A few weeks ago, I read a book about longtime scout Mel Didier, and then I turned that into a brief post in these pages. Within, I cited the old story -- as recounted by Didier and co-author T. R. Sullivan -- that the Dodgers tried to trade Orel Hershiser (and others) to the Texas Rangers for Jim Sundberg, but Sundberg vetoed the deal. That worked out really well six years later when Hershiser pitched the Dodgers to a World Championship.
Well, today is the 25th anniversary of the Dodgers' greatest home run. And Didier claims a role in that glorious event.
Didier, along with three other Dodger scouts, were instructed to put together a big report on the Oakland A's, the Dodgers' opponent in the '88 World Series. On the eve of Game 1, Tommy Lasorda asked the scouts to present their report to the players. Didier:
... [W]hen I gave my report, the last thing I said was about Eckersley. The players were sitting down against the wall and I pointed to all the left-handed hitters, Mike Scioscia, Mike Davis, Kirk Gibson, all those guys.
"Podnuh, let me tell you this," I said. "If Eckersley gets you at 3-2 and there's a runner at second base or third base and it's the tying or winning run, Eckersley will throw you a backdoor slider on 3-2. Don't forget that because that's what he will do as sure as I'm standing here breathing." I hadn't seen him do it but twice, but I felt confident enough to tell them.
Sure enough, in the first game it happened. Bottom of the ninth, with gimpy pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson at the plate. Eckersley walked Mike Davis with two outs, and Davis stole second base on Eckersley's seventh pitch to Gibson. Full count, tying run on second base, first base open. Gibson stepped out of the batter's box, and later would say,
I remembered what our scouting report said. It said that at 3-and-2, Eckersley throws a backdoor slider. Mel Didier had told me going into the Series, "Podnuh, as sure as I'm standing here breathing, he's going to throw you a backdoor slider if he gets you to 3-and-2. So when I called time and stepped out of the box, I looked at Eckersley and said, "Podnuh, as sure as I'm standing here breathing, you're going to throw me that 3-and-2 backdoor slider."
A little knowledge can be a wonderful thing:
It was Gibson's last appearance in the World Series. It was Gibson's last postseason appearance, period. It was the last time the Dodgers were in the World Series.
Does any of this happen without Mel Didier? I don't know. But it's one hell of a story, ain't it?
For a bit more background on Gibson's home run, here's a longer clip from MLB Productions.