The memories and stories came flooding back.
Kirk Gibson, who started his Dodger career at Historic Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida 30 years ago in preparation for the 1988 season, returned to the iconic training site this weekend. Peter O’Malley, Historic Dodgertown Chairman, welcomed the 1988 National League MVP to the multi-sport training and conference center for a visit. Gibson’s son, Cam, a professional baseball player in the Detroit Tigers organization joined him.
From stepping back on the Holman Stadium field to seeing his former clubhouse, and from eating in the dining room and taking a few swings at the batting cages, Gibson took it all in and shared stories at each turn, especially about his teammates and famous World Series Game 1 home run.
“Kirk Gibson holds a special place in Dodger history and all of us at Historic Dodgertown enjoyed welcoming him this weekend,” said Historic Dodgertown Chairman Peter O’Malley. “Kirk has extraordinary memories of Vero Beach and Spring Training. Kirk’s professionalism and commitment to winning has made a lasting impact on the Dodger organization.”
“I have been thinking a lot lately about 1988, being the 30th anniversary of our World Championship,” said Gibson. “Because I was in Florida, I took the invitation of Peter O’Malley to stop by and relive being part of the organization’s great accomplishments that year. I was really overwhelmed with the positive atmosphere this special place brings to me.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Dodgers winning the 1988 World Series. And of course, Gibson’s pinch-hit World Series Game 1 home run.
Signed as a free agent by Dodger Executive Vice President, Player Personnel Fred Claire prior to the 1988 season, Gibson set the tone early for the Dodgers. During Spring Training, Gibson was the recipient of a clubhouse prank and made it clear to his teammates that he was here to win.
And win they did.
In the regular season, Gibson hit 25 home runs and had 76 RBI to lead the Dodgers. He won a National League (NL) Silver Slugger award as an outfielder and was second in the NL in runs scored with 106. That year he was awarded the NL MVP.
In the 1988 World Series against Oakland, no one thought Gibson was able to participate because of leg injuries. He was hobbling around and barely able to walk, let alone run.
But, in Game 1, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda thought Gibson could take one at-bat to help the team. It turned out that is all the Dodgers needed. With the Dodgers trailing, 4-3, Gibson miraculously pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning and hit a two-out, two-run, full count, walk-off home run against Hall of Fame relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley, which turned the tables on the A’s and propelled the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory. The Dodgers won the 1988 World Championship in five games, capturing the title in Oakland on Oct. 20.
Gibson’s incredible home run was voted the “Greatest Moment in Los Angeles Sports History” by the LA Sports Council and is one of Major League Baseball’s all-time great and dramatic home runs.
While touring Historic Dodgertown this weekend, Gibson saw memorabilia from 60 years of Dodgers history displayed in Championship Hall, the Jackie Robinson Room, Roy Campanella Room and Campy’s Bullpen, the Bruce Froemming Umpire Room and more.
In Championship Hall’s 1988 Room, his autographed jersey is framed below Vin Scully’s famous quote: “In a season of the improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Gibson addressed students at the Minor League Baseball Umpire Academy and recalled “discussions” with umpires, and surprised campers from the Baseball Factory, Softball Factory and The Coaching Camp. His advice: stay positive and don’t let adversity discourage you from being better prepared the next time.
Gibson added, “Most of all, it was an honor to be able to share Historic Dodgertown with so many people today who love our great game.”
Always remembered as a hero in Dodger lore, Gibson played three seasons in Los Angeles (1988-90).