by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was the biggest moment of his baseball life, he was about to pitch the bottom of the ninth, lead his teammates to the promised land of the World Series, and there he was — sitting in the dugout, his head back, his eyes closed.

“What were you doing?” someone asked Orel Hershiser.

“I was singing hymns,” he said.


Singing hymns? Well. Why not? A few minutes later, he struck out Oakland’s Tony Phillips — Game over! Dodgers win the World Series! DODGERS WIN THE WORLD SERIES! — and his teammates were singing him. They rushed the mound in unbridled celebration, buried themselves in history, and somewhere the baseball gods nudged each other and said, “Hey. Who are these guys?”

Paint it blue. Dodgers win. The team that had nothing suddenly had it all. With a roster full of also-rans, a bench full of casualties, and one baby-faced pitcher who sang hymns (no doubt “Amazing Grace”), they had done the unthinkable. Beat the winningest team in baseball this year, four times in five games.

Paint it blue.

“This team should be an influence on everybody in the WORLD!” bellowed Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, his hair soaked with champagne, after the Dodgers upset the Athletics, 5-2, Thursday to capture the Fall Classic. “I’m gonna go to LA tomorrow and dance in the STREETS! AND I’M GONNA–“

Back in a minute, Tommy.

First, your team. Oh, what they did to the Oakland Athletics. Stole their glory. Stole their thunder. In the end, they even stole their game plan. Hit with power. Take a home run trot.

So here was Mickey Hatcher, a castoff nobody wanted last year (and a man who should definitely cut down on his caffeine intake) slapping high-fives after his two-run homer in the first inning Thursday that set the tone for the Oakland decapitation.

Here was Mike Davis, another free agent, another former Athletic, another bit player, getting the green light on a 3-0 pitch and cranking a two-run homer over the wall in the fourth. A 3-0 pitch? Mike Davis?

Here was Rick Dempsey, 39, now starting as catcher and slashing a double deep to right to drive in a run. Rick Dempsey? Who had to call the Dodgers and ask for a tryout? What’s next? Woody Allen as designated hitter?

Maybe so. Woody. Frank. Sammy. The Dodgers will have all the celebrities out when they land in LA. If they land. The way they played, capturing this World Series in just one game over the minimum, with a cast of human Band-Aids and a heart as big as their dugout, well, they just may stay up in the sky forever.

Paint it blue. Say something for your old fans in Puerto Rico!” a radio guy demanded of Hatcher in the steamy, champagne-soaked clubhouse afterward.

“Puerto Rico?” Hatcher said. “They cut me in Puerto Rico. Here’s what I say. Pffft!”

Perfect. Was that perfect? Here was a team that nobody wanted, a team that nobody even liked last year — after they finished under .500 and fourth in the National League West. What a remarkable comeback! Even the baseball experts who figured Oakland would win this thing easily had to applaud their mistake Thursday. The Dodgers captured baseball’s most precious prize with more bandages than “M*A*S*H” and more extras than “Ben Hur.”

Oh yeah. And Orel.


Back in a minute, Tommy.

Hershiser can speak for himself. Just by raising his pitching arm. “You put 10 names in a hat to pitch this game,” teammate Kirk Gibson said, “you want to pick Orel’s.”

Unless, of course, you’re Oakland. Hershiser is so deadly, he should come with a child-proof cap. MVP? They should let him have it for two years. You could stick him out there with the cast of “Godspell,” and he’d win. Did you catch that moment in the bottom of the eighth Thursday, when Hershiser faced mighty Jose Canseco with two runners on and the entire city of Oakland taunting “OOOO-RRELL! OOOO-RRELL!” He worked the count to two strikes, calmly, masterfully, then jammed Canseco on the fists. The slugger popped up innocently, and the World Series and the MVP award had just been decided.

The rest was merely an epilogue.

Never mind that the Dodgers were the walking wounded. Apparently the loss of Gibson (bum legs), Mike Marshall (bum back), John Tudor (bum elbow) and Mike Scioscia (bum knee) wasn’t going to affect Tommy Use-em and The Tonight Show Orchestra.

LA used Dempseys, Hamiltons, Gonzalezes. Not exactly Reggie and Mickey. So what? Here, Thursday, was the final indignity. The Dodgers were hitting home runs. In Oakland’s park. Where Don Baylor had once said the Dodger Stadium dingers would “be nothing but long fly balls.”

Yeah. Long fly balls out of the park. And look who was hitting them! Mickey Hatcher? Mike Davis? Let’s face it here. The A’s lost to the B’s.

“I haven’t slept since this series started,” Hatcher said. “When we got that last out, and I realized we had won it, I left the ground!”

Paint it blue. And what of the Athletics? Try as you will to be kind, it is hard not to conclude that, simply put, they stunk. OK. Maybe that’s harsh. But we’re judging them by their own standards. After all, it was the Athletics players
— such as Baylor, Canseco and Parker — who spoke so confidently before this series. It was the Athletics who won 104 games during the season, and who arm wrestled the entire American League to the ground. Power? Runs? Bulging biceps? The Athletics had it all — right up to the first game of the Series.

“I just want to say one thing,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We missed the biggest piece we were chasing. But we did not choke. We got beat because the Dodgers did more than we did.”

Yes. Which sometimes wasn’t saying much. Oakland hit .177 in the Series. Its motto could have been, “When the going gets tough, the tough pop out.” How many times did we see Canseco and Mark McGwire and Parker fizzle in critical situations? The “Oakland Bashers” managed just two home runs all series — or the same number as Hatcher, who was unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring last year.

The Oakland pitching wasn’t much better. Dave Stewart, the ace, came up empty twice. Storm Davis got two starts and didn’t pitch nine innings.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Stewart, who nonetheless felt bad losing in front of the sold-out home crowd. But this was simply not meant to be for Oakland. In the sixth inning, Canseco ran to his position in right field, only to discover he had no glove. He thought someone else had brought it out.

Apparently, someone was already packing up. So it’s the Dodgers, World Series champions, and now we get an entire winter of Tommy Lasorda on the talk show circuit, and Kirk Gibson recollecting that one swing, that one home run, and that 1.000 World Series batting average.

“You can’t compare this to 1984,” Gibson said. “My goal coming out of spring training was to be world champions. It was all I thought about. Not the All-Star Game, not winning the MVP. Just being the world champions.”

He did his part. From Gibby’s shot-heard-around-the-world in Game 1, to Hershiser in Game 2, to Jay Howell’s clutch relief job in Game 4, to Hatcher-Dempsey-Davis in Game 5, the Dodgers played dial-a-hero and somebody always answered.

So be it. If there’s anyone out there who can say LA didn’t deserve to win this thing, let him speak now.

Didn’t think so.

Go ahead, Tommy.


We know the because. Because they did it with subs, because they did it with scrubs. Because they did it with heart, soul, pasta and prayer. Because they did it with a mean-faced slugger playing “The Natural,” and a baby-faced, miracle pitcher who framed his biggest baseball moment with a quiet hymn.

Because they did it in five games — no questions, no doubts, no problem.

What do you say to the team that has nothing? Happy World Series. The trophy is yours.

Paint it blue. CUTLINE LA’s Orel Hershiser shows off his World Series MVP trophy after he pitched a four-hitter Thursday night against the A’s. Dodgers’ winning pitcher Orel Hershiser is hoisted in the air by catcher Rick Dempsey after the last out of the World Series Thursday night. A’s slugger Jose Canseco was 1-for-19 in the World Series. Mike Davis (center) is welcomed after his two-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. Mickey Hatcher is all smiles after his first-inning, two-run home run gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. Teammates surround Orel Hershiser after the last out of the World Series Thursday night.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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