Twenty-five years ago, Kirk Gibson, the Los Angeles Dodgers' hobbled would-be MVP, hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. It's so famous we probably only need to say "Kirk Gibson" and you see the highlight in your head.
Oct. 15, 1988 was the day that Gibson hit a walk-off homer against Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series. It wasn't so much a walk-off as it was a limp-off. An injured Gibson wasn't supposed to play, but limped to the plate in the ninth inning with his team down 4-3 — then limped around the bases when he hit a 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall.
It's one of those "Where were you when ..." moments for baseball fans. In fact, it was my first one. I was nine years old, watching my favorite team play in the World Series for the first time. I was sitting on my floor in my mother's apartment when the ball flew over the fence. I remember the moment vividly. It was the first time my heart broke. A's fans will sulk a little bit Tuesday. Dodgers fans will hold their heads a little higher — especially considering they're in the playoffs and coming off an impressive Game 3 victory in the NLCS.
Fandom aside, it's a historic moment in baseball that even someone like myself can appreciate. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Gibson's homer, there are a number of good reads out there right now. We used three in particular to cull together what you'll read below — 10 facts that you may not know, or may enjoy hearing again on the homer's 25th anniversary
1. Gibson woke up at 5 a.m. that morning. He had slept with his legs on top of pillows, hoping to help his pulled hamstring. He woke up that morning and felt OK. He tried to run in his living room to test his legs. That's when he didn't feel good anymore. He went to the stadium that day convinced he wasn't going to play.
2. Gibson wasn't even dressed when the ninth inning began. He was in the clubhouse, watching the game on TV. He wasn't in uniform. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, getting treatment for his leg injury.
3. Vin Scully pushed Gibson over the edge. In the ninth inning, Scully told the TV audience that Gibson wasn't in the dugout and for sure wouldn't be playing. Gibson cursed at the TV — let's pretend he said "bullpoop" — and got amped. He set up a tee in the clubhouse and made bat boy, Mitch Poole, help him loosen up. 'Go get my uniform, Mitch!' Gibson told him.
4. Tommy Lasorda literally had goose bumps: When Gibson came out to bat, the crowd's reaction was overwhelming. Here he was, their hobbled hero coming up when they needed him most.
"The crowd," Lasorda said. "I can never explain it. The emotion, the reaction of that crowd that night. I've been here a long time, I've never seen anything like that. I got goose bumps because of the reaction of the fans."
5. Dennis Eckersley thought he'd get him out easy: Given Gibson's injury, Eck knew what to throw him. Fastball after fastball.
"He fouled away the first two pitches, and, after he swung, he looked so feeble," Eckersley said. "I thought I was going to blow him away. I thought he was a lamb. I'm thinking I'm going to throw him a high fastball and he's done."
6. Gibson knew what was coming. When the count went to 3-2, Gibson remembered what Dodgers scout Mel Didier had told his team's hitters.
"Now remember, and don't ever forget this, if you're up in the ninth inning and we're down or it's tied and you get to 3 and 2 against Eckersley ... Partner, sure as I'm standing here breathing, you're going to see a 3-2 backdoor slider."
The backdoor slider came. Gibson could get around on that better than a fastball. And you know what followed.
7. That iconic fist pump just kind of happened. It wasn't planned. It wasn't something he did. Gibson said it was a product of the moment:
"I never thought about pumping my fists. I don't know why I did it. It was an act of emotion."
8. Tony La Russa won't watch the play anymore. The Oakland A's manager saw it happen live, and that was probably enough. He'd seen replays too. But today, he says he won't watch the home run.
"I don't think there's ever been a more dramatic moment in baseball because of the circumstances. That being said, whenever I see it shown, I look away every time. I will not look at it. As soon as I see it, I look away. I've seen it too many times. Enough is enough."
9. Kirk Gibson calls the location where the ball landed "Seat 88." Whenever Gibson — who now manages the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks — goes to Dodger Stadium, he looks toward "Seat 88." He calls it "good affirmation for me in my life."
10. Nobody knows for sure what happened to the ball. It's one of those missing pieces of baseball history. There have been a number of stories about the search for the ball — we covered one a few months back. Darren Rovell wrote another for the anniversary, guessing what it might be worth. The point remains: Someone might have one of the most famous home-run balls ever hit and not know it.