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Remembering Vin, part two: Gibson's impossible shot
Note: Soon after COVID-19 shut down sports, looking for good stories to write for The Norman Transcript, I came up with a series called “Sports You Can Watch Right Now.” Two of the subjects I chose were immortalized by the same voice, belonging to Vin Scully, Dodgers play-by-play man from 1950 to 2016, Brooklyn to Los Angeles. He called World Series, All-Star Games, the NFL and golf, too, yet never gave up the job he took alongside the immortal Red Barber more than 72 years ago. Vin died on Tuesday. He was 94. This is the second of those two stories, re-edited and remastered, Vin playing a big role, originally written March 17, 2020, about Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 winning home run at the 1988 World Series.
I don’t know where to begin.
In a moment of no new sports, I thought there were five older moments everyone should relive or experience for the first time.
It’s all just sitting there on You Tube. This is entry No. 3. The next two, I know where to begin, but not this one.
It’s too much.
Do you go with the incomparable Vin Scully, five minutes and 17 seconds after NBC returned from commercial during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, when the pinch-hitter picked up a bat in the dugout and began his way to the batter’s box, never taking residence in the on-deck circle, where Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda sent Dave Anderson only to be a decoy?
“And look who’s comin’ up,” he said, just as the crowd went from steady hum to anticipatory roar.
Scully said so many great things, writing better columns in real time with his voice than about any sportswriter could compose with all the time in the world.
“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,” Scully said next. “And with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it.
“If he hits the ball on the ground, I would imagine he’d be running 50 percent to first base. So, the Dodgers trying to catch lightning right now.”
Only the greatest voice in sports history
Or do you go meta?
Do you explain how much more national a game baseball still was and that the A’s — they were called the A's far more then than the Athletics then — were just impenetrable.
They’d won 104 games, 13 more than any other American League team (Twins), four more than any National League team (Mets) and 10 more than the Dodgers.
Jose Canseco — .307, 42 home runs, 40 stolen bases, 124 RBIs — would go on to win the AL MVP. Mark McGwire, in his second full season, hit 32 out and knocked in 99. Dave Stewart might have been the best starting pitcher in the game and Dennis Eckersley was the best closer. People thought Tony LaRussa, Oakland’s manager, had reinvented the game somehow.
The A’s were unthinkably good.
“He was complaining about the fact that with the left knee bothering him, he couldn’t push off,” Scully said. “Well, now he can’t push off and he can’t land.”
“He’s got to use all arms,” said the late Joe Garagiola, Scully’s color man, one of those guys you never hear about any more, but that everybody between 45 and 70 grew up with.”
The hitter they were talking about, the man in the batter’s box, of course, is Kirk Gibson.
He’d go on to win the NL MVP that season, but on this night had not been in the Dodger dugout, had not been introduced with the rest of his teammates before the game. Too banged up, he remained in the clubhouse.
The length of the series, five games, he came to the plate one time.
It was epic.
Having no idea Gibson might pinch hit, Eckersley pitched around Mike Davis, who’d hit 22 home runs playing for Oakland in the year before, three more than the guy in the on-deck circle, Anderson, slated to hit for reliever Alejandro Pena, wound up hitting his entire 10-year career.
Yet, it wasn’t Anderson, but Gibson, gimpy as all get out, who Lasorda tapped to make history.
Down 0-2 after two pitches, Gibson somehow kept the at-bat going.
It was electric.
The third pitch, Gibson fought off a strikeout by nicking a fastball down the first-base line. It wobbled foul, yet produced this exchange between Scully and Garagiola.
Garagiola: “You can really see the limp. He’s not driving that ball, it was by him. He almost has to talk to his legs and say, ‘Let’s go, we’ve gotta get out of here.”
Scully: “It’s one thing to favor one leg, but you can’t favor two.”
Eckersley threw to McGwire at first base three times, trying to keep Davis close. Once, Oakland catcher Ron Hassey, using Gibson as a screen, as Scully aptly pointed out, nearly picked Davis off.
Gibson fouled off another pitch, then took two out of the zone, then a third, as Davis stole second base.
Scully: “Sax waiting on deck but the game right now is at the plate … High fly ball to right field, SHE IS, GONE.”
Lasorda led the Dodgers out of the dugout, running and waving his arms like Jim Valvano five years earlier against Phi Slama Jama. Gibson pumped his arm twice rounding second base.
The fans were still going bonkers when Scully came back to the microphone more than a minute since calling the shot.
“In a year that has been so improbable,” he said, “the impossible has happened.”
On the radio, Jack Buck had long since lost his mind, yelling “I don’t believe what I just saw, I don’t believe what I just saw.”
Filling in for Scully on Dodger radio — Scully started calling Dodger games in Brooklyn in 1950 and only retired after the 2016 season, a couple of months before his 89th birthday and, yes, he was still the best — the great Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale had a pretty strong call, too.
“This crowd will not stop. They can’t believe the ending,” he said as Gibson reached the plate. “And this time, mighty Casey did NOT strike out.”
No other sport gives you moments like that, maybe because no other sport makes you wait through a 162-game regular season, or an at bat, like Gibson’s, lasting several minutes.
In no other sport is there anything like living and dying with every pitch the way baseball sometimes takes you, when it begins to feel like every breath.
Another thing about that game?
Former Sooner, baseball and football, Mickey Hatcher, hit maybe the most forgotten home run in World Series history in the first inning (and another one before the series was done).
You can probably find the whole game and watch that, too. Or just search for the half inning. Or just once Gibson got the call. Or just the swing.
It’s all there.
It’s worth seeing.
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