Commentary

What if … Gibson had been unable to hit?

Updated: October 24, 2008, 8:57 PM ET
By Mark Simon | ESPN.com

GAME 1, 1988 WORLD SERIES

Kirk Gibson
Will Hart/Getty ImagesKirk Gibson's walk-off homer off Dennis Eckersley came on his only at-bat of the series.
What really happened: NL MVP Kirk Gibson, hobbling around with two leg injuries, hit a pinch-hit, two-run, walk-off home run against Dennis Eckersley with two outs in the ninth inning, giving the Dodgers a stunning win. The Dodgers would shock the heavily favored Athletics in five games to win the World Series.

But what if … Gibson decided, upon leaving the dugout, that he was unable to hit?

The Dodgers would have won anyway. Because Rick Dempsey says so.

The Dodgers had two other options left on the bench that night: backup catcher Dempsey and utility infielder Dave Anderson. The former had a home run rate similar to Gibson's. The latter was the man standing in the on-deck circle, whom Gibson replaced.

"Any situation with me hitting a homer to win the game, that would've been 'the impossible,'" said a laughing Anderson, recently hired as the Rangers' third-base coach, referencing a famous line from Vin Scully.

Likewise, Dempsey, now an Orioles broadcaster, couldn't say he'd have homered in that situation. He too figured on a game-tying hit, and that someone else would have gotten the game winner.

Your Turn

If Gibson had been unable to hit, how would things have turned out differently? Share your alternative ending.
"[Eckersley] would have thrown me a slider middle-away, and I would have hit it into the corner for a double," Dempsey said. "I had 11 doubles in the postseason. That's what I did."

Dempsey believes that the Dodgers would have won the World Series anyway. That team always found a way. And he has his own improbable-to-reality story.

"That past winter, I sat outside Fred Claire's office for three hours, waiting to get an audience with him," said Dempsey, an unwanted free agent who'd hit .177 in 1987 (as the Indians' No. 2 catcher).

When Dempsey did, he made the following sales pitch:

"I'll homer every 24 at-bats, I'll drive in a run every five at-bats. I'll take your fourth-place pitching staff, and we'll win the division. We'll win the World Series. I'll catch the last out, and when I do, I'll give you the baseball."

Dempsey hit on every prediction, almost dead-on, catching the final out when Orel Hershiser struck out Tony Phillips.

"That might explain why Fred nearly doubled my salary the next year, without me asking," Dempsey said with a laugh. -MS