Los Angeles Dodgers: The Most Amazing Moments from the ’88 World Series
September 14, 20188 min read
"California Dreamin’" took on a new meaning during the 1988 World Series Championship, which pitted the Golden State's star teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, against each other. Sports fans thought this series would stretch the full seven games, but a shocking upset in game one changed all of that.
This historic series featured many baseball legends including announcer Vin Scully, manager Tommy Lasorda, and players Orel Hershiser, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire, to name a few, and as a result, the series lived up to expectations.
How the Teams Stacked Up
The 85th edition of Major League Baseball's championship series, the '88 World Series came with many unforgettable moments. A best-of-seven playoff, the Oakland A's, the American League (AL) champs, were expected to stomp the Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League (NL) champs.
The A's won their first American League West (ALW) title since 1981 that year. They boasted a record of 104 wins and 58 losses, and they'd gone up against, and defeated, the Boston Red Sox to make that magic happen.
What's more, they reinstated the elephant as their team mascot that year, sporting it on the left sleeve of road and home uniforms. (In 1963, they'd retired the elephant under owner Charles O. Finley only to resurrect it for what was supposed to be their greatest win of the 1980s.)
If the Oakland A's represented Goliath in 1988, then the Los Angeles Dodgers looked like a puny shepherd boy with a handful of rocks and a slingshot. Still trying to live down their lukewarm performance in 1987, they were projected to be a middle-of-the-road team, and certainly not make it all the way to the World Series.
In the National League Championship (NLCS), they'd faced off against the New York Mets, delivering their first major upset of 1988. The Mets had dominated their season, triumphing in 10 out of 11 meetings. Going into the NLCS, to say the Mets represented the heavy favorites was putting it mildly, but these Dodgers didn’t care about projections.
Led by series MVP Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers careened to victory winning four of the seven games in the series. Game seven was magical for LA as Hershiser pitched a total shutout against the Mets.
Despite the great showing, the Dodgers still remained the clear underdogs heading into the World Series, but then, something wild happened...
What the Dodgers Learned from 1987
What led to the upset of '88? It all started with some big changes in Dodger-land after their lousy 1987 showing. General Manager Fred Claire and Field Manager Tommy Lasorda worked hard to overcome the Dodgers' previous weaknesses. This meant a painful trade and some pivotal signings.
First, they permitted less-than-stellar performers such as Phil Garner, Ken Landreaux, and Glenn Hoffman to give the free agent market a try.
Claire made an important but difficult trade in December 1987 when the Dodgers traded Bob Welch, the National League's top pitcher, for relief pitchers Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco. They acquired shortstop Alfredo Griffin in the same trade.
This three-team trade helped the Dodgers flesh out their bullpen and defense. It also proved ironic since the trades came from the Mets and Athletics, the two teams they would go on to defeat in 1988. That same month, the Dodgers signed right fielder, Mike Davis.
Their biggest move was yet to come however. On January 29, 1988, they signed Kirk Gibson, the Detroit Tigers' free agent slugger. Later voted as the National League's Most Valuable Player, the nine-year veteran acted as a clubhouse leader.
Gibson carried a reputation for speed between bases, and power on the plate. He also meant business, shunning practical jokes and anything else that might take his team's attention away from victory. By far, Gibson would have the biggest impact on the team, but his destiny waited to be unlocked.
First, the Dodgers had to round out their roster, which meant signing a 21-year veteran pitcher, Don Sutton, and a 20-year veteran catcher, Rick Dempsey. Dempsey proved his mettle as clubhouse leader along with Gibson.
Now the stage was set for a surprising season with Gibson as the catalyst, but before we get ahead of ourselves, we've got to give the A's their due. They came with major street cred, positioned to sweep the World Series.
The "Bash Brothers"
The Oakland Athletics had many reasons to be confident, but the biggest two were the "Bash Brothers." Comprised of the heavy-hitting duo Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, they appeared unstoppable to just about everyone. Take a look at their stats for that year.
Mark McGwire blasted 32 home runs, boasted 99 RBI’s, and held a .260 batting average. As great as those numbers were, Jose Canseco took it to the next level with 42 home runs, 124 RBI’s, and a .307 batting average.
Both in their early twenties, they were already on a steep trajectory to fame and acclaim. In fact, Canseco proved the first player in Major League Baseball history to steal 40 or more bases and hit 40 or more home runs. This earned him the American League's MVP title.
Besides the youthful "Bash Brothers," the A's included two veterans worth their salt, Dave Henderson and former Pirate Dave Parker. Don Baylor rounded it out with experience in three consecutive World Series playing for three different teams. Besides the A's, he played for the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
Oakland boasted the best pitching staff in the American League to boot. Their ace in the hole remained Dave Stewart, 20-game winner for the second straight season. Bob Welch (remember him from the Dodgers?) represented another effective and reliable pitcher followed by Storm Davis, a 16-game winner.
Dennis Eckersley acted as their lethal closer and was untouchable for most of the year. Rick Honeycutt was an excellent set-up man with three wins and seven saves. It was a no-brainer; the A's would win the World Series.
They appeared invincible until that fateful day, October 15, 1988.
Lambs to Slaughter or Wolves in Sheep's Clothing?
Since 1950, Vin Scully had announced for the Los Angeles Dodgers bringing his familiar voice and descriptive style to the microphone. During Game One of the World Series, everyone thought the Dodgers looked like lambs to the slaughter, but Scully never gave up hope.
It didn't help that the team's star player, Kirk Gibson, was badly injured entering the game. Scully, NBC television's lead baseball broadcaster, knew how far the Dodgers had already come.
Still, Scully knewthat with Gibson unable to start, the team had a long road to victory. "All year long they looked to [Gibson] to light the fire, and all year long he answered the demands until he was physically unable to start tonight with two bad legs."
In the bottom of the ninth, Gibson finally came up to bat. Scully narrated, "Gibson shaking his left leg, making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly."
To make matters worse, it was the unhittable Denis Eckersley on the mound for the A’s.
The first two pitches Gibson swung wildly at and missed terribly, looking totally overmatched. Gibson was determined to carry his team however and when the third pitch came in, Gibson hit one for the ages. His two-run home run secured victory over the Oakland Athletics 5-4 at Dodger Stadium, and fans on both sides realized that 1988 would be a roller coaster ride of a series.
Even more astounding, Gibson could barely walk due to the injuries he had sustained during the 1988 NLCS. Game One showed that you can't keep a good man (like Gibson) down, or a good team for that matter.
Gibson wasn't the only star of Game One against the Athletics. During the bottom of the ninth, Mike Davis earned a base on balls. He stole second base, and he scored on Gibson's iconic walk-off home run.
Far from being lambs to the slaughter, the Dodgers proved they might just be wolves in sheep's clothing.
Games Two through Four
On October 16th, the Dodgers faced off against the A's once more securing a 2-0 series lead. With Orel Hershiser on the mound for the Dodgers, only three singles squeaked through. Dave Parker hit them all. Not since Art Nehf had another pitcher managed to give up just three hits in a World Series.
Bob Welch helped the A's rally with a strong third game. In the bottom of the ninth, Mark McGwire hit a one-out fastball into the left-center field seats winning the game for Oakland. The Dodgers closer, Jay Howell, stood at the mound.
Game four meant a hard start for the Dodgers. Playing without two of their injured sluggers, Gibson and Mike Marshall, they held out little hope.
How bad was their lineup? Statistically speaking, they offered one of the weakest teams in World Series history, we're talking like since the Dead-ball era here. Bob Costas put into words what everyone else thought when he argued that the Dodgers might as well line up to get slaughtered.
Costas spoke logically and had the stats to back up this statement, but it offended Lasorda and made the Dodgers fighting mad. Did righteous anger make them win?
Apparently so, because the Dodgers secured an unlikely victory over the A's. As the LA Times sardonically observed, "You get the feeling if a couple more key Dodgers starters get hurt, the A's are really in trouble."
Tommy Lasorda was beside himself with excitement. Some thought he would pass out from the exhilaration, but he knew they needed at least one more win before breaking out the beer and champagne.
Crazy, Wild Victory
Game five proved just as mind-boggling as the rest of the series. Orel Hershiser pitched the ENTIRE game, only allowing four hits and two runs. He struck out nine batters.
Mickey Hatcher subbed for Gibson providing an effective offense. Hatcher slugged his second home run, a two-run shot, in the series. And Davis contributed a two-run blast in the fourth.
Finally, in the sixth, MVP Rick Dempsey added an RBI double. The result? An unbelievable 5-2 win over Oakland bringing the World Series to a decisive, and quick, conclusion.
The Dodgers outscored the A's 21-11 earning the Dodgers their sixth World Series Championship. It was Tommy Lasorda's second. Vin Scully said it best: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"
The World Series 1988
Everything about 1988's World Series felt surreal. The Dodgers came into the contest the clear underdogs. They got further crippled by injured teammates, who just so happened to be their best players, just in time for the biggest showdown in baseball!
They were maligned, and not unjustly, by the media. After all, on paper, they never stood a chance. Yet they won, and they won decisively despite almost insurmountable odds.
To this day, the Dodgers remain the only team who've won a World Series in the same season that they had a perfect game pitched against them. That perfect game was pitched on September 19, 1988, by Tom Browning of the Cincinnati Reds.
Certainly, Claire and Lasorda upped their odds by revamping the Dodgers lineup falling their lackluster 1987 performance. They set the momentum for a winning year and created a team culture that never shuddered before overwhelming odds or negative commentators. In fact, the more derisive the commentary, the more stubborn the determination of the Dodgers to vanquish their foe.
America loves the underdog, and the Dodgers personified this to the letter. They came in with lesser stats. They lost two-star players right when they needed them most.
The A's had a great lineup and played well, but they also earned a sad record in Game One. Never in World Series history had a grand slam-hitting team both managed to lose the game and the series.
In game four, the Dodgers presented the worst lineup in World Series history, yet they still won. Clearly, David squashed Goliath in this incomprehensible match-up!
Sports Memories You Want to Relive
We hope you've had as much fun revisiting the World Series 1988 as we have. There's nothing like a major sport upset to get your blood flowing and raise your fan pulse.
At Power Sports Memorabilia, we've got the perfect gift for your sports fanatic. So, if you're inspired by this "instant replay" from the 1988 World Series, check out our baseball memorabilia. Or contact us with your sports memorabilia questions.
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