Gibson’s legacy is secure in two great baseball cities

Make a list of the most memorable home runs in baseball history and one name will appear twice.

No, not Babe Ruth, and not Henry Aaron. It’s Gibby.

The man who authored not one but two of the greatest homers in baseball history is our own Kirk Harold Gibson, a Michigan son, a Spartan, a former Tiger legend.

In 1984, and again in 1988, Gibson smashed historic home runs that still resonate in two cites separated by more than 2,200 miles. Here’s one of the famed home runs, to get you started:

His series-clinching home run in 1984 sent the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan into a frenzy. But that was only half of the Gibson Fall Classic legend.

’84 Series Hometown Hero: “He don’t want to walk you!”

Kirk Gibson is arguably the greatest athlete to ever come out of Michigan. He’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was a four-sport star at Waterford-Kettering High School, and won a Most Valuable Player Award as a professional baseball player.

But it wasn’t apparent initially that Gibson had chosen the correct sport when he left Michigan State after helping the school to he Rose Bowl.

Early in his career, some observers saw Gibson as untamed, unrefined, and overmatched in professional baseball. He was high on intensity but low on discipline. Gibby broke more bat racks than records in his first few years in the Tiger organization. But he always wanted to be a ballplayer.

“My dad and I loved Al Kaline,’ Gibson said. “I dreamed of playing right field at Tiger Stadium.”

“He’s like a caged animal,” teammate Lance Parrish once said of Gibson’s demeanor in the clubhouse.

But Gibby had tremendous pressure on him as a young ballplayer in the Tiger organization. He was a tremendous physical specimen: big and strong and powerful, but also able to run like a Michigan white tail deer. His manager compared him to Mickey Mantle, and then there were the magazine covers. Expectations were high.

In 1983, when Gibson struggled at the big league level and broke bat rack after bat rack, he finally had enough. He went to a clinic in the off-season to see a sports psychologist. Gibby learned the technique of visualization. In 1984, Gibson emerged as a star, quickly establishing himself as the #3 hitter in Sparky Anderson’s lineup, and helping the team to one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. Culminating in this iconic moment from the 8th inning of Game Five of the 1984 World Series at Tiger Stadium:

Gibby The Dodger: “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

A lot of things changed for Gibson in 1988. He was no longer a Tiger, the team he had known since he was drafted in 1978. In the 1987-88 offseason, Gibby had left Detroit for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. The uniform was different, the weather was different, the teammates were different. To say LA wasn’t Gibby’s style is an understatement.

But, one thing didn’t change in LA: Gibson’s intense desire to compete.

It didn’t start well for Gibson in Dodgertown for spring training. A famous incident where a teammate put eye black on his cap caused Gibson to leave the team in a huff. But when he came back, Gibby asked manager Tommy Lasorda if he could address his new teammates.

“I came here to win. I can see why this team has been losing, because there’s a losing mentality here,” Gibson said. “I don’t come to the park to fool around, this is serious. If you want to be a winner, you compete like one.”

That’s the sort of speech you may have heard in the locker room at Michigan State, and it sunk in for Gibby’s new teammates. The ’88 Dodgers ended up having one of the most unlikely great seasons in recent memory. Despite not having many superstars at all, behind Gibson’s MVP performance, the Dodgers won the division title. In the playoffs, they were underdogs against the much more talented Mets. But in Game Four in the 12th inning, Gibby smacked a home run to give the Dodgers the margin of victory in a crucial game. The Dodgers won the series in seven games.

The Dodgers opponents in the 1988 World Series were the Oakland A’s, who were heavily favored, in part because Gibson was on the bench with an injury he suffered while running the bases in the League Championship Series. He was not expected to play in the first few games of the Fall Classic.

In Game One, the A’s built a lead and summoned ace closer Dennis Eckersley in for the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. Gibson, who had his injured leg heavily wrapped and could hardly run, was swinging on a tee to get himself warm under the stadium. He told a teammate, “Tell Tommy I have one swing in me.”

Well, you probably know what happened next. Or just watch it:

Not one, but two iconic home runs in the World Series? For two different teams? How charmed was Kirk Gibson? How talented was he? Pretty amazing.

Share Your Gibby Memories

Where were you when Gibby hit the 8th inning blast in Game Five at Tiger Stadium in the 1984 World Series? Where were you when he hit his walkoff homer against Eckersley in 1988? Tell us in the comments below.

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