The reason we can be sure Orel Hershiser's return to the Dodgers is more than just a sentimental move is because of their current state.
The Dodgers are at a stage where they need the services of this 41-year-old pitcher and everything he represents.
Chairman Robert Daly has said his major concerns this off-season were improving the team's bullpen, defense, depth and chemistry. Hershiser can help in all four categories.
And as far as fulfilling the desperate need for a link to the franchise's proud past, there's no symbol more powerful than the man who stood on the mound the last time the Dodgers won a World Series, in 1988.
It helps that he's a symbol who has posted a winning record in each of the last five seasons (winning at least 11 games each year). And it's no coincidence that Hershiser's teams made the playoffs four of those five years.
He has also produced in the playoffs, pitching well enough to win the American League championship series MVP award with Cleveland in 1995 and pitching 5 1/3 shutout innings in relief for the Mets in October.
"Part of our plan is to bring in winners, and Orel is a proven winner," Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone said.
Meanwhile the Dodgers are praying he can teach some of the other guys in that lackluster clubhouse how to win too.
Team officials heaped so much praise on Hershiser the player and person Friday ("This is what the Dodgers represent and this is what we're trying to get back to," Malone said) that Hershiser felt compelled to remind reporters: "I'm not a saint. . . . I'm just a guy that is trying to do the best I can. . . . Don't paint me as somebody who is going to come in there and teach these guys every day."
His other job is to help soothe an increasingly bitter fan base. He still holds a special place with those fans, even if he did commit the sin of donning a Giant uniform two seasons ago. The fans sure don't have to be told he still can pitch after that eight-inning, two-hit reminder he threw at Dodger Stadium in September.
The funny thing about this step in the right direction is it's one the Dodgers said not to expect.
When it appeared Hershiser was on the verge of signing with another team, Malone told reporters that it did not appear likely Hershiser would come to the Dodgers.
"We thought the deal was done and it was over with and he was going elsewhere," Malone said.
After Hershiser's other opportunity fell through, "He touched base with us once more, called us back and it kind of warmed up again," Malone said.
And that ought to warm Dodger fans' hearts.
Now back to the cold reality. The Dodgers still have to replace the holes they created when they traded Ismael Valdes and Eric Young to the Cubs. The Dodgers currently are no better in the starting rotation, at second base or in the leadoff spot than they were before those two left, even if they feel Young's departure eases a chemistry problem because his relationship with Manager Davey Johnson had deteriorated.
At least there's a chance they won't have to worry about third base.
Another Dodger development in the news Friday came from a Fox Sports News report that major league baseball will do nothing more than fine the Dodgers for allegedly signing Adrian Beltre before he was 16, because the five-year statute of limitations has expired. The important thing is that he would not be a free agent able to sign wherever he wants at whatever price he could command--perhaps upward of $6 million a year.
No one has confirmed the report, but considering the source (it was a favorable story about one Fox entity leaked to another Fox entity) there could be something to it.
You knew baseball's head honchos would try to get the Dodgers off the hook. It's not that there's any particular love for the Dodgers; it's simply a matter of what's in the best interests of the big leagues.
Beltre can't be the only player from the Dominican Republic to have signed too early, and the last thing baseball wants is a flood of birth certificates popping up. It would make the sport look bad. More important to the owners, it would create a new class of free agents who would drive up salaries and wreak havoc with the arbitration structure.
So this isn't so much a vindication of the Dodgers as it is a rebuke of Scott Boras, Beltre's agent who took a keen interest in underage labor practices after Beltre's solid 1999 season.
Boras will surely file a grievance and take the matter to arbitration if he doesn't hear what he wants from baseball. That sure-to-be-lengthy process alone means the Dodgers' work is far from completed.
As for Hershiser, he's slated for the bullpen. But don't be surprised if he winds up in the rotation.
"Nothing would shock me anymore," Malone said.
The Dodgers have good reason to be all shocked out after this bomb of a year. But if there's one thing Friday's developments showed, there's always room for some pleasant surprises.
J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Postseason Record: 4-0
Postseason ERA: 1.70
Postseason Record: 4-3
Postseason ERA: 3.53
NEW YORK METS
Postseason Record: NR
Postseason ERA: O.00