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The setup men for a gimpy Gibson's immortal World Series homer

A grown batboy, a lost slugger and an old scout remember their roles in Kirk Gibson's game-winning homer in the 1988 World Series.

August 18, 2013|Bill Plaschke

A quarter of a century later, the grown batboy holds up his arm as evidence.

"Just talking about it still gives me goose bumps," Mitch Poole says.

The lost slugger runs his hands through his graying hair.

"Even now, it's hard to believe I was really part of that," Mike Davis says.

The old scout wraps a wrinkled finger around a World Series ring.

"Pardner, this is staying on me till the day I die," Mel Didier says.

On Oct. 15, 1988, the Dodgers' sore-legged Kirk Gibson limped to home plate in the ninth inning and hit a two-run, game-winning home run against a seemingly unhittable Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics in the first game of the World Series. The A's never recovered, and the undermanned Dodgers eventually won a world championship.

For 25 years, the images and audio of that spectacle at Dodger Stadium have been replayed throughout the Southland: Gibson's fist pumps. Stunned fans' brake lights visible in the parking lot beyond right field. Vin Scully intoning above the cheering crowd, "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"

This city will forever celebrate the sight of that baseball flying into eternity. But few will remember the three men who were the power behind it.

History may have forgotten them, but Gibson hasn't.

There was then-batboy Poole, who helped Gibson get ready to play in the cramped hallways behind the Dodgers' dugout. There was the lost slugger Davis, who was at the end of the worst year of his career yet drew the walk and stole the base that set the stage for Gibson's swing. And there was the scout Didier who, a day earlier, predicted exactly where Eckersley would throw the ball that was sent into the outfield seats.

Now 25 years later, Gibson has a request. He sits on a bench in Arizona, where he is the manager of the Diamondbacks. His gravelly voice grows soft.

"My home run was created by the kind of people who make up the fabric of this game," he says. "Everybody tells my story. Somebody needs to tell their stories."

::

Mitch Poole was washing jocks. It may have been the World Series, but there were piles of dirty batting practice uniforms on the clubhouse floor, and it was his job to clean them.

He was a former college pitcher in his fourth year as a Dodgers batboy. He was 25, making minimum wage, and though the job included the glamour of playing catch with the outfielders between innings, it also meant he would sometimes draw laundry duty.

As the drama of the game unfolded outside, he was inside hanging up socks. His only connections to that game were the voice of Vin Scully on TV and the sight of an injured Dodger on a training table.

That Dodger was Gibson, the team's MVP and best hitter. He had a strained left hamstring and an injured right knee and was barely able to walk. He stewed while Poole rinsed and folded.

Late in the game, with the Dodgers trailing, 4-3, TV cameras panned the Dodgers dugout as Scully said, "You're looking for Kirk Gibson … and there is no Gibson."

At this, Gibson sat up, cursed and shouted, "Mitch, get my uniform!"

Gibson dressed hurriedly and limped down to the Dodgers' underground batting cage. He passed Dodgers hitting coach Ben Hines, who was headed back to the dugout.

Gibson asked Hines to help him take batting practice.

"Get Mitch to do it," Hines said.

A batboy?

"Gibby looked at me kind of funny for a second," Poole remembers. "Then he was like, 'OK, let's do this.'"

Poole, who had never done this before, placed balls on a tee for Gibson. Gibson then asked him to get rid of the tee. Poole, sitting on an upside-down bucket and holding this breath, began tossing him balls to hit.

"He was in such pain, grunting and groaning with every swing, and I'm wondering how he's going to play," Poole says.

Gibson suddenly stopped, stared at Poole and said, "You know, Mitch, this could be the script."

Poole was too shocked to do anything but nod. After more swings, Gibson had another request.

"Mitch, go outside and tell Tommy [Lasorda] that I can hit."

Now he was asking the impossible. Because Poole was working inside, he wasn't wearing a uniform and not allowed in the dugout. With the game nearing the bottom of the ninth, Poole had to get the attention of the Dodgers manager.

He ran to the edge of the dugout and shouted at Lasorda.

"Tommy, get over here!"

Lasorda shook his head and turned away, figuring there was nothing important a batboy could tell a manager in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the World Series.

"Tommy, please, I have to talk to you, it's important!" Poole shouted. "What?" the irritated manager said.

"Gibby says he can hit!"

::

As the Dodgers prepared to bat in the bottom of the ninth, Mike Davis had a great view of Gibson fidgeting in the tunnel, but only because he had the worst seat in the house.

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