For one season, there wasn’t a better or more effective pitcher in the major leagues than the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser in 1988.
Just how the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Hershiser, a one-time ESPN analyst and current analyst for the Dodgers at Time Warner Cable, arrived at that point wasn’t easy to envision when drafted in the 17th round in 1979 by the Boys in Blue.
“I was more of a suspect than a prospect,” said Hershiser before a 5-2 win last Saturday night at the Dodger Stadium on Hanley Ramirez’s three-run homer in the 12th inning against the Chicago Cubs.
By the close of 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series, Hershiser had compiled a 23-8 record with a 2.26 earned-run average, third best in the National League, and led the Senior Circuit with 267 innings, eight shutouts, 15 complete games, and was eventually named a unanimous Cy Young winner.
On August 30th and running through the final game versus the San Diego Padres, Hershiser, a three-time All-Star, put together a streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings, eclipsing the big-league record of 58 held by Dodgers’ Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.
“I didn’t want to break his record,” said Hershiser, who finished with a 204-150 mark and a 3.48 ERA over 18 seasons, including 13 with the Blue Crew. “I was glad to tie it, but [Manager] Tommy [Lasorda] told me to go out there and break it.”
Which he did after toiling 10 shutout frames and Drysdale in attendance at Jack Murphy Stadium as part of the broadcast team.
Devoid of a pitch in the mid-90’s, Hershiser retired batters by out-thinking them while tossing a steady diet of sinking fastballs, cut fastballs, a curveball, changeup, later a slider, and pinpoint control.
Hershiser’s magical run continued into the postseason where he was virtually untouchable when facing the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series, and then the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics in the World Series.
In the NLCS Hershiser had three starts and went 1-0 with a 1.09 ERA, along with a crucial save, while the lean right-hander had two complete game victories with a 1.00 ERA versus the powerful A’s, and was selected the World Series Most Valuable Player.
Hershiser, who attended Bowling Green University in Ohio, reached the majors in 1983. The next season Hershiser fashioned an 11-8 record with a 2.66 ERA, and had his breakout campaign in 1985 when he put together a 19-3 mark and a 2.03 ERA.
“The jump from Triple-A to the majors is a big one,” said Hershiser, who also pitched for the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants and Mets. “There is very little room for error at this level.”
Though not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Hershiser, a two-time Championship Series MVP, was clutch in the playoffs where in 18 starts finished with an 8-3 record, four complete games and a 2.59 ERA.
“I don’t consider myself a Hall of Famer,” Hershiser admitted. “The Hall of Fame is reserved for the very best. I fell short of that. It’s not the Hall of the very good.”
Maybe so, but not during that magical summer of 1988 when everything seemed possible, and Hershiser was Mr. Automatic when he scaled the mound.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.