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Claire: Gibson's style is what D-backs need

Claire: Gibson's style is what D-backs need

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When the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Kirk Gibson as their interim manager on Thursday, the former star outfielder described the assignment as "a big challenge."

And believe me, from personal experience, there's nothing Gibson enjoys more than a challenge.

My first conversation with Gibson took place in late January 1988 after he had agreed to a three-year contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was the team's general manager at the time.

"I'm excited about being a Dodger," Gibson told me after I had welcomed him to the team. "I know it's a challenge."

Gibson met the challenge, of course, and played a key role in the Dodgers winning the World Series in 1988.

Many fans remember Gibson for his dramatic pinch-hit home run in the Game 1 of the World Series, but that was just the highlight of his many contributions to a memorable season.

Gibson was a driven and motivated player who was thoughtful and serious about everything he did, on and off the field.

In recalling my first conversation with Gibson as a new member of the Dodgers, he wanted to make one point perfectly clear.

"The way I play, no one will ever accuse me of not playing hard," Gibson said.

One can be sure that Gibson, the manager, will be asking the same thing of his players. He realizes and emphasizes that it doesn't take talent to play hard.

Of his first team meeting as manager, Gibson said: "I wanted them to know how I see it going, what our personality is going to be. I don't know how good we'll be, but we want to at least try and make the opportunity to defeat the beast that really wants us to give up on our goals."

The media following the D-backs should get used to the term "beast," because it is one that Gibson used often during his days with the Dodgers, talking about how tough the game can be and what it takes to overcome daily obstacles in a game where failure comes to all who participate. Gibson has often said that it is the battle that is the real enjoyment and the only way to meet it is with determination.

"To see a fiery team on the field, playing with fire, would not make me mad," Gibson said upon being appointed the manager of the D-backs.

Another area where Gibson will make his own mark is in his honesty in dealing with the media and the challenges he and his team are facing.

When the Arizona executives announced the changes of Gibson replacing A.J. Hinch as interim manager and Jerry DiPoto taking over for Josh Byrnes as interim GM, they spoke in general terms about the reasoning for the moves and the team itself.

Gibson, on the other hand, came directly to the point.

"Maybe I shouldn't say this," Gibson started before landing the real picture of the D-backs. "We have a lot of good ballplayers, but we aren't winning ballgames. I'd rather have a lot of bad ballplayers and win ballgames."

One can be sure Gibson will be just as candid when he deals with the top Arizona executives on the needs of the team.

He is looking for changes in a team that is noted for striking out far too much at the plate and failing to get the job done with its group of relief pitchers.

"We're at least going to try and change," said Gibson. "We're not going to do the same thing that hasn't been successful."

Gibson will be giving a lot of thought to his new team, because that's his makeup. He thinks about everything he does. As a member of the Dodgers, he never registered at a hotel under his own name, and he always wanted to be on a floor where he knew there was easy access to exit in case of a fire.

Bottom line, Gibson thought about what he did, and he planned ahead.

Gibson, 53, is prepared for his new duties. He has never managed, but he was a coach with the Detroit Tigers for three seasons and was in his fourth season as the D-backs' bench coach when he received his opportunity to take control on the field.

It is clear Gibson will take great energy into his new challenge and he will stress aggressive and smart play while putting an emphasis on fundamentals instead of style.

He's not looking for players who look good in uniforms, but for players willing to get their uniforms dirty.

If you play for Gibson, you had best be prepared to play hard and do things that are fundamentally correct.

When the D-backs won their first game under Gibson last Friday night, he went onto the field to greet his players.

As Adam LaRoche approached Gibson, the first baseman tossed his new manager the ball from the final out of the game. Gibson kept his eyes on the ball and reached out with two hands to make the catch.

There's nothing fancy about Gibson -- just a strong desire to do the job the right way.

The sooner Arizona lifts the term "interim" from Gibson's managerial title, the better off the D-backs will be.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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