Gibson Is Winner of MVP Award : Dodger Outfielder Gets National League Honor

Times Staff Writer

Proving that an electrocardiogram is not the only way to gauge heart, Dodger left fielder Kirk Gibson was named the National League's most valuable player Tuesday.

"Obviously, the intangibles were taken into consideration, and that makes me feel good," Gibson said from his home in Lapeer, Mich.

Gibson, who is credited with having a significant impact on the Dodgers' psyche and spirit in their World Series championship season, outpolled a number of players who had superior statistics, including the four who finished directly behind him in the voting: Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds of the New York Mets, Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants.

Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers, who has already won the Cy Young Award, finished sixth in the voting by a 24-member committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

A first-place vote was worth 10 points, with 9 for second, 8 for third and a similarly decreasing total through 10th.

Gibson got 13 first-place votes and 272 points, followed by Strawberry, with 7 first-place votes and 236 points. McReynolds received the 4 other first-place votes and 162 points, 2 more than Van Slyke. Clark had 135 points and Hershiser 111.

Only Gibson, Strawberry and Van Slyke were named on every ballot. McReynolds was left off four.

"This never was a goal, but it certainly is an honor," Gibson said.

"My goal was to win the world championship. I felt that if I gave too much thought to the MVP, it would take away from that goal. Now that we've become world champions, it makes this that much sweeter."

Gibson batted .290, hit 25 homers and drove in 76 runs, the fewest RBIs for a most valuable player since Pete Rose had 64 in 1973. Gibson also stole 31 bases and had 28 doubles.

Strawberry hit .269, led the league with 39 homers and drove in 101 runs. McReynolds had 27 homers, 99 RBIs and a .288 average.

Van Slyke also batted .288 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs. Clark led the league with 109 RBIs and hit 29 homers while batting .282.

The Dodgers had finished 16 games under .500 in 1986 and '87.

According to Hershiser, Gibson made it desirable to work hard and be aggressive.

His angry outburst and one-day walkout when he discovered eye-black in his cap before the Dodgers' first exhibition game is credited with having set a tone that characterized a season of overachievement.

The Mets, by contrast, were expected to win.

"It's justified," McReynolds said of the MVP outcome. "Gibson was definitely a big morale boost for the Dodgers. There hasn't been a case where it has been more evident in the last few years. He turned around a team that had been struggling."

Strawberry agreed. He said that he wasn't disappointed, that he had no reason to be down, but he added that he will continue to get better.

"One day I'm going to be appreciated," he said.

He also cited the negative perception some have regarding New York, the Mets and his own personality and said it may create "an unfair situation" in a vote of this type.

"At a time when the Mets were struggling and no one else was hitting, I was hitting," he said. "If no else appreciates that, I appreciate it. It's always nice to get attention for the intangibles, but big numbers shouldn't be overlooked either.

"I'm not saying they were. I could have finished fourth. Kirk Gibson had an outstanding year."

Gibson said that coming to Los Angeles from the Detroit Tigers as a free agent last season represented a culture shock and major adjustment, but that the organization, the fans and his teammates accelerated his acclimatization.

"I said that if I stayed healthy and stayed relaxed, I'd have an impact, and I think I did," Gibson said. "I see myself as an impact player. Even though I had only 1 at-bat in the World Series (because of leg injuries), I feel I had an impact.

"I was fortunate to come up in a critical situation and help point us in the right direction."

His 2-run pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning of Game 1 will remain an all-time Series highlight. It had nothing to do with his selection, however, since the MVP votes were mailed between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, in which Gibson also won 2 games with home runs.

Will he use the award to jab at critics who have criticized his weaknesses?

"I'd never do that, even though there may be people who still feel I'm not worthy," he said. "The downside of this is that only one person can win it. I could make an argument for Orel or Darryl Strawberry or Kevin McReynolds. They were equally worthy, but that's the way it is. I've been on the other side, too.

"This time, I was fortunate. It just shows the way fate has been on my side and the Dodgers' side this year."

Gibson was told of his selection shortly after returning from a hunting trip in Iowa. He said that the cartilage problem in his right knee and hamstring strain behind his left knee are still bothersome but that he expects to be 100% by the start of spring training.

By then, he said, the significance of the award might have sunk in and he will be able to talk about it more meaningfully. In the meantime, he said, he is having a good time distributing World Series T-shirts and caps to friends and relatives.

"That's what I play the game for," he said of the championship.

"I took satisfaction in the Series, being able to sit on the bench and knowing they could win without me."

Gibson also said that the Dodgers will have to force themselves to stay hungry, to keep the same drive and to play with the same heart because "a lot of people will be gunning for us."

Heart? Drive? Hunger?

In 1988, they were synonymous with MVP.

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