Sunday, August 15, 2010
#566) OREL HERSHISER
Orel Hershiser joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on March 25, 1999. The former star of the Los Angeles Dodgers during their 1988 National League Championship Series victory over the Mets was brought in to replace a struggling Hideo Nomo. "As down as I was yesterday over losing a player that I had a lot of sweat equity in and who I was pulling for to do well," manager Bobby Valentine said the day of the signing, "I'm even higher than that today knowing that one of the greatest competitors, one of the best pitchers I've ever seen, is lined up on our team."
The 40 year-old right-hander brought with him a strong positive clubhouse presence. He was a devout Christian who never smoked or drank and avoided swearing. Orel was also one of the most intelligent players in the game. "Bulldog" struggled on the mound to start the 1999 season. He made his Mets debut in Montreal facing the Expos on April 8th, but lost after surrendering four runs in just four innings of work. No longer the dominating figure he had been years earlier with the Dodgers. Hershiser only had a 2-4 record following his first seven starts of the year.
Things began to change for the veteran following a win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on May 21st. Now going deeper into games he was able to post an 8-3 winning record over his next 13 starts leading to a milestone win on July 22nd. Hershiser recorded his 200th career win with the Mets 7-4 victory over the Expos at Shea. "I'd like to dedicate something like this to my wife," Orel said. "I think that she's been through a lot and I think that the girls really stay off to the side and out of the limelight, and they really do an awful lot of work for us to come out here and play as well as we do and take care of our families." He became only the 95th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish the feat. "I don't think that I even thought about 200 when I was struggling at the beginning of the season because the eight wins seemed a long way off, as bad as I was pitching," Hershiser said.
Orel would end the regular season with a record of 13-12 and a 4.58 ERA. Leading the club with 32 starts, and tied for most team victories with Al Leiter. When the Mets won their final four games of the regular season it allowed them to clinch the Wild Card entry into the postseason. Coming from the bullpen it was Hershiser that held the score tied in the 4th inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. A game that would be won in legendary fashion by Robin Ventura's walkoff "Grand Slam Single" in the 15th inning. "If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history," Orel said after the 5-hour, 46-minute epic. "One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any." Unfortunately the Mets would fall to the evil Braves in Game 6 and miss an opportunity at the 1999 World Series.
It would be Bulldog's only season with the Mets as he signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 5, 1999.
After his active pitching career ended in 2000, the 1988 Cy Young Award winner had served as a pitching coach and later Executive Director for the Texas Rangers. Leaving that position to join the staff of ESPN as both a print and television analyst for their baseball coverage.
Hershiser is an accomplished poker player and advanced to the final four at the 2008 National Heads-Up Poker Championship in Las Vegas. Defeating three notable professionals to earn $125,00.00 in winnings.
Orel has volunteered time on behalf of Little League Baseball and served as a coach in the Appreciation Game in 2010. "You really have to watch what you say and how you act," Hershiser explained. "You're a role model every moment. You might not be teaching them baseball; you might be teaching them manners and respect."
Orel Hershiser signed his card in the set for my friend, Lou after the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium on August 8, 2010.