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DEEP ROOTS
Steve Wulf
December 19, 1988
In shattering one of baseball's most imposing records and then pitching the Dodgers to victory in the World Series, Orel Hershiser IV drew on a boyhood spent excelling in sports and a devotion to the fundamental values
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December 19, 1988

Deep Roots

In shattering one of baseball's most imposing records and then pitching the Dodgers to victory in the World Series, Orel Hershiser IV drew on a boyhood spent excelling in sports and a devotion to the fundamental values

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PAST WINNERS

1954

ROGER BANNISTER

1955

JOHNNY PODRES

1956

BOBBY MORROW

1957

STAN MUSIAL

1958

RAFER JOHNSON

1959

INGEMAR JOHANSSON

1960

ARNOLD PALMER

1961

JERRY LUCAS

1962

TERRY BAKER

1963

PETE ROZELLE

1964

KEN VENTURI

1965

SANDY KOUFAX

1966

JIM RYUN

1967

CARL YASTRZEMSKI

1968

BILL RUSSELL

1969

TOM SEAVER

1970

BOBBY ORR

1971

LEE TREVINO

1972

BILLIE JEAN KING;

JOHN WOODEN

1973

JACKIE STEWART

1974

MUHAMMAD ALI

1975

PETE ROSE

1976

CHRIS EVERT

1977

STEVE CAUTHEN

1978

JACK NICKLAUS

1979

TERRY BRADSHAW;

WILLIE STARGELL

1980

U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM

1981

SUGAR RAY LEONARD

1982

WAYNE GRETZKY

1983

MARY DECKER

1984

EDWIN MOSES;

MARY LOU RETTON

1985

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

1986

JOE PATERNO

1987

ATHLETES WHO CARE:

BOB BOURNE

KIP KEINO

JUDI BROWN KING

DALE MURPHY

CHIP RIVES

PATTY SHEEHAN

RORY SPARROW

REGGIE WILLIAMS

On Nov. 16, President Ronald Reagan hosted a state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, and among the guests that evening were Mikhail Baryshnikov, Henry Kissinger, Tom Selleck, President-elect George Bush and a slightly awestruck couple from Pasadena, Orel Leonard Hershiser IV and his wife, Jamie. "It's around midnight, and we're walking down the long hall in the White House that goes from the ballroom to the front door," recalls Hershiser. "While we're walking, I'm telling Tom Selleck and his mother that we feel like Cinderella at the ball, and that if we don't hurry up, our limousine is going to turn into a pumpkin. When our car pulls up, a marine opens one door for Jamie, and I help her with her dress, and then I walk to the other side of the car, where another marine is holding the door for me.

"Now this marine is just like me, about my age. But he's standing there, staunch and upright, his chin out, like I'm some head of state. So I decided to make a little joke, and I put my hand in my pocket, pull it out and say, 'Gol,' I'm sorry, but I don't have any singles.'

"The guy never cracks a smile. He just says. 'That'll be all. Cy Young.' "

Let's hope not. For while we're grateful for the delights that Orel Hershiser provided as the summer of 1988 turned to autumn, we also look forward to having this unlikely-looking hero around for a few more seasons. He was Cy Young-like, all right, winning 23 games and losing 8 with a 2.26 ERA as his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, won the National League West. But he was much more than that. He did Hall of Famer Don Drysdale one better by ending the regular season with a major league-record 59 consecutive scoreless innings, a string he can increase next season. As the very embodiment of the Dodgers' postseason Cinderella story, he pitched and occasionally hit L.A. to victory over the much better New York Mets and Oakland Athletics. Best of all, he carried himself with an amazing grace and amiability. He was stunning out there, but he also seemed a little stunned at what he was accomplishing, and his manner touched a responsive chord in a great many people. For his extraordinary achievements and for the generosity of spirit with which he reacted to his triumphs, we can, in this year of many superb athletic performances, unreservedly name Orel Leonard Hershiser IV SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Sportsman of the Year for 1988.

No one else has ever had the kind of scrapbook-filling ride that Hershiser took for eight weeks in September and October. His scoreless-inning streak began to pick up momentum about the time Steffi Graf was winning the U.S. Open, the fourth of her Grand Slam victories this year. It rolled on through the Summer Olympics, competing, as it were, with the dramatic multi-gold medal feats of Florence Griffith Joyner and Greg Louganis. On a personal level, during the streak Hershiser celebrated the birth of his second son, Jordan, on Sept. 15, and his 30th birthday, on Sept. 16. On the night of Sept. 28, Hershiser faced the Padres in San Diego needing nine shutout innings to tie Drysdale's record. "It was the best I've ever seen him pitch," says Tony Gwynn of the Padres, the best hitter in the National League and the hitter Hershiser respects the most. "Oh for four. I grounded to second base each time, each time on a sinker, although he set me up differently each time. He sure as heck knew what he was doing out there."

With the score 0-0 after nine innings, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda and pitching coach Ron Perranoski persuaded Hershiser to go for the record, and he got it. (L.A. would lose the game 2-1 in the 16th, six innings after Hershiser had retired for the evening.) When Drysdale was told that Hershiser, out of deference to Big D, wanted to leave the game upon tying the mark, he said, "I would have gone out there and kicked him in the rear." A wonderful picture moved out over the Associated Press wire that night: Hershiser, looking half his age, sitting in the clubhouse with his right arm packed in ice, smiling at the 52-year-old Drysdale, who's smiling right back. When one looks at the photograph, it seems as if the Big D and the Little O are sharing a secret that nobody else knows.

Well, maybe one other person knows the secret. "I picked up the paper in Arizona the next day, and I didn't quite know how to feel." says Sandy Koufax, the last Dodger pitcher to be our Sportsman of the Year, in 1965 (box, page 75), and a minor league pitching instructor in the Los Angeles organization. "I cared so much about both of them, having worked with Orel and having played with Don for so long. I was proud of Orel, but a little sad for Don. It's an amazing record, when you think about it. I can believe most anything that happens in a single game, but such sustained excellence over such a long period, with no margin for error, is unbelievable." Indeed, some baseball people considered Drysdale's record nearly as untouchable as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Unfortunately, Hershiser's epic achievement was somewhat overshadowed by the Olympics.

The next indelible image of Hershiser was formed two weeks later, in the deciding game of the National League Championship Series against the Mets. Hershiser had already pitched magnificently in his first two starts against New York, although the Dodgers lost both games, and he had volunteered to relieve in Game 4 and had earned a save. With everything on the line in Game 7, he pitched a five-hitter as L.A. won 6-0. At the final out, a strikeout of Howard Johnson on a humming fastball, Hershiser dropped to his left knee just to the first base side of the mound and said a little prayer. He had to hurry because he was about to be trampled by his teammates, but he got it off in time. "That's my favorite moment of the year," says his mother, Millie. "At a time like that, he remembered to thank God."

And then came the World Series. Before Game 2, his folks, who had been named 1988 Little League Parents of the Year, threw out the ceremonial first balls. During the game, Hershiser got two doubles and a single—as many hits and more total bases than he allowed—ran the bases like Jackie Robinson and shut out the Athletics 6-0. The Dodgers have an expression they use when one of their pitchers jams a batter, sawing off his bat and making him tap the ball weakly: "Grown man hit that ball." That expression was uttered early and often that night.

In the fifth and final game, Hershiser wasn't quite so overpowering, but he was more than a match for mighty Oakland. His biggest worry was that Lasorda would take him out when he ran into trouble in the eighth inning: runners on first and second, one out, Jose Canseco at the plate, the Dodgers leading 5-2. "I was running out of gas, but I wanted that Whitney Houston thing, you know, my one moment in time," Hershiser says. "Now, I don't want Tommy to know I'm tired, so I have to act confident. But if I act too confident, he's going to know I'm faking it, so I have to strike the right balance there." Having telepathically convinced Lasorda he should continue, Hershiser went to work. He threw two fastballs and a curve, each of which Canseco fouled off. Then Hershiser threw a fastball in—something most pitchers would never dream of giving Canseco in this situation, but that's probably what Canseco was thinking, too. He popped weakly to first base. Grown man hit that ball. Dave Parker, the next batter, didn't even do that well. He struck out on four pitches, the last one a nasty, low curveball.

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