1988, Chavez Ravine, Dodger Stadium, Dodgers, Downtown L.A., Kirk Gibson, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Dodgers, National League, Oakland A's, Orel Hershiser, Tommy Lasorda, UCLA, UCLA Bruin Marching Band, Vin Scully, World Series
Kirk Gibson finishing the most famous home run in Dodger history. Photo courtesy of dodgersnation.com
WHERE I WAS TWENTY-NINE YEARS AGO, AS THE DODGERS WERE PLAYING THE HEAVILY FAVORED OAKLAND A’S FOR THE TITLE
No, I wasn’t one of the 56,000 fans at Dodger Stadium going nuts over the pugnacious, take-no-guff Dodger left fielder who had bad injuries on both legs – and subsequently could barely walk – hitting that three-ball, two-strike back door slider from Dennis Eckersley into the right field pavilion, essentially ending the Athletics’ coronation.
I was a member of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band at that time, having just reached the legal age of 21 and enjoying the beginning of my first year as a transfer student at my dream school.
We were in Berkeley, supporting our Bruin football team, led by future Super Bowl hero and pro football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, as they faced California’s Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium on their campus, featuring their famous “Tightwad Hill”.
As Cal wasn’t very good that year while UCLA had one of their best teams ever, ranking second in the nation going in, we handled the Bears fairly comfortably, becoming the top-ranked team in the country as Miami lost to Notre Dame the same day.
I and the rest of the 250-member Bruin band, with the Cal fraternities throwing stuff at our buses, then headed back to our hotel in – of all places – Oakland, where after dinner a bunch of my new friends (many of whom I’m still friends with today) and I congregated in one of the rooms to watch Game 1 of what I called the “State Championship”, what with Los Angeles and Oakland both being in California, back home.
Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, with Bob Costas standing next to him, raising his fists in triumph in the visitor’s clubhouse in Oakland after the Dodgers’ Game 5, World Series-clinching win. Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com
I was told that the Dodgers had asked the UCLA Band to perform the national anthem, but as we were 400 miles away and we weren’t going to be allowed to watch the game in the stadium, our crosstown rival band at USC got the honors.
Being the baseball/softball guy I was and still am, playing over fifty pick-up softball games a year at that time and coaching both sports at the youth level,
Combined with the Dodgers having a relatively weak team compared to the powerful Athletics, boasting brutes who can hit the ball 800 feet like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire,
(of course, this was before it was discovered that they were all steroided up and Canseco sang like a bird about it, but that’s besides the point)
I had picked the A’s to win in five games, glad that my hometown team, the team I grew up with thanks to my grandparents, had beaten the (again) heavily favored New York Mets to win the pennant but convinced that that was as far as they would go.
Kirk Gibson’s iconic home run, Game 1, 1988 World Series, with the great Vin Scully on the call. Courtesy of YouTube.
So there we were, bantering with each other, watching the game unfold the way everyone thought it would, Canseco hitting that grand slam off of Tim Belcher.
Pretty soon it was the ninth, the A’s up 4-3.
Dennis Eckersley, who pitched like he was wearing a blue unitard with a large “S” on his chest all season, was sent in to wrap things up.
Eck took care of the first two batters with ease,
Mike Davis got on base with two out,
Gibson came up, my friend next to me, who was from the Bay Area and was a big A’s fan, watching the screen intensely and muttering, “Come on Eck…”
And you know the rest, Jack Buck exclaiming about how he couldn’t believe what he just saw and the great Vin Scully commenting about how “…the impossible just happened.”
The current Dodgers’ orders: To get one of these. They will need to win four more game to earn this. Photo courtesy of allexpress.com
Like Buck, we obviously couldn’t believe what we just saw either.
More or less every one of us UCLA band members from SoCal was ecstatic over the Dodger win.
I was impressed, and I remarked to someone that it was going to be a great Series, but to be honest I felt that those Athletics were just too strong and they would come back and restore order in Game 2 the next day.
I particularly remember the headline of Oakland’s newspaper, the Tribune, the next morning:
Mind you, that appeared on the front page of the main section, not the front page of the sports section.
Orel Hershiser and the rest of that Dodger pitching staff then proceeded to show me how much I knew, as I neglected one important adage regarding baseball…
“Good pitching beats good hitting.”
The fact that the Dodgers were parading in downtown L.A. with the Commissioner’s Trophy in hand, with manager Tommy Lasorda dancing on the steps of City Hall at the celebration rally, a week later, proved that fact as I was one of those who, according to Lasorda after they clinched the crown in Game 5, Hershiser striking out Tony Phillips to end it, didn’t think that…
“(the Dodgers) could beat the mighty Mets! Nobody (me included) thought that we could beat the team that won 104 games in the regular season! But we believed it!!”
The UCLA Band was in that victory parade, but I wasn’t among the marchers playing my tenor saxophone that day as I most likely had a class.
Twenty-nine years later, I have a lot more faith in that blue-clad team from Chavez Ravine north of downtown – probably because they are much better than that ’88 team was.
And it’s my dear hope that history will repeat itself.
Because if it does, I have promised myself that I will attend the parade downtown, and the rally as well.
Orel Hershiser (left) being bear-hugged by Rick Dempsey (center), with first baseman Franklin Stubbs (right) rushing to join in, after the Dodgers secured their 6th World Series title. Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com