Raymond Goetz probably would not agree with this, as his arbitration decision indicates, but Orel Hershiser says he did not have a bad season in 1986. Don't call it mediocre, either, as Dodger management did, because Hershiser insists that isn't so, either.
Though his 14-14 record suggests otherwise, Hershiser believes there are statistics and circumstances supporting his case. But it did not convince the Dodgers, who wanted to cut their best right-handed pitcher $200,000, or Goetz, the arbitrator who let them.
In the weeks since the publicized arbitration hearing, Hershiser has accepted the decision and the fact that he will have to play for $800,000, instead of the $1.1 million he was seeking for 1987.
But he will never accept that it was the right decision.
"I'll argue that to my grave," Hershiser said.
Indeed, Hershiser is passionate in defense of his disappointing season. But he says he has tried to put it out of his mind and concentrate on the new season, which he and Dodger management hope will be better. But if someone brings up the subject, well, Hershiser has the statistics memorized and is more than ready to recite them.
There is more to Hershiser's analysis than merely the determination of a salary figure, though. He, too, is trying to understand why his record slipped from 19-3 in 1985 to 14-14 in '86, why his earned-run average grew from 2.03 to 3.85. Among Hershiser's reasons, not necessarily in order of importance:
--The Dodger offense.
--The Dodger defense.
--Over-pitching, a baseball term for trying to make every pitch utterly unhittable.
--Thinking too much.
The way Hershiser tells it, the impotence of the Dodger offense, without Pedro Guerrero, Mike Marshall and others at times, and the porous defense made him pitch as if a shutout was a requirement for winning. That, Hershiser said, made him drastically alter his style.
Al Campanis, Dodger vice president, saw it differently. Campanis presents the theory that Hershiser, after receiving a $1-million contract in his 1986 arbitration victory, did not prepare properly.
Campanis also suggests that Hershiser lost confidence in challenging batters, which he did so well two seasons ago.
Other theories have made the rounds, too. Some talk about pressure of justifying his $1-million contract, and pitching coach Ron Perranoski thinks Hershiser might have been bothered by a bad back, without letting on.
Even though Goetz didn't side with him, Hershiser presents a plausible case.
"My first 10 starts, I was 5-3 with two no-decisions," Hershiser said. "I had an ERA of 1.93. I hadn't thrown a shutout, so that means I was giving up one or two runs in my games. I thought I had pitched outstanding and I deserved more than a 5-3 record.
"Then, we went into Pittsburgh or someplace and I went into a slump. I really started pitching poorly for eight games. It plays on you physically, because after a hot streak, the odds come around and you're bound to cool off. . . . But after those eight games, I think I pitched the way I did in '85.
"I was shut out seven times (actually six). So, out of my 35 starts, 28 was all I got because seven of them were guaranteed losses (or possible no-decisions). It's like starting the season with seven (six) losses."
Statistics, it seems, can be manipulated to "prove" one thing or another, a practice especially useful during arbitration hearings.
But there can be no doubt that Hershiser was not given much offensive support last season. The Dodgers:
--Totaled just 24 runs in his 14 losses.
--Were shut out six times when he pitched.
--Scored two runs or fewer in nine of the games he pitched.
Combine that with the Dodgers' defense, which led the majors with 181 errors, and Hershiser has a point. But then, the Dodgers also led the majors with 166 errors in 1985, when Hershiser won 19 games. Still, the offense had Guerrero and Marshall then.
"When I got into jams (last season), I felt I was trying to pitch too perfect, to not allow any runs, when I really should've been pitching to allow maybe one run and get out of the inning," Hershiser said. "When you pitch not to give up any runs, it blows up in your face and you end up giving up a lot.
"I'd have (runners on) second and third with nobody out and you would usually say to yourself, 'I can give up one run here because we're going to come back.' But the way I was thinking was, 'I can't give up any runs because we aren't going to get many.'
"That was my mentality. I was over-pitching. When you go out there and try to throw a shutout and not give up any runs, you can really put yourself in a huge jam."
It wasn't as if Hershiser was unable to control that thinking. It was strategy, he said.
"In hindsight, I still think I needed to do that," Hershiser said. "It was because of the people we put on the field. That's the way I felt I had to pitch if I was going to win. I had to go out there and give up either zero runs, one run or two runs. If I gave up three runs or more, I lose. When you start producing runs, you're mentality changes--and your approach.
"What I said is not a reflection on the team. It is a reflection on the bodies we put out there. Saying we didn't produce offensively and defensively is not a cut on Guerrero, Marshall, Scioscia, Madlock, the guys we're going to depend on this year, because they weren't out on the field." There were times, however, when it didn't seem that the real Hershiser was on the field. Or, at least, not the Hershiser who emerged from semi-obscurity in 1984 and, with Fernando Valenzuela gave the Dodgers their best 1-2 pitching combination since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
Scioscia, the Dodger catcher, noticed a difference.
"Orel didn't have nearly as poor a year as everyone was saying," Scioscia said. "First, we weren't nearly as good (as in 1985). But Orel also wasn't quite the same pitcher. He showed flashes, but he wasn't consistent.
"Was it the team or something mechanical? I think a combination of both. Nowhere in the world is he a .500 pitcher. A lot of it was the team we had. There's no way Bobby Welch is 7-13 and Orel's 14-14. Fernando should have won 27, instead of 21 games."
Scioscia, however, believes that Hershiser tried too hard to overcome the offensive obstacles and defensive deficiencies of his teammates.
It showed, apparently, in Hershiser's stuff.
"He's a hard sinkerball pitcher, and I think he might have gotten too fine," Scioscia said. "What I mean is, instead of being patient and just throwing normally, he tried to do it alone."
Scioscia and Dodger trainers say Hershiser never complained of injury last season. But Perranoski, the pitching coach, said he thinks Hershiser's back was chronically sore.
The problem apparently developed last spring, when Hershiser picked up his young son, Quinton, and felt twinges. He missed 10 days of spring training but supposedly was OK for the start of the season.
"He was very inconsistent with his stuff, from start to start," Perranoski said. "Physically, I don't think he was 100%. Who knows, maybe his back bothered him more than he ever let on. Or, maybe when he got that contract, he really wanted to live up to it and he was trying too hard."
Concurred Manager Tom Lasorda: "I think he was afraid to say anything about (his back) because he got that tremendous raise. Maybe that won't be a problem this year."
Campanis said that Hershiser's progress might have been slowed more by his bulging wallet than a throbbing back. Campanis subscribes to the theory that Hershiser's $1-million contract distracted him.
Lasorda and others in top Dodger management say they don't necessarily agree.
Said Campanis: "I'm not flatly saying the amount of money he made made a difference, but it may have. I don't think he was prepared. Look up his spring training record last year. (He was 1-1 with a 5.88 ERA in 26 innings.)
"He didn't start the season out badly, but maybe it was a delayed reaction. He certainly didn't pitch well last year. He seems so much better prepared this spring."
In response, Hershiser says his back didn't bother him much after spring training and that Campanis is simply repeating the arguments he used in arbitration. In other words, he doesn't take the criticism from his boss too seriously.
"People look for things to blame my pitching on," Hershiser said. "I wasn't hurt. I asked for the ball more than anyone. It wasn't because of the back."
And, what about the alleged slacking off during spring training? "If I wasn't ready (at the start of the season), why did I go 5-3 with a 1.93 ERA and two no-decisions?" Hershiser asked, sarcastically. "That's completely backward thinking. . . . After you've established yourself, you maybe want to work on a certain pitch during spring training.
"Plus, you don't want to show Dale Murphy how you want to get him out, so you throw him five fastballs in a row. A lot of pitchers have bad spring trainings and they go out and pitch a shutout on opening day."
Hershiser's arbitration case, one of the first heard this spring, drew plenty of interest around the league.
"I'm not going to talk specifically about the arbitration," Campanis said. "Let's just say we felt he did not deserve $1 million. When you're a 14-14 pitcher, it's not good."
Apparently, Hershiser listened to more cutting criticism during the arbitration hearing.
"It wasn't ugly, just intense," Hershiser said. "But it was the same way the year before when I won. I'm not going to cry and say they played dirty pool when I lose because the same tactics were used when I won. They were intent on winning because they lost before.
"It's crazy in arbitration. You're in there, ripping one another apart, and then at the end you shake hands and say, 'OK, let's go out there and win it all.' It's that weird."
Hershiser realizes that fans probably don't have much sympathy for him. After all, he still is making $800,000.
Still, he wants the people to understand why players try for the big bucks.
"Let's say I'm your son and you're my father," Hershiser said. "I come to you and say, 'Dad, this corporation is offering me $100,000 to work for them and this other one is offering $50,000 for the same job. Who should I work for?' Well, the dad's going to say go for the $100,000, right?
"Same in arbitration. You're market value is whatever you can get. We don't have a gun held to (the owners') heads. Arbitration is an ugly word. But I think it's as good a method of determining salaries as any way they have other than the free-agent open market."
Because he will have only a little more than four years of experience after the 1987 season, Hershiser will be back at the arbitration table next spring unless he and the Dodgers can reach agreement beforehand.
Hershiser said he hasn't thought about that--and won't until after the season. Right now, he is focusing on returning to the form that made him a millionaire for a year. Expectations may not be as great now that he suffered the supposed public indignity of getting a pay cut.
"I'm a little more guarded this year," Hershiser said. "I want to make sure I'm not distracted. Last year, I would give interviews at the drop of a hat. I don't know if that affected me. This year, I've decided that when baseball is on, it's on. When interview time is on, it's on. And when family time is on, it's on. I'm more zoned in."
Perhaps what the Dodgers sought in arbitration was not only to lower Hershiser's salary but also to raise his concentration and incentive for success.
"I hope he goes 19-3 again," Campanis said, "and we have to give him back all that money."