Greatest moments in Dodger history No. 1: Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run
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No. 1: Kirk Gibson’s World Series homer (2,372 first-place votes, 60,162 points)
Before we get to the greatest moment of all, just want to tip my cap to two moments that barely missed making the top 25: Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series (to his dying day, Yogi Berra swore he was out) and Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series.
This is the only moment to be named on every ballot.
A few years ago, Kirk Gibson was kind enough to offer me his thoughts on his most memorable moment from the 1988 season, and what went through his mind during the iconic Game 1 homer.
The most memorable moment of the season? “When we won the World Series, celebrating in that small Oakland locker room and on the plane back to L.A. Because when you do that, along the way, I don’t know who picked us that year. Probably nobody. So we always felt like we were against the odds. Then you get closer and closer and closer and you’re scared things are going to turn on you the wrong way and they never did. Just getting that last out right there, knowing that it was real.”
What he was thinking during the home run? “First of all, it was like almost some kind of a foolish thing to really go up there and hit just because of the shape I was in. Just really sitting there in the clubhouse and almost dreaming about doing it, then to go up there and do it, it was like ‘Can you believe it?’
“I remember when I was rounding the bases, my parents went through my mind. Throughout my career, there were a lot of doubters, a lot of people who directed a lot of criticism at me. People would say things to my dad, and initially, early in my career, they had to defend me. I told them, ‘You guys don’t have to defend me. I’m going to bust it and I’m going to fail sometimes. But we’ll have a laugh some day that it will all be worth it.’ When I did it, I thought, ‘This is the moment.’
“Literally as I was rounding the bases, past second base. When I got to home plate I remember thinking, ‘You guys don’t jump on me,’ because I was hurting. I was like, ‘no, no,’ but it didn’t matter.
“Then right at the end of the game when I went in, I think it was Bob Costas, he wanted me to go right on TV. I said, ‘No,’ because I wanted to go in and celebrate with my teammates. I walked in and everybody waited. Then jumped around. Then I went back out and did the interview with Bob Costas, I believe. It was on the scoreboard. I went out there five to 10 minutes later and nobody had left.”
What were his teammates thinking when the ball soared over the right-field fence? In 2008, for the 20th anniversary of the Series, I asked many of the players on the 1988 team what their favorite moment from the season was, and what they were thinking when Gibson hit his homer.
Dave Anderson, infielder
Season: “Kirk Gibson’s home run.”
Gibson homer: “We were going to win the World Series.”
Tim Belcher, pitcher
Season: “Several things stand out; Steve Sax starting the season with a HR, I believe on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning. Gibson scoring from second base on a passed ball more than once. Orel [Hershiser]’s streak and the nine inning scoreless tie in San Diego that made breaking the record possible. Don Drysdale. And, without a doubt the Gibson HR in Game 1 of the World Series.
Gibson homer: “Thanks Gibby! I just spit-the-hook for what would have been a World Series loss.” (Belcher was the Game 1 starter).
Alfredo Griffin, shortstop
Season: “Without question, Kirk Gibson’s home run. [Mike] Davis pinch-hit for me, he walked, stole second, and that was it, Kirk hit the home run, I was just jumping around like crazy.”
Gibson homer: “That was incredible. Oakland was playing good, was winning the game, that changed everything around. It was amazing.”
Mickey Hatcher, infielder-outfielder
Season: “God, there were too many of them ... it was one of those things that when you look back on the season, you realize how many guys contributed in so many ways, when it was all said and done, all the things that happened that season to get us there and to win, some of the Kirk Gibson at-bats, to Mike Scioscia at-bats to Jeff Hamilton‘s at-bats to Orel Hershiser, the way he pitched, think we had three different pitchers win a game with the bat during the season, you look at all that and you realize what it takes to be a World Champion. Those are the things that I think about.”
Gibson homer: “It was just unbelievable, Davis stole second, I think everybody right there thought Gibby had a chance to get a base hit and tie the game. That’s what we were looking at. Before that, we were watching him battle through it, but when Davis stole second, everyone kind of felt something might happen here, that we might be able to get that run, we just hope he can get to first base. Then when he hit that ball in the seats, that was just unbelievable.”
Orel Hershiser, pitcher
Season: The last out of the World Series, Tony Phillips striking out on a fastball in. It’s like having your first child. It’s like walking down the aisle. It’s the happiest feeling you can have in your life. You see your mom and dad in the stands and think, ‘This is something you gave me the opportunity to do.’
Gibson homer: “I was jumping up and down, but as I was celebrating, I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to pitch Game 2.’ “
Ricky Horton, relief pitcher
Season: “Pitching in a playoff game in New York .”
Gibson homer: “My initial thought was ‘Is Tommy out of his mind?’ Then ‘I hope Jesse Orosco does not drop me!’ He was carrying me around the bullpen after [the] home run!”
Tim Leary, pitcher
Season: “For me personally, it was when I got called into pinch hit in the 11th inning of a game in August against the Giants and I got a hit. It was a tie game. Mike Davis was on the bench on the top step arguing a call with Paul Runge and Paul Runge threw him out of the game. They walked the No. 8 batter to get to me with the bases loaded and two out. I got the count to 3-2 and hit the ball up the middle. It was a special game against the Giants. The last night, I had pitched and won.”
Gibson homer: “I was the first relief pitcher in that game. I was in the clubhouse in shorts and shower shoes. When I the count to 3-2, the scouting report was, ‘Look for the backdoor slider.’ We knew it was coming. When he hit it, I jumped up, put on my uniform pants and shirt and ran out to the field. For an hour, no one could sit down. It was the most incredible excitement ever. We had Hershiser pitching the next day. We tore their hearts. It was like we won the World Series right there. It was more exciting, actually, than winning Game 5.”
Mike Marshall, right fielder
Season: “Too many to name. Leary’s pinch-hit game winner. Gibby scoring from second base on a wild pitch. Orel ‘s streak.”
Gibson homer: “Not as surprised as everyone else. Just when you think you’ve seen it all the improbable happens. The longer you live the more amazing things happen.”
Steve Sax, second baseman
Season: “There were so many things. Orel breaking Drysdale’s record. Gibson winning the MVP. Mike Scoscia’s home run off [Dwight] Gooden. Also, Gibson, in the rain against New York , a catch on a ball that would’ve been disastrous for us. He made a tremendous catch. He was playing in shallow left field. Someone hit a ball behind him to his right. He slipped and fell, but he was able to make a catch. John Shelby made a couple of huge plays in center field as well. Our outfielders made some huge plays.”
Gibson homer: “I was the next guy up, so I had a good view of it. We weren’t the most talented team, but we were the best team. The Mets beat us 10 of 11 times and beating them in the NLCS was a huge accomplishment. So when Gibson hit the home run, it seemed like it was time for us to win it. Big things were happening after big things.”
Mike Scioscia, catcher
Season: “There wasn’t really one moment, it was almost like a rolling thunder momentum thing through [the] whole season. We only had two big-name players (Gibson, Hershiser) and there were some personal accomplishments there with Kirk getting the MVP and Orel going 59 scoreless innings, but just the feeling that a team was in sync, there were guys who would platoon, there were guys who played every day, there were matchups that were used in given situations, our bullpen was by committee, don’t think there was one moment where you went, ‘Wow!’ until you clinched.
Gibson homer: “It was funny, but it was surreal the way that situation unraveled, it was just like the poem, ‘Casey at the Bat’, that’s something that never happens, you never have the hometown slugger come up in a situation like that and hit the home run, I can’t ever remember that happening. Other guys have hit home runs, but it’s not usually the hometown slugger. It was surreal the way he was able to play, the whole setting, everything from the scouting report about the back-door slider, a lot of things went through my head at the time he was up to bat, when the count got there, it was unbelievable the way everything came together.”
John Shelby, center fielder
Season: “It’s really hard to pinpoint one thing. We were a very close-knit ballclub. We did the itty-bitty things. Like my walk and Scioscia coming up and getting the big two-run home run (in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS against the Mets). The Mets felt like they had that one put away. But after I drew the walk and Scioscia hit a two-run home run to tie it, that gave us a lot of momentum. We never gave up. Little things like my drawing the walk kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance. We always felt like someone on the club was doing something. We even had pitchers come up and get hits for us.”
Gibson homer: “Knowing his condition, realizing the way he fouled off a couple pitches, it didn’t look pretty. But deep down inside, all we could do was hope. And he hit the home run. If he had hit anything but a home run, he probably would’ve been thrown out. When he hit the ball, everyone was wide-eyed. It wasn’t hit real high. It was kind of on a line. It went back and back and all of a sudden, the whole place exploded. When it happens, your mind goes wild.”
Franklin Stubbs, first base
Season: “Jesse Orosco put some black stuff in Gibson’s helmet in spring training. Gibson didn’t play that day because he said we played around too much. I realized at that time that we had a chance to win. It was in the first week of games at Vero Beach .”
Gibson homer: “I still remember Mel Didier saying that if the count was 3-2, Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. That’s what he said. The main thing was that Mike Davis stole second base because I knew Gibby couldn’t run. I said, ‘Here it comes.’ I didn’t think he could get around on a fastball but I thought he could get around on a slider. I was thinking, ‘We got Game 1. We’ve got three more to finish the deal.’ When you’re a little kid, all you dream about is playing in a World Series and winning. You can’t explain it.”
Tracy Woodson, infielder
Season: “Gibby’s homer. I knew at that moment that we were winning it all. I think the ball landed in one of the terminals at LAX!”
Gibson homer: “I couldn’t believe it. I still have it on tape and play it when I’m recruiting players to come to play for me.” (At the time of this interview, Woodson was the head coach at Richmond University.)
The Kirk Gibson home run calls
Most Dodger fans remember the Kirk Gibson home run in one of three ways, because there happened to be three outstanding play-by-play calls of the at-bat. On NBC, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola called it. On CBS Radio, Jack Buck and Bill White handled it. And on KABC Radio in Los Angeles, Don Drysdale made the call. People still quote all three, depending on which one they were listening to. Each call is great in its own way, and below is each call, verbatim, starting with Scully and Garagiola.
Setting the scene: Mike Scioscia popped out to start the bottom of the ninth. Jeff Hamilton struck out. Mike Davis walked, bringing Gibson to the plate. Dennis Eckersely is the A’s pitcher, Ron Hassey the catcher. We begin the call just after Davis walks.
Scully: “And look who’s coming up,” (36-second pause while the crowd cheers and we can hear the PA announcer announce Gibson’s name in the background)
Scully: “All year long, they looked to him to light the fire, and all year long, he answered the demands, until he was physically unable to start tonight, with two bad legs. The bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And, with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice... this is it.
Scully: “If he hits the ball on the ground, I would imagine he would be running at 50%. To first base. So the Dodgers, trying to catch lightning right now.”
At this point, Eckersley delivers his first pitch.
Scully: “Fouled away… He was complaining about the fact that with the left knee bothering him he can’t push off. Well, now he can’t push off and he can’t land.
Garagiola: “He’s gotta use all arms. Look at this crowd, on its feet. Quite a tribute.”
Scully: “4-3 A’s. Ninth inning. Not a bad opening act.”
At this point, Eckersley throws to first to try and pick off Mike Davis.
Scully: Mike Davis, by the way, has stolen seven out of 10 if you are wondering about [Tommy] Lasorda throwing the dice again.
There is a seven second pause as Eckersley turns his attention to Gibson again.
Scully: “0 and 1.
Scully: “Fouled away again.”
Garagiola: “And he’s staying on that outside corner. He’s not going to give him a ball to pull. With Davis he just missed but here’s two quick strikes, both fastballs that kind of tailed away to the outside corner. [Ron] Hassey has not even flirted with the inside part of the plate.”
At this point, the NBC cameras focus on the A’s dugout, and you see coach Dave Duncan making a gesture with his hands.
Scully: “You saw Dave Duncan gesturing, he was gesturing to Carney Lansford at third.
Eckersley gets ready to make his next pitch.
Scully: “0 and 2 to Gibson. The infield is back with two out and Davis at first.”
Eckersley throws to first.
Scully: “Now Gibson, during the year, not necessarily in this spot, but he was a threat to bunt. No way tonight. No wheels.
Garagiola: “They’re plenty deep in the outfield. They are playing him straight away to center field. Right down the line.”
Eckersley throws to first again and Garagiola makes a comment on Davis possibly stealing second.
Garagiola: “He’s a threat now with two strikes.”
A 12-second pause as the crowd starts cheering louder and Eckersley prepares to pitch.
Scully: “No balls and two strikes. Two out.”
Gibson hits a weak grounder to first that trickles just foul.
Scully: “Little nubber… Foul.”
Gibson is a quarter of the way to first base and turns around to return to the plate.
Scully: “And it had to be an effort to run that far. Gibson was so banged up that he was not introduced. He did not come out onto the field before the game.”
NBC shows a replay of Gibson weak grounder that went foul.
Garagiola: “You can really see the limp. He’s not driving that ball at all. It was by him. You can see he almost has to talk to his legs and say ‘Hey, let’s go, we’ve got to get out of here.’ “
Scully: “It’s one thing to favor one leg, but you can’t favor two.”
Garagiola: “No way. And that’s what he’s trying to do. He really is.”
Eckersley pitches again.
Scully: “0 and two to Gibson. Ball one.”
Hassey makes a snap throw to first to try and pick off Davis.
Scully: “And a throw down to first! Davis just did get back. Good play by Ron Hassey, using Gibson as a screen. He took a shot at the runner and Mike Davis didn’t see it for that split-second and that made it close.
Garagiola: “A lot of times what you will do is you’ll give a sign to the first baseman that says ‘Now be there.’ They call it the Now Be There play. If I get the ball I’m going to throw it.” … Eckersley gets ready to pitch and Garagiola continues “14 fastballs in a row. That’s all he has been throwing.”
While Garagiola is talking, Davis takes off for second as the pitch comes to Gibson. Scully has to hurry and interrupt Garagiola.
Scully: “There goes Davis. And it’s fouled away… So Mike Davis, who has stolen 7 out of 10 and carrying the tying run, was on the move.”
Garagiola: “They want to give Gibson a good shot at it with two strikes, but with two strikes, Davis a threat as we said, hoping a bloop hit will score that big run.”
Eckersley prepares to pitch.
Scully: “Gibson shaking his left leg, making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.”
The pitch by Eckersley is outside.
Scully: “Two and two.”
NBC shows a shot of the Dodger dugout, focusing on Mike Scioscia.
Scully: “Mike Scioscia can only sit now and sweat it out. He led off the inning and popped up.”
NBC turns to the A’s dugout and Manager Tony La Russa.
Scully: “Tony La Russa. One out away from win No. 1.”
Eckersley ready to pitch.
Garagiola: “Here’s the big pitch. He’s gotta make it happen on this one.”
Instead, Eckersley throws to first again.
Scully: “Two balls and two strikes with two out.”
Garagiola: “Those extra steps that Davis will get if the count goes to 3 and 2 are very big. So Hassey and Eckersley want that pitch of decision right here.”
Eckersley pitches and Davis takes off for second.
Scully: “There he goes. WAY outside and he’s stolen it.”
Garagiola: “Hassey starts to throw and kind of bumps Gibson but it was way too late. Davis was way down there, almost as if he could have walked in.”
NBC shows a replay of the pitch and stolen base.
Garagiola: “Not a bad pitch to handle for Hassey. Outside. Now watch when he starts to throw, he bumps Gibson. And Harvey says ‘No, no. He had the base stolen.’ “
Scully: “So Mike Davis, the tying run, is at second base, with two out. Now the Dodgers don’t need the muscle of Gibson as much as a base hit. And on deck is the leadoff man, Steve Sax.”
Eckersley is ready to pitch.
Scully: “3 and 2.”
Gibson asks for time and steps out of the batter’s box. There is an 11-second pause as Scully just lets the noise of the crowd fill the microphone.
Scully: “Sax waiting on deck. But the game right now is at the plate.”
Eckersley pitches. Gibson swings.
Scully: “High fly ball into right field…… She is…. GONE!”
Scully remains quiet for one minute and nine seconds as Dodger Stadium erupts into pandemonium. He finally breaks the quiet with one of the great lines of all time.
Scully: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
NBC replays the home run and shows Gibson limping around the bases.
Scully: “And, now, the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted?”
Another 20-second pause, then Scully.
Scully: “You know, I said it once before, a few days ago, that Kirk Gibson was not the Most Valuable Player; that the Most Valuable Player for the Dodgers was Tinkerbell. But, tonight, I think Tinkerbell backed off for Kirk Gibson.”
NBC shows a great reaction shot of Eckersley looking devastated.
Scully: “And, look at Eckersley—shocked to his toes! … They are going wild at Dodger Stadium—no one wants to leave!”
Over on CBS Radio, longtime Cardinals announcer Jack Buck and Bill White were calling the game. Instead of focusing on the whole at-bat, we will focus on Buck’s great words about the homer.
Buck: “We have a big 3–2 pitch coming here from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, five to four; I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill?”
Buck ends it with:
“One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game ... a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it ... five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.”
If you ask people who heard it live, they will tell you that Drysdale’s call topped them all. It’s extremely hard to find Drysdale’s call of the entire at-bat, but his call of the home run itself is legendary for the level of excitement in his voice.
Drysdale: “Well the crowd on its feet and if there was ever a preface, to “Casey at the Bat,” it would have to be the ninth inning. Two out. The tying run aboard, the winning run at the plate, and Kirk Gibson, standing at the plate. Gibson, a deep sigh ... re-gripping the bat ... shoulders just shrugged ... now goes to the top of the helmet, as he always does ... steps in with that left foot. Eckersley, working out of the stretch ... here’s the three-two pitch ... and a drive hit to right field (voice changes to high pitch) WAY BACK! THIS BALL ... IS GONE! (After a 23-second delay) This crowd will not stop! They can’t believe the ending! And this time, Mighty Casey did NOT strike out!
Thank you to everyone who voted, and sent so many kind words during the countdown. It is much appreciated. My personal top three were Robinson breaking the color barrier, Gibson’s home run, and Koufax’s perfect game.
Previous greatest moments
No. 4: Sandy Koufax’s perfect game
No. 8: Fernandomania
No. 11: Dodgers move to L.A.
No. 15: Dodgers win 1981 World Series
No. 16: Roy Campanella Night
No. 17: Rick Monday’s 1981 NLCS home run
No. 18: Rick Monday saves the flag
No. 19: Winning the 1988 World Series
Don Drysdale’s call of Gibson’s homer. Listen to it here.
Jack Buck and Bill White’s call of Gibson’s homer. Watch and listen here.
Vin Scully’s call of Gibson’s homer. Watch and listen here.
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