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Voices of the Game, day 14: Brian Roberts to Kirk Gibson

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Two All-Stars and an MVP has our countdown gets into some very good players.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four
Kirk Gibson
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I’m back with my collection of broadcaster biographies.

If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

18. Brian Roberts. Baltimore Orioles. WAR: 30.4.

Brian Roberts was the son of the head baseball coach at North Carolina and he started his college career playing for his dad. Then his dad got fired and he transferred to South Carolina.

At South Carolina, he led the NCAA in steals and won plaudits for his defense. The Orioles took the switch-hitting infielder with the 50th pick of the 1999 Draft. (That was the second-to-last pick of the first round that year. There were a lot of compensation picks.)

Roberts went through the Orioles minor league system quickly, making his debut in June of 2001. He hit an anemic .253/.284/.341 his first year. Roberts spent the next two years bouncing back and forth between the Orioles Triple-A affiliate and the majors before he established himself as a major leaguer for good in 2004.

Roberts was a switch-hitting second baseman and leadoff man who, in his prime at least, got on base at a very good clip and stole a lot of bases. (His OBP from 2004 to 2010 was a very good .364) In 2007, Roberts tied for the American League lead in steals with 50 and he was only caught seven times that year. He was never a great power hitter, but he did have four seasons in his career when he hit double-digits in homers.

The numbers say that Roberts was also pretty good on defense. He wasn’t Gold Glove-caliber good (which he never won), but well above-average.

Roberts was an All-Star in 2005 and 2007 and got some down ballot MVP votes in 2005, finishing 18th. That year, Roberts hit .314/.387/.515 with 18 home runs and 27 steals.

The 2010 season was the beginning of the end for Roberts. He missed the first part of the season with a herniated disc. In September, Roberts gave himself a concussion when he hit himself in the head with a bat out of frustration. (Yes, he was wearing a helmet. It’s still a dumb idea.) Roberts suffered his second concussion in May of 2011 when he hit hit head sliding into first base on a pickoff throw. He missed the rest of the 2011 season with that second concussion.

Roberts played only 17 games in 2012 because of the lingering effects of the concussion and then season-ending hip surgery in July. He was free of concussion symptoms in in 2013, but missed two months early in the season with a ruptured tendon in his knee. He did come back to play 77 games for Baltimore later that year, but he wasn’t any good.

Roberts signed with the Yankees for the 2014 season. He didn’t play very well and was released in August. He retired at the end of the season.

Roberts retired with a line of .276/.347/.409 with 97 home runs and 285 steals over 1418 games in 14 seasons. He had a success rate of 80% in stealing bases in his career.

The Mitchell Report named Roberts as one of the players known to have used steroids. Roberts admitted that he had, but he said that he only tried it one time.

In 2018, Roberts was named to the Orioles Hall of Fame.

Roberts joined the Orioles TV broadcast booth for the 2019 season and he seems to be a popular addition to the telecasts.

17. Mark Gubicza. Los Angeles Angels. WAR: 37.4

Mark Gubicza was a right-handed starting pitcher who played all but two games of his career with the Kansas City Royals from 1984 to 1996.

The Royals took Gubicza out of high school in Philadelphia in the second round of the 1981 draft. He broke camp with the major league team as a 21-year-old in 1984 and with the exception of some injury rehab starts in 1991 and 1997, never played in the minors again.

Gubicza made 29 starts for the Royals in 1984 as the team won the AL West. He made another 28 regular season starts (and one relief appearance) for the 1985 Royals that won the World Series. While he pitched well that year, he was the fifth starter as both of those teams had a loaded starting rotation. He didn’t pitch in the 1984 AL Championship Series nor did he pitch in the 1985 World Series. Gubicza started and won Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays. (The Royals trailed three games to one in both the ALCS and the World Series in 1985 and won both of them.) He also had one relief appearance earlier in the series. Those were the only two postseason appearances of his career.

Gubicza stayed in Kansas City after those title seasons. He had his best years in 1988 and 1989, making the All-Star Team both years. In 1988, he went 20-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting.

Gubicza threw hard and also had a hard-breaking slider. By 1990, all those pitches caught up to him and he suffered his first arm injury. The injuries kept coming after that. After averaging 31 starts a season from 1984 to 1989, Gubicza averaged just over 17 starts a year from 1990 to 1994.

Gubicza had a bounce-back season in 1995. He led the AL in starts that year with 33 and went 12-14 with a 3.75 ERA. But he struggled again in 1996 and his season ended in July of that year when he took a line drive off his leg.

The Royals traded Gubicza, the last remaining player from the 1985 championship team, to the Angels after the 1996 season. But he only played two games for the Angels before getting shut down with shoulder surgery. He tried to catch on with the Dodgers for 1998 but was cut in Spring Training and he retired.

Gubicza finished his career with a record of 132-136 with an ERA of 3.96 over 14 seasons.

Gubicza stayed in Southern California after his retirement. He did some pre- and post-game work with the Angels starting in 2000. He also coached his son’s high school baseball team and one of the other players he coached there was current major leaguer Kevin Pillar. Gubicza became a part-time color broadcaster for the Angels in 2008 and the full-time color man in 2010. As a broadcaster, he’s become known for a very analytical approach to the game, explaining that “But I only wish — and I say this a number of times — I wish I had access to this information myself (as a pitcher). My whole theory was ‘I’m just going to go as hard as I can as long as I can.’”

16. Kirk Gibson. Detroit Tigers. WAR: 38.2

I’m going to assume you all know about that home run in the 1988 World Series. If not, just watch the video.

What you may not know about Kirk Gibson unless you’re an obsessive (or old) Big Ten football fan is that Gibson first came to national prominence as an All-American wide receiver for Michigan State in the 1970s. He helped lead the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title in 1978, although the Spartans were on probation and couldn’t go to a bowl game.

In his junior year at Michigan State, he was invited to play baseball for the Spartans, which he hadn’t played since high school. He accepted mostly to give himself some negotiating leverage in the NFL draft. But he did so well playing baseball that the Tigers took him in the first round (12th pick) of the 1978 draft. He was taken in the 7th round of the 1979 NFL Draft, but he’d already signed with the Tigers at that point. He clearly would have been taken earlier had he committed to football.

With so much time off for baseball, Gibson struggled in his first year in the minors and that season ended early so he could go back and play football for MSU. The next year he suffered the first of many knee injuries in the minors, but recovered well enough to make his major-league debut with the Tigers in 1979.

As a player, Gibson was a left-handed hitting outfielder who had a good combination of power and speed. He was also plagued by injuries throughout his career which many have attributed to his “football-player mentality” of running through everything instead of around. He also had a competitive streak in him that could either be admirable or despicable, depending on the situation.

Gibson had his first great season in the strike-shortened 1981 season, hitting .328/.369/.479 with nine home runs and 17 steals in 83 games. But he only played 69 games in 1982 as he dealt with injuries to his wrist, knee, calf and an intestinal parasite.

In 1983, Gibson lost his starting job in center field to Chet Lemon, in large part because manager Sparky Anderson thought Gibson had a bad attitude. Gibson had a bad 1983 season, marred by injuries again and sulking over his demotion. Later in his life, Gibson said of that time, “I lost my focus. I wasn’t a good player. I had poor work habits.”

The message got through to Gibson in 1984. He had a great season as the Tigers’ new right fielder. In fact, pretty much nothing went wrong for the Tigers in 1984. They were famously 35-5 after 40 games (still a record) and cruised to their first World Series title since 1968 (and last for now). Gibson hit .333/.478/.667 with two home runs and three steals in the five-game series.

The Tigers won another AL East title in 1987, but fell to the Twins in the Championship Series. In January of 1988, Gibson was granted a “second-look” free agency by an arbiter as he was one of the victims of the collusion in free agency by the owners in the mid-‘80s. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Gibson was the victim of a practical joke in Spring Training in 1988, which caused him to storm off the field. He called a clubhouse meeting when he returned and told everyone he was there to win a World Series title and not screw around and anyone who wasn’t on board with that could leave. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 and Kirk Gibson was the National League MVP. He was injured in the NLCS and only had that one at-bat in the Series.

Gibson stayed with the Dodgers through the 1990 season. He signed with the Royals as a free agent for 1991. He had a decent season there, but he didn’t get along with manager Hal McRae and the Royals traded him to Pittsburgh for the 1992 season. He was terrible in Pittsburgh and he was released in May,

Gibson sat out the rest of the 1992 season, but the Tigers asked him to return to Detroit for the 1993 season. He had a solid season as the Tigers DH that year. He served as a left-handed hitting DH and part-time outfielder for the Tigers until August of 1995, when he announced that he’d lost the passion for playing and retired.

Gibson finished his career with a line of .268/.352/.463 with 255 home runs and 284 steals over 1635 games in 17 seasons. He has a strong argument to be the greatest player to have never been named to an All-Star Game. At least he has that MVP Award.

He probably won’t make Cooperstown, but Gibson was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

After he retired, Gibson joined the Tigers broadcast booth for the 1998 season. He left to become a coach with the Tigers in 2003. In 2007, he became the bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He became their manager in July 2010 and was named Manager of the Year in 2011 when the D-Backs won the AL West. Gibson stayed in that job until he was fired near the end of the 2014 season, with Arizona in last place.

Gibson returned to the Tigers broadcast booth in 2015 as part-time broadcaster. Gibson is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and has greatly mellowed out from his playing days. Of course, a rocket blasting through a glass factory would be more mellow than Gibson in his playing days.