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.
Kirk Gibson: Growing Up in Michigan
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.
In 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 of 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.
The Pacific Institute
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 to 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.
Image X Vividness = Reality
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 lead 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 into the upper right field. The Tigers won the World Series, and Gibson’s turnaround was complete.
Gibson’s World Series Home Run for the Tigers
Traded to the Dodgers
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
People remember where they were when the Kirk Gibson Home Run took place. There have been many great moments in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB). But the greatest moments of all have been those where the unexpected happened against the greatest of odds, taking almost everyone by surprise.
Kirk Gibson Home Run
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hitting the winning home run in the 1988 World Series against Oakland Athletics’ Dennis Eckersley is considered as one of the greatest home runs of all time. When the moment called, Gibson delivered and it was entirely unexpected. He was pinch-hitting in the bottom of the 9th inning, having injured both his legs. Down from 4-3 and a certain loss, the Dodgers were pulled back up with a 2-run walk-off home run that helped them win the Game 1 and go on to win the Series itself.
The home run became so big to the history of the sport that the footage of Gibson staggering around the bases on hurt legs and pumping his fist when rounding second has become iconic footage that everyone can relate to. What made this moment so special and so big and what led to it? We find out here.
The Oakland Athletics were easily the favored team and were expected to win the Series. The Bash Brothers were young and emerging superstars. They had Canseco who became the first player ever to hit at least 40 home runs and steal at least 40 bases in the history of MLB. And Pirate Dave Parker and Dave Henderson, the veterans, contributed big with their experience. Their pitching staff was considered the best in AL.
On the other hand, LA Dodgers were struggling in different departments. In fact, their performance wasn’t even in the top 5 in any of the offensive stats category except for in the batting department – where they were just 5th. Gibson had 25 home runs and was 7th in the National League, but ended up with injuries for the Game 1. The Athletics were the heavy favorites to win the Series in 5 games, but fate had something else in the store – making history.
Pinch Hitter: Kirk Gibson
Gibson sustained injuries to both his legs during the National League Championship Series (NLCS). But he was inserted as a surprise pinch hitter when the Dodgers were trailing 4-3, already having 2 outs. He came to first base at the bottom of the 9th inning. And it was his only plate appearance in the Series.
Gibson was inserted as a pinch hitter as a late decision, as he was hardly able to walk due to the injuries. Despite the pain in his knee, ankle, and hamstring, he was in his uniform and sitting on the bench.
As Gibson walked back and forth between the trainer’s room and the dugout, Vin Scully’s words caught his attention, “Well, the man who’s been there for the Dodgers all season, Kirk Gibson, is not in the dugout and will not be here for them tonight.” Gibson was furious at the words and shouted back, “Bull, I’ll be there” and began limping down the runway and told the clubhouse man that he is going to pinch-hit. And when Gibson steps out, the ovation from over 56,000 people is deafening. He would later go on to say that the ovation pumped him up so much that he forgot about his pain.
History of Winning
When he signed up as a free agent, he had declared at the time that his team was going to win, and somehow he made it possible. The win also reminded Gibson’s declaration and the subsequent World Series victory of Detroit Tigers back in 1984. He had played an instrumental role in leading the Tiger’s to their first world championship in 16 years.
When Gibson returned to his locker after the game, he found “R. HOBBS” written and taped on his nameplate. It was written by Mark Cresse (the bullpen coach) as a sign that Gibson’s feat mirrored those of the fictional slugger R. Hobbs from The Natural, played by Robert Redford.
Vin Scully’s Call Of The Game
When Gibson hit that home run to help put his team in the driver’s seat and created one of the most magical moments in the history of the sport, how could someone like Vin Scully remain silent? After all, it was the sportscaster’s own team.
Vin Scully’s call of the moment went as following:
“High flyball into right field. She is gone! … In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened….. They are going wild at Dodger Stadium—no one wants to leave!”
Scully’s famous call of the game has been made part of the 2005 post-season action and a TV commercial.
Greatest Home Run of All Time
Many have claimed the Kirk Gibson home run in the 1988 World Series as the greatest home run of all time. He delivered when the moment demanded and did so against all odds. A winning home run from a player who couldn’t even walk without the support of his bat and against the heavy favorites was the turning moment.
Gibson’s home run has been included within MLB’s contest to find the “Greatest Moment of All-Time” in the sport. It has been part of several closing montage sequences including that of “This Week in Baseball.” The home run also entered ESPN SportsCenter’s contest for the Greatest Sports Highlight of All-Time.
In 1995, the home run was voted as the “greatest moment in LA sports history.” Images of Gibson pumping his first and hobbling around the bases have become part of classic highlight reels. Many times the images are accompanied by Scully’s call. Whenever and wherever the talk of the greatest home run appears, Gibson’s walk-off homer in the 1988 World Series almost always finds mention. It was the moment that mattered and Gibson delivered despite all the challenges that made his home run perhaps the greatest home run in the history of the sport. There are very few moments that come close to its importance.
Dodgers Win: Go on to Win Series
After their unexpected and magical win in Game 1, the Dodgers, who were the underdogs, go on to win the World Series 4-1 against a team that was much stronger to them in almost all statistical comparisons. At one point in the Series, the Dodgers started with one of the weakest hitting World Series statistics since the Dead-ball era. However, it was perhaps the encouragement and the newfound confidence in Gibson’s memorable walk-off homer that put the team in the right place to go on and win the Series against the heavy favorites.
Kirk’s achievement has been considered as the reversal of the moment that inspired the “single most famous baseball poem ever written.” In 2000, Michael J. Farrand created and the adaption of Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1988,” and named it, “The Man Who Gave All the Dreamers in Baseball Land Bigger Dreams to Dream.” The Baseball Almanac recognized the poem and it depicted Gibson in place of Casey and actually hitting the home run when it was needed.
TV Analyst Work
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 Diamondbacks 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
Parkinson’s disease diagnosis
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.
— John Gross & Mike O’Halloran
Author John Gross is a former TV reporter and cameraman for Channel 7 in Detroit and for KSTP in Minneapolis. Mike is the editor of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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