There are at least two ways Greg Gibson could’ve looked at the 85% quadriceps tendon tear that cost him what would have been his 22nd season as a Major League Baseball umpire.
Would Gibson have been at his farm in Boyd County in late May loading an off-road vehicle onto a trailer, if not for the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent wrangling between MLB owners and players over when, how and if they will begin the season?
“That was the first thing I told one of my bosses: if this isn’t going on with COVID-19, I’m on the field and I’m gone,” Gibson said. “This doesn’t even happen.”
The other side: if there was a time Gibson had to fall off the back of the aforementioned trailer, necessitating surgery on June 1 that will require six months of intense rehabilitation, would there have been a better time for that to happen than 2020, with two months already lost from a season that seems far from certain to ever be played?
“As my bosses said,” Gibson said with a chuckle, “if you’re gonna get hurt, this is the year to get hurt.”
Gibson’s left leg slipped in the process of loading a side-by-side to take to his son, he said, and his right leg got caught underneath him and he fell on it. His wife, Michelle, was on hand.
“I’ve done this hundreds and hundreds of times. I’ve loaded dirt bikes, and usually I’m by myself when I do all this,” Gibson said. “Michelle just happened to be with me. I don’t know what I would’ve done (otherwise); I’d have just laid there, I guess. God had his hand on me.
“It was just a freak accident. What do you do?”
It compounds what Gibson said is the strangest summer he can remember career-wise since 2001, when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks postponed play for a week, and 1999, when Gibson was hired from the Triple-A International League to arbit National League games following an infamous mass resignation of Major League umpires.
“We’ve been around long enough to say we’ve seen some really weird things,” Gibson said.
But even if it was unusual, Gibson’s extra time with his wife and their three sons was welcome.
“This would’ve been my 30th year in professional baseball, and you gotta think about it, I’ve not been home this long in 30 years,” Gibson said. “So to get to come home and really decompress, it’s been nice. I wish it wasn’t under these circumstances, obviously we all want to be out doing what we do, but it’s been really nice.
“Before I got hurt, I was telling Michelle and the boys, ‘Everybody needs to enjoy this because when I go back to work, some things will be different. It’ll be hard to get home; when I go back, I’ll be gone.’ Well, now that’s not the case.”
Dr. John Jasko performed Gibson’s surgery at Cabell Huntington Hospital last week. MLB doctors will determine Gibson’s rehab program and when he can return, he said, but it isn’t anticipated that will be this year.
“My life turned upside down in about two seconds,” Gibson said. “I was laying there on the ground praying, ‘Dear God, don’t let this end my career,’ and it didn’t. As bad as this is, there’ll be next year. I’ll be 52; I got six, seven years left. Whatever I got left, I want to enjoy. What happens, happens, and it’s all good. I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed.”
Gibson hopes to be able to work at the Replay Command Center in New York this season — if there is a season, which Gibson said he “honestly and truly” believes there will be.
In the meantime, Joe Torre, a special assistant to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, is among those who have reached out to Gibson after his accident, he said. Gibson called Torre, most famous for a successful run managing the Yankees in the 1990s and 2000s, “one of the guys that’s really been in my corner.”
Attempts to contact the Major League Baseball Umpires Association for comment were unsuccessful. Gibson said that was likely because “all hands (are) on deck” as players and owners negotiate in New York.
Gibson worked through back and hip problems last year and had his weight down, he said, when spring training began this year. Now it’s back to a “grind,” he said, to get back on the field, but Gibson has goals, including the opportunity to work his second World Series.
In the meantime, Gibson is continuing work at his insurance agency. He took a break from doing just that on a sun-splashed day on a Central Park bench to answer interview questions on Monday afternoon.
“I sit in the recliner and write policies,” Gibson said, laughing. “They laugh at me because they’re like, ‘Where are you at?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve got my leg propped up in the recliner.'”