Twenty-five years ago, Gibson hit homer for the ages
Unlikely walk-off blast on gimpy legs lifted Dodgers slugger into World Series lore
LOS ANGELES -- When he awoke in his Santa Monica, Calif., home, Kirk Gibson immediately took inventory of how his body felt. His legs, propped up with pillows, were his primary concern, but as he stepped out of bed, there was some hope that his aching left hamstring might turn out to be better than he had feared.
"I got up about five in the morning, and I immediately got out of bed and said, 'Yeah, this doesn't feel bad,'" Gibson said recently, recalling that day 25 years ago.
Gibson walked around the house a little and then decided to test the hamstring with a jog across his living room. That's when the pain started.
"I said, 'Oh, this isn't good,'" Gibson said.
He drove to Dodger Stadium later in the day, convinced that he was not going to be able to play that night.
"An ugly feeling," Gibson said.
It was Oct. 15, 1988, Game 1 of the World Series, and the Dodgers, who were facing the heavily favored A's, were looking at having to do so with their best hitter out of the lineup.
Gibson received treatment while his teammates went through the pregame pomp and circumstance that goes along with the World Series.
During the game, as Oakland built a 4-3 lead, Gibson continued to receive treatment in the clubhouse.
Like a caged animal, Gibson, the ultimate competitor, was frustrated. There were his teammates out there battling, and he was reduced to being a spectator, sitting in his shorts and a T-shirt.
As the game wore on, it became clear to the fans and those watching the game on television that Gibson was not going to make an appearance. Shots taken of the dugout by the TV cameras showed he was nowhere to be found.
Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully pointed that out to viewers late in the game, saying that Gibson appeared to be unavailable.
Little did Scully know, Gibson was one of those viewers.
"We were getting down to it, getting down to the last inning, and I knew who we had on the bench and I was just sitting there, and when Vin said that, I just kind of stood up and said, 'My ass.' And it was time to go get dressed. That's not to say that I wouldn't have gotten dressed anyway if he didn't say it, but he did say it, and I was vocal to whoever was around me about that, got dressed and moments later, I had the opportunity."
After taking a few swings in the area behind the Dodgers' dugout, Gibson asked bat boy Mitch Poole, who is now the home clubhouse manager, to tell manager Tommy Lasorda that he was able to pinch-hit.
When he got the news, Lasorda left the dugout briefly to check with Gibson.
"I just said, 'Hit [Mike] Davis eighth,'" Gibson told Lasorda. "'I'll hit for the pitcher.'"
It was his moment
After struggling early in his career, Gibson had paid a visit to the Pacific Institute, where he learned about the power of affirmation and visualization. He used those tools when he homered twice in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series against the Padres, and he would use them again on this night against A's closer Dennis Eckersley.
"You try to create a moment in your head," Gibson said of what was going through his mind at the time. "Going to walk up there, crowd, Eckersley, batter's box, how are they going to be defending you, what you're going to see and rounding the bases. You create these moments in your head. It's much the same as when you're a little kid and you played Mickey Mantle or whoever it was hitting a game-winning home run or whatever, and that's really how it was. The reality of it is, you play through a hundred of those moments and they never come true, but that one did."
It was the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers still trailed by one. Davis had walked with two out and was on first base.
Gibson did not waste much time. He walked out of the dugout and hardly paused at the on-deck circle.
While some players will tell you they don't hear the crowd, Gibson is the opposite. He reveled in the crowd noise either for him or against him, using it as fuel.
"The other thing that I told myself was that when I stepped out on the field, the ovation and the environment would be outstanding and I wouldn't hurt anymore," Gibson said. "And it was true. I just, like, knew. It was my calling. It was like somebody told me, 'C'mon, let's go. It's time for you to do your thing,' and I believed in it."
There was little in the early part of the at-bat that would have led anyone to believe Gibson was going to get a hit, much less a home run, as he fell behind Eckersley, 0-2, before evening the count at 2-2.
On the 2-2 pitch, which Gibson took for a ball, Davis stole second and Gibson told himself to just somehow dink a ball over the shortstop's head to score Davis and tie the game.
With the count full, though, there was one other thought that went through Gibson's mind as he stepped out of the batter's box. He remembered what Dodgers advance scout Mel Didier had told him about Eckersley's tendencies.
"Pardner, as sure as you're standing there breathing, you're going to see a 3-2 backdoor slider," Didier had said.
"Now does that mean I just sat there and looked for it?" Gibson said. "No. Subconsciously it's just kind of how you operate."
Eckersley had gotten a scouting report of his own on Gibson, and it said that with Gibson's injury, not only could he not run, he also was not able to catch up to a good fastball.
So Eckersley threw him fastball after fastball until the count got to 3-2.
"I got tired of throwing him all fastballs," Eckersley said.
So he decided to go with something else. It was a decision that would haunt him.
"I'm out there throwing a bunch of fastballs, and then finally changing my mind and throwing him a backdoor slider," Eckersley said. "There are regrets there, my biggest regret. Because the last thing on my mind was a home run. Truly. And it's pretty easy. Shouldn't have thrown him that pitch. But the more amazing part was how far he hit it. Flat-footed. Strong guy, you know? And ultimately, that was supposed to happen. It was in the stars."
"We'll have our moment"
When his bat struck the ball, Gibson had a good feeling, and quickly after that, he realized that the ball was going to land in the right-field bleachers.
As he got to first base, he thought of his parents. Gibson had been criticized at various times throughout his career for his overly intense approach to the game as well as life. After he left his hometown Tigers as a free agent before the 1988 season, he took a lot of flak for it.
Every time he felt slighted, Gibson would watch his parents rise up in his defense. That they felt they had to do that, or that he had caused them any embarrassment, bothered Gibson to no end.
"I used to just tell my parents, 'Don't worry about it, we'll have our day,'" Gibson said. "And that's the most vivid memory, as I was running around the bases, was that they had to take that [criticism] for so long, and finally, it was like we made our statement. I told them, 'I'm going to do it right, I'm going to grow up, I'm going to do it right and we'll have our moment.'"
One of the more memorable -- and most imitated -- moments surrounding the home run was the way Gibson pumped his right fist after rounding second base.
"I never thought about pumping my fist," he said. "I don't know why I did it. It was just an act of emotion."
Watch the replay of Gibson's homer, and as the ball heads toward the bleachers in the background, you can see the brake lights of cars light up as they made their way out of Dodger Stadium, perhaps hearing of the homer on their radios and wishing they hadn't left early.
"I noticed that the first time I watched the video of it," Gibson said. "It's pretty distinct. They're all listening on the radio, that's the really cool thing about it. All those people putting their brake lights on. I just wonder what they were saying."
Someone else's turn
While he would try to get himself healthy enough to play again, that was the only at-bat Gibson would have in that World Series as the Dodgers rode the emotion of that 5-4 victory to win the series in five games. It is the last time they've won it all.
Twenty-five years later, Gibson still gets asked regularly about the home run wherever he goes, and the replay of it is shown often on TV. Gibson points out that the moment is in the past, and while he is focused on the future, he does admit that every time he walks into Dodger Stadium, he looks at the spot in the bleachers where he believes the homer landed. "Seat '88" he calls it.
Gibson uses the home run in his current job as manager of the D-backs, trying to help his players understand that maybe they, too, can accomplish things that they don't believe they can.
"My motivation is to get back to that moment for somebody and to have them prepared for that moment and be able to find their place in baseball history and the Diamondbacks to have their place in baseball history," Gibson said.