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Tony La Russa fires Kirk Gibson, Athletics fans everywhere smile

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Revenge is a dish best served cold.

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To be fair, Gibson would have hit this pitch, like, 800 miles.
To be fair, Gibson would have hit this pitch, like, 800 miles.
Thearon W. Henderson

This post has nothing to do with the Oakland Athletics, and yet it has everything to do with the Oakland Athletics.

On Sat., Oct. 15, 1988, a 31-year-old Kirk Gibson did his best impression of a 62-year-old as he hobbled up to home plate in Game 1 of the World Series. He launched a (censored) off of Hall of Famer (censored) to (censored) the game for the Dodgers. No one actually knows who went on to win that series, as history has forgotten such a meaningless detail; I assume they just gave the trophy to the Yankees and called it a day.

On that stupid October day, Gibson cemented himself as a life-long enemy of A's fans. He didn't do anything wrong, really, except win a big game for the team who was paying him to help them win. He didn't mock our players or fans or criticize our park or our mound or do anything at all offensive that I'm aware of. I can't blame him for his emphatic fist-pump as he rounded the bases; any of us would have done the same or more. This is a purely on-the-field hatred. But we despise him nonetheless. That's the way sports go.

The Dodgers won that Series against the heavily favored A's, and the Game 1 pinch-hit walk-off was a big part of it. Manager Tony La Russa missed his first chance for a title that year, and he'd have to wait all the way until ... well, only the next year to get his championship ring in the '89 Series, but still. He could have had two in Oakland by that point.

That was the end of the story for 25 years. Gibson beat Eck, the Dodgers beat the A's, and Tommy Lasorda beat Tony La Russa in a battle of managers with uncannily similar names. Until Friday, when La Russa got the opportunity to fire Gibson from his job and make A's fans everywhere smile at the delicious poetic justice. Even better, you don't even need to feel sorry for Gibson once you look at the background of the situation.

***

The D'Backs made a surprise playoff appearance in 2011, but after failing to return to the postseason in back-to-back .500 campaigns (and trading off many of their best assets for pennies on the dollar), they got off to a terrible start in 2014. They hired La Russa as their Chief Baseball Officer in May in the hopes that he could set things up for future success, and when that slow start to 2014 extended into a fully lost season he began cleaning house. General manager Kevin Towers was the first to go, in early September, suggesting that a fetish for backup shortstops and a tendency to be publicly at odds with your star players (and thus lower their values prior to dumping them in bad trades) are not the best traits for a GM. He spent most of his tenure carpooling with Ruben Amaro Jr and Dan O'Dowd to meetings of the Little Urban Underachievers Club, and the team finally had enough of it. Oh, and Towers is also kind of a dick who thinks pitchers need to throw at batters more often to avoid being wussies.

I don't know what Gibson is like as a manager because I don't watch D'Backs games. But I gather that he's closer to the Dusty Baker grit 'n' hustle 'n' screw-your-numbers mold than someone who Billy Beane would hire to run his team. He took that 2011 squad to the playoffs, but he was unable to rally the troops for a return trip. At this point in his managerial career, he will be most remembered for his team beaning and possibly injuring defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen in retaliation for the Pirates hitting and injuring Paul Goldschmidt in what was clearly an accident. There is no proof that Arizona hit McCutchen on purpose, unless you have eyeballs and the capacity for critical thought. And an Internet connection that allows you to read the D'Backs' various public statements about wanting to intentionally hit opponents to settle past scores. (Cutch miraculously missed only two weeks with his fractured rib). Gibson was reamed by the national media for his role in creating such a violent clubhouse culture.

So Gibson was fired on Friday, and La Russa was the one who pulled the trigger. La Russa claimed that the conversation with Gibson was "the hardest one so far in 30 years of sending guys to Triple-A or releasing them." I assume that's because he had to try so hard to stop himself from giggling as he delivered the news.

***

Obviously, I'm not suggesting that the 1988 history had anything to do with Gibson's firing. This was clearly a baseball decision, and a smart one. Gibson had been decent at best as a manager, and he might be a bit too gritty for his own good if he does indeed prefer beanballs over Beaneball. For all I know, he is otherwise a wonderful person. But roughly 25 years after he sent La Russa packing in the World Series, the latter finally got the chance to return the favor. The circle is complete, and as an A's fan it's a small nugget of delight in what has been a bummer of a summer. And since I can't condone his preference for throwing at hitters, I guess in the end I'm glad that he's not managing anymore.

Oh, and La Russa also hired Dave Stewart as his new GM. Remember when we used to joke about how the A's and D'Backs would constantly trade with each other such that Arizona was like an eastern A's affiliate? Well, that's now extended to the front office. Keep in mind that Bob Melvin used to manage for Arizona as well, until he was fired and replaced by former A's catcher A.J. Hinch; his current bench coach, Chip Hale, also went to school at University of Arizona. No word on when Byung-hyun Kim or Craig Counsell will find jobs on Oakland's staff.