"It took me a long time to realize I was a public figure," Gibson says. "We've all done things we've been embarrassed by. My problem was that I was doing my growing up in public. And the gossip columnists crucified me. You can't believe the bleep they made up about Rozie and me. Right now, I've got a double running around town claiming he's me, and he's getting into all kinds of bleep. Somebody phoned JoAnn last week and told her I'd been seen with some other girl. She just laughed. She knew I'd spent the whole bleeping week hunting."
Most friends agree that the Bad Boys' union with the Sklarski girls, JoAnn, 26, and Sandy, 20, has slowed their pub-hopping pace to a crawl. Gibson, who shares his five-bedroom Tudor house in posh Grosse Pointe with JoAnn and her 8-year-old daughter, Colleen, now considers himself a family man. "Kirk has grown up a lot in the past two years," says Ricci, "and JoAnn has had a lot to do with it. When we started hanging out together, he wouldn't let you go home until it was five o'clock in the morning. I think much of the problem was that he and Rozie both lived on the east side of town, in Grosse Pointe. Grosse Pointe is older money. It's tradition. Anything they did seemed to contrast with that."
The late November day is colder than Gibson expected, the temperature dropping below 30�, and a fearsome wind is blowing off Lake St. Clair, across which he will sail Bad Boys to dock for the winter. "This is insaneness," Gibson says, climbing aboard. "One thing is sure—there won't be traffic." Gibson instructs Rozema to be sure and tell JoAnn to meet him on the other side of the lake. Rozema gives a jaunty wave and roars off down the narrow road. "He'll forget," says Gibson, smiling. "That Rozie—he's a real clown. You can take him anywhere, and he'll do something funny or bleep up something."
The two friends, both Michigan natives, could conceivably be parted next season. Rozema, a righthanded pitcher who won 15 games as a rookie in 1977, is a free agent, but a history of injuries, the playboy reputation and a 7-6 record in '84 may limit his marketability. "Maybe it's best for the both of us," says Gibson of the possible split-up. "But we'll get together again." He shudders in the noonday chill. "Let's get the bleep out of here."
Out on the water, the always restless Gibson jumps back and forth between the exposed upper deck and the cozy cabin below. He fiddles with his charts and adjusts his radio, which blares rock. He sees ducks everywhere. "Look at those bleeping mergansers," he cries out. "Greasy little mothers. Tomorrow you're history." Gibson has slightly thinning, uncombed blond hair and a full, dark beard, not the scraggly five o'clock shadow that made him look so menacing in the World Series. He has a commanding presence, partly because of his 6'3", 215-pound size, but mostly because he exudes an air of confidence, even arrogance. Gibson always speaks his mind. He is as subtle as a haymaker.
"I get ornery out there," Gibson says of his ballplaying. "I'm not there to make friends. I'm even a little out of control sometimes. I've had guys on other teams say, 'Hey, take it easy.' That's a compliment to me. I remember once I slid into third hard against George Brett, and I gave him the elbow. He was knocked right on his ass, and I was safe. 'Hey, you're not playing football anymore,' he says. I like George, but I do what it takes to win." His yellowish-brown eyes widen as the boat turns into the channel. "Bleep!" He's off like a shot to the upper deck to grab the wheel because a Great Lakes freighter, the George A. Stinson, is dead ahead. Gibson skillfully maneuvers his small boat out of harm's way and returns below, laughing. "Every now and then you'll be surprised by one of those suckers. But this is part of the Great Lakes waterway."
He docks the boat and paces nervously, awaiting JoAnn's arrival. Within a few minutes she pulls up in a gray BMW. She is, predictably, a smashing blonde, slender and leggy and with a complexion of pale peach. Gibson climbs behind the wheel and heads for home at the speed of light, the car radio issuing cacophonous songs with incomprehensible lyrics from station WRIF. JoAnn braces herself as Gibson swerves onto the highway. "What's the matter? Too fast?" he inquires innocently. She reaches for the radio dial. "How about a little no music," she says, restoring a measure of serenity to the car's interior.
The picture of Gibson, helmet off, clenched fists raised, bewhiskered face illuminated in triumph, after his three-run, eighth-inning upper-deck homer in Detroit off Goose Gossage in the fifth and final game of the 1984 World Series, has become the symbol of that great occasion for all Tiger fans. Indeed, the score was only 5-4 for the home team at the time, so Gibson's mighty clout was the championship clincher. The front page of the Oct. 15 Detroit Free Press, consisting mostly of Gibson's photograph, has been converted into a bestselling poster in town. In the civic victory celebration two days after the final game, Gibson reenacted his clenched-fist salute for hysterically cheering multitudes in Kennedy Square.
He is a hometown boy, born in Pontiac, reared in the suburb of Waterford, an All-America football star at Michigan State. He is cheered when he walks into bars and restaurants. "Gibby, Gibby!" Strangers ring his doorbell at odd hours. He can park anywhere—he has the BMW, an Eldorado, a Chevrolet Blazer, a Chevy pickup and four Honda four-wheelers. He is truly a hero. The year before, he was a bum.
The 1984 season was Gibson's revenge for 1983. His much-publicized "potential" had become the town joke; in '84 he began to reveal that potential in all of its astonishing breadth. He hit 27 homers and stole 29 bases in the regular season, becoming the first Tiger ever to hit more than 20 homers and steal more than 20 bases in the same year. He scored 92 runs and drove in 91. He set a team record with 17 game-winning RBIs. His .282 batting average was 55 percentage points higher than his '83 average. Last season, unlike 1983, he was given one position to play—rightfield—and though it had been his least favorite, he played it with dash, daring and occasional brilliance.