Listening to Kirk Gibson on the Tigers TV broadcast, you’d have no clue what a wild man he was in his days as a major league ball player for the Tigers, Dodgers, Royals and Pirates. He sounds rather subdued, though he often provides great insights to the game.
S.L. Price, a Sports Illustrated writer since 1994, captures the essennce under the headline “Tamed Fury: How Kirk Gibson Learned to Quell His Volcanic Ferocity After Years of Rage:”
The first time I saw Kirk Gibson in the flesh, he was rampaging toward me, near-naked and jeering; the second time, he limped to the plate and hit one of the most dramatic home runs in history. One moment was heinous, the other heroic. In each he seemed unbound by humanity’s usual norms and limits, bigger than life, incomprehensible. Both events occurred three decades ago. Now it was a late-March morning in 2018, and as I approached a dugout, I recognized the broad back of Gibson, sitting alone.
This was at a practice field in the Detroit Tigers’ spring training complex in Lakeland, Fla. A coach throwing batting practice grunted, an equipment cart clattered: Gibson waited for his youngest son to take his cuts. A passing staffer, startled by the famous face staring out at the field, stopped long enough to venture a polite, “How you doin’?”
“Oh,” Gibson said warmly, arms opening wide, “just listening to the sounds of baseball.”
That was my first direct proof that, maybe, the man’s jagged edges had worn smooth. The sounds of baseball? In his prime with the Tigers and the Dodgers, in the 1980s, Gibson was hardly your Let’s play two! romantic; his vibe was about as pastoral as a punch in the face. He smashed titanic home runs. He ran the bases like a mustang. Shrewd, profane, honest and cruel, he leveled any opponent, umpire, teammate or, yes, manager fool enough to get in his way. -Tigers catcher Lance Parrish once described Gibson in the clubhouse as “a caged animal.” Detroit owner Tom Monaghan, miffed by Gibson’s unkempt Viking look, bid his one-time ALCS MVP good riddance in ’88 by declaring him “a disgrace to the Tiger uniform.”