Kirk Gibson was born on May 28, 1957, in Pontiac, Mich. Prior to making a name for himself in baseball, he starred for the Michigan State football team, earning All-American honors as a wide receiver.
Gibson set many school records and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in January 2017. While he appeared destined for a career in the NFL, his focus switched to baseball from the advice of Michigan State head coach Darryl Rogers.
Gibson was selected by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1979 NFL Draft, but did not sign with the organization. He instead committed to playing professional baseball after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the 12th overall pick in the 1978 MLB Draft.
Minor League career
Gibson’s professional career began in 1978 with Single-A Lakeland. In 54 games for the affiliate, he hit .240/.328/.451 with eight home runs, 40 RBI and 13 stolen bases across 204 plate appearances.
Gibson was promoted to Triple-A Evansville the following season, where he batted .245/.326/.398 with nine home runs, 42 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 89 games.
As the calendar turned to September and rosters expanded, the Tigers called up Gibson to the Major League roster.
Major League career
Gibson made his MLB debut on Sept. 8, 1979 against the New York Yankees, striking out in a ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance. In 12 overall games that month, he hit .237 with one home run, four RBI and three stolen bases.
Gibson appeared in only 51 games the following season, posting a league-average 100 OPS+. He broke onto the scene in 1981, hitting a stellar .328/.369/.479 in 82 games en route to a 12th-place finish in American League MVP voting.
The 1983 season marked Gibson’s first as an everyday player. Seeing time at all three outfield positions, as well as designated hitter, he batted .227 with career-highs in home runs (15) and RBI (51).
Though it represented somewhat of a down year at the plate, Gibson bounced back with his best season yet in 1984. He hit .282 with 60 extra-base hits, 91 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 149 games.
Gibson went on to post a 1.250 on-base plus slugging in three games against the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series, earning MVP honors. The Tigers swept the Royals in three games and advanced to the World Series for a meeting with the San Diego Padres
Gibson continued swinging a hot bat in the Fall Classic, accumulating a 1.145 OPS in five games against the Padres. The Tigers posted a 4-1 record, capturing their first World Series championship since 1968.
Gibson spent three more seasons with the Tigers before unexpectedly reaching free agency at the conclusion of the 1987 season. An arbitrator determined that various owners had colluded against the players, preventing them from becoming free agents at reasonable points in their careers.
Los Angeles Dodgers career
Gibson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 1988 season and immediately made an impact in the clubhouse. He additionally enjoyed a career year on the field, batting .290 with 25 home runs, 76 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 150 games.
Gibson was named National League MVP later that offseason, but his contributions in the month of October far outweighed his success during the regular season.
Gibson came through in the clutch on multiple occasions against the New York Mets in the 1984 NL Championship Series, hitting the go-ahead home run in Game 4 before adding another one the following contest.
The Dodgers earned a hard-fought victory over the Mets in seven games, advancing to the World Series for a matchup against the Oakland Athletics.
Nursing separate hamstring and knee injuries, Gibson was limited to just one plate appearance in the Fall Classic. Pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1, he improbably hit a walk-off, two-run shot off Dennis Eckersley to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead in the series.
L.A. went on to win their first World Series championship since 1981, defeating Oakland in five games.
Gibson would spend two more seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent in December 1990. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 before spending the final three seasons of his Major League career with the Tigers.