Orel Hershiser

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

With his reddish hair and eager-beaver expression, he looks a bit like Howdy Doody, minus the strings. In demeanor, he seems not quite as menacing as Mister Rogers. Yet put him in a Dodgers uniform and Orel Leonard Hershiser IV becomes baseball's own Freddy Krueger. "Orel Surgery" headline writers call his pitching style, and, in fact, most batters would prefer a trip to the dentist. Swinging at his diabolical sinkers and confounding curves, they look like men fighting off anesthesia.

In the muscular world of professional athletes, Hershiser is almost an oddity. He looks rather gangly on the mound, and he once joked that his chest was "concave." But with 190 hard lbs. on a 6'3" frame, the 30-year-old transplanted New Jerseyan has all the muscle he needs to make his point. Still, he is not overstated. In the World Series, during the late innings of Los Angeles' clinching victory over the favored Oakland A's, Hershiser, a devout Christian, steadied his nerves in the dugout by closing his eyes and singing hymns to himself. Then he would stride back to the mound and show why his teammates call him Bulldog. He never gives in, never backs down.

Proof of his mettle was provided last September, in the final weeks of the National League West championship race. Breaking a record that had stood for 20 years, and seemed likely to stand for much longer, he pitched 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run. When Hershiser's streak was interrupted by the conclusion of the regular season (he will be eligible to extend it next season), he threw eight more scoreless innings in the first game of the National League play-offs, won two games in the World Series and was named the Series' most valuable player.

Sensing that this was no ordinary hero, but potentially a figure of legend, the TV networks doted on Hershiser's handsome parents and his sparkling wife, Jamie, who a month before had given birth to their second child. But could this paragon be seduced from our shores? With talk of a baseball strike in 1990—Orel could be a free agent before then—he has spoken of taking his game to Japan, where "crazy amounts of money" might await him. Fans may hope that Hershiser was indeed, as he later said, "just joking." It seems unlikely that the zeros this newly minted hero cares most about are those that round out his bank balance.

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