Thursday, October 15, 2009


“In a year that has been so improbable, the IMPOSSIBLE has happened!”
~ Vin Scully.

It was twenty-one years ago this very day that I witnessed the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen in my fifty years of living.

1988 World Series, Game 1, Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Oakland Athletics, and I’m at Dodger Stadium in the Nosebleed Section with brother Nappy occupying the seat next to mine. My Grandpa was a season ticket holder, and he and my Grandmother are in the good seats (best seats in Dodger stadium, actually). But season ticket holders could purchase extra tickets in "Peanut Heaven" for postseason games, and that’s where Nappy and I are. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, runner on second, a full count on very injured pinch hitter Kirk Gibson and with The Boys In Blue trailing 4-3, Peanut Heaven is one swing of the bat away from being transformed into Heaven on Earth.

All season long, Gibson had been the heart, soul, fire, leader, and engine of "The Little Team That Could." But with two bum legs, he had been unable to start in Game One of the World Series. So, every spectator was on their feet from the moment Gibson limped out of the dugout to make a surprise appearance as a pinch hitter in the bottom half of the last inning when the chips were down.

Inexplicably I had selected the 1988 season to get back into baseball, which I had paid little attention to for a number of years. But for some odd reason, I was hanging on every pitch that year right from the start of Spring Training.

The Dodgers were coming off two lousy seasons in a row and I recall one 1988 Winter day that I was wearing a Dodger cap and riding my bicycle on the beach bike path in Venice when I overheard some woman say to her male companion, “You see that? That guy’s wearing a Dodger cap!” Yeah, The Boys In Blue had acquired a bad reputation, but I’ll bet that before the 1988 season concluded, that woman and her boyfriend were both also wearing Dodger caps.

As the magical season progressed, I went to many games, watched the televised games, listened to the radio broadcasts and scratched my head as the Dodgers staged one amazing comeback after another to ultimately win the division title. The bizarre but happy endings continued through the playoffs as the Dodgers bested the New York Mets who had beaten The Blue Crew 10 out of 11 regular season games.

So, a few times in the middle innings of that first World Series game, with the Dodgers down by a run, I repeatedly told Nappy, “I don’t know how they’re going to do it, but somehow the Dodgers are going to win this game.” And I really believed that. But even so, the stomach was churning and I could feel my own heart beating inside me as Kirk Gibson fouled off one pitch after another – one strike away from being defeated in Game One. When he hit that little dribbler up the first base line – an easy out - I was almost praying it: “Go foul! Go foul!” It did.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully later said that the walk-off home run Gibson hit to win the game (and, truthfully, the Series) for the Dodgers was “the most theatrical home run I’ve ever seen.”
Broadcaster Jack Buck put it this way the moment it happened: “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, five to four; I don't believe what I just saw! I don't BELIEVE what I just saw! Is this really happening...?”
What I saw was the single most unifying event in my lifetime; evidence of the social power of sport. Seconds after the baseball ricocheted off Gibson’s bat, Nappy yelled to me, “Is it gone? Is it gone?” I couldn’t answer him because I didn’t know; I too had lost sight of the ball. But then Gibson raised his arm, the crowd went friggin’ wild and the results were in: “Game Over.”

Interestingly, Nappy had a mystical experience earlier in that bottom half of the ninth inning. Prior to Gibson’s plate appearance, Nappy had glanced at the Dodger Stadium scoreboard and it read: Dodgers 5 – Athletics 4. It was as if he had momentarily looked into the future and saw the final outcome of the game displayed on the electronic scoreboard – a game that was still being played out.

Not until I got home and turned on the news did I get to see Gibson’s double fist-pump as he rounded second base. We didn’t see the slugger’s famous reaction because everyone in Dodger Stadium was hugging anyone they could get their arms around. Our eyes were not on #23 at that point – we were looking for someone to hug or High-Five. It’s true, and people I’ve heard from since then have confirmed that what was happening in our section was also occurring throughout Dodger Stadium. Everyone was either screaming or crying, and total strangers were hugging each other. Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, you name it. Nappy and the Black guy next to him embraced and I somehow got caught between two total strangers who hugged each other next to me. This was proof that something as ultimately unimportant as a sporting event has the power to bring people together, the power to make people forget their differences – even if only temporarily.

Someone later said, “There were fifty-six thousand people here at Dodger Stadium tonight, but ten years from now there will be fifty-six million people claiming they were here.” I still have the laminated ticket stub to prove I was amongst the fifty-six thousand. In some ways, I’ve had a charmed life.

The spontaneous roaring ovation that we gave Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers after that ball landed in the right field bleachers went on and on and on. I’ve never even heard of an ovation lasting that long. Just this morning, I watched the TV broadcast on DVD and from the moment Gibson hit the homer until the station went to its first commercial break, five minutes passed. The ovation is entirely unabated throughout that total time. In fact, honestly, it lasted much, much longer. As Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia later stated: "Fifty thousand fans screaming for forty-five minutes; it was- it was incredible!"

What we saw that night is universally regarded as one of the ten greatest moments in the history of professional sports, and we were actually aware of the magnitude of it even in the moment. We were consciously aware at the time that we had just witnessed something that people would still be writing about 21 years later (like I’m doing now) and well beyond.

I’m going to post a few articles below pertaining to this. A look at “Kirk Gibson Then and Now.” He’s currently a bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks (or more accurately, “the pathetic Airheadzona D-backs”). Even if you don’t wish to relive the ’88 story, please be sure you read what I post under "KIRK GIBSON NOW" because I think you’ll find it truly interesting. It relates how Kirk Gibson had a really cool interaction with a Diamondbacks fan on September 11th of this year.

Alright, let’s get on it . . .

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.

In the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, Gibson -- the 1988 NL MVP -- saw only a single plate appearance in the series, 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.

Kirk 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 … 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).
The truth is that Dodger fans don’t really leave a game earlier than some fans of other teams do. Watch a game on TV and you’ll see a small percentage of fans of almost all teams leaving in the eighth or ninth inning of games (or in the middle of the fourth quarter if it’s football). It’s true that a handful of fans do traditionally leave early (I myself have done so a few times), and Game One of the 1988 World Series was no exception for them.

I have occasionally reflected on the probable mind-set of the few people who left that game before Gibson’s at-bat. That roar from the stadium must have been the most gut-wrenching, absolutely horrifying sound imaginable to those fools. To realize in the parking lot, while walking to your parked car, that you just missed a truly historic moment in sports history must have been a shame that none ever admitted to later. And, believe me, that was no ordinary “happy crowd” sound emanating from Dodger Stadium. No one could have heard that explosion of excitement that went on seemingly forever without instantly knowing that . . . UHP! THEY WERE AN IDIOT!

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.
This next piece comes from The Arizona Republic . . .

by Mike Lopresti - Oct. 6, 2008 07:48 PM
Gannett News Service

ST. LOUIS - From 20 years ago, a broadcaster's stunned call still echoes through time, about the World Series home run that replays will never let die. "The impossible has happened!" Vin Scully cried that night from Dodger Stadium, as Kirk Gibson limped around the bases.
Didn't it, though?

There have been roughly 800 home runs in the World Series, according to Elias Sports Bureau. None was quite like this one. It was hit by a man who had spent much of Game 1 of the 1988 Series watching on television in the clubhouse, with ice on his battered right knee and left hamstring, resigned to missing out. A man who suddenly emerged from the tunnel to face the most feared closer of the era with a runner on base, two out, and his Los Angeles team behind Oakland 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. A man who had only one hand on the bat when it made contact with the full-count, backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley, sending it into the right-field bleachers for a 5-4 miracle. A man who, after that Hollywood ending, would never take another swing in a World Series. The underdog Dodgers would clinch the championship in five games without him.

But 20 years later, he understands it will last forever.

"The swing and the result are unexplainable," Gibson said recently, sitting in the dugout before a game in Busch Stadium. He is, now a coach for the Diamondbacks. "Other than maybe to say it was destiny."

Let those who lived one of the World Series' most extraordinary moments stir the memories. Gibson and his manager, Tommy Lasorda. Eckersley and his manager, Tony La Russa.


Lasorda: "Every inning, I would go down and ask, 'How you feeling, big boy?' He kept giving me two thumbs down."

Gibson: "In the eighth inning (the TV) spanned the dugout, and Vin Scully says something to the effect, 'There will be no Kirk Gibson.' I got out of my chair and said, 'My ass.' "I started to kind of brainwash myself, that when I walked out there, there would be a very positive reaction from the crowd and I wouldn't hurt."

Lasorda: "Suddenly the clubhouse boy comes up and says, 'Gibson wants to see you.' "

Gibson: "I remember seeing Tommy waddling up from the dugout. I said, 'Yeah, I can go if you want me to.' He said, 'Damn right, I want you to.' "

Lasorda told Gibson to stay hidden and not get in the on-deck circle, so the A's would never know what was coming. Light-hitting Dave Anderson was on deck, so Eckersley pitched around Mike Davis. Two out, Davis on, last L.A. chance, and Gibson suddenly appeared.

Gibson: "When the count went to 0-2, I had something I called my emergency stroke. I looked out at him and thought, 'This was a full emergency.' I was just trying to survive."

Gibson fouled off a couple; the count eventually went full.

Gibson: "We had a scout, Mel Didier, and he had watched Dennis Eckersley for many years. He came up to me (before the Series) in his Southern drawl, and said, 'Pardnuh, as sure as I'm standin' here breathin', you're goin' to see a 3-2 backdoor slider.' "


Gibson: "I was kind of a volatile personality, very intense. Because of that, people would say things about me, and my parents had tried to defend me. I would just tell them don't worry about (it). "Between first and second base, I remember thinking, 'Here it is; you didn't have to say anything. You raised me right.' It was like, vindication right there."

La Russa: "I really thought it was a classic confrontation between two of the best competitors of our time."

Eckersley: "I knew it was out when he hit it. After that, it's all slow motion."

Lasorda: "I get tears in my eyes when I see it again. It still affects me."

La Russa: "Every time I see it come on, I turn away. I've seen it enough."

Eckersley: "I get numb to it. It's like that's not even me. All I can say is Kirk Gibson will have fond memories of that dinger, but I'm in the Hall of Fame. I'll take the Hall. He can replay that home run until the cows come home."

Gibson: "You ask me if it's been good, damn right it's been good."


[Gibson (left) now a coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.]

Again from The Arizona Republic (this is really neat!) . . .

by Dan Bickley - Oct. 1, 2009 10:30 PM
The Arizona Republic

It has been a long season of baseball. The Diamondbacks have taken the fun out of fundamentals, turning Chase Field into an empty, green cauldron.

It finally boiled over Sept. 11.

It was the game when one fan lost his marbles, picked a verbal fight with one of the grittier athletes in history and went home with Kirk Gibson's autograph.

"He's going to be one heck of a manager," said Diamondbacks fan Larry Goldstein, 46.

The unlikely confrontation occurred in the seventh inning, with the Diamondbacks trailing 6-3. Justin Upton reached on an infield single and tried to take second base when the throw got away from the first baseman. Upton was thrown out by the catcher, who was backing up on the play.

Four rows behind the home team's dugout, Goldstein had seen enough. He began screaming at Gibson, the Diamondbacks' bench coach.

"Aren't you going to say something to him? You need to talk to him!" Goldstein said.

"For hustling?" Gibson answered.

"You're down three runs!" Goldstein said.

Gibson bit his lip. A few days earlier, Upton had been removed from a game for not appearing to hustle, for spending too much time admiring one of his hits. It was a tricky time in the development of a franchise player. Besides, Goldstein was right.

"I'm not the type to heckle all the time," Goldstein said. "But stupid, non-fundamental baseball drives me nuts."

But what many people don't understand is that Gibson sees a lot of himself in Upton, an outfielder with untapped potential, a young stud with freakish athleticism. Gibson knows that pressure well, and knows about the accompanying expectations. He knows what it's like to disappoint people, mostly himself.

"I was a guy who failed miserably," Gibson said.

The words stop you cold. Failed miserably?

"I look at myself as an average player who had some very special moments," Gibson said. "I was a determined player. I had an affirmation that I loved pressure situations, because I performed my best when the reward was greater. I can visualize that. I can feel that.

"If my goal was to hit .300 for my career, maybe I could've done that, if that was my goal. But I'd have been a selfish player. My goal was to be world champion. When I stood in the on-deck circle and heard people catcall me, assault me and my family, I would say to myself, 'Enjoy it, because when I hit this game-winner right here, I'm not going to say anything to you. You'll have the scoreboard barking at you.' That's kind of what I encourage."

To most, Gibson is a baseball legend. His one-legged home run off Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series remains one of the game's defining moments. His epic home run off Goose Gossage in 1984 secured a World Series for the Tigers. He played football for Michigan State.

He had All-American courage and heart and was a great leader inside the locker room. He detests the glorification of ego, the singling out of individual players inside a team sport. He's always been the anti-Deion, and that's why a generation of sports fans still loves the guy.

But in the end, Gibson never quite reached his ceiling. Sparky Anderson once called him the "next Mickey Mantle," just like we call Upton the next Willie Mays. The sad lesson is that great prospects don't always become superstars.

"I tell Justin, whenever he (messes) up, he reminds me more and more of myself," said Gibson, laughing, walking away from the conversation.

So, yes, Gibson has a special interest in Upton. And that's why he took a special interest in the fan screaming from behind the dugout. He scribbled a note, wrapped it around a couple of pieces of bubble gum to give it some weight, and then tossed it to Goldstein. The note read:

Sir, I understand your frustration, and you need to be patient, as we do with this very talented 22-year old. We do remind him as he makes mistakes ... but he was just over hustling on that play. Dow(n) three runs it was the wrong play . . . and with our/your patience . . . he will get it right in time . . . thanks for your support.
Kirk Gibson

You can imagine how the gesture was received, and how it lowered the temperature inside the cauldron. The note now hangs on Goldstein's wall, under glass. In a season that sits like a damp cellar, it feels like a rare moment of sunlight.
In a way, experiencing firsthand Kirk Gibson’s ultra-famous home run marked the beginning of the decline in my interest in sports. Although I do still watch some sports and do still get excited about big games every once in awhile, I simply don’t have the emotional investment I once did. I think that after a person has been “in the park” and witnessed a moment as dramatic as Gibson’s home run, it makes everything else thereafter seem anticlimactic. I mean, I know I could watch all the sporting events for the rest of my life and never see something more exciting and notable than Game One of the 1988 World Series. Certainly I could never experience a sport moment that would be more meaningful to me. I’m jaded for life now. But my friend Pooh isn’t:

Pooh was watching that World Series game on television in his Santa Monica home. He was with several people including a girl whom I feel had been kind of leading him on and whom he had no real chance of romancing. When she decided to leave during the bottom of the ninth inning, Pooh offered to walk her to her car. Now first of all, any woman who would leave during the ninth inning of a World Series game with the home team down by one run is a woman not worth chasing after.

But Pooh walked her to her car, and while they were standing in the street yakking, Kirk Gibson hit his historic homer. Pooh later told me that he could hear the entire street erupt into screaming and shouting as people inside their houses celebrated. When he caught hell from me for being outside in the street instead of being in front of his TV set, Pooh replied, “Yeah, but I got to experience it from a different perspective.” Like I was going to accept that?

In the ensuing years, Nappy and I have often given Pooh hell for that Pooh-like faux pas. Sometimes when either Nappy or myself has done something stupid and missed out on some good opportunity, one of us will say to the other, “But at least you got to experience it from a different perspective.”

What I’m trying to tell you here is: Don’t be a Pooh!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy


arlee bird said...

I am not a huge sports fan and I did not read the articles that came from other sources because they did not really interest me. However, Stephen, your account of your memory of the event you described was absolutely beautiful written --- masterful! It takes a real writing skill to take someone where they really don't care to go and have them come away feeling that they really got something out of it. Loved that aspect of your post. Don't get me wrong -- I have attended a few Dodgers and Angels games and had a good time, but I doubt whether I'd ever go again, mainly cause I don't like going anywhere where there are crowds. But I guess now I just "see" those games from another perspective -- home not watching them.


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

What a super-nice comment, LEE. Thank you! Thank you very much, Brother.

I understand your feeling about crowds. I don't have a clinical phobia about them at all, but I too generally avoid them - especially the older I get. (The only thing dumber than a human being is a collection of human beings.)

But having said that, ironically, I'm going to see a Bob Dylan performance later today. This is the first concert ticket I have purchased in at least 15 years. Wish me luck!

<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~Proverbs 26:11>

mousiemarc said...

I was sitting on the couch watching that game. It was a jaw dropper. Plus, your right! I too started to lose interest in baseball after that. Probably not for the same reason but it happened.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Well, everyone has their reason for dumping beezball.

~ Stevieboy
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

DiscConnected said...

I got one thing to say...

Phillies in six!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Despite Tanana's experience, bench jockeying, as the art of riding an opponent is called, is in danger of becoming a lost art. Says the fiery Don Zimmer, a former manager who was the Yankees' third-base coach in 1986, "Years ago there were certain managers that loved to hear a couple of their players get on a visiting pitcher or something, but it doesn't happen too much today."

Zimmer does, however, remember one incident from last season. "The Tigers' Kirk Gibson hit a real shot, but our first baseman caught it and turned it into a double play. Gibson was frustrated, and when he got back to his dugout, he was hollering at our pitcher, 'You lucky so and so.' Then our catcher Ron Hassey looked at him, and Gibson said something to him. Hassey got hot and started over to the Tigers' bench. But Gibson, who I've been told by many people is a very rough, tough guy, never moved off his seat. The next time he came to the plate he apologized to Hassey, said, 'That wasn't right of me.' "

~ from "How To Watch Baseball"
by Steve Fiffer; copyright 1987

~ Stephen
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>