Everyone who knows anything about baseball can tell you about Kirk Gibson and the 1988 World Series. It was Game one of that series, and nobody gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a chance against the Bash Brothers that were the Oakland A’s. The A’s had their unstoppable closer, Dennis Eckersley on the mound, when Dodgers manager sent an injured Kirk Gibson to the plate with a man on first and two outs.
Gibson battled and battled against Eckersley, fouling several pitches off with two strikes, and making it clear that running the bases was out of the question. But he got a good swing at a 3-2 pitch, and the rest is history. The Dodgers swept the series, and Oakland never recovered.
You might think, based on that home run, that Kirk Gibson was a slugger. And he did hit 255 home runs in the regular season in his career, which is quite impressive. But he was more of a stolen base threat, if you can imagine that. He stole 284 of them in his career, but home runs get all the attention, and stolen bases don’t.
There’s something in baseball called the 30-30 club, which is for players who hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season. It’s a fairly select group of 38 players in all of baseball history. Most of the names you might know already, such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ryan Braun. They’re the rare breed of player who can hit the long ball and steal a base, when most players are lucky if they can do either one.
Three times, Kirk Gibson made a strong play for joining this club, and three times he fell short, not because he didn’t steal enough bases, but because he didn’t hit enough home runs. In 1985 and 1986 with Detroit, and again in the series-winning year of 1988 with the Dodgers, Gibson stole more than 30 bases, but in each year he came up short in the home runs department.
But we have this image of him circling the bases with his arms raised in triumph. He hit a homer to win the big game, just like Roy Hobbs did in The Natural. And that’s all true. I’m not taking a thing away from what Gibson did. I’m just saying that you can’t always believe what you see on television. Or maybe what you remember isn’t all there is to the story. But it was quite a story, wasn’t it?