Sometimes, You Really Can’t Go Home Again
The Last Dodger returned for the first time Wednesday to the pitching mound he once decorated with dignity and class.
There wasn’t a wet eye in the house.
“Somebody take his head off! You stink! Traitor!”
The Last Dodger returned Wednesday slinging memories of a wondrous and lost era, and one would have thought the house would have been noticeably, if momentarily, appreciative.
One would be wrong.
He was our Bulldog. Now he’s their Hound Dog. That makes him a dog.
Orel Hershiser, the last remaining active player who represents the best of the old Dodgers, learned all about life with the new Dodgers while pitching the San Francisco Giants to a 5-3 victory.
Fans who once wildly cheered Pedro Guerrero when he returned home in a St. Louis Cardinal uniform gave him only a mild welcome. There were nearly as many boos, and at least one barking banner.
That is, during the few moments when anyone was reacting at all. The general disinterest among the crowd of 34,596 toward Hershiser--the smallest crowd of this three-game series--was as suffocating as the heat.
“I didn’t hear [a reaction], so I didn’t think I got one,” Hershiser said with a smile.
You can blame it on the fact that he is playing for the hated Giants.
“You can’t leave the Dodgers and still be a Dodger. . . . especially if you go to the Giants,” said Jim Messrah, a Fullerton businessman who purchased tickets along the third-base line specifically to boo Hershiser. “He’s a bum.”
You can point to the number of kids in the stands who were not around when Hershiser’s guts and brains led the Dodgers to their last championship 10 years ago.
“Nice pitching, you’re just great!” yelled one youngster sarcastically from the front row while Hershiser struggled early.
Or, you can buy the theory that, sadly, all of this goes with the territory. The new Dodger territory.
A territory where loyalty is rewarded with midnight firings. A territory where those who once came to watch family have found themselves surrounded by strangers.
Perhaps it is hard these days for Dodger fans to even imagine there was a 1988, much less cheer for that year’s biggest hero.
That theory, Hershiser was buying.
“I’m not sure the people in this town are real sentimental about baseball right now,” he said after a typical Bulldog performance of six innings, five hits, three runs, one win. “I talk to friends here, and some of them go to the games just to see who is in uniform tonight.
“They don’t go to see baseball, they go to see what the next change will be.”
Thankfully, Hershiser still shows up for the baseball, looking much the same Wednesday as when he last pitched here on Aug. 1, 1994.
That was just before the strike, before the winter in which the Dodgers told him to hit the road.
Yes, despite the cries of “Traitor” that bounced around the stadium Wednesday, Hershiser never wanted to leave. He was told to leave because Dodger officials thought he was washed up.
OK, so a lot of us did.
At least back then, those officials had the decency to tell him three days before it was announced, so he would have time to compose himself and chart his future before meeting the media.
If that happened today, new officials might have informed him through an announcement on the giant scoreboard during a seventh-inning bloopers tape.
“The tradition here has been lost a little bit,” Hershiser said. “But I’m sure Fox will just start their own traditions.”
The old ones still suit him fine.
He was so overcome by watching the Dodgers take the field in the bottom of the first inning, he retired to the dugout runway to compose himself.
“I had too much adrenaline, the scene had become too big,” he said. “I needed to calm down.”
He subsequently took the mound to the familiar organ strains of “Master of the House"--the first time in 11 years that Nancy Bea Hefley has played a specific song for an opposing player. Which just confused him even more.
“It felt comfortable and awkward at the same time,” Hershiser said. “Sometimes I actually saw myself in my old uniform.”
So did others, particularly when he fell behind, 3-0, in the third inning after a two-run bloop by Raul Mondesi.
He threw a quick pitch from the stretch to a surprised Gary Sheffield for a called third strike--"You do whatever you can do to screw people up,” he said--then retired Eric Karros on a grounder to end the inning.
He allowed two runners to reach base in the fourth and nobody scored. Two more in the fifth and nobody scored.
“I just kept thinking, every batter, ‘No more runs, no more runs,’ ” he said, typical of the Last Dodger, because that is something old Dodgers used to always think.
The thing that made the 39-year-old Orel Hershiser special on Wednesday was the same thing that made many Dodgers from past eras special. He beat his opponent with everything.
It is easy to imagine him behaving the same way in whatever he does, which brings this to something the Dodgers should be thinking.
When he retires, why not bring him back here and let him amaze us again?
Introducing the new Dodger general manager, Orel Hershiser.
Bet he would hear a reaction then.