If the Los Angeles Dodgers ever wondered what sort of player they were courting in the 1987-88 offseason, Kirk Gibson didn’t make them wait long to find out.
On January 18, 1988, arbitrator Thomas Roberts ruled that Major League owners had colluded to ice the free agent market after the 1985 season.
Shortly thereafter, he granted free agency to seven players affected by the owners’ actions, and who were still in the game — Tom Brookens, Carlton Fisk, Joe Niekro, Juan Beniquez, Butch Wynegar, Donnie Moore … and Gibson.
A few days later, on January 29, Gibson signed with the Dodgers.
And, just a smidge over a month after that, on March 3, the Dodgers arrived at the park, ready for their first Spring Training game.
And then … well, Kirk Gibson showed up.
By putting on his hat.
Because, when he donned that Dodger Blue cap, he was left with a line of black shoe polish across his forehead. Teammates laughed, maybe congratulated Jesse Orosco, the perpetrator.
And Gibson walked, all the way out of camp.
He wouldn’t return for a couple of days, not until Orosco had apologized, and not until manager Tommy Lasorda had held a couple of long meetings to clear the air.
When Gibson did come back, his message to his new teammates was clear: knock off the crap and get back to winning.
His exact words to reporters were:
Basically, I don’t want to be a part of their fun and comedy act … I like to have a good time, but a good time to me is winning.
He also mentioned doing what he “had to do to get my point across,” and Orosco vowed to never prank Gibby again because “I don’t want to read my name in the obituaries.”
Yogisms aside, Gibson did indeed seem to make his point — the Dodgers moved into a tie for first place in the National League West on April 9 and never fell more than a game and a half behind the rest of the way.
They were in first place alone from May 26 through the end of the season, won a squeaker against the Mets in the NLCS, then dispatched the mighty Bash Brothers Oakland A’s in a five-game World Series upset.
All along the way, Gibson was the heart and soul of the team, with a heavy assist from Orel Hershiser.
Of course, the crowning moment for Gibson was that pinch-hit, ninth-inning, walk-off home run in Game 1 of the Fall Classic when his legs were attached to his body with a couple of paperclips and some strips of scotch tape.
For the most part, collectors would have to wait until the late-year update and traded sets to see Gibson in his new uniform since all of the from-the-pack pasteboards that summer showed him with his former team, the Detroit Tigers.
But some fans in L.A. got an early look at their cardboard feature.
Because, that summer, the Dodgers teamed up with the Los Angeles Police Department, just like they had every summer since 1980, on a set of Dodgers baseball cards.
And guess who made the cut?
Yep, it was none other than Dodger Stadium’s new sheriff of winning, Kirk Gibson.
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Defining moment? Check!
You can’t talk about Kirk Gibson without thinking about his Game 1 heroics in the 1988 World Series, right? Right.
And that makes items like this one eternally popular:
That’s a Game 1 ticket autographed by both Gibson and Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully.
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