Is the Team Equal to, or Greater than, the Sum of Its Parts? Part 2 of 3

The decade of the 80s would prove to be the justification for the Hope the 70s presented, for under Lasorda’s leadership Team-Dodgers won World Series’ in 1981 and 88, 4 pennants, and 8 divisions championships. And there is no reason why the Dodger players of the 80s would not have rendered the same admiration and honor to Lasorda as they did in the 70s.Dodger Stadiumdodgers1988

Another hallmark acclamation to the inspiration not found merely under the auspices of common Team Credibility was the episode considered by many as “The Miracle” at the 1988 World Series. The following are excerpts from my essay describing the subtle nature of heroic proportion (October 6, 2013):

Not even Albert Einstein and all the renowned physicists of his time, and “saber-metricians” of this modern-era, could have approximated the statistical improbability of what Kirk Gibson did on October 15, 1988…

In late 1987, Kirk left the A.L. Tigers and, in January, joined the Hapless Dodgers of the National League, whose dismal ‘87 season needed something of a “Hobbsian” spark to generate new life into a ball-club in disarray… At Spring Training a few opportunities presented themselves early in Camp to set the stage for an immediate change of direction in Team attitude and focus that would eventually lead the march to a much improved status and uncontested standing in the National League West… Frivolity and practical jokes took a back seat to Kirk’s ultra-professional and business-like mentality, and the team flourished from beginning ‘till the season ended…

His modest season ending stats earned him National League MVP honors while helping the Dodgers win 21 more games than the season before. But it was his uncommon “personal-leadership” and otherwise intangible, undaunted presence that invoked the “mythical hero” image his teammates and adversaries had learned to admire and would attempt to emulate…

Kirk purportedly had done all he could to get the Dodgers to that World Series, but “they” were presumably going to have to get to the “Promised Land” without him, for the injuries he incurred along the way were too severe for any “mortal” to overcome and give a last ditch effort… And everyone knew that even with Gibson, there was slim if any chance for them to beat the powerful Oakland Athletics, whose superior arsenal of player personnel had amassed an incredible record of 104 wins to 58 losses.

In Game One, the “As” held a 2 run lead until the Dodgers scored again in the 6th inning. The game remained at 4 to 3, Oakland leading in the bottom of the 9th…  

Throughout the game, there were brief TV glimpses of Kirk Gibson hobbling around in the dug-out as he was traversing the distance from the training room and back, trying to massage and loosen his painful joints and hamstrings. Ever-optimistic, Tommy Lasorda seemed to be coaxing his beleaguered star, to see if any type of “miracle” was in the offing. Vince Scully repeatedly commented that there was “absolutely” no chance of Gibson making an official appearance.Vin Scully8Vin scully6

With T.V. and radio broadcasts coming into the locker room, Gibson heard one of Scully’s commentaries as if providence were beckoning for him to consider an alternative thought…  And Kirk realized an inexplicable surge of unwarranted confidence streaming through his consciousness. “But what could I do?” would have been the common query instigated by mortal fear that must be wrested away from that mind intent on fulfilling a noble purpose. 

After Dodger pitching blanked the Athletics in the top of the ninth, the otherwise stalwart performance of Oakland Pitcher, Dave Steward, ended when statistically prudent “As” manager, Tony LaRussa replaced his Starter with the League’s Premier “closer,” Dennis Eckersley. It looked like a sure win for Oakland, since “Eck” was destined to face the bottom of the Dodger line-up (though somewhat of an ominous sign, in hind-sight). Eckersley got the first two outs in rapid succession, and was about to face a formidable, former teammate who was set to pinch-hit for the 8th batter in the line-up.Eckoak1988

Meanwhile, in the Dodger dug-out, Lasorda learned that Gibson had begun a personalized mental and physical rehabilitation process, which immediately spurred Tommy’s ever-percolating mind to envision a preemptive scenario of his own. After appointing Mike Davis to pinch hit for Alfredo Griffin, he surreptitiously placed Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle, to make Eckersley and LaRussa think that they could afford to be a little cautious with Davis (a potential threat) and contemplate the “end” by pitching to the very weak-hitting Anderson…

All potentially constructive Dodger strategy lay in the proposition that Gibson regain a semblance of his former self. Yet, even if he could overcome the acute pain and obvious debility, what could he hope to achieve in his debilitative condition? 

Bob Costas would later remark that while he was in the stairwell of the Dodger dug-out, he could hear the groaning, anguishing strokes of a batter  desperately trying to ready himself for one last at-bat, even “one last-swing,” while teammate Orel Hershiser was feeding baseballs onto the tee for Gibson’s convenience.

Although most of his teammates must have sensed the futility of Kirk’s somewhat contrived heroism, they probably also could not have expected anything less from “the man” who had proven himself so many times before. They all must have thought the “good-prospect” all but possible, however their past experience would at least warrant a “statistically” derived- at chance of success. “YOU’VE GOT TO BELIEVE” would have been the genuine inspirational sentiment pouring into the ears of the players from the mouth and heart of “never-doubting Thomas” Lasorda and the Great Dodger in the Sky…T. Lasorda 7

Kirk is now sitting at the end of the dugout bench, fully dressed, and armed with helmet and “hickory,” speculating the purview the situation has presented. “I have inspiration and commitment to do something, but what, and how far can my own determination carry me? Will Davis get on base to set up my ‘grand entrance,’ and what emotion will the fans exude? And will it give me that final burst of adrenaline to be propelled to heights previously unknown?”

 Eckersley just walked Mike Davis! Taking a deep yet unstrained breath, Kirk’s electrifying and confident image popped onto the top step, then out of the dugout to the thunderous roar of the now ecstatic and frenzied crowd. Lasorda’s unending chants of “new promise” inspired his Team and the Dodger Faithful to loftier heights of exaltation, as Kirk finished his preliminary swings. His slow, deliberate, but majestic walk to the plate must have been a nerve-wrenching ordeal for the Oakland pitcher, even though he exuded a confidence rather than impatience to get the game over…

 One could only speculate as to what order of thoughts must have been aligning themselves in Gibson’s mind as his footsteps proceeded into that rarefied cubicle of variable distinction. Before assuming his characteristically “Spartan” batting-stance, his back cleat scratched the hardened dirt for a foothold to secure a base from which his afflicted body might launch its purposeful attack.

He was finally ready, and none too soon for the exasperated Eckersley, who let his arm commence with the business at hand, firing a blazing, side-arm, tailing fastball, for which Gibson must have felt a tad unprepared. All observers couldn’t help but notice the constrained, oblique wrenching, late response Gibson’s off-balanced body and bat conveyed as it almost completely missed the ball.

The second pitch gave the same explicit message, and the fans as well as Eckersley himself must have sensed that “the Gibber” was no match for the “Eck.” Kirk was behind 0 and 2 in what seemed like a “heart-beat,” and Dennis was determined to finish him off on the next pitch…

 After his first pitch to Gibson, it became obvious to Eckersley, as well as the “brain-trusts” in both dugouts, that Kirk was not the optimum threat for which everyone fancifully hoped or cautiously suspected. But he was quickly portending to be a formidable adversary, even in his seemingly “powerless” condition.

“Eck” recognized that with all the pitches Gibson was subtly calculating, making superficial contact with every one, it might only be a matter of time before he can put one in play, perhaps to the detriment of Oakland. Therefore, he can’t let Davis steal second base.

Before his second and third pitches he made 3 throws to keep Davis close. With 2 strikes on Gibson, the Dodgers might be desperate. His third pitch was a ball outside, going a little farther to see if Kirk would bite beyond the fringe. He didn’t!

Since “Eck” didn’t throw over before the 4th pitch, Davis attempted a steal on the 5th. Gibson had his best swing yet, but fouled it back. Eckersley didn’t think Davis would steal on consecutive pitches, and he was correct, but threw “Ball 2” in the process. 

Before his 7th pitch, he threw to first base again. But on the pitch to Gibson, the ball was further outside, and Davis successfully stole second base, much to the consternation of LaRussa, Eckersley, and the “As” dugout as the count rose to 3 and 2…

 Gibson’s impotent yet “frisky” at-bat posed a conundrum whose immediate solution never materialized. So, for Eck, there was only one direction in which to proceed!

Gibson had neither rhythm nor timing when he came to the plate. But through the course of his gauntlet-like “trial-by-pitch” he had developed both to a rather insignificant level. Now, it was thought by “Eck,” to end this dilemma. He knew what he had to do. And he will do it, NOW!

The Game wasn’t necessarily on the line, if his strategy failed. Gibson would walk, and the Dodgers would still have a runner in scoring position, presenting merely a secondary condition that would quickly be dismissed. But “Eck” was confident, he could not fail…

 The statistical probability for Eckersley’s success was astronomical! Kirk Gibson seemed to have been abandoned by the “gods” and his mythological legend was about to become irreparable.  The most he could hope for was simply to flare a base hit that might tie the game. But in Eckersley’s mind, a game-ending out is all Gibson’s “gunna” get!

With the count 3 and 2, “Eck” is about to deliver the most potent pitch in his repertoire. The Dodger dugout is ecstatic. Now, with the fleet-footed Davis in scoring position, a base-hit would tie the game, and that is all and the best they could expect from their forlorn hero.

But Eckersley had other plans! And, what was Gibson himself thinking?

Just before Eckersley was to deliver his “secret” pitch, Kirk abruptly stepped out of the batter’s box, as if to regain his composure under this momentous circumstance. But, in that instant, a higher source seemed to beckon him to recall an otherwise innocuous fact that Kirk had read on a report prepared by an astute and meticulous “scout” (Mel Didier) before the playoffs began.

After pondering the present situation, all statistical possibilities seemed to be aligned in a favorable position. And the curtain was about to fall, with a dramatic conclusion, on one of these conquering heroes, each with his own weapon of invincibility in hand.

Kirk looked toward the mound, then stepped into the “Box,” knowing he had all the information he needed. But is his faith in his belief strong enough; and will his mind’s commitment to act unflinchingly, in spite of his apparent bodily condition, enable his warrior-heart? 55,000 spectators are about to find out as well.

Neither antagonist is smiling but each exudes an indefinable confidence, even while knowing well that “one will die today.”

Eckersley takes his stretch and prepares his “Load” for delivery. Gibson makes a final but ominous mental query designating his unquestioning tact as “the die is cast,” “Sure as I’m standing here, partner,  you’re going to throw me that ‘back-door’ slider, aren’t you?”

As the pitch leaves his hand, Eckersley recognizes the ball’s trajectory to be perfect, right where he wanted it. With all the pitches he had thrown, he knew Gibson would see the ball moving directly toward the outside. He also thought Gibson’s quick sense would assume that since his side-armed fast ball “tails,” the pitch’s destination would obviously move farther outside for a ball. He was expecting Kirk to momentarily relax, and not have enough time to respond to the pitch’s abrupt deviation of speed and direction, until it was too late…dennis eckersley

“Sure enough,” realized Kirk, upon first glance! His “absolute faith,” and patience allow him to wait. He’s not yet lifted his front foot as he did previously while expecting Eckersley’s fast ball. An extra nanosecond of Time is in his favor.

“Now, all I have to do is get my timing right, to be able to explode at the precise moment!” In his extremely “closed-stance,” as he discerned the ball’s outside trajectory, he waited until he could detect its subtle and abrupt turn toward him. Then his front foot exaggerated its deliberate stride toward third base, as his body was “gathering” its forces to uncoil as his foot would plant into the ground…

 As if he knew what was coming, “Eck” saw Kirk’s foot plant, his body uncoil, his arms extend, and in a final explosive lunge of shoulders, hands and wrists observed the bat contact the ball with an uncanny perfect synergy that launched the round projectile with improbable force in the direction from which it came…dennis&Kirk

With all spectators and both dugouts watching in apparent disbelief, the ball kept rising and carrying farther and farther in its ellipticity until it finally disappeared over the right-field wall.

Throughout the day not a hint of joy was expressive of the face of Kirk Gibson, only a stoic façade, hiding pain, disappointment, resentment, and disdain for his helpless and impotent condition.

As the follow-through of his celestial swing of bat was complete, and he cautiously embarked on an unrehearsed, and as yet undefined, trek, an observer could detect a gradual change in facial disposition. Kirk Gibson - Watching ballKirk Gibson HOme Run TrotGibson2The remorseful look of indifference was suddenly transforming into a heavily distinguishable canvas of ecstatic jubilation. And in a moment of triumphant glory he pumped his bent right arm in successive punches along the side of his beleaguered body kirk gibson3after the subjugated leather-bound projectile did indeed traverse the height of the outfield fence for an uncontested, historic “Tour De Force” of amazing ramifications, the conclusion of which would be directly revealed…

The instant of evidentiary proof of Gibson’s success immediately transformed the hopeful yet solemnly-cautious dispositions of Dodger fans and Teammates (who might not have believed in Santa Clause) into genuinely faith-filled followers who, at that “holy instant,” probably could have moved a mountain or two.

The dug-out Dodgers were streaming out onto the field, arms flaying and voices shouting “Hallelujah” (from the roof-tops) to their “resurrected “messiah” as he buoyantly circumnavigated the bases in all but reconstructed, glorified form…Kirk Gibson - Rounding 3rddennis-eckersley-After HR

His amazing feat did provide a Home Run of incomparable distinction. And it did win that First Game of the “Series,” in abrupt and miraculous fashion. But the intangible essence of that single act of unfathomable “Heroism” also unlocked a momentarily imprisoned spirit of Team unity that suddenly “empowered” the Dodgers to claim the 1988 World Series Title, even without Kirk playing another moment of any of the remaining 4 games.

Kirk Gibson’s Home Run was truly the “single-most amazing performance piece in Sports history,” but also glorified the presence of an intangible element of team unity that simply enhances the prospect for understanding that “the Team is greater than the sum of its parts.”   Vin Scully10(Tommy and Joe)Los Angeles DodgersKirk and Tommy (1988)

Coming Soon: Part 3 of, “Is the Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts?

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