Editor’s note: MLBbro.com has exclusive access to missing chapters from the newly published memoir of baseball legend Dave Parker.
Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood recounts Parker’s 19-year career. The prolific outfielder won baseball’s MVP award in 1978, and the World Series title in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He led the National League in slugging percentage (1975 and 1978), and won three Gold Glove awards (1977-79). This three-part series “Cobra: The DH Years,” highlights Parker’s journey through the American League.
Read the following chapter, “Paradise City,” from the 1988 season, where Parker goes to Oakland, grows close to Dave Stewart, explores the subjectivity of front office decision-making, and nearly comes to blows with Mark McGwire, among other things.
By Dave Parker & Dave Jordan
“It’s nice to have some balance, be able to split up our big right-handed hitters,” Oakland A’s manager Tony La Russa told the L.A. Times in January 1988. “And there’s another reason we wanted Dave. We looked real hard around baseball for someone who could slap Jose and Mark around in case they get too smart. Dave is the only guy in baseball big enough to do that.”
For everything I went through during my career, teams in 1988 still looked to me for leadership with the younger dudes. That became my role.
Tony wanted as much veteran presence in the clubhouse to offset all the talented youth. They also brought in Donny Baylor, too. Everyone called him Donny “Groove.”
An 18-year Black veteran held in the highest esteem throughout the baseball community, Baylor played on the last two American League champions and had just gotten his first ring with the Twins.
We also played Winter Ball together in Venezuela back in the mid-1970s. I was looking forward to some quality time with the rising stars but also coolin’ out with the older cats. We all got along good during spring training in Scottsdale – La Russa was telling the beat reporters after the first week that I was the hardest worker in camp. He sat me down on Day 1 and outlined his expectations and how my leadership of the kids was almost as important to him as RBIs.
“We’re going to score runs whether you’re here or not,” Tony flat-out told me, “But I want you to look after the young guys and make sure their focus is clear.”
I received my marching orders.
I got a place in Alameda, a quiet suburb about 20 minutes from the Oakland Coliseum. I was really looking forward to the A’s clubhouse. I existed fine in the Reds more corporate traditions, but the relaxed atmosphere of the Oakland boys would be much more to my liking. My beard was back and sometimes the earring, too.
On the day of our first home game, I drove my Porsche down 880 South chilling with some James Brown. The old man had made a little comeback during that decade with a cover song he recorded for a Rocky sequel. I was satisfied to be playing for La Russa but as the song goes, I was having just a little of my own trans-continental overload, coordinating school schedules with the kids and making sure my wife Kellye was gonna be with me as soon as classes let out.
Besides being my best friend in the world, she was the perfect traveling companion, on top of all the details. Wasn’t much music played in the Reds clubhouse, so I actually couldn’t wait to go buy a boom box at Radio Shack and start playing songs for all the fellas, some of the old-school Isley Brothers, some Temptations, you know, bring the house down the right way. Well, there was music playing when I arrived, but, uhhh…..
* * * * *
“GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!!”
I entered the clubhouse to the “music” coming from a boom box above one of the lockers in the middle of the room. I looked over at Baylor, who was sitting near my stuff.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked him, nodding toward that shit. The younger players were milling around head-banging to the song, among a dozen other tunes that just weren’t my sound. Donny grinned and shrugged, said something about “Heavy Metal” being all that the players listen to these days. Baylor still enjoyed being around the fellas in the clubhouse. Just like me.
“The Royals offered me a spot in the front office.” Baylor said. “Getting to put on the uniform and getting into the game is worth listening to this crap.”
“I ain’t for ready for that yet,” I replied. “Too much politics.”
“You talked to Tony, right?” I smiled.
“We’re here to crack some skulls.” Baylor laughed, agreeing and was all, “Yup, pretty much.”
Turns out, Donny got the same speech that I did – teach these kids how to win, get over the hump, keep their eyes on the prize.
Jose Canseco sat across from me. Big kid, 6-4, 230-235, full mop of black hair, all muscle. McGwire, too, just about my height, maybe 20 pounds thinner but seemed like they were both still growing. Every day.
I wouldn’t say Canseco was misunderstood, but he was a kid who just wanted to be left alone to play ball. I knew what it was like to come up with all these expectations, you meet them and then people ask, “Now what? You gotta top it. You gotta do more.”
A big part of my job with the kids, those two especially, was to keep an eye on their demeanor, to follow Willie Stargell’s motto of not getting too low mentally during a slump and not getting too high during a hot streak. Even if I didn’t always follow that advice, I finally possessed the baseball life experience now to implement it.
Carney Lansford was a favorite of Tony’s. Our starting third baseman had a clubhouse sense of humor like my old Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Phil Garner. Boy, did I love mixing it up with Garner back in the day, but that’s a story for another time.
It seemed like every young dude in the clubhouse knew the lyrics to those songs by heart, mouthing the words as they walked over to the catered spread table. I silently wondered if any of them ever heard of Parliament or Marvin or Bobby Womack or even The Temptations. They only knew “Grapevine” from the damn raisins commercials.
A few of the young kids in the A’s clubhouse played this dumb-ass game of sneaking up behind dudes sitting at their locker and slapping the back of their necks as hard as possible, then yelling “Gotcha!” It was all some pretty childish shit. I remember my man Kirk Gibson went out west like me in spring training with the Dodgers a couple of months earlier and some dude stuck a gooey brownie in his glove and he flipped the fuck out.
What was up with these guys on the West Coast?
I gotta remember how I hit Phil Niekro to figure out Charlie Hough’s knuckler, learn the ticks and tells of lefties like the Mariners’s Mark Langston or the Twins’s Frankie Viola, make sure that Roger Clemens doesn’t recognize my first-pitch, fastball-hitting tendencies, cover the plate against the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen because he never walks no one, and police the clubhouse with Baylor? And what’s the deal with these 3-0 changeups?
Welcome to the Jungle, Cobra.
And yeah, they played that shit night and day in the clubhouse during the season like they were getting paid for it.
* * * * *
The A’s had its share of brothers, too. Besides me and Baylor, there was Dave Henderson, a decent hitter with a flair for the dramatic who wasn’t a starting outfielder the season before.
Tony asked Oakland General Manager Sandy Alderson to snag “Hendu” from the free agent grab bag. I didn’t know him, but Baylor played alongside him in Boston, had nothing but good things to say about the cat. The longest-standing black member of the club was Tony Phillips. He was pretty-generously listed as 5-10, 175 pounds soak and wet, had some good speed and could talk just as fast.
He played with the mindset of an old-school Pittsburgh Pirate – he would’ve fit right in with that bunch. He was still learning the game, but La Russa said that Phillips would be dangerous when he learned the strike zone.
Phillips used to tell me stories about off-the-field escapades and that was the thing with little Tony. He had a code of sorts – no running around during the season. Keep it clean, one-beer-and-out until the last game of the series, and then the cat would light up the hot stove with some late-night misadventures.
Our number one starter was Dave Stewart. I knew Stew from his early Dodgers days. 6-2, 200 pounds, wore it well. I always thought he was one pitch away from being a star and then he found it – a devastating forkball that sometimes looked like a split-finger job.
I enjoyed some of my best times that year just having dinner with Stew at the different restaurants around the country – the seafood joints in Seattle and Boston – he loved McCormick & Schmicks – the steakhouses in Detroit surrounded by round, stocky-looking auto industry executives, the Kansas City BBQ. New York was his fine-dining spot, though.
We’d get on the team plane in Boston and he wouldn’t stop going on about the China Club until we landed at LaGuardia. Stew loved talking shop, not just which batters he could screw around with, but the politics of the front office. Stew ate that shit up, man. Talking with him and Baylor, it was real social progress hearing black dudes acting like getting a baseball executive gig was kind of a possibility.
The A’s were thrilled to see Stew succeed as well as he did – he was a local cat, Oakland born-and-raised. When the Phillies released him in 1986, my man was sitting on the beach for less than a week before the A’s checked in on him.
Here’s what you gotta know about Sandy Alderson. He was a lawyer and a military man who came to baseball through legal circles. He didn’t look at ballplayers the way that some dude who worked as a scout for two decades before jumping into the front office might.
He looked at athletes and what present value was there, or more important, what value could be mined from their very being. The man wasn’t this wide-eyed optimist, but he knew where to find value. Sandy knew that Stew was one pitch away. He knew that Hendu was an underrated center fielder. He knew Dennis Eckersley had something to offer but couldn’t put his finger on it. He left that to La Russa’s pal and pitching coach, Dave Duncan, to determine.
The legacy of Sandy Alderson, besides all the baseball math shit, is always looking at not just what a player was, but what he absolutely could be. I know that sounds real simple, and hardly anyone did it back then.
Sometimes not now, either. That’s because of the politics in the front office that concerned me and Baylor. It’s hard when everyone’s holding their nose next to a pile of garbage and you’re telling them it could be a damn Warhol with a little work. If you’re wrong, you’re a fool, and if you’re right, you might make the wrong guy look stupid. It ain’t an easy life, the front office. No wonder Baylor would rather chill with me in a jersey and double-knits for six months and tolerate the Motley Crue music.
* * * * *
So what’s there to say about the ’88 A’s? We were in first place from April 20th on. Our lead in the AL West bounced from three games to nine games for most of May. It took me a little time getting used to the new pitchers. Our hitting coach was Bob Watson, whom I knew through my agent. Bob used to say that when you switch leagues, the three things you need to learn are the pitchers, the umpires, and the ballparks. I was hitting .233 around mid-April when we went on an extended road trip – raised my average a few points. You know what ballpark I loved, I mean, loved?
Fenway Park, man. That joint’s like a baseball arcade game. I bet if I reached far enough, I’d be able to touch the Green Monster while standing at home plate. With my love for opposite-field swinging, I would’ve hit 70 doubles a year there. I knew about the reputation the town had for black folks, but sakes alive, if I played in that ballpark during my prime when I was thinking about free agency options, I would’ve grabbed the ol’ first basemen’s mitt. I remember telling the beat reporters that playing there was like baseball’s version of arena football. Another place that brought back memories for me? Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
The ’79 series. Walking into that clubhouse and I was spiritually struck by the flashbacks of John Milner, Sangy’s pinch-hit, Willie’s dingers. That crazy white dude cheerleader jumpin’ up and down on the dugout. I was so amped with good feelings on that east coast swing. I went 10-for-24 in those two series with a couple dingers and eight RBIs.
I was feeling really good once we got back home. My average returned to a respectable level but I still wasn’t generating my usual power. I wasn’t playing on the hard turf and I was in the DH spot every now and then, but all my dingers were coming from my arms and mistake pitches rather than through my legs. I was sitting at my locker visualizing that day’s opposing starting pitcher when out of nowhere-
“Gotcha, Cobra!” yelled McGwire, after slapping the back of my neck. A couple of laughs in the clubhouse from others. I just sat there. Didn’t react at all physically.
“Payback’s a bitch, son,” I replied to Mark as he walked away.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Baylor said to him.
“Ahh, he’s a big boy,” McGwire said, leaving the room. At least the young punk gave me something else to focus on. Over the next month, I hit safely in 15 of 16 games, six doubles, four dingers and 14 RBIs. Part of this was La Russa’s plan – he batted me in the two-spot in front of Canseco. I saw nothing but fastballs. The first eight games there, I hit .409 with a couple of home runs. It was the hit I delivered at the end of the month that was most satisfying.
We were getting ready for a Tuesday night game against the Brewers. I was sitting around the clubhouse that afternoon shootin’ the shit with Tony Phillips when I looked across the room. Tony was telling me some random story when I politely cut him off with a raised finger.
“What?” he asked as I quietly nodded at McGwire.
The big kid was sitting at his locker, looking away, with a cup of coffee in his hand. Even better, he was almost rocking the stool so only the back two legs were touching the ground. I couldn’t have picked a better moment. Tony knew exactly what I was thinking, covering his giggle as I continued nodding, standing up. I stepped toward McGwire in a real unassuming manner, stopped before the stool, wound up-
McGwire flew forward like a bad Keystone cop, his body falling to the floor, face into his hanging clothes – coffee everywhere. The fellas got a real kick out of that.
“You bastard!” McGwire cried out. I turned around, bent down toward him, and softly spoke.
“I’d finish the job but I don’t wanna hear shit about it. We cool?” He saw the look in my eye.
“Yeah, we’re cool.” Then I helped him up. I was too old to be playing that grab-ass shit. We still all made jokes and stuff, but the kids now knew where the line was.
* * * * *
A week later, I sat with La Russa in the visiting clubhouse manager’s office on the road in Toronto. We’d get together every week or so, sometimes breakfast on the road or first thing when I got to the Coliseum, taking the temperature of the clubhouse, who I thought he needed to talk with or give some managerial TLC. Tony was good like that to make sure all the emotional bases were covered with his ballplayers. After chatting for a few minutes, he was like, “What about you? What can I do to get you going again?” My average fell to the .260 level from close to .300 in May.
“Say no more, Skip,” I replied. “I’ll come around.” That night, I came to bat against the Blue Jays’s Todd Stottlemyre and grounded into a force out at second. Canseco got up and smacked a hard grounder to Kelly Gruber at third, who wheeled and threw to Nelson Liriano at second. I took his ass out, but he jumped over me and threw to first.
He missed the bag at second, so Mike Gallego scored from third and I was safe – felt good about my aggressive base running. When I got back to the bench at the end of the inning, Jose took one look at my hand and was like, “Cobra, what the fuck’s up with your thumb?” It was hanging like three inches off my hand – I completely pulled it out of the socket. Didn’t feel a thing. When La Russa saw me, he was all, “Jesus Dave, I didn’t want you to go that hard.” They placed me on the DL. I didn’t play for another month and a half.
What La Russa liked about having me in the lineup was not so much my bat but the potential for my bat. It was a lot like when Dick Allen went back to the Phillies. Yeah, my numbers weren’t what they were in Pittsburgh or even ’85-’86 Cincinnati, but you still couldn’t get a fastball by me and I still possessed the ability to carry a club with a streak.
That July and most of August, it was mainly me watching from the bench, offering La Russa my thoughts, just watching the kids dominate the AL West, watching them grow up, bashing elbows on the field and dueling air guitars with that Guns-N-Roses shit in the clubhouse. I knew I was getting at least one sip of the bubbly with this crew.
I spent the last month mostly as the DH. I was still dealing with the thumb, but I still drove in 18 runs in my last 31 games. We were up 12 ½ games over the Royals when we clinched the division. Tony was right that our offense would be there. It was my first champagne shower in almost 10 years. The A’s felt pretty invincible against the rest of baseball.
Maybe the Mets would give us some trouble, I thought. Intelligent planning by Tony and Alderson, building this club. Jose even came over and poured some division-winning sugar on me, as they sang that dumbass song they played in the clubhouse all the time that year. It was a nice celebration.
Just didn’t feel like mine.
The AL East hadn’t been settled at that point, but all thoughts were pointed at Boston for the next stop on the journey. I was hoping to add more to the A’s postseason than cameo appearances.
* * * * *
The American League East race went down to the final day. The Red Sox outlasted a push from the Detroit Tigers, the Brewers and Blue Jays to get to Baseball’s final four.
I would’ve enjoyed shooting for the short right field porch at Tiger Stadium, but aiming for the monster in Fenway, man, I was licking my chops.
The day of Game 1 in Boston, I was on the field talking with a couple of the fellas when I heard a voice from the past behind me.
Joe Morgan. My manager at AAA Charleston back in ’73 was now the skipper of the Bosox. After the championship season down there with the Charlies, Morgan went home to manage in New England for the Red Sox’s AAA affiliate in Pawtucket, where he stayed in the dugout with them for almost a decade.
After 20 years in the minors and alongside big-league managers, Joe was finally getting his shot. He replaced John McNamara in mid-season.
We caught up on each other’s lives and a quick look back at our time together. Always got a kick out of his heavy New England accent.
“I enjoyed playing for you,” I told him. “You were a good skipper.” Morgan got modest and just laughed.
“Parker, what are you talkin’ about?” He replied. “You were lookin’ north from your first day in town.” I laughed, too, nodding as I sheepishly agreed. Then he leaned close to me before walking back to the dugout.
“But I always knew you were special.”
Game 1 was pretty tight. Bruce Hurst was a tough lefty whose only real mistake was a 2-0 fastball to Canseco in the fourth that he deposited over The Monster but otherwise kept us at bay.
Stew held the 1-0 lead until the seventh inning when Tony brought in Rick Honeycutt after a walk to Rice, a HBP and a single loaded the bases. Wade Boggs hit a sac liner to left, tying the game. After that, the former Bosox took over.
Carney Lansford smacked a double off the leftfield wall, then Hendu lined a single to right. After that, Eck shut down the middle of Boston’s order in the eighth and got two key strikeouts of Larry Parrish and Boggs (which wasn’t an easy thing to do, by the way) with two runners on to give us the win.
Game 2 was another close one. We faced Roger Clemens, who went seven innings, striking out eight but giving up another dinger to Canseco, who again took advantage of a 2-0 fastball.
Tied 3-3 in the ninth, Sox closer Lee Smith gave up singles to our catcher Ron Hassey, Tony Phillips and shortstop Walt Weiss to give us the lead, then Eck came on to the retire the bottom of the order for our second win.
Game 3 showed our true grit. The Sox took an early 5-0 lead, knocking our starter Bob Welch out after an inning and change. As the fellas came into the dugout, I was clapping my hands.
“We get it back, boys!” I meant that, too. No lead was safe against us. We hit their starter Mike Boddicker pretty hard in the first even though we didn’t score – we felt he was vulnerable.
Bottom 2, McGwire lined a shot that just made it over the wall in left.
Ron Hassey singled to left-center. Two groundouts later, Mike Gallego was leading off first as Walt Weiss, our rookie shortstop, smacked a double into the gap in left-center, scoring Gallego.
Then Carney Lansford took a 2-2 curve that didn’t break, depositing that thing over the wall in center. Now we’re down by a run. The next inning, Hassey again was the star for us, hitting a two-run blast to deep right, scoring McGwire to give us a lead we never returned.
Gene Nelson pitched his heart out in relief, going 3 1/3 to get us to the sixth inning. Ol’ Hassey was so hot that game that they intentionally walked him in the seventh after I launched a line-drive double over Wade Boggs’s head at third, only to have Stan Javier drive me in with a single through the hole and into center.
After a Jody Reed walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Eck came back in, got six straight outs to end it. 10-6, Oakland. 3-zip in the series, heading into the fourth game.
I remember walking out of the clubhouse with Stew after we won, who would be our man on the mound for Game 4.
“How you feelin’?” I asked him.
“There’s gonna be some lonnng faces in that dugout tomorrow night,” Stew smiled to me.
The man wasn’t wrong.
Seven innings, one run, four hits, five k’s. Bruce Hurst gave his best, too, keeping us to just two runs through the eighth. Jose singled, stole second, McGwire hit one through the middle to get him home, a little Bash Brothers small ball to get us that insurance run.
That’s all Eck would need to get it done in the ninth, retiring the last three dudes after a Spike Owen walk. A Jody Reed popout to Glenn Hubbard at second finished them off.
Eck would be named MVP of the series. I was still bothered by the thumb and only hit two singles and a double, but that’s the kind of club we had. We picked each other up and poured the sugar when it was all over.
We swept the Red Sox and got ourselves ready for the National League winner. The NLCS was tied at two games apiece when we sent Boston home empty-handed. I thought we matched up well against the Mets and their pitchers.
The Dodgers, I thought we could take them. I enjoyed my sip with the younger Bash brothers, with Stew, Eck, Phillips, Hendu, Baylor – that cat was going to his third straight Fall Classic – all the fellas, but once I got home to Alameda, settled in and during my nightly pre-sleep study of the ceiling, I couldn’t get away from thinking about one dude….
Orel Hershiser. The Dodgers ace, the man threw 63 consecutive scoreless innings during the season, a record, and he was reminding me a little of how hot L.A.’s pitcher Don Sutton was against me and the Buccos back in the ’74 NL playoffs.
I also had some serious personal issues on my mind during the postseason, but again, that’s a long story for another day.
* * * * *
To be honest, some of the fellas wanted to play the Dodgers because of the whole “California Series” thing, which I get.
When L.A. won that Game 7 of the NLCS in such a dramatic fashion, I had my concerns. Even when we heard Kirk Gibson, their team leader that season, wouldn’t be starting that first game, I had this feeling about momentum.
Blyleven and Rooker killed Baltimore’s mo for us back in ’79, and Mike Flanagan had a great season, but he was nothing like Hershiser. Stew used to love watching video – he was the first cat I remembered who studied game tape. I watched a little with him and knew that Orel’s off-speed stuff needed to be avoided. I prepared for this.
The Dodgers started a rookie, Tim Belcher in Game 1. Tony gave me the start in left field, batting me in between Canseco and McGwire. In the first inning, Belcher hit Jose in the shoulder with an 0-1 fastball. Stew didn’t like that. I saw the look on his face that basically said, “Ok.” In the bottom of the inning when the Dodgers leadoff batter Steve Sax came to bat, my man didn’t flinch, put one right in that guy’s back. Message was clear: Don’t mess with my boys.
The home plate ump Doug Harvey came out and gave Stew a soft warning. With one-out, L.A.’s left fielder Mickey Hatcher, hitting in Gibson’s spot, smacked an 0-1 fastball over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. No big thing – just like the Boddicker game, Belcher looked like he was having control issues and when he found the plate it was gonna be a meaty offering.
Next time we were up, Hubbard singled, he walked Stew (pitchers were still batting in National League parks during the series), walked Carney before Jose came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Falling behind Canseco 1-0, Belcher offered up that tasty fastball and Jose nearly crowned the center field cameraman sitting up on a post for a granny, giving us the 4-2 lead. He walked me right after, and let me tell you something, Tommy Lasorda knew right there he was taking Belcher out.
Carney Lansford was just like me, a first-pitch, fastball hitter and when you have two aggressive dudes like that walking in the same inning and not on purpose, it’s curtains. Tim Leary was on the mound the next frame for L.A.
We had our chances to really put this thing away – the A’s left eight runners on through the early innings. Hendu smacked a ground-rule double to start the top of the fourth. Canseco hit a hard chopper deep in the hole at short – this play was pretty pivotal. Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin knew there was no shot getting Jose at first, but Hendu was running toward third and stopped – Steve Sax quickly moved to the bag at second and created a rundown situation. Griffin threw over there and Hendu was caught up and quickly tagged out.
This was one of the greatest heads-up infield plays I ever saw. I came up next and tapped a first-pitch dribbler. Leary came off the mound, I was digging for first and he threw the ball through Franklin Stubbs’s legs at the bag. Canseco went to third, I went to second, but Doug Harvey said I ran out of the baseline and called me out. Tony burst onto the field to argue, I trotted back to the dugout knowing my voice wouldn’t help the situation but the call stood.
Stew hung in there for eight innings – three runs, six hits, five strikeouts. I walked again in the seventh inning and Tony called for Stan Javier to go run for me. Had to hand it to the Dodgers’s bullpen for locking things down against us – we just got two hits after the fourth inning.
Tony brought Eckersley in for the ninth, which was what he was supposed to do. Eck got Scioscia to pop out, fanned Jeff Hamilton on three pitches, then went 0-2 on the pinch-hitter Mike Davis. Light-hitting infielder Dave Anderson was standing in the on-deck circle, but everyone in the park knew who would be at the plate if Davis somehow got on.
Eck was throwing nothing but gas. He spent the season living on the outside corner and tried to get Davis to chase the final strike. Outside fastball, Davis held up. Ball one. Outside fastball, Davis held up, ball two. I saw Gibson, excitedly waiting on the bench. I was on pins and needles hoping Eck could get this cat out. We all grew up playing baseball waiting for moments like this.
Outside fastball, Davis held up, ball three. Crowd noise elevates even further. Eck sets, Davis waits.
Outside fastball. Davis held. Ball four.
Gibson limped up the dugout steps. Through a bad hammy, a bum knee, that man willed himself to the plate. As the story goes, Gibson was in the trainer’s room when Vin Scully up in the booth said, “Gibson would not be in the game,” and the dude was all, “Screw that,” and immediately hobbled out of the clubhouse, through the tunnel and into the dugout.
Gibson was like me, a football star who also played baseball really, really good. Nothing short of death or paralysis kept dudes like us off the field, especially a moment that may not present itself ever again.
A Hollywood moment.
Gibson at the plate against Eck. Davis on first, McGwire holding him on. A smart move by Lasorda because it not only distracts Eck on the mound but also opens the hole between the first baseman and second, which is trouble against a left-handed hitter.
First-pitch swinging, Gibson fouled it off. Eck kept throwing over to McGwire, holding Davis on. Next pitch – Davis is running! Gibson swung and fouled it off. Two strikes, both outside fastballs.
Next pitch, Gibson hit a dribbler that streamed foul. Gibson could barely trot up the line. Eck delivered yet another outside fastball for a ball – Hassey behind the plate chucked a laser beam to first, nearly picking off Davis. 1-2
. Eck set, threw, Davis took off again, Gibson fouled off yet another pitch. Eck stood on the rubber, then threw over again to McGwire.
Didn’t deter Davis. Next pitch, another outside fastball, Davis ran, Gibson held his swing, Hassey threw, Gibson’s shoulder slightly interfered in the play, the throw was on the wrong side of second base, Davis was in safely. 3-2 count.
Eck could focus on Gibson since Davis would be running on the pitch anyway. I couldn’t hear myself think in the dugout.
Eck set, Gibson was waiting, the windup, Eck threw a breaking ball, Gibson lunged out, swung and tapped it – not even hit it – tapped it high in the air, sailing into the right field stands.
Crowd noise like I never heard before.
Game-winner. Matter of fact, you probably know that Eck called it a “Walk-off home run.” He was the first to coin the phrase.
It almost seemed like Gibson knew what Eck was gonna throw and what I heard later was that Gibson did the research, watched the videos, and knew what Eck was most likely to throw in that situation.
Even back then, you spend so much time reviewing game notes, pitch charts, studying tendencies. 60% of the time it doesn’t help, but you do it for that one moment where it works.
Our clubhouse was heartbroken. I tried to get the fellas in good spirits, but it just felt different. It felt like we were playing a team of destiny.
Game 2 was all Hershiser. He threw a three-hitter, eight strikeouts, two walks. I got all three of the team’s hits against him, all singles.
I came up in the top of the ninth, Dodgers winning 6-0, Carney on first. 2-2 pitch. I told everyone who’d listen “Don’t offer at his off-speed shit.” The pitch looked so fat coming at me and the bottom just fell out. K. Game 2, Dodgers.
We played them tough in Game 3, taking a 1-1 tie into the ninth when McGwire hit a walk-off dinger against Jay Howell to win it, but even that game felt like we went 15 rounds.
We were all mentally wiped out. I remember going home that night, sleeping in our bed, Kellye offering me encouragement about the progress of winning the game.
“You should be happy you won,” she said to me. I nodded, sighed and kissed her forehead.
“I’m happy we won,” I said, “I’m just sad at what it took to win.” We were a monster offensive team in ’88. We should be blowing suckers out, not squeaking by.
Game 4 was a close match just like Game 1. Again, we had our chances against Belcher but never really capitalized. Stew gave all he had but things just happened.
A passed ball and an error in the first became a 2-0 Dodger lead which was 4-3 by the time the ninth inning rolled around. A Luis Polonia single off Jay Howell with one out gave us a situation with Canseco at the plate and me right behind him.
Howell managed to strike out Jose and then I came up. Not gonna lie, I tried to tie it up with one swing. Howell threw me a tight fastball and I swung over it on the first pitch, popping the ball on the third base side to end the game. I still think about that at-bat, what else I could’ve done to keep the inning going.
Not too much haunts me in this world baseball-wise, but I should’ve done more there. Only because I knew what we’d be facing in Game 5.
Game 5 at the Coliseum began just like Game 1, a Franklin Stubbs single followed by a Mickey Hatcher home run, only we weren’t facing a rookie overcome by nerves. They had the best pitcher on the planet at the time going for them.
We did get one opportunity to knock out Hershiser. Carney singled to center in the third inning and Tony Phillips smacked a grounder deep in the hole at shortstop.
After a Walt Weiss sacrifice, Javier lined one to left, scoring Lansford, but that was it. Over the next four innings, Hershiser gave up just a walk while whiffing five of us, and the Dodgers’s lineup scored three more against our emptied bullpen. It was 5-1 in the eighth when we finally got something going. Hershiser walked Tony Phillips.
After a groundout to first moved him over, Stan Javier hit an RBI single to center. He walked Hendu. Any other manager would’ve probably pulled Hershiser, but Lasorda stuck with him. Orel got Canseco to pop out and I came to the plate.
A wild pitch put runners on second and third. I tried bringing my concentration to the at-bat, but so did Hershiser and he did it again, the off-speed curveball got me out on strikes to end the inning.
A lone Lansford single in the ninth and two strikeouts later, the Dodgers were winners of the World Series. Our bats just went silent. A light-hitting L.A. took us down in five games.
Our clubhouse was inconsolable. Someone raised the volume on the boom box to improve the mood in the room.
“Turn that off,” Canseco said abruptly.
It would take a long time for most of us to get over the loss, because we had the better ballclub and we should’ve won. It still hurts me to talk about it, let alone put it down on paper.
Couple days later, after I cleaned out my locker, I walked through the park a little, thought about those fans, the hats and shirts they buy, the seats they pay for, the time they spent thinking about me. I wanted to be as pissed as they were and how much they loved their ballclub.
As I drove away from the Oakland Coliseum for the last time in ’88, I took a last look at the ballpark, thought about the A’s fans and spiritually said to each of them, “I owe y’all one.”