Orel Hershiser owned the mound in 1988
Photos courtesy of the L.A. Dodgers

Dodgers’ 1988 pitching ace Orel Hershiser is optimistic about this year’s World Series team

By Gary Walker

Los Angeles has become accustomed to droughts — the environmental sort, and the sports championship variety.

Mercifully, both may have come to an end this year. Back in April, Gov. Jerry Brown declared the end of five years of exceptionally dry weather; last Thursday the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their first World Series berth in 29 years with an 11-1 throttling of the defending champs the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers entered the Fall Classic with the best record in baseball and as odds-on favorites over the Houston Astros. Despite the Lakers, Clippers, Sparks, Kings and the return of two NFL teams, the Boys in Blue remain the darlings of the town — their league-leading season attendance figure of 3,765,856 illustrating the loyalty of the team’s fan base.

The 1988 and 2017 Dodgers have a few things in common: both teams tapped outstanding pitching, deep benches and the leadership of inspirational All-Stars on their way to the top. The 2017 Dodgers, led by three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, bring better pitching, a superior bench and more talent on defense compared to the Astros, writes R.J. Anderson of CBSSports.com.

Conversely, few expected the Dodgers to beat the Oakland Athletics 29 years ago. But no one told Orel Hershiser. The Dodgers’ pitching ace had a career season in 1988, winning the Cy Young Award, a Gold Glove for fielding progress and leading the league in wins (23), shutouts (8) and complete games (15). He also broke Dodger great Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive scoreless innings, posting 59 straight during the season.

Now a broadcaster and analyst for the Dodgers, the “Bulldog” — so named by Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda because of his tenacity — is heading back to the World Series as a postgame analyst. He spoke to The Argonaut by telephone about how this year’s team stacks up against the 1988 world champs.

 

This year’s team is not only deep but athletic. You had a deep bench, “the Stuntmen,” in 1988. How big an asset will that be in the World Series?

I think the game is a little different now. When I was playing, you had more defined roles. Now you have players who can play multiple positions. Starting pitchers work fewer innings and the bullpens are constructed differently. The game is just completely different.

Teams like the Dodgers are more flexible in their rosters, and that allows the manager to have more and different options. So in that respect, having more flexibility and more depth has been a positive this year.

 

Because of their versatility, the Dodgers won their series against the Cubs without starting shortstop Corey Seager.

Corey has been an integral part of the team’s success. It’ll be great to have him back, because when the Dodgers go to the [Astros’] park he can be the designated hitter and won’t have to play in the field, so that can relive some of the pressure on his back. It will be fun to have him at full strength in the World Series. And [reserve shortstop] Charlie Culbertson [who filled in for Seager] is someone who has proven that the stage is not too big for him, as he did in the league championship series.

 

A lot has been written about Dodger President Andrew Friedman’s devotion to sabermetrics, the empirical analysis model that measures baseball statistics. Do you think it has played a significant role in the team’s success?

Building a successful baseball team requires a lot of scouting, a lot of acquiring and developing talent, a lot of different things. So it’s just another part of the equation.

 

Now that you’re an analyst and broadcaster, do you see things through a different prism?

I still think like a player. … There’s a lot of energy around this team because it has been a long time since the Dodgers have been to a World Series. So I don’t really know how someone outside the organization would look at this year’s team and the 1988 team.

 

Third baseman Justin Turner has taken on a leadership role similar to outfielder Kirk Gibson’s in 1988. Do you see similarities?

There are some. They are very close in how they lead. Leadership can come in different forms. Kirk had a different personality than Justin, but their leadership styles are similar. They’re both really fine leaders, and Justin deserves the recognition that
he’s getting.

 

 

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