The book: “Miracle Men: Hershiser, Gibson and the Improbable 1988 Dodgers”
The pitch: The impulse was to get this review out ASAP after we tracked the book down, thanks to a heads up from Suchon, the former KABC “DodgerTalk” co-host and current play-by-play man for the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes.
The best way to showcase it this month, however, was waiting for the Dodgers-Mets series to begin in New York — unfortunately, not the same site as some of the most memorable moments in the 1988 NLCS because they’ve torn down Shea Stadium for the slick new Citi Field.
But you get the big picture.
The responsibility Suchon takes on in recreating all that went into that season is one thing — it’s a no-brainer in going back to review a story that includes Gibson’s post-season heroics, Hershiser’s record-breaking scoreless inning stream, Jay Howell’s pine-tar glove, Mike Scioscia’s ridiculous homer off Doc Gooden in the NLCS, and all the regular-season drama that included Pedro Guerrero, Fernando Valenzuela, Don Sutton and Tommy Lasorda.
Execution is another. Both are A-level results, based on his background as a beat writer covering baseball for the Oakland Tribune, and then his Dodger ties established during his radio show-run from 2008-11, then not so much an attention to detail but also the ability to insert things into the narrative that add to the richness, not necessarily document every last pebble of fact.
And having the cooperation of all the principals from that team — particularly Hershiser, who writes the forward and has a unique relationship with Suchon based on an incident the two were part of after the final out of the World Series in Oakland — freshens up the facts in a way that is hardly a regurgitation of things we think we already know, based on just what we read in the newspapers and saw on TV during that time.
Gibson’s World Series Game 1 homer, for example, gets (and deserves) its own chapter, some 45 pages of the 300-plus page book. But the most revealing part of that chapter is how Suchon attempts to find the backstory to the scouting report that Mel Didier prepared and Gibson recited after the fact that A’s star reliever Dennis Eckersley threw him a backdoor slider on a 3-2 count. Gibson said he knew that was coming based on Didier’s report. But if you check the facts — as Suchon did — the evidence doesn’t back up Didier’s explanation.
“That’s a pretty good story, ain’t it?” asks A’s catcher Ron Hassey today. “Mel Didier, another storyteller. .. How many times did Eck ever get to 3-2?”
Mixed up in this story is also the L.A. arrival of Wayne Gretzky to the Kings, Bo Jackson to the L.A. Raiders and the Lakers’ winning a Game 7 of the NBA Finals against Detroit.
Simply, you’ll read this and get goosebumps all over again. It’s to Suchon’s credit that we have this document, 25 years later, and don’t have to rely on Lasorda’s memory about what actually happened that year (seriously, he still thinks Jose Gonzalez made the catch in the 10th inning at San Diego to secure Hershiser’s 59th consecutive inning record, then threw the ball into the stands. Not true. Hershiser still has it.)
Top 10 things we misremembered from that ’88 season that we’ll know have locked and loaded in our memory bank if the conversation comes up, based on reading this book:
1. Fernando Valenzuela started Opening Day, not Hershiser. Valenzuela started wearing glasses for the first time that season, thinking that was why he lacked control. But it was a shoulder problem that eventually put him on the DL for the first time in his career. He tried to come back late in the season but was ineffective. The saddest part of the season was watching Valenzuela not be part of the team victory.
2. The trade Fred Claire made just before the season that put the roster in motion: Bob Welch, regrettably, was sent to Oakland with Matt Young, and minor-leaguer Jack Savage went to the Mets in a three-team deal.
The Dodgers got shortstop Alfredo Griffin, closer Jay Howell and reliever Jesse Orosco. Turns out, the Dodgers had to face both the Mets in the NLDS and the A’s in the World Series.
3. Claire considered a straight-up deal — Pedro Guerrero for Kirk Gibson — but knew there’d be some legal problems based on Gibson being part of a collusion case against MLB, when he was a free agent in ’85 and ’86 and was frozen out. So that deal didn’t happen.
4. “The name Thomas Roberts isn’t known by many Dodgers fans,” Suchon writes on page 13. “But without him, the 1988 world championship wouldn’t have happened.” Why? Read for yourself. And no, he’s not a combination of Derrell Thomas and Dave Roberts.
5.The team had three straight rain outs at Dodger Stadium — unheard of at the time. They had another rainout in San Francisco after that. The Giants wanted to play a make-up game on Monday after their scheduled series. The Dodgers declined. Most of them had tickets to see Bruce Springsteen at the L.A. Sports Arena that night and didn’t want to miss it.
6. Mickey Hatcher was told after the Game 5 victory that he’d been named the World Series MVP. Then, ooops. It was given to Hershiser. The guy who told Hershiser that he’d won it: Ned Colletti, then a PR man with the Chicago Cubs working for the MLB during the playoffs.
7. Steve Garvey wanted to come back with the Dodgers that year, at age 39. But there was no room.
8. Don Sutton did come back at age 42 to pitch in the rotation. He was released in August, a choice he made instead of accepting retirement so that the team had to pay him the rest of his salary. Claire tried to make it up to him by inviting him to the Dodgers’ White House visit in October.
9. When Sutton left, 20-year-old Ramon Martinez was put into the rotation on August 13, during a sold-out game against San Francisco. That’s the game best remembered for Tim Leary coming off the bench and delivering a based-loaded, two-out, full-count single up the middle in the 11th inning to win the game, after pitching the night before.
10. The Dodgers had an 11-5-1 road trip after the All-Star break. On July 16, they played to a 2-2 tie at Wrigley Field. Hershiser went 7 innings and gave up two runs. So the Dodgers’ official record in 1988 during the regular season: 94-67-1.