The Kansas City Royals, who appeared to lack clubhouse leadership last season while sinking to sixth place, are hoping high-spirited Kirk Gibson can light their motivational fires.
And Gibson, a 33-year-old outfielder and former National League MVP, is ready to strike the match."I play very hard and with a lot of emotion," Gibson said Saturday in a telephone interview, after signing a two-year free agent contract with the Royals. "You've got to stay focused on some of the days when things aren't going so good. All I can say is, I promise you I will play as hard as I can and do everything I can to win ballgames. I'm not a vocal lecture person. I'm just a leader by example with a lot of desire. And that can be contagious."
Gibson was given a thorough physical examination Friday by team physician Dr. Steve Joyce. After earning National League MVP honors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, the Michigan native was plagued by injuries. He began the 1990 season on the disabled list with a torn left hamstring.
"I think he's going to go to spring training next year in the best physical condition he's had in years," said general manager Herk Robinson.
According to The Kansas City Star, Gibson will receive $3.3 million from the two-year contract.
"If they didn't think I was healthy, the offer wouldn't have stayed on the table," Gibson said. "For the past two springs I've been in rehab. The rehab is done. I'm excited about being able to go to spring training on the same level as everybody else. In 1989 my manager came to me and said, `I know you're hurt, but will you play for me?' So I played for him, but it didn't work out. This year it's going to be different. I feel healthy. My legs are strong."
The Milwaukee Brewers finished runnerup to the Royals, Gibson said.
"I broke it down to Milwaukee and Kansas City," he said. "It was hard to call the other people and tell them they finished second."
Royals' manager John Wathan plans to use Gibson primarily as a left-handed designated hitter while occasionally putting him in the outfield.
"What I told the Royals and John is if I'm used properly I'll have better overall production," Gibson said. "Being a DH on a sometime-basis is appealing to me. I think I'll see a lot of outfield play, though. I think I can be a great asset in the outfield. Some will say I'm not a good outfielder, but I'm a damn good outfielder. I don't think I'm over the hill and a terrible outfielder. After people see me play out there, they'll know."
Gibson rebounded from knee and hamstring injuries to hit .260 in 89 games for the Dodgers last season. He was not activated until June 2, but stole 26 bases in 28 attempts.
In his 11-year career, Gibson has a .272 batting average with 192 home runs and 235 stolen bases. His most dramatic hit came in the first game of the 1988 World Series. Gibson limped off the bench with two outs in the ninth inning and hit a two-run, game-winning homer against Oakland.
Gibson's first full season in the big leagues was 1980. He emerged as a star in 1984, when the Detroit Tigers won the World Series.
In that '84 season, Gibson hit .282 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs and 29 stolen bases. He was selected as MVP of the American League playoffs, when he hit .417 against the Royals and then batted .333 with two homers against San Diego in the World Series.
"He was a great football player at Michigan State, and he brings that intensity level to the baseball field," said Royals' first baseman George Brett, who was named the day before as the Royals' 1990 player of the year. "And I think that's one thing that this team lacked, the intensity level day to day. We need some serious faces, especially after the year we had."