Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 7, 2005
BASEBALL: The Impossible

Yesterday, before the Dodgers' first game against the Tigers, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke revisited the 1988 World Series with Kirk Gibson. The resulting article has interesting tidbits, most notably Plaschke's own recollection of the historic fist-pump. But this point stands out:

How much did that home run typify his season? Consider that he was voted MVP despite hitting only 25 homers with 76 runs batted in and a .290 average.

How much did that home run cement his legacy? Many think he is one of the biggest impact players in baseball history, yet he never played a full season in which he hit .300, or had 30 homers, or 100 RBIs.

"I was very, very average in many aspects," he says. "Let's be honest."

Gibson's modesty is admirable, and indeed, if we truly want to "be honest," we should agree that -- by Hall of Fame standards -- his career was "very, very average."

On the other hand, as a journalist, Plaschke should know better than to provide statistics without appropriate context. Yes, Gibson hit only 25 homers. But, back then, that was good enough for seventh in the league. And, while he had a mediocre batting average, he finished fourth in on-base percentage, ninth in slugging percentage, fourth in OPS, third in OPS+, second in runs scored, and seventh in runs created. He had a very productive season.

Perhaps he didn't deserve the MVP award. Two years ago, Crank laid out a very strong case against Gibson (and for Darryl Strawberry), providing support for Plaschke's assertions. But, as Aaron Gleeman has noted, Gibson also accumulated the second-highest Win Share total, so his selection was not entirely unjustified. It certainly wasn't something to be dismissed in the interest of immortalizing the homer.

Then again, we've come to expect such sloppiness from Plaschke, right? (He's a far cry from Bernie Miklasz, to be sure.) But, if there's anything from the column worth saving, it's this admission:

"There were personality defects in the deal, it's what made me who I was," he says. "Some people didn't like it. But they didn't take the time to understand it."

I was one of those people. I covered the Dodgers as a beat reporter during Gibson's era, and I blanched at his crudeness, his bullying, the way he treated life as if he were breaking up a double play.

I understand it now. He behaved that way because it was the only way he felt he and his team could succeed.

He couldn't have remodeled the Dodgers without a hammer and nails, and by the time that ball sailed over the right-field fence, everyone forgot the mess.

Maybe he'll write similarly of Paul DePodesta seventeen years from now.

Posted by Robert Tagorda at 8:04 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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