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Scott Ostler

Dodgers '88: A SEASON TO REMEMBER : For Dodgers' Hatcher, This Series Was Child's Play

October 24, 1988|Scott Ostler

World Series moments?

Dusting off the old memory book, looking back all the way to last week, there are several scenes that jump out.

There is Kirk Gibson, of course, the Kid Who Batted 1.000. What I will remember best about that at-bat is not the home run, but the pathetic way Gibson hopped and staggered around home plate after each of his four foul balls.

We sportswriters don't all second-guess. Sometimes we first-guess. At 0-and-2, I said to myself, "Lasorda's got to pinch-hit for this guy before he hurts himself and blows the team's last chance."

Show me a replay of that Gibson at-bat and I'll still give you 100 to 1 he doesn't hit the ball to the outfield grass. I know my physics and my baseball.

How about Pine Tar Jay Howell in Game 4? Facing the most feared batsman in the game, Howell answers the musical question, "Do you know the way to fan Jose?"

And how about Tommy Himself, allowing those two moments to happen, showing a childlike belief in miracles?

How about Tommy's patented dugout-to-mound sprints after big wins? Each sprint began with the arms-up Lasorda Leap, living proof that pasta is lighter than air.

And speaking of rising to the occasion, how 'bout that Orel? Each of us, sometime in our lives, even if only in a tiny personal crisis, should only be as cool under pressure as Orel. Maybe if we all carried cheat-sheets . . .

But my favorite World Series snapshot is Mickey Hatcher sprinting out either of his World Series home runs.

Of all major leaguers, only Mickey seems to remember the origin of the term "home run."

It comes from the sandlots, where a kid would drive a ball high and deep, right through a neighbor's living-room window. There would be a frozen moment when all jaws would drop, then the players would turn and run home, praying not to be implicated.

Until this Series, I didn't think it would be possible to top, for sheer dramatic impact, the Reggie Jackson home-run performance--Reggie standing in profound admiration of his work, then prancing proudly and slowly around the bases.

The two polar opposites, Mickey and Reggie, had this in common: A philosophy of baseball as fun.

If you couldn't enjoy watching Mickey Hatcher play this World Series, you might want to seriously consider switching sports. Syncro swimming might be your cup of tea.

Sportswriters, including this one, tend to lose the fan feeling they had as kids. We enjoy a great athletic performance, a Dr. J or a FloJo, as much as anyone.

But we deal too closely with the athletes, we see too often that these aren't games, but a series of high-pressure business deals. So on the rare occasion where a player is obviously having fun, we tend to forget to sit back and just have fun watching.

Mickey Hatcher made some of us forget to forget. If he was faking that giddy exuberance throughout the playoffs and Series, more power to him. He has a tremendous future on Broadway.

I don't even want to get to know Hatcher better. I might find out he watches PBS, knows what color wine goes with fish, and has an agent. I want to remember him as the 33-year-old kid who plays baseball.

All too often you heard an athlete, after setting some kind of record or enduring a grueling road to victory, say: "I'm just glad it's all over."

In the lockerroom after Game 5, it was almost as if Hatcher were hoping that Tony LaRussa would stick his head in the door and yell, "Hey, you lucky bums, let's play again tomorrow, double or nothing."

Of course, Hatcher is the man of whom a teammate once said, "Mickey is the only ballplayer who ever made it to the major leagues on one brain cell."

That was, I believe, meant as a compliment. After all, many players have made it to the major leagues on less.

The meaning of the teammate's backhanded compliment was that anyone who enjoys baseball and life this much surely does not know what the deal is.

Maybe that's why the pressure never got to Mickey. To him, pressure was running through his neighborhood two springs ago, trying to stay in shape for a game he didn't know if he would ever be allowed to play again.

The World Series wasn't pressure to Hatcher, it was an escape from pressure, just the way it would be for all of us bystanders if we ever got a chance to play. Or so we tell ourselves.

However, the image of Hatcher as the awe-struck, gray-haired plodder, the unawares country bumpkin, was somewhat misleading. This is a former major-college wide receiver, a man with a .282 lifetime batting average. He didn't carve out a 10-year major-league career simply by doing funny impressions of fat managers.

He is a very good athlete who had the perfect attitude going into the playoffs and Series, and in that respect he symbolized the Dodgers. Nobody expected the Mets and A's to be pounded to death by a guy who looked like a character plucked from among the regulars at Floyd's Barber Shop in Mayberry.

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