NEW YORK -- Reports -- from the man himself -- that Kirk Gibson's baseball career is over may be premature. It now appears that when Gibson said he planned to retire and spend the summer at home in Michigan with his wife and kids after being released by the Pirates the other day, he was only half right.
Before he retires, his old manager, Sparky Anderson, wants him to have one last hurrah in his hometown, Detroit, where it all began 13 years ago. This is no handout, mind you. Sparky needs a left-handed hitter -- not nearly as much as a left-handed pitcher, perhaps -- but the fact is he believes the scruffy, ornery former Tiger bellwether still has a few home runs left in his bat.
So you can expect the Tigers to announce the signing of the 34-year-old Gibson soon. And, considering the circumstances under which he left Detroit in January 1988, won't that be ironic?
It will be recalled that in the winter of 1985-86, the baseball owners embarked on a novel game plan to reduce the spiraling salary structure of players. It was called collusion. The prime free agent that winter was Kirk Gibson, coming off a season in which he hit .287 with 29 homers and 97 RBI. Much to his surprise, however, no team in baseball wanted him. He received no offers other than the take-it-or-leave-it three-year, $3.6-million deal from the Tigers.
Gibson took it, then two years later had it made up to him when baseball arbitrator Thomas Roberts found the owners guilty of collusion and awarded him, along with the others in his free-agent class of '85, another "true" shot at free agency. This time the Tigers offered him only a one-year, $1.3-million, take-it-or-leave-it deal to stay, and Gibson was able to leave it when the Dodgers offered him three years for $4.5 million.
The fallout from that was bitter.
"Kirk Gibson is a disgrace to the Tiger uniform because of his half-beard," said Tiger owner Tom Monaghan.