Before the 1980 season, Sparky Anderson compared Kirk Gibson to Mickey Mantle. "I was so cocky and stupid at the time, I thought I could do it," Gibson says now. "I was the next Mickey Mantle? C'mon. I was overmatched."
Gibson was the local hero, the football star from Michigan State with the great bod. He was also a baseball novice who played only one season of college ball and 143 games in the minors. But in 1984 Gibson, who batted .227 last season and was on the DL three times in the previous five years, is healthy, happy and 15 pounds lighter. He's also hitting .283 with career highs in homers (20), RBIs (72), steals (22) and gamers (15).
"I'd lost a lot of confidence," he says. "And maybe I took some things for granted, too. But this year I'm much more relaxed. And because of the start we had, the spotlight's been off me."
"I don't know if he'll ever have great numbers, but he'll always have good, solid numbers," says Anderson, who admits his Mantle comparison was a mistake. "He's happy now because he was able to whip this game. For a while this game whipped him."
There were some immediate repercussions to the Padres-Braves beanball war of Aug. 12. And Phillies manager Paul Owens didn't like them one bit. "They're all walking on eggs out there, they've got hair triggers, and every pitch that comes close is going to be considered a knockdown," Owens said after the umpires warned Jerry Koosman for hitting San Diego's Alan Wiggins. This was two days after Pascual Perez had nailed Wiggins to precipitate that beanbrawl and two at bats after Wiggins slapped a Koosman outside pitch the other way for a single.
"Wiggins was practically standing on the plate," Owens continued. "What the hell's Koosman supposed to do, throw him the same pitch? He cut a fastball in on his hands and it was maybe six inches off the plate. He gets warned and it takes the game right out of the pitcher's hands. I'd like to be a hitter knowing a guy can't pitch inside."
Ya gotta love Bruce Kison, who may be as good a money pitcher as this generation has seen. The guy's 34, he's been pitching in pain for years, he missed the first 10 weeks of 1984 recuperating from back surgery and—sonofagun!—he's working on a 15-inning scoreless streak.
The last six zeros came last week in Detroit as Kison got the win in his first start of the season. With Geoff Zahn on the DL until sometime next month, Kison will have to win a few games if the Angels hope to win the AL West.
Kison's track record says he will. He's 27-10 lifetime in September-October, and his postseason mark is 5-1.
John Candelaria took another shot at Pirates executive V.P. Pete Peterson, calling him an "idiot" for hiring his son Rick, a former minor league player and coach, as a coach in March. "I consider John a friend," Rick said. "Now, if he had said I wore dirty undershorts, I might have gotten mad."... Cincy's Ron Oester was hitting .208 at the All-Star break, but since former batting coach Ted Kluszewski was brought in from his job as minor league hitting instructor to work with him, Oester has raised his average to .243.... Larry Bowa (13 for 80) and Dave Owen (6 for 43) are hitting a combined .154 since the All-Star break, which is why Tom Veryzer may get a chance to be the Cubs' shortstop until phenom Shawon Dunston, the nation's No. 1 draft pick in 1982, graduates from the Cubs' Iowa farm club. Bowa sees the whole shortstop situation as a "personality conflict." Says Jim Frey, "It has nothing to do with personality. It's production, and I'm not getting any from my shortstops."... The book said that Sid Fernandez, the lefty strikeout whiz the Mets got from the Dodgers this winter, couldn't throw enough strikes. Well, since his July 11 promotion from Class AAA, where he was walking more than five batters per nine innings, Fernandez is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA and has given up only 13 walks in 49 innings.... When the Astros' Terry Puhl was asked what was the most encouraging aspect of his club's season, he said it was management's decision to bring in the fences. And the most discouraging? "They haven't done it yet."... "Pete Rose will arrive as a manager," says Atlanta boss Joe Torre, briefly the Mets' player-manager, "the first time he pinch-hits for himself."
Don't expect Andy Thornton back in Cleveland next season. Thornton, tired of waiting for a contract offer, said recently he's entering the free-agent draft this fall. Thornton's 35 and he's still a quality hitter (25 homers and 75 RBIs so far), but he's never been on a winner, and the Indians' near future is hardly bright.
"Our policy is not to negotiate with a prospective free agent until the end of the season," says Phil Seghi, Gabe Paul's aide-de-camp. Brilliant strategy, fellows.
The Orioles, who'll need a DH to replace Ken Singleton, would seem to be the best bet to land Thornton. Give the Orioles, who've struggled for runs all season, a productive DH and one more productive outfielder—rookie Mike Young, who's coming on, might be the answer—and they could be back in business.
The odds against four pitchers from one Class A team pitching in the majors the next season may be astronomical, but it has happened. We all know about Dwight Gooden, the Mets' 19-year-old phenom who was the ace of the 1983 Lynchburg Mets, but there are also reliever Wes Gardner, who has pitched well for the Mets since joining the team on July 29; Jay Tibbs, who has a 2.18 ERA in seven starts for the Reds after coming over from the Mets in the Bruce Berenyi deal; and Jeff Bettendorf, who started the season with the A's but is now back in the Mets' minor league system.
The experiment has been successful, but Dave Righetti, starter-turned-reliever, is still uncomfortable as the Yankees' bullpen stopper. "We're going to have to talk over the winter about whether I'm going to start or relieve, because the winter is an important time for me," says Righetti. "I get people out in my mind during the winter."
Righetti will probably be getting them out as a reliever again next year. He's cashed in on 22 of his 27 chances for a save, including 13 of the last 14. He's not going anywhere.
The Orioles' Rick Dempsey took a lot of heat earlier this season when he said the Tigers' Jack Morris wouldn't finish more than four or five games over .500. Well, Morris is 5-7 since his 10-1 start.... Tiger free agent Darrell Evans is hitting .170 since May 25.... Joe Morgan has been saying for years he doesn't want to manage, and he said it again last week after Pete Rose got the Reds job. His reasons: "Big contracts, lack of concentration on the field and [the fact that these days] nobody seems to sit around talking baseball."... When Rod Carew went on the DL, his place on the Angels' roster was taken by Darrell Miller, the older brother of U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist Cheryl Miller.... Tony LaRussa started Greg Luzinski, Tom Paciorek and Jerry Dybzinski at Yankee Stadium on Polish-American Night recently, and, according to Dybzinski, he had to. "He got a call from Lech Walesa before the game."... Seattle's Ed Vande Berg is tired of the way Del Crandall has shuttled him between the rotation (where he's 6-11 with a 5.68 ERA) and short relief (1-1, 1.63), an odd combination, to be sure. "It's screwing me up, and screwing up my concentration," says Vande Berg, normally a short man. "They can't do that to me. I want out of the rotation."
To the owners who want to avoid refunding money to the networks by installing temporary lights in Wrigley Field if the Cubs win the National League East:
Your lack of regard for tradition is exceeded only by your greed, you varlets.
To the owners who would move the games to Comiskey Park or Milwaukee County Stadium:
That's the biggest travesty since the Dodgers were hijacked to L.A.
I have, grudgingly, accepted night baseball for the playoffs and Series. The purist in me says "Boo!" while the realist understands that tens of millions of people can't watch the games during weekdays. But there are owners who can't stand the thought of returning money to the networks—perhaps $700,000 per team—as compensation for the ratings drop that is inevitable if the Cubs make their first trip to the playoffs.
"You're talking big money," one owner said last week, "but I just don't think it's right to interfere with the basic lore and the basic mystique of the Cubs. It's something we shouldn't tamper with."
May the sun always shine on the ivy and bricks of Wrigley Field.
STAMP OF APPROVAL
The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp of ex-Pittsburgh great Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico last week. Previous sports honorees were Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
BALL PARK FIGURES
Player-managers once abounded in the majors, but Cincinnati's Pete Rose is only the fifth in the last 25 years. Below, his most recent predecessors with their managerial records and individual batting averages:
Hank Bauer, OF, A's (1961)
Team: 35-67 (.343); BA: .300
Frank Robinson, DH, Indians ('75-76)
Team: 160-158 (.503); BA: .232
Joe Torre, PH, Mets (1977)
Team: 12-6 (.667); BA: .000
Don Kessinger, SS, White Sox (1979)
Team: 46-60 (.434); BA: .200
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
MIKE BODDICKER: The Oriole right-hander allowed only five hits and one earned run and struck out eight in two complete game wins. He raised his record to 15-8 and lowered his ERA to 2.77.
"His legacy lives on here, even though he's gone," said the Orioles' Mike Flanagan about Jim Palmer, who was released by the O's in May. "He's still out there pitching games for the Orioles, no matter who wears the uniform. The things he said will be around for a long time."