Kirk Gibson starred for many years with the Detroit Tigers and for a few other teams, yet he was never an All-Star. Here we look at why.
Kirk Gibson was a Detroit Tigers star for many years, from 1979-1987 and again from 1993-1995. He placed in MVP voting four times in his career, including winning the award while with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. He had six seasons of at least 20 home runs, six seasons of at least 80 runs scored, and six seasons of at least 25 stolen bases. Yet he was never an All-Star. Why is that?
To try to make sense of this, I went back and looked at the four seasons in which Gibson placed in MVP voting – 1981, 1984, 1985, and 1988 – to look at Gibson’s statistics as well as who else was in the league at the time.
The 1981 season was an unusual one because a work stoppage split the season into two halves. The All-Star Game took place in August, shortly after the stoppage ended as a kind of kickoff for the second half of the season. In the first “half” before play halted, Gibson wasn’t very good, posting a .623 OPS. Therefore, he wasn’t deserving of a selection. He was way better in the second half, posting a .962 OPS, earning him a 12th place finish in MVP voting.
As in 1981, Gibson was better in the second half than in the first half. In the first half, Gibson put up an .832 OPS. The American League All-Star starters in the outfield were Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Tigers teammate Chet Lemon. Lemon had a tremendous first half for the eventual World Champions, posting a .917 OPS and scoring 46 runs. It’s also understandable that Winfield and Jackson would get the nod.
Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, and Tony Armas were the outfield reserves. The first two are also understandable, while Armas would go on to lead the league in home runs and RBIs that year. So, again, Gibson faced some tough competition. Gibson’s OPS went up to .928 in the second half, and he would finish a solid sixth in MVP voting.
Statistically, 1985 might have been Gibson’s best season, as he set career highs in home runs and RBIs. He also was better in the first half than in the second half, posting a .914 OPS in the first half as opposed to .846 in the second half. Yet Gibson’s finest work might have been in June, when voters may have already had their minds made up; his OPS that month was 1.028. It was .657 in April and .980 in May.
Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, and Jim Rice were the AL starters that year. So again, it was hard for him to crack the starting lineup. The outfield reserves were Phil Bradley, Gary Ward, Harold Baines, and Tom Brunansky. Gibson had a higher first half OPS than all four of them. So it seems like if he was going to get in any year, this would have been it. He did finish 18th in MVP voting.
Gibson won National League MVP in his first season with the Dodgers in 1988, largely on the winning attitude he helped to bring to the eventual World Champions, as statistically it could easily be argued that there were more deserving players. Even so, it’s still strange that he wasn’t selected as an NL All-Star that year.
In the first half of the season, Gibson’s OPS was .901, as opposed to .810 in the second half. That includes a May OPS of 1.019, so he had time to impress the voters. Vince Coleman, Andre Dawson, and Darryl Strawberry were the starters, so beating any of them out again would have been difficult.
As for the reserves, Willie McGee, Andy Van Slyke, and Rafael Palmeiro were selected. Van Slyke was certainly deserving, and McGee was also having a good season, but Gibson probably should have been selected over Palmeiro, who was hitting for a high average but not for much power.
The bottom line is that Gibson had some great first halves, especially 1985 and 1988, but he faced a lot of stiff competition in making an All-Star team. Still, it’s a shame he couldn’t make it at least once.