Orel Hershiser, left, and Tommy Lasorda chat with Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson before a game at Dodger Stadium last Tuesday. All three were key parts to the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series victory over heavily favored Oakland.
If Orel Hershiser were to dig through his socks draw and find the baseball that was used to record the final out that gave him the record-breaking 59th consecutive scoreless inning in 1988, what would it be worth on the open market?
It’s something we won’t know, at least for now.
The Dodgers’ Cy Young Award winner once had that item as part of a personal collection of uniforms, bats and other things commissioned to Grey Flannel Auctions to sell off the highest bidder (the auction is at this link and runs through May 30). But when he realized that ball was something he didn’t want to part with – it accidentally got put in with everything else he was cleaning out – he talked the company into having it retracted.
But then again, is that really the ball that Dodgers right fielder Jose Gonzalez caught in the 10th inning at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego during a scoreless game to clinch the record?
Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda has long told the story that Gonzalez, in a moment of brain cramping, tossed the ball into the stands.
We checked in with Hershiser, who happened to be with Lasorda at a Dodger Stadium suite last Tuesday night after he threw out the first pitch on his bobblehead giveaway night, to find out what’s really going on here:
Q: Keith Olbermann recently had a blog post (linked here from MLB.com) that talked about how you pulled back the sale of the 59th scoreless inning ball. Was it because you had mixed emotions about letting it go?
Hershiser: What happened was, I wanted to go through all my stuff and put some of it up for auction not leave it all for my kids someday to look it over and say, ‘What do we have here?’ So I started to say, ‘I can part with this, I can part with that.’ But when they came and went through all my storage units, they ran into a ton of stuff. I didn’t know exactly what they had, I didn’t know what I even had. They took it back to organize it, and I forgot that the 59th scoreless ball was in there.
Q: You didn’t see it in the list of things they gave you to approve?
A: They sent me 75 letters to authenticate everything, to go with each item auctioned. I just ran through and signed them all without reading through each letter. So then I heard the ball was not only up for auction, but already in the catalog (pictured, right).
I should have known. I wasn’t keeping detailed records because I was selling so much stuff. I’m keeping the Cy Young Award. And I’ve kept 59th scoreless ball. My World Series ring. All these key things I’ve kept for my kids. So I realized what happened and called my contact and said, ‘I don’t think it’s a real good idea to auction that off right now.’ They said, ‘We really don’t pull things back this late, because it’s not real fair to the bidders, but for you, after you gave us so much stuff . . .’ And so we were able to do it. If I’d have known it was in the lot and really paid attention, it would have never made it there. But then they went through the expense of itemizing it and authenticating it, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no …’
Q: Now there’s a story I recall – and it came up a couple of years ago at the Kirk Gibson auction, when we were discussing where the ’88 World Series Game 1 home run ball might be – where Tommy Lasorda insisted that Jose Gonzalez, the right fielder who caught the last out at San Diego to give you the record, actually tossed the ball into the stands. Is that true?
A: He’s wrong. The one he’s remembering is when Fernando Valenzuela got his 20th win (in 1986) in Houston, there’s a fly ball to center field. Gonzalez caught it (in the bottom of the ninth). He runs in, but a kid in center field says, ‘Throw me the ball!’ He turns and throws the ball into the stands at the Astrodome. So Fernando is now standing on the mound thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ (See box score and game description at this link at Retrosheet.org, which shows Gonzalez as the center fielder and Phil Garner flying out to him to end the game).
So I know the story about Gonzalez and Fernando’s 20th win ball. So now, two years later, Gonzalez catches that last out for the scoreless innings record (see Retrosheet.org link here, showing Gonzalez caught last out in the 10th on a fly by Keith Moreland). All that I’m doing when I am on my knees on the mound, smiling and looking at him, is thinking: ‘Bring the ball in … bring the ball in!’ And he did. I have the ball. He did not turn and throw that one. Lasorda is mixing up stories. And he’s told so many stories, are you going to tell him he’s wrong? Me neither. He told it again down on the field tonight. I told him, ‘Tommy, no, I have that ball!’ He’s like, ‘Whatever.’
Q: That ball was originally listed as a $2,500 opening bid. There are other things in there that are equally as cool — your glove, with a $2,500 reserve, same with a Sport Magazine World Series MVP trophy and game-used home jersey from the ’88 World Series … Were you tempted to pull anything else back?
A: There are a lot of other things in there. Mitch Poole, who was our clubhouse guy, used to get balls and decorate them for us, and there is one in the auction that was used in the game (starting at $500). I pulled balls from the bag that game that I had used, and that is one. And Mitch decorated it. It’s a cool one. During the game, I’d tell the clubbie: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the game, but make sure during the game you’re pulling six balls that I’ve thrown in case something happens.’ I’ve always been into memorabilia and collecting. I’d never tell my teammates I was doing that (pulling balls), but I whispered to the clubbie, whether it was David Wright or Pete Sandoval, Mitch, they know all the inside stories.
Q: The uniforms there are pretty cool as well. You’d keep getting a new uniform every game during the streak?
A: There are six of them I own from the streak. I gave one of them tonight to Joey Herrick, my partner (from Natural Balance Pet Foods) who helped us bid on the Dodgers, as a thank you gift for giving me a shot at owning the team. I’ve still got the other five. I still have the uniform from the last out, which should still have some value. I’ll pass it down to the boys or maybe auction it when I’m 80 and say, ‘here’s your savings bond.’
Q: What eventually leads to you, or even other players, to sell items that would seem to be something you’d never want to part with? Are you worried about security? Do you hope they get in the hands of someone who can display them better?
A: First, it’s sitting in a storage unit and it’s not out in my house. Second, it has a significant value that can go to use to other people in my family. It can be invested properly, given to charity. And I don’t want to leave my kids any headaches, either. I’m 53 – I know it probably seems a little early – but I collected a lot. There’s a Wayne Gretzky jersey that he gave me, a Mario Lemieux jersey, Sammy Sosa jersey, Mark McGwire jersey, Fernando Valenzuela jersey … all this stuff. I’m not trying to make money, I’m trying to make my estate a little more nimble. So (my kids) can have the Cy Young Award, the last out jersey, the rings … and they can say, ‘Dad cleaned all this up, and I can have five items, and he can have five items …’ And it’s nice. My idea is: Let’s make it tidy.
UPDATED TUESDAY, MAY 22: An ESPN-generated Q-and-A with Hershiser based on his bobblehead (linked here).
Orel Hershiser delivers the ceremonial first pitch to Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw before Tuesday’s game at Dodger Stadium.