Kirk Gibson is a true Spartan. When the athletic department at
Michigan State, his alma mater, asked him in early 1996 to
cochair a committee to raise $9 million for a student-athlete
academic center, Gibson took on the project. He organized golf
tournaments and cocktail parties and made hundreds of coaxing
phone calls. He got the biggest chunk, $2.5 million, from former
MSU basketball All-America Steve Smith, who now plays for the
Portland Trail Blazers, and the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete
Academic Center (named after Smith's late mother) opened its
doors in 1998. "I'm as much a madman about things as I always
was," says Gibson, 43, who's currently heading a $6 million
campaign to remodel the Breslin Student Events Center, Michigan
State's basketball arena. "I still love intensity."
A consensus All-America wide receiver for the Spartans in 1978,
Gibson has never lost his gridiron persona. From '79 to '87 he
inspired his Detroit Tigers teammates with his stadium-shaking
home runs and electrifying scores from second on wild pitches,
helping the team roll to the '84 world championship. Before the
'88 season he signed with the rebuilding Los Angeles Dodgers, and
that spring Gibson challenged his new teammates' commitment. "I
told them it was easy to see why they'd been in fifth place the
previous year," says Gibson, who went on to hit 25 homers and win
the National League MVP award.
That October, Gibson produced one of the most memorable moments
in World Series history. With Los Angeles trailing the Oakland
A's 4-3, two out and one man on in the bottom of the ninth in
Game 1, Gibson, severely hobbled by a torn left hamstring and a
sprained right knee, appeared in the on-deck circle to pinch-hit.
"I heard the crowd and told myself I wasn't hurt," says Gibson,
whose home run sent the fans at Chavez Ravine into bedlam and
launched a five-game upset of the heavily favored A's.
Gibson wasn't completely healthy again until 1993, by which time
he had returned to the Tigers after single seasons with the
Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired in '95 and
today lives near Detroit with his wife of 14 years, JoAnn, their
three sons, Kirk, 13, Kevin, 10, and Cameron, 6, and JoAnn's
daughter, Colleen, 23. Gibson, who's in his third season as the
analyst for Tigers games on Fox, has worked on many charitable
endeavors, but he's intrigued by the student-athlete academic
center in East Lansing. "Funny, I wasn't a motivated student,"
says Gibson, who never graduated, "but athletes today are
smarter, and they're starting to realize that college degrees
last a long time."
May 28, 2000
"I heard the crowd," he says of his famous World Series homer,
"and told myself I wasn't hurt."