I couldn’t believe what I had just seen!
I had been watching the 1988 World Series matching the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the American League Oakland Athletics when I witnessed one of those ‘great moments’ in sport’s history! The ‘moment’ I am referring to has been voted the most thrilling in World Series’ history. Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers had just hit a two-out, two-run, walk off home-run to win Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. In and of itself, this clutch at bat would be considered a sensational feat, though you might expect such heroics from Gibson, who was the 1988 National League MVP. Gibson’s physical condition and health coming into this game, however, is what added the ‘sprinkling of fairy dust’ to this magical ending.
Kirk Gibson was a physical wreck going into Game 1, suffering from a severe case of the stomach flu in addition to suffering significant injuries to both of his legs in the previous playoff series. He was so hobbled and sick that he couldn’t make it out to the field for the pregame player introductions nor was he able to be in the dugout during the course of the game. Instead, Gibson remained on the trainer’s table in the clubhouse, receiving treatment for his injuries and illness.
Anyone following Gibson’s baseball career would have observed his fiercely competitive nature and the passion he possessed that drove him to greatness. He had that competitive edge about him that loved to play every inning of every game; carrying the team upon his shoulders when necessary. But tonight as the World Series game opener against Oakland got underway, Kirk Gibson was out of commission.
Most players might sulk, stew, or seethe over their inability to be on the field for that opening game. Gibson, however, lay on that trainer’s table envisioning ways that he might somehow be able to help make a contribution to his team. If the game came down to a ninth inning pinch hitter, he felt he might be able to hobble up to the plate and make enough contact that he could perhaps drive in a run and then limp his way to first base. As the bottom of the ninth inning began, he called from the clubhouse and told coach Tommy Lasorda that he would be able to pinch hit for him if needed. The rest of the story reads like a Hollywood script. With two outs and a runner on first base, Gibson was sent to the plate to face the ace closer of the Oakland Athletics.
I can still remember watching Gibson come out of the dugout and cripple to home-plate, noticeably limping. He swung at the first two pitches he faced and missed badly, stumbling to maintain his balance and remain upright. Somehow, through determination and a keen eye, he managed to work the pitcher to a full count. As the next pitch came, Gibson let loose an awkward swing of the bat that lifted the ball high into the right field bleachers and catapulted the moment into the lore and legend of World Series Baseball..
The Dodgers went on to defeat the Oakland A’s and capture the 1988 World Series in five games. Gibson didn’t see anymore action throughout the remainder of the series. His injuries to his legs and his overall health prevented him from participating in any of the other games. As Gibson reflected on his game winning performance in an interview, he emphasized his firm belief that he fulfilled the role he was to play on that evening. He had accepted the fact that he would not be playing a major role as an every inning player for this World Series, and instead, he concentrated his efforts towards the pinch hitting role that he was called on to do.
The rest, as they say…. is history!