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Voices of the Game, day 17: Orel Hershiser to Keith Hernandez

Two of the best players of the 1980s and a Cardinals great who had a brief shining season with the Cubs.

Jerry Seinfeld Throws The First Pitch at The Mets/Yankees Subway Series Game to Promote the “Seinfeld” Season 4 DVD Release
Keith and Jerry
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

Just two more after today!

One thing I noticed while writing this series up is that one way to become a broadcaster today is to have played for a team that won the World Series between 1980 to 2001. Only two Series-winning teams from that period don’t have a player profiled in this series: the 1981 Dodgers and the 1997 Marlins. And those teams would be represented if I looked at radio broadcasters (Rick Monday), Spanish-language broadcasters (Fernando Valenzuela) or national broadcasters (Al Leiter).

If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

9. Orel Hershiser. Los Angeles Dodgers. WAR: 51.3

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda nicknamed Orel Hershiser “Bulldog” because he thought the quiet, thoughtful, humble and religious man who sang hymns to himself in the dugout between innings needed some toughening up. But the truth of the matter is that while Hershiser may have been all those things off the mound, on the mound he was a pure competitor. A true bulldog.

The Dodgers took Hershiser in the 17th round of the 1979 Draft out of Bowling Green. As a youth, Hershiser was both a pitcher and a hockey defenseman and he went to Bowling Green State University to play both, although the baseball coach managed to talk him out of playing hockey.

Hershiser took five seasons to get through the minor leagues and didn’t make his major league debut until getting a September call-up in 1983. He made the Dodgers bullpen for Opening Day in 1984 and pitched well there. When Dodgers starter Jerry Reuss went down with an injury in June, Hershiser was moved in the rotation where he thrived. His first win as a starting pitcher and his first complete game was the one regular-season game that Rick Sutcliffe lost for the Cubs in 1984. He never left the rotation after that. Hershiser finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1984.

Hershiser had an outstanding sophomore season in 1985, going 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA. He finished third in Cy Young Award balloting. The Dodgers won the NL West and Hershiser pitched a complete game and won Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals. He would have been the winning pitcher of Game 6 had Jack Clark not hit that famous three-run home run off of Tom Niedenfuer in the top of the ninth inning.

Hershiser was solid in 1986 and 1987 and he made his first All-Star Game in ’87. But Hershiser’s career will be forever remembered for his magical 1988 season. On August 30, Hershiser pitched a complete game win over the Expos (his third straight complete game), winning 4-2. He allowed two runs in the fifth inning of that game.

He didn’t allow another run the rest of the regular season. He never came out of a game until the 11th inning of his final start. He threw five straight shutouts in September to extend his scoreless streak to 49 innings. In his last start of the year on September 28, Hershiser pitched nine scoreless innings to extend the streak to 58 innings, just two-thirds of an inning shy of the record, held by former Dodger Don Drysdale.

But the game was still scoreless after nine innings and Hershiser suggested coming out of the game out of respect for Drysdale, who was a Dodgers broadcaster at the time. Lasorda talked Hershiser out of it and Drysdale, when told later, said he would have “kicked him in the rear had I known that.”

Hershiser threw a scoreless bottom of the tenth to set a new record of 59 scoreless innings. He then left a game before it was over for the first time since August 14. (The Dodgers would lose in 16 innings.)

Hershiser followed that up with eight scoreless innings in Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, which didn’t count for the record but unofficially extended the streak to 67 innings before he gave up two runs in the top of the ninth. The streak officially ended in his first start of 1989 when Hershiser allowed a run in the bottom of the first inning in Cincinnati.

The Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 and Hershiser was the MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series. He naturally won the Cy Young Award.

Hershiser was still very good, but not quite as dominating, in 1989. But Hershiser led the league in innings pitched for three straight seasons and in 1990, all of those innings caught up to him. He had a torn labrum and surgery cost him almost off of the 1990 season and the first half of the 1991 season. When he did return, he just wasn’t the same pitcher. He threw full seasons from 1992 to 1994, but by this time he was just an average starting pitcher.

Hershiser was a free agent after the strike in 1994 and the Dodgers were not interested in bringing him back as a pitcher. (They wanted him to retire and join the front office.) Hershiser signed with the Indians where he joined a loaded Cleveland roster. He had his best season since 1989 with the Indians in 1995 as the franchise reached their first World Series in 41 years. Hershiser was the MVP of the ALCS with two complete game wins. He made two starts in the World Series, losing Game 1 to Greg Maddux but beating Maddux in the rematch in Game 5 to keep the Indians hopes alive. But the Braves would win Game 6 and the Series.

The Indians won the AL Central in 1996 and made it back to the World Series in 1997 with Hershiser as a mid-rotation starter. But Hershiser pitched poorly and lost both of his starts in the 1997 Series as the Indians lost in seven games to the Marlins.

Hershiser played for the Giants in 1998 and the Mets in 1999 and he pitched in relief for the Mets in the playoffs that year. In 2000 he returned to the Dodgers for one last hurrah, but at age 41, he was terrible and was released in June. His playing career was over.

Over 18 major league seasons, Hershiser went 204-150 with a 3.48 ERA. He had 68 career complete games and 25 shutouts. He made three All-Star Games and won one Gold Glove.

Hershiser joined ESPN immediately after retiring in 2001, but left to become the Rangers pitching coach from 2002 to 2005. He rejoined ESPN in 2006 and called games for them until 2013. In 2014 he returned to LA to join the broadcast team there. When Vin Scully retired after the 2016 season, Hershiser joined play-by-play broadcaster Joe Davis to become the primary TV broadcast team for the Dodgers.

7 (tied). Jim Edmonds. St. Louis Cardinals. WAR: 60.4

The Angels took the left-handed Edmonds out of nearby Diamond Bar High School in the seventh round of the 1988 draft. He grew up an Angels fan. Edmonds got a September call-up in 1993 and made his Major League debut in the same stadium that he grew up attending.

Edmonds quickly established himself as a very good defensive outfielder, but he didn’t hit for much power in his rookie year in 1994.

When the strike ended and play resumed in 1995, Edmonds moved from left field to center field. Also, the light-hitting Edmonds had transformed himself into a power hitter. Edmonds had 33 home runs and 30 doubles while he hit .290/.352/.536 in 141 games. Edmonds credited his hitting coach, Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew, for his transformation. That’s a bit ironic because Carew only hit 92 home runs in his entire 19-year career. Edmonds also made his first All-Star Game in 1995.

In Anaheim, Edmonds became known as one of the best centerfielders in the game. His defensive stats over the course of his career indicate that he was more “pretty good” than “great,” but he made this catch in 1997 that is always mentioned among the greatest catches in MLB history.

But Edmonds much of his time in Anaheim dealing with nagging injuries. He also had a quiet and mostly sunny disposition that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when the Angels were losing. In 1999, he missed the first four months of the season when he underwent shoulder surgery. In fact, Edmonds had needed surgery on his right shoulder for years, but he played through the pain with a smile.

With free agency coming after the 2000 season, the Angels made the decision to deal Edmonds rather than try to sign him to an extension. In one sense, the deal made sense. The Angels had three other very good outfielders in Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon and Erstad was forced to play first base with Edmonds in the lineup. The Angels sent Edmonds to the Cardinals and got back a starting pitcher coming off an All-Star season in St. Louis and a promising second base prospect.

Of course, the deal was terrible for the Angels and terrific for the Cardinals. Kent Bottenfield had indeed been an All-Star in 1999 when he went 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA. But Bottenfield had been a journeyman for years before that and if Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) had been around in 1999, everyone would have realized that Bottenfield was a lot more lucky than good in St. Louis. Only the fact that Adam Kennedy became a solid starting second baseman for the Angels World Series-winning team in 2002 kept the deal from being a disaster for the Angels.

Edmonds spent the next eight years as the Cardinals center fielder. He made three more All-Star Games and won six more Gold Gloves to add to the two he won with the Angels. The Cardinals made the World Series with Edmonds in 2004 (losing to Boston) and they won the World Series in 2006, beating the Tigers.

Edmonds was fairly healthy his first six seasons in St. Louis, but struggled with concussion symptoms in both 2006 and 2007 suffered after he ran into an outfield wall. The Cardinals traded Edmonds to the Padres after the 2007 season.

At age 38, Edmonds was awful in San Diego and the Friars released him in early May. The Cubs, in need of a left-handed hitter, signed him a week later. Edmonds had the last good half season of his career on the North Side. His defensive skill was gone, but he hit .256/.369/.568 with 19 home runs in just 85 games as the Cubs ran away with the NL Central.

The Cubs didn’t re-sign Edmonds for 2009 and no other team made Edmonds an offer he liked, so he sat out the 2009 season. He caught on with the Brewers for the 2010 season as a fourth outfielder. The Brewers traded Edmonds to the Reds in August. The Reds won the NL Central that year, but Edmonds wasn’t on the postseason roster. He signed back with the Cardinals in 2011, but struggled with post-concussion symptoms again and retired during Spring Training.

Over 17 seasons and 2011 games, Edmonds hit .284/.376/.527 with 393 home runs in his career. He was a four-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glove winner. He won one Silver Slugger Award. He fell off the Hall-of-Fame ballot after just one year, which is a travesty.

Edmonds joined the Cardinals broadcast team for the 2013 season. His wife Meghan has also been a cast member of The Real Housewives of Orange County and Jim has also appeared on that show.

7 (tied). Keith Hernandez. New York Mets. WAR: 60.4.

Keith Hernandez was the type of player we don’t see much of anymore. He was a slick-fielding left-handed hitting first baseman who hit for a high average and drew a lot of walks. He had a line-drive stroke to all fields that produced a ton of doubles, but not many home runs. He also walked more often than he struck out in his career.

The Cardinals took Hernandez in the 42nd round of the 1971 draft out of high school in San Bruno, CA. He made the majors on August 30, 1974 at only 20 years old. He was named the starting first baseman for the Cards for the start of the 1975 season, but he struggled to hit and was sent back down to the minors mid-season. But he got called back in September and hit pretty well. So he got another chance in 1976 and didn’t waste his second opportunity.

Hernandez was the everyday first baseman for the Cardinals from 1977 to 1982. And I really do mean “everyday” as Hernandez only missed 11 games over those six seasons. He hit left-handed pitching almost as well as right-handers, so there was no need to sit him against a tough lefty.

Hernandez had his best season in 1979 when he won the batting title with a .344 average. He also lead the NL in doubles with 48 and runs scored with 116. Hernandez was second in on-base percentage with a .417 OBP. He made his first All-Star Game and was co-MVP along with the Pirates’ Willie Stargell.

Hernandez made the All-Star Game again in 1980 and he led the league in OBP with .408 that year. The Cardinals won the World Series in 1982 and Hernandez had eight RBI in the seven-game series.

That’s why it came as such a shock that the Cardinals traded Hernandez to the Mets at the trade deadline in 1983 for Neil Allen, who was just a decent relief pitcher having a bad season. But what the Cardinals knew and what no one else did was that Hernandez was using cocaine pretty much every day, including in the clubhouse. The Cardinals were determined to dump Hernandez before his habit spread to other players.

His cocaine problem didn’t seem to affect his ability to play on the field, however. Hernandez arrived in Queens at the same time the Mets started to get good. Hernandez finished second in MVL voting in 1984 after hitting .311/.409/.449 with 15 home runs. His 1985 season was almost as good. The Mets finished second in the NL East both seasons.

But Hernandez’s cocaine use became public in the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended Hernandez and the other named players for the entire 1986 season, but suspended the suspension on the condition that the players submit to drug testing and donate 10% of their salary to anti-drug programs. They also had to perform anti-drug community service and name other players whom they knew used cocaine. Not wanting to miss an entire season (or at least the time it took to present an appeal to an arbitrator), Hernandez reluctantly agreed to the conditions.

With Hernandez back at first base, the Mets won their second (and last so far) World Series title in 1986. He hit .310/.413/.446 that year and finished fourth in MVP voting.

Hernandez had another good year in 1987 and made his fifth and final All-Star Game. He was also named the first team captain in Mets history that year.

The next year was the beginning of the end. Hernandez only played 95 games in 1988 because of hamstring problems and 75 in 1989 after breaking a kneecap. He signed a free agent deal with the Indians for the 1990 season, but injuries and age had sapped his talent by that point. He only managed to play 43 games for Cleveland because of injuries and he retired at the end of the season.

Hernandez’s final career line was .296/.384/.436 over 17 seasons. He struck out 1012 times and walked 1070 times. He made the All-Star team five times, won 11 Gold Gloves at first base and two Silver Slugger Awards on top of that MVP Award.

Today, Keith Hernandez may be better known for appearing on one of the best episodes of Seinfeld than he is for being a great ballplayer. (Track down the whole two-part episode.)

Hernandez became a broadcaster for the Mets in 1986. He’s generally pretty good and informative, in my opinion, but sometimes he runs off the rails with some weird comments.