So how did we get here?

How did we get from a bull-in-a-china-shop football player at Michigan State University to the manager of a big league baseball team?
Well, first of all, Kirk Gibson was a bull-in-a-china-shop baseball player, too. So nothing new there.
Gibson played baseball with the temperament of a bear awakened early from hibernation. He reported to spring training every February scowling, and got crabbier. His face was affixed into a sneer from April to October.
Gibby, especially in his earlier days as a big leaguer, didn’t swing at pitches, he flailed at them angrily. The baseball was a house fly, and Gibson was trying to kill it with a hammer.
Gibson was Garfield before his cup of coffee, an infant with colic. He played the game as if someone was about to take it away from him. You could imagine him as a modern day Rogers Hornsby, who was once asked what he did during the baseball off-season.
“You know what I do?,” Hornsby said. “I stare out the window at winter and I wait for baseball season.”
Gibson played football and baseball at MSU, helping to lead the Spartans football team to a share of the 1978 Big Ten Championship. But the football program was on probation, thanks to squirrely coach Darryl Rogers. So no Bowl Game for Gibby. As if he needed another chip on his shoulder.
But he chose baseball, probably because he liked the idea of 162-game seasons. No weekly, three-month football season could ever satisfy his drive and passion.
Kirk Gibson didn’t have a Hall of Fame baseball career. His numbers don’t reach out and grab you. In any given season, dozens of players were more talented, in that God-given way.

But he was the most clutch hitter I’ve ever seen in Detroit. Ever. Ask Dodgers fans about that, while you’re at it.

Lord knows what Gibson could have done if he didn’t play half of every season hurting.

Something was always the matter with him. A wrist injury one year. His ankle, another. His shoulder, his back. His legs. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, in a fit of boosterism, once called Gibson “the next Mickey Mantle.”

Forget that Mantle was a switch-hitter and Gibby batted left.

But Sparky was right, in a crooked path sort of way. Gibson WAS the next Mantle, when it came to the aches and pains department. Mantle played his career on one leg. Gibson would have killed to have just a bad leg to worry about most years.

Kirk Gibson is now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, where everyone who’s not a player is “interim.” Gibby is, and so is the general manager.

No one knows how long he’ll hold the job. But pity the army who tries to take it away from him.

Already, the players have spoken. Gibson has been the boss for less than two days, taking over after the firing of A.J. Hinch. Already the colorful adjectives are coming out.

Fiery. Passionate. Tough. Hates to lose.

Gibson has been holding his tongue in big league dugouts for seven years now.

He started his coaching career as bench coach for Alan Trammell in Detroit from 2003-05. He joined the D-Backs in 2007. In that role, it wasn’t his place to say what he really wanted to say, to do what he really wanted to do.

Now it is.

May the Lord have mercy on his players’ souls.

He can’t win, of course—not in Arizona, not with this roster. But by God, his players better learn to hate losing and give it their all.

He’s the interim manager, which means he’s going to be at the helm until the end of the season and then who knows?

Gibson has a three-month tryout to prove whether he has the goods to be a big league manager—if not in Arizona, then elsewhere. Not just those who follow the Diamondbacks are watching.

I remember Gibson as a snot-nosed kid off the campus of MSU and into a Tigers uniform back in 1979. I saw him develop as a big league player and waited for the rest of him to mature. That took awhile, and he’ll admit that.

I saw him limp around the diamond and battle pain every year. I saw him grow old and get thin on top and try to hang on with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Between the 1992 and 1993 seasons, there arose some chatter.

Gibson, who’d played just 16 games with the Bucs in 1992 and who had pretty much retired at age 35, was whispered to be on the Tigers’ radar for 1993.

There was nothing to suggest he could be a serviceable player. He had 56 at-bats in ’92, gathered just 11 hits. The year before that, he hit .236 for the Royals, playing in 132 games.

He was 35 with the body of 55.

The Tigers signed him in February, 1993. It was thought to be nice of them.

Then Gibson went out and hit .261, slugged some homers—many of them clutch, and the Tigers’ charity suddenly looked very much like clairvoyance.

In 1994, Gibson hit 23 homers and had 72 RBI in just 330 at-bats, hitting .276. He was 37 years old and his career wasn’t just twitching, it was re-animated.

In mid-year of the 1995 season, Gibson quit. The Tigers’ wheels were falling off and Gibby sensed it. He wanted no part of that, and so he limped away.

He retired the same way he broke in: suddenly and forcefully.

Gibson has three months to manage the Diamondbacks. It’s a lousy job with a rotten roster, a losing culture, and uncertainty in upper management.

But don’t bet against him.


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