In Chicago they’re screaming for the Bears. In L.A. they roar for the Lakers. North Carolina gets dizzy on college hoops, and half of Canada goes wild when Wayne Gretzky takes the ice.
While in Detroit, we watch the calendar.
And wait for a word from Kirk Gibson.
It has become the premier spectator sport around here. There are few places left in this city where someone can’t tell you the numbers, the years, and the snags in the Gibson/Tigers free- agent contract negotiations.
The gas station worker knows the Tigers are offering three years, and that Gibson wants five.
The cashier at K-Mart knows the Tigers are offering $3.9 million for those three years, which Gibson and his agent have rejected.
And everybody — from the milkman to the stockbroker — knows today is the Last Day for the Tigers to sign Gibson, their leading hitter last year, or lose negotiating rights until May 1.
By which point some other team will have snapped him up, most likely.
As the zero hour approaches, Gibson is honeymooning in Australia and New Zealand. His agent, Doug Baldwin, is in Seattle. The Tiger brass is in Detroit. And fans look on with the curiosity of a neighbor watching a marriage break up.
Will He Stay Or Will He Go? Rarely have so many eyes been focused on a pen meeting a paper.
And to think, baseball’s tensest moment used to be between the pitch and the swing. The market remains closed Well, what’s left to say about Gibson Vs. Detroit? You can only chew one piece of meat so long. Then you have to swallow or spit it out.
Take your pick. Either: 1) Gibson is greedy; 2) The Tigers are cheap; 3) Gibson is a hard head 4) The Tigers are hard heads; 5) Gibson’s not worth that much; 6) Gibson’s worth a lot more.
It’s all speculation, because the other clubs have refrained from making Gibson any offers, and will continue to do so until the sun rises tomorrow morning and the Tigers have either signed him or are out of the picture.
How can you tell what a stock is worth when the market won’t open?
One can only figure that Gibson’s agent, who, is not in this business for season tickets, has good reason to suspect he can get a fatter deal elsewhere. And since Gibson already has said accepting the Tigers current offer would make him “vomit” — something both Gibson and Tigers general manager Bill Lajoie would rather avoid, especially in nice clothing — the home team will have to, contractually speaking, move it or lose it.
Gibson wants a five-year deal, because he feels he deserves it, and because in five years he can become a free agent again.
The Tigers refuse five years out of “policy” plus the fact that he’ll be 29 soon, which makes him 34 in his last year. By then, hey, who knows?
Fair? What’s fair in the sports business? Chicago Bears’ lineman Richard Dent almost singlehandedly demolished the New York Giants last Sunday. He makes $90,000 a year. Kelly Tripucka, having a lousy season with the Pistons, makes $900,000. And he doesn’t have to hit anyone. It won’t be a catastrophe So we wait. For now, there’s little to add. But there are some things to take away.
Like the expression, “If Gibson doesn’t sign, it’ll be a catastrophe.” A catastrophe is a volcano exploding onto a South American village, or a jetliner that never makes the landing strip. If Gibson doesn’t sign, he doesn’t sign. That’s all. It’s still only baseball, for pete’s sake.
Or the oft-heard, “If he doesn’t sign, the Tigers are dead.” I doubt that. This is a franchise that has survived the coming and going of Denny McLain, Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb — all of whom, one could argue, were more integral to their teams than Gibson, a powerful hitter, mediocre fielder, and clubhouse time- bomb.
Losing him will cost the Tigers, sure. But the stalemate has cost Gibson too — whether he returns here via a midnight jet or drifts away with an island breeze. He’s been viewed as selfish by many who once thought him faultless. Cracks have formed in his heroic armor.
There’s a great poster of Gibson, jumping for joy after his home run in the last game of the 1984 World Series. Thousands of Tiger fans have mounted it in their homes. Tomorrow, a few may take it down and throw it out.
I call that a loss.
But does Gibson? Does he need to? If he can get the contract he desires from somebody else, who’s to suggest he shouldn’t take it? Doing so doesn’t make him a criminal. It makes him a businessman. There was a time when that word felt funny on the lips of sports fans. Not anymore.
But OK. Cross your fingers and let’s move on. Gibson may be a Tiger tomorrow, or he may not. But enough talk shows and dinner-table conversations have been spent on one man’s salary dispute.
Dylan Thomas once wrote, “When one burns one’s bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.”
This one may not be so nice. Hopefully, it will be bright enough to see things in perspective.