Batting practice with Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers’ famed Mr. Crutch, is not a pleasant thing. He grunts. He curses. He winces. He snarls at the photographers who dare to press their lenses against the netting of the batting cage.
After 45 swings, Gibson retires to a seat in the Dodger dugout and greets the congregating media troops with a surly, “Don’t smother me.” He glares at a couple of microphones. “Get those out of my face,” he snaps.
The first question is tentatively tossed out: “How’d it go out there, Kirk?”
The response is a one-word expletive.
Question No. 2: How does the right knee feel?
“It’s sorer today than yesterday,” Gibson says. “It’s pretty obvious what my role is gonna be, if any.”
Well, not really. The Dodgers appear to have a choice with Gibson in Game 3 of the World Series tonight--designated hitter, which is allowed in the American League park, or pinch-hitter, the supporting role he so unforgettably filled in Game 1.
Gibson says there is no choice.
“I can’t run,” he said. “You figure it out. How am I going to DH if I can’t run?”
As the Dodgers’ off-day workout at Oakland Coliseum ended Monday afternoon, Manager Tom Lasorda was still looking at Mike Davis as his probable designated hitter tonight against Oakland’s Bob Welch.
“It’s up to Kirk,” Lasorda said. “He’ll tell me tomorrow. He’s the only one who can tell me how he feels. And if he says he can’t play, he’s not gonna play.”
Monday, Gibson kept telling reporters he couldn’t play.
“I tried to jog in the outfield,” Gibson said. “It was a fake jog. It was a joke.”
Gibson looked at a portly reporter.
“You could’ve beaten me in a race,” Gibson told him.
According to Dodger team physician Dr. Frank Jobe, Gibson’s knee condition would ordinarily sideline him 10 days to 2 weeks. “And we’re trying to do it in a day,” Gibson grumbled.
Although he griped about his success in the batting cage, Gibson’s session yielded 8 home runs--3 in a row at one point--along with 2 balls off the wall and 9 line drives. All in all, not a bad outing.
And, of course, there was the ball he hit out against Dennis Eckersley.
“Look at a picture of that swing,” Gibson said. “Anybody who knows anything about hitting can look at my legs and see nothing’s there. Right now, all I’m doing is using my upper-body strength. There are no legs at all.”
Obviously, this is not a happy man. And during his mini-press conference, Gibson was growing unhappier by the minute.
“The most frustrating thing is talking to you guys,” Gibson said. “You follow me around while I’m trying to work. I don’t understand it, you’ve seen me loosen up 1,000 times.”
But not before Game 3 of the World Series, 2 days after delivering one of the most dramatic home runs in postseason history.
“I don’t expect special attention,” Gibson said. “This team can go on without me. Why not focus on them?
” . . . I’m not the savior of this club. I’ve had my moments, but they have, too. We’ve got 24 guys on our roster for a reason. Because of my condition, other roles might have to be redefined now--including mine.”
And Davis’ as well.
“I can think I can play all I want,” Gibson continued. “That’s not gonna change my physical state. If I thought I could play and not hurt us, I’d play. But with me out there right now, it’s not our best possible team.”
While Lasorda ponders his designated hitter problem, Oakland Manager Tony La Russa enters Game 3 with 3 questions regarding his own lineup.
The positions and the possibilities:
--Left field: Does La Russa start Dave Parker, who had all 3 Oakland hits in Sunday’s 6-0 loss to Orel Hershiser, or go with defense and play Tony Phillips there?
--Catcher: Does La Russa go with Ron Hassey, who usually catches for the temperamental Welch, or start Terry Steinbach, who hits left-handed pitching extremely well?
--Designated hitter: If Hassey catches, does La Russa move Steinbach here? Or does he go with Don Baylor, whose long-running success against John Tudor includes a 3-run home run in the 1987 World Series and a home run in support of Dave Righetti’s 1981 no-hitter when Tudor pitched for the Boston Red Sox?
“Three tough calls,” La Russa said Monday.
“Parker has been an inspired player the first 2 games, and I’d definitely like him to keep playing. But we’ve also been very successful with Tony Phillips, who has a good on-base percentage against left-handers.
“We’ve used Hassey with Welch a lot, but Steinbach is probably our toughest hitter against left-handers. And if I move Steinbach to DH, I can’t use Baylor, who hits Tudor pretty well.”
La Russa said he won’t decide anything until this afternoon.
“That’s what tonight and tomorrow morning are for,” he said.
My Starter, He Wrote Me A Letter: La Russa was already leaning toward Dave Stewart as his starting pitcher for Game 4, but just in case, Stewart left a hand-written note on the manager’s desk before Monday’s voluntary A’s workout.
According to La Russa, the note said:
I was out here at 10 o’clock. I worked out till 12. My arm felt fine.
La Russa laughed.
“I know Stew,” he said. “He probably came in (Sunday) night and wrote the note so he didn’t have to work out today.”
Stewart’s probable opponent Wednesday night looks to be Tim Belcher, who allowed 4 runs in 2 innings in the World Series opener.
Times sports writer Sam McManis contributed to this story.