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Gibson brings passion, energy to D-backs

Gibson brings passion, energy to D-backs

PHOENIX -- The lasting image of Kirk Gibson as a player is his half-trot, half-limp around the bases after hitting that famous gimp-off, two-run, pinch-hit homer for the Dodgers to defeat the A's in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, which Los Angeles won in five games.

Gibson, who could barely walk on the night of Oct. 15, 1988, because of knee and hamstring injuries, can still be seen pumping his fist after taking Dennis Eckersley into the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium in one of Major League Baseball's most cherished and replayed moments.

As the new manager of the D-backs, Gibson hopes some of that passion and enthusiasm rubs off on his players, who were 31-48 under the dismissed A.J. Hinch, but have 83 games to rebound. Gibson got off to a stellar start on Friday, guiding the D-backs to a 12-5 victory over the Dodgers.

"Maybe I shouldn't say this: We have a lot of good ballplayers, but we aren't winning ballgames," said Gibson on Friday during the media conference that marked his transition from Arizona bench coach to manager. "I'd rather have a lot of bad ballplayers and win ballgames."

Whether Gibson outlasts the "interim manager" title and is brought back for 2011 will obviously depend on the team's performance.

"We think Kirk is the logical choice right now," D-backs president Derrick Hall said. "He obviously has the playing resume, the experience of being a coach for many years. He has the respect of the team, the respect of the industry. [This] is an opportunity for him to prove himself. He would then have a chance to be the manager permanently, but it is just that, it's interim ... and there will be a process."

The seed of one of Gibson's greatest moments in his 17-year playing career wasn't planted during the 1988 World Series, he said, and his motivation of the Dodgers that season opens a window to how he intends to manage. It all began during that Spring Training, after he'd left the Tigers to sign a three-year, $3.5 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers.

By then Gibson was already a World Series champion, having led the 1984 Tigers of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris and manager Sparky Anderson to a five-game victory over the Padres. In that one, Gibson's three-run homer at Tiger Stadium off Goose Gossage in the eighth inning of Game 5 put an end to the series.

Gibson was a very serious player when he joined the Dodgers, describing himself and his attitude on Friday as a significant part of the male anatomy. And he didn't take to the jovial atmosphere he encountered at Dodgertown under manager Tommy Lasorda.

"When I played for Sparky during Spring Training, it was all business," Gibson said. "It was no-nonsense, do it right. Well, with the Dodgers we had a meeting every morning and it was a big comedy store. I was very intense. I guess they were trying to have fun, but I wasn't very comfortable with that."

Gibson recalled clowns popping out of trunks and a lot of laughs when third baseman Pedro Guerrero tossed a ball into right field during fielding practice. He expected the players to settle down for their first Spring Training game -- against a Japanese All-Star team.

"Little did they know, but the game to me was like the seventh game of the World Series," he said. "I was the first one on the field and worked a good lather up."

When Gibson took off his cap to wipe his brow, he found eye black spread all over his arm. One of his teammates had playfully rubbed the substance on the inside of his cap. With that, Gibson snapped and ran back to the clubhouse. On the way, he trotted past Lasorda and told him that if the culprit didn't talk to him within five minutes, he was leaving. When no one showed up, Gibson held to his word: He showered and left for the day, even though his name was in the lineup.

"Everybody in the stands was laughing, all my teammates were laughing, it was the final straw for me," he said.

When Gibson met with Lasorda the next day to discuss the matter, the manager wanted to cover up the incident, but Gibson would have no part of it. Plus, he said, he wanted to have a little talk with his teammates.

"When you have the clown pop out of the trunk, I'm the clown today," Gibson told Lasorda.

Gibson told his teammates that all the craziness wasn't conducive to playing winning baseball.

"I told them, 'I'm the best teammate you'll ever have, you just don't realize it yet. But I will be.' From that point on, we went out there and got after it. We were world champions, and nobody picked us to do so."

In the end, Jesse Orosco, who won the World Series with the 1988 Dodgers and, before that, the '86 Mets, admitted that he'd pulled the practical joke.

"You know it was a pitcher," Gibson said. "It had to be."

The story illustrates Gibson's tenacity as a player and begs the question whether he intends to be that kind of manager. As a bench coach under Trammell in Detroit and Melvin and Hinch in Arizona, Gibson has been more like one of the guys.

"I think he'll be his own man," Hinch said on Friday during a conference call. "I think he'll be Kirk Gibson. He's got a lot of passion and a lot of energy. He's going to ask a lot of his players."

"Whether it comes from the players, whether it comes from the front office or the coaching staff, somebody has to step up," right fielder Justin Upton said. "Gibby has been here for a while, and we're hoping he has the drive to turn this thing around. But that's going to take the players to get behind him and turn it up."

But like Hinch, Gibson is taking the job with no managerial experience at any level.

"Any manager who has ever done it before knows it's totally different when you're the man in charge," said Trammell, now the bench coach with the Cubs under Lou Piniella. "That being said, I don't know anybody I've been around, played with, coached with, who has more energy or the intensity level that he brings, which I think is good. I do believe he's prepared now. He's coached long enough."

It may be only a coincidence, but neither the Tigers nor Dodgers have won the World Series since the Gibson days. Whether he can bring the D-backs back to respectability is another open question.

"Some people may say it's just [the nature of] the animal," he said. "I used to strike out a lot. I used to be a pull hitter. But I changed. So my mentality is that you can change, that you can make adjustments if you choose to.

"And furthermore, we're at least going to try and change. We're not going to do the same thing that hasn't been successful. That in the least is what will try to accomplish."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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