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Ron Fimrite
December 10, 1984
After years of injury and disappointment, Kirk Gibson, Detroit's hot-tempered rightfielder, unleashed his 'potential' and made '84 a season to remember
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December 10, 1984

The Happy Hunter

After years of injury and disappointment, Kirk Gibson, Detroit's hot-tempered rightfielder, unleashed his 'potential' and made '84 a season to remember

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When she leaves Gibson calls after her, "Nothing against you, understand. It's just that I don't do that." He grumbles in his beer after she leaves. "That's embarrassing," he says. "I think you should be treated like a human being."

It is apparent that everyone in Galligan's knows who Gibson is, so he avoids making eye contact. "I have some rules about signing autographs," he says. "If somebody's rude, I definitely won't. And I won't while I'm eating. You sign one autograph, and that's all you do for the rest of the night. Where do you cut it off? You go to a hockey game, and you don't get to see one. Some guy came up to me the other night and asked me for a high five. I told him I give high fives on only the best and highest occasions. He called me a turkey. People don't mean bad, but they don't understand that I really want to be left alone. Basically, I enjoy playing the game and that's it. I'd love to do without all the publicity and hype and live a normal life. Because we're world champions now, people's attitudes toward us have changed. To me, I'm still Kirk Gibson. I still have my identity."

Gibson is just back from a hunting and fishing trip in the Upper Peninsula. "I love to hunt, to get outdoors," says Gibson. "Where I was there was no power, no bathrooms, nothing. Just trees and swamp. Beautiful." The great love of his life, even JoAnn concedes, is his hunting dog, Nick, a 90-pound golden retriever that has impeccable manners and breeding. Gibson has two retrievers, the 3-year-old Nick and a year-old puppy, Duke, who, because he's "kind of a sissy," has become more JoAnn's pet. "Nick is like his son," she says.

For a man who thrives on the outdoors, Gibson has an uncommon flair for business. He commanded $257,500 in '84 from the Tigers, and is heavily into local real estate and a landscaping business called, appropriately, Ground Crew. He figures to be financially "free and clear" by the time he's 35. He spends mornings seated at his desk making phone calls. "I just love sitting at that desk and doing business," he says. It is virtually the only time during the day that he is remotely still.

Kirk has always been a restless, competitive, terrifically intense person, say his divorced parents, Bob, 60, a high school math teacher at Waterford Kettering, and Barbara, a theater and speech teacher at Clarkston High School near Pontiac. He is the youngest of three children and the only boy. His sisters, Jocelyn (Jackie) and Christine (Teena), are six and five years older, respectively. Gibson admits he may have been spoiled. "My parents never made me work," he says. "When I grew up all we did was screw around with motorcycles and water skiing. I had it pretty easy. My dad pushed me hard in athletics. He built me a home plate and mound in the backyard and a hoop over the garage, and he made me practice. I'd be out playing, and he'd say, 'Get your damn glove and play catch with me.' "

"Kirk was always very aggressive," says his mother. "He'd try anything and never worry if he got hurt. Once he hit his chin on the diving board trying some razzle-dazzle dive. He was all banged up, but he got right back up on that board again."

That's pretty much what a somewhat older Gibson did this past baseball season. Nineteen eighty-three was to be the year the Tigers would see what he could do over a full season. In his three previous years, he had not played in more than 83 games, hit more than nine homers or stolen more than 17 bases. It had been a painstaking apprenticeship. In 1983 his baseball acumen would be tested. It was, and he failed. Platooned much of the time and switched from one outfield position to another, he hit only .227 in 128 games. He also struck out 96 of 401 times at bat, and his outfield play was deplorable.

He was booed mercilessly. There were rumors about booze, broads and drugs, the three deadly sins of professional sport. His response to the acrimony was to lose his temper in public and private. "It happened so often it hurt him," says the Brewers' Jim Gantner. Gibson agrees. "I had vendettas out against the fans, the press, everybody."

His family and his girl friend suffered in silence. "I thought I'd never get through it," says his mother. "Knowing Kirk like I know him, he was trying as hard as he could. It was terrible."

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