(This Quick Take is being written on November 26th.)
Since I began my newpaper column and my website some 173 weeks ago, I’ve made it clear that the only major pro sport in this country run properly is the NFL. Their’s is a true salary cap that is not tarnished by a ridiculous sign-and-trade clause or a ludicrous luxury tax on player payroll. Every team has an equal opportunity to make the playoffs; the fact that some NFL teams have poor front office and/or field management is not the point. The point remains that all NFL teams have a real shot at the prize rings, and one cannot accurately predict the results.
In 2003, 16 NFL teams finished the regular season at .500 or better. As of the conclusion of Thanksgiving Day games in 2004 (four teams have played 11 games thus far; all others have played 10 games), only nine of those 16 teams are at .500 or better this season. And six teams that were below .500 in 2003’s regular season are at .500 or better through Thanksgiving, 2004. Pittsburgh was 6-10 last year; they’re 9-1 this year and playoff-bound. Conversely, Carolina made it to the Super Bowl last year; they’re 3-7 this season. There are several other 2004 surprise teams, positive and negative.
This NFL scenario is absolutely great for the game and its fans. It makes for true competition, and that’s the way it should be. Our other major pro sports, especially baseball, would do well to follow the competition guidelines of the NFL.
Story of the Week
Off the field, he was Dodgers righthander Orel Hershiser. Once he took the mound, he was "Bulldog," nicknamed by manager Tommy LaSorda. This right-hander was as competitive as it gets.
Throughout his career, Orel was a "money pitcher," a clutch-time performer with a great assortment of pitches and outstanding control. He led the National League in shutouts in 1984 with four, in winning percentage in 1985, .864 for a 19-3 record, and innings pitched in 1987 at 265 and 1988 at 267.
Hershiser’s most remarkable feat, however, was "The Streak." At the end of August, 1988, the Los Angeles stopper became virtually unhittable, pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to break Don Drysdale’s record of 58 set in 1968. To no one’s surprise, Orel was named the winner of the Cy Young Award, racking up a 23-8 season, a 2.26 ERA, 15 complete games, and eight shutouts, all obviously remarkable statistics.
Hershiser continued his regular season heroics into the 1988 playoffs and World Series. In the NLCS against the Mets, he sported a 1.09 ERA, set a tournament record for innings pitched at 24 2/3, and won the game that clinched the pennant for L.A. Those 59 regular season consecutive scoreless innings pitched were extended to 67 in the NLCS. "Bulldog" also triumphed in a pair of World Series games, both complete games, and registered a 1.0 ERA in the five-game win over Oakland. He was the World Series MVP. No pitcher has ever concluded a season the way Hershiser did in 1988.
Hershiser pitched 18 MLB seasons from 1983-2000. His first 12 years were with L.A. As a free agent in 1995, he signed with Cleveland and was named MVP of the ALCS for the Indians that year. After two more years with Cleveland, he had stints with San Francisco and the Mets, and closed his career in 2000 back with the Dodgers.
Over his MLB career, Orel Hershiser racked up a win-lose record of 204-150, pitched in 510 games starting 466 of them, and had 3,130 total innings pitched with a ERA of 3.48. His 68 complete games and 25 shutouts are most impressive. But it was indeed his incredible 1988 season that was the exclamation point to his tremendous career, one this great pitcher will always be remembered for, and rightfully so.
Last Week’s Trivia
His given name was Walker Smith, Jr. You know him as the boxing genius of "Sugar Ray" Robinson.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who was the first black pitcher in MLB? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.