With 2013 now upon us, we have reached the 25th anniversary of the last time the Dodgers won, or even played in, a World Series. Every day for the next 39 days, we will profile a member of that 1988 squad, beginning with the player who authored perhaps the most famous on-field moment in the history of the franchise: Kirk Gibson.
How acquired: Gibson was a free agent after the 1985 season, but thanks to collusion by the owners he was not offered a contract by any other team. Gibson, who sought a five-year, $7.5 million contract with the Tigers, settled for a three-year, $4.1 million deal to return to Detroit in 1986.
The Dodgers agreed in principle with the Tigers at the winter meetings in December 1987 on a swap of Gibson and Pedro Guerrero, per Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times, but the deal fell through amid concerns over pending collusion litigation that could have made Gibson a free agent.
On January 22, 1988, Gibson and six other players were awarded partial free agency, given the right to void the final year of their contract if they could find a new team by March 1. Exactly one week later, after the Tigers only offered Gibson a one-year extension, Gibson signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Dodgers.
"I looked at my financial picture all day today, and as much as I tried to make Detroit work out, it didn't make sense. I was only fooling myself," Gibson told the Times. "The way L.A. structured the contract, I'd have been an idiot to turn it down. I made my choice and I'm happy with it."
Prior MLB experience: Gibson hit .276/.355/.481 in 893 games from 1979-1987 with the Tigers, including an average output of 27 home runs and 30 stolen bases per season from 1984-1987.
1988 age: 31
1988 stats: Gibson hit .290/.377/.483 for the Dodgers with 25 home runs, 31 steals, 76 runs batted in, and set career highs with 73 walks and 106 runs scored. He was second in the league in runs scored, three behind Brett Butler of the Giants. Gibson was third in the National League with a 6.3 fWAR, and sixth with a 6.2 rWAR, and was voted National League MVP.
Regular season game of the year: Gibson had three doubles and a home run in a 9-8 loss to Cincinnati on Aug. 11, and he hit a game-winning home run in the 14th inning at Wrigley Field on May 10 ("I saw Dawson go back for it and I said to myself, 'No way, Andre. Don't even bother'," Gibson said), but the choice here is Aug. 20 against the Expos.
Gibson and the Dodgers were trailing 3-0 at home in the seventh inning, and had just one hit as a team through six innings against Montreal rookie starter John Dopson. Gibson hit a two-out double in the seventh inning and scored the Dodgers' first run of the game. After the Dodgers pulled to within a run in the eighth inning, Gibson singled home the tying score with one out in the ninth. Gibson then stole second against Joe Hesketh, and on the very next pitch Hesketh threw a wild pitch past catcher Nelson Santovenia. With the old configuration of Dodger Stadium, there was ample foul territory behind the plate, and Gibson never stopped running, and scored the winning run from second base.
"I knew it would be close, and I said, 'Here I come.' If I make it, we win; if I don't, we're in extra innings," Gibson told the Times. "We had tied the game and I was in the mood to be aggressive."
NLCS performance: Gibson hit just .154 (4-for-26) in seven games against the Mets, battling injuries to his left hamstring and right knee. But Gibson hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of Game 4, and hit a three-run shot the next day in the fifth inning to give the Dodgers a 6-0 lead in a game they would win 7-4.
World Series performance: Gibson had just one plate appearance in the 1988 World Series, but it was arguably the greatest plate appearance in franchise history. Gibson had a strained left hamstring that he might have played through, but an injured right knee compounded his problems heading into Game 1 of the fall classic. Gibson did not start and was not expected to play at all, but as the Dodgers were down a run in the late innings he began taking swings off a tee in the batting cage in between the dugout and clubhouse.
After Mike Davis drew a two-out walk against closer extraordinaire Dennis Eckersley, Gibson came up to pinch hit. After six fastballs from Eckersley, a slider was deposited via a mostly one-armed swing by Gibson into the right field pavilion, delivering a 5-4 Dodgers win much to the surprise of the visible brake lights in the parking lot.
That was Gibson's only plate appearance of the 1988 Series, but it was enough for the Dodgers. It pushed his career postseason numbers to .282/.380/.577 with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 21 games, including .368/.500/.842 with three home runs and nine RBI in six World Series games.
Post-1988 playing career: Gibson spent two more injury plagued seasons in Los Angeles, hitting .239/.330/.386 in 160 games. He jumped to the Royals in 1991, followed by a year in Pittsburgh before returning to Detroit for the final three seasons of his career.
Where he is now: Gibson was named manager of the Diamondbacks in mid-2010, and will begin his fourth season in the desert in 2013. Gibson is 209-198 (.514) as a manager, including a divisional crown in 2011.
Gibson was famously prickly, and his most memorable run-in with the Dodgers came in spring training in 1988, when Gibson furiously stormed off the field prior to the team's first exhibition game after noticing shoe polish but in his cap found its way onto his forehead. Gibson explained his attitude.
"Basically, I don't want to be a part of their fun and comedy act," Gibson told the Times. "I'm not a radical guy. I go by the rules. This other bull is foreign to me. I like to have a good time, but a good time to me is winning."
Relief pitcher Jesse Orosco was the culprit who put the shoe polish in Gibson's cap, and wisely told the Times he had learned his lesson. "Let's just say I won't be doing it again. That's because I don't want to read my name in the obituaries," he said.
But as the saying goes, winning cures all, and Gibson's MVP season and World Series heroics built a mighty large bridge for that water to flow under. Gibson's time in Los Angeles was brief, but his place in Dodgers lore is secure.