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Examining Orel : The Old Bulldog Had a Rebirth in Postseason for Indians, and at 37, Hershiser Has No Plans for a Farewell Tour

April 21, 1996|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was 16-6 overall, 11-2 after the All-Star break, 4-0 in September.

He won his only start against the Boston Red Sox in the opening playoff series, was 2-0 against the Seattle Mariners as the most valuable player of the American League championship series and was 1-1 against the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

At 37, six years after his reconstructive shoulder surgery with the Dodgers, pitching for the powerful Cleveland Indians, Orel Hershiser was on top of his game again in 1995, which is the way he wants it no matter what he pursues after his career ends--broadcasting, coaching, managing, front-office administration.

Ruminating about his future in a wide ranging interview at the Indians' Florida training base on the eve of the 1996 season, Hershiser said:

"I can see being a pitching coach for a year or two and then becoming a manager. I can see being an assistant to the president and then becoming a general manager.

"I like to teach and I don't see much teaching in broadcasting. However, I would prefer being with my family, going into broadcasting and doing something as an entrepreneur if, in either of those other two scenarios, I wasn't going to be in the top spot. I want to be in the top spot."

Trying to pick up where he left off in October, Hershiser was pounded in his first two starts of 1996, but was back in top form Tuesday, going seven innings, giving up six hits with seven strikeouts and no walks in a 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

"At my age, when you have a bad game they wonder if it's because you're finished," he said. "So you're always in a protectionist mode. But sometimes there is just no reason. You just have a bad day. Other people in other lines of work can have a bad day without having a story written about it. They just get up the next day, have their cup of coffee and cereal and go to work."

Driven through a long rehabilitation with the Dodgers to regain his top gun form of the late '80s, Hershiser's 1995 success earned him a contract extension through 1997. Will it be his last? He won't speculate.

"I told my wife this winter that I can't believe how good my arm feels," he said. "I feel like I've found the fountain of youth.

"It's a great feeling to have my health back and be on a team like this. This is not only the best offensive team I've ever played for, it may be the best I've ever seen.

"The Indians have come so far that it's almost as if [we went through spring training] preparing for the playoffs instead of the regular season. I looked at what they did over the winter [adding Jack McDowell and Julio Franco] and said 'wow.' One more ace pitcher to carry us through a short series and another right-handed batter to make us better against left-handed starters. All they would have to do to make my life perfect would be to buy us an airplane in which to travel."

Of his October brilliance, Hershiser disclosed that two late-season bullpen workouts in which he pushed himself physically to improve his curve and sinker proved to him he could take his shoulder to another level.

He spoke about the need for players to recognize their responsibilities as role models, his ongoing relationship and possible re-employment with the Dodgers, a controversial audition with Fox in January and his difficulty measuring the possible rebirth of fan interest nationally because Cleveland has re-emerged as a "baseball utopia," unaffected last year or this by any negative reaction to the strike.

"The fans in Cleveland wanted baseball back and didn't give us any flack when they got it," Hershiser said.

Question: What do players have to do generally to help reinvigorate the game?

Answer: Players need to take the responsibility to be role models, whether they want to be or not. I've said that during good labor times and bad labor times, at the start of my career and now near the end of my career. We need to train the people who are the product of a big business to be friendly with fans, to have manners, to treat reporters with respect because they're our arm to the public. You may not want to do it, but it's what you signed on to do.

Unfortunately, I don't think many players believe that. I think they feel they can show up, hit .300, drive in a hundred runs, get their check, and go home. I don't think they believe they have a responsibility beyond that. We have to make it cool, whatever the lingo is, to be friendly to fans, to give good interviews, to sign autographs, smile for pictures, and take time to do charity work. You shouldn't be ridiculed in the locker room for doing those things.

Q: Should the players' union be more aggressive pushing that responsibility?

A: They've started with a rookie program and that's great, but the peer pressure is so strong that it doesn't take long for a rookie going through the program to get swallowed up by veterans in the clubhouse and to forget everything he learned. There need to be refresher courses, anything to help. There needs to be more pressure from the clubs.

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