The Dodgers' team batting did not finish in the top five in any offensive statistical category except batting average (fifth), at .248—no regular or backup hit over .300 or drove in over 90 runs. Kirk Gibson's 25 home runs led the team but was only good enough for seventh in the National League. Slugger Pedro Guerrero had a sub-par year and was traded in July to the Cardinals for pitcher John Tudor. Kirk Gibson was the only position player named to the All-Star Game, but declined the invitation.
However, the Dodgers were sixth in the NL in runs scored and backed that up with excellent pitching. Despite dealing All-Star pitcher Bob Welch to Oakland prior to spring training and an injury to Fernando Valenzuela (5–8, 4.24 ERA), the Dodgers were second in the NL in team ERA and runs allowed, and led the league in complete games and shutouts. The staff was anchored by Cy Young Award-winner Orel Hershiser, who led league in wins, won-loss percentage (23–8, .864), complete games (15), shutouts (8), and sacrifice hits (19).
Hershiser was backed-up by a pair of "Tims", Tim Leary (17–11, 2.91) and rookie Tim Belcher (12–6, 2.91), and the July acquisition of John Tudor further strengthened the staff. The bullpen was outstanding, headed by Jay Howell (21 saves, 2.08), Alejandro Peña (12 saves, 1.91), and longtime New York Mets closer Jesse Orosco. The Dodger bullpen led the league in saves with 49.
It was intensity and fortitude, however, that defined the 1988 Dodgers, a trend that began when Kirk Gibson was signed as a free-agent over the winter from the Detroit Tigers, the team he helped lead to the 1984 World Championship. Moreover, the invincible Hershiser threw shutouts in five of his last six regular season starts en route to a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, breaking the mark held by former Dodger great Don Drysdale. Hershiser would dominate the Mets in the NLCS, while Gibson hobbled through on bad knees and a bruised hamstring but would produce a memorable, if not the greatest, at-bat (in Game 1) of the World Series.
The powerful Oakland Athletics had all the confidence and swagger of a heavily favored team. The "Bash Brothers" duo of Mark McGwire (32 home runs, 99 RBI, .260 batting average) and José Canseco (42 home runs, 124 RBI, .307 batting average) were in their early twenties, emerging as young superstars. Canseco became the first player to hit 40 or more home runs and steal 40 or more bases in Major League history and would capture the Most Valuable Player award in the American League. Veterans Dave Henderson (24 home runs, 94 RBI, .304 batting average) and longtime Pirate Dave Parker (12 home runs, 55 RBI, .257 batting average), also contributed with both their bats and their experience. The 1988 World Series marked Don Baylor's third consecutive World Series with three separate teams. Besides being a member of the 1988 Athletics, Baylor was also a member of the 1986 Boston Red Sox and 1987 Minnesota Twins.
The Oakland pitching staff was quite possibly the best in the American League in 1988. They led in ERA (3.44), wins (104), saves (64), and were second in strikeouts (983) and second in fewest runs allowed and home runs allowed. The ace of the staff was Dave Stewart, an ex-Dodger (1978–83), who won 20 games for the second straight season. Another ex-Dodger was reliable Bob Welch (17–9, 3.64) followed by 16-game winner Storm Davis. After spending the previous twelve years as a starter, mostly for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, Dennis Eckersley would be converted into a closer in 1987 and would lead the American League in saves in 1988 with 45. He would eventually have a distinguished 24-year career, gaining election into the Hall of Fame in 2004. Another longtime starter (and another ex-Dodger), Rick Honeycutt, proved to be a capable set-up man to Eckersley, finishing with three wins and seven saves.
But anything can happen in a short series, as proven by these 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, who out-hit (41–28, .246–.177), out-muscled (5 HRs–2 HRs), and out-pitched (2.03–3.92) the seemingly unbeatable Oakland Athletics, incredibly winning the Series in five games, outscoring the A's, 21–11, bringing the Dodgers their sixth World Series Championship, the second as a manager for Tommy Lasorda.
NL Los Angeles Dodgers (4) vs. AL Oakland Athletics (1)
Because of using ace Orel Hershiser in Game 7 of the NLCS, the Dodgers had to open with rookie Tim Belcher in Game 1. Meanwhile, Oakland sent a well-rested Dave Stewart to the mound. Both pitchers, however, would have their troubles in this game starting out. Belcher loaded the bases in the first by giving up a single to Dave Henderson, then hitting José Canseco and walking Mark McGwire. Canseco was hit in the right bicep as he checked his swing and home plate umpire Doug Harvey awarded him first base. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda disputed this, thinking the ball hit Canseco's bat. Audio from the game seemed to confirm this, but replays showed the ball hit Canseco in the bicep.
Stewart's problems began in the bottom of the first when he purposely hit Steve Sax with his first pitch. After retiring Franklin Stubbs, Stewart balked Sax to second. Mickey Hatcher, who hit only one homer all season, then shocked the crowd by hitting a two-run shot off Stewart. Hatcher further excited the Dodger stadium fans by running full speed around the bases. Commentator Joe Garagiola noted, "He ran in like they thought they were going to take it off the scoreboard! He really circled those bases in a hurry!" and "He's a Saturday Evening Post cover!"
Stewart would calm down, however, and the A's provided him a lead in their half of the second. After allowing a leadoff single to Glenn Hubbard and striking out Walt Weiss, Belcher's control problems continued as he walked both Stewart and Carney Lansford to load the bases. After Dave Henderson struck out, Canseco crushed a 1–0 pitch for a grand slam to almost dead center, denting an NBC game camera in the process. The A's had a 4–2 lead. Canseco's grand slam in Game 1 was his only hit of the series. His fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire had only one hit as well, the game-winning shot that ended Game 3.
In the sixth, the Dodgers broke Stewart's groove with three consecutive one-out singles, the third one by Mike Scioscia that scored Mike Marshall. The A's lead was cut to 4–3.
While Kirk Gibson was taking practice swings in the Dodgers' clubhouse during Game 1, Orel Hershiser set up the hitting tee for his teammate. Along the way, NBC's Bob Costas could hear Gibson's agonized-sounding grunts after every hit.
A's closer Dennis Eckersley came on to pitch the ninth to close it out for Stewart. After retiring the first two batters (Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton), Eckersley's former A's teammate Mike Davis, batting for Alfredo Griffin, walked on five pitches. During Davis' at-bat, Dave Anderson initially entered the on-deck circle to hit for Alejandro Peña. After Davis walked, Lasorda called back Anderson and sent up a hobbled Kirk Gibson to the plate, amidst cheers from the Dodger Stadium crowd. Gibson bravely fouled off Eckersley's best offerings, demonstrating how badly he was hurting. On one foul, Gibson hobbled towards first and prompted Scully to quip, "And it had to be an effort to run THAT far." After Gibson fouled off several pitches, Davis stole second on ball three. On the next pitch, Gibson, remembering a scouting report that said Eckersley liked to throw a backdoor slider to left handed hitters on 3–2 counts, slammed that backdoor slider into the right field bleachers to win the game. The footage of Gibson hobbling around the bases on both hurt legs and pumping his fist as he rounded second became an iconic baseball film highlight.
Gibson would never bat again in the Series, and his walk-off homer in Game 1 marked the first time that a World Series game ended with a come-from-behind home run.
By the time Kirk Gibson reached his locker after Game 1, bullpen coach Mark Cresse had written "R. HOBBS" on a piece of paper and taped it over Gibson's nameplate, which was in reference to Gibson's heroics mirroring those of the fictional slugger played by Robert Redford in The Natural.
With a rested Orel Hershiser on the mound, the Dodgers took a 2–0 Series lead. Hershiser got all the runs he needed in the third, with Mike Marshall providing the big blow with a three-run homer. Hershiser went the distance, allowing only three singles, all three hit by Dave Parker.
Hershiser also contributed offensively, with three hits (matching the entire A's offence for the night), including an RBI double in the fourth inning. In the five-run third inning, he singled, went to third on an opposite-field single by Steve Sax and later scored. He was the first pitcher to get three hits in a World Series game since Art Nehf of the New York Giants in Game 1 of the 1924 World Series. He was also the first pitcher to record a World Series RBI since Philadelphia's John Denny in Game 4 of the 1983 World Series.
The A's got back in the series on the strength of strong pitching by former Dodger World Series hero Bob Welch and three relievers. Dodger starter John Tudor left during the second inning with tightness in his pitching shoulder.
The A's struck first in the third when Glenn Hubbard singled, stole second, and came home on a single by Ron Hassey. The Dodgers tied it in the fifth when Franklin Stubbs drove home Jeff Hamilton with a double.
A's relievers helped squelch a Dodger threat in the sixth. Danny Heep led off with a double. John Shelby singled to left, but Heep was held up at third on the throw home as Shelby took second. Welch walked Mike Davis to load the bases, and left-hander Greg Cadaret was brought in to face lefty-hitting Mike Scioscia. Scioscia popped out to third. A's manager Tony La Russa then brought in right-hander Gene Nelson to face Hamilton, who forced Heep out at home. Alfredo Griffin grounded out to end the threat.
The A's got their winning run in the bottom of the ninth when Mark McGwire deposited a one-out fastball from Jay Howell into the left-center field seats.
Jay Howell was suspended for two games (shortened from three) by then National League president Bart Giamatti, for using pine tar during the 1988 National League Championship Series against the New York Mets. Howell was, incidentally, also the losing pitcher in the prior year's All-Star Game in Oakland while a member of the Oakland Athletics.
Without injured sluggers Kirk Gibson (25 HR) and Mike Marshall (20), the Dodgers started the game with what was statistically one of the weakest hitting World Series teams since the Dead-ball era. During the regular season the Game 4 starting line up of Steve Sax (2B), Franklin Stubbs (1B), Mickey Hatcher (LF), Mike Davis (RF), John Shelby (CF), Danny Heep (DH), Jeff Hamilton (3B), Mike Scoscia (C) and Alfredo Griffin (SS) combined for a total of just 36 home runs. Between them, José Canseco and Mark McGwire had hit 74 home runs for Oakland. Canseco alone had in fact hit more home runs (42) than the Dodger lineup while McGwire with 32 almost matched the Dodgers.
The Dodgers got two in the first when Steve Sax walked, went to third on a Mickey Hatcher single, and scored on a passed ball by A's catcher Terry Steinbach. Hatcher scored the second run on a groundout by John Shelby. The A's got one back in their half when Luis Polonia led off with a single, went to second on a passed ball, and later scored on a José Canseco groundout.
The Dodgers went up 3–1 when Franklin Stubbs doubled and scored on A's shortstop Walt Weiss's throwing error on a ball hit by Mike Davis. The A's answered in the sixth on an RBI single by Carney Lansford.
A key play came when the Dodgers got their final run in the seventh. With Alfredo Griffin on third and Steve Sax on first with one out, pinch-hitter Tracy Woodson hit what looked to be an inning ending double play grounder. But Lasorda called for a hit and run play so Sax was going on the pitch. Oakland tried for the double play, but Sax barely beat the throw to second. So when the throw to first beat Woodson, it was only the second out, allowing Griffin to score.
The A's half of the seventh also dramatic. With one out, Weiss singled and reached second when he was called safe on a double-play grounder hit by Polonia; he was running with the pitch. Dave Henderson cut the Dodger lead to 4–3 on a two-out RBI double. José Canseco walked and Dave Parker reached on a Griffin error to load the bases, but Game 3 hero Mark McGwire popped out, stranding three and ending the inning.
While hosting Game 4 on NBC, Bob Costas angered many members of the Dodgers (especially Manager Tommy Lasorda) by commenting before the start of the game that the Dodgers quite possibly were about to put up the weakest-hitting lineup in World Series history. That comment ironically fired up the competitive spirit of the Dodgers. Later (while being interviewed by NBC's Marv Albert), after the Dodgers had won Game 4, Lasorda sarcastically suggested that the MVP of the 1988 World Series should be Bob Costas.
Orel Hershiser capped one of the greatest seasons ever by a starting pitcher and one of the most improbable World Series wins in history by pitching a complete game, allowing only four hits, two runs, and striking out nine.
In addition to Hershiser's performance, the Dodgers won because Mickey Hatcher stepped in for the hobbled Kirk Gibson in left field and provided spark, enthusiasm, and unexpected offense. He blasted his second home run in the Series, a two-run shot, in the first; he had hit only one home run in the 1988 season.
Mike Davis, a disappointing free-agent signing for most of the 1988 season, added a two-run blast in the fourth, and former World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, filling in for an injured Mike Scioscia, added an RBI double in the sixth.
The Dodger pitching tamed Oakland monsters José Canseco (one hit, his grand slam in Game 1) and Mark McGwire (one hit and one RBI, which came in Game 3) for the entire series.
The Dodgers became the first (and so far only) team to have a perfect game pitched against them and win a World Series in the same season. Tom Browning of the Cincinnati Reds pitched the Perfect Game on September 16, 1988.
With the Lakers winning their fifth NBA championship in nine years four months before, the Dodgers winning the World Series made Los Angeles the first city to have both NBA and World Series champions in the same year.
1988 World Series (4–1): Los Angeles Dodgers (N.L.) over Oakland Athletics (A.L.)
The 1988 World Series marked the last time that NBC would televise a World Series for seven years. Beginning in 1990, NBC would be shut out of Major League Baseball coverage completely, after CBS signed a four-year, exclusive television contract. After splitting coverage of the 1995 World Series with ABC, NBC would next cover a World Series exclusively in 1997.
Longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully called the Series for NBC along with Joe Garagiola; this was the last World Series that Scully would call on television (although he would subsequently call several more on CBS Radio) and the final Series broadcast on either medium for Garagiola. According to Scully (during an interview on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury profile on Dennis Eckersley), when he saw Kirk Gibson walk up to the plate, he seemed to be using his bat as a cane. When NBC returned from a commercial break at the start of the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1, Scully commented (as NBC's cameras were panning the Dodgers' dugout) that Gibson (who wasn't in the dugout at the time) wouldn't play for sure. According to Gibson, Scully's comments in large part influenced his decision to want to bat.
Bob Costas, who along with Marv Albert, hosted NBC's World Series pregame coverage and handled postgame interviews made on-air statements that enraged many in the Dodgers' clubhouse (especially manager Tommy Lasorda). Costas said that the 1988 Dodgers possibly had the weakest hitting line-up in World Series history. After the Dodgers won Game 4, Lasorda (during a postgame interview with Marv Albert) sarcastically said that the MVP of the World Series should be Bob Costas.
On the radio side, Jack Buck and Bill White provided commentary for CBS Radio. This was Buck's sixth World Series call for CBS Radio and White's fifth.
It was White's last World Series as a broadcaster, as he replaced Bart Giamatti as President of the National League shortly after the World Series. He had been part of the broadcast team for a total of six World Series, four of which involved his primary employers, the New York Yankees.
This was the last World Series that Peter Ueberroth presided over as commissioner. Ueberroth rose to prominence for organizing the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Following this confrontation, both teams appeared on Family Feud with Ray Combs for a special sweeps week billed as a World Series Rematch.
This is still the most recent World Series appearance for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 29-year pennant drought is their longest in franchise history, and the title drought is the longest since the team moved to Los Angeles. (It took until 1955 for the Brooklyn Dodgers to win their first World Series, a 52-year drought.)
Gibson...swings, and hits a high fly ball into deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers are gonna win the game five to four; I don't believe...what I just saw! I don't believe what I just saw!
High fly ball into right field! She i-i-i-i-is gone! (long pause where only crowd noise can be heard) In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!
Here's the pitch, and a drive hit to right field, way back, this ball is gone!
'Nobody thought we would win the division. Nobody thought we would beat the mighty Mets. Nobody thought we would beat the team who won 104 games, but we believed it!