For Hershiser, the journey is enough
After an award-filled career, is the Hall call next?
Orel Hershiser won't say if he deserves to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
"I'm excited just to be considered," said Hershiser. "I've had an amazing journey in baseball, from suspect to prospect to the Major Leagues to the success I had. And now being on the Hall of Fame ballot."
Hershiser's name is on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot for the second time. His vote-total percentage last year was 11 percent. (A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election.) Results of the 2007 BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 9, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"Being on the ballot is a lot different than getting in," Hershiser said. "Only the cream of the crop gets in, and that's the way it should be. It's a special place for special accomplishments. It's one of those places -- like Augusta, with the Masters, or the Indy 500 Speedway -- when you walk in, you can cut the air with a knife. You know there's greatness in those places. I'm humbled and honored. It's the kind of thing you can't believe has happened to you."
Sort of like 1988. Hershiser pitched 18 seasons in the Major Leagues -- 12 with the Dodgers, followed by stints with the Indians, Giants, Mets and a farewell reunion with the Dodgers in 2000 -- but 1988 was magical.
Hershiser was the unanimous winner of the National League Cy Young Award in 1988 after leading the Dodgers to a World Series title with an NL-best 23 wins, 267 innings, 15 complete games and eight shutouts. His biggest personal achievement was his incredible streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings to end the regular season, a stretch that broke Don Drysdale's 20-year record.
He was sixth in the voting for NL Most Valuable Player in 1988, when he was named Major League Baseball Player of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. The awards kept coming in that spectacular 1988 season for a player who kept rising to the occasion, as he also was named Most Valuable Player of the NL Championship Series against the Mets and of the World Series against the Oakland A's.
Against the Mets, Hershiser picked up a save on no days' rest and threw a shutout in the Game 7 clincher. He also pitched the World Series clincher. In 12 career postseason series, he was 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA.
A three-time All-Star, Hershiser led the NL in innings pitched three consecutive seasons. He finished among the top five in ERA five times. He also finished third in Cy Young voting in 1985 and fourth in both 1987 and 1989. His career mark was 204-150 with a 3.48 ERA, 68 complete games and 25 shutouts.
And Hershiser could do more than pitch. He won a Gold Glove in 1988 and a Silver Slugger Award in 1993.
A 17th-round draft pick out of Bowling Green University in 1979, Hershiser moved through the Dodgers' farm system and earned his first Major League promotion during the 1983 pennant race after Steve Howe was suspended for missing a flight to Atlanta.
After making the Opening Day roster in 1984 as a reliever, Hershiser struggled through the first month of the season until he was called into manager Tom Lasorda's office for what would become "The Sermon on the Mound," during which Lasorda urged Hershiser to trust his stuff and renamed him "Bulldog."
Hershiser's turnaround was dramatic. He became a starter by midseason and threw four shutouts in one month, finishing third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after the Dodgers struggled to a fourth-place finish.
Hershiser was more a pitcher than a thrower. His fastball rarely topped 90 mph, but he understood the value of command and control. He deployed a repertoire of pitches, relying mostly on a hard sinker, a biting curveball and the creativity to keep hitters off-balance.
The breakthrough year for Hershiser came in 1985, when he went 19-3, winning his last 11 decisions and finishing third in the Cy Young voting. It was only a glimpse of what was to come three years later.
But the wear and tear of pitching nearly six full seasons without missing a start took its toll, and early in the 1990 season, Hershiser's shoulder could take no more. Literally stretched out of its socket, the shoulder required reconstructive surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the Tommy John ligament-replacement procedure. After 1 1/2 years of recovery, Hershiser came back to win his last six starts of 1991. He was able to pitch 200 innings in both 1992 and 1993.
He left the Dodgers for Cleveland in 1995, went 16-6 and won the American League Championship Series MVP Award with a pair of wins. He won 29 games the next two seasons before moving on to the Dodgers' archrivals, the Giants. He pitched one year in San Francisco, another with the Mets (with a playoff appearance) and wrapped up his career with the Dodgers, recording 106 of his career victories after undergoing the shoulder operation.
Asked if he felt whether the time missed from the shoulder injury compromised his chances of election into the Hall of Fame, Hershiser said he had no regrets.
"I don't even think like that," he said. "The comeback was part of my career, winning more games after the surgery than before. I don't look back, I don't wonder, 'What if?' I'll take the whole thing just the way it was."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.