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Dodgers '88: A SEASON TO REMEMBER : Success Throws a Few Curves, Nothing Hershisers Can't Handle

October 24, 1988|MARYANN HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

The phone is ringing again and there's another reporter at the door.

Orel Hershiser's agent is expected any minute at his house in Pasadena to discuss endorsement offers from computer, cereal and clothing companies. Since Thursday night, Hershiser has already been on the Today show, then kidded with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, plus made numerous local TV appearances. And it is only Saturday, the day after the day Hershiser mowed down the A's again and was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series. His wife, Jamie, has been out shopping for something to wear to the White House Wednesday. The World Series champion Dodgers have been invited by the Reagans.

"Oh yeah, I'm excited about going," Hershiser said. "How many times do you get the chance to go to the White House? People don't realize that the people in the limelight are normal people. I mean, where did I come from? I'm just a normal person."

Perhaps the best thing about Orel Hershiser IV is that he can remember when he wasn't the best. He once was just a normal person, and a very average pitcher.

Nor was he always rich. Maybe it's that Roman numeral at the end of his name that hints at wealth. Or the fact that his father, Orel III, retired at age 51.

"I grew up in middle class America, and we became upper middle as my dad progressed in the printing business," Hershiser said.

"I lived in a 4-bedroom home that was about 2,500 square feet, in Cherry Hill, N.J. I pumped gas for 3 years in high school to earn money and cleaned the garage on Saturdays. My dad cut his own grass. The only reason my dad has been able to retire so young is because he sold out of the printing business and it turned out to be a good investment."

When it was time for college, Hershiser chose a school, Bowling Green, with fewer big-time aspirations than most. He said he did so to insure that he wouldn't get cut from the baseball team. He said he just wanted the college experience, and probably would have gone to work for his dad had he not been drafted by the right team.

"At Bowling Green, I knew I was going to be drafted, but not high," he said. "So I had already decided that I wasn't going to sign unless I was drafted by the Yankees, which is where I was born (Buffalo), or the Phillies, which is close to where I grew up in Cherry Hill, or the Dodgers, because I had heard they were a good organization. But a 17th round-pick isn't so good and I wouldn't have taken a chance with any other organization. I would have finished school and joined my dad in business."

Instead, Jamie and Orel pretty much have their own business. They were married in 1981 and she has been with him his entire career. He credits her and their bond of Christianity for his success.

"We are kind of a small corporation," Hershiser said. "She takes care of everything and allows me to have such a great concentration on my game and my workouts. Everything from screening my calls, paying the bills, arranging all our dates as far as dinners with friends, and bouncing ideas off me--what speaking engagements I should or shouldn't do.

"On one side, she's my personal secretary and my best friend. She knows exactly what I need and how much of it. And on the other side, she's my wife and my best friend in another relationship."

Yet their lives haven't always been so rosy. The minor leagues are full of thorns. Hershiser was a relief pitcher in the minors, and not always a great one.

"I would get so nervous sometimes," Jamie said. "Orel would come in to save a game, and I would be sitting next to the starting pitcher's wife. I would pray, 'Oh please, don't let him blow it.' "

Hershiser said, "We cried so much in the minor leagues together it was unbelievable. That's such an emotional trip down there. So tough. You're making bare minimum, living in places where you can't save a cent. And when you have a bad night or a bad week, it's like your dream is gone. When you're doing good it seems so close, but then the next day it could be gone again."

At one point, Hershiser almost quit baseball. He was pitching at the Dodgers' Double-A club in San Antonio, and was touted as the next pitcher to be called up to the majors.

"In the first 2 months of the season, I had given up only 3 runs. And I started forgetting about my Christianity and got a big head about everything, got real lackadaisical," he said.

"Well, that weekend, we traveled to El Paso and to Midland, and I gave up 23 runs in 2 outings, and my earned run average went from 0.06 to 8.60.

"God just woke me up and said remember your roots, remember what's important here. It took me 2 1/2 years longer to get to the big leagues."

Hershiser said it is Jamie who has kept him in the game.

"Jamie was always the one who said you can't give it up," he said. "She was my stronghold, always behind me. If she had told me to quit, we would probably be gone.

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