Kirk Gibson knew what was coming in the first game of the 1988 World Series. He knew Dennis Eckersley was coming at him with a backdoor slider.
He knew because of a report from one of the game’s ultimate scouts, Mel Didier, who had seen Eckersley throw the same pitch to lefthanded hitters like Gibson on 3-2 counts with first base open. In such a specific situation, the Dodgers had a scouting report; Gibson executed it to a T, crushing the pitch for one of the game’s most memorable home runs. The Dodgers went on to win their last World Series and Mel Didier got a ring.
That riveting story leads off Didier’s memoir, “Podnuh, Let Me Tell You a Story: A Baseball Life,” by Didier and longtime Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan. Wisely, Sullivan largely gets out of the way and facilitates Didier’s storytelling. And the 81-year-old Didier has 54 years in the game, which ends up being a lot of stories.
Not all of them are as good as the Gibson tale, and “Podnuh” might have been a different, better book with more time given to editing and more care given to which stories deserve more time. But Didier’s story deserves a full telling, because he’s done a little of everything in baseball.
His work in helping build the Montreal Expos makes for an excellent time capsule for this now-departed franchise. Having signed Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, Didier helped make the Expos relevant, then tells a telling story about the Expos’ willingness to push the envelope, including trying to get Cuban players to play for them in Canada. Didier also was part of the early days of the Mariners, days that ended up being fruitless due in part to cheapness on the part of ownership. Didier first became infatuated with Gibson during his days at Michigan State, but the Mariners decided not to spend the money on him in the 1978 draft, instead drafting prep outfielder/first baseman Tito Nanni. (Who? Exactly.)
Didier’s stories extend beyond the diamond, including his brief college football career at LSU, where he played offensive line with Y.A. Tittle at quarterback. He coached NBA Hall of Famer Bob Pettit and befriended Bear Bryant during his high school coaching days.
But his experience in the game is nearly unparalleled, and deserved to be told. And now it has.