December 9, 1985
Kirk Gibson is a true Spartan. When the athletic department at Michigan State, his alma mater, asked him in early 1996 to cochair a committee to raise $9 million for a student-athlete academic center, Gibson took on the project. He organized golf tournaments and cocktail parties and made hundreds of coaxing phone calls. He got the biggest chunk, $2.5 million, from former MSU basketball All-America Steve Smith, who now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center (named after Smith's late mother) opened its doors in 1998. "I'm as much a madman about things as I always was," says Gibson, 43, who's currently heading a $6 million campaign to remodel the Breslin Student Events Center, Michigan State's basketball arena. "I still love intensity."
A consensus All-America wide receiver for the Spartans in 1978, Gibson has never lost his gridiron persona. From '79 to '87 he inspired his Detroit Tigers teammates with his stadium-shaking home runs and electrifying scores from second on wild pitches, helping the team roll to the '84 world championship. Before the '88 season he signed with the rebuilding Los Angeles Dodgers, and that spring Gibson challenged his new teammates' commitment. "I told them it was easy to see why they'd been in fifth place the previous year," says Gibson, who went on to hit 25 homers and win the National League MVP award.
That October, Gibson produced one of the most memorable moments in World Series history. With Los Angeles trailing the Oakland A's 4-3, two out and one man on in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1, Gibson, severely hobbled by a torn left hamstring and a sprained right knee, appeared in the on-deck circle to pinch-hit. "I heard the crowd and told myself I wasn't hurt," says Gibson, whose home run sent the fans at Chavez Ravine into bedlam and launched a five-game upset of the heavily favored A's.
Gibson wasn't completely healthy again until 1993, by which time he had returned to the Tigers after single seasons with the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired in '95 and today lives near Detroit with his wife of 14 years, JoAnn, their three sons, Kirk, 13, Kevin, 10, and Cameron, 6, and JoAnn's daughter, Colleen, 23. Gibson, who's in his third season as the analyst for Tigers games on Fox, has worked on many charitable endeavors, but he's intrigued by the student-athlete academic center in East Lansing. "Funny, I wasn't a motivated student," says Gibson, who never graduated, "but athletes today are smarter, and they're starting to realize that college degrees last a long time."