Heads still turn when he walks into the crowded Cleveland Indian
clubhouse. Isn't that...? What's he doing here? He has been with
the Indians all season, but he still seems to belong to a
different city, a different league, a different decade. He is
part of a different baseball fairy tale. The guy who put Shaq
and Ralph Kramden together in a TV commercial must have brought
Orel Hershiser to the Tribe.
The Indians are young and hip and mean and macho. The
37-year-old Hershiser is none of those things. The Indians are a
hard-rock team, and Hershiser is the guy in the corner singing
Kumbaya to himself.
If the Tribe's bus were a high school classroom, Hershiser would
be sitting up front, answering all of the teacher's questions,
his pens tucked neatly into his pocket protector. Albert Belle
would be flicking paper clips at the back of Hershiser's head.
You will never catch Hershiser flexing his muscles defiantly and
glaring into the opposing dugout, as Belle did in Game 1 of the
Indians' sweep last week of the Boston Red Sox in the American
League Division Series. For one thing Hershiser doesn't have
much in the way of muscles. Boston manager Kevin Kennedy asked
the umpires to confiscate Belle's bat and have it checked for
cork (none was found) after Belle homered in the 11th inning to
tie Game 1. In response Belle pointed at his bulging biceps and
said, "It's right there!" For Hershiser the magic has never been
in the muscles. It has always been in the head and in the heart
and, occasionally, in the middle of October, the righthanded
Hershiser's favorite time of the year.
"My theory has always been that if you play at the same level in
the playoffs as you do in the regular season, maybe the pressure
will affect the other guy," says Hershiser, heavy on the
humility, as always. "Maybe it will get to him, and you'll come
out looking like you've risen to the occasion."
The pressure must have really gotten to Boston in Game 2 because
Hershiser appeared to rise like a rocket to the occasion. He
went 7 1/3 innings, allowing no runs and three hits in the 4-0
victory. He struck out seven, an Indian record for a postseason
game, and he cut the heart out of the Red Sox, who had matched
blows with the Indians for 13 innings before losing 5-4 the
previous night. When Hershiser was through, so was Boston. The
big guns in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, Mo Vaughn and Jose
Canseco, were a combined 0 for 27 in the series, and Hershiser
did more than his share to keep them in a funk.
Hershiser had major reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder
in April 1990, a procedure, it was feared, that might end his
career. Certainly he is less powerful than he was in his prime,
when he led the Los Angeles Dodgers to victory in the 1988 World
Series, but he may be even more precise with his pitches. "He
set the Red Sox up unbelievably," Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar
Jr. said. "In, out, high, low--you name it. He just mastered
Hershiser came to Cleveland as a free agent last spring after 12
seasons in L.A. He was 16-6 with a 3.87 ERA this year, including
11-2 in his last 14 starts, but Cleveland general manager John
Hart didn't hire Hershiser to win a Cy Young. He signed
Hershiser and, the year before, Game 1 starter Dennis Martinez
with the intention of holding a World Series victory parade in
Cleveland. In the first round of the playoffs the veteran
pitchers led the Indians to the easy sweep--the vaunted Tribe
lineup hit just .219--with Charles Nagy holding Boston to four
hits in seven innings of the 8-2 clincher last Friday night.
Heading into the American League Championship Series, Hershiser
was 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in postseason play. He was one Indian
who didn't have to feel his way around when he stepped onto the
field for the big October games. "I thought he would do a great
job for us," says Hart, "but he's been better than I expected."
Cleveland has an option on Hershiser, who earned just $1.45
million in 1995, for next season, and Hart called his impending
decision a "no-brainer." It looks as if Hershiser will be
staying in this fairy tale for a while.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE At 37 the heady, if none-too-hefty Hershiser showed he's still at his best in October. [Orel Hershiser]