The Most Famous World Series Home Run and the Man Who Saw it All

"When number 23 appeared and took two hobbling steps onto the field, the 56-thousand fans erupted in one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard."

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Game 1 of the 1988 World Series produced one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. One man, Ross Porter, had a historic front row seat to Kirk Gibson’s amazing bottom of the ninth home run.

From 1977 to 2004, Ross Porter was an announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He worked alongside Vin Scully for 28 years, including being the only broadcaster to have been the voice of a World Series champion (the 1981 and 1988 Dodgers) and a college basketball champion (with UNLV in 1990). Known for his meticulous statistical insights and photographic memory, Porter is rated among the top 60 baseball announcers of all-time by Curt Smith in his book, Voices of Summer, and was inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2005 with Scully as his presenter.

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Ross Porter

On August 23, 1989, Porter set a major league baseball record for broadcasting 22 straight innings on radio without any replacements, in a six-hour, 14-minute game against the Expos in Montreal.

Porter was not broadcasting Game 1 of the 1988 World Series with Scully between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s for NBC. Scully was helming the broadcast with Joe Garagiola. Nonetheless, Porter had a unique peek into baseball history that no one else did. Here’s his story about where he was and what he witnessed the night of October 15th, 1988.

As told to Rob Hill

On the night of October 15, 1988, one of my tasks on the Dodgers radio broadcast of World Series Game 1 was to find a guest and interview him after the game. I left the booth for the Dodger clubhouse in the top of the ninth inning with the Oakland A’s leading the Dodgers 4 to 3.

My choice for the post-game chat?

Not an idea.

When I got downstairs at Dodger Stadium, Kirk Gibson was sitting on a table in the training room, his shirt off. He was looking at a television set perched above him. Gibson had been unable to start because of bad knees and a bruised hamstring. He had injured both legs during the NLCS.

As I stood nearby, Vin Scully said to Joe Garagiola on the network telecast, “I’ll tell you, Joe, one guy we won’t see tonight is Kirk Gibson. He can barely walk.”

When he heard that, Gibson yelled, “Mitch, come here!” Mitch Poole was the Dodgers clubhouse attendant. Kirk told Mitch, “Go tell Lasorda I can hit.”

“Poole ran to the dugout to tell Tommy Lasorda that Gibson wanted to hit. He came back two minutes later saying, ‘Tommy wants you to get dressed, but don’t be seen. He doesn’t want Tony LaRussa (A”s manager) to know you’re available.’”

Poole ran to the dugout and came back two minutes later saying, “Tommy wants you to get dressed, but don’t be seen. He doesn’t want Tony LaRussa (A’s manager) to know you’re available.”

While this was transpiring, Oakland’s future Hall of Fame and closer, Dennis Eckersley, was retiring the first two Dodger hitters in the ninth. I silently watched Gibson put on his uniform and hobble to the nearby area where a batting tee was set up to allow players to get their swing in rhythm. He began gingerly taking a few swings.

On the field, Mike Davis was coming to the plate for the Dodgers. The A’s were one out away from a victory. Lasorda sent Dave Anderson to the on-deck circle as presumably a pinch hitter if Davis reached base, knowing that he was trying to decoy LaRussa.

Davis began the year as the starting right-fielder, but an extended slump cost him his starting job. At season’s end he had hit an anemic .196/.260/.270 (54 OPS+) with only 15 extra-base hits (two home runs) while starting only 63 games. To be sure, Davis rarely drew a base on balls, but on this night, Eckersley miraculously walked him.

“Okay, you can come out, Gibby,” was the message sent to the still hidden Gibson from Lasorda.

When number 23 appeared and took two hobbling steps onto the field, the 56-thousand fans erupted in one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard.

Upon seeing him, Scully said, “And look who’s coming up!”

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1988 World Series.

I was right behind him and while moving into the far corner of the third base dugout and looking out over the right field bullpen, my eyes focused on dozens of red brake lights of cars leaving the stadium. Fans leaving early to beat the traffic as the Dodgers were sure to lose Game 1.

During the confrontation between Eckersley and Gibson, in a daring move, Davis stole second base. If he had been thrown out, the game would have ended with Kirk Gibson standing in the batter’s box.

“Before the game Dodger scout Mel Didier made the comment in the clubhouse to the team, ‘If you face Eckersley and he goes to a three ball, two strike count, he will always throw you a backdoor slider.’”

Before the game, Dodger players had heard in advance scout Mel Didier give a comprehensive scouting report on the A’s in the clubhouse. He had seen every Oakland game for weeks and taken extensive notes. Mel made the comment, “If you face Eckersley and he goes to a three ball, two strike count, he will always throw you a backdoor slider.”

Gibson fouled a few pitches off before the count reached 3 and 2. Then Dennis delivered…yes, a back door slider…and with almost a one-handed swing with only his upper body, blasted one of the most dramatic home runs in the history of baseball.

Scully made the call: “High fly ball into right field… she i-i-i-is… Gone!!!” Moments later he quipped: “In a year that has been so improbable…the impossible has happened!”

Gibson limped around the bases and pumped his fist as his teammates stormed the field. The Dodgers won the game, 5–4. And went on to win the World Series 4-1.

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Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series.

That was the Game 1 hero’s only at bat in the World Series, and years later the Los Angeles Sports Council voted that home run as the number 1 moment in the city’s sports history.

Oh, yeah. I had no trouble selecting my guest for the post-game show that night.

 

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