Welcome to Wednesday, Gabbers. The hardest part of any athletes’ career is the end. Some go out gracefully, which is bittersweet for the fans. Other gradually burn out. Some are over before they get a chance to begin. If you are lucky, that athlete finds a great second career as a manager/coach or broadcaster.
I brought up the Franchise Four last week. It’s hard to narrow a team down to just four and as many of you pointed out, you always leave deserving folks out. The Detroit Tigers are a long and storied franchise. They aren’t as tough as the Yankees or Cardinals, but it’s still tough to narrow down.
One of our best was Kirk Gibson. Gibby was a tough player and the kind of guy you loved while on your team, but would hate to have to play against. He was a stalwart member of the Tiger’s outfield during much of the 80’s. He helped the city find something to celebrate in 1985. Still, he’d be most remembered for his pinch hit home run with the dodgers in 1988. You know the one. Gibby was injured and no one figured they’d have his bat at their disposal. The Dodger’s need a run and have to scrape the bench to get it. Gibby hobbles to the plate. He takes a ball deep and trots the bases despite his bum leg. It’s a classic. It placed him in baseball lore. Forever.
Detroit was lucky enough to get Gibby back for his last three seasons. He gave us what he had and the fans loved him for it, even if he played fewer and fewer games until he bowed out in 1995. In 1994, Gibson only played 98 games. In those 98 games, he conjured up remembrances of the player he was during the mid-80s. He hit 23 home runs and drove in 72 runs.
Like most Tiger fans, I was thrilled to see Gibson move into managing. We all thought about how great it would be to have Gibby take over the Detroit clubhouse. In 2010, however, Detroit was at the tail end of the Jim Leyland era. Gibson went to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks. While his debut left a record to be desired, Gibson would lead the Diamondbacks to a 94-68 record in 2011 and earn himself the manager of the year award for the NL. He hasn’t captured that sort of success since, but Gibson is a baseball guy and appreciated by fans and players.
All this made the recent Parkinson’s diagnosis that much tougher. Of course, the most common thought is that this is Gibby here. This is the man who hit the pinch-hit, walk-off homer in the 1988 Series. He did it on one leg. He’s tough as hell. He’ll lick this.
He won’t be alone. Look at Michael J Fox. Look at Ali. None of these men are quite what they were. They can’t move like they used to. Their minds have started to go. Still, they fought. Gibby will fight. Really, it’s the fight that we remember from these folks. It’s the fight that we appreciate. We rally behind it. We cheer it on. Even if they have trouble getting around now, we still see Fox riding his hoverboard or throwing down as a teen wolf. We still see Ali rope-a-doping Frazier. We’ll see Gibby hobbling around the bases in October. That image may even take some of the shock out of his inevitable physical downfall.
We know one thing: Gibby will fight and he’ll inspire others to fight with him.