Last night was the 26th anniversary of one of the most memorable home runs in Major League Baseball history. One which I remember quite well because I watched it two days after my 12th birthday.
Game one of the 1988 World Series. The Oakland Athletics, in the Series for the first time since the Swinging A’s dynasty of 1972-73-74 which featured Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, was heavily favored to defeat the Dodgers.
The Athletics won 104 games in the regular season under Tony LaRussa, led by the first person to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season, Jose Canseco. Of course, it turned out Canseco was juiced to the max on steroids, as was Mark McGwire, his “Bash Brother”. Oakland had a strong pitching staff led by starters Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, and a lights out closer, Dennis Eckersley, who was a top flight starter in Cleveland and Boston before injuries took their toll. After a failed stint with the Cubs, “The Eck” hooked up with LaRussa in Oakland, and the rest was history, as he became one of the best closers in the game.
The Dodgers didn’t do much of anything well, but they had the best starting pitcher in the game in 1988. Orel Hershiser broke what was thought to be an untouchable streak, pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to break the record of 58 2/3 set 20 years earlier by Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, who later became a broadcaster for the franchise.
Los Angeles had the National League’s Most Valuable Player, Kirk Gibson, but he was hampered by severe injuries during the postseason, and although he was on the World Series roster, it was not expected he would play.
Nobody thought the Dodgers would get past the Mets, who won 100 games, in the NLCS, but Tommy Lasorda’s club did just that, getting a game seven shutout from Hershiser.
Three nights later, the Dodgers took a 2-0 in the first inning of the Series opener on a Mickey Hatcher home run, but the Athletics got those runs right back and more in the second on a Canseco grand slam off Tim Belcher.
That would be it for Oakland’s scoring. The bullpen trio of Tim Leary, Brian Holton and Alejandro Pen held the Athletics to a mere four hits over the final seven innings, allowing the Dodgers to stay in the game, although the only run they scored in the middle seven innings came on Mike Scioscia’s RBI single in the sixth.
Holding a 4-3 lead, Eckersley came on for the bottom of the ninth. He retired Scioscia on a popup and struck out Dave Hamilton, leaving the Athletics one out away from their first Series victory since, ironically, they finished off the Dodgers in game five of the 1974 Series to wrap up their third consecutive title.
Pinch hitter MIke Davis worked a walk, keeping Los Angeles alive. With the pitcher’s spot in the order up, Lasorda called upon his injured star.
Gibson looked worse than lame when he hobbled to the plate. Let’s put it this way: if Gibson were a horse, he would have been put down. I thought to myself he had better hit a home run, because if he has to run, it would be disastrous.
Gibson fell behind 0-2, but he fouled off a couple of pitches and worked the count to 2-2 when Davis stole second. Now, if Gibson could drive the ball down the line or put one in the gap, Davis could score from second and the game would be tied. Lasorda could pinch run for Gibson and Steve Sax would come to the plate with the chance to win it.
Eckersley threw ball three to Gibson, who then remembered a piece of advice by Dodger scout Mel Didier, a Louisiana native and LSU graduate. Didier’s scouting report on Eckersley stated that against a left-handed batter with a full count, The Eck would go almost exclusively to a backdoor slider.
Sure enough, Eckersley threw a slider. Gibson connected and the ball took off towards the right field pavilion. Canseco gave it a look but knew his team was doomed.
The ball landed 12 rows in the seats. Gibson limped around the bases as his incredulous teammates and those in the original crowd of 56,000 who did not leave early to beat the traffic went crazy.
Two calls of that home run have been immortalized. The one I will always remember, the far better call in my opinion, was Vin Scully’s call on NBC. It took all of nine words.
“HIGH FLY BALL INTO RIGHT FIELD….SHE IS GONNNNE!”
Jack Buck’s call on CBS Radio was far too wordy. His last line of “I don’t believe what I just saw” was nearly as long as Scully’s entire call of the play. I was not a Jack Buck fan, and that call was simply over the top. Too much. Shut up, Jack.
The Athletics were finished. Hershiser pitched another shutout in game two, and although Oakland won game three at home on a McGwire home run in the bottom of the ninth, it was simply a stay of execution. The Dodgers won games four and five, with Hershiser getting the win in the finale to earn World Series MVP honors.
I was glad to see the Athletics lose. I thought they were an arrogant group of punks who thought the championship was their god given right. As it turned out, they were nothing more than just a bunch steroid bullies.
While Oakland won the 1989 Series over the Giants in a sweep, the Athletics were swept by the Reds in 1990. I didn’t like that Cinicnnati team, either, because of the Nasty Boys, namely Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton.
The years 1988 through 1994 nearly turned me off of Major League Baseball. Then again, I’m way too much of a sports fan to abandon MLB totally.