PHOENIX — The visiting manager’s office at the Ballpark at Arlington will have a bittersweet feel when Kirk Gibson enters this week.
It’s the place where Gibson bid farewell to his playing career.
It was Aug. 10, 1995. Detroit had sent one of its best pitchers and one of Gibson’s best friends, David Wells, to Cincinnati in a trade-deadline deal, and it had become harder and harder for Gibson to play with a sports hernia that made it difficult to walk, let alone go from first to third.
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So, two days removed from a two-hit game, Gibson strode into the manager’s office after a loss to the Rangers and gave Tigers manager Sparky Anderson the news.
“Walked in, talked to Sparky, said, ‘That’s it.’ Sparky understood what was going on,” Gibson said.
Gibson flew with the team to Milwaukee that Thursday night, then caught a plane for Detroit the following morning. He told only one teammate, close friend Alan Trammell, on the bus ride to the airport. Trammell always sat in the first seat on the team bus, Gibson in the second.
“I whispered in his ear, ‘Let’s have a couple of retirement beers,'” Gibson said.
“He said ‘What?'”
Gibson, who made his MLB debut in 1979, retired with 255 home runs, two World Series titles and the 1988 NL MVP award.
And no regrets.
“I was solid in my thought. I could have stood there and rode it out and taken the money and just sat there. I wasn’t going to do that,” he said.
“Struck out my first at-bat, struck out in my last at-bat. How fitting.”
The Tigers were four games out of the AL wild card when Wells was traded, and the team traded closer Mike Henneman to Houston the day Gibson retired, receiving young power hitter Phil Nevin, who played in 24 games down the stretch. Then there were the injuries. It all factored in.
“I was hurting. David was a really good friend of mine. It seemed to me like we were cashing it in, and here I was, I could barely get out of bed every day. It was hard to get up and hard to walk, really hard to run,” said Gibson, noting that players seldom used the training room in those days.
“I’d get ready for the game, go through it every single day. I was just saying, ‘Why am I doing this?’ This is more than painful, and what we are doing it for? I wasn’t going to stand there and take an opportunity from some young kid if that was the direction we were going.