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Orel : The Dodgers' Wholesome Right-Hander Plots His Financial Future and Wonders If He Can Live Up to Last Season's Success

April 09, 1989|GORDON EDES | Gordon Edes covers the Dodgers for The Times.

SCENES FROM A winter almost as incredible as the baseball season that preceded it:

Orel Hershiser and his wife, Jamie, are in a toy store near their Pasadena home, looking for Christmas gifts for their two sons. It's late in the evening, and they assume that they can shop undisturbed. They assume wrong.

"By the time we got to the end of the first aisle, people were buying baseball toys in the store and quickly running back to me for autographs," Orel Hershiser says. "I just walked through quickly and didn't even stop. We just looked to see what was available, went to see the store manager and said, 'When's your least-busy time?' She said Tuesday at 10 a.m. So that's when we went back."

Orel Hershiser goes to a Kings' hockey game at the Forum. Six yellow-jacketed security guards follow his every move. Orel Hershiser goes to a Michael Jackson concert at the Sports Arena. Ten minutes before it is to begin, a security guard approaches and says that if the impromptu autograph session causing a commotion around Hershiser doesn't stop, Hershiser will have to go backstage to watch the show. Hershiser goes to a Clippers basketball game and ends up on the 11 o'clock news. "I only went to one game, but I think they kept using that film clip about six or seven times," he says.

Orel Hershiser changes his home telephone number twice but finally gives up and hires an answering service. He decided to do that, he says, on "the day Jamie went out shopping, came home and the message thing on the recorder said, '40.' She had been gone about three hours."

Orel Hershiser attends a state dinner at the White House and shares a table with the guest of honor, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and then-President Ronald Reagan. Orel Hershiser appears on "The Tonight Show," where he sings hymns at the request of Johnny Carson. Orel Hershiser takes his 4-year-old son, Orel Leonard Hershiser V, called Quinton, to Disneyland, where security guards with walkie-talkies plot their every move. ("They're about done with Dumbo now, will be at Space Mountain in seven minutes. Roger.")

Orel Hershiser's friends from high school and college call him. They say the supermarket tabloids have been pumping them for information. "They have been out trying to find dirt on me," Orel Hershiser says. "I tell my friends, 'Tell them the truth, I've got nothing to hide.' "

Orel Hershiser escapes to the Monterey Peninsula for a few days to relax and play golf. One night, he and Jamie decide to catch a late showing of "Rain Man." "We come out of the show, it's like 12:30 at night, and there's a TV camera about 25 feet away," Hershiser says. "I turn to Jamie and say, 'Wouldn't it be a crackup if this guy is here to interview me?' Twelve-thirty at night. How do they know I'm at the movies? We get about 5 feet from the guy and he says, 'Mr. Hershiser, we heard you were here at the movies. Can we interview you?'

"It was hilarious but very scary. That's the main reason I said no: I was scared. We were, like, startled. The whole way home we laughed and said, 'Things have changed.' "

FOR OREL LEONARD Hershiser IV, the 30-year-old Dodger pitcher who signed his first professional baseball contract as a 17th-round draft choice 10 years ago, life has taken a turn as sharp and abrupt as the sinker ball he uses to confound opposing batters. The transformation began last August when he embarked on perhaps the most amazing two-month run in baseball history: a record-breaking 59-inning scoreless streak, a win and a save in the National League playoffs, two wins in the World Series and all the awards commensurate with such a stunning performance: unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award as the National League's top pitcher, with a record of 23 wins, 8 losses and a 2.26 earned run average; Most Valuable Player Award in the league playoffs; Most Valuable Player Award in the World Series; Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year; Sporting News Player of the Year; Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, and an All-Star selection by every publication that chooses a postseason team.

Then, on Feb. 16, Hershiser agreed to a three-year, $7.9-million contract with the Dodgers. The contract breaks down like this: a $1.1-million signing bonus and yearly salaries of $2.4 million in 1989, $1.6 million in 1990 and $2.8 million in 1991. It makes him the highest-paid player in baseball history. Based on his performance last season, Hershiser can reasonably be expected to earn $81,382 each time he starts for the Dodgers this season. Each strikeout he records will be worth $15,534, each inning $10,363.

How does all of this make Orel Hershiser feel?

Like a marked man.

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