis Eckersley. Gibson quickly got behind in the count, 0-2, but received a few outside pitches from Eckersley to work to a 3–2 count. On the sixth pitch of his at bat, a ball, Davis stole second. The A's could have walked Gibson to face Steve Sax, but chose to pitch to him, just as Gossage had done four years earlier. With an awkward, almost casual swing, Gibson used pure upper-body strength to smack a 3–2 backdoor slider over the right-field fence. He hobbled around the bases and pumped his fist as his jubilant teammates stormed the field. The Dodgers won the game, 5–4. The telecast of the home run is also notable because the shot of the ball flying over the wall also captures the taillights of the cars leaving the lot, presumably filled with fans who had either given up hope and were merely leaving early to avoid the traffic (a standard Dodger Stadium fan stereotype).
Gibson later said that prior to the Series, Dodger scout Mel Didier had provided a report on Eckersley that claimed with a 3-2 count against a left-handed hitter, one could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. Gibson said that when the count reached 3-2, he stepped out of the batter's box and, in his mind, could hear Didier's voice, with its distinctive Southern drawl, reiterating that same piece of advice. With that thought in mind, Gibson stepped back into the batter's box; and thus when Eckersley did in fact throw a backdoor slider, it was, thanks to Didier, exactly the pitch Gibson was looking for.
The home run was so memorable that it was included as a finalist in a Major League Baseball contest to determine the sport's "Greatest Moment of All-Time." For years after the fact, it was regularly used in This Week in Baseball's closing montage sequence. An edited audio of Scully's 1988 call has been used in 2005 post-season action, in a TV ad featuring a recreational softball game, with a portly player essentially re-enacting that entire moment as he hits the softball over the right field fence to win the game. It was in competition on ESPN's SportsCenter for the Greatest Sports Highlight of All-Time.
Don Drysdale's CallEdit
|“|| Well the crowd on its feet and if there was ever a preface, to Casey at the Bat, it would have to be the ninth inning. Two out. The tying run aboard, the winning run at the plate, and Kirk Gibson, standing at the plate.
Gibson, a deep sigh...re-gripping the bat...shoulders just shrugged...now goes to the top of the helmet, as he always does...steps in with that left foot. Eckersley, working out of the stretch...here's the three-two pitch...and a drive hit to right field (voice changes to high pitch) WAY BACK! THIS BALL... IS GONE!!! (After delay) This crowd will not stop! They can't believe the ending! And this time, Mighty Casey did NOT strike out!
Vin Scully's callEdit
|“||All year long, they looked to him to light the fire,||”|
|“||and all year long, he answered the demands, until he was physically unable to start tonight——with two bad legs: The bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And, with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice... this is it.||”|
|“||shaking his left leg, making it quiver, like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.||”|
|“||the game right now is at the plate.||”|
|“||High fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is... gone!!||”|
After allowing the crowd a few seconds to cheer, Scully said,
|“||In a year that has been so improbable... the impossible has happened!||”|
|“||And, now, the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted?!||”|
|“||You know, I said it once before, a few days ago, that Kirk Gibson was not the Most Valuable Player; that the Most Valuable Player for the Dodgers was Tinkerbell. But, tonight, I think Tinkerbell backed off for Kirk Gibson. And, look at Eckersley——shocked to his toes!||”|
|“||They are going wild at Dodger Stadium——no one wants to leave!||”|
Jack Buck's callEdit
CBS handled the national radio broadcast of the 1988 World Series, with Jack Buck providing play-by-play and Bill White as the analyst. This was Buck's call. It begins here with Buck speculating on what might happen if Gibson manages to reach base:
|“||... then you would run for Gibson and have Sax batting. But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming here from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 to 4; I don't believe what I just saw!||”|
The last sentence is often remembered and quoted by fans. Buck followed it with,
|“||I don't believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill?||”|
Buck concluded this amazing feat with this thought:
|“||One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game...a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it...five to four; and I'm stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.||”|
In 1991, Gibson signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals, and then in 1992 signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired from baseball temporarily, after being released by the Pirates. The following spring Sparky Anderson convinced him to return to baseball. He spent the final three years of his career (1993–1995) back with the Detroit Tigers, including a renaissance season in 1994 when he slugged 23 homers.
He was named the National League MVP in 1988. He is the only MVP winner to never appear on an All-Star roster. He was named to the team twice, in 1985 and 1988, but declined the invitation both times. He announced his retirement from baseball in August 1995.
In 2003, he was named the Tigers' bench coach, and served in that position until the midway point of the 2005 season when he was moved from bench coach to hitting coach, swapping positions with Bruce Fields. As of the start of the 2007 Major League Baseball season, Gibson is the new Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach.
Gibson had worn #23 as a player. However, while coaching for the Tigers, he wore #22 after #23 was retired for Willie Horton. Gibson currently wears #23 as a coach for the Diamondbacks.
He married JoAnn Sklarski on December 22 1985 in a double ceremony where Tiger pitcher Dave Rozema married JoAnn's sister Sandy. They were married at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.
Kirk is a nominee for the 2007 Class for the College Football Hall of Fame.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- The Sporting News' Baseball's 25 Greatest Moments: Gibson Delivers in a Pinch
- Jack Buck's call on CBS Radio (via WJBC-AM in Bloomington, IL)
- Jerry Crasnick - ESPN.com
|American League Championship Series MVP|
|National League Most Valuable Player|
|Detroit Tigers Hitting Coach|
|Arizona Diamondbacks Bench Coach|