35 years ago, signing Gibson reversed Dodgers' descent

The deal worked out pretty well for everyone as eventual NL MVP sparked a title

January 29th, 2024

Coming off two consecutive losing seasons, the Dodgers knew they needed to make some big changes in 1988. They signed veteran pitcher Don Sutton and outfielder Mike Davis, acquired relievers Jesse Orosco and Jay Howell, and infielder Alfredo Griffin. And then, in their most high-profile move 35 years ago on Jan. 29, 1988, they gave Kirk Gibson a three-year, $4.5 million contract.

At the time, Gibson, a Tiger for nine years, was one of the premier power/speed players in baseball -- he hit 24 homers, stole 26 bases and posted a 130 OPS+ the season before. But beyond the numbers, the 31-year-old had a reputation for playing hard night in and night out during the long 162-game schedule.

"[Gibson's] a bulldog," manager Tommy Lasorda told the Los Angeles Times. "We've not only done a lot to change the personnel this winter, we've done a lot to strengthen the character."

Gibson expressed sadness having to part ways with Detroit, but he was excited for a fresh start.

"The way L.A. structured the contract, I'd have been an idiot to turn it down. I made my choice and I'm happy with it. It's a new experience for us [Gibson and wife JoAnn have two children], and it'll only be as positive as we make it."

Things, as you may well know, ended up being pretty positive.

Gibson took home National League MVP honors in 1988 -- posting 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, 31 steals, a .290 batting average and 6.5 WAR. The Dodgers finished 94-67, good for first place in the National League West.

The Dodgers beat the Mets in seven games in the NL Championship Series. Gibson played a big role -- hitting two homers with six RBIs -- but he severely injured his left hamstring and right knee in Games 5 and 7. Playing in the World Series seemed like a longshot -- Gibson famously spent most of Game 1 in shorts in the clubhouse, icing his legs and watching the game on TV. But then, in the eighth inning, bothered by a Vin Scully remark that the outfielder was unlikely to be available to pinch-hit, Gibson took some swings off a tee and declared to his manager that he was ready to go.

And so it went. Down one run with a man on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Gibson limped up to hit in the pitcher's spot. We'll let Scully take it from here:

It ended up being Gibson's lone plate appearance in that Fall Classic, but there's no doubt it helped propel the Dodgers to an eventual World Series title.

So yeah, in hindsight, signing Gibson on that winter day in January 1988 feels like a pretty good move.