The super athlete, Kirk Gibson was a five-tool type who skipper Sparky Anderson once likened to Mickey Mantle. Gibby did have some Mantle-like characteristics: he could run and hit for power but his greatest similarity with the Mick was his knack for getting hurt. Although Mantle saw plenty action on the DL, he wasn’t as accustomed to the shelf as Kirk. Gibby’s terrific natural talents were rarely on display for an entire season. Only once in his career did he play in more than 150 games.
Gibson was a standout collegiate player at Michigan State, in baseball and football. The Tigers selected him in the first round of the 1978 draft and he opted to play on the diamond and bid farewell to the gridiron. Kirk didn’t need much minor league seasoning. The Tigers called him up for the first time in ’79. In 1980, Gibson looked like a good Rookie of the Year candidate, but the first of his many injuries plagued him that season and limited him to just 51 games. His 1981 season too was cut short, due to the Player’s Strike and not the injury bug. In the truncated campaign, Kirk led AL outfielders in batting average.
Intent on establishing himself at the Major League with a full season in 1982, Gibson suffered another injury and played in fewer games than he did in the strike shortened season. By this time, Motown fans were concerned that they’d never get to see their former first rounder for a full season. But that changed in ’83 when he finally reached the 125 games played mark. To keep him healthy, skipper Sparky Anderson rotated him between the outfield and DH.
Although Gibson had a terrific year in the strike shortened ’81 season, his breakout campaign didn’t come until 1984. In that magical season, Kirk led the Tigers to the World Series as one of just two players in the Majors to post 20+ doubles, ten triples and 20+ homeruns. His name was among the stars of the day as he slugged a point higher than superstar Dave Winfield of the Yankees. As the only 20 HR/20 stolen base player in the American League, Kirk showed off his athletic ability in the ALCS where he hit a robust .417. In a World Series victory over the Padres, Kirk blasted a pair of homers and drove in seven runs.
During the mid 1980s, Gibson was one of the greatest five-tool talents in the Major Leagues. An amazing speed/power player, Kirk lofted 29 balls into the seats in 1985 with 30 stolen bases. He missed the exclusive 30/30 club by one homerun. On pace to easily make the 30/30 club in 1986, the injury bug bit Kirk again and limited him to 119 games. Despite the time on the shelf, he put up an enviable number of homeruns (28) and stolen bases (34). Able to get into 128 games in 1987, Kirk and Alan Trammell were the only 20 HR/20 SB teammates in the American League that season.
The Tigers opted to let their injury-prone outfielder test the free agent waters after the 1987 season. Kirk switched leagues, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1988 season would be Kirk at his best. He won the NL MVP in ’88 by finishing second in runs scored and fourth in on-base percentage. Although he wasn’t a league leader in any category, Gibson’s fire led the Dodgers to the postseason. Although he was healthy enough to play in 150 games for Lasorda’s Boys, Gibby’s body was aching during the World Series. Benched in favor of a healthy Mickey Hatcher, Lasorda asked Kirk to come off the bench as a pinch hitter. In one of baseball’s greatest moments, a wobbly legged Gibson limped to home plate and belted a pinch hit homerun off Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley. Demoralized, the Dodgers made quick work of the A’s and brought the title to California.
After the 1988 campaign, Gibson was rarely healthy enough to take the field for 100 games a season. The next two years with the Dodgers were wrought with injury as Kirk failed to play 100 games each season. The Dodgers let Kirk leave via free agency and he signed with the Kansas City Royals. He showed the fans at Kauffman Stadium that he still had his skill set as he and Rickey Henderson were the only AL left fielders to reach double-digit totals in both steals and homeruns in 1991. After the year the Royals swapped Kirk to Pittsburgh for Neal Heaton. Although the Royals used the southpaw Heaton in just 31 games, that was about twice as many contests as the Buccos got out of Gibson. Released by the Pirates, Kirk caught on with the Tigers and finished out his career with three years as a DH/OF in Detroit.
G 1,635/R 985/H 1,553/2B 260/3B 54/HR 255/RBI 870/SB 284/BB 718/SO 1,285/BA .268/SA .463/OBP .352