There’s a whole, cool story behind the black-and-yellow pine-tarred Worth Tennessee Thumper bat that Kirk Gibson used to hit the most dramatic home run in Los Angeles Dodgers history 22 years ago. Pull up a chair, he can tell you all about it.
What’s it worth to you?
Actually, the real story here is: Why isn’t it in a display case in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? Or at the Sports Museum of Los Angeles? Or somewhere at Dodger Stadium?
And why, if anyone with credit card was so inclined, could it be bought next week at auction, stuck into someone else’s own secure humidor, and perhaps never shown to anyone without some kind of written consent form?
This bat, as Gibson points out, has a blue “x” on the knob, below the black “23,” meaning it “was a reject.” The 34 -inch bat was too light when it came to him from the factory, maybe only 30 or 31 ounces, so he set it aside. “So I basically had it sitting there all year.”
Until now, it’s been sitting it in a safe, in a warehouse near his home in Michigan.
He only used that bat during the 1988 playoffs because “I started getting tired,” he says. “I had no legs at all, so I didn’t want to be swinging any big lumber.” By Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, both his knees were shot. He needed something much lighter.
Now, you can assume that Gibson, recently hired as the full-time manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, doesn’t need the money he’ll receive in return from this highest-bidder-gets-a-piece-of-history exercise. But he won’t say.
“That’s not an appropriate question,” he told a reporter on a conference call Tuesday. “I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”
The bat has red ink marks on the barrel, smudges from the special red-labeled balls he fouled off early in the count. It has extra tar on the handle, to make “the balance feel better.” The deep nicks in the backside of the barrel, “that’s from me hitting my cleats . . . at the beginning of the at-bat, they weren’t very deep. Then as the at-bat progressed, I kept hitting it harder and harder.”
The spot on the sweet part of the bat where he met the ball that would float into the right field pavilion as the tail lights were heading out of the parking lot and win Game 1 in the most improbable fashion “is actually chipped out of there. There is a little nick where I hit it.”
Of the bat as a whole, Gibson says it “so much character . . . it’s like a painting. It’s like a story and it will tell you the whole thing.”
The character of the bat isn’t what’s in question here. It’s seems to be more about the character of Gibson, who is putting this, plus the batting helmet he wore, and the tar-smudged, never-washed white Dodgers jersey top out there for someone to buy. Plus a gray road uniform from that World Series.
The opening bids for the five items add up to $85,000. SCP Auctions CEO David Kolher projects about a half-million dollars will come from it. The profits go to Gibson.
“I’d like to see (the items) in the Hall of Fame,” said former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, himself a Hall member, “but if he can help a charity more, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
True, in this same auction from Oct. 27 to Nov. 13 on SCPAuctions.com, also up for bid are Gibson’s 1988 N.L. regular-season MVP Award and his replica ’88 World Series trophy, with the proceeds going to his foundation. That will fund scholarships for the two high schools in Michigan that his mother and late father used to teach. The combined minimum bids for those two items are $30,000, expected to fetch in excess of $100,000.
Don’t confuse those two charity-based hawked items with the other five 1988 World Series pieces.
Since we may never see the ball that Gibson hit for what’s been called the biggest sports moment in Los Angeles history – the owner of it has never surfaced, and it would be nearly impossible to verify its authenticity without the holograms used on today’s equipment – why wouldn’t these treasures be placed somewhere to be marveled at by the public?
“I’m really at peace with what I’m doing,” Gibson explained, implying that he’s done listening to what other people think he should do with it.
He said that while his relationship with the media and fans has been touchy in the past, “it’s much improved, and I’m going to continue to improve it,” he said, knowing that as the Diamondbacks manager, that’s probably a requirement.
“To add another group to that is the collectors. It’s a huge environment. I think just as I realized that fans and media are a huge part of the game, the collectors, the people who display it, have museums, really cherish these things on a different level than I do. It’s an important part of our game, keeping our game healthy.”
Kohler, who has one of the greatest collections of Lakers memorabilia at his Orange County home, says it’s more common these days for buyers of this kind of stuff to display it. For the public? Or in their own homes, with added security.
Yet there’s no guarantee that whomever buys these items will put them on display, but Gibson says he’s “hopeful” that happens.
Gary Cypres, the curator and megacollector who owns the Sports Museum of Los Angeles, agreed that they were “great pieces, and I’d love to own them,” as he looked at the rooms of Dodger memorabilia in his personal treasure trove. But estimating a $200,000 fetch for the uniform, for example, “that’s a lot,” he said, noting that there’s much more of an emotional tie to these items.
Having possession of them this long has actually given Gibson what he calls a “phobia,” with his fearing they’ll be destroyed in a fire. Yet, he’s hung onto them. The bat, Gibson admits, was once requested by the Hall of Fame, but it never got there.
How it was that they weren’t conveniently picked up by a locker room kid, or a team official, or someone else in the meyhem of that moment on Oct. 15, 1988, Gibson doesn’t seem to be surprised.
“Well, they were mine,” he said, adding that owner Peter O’Malley also gave him a giant LeRoy Neiman lithograph of that moment and allowed players to keep their jerseys and, presumably, other items.
At least we know where the bat is. For the time being. But for the rest of time, Gibson will handle it his way. He says he also has many items from his days with the Detroit Tigers – more equipment from the 1984 World Series – that he will sell off as well. Maybe for his foundation. Maybe not.
“I have my reasons,” he said. “Let’s leave it at that, OK?”
Sure. Fine. Whatever.
The bat alone, item No. 1198, has a opening bid of $25,000, with expectations that it could go for more than $200,000. So a price has just officially been set on a priceless archive of Los Angeles history.
Everyone in L.A. will remember where they were when Gibson hit the home run. Will they remember where they were when swatches of the event were parceled off to the highest bidder?