Here we are, moving through a new millennium since The Swing, and Gibson still has The Limp he used that October night to circle the bases at Dodger Stadium along the way to the demise of the A's during the 1988 World Series. His home run out of nowhere happened so quickly, but he responded so slowly to the delight of those who enjoy drama.
Perhaps you watched the whole thing live on television, or maybe you've seen it on YouTube.
Whatever the case, when Gibson reached home plate to culminate the most improbable of victories, those who were there (and I'll paraphrase the late Jack Buck here) couldn't believe what they just saw. The man of the moment became an icon for life, and not only for his life, but for the life of sports fans not born.
Did I mention Gibson still has The Limp?
This entire thing is so cool, because Gibson's 17-year career as a player ended in 1995. Since then, he has gone from serving as a television analyst for Tigers games to coaching in the Major Leagues to managing the Arizona Diamondbacks for the last 3 1/2 seasons. And here's the thing: There isn't a time when I see Gibson moving around his players that I don't notice The Limp and drift back to Oct. 15, 1988. That's right. When you see The Limp, there always is that date, and there always is the memory of The Swing, which ended Gibson's only at bat during that World Series. It was enough for the Dodgers to shock Oakland in a sweep courtesy of their left-handed slugger's ability to overcome aching legs and a sour stomach.
No wonder Gibson spends much of his present in the past. The Limp won't let folks forget, and they force Gibson to remember. Which begs the question: How often does this cycle happen?
"Every day," Gibson said recently while sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field, where he displayed not a hint of despair over his eternal link to baseball history. "The number of people who ask me about [the home run], well, it is pretty frequent. Maybe when I'm at my ranch [in the wetlands of barren Michigan], I don't hear about it, but when I'm out and about, it's pretty frequent. Look, I'm honored to have done that. I mean, it's an example of why you don't predetermine failure, regardless of the circumstances. I could have easily not done it. I could have made an excuse."
This is getting deep, because it is.
The Swing and The Limp are metaphors for all of those cliches that your parents, Little League coach or Sunday school teacher taught you about everything. Never giving up, always doing your best, assuming the best instead of the worst ... shrugging instead of cringing when your manager asks you to pinch-hit during the World Series with all of your aches and pains against one of the greatest closers of all-time.
Nothing Gibson did back then made sense at the time, and it looks even crazier right now. For one, he wasn't supposed to play a lick in Game 1 of that 1988 World Series. He was so hobbled entering the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets that, after the Dodgers clinched the pennant, manager Tommy Lasorda ordered Gibson not to leave the dugout to celebrate with the rest of the team on the field.
What's the old line about desperate times and desperate men? Lasorda got desperate. As for the times, it was the World Series opener, and the Dodgers trailed the powerful A's by a run in the bottom of the ninth. There were two outs with a runner at first base, and there was something else: The nearly invincible Dennis Eckersley was on the mound.
The behind-the-scenes stuff is extraordinary regarding how Gibson went from suffering on the trainer's table to start the bottom of the ninth, to grabbing an ice bag to wrap around his throbbing right knee to hitting balls of the tee in the bowels of Dodger Stadium. Soon, Lasorda was asking Gibson to pinch-hit, and soon, Gibson was taking The Limp to face Eckersley. After two quick strikes, Gibson worked the count to 2-2, and then a hanging, back-door slider later ...
The Swing and The Limp.
While Gibson was hearing the endless cheers in the ballpark, Buck was sprinting deeper into Hall of Fame broadcast history by telling his national audience, "I don't believe what I just saw."
I'm guessing Gibson knows about it all.
"The Jack Buck call, I used to keep it on a little cassette, and I still have it," Gibson said, acknowledging that he joins the rest of us in getting chills whenever we watch or listen to Buck's description of The Swing and The Limp. "In the past, during tough times, and when I was sort of struggling in my life, I'd put [Buck's call] in and listen to it. The Don Drysdale one, too."
Drysdale was the Dodgers radio announcer at the time. Then Gibson paused before saying, "And Vinny's." That's Vinny, as in Vin Scully, the Dodgers' legendary radio and television announcer. Added Gibson, "[Those calls] all put you in a good place, which is something that I believe in having people do. From the time those announcers describe when the ball hits the bat to when they're having it [go over the fence], I remember my feeling at the time. I'm in that good place. And when you keep putting yourself in a good place, you have a better chance in life at succeeding.
"You'll also have a lot more impact in doing whatever you're doing."
Whether you have a limp or not.