'Miracle Men' chronicles 1988 champions
Gibson, Hershiser led LA to its most unlikely World Series title
It's rather hard to believe that it's been 25 years, four owners, six general managers and seven managers since the Dodgers have been to the World Series.
Their most recent World Series championship season of 1988 is chronicled in great detail in Josh Suchon's new book, "Miracle Men," available in bookstores now. For the author, who grew up rooting for the Oakland A's in the Bay Area, writing a story about the underdog team from Los Angeles that destroyed his powerhouse Athletics was somewhat cathartic.
"That team broke my heart as a kid," said Suchon, who co-hosted Dodgertalk from 2008-11 and is now the play-by-play announcer for the team's Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes. "I was devastated when that team won the World Series. Dodger fans look at that Kirk Gibson home run as one of the best moments of their life -- it was one of the worst moments of my life.
"I went into this project hoping it might be therapeutic for me, and when I saw that nobody had done anything substantial about the '88 Dodgers, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to take my perspective as someone who was a diehard A's fan at the time and be able to tell the story of that team."
And what a story it was. The Dodgers had been one of baseball's best teams from 1974-85, winning four National League pennants and a World Series championship in '81. After winning the NL West title in '85, the team fell into disrepair in '86 and '87, posting the same subpar won-loss record of 73-89. The team also had to deal with the public-relations fallout from the comments general manager Al Campanis made on national television in early '87 that would eventually get him replaced by Fred Claire.
The team still had a strong core of homegrown talent, including Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia and Pedro Guerrero, but holes needed to be filled in the rotation, bullpen, left field and at shortstop.
Because of the collusion ruling against the owners, a crop of new free agents came to market, including Kirk Gibson, the fiery outfielder from the Detroit Tigers.
"People always remember Kirk Gibson's home run in the World Series and him scoring from second on a wild pitch against Montreal and his home run during the playoffs, because those moments were so big," said Suchon. "In this book, I wanted to remind people how many times Gibson started a rally when the team was down late in the game, and how many times he hit a big home run late in the game to either tie it or to win it, and you can see why he was the National League MVP that year."
Hershiser, who wrote the book's foreword, had a magical NL Cy Young Award-winning year in 1988, going 23-8 and ending the season with his record-breaking 59 straight scoreless innings. Suchon devoted a chapter to each one of Hershiser's shutouts during the streak.
"Going into 1988, Dodger fans thought of Orel as the solid No. 2 guy behind Fernando Valenzuela," said the Suchon. "There wasn't a lot of stuff written about Orel going into the 1988 season, because he was the 'reliable guy,' not the ace, even though he had a remarkable year in 1985, going 19-3. But when Fernando went down with injuries and Orel had to become that ace -- which he did -- that September he just took it to a level that was just ridiculous.
"I wanted to do justice to what that streak was, because I don't know if people realize just how incredible it was. So I devoted every other chapter in the book to each one of the shutouts to show that he was in such a groove, and the final game of the streak was an incredible story itself. He has to pitch a shutout and the other pitcher has to pitch a shutout as well for Orel to break the record. So Orel goes 10 shutout innings, when his arm is tired and the team had already clinched the division. Today, that would never happen. He goes the 10, sets the record and [former record holder] Don Drysdale is the first guy to greet him when he comes to the dugout. "
Suchon spoke with Gibson, Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully about Gibson's miraculous home run, which came off Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, that many in baseball regard as one of the greatest home runs in World Series history.
"It's one of those defining moments as a baseball fan that you always remember where you're at," said Suchon. "That made it a challenge, but it also made it fun putting all the different stories leading up to the home run in that chapter."
Of course Gibson and Hershiser helped define that team, but Suchon stresses that the success of the 1988 Dodgers was shared by contributions of players, coaches and a front office that were all in sync.
"I hope the readers get an appreciation for what it takes to win a World Series," said Suchon. "How much luck, skill and teamwork is involved; how you can't tell a champion by the numbers. And I hope they get transported back to a totally different era in baseball, where pitch counts didn't matter and bullpens were used in a totally different way. I hope it's a time machine back to 1988, and I hope it brings up a lot of good memories, whether you are a Dodger fan or just a big fan of baseball."
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.