Kirk Gibson and the Power of Positive Thinking

Kirk Gibson's home run image

About 63 percent of game 1 winners in the World Series go on to lift the Series trophy. In the first game of the 1988 World Series, things looked bleak for the Dodgers. Down by one run in the bottom of the 9th inning. Manager Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers were one out away from giving the Athletics Game 1, a lot of momentum and a great chance to win it all.

This is the comeback story of Kirk Gibson. From rock bottom to World Series hero twice. I’m John Gross and I was a TV sports reporter at Channel 7 in Detroit. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of Kirk’s baseball career. Throughout, Kirk experienced many ups and downs in his baseball life. Kirk played baseball like it was football. All out – all the time.

He grew up in Waterford, Michigan and was an All American football and baseball player at Michigan State University. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Sparky Anderson told reporters he was going to be the next Mickey Mantle.

Kirk Gibson imageIn 1981, I was sitting in the press box on opening day at Tiger stadium. The hometown hero was home. Kirk only played center field during spring training, but Sparky started him in right field.  It was a bright sunny day. In the first inning a fly ball was hit to Gibson.  It looked like an easy out, but when Kirk looked up for the ball, he lost it in the sun, and the ball hit him on the side of the head and the ball dropped to the ground.  A few people booed.  A couple innings later he lost the ball in the sun again and made a second error. The boos got louder. It was the year of the baseball strike. Despite these miscues, at the end of the season, Kirk was named “Tiger of the Year” for his solid season.

The next year, Gibson was injured a lot and played in only 69 games.  In 1983, Kirk nearly quit baseball. Mickey Mantle? He had a .227 batting average. Kirk was fed up with baseball and he let everyone know it. He was surly, refused to sign autographs for kids, and he said even the thought of going to Tiger Stadium made him sick.  He was blue and so was his language.

In December he called his agent Doug Baldwin and vented. He wasn’t enjoying baseball and hated playing right field. The agent told him not to panic, and suggested he should go the The Pacific Institute in Seattle, a clinic for the mind and soul.  The founder of The Pacific Institute, Lou Tice, worked with people all over the world including current Seattle football coach Pete Carroll.

Kirk’s life would change, when he changed his attitude.  Kirk told me the story in an interview for Channel 7 and he went into detail in a book by Kirk and sportswriter Lynn Henning, Bottom Of The Ninth.  Lou teamed Kirk up with Frank Bartenetti.  For four days, Gibby received one-on-one consulting.  Words have the power to take us to the top or take us to the bottom. Nick helped Kirk change his comfort zones by using affirmations, self talk and visualization.

The Pacific Institute Formula is: “Image X Vividness = Reality.”  Nick asked him about his biggest problems.  Kirk said he hated to play right field at Tiger stadium because of the bright sun.  Kirk also said he would buckle up under pressure situations, and he’d get booed.  Here’s what Nick came up with according to Kirk.  For playing in right field at Tiger Stadium with a bright sun, Kirk was given this affirmation: “I love to play right field on bright, sunny days.” Nick told him to say this over and over, especially at night. Kirk was instructed to close his eyes and see it.  He changed his negative self talk for pressure situations by saying, “I love pressure situations. I perform even better under these circumstances.” Gibson said he would imprint a positive image in his mind rubbing out the negative one. After his 4 days at The Pacific Institute, the Kirk Gibson who walked out was a different Kirk Gibson that walked in.

At spring training in 1984, Gibson was the leader in wind sprints, and he was playing baseball with new found enthusiasm and confidence. Once the season started the Tigers were so hot they were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the TV station had me go on the road to cover them. Back then, reporters could stand at the batting cage and I’ll never forget the sound when Gibson hit the ball and it sailed like a golf ball to the seats in pre-game. From ready to give up the game in 1983 to leading the team in 1984, Kirk had turned his baseball life around. The affirmations and visualizations worked. The Tiger’s clinched the Pennant, and Gibson and others showered me with beer on a live shot in the clubhouse.

Detroit played San Diego in the World Series. Game five was in Detroit.  It was the bottom of the eighth inning. The Tigers were up 5 to 4.  It was Gibson against Goose Gossage. He had only one hit in ten at bats against him.  Gossage was confident.  But, he was facing a very confident Kirk Gibson.  He yelled to Sparky, “Ten bucks says they pitch to me and I crank it.”  Gibson said his affirmation, “I love pressure situations.”  Gibson said in his book “I visualized it’s out of here, the image bright and bold in my mind.” In came the pitch, and Gibson hit the ball deep in the seats in upper right field. The Tigers won the World Series, and Gibson’s turnaround was complete.

Gibson’s World Series Home Run for the Tigers

That’s not the end of the story. Kirk was traded to the Dodgers in 1988, and the trip to the Pacific Institute paid off again. The Dodgers made it to the World Series, but Kirk injured both knees. It appeared he wouldn’t have the opportunity to play in this Series. For Game 1, he told his wife she could go home because he wouldn’t play.

Now, back to our Dodgers World Series game. Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs and the Dodgers down by one with one on base. Kirk was in the clubhouse watching the game on TV.  He heard the crowd and started to visualize himself hitting a home run and winning the game.  He started to visualize the crowd when he walked out. In his book Kirk noted, “When I hear 55,000 loyal Dodger fans going nuts, I won’t hurt anymore.”  Image X Vividness = Reality. Gibson told Tommy Lasorda he could play. Lasorda sent Gibson in to pinch hit. Gibson hobbled to the plate on his sore knees looking like a man considerably older than he was. There were two outs and Gibson had a three and two count against Dennis Eckersley. In came the pitch. Gibson swung and connected. A home run! The crowd went wild as Gibson made his way around the bases. It was the only game he would play in the World Series. The Dodgers won the World Series, and Gibson was named National League Player of the Year. Many sports fans consider this home run one of the best moments not only in baseball but in all sports.

Kirk Gibson’s “Impossible” Home Run for the Dodgers in 1988 World Series

Besides playing baseball, Kirk was a television analyst for a Detroit TV station for five years and in 2003 he was a Tigers coach.  In 2011, he was named manager of the Arizona Diamond backs and earned National League Manager of the Year.

Kirk went back to the Pacific institute with his wife and encouraged other Tiger players to visit. Lou Tice said, “He met with his mentor and offered to write out a check for everything done for him.  Lou said Frank told Kirk “I don’t want anything.’ We don’t want any money except one thing we want.  I want to teach you how to sign autographs. He said the next time some young player comes to you wanting an autograph, every kid that comes to you, you must write, “You remind me of me when I was your age. See you in the big leagues.”

Lou Tice on Kirk Gibson

On April 28, 2015, it was announced Kirk has Parkinson’s disease. I’m not sure what’s happening, but I’ll bet Kirk has come up with affirmations, self talk and visualizations to help him fight the disease. I was in Detroit recently for a Tigers game, and I heard Kirk on the radio. He’s one of the best analysts I’ve heard. In my 40 year TV career, interviewing and covering Kirk Gibson, along with getting a bucket challenge shower from Kirk and teammates were highlights of my career.

For whatever problems and opportunities you encounter in your life, consider turning the challenge inside out by using affirmations and visualization. Just like Kirk does.
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— Author John Gross is a former TV reporter and cameraman for Channel 7 in Detroit and for KSTP in Minneapolis. Check out his YouTube channel John Gross Stories. John can be reached at: [email protected]  The hard cover book by Kirk and Lynn Henning referenced above is only 68 cents plus $3.99 postage at Amazon.com.  Lou Tice passed away, but The Pacific Institute is still going strong helping people around the world.

 

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