I have seen many great home runs of great importance, but I have never seen anything like Kirk Gibson’s home run in the first game of the 1988 Fall Classic. The drama that was attached to that home run was tremendous, and yesterday was the 20th anniversary of that historic homer.
Gibson never came out for the introductions. He never took a swing of batting practice. He was in the trainer’s room lying on the rubbing table the entire time. Every tinning I would check on him to see if there was anything that he could do.
“How do you feel big boy,” I would eagerly ask.
And every time he gave me the thumbs down.
Gibson had hurt his leg making one of the greatest game-saving catches I had ever seen during the NLCS at Shea Stadium. He just couldn’t play.
We were trailing the mighty Oakland Athletics 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Our batting order coming up was Scioscia leading off, Jeff Hamilton on deck and Alfredo Griffin in the hole. The pitcher’s spot was due up after those three guys so I told Mike Davis that he would hit for the pitcher.
All of a sudden our clubhouse kid, Mitch Poole, came over to me and wanted to talk.
“Not now Mitch,” I hollered. But he wouldn’t leave me alone.
“Gibson wants to see you.”
I ran up the tunnel to see what was going on, and that’s when he told me.
“I think I can hit for you, Skipper.”
There was a lot of strategy attached to this that most people don’t realize. When I found out Gibson could hit I told Davis that he would hit for Griffin, and that he would hit for the pitcher.
Dennis Eckersley, a future Hall of Fame closer, had gotten the first two batters out. Up comes Davis, and Gibson, who had taken those warm-up swings in the cage, was waiting in the tunnel. He wanted to be on deck, but I told him that I did not want the A’s to know that he was going to hit.
Instead of Gibson, I put Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle. Ron Hassey, the catcher, got Eckersley’s attention and pointed to Anderson. Eckersley sees Anderson on deck, and looks at Davis in the batters box, and knows he isn’t going to let Davis hit it out of the ballpark.
He worked the count to 3-2 and walked Davis.
I looked at Gibson and said, “Now get out there big boy.”
The crowd was electric. When he walked out to hit I had never seen a reception like it from the crowd in all the years I’ve been at Dodger Stadium. I got goose bumps just listening to the roar.
I was going to give Gibson two strikes to hit the ball out of the ballpark and if he didn’t I was going to have Davis steal the base and play for a tie. I knew Tony LaRussa wouldn’t walk a batter with two strikes so that’s why I waited to have Davis steal the base.
Gibson fouled off two pitches. Davis steals second on the next pitch, and with first base open the A’s didn’t walk Gibson.
He worked the count to 3-2, and on the next pitch, the fateful swing lifted the ball out of the park.
I never saw the ball flying. I was watching the right fielder, Jose Canseco, turn his back and run to wall. When I saw his back against the wall, I knew it was out of the ballpark.
Not only did it win that game, it paralyzed the A’s and we went on to beat them in five games and win the World Series.
Baseball is more second-guessed than any other sport in this country. When people talk about football, not too many people are familiar with the nickel defense, the twenty five cent defense or the dollar defense or whatever. But everyone, at one time or another, has played baseball and talks about the game.
Joe Torre is being second-guessed today in the media, and I want to say a thing or two about that.
A second guesser is someone who has no idea about the first guess, and someone who needs two guesses to get it right.
Joe Torre, who has done a magnificent job all year, made a few decisions that only a manager can make. It was a tough loss, and after games like last night’s where the Dodgers were up 5-3 going into the 8th, the second-guessers come out.
I used to tell my players that I will never criticize them for walking a batter because I walked batters. I would never criticize them for making a wild pitch because I made wild pitches. I would never criticize them for giving up a home run because I gave up home runs.
But I would criticize them if they didn’t hustle, because I always hustled. And I would criticize them if they didn’t put all their heart and determination into the game, because I always did.
And that’s what happened last night. The team put all their heart into the game but came up short.
To all you second-guessers, remember this; we are still alive. Earlier this year we beat the Phillies four games in a row.
Ten times this season, we’ve won three straight games…
Seventeen times this season, we’ve won back-to-back games on the road…
We’re 12-7 in our last 19 road games…
We’ve won 23 of our last 34 games…
Remember when we had $75 million on the disabled list? Did Joe Torre make any excuses then? No. He always did his best to put a competitive team on the field.
He believed in them then, and he believes in them now.
Whether we win or lose tomorrow night, I applaud and commend Joe for a job well done.
In situations like these, where the Dodgers are down two games to none, if I were addressing my team I would tell them the story about the man in the boat.
He was 1,000 yards off shore when the boat capsized.
He swam with all the drive, determination and heart he had.
He swam for 997 yards, and drowned.
What good is it for him to swim 997 yards? He should have drowned when the boat capsized.
So I ask you, are you going to drown, or are you going to reach the beach?
You see, the Phillies haven’t doen anything yet? To advance to the World Series they have to win four. But we have three games at Dodger Stadium, where earlier in the year we beat the Phillies four in a row. The question is, will the Dodgers reach the beach?