Kirk Gibson limping around the bases after hitting a game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series was an indelible moment in baseball, one we've seen replayed time and again. It's so ingrained in the game that many fans can close their eyes and see Gibson's slow trot.
As we inch toward the 25-year anniversary of that moment, here's one unanswered question: What happened to the ball? You'd think it would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, or sitting in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office. It is neither place.
Nobody knows for sure where it is. It wasn't recovered that night. It was never put on the open market like we often see with iconic sports memorabilia. It just disappeared into a crowd of hysterical Dodgers fans.
The quest to find the ball is at the heart of a fascinating piece over at SB Nation. David Davis' story weaves the ball's whereabouts and the context of that Dodgers season with the aftermath of his sister's suicide. Davis was actually supposed to be at the game, in the same section where the home run was hit. Instead, he took a trip with his grieving mother, because "family trumps baseball."
While trying to retrace where the ball might have ended up, Davis gives us the following nuggets about what he calls the "Rosebud of Chavez Ravine."
In 1988, no print or TV reporter did one of those the-lucky-guy-who-caught-the-ball stories. The first published mention of it that I found came during spring training of 1989, when the Times' Jim Murray wrote, "Gibson has the ball."
That's not accurate, Gibson told me. He never saw the ball after it landed in the bleachers. He said that, after the Series, a woman sent him a photograph of her thigh with a black-and-blue bruise on it. The ball had struck her there, she wrote, but she did not know who ended up with it ...
I called Mark Langill, the Dodgers' team historian. He said that no one from the organization retrieved the ball. "The beauty of it was, the ball got swallowed by the crowd," he said. "People were so focused on Gibson limping around the bases that no one bothered to track it down. It's one of the two big mysteries we have: what happened to the ball and what happened to the two people who tried to burn the American flag [in the outfield of Dodger Stadium in 1976]?"
Darren Rovell, in 2010, wrote a shorter piece wondering what happened to the Gibson ball when Gibson's jersey, helmet and bat from that night went up for auction (The bat sold for $575K). Many people emerged afterward saying they had the ball. Davis' piece highlights one story, that of Ed Moran, whose uncle claimed to have retrieved the ball. Problem was, he didn't have it anymore.
When Moran asked his uncle about the ball, Carlos said that he kept it in his sock drawer for years. Then, he gave it to a girlfriend he was trying to impress. The two are no longer dating. Moran called her. She told him that it was somewhere in the garage and that she would phone him when she found it. Moran is waiting for the call. "Even if she did come up with the ball, people would question it," he admitted.
From a cash standpoint, somebody out there is sitting on a nice payday — and they might not even know it. From a history standpoint, someone has the ball from one of the most famous home runs in the past 25 years — surely something that a tradition-loving sport like baseball would like to preserve.
But much like the home run itself, which is a you-wouldn't-believe-it-if-you-didn't-see-it moment, the ball may just end being a part of baseball folklore.
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