Friday, March 24, 2006

It Was Finally Time To Party When Gibby Cooked Gossage's Goose

First, let me put you folks on to a wonderful Detroit Tigers blog, Detroit Tiger Tales, run by Lee Panas, a Tigers fan based in Massachusetts. Currently Lee is previewing the 2006 Tigers with heavily-researched numbers and projections for each player. Check it out. It's good stuff.
I have only been in attendance once when a Detroit team captured a championship, and that was Game 5 of the 1984 World Series -- Tigers and Padres. The "Kirk Gibson game." I went to Game 4, too -- the "Alan Trammell game."


I have been blessed to have been there, in person, at some wonderful games and/or to witness spectacular performances: Isiah Thomas scoring 16 points in 90 seconds in a playoff game against the Knicks in '84; the last Red Wings game ever played at Olympia Stadium in 1979; the Wings' first win ever at the Joe, also in '79; Game 3 of the 2004 NBA Finals; and the Lions' 45-3 destruction of the Steelers on Thanksgiving Day in 1983, to name but a few.

But when Gibson launched his three-run homer in the eighth inning off Goose Gossage -- turning a precarious 5-4 lead into an 8-4 comfy one -- I swear I could feel the city exhale.

We hadn't had a champ of any sort since the '68 team, of course, and not only that, Detroit teams were never even real contenders in any sport. The decade of the 70's, to show you, was practically a washout. The Lions were stumbling, as usual; the Red Wings became known as the Dead Things in the 70's; the Pistons made the playoffs a few times but never went deep; and the Tigers had an AL East crown in 1972 and nary anything else to cheer about, except Mark Fidrych in 1976.

So when Gibson connected off Gossage -- and you know the story: first base open and Goose talks manager Dick Williams out of walking Gibby -- and that ball sailed DEEP into the upper deck in rightfield, Tigers fans everywhere knew the championship was theirs. I can still see Larry Herndon in leftfield, running in to snag Tony Gwynn's lazy flyball to seal the Series, and how he kept running -- directly to the pitching mound, where the whole team mobbed closer Willie Hernandez.

We were in the centerfield bleachers -- upper deck -- and the place was so loud and crazy and then chunks of sod appeared over the railing from somewhere below -- being tossed by someone, obviously -- and it was the darndest thing you've ever seen.

Then, of course, we ventured outside the stadium and it was a little scary, to be honest. I was ten feet away from the now-legendary burning Detroit police car, scurrying away with all the others as the cops approached. Nobody wanted to be blamed for that one.

But we were happy -- Lord, were we happy! My friends and I had planned ahead and kept a case of champagne, on ice, in the trunk of the car, and after we finally made it there -- we were parked on Abbot street not far from Rosa Parks Boulevard -- we opened the bottles up and poured the contents all over ourselves, just as we'd seen on TV in countless lockerrooms.

And that's what was so special: Those scenes had always been played out in other lockerrooms, in other cities. Not in 16 years had anything happened in Detroit sports worth opening a beer over, let alone a case of bubbly. But on October 14, 1984, it was Detroit's turn to celebrate. Our time to call ourselves champions.

That's why I wrote a column about 18 months ago extolling Gibby's homer as the greatest moment in Detroit sports history -- mainly because of the "We Win!" feeling it elicited, before the game ended. But beyond that, it sealed a championship that the city had needed for quite some time, and deserved. Detroit is a blue-collar city -- a shot-and-beer town -- and for years fans had put in their 8-10 hours of hard work at the factory, or the office, and plunked down some cash to watch their teams play in person, or at least settled down on the sofa to watch them on television. And for years all they got from it was losing records and coaching changes and team dissension and nary a sniff of true championship contention.

Until Gibby smoked Gossage's fastball into the upper deck seats in right.

I can see the ball now, as I type this, sailing into the stands. For a glimmering moment, we all hopped onto that baseball and rode it into the night sky.

Oh Tigers baseball, will you ever thrill me so again?


Blogger Lee Panas said...

Very nice article. Everybody will always remember the homerun he hit off Eckersley but it's the one he hit off Gossage that I'll truely never forget.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Lee!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Ozz said...

Excellent blog! Last fall, through eBay, I bought a set of DVDs that I've been watching lately. I got the '76 Fidrych MNB game vs. NY, the Morris no-hitter and all the '84 postseason games. They're entire games (videotaped and transferred to DVD) and the quality is very good. I'm very pleased with my purchase!

I've watched all the games so far except two. I'm going to skip the Game 2 loss in SD. Tonight, whenever I get done goofing around online, I'm going to watch "The Gibson Game"!

9:22 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ozz!

That sounds like an awesome DVD collection! Enjoy!

10:37 PM  

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