The Eck & Gibson reminisce for the first time

Eckersley and Gibson joking around? NO WAY!

You’d think it would have happened before almost 28 years had passed since Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate and hit a walk-off, pinch-hit home run against Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series , you’d think that the two ballplayers would have talked about it together.

They hadn’t, that is until Thursday night in Los Angeles. Kirk Gibson and Dennis Eckersley sat down – together, in a formal setting (Joe Torre‘s charity event benefiting his Safe At Home Foundation) for a round table discussion about that one moment.

Eckersley
Dennis Eckersley gets the last out of the 1989 World Series. Getty Images.

Well it was more than a moment. Eckersley had just allowed a rare walk to Mike Davis who then stole second as the Eck and Gibson faced off in a long at-bat. During that at-bat the game could have ended in favor of the Oakland A’s. Gibson hit a ball that bounced down the first base line that rolled foul before Eckersley or his first baseman Mark McGwire could get to it.

Had the game ended in that fashion, the footage of Gibson’s home run (that is WAY overplayed during EVERY postseason) wouldn’t exist. In all likelihood the Athletics would have then gone on to win the World Series.

What happened (since some of you maybe too young to remember) was that Eckersley and Gibson fought to a 3-2 count, Gibson remembered the advice a scout had once given to him about Eckersley and the rest is history. 

Gibson’s pinch-hit home run changed the momentum of the series. The A’s lost. The Dodgers won. And the 1988 season was over.

I’ve heard Eck say over the years that he hated seeing that replay, that it was something he didn’t like to talk about, or relive, which makes it so surprising that he agreed to sit down and talk about it in a public setting.

However, he was in a jovial mood Thursday and even joked when reminded about the uneventful way the game could have ended.

“Oh,” Eckersley said, “that could’ve been fair. I picked it up. It was foul. It could’ve changed my whole life.”

Sitting next to him the 1988 World Series MVP pitcher Orel Hershiser then handed Eckersley a tissue, and the entire room erupted in laughter. Of course that one moment wouldn’t have changed the Hall of Famer’s whole life or his many accomplishments, but It is impossible to say that Gibson’s homer wasn’t one of the biggest game changers in baseball history.

In attendance were everyone from Tony La Russa to Billy Crystal. La Russa actually called the event,

“Historic.”

And I’d have to agree. La Russa was the manager of the A’s in 1988 when they won the AL Pennant so he was as close to the action as Eckersley. He also managed the Athletics to the AL Pennant in 1990 as well as to a World Series SWEEP over their cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants in 1989.

Eckersley
With “The Eck” celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1989 World Series victory over the giants.

I was eight at the time and remember the event quite clearly, watching the game laying in front of the television at my parents’ house not expecting anything to happen but for Eck to close it out like he always did.

Except this time he didn’t and it’s haunted him – along with many other A’s and their fanbase – for 28 years. I know that A’s and Dodgers’ fans have started to finally forgive and forget, maybe that’s finally what the Eck and Gibson did on Thursday night.

*(Seriously, I really was shocked when I heard about this event, probably would’ve given my right arm to be there. The Eck is my all-time favorite player and I’ve heard him over the yeras –  I never, EVER thought I would see the day that they sat down and joked about one of baseball history’s most  game changing and painful – or joyful -moments)

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