Orel Hershiser last pitched in the major leagues 16 years ago, but the man Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda liked to call “The Bulldog” brought his best stuff to San Marino High School last Saturday morning to assist in a fundraiser for Danny’s Farm.
Hershiser was joined by fellow major leaguers Lee Lacy, Al “The Bull” Ferrara and Juan Castro to raise money and increase awareness for the farm, named for Danny Gott, that provides a rural experience for those with special needs. Danny is the son of Cathy and Jim Gott, who are former San Marino residents. Jim Gott grew up in San Marino and starred in local football and baseball before embarking on a 15-year major league pitching career.
The event included a petting zoo, baseball skills challenges for young people, the opportunity to meet the ballplayers and an unlimited supply of Dodger Dogs. For what more could one ask?
After patiently signing autographs and posing for photos with adoring fans for more than 2 hours, Hershiser addressed the audience on the hot, humid afternoon.
“How long do you have?” Hershiser said to Cathy Gott. “I can talk for a long time,” a statement that brought a round of applause from the faithful fans.
Hershiser addressed the uniformed members of San Marino High School’s baseball team who spent the day helping out at the fundraiser.
“I learned from Sandy Koufax to throw the ball as easy as you can throw it hard,” Hershiser said.
He also talked about injuring his elbow at the age of 12, which forced him to miss half of a Little League season.
Hershiser called himself “a 17th round suspect (instead of the more common “prospect”) out of Bowling Green State University when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hershiser was plodding along with a 6.2 ERA when one of his teammates suffered an injury while jogging in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
“I got a start,” said Hershiser, with the same excitement he must have experienced on that day.
Hershiser then faced the Titan baseball team and said that being picked in the 17th round served as a motivating influence.
“I knew there were 17 guys I had to outwork, not to mention the guys who were already with the organization,” Hershiser said. “There were 17 guys who were better than me and 17 guys who were faster than me. I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I just had to work harder.”
When asked about the favorite game of his career, he predictably chose Game 2 of the 1988 World Series, one of the most iconic contests in Dodger history.
“I gave up 3 hits and I got 3 hits,” he said as the audience gasped.
“Trivia question,” he said, changing gears. “In the 1988 World Series, two players had a 1.000 batting average. Who were they?”
“Me and Kirk Gibson,” he said, as the audience again responded with surprise. “They all remember him,” he joked. “And he only had one hit!”
That “one hit,” of course, was a game-winning blast that took the starch out of the Oakland A’s and propelled the Dodgers to their most recent world championship.
“We just found a way to figure it out,” Hershiser said, when asked about that team, which was never expected to compete with the Mets and A’s, two of the most powerful teams of the era. “The Mets beat us 10 of 11 times during the regular season. The A’s had an all-star at virtually every position. But we had Kirk [Gibson], [Mike] Scioscia, [Mickey] Hatcher, [Steve] Sax. They were the vocal leaders. And we also had Tommy [Lasorda], who just simply would not let us give up. Then we got some hot pitchers and that was it.”
Another member of the audience asked Hershiser about Vin Scully, who had been honored at Dodger Stadium the previous night.
“Tommy is the passion of the organization,” said The Bulldog. “Don Drysdale is the toughness. Sandy Koufax, my mentor, is very smart. But Vin Scully was the class of the organization. He taught us how to talk to the fans. He raised the bar. You don’t walk anywhere near him and use foul language or not dress well. And he doesn’t tell you how to act. He doesn’t have to. He just lives it. He has the most integrity of any person I have ever seen.”
When asked to name his favorite teammate, Hershiser said “Jim Gott,” another response that drew a huge laugh. Gott, a coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was not able to attend the event.
Hershiser was asked about his pregame ritual and provided a fascinating answer.
“My mind works at both extremes,” he said. “I vary from being really distracted to really focused. I played games in my head. I had to let people who were badgering me into my head. I knew there were going to be people at the stadium who were going to call me names, make fun of my mother, they might be drunk. I had to decide that they were not going to let them bother me. On the other end of the spectrum, I valued the little kid and wanted to give him an autograph, so I would rehearse that, too. It’s called ‘pre-play.’ It’s just as much a part of practice as hitting balls or taking grounders. You have to be honest with yourself and analyze all of these factors. It’s tough. It’s really easy to lie to yourself.”
Hershiser was asked about breaking Drysdale’s record for consecutive shutout innings.
“It was very hard,” he said. “I asked not to do it. We were playing a game against the Padres. We had already clinched the division and I had thrown 9 scoreless innings. Drysdale and I were tied at 58 scoreless innings apiece. Tommy sent me back out. I said ‘Let’s keep two Dodgers up there. Let’s tie it.’ Tommy said ‘I am forcing you back out there.’ I felt it was a very selfish act. We had clinched and I had to pitch in the playoffs.”
Cathy Gott said the event, which was sponsored by San Marino’s Lorrie and Greg Forgatch, was “wonderful.”
“Danny’s Farm promotes inclusion and acceptance and we thank the San Marino community for doing the same,” she said. “Coming back to San Marino is coming home for the Gotts. This is our safe haven. When a petting zoo, a baseball team, Major League Baseball players and a loving community comes together, it’s a recipe for fun.”
Every year Danny’s Farm reaches nearly 6,000 children. From the foster care system, to homeless families, to special needs children, Danny’s Farm’s outreach has touched all corners of Southern California.
“Since partnering with Cal Poly Pomona, Danny’s Farm has expanded,” Cathy Gott said. “However it still has a budget shortfall. The very tender care of the animals along with the clients we serve, requires a very high level of staffing.”
For more information, or to make a donation, please go to dannysfarm.org.
Photos by Rafael Najarian and Jessica Warrick