In honor of Kirk Gibson’s ascension to the Diamondbacks’ managerial office, I offer two tales of the unwritten rules, featuring the former All-Star at their center.
The first spans the borderline between respect and superstition, mandating that players refrain from bragging about any success they might be having against a particular opponent. After all, the jinx factor is always at play, and one never knows when things might turn sour.
During Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, with Detroit leading three games to one, Goose Gossage got into a discussion with fellow Padres reliever Tim Lollar about his track record against Gibson, dating back to Gossage’s years in the American League. “I think he has one hit off me lifetime,” Gossage said, according to Buddy Bell’s Smart Baseball. “He’s lucky to have that one. It was a broken bat single. I own the guy.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened next. In the eighth inning, Gibson came up with two on with his team leading 5-4, and Gossage on the mound, trying to keep things close. San Diego manager Dick Williams ordered Gibson intentionally walked, a decision that spurred Gossage to wave Williams out for a meeting, during which he pleaded his case for facing the slugger. Williams eventually acquiesced.
Gibson hit Gossage’s second pitch into the upper deck for an 8-4 lead. The Tigers won the championship minutes later.
The second incident has to do with keeping things loose. Most teams boast a balance of clubhouse personalities, ranging from clubhouse jokers to battlers with tunnel-vision, who have no time for anything but preparation for victory.
Not to say that Gibson was no fun to be around, but he was closer to the latter category than the former.
Don Drysdale describes a moment in Once a Bum, Always a Dodger, shortly after Gibson had joined Los Angeles.
Jesse Orosco, a relief pitcher for the Dodgers, put some eye-black in the sweatband of Gibson’s cap before an exhibition game. It was a harmless prank, but when Gibson put his hat on, he just came apart. It didn’t fit into his game plan or his sense of humor, and he just took off. He left the ballpark. Gibson was in effect saying, “If that’s the way this team operates, then maybe the Dodgers made a mistake signing me.”
It might be just the type of focus the Diamondbacks need.