Orel Hershiser finished the 1988 regular season by amassing 59 straight scoreless innings, a record-breaking prelude to a Cy Young Award and the Los Angeles Dodgers unlikely World Series championship later that October. The grind of '88, along with heavy use from 1985-1989, took a toll on Hershiser's elbow, but he still pitched effectively until the 2000 season.
After a stint as a pitching coach, Hershiser went into broadcasting and he recently was promoted to lead analyst on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Along the way, he briefly dabbled in coaching Little League — which, along with Subway, helped Hershiser find his way to an Answer Man phone session.
Subway is bringing back its Baseball DeSigns promotion, which Hershiser will explain — along with his thoughts on the Dodgers, both past and present.
David Brown: As a former Dodgers player, what do you think of the turmoil the team has been going though the past couple of years?
Orel Hershiser: I'm allowed to check my Dodger Blue heart at the door, because I'm in the media now, so it's easy not to talk emotionally about their struggles. But it is hard to watch, of course. I was with the organization 11 years, and I'm going to be linked to the Dodgers until my grave. It's very hard to watch, not only for Dodgers fans but also for all of Major League Baseball. When you see MLB have to go in and help them out and kind of steer the organization, that's something you never would have thought of seeing when, say, the O'Malleys owned the team. Or when Fox owned the team. It's sad, that's for sure.
DB: Regardless of who owns them, what would you like to see changed about how they're run?
OH: I don't think it's right for me to comment on their internal workings at all. It's fair to analyze their players on the field, to analyze their roster, to look at their record and say that Major League Baseball needs the Dodgers to be like rock stars so that when they come to town, there's an extra 8-10,000 people in the seats. Just like what happens when the Red Sox travel, when the Yankees travel, what happens now when the Texas Rangers travel. The teams that are at the top of pack usually help the other teams when they came to town. That's what the Dodgers always did. That's the hard part for Major League Baseball. Especially in this economy, even in baseball, they're looking for new ways to draw fans and keep fans and to cause excitement. The Dodgers aren't doing that right now.
DB: I was looking through some of your old baseball cards, and your Donruss card from 1989 celebrates your scoreless innings record, and there's a graphic that says "59 and counting" on it. Do you consider that a jinx?
OH: No. When I rested over the winter and went to the last Reagan White House dinner and I sat next to Margaret Thatcher, and did the Johnny Carson show and the parade and all of things after the world championship, they'd all go, "... and the record will continue next year." Not many people knew that my elbow had scarred down. I didn't even start opening day the next year and was close to going on the disabled list.
It's one of those things in athletics where you don't make excuses and you try to figure out how to take the mound. Because they're paying you to be a pitcher, they're not paying you to be hurt. And I gave up a run in that first inning — I think it was a two-out single by Todd Benzinger between short and third.
I never considered that baseball card being a jinx at all. I considered my elbow being sore a little bit more [laughs].
DB: Can you really juggle?
OH: I can juggle baseballs. That's not Photoshopped. I can do them behind my back, between my legs, whatever you need. I can't juggle more than three, though. I've tried to do four and five and I can't do that. Maybe if I sat down and practiced it, maybe. But once I learned to juggle three, it's like, "OK, I've accomplished juggling — let's move on [laughs]."
DB: What got you involved with Subway's Baseball DeSigns program?
OH: I've been associated with Subway for, I think, four years and this is the third year of this program. Subway has really done a lot for Little League, the themes being "eat healthy," and also "stay active." So, young and talented artists decorate baseballs and then they save the sweet spot for the celebrity or athlete to sign and then Subway auctions them off to raise money for the Little League Urban Initiative. That's a program which starts up Little Leagues, maintains fields in the inner city, buys equipment for the kids and uniforms and gloves and that kind of stuff.
Being around Little League sports is important to me; it's a protected charter by our government, something I definitely wanted to be involved with, if you have a wholesome image like Subway does.
DB: Did you ever get a chance to coach your kids in Little League?
OH: Yeah, I did one fall down in Florida. I couldn't coach in the summer because I was either playing or broadcasting or coaching, but I coached a Little League fall team one year. I think we only won two of our 10 games. I let all the kids play whatever position they had always dreamed of. Like, the kid who was always stuck in right field — if he ever had the dream of pitching, I'd ask him, "Do you want to pitch?" If he said yeah, I'd say, "Well, then you're going to pitch. Don't worry. This is fall league, this is where we're going to learn to get better and have a lot of fun. This isn't the serious summer league."
Some of those kids will look me up on Facebook — and that's one of the places you can go to check these DeSigns balls out, on Subway's official page — so kids will look me up on Facebook and say things like: "We didn't win many games, Mr. Hershiser, but I sure had a blast." I was more interested in making sure they had something good to eat and cold to drink and that they had fun at the Little League game than I was making sure we won games.
DB: Many people might be familiar with your son Jordan, who's at USC and has pitched for the baseball team, but you have another son, Quinton, who's also had an amazing run of accomplishments in his life. Can you explain why and how much you're proud of your boys?
OH: Jordan was one class away from graduating at USC, so I'm real proud of that. His baseball accomplishments haven't been as great as he would like, but I'm still proud of him as a dad. He's been hurt most of his baseball career with injuries. He's trying to come back right now in a summer league in Texas, but if that doesn't work out, we're one class away from graduating. He has a chance to do some great things.
Quinton (shown on the right as a little boy with Lasorda in 1989) graduated from Baylor and he never was really big into athletics. He ran a little track and played a little Little League baseball but he's doing wonderful things with our government, helping out in Washington, D.C. Quinton is such a go-getter, he's a pleaser and he works really, really hard. He's a "please" and "thank you" kind of kid. And I can call him a kid, still, even at 52. He's 27. Yeah, I'm very proud of those two.
DB: The "Baseball Boogie" video.
OH: Oh, God. Thanks a lot for bringing that up.
DB: Is Jerry Reuss' hair still as glorious as it was back in the day?
OH: His nickname was "Q-Tip." That white hair is definitely still flowing locks.
DB: Why didn't the Dodgers ever release a follow-up?
OH: I have no idea. I had completely forgotten about "Baseball Boogie" until it resurfaced over the last five years when I got into the media. I never remember seeing it before then. And then Google and YouTube and all those things got popular and people started [up]loading all that kind of stuff on there. It was never something that was ever really embarrassing until the Internet got popular. Now it's kind of a fun thing.
When people started bringing it up to me again, I had forgotten that we got in trouble when we did that video. We arranged it and did it for charity, and I can't remember who on the team arranged it, but the shoot was after a day game at home. And we did it, but it went until 1 or 2 in the morning, and Tommy Lasorda — who didn't do the video — found out about it. Seventy-five percent of the team was in this studio until 2 in the morning doing this video.
I can even remember that Tommy brought us out early the next day, or maybe kept us late, and worked us out extra for two or three days. For Tommy, it was that "fake mad," like, "We're gonna build some team chemistry" over this.
DB: Why didn't you guys take Tommy with you and do the video together?
OH: I'm sure he was asked, but he probably asked for too much money [laughs]. We're probably like, "Tommy, it's for charity." And he's like, "Ah, I already got something else scheduled." Back when he was an active manager, he was always busy. That was back when the Chicago Bears did the "Super Bowl Shuffle," and all of a sudden, sports teams doing videos was in vogue. So was big hair and shoulder pads.
"We're playing hard in this baseball race." — Orel Hershiser in "The Baseball Boogie"
DB: How would you assess your own performance in the video, now that it's resurfaced 20 or 25 years after the fact?
OH: What happens is, when I glance at it — we'll be at a party or something, and someone will pull it up and everyone will gather around the computer and start laughing and I'll just walk away because I don't want to see it again [laughs].
What I remember is, I think my hips moved too much. I would tone down some of that. I look like I had the White Man Overbite working. I'm not a real good dancer.
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