The 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
were one of the worst baseball
teams ever to win the World Series
. Despite posting a .248 team batting average
and and even more pathetic .304 on-base percentage
, the 1988 Dodgers somehow won it all on the strength of left fielder Kirk Gibson
, pitcher Orel Hershiser
's season for the ages, and a hell
of a lot of luck
Gibson was undeniably brilliant, leading the team in average (.290), home runs (25), runs, walks, doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and was second in steals and RBI (76). This was not as difficult as it may seem, however, as the rest of the lineup was truly awful. The other everyday starters were (along with average, homers, and RBI):
C Mike Scoscia (.257, 3, 35)
1B Franklin Stubbs (.223, 8, 34)
2B Steve Sax (.277, 5, 57)
3B Jeff Hamilton (.236, 6, 33)
SS Alfredo Griffin (.199, 1, 27)
CF John Shelby (.263, 10, 64)
RF Mike Marshall (.277, 20, 82)
The best part about the team was its starting rotation, which had three top-notch starters in Hershiser (23-8, 2.26), Tim Leary (17-11, 2.91), and Tim Belcher (12-6, 2.91). The back of the rotation was suspect however, where a fading Fernando Valenzuela produced one of the worst seasons of his career (5-8, 4.24), and 43-year-old Don Sutton combined with an inexperienced Shawn Hillegas to go 6-10 as the fifth starters.
Yet despite its many glaring holes, the Tommy Lasorda's boys somehow managed to win 94 games. In the NLCS, which went seven games, they barely squeaked past the heavily favored New York Mets who had won 103 games and had won it all only two years before. The Dodgers were given even less chance in the Series against the mighty A's, winners of 104 regular season games, who had swept a good Boston team in the ALCS and featured the game's two greatest sluggers (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco) and the greatest relief pitcher of all time (Dennis Eckersley). The Athletics were an outstanding squad in all aspects of the game, and would return to the Series the next two years. Worst of all for the Dodgers, Kirk Gibson was out of the line-up with a torn hamstring and a badly sprained knee. Many predicted an easy sweep for the A's.
The sweep was avoided in the first game, and the A's never recovered. In Game 1, in the bottom of the 9th inning, with two outs, and the A's ahead 4-3, Eckersley was on the mound and only needed one more out to win. With Mike Davis at the plate, Lasorda sent weak-hitting Dave Anderson to the on-deck circle as the pinch hitter for pitcher Alejandro Pena. Not wanting to give in to Davis with a poor hitter up next, Eckersley pitched too carefully and walked him. Then Lasorda played his trump card, and to everyone's disbelief, Kirk Gibson came out of the tunnel and slowly hobbled up to the plate.
Gibson, who was not even in uniform at the start of the game, had sent a messager from the clubhouse where he was wrapped in ice to tell Lasorda that he felt he had one hit left in him. For five straight pitches, Eckersley came with his best fastball. Gibson weakly fouled off two of the pitches but managed to run the count full to 3-2. Something had to give. Figuring that Gibson would be expecting another fastball, Eckersley tried to sneak a backdoor slider past him for strike three.
Gibson crushed it in to the right field bleachers. The ball rocketed into the darkness, Dodger Stadium erupted into madness, and Gibson memorably pumped his fists as he limped around the bases. It was the most improbable home run ever hit. Even Hollywood doesn't write scripts that sappy. With Destiny so clearly on their side, the Dodgers won the Series almost easily, in five games.